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Featured Story • December 2013

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Flap

 

David Sklar

 
 

Tiff and me are skating down the boardwalk toward Designs on You. She’s finally talked me into getting my wings done. It’s scary, you know—they’re sensitive—I don’t wanna get poked with needles there. Plus, if the colors come out wrong I can’t just laser ’em off like the morts do. A wing job is permanent.

Thorn—if I had Tiffany’s wings, I wouldn’t let anyone touch ’em, not with a needle or a piercing gun anyway, ’cause she’s all Morpho helena, you know, so the undersides of her wings are in browns like mine, but with a row of circles from side to side instead of the two big eye spots like I have. But the backs of her wings are a brilliant blue to match her eyes. Oak—with colored contacts and a glam, I still can’t get that blue. But Tiff has inscriptions tattooed on the brown side and black tribal patterns across the blue. And then there’s the bling—uneven bling, with lapis and amethyst dangling low on the right like a swallowtail, while the left has tiny hoops, all close to the rim, and I’m like, “Can you even fly, with all that shit in there?”

She’s like, “Who needs to fly?”

I’m like, “I do. Flying rocks.

And she’s like, “This is bigger. This is a statement about me.” She isn’t kidding. She has on a black biker jacket with slits in the back for her wings, held shut at the bottom by the belt, and her hair is chopped short and dyed black, with the tips of it frosted the same burning blue as her wings and eyes. Tiff is all about the statement.

I’m like, “Who cares about making a statement? I want to get up in the air and feel the morning under my wings, with the dew on the tops and the rising sun beneath.” The sound of the ocean to our left lends its breath to my words.

And she’s like, “Yeah, whatev. And if one of the morts looks up?”

“I put on a glam before I go, all he sees is a sparrow.”

“I don’t do glams.”

“WHAT?”

“No glams. Just me. What you see is what you get.”

“You’re a freak.”

“Right on.”

“Not even to hide your wings?”

Ash, Heather, the morts are loopy. A chick with wings doesn’t faze ’em—they think it’s a fashion statement I picked up in a store.”

“Whatev.”

“Glams strip your focus, Heather; they waste your spark making lies.”

Just then a crouching junkie tugs on my skirt and asks for spare change. I fan myself to a stop and I get on one knee to see her face. As Tiff does a loop around, I brush my fingers along the kid’s temple and imbue her with the softest glimmer of the edge of a dream.

“Thank you,” she barely whispers, with gentle ecstasy in her eyes.

But Tiff, she’s all like, “Wha’dyou do that for?”

“What?”

“Di’nt you hear what I just said?”

“Whatev.”

“This is serious, Heather. Don’t waste your spark.”

“Whatever. We’re almost there.”

“Do it once and they’ll all want it,” Tiffany says, and she skates away.

I skate after her. But just before I do, I see a man standing just off the boardwalk, watching us, with a malevolent hunger in his eyes.

* * *

Designs on You is right off the boardwalk, a little stall fronted by two big double doors shaped like big patterned wings, with eye spots like mine but intense, bronze circles inside emerald green, ringed by deep purple around the rims.

Tiff opens the door and skates in, saying “Hey Gwyd,” totally caz, but me, I’ve never been in there before. The place has sketches up and down the walls, black work and knotwork, animals and heroes. There’s a drawing of a claymore, big as life, with a black filigree down the silver blade. I wonder how tall you’d have to be to wear a picture that big on your leg.

A muscled guy with silver-tipped antlers inlaid with turquoise sees us skate in. His tank top shows off the coiled black tats on his arms. A chunk of amber hangs from his neck with a tiny man inside. “So you’re Heather?” he asks.

“Uh—yeah.”

“I’m Gwydion. This is my shop. Heard a lot about you.” He gives me an unshaven smile that melts me cold, and then he continues, “Let’s get to work.”

So he gets out his sketch pad and colored pencils, and starts talking me through my wings as he draws them in. “This is a classic pattern, the death’s head moth, and there’s a lot of inspiration to be had—just look at my doors. I mean, the basic pattern is gorgeous, just gorgeous, in sepia and tan, but if you add a touch of jade for accent here…” and as he says this he picks up a pale green pencil and shades over the rim of the tan inside where he’s drawn my wing on the page.

I gasp, because it really is beautiful, and until this moment I thought I could back out, but now that I’ve seen his sketches I know I gotta see it through. I bite my lip and nod. I’m already imagining the pain.

And he can see it in my face, because he puts the pencils down without drawing anything else, and says, “Let’s start with that, and then see how we feel.”

* * *

It tears. It tears. The pain is furious and bright. I clutch Gwydion’s other hand as the needle sears into my wing. I cling to the sound of the ocean outside, to the passing voices. A radio wanders by, giving voice to a song that is nothing but screech. I cling to that.

The tattoo shop is lit by small strings of lights and some old but powerful lamps. Tiff is standing at a counter in the center of the room, idly picking up knickknacks and looking at them while Gwydion does his work. I search for solace in the mesmeric pattern of Tiffany’s blue-and-black wings, but all I can think of is how did she sit through that, when I already want to crawl under the counter and weep. He’s barely started, and I’ve suffered a lifetime of pain.

In the shop, across the room, a radio predicts rain. “You know, that used to be all us,” I hear Gwydion say, through a dream of pain. No, scratch—the pain is real, but everything else is a dream. I am whimpering, trying to hold it in, but he just keeps talking, “Mortal man took it from us—assigned causes and made observations to lock them in. Now if we want it back we gotta put our own stamp on the wind, the rain, the earthquakes—”

Tiff laughs, a pffthy laugh. “Earthquakes?” she says. “Where you gonna find a glam big enough to cover dancing giants in Southern Cal?”

“I have other ideas,” says Gwyd. But before he can say what, a gaunt and shivering mort walks in and looks straight at me. He says, “You gotta give me what you gave my friend.”

I stare at him for a moment before I recognize the hungry man from just off the path.

Gwydion sets down the needle. Cool relief on my wing, and my back untenses.

“You gotta,” the mort repeats.

Gwyd steps forward. “Sir, you are in my place of business and I will have to ask you to leave.”

“I need what you gave Jenny,” he says, stepping closer to me.

Gwydion continues to walk forward and puts his right hand on the mort’s wrist. “Sir, you are—”

“I don’t CARE!” And the skinny mort tries to shake Gwydion’s hand off his wrist, but Gwydion doesn’t let go, and before you know it, Gwyd has a silver claymore in his left. I didn’t see where it came from, but the big picture of the sword is now a blank paper on the wall. Then the mort pulls a gun on Gwydion and says, “You got that, I got this—y’wanna see who’s faster?” And Gwydion lets go his wrist and steps back a step.

And I think, No good to anyone, but as the junkie repeats “I need her to give me—” Tiff shouts “ENOUGH!”

And I didn’t realize until that moment she had bane-sidhe blood, but the edge in her voice holds us pinned in our places. As the lingering sound of her shimmers aloud in the air, she moves her wings. Slowly at first, and the runes and patterns inscribed on the membrane delve into their inner workings . . . the power collects around the jewels that hang from her right wing . . . they start to turn . . . then the wind rises up in the room and all the pictures pinned to the wall respond to the breeze as it moves wid’shins around the studio, flapping the paper, and she fans it on.

I’m frightened for her, I really am, but what’s happening in the pictures grabs my attention and won’t let go. Strange birds and Chinese unicorns look up and then duck for cover from the wind that portends the storm about to come. A dragon stretches, languid with anticipation.

“What’s she doing?” the junkie shouts and points the trembling gun at her, but by now Tiff has found her power and is beating her wings so strong that the drawings are flying around the room. My skates are slipping out under my chair, and I have to hang on to the counter to keep from getting swept away.

“Make it stop!” the mort shouts at her. By now the tattoo needles are rattling in their stands, and the colored pencils are rolling around on the table.

There is a muffled sound like thunder and I realize the gun has fired, and Gwydion swings the claymore much too late. The bullet struggles across the wind, but the anticlockwise gale beats down the force of its forward momentum, and the bullet slows . . . almost stops . . . then spins round the room wid’shins in Tiffany’s orbit and comes around to nail the shooter in the fleshy part of the hand, below his thumb. The colored pencils go next and stab his arm, and then the needles impale him between the bones of his forearm, sending the pistol clatterspinning to the floor and knocking his wrist just out of the way of Gwydion’s sword.

The shivering junkie stumbles backwards out of the shop into the light, his arm impaled several times through. Tiffany comes back to herself, and the winds die down. The scattered pages settle into a heap in one corner, and the creatures in the pictures seem to huddle together for solace.

“Excuse me. I have to retrieve my instruments,” Gwydion says, and he steps outside, silhouetted against bright sun. I stare on, stunned.

“Don’t worry,” Tiff tells me, as the first in a series of low, wracked screams comes in the door. “He’ll sterilize everything before he uses it again.”

And I stare at Tiffany’s wings and I realize what she has done, how she has stunted herself for power over wind. How the imbalance that keeps her grounded lets her whip up a cyclone around her when she must. I have to fly, but right now I’m fluttering inside so bad I can’t even muster the glam I need to keep the morts from seeing me as me. So I cower in my chair and slowly flap, flap, flap until the tremor of my fearful heart subsides.

 
 

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Sklar Head Shot #2 2008(1)David Sklar grew up in Michigan, where the Michipeshu nibbled his toes when Lake Superior felt frisky. His work has appeared in an eclectitude of places, including Strange Horizons, Paterson Literary Review, Ladybug, and Scheherazade’s Façade. David lives in New Jersey with his wife, their two barbarians, and a secondhand familiar. He works as a freelance writer and editor. For more, please visit http://davidwriting.com

David, who also contributed the poem “The Onion Prince” to this issue, shares the following about the origin of this story: “One of the fun things about writing fiction is that you get to name a business without actually having to open one. Same thing with characters and pets, but of course a business name doesn’t have to be a name. The tattoo parlor in ‘Flap’ had two names at different times. I loved them both, and I had to choose.

“It was originally called China Ink. I liked the nonsequituriosity of it, and the implication that even the fae engage in cultural appropriation. It also echoed a bull in a china shop, and the butterfly in China whose wings start a hurricane far away (presumably after the butterfly wakes up from dreaming she’s Chuang-tzu).

“But then one day I was driving and the song ‘Designs on You’ came on the radio. I was struck with the old-fashioned phrase, and I thought, That should be the name of a tattoo parlor.

“I was going to keep China Ink for the shop in this story and use Designs on You somewhere else—possibly the same world with an urban cowboy outfitter called Can’t Quit You. But then I thought about the implications, and Gwydion’s subtle hidden agenda. So—yeah. Designs on You. But I do feel some nostalgia for China Ink.”
 

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