The pain started in my back half-way through sixth period on a Wednesday: orchestra class. At first I thought it was just the usual pains that come from sitting ramrod straight in my chair with my arms holding up a violin for an hour. But as the pain started making me wince and my bow jerk, I started to lose track of what we were playing. My stand partner, a dark skinned girl whose hair was perpetually in braids, eyed me.
“You went off beat for the whole second movement. Are you feeling all right? You’re looking really pale.”
I gave her a wan smile, but otherwise just gave her a nod of reassurance and prayed that Mr. Cowl was finished. While she had been talking the balding conductor had taken the moment to scold a cello somewhere near the back. I could feel one of my knees starting to jitter up and down as it often did when I was in pain.
Mr. Cowl sighed heavily and pushed his glasses up his nose with the handle of his baton.
“Come on, people.” he groaned. “Haven’t I told you that it doesn’t matter whether you are in the front of the section or in the back of the section, people are still going to hear you!”
Pfft, yeah, but they certainly wouldn’t see you. At least not on the flat stage we were going to be playing on. Not that it was any of my concern, being chorus master (first chair of the first violin section). I had to look good no matter. With that in mind, my knee shook harder. My stand partner watched it anxiously. She had seen me enough times on my period trying to play in class to know what that meant.
Thankfully, after a few more chastising words about practice and whatnot, he let us go, and I shakingly twisted down my bow, packed my violin away, and ran for it before anyone could make me stay a moment longer away from my Tylenol.
By the time I had gotten home, the floor seemed to be teetering and it had somehow gotten hotter outside. Did sixty-eight degrees really feel like that?
“Mom? Is there an earthquake or something?”
She came around the corner to find me on the floor.
I guess that was the beginning of it all, because I never made it to the concert. In fact, I never went back to school again. A little warning would have been nice.
After passing out I woke up again that night to the pain of my burning back. Had I gotten sunburnt somehow? Yet it felt more like actual fire rather than UV rays.
My mother came in at my screaming, pale and wide eyed. She dragged me to the bathroom to run cold water on my bare back, yet just moving the shirt caused me agony. Eventually, she managed to cut off the t-shirt to reveal my raw back to the air. Whatever she saw made her pause. I could hear her shaking breathing. It scared me.
“What?” I asked. “What is it?”
“Just get in the bath.”
I was in so much pain I didn’t argue, but the moment she left the bathroom I sent my arms scaling over my shoulders and waist to feel out whatever she saw, despite the shoots of white-hot pain it caused.
At first all I thought I was feeling was my shoulder blades. But no, there were another pair of bumps.
She came back with a bottle of jello-like aloe to find her naked teenage daughter wailing in the bathtub like a three year old.
“I’m an alien! There’s an alien growing out of my back! I’ve been impregnated and now I’m going to die in a horrible, visceral–!”
“These bumps—these weird bumps—I’m gonna die!“
“Aithna, that’s enough. You are not going to die.”
“Yes I am! I’m gonna di—i—ee!!”
And again, like I was three, she gave a loud clap of her hands. It startled me enough to fall quiet for a minute, as it had so many years ago. I would never get how she did it. I think it was the scary hell-mom expression she had on her face as she did it.
“If you don’t calm down you’re going to make it worse!”
“Make what worse? Mom, what’s happen to me?!”
She bit her lip. A bad sign.
“I don’t know yet.” she said, “But I’m heading downstairs to do some googling. I’m sure we’ll figure this out.”
“B-b-but aliens, and-and-“
“Just calm down. I mean it.”
I’ll never be sure exactly what Master Google told my mother, but she came up with a cup of hot chocolate to calm me down, helped me dress (the aloe vera really helped), and sent me to bed where I’m proud to announce I slept for an entire three days. Not complete coma, unfortunately. I was woken up periodically by the searing pain that seized up my entire body. Only once was my mother home from work long enough to catch me in one of these episodes before I fell back asleep again. Somehow, through it all, my violin ended up back upstairs and leaned innocently against my bed stand, as though watching over me. At times I’d watch the dust motes float down and fall upon it in hopes of ignoring the horrible burning.
I still don’t know why my mother didn’t take me to the hospital through all this. Maybe that was part of Master Google’s wisdom. Whatever the reason, I was eventually very glad she didn’t.
After the whole burning period where I dreaded whatever alien baby would pop out of my back (oh god, what would I even do with it after that?), the itching period came. It was the worst itch you’ve ever felt in your life times ten. An itch to drive you mad. I was scraping my back along everything I could find: the floor, bed posts, hangers, you name it. Mom came home from Staples where she worked to find me going at it with old sandpaper I had found in the pantry in only my bra. Must have been left over by the landlords. It hurt, but oh did it do the job. I remember wondering if this was a part of the alien’s plans—to be scratched out of their back-like-womb. Then I remember not caring, because for a blessed moment the itch was satisfied.
A chase ensued with mom frantically trying to stop me from sandpapering off my skin, and me desperate to keep my find. Hungry and fatigued, however, I lost. I was always hungry and tired then.
Mother nearly right out screamed when she saw my back.
“Bath! Now!” she choked.
I didn’t make it to the bathroom, however, as the itch distracted me enough to send me into the closet, looking for the old soccer cleats I wore last year when mom had tried to make me more active. I found one, but the bumps on the bottom were useless.
She tried to hide the sandpaper, but then I found forks worked just as well. I used a handful to get at my back. My shirts became riddled with bloodstains. Mom took away the forks, though she couldn’t stop me from finding a few while I was stuck at home alone.
And then a few days into the scratch-hell I made one final, painful dig and couldn’t help but cry out. Something hot and wet slipped onto my back. I froze, heart pounding.
The alien? Had it finally breached from my back?
Horrified on all sorts of levels, I blindly scrambled up our narrow, dirty stairs to the bathroom. For a full five minutes I stared at my pale reflection in the mirror, afraid to turn around. I could still feel the slimy hot thing on my back. Even stranger, I could feel my back through the slimy something. Had the alien connected to my nervous system? Was I to be its host now?
The itch, momentarily relieved, came back, this time on the other side of my back.
Gulping for air and feeling like I was going to faint, I slowly turned.
Bloody, slimy, pink, and covered with pale, wet fuzz, hung a strange appendage down my back and side. I stared at it. It felt…cold. I could feel that it felt cold. A shiver ran up my spine and, involuntarily, the weird appendage slid up and folded into a tight, pink bump on my back.
I then proceeded to have a face to face conversation with the porcelain bowl of John.
An hour later I scratched out the second appendage and folded it tightly against my back as well. With that, the scratch-hell-of-doom finally ended and I took a very shaky, weepy cold shower to wash the blood from my back. Mom was going to freak when she came out. The aliens had come out, and they didn’t look like anything from Men in Black either. In fact they looked more like…more like…
Of course, there was no hiding them from the Staples employer. She stroked my blond head as I slumped over the side of my bed, crying for all I was worth.
“They don’t look like aliens.” she said, and I fumed at the slight mirth in her voice. “They look like newborn chicken wings to me.”
“I-I’m turning into a chicken?” I squeaked.
She laughed, though it was strained. “No, you’re not. But you’re hair is getting lighter, have you noticed? And did you hit your head sometime today? There’s a bruise on your forehead.”
“No. No I…I haven’t done much. Not much at all.” I sniffed hard, trying to stop the tears, but they kept on pouring. I felt like some pansy having a meltdown. “What am I? What’s going on? How can I go to school like this? I can’t miss the concert—it’s only in two days!”
She was quiet, and it unnerved me, but I was too afraid to see what was on her face.
“A-and the rest of my life, what’s going to happen to me? What about college? Will I even be able to leave the house? Am I going to die?”
“Oh heavens, Aithna, I already told you you’re not going to die.”
But that wasn’t an answer to any of my questions.
“M-mom, shouldn’t I go to the…to the hospital or something?”
She said it so quickly I flinched.
“They would mutilate you, dear. This…I think this is all natural. There isn’t anything wrong—“
“Natural? What the hell is natural about growing chicken wings?!”
I didn’t have to turn to feel my mother turn on her dragon face. She was a most fervent Christian and swearing was a top sin in her house. I bowed my head, but the scolding didn’t come. Instead, I heard her sigh the most tired sigh I had ever heard in my seventeen years of life.
Her hand fell on my bare shoulder.
“Dear, I know this is all very frightening and very hard for you. It is for me too. I’m not entirely sure what’s going on, but…I don’t think it’s anything bad.”
“How can you possibly know that, mom?”
“Because my mother once told me of a distant, very old relative who told stories of growing wings as a young girl. She always told it to me as a sort of family fairytale. I was never quite sure who that was, but…we’ll figure this out, Aithna. Just get your rest, keep eating, and remember to pray. God will look out for you. And…”
But she didn’t finish her sentence. Instead, she told me she loved me, and left to go fix up dinner. I finally looked up at her as she left. I could see how tired she was in the sag of her shoulders. Her long hair was thick and brown and piled on top of her head in a messy bun. I had always thought my mother beautiful. But now she just looked troubled and tired.
As I watched her, I realized I had been so caught up in my own pain and discomfort that I had never really given much attention to how my mom was doing. I remembered a few times coming down stairs to find her searching the web intently. I finally noticed the dark bags underneath her eyes and the lines around her shapely mouth.
I dug my hands through my hair. Absentmindly, I unfolded and folded the fuzzy appendages on my back. The more the pale fuzz was given a chance to dry, the more it began to look like downy and my fears of alien impregnation melted away.
Wings. So I had grown wings.
Numbly, I snapped open the case and pulled out my violin and bow. The cherry wood gleamed in the setting sunlight. Tightening the bow and tuning the strings, I set the horsehairs to the strings and pulled. Slowly, back and forth, back and forth—A string, E string, D string, G string. I left only to eat, but quickly returned to the thrumming strings.
I played into the night until my fingers felt raw, and my arms and back ached. But it was enough for me to finally get to sleep.
Whatever I had been expecting, it wasn’t what actually happened. After my ‘chicken wings’ sprouted, I spent lots of times just moping in my room, playing violin and trying to figure out the big question: what next? The day of the concert came and went. The school never bothered to call to see where I was since mom had the forethought to take me out of it completely. After a few days of that empty house with only the sound of the plumbing to keep me company, I began to wish she hadn’t.
I got a killer appetite, but that’s no surprise. My body was freaking growing wings. Ruining your life takes a lot of energy out of a body, you know? After a week the downy fluff begun to sprout real feathers, all long, silky, and white. My hair grew lighter as well, which I couldn’t get at all. I thought sun turned your hair paler, not being holed up in the house.
All and all, life had gotten very lame. So it was refreshing when the Men in Black appeared on my doorstep at two in the morning. I hadn’t been asleep anyways (I still hadn’t adjusted to not sleeping on my back). Looking back, it was really stupid of me to open the door to someone at two in the morning, regardless of who it was. At least I had the forethought to throw a blanket over my chicken wings.
But there they were: two guys in sunglasses and suits. At two in the morning.
Who wears sunglasses at night?
“Aithna Mckenna?” the slightly skinnier of the two asked—though both of them look buff enough to wrestle a bear.
“May we come in?”
“You do know it’s an ungodly hour for house visits, right?”
The other gave me an awkward smile, as though he weren’t use to it. “Just get your mom, girl.”
And right on cue my mother came down the stairs, worn white bathrobe wrapped about her. I expected her to glare the glare at me for answering the door at all. To my surprise she hardly paid me any heed and was all eyes for the muscles in suits. And she didn’t look angry. If anything she looked relieved—if somewhat apprehensive.
“You are who I am to be expecting, aren’t you?”
They bowed low. When they straightened they pulled back their sleeves to show my mother the bright red felt bands on their left wrists. She flinched at the sight.
“Come in, come in!” she squeaked, “Quickly, now. Aithna, go get your violin.”
I blinked at her owlishly. “What?”
She pinched her nose. “Just go. Now.”
It was the tone. So, feeling rather skitterish, I went back upstairs, grabbed my violin, and came back downstairs. Why my violin of all things? Was I to give a midnight performance to these weirdoes? Who were they anyways?
At the foot of the stairs it hit me and I froze, heart leaping to my throat. What if…what if they were from the government? What if mom had squealed on my and sold me to get experimented on, or…or…
My knees went weak and sweaty. I clung to my violin case. There wasn’t any sound from the living room. Taking a deep breath, I walked around the corner.
Mother stood on the other end of the room as the Men in Black, who waited for me at the foot of the stairs. As she turned to me, biting her lip, the unusual thinness of her face worried me. The past few weeks had been stressful on my mother. More so than usual. Following the tired lines of her face and the few grey hairs making themselves known in her dark hair, I wondered if it would be a good thing to be turned over to the government. I was a freak, after all…maybe they could—
“Aithna, take off that blanket.”
I flinched at my mother’s pinched tone.
“Just take it off. They won’t hurt you. They’ve come for you, and you need to show proof of what you are.”
What I am? I thought blithely, but did as she said. My small wings, with a span already reaching my wrists if I stretched out, shivered in tight feathery balls against my back. One of the men stepped up and turned me roughly to view them. It felt violating. He turned me back and nodded to his companion, who took something from his pocket.
“You’ve kept her inside?” he asked.
“Yes. As you instructed.” said my mom.
Instructed? I wasn’t liking how any of this sounded. Ice grew in my chest, painful in the strange fact that it burned.
The skinny one came up to me, and as the faint light from the porch shone through the smoky glass panes over the door, I saw what it was: a needle.
I panicked. My wings flew out on instinct, so small, but flapping like mad as I attempted to scramble up the stairs. My mother cried for me to calm down.
“Sweetie, stop this! Everything is fine!”
“Who are they! What are they going to do to me!!?”
“They’re just here to help—“
The heavier man was already up the stairs after me, huge hands wrapping about my legs. I flapped and screamed and did plenty of kicking. But before I could blink I was locked in his straitjacket hold with his skinny partner coming at me with the syringe.
“Mom!” I cried.
This is all I wrote of a story idea I had a while back. Maybe someday I’ll come to it, along with the millions of other story bits I have tucked away.