That’s the thing about this city…it was once home to flying humans.
The sun was a cracked yolk-shell, spilling crusty yellow and frosted blue across the skies. Plastic bags flit along with the dully quiet interstate, shed of anything except the squat fire extinguishers and sidewalks following its path.
Imani followed the road, cracking her knuckles to break the silence which often made her cry rivers under the protective shade. Sometimes, as she walked, she kneeled to lift a smooth stone from the street. They may have been aimed at houses once, decorated porches, painted all the colors of the rainbow. During the times when skyscrapers flaked off dried blue skin and draped it over the ancestors’ heads, when windows caught the cusps of birdsong, echoing for all to hear.
The city was now of broken glass and buried bones, useless stones, and towering skyscrapers, truly scraping the sky. Imani saw the sky bleed, each day. It hurt, like the broken she had become. If she screamed, no sound would escape her cracked lips. Tremors halted the cicadas from singing, and the night had abandoned a moon. She had no nightlight to guide the charred black cape of the sky. The skyscrapers’ bruise. Like the glued-together fragments of glass, she had become.
Imani was the sky, its black and blue, night and day bleeding mess. Sometimes she wanted to whisper… It’s okay, it’s okay. You don’t have to be the good girl anymore. The stitch and needle anymore. The tried and true sun anymore.
But the road had ended, leaving a wide expanse of rotted shrapnel and dusty remains of buildings blocking off the sides. When Imani looked down, she could see the road ended with a jagged crack, splitting sideways over the years. It hadn’t ended here, among the dirt-ridden shrapnel and slabs of stone. Somewhere out there, beyond termite-riddled fences and trashed sewers, there was a tried and tested world. If only she could grow splayed out wings splashed with the color—color she had long lost. Even then, she wouldn’t bring herself to cross the fields and cityscapes she was raised in.
✧─── ･ ｡ﾟ★: *.✦ .* :★. ───✧
The one thing the ancestors got right was history. Vaeda knew everything about it, the brooding mountains and scraggly dust bowls leading up to sandy beaches. Nobody knew where she came from, but nobody knew where anyone came from. It was what made them a community.
History is who they were. Bound to it, only mindless creatures not comprehensible as species, without a past. Lost, broken souls gathered in the remains of a dirt-sodden city.
Vaeda didn’t bother with appearances. Imani had watched her on her first day walking the streets from her stoop against the fire extinguisher, not bothering to conceal her bewilderment. She had carried a fancy bell, worn jangling earrings, and ratty scarves. Only a name to her soul. Vaeda. Vaeda. And stories. So many stories, carrying them under her wry smiles and chanting bell.
Somehow, she made paper hearts tattooed to skin seem like a real thing, believed in firefly-lit jars and candy-flavored teeth. Somehow, she made the towering buildings kneel in her wake—somehow, she broke and crumbled, but found a hand to knit the less-than-half-populated city back together. With stories, with past, with children whose names had been splattered against the cracked road.
Imani was late as she usually was, casually sliding between two kids and patting the dew-heavy grass tenderly. Just because her people were isolated didn’t mean the rumors didn’t spread. They could be about Vaeda’s blindness, her chanting bell, and ratty scarves, or the wrinkly skin younger kids pinched again and again, always smelling of daisies. Each story was in a different place, and sometimes, you wouldn’t know where until clusters of kids grouped around a certain area of the block.
The meadow’s wavy grasses danced in the slight breeze. Once, it had been home to barbed-wire fences, park benches, and a playset where you could sway to the breeze itself on a metal swing. Imani toyed with a locket strung around her wrist, wondering if Vaeda had chosen this spot on purpose, always beginning with the same line, each tale woven with—perhaps some truth.
“That’s the thing about this city. It was once home to flying humans. Our ancestors, the fallen angels.”
✧─── ･ ｡ﾟ★: *.✦ .* :★. ───✧
“The Earth was cool as it was young, and daylight bore new creatures rising for the sunlight. Humans—fresh as they were, smart as they were—-it was not their cleverness that lasted them through the slits and cracks of time we’ve evolved into. Underneath, deep entombed below the surface of our city, their wings still sparkle beneath their old, weeping bones.”
Vaeda paused, tapping a long fingernail to her stubby chin. For a second, Imani tried to see what she saw, being descended from human ancestors, wings belayed from their backs. The stiff rubber beneath the old swing…the ancient oaks she would scale, the dirt tasting her palms.
“The skies were theirs to claim, their even cuts through the sky, gliding like freedom. These creatures would not be silenced, but perhaps that was their problem, not being able to stay silent long enough. I’ll bet you kids will understand as much as to what happened.”
None of them responded. Some, Imani figured, had lost the will to speak, though Vaeda went on clanging her bells and tossing a stray strand of silver hair over her shoulder. She looked up at the sky when Vaeda did, both of them thinking the same thing: how the sky would bleed tonight.
“From angels, your ancestors went to the fallen graves, stripped of their freedom, stripped of their names. Forced into mines and cold labor, forcing to scrape the sky with more space. The ancestors always made the gods angry—but children, did your ancestors have any a choice but to be themselves?”
She knew. Imani knew how the ancestors felt, falling endlessly from their sky, blood, and feathers raining from the heavens. But did they have a choice to be themselves, thread and needle the cracked roads, wilted shrapnel, fogged-up rivets?
Vaeda smiled to her upturned palms as if imagining the wings unsheathing from them, erupting into water and flame. Imani remembered the jutted road, wondered how long it had been since she’d carried the pickaxe, cleared away the mountains of gravel in desperate attempts to find…
“Those wings could scale mountains, you know? Imagine the way their wings would lick the water’s edge when they wanted to swoop down…glossed over and refined. In a way, it makes me glad I’ve been descended from such creatures capable of flight—makes me think I can soar too. ”
The story was over nearly as soon as it had begun, as was the case with nearly all of Vaeda’s stories. Often, the kids would blankly watch her when she rose, teetering and tottering in that special way she did, ending as she always does. Ah, the position of the storyteller is a crude and brutal one, for fear of telling it wrong or leaving it without room for imagination keeps you up all night.
Imani felt that this story was different somehow, that it had been more personal. It made her want to hug Vaeda—give the old woman a big hug, both of them waiting for the wings that would carry them away.
✧─── ･ ｡ﾟ★: *.✦ .* :★. ───✧
For the first time in what must’ve been forever, Imani stepped out onto the grass at night, cloudy smog blocking her view of the moon, if there was a moon. She was afraid of screaming, afraid someone would listen, or that maybe nobody would listen except the wind.
And the stars. The stars were out tonight, the ones that swept up the ancestors and made their beds every nightfall. How it must feel, to fly among the mountains and stars, she would never know.
Imani felt the skies with her fingertips, wound the stars around her waist, finally letting the tears fall, crying along with the bleeding sky. She figured the sky would need a friend—-and maybe she did too, as they both buried their tears in each other’s shoulders, mourning for their lost wings.