Eventually, the house falls quiet. The police, the fire department and the neighbors leave; the tarp is secured over the broken window and Vib settles down on the couch with a sigh. Mary has taken Justin into her own bed to sleep and Vib decided to sleep on the couch to Mary’s relief. She said that she doesn’t want to leave them alone after such a shock but that’s only part of the truth.
Something holds her here. Something tells her to stay and find out what it is. She needs to take another look around, just her alone when all the other people are gone.
When everything is quiet, she tiptoes upstairs to check that Mary and Justin are asleep. Justin has his head on Mary’s arm and she holds him with her other arm wrapped protectively around him. Both are breathing deeply in their sleep and look so peaceful. Vib closes the door quietly.
She puts on her shoes and jacket and sneaks out through the backdoor. She makes sure to lock the door behind her. She has the key in her jacket and the alarm is off for the night because the system freaked out over the broken window. Mary admitted to her that she is a bit scared about unwanted guests in the house, even though this neighborhood is quite nice and the worst that ever happened here was some kid throwing a rock at a car’s windshield.
Outside, the air is cool and fresh and the crescent moon gives off a cold light. Vib takes a deep breath. Summer is almost over and the air smells of rain. She takes a few steps away from the house to look up to the broken window. What’s left of the split tree casts a strange shadow on the wall. It looks like the witch in a book from her childhood; a crooked nose with a wart, a pointy hat and fluttering rags. The witch bends over the tarp as if she tries to crawl under it and into the window.
Way to go, brain.
She shakes her head at her vivid imagination. Her mother had always scolded her for daydreaming but she never really stopped. Imagining things and letting scenes play out in her head is still her favorite pastime.
Something groans on the ground right next to her.
Vib freezes in her steps. The sound is not from any animal she knows and it is very close to her. She turns slowly and peers into the shadowy bushes at this end of the backyard. She almost doesn’t see it but she can make out the shape of someone curled up on the ground beneath a few giant ferns. The ferns are Mary’s pride and joy. If someone or something broke off leaves, Mary would be pissed.
“Hello?” she asks into the darkness, her voice embarrassingly squeaky.
Like in a stupid horror movie! Whatcha gonna do when a man with a hockey mask jumps out? Switch the channel?
She makes a mental list of things she can use to defend herself against whatever wild dog or drunken wife beater hides under there. She comes up with nothing. There is a shovel in the garden shed but it’s at least six steps away.
The figure on the ground groans and moves and Vib hurries to back away. Her eyes have adjusted to the darkness by now and she can see that he appears to be a human. He sits up and hold his head with another painful groan. She regards him in the pale moonlight and her eyes and mind fight to understand what she sees.
Blue scales on skin. He can’t have scales. Strong muscled wings. Wings? He can’t have wings!
She takes a tiny step close. “Can I help you? Oh shit, why am I even… you’re gonna kill me now,” she babbles, backing away again.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” the man says with a deep, rough voice.
“Yeah, that’s reassuring.”
“I swear, I have no intention to kill you but I would appreciate if you could… help me up?”
I’m so gonna regret this.
“Maybe you shouldn’t stand up; your spine could be hurt.” She looks over him more closely, especially his back where strange shapes seem to flicker in and out of existence. She tries to focus on what she sees but the more she concentrates the less real they seem. “Also your… I don’t know… on your back…” She turns to his face and her breath catches at the intensity of his yellow eyes looking at her.
Curiosity overcomes her. She reaches out at the wavering shapes that seem to retreat from her touch until suddenly, with a vacuuming sound of air sucked into another place, she sees and feels them. Leathery skin over muscles and bones and folded between long finger bones.
“I’m probably losing my mind but…” she traces her finger along the long bone that holds the top of the extensions, now folded down and bleeding, “your wings are hurt?”
She pulls her hand back and shakes her head. “Of the things I thought I’d never say to a guy… .” She looks at his face again and notices he’s still staring at her. His eyes seem to look directly into her soul. “I’m sorry, I’m unfamiliar with wings. Is there anything I can do?”
He doesn’t answer right away, just stares. Finally he coughs and murmurs, “You can see them?”
“Well, yes? They’re pretty big actually. Not as big as I thought they would be but still…”
The man looks at her as if she just insulted him. “Not as big? How big did you think they would be?” he growls.
“I saw a picture of how big wings are relative to the body size of an eagle, and, if the size for a human would be on the same scale, they would be huge! Longer than two cars and… I’m sorry I didn’t mean to insult you, I mean I have never seen those kinds of wings before. I’m not even sure I’m seeing them now — oh god,” she hides her face in her hands, “now I’ve lost it completely.”
“No you’re fine,” the man says and his wings fold themselves closer to his body. “You’re not supposed to see them anyway; that’s why they’re probably a bit unfocused.”
“But I do…”
His face turns softer and he looks like he wants to smile but it turns into a grimace as he moves. “Shit, krissasstekass,” he hisses.
“Yeah, I think I can guess what that means.” Vib kneels down beside him. “What can I do to help?”
“I heal pretty fast but it would help if these wounds got cleaned and a splint,” he moved his wing and hissed again, “Krissass! I never…”
“Never hurt your wing?”
For a moment he looks at her like Justin when he fell down and scraped his knee. “Never this bad,” he mumbles.
Vib grins, “I have bandaids with Superman on them in the house.”
The winged man smiles at her and Vib’s breath stays stuck in her throat. He looks so beautiful that she has to look away.
“I’ll help you get up,” she says and goes to the side where he’s not injured. She side-eyes his unharmed wing and puts her hand under his ‘real’ arm to pull him up. He groans as he stands and limps along with her to the backdoor.
“You better not be a murderer or I’ll kill you,” she says, knowing that the threat doesn’t sound very convincing.
She can barely make out his grin in the weak moonlight but she hears it in his voice. “I swear I will do you no harm. I’m here to protect.”
Over the backdoor is a single socket that used to have an old-fashioned lightbulb that gave off a gentle yellow light. But now it has one of those energy-saving bulbs with a cold, fluorescent glow. It may not look pretty but she can see him better now.
“You’re gonna have to wait out here. I’ll get the first-aid kit,” she says. “I can’t let you in; I mean I don’t know you and… fuck, Mary would kill me…”
“And you don’t want to end up on the news as the stupid woman who let her attacker into the house,” the winged man says weakly.. “I completely understand. I’ll wait here.”
“There is a chair…” she points to a piece of rickety lawn furniture leaning against the house and her eyes travel to his injured wing.. It hangs low and quivers with obvious pain. “Can you even sit with that?”
He looks over his shoulder. “I don’t think so. Usually I can fold them up but now… .” The wings move up a handwidth and he winces. “I’ll just stand here.”
“Okay.” Vib unlocks the back door and slips inside, closing it behind her. After a moment, she slides the bolt out. It disturbs her how easily she trusts him and she has to consciously remind herself to be more careful.
The box with all the first-aid things one needs for an active four-year old sits on the kitchen counter. Vib fills one of Justin’s sports bottles with water and shoves the box under her arm. Back outside, the winged man still stands where she left him and she’s weirdly relieved that he didn’t vanish.
She puts the box on the lawn chair and dampens a cloth with water. “I’m going to clean the cuts now, okay?”
He nods and hisses foreign words when she cleans the many scrapes and cuts. The scales feel soft under her fingers and not slimy as she had feared. There is a nasty cut on his actual arm that she decides to clean first. His wing right next to it looks worse but she hesitates to treat it the same way. Even though she already touched it, some part of her still wants to deny its existence. It’s even worse with his tail. When she looks down his back, it appears to be not there even though she knows that it is.
She shakes her head and lifts the bottle to squirt water on the wounds and stops. “I’m going to… you know with your wings. Is water okay on them?”
“Yes, why not?”
Vib shrugs. “Geez, I don’t know, maybe they’ll go up in flames? Magical wings that can never be touched by water! Could be a thing, I’m no expert.”
He chuckles and his eyes seem to glow at her. “What a great imagination you have. I know this is all very strange, you’re handling this quite well.”
“The wings? Well, they’re there, not much to argue about. I’d like to know what all that carnage in Justin’s room was about though,” she says, generously squirting water over the wounds. “I can’t promise I’ll handle that well too.”
“Did you see the other one too?”
“The other creature? Yeah.” She uses the wet cloth to wipe away the dried blood and plasma and he whimpers. “Sorry,” she says, looking at him.
“No, it’s okay; just go ahead, I’ll try to be all manly about it,” he says with a pained smile.
Vib smiles back and gets back to work, cleaning and drying the skin. Digging around in the box, she finds a few giant band-aids that Mary probably brought home as samples from her work at the drugstore. “These don’t have Superman on them I’m afraid,” she says to him.
“I was so looking forward to those. Life’s so unfair,” he says and pouts.
Vib snickers and begins to apply the band-aids to the cuts on his arm and shoulder. She hesitates for a moment, wondering if the band-aids even work on the soft scales. She also becomes increasingly aware that he is naked from the waist up because shimmering scales don’t count as a substitute for a shirt. His chest is muscular, probably to power the wings on his back. A shimmer runs over the scales like blue-green light whenever she touches him. It extends over to his wings but she can see patches of grey on them.
“Your wings have these grey patches, does that mean that they’re sick?”
“In a way, yes, but I can fix that when I’m back home.”
She pictures a den full of muscular winged men without shirts in her mind and she quickly shuts it down. “Home? And where is that?”
“Somewhere else,” he says after a long pause. “Difficult to explain.”
She takes a bandage from the box and holds it against the crooked wing. “I don’t have anything to make a splint and I’m not sure how… .”
He looks over his shoulder. “Could you fold it up and just wrap a bandage around it?”
She eyes the extend of the finger-like bone that hangs down with two sharp bends in the middle. “One won’t be enough I think. I’m going to have to buy new bandages for Mary.” She rips off two pieces of tape and sticks them to his arm. When she touches the wing, he swears again and balls his fists. But he holds still, swearing under his breath in the strange language until she has folded the wing like a curtain and begins wrapping it. She tapes a second bandage on when the first runs out and wraps it tightly.
When she finishes she steps back to look at her work. “I don’t know if you have hospitals where you’re from but that’s probably where you should be going.”
He turns around and looks at the white package on his back. “Yes, I will go to…” he pauses, and she wonders if he isn’t allowed to say the word or if it’s just too weird for her to hear. Who knows, he might have to go into a sarcophagus and be killed and reborn.
Vib looks him over. The wings stand out clearly now but his tail still tries to disappear whenever she looks at it. She hopes he doesn’t have any big wounds on his tail because her mind refuses to acknowledge that the person in front of her has such a thing. She lets her eyes rest on his muscular chest for a moment. There is another cut on it and she takes a small band-aid from the box. “Look, this one has Superman on it.”
He laughs out and watches her stick the band-aid on his chest. The greenish shimmer runs over his chest again where she touches him. Her fingers itch to follow the colorful wave. She looks away and feels her face heat up.
“So,” she starts, “care to tell me what this all was? What you are? And maybe your name?”
She looks back to him and sees how seems to ponder her questions, the smile gone from his face.
“Your name is such a difficult question?”
The smile is back. “No, my name is easy. I am called Leelan of Deschebel. The other questions… will take a little while.”