The Boy Who Couldn’t Fly
by G. Alex Harris
Paul slid open his bedroom window and climbed out onto the front porch roof. It was a pleasant summer evening. The air was warm and a gentle breeze caressed his skin. He began a careful descent, one step at a time. He started to wonder why he was sneaking out his bedroom window when a tile came loose and he began sliding down. He couldn’t help but freeze and close his eyes, waiting for the inevitable hard touch of the cold solid ground.
It never came.
He slowly opened his eyes to see that he was drifting slowly upwards into the night sky, the stars twinkling brightly as if awaiting him. He threw his head back and picked up speed, feeling the warm breeze across his face. He looked down at his house and watched as it disappeared into the landscape. Higher and higher he went.
Then he realised he couldn’t stop.
He kept going up and up, faster and faster, and the thought occurred to him he would suffocate in the thinning atmosphere. He began to scream for help, but there was no one up here to hear him. Soon the air became cold and icy. His heart was beating out of his chest and his lungs filled with freezing air.
Suddenly noticing he had his duvet, he gripped it in both hands and sat up in bed. He looked at the large green digits of his bedside clock: 7:10. Twenty more minutes and it was time to get up for school.
The early morning light was drifting through the curtains; he rolled to the window and pulled them open. What looked like a hawk or eagle was perched atop a tree opposite and as Paul stared it turned to look back at him. He gazed into its eyes for a few moments before it flew away, disappearing into the clouds.
The sight of the bird triggered a memory of his dream: the joy of floating away into the air and then the sheer panic and terror as he drifted out into space. He often dreamt of flying, but his dreams had never turned into nightmares before. Usually he would just float up and down along his street trying to control his new-found gift. Perhaps it meant something. He would always wake up feeling as if he should really be able to fly, as if his brain was telling him he could.
His Mum broke his train of thought, her voice resonating from downstairs.
“Paul darling, it’s time to get up for school. You don’t want to miss your bus now,” she called.
“Cool it Mum, I’m awake. I’ve got ages yet,” he yelled back.
* * *
He spread his arms and swooped towards the ground, flying so close that he could feel the damp grass brushing across his hands. Then he flew back up into the sky, spinning and somersaulting and laughing with pleasure.
He stopped and hovered in mid-air, watching a large brown hawk circling him. It was calling him, because he was also a hawk, flying high in the clouds away from the primitive land below. It cried out again, but this time it seemed to sound remarkably like Ms Sparrow, his Math teacher. The third time it was Ms Sparrow, his Math teacher, calling his name from the front of the class.
“Paul,” she said, giving him the evil eye, “stop daydreaming and pay attention. The important stuff is in here, there’s nothing useful for you out the window.”
“Sorry Miss,” he sighed, and once she had turned her attention to the rest of class he leant his head against his fist and gazed back out across the school field. A hawk was flying low, as if circling its prey.
‘What was it with hawks today?’ Paul wondered.
Later that day, Paul sat alone on the school field eating his lunch. He could hear the screams and shouts and laughter of the other kids in the playground. He grabbed a handful of stale breadcrumbs from the sandwich bag and threw them out in front of him.
A flock of pigeons immediately descended from the trees. They plummeted into the field cooing their hungry war cry. They wandered aimlessly, bumping and pecking at each other and snatching away at the dry stale bread. Just as suddenly, they flew into the sky and disappeared back into the trees.
There was still plenty of food left on the grass. Paul looked up to see what had disturbed them and saw two large boys walking towards him.
One of them was Greg, his best friend from when they were little boys, but now the resident school bully. The other he recognised as Matt. He was one of the ‘I want to be a bully but haven’t got the guts to do it myself,’ variety, always at Greg’s side like a loyal puppy following his master.
“Oi, ya big girl,” Greg said, stopping right in front of Paul, “give me a candy bar and get the hell off my field.”
“I don’t have any more food, but I’m sure the pigeons wouldn’t mind sharing,” Paul said to Greg’s crotch. He was shaking like crazy inside and he wished he was in the trees with the pigeons.
“Did he just talk back to me?” Greg asked Matt.
“He said you should eat the pigeon food, dude,” Matt replied to him.
“I know what he said. Get him off my field.”
At this point Paul’s instinct kicked in, telling him to lean his head back and then thrust it forward in an extremely fast motion. Before Matt could even react to his boss’s request, Greg made a small yelp and leant forward, his eyes bulging wide. He made an odd little squeak sound at the back of his throat and held his balls. Making another little squeak he fell sideways onto the grass and curled into a foetal position.
Controlling both anger and laughter, Matt looked across to Paul, but he was gone. He looked around for him and saw him running fall sprint towards the equipment shack.
“Get the little squirt,” Greg said in a high-pitched voice.
Paul ran behind the storage shed and plunged his back onto the wall. He peeked around the corner to see Matt running towards him.
“Get out here now, twerp,” Matt called out as he stopped in front of the shed. “I’m going to do what you just did to Greg but twice as bad.”
Nothing to do but run for it. He pelted away from the shed as fast as he could run. How was he going to get away? Matt was right behind him and he even glimpsed Greg farther back across the field. There were no longer even any trees to hide behind.
In a last desperate attempt to escape, he jumped as high as he could. He came back to the ground, still running. He tried again, this time hovering for a second before falling back down.
Come on, Paul thought, I know I can do it, I dream it every night.
Another try, a bit higher this time, his legs running through the air. The fourth time he stayed in the air, his legs kicking at nothing for a few seconds until he got his balance and swooped into the air. He looked down and saw Greg and Matt both looking up at him in disbelief.
He swooped through the trees, disturbing the pigeons. They fluttered around him as he spun through the air with his arms outstretched. Soon they left, flying back down into the trees. Paul continued gliding through the air, spinning and laughing. Then he saw it.
It was flying towards him.
As it got closer, Paul tried to glide back down to the ground, but gravity seemed to have glued him in position. He tried flying up, but he was stuck in a fixed flight.
Collision was imminent.
He tried to throw his arms across his face, but they wouldn’t respond either. He closed his eyes as the hawk let out a loud squawk and flew into his face.
His nose was throbbing. His eyes felt stuck together.
He managed to force open his right eye to see a large fist get smaller as it pulled away from his face. The world was spinning. He made out the form of Greg and Matt.
“Teach you to touch me,” Greg’s voice echoed in his ears.
“And this is for making me run after you,” came Matt’s voice. At least, he thought it was Matt’s voice. The sound seemed to ring and warp in his ear. Then he felt a sudden tightness in his stomach and he gasped for air. As he struggled to breathe, he heard the warbled laughter of the two boys as they walked away.
* * *
The following morning Paul stood in the kitchen, pouring the freshly boiled water into his mug. It was Saturday, so he was off school and he’d just gotten up after a nice long lie-in.
His mum was sitting at the dining table, drinking her own cup of tea and reading a letter from school. Paul stabbed silently at his tea bag waiting for his mum’s response. Paul added a dollop of milk to his tea and stirred, making a gentle rattling noise against the cup. He began to wonder if she was going to say anything at all. Perhaps she was in a world of her own.
Finally she turned to look at him. Paul stared back for a moment before lowering his head and taking a loud sip of his tea.
“Paul...” his mum said eventually, “I had no idea you could get yourself into such trouble.”
“But I didn’t do anything,” Paul said, trying to be strong.
“That’s terrible behaviour! And just look at yourself?” She said, referring to his black eye.
“Yea but mum...”
His mum walked over to him and stroked his hair. Paul just pretended to like it, although his face said ‘I’m not twelve you know.’
“I’m sorry,” Paul said weakly.
“Although it was very mature of you, standing up against those two bullies. So I’m proud of you, too,” his mum said softly and gave him a big hug.
Paul just stood still with his face scrunched up.
“You know what I think?” his mum asked, finally letting go.
Paul looked at her blankly, he still felt all mushy and his face hadn’t loosened back to its normal state.
“How about an adventure Saturday?” she asked, pausing for a moment to hear his response. He still just looked at her with his face screwed up, as if the wind had blown and left it that way.
“I’m not busy today, how about we drive down to the water park?” she added.
“Really?” Paul said, his face muscles still tensed. Now they showed complete surprise and his bruised eye was throbbing.
“Yea, come on danger boy! All tough guys need a bit of leisure time you know. Go and get your trunks on and I’ll pack a case,” and she marched up the stairs like a women on a mission. Paul’s face finally relaxed, and he stood there, dumbfounded.
“Huh,” he said.
* * *
Paul ran around the park like a lunatic; jumping into pools, shooting down slides and trying to surf rather unsuccessfully on the wave machine. His mum mostly relaxed in the lagoon, reading a large hardback and diving into the pool every twenty minutes or so. He did manage to get her on the “Black Hole” water slide, but he regretted it afterwards. She had screamed in his ear all the way down and it was now constantly ringing.
They stopped for lunch in the restaurant, both having a small sandwich because his mum told him he shouldn’t swim on a full stomach. She returned to her book and Paul wandered off in search of a new ride. He discovered it in the form of the “Bullet Bay” slide he could have sworn wasn’t there the last time they visited.
He stood at the bottom and watched as someone came screaming down the skinny, nearly horizontal slide. It had a bump in the middle and the girl, going way too fast, came flying off, spreading her arms and swooping towards the ground and up into the air. She was laughing and spinning and everyone was pointing at her and gasping in surprise.
Suddenly a very large amount of water came rushing over Paul’s head; flowing into his ears and making them ring again. He wiped his face with both hands and rubbed his eyes. Opening them, he saw the girl climbing out of the bottom of the slide and smiling at him as she walked away shaking her hair.
“I have got to have me some of that,” he said aloud, laughing to himself as he realised he wasn’t sure he meant the ride or the girl, and he ran up the stairs to the top of the slide.
There was a guy in a swim suit instructing everyone as they stood in line.
“Keep your arms folded in front of you,” he said, demonstrating, “and your legs crossed at the ankles.”
Paul started to wonder what would happen if he didn’t cross his arms and legs when another man in a swim suit directed him into what could only be described as a small box. He stood inside and the man indicated for him to cross his arms and legs as he was shown, closing the door of the box as he did so. Paul balanced there for a moment, arms folded across his chest, legs crossed at the ankles, realising he hadn’t noticed a box up here when he was standing at the bottom.
His thoughts were rudely interrupted as the floor of the box disappeared. He was suddenly very wet and travelling downwards very fast.
He screamed, first with alarm as he felt himself falling, then in glee as he realised he was splashing down the water slide. He screamed and laughed and tried with all his strength to keep his arms and legs folded, but the force of the water and gravity were slowly forcing them out.
He thought about the bump in the middle of the slide, wondered when he would go over it, tried not to think about it, then remembered the girl and decided to spread out his arms.
He did this just as he approached the bump.
He felt his back leave the slide, waited for the inevitable splash of water as he reconnected, but felt nothing.
For a moment the images of flying off the slide came to him.
The sheer panic at first before the adrenaline rush as you flew towards the ground and then swooped back into the air. The feel of the cool air brushing across your face as you span and somersaulted around the park.
He opened his eyes just in time to see the park spinning around and a very large flat concrete ground coming towards him.
His next few memories, his last memories, consisted of several short, sporadic, sensations. Hearing, seeing, smelling, and feeling, mixed up with moments of complete blackness.
He heard people screaming, and then he heard people shouting.
Then there was blackness.
He saw his mother leaning over him, felt her wet hair dangling in his face.
Blackness, this time mixed with the smell of mouldy water and chlorine.
Again his mother was leaning over him. He could feel himself moving, could see the sky above, the clouds drifting slowly by. He could feel his heart beating in his chest, every pump of it sending a horrible stinging pain through his head. The ringing was still there, too, louder than ever.
As his mother began to fade, and the world began to turn once again into darkness, Paul couldn’t help but look past her to an old dead tree, where a large brown hawk sat perched on the top branch.
He could swear it was staring back at him. It let out a loud cry and the ringing in his ears stopped.
Then his headache was gone.
Then the beating of his heart seized.
Then everything was black.
* * *
The hawk watched the ambulance drive away and waited. Soon he was joined by another hawk, and the two of them flew away to a large oak tree up on a hill where their newborns were about to hatch.
Three little brown hawks were born that day, but the parents knew it would be several days of feeding and guarding them before their children could fly.
One, however, couldn’t wait.
The largest of the three birds decided it had had enough by the second day. It wanted to see the world and show off its fabulous gift of flight. He leaped out of the tree when his father wasn’t looking and went plummeting to the ground, flapping his wings franticly.
Realising halfway down he was going about it all wrong, he stopped flapping, relaxed, and spread out his wings. Luckily it was windy, and it caught him in its grasp and sent him spinning into the air. He went up and up, over trees and over houses.
He flew over a park where children were playing and dogs were barking and running.
He flew across a field where two boys were eating, and decided to do his business.
He flew into a cemetery where a woman was kneeling and crying by a gravestone. He landed on another stone nearby, and let out a loud cry. The woman looked up, startled. The young hawk stared into the beautiful blonde’s blue eyes, and for some reason she smiled.
Copyright © 2010 by G. Alex Harris