She sat by her window watching the sun descend below the horizon. She’d been there most of the day, reading some book about a space marine killing aliens on some planet. There was cereal spilled down her shirt and her hair was tangled and knotty. Sundays were the kind of days where living could be put on hold in favour of more relaxing pursuits.
The sun finally disappeared and the world was bathed in a comforting darkness. The kind of inky black permeated only by stars. The kind of night that made you believe in magic. Tiana opened her bedroom window, grabbed the packed backpack by her side and climbed out onto the porch roof, walking sideways around her house until she reached the flatter section to the right of her room. She’d been coming here for years, her parents would panic at first, walking by her bedroom to find it empty but by now they’d grown used to her disappearing. They knew where she’d be. Sometimes, when the night winds held a bitter chill, Tiana’s father would send up a cup of cocoa using the makeshift dumb waiter he’d built.
Tiana began unpacking her bag upon reaching her spot, first the base blanket then the cushion, next came the portable lamp and the second blanket and finally her favourite book; Skellig. She threw the blanket around her shoulders, placed the cushion between herself and the wall, turned the lamp on and settled herself beneath the stars.
She’d saved his life once. Playing down by the lake when he was younger. He’d swum a little further than he should have done and found himself swept into the deep section. He only remembered the splashing and the fear and then black. When he woke there she was, looking over him. ‘Hey kid, you okay?’, he sat up with a jerk and reoriented himself, ‘Yeah i’m fine’ he said before asking ‘did you pull me out?’
‘Yeah, was worried I wouldn’t get there in time. I had to remove your shirt to pump the water out of you, sorry…’
He suddenly became aware of his bare back now angled towards her. He could feel her eyes rolling over the collage of scars littering his back. He quickly got to his feet and turned around.
‘Thanks for helping, i’ve got to go.’
‘Wait, don’t go, what’s your name?’
‘Phanuel’ He called back as he ran off into the surrounding forest.
As Phanuel stood by the lake so many years later he still found himself remembering the day, He turned from the water and walked into the forest, feeling the silver moonlight bathing him as he was swallowed by the trees.
Tiana looked up from her book as a gentle breeze danced across the rooftop, sending gold and orange leaves skittering across the roof, cascading over the edge. She crawled to the edge of the roof to see where they had fallen. And that’s when she saw him. Walking towards her house through the forest. He hadn’t seen her so she crouched low, sure that the night sky would hide her. She watched as he reached the clearing her house stood in and the moonlight illuminated him, she could see that he was topless. He had certainly grown since the day she had saved him. The scrawny boy who had once needed saving from the lake was gone, replaced by a tall man with a chiseled jawline and athletic body. The only remnant of the child she had saved was the litany of scars that still decorated his torso.
He stood facing the house. He’d been wandering these woods for years and had no idea that this house even existed. The world’s ability to constantly surprise him was something he often marvelled at. He stopped and felt the moonlight, now out in full force, drench his tired skin. He closed his eyes and stretched himself out, feeling the power emanating from the celestial body.
Tiana could see Phanuel stretching out his toned arms, like a sunflower desperate to drink every drop of the sun it could get to. And then something surprised her. Something magical. As he stretched out his arms, she saw two other appendages extend but this time from his shoulder blades. They extended in the same direction of either of his arms and had twice the length and considerably more width. The moonlight bounced off of them, illuminating them perfectly so that there could be no doubt as to what she was witnessing. His wings were snow white and fit so naturally on him that you could almost believe that all human beings were born with them. They flexed and stretched as if they’d been restrained for a long time and were finally being set free. Tiana looked at the winged man stood peacefully in the clearing and suddenly understood what the word beauty meant. And then she sneezed. His head snapped up into her direction and for a brief second their eyes connected, a small enough moment that no camera could have captured it but long enough for a feeling to be conveyed. Where he had always hidden himself from the world for fear of rejection the look in her eyes told him that here and now, in this moment he had no need to be scared. Some part of him understood now that his days of hiding were done. Tiana watched as he turned to face her house. His great wings extended to their full span and swooped down and though she knew she shouldn’t have been surprised it still shocked her to see Phanuel’s perfect frame leave the ground. His body raised higher and higher and closer until he was inches from where she crouched on the roof, hovering directly in front of her. Tiana got to her feet and was surprised to find that she was directly at eye level with Phanuel. All she could think to say was ‘how?’.
Every instinct in his body was telling him to get out of there and disappear. Every voice in his head was screaming that this was a bad idea but there was this tiny voice in his heart whispering that this might be hope. Phanuel had always favoured the underdog. And so instead of running away he simply held out a hand.
Tiana stood dumbfounded as Phanuel reached out a hand, she look at his face and he simply nodded his head towards his extended hand. For reasons she couldn’t quite explain she had absolute trust in this near stranger and so she took his hand and stepped off the roof. He wrapped his arms around her, holding her to him, making sure she was completely safe. He slowly moved the pair away from the roof until they both hung in the air. If anyone could have seen them they’d have thought they’d gone crazy but for them there was nothing but blissful contentment as they soaked in the moment. It meant different things to each person, to him this moment felt like being born. It was the first time he had ever been revealed for all he was and so it felt like an introduction to the world. To her it felt like coming home. She’d been reading books about daring adventures and magic her whole life, knowing and resenting that these stories would only ever be pretend. The moment felt like coming home because it felt like she had finally been invited to be a part of a world that had always been held closed to her.
The peace was broken when Phanuel swung Tiana into a princess lift in order to take off over the trees, Tiana threw her arms around his neck for stability and look in awe as the treetops raced past below her. She didn’t know where they were going but she knew she would have followed him anywhere he asked her to go. They reached a small clearing and Phanuel slowly descended to the ground, dropping Tiana to her feet. She gazed around the clearing taking in her new surroundings, there was a small log cabin that looked like it hadn’t been lived in for years, on the far side. The grass was filled with little wild flowers of increasingly exotic hues, it was spellbinding. At last her eyes fell on the place where Phanuel now stood. There was a small stone in front of him and though she couldn’t work out the letters roughly hewn into it she knew what it was. She approached it slowly begging herself to be wrong though she was sure she wouldn’t be. The stone read, as she knew it would, ‘Phanuel Davis, 1995 - 2007’.
‘You saved me that day Tiana. Pulled me from the water and gave me life again. But I never made it home. I got lost in the woods and fell over. That’s the last thing I remember from before. After that I remember waking up here. This is where I lived. I assume my folks couldn’t bare the reminder of what they’d lost and moved away, but no one has lived here since. It’s just been me. And the owls.’ Tiana looked around the tree line and suddenly became aware of the hundreds of owls sitting amongst the branches. Each one looking at the scene intently. Occasionally giving off a faint hoot.
‘How is this possible? If you died how can you still be here?’ asked Tiana.
‘I think the owls saved me. I don’t know why but I think it has something to do with the day you saved me. I can talk to them, kind of, they don’t talk like us.’
‘What do they say.’
’Mostly they say things like food and hungry but sometimes one of the older ones will look at me and say ‘not done, her, saved’ I don’t know what that means but I think they’re talking about you.’
‘So you’re supposed to save me? I’m not a damsel in distress Phan, this isn’t a young adult novel.’
‘No, I think you’re supposed to save me.’
‘The owls are scared of something, I think there’s something in the forest. And I think it killed me.’
‘I thought you fell.’
‘So did I at first, but I hear things. They never found my body, the cops who went looking never came back either.’
‘So there’s a monster in the forest eating people?’
‘I don’t know, the owls won’t let me look, I think it has to be you.’
All of a sudden the owls seemed agitated, they started hooting louder and flying from perch to perch, suddenly restless. The pair looked around, trying to work out what was going on. The owls suddenly all took to air and flocked in the sky directly above the clearing, it was then that they realised that moon was directly above them and, framed by the ring of trees, seemed double its normal size. Phanuel picked up Tiana and swooped up into the sky coming to hover in the center of the flock. Phanuel look down at Tiana who was gazing in bewilderment at the flurry of owls surrounding them, ‘Don’t forget me Tiana, save me.’
There was a blinding white light and Tiana couldn’t make anything out and then nothing.
Tiana awoke in her own bed in the morning, her Mother was banging on the door shouting that she was going to be late for the school bus. ‘Was it all a dream?’ she wondered as she crawled from her bed. She walked to her window and opened the curtains, light streamed in through the glass. She looked down and saw a single white feather sitting neatly on her windowsill. She picked up the feather and noticed it hung off of a delicate silver chain. She placed the necklace around her neck, smiling to herself, content in the knowledge that somewhere in that big forest was a scarred old boy, with wings. Life was going to be very interesting from now on.