A Single White Feather

February 13, 2008
By Elizabeth DiGangi, Westerly, RI

The woods were quiet, tranquil in the gathering dark. She walked very slowly, with no intent but to walk. The cool, soft grass tickled her bare feet while a breeze kissed her skin; she wore naught but a satin nightdress, and ignored the dropping temperature. She felt strangely numb, and sought release from her self-induced prison of solitude.

The full moon gleamed in the sky above, sending shafts of silver light filtering through the foliage. She couldn’t see very well, but didn’t care. Rogue tree roots occasionally caused her to stumble, but she merely righted herself and walked on. It seemed as though time had frozen in the pristine woods—she couldn’t tell if a minute passed or an hour. Still, she wandered, searching for she didn’t know what, seeing the faces of people she’d lied to on a daily basis. Mostly her friends.

Her friends didn’t really understand her anymore, and the loss of that connection had finally hit her like a wrecking ball…

She stopped. She’d found a small glade, surrounded by pine trees, so the ground was covered in a blanket of long, thin needles. She knelt down, then collapsed, curling up into the fetal position and squeezing her eyes shut, trying in vain to block out the images of her friends’ suspicious faces. They didn’t trust her anymore, and she couldn’t trust them. And now she was alone.

The air stilled. Suddenly, a brilliant light shone beyond her eyelids, and she flinched from surprise and fear.

Slowly, carefully, she cracked open one eye, then the other, and squinted against the glaring white. Her surroundings had reacted strangely to the illumination; everything lit up stood out in stark contrast against the shadows they formed. For a few seconds, she could hear a faint whooshing noise; then, silence. As her vision adjusted, she opened her eyes more, until everything was clear. She removed her face from her hands and tilted it upward to find the cause of the blinding whiteness…

Her lungs inflated rapidly in a harsh gasp: before her stood an angel.

He was tall, broad-shouldered, and handsome, dressed all in white. His hair was a light brown, falling in loose curls and waves to his shoulders. His skin was pale, so the light made him gleam. He had wings, of course, wings larger than him, bright white and so soft-looking that she had a weird urge to run her hands all over them…looking closer, she realized that his skin, hair, and feathers were actually glowing, the source of the light. She looked back to his face and found his eyes; they were a lovely, perfect brown, gentle and warm.

“Elizabeth,” he said, his voice deep and musical.

That one word, her name, spoken by an angel, sent cascades of comfort flowing through her, from the blood in her veins to the very core of her being.

She watched, unable to move or speak, as he took a step toward her—he appeared to glide rather than walk, and his wings fluttered absently. He reached out a hand to her, and she managed to respond without thinking much, lifting her own hand to his. He closed his large, sturdy fingers around her smaller, slighter ones, and pulled her to her feet. Still, she couldn’t do more than just follow his lead.

Until he said, “Elizabeth. What is it that you want?”

And she fell into his arms. She couldn’t help it; to lean on him, his chest so solid but soft at the same time, was the most natural thing for her to do. At first, she couldn’t open her eyes against his brilliance, but a few seconds allowed them to readjust. She looked up at his eyes again, and saw there that he understood, without her even having to say a word. But she did respond to his question, more out of a need to let the words free from their prison in her throat than anything else: “I…I just want to get away from it all. If only for a little while. If only I had wings…” And she buried her face in his chest again, unable to halt a slow trickle of tears leaking out of the corners of her tightly shut eyes.

She heard him say gently, “I can give you wings.”

The tears stopped. She gazed back up at him with surprise and a newfound hope. “Really?”

He nodded, smiling. “For tonight. It will hurt a little at first.”

She stayed still for a moment, then said, “I’m ready. Please.”

He held her tighter, lightly stroking the center of her back with one hand. She enjoyed the sensation…but then came the pain he’d warned her about, like something tearing through her flesh. She winced, clenching her fists and trying not to cry again…and then the pain was gone.

He let go of her, and took a step back, still smiling. Her back tingled with the new bone and muscle sprouting from it. “Follow me,” said the angel, and he launched himself into the air, sending pine needles swirling up in an excited cloud.

Tentatively she tried moving her wings, and happiness welled in her when she realized it felt completely natural. She leaped from the ground, spreading her wings and chasing after her angel. She spotted him high above her, like a star fallen too close to the earth, and flew up to meet him, crying out in jubilation at the feeling of freedom making her heart swell.

Together they traversed the night sky, pretending to be shooting stars dancing above the heads of thousands. She wondered if anyone saw them and made a wish, and hoped fervently that, if they did, it would come true. Hers finally had, after all. The wind whipped her hair into a frenzy and sent wave after wave of icy air rippling across her skin, penetrating the thin nightdress with ease. In spite of the cold, though, she felt incredibly warm from the adrenaline pumping through her veins. They were so high that the cities and towns below looked like sprawling, sparkling spider webs, perfect from a distance.

A short way ahead of her, the angel had stopped, and kept hovering until she’d caught up. “What is it?” she asked, brow furrowed in confusion.

“We’ve almost gone too far,” he replied calmly, “I need to take you back, since the night is almost over.” He opened his arms, and she entered them, not sure what he was going to do but ready to face the end.

He held her tightly and shot off, flying with impossible speed. More adrenaline flooded her, the sheer ecstasy of their flight captured by every fiber of her being as they pierced the night, then plummeted through blackness, surrounded by his light…

She jerked awake suddenly to the obnoxious beeping of her alarm clock. Completely befuddled, she looked around, wondering with dismay if it had all just been a dream.

Turning to bury her face in her pillow, she froze. Right beside the indentation made by her head was a single white feather, longer than average and emanating a faint, silvery light. She picked it up and smiled, knowing that today would be a good day.

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