“A hummingbird? Scared of heights? I never thought such a thing could happen, but I guess I knew you were a weird one!” my classmates tease me. I blink the tears out of my eyes, and fly away to the one place I felt safe.
Katsumi was waiting for me, in the abandoned rabbit hole. I smile and lean on to her shoulder, muttering to myself.
She frowns, “I always knew you were one bad egg, Aspi.” She flies away in disgust.
I sit there, confused, on the lonely branch that managed to twist it’s way to the ground. A bush rustles behind me, and someone pops out of it.
“I never liked you,” Katsumi pulls me into a hug that I gladly accepted. “I was only acting, to make sure you at least lived until you got banished.”
“And now? Now you die.” Katsumi’s claws start tightening around my neck.
I jolt awake, my claws already detached from the branch. I fall for two seconds, thinking about what could possibly happen if I don’t stop myself from hitting the ground.
My wings start flapping, acting on instinct, making the oh-so-famous humming noise. I fly up, higher and higher into the tree.
Don’t look down, don’t look down, DON’T LOOK DOWN!
I look down. And my wings give away, letting me fall. Stopping myself, I fly into the abandoned owl tree hollow that I call home.
My breaths are fast. Too fast. I count again, making sure that it’s around 5 breaths a second. My legs fasten onto a branch again, flipping me over.
"Never again," I mutter a phrase I overuse.
I always knew you were one bad egg.
I never liked you!
Now you die.
My best friend, and my only friend’s insults revolve in my head. I take another deep breath, it was just a dream.
Something will only happen if you let it happen. My father’s soothing voice washes over me like a flood. I feel his protective wings around mine.
Three days since I’ve been banished from the tribe, and I’m already starting to lose grasp on reality.
Three days since the guilt is weighing me down, and Katsumi still likes me.
The moon glares at me, holding it’s gaze. I stare back, lost in deep thought.
Would Katsumi build her house near me, if she didn’t like me? Well, she did build it pretty far away, but close enough to fly there from time to time. But if I feel really lazy, I’d use my car.
You know she’s been avoiding you!
Yeah, I know. I know why too.
It’s not my fault Katsumi’s clumsy… or is it? Her aunt sucks, but she didn't deserve this...The devil poke and prods.
I chuckle to myself, wondering if it’s possible to have so many voices in your head.
Glancing at the clock, I open my wings, not able to sleep. My feathers glint a tropical neon green in the moonlight. Katsumi’s orange would be prettier.
I fly over to her place, knowing she’s awake. She probably knows I’ll be coming over tonight, like I did for the past two days.
I stick close to the ground, and climb the ladder she made for me. The carvings she made on it are beautiful, the spirals and the stars looking so perfect on the wood.
“Aspi? Come in! I just prepped some nectar for you,” her high voice calls out as soon as I knock.
I open the well-crafted door, to find her resting in her living room by the fireplace. My beak opens in awe. She built two resting branches, all by herself! I didn’t even know that was possible without machines!
“Katsumi! I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but…” I raise my eyebrows in surprise anyway. She smiles, putting her book down.
“Did you know in the ‘olden times’ when humans were around, we didn’t have cheeks? Or lips?! How did our ancestors smile?” Katsumi laughs, pulling me down on the branch next to hers.
“Oh, really? Did you know that we used to eat raw bugs? My sister took me out to try one, saying it was delicious,” I laugh, thinking of those moments. My sister, I wonder if she misses me…
Katsumi's face darkened, “Do you ever regret hating your parents because they wouldn’t get you something? That feeling when you realize everything can be taken away from you, just like that?”
"It's fine. Never again," I whisper. She tries to smile, and fails. I stay quiet and wrap my wings around her. She sobs quietly, and we sit like that for hours. Her tears soak into my feathers, until I can’t tell if it’s my sweat, or her tears.
Katsumi falls asleep, and I drape the blanket over her, leaving her be. I pick up the book she was reading.
That she was writing in. I flip to the first page, where a little note was written.
Pour your heart out, this diary can handle it all, even if I can't.
I frown, I didn’t know Katsumi had a diary! Well, I guess I’m not supposed to know… I flip the page, even though my brain is shouting at me to stop.
Dear Diary, 01/31/5020
It’s my birthday, and Aspi got me the best gift ever. Ink made out of sheep’s bone! No one can see it except me, since I poured a drop of my blood in it. It’s like a better version of invisible ink! I hope Aspi liked my gift, his birthday was a few days ago. Next year, we’ll both be fourteen, and we can build our own homes in the colony.
Dear Diary, 01/22/5021
Sorry, I’ve forgotten about you. Apsi’s birthday is in two days and he said something crazy. Aspi asked me if I wanted to sneak out, since the moon is at its brightest tomorrow. And the worst part is, I agreed.
Dear Diary, 01/23/5021
Tonight, I’m sneaking out with Aspi, to see the moon, and I hope we don’t get killed. Mother says the monsters out there are bigger than any of our homes. I’m going to keep you in my satchel, just in case.
I smile, remembering that. We made a tiny burrow together, and she told me that she would never abandon me, phobia or not. Katsumi and I stayed there all night, and no one noticed we were ever gone. Teachers knew something was wrong though… I wince, looking at the year-old scars.
I keep reading, just to see what happens.
Dear Diary, 01/24/5021
Aspi and I made a burrow into the ground, and we fell asleep watching the stars. It was so beautiful, I don’t understand why we couldn’t explore before the age of 14. I would’ve loved to grow up in the fresh, crisp air. I don’t think Aspi slept, what if he watched me sleep?! Ugh, I hope I didn’t drool. My mother says that hummingbirds with orange feathers don’t drool, but I don’t think that’s true. I’m sneaking out tonight too, wish me luck!
I smile, Katsumi didn’t drool, and she still doesn’t. Closing her diary, I fly outside, trying to practice going high again.
The wind ruffles my feathers as I shoot up. Flying is like…backwards diving. It’s the same feeling, and when you’re flying really fast, your stomach is in your throat. The rush feels good, and the dread of when you reach the goal is the same.
But when you’re diving, the goal is the ground. Flying means the goal is the top. I reach the highest branch on the highest tree and rest there. I peek downwards, scared that the branch is going to give away.
My vision started going blurry, and I was about to faint when I saw the ground so far away. The lights in Katsumi’s house are just tiny dots, fighting to make it in my vision.
I hear a calm voice, “It’s okay, just look up at the moon, and see how much farther you can go!” I follow the advice, and stare at the stars.
They’re tiny insignificant pinpricks of light too, except above me. I look down and pretend it’s my new up.
“Wait, what? Katsumi? When did you get here?” I frown, realizing the voice wasn’t in my head.
“I’m a good ninja, right?” she puffs up her chest. I laugh, and walk over to her, embracing the fear. I smile, regretting that I could drag such a nice person into such a cruel world. My smile falls away, and I force myself to bring it back up.
“I know what you’re thinking about, and it’s not your fault I got banished. I agreed to do it with you!” Katsumi reads my mind.
“Yes it is, if I didn’t make you steal that book…” I trail off, my face taking on a gloomy state.
“No, don’t think that, I never liked my aunt anyway! She’d be dead by now either way,” Katsumi throws the unspoken fact out there. "And I'm the one who killed her."
"Never again," I whisper, and fly back to her house.