Once a bully threw a rock at me, wrapped in just enough snow to disguise its true nature. Now I feel the reverse of that pain, with my loose skin barely holding the burning embers of my body together. I swallow screams down my parched throat, knowing each tear on my cheek stabs my mother’s heart like a dagger.
Images of dancing flames overlay my vision, sending up wisps of phantom smoke. A voice calls my name.
“Mom?” I murmur. But the unwrinkled, clear face of the woman bending over me is not hers, for it is unmarked by Mom’s poorly disguised fears for my life.
The stranger lays her hand on my forehead—is it hot? Cold? Comfortable? “I know your pain. That is why I am here. I have a choice for you.”
I peer into her eyes. Swirling with flame, they glow like coals. Am I hallucinating?
“I can take your mind away from here and give it the shape of a hawk.” She pauses. “But I cannot stop your fever from rising. You must endure the pain anew when you return. Do you understand, young man?”
Pain racks my limbs. Please…please,
Flames die like a dream upon waking. For a moment, relief is my only though.
I look down. All the river valley lies below my wings, dotted with specks of cotton clouds. My wings beat once, twice, thrice, sending me soaring through the limitless sky.
I laugh at the freedom.
I have not laughed so heartily since the doctor told us—
But I won’t think about that now. I am not a boy, I am a hawk; wild, fast and free.
Sunlight filters through my feathers, reminding me of her warning. I cannot stop your fever from rising…Should I go back?
Just for a moment, I decide.
Just one second before everything crashes down, and you stare, helpless to stop it…
Flame! Wildfire, kiln, refinery...
Fire sears my vision, burning crimson and white images into my mind. Please, I sob, help me!
Wings, beating frantically
Legs wrapped in sheets of fire
I wonder if my mother saw me as a blazing star in the night. Did she hear me whisper goodbye, or only hear the crackle of a dying meteor?