You wake with the rest of them. You bathe, dress, and eat breakfast. After, it’s off to the fields. You’re on sowing duty this week, which you don’t mind. Digging in the dirt has always been one of the few calming practices here for you. You like getting your hands dirty.
The guards don’t pay much attention to you. At thirteen, you’re one of the oldest here, and you never cause trouble. They barely offer you a look as they pace up and down the fields, and they don’t notice when your hands stop digging, and you allow yourself to stare off to the end of the field where the ground drops off. Beyond that, the constant fog hovers, not permitting even the smallest of glances to what lies on the other side.
You’ve heard the rumors, of course. Other kids love to scare new, little ones when they first come to the Centre. You don’t partake though. You’re one of the few who’ve seen firsthand. You’re one of the few who knows they’re not merely rumors.
At the end of the day, the guards shuttle you back into the cafeteria, where you eat stale bread and a soupy substance you’re not quite sure what to call. It’s the same meal you’ve eaten for supper for the past ten years.
At last, they return you to the long, cavernous room you’re supposed to call home. Beds line the walls on either side, each of them made to perfection, not a piece of fabric out of place. One by one, the guards begin to unshackle the heavy coat you’re required to wear. Once free, grateful groans abound throughout the room, and the guards finally leave you.
You head straight for the bathroom. No one follows. As the eldest, you are allowed privacy for the first five minutes after the unshackling. Once inside, you shut the door behind you and immediately stretch your wings out as far as they’ll go, the release so soothing that you almost fall to your knees in relief. You let them beat once, then twice, the dust on the floor billowing up beneath them. After a minute, you fold them back into a respectable position, not the one the coat forces them into day in and day out. They ache for more release, but you know you’re running out of time. The others need access to the bathroom too, and they won’t wait around forever for you to finish.
You brace your hands on the floor when you start to gag until the tiny piece of metal finally makes its way up your throat and onto the floor. You pick it up gently, scared it’ll crumble to dust at even your softest touch. You stare down at the piece, and you think it might be the one you’ve been looking for. You’ve searched the dirt for months, looking for this perfect tool, the one that could possibly give you the only thing you’ve longed for the past ten years.
You pocket the piece and stand from the ground, stretching your wings out one last time before opening the door and heading toward your bed. A few others race into the bathroom. Most are already in bed. No one spares you a second glance. This is the time of day for reflection, when the younger ones wonder how they got here and when they’ll get to leave.
You know better though. There is no getting out of the Centre. Not through official means, at least.
You crawl on top of the bed, not even bothering to burrow beneath the covers. You lie on your stomach, letting your wings stretch just enough to shake off the bite from being cooped up all day.
But that will all change tomorrow. Tomorrow, you won’t be coming back to this bed, one way or the other, and with a smile on your face, you drift off to sleep, your hand resting next to your pocket.
The next day, you go through the motions. You have to force yourself not to have a bounce in your step as you make your way out to the fields. Everything must appear normal. You must appear normal. It’s the only way this will work.
You wait until the afternoon, during the guard shift. Your wings itch to be free as if they know just how close you are. When the time comes, you pull the piece out of your pocket and turn in a way that the closest guard won’t be able to see what you’re doing. You almost gasp in delight when the first lock comes free, then the second. After the third, you shift to the other side, and it’s only a few more moments until it’s done. You drop the piece in the dirt. Perhaps someone else will use it one day.
When the shift begins, you stand and start to walk toward the cliff you’ve stared at for the past ten years, wondering what lies beyond. At first, no one says anything. You’ve never caused trouble. They assume you’re merely restocking your seeds or grabbing some water.
When you are fifty yards out, you pick up the pace, and that is when the first guard yells out. You don’t stop. Instead, you run. The first shot fires within seconds and a sharp burn erupts in your side, but still, you don’t stop. You can’t. More shots soon follow, but they all go wide. You keep your focus on the fog and try to ignore the stories of what awaits you inside. Whatever it is, it’s better than this.
When you’re ten yards from the cliff, from escape, you shed your coat. Free, your wings begin to unfurl, lengthening out to their full potential, and when you reach the edge, you don’t hesitate. You jump, and you soar.
**Soar was featured as a finalist in Fiction War Magazine: Issue 3.