by Carrie Repking
Mina walked through a grove of towering California redwoods. She stopped for a moment to look upward at the long trunks stretching to the sky. They seemed to join in a circle at the top, a patch of blue in the center. She wondered what it felt like to be a bird way up there in the wind that whistled through the branches.
She started forward again and turned a corner in the path. A sun-drenched clearing lay a few hundred feet ahead. She strode toward it, eager to feel some sun on her face.
Reaching the sunlit area, she stopped on the edge and stared in wonder at a 400-foot redwood with a circumference of at least sixty feet. She lifted a pair of binoculars that were hanging around her neck to see details in the branches sixty feet up from the base. Spiderwebs shining with morning dew wound around and through its limbs. Bird nests woven from silvery scraps and dried twigs were tucked among the boughs.
She crossed the clearing with a hand outstretched to touch the trunk; its bark was warm and rough. To take in the mixed smells of pine and ferns, she inhaled deeply with her eyes closed. She kept them shut and circled the tree, trailing her fingers along the bark for balance. She stopped and opened her eyes when she felt a deep crevice. She leaned forward to peer into the split. A trace of light shone from inside. More than curious, she slid her fingers in deeper. This triggered a sliding door to open, revealing an incandescent interior. Without hesitation, she stepped into the brightness.
Her eyes adjusted to the brilliance. She stood in the center of a wide, circular shaft with burnished redwood walls and floor that glowed from the reflection of sunshine coming from above. Her throat closed with a mixture of awe and fear.
Someone coughed behind her.
Mina jumped and whipped around to see a wild-haired man dressed in a black uniform with gold buttons standing a foot away.
“Who are you?” She stepped back from him until she reached the wall. “What is this?”
“I’m the elevator operator.” He lifted one hand to a panel of lit buttons on the wall. “Up or down?”
“Neither! Let me out of here.”
“That’s not an option.” He grinned like a naughty child.
Mina slid her fingers along the smooth wall in search of the door, but found no cuts in the surface.
“Up or down?” he asked again.
“How the hell do I know? Take me to one you think I’ll like.”
“Okay, we’ll try number twelve.” He pushed a button and the whole compartment rose effortlessly.
While they ascended, Mina noticed the operator kept his back turned away from her as if hiding something. Maybe what he concealed was dangerous—like a meat cleaver, or a gag and rope, or—
The operator raised an eyebrow at her. He kneeled to retie the laces of his shiny, marching-band shoes. Mina glimpsed white wings smashed under his jacket as he leaned over. Her anxiety level dropped while her inquisitiveness rose. He stood up and winked at her.
Instead of the ding of an elevator bell, a triumphant blow of trumpets announced their arrival at level twelve. The door reappeared and slid open to a room full of tables laden with boxes of aromatic, glistening chocolates. Mina’s mouth watered while she walked around the room and ran a finger along the sides of a few tempting, semisweet squares.
Returning to the elevator, she said, “Chocolate makes my heart race.”
“That’s a bad thing?” He looked puzzled.
“Sometimes, yes,” she huffed.
The elevator space seemed to have narrowed while rising, so the operator stood too close to her again.
“Don’t worry. I won’t bite,” he said.
Mina realized she wanted him to do so, and her heart beat faster.
“See? A quick heartbeat is not so bad.” He looked proud of himself. “We’ll try level twenty-four.”
“If we go too high, will we get crushed?”
“No, this is a ride of discovery, not a doom machine.” His lively blue eyes shone along with his gold buttons; the black uniform matched the color of his unruly hair. He was a sexy, winged scalawag.
Harps announced their arrival on level twenty-four, but they were drowned out by a pounding disco rhythm once the door slid open. A sweaty, muscular male stripper with a porn mustache danced on a dais and beckoned her with a crooked index finger.
She flushed all the way into her scalp. “No! Close the door!”
The door glided shut. “You don’t want sexy? I thought—” He had the grace to look confused.
“Not like that.” To hide her embarrassment at his mind reading misinterpretation, she changed the subject. “Don’t your wings get crushed under that jacket?”
“No more than yours do.”
“I don’t have wings.”
“Everyone has wings. You just have to find your own way of flying.” He spoke softly, as if he were imparting a secret. She had to lean forward to hear him. “You’ve felt how it is to fly. I’ve seen your files.”
“Files? Who—what are you?”
“I’m a…uh…winged guidance counselor, at your service.” He half-bowed with a serious face. “To save some time, describe to me where you’ve flown, and I’ll see how I can guide you to similar experiences.”
“I guess.” Mina’s mind went blank. After a few moments, some memories surfaced.
Hanging in terror over the side of a sailboat with others while counterbalancing full sails that flew them across icy waters—snowplowing down a mountain slope with trees whipping by too fast before she crashed in a heap—hurtling through the air along with her bicycle, lunch box and glasses, after hitting an unseated manhole at full speed. The tires exploding as she landed unhurt with her feet on the ground and the bike upright, but her glasses were ruined and all the kids laughed—
“Stop!” The angel pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “Surely you can remember something pleasant?”
She didn’t like him spying into her thoughts.
He said, “I promise not to listen.” He studied his nails while tapping the toe of one shiny black shoe. “Anytime you’re ready.” He whistled quietly, pursing his perfectly curved full lips.
Mina closed her eyes to concentrate.
On her grandfather’s great lawn when she was four, giggling as she rolled lengthwise down a hill with the fresh smell of grass in her nose—speeding in the Porsche through the curves of the coast highway in Big Sur with the tires holding the road and her blond hair streaming in the wind—
Making love with Dean.
Her chest tightened and tears filled her eyes.
That freckle near his mouth—his squared-off fingers scratching her back open—pleasure mixed with pain—
Dean had been gone for years.
Sobbing, she opened her eyes to find herself still stuck inside a tree elevator with a well-dressed winged man staring at push buttons on a wall.
“I stopped flying because it hurt too much when I landed,” she whispered.
“No one flies without some danger.” He smiled gently. “Would you rather have not known any of it?” He stood so near that she could see herself in the reflection of his eyes.
What if she’d never felt passion or joy or taken risks? Or ever been fully alive? “No!” she said. “Nevermore be damned. Make it evermore this time.”
“I like that! Where do you want to go now?” he laughed.
“As high as you can take me!”
“That’s the spirit.” He removed his jacket and unfurled his white wings to their full glorious span. He chuckled and pushed the top button.
The elevator flew upward—faster and faster, and higher and higher, with them together inside—all of this more than she could have ever imagined.
Category: Short Story