Listen, the first time you fly is unlike anything else—it is falling so fast the air burns your cheeks and it is the tight knot in your chest because you do not yet trust the air to hold you, because you do not yet know that now it is only up to you to save yourself. You do not yet understand your wings, black and webbed, bursting through your thin winter coat. The membranes of your new skin are too thin, you think, because you don’t know it as the strongest part of you, nor do you understand how to love this new part of yourself. You still hold the past in your hands, unable to let it drop from the sky.
I knew our father meant to feed us to the Spirit. He sputtered round and round for days, spitting Gospel backwards, bloodying his fists against the walls. Mother had hidden all the guns, the knives, forgetting that one doesn’t need weapons to kill, not when there are arms to twine and teeth to tear flesh.
We were alone in that dark country. And even if anyone could have helped, Mother was too proud to have allowed it. We licked butter from our own dirty fingers when there was no bread and watched as she butchered our milk cow, Delilah, rather than beg meat from the neighbors.
Father sat in a corner licking fly paper, picking pests off the tacky strip and grinding them between his broken teeth, ignorant to any hunger but his own. The worst that our father had done was not to try to kill us. His mercy was never that kind, not until, of course, the Spirit possessed him. Then he stopped defiling us, and was concerned only with abusing his own body, pressing his pocket blade into his skin until the words of his master covered his flesh. I was not fooled. His violence would not taper. How could it when that was all he was made of?
I followed him into the woods that day, not because I gave up protecting myself, protecting us, but because I made up my mind to kill him. The rage in my blood had boiled so long, I could not distinguish it from the rest of me. It grew blacker, harder, as if one morning I would wake to find it twisting from my bones like thorns.
We trekked for hours. He sang the backward psalms of his Spirit and spun us in circles, hoping, I think, to disorient me enough so that if I ran, I would never reach home again, that I would perish of starvation, animal attack, exposure. Yet how could these kill me when they hadn’t already? We climbed to the caves, loose dirt rivering around our feet in currents as we pushed higher up the slopes. He panted and sweat steamed off him like he was already on fire but with each step, my body grew lighter, as if I floated on an ocean, a sea of blue (though my body had never seen such a sea).
When we reached the hole, neither of us said a word.
Falling was almost the most beautiful thing I had ever felt. My body was so light—even the cracking of my bones did not feel bad. And when my flesh split open and the blood left it in a great rush, a sigh descended over me, a relief, a balm. I was cushioned on blackness, not the loam or mud at the bottom of the pit, but a web, hard yet buoyant, that grew from my arms, that burst through the worn wool of my coat until the cloth rent and fell like an apron over my shoulders.
How did these wings feel? Hidden for so long yet new, they were part of me; they fit me and felt like they had been with me forever. I discerned no suture, felt no strange or cumbersome new appendage—they were as mine as were my legs and breasts and head. But the wings belonged to me yet more, having come only from me, having never been touched by another’s hand.
I did not get to marvel at their unfolding, their flap and glide, not yet. I knew what I must do, knew that only I could save my sisters. We would wing and soar later, later, when we were together.
Back at the farm, our father was easily done. The Spirit abandoned him the moment he stepped off the chair, and as his bowels released and shins twitched the last of his life out, his eyes were remorseless brown flecks. I let him swing. In a moment he was joined by our mother, who did not cry for him, or for herself.
The fear, the love that lived in my sisters’ eyes, was broken, aggregated as a likeness in a shattered mirror. I wished I could carry you all away at once, though I never promised you that. You would never have believed it.
Instead I dressed you, my next youngest sister, in an old coat of mine, one that had seemed too big only days before, so much, if you remember, we stuffed the elbows and shoulders with straw. You seemed to have grown since our father led me away, your spine straightened, your eyes calm, light. I kissed your mouth and took your hands and led you away. The currents of dirt continued to flow down the hills we climbed together and with each step, the air seemed to whisper in our ears, songs of country death and life.
And when we reached the hole, I pushed with all my love. I did not wait for you to soar up, to ascend through the pines into the sea of blue sky, though I knew that you would. We had other sisters to attend to, after all.
KL Pereira likes to traipse around the dark, woody crevices where most would rather not wander. Her poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have been published or are forthcoming via Deathless Press, Innsmouth Free Press, Jabberwocky, Mythic Delirum, and other fantastic publications. Chat with KL about monsters, music, and fairy tales on Twitter (@kl_pereira) and keep up with the enveloping darkness on her website (darknesslovescompany.com).
Asked what invisible thing she would make visible, she replied, “I would make souls visible. I think they’d present themselves just like Baudelaire’s chimeras–each enveloping us with their enormity, both beautiful and terrifying as they bore “witness but no despair” to our darkness and humanity.”
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