Ashten twirled his pen around his fingers, trying hard to focus on what his history teacher was saying. But it was so boring. Middle ages, blah blah blah. Dark ages, bubonic plague, depressing stuff, blah blah blah. He shot a glance at his best friend, Logan, who sat two desks away from him. Logan caught his eye and grinned half-heartedly. Logan rolled his eyes at the blackboard, and quietly tore out a corner from his notebook. He scrawled something onto it with his ballpoint, crumpled it up into a ball, and flung it across the room to Ashten. It read, ‘what is up with Mr. Dodds? This is so boring. It’s like the Victorian ages, apparently, according to Maria. This is so old school. Ewww!’ Ashten snorted and hastily wrote a reply. ‘this school is Victorian :) Oh, here we go again, another of Mr. Dodds’ famous morale stories.’ He folded it up into a paper plane and made it fly towards Logan, but to his utter dismay, it didn’t go far enough and it landed on Maria’s desk. She unfolded it underneath the table and read it.
She raised her hand. Ashten faced the front of the class, avoiding Logan’s stare and focusing on the word Sialynx on the board. It was supposed to be a Medieval fantasy creature. That’s all he had picked up.
“Now, as I have told you, the Sialynx-” Mr. Dodds stopped short and looked at Maria. “Yes, Miss Fae?”
“Sir,” Maria replied in her goody- two shoes voice, “Ashten has been passing me notes in class.”
Ashten rolled his eyes, set his jaw, and fought to control his temper. “Mr. Salas, will you please explain?” Ashten remained silent. “Very well. Detention after school, my office. And, as a resulting punishment, you can come up to the front of the class and read this short story aloud for us.” He handed Ashten a heavy, thick, yellowed book. Ashten raised his eyebrows and looked at Logan, who replied with a shrug and a smug smile. “Page ninety eight.”
Ashten found the page, shot a dark look at Maria, who put on an angelic face, and looked at the words on the page. He cleared his throat and read in a flat voice, “The summer of 1398-”
“A bit less of a robot voice would do just fine, Mr. Salas. And read the title first.” Said Mr Dodds coldly, eyeing Ashten expectantly through his thick spectacles.
Ashten sighed audibly, and restarted. “Leather Wings.” He wasn’t impressed by the title, but continued.
“The summer of 1398. Not an extremely good year for me. Lord Cliffton was out of the country, waging war on the nearest country and sending out soldiers to hunt me down because I had tried to persuade him to not engage into war. It kind of came out the wrong way, I may have used the words ‘unprepared’ , ‘stupid idea’ , and the phrase ‘have you seriously got nothing in your head other than dead flies?’ Hah. Didn’t really turn out the way I had expected.” Ashten looked up from the page at his peers. A horizontal line marked the end of the section of the story.
“Continue, Mr. Salas.” Said Mr. Dodds in an irritated voice. Ashten knew better than to get on Mr. Dodds’ bad side, so he read on.
“Horizontal line,” said Ashten, earning himself a few sniggers from Logan. He grinned at his friend.
“Enough, Mr. Jackson. That was not necessary, Mr. Salas. You are beginning to cross the line of my temper.” Logan shut up immediately, Maria smiled wickedly and Ashten averte his gaze sullenly back to the tome.
“I ran, I ran and ran and ran until they were out of my sight. Those sallow faced bastards would never be able to get me now (please excuse my language). As I slowed down, panting, I could still hear some furious shouts.
Street ruffians. The bad ones. I was one of them, but I didn’t go around harassing people and handing out death threats whilst fingering a dagger for their money.
I let out a long, wheezy breath and stood, folded over, my hands on my knees as I paused to regain my breath.
Convinced that I had lost them, I strutted ahead at a brisk pace through the somber, coniferous trees of the Underwood, pleased with myself. I wiped my sweaty palms clean on the floaty, dirty fabric of my clothing, my leather shoes making almost no sound against the rotting, leafy forest floor. Faint sunlight filtered through the pine needles, dappling the trees with a pale golden color.
All too soon, I took a detour and arrived back at the edge of the forest- but not where I had entered.
In front of me was a dilapidated, barely standing, crumbling stone house. Or that was what it was. I could barely make out the features that made it once an accommodation. I could hardly believe it. I could hardly contain my excitement. All those blasted years of fighting for survival, for shelter, for food and only a couple paces from the village there was this abandoned house.
Intrigued, I walked towards the gaping entrance, a black hole in the moss- and lichen ridden wall. The rubble cracked like breaking firewood under my feet, yet I paid it no attention. The house was too inviting. I didn’t even look back.
Once inside, I fished a candle out of my pocket and lit it. The flickering flame cast a soft golden glow on the room inside, giving it a nice, inviting appearance. That changed in a second.
Something stirred in the shadows. There was a flap of wings. My heart almost stopped, but when I swung the candlelight around the place, nothing was to be seen. It was probably a bat, I though to myself. I cleared my throat and whispered, “Hello?” No answer. I tried again, this time louder. “Hello!” I almost shouted.
Who goes there? Be thy a witch, or a faerie, be thy a devilish little elf or sprite you can not overpower me! Come thee hither, come thee hither. A voice inside my head hissed. I almost screamed and covered my ears with my hands, dropping the candle in the process. The flame was snuffed out in an instant. What art thee? An unnatural blue light illuminated the room.
“A mere human, O whatever you are,” I said in mock imitation. “Get out of my head!” I continued angrily when all I heard in response was more hissing.
A furious growl sounded, but this time it came out of the air, and not from my head. I blinked as the light became brighter, and a figure stepped out of the shadows.
I am unlike any creature you have ever seen before, ignorant human. I have wandered the face of this earth centuries before you were born. The voice was silvery and flowed like water over stones. It did not suit the speaker.
I gaped in pure shock as the thing came up close. It looked like a large cat. But it was unusual. Its eyes were blue, bluer than the midday sky, bluer than a bluebell, with silvery pupils. They eyed me with caution. Swaying its tail to and fro, the cat circled me. I stood there, dumbly, ignoring my instincts. Run. RUN.
It had dark fur, black as the night, its head though was garbed by something smooth and tough looking, like a hide helmet. It had claws that looked frightfully sharp, and ashen fangs longer than my forearms.
Clink, clink, clink went the claws on the stone floor as it circled me. It came to a stop in front of me and sat down. You pose me no threat, young one. It licked a paw and the scaly ‘helmet’ melted into its skin.
“Wha- wha- what are you?” I asked. It yawned lazily and looked me in the eye. I flinched involuntarily.
I am a magical, if not mythical creature. But look, I am no longer a myth, It said in a mocking, powerful voice, I am pure, hard reality, descendant of the- let’s see, how should I put this. Ah, the Sphinx.
“ Uh huh.” I answered slightly unbelieving. This thing liked to intimidate with words. I was quite sure it would not try to hut me. “To me you look like a cat. That can speak. Yes, well, that’s quite unusual, but-”
Stop with the yammering. Are you sure what you are looking at is all you see? Don’t look. See.
“Words of wisdom at five in the morning,” I said, irony coloring my voice. “That doesn’t even make sense. Looking and seeing are the same things.”
The cat gave me a devilish, toothy smile and said, are you sure? It moved around and there was that leathery sound again. Before I knew it, I was in the beast’s talons and it sprang up towards the ceiling, breaking through it in a volley of raining debris.
“Put me down!” I shrieked, terror pounding on the door of my heart.
The cat smiled again, and said, are you sure?
I looked down and felt giddy. “We’re a hundred feet off the ground! What are you doing to me! Stop messing with my mind!”
I’m not messing with your mind, It said.
“I’m not as stupid as you are,” I shouted anger bubbling at the surface of my tongue. “Cats don’t fly!”
What are these, then? It asked, showing me limbs that grew out of it’s sides. Huge, black bat’s wings, with a curved talon at the edges.
“Whoa!” I spluttered. “You- you’re- HELP! SOMEONE HELP!” I shouted, but the only listeners to my plea were the cat and the wind. The cat laughed, the sound coming from its mouth this time, ringing off the walls of the area it had flown to. It was a mountainous valley.
It put its tail around my throat and brought me up to eye level. I whimpered in fear and tried to escape its clutches, but to no avail.”
“What a wimpy kid,” Interrupted Harris Baer, a buff kid who sat at the back of the classroom and who spent every second of his time out on the field or in the sports halls of Purfrock High School playing some insanely rough sport- rugby. Ashten didn’t get rugby. To him, it was a brutal game in which huge guys throw themselves over each other and try to kill each other over a ball that isn’t even round.
“I’m sure you’d be the same, Mr. Baer,” Said Mr. Dodds icily. “Muscles will not necessarily save your life. Hercules was such a hero because he was not only brave and strong, but he had the blessings of the Gods of Olympus.” There was a groan at these last words, for everyone feared Mr. Dodds would ramble on and tell the story of Hercules’ adventures for the umpteenth time. Even Amber, the stupidest girl in the class, knew the story inside out, word by word. At the reaction of his students, Mr. Dodds stopped talking and made a flicking motion at Ashten, who continued reading.
“Do you wish me to bring you back to the ground? The Sialynx asked.
“Yes!” I shouted over the howling of the wind. “Bring me back! Fast!”
Fast? A wicked light appeared in its eyes. Very well. I breathed out in relief and looked down. We were above a cliff that had a sheer drop. The sight made me fell giddy, so I screwed my eyes shut. A second later, I felt like the cat’s shiny claws did not encase me. I was free! Free, from everything.
I sighed, my eyes still shut lightly, and smiled, feeling the wind envelop me. It tasted of everlasting freedom. And since then, everlasting freedom is what I have had.” Stunned, Ashten didn’t even bother to make another practical joke, and read out loud in mock voice, “the END.”
The whole class looked at him with bated breath and utter silence. Mr. Dodds shook his head and smiling, patted Ashten on the shoulder.
“Thank you, Mr. Salas. You may sit down.”
Still in shock, Ashten walked down the aisle where he sat down at his desk, shaking. Logan, for once, had his gaze fixed on Mr. Dodds, who had just packed his bag. “That is all for today. Class dismissed.” As usual, he held out the door for the students to exit. Amber walked out proudly, flinging her long hair as she strutted down the corridor. Harris squeezed out the door. Maria gathered up her books and walked silently out of the class with a thank you to Mr. Dodds. Logan and Ashten were last to leave.
“Until tomorrow, boys,” Mr. Dodds said, and looked them in the eye. His usual hazel eyes flashed an electrical blue, until they were bluer than the midday sky, bluer than a bluebell.