Aldrus, The Man With Wings, had flown everywhere except over the pit and above the mountain. The pit was rumored to be a place of death, and the mountain was simply too high to pass over.
But despite the warnings, flight over the pit was too tempting for Aldrus to ignore. The pit released fumes that suffused the acres of sky above it with an irresistibly warm glow. Aldrus needed to feel his wings basking in that gorgeous light.
So one day Aldrus flew toward that pit that shone upwards like a gentler sun. But as the ruddy light washed over him, the fumes weighted his wings. He tried to fly away from that poisonous cloud but he plummeted straight down.
He fell for what seemed like an eternity (which he later learned was nowhere near it), landing in a pile of dead winged things who had lost their wings—his head found a gryphon for a pillow, his limbs supported by bats and owls, his feet propped up by mosquitoes and doves and dragons, all missing wings.
The Man With Wings tried to move but the stench of fumes and wingless corpses stunned him. He dreaded what was to come, and in moments he felt his wings slowly, painfully being removed from his body by microscopic gods. These gods were so small he could not see them. He knew they were gods, and not a natural process of decay, because he could hear their millions of voices singing a strange wing-removing prayer in beautiful unison.
Then, suddenly as sunlight turns into umbrella shade, his wings were gone; and he saw them carried by the miniscule gods to a pyre on which wings of all kinds of flying creatures burned, creating fumes that painted the sky above the pit in such beautiful hues.
Aldrus realized these small gods were worshipping some larger god or gods. He passed out as he watched the last of his feathers curling into ash.
He woke to the sound of singing as a starling’s wings were tossed on the pyre by ineffable hands. Staying in this pit would be a hell he could not endure. Unlike the others whose flight had been sacrificed, Aldrus had arms and he decided to climb his way out.
The going was difficult, but over the days he pulled himself up with bloodied hands. On the evening he reached the surface, Aldrus sat at the edge of the pit and did not know what to do next, flight having been his only love and the sky his whole world.
Then he saw the mountain. It had been too high to soar over, but he could try to hike to the other side on foot (fantastic as that sounded). And seeing no use in staying still, the weary Man Without Wings began the long trudge up the slope.
When he reached the peak, he looked down upon an endless black abyss. He turned back and saw vultures and airplanes flying toward the smoke above the pit, the way he had once flown, and he despaired that his wings were helping fuel that murderous smoke.
In front of him, this other pit yawned, infinitely deeper, from which no one could climb. In his sorrow Aldrus jumped, and fell through limitless space without ending, flying forever.
* * *
Erik T. Johnson’s writing has appeared in or is forthcoming in Electric Velocipede, Shimmer, Space & Time Magazine, Underworlds, Clarion, New York Stories, Trunk Stories, Sein und Werden, Saucytooth’s Webthology, Structo, The Ampersand Review, Morpheus Tales, Necrotic Tissue, Best New Zombie Tales Volume 3, The Zombie Chronicles, the Pellucid Lunacy anthology, and the Dead But Dreaming 2 anthology, among other publications. He once dreamed he had also been published in Bosley Gravel’s Cavalcade of Terror. His style ranges from the occasional “I-went-to-college-middle-class-literary” to straight genre to slipstream/crossed-genre, although he can’t seem to get that Bizarro thing down everyone is so hot on right now. Though particularly drawn to the fantastic, he is most interested in saying something that seems worth saying in the most thoughtful and memorable way possible. You can learn more about his work or get in touch at www.eriktjohnson.net.