2023-2024, Short Story, Writing


By Will Hougland, ’27

I am Wingless.
Eighty years ago, this would have meant nothing. 
No one had wings, no one could fly.
And then the Winged began to be born.
Humanity was split between the two.
Winged and Wingless.
Angels and men.
Gods and mice.
They were born lucky.
They didn’t earn their privilege.
Didn’t earn their power.
Their respect.
Yet they hoard it anyway.

My wings are itching again. Or, at least, I think they are. My doctor says that it’s all in my head. It’s not, though. I talked to the other Winged. Everyone agrees. The wings want to fly. I want to fly. But I can’t. I can’t even sit comfortably in this seat. Holding my wings upward for too long makes them sore and stiff, but if I don’t, then I can’t physically fit into my chair. The back of the seat is so close. It’s always so close. I’ve talked to every teacher in the school, and every time, I get the same, ‘Now, Theodore, just because you have wings doesn’t mean you get special privileges. You’re still human, you know. Those… things don’t change that.’ I protest, try to tell them that it’s not just me, that every other Winged has this problem, but they don’t care. They’ve never had to deal with it. Because every single teacher in this school is Wingless, and ‘only’ an eighth of the students are Winged. Wingless can live with how things are set up, why can’t Winged do the same?

“Theodore!” the teacher calls out, knocking me out of my thoughts with the subtlety of an angry elephant. His tone makes it abundantly clear that he’s been calling me for a while.
“Yes, Mr…” Shoot shoot shoot. What’s his name? C’mon you know this, he’s told you before, it must be in the classroom somewhere… I glance around the room, trying to act natural, but find nothing. Okay. Guess I just have to hope he didn’t notice. “Yes?”
“My name is Mr. Thomley.” Okay, he figured me out. I mentally curse at myself. C’mon, Theo, you’re on your third week of high school, you should know the teacher’s names by now. “And, if you would please grace us with your mental presence, I was aski******************?” My wings itch hard enough that they’re drowning out everything around me. I can almost hear them talking, telling me to move, to jump through the open window, to fly off into the gorgeous blue sky…

I shake my head, trying to clear my thoughts, trying to ignore the itchiness veering on pain that was erupting from my feathered limbs. “What was that, Mr. Thomley? I couldn’t hear you.” Hey! I remembered his name that time. Mr. Thomley’s eyes narrow as he shoots me a death glare. “Couldn’t hear me over what? The sound of crickets? I asked yo****.”
Shut up, wings! “I’m sorry, but I didn’t catch you. Could you please repeat for me again?” My classmates begin to snicker to themselves, laughing over my perceived idiocy. I fight the urge to cover my face with my wings, to hide from the world.
“Very well, Theodore. You’ve earned yourself a detention. If you cannot pay attention to my class, then you might as well not be here.” I mouth the next words along with him, having heard them more than often enough already. “Just because you’re a Winged doesn’t mean that you can keep your head in the clouds, acting like you’re better than the rest of us.”
He sees me mouthing along, and, somehow, his glare intensifies. “Is there something you wish to say, Mr. Harrington?” Last name basis. This isn’t good.

Shut up, shut up, don’t open your big mouth, don’t make this worse, every reasonable voice in my head calls out. I ignore them. I’m done with this moron. “Yeah, actually, yeah, I do. You keep acting, all of you keep acting, like I’m being selfish and stubborn and acting like you’re, I dunno, beneath me. But I’m not! I’m tired of this- this- idea that just because I have feathers sprouting from above my butt I’m acting like a narcissistic ball of absolu-”
“That is enough, Mr. Harrington!” Thomley shouts. “Principal’s office! Now!”
“Why? Because I called you out on your hypocrisy?”
“I said go to the principal’s office!”
My face hardens. He won’t even admit when he’s wrong. He won’t even- I stand up, making a
show of spreading out my wings. Each wing is a bit longer than I was tall, and together, they were long enough to almost cover half the room. Stray feathers, the same shade of auburn as my hair, fall to the ground as the muscles in my wings stretch out, able to be free for the first time since I had gone to school that morning. I have to close them up again to go through the door to the hallway, but, for now, it was all worth it for the look on Thomley’s face.
As I walk out the door, the itching increases again, telling me to escape, to fly, to reach past the sky into the beautiful blue oblivion. And this time, I already know that I’m going to listen.

My boss is a Winged.
He didn’t earn it.
He’s not as smart as me.
But he was given the position.
Because Winged make people at ease, they said. 
Because he has a better record than you, they said. 
But I’ve worked here for more than a decade.
He hasn’t.
Born lucky.
He waves hello to me like every morning. 
I glare at him with righteous hatred.
I restrain myself from spitting at him. 
Just barely.
His face falls.
I smile.
It’s the little things. 
For now.

The clouds fall down to meet me from the sky, the sun a golden orb, hidden just on the other side. As I pass through, a chill crosses my body. The chill disappears as I break through, the sun warming me almost instantly with nothing to hide it. My wings glitter, every particle beginning to spark as the light covers them, embraces them. I’m free. I don’t yell, don’t scream. It’s easy, relaxing, soothing, what I was born to do.
It’s what all Winged were born to do.
We may be stronger than the Wingless, we might have more stamina, we might have better eyesight, but it’s all for this.
We Winged were born to fly.
And it’s beautiful.
The setting sun catches my face, a wave of pink and orange eclipsing the horizon. It’s one of the best sights in the world, high above the clouds, high above the Earth, high abo-

Wait. Setting sun?! How long have I been flying? When did I start flying? Where the heck am I? As I lose my train of thought, I forget about my wings, and begin to fall into an uncontrollable dive, my wings flattening against my back. I fight to spread them, but the wind is stronger than my will and is getting stronger every second that I careen towards the waiting surface below. Every muscle in my wings hurts as I force them open, but it turns my desperate fall into a glide. I have to land, have to figure out where I am. I reach into my pockets, hoping for money in case I need to take a bus back home, but only pull out fluff and a half-eaten energy bar. As I pull my hands back out, my elbow rubs against my chest. I let out an exhausted sigh as I realize that, yet again, I had torn my shirt off sometime in my flight-fueled euphoria.
I break back through the cloud layer, and, this time, there was no warm sun on the other side. I emerge freezing cold, my muscles growing numb. I should shake out my wings so they don’t stiffen up, but, as I currently depend on them being motionless for my survival, I will just have to deal with stiff wings once I reach the ground.
Gazing out upon the ground below me, I see absolutely nothing. No city lights, no streets, nothing but fields and forests. I try to flap my wings to gain some altitude, but they had already stiffened up. It’s all I can do to avoid crashing into the ground at full speed, barely managing to pull up and land on my feet and not my head. I scrape a gouge into the earth with my heels, but I’m fairly proud of myself. I hadn’t torn my shoes off, this time. Or died.
Then I tripped on a rock and landed flat on my face.

There’s a Winged on my bus home. 
His wings are spread.
They block the entire passageway. 
No one says anything.
He’s a Winged.
He’s an angel.
Who are we to tell him to move?
We mere humans?
I swear at him and order him to close his wings. 
He puts headphones on and ignores me. Tapping away at his phone.
I try to rip the headphones off.
Make him listen.
He turns around.
His wing hits me.
Strikes my face.
I yell at his back.
I miss my stop.
Have to walk home.
All his fault.

I dig out grass out stones with the small claws that cover the top of each of my fingers, taking the place of my fingernails but remaining the same whitish-clear color that fingernails usually are. I used to wonder why they called us Winged instead of Clawed, because I have even larger ones on my feet, but with the feathery shield above me protecting me from the pounding rain overhead, I suppose there’s really no question on that, is there? Once I’ve torn out all the roots and stones in a good-sized patch, I start beating the dirt below into submission, lying down on top of it when I’ve gotten it all nice and powdery. I cover my face with my wings, and go to sleep on the surprisingly comfortable impromptu bed that I’ve created. While Winged have excellent night vision, I don’t want to press my luck.

When I wake up, I’m still in the middle of nowhere. Wonderful. Just my luck, couldn’t have been a fever dream or something. I sneeze hard enough that it hurts, and am forced to acknowledge that there’s no way I haven’t caught a cold. I eat the remaining half of my energy bar, shake out my wings, and take flight in the vague direction that I think could be north, but I have no real idea what it is thanks to the grey skies that cover the rising sun like a darn dome over the earth. I consider flying above the clouds to get my bearings, but that idea goes out the window when I sneeze again and am reminded of just how cold clouds are.
Thunder rumbles in the distance, and I start praying to whatever sky gods can hear me to not let there be a storm coming. Storms and Winged do not mix. I spot a road, and wait until I pass one of those road signs that pop up out of nowhere and tell you you’re exactly six point who cares miles from arriving in Stupidville, Louisiana. I land near the road and scan the signs, discovering that I’m only a few hundred miles from the city where I live. Thank goodness. I take off again, startling a man sitting in a nearby pickup truck, who begins to stare accusingly at the mug he’s carrying. I should be home by midday.
My stomach rumbles and I choose to focus on that, not what my parents are going to say, not the unending guilt I feel. Focus on the physical pain. It’s much easier to bear.

Something wet lands on my head. 
Cascades down my shoulders. 
Down my body.
Covering me.
Two Winged laugh at me from above. 
One holds an empty bucket. 
Unearned freedom.
Unearned power.
I throw a rock at them.
They dodge.
They laugh.
I throw another.
It lands.
Right on a wing.
He cries out in shock.
In pain.
Beautiful pain.
My turn to laugh.
Bring them down to earth.

I see my school on the horizon. It’s a flat building, low to the ground, like it’s hugging the earth, afraid of what lies above. Afraid of me. I… I am too. This wasn’t the first time that I had flown off. Almost every Winged has done it at least once. But I… I had flown off over five times in the past year. Again and again. I come back, I survive. But others don’t. They can’t find their way back, they starve, they run into a wild animal, I grew up hearing horror stories. Yet I still find myself doing it. I tell myself that it’s the wings, that they’re to blame. But they aren’t a part of my brain. They don’t control me.
I do.
It’s my fault, it’s my fault. It’s all my fault. Every time I fly off, it’s me doing it. Not my wings, not my claws, not Mr. Thomley, not anything except my own choices. This is my fault. Every time, it’s my fault. My wings ache in pain as I angle myself home, planning to take full responsibility for this. For everything.

When they discovered I was a Winged, my parents moved into the suburbs, away from the city. More open areas for me to fly, they said. They were so proud to have a Winged child, they said. Yet I could hear them exclaim in relief when they were told my little brother wasn’t like me. That he was normal. I’ve never confronted them, they’ve never talked to me about it, but it hurts.
I see my house down below, swoop down towards it. The first few times I had flown off, my parents had pasted almost the entire neighborhood with MISSING posters. Now, I see none. I’m sure that my parents still care, but… It doesn’t have to be said. All the lights in the house are dark, nobody’s home. My parents would be at work, my brother would be at school. Just a normal day.

I see my house down below, swoop down towards it. The first few times I had flown off, my parents had pasted almost the entire neighborhood with MISSING posters. Now, I see none. I’m sure that my parents still care, but… It doesn’t have to be said. All the lights in the house are dark, nobody’s home. My parents would be at work, my brother would be at school. Just a normal day.
I land on my balcony, the balcony my parents made sure the house had, specially for me, and slide open the door to my room. The room is cast in complete darkness, but I can see in the dark. Just another gift of being a Winged. I sit on my bed and wait.
In the darkness.

Apartment’s locked. 
Keys are gone. 
Must’ve taken them. 
Their fault.
No extras. 
Landlord’s gone. 
Locked outside. 
Bang on the door. 
Their fault.
All their fault.
Better without them. 
Put on my coat. 
Go outside. 
Punch him. 
Kick him. 
Break him. 

My parents… they did all this for me, right? Moved, bought this house, for me. But I fly off. My own choices, my own fault. And the worst part is… I enjoy it. I belong in the sky. I belong up there, in the exhilarating nothingness, the unending blue- No. I’m human. I belong on the ground. That’s what everyone says. That’s what everyone else does. Why can’t I?
Why do I have to be Winged?
Why can’t I be human?

Every day, on one news show or another, there’s a Winged actor, a Winged politician, a Winged celebrity, telling us that Winged are human too, that there’s nothing wrong with us. They’re wrong. We aren’t human, not really. Humans can’t see in the dark. Humans aren’t so naturally thin that they’re almost skeletal, no matter how much they eat. Humans don’t have claws, can’t hear things across an entire house, don’t have any number of the ‘gifts’ that Winged do. Humans don’t have giant wings growing out of their backs.
Winged aren’t human. I’m not human. I belong in the sky. But my parents… they’re human. They belong on the ground, below the sky. They did all this for me. Every time I fly off, I hurt them. I abandon them. Why shouldn’t I? They prefer my little brother, my Wingless brother, over me, don’t they? Don’t they?
I begin to silently cry. As soon as I notice this, I shake my head. No. I’m not going to just sit here, wallowing in self-pity. I’m Winged. I know that. I’m not human. If I’m not human, then I don’t matter. I don’t matter. My gaze, slowly, purposefully, finds its way to the spiked fence outside. When I was younger, I used to love flying around above them, playfully reaching for the sharp tips with my finger. I stopped doing that the first time I drew blood.
If I just threw myself down there… would it even change anything? Would anyone even care? Would there just be a collective gasp of relief, ‘Oh, finally, Theo’s dead, that problem’s out of our hair’. I’d be doing everyone else a favor. I’d be saving my parents more grief from the school, more fright when I fly off. Are they even frightened? Do they even care?
I’m one step away from leaping off the balcony, hurtling towards the spikes on the fence, when I stop. No. I feel right. I may not be human, but I matter. I matter to me. I’ll not going to kill myself.
The decision doesn’t come with heavenly chimes, glowing spotlights, nothing to let me know I’ve made the right one. But it feels right. My wings feel right. They’re a part of me. I have to accept that, even if nobody else does. It’s… it’s who I am.
I turn to go downstairs, but, as I give the balcony one last glance, I change my mind. One last flight couldn’t hurt.

On my hands. 
Winged blood. 
Monster blood. 
Feels right. 
I am Wingless. 
I am proud. 
Before the fall. 
They fall.
They all fall.