by Voss Foster

Her house was nothing to be noticed by normal people. At most, someone might glance at it and wonder why someone had built down there, between the two hills. As they whipped along the highway in far too much of a hurry, they might even try to imagine what it looked like before time had worn it down to rough, splintered wood. Those imaginings weren’t grand and weren’t expected to be.

The house was a shack—in the most complimentary of lights—guarded by a pair of gnarled trees. It sat at the edge of a drainage field, or perhaps a bog, to the most optimistic viewers. Neither option was pleasant nor open to grandeur, but the trickle of those imaginings was enough to keep Sazir alive, if not happy. She hadn’t been happy for hundreds of years.

She moved as little as possible, conserving her energy, storing it in boxes and jars around the walls of the shack so she would have it for the occasional drought later on. She’d been around long enough to expect them and too close to dying to not prepare.

As she puttered, the wind biting through her thin and ragged cloak, someone drove by. An active mind, the first of the day. She drank the wondering from the air, sipping it like sweet honey. It was thick and kept coming, coloring her pallid skin, filling in the hollows of her cheeks. She felt the strength ripple across her muscles, and still the wonder came.

This was different than normal. Whoever it was had a strong imagination, the kind that could feed her from far away. An artist, perhaps, or a writer. Maybe just a child, or someone who had stopped to ponder the shack, lost in thought. It made no difference. A feast was a feast.

Sazir pulled an empty clay jar from the shelf, the largest she had, and funneled the fascination inside, shaping the stream of life with her youthful, strong hands. She was so starved that it soaked in through her skin.

When the jar was half filled, the flow slowed. Sazir sealed it and went back to her feeding while it lasted. It restored her, and still she drank in the wonderment. Her back shifted. Her shoulders tingled. A smile bowed up her lips, once again flush and plump with youth. She had missed this power, this freedom, had lost the blessing of flight so long ago she only had the sparsest memories of it.

But now, bone sprouted from her shoulders; ligaments curled and twisted into being, connecting them, then skin, binding the structures together. She stretched and flexed the bare wings as the feathers sprouted in tiny pinpricks, not painful but sharp enough that she noticed and wriggled against them. But soon it would be over, and she had no intention of losing her wings again. Even her ragged and torn cloak filled in, becoming bright green once more.

The wonder ceased, but Sazir could still taste it on the air, catching its nectar-sweet scent in each breath.

She heard footsteps. Someone had come, probably the imaginer, her savior. The thought of the hovel had taken them, enveloped them, and pierced deep, pulling like a harpoon. As they came closer, the steps grew louder, she was sure. She could feel their energy in the air around them. She drank again. It wasn’t the same, a different taste she knew but didn’t relish.

The wonderer had the idea of the shack, of the trees, possibly even an inkling of someone that could be Sazir. But they’d moved beyond that seed, outgrown it too much. It was sweet for them, but bland on Sazir’s tongue: filling, nutritious, and unenjoyable.

Sazir folded her wings back as the visitor stepped through the doorway. He was young, with black hair, a red sunburn across his nose, and a tattoo cut across his collarbone, still fresh and red. There was such glory in youth, the only people who would ever reach her. The mind was always willing to bend and twist, but the body grew less willing with age. And Sazir’s home wasn’t easy to reach.

“I’m sorry.” He stopped, his cheeks brightening to match his sunburn. “I didn’t think anyone lived here.”

Sazir nodded. She wasn’t looking forward to this. “I don’t often get visitors.” She grabbed one of the smaller jars from the shelf. “Would you like something to drink? You must be tired from hiking down here.”

“I really shouldn’t.” He backed toward the doorway. “I’m just on my way home from spring break. My mom’s probably waiting.” He looked down at sandaled feet. “And I’m trespassing.”

“I’m allowing it.” Sazir forced her face into a smile. “Please. It would do my heart good to help you.” He hovered in the doorway, neither in nor out, not denying her request but not giving in. She needed him to step inside. “I am Sazir.”

“Jack.” He stepped closer and extended his hand. “I just had to stop when I looked at this place. I thought it was abandoned, and I love abandoned buildings. They have so many stories in them.” He shook his head. “I really should go, though. I’m so sorry.”

He was backing away again. It wasn’t ideal. She had wanted Jack to willingly take her drink, but that was only for her and her conscience. It wouldn’t matter, in the end.

When she lunged to grab his hand, she let the lid of the clay jar fall to the ground. It shattered, sounding just the same as it had all those years ago in the desert when the witch had trapped Sazir and clipped her wings. And just like her, so long ago, Jack seized, his every muscle tight, his eyes wide.

“I’m sorry, Jack.”

She left him there. Soon, he would crave the wonder, would find the sweetness in the clay jars. Her provisions would become his lifeblood until he broke free from the curse. Perhaps he could break it. Sazir could only hope.

She glanced over her shoulder once before taking off. Jack stood there, breathing deep. She watched the light of wonder flowing from the jar into his mouth. Rejuvenated, she could once more see the gentle glow of imagination.

The witch had trapped her by vengeance, saying that the angels had forsaken humans for too long. Her vengeance was to force Sazir to rely on the humans until the day she felt remorse for them.

As she took off into the air, she realized the spell had come to fruition. Jack had saved her, and she’d used her power to destroy his life. She would always feel the pain of that and would always think of him. That should at least keep him whole until he found his freedom.

The least she could do for him was wonder.

Copyright © 2015 Voss Foster