• 2) The bell rang, signaling the end of school. The seniors and juniors piled into their cars and trucks and roared away, leaving the freshmen and the majority of the sophomores waiting for the buses to arrive. The building cleared out, save for the students that stayed for sport practice, teachers, and janitors.
    And Chay.
    She hung around school, waiting until most of everyone had left. She sat in a corner by herself, pretending to be waiting for a family member to pick her up, or perhaps to get a ride from a friend.
    Or not, she told herself, watching the last few cars peel away. My only friends here are the birds… She waited until the janitor shooed her out of the school and locked up for the night before heading around behind the building and peering up at the rear wall. There she found the gym window that was perpetually propped open, due to the stuffy tendencies of the gymnasium during basketball games.
    Looking around, she had to scan the parking lot and surrounding houses to assure herself that no one was happening to be looking out their window at the moment. After several perimeter scans, she shrugged off the heavy blue jacket that covered her shoulders and extended her wings.
    Nine feet across, a clouded shade of bluish-grey, much like that of a goshawk, and slightly ruffled from being covered in the bulky jacket, her wings spread above her head, stretching above her like a wreath of feathers. She closed her eyes, reaching her arms up alongside as far as they would go. Oh, how good it would feel to spiral into the sky and coast the late night thermals…but, no. She couldn’t risk being seen, because then she’d be caught, and then she’d die.
    She relaxed her wings a bit, eyeing the open window thoughtfully. If she propelled herself with a short burst and pulled in her wings quickly, she might be able to skim through the opening and land safely inside the gym. Yes, that would work just fine.
    Her wings flared once, then pushed down. Chay rose up like a rocket, coming level with the window. She pushed back off the wall, using her feet to boost her away, then spun back and shot through the window, pulling her wings in quickly to avoid clipping the frame. All the same, she caught a wingtip in the sliding window track and was spun around, landing roughly on the hard gym court.
    “Ow…That was painful…” She stood, rolling her arms to work out the pulled wing muscle. This was the first time she’d actually caught herself on the frame. “Must be getting slow,” she muttered to herself, slipping off her shoes.
    This was a routine for her, sneaking into the gymnasium after school and working her wings. She’d been coming here for the past couple of weeks, flying laps, doing aerial acrobatics, and exercising her body. She figured that as long as she kept the lights low, she wouldn’t be found out, and she’d keep her fitness up.
    She took off jogging around the court, running a few laps to warm up. Her soft footfalls echoed off the bleachers like the pattering of rain, merging with the sound of her breathing and the rustling of her feathers. Three…five…eight laps more, then she paused, panting slightly, putting her hands on her knees as she breathed in the stale air. When she straightened up and stretched her arms, she gazed up at the gym ceiling. It had three giant revolving fans, upon which were stuck any assortment of shuttlecocks, foam dodgeballs, and basketballs alike. Ductwork and wiring were scattered among each other on the ceiling. A long-forgotten climbing rope was tethered to the rafter with what looked like…shoelaces? Beside that was a speaker system with four outlets aimed at each corner of the court.
    Chay swung her arms, frowning up at a caught basketball. She hadn’t paid them much mind before, but her routines had grown monotonous, and she was eager to try something new. She noted her position on the court, the distance from her to the wall, and the angle that the basketball made with the wall. When she thought she had it figured out, she took a step back and ran full-tilt at the wall. Only moments before slamming into it, she turned and jumped feet-first into the wall. She pushed off with her legs at the same time she extended her wings and pushed down. The added boost shot her into the air and over a fan.
    It was like she was flying in water. Slowly, purposefully, she pulled in her wings and grabbed the basketball, turning on her back to clear the fan. She twisted a backflip on the way down and landed on her feet, perfectly poised and balanced. She was motionless for a second or two, then broke into a huge grin and retraced her trick mentally. “That…was pretty cool,” she whispered, spinning the ball between her palms. “Pretty cool, indeed.” She logged it away in her memory for later times.
    She dribbled the basketball a bit, feeling the ball’s reaction and response to the court. She had never even touched a ball like this before, much less actually played with it. She experimented with it, seeing how it would react if she bounced it harder or softer, if she let it bounce twice before dribbling it, if it hit something mid-bounce. Then she turned to the hoop.
    Her flying acrobatics had taken her to mid-court, and the hoop was quite a distance away. She bit her lip, trying to figure out how to get the ball that far. She remembered a conversation that Jason Malone and his teammates had had one morning as they relived the happenings of a game the night before. They had said something about…sinking it…a swish…slam dunk… “Hm…” She rocked from foot to foot, staring at the hoop. She cocked her elbow, drew back her arm, and let the ball fly.
    Thunk. The ball hit the backboard and rebounded off, rolling to a stop near Chay’s feet. “Okay…that was wrong.” She picked up the ball and eyed the hoop again, analyzing the distance and trajectory of her last attempt. “A bit too far,” she murmured, angling her arm downward. “And…there!” Again, she shot the ball. It sailed through the air in a perfect arc, hit the rim, and bounced off.
    “Arrgh!” Chay snatched the ball as it rolled past her and took a step to the left. She studied the hoop once more, tilting her head to the side. “Hm.” She bent her knees, focusing on the hoop. Her arm went forward, the ball went up…
    …And went through the hoop.
    “Yes!” She pumped her fist, flaring her wings. Walking over to where the ball had bounced to a stop, she picked it up and shot again, making another shot as beautiful as the last one. She stood at half-court, the three-point line, the free-throw line. Every shot went in. Every time.
    “Too easy,” she said to no one in particular, retrieving the ball. “Let’s mix it up a bit.” She went to half-court and bounced the ball once, lining up with the hoop. She jogged towards it, sprinting at the last moment. Unfurling her wings and pushing down, she jumped into the air, did a front flip and dunked the ball.
    It missed.
    Kash!” She hung from the rim, letting go after a second or two of vehement cursing. She reclaimed the ball and was about to make another run at it when she heard something, a low drone. She paused, straining her ears. A plane?
    No…a vehicle. A truck, pulling into the parking lot!
    Chay cursed again, sprinting into the prop room and stowing the basketball with its fellows. She cautiously poked her head out of the door before sliding along the wall until she was directly underneath the open window. No fancy exit for her. Not this time. She sprang up and hooked her fingers on the windowpane, dragging herself up and out. She hit the ground outside and gasped as the cold grass poked her feet. She had forgotten her shoes!
    Again she pulled herself up with her arms, keeping her wings pulled close to her body. She peeked through the window, not daring to expose any more than her eyes as she scanned the court. Who on earth could be at school this late at night??
    Unless, of course, she had been found by the government.
    No time to get her shoes, if that was the case. She dropped down and sprinted into the shadows, covering her wings with the old bulky jacket once more. She crossed the football field behind the school and headed for her makeshift residence outside of the campus. No shoes, no safety, no way of knowing if this would be her last night of freedom…

    I miss Kadalus. I miss my brother, my parents. I miss the birds that I sang with as the sun rose each morning. I can’t tell you how much I wish I knew what has happened to me, but after three months of living like this, I can’t say how little hope I have left of finding my way home by myself…and the worst thing is, I think I’m completely alone. I wonder if the people back home have sent out a search for me yet…if they have, they must be getting tired by now. The birds would be a great help, but even they cannot fly forever.
    Three months is a long time, too long a time to not find a way to get through to my family. I think I’m stuck here, forever, among these people who can’t accept anything that they don’t believe in…

    Hoping for a better day tomorrow,