Flying didn’t come on all at once for Trish. It was a gradual, subtle thing. A noticing of air currents. An odd suspicion that those small sensations that happened when the fine hairs on her arms would move to and fro were caresses of some sort. Feeling the air push and pull as she strode about her business. It didn’t slow her down, like when you try to walk through water, but the swirls and tugs surrounding her movements felt much the same. Finally, one day a jar was on a shelf beyond her reach and she scooped at the air as she would have done in a swimming pool and found that she gained the lift she needed, just for a moment, before sinking back down to her feet.
Trish was excited, naturally, and quickly found her parents in the backyard. Their reaction wasn’t quite what she had hoped for. They both went pale and still, and several wide-eyed gazes passed between them. They weren’t smiling. For some time neither said a word.
“You probably shouldn’t do that again, pumpkin,” her father said at last.
“Especially not in front of other people,” her mother agreed.
Trish felt like folding in upon herself and closing up tight. She’d been so excited. They were always so proud of her when she learned how to do something new. She returned to the kitchen with a scowl and a new host of worries. Perhaps there was something wrong with her. Maybe being able to feel the air and push yourself up into it was some kind of affliction that people suffered from and didn’t discuss. She found she no longer had an appetite. She left the jar on the counter.
She tried to ignore the sensations of the air but they only grew stronger. She felt it filling her lungs every time she took a breath. Scents and sounds arrived to her nostrils and ears as if delivered there purposefully. Tree branches swayed in gentle breezes when she walked past, inspiring her to look up and see how beautiful their leaves looked with the afternoon sun glowing through them. Even birds seemed to pay her attention, circling and weaving around with their songs. She could feel the tiny rippling waves left over when they flapped their wings nearby. She began to lift from the ground quite by accident, depending on how quickly and in what way she moved her arms.
During this time, Trish did discover some things about the nature of her affliction. The most important was that gravity had not lessened its hold on her. The moment she stopped moving, she sank back down to the ground. The rate of her fall was perhaps slowed, but not so much that she felt safe going very far from where her feet had been. She also learned that it took some effort to move through the air in this manner, and she was quickly exhausted.
She tried to do as her parents had advised, but the call of the air was constant and seemed to grow stronger by the day. No one in her family spoke of it after that, so she didn’t feel right asking them questions. She turned to the library for help, first researching afflictions and maladies having to do with air and turning to matters of flying when she found nothing. Flying was no better help. She finally had to give up in defeat. If anyone else suffered from this affliction, they had not written about it.
Trish began to go through her life with slow movements, careful to avoid anything that might lift her from her feet. Others noticed, but they were too polite to say anything about it. It made her different, though, and she found that soon they instinctively shied away from her. It was like a barrier had come down between Trish and the rest of the world, and every day the isolation pressed in. Not from the air, though. The air moved around her constantly.
“Leave me alone!” she shouted, but her voice was carried away and ignored.
As a kid, whenever Trish had needed to think she’d take her kite to Miller’s Hill and try her luck with a breeze. She hadn’t been up there in some time. She pulled her kite from its corner in the garage and shook the dust from it. Suddenly, a funny notion crossed her mind. She grabbed a ball of twine and scissors from her mother’s gardening basket and headed to Miller’s Hill.
The day had a delicious quality to it. To her nose rose the smell of freshly cut grass and the hint of sweet flowers. Colorful little birds flapped above, brushing her cheeks with tiny currents that felt like kisses. Leaves high overhead danced with the sun’s light. It felt like a welcome.
Miller’s Hill was large enough to take a while to climb. It was crisscrossed with walking paths and spotted with trees and fields. Some areas were more visited than others. Trish sought out a clearing where people seldom went. The grass was tall, not mowed into vast lawns like elsewhere. Trees skirted the clearing and no walking paths were nearby. She’d found this place years before and had always loved it. The view was of the forested foothills that led away from her town toward the mountains.
Trish set to work wrapping the twine around and around until at last she stood with the kite strapped to her back. She made a tentative scoop in the air and her feet lifted free of the ground. Another scoop and a kick lifted her higher and then a current caught her kite and she rose fluidly.
It took a bit before she figured out where to keep her arms and how to hold her legs, but as she did, she rose higher and higher. Soon her town was small and patterned behind her as she soared through the sky. She whooped and laughed with delight. Whatever this affliction was, she wasn’t sure she minded it now. It was glorious riding the currents of the wind.
In the distance, Trish could see a large bird flapping toward her. It seemed too big to be an eagle but she couldn’t think of anything bigger. To her surprise, when it finally drew close enough to be seen clearly, it had the head of a girl.
“Hello!” The girl-bird called.
“Hello,” Trish replied tentatively.
Upon closer scrutiny, she could see shoes at the end of long legs stretched out behind the girl-bird where the tail should have been. It was a girl, not a bird, and she seemed to be wearing a bird costume.
“Circle with me,” the girl called as she drew near.
Soon Trish and the girl glided in lazy circles over the foothills.
“My name’s Elizabeth,” the girl called.
“Nice to meet you Trish,” Elizabeth said. “I like your kite. Are you new to flying?”
“Well, welcome to the skies,” Elizabeth said with a wide smile. “There are a bunch of us,” she added, nodding in the direction of the foothills. “Seems like we’re finding more each day. The air currents help us find each other. It’s like the air wants us to come and play.”
“There are others?” Trish asked, and she felt a place in her heart that she hadn’t recognized as hurting suddenly warm itself again with hope and laughter.
“Lots of us,” Elizabeth said. “You make the fourth person in this area, but we’ve been meeting people from all over and they tell us about others still. We don’t walk on air really, but somebody started calling us the Air Walkers and I think it’s spreading. So far all of the Air Walkers I’ve met have been really friendly.”
Their circles were taking them closer to the ground and Elizabeth angled away, aiming for a clearing in the trees. Trish followed, and though she tried to run to a stop like Elizabeth did when they scooped close to the ground, she ended up with a mouthful of dirt and bruised knees.
“You’ll get the hang of it,” Elizabeth laughed, helping Trish to her feet.
“Where did you get that costume?” Trish asked.
Elizabeth’s costume was brown with tan feathers sketched onto it. It looked like the fabric might be one of those thermal kinds that keep you warm even though it was thin and light. Wings stretched from Elizabeth’s hips to her wrists and also connected her legs to each other.
“You can buy these for base jumping,” she said. “I decorated mine. It’s best to look like a bird or airplane while we’re up there.”
“So we don’t attract attention?” Trish asked.
It felt good to say “we.”
“Exactly,” Elizabeth nodded. “Air Walking, as far as I can tell, is kind of new. It’s like the air has been asleep and just woke up, or just now decided to start a conversation with us. Either way, it’s something that most people don’t know about, and what people don’t know or understand, they fear.”
Trish nodded. “My parents,” she said.
Elizabeth gave her a smile filled with understanding and empathy.
“Mine too, at first,” she said, “but they came around. It took patience on my part, and willingness to open their perception of the world to something new on their part. It wasn’t easy.”
‘But it was possible,’ Trish thought. Her watch beeped and she realized that she had half an hour to get home before her parents would be back from work.
“Good thinking,” Elizabeth praised, nodding toward Trish’s watch. “I should do that too. It’s so easy to lose track of time up there.” She began flapping her wings, taking her up into the air far faster than Trish with her scooping hands. “I’ll see you around Trish,” she called. “And welcome!” she added with a broad smile before she cleared the trees and turned toward the late afternoon sun.
That word rang in Trish’s ears on her journey homeward. Welcome. It was exactly the thing that had been missing from her life since she had revealed her affliction to her parents. No, not affliction. Gift. Trish held her head up and smiled at her approaching town. She was not alone. She was not afflicted or ashamed. She had received a gift, a conversation with the air and the sky. She belonged and she was welcome.
“I’m an Air Walker,” she said, and a warm current of air wrapped around her in response, guiding her home.
Written by W. C. McClure. This short story may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. This is a work of fiction. None of the characters or events depicted are meant to represent anyone or anything this side of dreams. Comments are welcome at http://www.farsideofdreams.com. Also, please help support this indie author by buying W. C. McClure’s books http://www.wcmcclure.com. Thanks for reading!