Flight

Janice dipped the sponge in the murky water, cleaning the last of the blood off the falcon’s wings. She dropped it back in the bucket on the long, formica blue table with a plop and sighed. The detail work made her eyes hurt.

The birds at the Jerenon Aviary got into fights every once in a while. Janice knew it was part of the healing process—some birds needed to fight to get their mojo back—but it never failed to aggravate her. It meant extra work, and she didn’t like seeing her birds get hurt.

Janice dumped the bloody water down the cleaning sink, washed her hands, and put Raymond back in his transport cage. He tried to nip at her, but caught glove fibers in his beak instead. She waved him off and smiled. At least he was finally healing. She took another moment and blinked at the fluorescent lights, looked across the mostly ocean-blue-toned room. The long counters running around the room could hold four large birds at full wingspan, giving people working on them ample room to work, though Janice would count herself lucky if there was ever enough staff to have four people in the cleaning room at once. The long hours were starting to wear on her. She covered her eyes with a hand, and stared through her fingers. Her brown skin contrasted with the blue of the room. She stretched, her lithe figure bending sideways as her muscled arms rose to brush the cabinets above the counter. The ink-black, sinuous tattoo that traced her body stretched with her.

She opened Raymond’s cage and he took flight. He circled the spacious cage—about fifty feet in each direction and twice as tall—before landing on one of the scattered trees and branches that littered the area. One of the other falcons landed near him and he took flight again. He wasn’t looking for a fight. Janice smiled as Raymond let out a piercing whistle. In a few more weeks, he’d be ready to go out into the world again.

That evening, Janice climbed to the roof of her apartment and looked out over Queens. She was wearing dark green sweat pants and a deep purple crop-top, a good compliment to her black hair (dyed green at the tips), which was up in a ponytail, and her bright green bellybutton stud.

The door to the roof opened. “Happy twenty-fifth.” a voice said behind her. She turned to see Peter, a middle-aged, half-Japanese, half-Italian man coming from the stairwell. Her partner in crime.

She grinned. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you it’s rude to know a woman’s age?”

Peter smiled back. The yellow roof light was making his ochre skin shine. He had combed his short brown hair over his slowly expanding bald spot, a look that Janice didn’t appreciate on him. He was a bit fleshier than Janice, fat collected more at his stomach and on his arms and face. It was a trait that only increased with time, a result of aging rather than diet.

He walked to the edge and looked over the rooftops. Janice followed his gaze to the familiar red and blue lights of an AC unit about ten roofs over. They looked at each other. “Race tonight?” he asked.

“Sounds good to me.” Janice smiled.

They both took about five steps back and Peter pulled off his shirt so he was only wearing his black skinny jeans.

They spoke together, “Three”

“Two.”

“One.”

“Go.”

They raced forward and lept off the roof at almost the same moment. Janice’s tattoo shifted, running along her body like oil across water, and exploded from her back into large, black wings. The thrill of flight overtook her and she laughed aloud. She was glad to have the freedom she loved to see in the birds she worked with. She beat her “wings” with a thought (they were actually made of a substance stronger than most anything else), and sped across the rooftops towards the lights. The crow Peter had turned into flew two rooftops ahead of her—she was getting faster—and he circled around the AC unit once before turning human again. He smiled at her as she arrived, her tattoo turning into a ramp at her feet to slow her speed from flight. As she came to a stop, the tattoo bled back across her body, resuming its normal tracing form. They were both panting.

“I’ve always wondered,” Peter said, still smiling, “doesn’t that get heavy?”

“Not really,” Janice said, sitting down, her back against the AC unit. She gazed at the tattoo piece at her wrist, turning her wrist over to look. “There is some weight to it, and I’ve used it for weight to get my extremities stronger, but there isn’t much unless it’s all concentrated in one place. I’ve gotten used to it.”

Peter sat next to her. Janice spoke again. “Now I get to ask a question.”

“Sure.”

“Where the hell does all your mass go?”

“Honestly?” he considered for a moment. “I have no idea. Never thought to question it. Or where I get the extra mass for bigger things. Couldn’t tell you.”

They sat for a few moments, Peter watching the stars and Janice watching the city.

“So,” Peter said, “Race back?”

Janice smiled and they lept off the roof again.

Advertisements

Breadmaker

Thud. Scrape. Poof. Thud. Thud. Poof. Thud.

Rachel loved the feel of dough in her hands.

Whirr. Splorch. Scrape. Scrape. Squish. Whoosh. Thud. Thud. Ding.

She sat down for the second time that day and took a rest as the third batch of bread baked in the oven.

Crackle. Fizz. Stomp. Stomp. Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap.

“Happy Anniversary, Rachel!” Devon, her fellow baker, self-proclaimed king of pastries, gave her her first year pin, which she clipped to her nametag.

Clunk. Clunk. Ka-ching!

“Have a nice day, Hobbes.” Hobbes took his croissant and change from her and headed to work at the deli.

Whoosh. Whoosh. Sigh. Ding ding! Clunk.

The broom hit the floor as Rachel pulled her bread from the oven.

Kathunk. Thunk. Thunk. Crunch. Shwip. Pshhh.

She dumped the trash bag outside and went to make a fourth batch of bread.

Thud. Scrape. Poof. Thud. Thud. Poof. Thud. Sigh.

Rachel loved the feel of dough in her hands.

Whirr. Splorch. Scrape. Scrape. Squish. Whoosh. Thud. Thud. Ding. 

She smiled.

Radioactive

Jacob walked the wasteland. The dust blew from every direction and no direction at once, swirling into eddies and breezing apart again. The humming, sharp sounds of the gasmask echoed in his ears. He was one of the few scavengers, and gasmasks were a priority. It was the only way to breathe on the surface. Just the week before, Colin and Faith had been lost to dragons. The beasts’ claws weren’t what did them in. They asphyxiated when their eyeholes were poked out by the golden-eyed freaks. Jacob turned his head to look behind him. The wasteland was as empty of life as it was in front of him, but it was never bad to be too careful.

He rooted through an old house and found, besides furniture, a few springs, a teddy bear, and a moldy candy bar. He kept the springs and the bear.

~~~~~

ONE WEEK LATER

~~~~~

Jacob felt the dust and wind blow against his clothes. He stepped through the other side of the airlock and it breathed shut behind him. The tunnel that led to the surface was short, steep, and at this time of day the sun shone straight onto the airlock door. Jacob lifted his hand to block the light, leaving the tunnel. He found a playground past the house he had searched last week. Most of the metal pipes that made the structures were rusted, and the plastic had been eaten through by who knows what. Jacob pushed the rocking horse on a spring and the metal screamed as it rubbed against itself, but the horse bounced.

Jacob was aware of the sound of the gunshot a moment before it hit. The bullet his his mask and the twist on the mask, and and his head, from the impact pushed him to the ground. Before he could think, he took a breath and dust filled his lungs. He coughed, and kept coughing.

Figures stood above him as he coughed and he was aware through his tearing eyes that one of them was holding a gun on him. They must be bandits. he thought. Only bandits would wear bandanas. It took him another moment to process what he saw. We were told nobody could stay on the surface without a…

“Oh, you’re immune, ain’t ya,” the man holding the gun said. “Well, it’s always good to add another to the band.” Jacob barely registered the man’s words in his shock. How am I not…I’m glad to be alive, but how…

Jacob was hauled to his feet. His mask was torn off. He kept breathing and coughed every so often.

“C’mon mate,” said the man who had been holding a gun on him. “Your old place will never take you back like this. They’ll think you’ll infect them. You’re with us now, the immune ones.” He cracked a smile, white teeth showing through dark and dirt-stained skin.