Olivia stared at the dumpster behind the fast food joint and sniffed. The burger patties were still in there, just as they had been five minutes ago when she’d first approached it. The overpowering stench of rot and garbage surrounded them. Just grab the food. Get it over with before someone comes, she thought. She forced herself to grab the black plastic dumpster lid and lifted it. Her eyes watered. The boxes on top don’t smell as bad. She hooked a cardboard box with a couple claws and fished it out.
A light breeze cooled an already chilly spring evening as she hurried back to the apartment with her food. It caught on her partially folded wings, knocking her off balance for a moment. This might be quicker if I could fly. She slipped through the broken door on the ground floor and headed up the stairs to her home, nearly tripping and spilling her meal.
She plopped the box down on the floor in front of her as she sat cross legged in the middle of the living room to give room for her tail and wings. The smell from the dumpster hadn’t dissipated from it. She bit down on the damp, cold burger patty. Her throat closed off and her stomach convulsed. Forcing it down, she she grabbed a water bottle and washed away the stale aftertaste. At least I’m not throwing up. She forced down most of the box’s contents with two water bottles to keep the aftertaste from growing too bad. Her stomach still grumbled, though the pain had subsided.
I can’t get much lower than this, can I? What am I even doing? She left to walk around in the building and clear her head. Her wings, folded tight, arched over her head and constantly smacked into door frames. Maybe I can figure out how to fly. I don’t have anything better to do.
She climbed to the roof of her building on the sixth floor and observed the Sunday night traffic. Few people were out, and as she enjoyed the open space and fresh air, they dispersed. With the coast clear, she tried to psyche herself up to jump off a building. Just spread my wings and jump. That’s what birds do, right? My wings look really wide in the mirror. Wide enough, right? Does that matter?
The hard ground stretched on beneath her, with only six stories worth of insubstantial air beneath her and it. Why not jump? I have wings. Wings are for flying. But why fly? Walking is perfectly fine. I don’t need to jump off a building. Why not? All I have to do is glide, nothing fancy. But what if I mess up? I’ll probably break a bunch of bones, or die. She spent a full half hour second guessing herself. No one will notice if I fly or splatter on the ground, either way. At least flying might be fun. And so, with the coast all clear, she spread her wings out as far as they could go, closed her eyes, and leapt.
The air rushed past her face, whipping her hair around. Her wings pulled at her back. They didn’t shake, instead keeping strong and steady. She cracked an eye open. The ground passed below her, not growing any larger. She opened her eyes fully and looked around. Her wings kept her aloft and gliding. I’m actually flying! She smiled. I can fly! I can actually fly! She tore her gaze from her wing and looked to the ground again. A web of cracks lined the empty sidewalks and streets below. It looks so weird from up here. She gave a quiet whoop of glee into the quiet night air.
After gliding for about half a block, enjoying the almost weightless sensation of flying, she looked ahead. A much taller building loomed as she hurdled straight towards it. Bad, bad, bad. Turn. She tried leaning sharply to the right, accidentally folding her right wing in the process. She twisted and flailed as she plummeted, trying to catch the air with her wings again. At the sight of the rapidly approaching earth, she closed her eyes and brought her arms up around her head. Her shoulder slammed into the ground, and she rolled to a stop a couple paces away.
She took in a laboured breath, her chest screaming in pain as her lungs inflated. I’m alive? She climbed to her feet, her knees weak. Her clawed hands shook from residual fear and adrenaline. Other than the massive pain in her shoulder, ribs, and wing, she felt intact. I’m alive! She looked around. No one saw that?
The concrete behind her had suffered worse than she had, cracking at the impact site. The sheer distance she’d dropped seemed like it should have broken something important. You know what? I’ll take it. It’s about time something good happened.
Olivia took a couple of tentative steps. Nothing besides her right flank hurt. She took that as a medical green light and headed back home. I’m alive. I’m actually alive and not dreaming. That hurt but I didn’t wake up. And I can fly! I just need to figure out how to turn and stuff. She got out of the center of the street and reached the relative safety of the dark alleys and backstreets. I just need practice. Her shoulder let out a lance of pain as she made the mistake of rearranging her wings. Later. Practice later. I need to find more food anyways.
The next night found Olivia standing on the edge of the roof again. Instead of apprehension clouding her face, her eyes were wide and eager. The pain in her shoulder had vanished as she slept during the day. She watched the streets below her for any sign of life.
“This won’t be that bad,” she murmured to herself. “It worked last time. Kind of.”
Ignoring her still grumbling stomach, she spread her wings and jumped forward off the roof. Just as last time, her wings kept her steady as she glided at a jogging pace. OK. Turn. She leaned ever so slightly to the left, and her flight path shifted accordingly. She leaned to the right, a little sharper than before. Her path turned. A wide grin split her face. I’m not crashing!
A couple minutes, and many tentative turns later, she found herself getting closer and closer to rooftops. OK. I’ve been drifting down. Up, up, how do I go up? She twisted her head around to look at her wings. Please? She returned her attention to in front of her. I need to, I don’t know, do wing things. Almost reflexively, she twisted her wings at their base, angling them upwards, and rose into the air. Her smile faltered as she slowed to a stop in mid-air. Wait, no, falling bad. She pushed herself forward and caught the air with her wings again. Crash avoided!
Olivia glided aimlessly for some time. A car below her had caused her to freeze up for a moment, but it moved on without pause. Then, with the ground finally approaching, a thought occurred to her. How do I land? The ground grew closer. With my feet? She arched her back and pulled up, as sharp as her wings and spine would let her. She shot up a few feet, then once again came to a stop in midair. Her arms flailed as she fell, feet first. The impact with the road made her knees buckle, and she collapsed on the ground. She took a deep breath after a moment, her clawed feet aching fiercely. OK. I think I’ve stopped now. She got up and brushed the dirt and gravel from her arms and legs. The bridges between her back claw and the front of her feet burned in pain.
“That worked,” she murmured. Sort of.
A smile still persisted on her face. She flexed her knee as she took a couple shaky steps away. I want to do that again! And where am I? It smells like people nearby. Maybe I can see what they’re doing. They’re there for a reason, right?
On foot, she followed the smell of people to the back of a shop. She poked her head around the corner of a nearby building to see a man passing out bags of breads to several homeless people. Oh, so that’s what non-dumpster bread smells like. Kind of like that donut shop, but not as good. But it’s still food though. She kept watch, hoping that maybe she could ask the man giving out the bread for some once everyone else had left. Or is that a bad idea? I kind of scare me, what about them? She pulled back when one of the homeless approached where she hid.
In the distance, someone screamed. The homeless man whirled around towards the sound, eyes wild. He hurried away, directly for Olivia. She froze. Scream, what was that scream? Around the corner, she heard several sets of footsteps heading away from where the scream had come from. A door slammed shut. Wait, no. A moment later, she found herself face to face with a shocked man, mouth agape beneath a scraggly greying beard.
I should say something. Before she got a chance to open her mouth, the man dropped his bag and ran with a desperate cry. She stared after him as he scrambled around a corner. Oh. OK. Her wings drooped, their tips brushing against the ground. I’m not going to… OK. Her downcast eyes spotted the bag of bread he’d left behind. He forgot it? Really? It’s food. Should I give it back? I don’t think he wants to see me again.
She grabbed the bag and walked back to her apartment, her feet scratching against the concrete sidewalks. Screaming bad, avoid screaming. But could I… no. I guess I couldn’t really help. She didn’t hear any other people nearby as she returned to her apartment. Once inside, she set the bread bag down on the counter, sliced it open, and took out a random loaf.
The tag on the wrapper read ‘wheat bread.’ OK, let’s see how this is. She took a big bite out of the loaf. Her chewing slowed to a stop not long after. Is this dirt? Is this what dirt tastes like? She considered the brown loaf, now with a large chunk of it missing. It’s not bad. It’s food, I guess. She forced the rest of it down. I think I liked the old burgers more. The bagel she tried next didn’t taste much better. She eyed a twisted piece of bread with a brown powder sprinkled on top. That smells good. One last try. Once she cut away the thin plastic around it with a claw, she took a bite.
Ohmygosh! This is so good! She stared at the bread thing for a moment, then shoved the rest in her mouth. What is this? I need to know. A quick glance at the sticker on the wrapper told her it was a cinnamon crusted pastry. Cinnamon. I like cinnamon.
A yawn caught her by surprise. Is it time already? I must have flown a long way. And walked. And the bread thing. Right. She sighed and curled up on the couch, her tail hanging off the edge. All around her, cars moved, their engines filling the air with noise. The sun peeked over the horizon, its early morning rays shooting into Olivia’s room. She grimaced and pulled her old, worn blanket over her head.
“Just let me sleep,” she murmured to herself.
The next night, Olivia found herself in front of a dumpster yet again. Rather than a dumpster behind a fast food joint, however, this one was next to an inhabited apartment building, the scents of all sorts of people surrounding her. She lifted the lid. Hey, there’s other stuff in here. With a claw, she hooked a ragged backpack out of the dumpster.
Why is it all sticky? It smells like grape juice. Grape juice. How did I know that? What is a grape? It’s a little round green fruit thing. I know that. I know what cars and apartments are too. How do I know that?
She paused, screwing her eyes shut. Think. People. Men and women. Different colors of hair. No. Think faces. A face. Different shapes of noses? No. A face. A specific face. A small, frustrated hiss escaped her, breaking her concentration. Nothing. A few strands of wavy brown hair dangled in her face. Her head was bowed, and her hands clenched the edge of the dumpster. She unclenched her teeth and stood upright, releasing the dumpster. She didn’t notice the holes her claws had punched in the metal. I still can’t remember anyone at all.
She sighed and considered the dirty backpack, still in her hands. Maybe I can wash this off somewhere. She slung it over her shoulder and tucked it under a wing.
Now what? Maybe I can focus on good smells. She took a few steps away from the dumpster and sniffed the air, taking in all the smells around her. Beyond the trash, the people, the cars, and all the things she had no names for, she picked up scents that didn’t nauseate her. Oh, maybe that way. She walked further into the neighborhood, as always sticking to the shadows and back alleys. She’d tried taking off just by jumping before, but that had led to a faceplant. I’ll figure it out. Birds can do it.
An hour later, she returned to her apartment with a box of Twinkies and a bag of beef jerky she’d taken from someone’s backyard next to a grill. I want a grill. That smelled good. And those people probably had lots of food if they’re just leaving it out like that.
She noticed a stamp on the side of the box of Twinkies. ‘Expires 9/21/2416’. What? The paper said it was 2013 now. She put the box on the counter in the kitchen, next to the old, stale bread. I’ll try the other thing first. She fished another piece of jerky out of the large red plastic bag. This is really good. It’s not all cold and damp like the burgers. She stretched her wings out and arched her back as she ate.
Hunching over all the time like this is a pain. Maybe a table? Yeah, I could put stuff on it. Maybe I can check the other apartments. She stood up and stretched, working out the kinks in her back and wings from hunching over on the floor. Her wings tips brushed against opposite walls.
She found what she was looking for a few doors over. The remains of a large, worn wooden table sat piled in the corner, with three of its leg snapped off. Oh, that could work. With her claws dug into the underside of it, she managed to carry it to her apartment, only smacking it against the walls a couple times. There, that wasn’t that bad, she thought as she wrenched off the remaining leg by hand and set the table top down in the center of the living room. She sat down in front of it and found herself hunching over nearly as much as before.
“That’s not helpful,” she murmured.
I need to replace those legs. Oh… idea! She headed downstairs, and out towards an abandoned lot near her building. Bits of ruined or discarded building materials littered the area. Maybe these? She carried four cinder blocks back up to her apartment. She set the chipped and dirty cinder blocks up under the table where the legs used to be. It’s not as high as it was, but let’s see how it is. She sat cross legged at the table and put her elbows on it, spine straight. I have a table thing! She smiled and looked around before remembering there was no one else in the room.
I guess I have time to go flying again. Maybe. She headed to the roof of her building and looked around. It’s dark and quiet. I have time. She took off and flew parallel to the mountains, heading towards the skyscrapers of the city. The grid patterned streets passed by below her. There’s that big road thing that curves near that big stadium thing. I think I can make it to the road this time. I just need to be able to go higher.
She pulled up, just a bit. But that makes me go slower. And if I turn my wings the other way, I go faster, but down. She bobbed up and down in the air, trying to build up enough speed to gain enough height. This isn’t working. Maybe do what birds do. Flapping, right? But I need my wings out. Well, it might be worth a try. Falling doesn’t hurt that much. She pumped her wings, gradually gaining altitude. Yeah! I can do it! After some time, she came to the large, elevated road. The large green sign above it read ‘I-25 North’.
A glimmer of light over the horizon told her that it was time to return as everyone else began to wake up. She passed over the donut shop in the strip mall on her way back, already open and baking donuts. It still smelled amazing.
A few days passed as Olivia fell into a routine, and that Friday was no exception. She tumbled off the couch as the last light of the day began to fade and stumbled over to her small pile of clothes. The cleanest she pulled out and changed into. In the kitchen, she opened up the cupboards where she kept the food she’d found from around the city, using her knuckles to avoid putting any more gouges in the wooden doors.
Half a box of old chicken nuggets a careless drunk at a gas station had thrown out and a sugary cinnamon bun wrapped in a thin plastic wrapper composed of breakfast, followed by the last of her unopened water bottles. She kept several others, filling them up at public water fountains. Olivia had also found a battered digital clock in the trash can behind a house, but hadn’t managed to scavenge batteries for it yet, so she wasn’t sure of the exact time. Regardless, the sun had just set, so she had a while before she could leave.
She got up from her makeshift table and carved the sixth mark on the wall beside the front door with a claw. I’m not going to forget who I am, even if it means have to carve my life story on the walls. I’m not starting over again. Her memory, all six days of it, remained fine, but if it had been lost once, it could happen again. I existed before I woke up, right? I’m not a baby or anything.
With the latest mark cut deep into the drywall, Olivia moved on to cleaning her apartment, throwing discarded wrappers and shredded bits of fabric into an old salvaged trash bag with only a few holes in it. The less trash, the better the room smelled. She had been growing used to the constant assault of the city on her senses, though her nose still had its limits.
Cleaning finished, she got around to reading a paper she had somewhat accidentally pried out of its vending machine the night before. She’d tried opening one, just to see if it would, and wound up yanking the door off its plastic hinges. Olivia spread out the paper in front of her, elbows resting on the table. The front article was about the state governor’s recently uncovered scandal. Something involving several young men and women, an unabridged dictionary, and several gallons of lead based paint. The article started delving into the strange details of exactly what had happened, and she quickly flipped the page, her claw leaving a tear at the edge. No, I don’t want to know. No thank you.
The next page mentioned a war. Olivia’s brow furrowed as she read on. Two terrorists had triggered and thrown themselves at an army base in a place called Afghanistan with their newfound powers. One of the American casualties was a Colorado native. Olivia paused on the part about getting powers. Powers? She glanced at her scaly hands. That’s like being different, right? Is that what happened to me?
The rest of the newspaper was chock full of ads and trivial stories. Baby ducklings crossing a road with their mother got half a page worth of space. She finished with the paper after the seventh fluff piece, looked up to the window of the room, and listened. No sunlight came through, and she only heard the sounds of a few moving nearby cars. She ran to the roof top, ducking her head and folded wings under the doorways. She paused for a moment once she reached the roof, checking the streets for any bystanders she may have missed. She ran a couple steps the instant she was confident the coast was clear and leapt off the edge.
Her wings caught the air the moment her claws left the roof, letting her coast over the streets. She angled her wings up, just by an inch, gaining enough altitude to keep clear of any other rooftops. A set of power lines ran in parallel to her flight path, its cables a constant tangling menace. She weaved up and down, secure in the knowledge that no one would ever look up and see her in the night sky.
Olivia’s body relaxed, flowing with the dips and turns. She didn’t have to worry about anything in the air. No need to run around on the streets, torturing herself with anxiety that she had missed something or someone. She instead focused on keeping herself in the air. Her eyes combed the streets below her in perfect clarity, on the lookout for anything interesting. A car drove on below her, at about the same speed.
She flew at twice the height of most of the buildings in the area, though the downtown skyscrapers still loomed above her to the north. She couldn’t quite keep pace with the vehicles on the highways, but that was just another benchmark for her to reach.
An hour passed as she glided over the city, occasionally swooping down hard for the rush of air past her face. Once the novelty wore off, she decided to see if there was any food she could find. Maybe that donut place has some stuff. She landed onto a building overlooking what she referred to as the donut strip mall, the first notable place outside of her apartment building that she had any memory of visiting.
Before anything could catch her eye, she heard angry yelling from across the parking lot, hidden from view by the end of the mall. She hesitated before curiosity got the better of her. She glided to the top of an office building closer to where the shouting had come from, and froze.
Three men surrounded a woman with her back pressed against a wall. One held a hand to his ribs, glaring at the woman through an impressive black eye. Another man held the woman in place with a firm grip on her upper arm and a knife shoved under her throat. The third looked on with crossed arms and an unpleasant smile on his face. The injured man did not grin, instead unleashing a torrent of profanity at the woman. The woman for her part glared right back at the trio in spite of the knife.
Olivia’s breathing quickened. There was no one else nearby. Their surroundings were nothing but closed stores, offices, and empty parking lots. She heard no sirens coming their way. The woman’s cry for help had only brought Olivia. What do I do? I don’t have a phone. There were three of them and one of her. She had no experience fighting anyone, she didn’t want to hurt anyone. What am I doing? They have a knife. She could die and no one else is here to stop it.
She leapt from the top of the building and glided towards the group. She nearly tripped over the claws she had in place of heels as she landed, though she went unnoticed by the men or woman. Once she’d recovered, she shouted, “Hey! What are you doing?” The grinning man and black eye turned, the one with the knife not moving.
“Fuck off,” called out the one with the knife, his eyes still fixed on the woman.
At the same time grinning man and black eye turned to Olivia and froze. “What the hell?” said grinning man as the grin slid off his face. The woman and two men stared in shock at Olivia.
Knife man lowered his knife a bit and turned to get a look at her. He didn’t break and run, but tightened his grip on the knife and turned to face her, shifting his free hand from the woman’s upper arm to her throat. The third man’s hand drifted to his back. Leave her alone.
She uncurled her hands, revealing the long, dark grey claws, and snapped her wings outwards two feet to either side of her. Grinning man bolted down a nearby alley, followed closely by black eye and knife man, leaving the woman alone. Olivia turned to the woman, who pressed herself against the wall. Olivia realized that her teeth were bared and her claws were still out, ready to attack. She quickly straightened her back, folded her wings as best she could again, and curled her fingers, putting her hands behind her back.
“Um… Are you OK?” she asked the woman.
The woman’s eyes widened even further, but broke out of her shocked silence. “Yes. Yes I’m fine.”
“OK. Do…” Olivia trailed off as she tried to figure out what she should say next. A scream cut through the silence from the alley the would-be muggers had fled down. She heard grunts and dull thuds of flesh being hit, accompanied by cries of pain.
“Hang on,” she told the woman as she crept towards the alley.
The woman darted away before she finished. Olivia turned a corner and stopped dead. A man in black clothing and a metal mask held a gun to the forehead of knife man. Black eye was on the ground, Olivia could see blood trickling from his foot. The no longer grinning man lay collapsed next to him, grasping his throat and choking.
“Sanchez’s boys? I got some questions for you,” said the masked man, looming over the beaten knife man.
“No, you little prick,” he spat. “We’re gonna die. There’s a-”
“Not what I’m lookin’ for.” Masked man pulled the trigger.
The loud crack echoed off the surrounding walls. Oh god. Oh god he killed someone and he’s got a gun and he’s right there. Her heart raced, a cold sweat formed on the back of her neck.
The masked man noticed Olivia out of the corner of his eye as the echoes of the gunshot faded. He backed away a pace and muttered, “Shit.” His mask was a full face, grey metal thing, depicting a grinning face. What looked to be the butt of a long rifle poked over his left shoulder. He smelled of blood, metal, and curiously, donuts.
Olivia and the man in black watched each other warily, unmoving. He didn’t even came up to her shoulder. Olivia heard a sound and realized that she was hissing. Again her teeth were bared, claws were out, and she was tensed, ready to lunge. She cut the hissing out and slowly began to back away towards the street behind her. Don’t shoot, don’t shoot. The man didn’t move, didn’t react in any visible way. She reached the street, keeping an ear out for any following footsteps. The moment she realized there were none, she ran.