The Thing With Wings
"Can we consider him a member of the undead?”
Cornelius Blunt glared at the white Zafara with wings on its back, wearing a brown coat, sitting out on the Sanatorium porch under the pouring rain. His fellow newly-hired nurse, a mummified Ruki in hospital garb with a somewhat defective tongue, shrugged, saying: “Wreeeaaah?”
“Yes, I know, Vanessa,” he replied, “I’m just saying it’d be proper if he was undead. Or at least a freak of nature. You know, like me.” Blunt stood in silence, before looking back at the figure outside the window. “Is he a freak of nature?”
“Yeah, I suppose you’re right. He could be one of those newfangled faerie pets.” Blunt folded his arms over his chest in deep consideration. Lightning struck, and it took a full thirty seconds for the thunder to follow it. “He might get cold out there. We could at least suggest shelter for him if he’d prefer it.”
“Fine, you call Oppo and I’ll persuade him in,” Blunt groaned. “And make it quick. You better not have me waiting as long as the last time.”
The Ruki nodded, dragging towards the corridor of the Sanatorium. Blunt pushed the door open, moving from the relative warmth and safety of the Sanatorium to the high-velocity winds of the storm. The Zafara sitting on the porch stood as still as a statue, the little movement that impinged on him being trembles of feathers limply following the bedlam. “Hey,” Blunt greeted, rather crudely. “Hey, bud.”
Blunt sighed. “You know, it ain’t healthy, being out here in this weather. A bigger chance of catching a cold, and all that jazz,” he walked towards the figure. “You’ll get feeble easy, see? Nobody wants to be feeble, especially in the Woods.”
The Werelupe arched a brow, reaching out to touch him by the shoulder. “Look, kid. You want to fly? Is that it?” The wings brushed against him, lightly. A short burst of energy flashed through him, then vanished. “We can help you fly, if you’d like. Are your wings broken or something? Is it the weather? We can solve it inside. No need to wait out here, dramatically staring at grey clouds.”
Blunt pulled away, a jolt running through him. Strange. Static, perhaps. He groaned in exasperation, attempting to cool himself down. “Okay. Alright. How ‘bout this—my name’s Blunt. Cornelius Blunt.” He opened his arms, as if in an embrace towards the thing with wings. “Do you have a name?”
It appeared as if the Zafara was about to ignore him once again. Then, a blink. Dark, reflective blue eyes. The Zafara turned to Blunt. “No,” he replied, swiftly. He turned once again, staring at the rain.
“’No’?” Blunt paused. “What do you mean ‘no’?”
The Nameless Zafara shrugged, as if to prove that he was still alive. “To have a name suggests that I exist in this universe. To have a name suggests that I…” Stop. He looked at his own hands. “…am slightly more than ash and dust.”
Quiet. Blunt coughed. “Well, thank you for reading me your Neoschool poetry.” he said. “We could read more inside.”
The Nameless glared at him. He tilted his head, strangely, as if examining a strange specimen under a microscope. “What is poetry?” he asked.
“Is--” Blunt paused. “Is that a rhetorical question?”
“Blunt!” He looked over his shoulders. A zombie Korbat only a head shorter than he was (which was still quite tall for a Korbat, considering everything) charged out of the door, glaring at him. “What in Fyora’s sake do you think you’re doing? Is this how your parents taught you to treat people sitting outside in the rain?”
“It’s not--” Blunt gestured towards the Zafara, cringing. “Oppo, he’s not--”
“He’s not what?” Oppo glared at the Werelupe in disdain.
Blunt pointed at the Zafara in a bothered manner, unable to formulate the proper words to describe the complexity of the situation. “Frankly, Dr. Oppo, I’d consider it rude if I were abruptly dragged in while pondering in a calm drizzle,” he explained, finally. “Thus, I did what anybody ought to’ve done and asked for permission. Though the problem being, this winged gentleman doesn’t seem interested in my thoughtfulness.”
Oppo glared at him. Sighing, he gently tugged the winged thing on the shoulder, saying: “Come now, sir. We’ll get you something to eat inside.” Though he wasn’t exactly participative in it, the Zafara nodded, following the doctor inside.
Cornelius served as the wrongfully accused as the winged thing was ushered into an empty checkup room, watching as he had his wings tested by the oldest nurse in the Sanatorium, a ghost Acara by the name of Lucy. She had a warlock Lenny by her side, asking several things of the Zafara and being answered with hushed nods.
“Well, good news is there doesn’t seem to be any injury on the wing. Might’ve experienced some head trauma, but nothing serious. Though he is a—quiet one, isn’t he?” The warlock asked Blunt. “Are you certain he spoke to you?”
“Barely.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “He told me he didn’t have a name.”
Oppo clenched his jaw, turning away. He closed into the young Zafara, tilting his head. “What’s your name, son?” he asked. There was still no reply. Oppo thought over it for a moment, carefully shoving his hand under the winged thing’s coat collar. There was something scribbled on the side, in a strained, muddled writing. “Jem?” he said. “Is that your name?”
The winged thing drew his hand over his collar, narrowing his eyes. “Perhaps.” Two syllables. Overwrought. Tired. Then, quiet. “Perhaps it is.”
The Korbat reached out to ‘Jems’ coat to see what else was hiding underneath, only to be pushed away by a burst of electricity. He backed away. Static. Must be static. But was it—“Are you planning to go anywhere after this? Do you have a home to get back to?”
Jem paused, before shaking his head. “No,” he said. “No, I don’t think so.”
I reckon he doesn’t, Cornelius thought to himself. He noted that Oppo was looking at him, and quickly pushed the thought away, as if he was afraid of it being read. He coughed. “We have a bed down at Ward 23,” Blunt said, as if answering an unasked question. “He could stay here till the storm stops.”
Oppo nodded, tucking his hand in the gap of his coat. He looked to the young winged thing, blinking. “Does that sound reasonable, Jem?”
Jem looked about the clinic. His wings shifted, finally, flashing over his eyes. “I think,” He said, “I think that’d be nice.”…
“Who gave you your name, Mr. Blunt?”
Cornelius whistled across the ward, passing plates to several of the geriatrics. Most of them were zombies or ghosts, equally divided into male and female, a good number of them loud in their criticisms. The winged thing walked by him, a habit he’d grown used to by then. It was a peculiarity, but whenever Oppo prepared for him to leave, the storm outside would reappear like an old friend, bringing the Sanatorium into its arms. It’s as if it won’t let him out, a few of the nurses said of it. As if he was made to be here.
Blunt would’ve believed it.
“Well, that’s an old story, kid,” he chuckled, setting a bowl of ethereal porridge on Old Man Bassett’s feeding table. The ghost Ixi grumbled ineligibly, smashing his fists on the blankets. “Doubtless it ain’t half as interesting as how you got yours, if that is your name. See, it involved a number of Brightvalian and Meridellian peoples bravely marching towards a bold new frontier--”
“Werelupe!” Basset cried. “My porridge is cold!”
“I assume it is, Mr. Basset. It’s dead.” Blunt replied, softly. “Plenty of similarities you may find with it, Mr. Basset. It might become your new life long companion.”
Basset groaned, shaking his head in anger. Blunt rolled his eyes, pulling out something from his food cart. “Here,” he offered, pulling out a strange device Carmichael gave to him some time ago. It looked like an ordinary lighter, though the liquid inside used to fuel the reaction glowed an odd color. He brought it to the bowl, clicking. Blue fire shot out, and though it wouldn’t have felt hot if he were to bring it to his skin, smoke fled from the porridge in the bowl. “Better?”
The old Ixi glared at his food, omitting an indecipherable humming. Jem watched him, quietly, as if there was something to be intrigued of in the ghosts’ movement. “Anyway,” Cornelius continued, turning back to him, “You see, there was—what are you doing?”
Jem ignored his call, closing in on the Ixi. Cornelius reached out to touch the Zafara, only to be shot back with another, larger burst of energy. If he had somehow remained conscious at that point, he would’ve reassured himself that it was no static.
Cornelius blinked, and at the next moment he’d found himself staring at an empty bed and a winged Zafara in a greatcoat. The porridge rested, still, growing cold. He drew towards the bed, pulling at the blankets. No Bassett. He turned to the Zafara, arching a brow. “What did you do to him?”
Jem blinked. There was nothing more said.…
The ghost Xweetok peeled her gloves off her fingers, taking off her goggles. She turned away from the metallic, coffin-like object she was working on, turning to the Werelupe at the steel door. “I’m busy, Cornelius,” she said, plainly. “What do you want?”
Blunt walked in, closing the door behind him. “Bassett’s still missing,” he said. “Oppo’s still utterly baffled, while Xadum’s quietly accepting of it.”
Carmichael raised a brow, shrugging. “He moved on, probably,” she said. “Happens all the time with ghosts.”
She returned to her project, thinking that she’d have a chance to continue it. Instead, she felt the familiar glare of the Werelupe’s eyes shot at the back of her neck, and looked again. “What is it that you want?”
He took another, doubtful step towards the ghost, holding up his hands. “You haven’t been shut in here for too long, have you? Surely you’ve heard of the white Zafara with wings,” he started. “I mean, Xadum or Oppo must’ve told you.”
She thought over it. “And?”
“Strange…things have occurred, since he came about.” Blunt kept his words scarce, vague, held back by an irrational fear. There was a gentle pattering on the window, and a glint of lightning. “The rain outside is still raging on. More of the ghosts have started disappearing, and we recently found a zombie free of scars or decay, as if he’d been—brought back to life. Only, of course, he wasn’t breathing, but that’s not the point.” He paused. “I don’t think any of it is a coincidence.”
Carmichael threw his goggles into the coffin, glaring at the Werelupe. “Alright. Alright, as most of these things are boringly conventional, I surmise that you’re asking for my help to prove your hypothesis.” She stated. “To which I reply, so long as this Jem character can’t pass through locked steel doors, I know no reason why I should help you.”
“You’re the only other person I know who can figure out what’s going on.”
“Well, then, I apologize for disappointing you.”
Cornelius opened his mouth to argue further, only to be shut down by the silence. He waved his hand at the ghost Xweetok, fleeing the room. Carmichael stood in the silence for a little while, looking at her watch. This might get interesting very quickly. She put down everything, walking to her cupboards to take a little Ghost Goople in a jar out.
At the crack of midnight she’d led herself out of her isolated laboratories, walking down the corridor. The Ghost Goople purred against her chest even as she propped it down on the ground, jumping to reach its mistress. She left it then, forsaken and alone, a hollow husk of the Petpet it once was.
Now nothing more than a pariah to all, the Goople sunk into a puddle of iridescent slime, its whimpers heard across the Sanatorium. Without love or meaning, it wandered, lost in the space where its heart should’ve been. Presently it stuck to the feet of some passerby, blending into black shoes and long slacks. It looked up, panning to the white pair of hands coming to take it home.
“Hello.” The white Zafara greeted. The Goople smiled, brushing against his cheeks. Jem chuckled, his wings fluttering slightly. “What’s your name?”
“It doesn’t have one.” His eyes widened. “A little like you.”
Jem brought the Goople closer to his chest, staring at the ghost Xweetok that’s appeared from the nearest corner. “Hello.” He greeted. His voice was slightly more melancholic. “What’s your name?”
“Doesn’t quite matter, now, does it?” She pulled something from the pocket of her lab coat. It resembled a laser beam. “Let’s make it easy on everyone involved. What are you, why did you come here, what do you want from us and what did you do to Earl Bassett?”
He brushed his fingers over the Goople once more. “I…do not know.” He said. “I could ask you the same thing.”
Carmichael swung the laser beam around her finger, before nudging it to him. “I’m a ghost living her afterlife the way she’s lived her past one. And I’m here for the same reason why I’m in this Sanatorium; because I’m a scientist. And I’d like to know a little bit more about you,” she said. “Now, hold still and let’s see what happens.”
She pulled the trigger, suddenly, and the Zafara jumped into action, holding up his hand. The water that had spilled out stopped mid-way, before rewinding, slipping back into the beam. Carmichael smiled, and she opened her mouth to scream ‘eureka’, but it didn’t stop there. Time flowed backwards, and suddenly the Sanatorium disassembled about her. She looked at her fingers, counting the pale blue fur turning a shade of purple. Was that—was that breath on her lips?
“Carmichael,” a voice said. White lights. A table with blueprints. “Carmichael, look back at me.”
She looked up. An old Skeith glared back at her, his graying hair insulting her. “Good. You’re learning a thing or two of how to bow to your superiors.” He grabbed a blueprint, pointing at it. “Now, look here. This machine, it has to be a joke, isn’t it?I’m not stupid enough to believe that you honestly think balls of plasma could be the route to immortality.”
Carmichael widens her eyes, and shakes her head. “No,” she turned around, looking for the white Zafara. “Take me back!”
“Carmichael? Carmichael, what are you doing?” the Skeith reached out as she ripped away from her chair, running towards the door. “Carmichael, don’t you--”
She pushed the door open, and the illusion vanished. Time sped forward once more, the Sanatorium being built and destroyed, and she found herself holding the Zafara by the neck. The Goople shuffled. “A time traveler,” she said, finally figuring something out. “You’re a time traveler.”
Jem pulled away. He looked down at his fingers. “I only want to give people their pasts back. I only want them to be happy.” He looked up at her. “I only wanted you to be happy.”
Carmichael scowled. “I don’t believe in happiness,” she spat back. “Only chemicals.”
He looked away, the Goople still in his arms. He smiled, briefly. “I’d like to be happy. I’d like to have a past to look back to, to remember.” He turned to her again. “Jem isn’t my name. I’m sure it isn’t, because I’ve never had one. I don’t have a past. I don’t have a future. I walk the line in all turbulent phases of time, and none of them are my own. I’m a vagabond with wings. This present isn't mine to keep; it’s yours.”
She crossed her arms, trying to find it in herself to be angry. Though she couldn’t, really, and instead she walked towards the man. “Look. Someone wrote something on your coat,” she flipped the collar again. “And you’re too real to be a ghost like me. You have a friend out there, somewhere.”
Jem looked down at the Goople. “I have shadows for friends.”
Carmichael smiled. “Then you won’t have trouble befriending ghosts and Werelupes.”…
“What did you do to him?”
Carmichael smiled, standing by her coffin-like object. Jem was standing by the bookshelves in a white lab coat, browsing through encyclopedias. “Nothing. Nothing in particular.” She looked up at Cornelius. “We just had an agreement.”
He shook his head, looking back at the Zafara. “I still don’t quite trust him.”
She shrugged. She turned around, looking back at Jem. “He is quite cute when he’s happy, isn’t he?” she laughed. “I can see you two becoming a thing, as well. The Werelupe and the winged thing, teaming up and fighting crime and ruining something in between.”
Cornelius slapped her at the back of the head, and she broke in a guffaw. Jem looked back, turning to the two. He smiled and returned to browsing. The rain had stopped outside their window, but it would be some time before he left.