This is not the story of how he killed me, thank fuck.
You want that kind of horseshit, you don’t have to look far; half of modern human media revolves around it, lovingly detailed descriptions of sobbing women violated, victimized, left for the loam to cradle. Rippers, rapists, stalkers, serial killers. Real or imagined, their names get printed ten feet high on movie marquees and subway ads, the dead convenient narrative rungs for villains to climb. Heroes get names; killers get names; victims get close–ups of their opened ribcages mid–autopsy, the bloodied stumps where their wings once attached, baffled coroners making baffled phone calls to even more baffled curators at local museums. They get dissected, they get discussed, but they don’t get names or stories the audience remembers.
So, no. You don’t get a description of how he surprised me, where he did it, who may have fucked him up when he was a boy to lead to such horrors (no–one), or the increasingly unhinged behavior the cops had previously filed away as the mostly harmless eccentricities of a nice young man from a good family. No fighting in the woods, no blood under the fingernails, no rivers or locked trunks or calling cards in the throat. It was dark and it was bad and I called for my sisters in a language dead when the lion–brides of Babylon still padded outside the city gates. There. That’s all you get, and that’s me being generous. You’re fuckin’ welcome.
However, here is what I will tell you. I’ll be quick.
- He did not know what I was until after. He felt no regret or curiosity, because he should have been drowned at birth. I was nothing but a commodity to him before, and nothing but an anomaly to him after.
- My copper feathers cut his fingertips and palms as he pared my wings away.
- I was playing at being mortal this century because I love cigarettes and shawarma, and it’s easier to order shawarma if your piercing shriek doesn’t drive the delivery boy mad. Mortality is fun in small doses. It’s very authentic, very down–in–the–dirt nitty–gritty. There are lullabies and lily pads and summer rainstorms and hardly anyone ever tries to cut your head off out of some moronic heroic obligation to the gods. If you want to sit on your ass and read a book, nobody judges you. Also, shawarma.
- My spirit was already fled before the deed was done, back to the Nest, back to the Egg. My sisters clucked and cooed and gently scolded. They incubated me with their great feathery bottoms as they had many times before, as I had done many times before for them. Sisters have to look out for one another. We’re all we’ve got, and forever is a long, slow slog without love.
- I hatched anew. I flapped my wings and hurricanes flattened cities in six different realities. I was a tee–ninsy bit motherfuckin’ pissed, maybe.
- I may have cried. You don’t get to know that either, though.
- We swept back onto the mortal plane with a sound of a 1967 Mercury Cougar roaring to life on an empty country road, one sister in the front seat and three in the back and me at the wheel with a cigarette clenched between my pointed teeth. You can fit a lot of wingspan in those old cars, provided you know how to fold reality the right way.
- It’s easy to get lost on those backroads, but my old wings called to us from his attic. We did not get lost.
- He was alone when we pulled into his driveway, gravel crunching beneath our wheels like bone. He had a gun. He bolted his doors. The tumblers turned for us; we took his gun.
- Did he cry? Oh yeah. Like a fuckin’ baby.
- I didn’t know what you were, he said. I didn’t know. I just wanted to get your attention, and you wouldn’t even look at me. I tried everything.
- Well, kid, I says, putting my cigarette out on his family’s floral carpet, you’ve sure as hell got it now.
- Our talons can crush galaxies. Our songs give black holes nightmares. The edges of our feathers fracture moonlight into silver spiderwebs and universes into parallels. Did we take him apart? C’mon. Don’t ask stupid questions.
- Did we kill him? Ehh. In a manner of speaking. In another manner of speaking, his matter is speaking across a large swathe of space and time, begging for an ending to his smeared roadkill existence that never quite reaches the rest stop. Semantics, right? I don’t care to quibble or think about it anymore than I have to.
Anyway. Like I said way back at the start, this is not the story of how he killed me. It’s the story of how a freak tornado wrecked a single solitary home and disappeared a promising young man from a good family, leaving a mystery for the locals to scratch their heads over for the next twenty years. It’s the story of how a Jane Doe showed up in the nearby morgue with what looked like wing stubs sticking out of her back, never to be claimed or named. It’s the story of how my sisters and I acquired a 1967 Mercury Cougar we still go cruising in occasionally when we’re on the mortal side of the pike.
You may not remember my name, seeing as how I don’t have one you could pronounce or comprehend. The important thing is always the stories—which ones get told, which ones get co–opted, which ones get left in a ditch, overlooked and neglected. This is my story, not his. It belongs to me and is mine alone. I will sing it from the last withered tree on the last star–blasted planet when entropy has wound down all the worlds and all the wheres, and nothing is left but faded candy wrappers. My sisters and I will sing it—all at once, all together, a sound like a righteous scream from all the forgotten, talked–over throats in Eternity’s halls—and it will be the last story in all of Creation before the lights finally blink out and the shutters go bang.
(Editors’ Note: “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” is read by Erika Ensign and Brooke Bolander is interviewed by Deborah Stanish on the Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 13A.)
© 2016 by Brooke Bolander