Dove to the Clouds

 
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This is what my world history textbook says: “In 1903, humanity achieved the ancient dream of flying when the Wright Brothers made the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered, heavier-than-air craft. The path was then paved for humans to conquer the sky.” But my history textbook is wrong. Airplanes cannot fly; they merely flitter in the air, barely keeping afloat with a delicate balance of engineering mechanics, fuel combustion, and aerodynamics. True aviation was invented by nature. Her hands molded the eagles, owls, and robins that soar through the sky with nothing but their finely tuned muscles. The birds are the kings of the heavens, supreme and limitless.

My mother explained to me that the birds descended from the dinosaurs. After the meteor that ended the Cretaceous period crashed, black dust clouded the skies. Sunlight was cut off from Earth. Nearly all of the dinosaurs died, but a few remained. These survivors found themselves in a strange world where the only food was insects that lived in the soot-covered trees above. So they turned their scales into feathers to flap up to the branches and snatch the bugs in their teeth. Those who couldn’t fly died, forgotten and unsung.

In biology class, I was taught that this is classic Darwinian evolution. Descent with modification. Those who adapt the best survive. This is the world’s black-and-white logic. Fly, live. Walk, die.

Thus, when I grow up, I want to be an aviator.

Ideally, a set of large, sturdy brown wings would grow from my back. But I would settle for some nice blue ones, so long as they are strong enough to sail the winds. I would leap into the clouds and let the cool mist wash over my face. The houses and streets below me would shrink into a cluster of dollhouses. The only thing above me would be the sun, moon, and stars, which would shine blindingly bright without smoke and rain to block them.

I arrive at school in music class. The rehearsal is feverish. The cymbals bang. The cello is screeching. The conductor’s wand flings across the room and clatters against the screaming trombones. I sit down at the piano, and the first violinist stares at my back with her sweat-ringed eyes. My feathers remind her of how her violin felt when she first held it: light and extraordinary in power.

At the coffee shop, the barista asks me if I want anything else with my macchiato. I say: “two dollops of whipped cream for air and a dash of cinnamon for fire.” The drink comes frothy and milky. My bones become hollow as I sip it. The cinnamon burns and sinks into my wings to make them glow orange. I am lighter than air, and I swoop out of the front door and into the city.

When night falls, I curl up in an oak tree, wrapping my wings around my legs to block the shivering wind. The owls’ hoots whisper in my ears. They tell me where the mice live and when the snowstorms will come. I bid them a good hunting, and they bid me a sleep full of dreams.

I used to sit on the porch every morning during autumn. Gold and scarlet leaves crunched beneath my feet as the sun rose later and later. A line of blackbirds swept across the sky. They beat their wings as fast as their hearts could pump. It took no more than a minute for them to disappear over the horizon. Their cries lingered long after they were gone, echoing caw…caw…caw…

Flight is the product of the unfeeling and unbending hand of nature. It was created to keep the dinosaurs’ children from starving during the apocalypse. This is how evolution overrides the laws of physics: birds defy gravity, their feathers redefine aerodynamics. In two hundred million years, when the next meteor hits, they’ll fly higher than the smoke and soot. They’ll perch in the heavens and watch the stars glow serenely in the silence of space as the world burns below them.


Jieyan Wang is a high school junior who lives in Moscow, Idaho. Her short fiction work has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. In addition to writing, she is also an avid painter and pianist.

Jieyan Wang