Ken made sure to wake up early. He’d ordered express delivery and he didn’t want to be caught unawares again. He made his morning coffee, and set out some fresh crackers he had bought the day before on the coffee table. He then sat down at his magicomputer while he waited, keeping a close eye on his delivery tracker. The words “Your Package is Being Delivered” were flashing across the top of the holographic projection. Despite that, he didn’t see a hint of Vivian on the tracker all morning, and began to occupy himself with other things.
Around midday an orange dot caught his eye. She’d appeared on the tracker heading towards his home. Finally! It’s rare for her to arrive so late in the day. Although, this presented him with an opportunity. He’d be able to get to the door before she did. Hopefully it would save her from having to knock again. He carefully got up from his desk, and as he walked through his living room on the way to the foyer, he made sure one last time that the crackers were in place. He just hoped that a full box was enough.
When Ken got the door, he didn’t hesitate to open it, stepping outside to greet his courier. What greeted him was not what he expected. The familiar tiny fiery streak was flying towards his house, but next to it was an unidentified streak of bright blue and yellow. As they got closer, Ken could see the second harpy more clearly. She looked like she was struggling a bit to keep up with Vivian, but she was managing.
Unsurprisingly, this new harpy was significantly bigger. More interestingly, he thought he could see the sun reflecting off her feathers. They seemed to sparkle ever so slightly to enhance the brilliant electric blue and yellow-gold that painted her feathers. Ken stood on his porch watching as they came in to land. Vivian came in with an ever louder buzz, simply stopped herself in a low hover above his lawn, then casually dropped, landing gracefully on her feet. Her wing beats instantly stopped, as did their noise.
The unknown harpy came in to land traditionally and was more careful with her landing, but clearly a lot less experienced. Her wing beats were heavy, making the blades of grass on his lawn violently dance as if caught in a storm. When she touched down, she had to take a few step before she caught her footing. Vivian walked up to his porch with haste, waving one of her blazing wings.
“Hey Ken! I’ve been running really slow today. Gotta keep track of a newbie.” Ken raised an eyebrow, curious. “I see. You’re showing her the ro-” Ken was interrupted by a snort which almost reminded him of a pout. The colorful new harpy was standing with a wing on her hip, obviously not enjoying herself. Vivian turned to her with a scowl, and the new girl didn’t look at all fazed by the little harpy’s scolding expression.
“This geezer is the one whose house you were excited about?” Said the annoyed new harpy. Ken was taken aback. Geezer? I’m not that old. I’m only 43! Vivian quickly stepped up to his defense. “Hey! He may look like a geezer but that doesn’t mean he’s not a good guy!” Ken sighed. At least she said I’m a good guy. Ken wasn’t really bothered by Vivians poor word choices, but now he was curious as to who the new girl was and why she was obviously not inclined to be there.
Keeping the pouty frown on her face, the new harpy purposefully marched up to Vivian, looking like she wanted to start a fight. She seemed to think better of it though, as if something was holding her back. He wasn’t sure what it was though, as she clearly had plenty of height on the petite hummingbird. As they stared each other down, Ken got a better look at the pouting arrival.
He could tell right away that she was young, probably only recently turning 18 or 19. She was pretty tall, and had a slim figure, but with a reasonable bust. Her feathers were incredibly unique though. Instead of wavy and fluffy like on most of the harpies he knew, her feathers looked sharp and angled. They made interesting jagged patterns on her wings and tail, and the end of her long hair followed suit, reminding him of how most people would draw a lightning bolt. What caught his eye the most was the colors, though.
The main color of her feathers and hair were an incredible golden yellow, darkest at the roots, and getting lighter as it fed its way to the tips. All the tips and patterned lines running through were a bright cyan, however, countering the blondeness and enhancing it at the same time. The striking blue gave energy to her patterns, bringing them to life. As he traced the patterns with his eyes, he saw the same shimmer he noticed when she was flying in, but now that she was in the shade of his porch, he could see that it clearly wasn’t the sun. She was giving off her own dazzling glimmer of twinkling light from the feathers themselves.
It was pretty clear what she was. He was standing next to a juvenile thunderbird. He stepped forward and noticed that the closer he got, the more the hair on his arms stood on end. He could feel the tingle of static radiating from her. Ken spoke up to break the angry staring contest. “Girls, girls. It’s fine. Calm down, and come in for some crackers. I’m sure you’ve both had a long day.” The thunderbird appeared to ignore him, but Vivian broke the contest right away, grinning and almost running inside, much to the rebellious trainee’s chagrin. As the contest broke, Ken watched the sparkling effect on her feathers dissipate into a simple glossy shine. He held out a hand for her to shake and said “Sorry we got off on the wrong foot, I’m Ken.”
“Sydney.” She said, seemingly less annoyed than she was earlier. She pushed past him and into his house, giving him a shock of static on the way. The sudden electric bite made Ken pull his hand back reflexively. She was clearly going to be quite the handful. He wondered briefly if Vivian was up to the task, then took a deep breath and walked back inside.
Vivian was already helping herself to the crackers with zero shame or hesitation. Sydney, meanwhile, was busy looking around at his decorations. After a few seconds of taking in the scenery, she let out a short puff of a laugh and walked into his living room to have a seat in one of his armchairs. She crossed her wings indignantly, staring at Vivian’s vicious one-sided duel with the cracker box.
Ken tried once again to spark up conversation with Sydney. “So why did you start working as a courier?” Sydney gave a condescending snort once more, and turned her chin up. “What do you care why I became a mail bird?”
Vivian stopped stuffing crackers into her cheeks long enough to talk. Unfortunately, her cheeks were still rather full. “Fhe bwoge hew beftay pwesat” Both Ken and Sydney stared at Vivian, baffled. They all waited in awkward silence for a few seconds as Vivian finished swallowing the crackers. Ken broke the silence with a delayed “What?”
Sydney practically jumped out of her chair as Vivian began to speak again, but it was too late. “She broke her birthday present from her dad, and he wants her to learn responsibility, so she had to get a job to pay it back.” Vivian explained. Ah, that explains her unwillingness. Ken thought to himself as he looked at the now fuming thunderbird.
Ken could swear he saw touches of red coloring Sydney’s cheeks. However, the radiant gleam of her feathers was back, now with actual arcing electricity jumping clearly along the edges of her wings and the end of her hair. Ken’s hair stood on end once more as the static power built up in the room. “It was just a stupid stereo! Daddy didn’t even like the music I played! Why would he care when the dumb thing broke?” She said a bit too loudly to nobody in particular.
“Alright, alright, calm down.” Ken said, trying to diffuse the situation.
“See? As I said. She broke it.” Vivian added unhelpfully, only seeming to set off the exotic young harpy more.
“It wasn’t even that much! Daddy can just buy another one no problem, so why is he making me fly around with all these birdbrains!” She shouted, clearly venting more than a little pent-up angst. She vented more than just angst, however. Thunder cracked and Ken had to shut his eyes as a white lightning bolt shot from her wing straight to the nearest electrical device. Ken’s TV exploded, shattering from the power of the plasma discharge and sending pieces of burnt flatscreen across the room.
Ken’s ears were ringing from the thunder, and he slowly opened his eyes to get his bearing. Vivian was covering her ears with her wings, clearly suffering a similar fate, and trying to stomp out a smoldering fragment of television on the floor. Sydney on the other hand, had suffered a complete change of face. She had lost just about every semblance of rage, and now looked like a deer in the headlights, realizing what she’d just done.
She was covering her mouth with her wings, which had almost completely lost their sheen. Her face was bright red and he couldn’t tell if she was embarrassed or apologetic. Either way, Ken couldn’t help but think for a moment that it was cute as all heck. Then he remembered that his television had just literally detonated.
He turned to Vivian, who was now looking rather defeated. He wondered why, until he followed her gaze and realized that a burning shard of television had obliterated the cracker box. Vivian looked up to Ken and said rather somberly “I think we should go now. Fledgie, give him the package.”
Sydney was basically hiding her face behind her wings now. “I- uh, I’m sorry!” She squeaked out. Ken waved it off while he still had a pretense of calm. “It’s alright, I guess. It’s, uh, It’s just a TV.” He wasn’t sure how he’d feel about this later, but at the moment it was surprisingly trivial.
“N-not that.” The young thunderbird stuttered, and opened her wings to reveal that her courier’s bag was thoroughly fried. Vivian was speechless, for pretty much the first time Ken had ever seen. Ken was certain he’d be angry about it, but he found himself laughing. Each laugh poured a small pulse of pain into the dull ache in his back, but he chuckled heartily nonetheless. Perhaps it was the absurdity of the situation as a whole, or perhaps it was just that the model he had ordered was such a small thing compared to his television being blasted apart, but Ken genuinely didn’t feel mad about any of it.
He walked over to Vivian who looked at this point rather confused, as did Sydney. Ken supposed their confusion was justified. Even he wasn’t entirely sure why he was so relaxed about this. “Do you have the form I need to sign?” Ken asked Vivian. She snapped out of her stupor and responded, “Yeah, the trainer gets a duplicate of every form in case the Fledgie loses them or something.” Ken nodded in acknowledgement and took his stamp out of his pocket. Understanding him, Vivian got the form out of her bag and held it out for him to stamp. Ken pressed his stamp to the page, forming his magical seal.
Vivian put the form back into her bag, and quickly walked to the front door. “Come on, we’ve got to report this back at the office.” She said back to Sydney, who was still stunned in the living room. The poor thunderbird reluctantly followed, doing her absolute best to avoid making eye contact with Ken. At this point she was almost more red than yellow. Vivian walked out of the house shortly followed by Sydney and Ken. Before she took off, she turned around, thanking Ken for the crackers and apologizing for the behavior of her trainee.
She then took off with the usual loud hum, and shot off in the direction of Courier HQ. She was shortly followed by Sydney, who stopped long enough to take a glance back at Ken when she thought he wasn’t looking, then extended her powerful wings and flew away, not even close to as fast as when she arrived.
Despite the loss of his new model and television, as the girls shrunk in the distance, Ken found himself feeling pretty good. At the very least visits from Vivian were never boring. He hoped that Sydney wouldn’t get punished too harshly. He had a feeling that she’d be a lot more careful from this point forward.
Ken Put on his old leather jacket. It had been a little while since he’d really gone out, but Rosie had invited him to go with her to the park. Apparently Lily had a family event to go to, and couldn’t join them, so it was just going to be him and Rosie. Ken did his final check around the house to make sure he’d turned off the lights and stove and anything else that might cause problems while he was out. As he was finishing checking his study, he heard a knock on the front door.
Ken patted his pockets quickly, making sure he had what he needed, then quickly walked to the front door. When he opened it he found the peppy blue harpy excitedly waiting. She was wearing jean shorts, which while still blue, provided a nice tone change from her feathers. Her top was a very casual, slightly faded red piece, which was a nice contrast from her feathers, and went well with the odd tuft on her head.
“Hey Ken! Ready to go?” Rosie excitedly asked, almost jumping up and down. He put a hand on her head and rustled her hair. “Yeah, I’m ready. It’s just to the park though, isn’t it?”
She nodded and replied, “Well, yeah, but I think you’ll really like this park!”
Ken raised an eyebrow, curious. What was so interesting about this park? Rosie hadn’t really mentioned anything special about it. He decided to let it be for now. Surprises could be fun, after all. The two walked together to the bus stop, making idle chatter. “Hey Rosie, whatever happened to that shirt I gave you?” Ken asked absentmindedly.
“It makes a great pillowcase!” She responded cheerfully with a little flap of her wings. Ken chuckled, glad it was being put to some use. As they made it to the bus stop, they didn’t have to wait long. Rosie pointed up at what appeared to be a blimp with a boat strapped to the bottom. “There we go! That’s our ride.”
“We’re taking an airship to go to the park?” Ken asked skeptically. Rosie grinned and responded with emphasis as if it were a big reveal. “No silly! We’re taking an airship to go to the Skypark!” Ken couldn’t help but grin. He had to wonder though what exactly a ‘Skypark’ entailed. As much as he was curious, standing around wasn’t going to help out, so he stepped aboard. Rosie followed, jauntily fluttering up the gangway.
Ken found himself rather impressed by the airship. The decorations were surprisingly ornate, and the ship looked very well-maintained for a frequently used passenger vehicle. There was even a small shop aboard that sold snacks and refreshments. The brightly-colored balloon loomed overhead, unusually small to carry such a large load. Ken supposed it had something to do with magic and left it at that.
As Ken was busy admiring the ship, he didn’t hear them call out that they were taking off, and he stumbled slightly as it began to move, lifting slowly into the air. Rosie was admiring it as if she was taking off for the first time, clearly having too much fun with it. As the ship began to pick up speed, Ken felt the rush of wind through his hair as a light breeze. It excited him, and he wasn’t quite sure why.
He walked to the side and looked out over the edge. The town below them was slowly getting smaller, and Ken could see the little people and monsters moving around like ants, so far away. “So do you like it? You do, don’tcha?” Rosie was clearly pleased with his reaction to the airship. She pointed a wing ahead of them. “That’s where we’re going! It’s gonna be super fun!”
Ken’s eyes followed her wing’s direction, and he saw a small island floating off in the distance. Living as long as he had in the UMT, he had known about these floating islands, but he’d never actually visited one. “Knew you’d like it!” The happy harpy said boastfully. Am I really that easy to read? He thought to himself.
As if reading his mind, Rosie brought her wings up to her cheeks and drew a wide grin on her face. Ken hadn’t realized how much he was smiling. He laughed heartily at her silly smile as she copied him. The island slowly drew closer, and Ken began to get a hold on his excitement, trying to calm himself down.
He didn’t pay much attention to the ride itself after that point, focusing more on their location. It was floating about half a mile up, mostly covered in pleasant plant life. It was capped with a beautiful green field of grass that ran over most of the island. A small forest of trees shaded the southeast quarter of the island. In various places there were small buildings, no doubt simple park amenities, and in the middle of the island Ken could see the clear blue waters of a small lake.
When they finally approached the island, Ken could see various flying figures in the sky above it, and plenty of monster families and other park goers dotting the landscape. Rosie didn’t fly off the airship like Ken expected, but was content to disembark on foot with him. As their feet finally touched down on the fine grass, Ken stopped to get a better look at the flyers in the sky above.
This was clearly a favorite hangout of the winged monsters. There were harpies of course, flitting, fluttering and flapping about, but there was also a variety of others. Griffons, Werebats, Manticores, Insect girls, and even a couple Angelic figures were scattered among white, fluffy clouds above them. What caught Ken’s eye more than any of those was the Dragons.
Those girls with their powerful reptilian wings soared through the sky with impunity, and anyone else in their flight path got out of the way. They looked far removed from the dragons he knew, but somehow their reminiscent features still stirred twinges of fear within him. He decided to occupy his mind elsewhere, and went back to looking at the Harpies maneuvering gracefully through the air.
As the two of them wandered the park, Rosie led him to various areas, each one seemingly more exciting than the last, judging by her increasing enthusiasm. The first were hoops and floating obstacle courses that she completed with ease, displaying her precision flying skills. After that she rushed them to an open hill on the far side of the island. She tucked in her wings and laid down, then rolled down the hill laughing all the way.
After much convincing and her third roll, Ken finally caved in and rolled down himself, although he only started halfway. Once he got up to speed it was surprisingly fun, and he caught glimpses of Rosie fluttering above him each time he rolled over. It was only seconds after he’d picked himself up that she was off to the forest. Ken was amazed he hadn’t lost her with how quickly she was running from one thing to another.
It wasn’t visible from the airship, but now that they’d entered the forest, he saw that within the shade of the trees were dozens of artificial nests with various inhabitants. Their patrons ranged from lone girls reading books to couples and families resting together among the trees. Unfortunately for him, Rosie left no time to rest, running back out into the sunshine towards the lake.
As Ken ran after her to the lake, he saw that it was spattered with paddle boats in various shapes and sizes, all clearly made for couples. Ken was about to ask if Rosie wanted to paddle around for a bit with him, but didn’t get the chance. She seemed to ignore the boats completely as she jumped into the lake with a small splash. She flapped around shortly in the shallow water on the lake’s edge, splashing Ken. After only a few minutes, she seemed contentedly finished with that too, and stepped out of the lake, shaking the water off of her, and once more unto Ken. Her feathers had begun drying surprisingly quickly in the bright sun that warmed the park.
Rosie suddenly locked her eyes on a vendor’s stall across the way and exclaimed “Oh lookie! Ice cream! I’ll get some for the two of us, Ken!” and before he could see it himself, Rosie was already flying off to the ice cream stand. Ken let out an amused sigh as she finally outran him, and walked towards the edge of the island, looking out over the town below them. It almost felt like a park back on earth, since the island didn’t feel like it was moving. There was only a light friendly breeze, but he was still glad to be so high up, which gave the park a feeling he couldn’t put his finger on, all its own.
“So how long have you two been going out?” Quipped a familiar voice behind him. Ken nearly jumped out of his pants and turned around to see who it was, but there was nobody there. “Maybe that’s why she was at your house a couple weeks ago… spending that stormy night all warm and cozy.” The voice said again from behind him.
Ken started to turn around, then twisted back to where he was, catching the culprit as they landed. Gladys doubled over laughing as she touched down. She flapped a wing at him as the other held her stomach. “Your face… is so red! It’s… too easy!” She panted between boisterous fits of laughter.
Ken sputtered, trying to figure out how to explain himself. He couldn’t really figure out anything he could say that wouldn’t make her laugh at him more, so he settled on “So what are you doing here?” She stopped laughing long enough to reply with complete honesty. “Flying.” Once again the sincerity of her response caught him off guard and left him unsure what to say next. She didn’t miss the opportunity while he was on the back foot.
“That’s what you want to do, isn’t it?” She said assuredly.
“What makes you say that?” Ken responded in a poor attempt to throw off her pursuit.
The mischievous falcon leaned in close and stared directly into his eyes with her own intense yellow gaze. “I’ve seen the way you watch all the couriers and the girls innocently flying around this island. Either you’ve got a feather fetish, or there’s something else about us that draws your excessive gawking. Rosie was happy to chat about your rainy night with her, and it sounds to me that if you had a feather fetish, she’d have been talking about a very different night. I can imagine Rosie alone would have been quite the temptation, nevermind the magenta maiden you caught her with.” She paused to let it sink in, watching his reaction. “So if it’s not the feather fetish, it’s something else, isn’t it?”
Ken tried turning around to hide his expression, but she swooped around him faster, and caught his head in her surprisingly strong wings, channeling his vision straight into hers. “You look like my little sister, Mister Bradley. You crave the open sky, and you want to dance in it. The only difference between your eyes and hers is that she’s looking forward to her dream coming true. You’re looking back at when you lost yours.” Ken tried to keep his expression as straight as possible as he stared her down. On the other hand, she was grinning as if this was a game, and she was winning.
She dropped her wings off him and turned around, bringing a wing up to her chin as if in thought. “Now that I think about it, with the way you carry yourself, and what I saw of your place, you don’t want to fly. You want to fly again.” She turned back to face him and flapped, launching herself into the air. He took a step back from her sudden escape and looked around, trying to spot her again. His head was on a swivel, searching the sky for her, when he felt hot breath on the back of his neck, sending a shiver down his spine, and making him think of old wounds.
“Well, if you ever want lessons, I deliver!” Ken twisted around as fast as he could, and barely caught a glimpse of her grey and white feathers as she looped over and flew off the edge of the island. She stopped and hovered there for a moment, then saluted him with a wing and dove out of sight with unbelievable speed. Ken looked over the edge to find her, but she was gone, easily evading his eyes.
“Whatcha lookin’ for?” Once again Ken nearly jumped out of his pants as Rosie chirped behind him. Ken quickly tried to come up with an explanation. “Ah, well, my back was aching a little, so I just went for some fresh air.” He fibbed. Rosie held out an ice cream cone with only slightly melted mint ice cream. “Maybe this’ll help!” She said, pushing the cold, sweet snack towards him.
Ken exhaled a light half-hearted laugh as he accepted the ice cream. Once her second wing was free, she immediately started eating her own ice cream with fervor. He had to admit, ice cream seemed like a great way to relax after their earlier escapades. Interestingly enough though, Ken noticed at least one small lick in his own ice cream. She must not have been able to resist tasting it herself. Deciding to let it slide for now, he took his first lick right as Rosie doubled over, trying to hold her forehead with one wing and her ice cream with the other. Her face was contorted in equal parts delight and pain as the delicious ice cream froze her brain.
As she held out her ice cream, leaving it vulnerable in her outstretched wing, Ken saw his chance to get her back. He quickly took a small bite of her ice cream. His cunning plan wasn’t quite sneaky enough, however, and as he finished his bite, he saw her staring at him, utterly betrayed. “Hey! You don’t get to eat that! It’s mine!” She said, pulling in her ice cream and taking another large bite defensively. Presumably she hoped that if she ate it fast enough he wouldn’t get any more, but it only gave her more brain freeze, leaving her holding her forehead again.
He wasn’t planning to take another bite anyways. “So why do you get caramel and I get mint?” Ken asked nonchalantly. Once again he fell victim to her innocence, although he felt a hint of petty indignation in her voice. “Well Caramel is the best flavor, so I got it, and old guys like mint, so I thought you’d like it! I forgot to ask what you like before I went to get it.”
However treacherous he’d been when stealing a bite of her ice cream, he had no remorse now as her comment stabbed him. He was starting to think he really was an old geezer. Even still, he appreciated just how well each little action of the harpy was able to keep his vintage spirits up. He rustled her hair and gave her an apologetic grin. “Don’t worry, mint actually is my favorite. Thanks, Rosie.” The pretty blue harpy went back to her usual blinding smile, and stuck out her chest proudly, accepting the praise with enthusiasm.
“So do you come to the park often with the other girls?” Ken asked, curious. Rosie managed to finish off her ice cream before replying. “Well, most of them are busy, and don’t usually go to the park. It’s pretty much just me. I think Gladys comes on her own though. Maybe I should go with her next time!” The way she spoke, it was more like Rosie was thinking aloud rather than actually responding. As Ken finished his own ice cream, he put his hands behind his head and laid back on the grass, staring up at the open blue sky.
“Thanks for everything today Rosie.” He said absentmindedly as he relaxed. He heard a small puff of air being pushed out from under her as Rosie let herself fall backwards onto the ground next to him. “Maybe next time I should invite everyone!” She cheerily suggested. Ken chuckled up at the sky. “I don’t think I’m quite ready for such an adventure just yet.” As he stared at the sky, he wondered what kinds of adventures these girls would be pulling him into next.
There was a heavy knock at the door, and a deep call of “Delivery!” Ken looked at his delivery tracker, but it read “You Have No Incoming Deliveries.” across the top, and there was no beacon to be seen. Wondering what kind of delivery he could be getting midday that he didn’t order, Ken slowly stood up and started towards the door. Halfway through the living room the heavy knock came again, a little more impatient.
Ken opened the door and found himself face to face with a rather large bosom. He looked up to see a very stocky minotaur, who asked, “Ken Bradley?” He nodded, baffled, and the minotaur pushed past him, carrying a large box.
Startled and now more confused than anything Ken tried to stop the giant bovine lady. “Wait, hold on… What is that? I don’t remember ordering anything!” He sputtered excitedly, turning around to follow her into his own home. Before he could leave the foyer, a sonorous, and commanding voice caught his attention, stopping him in his tracks..
“That’s a gift from me to you, Mister Bradley. Don’t worry, she’ll set it up without harming anything.” Ken turned around to face the man in his doorway. The man wasn’t particularly tall, standing at least a few inches shorter than Ken. While his stature may not have been imposing, Ken could clearly tell he wasn’t someone to be trifled with. From his tailored and carefully chosen suit to his perfectly shined shoes, the man exuded wealth.
His expression was friendly, but confident and calculated. He’d clearly been in the business of people for a very long time, and knew how to look the part. Ken couldn’t see anything about him that didn’t measure him a man in a powerful position.
Even more surprising than this man was the girl standing behind him, who couldn’t look more harmless. Despite being almost a head taller than the man she stood with, Sydney was practically cowering behind him out of embarrassment. This time, her outfit was surprisingly elegant. A beautiful yet modest tailor-made light blue and green dress that blended spectacularly with the electric patterns lining her feathers.
Ken was standing in front of the doorway in sweatpants and yesterday’s T-shirt. He’d hardly thought he’d have company today, and was thoroughly unprepared. Ken did his best to appear as dignified as possible given the circumstances. He stood up straight and held out his hand to shake. “I’m sorry, I don’t believe we’ve met.” He said, with as warm a smile as he could muster. “And sorry about my appearance, I wasn’t expecting a gift today, or any visitors for that matter.”
The man shook his hand with a firm grip. “Forgive my manners, I should have introduced myself first. I am Theo Donner. You may call me Theo.” He said, then gestured to the embarrassed girl behind him. “I understand that you’ve already met my daughter Sydney.” Ken nodded, and Mr. Donner didn’t waste a moment in stating his business.
“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Bradley. Normally I don’t have much time in my increasingly busy schedule, but when your daughter detonates a television in someone’s house, you make time.” As he said that, Sydney was attempting to shroud herself in her father’s shadow. Her ashamed and obedient behavior was a stark contrast from the last time they’d met. Ken couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. Not to be rude, he ushered Theo and Sydney inside.
Theo walked in calmly, taking in the layout of the place with a careful eye. On the other hand, Sydney rushed herself in, sticking as close to her father as possible, apparently trying to use him as a shield. It was not to be, however, as Theo gently steered her in front of Ken. She was red as a strawberry and practically shivering.
“Now apologize properly, young lady.” Theo commanded with a stern voice. Sydney took a deep breath and steadied herself. She stopped shivering and took the hem of each side of her dress delicately, crossing one leg behind the other. With a short bow she then gave Ken a graceful curtsey. “I apologize from the bottom of my heart for my behavior last week, and both for the destruction of your television, and the neglect of my duties as a courier.”
Ken stood wide eyed and slack-jawed at the courtly display of nobility he didn’t think he was remotely worthy of. He was even more impressed at the sincerity with which the rebellious thunderbird had delivered her apology. He barely stuttered out a response. “I hardly think this is necessary, I mean, it was just a television.”
Sydney didn’t miss a beat, taking hold of her father’s arm and turning towards the door. “See Daddy! I told you he didn’t care! Now we can please just-” When Mr. Donner began to speak, she instantly stopped. Ken noticed that her father hadn’t budged an inch during her protest. “Now now, young lady. We can’t leave until business here is concluded. Mr. Bradley, do you have someplace to sit?” Sydney bowed her head in defeat, letting go of her father, but staying close to his side.
Ken looked behind himself at the living room, which was occupied at the moment by a rather busy-sounding bovine that he didn’t want to disturb. “Um, yes. The dining room is right this way.” He said, directing them away from the minotaur’s work. “Do either of you want something to drink?” He offered, trying his best to be a gracious host amidst the circumstances.
Theo held up a staying hand. “Not necessary, we won’t be here for that much longer. I simply wish to discuss a few things with you. Please, sit.” He pulled out a chair for his daughter, who sat down and immediately crossed her wings, doing her best to pout. She was able to look neither Ken nor her father in the eyes, however, and settled for pouting at the nearest wall.
Ken sat down across from Theo and inquired, “So what do you want to talk to me about?”
“Mr. Bradley, I understand that you are well acquainted with the harpies in the courier service?” He rhetorically asked. Ken nodded in affirmation. “A couple months ago, my daughter had her birthday, and as I believe you know, her gift from me ended up much the same as your television.” Sydney turned bright red, and her crossed wings were brought up as she shielded her face, attempting to appear as small as possible in her chair.
Seemingly ignoring this, Theo continued, “I feared I had been too lenient of a father, and in an effort to help her appreciate responsibility, I forced her into getting a job with the courier service. I had hoped the girls there would be able to help teach her, but she doesn’t listen to them as much as I’d hoped.” Ken nodded once more, now curious. “So where do I fit in?” He wondered aloud to Theo.
“After the incident, I spoke with each of the courier harpies who work with my daughter, and they were all happy to sing your praises. Apparently you’re a very trustworthy man, Mr. Bradley.”
“Thank you, that’s wonderful coming from them, but I’m afraid I still don’t see what you’re getting at, Mr. Donner.”
Sydney’s father gave a light chuckle. “Please, as I said, call me Theo. Anyways, I’ve come to a decision. I trust my daughter will come around in time, and I’m still getting reports from the courier service on her behavior.” Ken’s hairs were beginning to stand on end and he noticed small sparks flitting between the feathers still hiding Sydney’s face in bashful humiliation.
Ken could tell Theo was finally getting to the key point, as his voice became slightly more intense, commanding attention to his words. “However, they won’t be giving me reports from her customers, so I’ve requested that they give her as many routes as they can passing through this area.” Sydney’s wings came down and she looked with a mix of shame and horror at her father, predicting what he was about to say.
“If you continue making your frequent orders, I’m sure you’ll come into contact with my daughter often in her duties. I will come by monthly to check on her progress, if you’ll agree to my proposal, Mr. Bradley.” His tone made it clear that Ken didn’t have much of a choice in the matter.
Even still, he didn’t get the chance to respond because Sydney practically jumped to her feet, and wailed “Why do I have to appease some old shut-in daddy? Come on, I promise I’ll be good! The birds at the office can tell you how I’m doing!” At this point, lightning was jumping between her wings, one of which was pointed accusingly at Ken. Her feathers glowed brilliantly with an electric shine. He leaned back in his chair, hoping for his own sake that the lightning didn’t jump off of her like it had last time.
Suddenly Theo stood up and spoke with a soothing yet assertive voice. “Calm yourself, honey.” He held out his hands palm up, and Sydney tried to protest for a moment, but reluctantly put her wings onto his hands. Ken watched in disbelief as the powerful bolts of blue lightning started shooting from Sydney’s wings directly into her father’s arms and up through his body. Soon her feathers had faded back to her usual beautiful colors without the glittery sheen.
She turned to face away from Ken, crossing her wings once more, and being grumpy at the corner of the room. Her father was now covered head to toe with a slight electric glow as he offered his hand for Ken to shake. “So, do we have a deal, Mr. Bradley?” He asked with a literal glint in his eyes.
Ken figured there wasn’t much point in turning him down if he planned to keep ordering with the same frequency anyways. He felt a little sorry for Sydney, but her father was trying to help her after all. He took Theo’s hand and shook with a solid grip. “If that’s all I have to do to help, Theo, I’d be glad to.” He affirmed. “And please, call me Ken.”
Theo nodded just as the Minotaur stomped into the dining room and grumbled “Teevee’s done.” Theo acknowledged her and responded “Excellent. Thank you for your service, Ann.” Ann grunted something else that Ken couldn’t quite make out and trudged out of the house. The businessman stepped out into the foyer, accompanied by his daughter.
“Well, I really must be going. I still have plenty of business to attend to. Thank you for your understanding of the situation, and I look forward to our next meeting.” He said with a warm smile. “I’ll be sure to give you good news.” Ken replied with a grin, glancing at Sydney. She stuck her tongue out at him, and it was immediately zapped by a small bolt of lightning generated by her father.
“Eeeyh!” She objected with her presumably numbed tongue hanging out of her mouth. She realized her tongue was hanging limply in the open, and her speech had become slurred in a very undignified manner. It took all of Ken’s effort to stifle the incoming laugh. She clearly noticed, and her face flushed in shame. She brought one of her wings up to cover her mouth as daintily as possible.
Without further adieu Mr. Donner left Ken’s house, purposefully walking to a limousine parked on the street out front. Sydney hurriedly walked after him, careful to keep her wing covering her mouth. Once they had driven off Ken finally released the laugh he’d been holding, and heartily chortled as he closed the door. Once his laughter died down Ken realized that through the entire encounter, despite his daughter’s many outbursts, Mr. Donner had never once raised his voice. Ken had no idea what he’d just gotten himself into, but somehow he was really looking forward to Theo’s next visit.
Ken got ready to leave the house again. He was wondering just how frequent these trips were going to become. He wasn’t complaining, of course, but Vivian had insisted after the television fiasco. She had been very apologetic since then, and had offered to take him to an airshow. As much as he’d wanted to see one, Ken had never bought tickets before. He couldn’t really place his finger on why, though. Did he really want to fly again that much?
He was hesitant to explore that line of thought. What Gladys had said at the park had resonated in him, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to delve deeper into the ‘why’. Ken’s train of self-searching thought was interrupted by the familiar head-slamming on his front door. “I’ll be right there!” He shouted, hopefully avoiding a potential headbutt as he made his way to the foyer.
He opened the door and looked down at the miniature harpy. Her wingtips were excitedly twitching as if it was taking everything she had to keep from getting airborne. She wore a long, comely lavender top that hung loosely around her lithe torso and fell just to the top of her pleated pastel blue mini skirt. It was a sharp contrast to her vibrant fiery feathers, but it provided a calming and welcoming tone to her overall appearance, counteracting her usual cavalier impression.
She took off, clearly unable to contain herself on the ground any longer. Her carelessness allowed her miniskirt to flip up in the breeze, and her position above Ken gave him a perfect view of the tight black spats she wore presumably for circumstances exactly like this. “So, you said you had a car you could use to get there?” Vivian inquired.
“Yeah, we’re taking mine.” Ken said, pointing to his driveway. It was an older Pontiac Trans Am that Ken had taken care of for a while. He had to admit he was glad to be driving it again. After all, what was the point of doing so much work to keep it in good shape if you weren’t going to use it? Vivian flitted over and buzzed around the car, inspecting it from every angle. “It looks really fast! You think it can outrun me?”
“Can you fly over 100 miles per hour?” He asked in response. She hovered over the car, thinking. “Dunno. I’ve never checked before. But where we’re going, there’s someone way faster than you!” She retorted, excitement evident in her voice. The drive to the airshow went without incident, but at Vivian’s request, Ken kept the windows down.
The road on the way was a long open stretch heading into the country, and he couldn’t help himself from demonstrating the engine power his old steed had. He couldn’t deny the wind rushing through his hair was a welcome feeling as well. Vivian seemed to be enjoying the wind far more than him though, even sticking her head out the window like a dog to catch it.
With the roads being relatively clear, they made it in no time, and Ken pulled into an old lot a short distance away from a rather long airfield. Roughly next to the middle of the airstrip were the stands, and there were plenty of small stalls set up around the area selling food and souvenirs. Ken could already hear the engines of a few small planes powering up, and Vivian pushed him along towards the stands. “Come on! It’s gonna start soon!” She shot off ahead of him, and he didn’t have much choice but to follow her.
She kept flitting back and forth, apparently torn between getting there herself and coaxing Ken along faster. He tried to speed up as best he could to oblige her. When he got to the stands, he watched her fly up to a raised box and wave a wing at him to get up there himself. With a short climb, Ken made it up and looked around. From the box almost the entire airstrip was visible. It didn’t look like there were many people who sat here though. They must have been premium seats, because Vivian had to show one of the airshow staff her tickets before they let Ken in.
As he sat down, he was handed a pair of earplugs. A little confused, he put them in his jacket pocket. If they were handing them out, he’d probably need them later. Vivian was enthusiastically fluttering around the box and looking out over the airfield. Taking a look himself, he saw several brightly colored harpies in slick costumes stretching and flying around casually among several small stunt planes. There was a hangar near the end of the runway, but it was closed at the moment.
Suddenly all of the harpies landed and a colorful group of them lined up together on the runway, and an announcer began speaking. “Welcome to Free Blue airshow! We have a whole host of acts lined up for you today! Many of them you may have seen before, but this time we have a couple new performances bound to inspire your love of the sky! Today we’re starting off with one of those new acts! Without further adieu, prepare to welcome the Wings of Dance!”
Vivian quickly took her seat next to Ken and nudged him to alert him it was starting, as if he didn’t already know. She looked like child at the circus, full of juvenile wonder. Full of wonder himself, Ken looked out over the airfield, actually rather excited to see what what coming. His eyes focused on the colorful group standing on the tarmac.
The acrobatics team flew up into the sky with a powerful beat of their wings, taking off in unison, then broke out of formation. Each one did their own dance, feathers twirling through the air, colors streaking across the sky. It was certainly a sight to behold. Ken was bewitched by the precision of their dances and the absolute control of their flight patterns. What amazed him the most was that no matter which dancer he looked at, each of their independent flights seemed to fit seamlessly with the others, giving him the impression that despite their individuality, they were all dancing together.
Everything after that seemed to be a bit lackluster for Ken, even as he watched a few small stunt planes pull impressive maneuvers and even fly upside down mere feet off the runway. Finally the announcer excitedly said what she’d clearly been waiting for the whole time. She put more emphasis on this announcement than any of the other performances. “Finally, the act you’ve all been waiting for! It’s a shame you paid for the whole seat folks, because from this point forward, you’re only going to need the edge! Prepare for the speed and power of the METEOR!”
At this point, Ken wasn’t particularly surprised to see an F-18 Hornet taxiing out to the runway from the hangar he’d seen earlier. He was rather impressed with the paint job however. The aircraft was painted a solid black, with flames licking the nose and leading edges of the wings. Out of the flames, reddish cracks of lava carved paths down the aircraft to the tail.
Ken raised an eyebrow, curious now as to what they were going to do. The crowd fell back in their seats as the roar of the engine caught them by surprise. All of them but Vivian, anyways, who was practically standing on the edge of her seat in excitement. The Hornet shot up the runway, clearly unloading full afterburner. About halfway up the runway, they pulled almost 90 degrees up, shooting towards space at incredible speed.
When they reached about 5000 feet, they leveled out, immediately rolling over and pulling hard on the elevators. They went into an inverted dive, and managed to level out only a hundred or so feet off the ground, shooting past the stands with an explosive howl. At this point, it wasn’t just Vivian who was on the edge of her seat. Just about everyone in the crowd looked like they wanted to be as close to the action as possible.
The Hornet pulled up again after passing, and leveled out at the top of the loop, rolling upright to complete the immelman turn. It was a skillful display of aerial acrobatics to be sure, but in Ken’s opinion, a simple one. Still, it reminded him of years long past, and he found himself excited to keep watching. They gained some altitude and slowed down, pulling a slow turn. As they made their way over the stands, the aircraft suddenly pitched up, rolled left, and threw the nose hard over to the right using the rudder. The snap roll made the aircraft practically stop short in midair, and start spinning out of control, or so it seemed to the audience.
Ken knew the maneuver well, and he watched as with some effort, the pilot forced the nose of the plane down, and started speeding in a dive towards the ground, pulling up once more at the last minute, barely skimming above the ground. Suddenly he heard the announcer again. “Alright folks! It’s time to put in those ear plugs, especially you ladies with sensitive hearing!” Ken’s eyes widened as he realized what they were going to do, and he immediately stuffed in his earplugs.
He watched as the Hornet came in extremely low, almost trimming the grass around the field. It made a pass over the runway, and about halfway down the runway, right as it passed the stands, The sonic boom thundered through the crowd, even knocking a few overzealous viewers back into their seats, including Vivian. She seemed thrilled by the fun of being pushed back by the wave of explosive sound. After the initial boom though, Ken had to admit the Mach cone that formed on the aircraft was beautiful, glazing it in clouds as it raced up through the endless sky.
His heart fluttered, longing to be in that aircraft for just a moment, begging to be free once more. As he watched the aircraft fall back into the world of the subsonic, he was knocked out of his dream state when a feather started to tickle his nose. He pulled back to avoid sneezing, and realized it was Vivian’s wing. Before he could ask her why she did that, she said “Come on! Follow me!” and flew off in the direction of the runway.
Ken carefully climbed down the stairs from the box and got caught in the crowd leaving the stands. He tried to look for a way to get to the tarmac, but it appeared to be entirely fenced off. He found a gate, and just as he got to it, a security jinko held out her paw to stop him. “You can’t go through here, authorized personnel only.” She warned. He didn’t have time to reply before Vivian flew up on the other side of the gate and said “It’s okay, he’s with me! Come on, Ken! They’re gonna be landing soon!” Surprisingly enough, the Jinko nodded and opened the gate for him.
Baffled, Ken followed the speedy little harpy as best he could. She wasn’t hard to keep track of, but she got far ahead of him in no time at all. As he walked towards the tarmac he stopped to watch the Hornet come in for landing. It was a beautiful 3-point touchdown with no bounce, rather impressive to watch. If it wasn’t already obvious from the airshow, there was no doubt now that these pilots had been doing it for several years, maybe even decades.
Ken slowly made his way to the airstrip, arriving just as the Hornet rolled to a stop in its parking space. The cockpit opened and the pilot climbed out, followed immediately by his Weapon Systems Officer in the back seat. As the WSO landed on the ground, he and the pilot high-fived for another successful show. They didn’t get much time to celebrate together, as Vivian immediately zipped into an aggressive hug on the pilot. As Ken was walking up he couldn’t hear what they were saying, but Vivian stepped back down to the ground and pointed a wing at Ken. The pilot laughed and nodded, then took off his helmet.
Ken froze solid. The man standing in front of him should be dead. It was over twenty years since he’d last seen him, but Ken would never forget a face he’d flown with. The man seemed to recognize him and stopped as well. Vivian’s bright smile slowly faded as the two men stared each other down. “Papa? Ken? What’s wrong?”
Papa? Ken’s brain was screaming at him to say something, as all his thoughts were in disarray. He had no idea what to think, but he managed to sputter out “F-Fireman…?” The pilot started to slowly walk towards him, and held up a hand. “Listen, it’s not what you thi-” He tried to say, but Ken cut him off.
“Then what the hell am I supposed to think? You went down, Bernie! No chute, no SOS, not even a GPS!” We searched for weeks.” Ken said, not sure if he was angry, disappointed, or overjoyed. He gestured aggressively to the WSO, “And what, you and Harry just walked it off and found your way here without even a phone call or a letter? Were you even aware of the war that started two years after you died?” Harry took off his helmet as well and pleaded “Come on, Ken, just hear ‘im out, alright?”
Ken didn’t let either of them get in another word. “You were in the plane too, Hose! Did you just go along with it? Just how badly were both of you-” Ken trailed off as he saw Vivian worriedly looking between them, before she finally focused on what was apparently her father. “Papa, what’s going on?” Ken wanted to start shouting at Harry again, but he held back, staring expectantly at the old pilot.
“I was trying to explain, Ken. I- Well first of all I’m sorry.” He started slowly, trying to find the right words. “It was about three years before the war, and that war is why I crashed. Why I faked it. I met a girl Ken. Sweet as a rose, and a hell of a flier. You know how I was, couldn’t resist.” He said with a halfhearted chuckle, trying to lighten the mood.
Ken wasn’t having it. “So what, you ran off with a Girl?” This time it was Harry who got agitated. “Let the man finish, Ken!” Ken scowled, backing off on his words for the moment. Bernie nodded and thanked his backseater.
“Ken, I loved her. I really did, and she got pregnant. I wanted to tell you guys but what was I gonna say? ‘I knocked up a girl with wings so now I gotta quit and raise a kid?’ So I kept it from you guys, I’m sorry. But about the time I went down, some things started happening in this world that really got her scared good, and I think they’re what led to that war. I can’t say I didn’t think that something like the war might happen, and I didn’t want to be on the side shooting at my wife and daughter. So I convinced Harry to knock out the systems, and I brought her down silent. We blew up the plane and ditched the wreckage, and hid out with Elisa and Vivian until the war was over. We came here as earth tech was becoming popular, and me an’ Hose got to flying again. You happy with that explanation?”
Ken wasn’t sure what to think of it. For one he was ecstatic that his old wingman was still alive, but the man had run off right before they needed him most. And worst of all, Ken couldn’t deny that he had a damn good reason. Bernie tried to spark up a lighter note of conversation. “Well, glad to see you made it here alright. How’s Rick doing these days?”
Ken’s heart dropped as he replied, “He’s at the bottom of the goddamned ocean, Bernie. Have fun with your damn plane.” He turned around and began to walk away, cursing himself for coming to the damn airshow. He was better off when he was blissfully ignorant of the pair’s survival. Suddenly, he heard buzzing as a teary Vivian hovered in front of him, making fierce eye contact. “Viv, I’m sorry, but I’m lea-” He didn’t get to finish as her tiny forehead rammed straight into the bridge of his nose.
Ken recoiled from the sudden blow, and fell to one knee. “Don’t talk to my papa like that!” Vivian yelled at him, sniffling. She landed and walked over to him, giving Ken another solid knock with her own head. “He’s a damn good pilot, and he did what he thought was right. And you know what? I’m glad he did, and you should be too, ‘cause if he didn’t, I wouldn’t be here to tell you to man the hell up and get over it! I brought you here to see him fly cause I thought you’d like it. Did you like it or not!”
Ken fell flat on his ass, dumbfounded. He didn’t really have a response to the hummingbird’s powerful scolding, and his nose was throbbing hard. Ken took a deep breath as Bernie and Harry ran up. Bernie held his fuming and crying daughter back, while Harry tried to help Ken stand up. “I thought it was incredible. It was so stupidly simple, but you still got it you old bastard.” Ken said through clenched teeth. Even though the comment was conveyed with a begrudging and bitter tone, Bernie’s face lit right up, a stupid grin crossing his cheeks. “Thanks, Viv.” He said, hugging his daughter as she wiped her eyes with her wings.
“I told you it was gonna be awesome.” The little harpy said through relieved breath as a matching ‘I told you so’ smirk grew on her face. As her father let go, Vivian zipped into the air, looking back towards the stands. “So, who wants hot dogs?”
“Sounds good to me!” Harry agreed, looking at his pilot and then at Ken. Both of them nodded and the group headed off the tarmac and towards the stalls. After they got hot dogs, they sat down at a table, with Vivan, Bernie, and Harry having an exuberant conversation. Ken tried to join in, but he didn’t think he was ready to start treating Bernie and Harry like pals just yet. He was content to listen and enjoy his meal for now.
Ken noticed a few things while he listened though. For one, Vivian called Harry “Uncle Hose” after his callsign. Also, either their conversation was drawing a lot of attention, or the girls here really loved flyboys. Ken couldn’t count the number of excited staring and giggles he saw directed at the two in flight suits. At one point they’d even gathered a bit of a crowd around the table. None of the three seemed at all perturbed by it, though, so Ken supposed it must be a regular occurance.
Soon the conversation was winding down and Harry checked his watch, then nudged his pilot. Bernie looked at his own watch and said “Oh boy, time really caught up with us. We gotta head over to the tarmac again for autographs. Busiest part of the day!” Suddenly he paused, looking like he just had a great idea. He turned to Ken and offered, “Hey, since you’re here and all, whaddya say you join us over there at the signing? I’ll have the announcer tell everyone one of our old wingmen is here too. I bet you’ll get tons of people coming over to meet you. It’s a heck of a lot of fun, the kinds of people-” He was cut off by Harry. “Girls. He means the kinds of girls you get coming for your autograph.”
Bernie mocked indignation at his partner. “Oh, come on, Hose! Been more than 20 years since I settled down. Give me a little more credit. There’s at least a couple guys at this airshow.”
Harry chuckled and retorted “Well yeah, but they’re not meeting us for signatures, are they? I ain’t seen a guy ask me to sign under his-”
“Thanks, but no thanks.” Ken interjected before they could get sidetracked any further. “I don’t think I’m anywhere near ready to join you again.”
Bernie sighed in disappointment. “Alright then. I can’t force you after all. At the very least I’ve got to invite you over for dinner some time to meet the Missus. She’s awfully sweet and she makes a fantastic honey ham.” He took out a pen and notepad and wrote down a phone number, handing it to Ken. “If you want to come over some time, just give me a call. My door’s open for you anytime.”
The pair walked back towards the airstrip, followed by a cacophonous collection of fangirls. Vivian watched them go, then turned to Ken. “So what now? Wanna check out some of the shops?” She asked, not missing a beat. Ken shook his head. “Sorry Viv, I think I’m all worn out for the day.” She zipped into the air, not even a little deterred by his answer. “Alright then, I’ll race you back home!” Ken raised an eyebrow, even now getting caught out by her fervor. He couldn’t help but laugh as he took out his car keys. “Alright then. I think I’ve got one race in me…”
Ken had finally caved in. He had been putting it off for a couple weeks, but had finally decided to make another order, knowing who would be coming. He stared at the delivery tracker with a hint of anxiety, not sure just what he was getting himself into. Across the top it read “Your Package is Being Delivered.” He fidgeted in his chair, and decided he wanted to wait on the porch again. He went to his room to get his Jacket, since it was a little chilly outside, and heard a knock at the door.
She can’t be here already. He thought to himself. She wasn’t even in range of the tracker moments ago. He furrowed his brow in thought, wondering who it could be as he walked to the foyer. He opened the door, and was not expecting to see a pair of uncanny bright red eyes staring at him.
At quick glance, the reptilian features of the character in front of him set his heart in motion, beating out a rhythm of trepidation. He took a step back, and nearly fell over as he stared at the woman in front of him with her dark scales, sharp teeth, and piercing eyes.
She spread her great wings and Ken quickly looked away, shielding his face as he prepared for what was to come. What came was not pain, but laughter. Howling laughter rang out through his foyer and he lowered his arms to see the figure laughing, holding her stomach with her great -feathered- wings.
Ken swallowed as he realized he’d been had. He looked over a familiar wild tuft of spotted-grey hair, and the dark brownish grey of the back of her predatory wings. “So I was right about that too!” Gladys said, obviously very pleased with herself. “Now, what does your fear of dragons have to do with flying…?” she asked, leading off the question with a knowing grin.
“How did you know my fear of dragons is related to that?” Ken shot back, trying to take back a semblance of control. “I didn’t, but thanks for confirming it for me.” She said with her usual predatory smirk. “How do you know I have a fear of dragons anyways?” Ken asked, looking over her. Upon closer inspection she was just wearing bits and pieces of a dragon costume. Even though it was fake, as he stared at the reptilian scales and the pair of horns she wore, his heart was still pounding harshly in his chest and his breath came short and fast.
She locked eyes with him, and her red eyes cut deep into his own gaze as she stated “Raptor eyes, remember? I could easily see how you reacted when you saw the dragons at the park.” She brought a wing up to her face and deftly wiped across her eyes, revealing their normal yellow shine. She held out the colored contacts to show him, snickering all the while. “Anyways, you need to get a doorbell. I’m sure knocking is tiring for all of us, especially Viv.” Ken held up his finger, ready to correct her, but didn’t quite know how to respond to the sudden complete shift in conversation.
As his heartbeat finally slowed down and his breathing returned to normal, Ken picked his stamp out of his pocket. “You know what? Let’s just get this delivery over with so you can move on to the next man you want to torture.” Ken said, admitting his defeat. She shrugged and shook her head.
“Nah, I’ve got time. And who cares if one little delivery is late. I’m gonna stick around for a bit. You called me over after all.” Ken’s jaw dropped in disbelief as she pushed her way past him and into his house. “Now… Let’s see what kind of secrets hide in here.” She said with a mischievous grin, and walked straight down the hallway towards his room. Ken realized he’d left the door to his room open, and tried to stop her, but it was too late. She had already made it inside.
He followed her in and saw her gaze quickly shifting around everything in the room, until it finally settled on the framed collection of medals hung on his wall. It wasn’t many, but it clearly drew her attention. “The pieces fall into place.” She thought out loud. “So, how did you earn those?” She quizzed, sitting down nonchalantly on his bed.
He took a deep breath. “Those aren’t mine.” That caught her off guard. Her eyebrows raised as she silently questioned who they did belong to. “They’re not mine” Ken repeated. “They were my pilot’s. His name was Rick Patterson, and he was a hell of a guy. We called him ‘Swan.’” Now interested, Gladys patted the bed next to herself, indicating that he should sit down for this. As much as he didn’t want to start, he felt himself complying.
Ken mustered all the strength he could mentally, trying to keep himself from breaking down as he began. “I was his back seat. I had all the radar and system information, and he flew the plane. We’d been flying together for years before the war started, and when it did, we were right at the tip of the spear.” He took a glance at Gladys, and saw that she was riveted, leaning in and listening intently to what he was saying.
He continued, trying to keep it as simple as he could so that he could just be over it quickly. “We flew together in combat. For the most part it was a tur-” He stopped himself before he started talking about the slaughter trivially. He knew the girl next to him was probably not going to be bothered by it, but he didn’t want to step on any toes.
To his surprise, she called him out on it. “Yeah, a turkey shoot, we all know how it went. So what went wrong?” She blatantly inquired. Her lack of prudence was no real surprise at this point, and Ken let himself keep going. “Well, dragons weren’t that hard to take down from a range. They’re big, slow targets. They sure as hell surprised us with how cunning they could be though. They were smart enough to know they were never going to catch us normally, but they could get in the way of our flight, move through the sky like nothing we’d ever seen, and even hit us with their powerful breath if we were unlucky enough to get close.”
“That was what happened the first time. A giant red one melted our wing and our engines flamed out. We were spinning and had no control, so I punched us out.” Gladys looked confused, so he explained. “Punched out means we ejected. We left the doomed aircraft to save ourselves. When you eject it basically shoots you out of the plane. It saves your life, but it’s not good to accelerate so quickly.”
“So what happened the second time?” The keen harpy asked. “The second time didn’t go as well. After the first we both made it back, and after a check-up, we were both flying again in no time. It wasn’t long after that when we came across a group of wyverns, tightly packed. We ended up flying through them by accident, and we hit one. The plane didn’t come out of that one too well.”
“So you ejected again?” She guessed. He nodded solemnly. “Yeah, but this time we weren’t so lucky. He…” Ken stopped as the words caught in his throat. He hadn’t realized that he’d started crying, but he felt a tear rolling down his cheek. Determined to finish what he started, Ken continued with a heavy, shaking voice. “Rick… wasn’t so lucky. Because of all the wyverns, we hadn’t noticed the ancient gold one leading the group. When we ejected, they didn’t get me, but as Rick was shot out of the plane, they caught him.”
“I think the sudden stop br-” Ken’s voice choked up again. He took another deep breath and skipped past that part. “After the gold caught Rick, he looked at me. I could see what he was thinking through his eyes. ‘You get to live.’ He told me.”
“Anyways, shortly after we ejected, the rest of our squadron dispersed the group, so I landed safely. I didn’t pass the check-up though. I was unfit to fly anymore, unfit for service. Ejecting isn’t good for you, and it sure as hell did a number on me.”
He looked at Gladys through the tears in his eyes, expecting the usual smirk, but her face was deadpan serious. She didn’t even have a hint of playful malice on her features. Very sincerely she asked “Why is it that you fly?” Ken didn’t understand the question. “I don’t fly anymore.” He replied, confused.
She questioned him again, not a hint of a joke in her voice. “Why do you fly?” He shook his head, unable to respond until she asked once more. “Why do you fly?” In an attempt to change the conversation around he mimicked the question back at her. “Well why do you fly?”
Without any hesitation she responded “I’m a harpy. I was literally born into it. It’s just something I do. But you’re a Human. Your species was never meant to fly, and yet you do. What compelled you to take to the skies?”
“I think… I think that’s exactly it. We were never meant to fly. It’s about pushing the boundaries, the feeling of doing something impossible. Something like that, I guess.” Ken told her without much confidence in his response. He slowly wiped a couple tears out of his eyes, trying to figure out what the raptor was thinking. She wasn’t easy to read, and her deadpan expression gave him nothing. Gladys seemed happy to accept the answer he gave, though. Her grin returned as she laid back casually on his bed. “It’s not great, but that will have to do. I suppose I need to give you flying lessons now.”
Ken was glad she had stopped questioning him, but again he was left befuddled. “What? Flying lessons? I don’t have wings.” He protested. Unfazed, the predatory girl explained. “You’re going to join me while I give my sister flying lessons. Sunday, two weeks from now, in the skypark. Nine in the morning. Don’t be late.”
“So, what? You just expect me to show up and learn to fly? What am I supposed to do? Jump off the park and flap my arms like your sister?” At this Gladys sat up and leaned in close. “My sister is one of the best fliers you’ll ever meet. I’m not literally teaching you to fly. Not yet, anyways. I’m showing you how to be a flier. I’m showing you what it means to soar through the air, free.”
She brought a sharp wingtip feather up to his nose and lightly poked his face. “I’m showing you how to break those silly chains you’ve put on yourself.” Ken was starting to see what she meant. He nodded slowly, letting what she said stew in his head. He wondered briefly just how much of his story she’d tell to the other courier harpies. As if on queue she winked at him and said “Don’t worry, I’ll keep it a secret. You can tell them when you want.” She patted him on the back with a wing and stood up.
As he followed her up, a clipboard was pushed towards his face. He reeled back, and noticed that it was the delivery confirmation slip. It took him a second to process, but he finally fumbled around in his pockets and got out his stamp again, pressing it to the page. “Thanks Mister Bradley!” She chirped, tossing his package onto his bed, then casually strolling out of the room.
He followed her to the front door, and when he made it, she was just about to take off. He stopped her. “Wait! I uh, I have something for you.” He quickly walked to his kitchen, and opened the cabinet, bringing out a small bag of hard caramels. She met him in the foyer, taking the bag with delight. “Oh, you remembered! Thanks Ken.” She said, turning around and running for takeoff from his porch before he could say anything else.
Immediately after she took to the skies, she accelerated and shot straight up and over his house. With a short turn she pointed herself to her destination and flew off with incredible speed that put Vivian to shame. As Ken closed the door, he thought to himself. Nine in the morning, huh? A faint glimmer of hope had sparked in his heart and he wondered if maybe, just maybe, he could fly again.
Finally, part 2 is here! I had a lot of fun working on this one to introduce the new characters, and to delve deeper into the existing characters. Please leave your comments and criticism, as I’d be really happy to hear what my audience thinks I can improve.
Once again I’d like to give a huge shout out to TwoHeavens who is letting me borrow his setting, and doing the gracious work of making me write a story rather than a boring list of events void of colorful prose.
It’s probably a moot point to put it at the end like this, but here’s a link to Part 1 for anyone who read this first and left feeling confused: Mail Order Brides Part 1