I’m skirting the side of a skyscraper, on a rain trap, my yellow feet hooked round like two bony clamps, one of six toes tapping out a rhythm I heard from a car radio below.
The others look at me sidelong, their black eyes slipping from vacancy to confusion. They know something is not quite right with me. Then, a distraction. An updraft. They ascend magnificently, a blur of black feathered fury.
I enjoy this form above all overs, mainly because – I am above all others. Sorry. I have a great love of language and a great fondness for puns. When you’ve lived so long, you’ve forgotten your beginning, your tongue gets to sample more than a few flourishing languages, and even some of the dead ones.
English is now. I remember when it used to be Latin. I remember Greek. I even remember some of the guttural grunts of ages past. How simple it all was then. But, sometimes simple can be harder.
Complexity is the key here. Complexity feeds war and famine and pestilence. Not that there wasn’t war and famine and pestilence when you were all living in caves, painting your days into cavern walls. Sometimes, you even painted me. But now, now there is just so much more of it.
I dislike the forest, the sparsely populated plains. My eyes don’t have much love for the rich and dark greenery of your north or the bleak beiges and browns of your south, nor do I enjoy the grey of your mountains, nor the stark presence of snow. Leave me to your metal jungles, fed by the fingers of each opposite sea. I like them best because there are so many of you.
Some of my brethren keep hidden in your woods and your desert, afraid to be seen by the likes of your star children. Sorry – that’s my term for them. Your kind has all kinds of names for them: the long-lost oracle, the feared and reviled witch, the more recent and somewhat questionable psychic. We don’t know why they are different from the rest of you, so I like to pretend they do not belong here, on this rock of iron and nickel-alloy that has danced the same happy dance since the times I no longer recall.
I don’t remember your birth. Not exactly. It’s all a bit of a blur. I’m not quite sure I even had vision back then. If you’d ask me to describe the birth of your world, I could tell you how it felt. Once upon a time, there was ice and dark and nothing, and then, a miraculous burst of flame. This fire, this extreme heat nursed my early existence, and much like a child in utero, I perhaps slept, nourished by the warmth.
They say nothing lasts forever. Scratch that – you say nothing lasts forever. But your concept of forever is just so laughable, I’d happily avoid the topic altogether so as not to insult you. Let’s just say that the fire fizzled out, and my kind awoke to utter strangeness, crying with a desperate hunger.
I do remember water, the first time I felt it. I can’t tell you what shape I took then, but when it hit me, it burned a little.
We were wanderers, my kind, loners for the most part. Although some of the more social of us, the more needy, paired off. There were even groups of three or four. But my instinct was to withdraw from the rest. We weren’t meant to take up with each other. We couldn’t, and didn’t want to, make more of each other. We were all… competition.
We fed on the sparks of life that grew out of the ground at first, and then on that which wriggled and crawled. It was horrible then. Some of my kind moved north or south, eventually settling where they found solace – sputtering volcanoes in the belt of the world. Here, they slept, and men built temples to them in peaks and stepladder designs, and pushed children from the top in sacrifice.
I watched the lands move, shift, and birth oceans, when finally your kind began walking upright and losing your furs.
That’s when everything changed.
It was as if something else reached down and lit a thing inside you, a candle you had hidden from us, kept unseen by its lack of light. Perhaps you had done it to each other, but whatever it was, it burned so much more brightly than those refuges we sought out in the equator, or along the western ring of the Pacific. It was akin to our lost time, which we spent cocooned as your world took root.
Immediately, we began to hunt you. In return, you gave us names: faerie, demon, sprite, troll. I enjoyed them all.
Did I lose your sympathy yet? Please don’t give up on me. You see, we are so much lazier than you made us out to be. If this were a football game, my kind would not be anywhere near the offensive line. We wouldn’t be defense either. Actually, we wouldn’t even be in the stadium. We’d be that guy in the parking lot, under the streetlight that never worked, waiting for you to show up, distracted on your cell phone, and drop your car keys. And we wouldn’t even touch you – not yet. We’d need to see you first – really, really see you.
What if I told you all those little candlelight things you keep inside you burn brightest in the loneliest of souls? The ones that do not make their own mark upon the world, or leave behind a legacy?
Don’t call bullshit. It’s true.
You want to know what immortality is? You carry it inside you, and you give it away. These things you call love and duty and honor… The list goes on. Almost every mother empties her light inside of her child. I see the same in teachers, doctors, activists…. I watch the spark of life trickle out of them and weave into their work, which in turn is gifted to those touched by it.
To my eyes, the world had become a network of every-moving light, long before you first lit your big cities.
I don’t have time for these people, the ones that spread themselves thin to grab and hold another. Even if it’s just one. I mean, you all intrigue and entertain me to no end, but you don’t satiate me.
My palate requires those that keep to themselves, much like my own kind. Perhaps you’re wondering if we’re cannibals at this stage? Don’t be preposterous. We don’t light up like you. There’s no benefit to it.
I seek out the selfish, the unfinished, those that do not bother themselves with a care for another. Most are the criminal sort. Some are sadly insane. I have no prejudices – I accept them all. Although, sometimes, half-starved, my kind will just approach anyone. Watch out for that.
For the act, I abandon the bird’s shape and spin myself into something benign – but useful. Something with language. Another of you, for example. And I do all of this under the cover of some shelter. It’s best to be unseen. Again – your star children. We dislike them, because they see us, and if they can see us, they can stop us. Sometimes, even hurt us.
I don’t mean to be graphic, so I’ll skip the part where your body shrivels under the grasp of my need. But I will tell you that we are very polite before the actual deed. Once upon a time, we had even decreed that we should ask for your invitation before doing so. Ever wonder where your vampire legends came from? It was a defensive and political move, I suppose, to thwart those of you that can see us. I’d go into further, but I’d rather not digress from the topic at hand.
When we finally find a target, most of us grow into the guise of a child, no younger than twelve but no longer than eighteen. We keep our clothing drab and colorless. You won’t find us wearing anything from The Gap, promise you that. Most of us wear hoods, to avoid eye contact.
Our eyes. I had forgotten that one little detail. We can’t really mimic your eyes. It’s a flaw in our design, possibly because we lack what you carry inside of yourselves. So we simply replicate the shape and fill the void with one ridiculous pupil.
I didn’t claim to be an artist, did I?
Anyway, when I finally have my fill of your spark, I thread it about myself, sprouting a new black feather for the journey back to wherever it is I keep myself these days.
No, I’m not going to tell you that!
My victim is no longer alone, for those like him fill up the shape of my wings, and together we are at home in the sky.