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Taking Flight

By Rachael LindseyPublished 2 years ago 12 min read
Photo by Spencer Watson on Unsplash

Chapter 1

My feet pound on the wet earth, matched by the drumbeat of my heart. Low-hanging branches whip and slice my face, stinging in the tears rolling down my cheeks. RUN! My entire body cries in terror as my feet slip in the thick layer of decaying leaves covering black soil. The slip happens in slow motion, the possibility of debilitating disaster displayed in my mind’s eye with striking clarity. But I have the resiliency of youth, and it is only a momentary delay, a terrifying glimpse of failure.

After what feels like days, I arrive at the stream beyond which rests safety and escape. I gulp for breath to fill my lungs and contemplate my crossing. Normally this stream is easy to traverse, a trickle of water with a pebble floor. But it has been pouring rain for weeks and the stream rages. One misstep now could spell an agonizing death. I pace along the bank as my breath slows and my mind calms.

The setting sun ticks out the minutes until darkness. I bite my lip in concentration and fear. Remember the answer. I know framing the decision in this way relieves pressure to make the right choice, I only need to trust guidance.

I could follow the stream higher into the woods where it narrows to an easy jump. I could trace it downstream until it widens and flows shallowly for easier fording. I glance at the violet-tinged western sky and look cautiously over my shoulder, listening for sounds of pursuit. I am relieved to hear only the patter of rain on the forest floor.

I stand on the bank's edge tentatively reaching one foot out, feeling comfortable I could leap from this bank to the other. I see a sycamore sapling that offers an opportunity to grab if needed. I hope I won’t need it.

The area on this side of the stream is well-forested and flat, with a runway between the ancient tree trunks to gain speed. I hope it is enough. Feet don’t slip now! I purposefully plant each foot firmly on the ground, gaining speed. One, two, three… I count each step in a chant, casting a spell for my success, manifesting my outcome. LEAP! I push my left foot off the wet bank, eyes laser-focused on my landing spot. I land perfectly but my right knee buckles in the soft muck, twisting me sideways where I fall into the arms of my sycamore sapling.

I check myself for injuries and, finding nothing serious, get my bearings. Slightly left of sunset should be perfect. I hurry to arrive before dark, picking my way between the monster tree trunks.

My heart leaps in relief when I finally see my dilapidated barn on the limestone bluff. I carefully pick handholds and footholds, watching for rattlesnakes and scorpions in crevices, climbing my way to safety.

The last slice of sun dips below the horizon as I first smell the wet hay in the barn’s loft. I’m giddy with comfort and relief as I place my hands on the loft’s ladder and haul myself skyward. I easily sink to nestle in the dank hay, belly grumbling protest to the night’s missing meal.

Tomorrow I promise myself.

Chapter 2

I dream of barking dogs, but I fly above them, out of reach. I soar across the landscape in complete ecstasy.

“June!”, voices calling from below rouse me from reverie. I feel as if I’d only just closed my eyes. As if I was running all night long. Weary. Oddly my arms are burning with exhaustion rather than my legs.

Noooooo! my mind screams in denial. I open my eyes to a full moon setting on the horizon through the barn’s window and a cacophony of dogs howling below. TRAPPED! My mind shrieks, and I awkwardly clinch a fist, frenzy burning in my chest. There’s nowhere to hide. I can’t go back.

The ladder creaks with the weight of ascent and then eyes peek above the ladder into the loft, adjusting to the darkness. Jimmy from the feed store raises a flashlight and calls softly, “June?”, as he scans the loft with the beam of light. My blood runs cold as the light creeps closer and closer. I am frozen still. When the beam hits me, I scream in anguish, IT HURTS! but it sounds more like the scream of a hawk, or maybe the eerie threat of a mama vulture sitting on a nest.

“GODDAMN!”, Jimmy hollers and loses his grip on the ladder, falling backward and landing with a hard thud, flashlight casting wild patterns on the rusty roof and tattered walls as it spins through the air and across the floor, finally resting with beam spotlighting Jimmy’s newly broken leg. “It’s a ghost! It’s a ghost!”, Jimmy yells in terror.

I robotically look left and then right but see nothing ghostly. My heart hammers in shame for Jimmy’s injury. I want to climb down the ladder and show him I’m not a ghost, I’m the same Junie he’s always known! I stand to walk to the ladder, reminding myself not to bump my head on the low roof rafters, but I stand many feet short of the ceiling. Mystified, I look to my body and see only brown and white feathers, 6 scaly and clawed toes peeking out beneath soft belly feathers on the loft floor. WHAT!? I yell, but the sound is a Jurassic Park velociraptor rather than a horribly confused human.

I enter fight or flight of my instinctual brain. Feet pounding on loft floorboards, I’ll run before I’ll take another beating. One, two, three! I leap off the edge of the loft and catch long wings on the blanket of air I’d never noticed before, I’d never needed before. I scoop air in beating wings and escape through the open barn door. As the wind rushes through my feather-covered ears, I barely hear, “Shoot, Jimmy, that was just an old barn owl.”

Chapter 3:

Cold winter’s air had always chilled my skin, but it sweeps through my delicate feathers with grace and an indescribable warmth. Somehow careening through the sky feels natural. I quickly forget Jimmy and his broken body, searching for a safe spot to close my eyes and rest. Dawn’s sunlight radiates across the landscape revealing a depth of color and contrast I’d never noticed before. I swoop low over a field rainbowed in every shade of yellow, orange, and brown. Wheeeeee! I dart left and right, dive low, and circle the field, playing like the child I used to be.

I hear the squeak of a mouse over the rush of wind like it’s riding my back and I know exactly where she runs on the ground below. I remember the hungry ache from the night before and feel a jolt from my belly connecting me to this tiny prey. I bank at the edge of the field, circle back easily, enjoying the rush of flight. I float silently over the mouse, quickly feigning towards its’ tiny burrow, forcing it to run in the opposite direction. THIS IS FUN! I easily swerve and snatch the mouse from its frenzied final run, clutching it tightly in my talon. I can feel the mouse’s rapid heartbeat captured in my fisted cage. I squeeze until the little mouse goes limp as I glide toward the safety of a canopy of boughs.

I land in the old pecan tree on the edge of the field and hastily devour my meal. I clean my claws and wings, gently shake myself loose, close my eyes, and fall deeply asleep.

Chapter 4:

My mother’s sobs resonate across the forest like thunder, snapping branches and wilting flowers.

Rain pours down.

Chapter 5:

I wake from soaring slumber just as the sun begins to sink in the sky. I stretch wings and legs, turn my head almost completely backward – what a hoot! As the sun sinks my vision gets clearer, more vibrant. Shadows dance with life. Secrets lay in the open like books at the library. This dark world is mine.

For a moment I fear flying. What if I’ve forgotten how? But this is my human mind, and it quickly fades into the background, a hum of noise. With a little leap, the branch bounces beneath my weight and I launch skyward. Flapping wings, I cruise over the canopy, spotting my raging stream turbulent with the day’s storm. I follow the stream’s path farther than I’ve ever roamed, heart leaping with my newfound freedom, total escape.

I find the river at the stream’s mouth, boiling in mud and branches, rushing to the Gulf. I fly between the leafless, towering cypress, breath even and strong. I gaze across the landscape, seeing how the clearing on the hill is eroding to the stream, contributing to the river’s rage. I see the scars of construction and my human mind cries in pain. We don’t know what we’re doing!

I notice, for the first time, the pull of the almost full moon. I can clearly see the sliver of darkness where my human self would have seen only round. Peace radiates through me with the moon’s magnetism.

Below I spot a vole scurrying from beneath a log and my stomach rumbles in recognition.

I dive, the sweet scent of air filling my lungs, I can already taste my meal.

But a dagger slices through my focus, ripping me from my quest and sending me reeling.

I can hear my mama crying, screaming.

I must be miles away! How can I hear her?

Clearly then, freezing the blood in my veins, I hear mama cry in pain.

Forgetting my meal completely, I rush to the anguished call of my roots. I can hear the fight clearly as I get closer to the hovel I’ve called home over the short course of my life. It looks even worse from above. I circle over my childhood home, watching my mother’s wrath. “It’s your fault Junie is gone! She ran away from YOU and she’s gone forever! I Hate You! Get the fuck out of here!”

I can tell mama has been drinking from the way she stumbles and slurs her words. Roy, standing stock still, beet face frozen in cruelty sneers, “Don’t blame me for your piece of shit!” Mama runs at him, and he raises his massive fist to meet her ruined face.

I dive.

Maybe I can scoop one of his ugly eyes.

A tasty meal, I bet.

Mama stumbles, missing Roy’s clenched fist.

I hit, clawing at Roy’s bulbous nose and bloodshot eyes. I screech and hiss and roar with every guttural prehistorical noise I can manage. Roy yells and waves arms madly around his head, swinging and missing again and again. I lock talons on Roy’s ear and rip it clean from his head. “BAHHHHH”, Roy bellows, and I laugh that he’s a sheep after all. I toss his ear down my gullet and return for the other side. The wind whistles through my ears in pleasing resonance of my intentions, my heart’s song.

Finally, retaliation.

I will pluck him apart bit by bit.

I can taste Roy’s second ear as I reach for my target. “SCREEEEEEEEE!” I yell in sweet release when THWACK I’m sent tumbling end over end through the evening air. Stars and ground meld into a blurry, sickening tornado and I land with a solid finality on the rotting ground, passing out from the pain.

“Fucking owl! Get the fuck out of here! Are you ok, Roy, baby?” mama drops her broomstick and kneels by her one-eared boyfriend, caressing his blood-covered face.

Chapter 6:

Everything hurts.

I can’t move my body.

I can’t see anything.

I scream for help and there’s no noise.

It smells like cinnamon.

Chapter 7:

“Tyta, Tyta, Tyta.”

It sounds like a beautiful song in a language I don’t understand. It sounds like the hum of my body living, pumping life’s blood through my veins. It sounds like a river tumbling endlessly downstream.

I manage to pry open my eyes and see an owl perched across the room in the corner. It quickly shuts one eye but continues staring from the other still-open eye.

Was it all a dream?

I try to look at my body but can’t move my head.

Am I paralyzed?

Trapped forever in a broken body!? I had thought there was nothing worse than a beating from my mama’s boyfriend du jour, but this is way worse. This is hell on earth. Will I ever fly again? I feel my psyche crumbling under the weight. Did I ever fly at all? Is this what crazy feels like?

“Ahhhh Tyta, you are awake”, a brilliant light floats towards me, enveloping me in warmth. Her voice is the ringing of wind chimes drifting in a breeze.

I close my eyes to the bright light with a voice. It’s overpowering like gazing at the sun.

Her hand grazes my cheek and it’s the warmth of heavy blankets and a roaring fire. She feels for fever on my head and all my fears disappear. I am floating in a blissful sea.

“Tyta, you’ve had an injury. You are healing. Rest, Tyta. You will fly again. Heal first, fly later.”

I hear an angry huff from the corner and this time it is me who uses only one eye to stare.

The large, gray owl shuffles, perturbed.

“Bubo, you needn’t be jealous!” Her laugh is a sip of iced tea on a sweltering afternoon.

“Who, who, who, who, who?”, Bubo bounces with each “who” reaching a questioning crescendo which sends her into a fit of happy giggles.

“You, you, you, you, you”, she answers, also bouncing with each word and tossing him a morsel at the end. My belly grumbles.

“Oh how rude of us, you must be hungry!” She feeds me a small frog, which slides delightfully down my gullet.

She warmly caresses my cheek again. Her voice sings, “Tyta, you have a broken wing, so I’ve bandaged you. You will heal. You can’t move right now. You will fly again. You will soar. And you’ll always have this place to call home.”

Sweet cinnamon air in my lungs, slippery frog filling my gut, musical voice singing a healing lullaby, I drift to sleep.

I soar.

And soar.

And soar.


About the Creator

Rachael Lindsey

Mama, ecologist, poet, spiritualist, naturalist.

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