It was two o’clock in the morning when Lindy Burks woke up on the cold, iron floor of a swinging cage. It was suspended hundreds of feet up in the air, hanging by three chains half made of steel, half of fog braiding down, link by link, from the massive cumulonimbus overhead. Thunder grumbled and rumbled. Lightening flashed on and off in the distance, as though some pesky giant in the sky were playing with a light switch.
Lindy raised herself to her feet, which stubbornly refused to stand. She wobbled before she collapsed back onto the iron floor. She sighed sharply as she sat up.
“Work, you stupid things!” she said, massaging the feeling back into her legs and feet.
The thunder was getting louder, the lightning brighter. It was cold up there in that cage. Gusts of wind blew at Lindy as if she were a flame on a wick, and the air was heavy with mist. Lindy soon realized that up here in the clouds, she could never get dry. And what bird with weighty, wet wings had ever found a way to fly?
With the strength having finally returned to all six limbs, Lindy pulled herself back up. “Okay, now to find an exit.” The cage was twice her height vertically, with a diameter of about ten feet. It was completely empty, all except for her of course. Its bars were jagged square beams of iron, and it had absolutely no door. This made Lindy wonder how she even got locked in. She looked up at the ceiling of the cage and saw something hanging on a chain from the very center of the dome. It couldn’t be, could it? Lindy squinted her eyes at what appeared to be a key.
“Huh.” Needing a key to escape, cliché. The key being poorly hidden within the confines of her prison cell? This was new, and just a tad fishy. Still, it was her one hope of a way out. And where there was a key, there was a way out.
Keeping her eye on that chain, Lindy unfolded her wings and poised them above her back. She lowered into a readied squat, balancing herself with two fingers on the floor as she focused all her energy and concentration on the key. This task would have been easy in any lower layer of the atmosphere, preferably the ones that would not house a swelling tempest. But never in her life did Lindy waste her time hoping that a situation’s level of difficulty matched her set of skills and experience. She was smarter than to even wish life was anything like a game.
“One…two…” she whispered. Lindy pushed off the cage floor with all her strength, swinging her wings down for extra lift, one arm extended.
“No!” she dropped clumsily back to the ground flat on her side, her wings limp and heavy with water. She knew they didn’t feel right, but it was still worth a shot. She sat up and sighed, glaring up at the key.
“A broomstick or a jet pack would be nice right about now. And to think, a winged human existed before any of that fictional crap…” She rolled her eyes and cloaked herself with her massive white wings. At least if she had to wait out the storm, she was going to be warm doing it.
Suddenly, veins of white lightning lit the sky, only feet away from where the cage dangled from the clouds. Lindy shrieked and jumped to the side of the cage farthest away from the lightning.
“Geez--,” she said between gasps of air. “Now I really gotta get outta here.” She used the bars to pull herself to her feet. Then, gripping the bars, she jumped and attempted to hoist herself up the bars.
“Crap,” she said as she felt herself slide down the slippery wet bars of her prison. She wiped her hands on her jeans and tried again and again. She even attempted to dry the bars, but the rain came down hard on every side, immediately drenching what she had dried.
“I knew this wasn’t gonna be that easy,” she said as she frantically began to shake every set of bars. She jumped and stomped on each cubic foot of the floor surface, hoping she would just magically fall through. When that didn’t work, she went to the bars again and slammed her hands against them in frustration. Feeling defeated, she slumped her forehead against two bars. It was a habit of hers to go through every possible scenario and after a few moments, she recovered a detail she had missed. She looked up at the ominous grey clouds from which the cage hung, the chains swaying ever so slightly…
She turned her back to the bars, gripping two of them behind her tightly. She raised her head and with a look of utter determination, she ran. She threw herself into the opposite wall of bars, holding on as tightly as she could to steady herself. Pushing off the bars, she ran back to where she had first begun. And then back to the opposite wall. She started fast, knowing the momentum would only begin evenly if she could follow through and run to the other side soon enough. In a matter of seconds, the chains began to squeak as they swayed to and fro, back and forth across the sky, Lindy and the cage swinging at their ends. It was a few more rounds before Lindy felt her legs quiver and shake. She willed herself to keep running, to keep moving. She forced her legs to stay balanced, though she was offset by her lack of food, rest, and warmth. She had never tested her stability on unsound surfaces with such heavy, useless wings. But her gift was surviving. It had to be, being what she was. And survive she would, at any cost.
Finally, she had gained a tempo she could work with. With the cage swinging to a slant, she was getting pelted with larger, more frequent raindrops, so she had to choose her time of ascension fast. As she raced to and fro, she would watch the other side approach. She planned out her steps. She had studied every detail of her jump during four more runs before she chose her moment.
This was it.
The other side of the cage came at her with every sprinted step she placed. The last step arrived and she pushed her heavy body off the ground, aiming her other foot with her leg curved at a single bar. Though her foot slightly slid with a squeak against the metal, she somehow managed to gain enough air and cover enough space and reach out her arm far enough to just grasp the key. Her hand enclosed around a silvery chain.
There was no key. Only a loop of chain. A loop of chain she did not let go of, and split seconds later, she was hanging onto this chain, spinning while the cage continued its slowing sway back and forth, back and forth.
For a moment, Lindy thought she was going to hurl. Then she thought she would just about tear her fingers off. All her weight on her palm against this thin chain called for more grip strength than she knew she had.
Lindy let out a cry to mirror the excruciating pain she was feeling. It was more than she was willing to do for a dead end. She let go.
Falling is a funny thing. It is an illusion of time. We do not know how not to exist in the element of air. What form do we take? What feeling do we have? Should we be scared, or should we feel safe? Is it thrilling, or is it frightening? Or is it peaceful?
Lindy was falling through the air, lying on her back, her wings tucked in close. Her loose, blond curls were being blown upward. They framed her vision as she caught a single glimpse of her bottomless cage evaporating into the mist of the clouds. Not even a whole second later, a beam of lightning flashed where it and Lindy both would have been.
Lindy Burks was falling to earth. Every second felt like an eternity of its own.
Though no longer incarcerated, the bird girl’s wings were still soaked. How would she get out of this one?