May 06, 2020 (Last Updated January 19, 2021)48 Hour Books
By: Jessica Bourassa
At the top of a tall building, on a roof where the gray sky mixed with metal and concrete, a girl in her early twenties stood with her toes to the edge. She smoothed out her short, blonde hair, took a deep breath, and lifted up a pair of metal wings, bringing them laboredly to her shoulders. As she strapped them on, she sighed. Then, in an instant, she was off; off of the roof and flying into the dirty, gray sky that filled in the industrial skyscrapers of the city.
The air rushed around her, she plummeting towards what once had been streets. She pulled a lever on her wings and leveled out, just missing the dilapidated concrete. As she veered towards the buildings ahead, other fliers began to join her, their briefcases over their shoulders beside their wings, all heading to work. The morning sun hid behind smog and skyscrapers.
The girl flew, and she could already see her destination: A factory building set between two ancient parking garages. She descended to it, dodging the other flyers, and she landed with several others in one of the garages.
She tore off her wings now and with tens of others, headed silently to the stairwell and down into the vast warehouse where tables and machinery were lined in rows. Some of the people continued to another staircase, descending again. The girl shivered as she watched them go. It was rough to work on the lower floors.
As she went to her station, she slung her wings onto the back of her chair and pulled out some blueprints amidst the noise of heavy machinery.
She turned, surprised to hear someone calling her name. People typically kept to themselves. That was their society.
The foreman was walking towards her, his expensive suit coat sparkling as he eyed her. Yeni stood, smoothing out her own dirty jumpsuit. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
The foreman pushed something into her hands, and she took a step back, stumbling under the weight. She looked at the metal object in surprise, and the foreman said, “What? Haven’t you seen a pair of wings before? You design them all day long, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” she said, touching the new wings in her arms. “But what do you want me to do with these? Is there a design flaw?”
“A flaw?” the foreman said, and he let out a proud laugh. “There are no flaws, Yeni. Not in my factory. Even if one of you messes up with the design, the inspector on floor B will catch it. If he messes up, the welder on floor C will catch it. No, our system doesn’t have any mistakes. The wings in your arms are perfect. Absolutely perfect.”
She looked at them again, and the foreman added, “I need you to test them.” Yeni looked up.
“If you say no, you’ll be fired just like the testers were,” he said. “We had to cut costs, and we decided that level A could take over the testing on top of the designing. It’ll be great.”
“But testers go past the city limits,” she said. “I don’t have the clearance for that.”
“Here,” he said, handing her a metal chip. She took it. “That’ll give you clearance to fly above the city.”
She looked at the wings, now with wonder.
“Well, get going then!” the foreman said. “I want these tested today.”
“Okay,” she said, now smiling, and with that, she was off, and in a matter of minutes, was flying through the city with the new wings.
“I’ve never been allowed to fly above the city before,” she thought as she maneuvered through commuters. She could see the checkpoint where a guard hovered, making sure no one strayed over the limits. She reached him and flashed the chip. He scanned it, and she could hardly believe it as he nodded for her to go on.
She flew upwards now, straight towards the smog-veiled sun. The buildings seemed to follow her, leaving civilization behind. They were headed into cloud and smoke. No one she knew had been this high. Even the skyscraper windows were dark, abandoned for fifty years. What was above the smog? Did skyscrapers have an end?
Yeni gasped as she broke through. She hovered in thin air, trying hard to catch her breath.
It was bright and cold. As she breathed, she slowly opened her eyes.
The sky was light gray. She felt like she had broken through a layer of smog, only to come out into this place of coolness and light. She hovered, her metal wings supporting her, and she looked around herself at the empty sky.
“So, the skyscrapers do end.”
She looked forward again, grinning as she prepared to do something that she had never been able to do in the crowded city.
She flew forward as fast as she could. As she moved with her wings, the air hit against her face. She could see that there was something in the distance. A mountain maybe, like something out of a story. She had never known that she lived close to something like this.
Suddenly, she came to a dead stop. Hovering, she stared hard at what she saw.
There, near the mountain, was something flying, like she was. Its wings flapped slowly up and down, graceful, black, and small.
“What is that?” she whispered.
The creature took off flying towards the mountains. It was fast. So fast that Yeni felt she had to follow it; she had to see what its secret was.
“I’m only supposed to be testing these wings,” she reasoned as the winged creature disappeared into the mountain pass. “Still...” Here, she turned a gear on her wings. “If I could find out what technology that person used to fly so fast, I could create something amazing!”
It was decided. She flew off towards the mountain after the being, and soon, she was in the mountain pass.
The brown sides of the mountain enveloped her. She flew between them, searching for the winged being. It was like a maze in those mountains, with crags jutting out all around.
Amidst it all, she saw something strange.
“Blue,” she said. She flew towards it curiously, going faster until at last, she burst out of the mountain pass.
There before her was a sky, blue and speckled with white clouds. There was a valley below her and mountains around it. The valley had green grass and a small lake. Beside the lake was a cottage with animals near it. There was also a tree, and on its lowest branch, she saw the winged being perched.
Yeni flew down quickly, unable to process what she was seeing. Could such a place exist, with a blue sky and green grass? She reached the ground, and as her feet sunk into the grass, she looked up at the tree. There was the winged being. It looked back at her curiously.
“Are you lost?”
Yeni spun around towards the person who had spoken, and she fell back onto the grass. She began to get up then, prepared to fly away, but the person said, “Wait, I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to scare you. You must be from the city.”
She stopped. She looked up at the young man who seemed about her age then. He had dark hair and kind eyes. He wore clothes that looked like they’d come from the animals beside him. Looking at him curiously, she said at last, “What is this place?”
“It’s a valley,” he said easily. “Like any other valley, I guess...But you probably don’t know much about valleys if you’re from the city. I was born in the city, you know. My parents fled with me here when I was a baby. Back then, they didn’t know where they were going. But they found the valley, and this is where we’ve lived...Well, where I live now.”
The man reached his hand down for her to take, but the girl looked at him strangely. “It’s alright,” he said with a laugh.
“You can’t do that in the city,” she answered, struggling to her feet on her own. She adjusted her metal wings, adding, “In the city, you’re not supposed to talk much to people, touch people, see people outside of scheduled events.”
“Is that so?” he said, and she sensed that he was laughing at her. She felt his hand upon her metal wing then, and as she looked at him suspiciously, he said, his eyes now bright, “What do we have here?” He looked at her, and she glanced up at the winged creature that was still in the tree.
“So, you were following Avastus, huh?” he said. “A bird would be a good teacher if you’re a human trying to fly.”
“A bird?” she said, and she stepped towards him, intrigued. “Like the ancient animal?
They went extinct.”
“Maybe in the city,” he said. “But here, we still have a few. Avastus is the only one who’s stuck around, though. The others flew off years ago when my parents left. My parents made two pairs of wings for themselves, kind of like yours, except made of feathers. And off they went.”
The girl looked confused, and he went on, pointing to the mountain, “You see that over there? That smoke rising above the precipice? That’s from the city. It showed up five years ago, and it’s been coming closer and closer since. It won’t be long until the pollution reaches the valley. My parents knew that we would have to leave. But there’s no way out of the valley once you’re in. Except-“
“Flying,” Yeni said.
“Right,” he answered. “So, that’s what they did. But there weren’t enough feathers to make wings for all of us. That’s when I told them I’d stay behind and work on another pair while they scouted out new lands. When they returned, I’d have the wings finished, and we could leave
together.” He paused and added with a halfhearted smile, “That was years ago...What I wouldn’t give to go find out what happened to them.” He sighed and added, the bird Avastus flying down to him and landing on his finger, “But Avastus doesn’t have enough feathers for me to make my wings.”
Yeni reached out and pet the bird, and she asked, “What about metal wings, like mine?” “They’re powered by electricity, right?” he said. “That wouldn’t do much good out
Yeni looked at the bird for a moment longer, studying it carefully. She said then, “Do you
have any feathers saved?”
“Sure,” he answered. “Wait here.”
The man ran to the house, and in a moment, he was back with a large box filled with black feathers.
Yeni sat down on the grass near the lake. She took the box and said, “My job in the city is to design wings like mine. But I’ve been watching the bird, and I think...If you give me time, I can create a pair of wings for you. I know I can.”
The man looked at her in wonder, and he didn’t answer at first. At last then, he said, “Alright. If you’re up for the task, then I’ll do what I can to help you. Here...” He went to the house again, and in a moment, he was back with a second box. He set it down and said, “String, rope, material...Everything I have for creating wings.”
“No metal?” she asked. “No metal.”
The girl took a deep breath. She smoothed her blonde hair behind her ears and said, “I’ll get to work then.”
The man smiled and said softly, “Innovation...Somehow it remains throughout humanity’s trials.” He turned to leave, but he called back first, “By the way, my name is Loodan.”
“Loodan,” she said, and he went towards his animals to tend them.
So, Yeni began. She worked hard, weaving feathers together with string and needle.
Looking at her own wings, she began to break off parts from them to use. This went on for hours, and as the sun began to set, Loodan returned, setting a lantern beside her. She continued without breaking. The sweat and joy poured out together as she did what she loved to do. And at last, as the sun rose, she stopped. She lay back on the grass; beside her: A pair of strong, black-feathered, metal wings, sturdy enough to carry a man to the ends of the earth on their own.
She could feel the morning breeze now. The sunrise looked over the mountain warmly. Her eyes filled with tears. She had never seen it before. It had always been hidden from her. But here it was.
She heard footsteps as Loodan sat down beside her. She watched as he touched the wings, shock on his face, and he said, “You finished them...Will they fly?”
“They’re absolutely perfect,” she said with a tired smile.
Loodan looked where her own wings had once been, and he said, “Your wings.” Yeni stood, and walking a few steps more towards the tree, she pulled something out.
There, she held a second pair of wings, crafted like his. She smiled and said, “There was enough
to make two...If I go back with these, I could make the company a fortune. They could recreate them with similar materials. They’re so fast, so lightweight.”
“That’s true,” he said. The sun sparkled temptingly with his voice.
She looked at the wings curiously then. Looking up at Loodan at last, she said, “Actually...I think I’d like to go with you.”
“Out into the world?” he said, laughing.
“It’s just that I realized something today,” she said, looking at her new wings. “The world is full of beautiful things that I’ve never seen; things hidden from me in the city. Those things helped me create these wings. I want to go and see more.”
The man smiled, and standing, he suddenly put on his wings. Yeni looked at him expectantly, waiting, and he said, “Well, we’d better do a test run then.”
With that, she hurriedly put on her wings. She watched as the man took off with a run.
She ran after him, Avastus flying beside them both, and in an instant, they were in the air.
Their wings fluttered in the coolness of the morning, and Loodan looked back at her, saying, “Let’s go above the mountain! We’ll come back down to the valley and make preparations for the trip when we’ve gone a bit.”
"Okay!" Yeni shouted, and their black wings flapped harder as they went towards the sun. She could see the gray city to her left, but she turned away from it, towards the sun again and the open sky. Loodan and Avastus led the way, and somehow, for the first time in her life, the future seemed bright.