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Wings in Ink MAG
When the rumor came out that I had wings, no one believed it. Black ink outlining feathers down the skin of my back, so much more complex than Josh Mosler’s girls. Absurd. Several times I’d notice people glancing at me, whispering to their friends in confidential tones – then they’d laugh, as if at a great joke, and move on. Ridiculous. No one could wrap their head around the idea that the quiet boy, the one who sat in the back of the class and drew all day, had tattoos like Mosler and his lackeys. Ludicrous.
Obviously Mosler didn’t believe it either. A few days after the rumor started, he caught me in the hallway and, by way of greeting, shoved me into the lockers, hard. My sketchbook dropped from my hands and he laughed. The scantily clad girl inked on his bicep seemed to laugh with him.
“Hear the stuff going around, Thill?” He kicked my sketchbook and it skidded across the floor; I watched it, refusing to look at him. “I wonder who’s spreading it. You wouldn’t know, would you?”
I didn’t say anything. He wasn’t worth the breath. He seized my collar and slammed me back against the lockers, forcing my attention. Our faces were inches apart. His breath stank of gum and weekend parties.
“You think you’re suddenly all that, Thill? Stupid rumors aren’t going to change the fact that you’re a spineless, little queer.” That got a few snickers from the crowd gathering around us, which only made his grin wider.
A teacher coming down the hall made the crowd disperse, like frightened birds, but Mosler lingered. His fists relaxed, and he unhooked his fingers from my sweater, flashing me a smile before leaving.
I sighed and went to get my sketchbook. The sleeves of my sweater slid up a bit, baring the backs of my hands. Quickly, I tugged them back down.
I wasn’t worried about Mosler. That was his usual behavior toward me on a Tuesday, and honestly, I had long since reached the opinion that he wasn’t worth it. Words are precious. Words are valuable. Words shouldn’t be spent on anyone who likes to slam people into lockers. So that week, something else was on my mind, and it was something I’d been thinking about for a while.
I wanted to draw Eliza Fisk.
She had AP English with me. She was one of those almost-popular people, not as worshiped as Mosler but still possessing a social life to talk about. She wasn’t cheerleader-pretty but was prettier than average, with long brown hair that fell in a way that I could never capture in my sketchbook.
One: I’d learned a technique for drawing hair that I thought would work for her.
Two: our English teacher, Mr. Clyne, decided that it was time for us to change seats. And I ended up next to Eliza.
We looked like Mr. Clyne’s definition of “juxtaposition” sitting side-by-side, her in a graphic tee and leggings, me in my usual oversized sweater. I glanced sideways at her. When she noticed, she smiled, just a little smile.
“Hi. You’re Aidan, right?”
I fidgeted in my seat, tugging on my overlong sleeves, and after an uncomfortable moment, nodded. “Aidan Thill,” I mumbled. Teachers had called me out on how I never spoke louder than a murmur. Eliza didn’t seem to mind.
“I’ve never heard you talk before. You have a nice voice.”
“Um … thanks.” I shrugged and looked down at my fingers. We didn’t really talk the rest of that day.
I didn’t mind, though. Words are precious.
About two days later, I left my sketchbook in the library. Our English class was checking out books for a project; since Eliza and I were desk buddies, that also meant we were partners. Which might’ve explained why she was the one thumbing through my sketchbook when I came back.
“Oh! Sorry. I shouldn’t have looked!” She quickly handed the worn, leather-bound book back to me. I took it without saying anything, of course prompting her to continue, “I saw that you accidentally left it, and I figured I’d give it back, but since you’re always working on it, I got curious and ….”
Her voice trailed off as she focused on my face with a startlingly intense gaze. I blinked and suddenly remembered I had a black eye.
“Did Josh do that to you?”
I shrugged. It was actually Josh’s friends trying to impress him. Eliza reached out toward me, as if to touch my bruises, but I flinched away. I heard her sigh and her hand dropped.
“So, do I really look like that?”
I knew right away what she was talking about. It was just a sketch, a split-second decision done during a Shakespearean lecture months ago; she’d been bent over her notes, totally focused. It was the first of many attempts to draw her. Her face was painstakingly detailed: the way her nose scrunched just a bit as she concentrated, the way her hair draped over her face, the way she held her hands. It was my best one yet.
But I had never wanted her to see it.
“Sorry,” I mumbled, tucking the sketchbook under my elbow before turning to escape. But then something brushed my back, and I froze. My brain shut down. My breath hitched, and slowly, I looked to find her gripping my sweater, right between the shoulder blades. My collar was tugged low; I could feel her eyes on the skin it bared.
Nothing at first. Then, softly, “I think wings would be beautiful on you, Aidan.”
To see my sketch of her, she would have had to first go through dozens of other drawings, meaningless doodles, and unfinished pictures.
Almost all were of wings.
I swallowed and pulled away. “I have to go.”
Mosler was standing in the nonfiction section watching us.
His fist bashed against my cheekbones and I sprawled across the wall, blood filling my mouth. I heard him laugh, and his voice was distorted by the ringing in my ears. All I could think of was how stupid it was to walk home alone.
His fingers twisted in my hair painfully. “I’m going to remind you exactly where you belong so you never forget again.”
I didn’t answer, just spat blood and saliva onto his shoes. Furious, he yanked me, tearing at my hair. My head throbbed in time with my pulse. Blood gushed down my chin from my nose. When I lifted my hands to stop him, my sleeves slipped up my arms.
Mosler grabbed my wrist. My bones creaked in protest, but he just stared at my hands. His unreadable expression was frightening. My heart stopped.
Black lines outlined feathers down my skin.
Then he was ripping my sweater away, ignoring my screams for him to stop. It was too late the moment sunlight kissed my bare skin. Powerful muscles and feathers expanded from my spine, secondaries sweeping up to my shoulders, primaries curling down to my elbows and ending at my fingers.
Mosler laughed loudly, unbelieving. “Well, what do you know,” he said. “It’s true.” And then his knuckles slammed into my wings, intent on breaking them.
I was screaming words I couldn’t remember afterwards. But it didn’t matter: it was already too late, and I choked as the markings on my back and arms began to twitch. They were unfurling, sunlight searing along the black lines until they threatened to unfold from my body. Everything hurt and burned and bruised until I couldn’t tell whether it was Mosler or my wings’ battle for liberation causing me agony. My fingers scrabbled at nothing, tears hot on my face as pale skin tore open and bloodied wings ripped out, free.
For just a moment there was silence. Mosler’s fists had stopped in his shock; in that moment, I could have flown. I could have escaped. But everything held me back. The fear – of Mosler, of being seen, of being ostracized and then hurt again and again and again – held me back and crippled me and all I could think was
Don’t look at me.
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If you only knew how little I know about the things that really matter.
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