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FICTION / Halcyon / Nathan Elias


We all have to do our share if Juno’s Great Work is to be successful—this much I’ve learned. I’m not the only one breaking her back for the cause. I start each day cleaning the bunker where we all sleep, our cots in rows and separated only by hanging sheets. In the morning, after everyone has gotten dressed and left for their daily duties, I make the beds and pull down the sheets to open the stuffy room up. Once our bunker is perfectly tidy and sanitized, I head to the other side of the Sanctuary where people tend to the livestock, which, of course, are not for eating but for nurturing, breeding, and sustaining life. I cross a gated area where the shepherd watches over the goats, cows, horses, and sheep. He’s a gangly man with a bushy beard and droopy eyes. We’re in the same uniform—khaki pants and a green polo shirt. Beyond him stands the lighthouse, where Juno keeps the animals once they’re ready to be tested for the Life Stasis Project.

This morning the air is crisp. I breathe it deep into my lungs and feel a pep in my step. The memory of The Last Discotheque courses through me. We can’t actually listen to music here—Juno says it is a passion we can only indulge in small doses. It’s the one thing I miss most about my old life. Before going to sleep, I think about all of the auditions I’ve been on, the few gigs I was able to land. If there were Internet here, I’d pull up YouTube and look for the two music videos I was featured in, the ones my father hated because I looked “promiscuous.” Sometimes I dream about my limbs being controlled by music. If I’m cleaning and nobody is around I try to throw in a few moves, just to get it out of my system.

As I’m on my way to the lighthouse, I snap my fingers and attempt to moonwalk. I’m mid-shuffle when the shepherd catches me and smiles.

“Can’t you just taste the clean mountain air?” he asks, his gnarled white beard twitching in the breeze. “And the ocean seems to be whispering, doesn’t it?” I turn my head with him, pointing my ear toward the sea.

“It does,” I confirm, wondering if he’ll tell anyone about my secret dance moves. I lean over to pet the head of a lamb at the shepherd’s side. I wish I had a job like his, protecting the animals instead of cleaning up after them.

“Duty is our bond,” the shepherd says as I walk away.

“Duty is our bond,” I echo, striding toward the lighthouse.

When Juno gave me the grand tour of the Sanctuary, he boasted that at 180 feet tall, the lighthouse is enormous compared to others along the coast. “It has four levels,” he proudly exclaimed, “each recently renovated into top-notch research facilities designated for the Life Stasis Project.” I have only seen the aviary and the laboratory, which are located on the ground level in an old fog-signaling building attached at the base. At first, the red and white brick stripes had made me think of a candy cane, which made me think of Christmas, which made me think of home.

“This is your home now,” Juno had said, as if reading my mind. “And you can consider this a permanent holiday. My gift to you.”

Cleaning up after the animals is the hardest and ugliest part of the duty given to me. At first, I had tried to enter their cages with grace and tenderness. I tried to take pride in cleaning up their droppings, scrubbing their feces off the walls. Maybe it is the putrid smell, like compost and mold, that keeps me from taking pride in my duty. I’d tried putting a jumpsuit over the uniform, but it didn’t make me feel any less like throwing up. Juno promised that I would learn to appreciate the animals in all their majesty. “Surely you’ll be able to find your purpose and realize your destiny is intertwined with the animals—even their excrement.” After Juno had told me that, he cradled my head in the nook of his shoulder and kissed my cheek. “You have a wild soul, Alice,” Juno said. “I know. I’ve seen you dance. I’ve seen your body try to create fire. Now is the time to tame your soul and give in to the harmony of the Sanctuary. Let the energy of this haven guide you.”

The lighthouse alone takes half of my day to clean. The aviary is the worst level. Sometimes when I go to clean, the entire floor is covered with droppings and feathers. There are hundreds of birds—pigeons, gulls, hawks, hummingbirds, sparrows, loons, plovers, and dozens of other types. I enter through a special, netted door designed to keep the birds from escaping. Once I’m securely inside, the stench of shit and rot hits me hard. I keep my head tucked down, afraid of making contact with one of the winged creatures. During my first cleaning, a gray hawk had hooked on my jacket with its talon and wouldn’t let go. I shook and screamed, which only made it peck me, drawing spots of blood around my wrist. It was Juno who had come to my rescue, distracting my attacker with a handful of sardines; he has a way of showing up at the perfect time, right when I need him most.

“You’ve got to show some force and authority,” Juno had said, helping me up from the ground. In his kimono, he’d looked out of place, as always. Somehow he’d been sparkling clean, not a single mark of dirt or grime. I’d admired this as he applied sanitizer to my wrist and wrapped it in a bandage. “They’re not used to people. I’m the only human they have contact with. Purity didn’t mean any harm. She just wanted to play. They get crazy in here. Could you imagine having beautiful wings like hers with no access to the sky?”

I’d brushed off my clothes, held my sore wrist, and looked over to Purity, busy trying to get the sardines down her throat.

I’m more prepared when I clean the aviary, now. Most of the birds have learned to leave me alone. However, there are a few areas I’ve been asked not to clean, for my own safety. On the higher run of the aviary are cages containing larger, more exotic birds. Last week, the Life Stasis Project was given a donation of two birds on the endangered species list. Today, I can’t resist ascending the ladder to take a quick peek into their cages. Purity flies up next to me and perches on the railing. I take a few slow steps down the rickety catwalk and, before I even see inside the cage, I hear a deep rumbling sound coming from inside it. I can already sense the bird’s enormous weight, the ruffle of its wings slamming against the sides of its confinement.

I inch toward the front of the cage, my heart racing, Purity behind me quietly screeching, as if telling me to turn back. Before I know it, the massive creature is in front of me. I only get a glimpse when the sound of ABBA’s “The Dancing Queen” blares from my pocket. It’s my ringtone, on a short loop of “having the time of your life.” The bird stammers back at hearing this, seemingly anguished by the loud noise. It rocks back and forth and opens its beak, the caw like a fire siren. I reach for my phone and struggle to retrieve it through my jumpsuit. Purity flies above in small circles, unable to maintain her composure as the great bird tries to break free from its cage. The ringtone finally ceases, but it’s too late—hundreds of birds frantically flap around. Their feathers and tufts of plumage circulate the aviary. I feel droppings smack my hair like rain. I stumble back to the ladder and climb down, making a dash through a gaggle of raging geese until I reach the exit.

Outside, I fall to the grass and try to catch my breath. I’m covered in shit and feathers, terrified of what Juno will say if he sees me or finds out that I went somewhere off-limits. That’s when I notice the shepherd staring at me. He and the baby lamb both appear to be laughing. I stand up and head for the showers where I strip down and scrub my body until the skin feels raw.

After sanitizing myself in the showers, I go back to the bunker and check my phone. It had been a call from my parents that set off the endangered bird in the aviary. I haven’t heard from them since announcing that I’d be living at the Sanctuary permanently. Juno has forbidden us to keep contact with anyone from our old lives, and he checks our phones regularly. I wonder what he will say when he sees their call. Will he praise me for not answering, or will he scold me for disobeying a major rule: “All technological devices are to remain in the bunker.” I consider deleting the record, but I put the phone underneath my pillow where I intend to leave it for inspection. I decide to let Juno see the call, hoping it will only prove to him my devotion.

The first time I go back to the lighthouse after the incident, I spend as little time in the aviary as possible. I can barely tolerate the smell, and fear that the birds have grown to resent me. Even Purity keeps her distance, perched on the farthest railing from the entrance. When I finish, I head down to the laboratory. It is not as repugnant as the aviary, but all of the science stuff gives me the creeps. There are rows of tables and workbenches systematically covered with beakers, Bunsen burners, petri dishes, and microscopes. I’m emptying the biohazard waste receptacles when I notice one of the lab workers, Seth, staring at me. It isn’t the first time I’ve caught him doing this. Seth’s been here long before me, one of Juno’s first followers. Seth had introduced me to the other devotees when I arrived, and since then we’ve been on friendly terms. With his lab coat, safety goggles, and clipboard, he looks like he is analyzing me instead of his test subjects. Sometimes it feels good to have an audience. He strolls from table to table, verifying and crosschecking his research. Does he know about the ruckus I stirred in the aviary? He looks up from his clipboard, locks eyes with me, and smiles.

“Don’t be embarrassed, Alice,” he says. “Nobody said the work we do here is easy. Sometimes we sacrifice part of ourselves for the greater good. I’d argue that getting tarred and feathered is a major contribution to Juno.”

“Word gets around fast,” I say, trying to forget being covered in shit as I wipe a rust-colored goo from the biohazard receptacle.

“Just a little joke. I saw you running yesterday.” He points to the window facing the courtyard. “You should see some of the messes I make.”

“What do you do in here all day?” I can’t stop myself asking.

“Every day we’re getting closer to Juno’s goal,” he says, keeping his eyes on the clipboard. “I can assure you from the inside, Alice, that there is not a day wasted.”

“So what’s up with all of Juno’s animals?” I ask. “At first I thought this was a farm, but I actually have no clue what this place is for.”

“Perhaps not a farm in the agricultural sense,” he says. “But we are harvesting data pertaining to all different aspects of life.”

“So you’re harvesting data about animals? Like zoology?”

“Not quite.” He smiles, looking up with a glimmer of excitement in his eye. “It’s quite fascinating, when you get down to it. Juno’s vision is on another level. You hear about people who changed the landscape of society, technology, civilization. Bill Gates. Einstein. Galileo. Steve Jobs. Copernicus. Juno is up there with them. From the data I’ve seen and helped organize, I can tell you that when Juno reveals this project to the public, the world will change.”

“I’ve only heard about the Project’s mission briefly,” I say. “Juno tried to explain it to me once, but it was a bit over my head.”

“He can be very cryptic whenever he speaks about the Project. And he has every right to be. His work is so innovative that, if it went public too early, people would label him as a fraud. Or they would recognize his genius, steal his ideas, and advance them before we could.”

“If you were to impart a few of the secrets, maybe it would help me fulfill my duty,” I say. “Sometimes I have no idea what’s going on, or what I’m doing. I just feel so clueless.”

“I’ve sworn not to share many of the things I know,” he says. “Juno has put his trust in me.”

“And you can trust me,” I say, instantly regretting it. Maybe I’ve been more desparate for attention than I realized.

“Tonight, then. After the ceremony.” He looks up from his clipboard, the fluorescent lights reflecting on his goggles. “While everyone is having dinner, we can step away for a moment. We’ll meet in the aviary.”

“Sounds good,” I say, gathering my sponge and bucket of soapy water. “I have to be on to the next stop, though. The Sanctuary won’t clean itself.”

“Right,” Seth says. “Duty is our bond.”

I start to walk away, but I pause, trying to convince myself that we haven’t just crossed a line. Alone time without Juno’s consent is forbidden. We are restricted from socializing outside the jurisdiction of our appointed duties.

We all crowd together in our seats after filing in through the mansion’s arched Victorian entrance. The buzz of love and purpose permeates the air. In the dining hall we face the roaring fireplace, in front of which stands a tall podium, like an altar, overlooking the crowd. Juno enters from his study with his chimpanzee, Maurice, perched on his shoulder. When we all see Juno the room fills with claps and whistles. In moments we’re all on our feet applauding until Juno quiets us and motions to take our seats. I scan the room and search for Seth, but I don’t see him anywhere.

“My beautiful brothers and sisters,” Juno begins. “It warms my heart to see all of you together, joined in harmony.” Maurice, the chimp, crawls down from Juno’s shoulders and tries to run back into the study. Juno grabs Maurice by the wrist and says, “No you don’t, you mischievous little thing.” Maurice goes limp and returns to Juno’s side, tame and sedated. The primate is well-groomed and dressed in a bright green tank top with cargo shorts.

“We are gathered to celebrate life,” Juno continues. For the purpose of the ceremony, he’s chosen a crimson kimono lined with golden threads. “Unity. In each other we have found a new home, a new family outside of what was given to us at birth. We have come together for the same cause and to find peace in each moment of our lives. I have built this Sanctuary and invited you all to come here so that you may have plentiful opportunities. I want you to experience this peace. This is true oneness. Once the pieces of the world blend together in your mind’s eye, search deep within your soul and realize that it is not separate from your body. And your body is not separate from the universe.”

Juno’s smooth hands and face rise toward the ceiling, the orange light casting a shadow down his cheeks and neck. He looks around at each of us, even the chimp, Maurice, who is pacified by Juno’s words. With the glow of the fireplace behind him, it’s as if he’s radiating the light himself. “What I offer you,” he continues, Maurice stirring with impatience at his side, “is the opportunity to earn oneness with no other attachments. It has been my life’s work to create a sustainable place where only a select few may practice with me. I see before me life forms eager to discover the secrets of this existence. My promise to you is that, if you stay true to your purpose, you are on the quick path to unlocking those deep, sacred secrets. Duty is our bond.”

We all repeat in unison, “Duty is our bond,” stand and embrace the person next to us. I turn to hug the shepherd, scratched by his rough beard. Across the room, I see Seth hugging Belinda, one of the cooks. His eyes catch mine as we both part from the people we’re embracing. While everyone migrates toward the dining tables, I search for him, hoping we can eat dinner and forget all about our conversation this morning.

After a few minutes, the shepherd waves me over to sit with him and Belinda. Where is Seth? Is he waiting for me in the laboratory? Juno’s words echo in my head: Dining hour is the only permissible time to socialize.

The shepherd stuffs his face with steamed roots. “Juno saved me,” he says. “No job. No family. If it weren’t for him I’d probably be face down in the dirt.”

Belinda scoops a heaping pile of vegan pasta onto my plate, says, “I was trying to be a writer. More like a waiter. When Juno found me and told me about this place, I knew it was the life for me.”

I’m surrounded by a smorgasbord of steamed roots, salad, and vegan pasta. Pesto drips down my chin. As I take another mouthful of the earthy food, the commune’s chatter is interrupted by a piercing scream.

I stand on my tiptoes to look over a group of heads and see Maurice hanging from a chandelier, a fire-poker in his hand thrashing at anyone who comes near him.

“Don’t touch him!” Juno cries, shoving down Roger, the gardener and Carmella, the seamstress, in order to get under Maurice. “Come down, my baby, you come down here right this instant.” Tears and spit are smeared across Juno’s flushed face, his arms flailing around him in a rhythm of rage and fear. We all circle around him and the chandelier, keeping enough distance as to not be struck by Juno or Maurice.

The chimp starts to swing back and forth on the chandelier. His face contorts, eyes wide with rage as he points the poker straight down at Juno, and releases another piercing scream.

“Stop it, Maurice,” Juno cries, falling to his knees and lifting his arms to the primate as if it were a deity. “I’ll do anything. I’ll give you anything. Just please come down from there.”

Maurice flings the fire-poker to the ground where its sharp edge juts into the hardwood floor. He jumps down, his face now mournful, sullen, and slowly paces over to Juno. Juno cradles the primate in his arms and faces the crowd.

“My apologies,” he says. “Maurice would like you all to forgive him. He’s been having a tough time since the procedure.” Maurice’s face goes expressionless as Juno says this. I don’t know what procedure he’s talking about, but many of the heads in the group nod in understanding. I assume they’re more familiar with Juno and Maurice’s relationship than I am. Juno takes Maurice to his study and closes the door. We all wait in a moment of anticipation, hoping that Juno will reemerge, but when it’s clear that he’s too riled we return to dining hour.

“I’ve always known Maurice wasn’t tame,” the shepherd says, sitting down to his plate of steamed roots. “I wish Juno would be more careful.” I nod and look around again for Seth, but I’m certain that if he didn’t leave before the outburst, then he’s gone by now.

“Excuse me,” I say, pretending to head for the restroom. Once I’m clear of the dining hall, I head for the veranda and don’t look back. I plan to make my way through the cold, quiet air of this California night until I get to the laboratory. However, as I reach for the veranda’s screen door, I see a small body looking up at me. It’s Maurice, on his haunches, chewing an apple. His eyes sparkle in the moonlight, staring at me, unflinching.

“Hi,” I say, instinctively assuming that this mammal, like another human, will understand what I’m saying. He just continues chewing, not blinking, his head tilted as if expecting me to say more. He lifts his thin upper lip, exposing a sharp-toothed smile. I continue through the doorway, making sure not to make a sound when I close it.

I never went to the lighthouse, and I’m not sure if Seth did, either. But the next morning, I’m on my way out of the bunker when I’m stopped by Juno. His crystalline eyes are on the brink of tears and his hair, usually tied back neatly, unfurls down to his shoulders in greasy clumps. “I’m so sorry to interrupt you during your duties,” he says, “but I was hoping I could have a moment of your time, please.” Does he know that I almost snuck out last night with Seth? Or is it about my incident with the endangered bird in the aviary? At first I stutter, trying to find the words without sounding stupid. He just stares, looking more helpless than I feel.

“Of course, Juno,” I say. “I’m always at your disposal. Everything I do is in service of you and the Sanctuary.”

He cracks a smile. “And I thank you for that, my friend,” he says. “Please follow me to my study. I think it would be best if we spoke there, in private.” He starts off toward the mansion without another word, and I just shadow behind him, keeping a distance of at least a few feet until we’re across the courtyard and inside; Juno hates when people get too close without warning. Once we reach the study, he sits me down across from his pine desk and closes the door. The walls of his study are lined with books and collaged with maps, schematic diagrams, and x-rays of different animals. He releases a drawn out exhale and gazes into my eyes.

“Alice, you know that I have brought you to this place, my home, as a member of my family. I took you in as you were, unconditionally. All I asked was for your complete faith and devotion to me. You wouldn’t betray me or the Sanctuary, would you, Alice?”

“I would be nothing without you, Juno,” I answer. “Before you, I had no direction. You’ve given me a home, a family, a life. I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize that.”

“Good. We both know many people would sacrifice a lot to be in your shoes. But I chose you.” He reaches across his desk with palms open, gesturing for me to hold his hands. I lift my trembling, sweaty palms and place them upon his. “There are some people here who are beginning to lose their way. They are going against my teachings. They are spreading lies. So I am taking it upon myself to speak to certain people privately. You would tell me if something were wrong, wouldn’t you, Alice?”

I freeze up, trying to keep my composure. “I would,” I answer. “If someone approaches me and tries to turn me against you, I will come right to you.”

Juno rises from his desk, goes to the door, and opens it for me. I stand up and prepare to walk out when Maurice comes running through the sermon room and into the study. “There he is,” Juno says, taking the primate up into his arms. As he closes the door behind me, I wonder if Maurice somehow told Juno about my leaving the mansion after the ceremony. I must be insane to think that a little monkey would have ratted me out to his master.

Outside the mansion, I’m paralyzed with the realization that I should have gone with Seth. Instead of returning to my cleaning duties, I walk to the courtyard. The lighthouse looms in the distance, a shadowed tower reaching for the setting sun. I cannot spend another moment in the Sanctuary without talking to Seth. Not even the promise of Juno’s oneness with the universe or the home he’s provided can stop me from lifting my feet and racing past the shepherd and his lambs.

The darkness inside the lighthouse blots out Sanctuary’s light. I push forward with fervor, going feet, yards, waving my hands in front of me blindly. I can’t see anything but black when suddenly a small beam of light emanates in the distance. My hands search around and discover a handle, which I pull, unleashing a chamber flooded with a blue glow emitting from rows of capsules. The glass and metal chambers look like giant test tubes, filled with a liquid surrounding the subjects inside. My body freezes up. I tell myself to turn around, run back, confess to Juno that I’ve betrayed him and beg his forgiveness. But something holds me back. I need to know what are in the test tubes. I must see what Juno’s been doing with the Life Stasis Project.

The stone floor is cold, the basement air stale and musty. I tiptoe forward, double-checking to make sure there is nobody behind me, that I’m completely alone. What would Juno do if he saw me down here by myself, blatantly disobeying his orders?

In the tube nearest the door floats a man, his eyes closed and arms crossed. In the tube beside him is a chimpanzee in the same position. The chimp looks like it could be Maurice’s twin. As I continue down the aisle I see more people I don’t recognize—men and women, as well as animals of various species.

I want to vomit. Halfway down the aisle I feel my trembling legs about to give way. I’m not sure if the people I’m seeing are alive or dead. How long have they been floating in these tanks? How many of them were members of the Sanctuary, ensnared by Juno’s lies? I reach the last of the occupied tanks, and when I look inside, the blood drains from my face.

Seth. His naked body, hooked up to the apparatuses and regulators. His eyes are closed, his hair sprawled out in the liquid. He’s still alive. I wretch, turn away, drop to my knees. I need to get up, move my scrawny muscles. I want to weep. Although this dark chamber is quiet except for the humming of the machines, I hear music in the back of my mind. The beat moves through me so vividly, I’d swear it was coming out of a speaker somewhere. First, I tap my fingers to the beat on the cold stone ground, and then I feel my heart synchronize. I force my feet to hold my weight and bring myself up. I breathe deep, prepared to make a move, when I hear the sound of metal screeching outside the chamber.

My first instinct is to go to Seth’s machine. I search for a way to open his capsule and free him before it’s too late. I know that the screeching must be Juno entering the lighthouse, and I estimate only a few moments until he’s discovered me. Seth’s machine doesn’t budge even when I attempt to pry the glass from the metal with my fingers. The music continues, a constant vibration, even as I am grabbed from behind. I gasp for air, my throat swelling, and the music stops.

I open my eyes and light floods in, an immediate and searing splice that goes straight to my brain. I close them and find but a fraction of solace when I notice the thread of fiery pain in my back. My body is limp, but I couldn’t move even if I had the strength.

“Finally, you are awake,” a voice calls. It belongs to Juno; I don’t need to open my eyes to know that. His fingertips land on my jaw, and I jerk away. A quick, axe-splitting surge of pain engulfs my spine, my shoulders. I open my mouth to scream but my lips are stiff, as if sewn shut. “I wouldn’t move too much,” Juno continues, tracing his fingers across my face. “Your body needs to relax. Any stress or force will only hurt you more.” Somewhere else in the room I hear a sound, hollow and sharp—clack, clack. I try to open my eyelids but only take in blurred shadows before I must shield my eyes again from the light. “You’ve undergone a procedure. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if you could endure it.” Clack, clack. The sound repeats like wood against stone between Juno’s words. “You have done a service for the Life Stasis Project. When I met you, I new you’d be special. You were once lost and hopeless, and now you are fulfilling you destiny.”

Fighting is useless. My body can barely endure the pain as I slip briefly out of consciousness. Darkness encompasses me. When I come to, I let my body succumb to the swelling and all-consuming pain. Juno’s words playback in my thoughts. I try to discern if Juno is still here; the thought of seeing him makes it harder for me to open my lids, but I can no longer resist. I pull my eyelids apart in increments, letting the light spill in fractions. Either there is less light, or my eyes have grown stronger since I blacked out. I am able to keep my eyes pried open for a few seconds, taking in a window to my left and a figure directly across from me. I want to call out to it, see if it can hear me, but my mouth feels like it has been ripped from my face every time I try to speak.

My eyes snap shut. Once I can open them again my sight is a little more focused, and I strain to realize that the figure is strapped to a table like me. It sees me looking and twitches its head. Clack, clack. Is it trying to communicate?

Everything in my line of sight has come into clear focus. The room with its decaying, curved walls. The skyline out the window with the ocean’s waves crashing beneath it, fighting to claw the shore. As this sets in, that Seth and I are trapped in Juno’s lighthouse, I see the surgical marks—fresh cuts sewn closed—and the monstrous alterations that have been made to Seth’s body. His face, swollen around the new proboscis orifice, is barely recognizable except for the hair that hasn’t been shaved from his head. At first I can’t make out what this new mouth is supposed to be, but then I look to the protruding masses stretched out on either side of him. They’re his arms, bent and reformed into unnatural positions. But that’s not all; beneath the fold of his arm, underneath the elbow, between his wrist and torso, are blankets of feathers quilted together. I study the shape of these reformed appendages, makeshift wings. The sharp pain from my back and shoulders course through me. Juno must have done the same thing to my body. I can’t feel my arms and can’t crane my neck enough to turn my head that far. All I can do is go limp and slip into a dreamless sleep.

The incisions and new appendages have healed and blended with our flesh. During the day we mill around the coop and learn to use our new wings with a physical therapy regimen Juno has designed for us. For two days all we’d been permitted to do was walk around and slowly rotate our wrists and shoulders for no longer than an hour. A week later, we are given a small platform, off of which we can jump and feel how the air moves through our tertial feathers. I’m starting to feel comfortable in this new form. Juno brings us our meals, chews it for us and spits it back into our beaks. “Soon,” he says, “your testing will be complete and you will be transferred to the aviary. Purity misses you, Alice.”

Although Seth and I cannot speak, we are beginning to develop a new language, even beyond the clack clacking of our beaks. He nudges me with his head, the blue and saffron feathers of his crest brushing against my nape. This means he wants me to climb onto the platform and test my wings, push the levels of my endurance. But I can only do so much. I don’t have as much energy as him, even though I spend our nights watching the sunset over the ocean before I fall asleep and dream about my parents, about dancing. I think back to when I was five, on stage in my first tutu, lost in the music—and to when I was ten, cast in Cats: The Musical. I dream of all the dance classes I’d taken high school and in college. In the dream my bruises from countless hours of practice still hurt.

When I wake up, I catch Seth staring at me from the nest he’s created in his corner, his head stuck between twitches. When he notices me looking back he hides his beak in the scapular feathers along the ridge of his shoulder. After a moment he points his beak to the window. Clack clack.

He gets to his feet and tiptoes over to my nook on, shuffles through the scraps of paper and blankets that I’ve made into a bed. Again, he pecks at my nape and cleans the mites from my feathers. With a nudge from his forehead into my back, I stumble from my relaxed position. I’m forced to get to my feet or I’ll tip over. With the new wings and no arms, it is almost impossible to stand up after we’ve lost our balance. I can’t help but inch toward the window; with each nudge I grow terrified that he’s trying to push me out. His beak opens and a sound escapes deeper than a squawk but less comprehensible than a scream.

I can no longer remain trapped in the coop, in the lighthouse. There is no way to escape through the Sanctuary, and I don’t even know how long we’ve been up here. Weeks? Months? There is no way to escape other than to fly. I nip at the freckled, piebald pattern of tan and sapphire feathers along his shoulder. In a moment, he’s on his feet, pacing around the coop. Cool wind blows in and I feel its soft tickle between my feathers. I catch the scent of salt and fish in the air. The breeze circulates around us, momentarily confined in the coop until it dissipates to nothingness.

Seth and I take a seat by the window. Our feathers brush against each other. We listen to the calm song of the wind dancing atop the sea. With the help of the platform we are able to reach the sill, the frame of the window large enough for us to stand side by side. We turn, face to face, and wriggle our wings in preparation. Seth and I blink at each other in confirmation and sway our bodies toward the water. Soon, there is nothing beneath our feet. We rush toward the crashing waves, hoping that our wings will carry us.

Nathan Elias is the author of the novelette A Myriad of Roads That Lead to Here and Glass City Blues: Poems. He grew up in Toledo, Ohio, and moved to Los Angeles, California where he wrote, acted in, and directed films such as The Chest (2015). Nathan earned his MFA in Creative Writing at Antioch University Los Angeles in 2018, and currently lives in Tampa, Florida, where he aspires to teach creative writing. Nathan’s fiction, poetry, and films are available at