WINGS [Fiction]

WINGS (2023) Short Fiction by Dennis Lowery

One of my readers sent me a photo of a mist-shrouded forest, serene and ethereal. From her posts and comments, I knew a little bit about her. She was a single mom raising a child under challenging circumstances and sometimes struggled.She also loved fairies and had a wonderful sense of humor and appreciation for the beauty in our world (despite all she dealt with). When she sent me the picture, she asked: “Can you write me a story about this?” I did, and here’s the result.


Fánaí came upon her in the twilight mist. She was at the foot of a pile of large rocks that had sheared off the escarpment above. A gash ran from her forehead into the thick tangle of auburn hair. It had happened some time ago, maybe that morning, since it had clotted and dried despite the dampness of light rain.

He unslung his pack, quiver, and bow, and kneeled. The cold ground and the damp chill of the evening coming on with sundown settled into his joints. In the waning light, he saw the bruises on her face. Her torn clothing could hide others.

Fánaí stood and looked around. He had traveled far, and this was a strange country. Not so young but not so old, in his late 40s, no family left and tired of the sameness of his own land, he had followed a dream. To find a place where magic still lived and perhaps where he could heal. Fánaí had not expected to discover a young girl hurt and unconscious at the foot of a mountain.

Shaking his head, he stooped again to pick her up. A hardness, high, mid-back where he expected pliant skin made him fear broken bones hidden beneath. The girl opened her eyes and sat up as he got his arms under her. She coughed and stared at him, eyes wide. But their glinting umber lacked the wildness, the skittish confusion of pain; she seemed focused, not disoriented, as she asked: “What will you do to me?”

The girl shivered, cold and wet from the day’s rain, which had stopped. A chill mist blanketed the ground and thickened among the rocks. He took off his cloak and wrapped it around her shoulders. Curious but not asking about the trepidation he sensed behind her question, he said, “Well, the first thing is a fire to dry out and warm up.”

“You’re a man,” she said, part statement and question, “why are you helping me?”

“There’s what could be a cave where we can shelter from the weather.” His chin jutted to gesture beyond her shoulder at a shadowed area behind the rocks. Walking from her, he gathered sticks and slabs of bark from nearby trees, checking the underbrush farther back to find what was dry. “It’s not far,” he returned to where she sat on the ground. “Can you walk?”

“Why are you helping me? My people receive no kindness from men.”

She stood, and though young, was as tall as he. Looking closer at her, he realized what had felt strange about her back. He had heard stories of mythical creatures that lived here—the lands far to the east of his own—but never thought he would see, let alone meet one.

“Humans,” she locked eyes with him, “…men take advantage of us, especially lady fairies.” Her hand went to the long, slim blade sheathed at her hip. “I won’t let you hurt me.”

The gray sky grew darker, and the crowding clouds above threatened more rain. They now stood facing each other. She had cast off his cloak and, shaking with the chill, asked again: “Why are you helping me?”

The mantle at her feet was a gift from his wife. Given to him, knowing how he loved his walks even in autumn and winter. The wind’s icy bite made him shudder, but Fánaí ignored the desire to drape its warmth across his shoulders. “You need this,” he said, setting the armful of kindling on the ground, picking up and handing her the cloak as the rain fell. He grabbed his pack, slung it over a shoulder, and re-gathered the pieces of brush and tinder. “Bring my bow and arrows.”

Fánaí turned toward the rocks. Entering the hollow, he found it led enough into the mountain to be dry inside, away from the opening’s exposure to the wind-swept rain. He kicked a clear spot in the dirt at the back of the cave and dropped the load of kindling. More was needed if his back told him right. A hard freeze was coming with nightfall.

The girl still stood in the rain but wore the cloak. Passing her, he gathered larger pieces of wood from the copse of trees that began where the rocks and boulders ended. Four trips yielded enough for the night. With the fourth armload, he found her in the cave’s rear, sitting with her back against its stone terminus. Her knife was out and in the hand that rested on her lap. His pack near the kindling, bow, and quiver of arrows beside her.

Using flint and steel, he struck long runners of sparks into the tinder. They caught, and he nursed them with breath and handfuls of dried grass and twigs from an old, abandoned nest he’d found with the last load. As the fire took, gobbling the wood and wanting more, he sat and fed it bigger pieces. It warmed the cave and cast light in a growing circle until it reached the girl.

She used a cloth from the pouch carried at her side—soaked from rainwater—to wipe away the caked blood from her face and gingerly along the cut on her head. Her features, though pale and strained, were striking. The now clean lines of her face and cheekbones caught the light. His eyes went to the fire, and he said without turning to her, “I’m Fánaí, and I mean you no harm.” The fire crackled in the stillness, broken after a dozen heartbeats.

“I… I am Shayleigh….” the girl said.

 “Are you a princess?” Fánaí thought a girl as beautiful as she must be. “Running away from an evil prince?”

“No,” she replied with a half-laugh, half-cry. “I’m anything but.”

The tear that rolled down her cheek, dull, opaque, and without shine, unlike humans, dried instantly. “How did you end up here?” he asked, cocking a thumb toward outside where he had found her.

“I was headed to the Peak,” she gestured toward the cave ceiling, hesitated, then added, “where fairies learn to fly.”

The craggy rocks far above them, shrouded by the lower rim of the rain clouds, had appeared unclimbable to him. When he had raised her from the ground, he’d felt the two hand-sized humps on her back. The edges of a bone frame jutting beneath, not breaking the skin. His look moved from her face to between her shoulders, half-turned toward him.

“They’re late,” she said harshly and twisted away. But she realized that gave him a better view of where her wings should be and spun to face him. Her features—even angry or maybe because of it—had the fragile beauty of fine porcelain and gleamed in the light. Her eyes flashed at him, then the flicker faded. She looked so young, lost, and lonely.

“In my land, most have forgotten that fairies were…,” his eyes flicked to her shoulders again, “are real. Some believed that if they existed, it was long ago. She studied him, and he thought perhaps she sensed his regret—her eyes steadied on him—as he continued. “Why did you leave your people?” he asked, adding more fuel to the blaze.

“I was common, nothing—no one—special.” Shayleigh shifted closer to the fire, wrapping his cloak tighter around her. “I’m a year past the age when girl fairies should get their wings.” Her bitter tone grew sharper. “I met a boy before then who I thought would be my lifemate. And he thought the same of me. So he said….” She paused, taking a deep breath. “When my wings didn’t come, he acted ashamed of me… as if I had become ugly… unworthy.”

It all came out in a spurt—a stream dammed for too long, then released. More dull, gray tears pooled in her eyes, quenching the glow he’d seen earlier.

“He couldn’t accept me… as I am… and for what I was; what I was destined to become. Wingless.”

“And so you left,” he said, understanding in his own way how she felt.

“All he told me—his love for me—was a lie.” She looked up at him. “And I had no family. There was nothing there for me. Nothing there with him. No one for me, and I was so lonely.”

Fánaí closed his eyes, the weight of his past and how it had taken all his strength to bear it unforgotten, and opened them to find her watching him. “And without wings, you came here.” He leaned to hand her a cup of water poured from his canteen, noting her blade was now sheathed.

Shayleigh nodded. “But not for them… for me!” He studied her bruised face and hurt for her. “To fly… or fall.” She bowed her head and whispered, “I fell.”

He wondered at how tough she must be to not have been hurt badly. Not pitying her—that would pain her more than the cuts and abrasions—he said: “In my life….” Stretching his legs, he stood with a grunt and a crackling of joints and took a few steps. “I thought I was trapped between what had happened and what could never be.” He studied her from across the fire. The flame’s dance of light and shadow on the stone behind her as she sat with her head down. He turned his back to the fire and contemplated the darkness beyond. “The road is so much longer when we have no dreams to believe. And we have no destination… life has no purpose.” The steady sound of water running down the mountain filled his quiet pause. Wearing away more rock, he mused and continued. “It stayed that way until I decided one day to walk and not stop until I found what I sought.” Turning around, he returned to the fire to find her watching him.

“Have you found it?” she asked.

“Not yet.” He could hear the same yearning in his own voice.

“Why do you go on?”

“Because.” He smiled at her with the self-awareness that only comes from experience. “Because, Shayleigh, I deserve to find what I want.”

She stared into the fire, her eyes mirrored the light, and the silence stretched from moments to minutes.

Finding the loaf of hard bread in his pack, he broke it in half and handed one piece to her. “All I have to share; I’d planned to hunt tomorrow.” Taking it, she tore off smaller bits and ate.

Biting off chunks, Fánaí chewed his until finished, dusted his hands on his pants, and drank from his canteen. “Tell me about your kind… fairies… what do they enjoy? What do they love?” he asked.

At first, it didn’t look as if she would answer.

“We love to ride the wind… especially after rain, when the richness of the air and moisture gives our wings more bend and reach.”

Shayleigh straightened and squared her shoulders. Her eyes widened, seeing something not there as she continued.

“We fly highest and farthest then. That freedom… the feeling of wings drinking in the air, spreading on the wind to lift us is what we—I—long for.” Her eyes fixed on his. “To dance through the sky is why we exist. You can always tell when we’re happiest. When we fly, we cry with joy, and those tears trail behind us in a stream of colors.”

As she set her eyes on him for a long moment, he understood what she meant and had known a similar longing. She must have sensed that as she grew quiet again, a more thoughtful, less painful silence.

Fánaí nodded. “Sometimes, all we need is just one thing—one meaningful thing—to carry us, to help us get on.”

“On with what?” Shayleigh asked. Her head bobbed… chin to her chest.

“With life.” It had grown late, and he banked the fire, telling her, “Time for sleep; you need rest. Tomorrow is a new day.”

The girl slipped into a semi-doze, and Fánaí stepped around the fire, spread a blanket, and eased her onto it. Covering her, he brushed the strands of hair from her face. So young and beautiful, he thought, just like my daughter if she had lived.

* * *

Fánaí awoke to realize dawn had passed, and it was near midmorning. The days and miles behind him had worn him down. The fire had burned to embers, and as he sat up, he realized his cloak now covered him. Standing with a groan, he looked to where she had slept. Shayleigh was gone.

Outside, he stood near where he had found her and then slowly turned, his breath a wreath around him in the freezing air. The sky had cleared, and as his eyes searched the rocks above, a bright rainbow arched overhead. The largest he had ever seen, so high and extending so far, he couldn’t see its end. The sweep of wings and laughter carried to him on the wind. A message that Shayleigh would live and, somehow, somewhere… find happiness.

Fánaí smiled at the magic and realized he had found part of what he had searched for. Meaning and purpose, where his choices and actions made a difference, not only in his life but in someone else’s too. The past could not be left behind—he could never recover who and what he’d lost—but his step would be lighter as he continued his journey.

# # #


Having just read this story, I think you’ll understand its context and message, but I want to touch on it here.

In our lives, we all go through adversity. Good things we expect to happen. Don’t. People who present as believable and appear honest in their words and intentions. Then prove they are not. Someone we love is lost… and it devastates us. We cry over what’s happened (or not happened) because we’re hurt, sad, or bereft.

But—in life—at other times, bad things we’ve worried over never materialize. Someone we don’t trust based on appearances or our superficial judgment proves us wrong. They speak the truth and stand by us when we have no reason to expect them to do so. They earn our trust by their actions. And sometimes, when something beautiful happens, we cry because we’re happy… the most profound thing that touches our soul’s wellspring.

One of the most important things to realize is that hard times and sadness are transitory (though they may not appear so at the time). Moving beyond them, changing bad into good only happens if we have faith in ourselves and believe that if what we want is worth it, then doing what may be hard… is what we must do.

And this is perhaps the most important thing to learn: We must try… must take that first step. Then another. And another. Though we may get lost along the way. Though we may make many attempts and still fail.

Understand that perseverance—self-determination—more than anything, gets us (you) through tough times and tragedy. Even when we (you) feel no one loves us (you) because of who we (you) are… or sometimes… who we (you) are not. How others think of us (you) and how they treat us (you)… is external.

 That’s right, I’m making it (the ‘you’) personal. Because that’s what life is. It’s personal. Once you realize what’s inside you controls your life, you can decide and act (I hope) to make good things happen. Sadness turns to joy. Doubt turns to confidence and earned trust. And you can fly… leaving a rainbow behind you for those around you to see, just like Shayleigh.