Austin stopped breathing and froze. His name echoed through his second story bedroom window from outside. The voice wasn’t familiar, not from anyone who should know he was here. He turned off the overhead light and hid beside the window, peeking around the stained curtains to see who was broadcasting his presence across the Fort Belknap Reservation. The cool evening breeze pushing through the curtains smelled dry from the road dust.
“Austin, you need to come with us now!”
He swallowed hard. That accent was from a Nakota. Several Native American men appeared through the dust cloud kicked up by the two vans parked out front. This was not good, a group of them meant trouble.
Austin flinched when the front door banged open against the wall downstairs and made the curtains sway. Furious swearing erupted from his dad as he stomped out onto the porch, pushing the Nakotas back into the yard. Austin’s hands trembled as more of them came into view. They were armed.
His stomach sank when one old Nakota pointed a rifle at the sky while pleading with his dad. “Mark, your family needs to leave with us. The magic hunter was spotted at Lodge Pole. Your family and the Volares are the only whites here and will be easy to find. Get in the vans and we’ll take you out of here.”
His dad shook his fist and shouted back. “Not again. We’re through with running, it’s tearing us apart. We’re going to stay and fight!”
Austin slid back from the window, ruffling the feathers on the large blue and white wings growing from his back. The magic hunter had found them and his dad refused to take them and leave. The Nakota’s guns were useless against him; his magic was stronger than bullets. He would kill the whole reservation to capture Austin and take the magic that powers his wings. Staying here would be a death sentence for them all. They needed to leave.
Austin slapped the wall. If his magic would get strong enough to fight back, his family wouldn’t have to run and hide on another reservation again. They could stay and be safe. Fourteen was old enough, why wasn’t it working? Piper’s magic was stronger than his and she’s the same age. Not fair.
A thought popped in his head that emptied him inside: they could be safe and normal again, if he left. Mom could get off those pills and Dad could work again. His parents wouldn’t have to run anymore. The yelling would stop and they could be happy. He buried his head in his arms. A lifetime of hiding sucked. He stared at the window. We can’t keep doing this.
Austin lunged into the closet, hurling shoes across the bedroom until he found his emergency travel pack. His wings fluttered as he clipped it around his thin waist. The shouting outside grew louder when the Nakotas yelled back at his dad. Austin jumped over to his computer and slammed out a desperate email to his only friend Piper, telling her he was leaving…this time for sure, whether she wanted to go with him or not.
Austin faced the window and stared at the sky. Hunter, someday my magic will work and I’ll stop running. But I swear you won’t find me before then. He kicked his bedroom window screen as hard as he could, shooting it into the yard. Fear froze him with the first step onto the window, he was about to break the cardinal rule of never going outside.
I’ve got to get Piper and get out of here. He jumped and spread his broad wings, pushing through the pain and stiffness from staying closed against his back for months.
The air would not lift up his wings, letting him fall toward the yard. “C’mon, grab the air. You’ve done this before, let’s go!” They moved differently from the last time he flew. Hiding for so long in a cramped room with growing wings made flying new again. The practice he got before moving here was wasted.
He struggled, synchronizing his wings as he fell, watching his dad and the Nakotas. They shouted his name from the porch and street when they saw him. The shocked reaction on his dad’s face and the Nakotas running toward him showed how serious this was. His wings floundered; the ground rose fast. No, I can’t crash!
A jet of heat erupted from the base of his wings and shot them back together right before he hit the yard. Every wing joint popped, from his shoulders to the tips. They curved and sliced forward. His wings lifted him and stopped him from crashing. “That’s it, that’s how it feels!”
Austin panicked when his dad leapt off the porch and sprinted toward him. He flapped his wings wildly to escape. They flattened and lost lift, dropping him toward the yard again. He took a deep breath and forced them to curve, making them lift him again and accelerate away from the house.
The Nakotas shouted at Austin as he rose. “Get Piper and go to the Valley. It’s the only safe place from the hunter now. The Avian Network will catch up with you when they can.”
His dad ran under him and leaped high to grab his feet. Austin jerked his lanky long legs up to his chest and clawed his way higher.
“No Dad, I’m sorry. I can’t stay.” If his dad pulled him to the ground and held him there, the magic hunter would have him. He would have all of them.
His mom ran into the front yard and cried out as he banked over the neighbor’s house. “Austin, don’t go. We’ll be all right. Please, Austin.”
The terror in her voice hollowed him out. It almost turned him around, but the hope that she would be safe if he left kept him going. He dropped lower and accelerated to get out of sight so his Mom would stop calling to him.
Austin raced toward Piper on the other side of town, banking between the houses to stay low. Neighbors shouted out of windows as he passed. He didn’t care who saw him now, most of the rez probably knew about them anyway. Somehow, everyone always found out, forcing them to move every year. At least Piper’s family stayed with his on every move, keeping the two winged freaks together wherever they went. Austin prayed she would leave with him one more time, this time alone.
Austin concentrated on moving his wings together, relaxing his tail feathers trailing behind him. A gust of wind flipped them sideways as he neared Piper’s house, throwing him toward a row of trees. He extended his arms to protect his wings from the branches, “No, I can’t crash!”
He flipped his tail feathers back and banked away fast. His lower wingtip sliced through the top of a juniper tree before he could pull it in, spraying thin scale-like leaves through the air into the street.
He rocked back and forth until he regained control and leveled off. The wind dried out his eyes, irritating them and making it hard to see a safe path between the houses ahead. He lowered his head to block the wind and blinked repeatedly until he could see to find the way to go.
Austin searched his pockets for his safety glasses. He groaned, remembering they were back on his dresser. That was just great, one of the most important things to have while flying and he forgot them. Wind and bugs were going to become a problem, but he wasn’t going back for them.
Austin pushed through the sharp stinging in his wingtip and forced his breathing to slow down. If he fell into a full-blown panic attack, he would crash and get caught for sure. Cool air flowing over his wings blew the leaves out of his feathers and drew the pain away, helping smooth his wing strokes.
The noise from the wind blowing across his ears carried a faint voice. It came from above, not from anyone passing by below. A faint warning whispered, “Improve your control and fly fast, the hunter is near.”
Austin stared at his wingtips, trying to find the right muscles to extend the long feathers for more lift. He would need to glide soon to rest. Stretching his wings as wide as they would go made those feathers straighten out, but it hurt like trying to do the splits. Those tendons resisted stretching that far and fought him.
When he could hold out his wings, the air curled the long feathers back as it lifted them and spilled off the trailing edges. He missed the feeling of the wind and seeing his wings full out, even though stretching them hurt a lot.
Piper was straight ahead and they had a long way to go.