There was a cold breeze through my room and I knew why before I even opened my eyes.
I left the window open.
I rolled over under the blankets to look at it. The window was open, the screen was up and I could feel the morning dew sticking to me. I stood up, knowing I had to shut it before Mrs. Tanners came to wake me up. It was still six o'clock, I had half an hour.
The window squeaked as it went down and then snapped shut, making me grit my teeth, hands still on it. I didn't want to draw her in before I was ready.
I turned back to the open space of my room and picked up my clothes from last night, a t-shirt and very baggy black sweatshirt with two long slits cut down the back of them. They fit in a shoebox that was then slid under my bed. No one had found it yet, there were no questions about it. It just quietly sat there, a dirty little reminder of my secret.
I mean that literally. I'd never washed those clothes. Laundry was not something I knew how to do.
The morning was still young and I layed back down, hoping to catch a few more minutes of sleep before she woke me up.
Mrs. Tanners was the closest thing I had to a parent. She had her own son, Xavier, and then she decided to take care of me too. I can't imagine why. I was mean, nasty and had a lot of issues with talking to people.
A typical conversation might go like this:
The hell do you want?
Just seeing how your day was.
And it would usually end about there. I still don't see how I didn't get shot or stabbed before this time.
I pulled the blankets tighter around me, hearing footsteps out in the hall. It was too early. I didn't have to go to school, why did I have to get up? My wings were sore from last night. I envied the birds that flew in the daylight. They didn't have to worry about being a human-avian hybrid. They didn't have to worry about being seen.
Funny how the world always seems to see the things you don't want it to. It was a constant struggle to hide from it.
There was a knock at the door and I grumbled something that I didn't even know what it was supposed to sound like.
But I got up. And I stared at my toes in the sunlight, saw the pale skin that never saw much daylight, and I stood up. I pulled on a different sweatshirt, one not so baggy and also a soft gray with pink letters across the front.
The floor was freezing cold as I walked across it. I put some socks on and walked into the hallway, shutting my bedroom door behind me. Xavier bumped into me on the way to the bathroom, grumbled an apology and continued on his way. I went further down the hall, to the kitchen and sat at the counter. Mrs Tanner said a cheery good morning to me. I grunted in response.
She went about the kitchen, fetching eggs and bacon and proceeded to make us breakfast.
I might not always be the best at showing it, but I was gracious and I did love her. There's just a thing that happens when you grow up in a dog kennel. I could tell a dog I loved it. I could play with them on the ground, playfighting, even. But when it came to people things were much choppier.
She slid a plate of eggs and bacon to me and then tossed a fork over. I snatched it out of the air and went to work.
Xavier came out from the bathroom and joined us there. It was still horribly quiet, Xavier and I both too tired to hold a conversation while Mrs. Tanners flipped through a newspaper. She didn't really read it, only looked for important news. Finding nothing, she put it down.
"What are you going to do today?" she asked.
"Dunno," was my flat, uninterested response.
We fell silent again after that. Xavier got up and cleared his place. Mrs. Tanners started cleaning the kitchen. I leaned against the counter and swirled egg yolk around my plate with the fork, patiently waiting for them both to leave.
"Are you done?" Mrs. Tanners asked me after a minute. "Still hungry?"
I shook my head and stood, clearing my place and setting the plate and fork in the dishwasher.
Impatience was on of my many downfalls. I was tired of waiting for them to leave.
It always feels like an eternity, when you have to wait for something really simple. And when they had both finally left, Xavier for school and Mrs. Tanners for work, I had the house to myself.
I sighed in relief, got changed and fanned my wings out. They were pretty, I always thought. The softest feathers were black. The flight feathers, those long stiff ones, were white and anything inbetween was some shade of gray, the softer the darker.
Xavier and Mrs. Tanners had no idea I had wings grafted into my DNA, or that I knew how to fly, or that I went out in the middle of the night sometimes just to do that. I intended to keep it that majority of people would not accept me like this. I wasn't really human. How could I be?
I settled in and watched some TV, staring at the screen a long hour. It was mostly mindless. Just the news, I tried not to get sucked in too much to the geekery on other channels. (Didn't mean it didn't happen every now and then.)
There wasn't much good news. It was all about the war over in distant countries, about oil and money, global warming, and finally more local stuff. There was a string of armed robberies in the neighborhood.
It made me worry. I wasn't scared; it's hard to be scared after being pretty thoroughly abused for lab experiments for the first ten years of your life.
But Xavier and Mrs. Tanners. They didn't have my kind of experience. To me they were fragile. I could take a broken bone and be up and walking about in a matter of days. Lab perks, you know. The stereo typical side effects of being genetically modified. I healed insanely fast, especially flesh wounds and I was also extremely hard to seriously injure. (Such the other reason why an armed robber didn't scare me so much.) They didn't have that.
I sighed, sitting there. It's exhausting not having anything to do all day. It wears you down, makes you depressed. I was bored. I wanted to go out flying but hell, it was broad daylight outside. Instead I pumped up some tunes and practised some martial arts.
A third good thing that came out of the lab experiences was my training. I am a genetically modified organism. A shitton of people would love to study me, more than likely including vivisections and all kinds of other unpleasant and dangerous things. I had to defend myself from getting dragged into one of those types of places and the lab recognized that. They taught me self defense.
Now, after I had passed that training, I still practised it and I felt pretty good at it. I didn't always use it in real situations, but still to effortlessly go through the motions of kicks and punches and throws and have them be so second nature to you that you don't have to think about it-it was a satisfying feeling.
It also remembered me of the good old lab. It was all I knew for a long time. Ten years of my short, fourteen year long life. There were definitely parts of it I'd rather block out. The pool, the operation tables, sharp pointy objects. But it was still my home. I still missed curling up with three bundles of fur pressed up against me. Dasher, Drooler and Ding-dong. The three dogs that were more or less my siblings.
Remembering them hurt me. I stopped my martial arts practise, the mood gone. I inhaled deeply, clearing my head and went back in my room. Hunting down some normal clothes without any slits down the back, I got changed and prepared to go out.
Do you know how fast I could fly? Not really. You don't know me that well so I'll explain.
The average human walking speed is three miles per hour. At a sprint you might reach twenty eight miles per hour. Even a sprint felt ridiculously slow to me. Highway speed is supposed to be around fifty-five to sixty-five miles per hour. Cars felt sluggish to me,like slogging through mud.
I could clock fifty miles per hour simply gliding. Going any slower caused problems, unless I wanted to do the equivalent of tiptoeing to you ground dwellers, where you find yorself exerting more energy simply by moving so slowly and your muscles get sore and tired. Flying slowly required me to use the strength and speed of my wings to remain airborne and that really sucked.
At a comfortable pace, the equivalent of walking at a pretty normal speed, I clocked an easy seventy.
My preferred speed was around a hundred and twenty miles per hour, and it still isn't the fastest I could go. The fastest would have to be around a hundred and fifty, and that was mostly because any little turn or swoop or dive would suddenly blow me back. It was an awkward, straightforward shot at that speed. Like how you can't make any kind of sharp turn while running without hurting yourself in some way.
So yeah, walking at three miles per hour-painful.
It was awful and I took up periods of jogging to try and go at least a little faster, but you know, my legs weren't really built for long periods of jogging and they tired out.
Eventually I reached a park. It was a quiet day. No one else was around except an older woman walking a big dog.
The swings squeaked here, with a very specific rhythm, but it never changed. It was comforting as much as it was annoying. I had good memories here, some of the first positive ones after I'd been released from the lab and thrown into the world to fend for myself.
I knew next to nothing. I starved, I got dehydrated, I got sick, I was filthy, and I was as homeless as homeless got.
The day crawled by, I swung back and forth lazily on the swing, the air whipped my red hair into a tangled mess and instead of being frustrated about it, there was a gentle sense of relief in the back of my mind. I wouldn't have to find something to occupy myself for at least twenty minutes.
An hour or so after I got there, I decided to leave and go home. But a group of kids walked into the park and made me stop to look. They were my age. High schoolers. They looked sketchy to begin with but I always took note not to judge by appearances.
Still they got settled in at the park, laughing and messing around. They didn't take any note of me at all. After a while looking around to make sure they weren't being watched, they started passing around a smoke, or what I guessed to e something more like a joint.
Stupid teenagers. If they were going to smoke that, then there were much better places to do it than a public park in the middle of the city. On top of that, I was watching them. I could tell on them and they'd probably not even remember me sitting here, lazily swinging on the swings.
Either way, it wasn't any of my business and I got up and left, starting the painfully long walk back home.
There really isn't much to do in my life. Read, watch TV or movies, walk to the park… that just about sums it up. I went to the library on a very regular basis to get books but you can only do so much reading. Most of my education came from reading, really. I didn't go to school. I couldn't. Mrs. Tanners had not legally adopted me through the proper channels so I just kind of freeloaded off of her, which really sucks. I hated the thought of being a burden on her. I cleaned what I could around the house but sometimes I jus really didn't feel like it.
They lived in Fieldsburg. It was a pleasant little city in the warmth and sun of the south-eastern United States. Out on Florida, you know. I really enjoyed being so close to the ocean. Warm breezes blew in from the water at night and I could catch them and fly lazily over the suburbs when I wanted.
I hadn't yet dared fly in the main part of the city. Too many cameras and lights. I'd be too easily spotted. But out in the suburbs, I could be free from the bulk of that fear. Unless someone happened to point a spotlight up at the sky, they wouldn't see me. Even then, they'd probably get thrown into the loony bin if they claimed to see me.
I got back to the Tanners' house with a couple hours to spare before Xavier got home from school, so I made the best of that time and changed into my wing-friendly clothes again. It always felt good to walk around able to stretch them. They got stiff whenever we went on vacation and I didn't have the ability to do that anymore.
My wings… I loved them so much. They were pretty. They kept me from being restrained to the ground. They let me go up in the air and swoop and dive and corkscrew all over the place in the open air. It was like I could make my own roller coaster out of thin air. I had long, serious debated with myself about whether or not it was worth the experiments and the deprived childhood I had, just to get them.
Of course, my wings weren't the only thing I accounted for. There was also the very tough human part. The very fast and agile part and then the glowing eyes part. I've already said, I heal fast and can take quite a beating, but I had fast, limber movements that let me always beat Xavier's hand to the last bits of food at dinner.
The glowing eyes. I don't understand the science behind it. I'm mostly uneducated, but if I wanted to I could make my eyes glow in the dark; like a deep, red-colored glow stick. It was one of those things like my wings. No one could ever see me do it. It's not normal, it's freaky and unpleasant.
It's also me.
In the end I usually forgave the lab for experimenting on me, becasue they were never that horrible to me. I'd never been raped, or physically beaten, so I had more going for me than some of the other unfortunate souls out there. At the same time, I was still prett ypissed about being forced into something before I was even alive.
It's wrong to experiment on people. Even living being like the dogs are not really very ethical test subjects, but it's a necessary evil. If you want to mess around with human DNA to the degree that you give them wings, you have to run tests.
I slumped on the couch thinking over my lab experiences again. I laid back, closing my eyes a bit, bored out of my mind with the monotony of my life. A feeling stirred in my gut, warning me, the monotony was going to go away. There was something important out there in the world, and it was about to grab me.
Drifting off into an uneasy sleep, I wasted the last of my time alone on the couch, wings sprawled out, one off the edge and the other wrapped around my shoulder.
I was a side sleeper. Not really a back sleeper. Two extra limbs makes laying on your back pretty uncomfortable sometimes.
I managed to drag myself back into the waking world before Xavier got home and got changed again.
Hungry, I started raiding the cupboards. Some chips and ketchup became my afternoon snack. I was eating them when he came through the door, sighed and went to drop his backpack in his room.
He came out and slumped into a chair, looking tired.
"You know, you're really lucky you don't have to go to school," he said.
Xavier was fifteen and stood a head higher than me. He somehow managed to look respectable despite thin arms and legs. He even worked out a few times a week but his muscles refused to grow any bigger.
"Wouldn't know," I told him. "Never been." My voice had it's usual bitter tone and I'm sure my facial expression was pissy. I was probably the biggest bitch in the entire city.
He let out another sigh and reached for the bag of chips, munching on them noisily.
"It's not really fun." He licked salt off his fingers before getting up and getting some cheese and crackers.
To tell you the full, uncensored truth, I really like Xavier. He's normal and he's kind. He also happens to be the one that invited me to his house the first time. That was two years ago, when I was thirteen. He found me and bought me some lunch before introducing me to his mother. When she found out I didn't have any parents and no home, she invited me to stay with them.
That was what brought me to here, staying with them, vacationing with them, eating with them. I was part of their family, even if I never really had one.
"Teachers are all asshats," he continued to explain. "The computers suck, they harass you about nothing, there's no fun there."
I grunted in response.
He leaned back, understanding that particular tone of grunt meant something along the lines of, "I'm listening."
"I dunno," he said after a moment to think. "It seems so pointless sometimes, but I guess it is important for my future."
"Mhm," was my response.
He drummed his fingers against the table, reaching the point in the conversation where he didn't know where to go.
I was very bad at socializing with him and he found it difficult to work around my issues.
"Are you still hungry?" He asked, seeing that I had stopped eating.
I shook my head and stood up from the table.
He put the bag of chips and the cheese and crackers away.
I didn't know what he did after that. I got in the shower and stripped down outside the tub. I'm an odd person. I'll take showers at whatever time-morning, night, afternoon. It didn't matter. I called it adaptability. Xavier called it weird.
The hot water felt good, running down my back, running down the feathers, heating up my wings.
I'll tell you a secret: there isn't a lot of flesh on a bird wing. A chicken wing, like you eat with pizza, is actually the leg, and the crispy point little appendages on a whole bird are the wings. And those little pointy things are all the flesh of the full wing. More than half of the surface area is feathers. The primaries are the longest and I had twelve of them, and fourteen secondaries. All of them stuck so deeply in the flesh of the wing, they probably went into the bone. It hurt when I had to yank them out. That happened sometimes too. The shafts can break, just like a fingernail and if I didn't remove them, the feather wouldn't grow back until I 'molted' naturally. But that could take an entire year.
I stayed under the hot water for a long time and when I finally got out, it was cold and goosebumps rose on my flesh. My wings fluffed out, I shook the water off of them as best as I could- they dried quickly.
I pulled my jeans back on, but not my shirt yet. I reached for a q-tip and started cleaning my ears, examining the tip and finding it still clean. It'd been that way since I decided to clean them everyday after I got out of the shower. It was a good way to make a habit of something-to decide to do it directly after something that was already part of your routine.
With a sigh, I bent over and picked up my bra and pulled it on, over my head, feeling the straps strangle my wings under them. It was rather uncomfortable. I had my own, specialones that I had modified. It was a skill I'd built up over the past couple years so I wasn't flying around with no bra. It got drafty up there, you know.
I was reaching for my shirt when the door opened behind me and I whirled, seeing Xavier for a very brief second before he slammed the door shut. The stupid lock I didn't bother to lock.
"Sorry," he apologized shakily.
My knees shook. He'd seen my wings. That secret was out.
I looked in the foggy mirror, seeing the dark splotch on my back, signifying where they were.
Yanking my shirt back on, I left the bathroom and went into my own room, shutting the door with a quiet click behind me, before I laid down on my bed and buried my face in my pillows.