Took a mental heath day and not because it was 70F in central Ohio. There were two times, yesterday at work, when I had to stop and sit on the floor in the pharmacy to rest; I didn’t trust myself to sit on a chair. I’d had that wonderful writing jag all weekend but as a result I was having a hard time distinguishing this world from RealLife(TM). If you think that sounds hackneyed or stupid, you’re not a writer.
So what do I do with time away from work? Go back to the ‘Factory, of course. At 51, it’s not called ‘being self-destructive,’ it’s called ‘being aware of what little time is left.’
There was a tap at the door of the second floor room Akaiame occupied. There was no handle or latch but there was a door. She continued to stare at her image in the cracked mirror propped against the wall on a dresser. The door creaked open.
“Morning! How’re…oh…!” Snaran’s greeting trailed off as Akaiame turned her exhausted face towards her guest.
“Didn’t sleep well?” Snaran ventured.
“How are we – whatever we are – supposed to sleep with these,” her slightly larger wings flexed from just under the towel she had over she shoulders, “and that!”
She pointed straight up.
“Ah, er… I usually sleep on my side,” Snaran began, “but your wings….”
“Or you could sleep on your stomach…”
“I tried that. This stupid thing,” again pointing at her halo, “got tangled in a pillow and I nearly broke my neck sitting up!”
“Oh, my! Why didn’t you take it off?”
Akaiame swiveled her gaze back to the blonde girl.
“No one told me that!”
“Here! Let me show you!”
The younger girl walked over to the newcomer and knelt down so she could see.
“You just turn it, slowly,” she said, her hands on her halo, “and you just kinda feel when you get to – there!”
She held her halo in her hands before her and beamed at Akaiame.
“So I just grab and turn – ”
“Slowly – !” But she was too late.
Snaran watched the new one shudder from her feet to her hair. Her big wings straight out and quivering.
“Whu… what was that?” She asked, trying to catch her breath.
“That’s why I said slowly! Otherwise, you get that feeling.” Snaran looked a little embarrassed. “It’s not exactly a bad feeling… just creepy. Try again, slower this time!”
Akaiame nodded, almost reluctant now to touch it but she knew she’d have to get some sleep sometime…. As she carefully rotated it right, it grew heavier in her hands.
She lifted it off from above her head and stared. It was much heavier than she thought. Up there, she didn’t feel it at all. If I hit someone with this, I could break their jaw…
Now where, she wondered, did that thought come from?
“Great! Are you ready to go shopping for some clothes? Those woolen shifts have got to be itchy!”
“Yeah, well…” She looked away and back. “Snaran? I’ve not had a bath since I hatched. I don’t think I stink too bad, but you said about going to a town…?”
“Well, we don’t sweat like humans do, but one girl to another, I understand! I usually go to the river and a little upstream and splash around there, but that’s out of the way, so come on!
She stood and picked up the homespun shift and tossed it to Akaiame. While she pushed into it, the younger girl got another towel.
“Uh…” Akaiame held up her halo.
“Of course!” Snaran tossed hers into the air and stepped under it. The halo made an abrupt stop just a few inches above the crown of her head. It wobbled once and was still. She held her hands out for Akaiame’s.
“I don’t think you should try that trick for awhile unless you fancy a trip to clinic with a concussion! Like I did!”
Akaiame watched her put both hands over her head and withdraw them. She reached up to touch… it was there.
Around the north side of the tallest building were some barrels and troughs with pipes leading from above to collect rain water.
“You splash around a bit until you feel better! I’ll keep an eye out!”
“For what?” Akaiame asked, pulling her shift over her head.
“Eyes prying that shouldn’t be!”
“That wouldn’t bother me,” Snaran was surprised to see the new one shrug.
It wouldn’t?! And she wasn’t even the slightest self-conscious being naked just a few steps from me.
There was a rattle of metal from high above. Even with her head in a barrel Akaiame quickly arched her back: her dark hair describing a great wet arc in the air. She peered skyward. Now there was a sound like a ratchet.
“Someone working up there?” She asked.
Snaran gulped while handing her one of the towels.
“Yeah.” She was quiet now. “Engineer, well, that’s we call him. ‘Sides Nike he’s the eldest. Been here so long and up there alone that we’ve forgotten his real name.”
“He never comes down?” Akaiame was nearly dry. Snaran moved behind her.
“I’ll do your wings! Well, for food and water, of course,” she continued. “But also for metal, nuts & bolts, a lot of stuff I don’t understand.”
“He even,” she pointed, “built some kind of counterbalance lift to get heavy stuff up there.”
“He’s been at it for a very long time…”
“And no one knows what it is?” Akaiame asked, surprised.
“Would… would it be wrong if I went up there, someday, and asked?”
“Wrong? No, but…” She was obviously uncomfortable about something. Akaiame waved her hand after pulling her once piece of clothing back on.
“So, which way to town, friend?”
From the Abandoned Factory they walked what Akaiame guessed from the position of the sun was northwest, coming quickly to another factory area, but this one was inhabited. She saw maybe a third of the buildings were occupied and making something.
She also noted that most of the people were human men; a few of the older male Feathers seemed to be helping them, but only a few. Conscious of the stares, she tried to furl her wings against her back as tightly as she could.
“It’s you, friend, not your wings,” Snaran said with her bright smile. “Everyone’s always curious about a hatchling!”
“Oh.” She kept her wings down.
They arrived at a bridge over a river maybe a score feet across.
“The water comes through a gate in the Wall that way,” Snaran waved vaguely north, “where I like to swim and play! The central part of town is just ahead!”
The brick, wood frame, and stucco houses and shops grew denser the further they went. The press of urbanity was relieved by the many trees between the buildings and the vines that grew on them.
Turning a small corner they stepped into a large circular plaza. There must have been two score people, humans, she thought, mostly women and children, talking or playing, respectively. There was a large clock tower on the north side. She smiled to take in the scene just as silence spread in a ripple from closest to them and out.
“Not again!” Her smile fled.
She felt Snaran take her right hand with her left and wave at everyone with her right. Seeing the cute happy girl allowed the plaza to begin to return to normal.
“This way!” She led them on the main road that led due north. “The best used clothes shop for us is up here on the right!”
“Used clothes?” That didn’t sound very nice.
“Didn’t Nike tell you anything useful?”
“I guess not,” she breathed.
“Stuck up old Feather!” Snaran huffed. “Anything we use – including clothes – must be second-hand. It’s a rule.”
“Well…” she considered that. “I guess if it’s something you made yourself, that’d be okay.”
“So if I took old cloth and used it to make my own clothes, that’d be fine?”
“Sure! But you don’t ‘take,’ friend. You’d buy it.”
“With what? I’ve no money – ”
“You will, once you get a job!”
What? Akaiame stopped suddenly.
“I’m getting a job? When?”
“Well, that’s kinda flexible, but most Feathers are working within a month of their hatching.”
She might be only a week old, but Akaiame was learning she’d a contrary streak a mile wide. She didn’t want to argue right now, so she tried something else.
“What is it you do? I see you at the Factory all the time!”
“I work part-time at a barber shop,” the younger replied easily. “The owner’s really not all that good with women’s hair, so I’ve kinda taken over that part of his business.”
“Oh.” A question formed. “What about Nike?”
She saw the gleam in Snaran’s eyes and ignored it.
“For some time he was a waiter at a café just south of town. But he really had a flair for it and now he’s the manager!”
“After we get you a new outfit,” her gleam grew brighter, “let’s drop by and show him!”
“So where’s this shop!” Akaiame almost growled at her. She laughed.