Sometimes, I’d wished I’d known my family and had a real one, but I never wished for it more than now. The way they all stared at me… as if I was some sort of infection spreading around… it hurt. And if it hadn’t been for me, maybe…. just maybe, they would be easier on Auburn.
“Auburn,” Mr. Prewitt began, but Auburn slammed the door behind us, causing the whole floor to shake. I subconsciously flapped my wings from fear that the floor might fall through.
“I don’t want to hear any of it, Father.” He said coldly. “I am not giving Téras up, and you and Aaron are just going to have to get up off your couches and get a life.”
Aaron gave a haughty snort. “You care for a no good, unrelated orphan more than your own flesh and blood?!”
Auburn curled his fists, but he kept them at his side. “And you. You care more about wasting your time playing video games than spending time and helping care for your own flesh and blood, so don’t you even begin to challenge and insult me, Aaron Prewitt!” Auburn’s voice was strained, and the color was rising to his cheeks. I could tell he was infuriated and was struggling to hold it down.
“Your brother is right, Aaron,” Mr. Prewitt said in a slightly kinder tone. “We should help Auburn somewhat.” He gave a nod towards him. “But the day we will begin to help him is the day that boy leaves us!” He pointed his long, thin finger straight at me. “He has brought nothing but death and destruction upon us since the day you brought him here, Auburn! He is a curse!”
I couldn’t help but tremble then, half with rage that he should dare to accuse me of those terrible things, and half of a strange fear creeping up on me. Was I a curse? Was that why the Winged Society had never liked Black Wings?
“He is not!” Auburn exclaimed, but his father interrupted him before he could say anything more.
“Really now? The day you brought him home, your mother grew ill and died that very night! Then you’re diagnosed with an incurable wasting disease like none no one has ever seen before, and you lose your wonderful, well-paying job at the scientific research community—”
“I quit my job, Father, I quit it and I’m glad I did!” Auburn raised his voice over his father’s, but it didn’t seem to faze Mr. Prewitt.
“Then you have no choice but to take minimum wage at a factory, we have to leave the house and move to this dump, and now — now you lose this job too! I swear that boy is a curse upon you and us!”
“A child is no curse!” Auburn exclaimed angrily. “And if you knew the first thing about him — about me — you wouldn’t dare to speak such! I won’t have it! If you dare to speak one more word against him, I’ll send you all out to fend for yourselves! Frankly, that might do you some good and get some sense knocked into your brain!”
“Don’t you see, Aubie,” Claire spoke up for the first time in a sweet yet saucy tone. “He has you bewitched into thinking we’re the bad guys when we’re only trying to help you.”
“Bewitched me?!” Auburn looked almost shocked with disbelief. “You guys really think I’m stupid, don’t you?!” He overviewed them all, then shook his head with a little, forced laugh. “You think I can’t think for myself or make up my mind?! I am not bewitched! I am determined! And I promise you, the day that boy goes will be the day I go, and no sooner! Is that understood to you all?!” He didn’t even bother to wait for an answer as he motioned me along. “Come along, Téras. We don’t need to hear their nonsense.”
I crept along behind Auburn, trying to ignore the staring glares I was receiving, but a muttered, “Monster creature,” from Mr. Prewitt was enough to cause me to lose my cool.
Mr. Prewitt reminded me of a bully at school, of which no type of talking-to would change his mind, but a nice punch in the nose would. He was one of those stubborn, proud types who can’t see the truth because they refuse to see the truth, and I lost all control of myself. “Monster Creature, huh?” I quickly turned on him, my eyes blazing, and my wings held in attack position. “Well, if I’m a monster creature, you’re a cruel, lazy, no-good abomination to your own kind! What father in their right mind would make their sick son work so that he could relax and have everything he wanted?! What sensible human-being would turn away an orphan who’s never done anything to you?!” I would have said more, but Auburn took me by the shoulder.
“Téras, no more.” He said in a low, firm tone. “You’ll only make things worse.” He motioned me into our room again and shut the door and locked it before Mr. Prewitt could recover from his shock of being spoken to in such a way from me. He then sighed deeply as he sat on his bed.
I went over to mine and plopped down again, crossing my arms moodily. “He had no right to say that!”
Auburn sighed. “I know. But doing the same thing as he did back to him wasn’t the best way to deal with him.”
“But what I said was at least true!” I grumbled as Auburn sighed again and then pulled out that box of his from under his bed. He sat it on his bed and started taking things out.
“What are you doing?” I asked then, slowly edging over to look at the random odds and ends.
He glanced at me, then shrugged. “I’m looking for the old picture album. Might as well look through old photos. Have nothing else to do today, and I’m too worn out to think about going out again.” The noise of Aaron’s video game came on again, and I figured everyone must have gone back to doing what they always did.
I glanced at the stuff on the bed. There were a couple of tops, a few tiny black books, his checkbook, a few novels, some pencils and erasers, a couple of black pens, some crinkled up notes, some sticky-notes, a roll of duct tape, and then Auburn sighed in satisfaction as he pulled out the last two things — a large, white photo album and a strange-looking pair of… binoculars?
“What’re those?” I asked, pointing to the “binoculars”.
Auburn shrugged and looked slightly uncomfortable. “Just… some goggles I invented a long time ago.”
He invented… goggles? “Oh…” I said as he started to replace most of the junk back into the box, save for the photo album. It was clear he didn’t want to talk about them, and I didn’t want to stress him out anymore. “Can I look at the photos with you?”
He shrugged again. “Sure, why not?” He put his box back under his bed then got on the floor beside me and opened the book.
There were numerous pictures of Auburn’s childhood. Some were of him with his parents at amusement parks, others were of him, Claire, and Aaron when they were small playing in a small backyard pool, getting ice-cream, or other fun, innocent things. There were four whole pages of one Christmas, and then there were pictures of Auburn’s first day of school, Claire’s first day of school, Aaron’s as well, and then there were birthday pictures, pictures of Auburn’s parent’s anniversary, and other pictures too. They made me think of my own family that might be out there somewhere… perhaps…
“This was Aaron’s first job.” Auburn laughed as he showed me the picture of his younger brother working at a fast-food restaurant, flipping patties in the background. “I remember coming in and sneaking the photo of him, because I knew he’d be humiliated if he knew what I was doing,” He shook his head with a laugh.
“He got a job before you?”
“He wanted a job in high school, so Father and Mom let him. I was in college at the time, so I went directly from high school to college. I didn’t have to work since Father paid my whole way.”
Compared to now where Auburn was paying everything. How on earth did they lose all that money and have to end up here? Clearly from the pictures of their home, it was a very expensive, elite home. “What happened? I mean… how did they turn out like this?”
Auburn paused for a minute before opening his mouth and speaking slowly and thoughtfully, clearly treading very carefully on this subject. “I used to work for a scientific research company. I was a very valuable part of the research department because I had broken a very large barrier regarding one of the things we were scientifically researching, and thus I got a very large pay-check. The company wanted to move us to an even better area closer to the lab, and they gave us a very nice house, so we moved. It was around that time Father figured he could retire since I was providing a more than comfortable living. Aaron did too since he needed to focus more on his studies.” Auburn gave a shaky sigh then. “One day, I realized that this scientific research wasn’t just research. It… it was dangerous, and though at first I thought it was necessary, I gradually began to see that it wasn’t and that it was really destructive.”
“What was it?” I asked in breathless eagerness.
Auburn shook his head. “I cannot say.” He pursed his lips. “All I can say is that… well… I quit my job because I knew something wasn’t right, and because… well, you know about my illness. And because of that, we would be left penniless, because the scientific research company owned the place we lived, and most everything else we had belonged to them too. The night I told my family I quit, and we had to be out within a month, my mother had a heart attack from the shock of it. She never recovered from it and died.” Auburn looked down. “Everyone processed their grief in a different way. Mom was the only one who could ever really hold us all together. Her funeral cost me most of what I had left, and thus we had to move here, this being the only place we could afford. I got a job at the factory and worked to ignore the grief. Father watches TV all day, so he doesn’t have to think about it, just like Aaron plays the video games. And Claire goes out to parties so she doesn’t have to think about it.” Auburn flipped the next page of the picture album, and I saw a picture of him in a very fine uniform, with a strange badge strapped onto his shirt. He also had the goggles in his hand and seemed very proud of his invention.
“What are those goggles for, Auburn?” I asked. “And… what’s that on your shirt? What’s the badge say?”
Auburn quickly shut the book. “I’m tired, Téras. I’ll explain later.” He put the book back into his box. “Now read your books or look on your phone while I rest awhile.”
I sighed and nodded, picking up one of the fiction action books I’d been reading that was lying on my bed. That entertained me for a while, but then I got to a boring part and shut the book with a sigh. Auburn was fast asleep by now over on his bed, but the tip of his box was still peeking out from under the bed. I crept over and pulled it gently out, making sure I didn’t wake Auburn, then I pulled out the goggles. What were they? A scientific community wouldn’t praise and promote someone who had made a new pair of regular goggles. There had to be something different about them. I sneaked off into the bathroom and shut the door so I could examine the goggles under brighter lights, and so that I wouldn’t wake Auburn.
First, I put the goggles on and looked at myself in the mirror. There was nothing different. I could still see everything and nothing new. Maybe they were just a pair of weird old goggles that just… the scientific community really liked or something.
I examined the sides for any buttons or anything I might have to punch to make the goggles work. I found nothing, save a strange emblem on both sides of the goggles — the emblem of a pair of wings and in the wings were the words: Cornu Venatores, whatever that meant.
Disappointed, I took the goggles in hand and opened the bathroom door to go out again, when I practically ran into Aaron.
“Hey! Watch where you’re — hey! What’re those?” Aaron spotted the goggles in my hands, and instantly I wished I’d never taken them. “New VR goggles?! Awesome! Where d’you get them? Let me see them!” He snatched them from me before I could even respond, and all that escaped my lips was a weak moan.
He snapped them on. “Huh… they’re just regular goggles, here you can—” Suddenly he stopped short. At first, he froze, then he started trembling slightly.
“A-are you all right, Aaron?” I asked quietly as he stared at me through the goggles.
All he said were three words, whispered in a horrified tone. “You have wings!”