We flew all night, all the way to Mt. Rushmore. I landed on Lincoln’s head, stumbling until I knelt down on a flatter surface. It was slippery with morning dew, and I was spent.
Cold wind still filled my lungs as I tried to even my breathing. My feathers were all ruffed like a backyard chicken’s, but I had stopped taking good care of them long before that day.
I turned my head when I heard Olivia’s landing. She was graceful, riding the wind, gliding down and folding up her wings as soon as her feet touched the ground. Then, a breeze hit us. I heard her cursing as she wavered in the gust. I had already slipped and fallen off the human president’s face, crashed into his nose, and tumbled down the hill.
Before I recovered, the wind wooshed behind me. Olivia hauled me up from the ground.
“What the hell was that?” She was mad at me. “We just flew for five hours straight, what’s the point?”
“You didn’t have to follow me,” I said, smacking her with my left wing.
“I thought you were ditching Wind Physics for, I don’t know, a bite in town. But you kept flying like a psycho, all the way here.”
“That’s because you’re too slow to catch me,” I laughed, getting up to my feet.
“Where is ‘here’ anyway?” She crossed her arms.
“Mount Rushmore,” I pointed at the four heads carved into the mountain.
She turned to look, the sight startled her. “Those aren’t natural.”
“No, they aren’t.”
“You flew five hours to see four human heads made of stone?”
“I didn’t plan to stop here.”
“Then where are you going?”
“Relax, I’m not running away. Just need some time away, that’s all.”
“You really have no idea what you’re doing, do you?”
“The sun is coming up,” I commented. Rays of gold would soon engulf us and the ground down below. If I squinted, I could see the tourist center. I turned to look at Olivia, she was toggling with her wrist screen. “You aren’t going to report me, are you?”
“If I were to do that, I’d have done it 300 miles earlier,” she scrolled, “And my wearable is running out of battery. Hey — Where’re you going?”
The park was about to open. We couldn’t be here when the tourists arrived with their cameras. The Director wouldn’t like viral photos of a winged person on the internet, and I knew Olivia was camera-shy. Our existence was supposed to be classified.
“Alright, are we going back?” She arrived next to me, combing through her feathers absentmindedly.
“Yes, but it’s also getting hot.” I didn’t like flying close to the sun, and it was almost summer. “We can fly in the evening. Don’t you want to see the world, just for one day? I’m sick of spending my life in the hangar.”
“People will be looking for us — ”
“We’ll go back at night. Promise.”
As I walked down the neat pavement with all the state flags hanging from both sides, I could see a gift shop sign from there. We couldn’t just walk down the street in broad daylight.
“Ugh, fine. It’s not like I’m the one with a disciplinary warning.”
“That was an accident.” I didn’t like the reminder, but I loved being her amusement. “Let’s not speak of that ever again.”
We walked down the pavement with our wings folded. A few employees were arriving, getting ready for the day. One of them opened the door to the gift shop and went back inside.
I slipped in, grabbing two souvenir sweaters from the shelf. They were the largest size.
“What the hell are you doing?” Olivia hissed at me. I tore off the price tags and threw one of the sweaters into her arms.
In the public restroom, I took off the complex elastic band from my forearm and used to it bind my wings to my back. Olivia did the same but she was slower. I could get it done in a minute. She was the good kid who seldom left the hangar. I was surprised she had tagged along for so long.
“Isn’t this nice?” An hour later, we were walking on the side of a mountain highway. Cars sped past us, their drivers weren’t giving us more than a glance.
“You can see the city from here.”
“Would be better if we can glide down there,” Olivia said, “That’s faster than walking.”
“You want to see the city?”
“Well, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? If you want to see these trees — ” she gestured all around us. “We have plenty of these back home.”
I kept quiet, not wanting to mention the fact that she just called the hangar “home”.
“I feel like…” I hesitated, “I felt a pull…to come here. Like something is drawing me here.”
Instead of laughing at me, or worse, ask “what do you mean”, she didn’t say anything at first. I regretted walking at the front. I couldn’t see the reaction on her face.
“Hmm,” she finally said, “I wonder if it’s your human part or the bird?”
She was right. I never knew what kind of bird DNA they put in my body. My wings were tawny and white. Those colors were too common to really tell the species. And the scientists won’t tell us. Either they thought it was useless information, or they mixed so many things together they forgot which was which.
Could my bird species be native to South Dakota? Was that the reason to come here, some sort of natural instinct, living on as a part of me? Or…my history as a human had something to do with this.
I wrecked my brain and could not find an answer. None of us could remember our time before the hangar. Some of us were even born there and never ever left. I always liked to think of myself as the former. Someone with a history, with a past, a back story.
Yet it was no use to me now.
“Let’s head back,” I said, “That way we won’t miss the curfew twice.”
“But didn’t you say it’s dangerous in broad daylight?”
“It’s alright. We’ll fly high, close to the sun,” I looked at her, before tearing off my disguise and doing a running take off. “It’s not a problem at all.”