I really like this story. It’s wonderfully… comfortable. That will change, of course, in time. Akaiame is on the second-tallest building for a reason…
What a week, she thought staring off at the Wall on the horizon from the top of the second-tallest building in the factory complex. She took another drag off of the cigarette she bummed from Nike and slowly shook her head as she turned around.
What is this place?
A week ago she was born – no, they say ‘hatched’ for us – and seemed to come close to dying right after.
She lay on her side in a small bed of some sort. The air was cool and someone was doing something to her back. It was either dusk or dawn.
“Oh! You finally awake?” Some girl asked her.
There was a creak and a shift as whoever had been sitting on the bed stood and leaned over. She looked up at the upside-down face: smiling red lips on a white face with pale blue eyes framed by bobbed golden hair. Hair the same color as the halo above it.
“Are you… an angel?” She asked quietly.
The teen girl crossed her eyes and stuck her tongue out.
“No! Just a girl like you!”
The pretty girl passed out of her view with a creak of the bed. The motions to her back resumed.
“I didn’t mean to offend,” she said. She tried to move. “Ouch!”
“You just stay put, Akaiame! You’ve had a big two days!”
“I… who’s ‘Akaiame’?”
“Silly! That’s your name! I’m Snaran, by the way!”
The introduction came with a pat of the girl’s hand onto Akaiame’s head.
“My name is… Akaiame. Oh. I’m tired. May I sleep a little?”
“Sure!” The boundless cheer of Snaran replied. “I’ll prop some pillows against you so you don’t roll onto your back!”
Her eyes opened to near-total blackness. There was a window frame with faint starlight but the room was a sepia sea.
With a scraping sound a star exploded before her. She crushed her eyes as tightly closed as she could.
“Sorry,” came a young man’s voice. “Didn’t know you were awake.”
She knew that voice!
“You…” She tried opening just one eye. Now night blind, she could only see the orange ember of the tip of his cigarette. “You’re the one… who was there.”
“When you hatched? Yes.”
She heard him inhale through the cigarette.
“My friend was there, too. Do you recall his name?”
“Do you recall my name?”
That she knew.
“You flatter me!” She heard his faint laughter. “Poor Nozh!”
“Do you,” he continued, “know your name?”
“She… that girl…”
“Snaran, told me my name is Akaiame.” She closed her open eye. “I didn’t know that.”
She heard a shuffling: he stood and moved his chair closer before reseating himself.
“Do you always sit backwards on chairs?” She asked.
“Not always. Do you… remember… anything before you hatched?”
She opened her eyes at that, seeing his face barely illuminated for just a moment by his habit.
“No.” She carefully replied. “I… felt as if I had to get out of something… then I saw your shoes. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be!” He was cheerful, but quiet. “None of us Charcoal Feathers remember anything… well, we do remember one thing.”
“Which is?” She chose to ignore the odd object in his sentence.
“Whatever it is – that one thing – is what we say, in whatever language we spoke before we came here.” He took a last drag before dropping and crushing his cigarette.
“And by Tradition, that becomes our name.”
“Oh.” Only two days later, she barely remember surfing out; looking up; standing.
“What does it mean?”
She could hear his shirt shift as he shrugged.
“What does Nike mean?”
Frustrated, she tried to roll backwards –
Nike was out of the chair with his hands onto her shoulders in an instant.
“You can’t do that! Be on your back! You’re… we’re not human! You’d crush your wings!”
She felt a snarl flicker across her face.
“Help me up!” She ordered.
The young man eased her into a sitting position. She glanced at the window frame. It was less dark.
“How long to the dawn?”
“An hour. Probably.”
“’Probably’? It’s an hour or it’s not!”
“No. Time is not like that, here.” She felt his hands go from her shoulders to lightly against each side of her face.
“It’s still dark but I want you to feel something.” His hands went to hers and lifted them straight up over her head. “Turn your palms around.”
She did, thinking she could bite his neck if he groped her…
He brought her hands down. On her back, just below her shoulders, she touched…
The feathers were both strong and warm. From where her fingers first touched them, she moved her hands outward…
“That tickled!” She shivered. Wait…
On my back… these are…
The wings flittered just slightly.
“Ouch!” She said, but softer this time.
“These are my wings?”
“For most of us, it’s several days after we hatch. There’s a fever and some disorientation, followed by pain as they tear their way out through the skin of your back.”
“I don’t remember – ”
“You wouldn’t.” He took his hands from hers and sat back. She regretted not being able to bite him. That thought bothered her.
“You hatched with your wings almost out. Rare, but not unheard of. Your fever had already started. I carried you down here to the second floor while Nozh and a few others rushed to help.”
“Others? How many of you, er, us, are there?”
“We don’t take a census but about two dozen.”
“How can you not be sure with so few?”
Nike said nothing. There was now just enough light from the window to see his face.
“I told you: things are different here. Ah!” He put his right index finger to her lips.
“No more questions! Come here!” He stood and held his hand out to her.
She took it, standing as well. They moved to the open window. They faced what she presumed was East, towards the coming sunrise.
“You didn’t wake up, not even when your wings tore out.” He said from just behind her, his left hand on the windowsill, his right on her waist. “You cried a lot and threw up all over Fire!”
She felt his laughter.
“Doesn’t sound very funny!” She said, embarrassed.
“Oh, it was! He might have some choice words when you meet him later !”
“Great: I’ve already enemies.”
Something changed. He turned her about to face him.
“You. Do. Not!” Nike said with some heat. “We are a small tribe, we Charcoal Feathers; even the flighty girls from Old Home! And while we have misunderstandings, we most certainly are NOT enemies to one another!”
Her wings shook at the harsh reprimand. Not knowing why, she bowed as she apologized.
“I am sorry. When I meet him, I shall thank Fire and greet him like a broth – ”
Her knees gave way. There was no way Nike could catch her without damaging her wings, so he let her fall. But he did drop to his knees with her.
“Do… you remember something?” He was right! She is different!
“N… no.” She struggled back to her feet. “I’m very young in this place.”
He stood as well. She looked up at the distance between their faces. His now clear in the first ray of sunlight over her shoulder. She reached to touch that face.
“I am so glad you were there for me, Nike.”
She was surprised to see his eyes grow moist.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for you, Akaiame!” He softly replied.