This story contains injuries (including inflicted by a family member), distant/abusive/manipulative family, returning to a bad situation, implied kidnapping, and implied poisoning
You awake to the murmur of voices and the howling of the wind.
For a moment, you don’t know where you are, or who is with you, and then you see the steel-eyed figures dressed in stiff black garments. Their starched clothes seem to be the only things supporting their scrawny frames against the brutal cliffside breeze as they stand stick-like, spread around you. They are pale and sharp, and their eyes are hardly more than dark holes in their faces as they turn to you.
Feeling starts pooling like water into the cracks and crevices of the body you’ve regained, and you can hear your bones groan under the weight as you shift for the first time in what feels like centuries. Your clothing is just as inflexible as you, and you realize you are wearing an outfit, one of the ones that sit at the back of your closet in a long cloth bag until someone drags it out and stuffs you into it like one of those paper dolls you used to see in magazines. It’s not quite anything anyone has a word for- it’s not a gown or suit or frock or tunic, not a coat or wrap or shawl or robe. All you’ve called it is an outfit, and only with the sneer of disgust on your tongue that befits such a thing, though those around you refrain from the latter. It’s traditional, and heavy, and digs sharp fabric corners into your soft skin as you struggle to sit up.
The people around you do nothing to help, the quiet chatter that you opened your eyes to disappearing into the whistling wind that tugs on your hair and plays with the leaves of the gnarled tree that you lie under.
They only stare, and if you didn’t know better, you’d call them owlish.
You manage to pull yourself upright, back resting against a wooden knot that digs into your spine, and return the gaze of the specters that have gathered around you.
“Well.” One of them says curiously, whose clothing is adorned with so much jewelry you’re sure that you’d be blinded if the sun ever shone up here.
“Well.” Another scoffs, and you can hardly tell the person from the clothes, so covered and starched, are they.
“Well.” A sleek figure comes forward, bending down to look at you. Dark eyes, endless as the night and just as familiar, meet yours, and you look away first, berating yourself.
You know, deep in the pit of your stomach, what has happened. A change- one you’ve gone your entire life without making. One that is evidenced by the loose glossy black feathers scattered around you.
“Little Crow.” The woman says, enunciating each syllable. You know she is tasting it, a lifetime of fights and disappointment and power plays- to finally win. She is tasting victory and savoring it.
A hand touches your shoulder and you flinch (almost) imperceptibly away as she lifts a feather from the shoulder of your worn outfit, so ragged in comparison to hers.
“Finally.” She sighs, and lifts your limp hand, clasping the feather between her hand and yours. “You’ve run for so long, darling. Welcome home.”
You stare at her perfectly painted nails and imagine them running along your arms, fitting you into the horrid clothes as she used to all those years ago.
You’re stuck, and despite everything, a small, bitter part of you laughs.
Now that you have wings, you’re more trapped than you’ve ever been.
Your mother stands up, and two cousins approach with a wheelchair.
They lift your bruised body into the chair and slowly wheel you back down the hill to the manor, each painful bump shaking loose an even more painful memory.
At first, you think it’s just a cold.
Your friends have gotten colds before- you can never get a clear answer on where they come from. Someone, nose red and stuffy, will tell you they must have stayed out in the winter air too long last night, but another will laugh at them, calling it a myth.
You’ve never gotten sick before, but maybe you’ve spent enough time away from your family that their influence is wearing off. With a sigh of relief, you email your professor and tell him you’ll be missing classes today. You shut the laptop and drink your tea, relishing the sweet sugar that coats your tongue with every sip.
The next thing you know, there is a banging on your front door.
You are coated in dried tea and sweat, and as you shift you hear the soft melodic clanking of shattered ceramic. You try to lift your arm, but that simple action causes a wave of dizziness to roll over you.
You fall asleep again, and then your mother’s face is looming over yours.
“Hello, little crow.” She says, smiling with too many teeth.
There is a panic that fills you then.
Years and years of oppression and hatred and side-glances and snide comments and shame.
Shame for not being like your cousins, like your mother, like your aunts and uncles and grandparents.
And then a realization, and desperation to get out. To not be like them. To not be stuck.
You found a feather under your pillow once. You were sixteen and had been saving up money from doing odd, demeaning chores around the house for four years. It had been a particularly rough day, cleaning out your cousin’s rooms for the lowest pay you’d gotten in weeks.
You’d broken down, clutching the feather in your fist, sobbing on the floor of your basement room. They only bothered to check on you two hours later, and they just laughed at the prank your cousin had pulled.
That was the worst you had ever felt in your life.
You managed to leave at 18, and get into a college on the other side of the country. You thought you left all that behind.
So when you woke up on your old, creaky bed, with your mother beside you, you fled.
Out the door up the stairs down the hallway to the left up the stairs down the hallway out the door and there was a car was pulling up in the driveway so left up the hill up the hill up up up-
There is a searing pain as your mother catches up to you, and her talons dig into your back. You thrash in vain, trying to pull away, and then you are falling.
People are talking again.
You block them out.
You’ve gotten out of this place before.
You’ll get better, then make your escape.
They can’t keep chasing after you forever.