Midnight Flight by David Wiley
“Reject what you think you know – assume the impossible is possible,” the history teacher, Mrs. Wing, told the class as she strolled down the aisle between the desks. Half a dozen students snickered, a few more yawned, but at least one student in the class was dutifully taking down notes. That student was not Talon Draco Hoard, but he was paying rapt attention as she lectured. Normally history was boring but today’s class showed promise, dealing with inaccuracies and contradictions in historical texts. It had been Mrs. Wing’s best lesson yet and, somehow, Talon had the strange feeling that she had been talking directly to him. It wasn’t true and he knew it, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that her words were meant to carry a secret message to him; perhaps the Faerie world was real after all? If history could be wrong about who won a war, Talon reasoned, then certainly it could be wrong about the existence of fairies and goblins and dragons and the like. What if the fantasy stories he loved to read were able to come true? After all, he was just told to reject what he knew and assume the impossible. How much more impossible did it get than that?
The bell rang. Two dozen students leapt up from their desks, slinging backpacks over their shoulders or tucking books under their arms before stampeding toward the door. One overly-stuffed camouflage backpack smacked him in the side of the head as it was put on and its owner laughed. The impact nearly knocked Talon from his chair, and he groaned in pain from the blow. It had been an intentional “accident”, of course, because it had been delivered by none other than that pompous bully, Lucas Lemons. He seemed to think that, because this was his third time repeating the eighth grade, he owned the school. And he had made Talon a target from day one after he caught Talon carrying in a copy of The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald. Someone like Lucas would never understand the pleasures of reading, nor of how it wasn’t a girl’s book just because it talked about a princess in the title. But it had made the last few months quite miserable for Talon.
He rubbed the back of his head and waited for the white blur at the edge of his vision to disappear before getting to his feet. He slung his Harry Potter backpack over his shoulder and took one step forward, freezing midstride. He was the only student left in the room, he realized, and that meant he was alone with Mrs. Wing. She had her back to him, hastily erasing the words from the chalkboard in preparation for the next class. Her blond hair was up in a bun today and at this angle the sunlight reflecting off it made her hair appear golden. He caught his breath and took another step forward, forcing himself to peel his eyes off her radiant hair. He glanced at her neck and had to stop and blink. Something green on her skin was just visible beneath the collar of her shirt. Mrs. Wing spun around before he could get a better look. She smiled at him and his heart pounded in his chest. He smiled back and then he ran, not looking back. But in that briefest of moments when their eyes met, he could have sworn she was sending him a silent message. Something about him being chosen, but Talon soon forgot the confusing message as he was swept along in the current of bodies toward his next class.
He wanted to pay attention in Biology. He shoved Mrs. Wing and her words and the green neck out of his mind and focused on the lecture. But as Mr. Newt droned on about the anatomy of a frog, Talon found his thoughts drifting back to the last period and his gaze diverted out the eastern window. He hardly noticed when the girls in his class let out a disgusted “Ewww” in the middle of the lecture. He almost didn’t notice the gold gleam in the distance. As the clouds rolled along overhead the gleam flashed in irregular patterns, eventually directing Talon’s attention toward it. The flash was along his alternate route home, down a path that few others took because it was a longer walk and cut through some thick prairie grass, into a small forest of trees, across a mosquito-infested creek, and past the city dump. Talon originally discovered the path to avoid Lucas Lemons and his cronies, but it had become his preferred route home when he wanted time to think and imagine impossible things.
Thankfully Biology was his final period of the day. As his classmates filed out of the room and flooded the hallways, Talon took his time gathering his belongings. He checked through his bag twice to make sure he didn’t need to head back to his locker for any reason before heading out the east doors. There were only a few students that went out this way—the buses parked on the west side of the building—and so far none of them showed the slightest interest in taking Talon’s secret path. Talon could still see the gold glimmering in the distance. Surely someone else must have noticed it, too. But they all walked by, oblivious to the treasure hidden in the bushes.
Talon followed the path, looking over his shoulder frequently to make sure no one was following him toward this treasure. He bent down when he was certain no one was looking and picked it up. It was a small piece of gold with a single rune carved into it. He guessed most people would think it was a gold coin, some lost piece of pirate treasure, but Talon knew instinctively what it was even though he had never seen one before: a dragon’s scale. He tucked the scale in his pocket and continued on his way home. He was absorbed in the flurry of excitement because of his discovery. What did it mean? Had it belonged to a real dragon or was it something a collector had made and then lost? Why could no one but him see it? Those questions and more danced through his mind, performing an elegiac waltz in his thoughts that kept him absorbed until he got home.
Talon found himself unable to focus for the remainder of the evening, getting scolded several times by his parents because they kept having to repeat themselves at the dinner table. He found that he couldn’t help it. He wanted to do nothing but look at the golden scale he found. And when he couldn’t do that, his mind refused to think of anything else. Even his ears were filled with the words of Mrs. Wing, echoing over and over like a mantra for meditation. He didn’t notice when his baby sister flung a tiny fistful of spaghetti in his face. Marinara sauce spattered on his cheek and ran in clumpy beads down his chin as he mindlessly chewed a mouthful of garlic bread. And then he realized everyone was staring at him. Father had set down his fork and was looking at him with a furrowed brow. And then he felt the sauce and grabbed a napkin, dabbing at the globby mess.
That night he found he couldn’t sleep. Talon held the scale in his hands and traced the runes etched in its surface with his finger. He decided to draw the rune in his sketchbook and sat in his bed, a flashlight clipped to his left shoulder while he replicated the markings on the blank page. What did the rune mean? An answer came to him, unbidden in his mind. It spoke in a voice he had never heard before but he felt drawn to it in the same way a bug is drawn toward a bright light in the darkness. And when he heard it he knew it was true, just as he knew all green things tasted gross (especially broccoli – yuck!) and that Batman would beat Superman in a fight. If pressed, Talon couldn’t have explained why he knew that the rune meant flight. It just did.
Two hours passed by and the page in his sketchbook was covered with a dozen stylistic variations of the flight rune. He could draw it without looking now and his steady hand never waivered as it formed the lines and curves. He set his pencil down and flexed his fingers. The throbbing ache told him he should have quit drawing a while ago but he had been so absorbed in the repetitive task that he hadn’t noticed. He slid his hand along the sheets to recover the scale. He desired to look upon it some more, to trace its perfect lines with his eyes until his hand regained the stamina to trace them by hand. But it wasn’t there.
His eyes darted around the bed. Where could it have fallen? He lifted the sheets and didn’t find it there. He squatted on the floor and looked under his bed. His flashlight glimmered off something in the far corner. Could it be his scale? He lay beside the bed and wriggled under the frame, his left arm extended as far as it could reach. His fingers closed around the object. It crumpled as his hand closed around it. A candy wrapper. He tossed it aside and shifted inch by inch to shine the flashlight around beneath his bed once more. It wasn’t here. Where could it have gone? It wasn’t as though it could have grown a pair of legs or sprouted . . . wings? Could it be? He scrambled out from under the bed, adrenaline coursing through his veins, and scurried over to the window. It was open a crack and there, on the other side, was the scale drifting in the air.
He opened the window and reached out. It fluttered just beyond his fingertips. His ribs ached as he pressed against the windowsill in an effort to grab the scale. His fingertips grazed the glittering surface and a warm sensation trickled up his arm. A voice whispered in his mind. It was familiar yet different from any voice he knew. It called his name. It beckoned him with enchanting promises and reassurances. You can fly, the voice said. You are one of us, Talon Draco Hoard. Come and join us on our midnight flight, brother.
“One of who?” Talon asked the night sky. It didn’t answer. He repeated his question to the scale and it just fluttered further in response. His bare feet gripped the windowsill. When had he stepped up onto it? He felt the cool breeze rippling across his nightshirt. The crickets and the owls sang a symphony for him. Talon leapt from the window. His arm reached out for the scale and his fingers closed around it. Talon fell, hurtling toward the ground. And then he flew.
He didn’t realize, at first, the difference between falling and flying. He wondered why the grass on the ground was falling with him and why, all of a sudden, he was falling toward the neighbor’s house. And then it dawned on him and he whooped as he skimmed over the fresh-cut grass. He let his hands – no, claws – graze the green blades as he circled through the yards of the cul-de-sac. He was nearly startled into a dive when he heard the sound of leathery wings flapping in the air. When he realized they were his wings he let out a delighted cry and spiraled up into the clouds. He tasted the texture of the clouds on his tongue, felt its moisture roll across his smooth scales. For the first time in his life he felt alive as he whirled and circled through the town on his first midnight flight.
David Wiley is an author of science fiction and fantasy stories, choosing to write the stories that he would love to read.
His short fiction has previously been published in Firewords Quarterly and will be featured in an upcoming issue of Mystic Signals as well as an anthology by Uffda Press. David resides in central Iowa with his wife and their cats and spends his time reading, writing, and playing board games.