I lay here in darkness, forlorn and forgotten. The darkness – a pleasure in pain; a refuge in agony. I feel its cold embrace upon my naked shoulders, and I feel… at home. My heart, wreathed in fear; my mind, knowing better… yet even so, I feel at ease. I feel soothed and relaxed. The darkness is my mother, and I feel her tuck me in upon this hard and cold ground. The dripping of water is her lullaby as she sings to me; a silent voice that only I can hear. So far from heaven, the song of my kind is but a fading memory; a lingering light in the darkness, soon to be suffocated and forgotten. Where once the clouds would drift at my feet and tickle my ankles, now only the needles of winter invade my skin. The darkness is my mother, the rats my brothers, the winter my sister. And here I lie, caught between fear and refuge, all because, of these broken wings.
The wind howls outside my window. I cannot see it, like I cannot see the rest. No light graces my gentle body, and my hands have become my vision. I feel my way forward, blinded without blindfold, but only with my mother’s hands over my eyes. I would complain, but her touch is so gentle. She embraces me, holding me tight; the last specks of love in store for me. But there was a time, once, so long ago, where love came in abundance, and my eyes could yet see. Up there, where the sun never set and laughter broke the silence, I was once loved so much. Through time eternal, I would dance and smile with my fellow winged, and I would never rest, in fear of missing the joy. I would look down upon man, I would adore their little affairs; I would witness the rise and fall of nations; I would see the sinful plummet to hell, and I would don wings upon the pure. Oh the sweet touch of heaven – how I miss you so.
But I am not alone. Here in the darkness, I know there are others as lost as me – maybe more. I hear the whimpers cut through the silence, and I smell their scent of sweat and fear… or is it just my own? I have tried to speak with them, but they only answer me with their heavy breaths and their gleaming eyes. I see them stare at me through the shadows, their stare shining like a rat’s gaze caught in candlelight. So many times I have tried, but the cold iron bars keep me from them. I want to hold them, feel them, know that I am not truly lost, but they fear me, and dare not speak to me. Have they scorned me too, like father has? I know that I have wronged, but I cannot believe that he has no mercy for his own daughters. His blood still courses in my veins, and more than once I have cut them open, only to feel his sweet touch upon my hand once more. So easy to scorn, so easy to hate… but I cannot help but love him. I feel betrayed, but all I wish is to feel his warm embrace again, and escape these daggers of ice. I want to forget it all – what I have done, who I have wronged, and how he took my grace from me.
I crawl through the darkness. My eyes do not see, but I know exactly what my prison looks like, no matter if I have ever seen it or not. I know every crevasse, every crack in the iron bars, and the name of every rat that passes through to nibble at my hair. Sometimes, I wish I could join them, if only to escape this winter cage… but they would never have me, I am sure. They would scorn me like the rest, hate me like the rest, hurt me like the rest. But I cannot complain… for what I have done, it is a mild punishment. I deserve the cold. I deserve the darkness. And I deserve these broken wings.
I touch the bars of my prison. My hand is weak and frail, thin to the bone, and it succumbs to the chill of iron immediately. It numbs me, but I do not care. Whatever numbness I can have, saves me from the sense of the winter needles piercing me… I relish it. I savour the loss of sense, and embrace the void, like my mother had once embraced me. In a vain hope for vision, I open my paling eyes to see, but see nothing more than when my eyes were closed. But… I hear something. Small feet, tiny skittering in the darkness, echoing off the wet, dirty walls. I lift my head to hear, and know the rat that approaches. I cannot see him, but I know the weight of his little feet as they pad their way through these forlorn corridors. His name is… Mills. Little Mills I call him. He is smaller than the rest; I had once touched him to feel it. He calls himself Mills as well, when he speaks to me. He is kinder than the rest too… the other rats don’t seem to like me. But Mills is kind. Mills is pleasant. Mills… is all I have.
I smile when I hear him approach. My forehead rests against the cold iron bars, and my lips hurt to smile. The other rats have gnawed at them, bitten them, as they have bit my neck and put me to sleep. But Mills never does this. I cry when the other rats come for me, but I smile when Mills does… as I do now.
He looks at me. I cannot see it, but I can feel his gentle stare upon my withering eyes. He does not say anything, neither do I… but I can feel something strange. I sense his gaze, but I sense no smile upon his little lips. Is something wrong? I dare not ask. We simply share our warmth for a little while, wondering what happens next. Mills seems sad, and that makes me sad. Silence lingers in the air for painfully long… until he squeaks the words I feared he would say.
“I am leaving.” He says. His little voice, otherwise so gentle and kind, now so slow and sad. My smile falters. These were the words I dreaded, now come true. I lower my head, and I do not feel the cold of the iron anymore. I only feel the cold that swells up inside me.
“Why?” I mutter. My voice is quiet and broken, like my wings, and dark equally so. It seems so unfair, my last lingering light, now leaving me.
“I have been too kind.” Mills squeaks “The others will no longer have me.”
“Unfair!” I complain “Unfair!”, but I know it is in vain. Mills has always been a smaller rat, and the others always seemed to push him around. He would speak to the other damned as well, but he seemed to like me particularly much… I wonder why. I am not kind. I am not generous. I have nothing to give, but my sorrow.
“But don’t be afraid…” Mills says. I wonder what he means for a while… and then I feel it; a smile returning to his lips. My anticipation grows, and my eyebrows rise “You can join me. You want to see the angels again, don’t you?”
I am wordless. A sense of hope, that I have not felt for centuries fills my heart, pools in my stomach, and warms my veins “Truly?” I ask, baffled.
“Truly.” Mills confirms “You have no place here. This is not your home. The others claim they can help you, bring health to your soul again, but I know what you need… you need your wings back. You cannot see, you cannot feel, and down here, you are but misery. I can help you. They cannot.”
I can scarcely believe it. I dare not dream about the sweet embrace of heaven, in fear of simply being disappointed, but I cannot help it. The thought of dancing with my true sisters again brings such long-lost joy to my heart, and I can almost feel my wings become whole again. I speak not a word, and Mills understands. I hear him climb up the iron bars of my cage, and I hear him gnaw at the lock. His little teeth work the rusty iron, and I smile. Before long, I hear the clatter of iron upon the dirty, wet ground, and Mills’ voice that follows shortly after.
“We must go.” He says, and I spare no time for hesitation. I quickly climb to my skinny legs, and I feel my knees shiver under my weight. It has been so long since I stood, and I feel my heart race already. I cling to the cold iron bars, and I feel the stare of the other damned upon me, wondering. I wish that Mills would save them too, but I know that the others would hear us, if we were too many. The door of my prison creaks open, rust grinding upon rust, and I escape.
Even though these corridors are but a stonethrow from my prison, I am as lost as a child in the woods. Clutching onto the iron bars, leaning on the walls, I follow Mills’ tiny footsteps, and his voice as he guides me around corners. My feet are bare, and I feel the filth and dirt squeeze up through my toes.
“It is so dirty here, Mills.” I say.
“I have forsaken my duties.” Mills responds “They will no longer have me – thus, they shall no longer have my service.”
I remember now. Mills is a small rat, not fit for the same gnawing and biting and scratching as the other rats do. The other rats bully him, step on him, and shed more dirt where he has just cleaned it. I have heard Mills work, and I have heard as he cleans the corridors, pushing all the filth aside for the flies to eat. He was always a diligent little rat, always doing his job… but he was too kind. Too kind to me, too kind to the other damned, and now the others would not have him. Poor Mills. He had never hurt a soul.
We climb stairs together, ascending them slowly, as my feeble legs cannot carry me that fast. Mills is swift, climbing the stairs much faster than I, but he stops to wait for me. It doesn’t go quickly, and I fear I can hear the skittering of the other rats somewhere, downstairs, searching for me. I hear them squeak, I hear them wail, and I know that my time grows short. But before long, I ascend the last step, and stand here, on the tallest floor.
I hear the winds howl stronger up here, where the birds fly and the crowns of the trees rake against the windows. I follow Mills, wondering, wondering where he is taking me. But I am not afraid. I could never be afraid of Mills, and I know he wants me well. He wants me whole. He wants me free; free of these broken wings.
“It is right here.” Mills says. I follow his little voice, feeling the cold ground beneath my frail feet, feeling the sticky dampness in the air as I push through it. My legs are burning with fatigue, but I carry on. I care no longer about pain or misery, fatigue or guilt, but only about Mills, and what Mills has promised me. I hear him climb up the wall, and I hear him gnaw upon some more iron… and then it opens.
Its beauty cuts through the darkness, like the break of dawn after a millennia of night. I scarcely believe me eyes, as they widen before the light that now blazes before me. They are pale and cloudy, but I see it clearly; I see it now. I see them, I hear them; my true winged sisters, singing already, dancing for me, welcoming me. The gates of heaven now stand wide open before me… and I can already feel my father’s embrace. Has my punishment finally ended? After all these years, is it Mills who will be my saviour?
I step closer, my legs shivering, my knees weak and feeble, but I push onwards. I feel the warmth that shines through the gates, and I see Mills sitting beside them. For the first time ever since I was damned, I see him clearly now; so little and scruffy, with a caring smile on his lips. I smile back, and I approach the open gates, rising up the little perch to feel the glow upon my pale skin. I stand here, barely squeezing through the gates – they are so small; much smaller than what I remember, but it does not matter. I know what lies beyond, and I let my feet dangle over the edge, staring unblinkingly upon the light. Mills sits beside me, and I know this is farewell. I smile at him, a smile he deserves, and I speak.
“Thank you, Mills.”
“Don’t thank me.” Mills says “You need this. This is the only way. I am merely doing what is right… I just hope to meet you there, once my time is done.”
“I will tell father that.” I say. We meet our gazes, his small eyes glimmering as I see tears shaping in them. Tears shape in my own, and although I wish for the heavens, to dance on the clouds and sing like I did so long ago, the thought of letting Mills go pains me. But I know I must… it is what we both want. And in time, he will join me.
“Farewell, Mills. Father bless you.” I say, and Mills raises his little paw in response. And just like that, I end it all. I lean forward, let go of the window sill, and let myself drop. I feel the wind whistle around my ears as I fall… and never have I welcomed the wet touch of earth so much. I think of Mills as I drop, and I think of Mills as I rid myself... of these broken wings.