He tried to defend his innocence from those who called him dangerous, but a gun pressed between his wings and threatened him to keep moving.
Lightning cracked in the humid sky. Just a few hours ago, he’d been with Nikki and Derek, heading to Morgan’s for after-school ice cream. Today wasn’t supposed to end like this.
The guard violently pushed Kevin up the stairs leading to the Asilo, the group of large government buildings making up their Líders’ headquarters. He’d only been this close during school field trips glorifying all that the Líders gave them. He never expected to be led here for his own execution.
“E-excuse me,” Kevin said.
The guard, paying him no mind, shoved him through the automated doors.
The fluorescent lights stung his sensitive eyes. The tiles were too shiny and new and the walls were pure white. Signs pointed to doctor offices and meeting rooms.
A group of idle guarddogs watched Kevin be dragged through the foyer. His makeup was smeared from the struggle and his wings, twenty feet of feather and bone, were streaked with rain and blood.
If he’d seen himself, sobbing furiously while evading authorities, he too would’ve called himself a criminal. He’d heard it on their earpieces: He was the prime suspect in Derek’s murder.
But that wasn’t the case, and he needed to explain everything as soon as possible. His hyperventilating was doing him no favors.
The guard led him to a set of elevators. “This way,” they said.
“No, please,” Kevin begged, and tripped getting in. He’d never been in an elevator before. The square floor shifted from their weight as the mechanisms in the wall work to support them. He wondered how things worked here.
The guard hit a button for the top floor.
“No.” He tried to struggle, but the moment he moved, the guard grabbed his shoulders and pinned him against the wall.
He let out a gasp in pain. This wasn’t right. He did well at his job, he’d tried to do well by the government, his family. He was a good kid.
Tears he’d been trying to suppress let go, and he sobbed into the cold, sterile wall. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t—I didn’t mean—”
The bubbling words kept popping in his throat. His explanations for what’d happened to Derek, for why he had scratch marks on him, he couldn’t get it out in a clear and concise way.
The elevator shuttered to a stop, and the guard half-walked, half-dragged Kevin down a new hallway. There were no windows here and it smelled of cleaning supplies and blood, with the faint hint of salt. The taste of his tears, maybe.
The guard walked up to a random door and used something on their hand to open it. They unveiled a small room with an operating table in the center, medical equipment, and a lonely chair. Two other guards were waiting, one with a clipboard, the other putting on a pair of medical gloves.
Delayed panic sparked in Kevin’s heart. He knew it’d make him look more guilty, but he couldn’t stop himself from struggling. His flight instincts had been berating his overworked brain for hours. He was becoming desperate.
“Stop it!” the guard yelled, and something rammed into the back of Kevin’s head.
Sky dots burst in his vision. He slumped forwards. Real, physical pain he wasn’t used to vibrated from his head down to his tail feathers.
The guards sat him down on the chair. His wrists were tied behind his back and wings. No, chained. Two click-clicks and he was immobilized. His wings, too tired to take flight, wilted like trodden flowers.
A quiet moment. Soft beeping and the guards discussing something important. His ears were clogged. Slowly, his mind caught up with his thoughts. The reality of his situation was not good, and he was too stupid and scared to fix things. He felt himself quickly giving up.
Tears dripped off his nose. He wanted Derek back. He wanted Nikki to console him. Mom, to pet his hair like she used to and Dad assuring him that he’d take care of everything. Because that’s what they did. They were a family. They took care of each other.
The guard with the clipboard studied the words written on it.
Kevin lifted his head. “P-please, we need to find my sibling. He didn’t die when he touched the Barreira, he just fell through—I couldn’t believe it when I saw it, but it’s true.”
The guards looked at him like he was becoming what he feared: a disillusioned bird with blood on his hands for a crime he hadn’t committed but must’ve because nothing else made sense.
He swallowed. “He isn’t dead,” he confirmed. “I didn’t kill him.”
The guard frowned. “That’s a case nobody’s gonna believe you on, kid.”
Two heavy knocks struck the door like bullets.
The guards snapped upright. They quickly straightened their uniforms and hair to appear better ready for company. “Yes, your Líderships.”
The door slid open. The newcomers were silhouetted in harsh, yellow lighting, making them dream-like. And that’s what they were, to Kevin. Surely, he wasn’t in front of the world’s leaders. He hadn’t done anything to warrant this type of meeting.
Nadia and Mikhail, the two Líders who held the world in their hands, stood before Kevin Harrow.
He stopped breathing. He’d never seen them so close up. Nadia, a timber wolf crossbreed with hair cropped at a sharp point. Mikhail, a dog with a smile one wore when committing a crime. Their families were descendants of the first leaders of Raeleen when it was birthed from dust and decay, the howling wolves who rose up to remake the world.
Kevin bowed, offering them the back of his neck.
The two Líders stared him down. Their eyes almost glowed with intensity.
They gave the room a beat before Nadia asked, “Why’re you still here? Get out. Now.”
Kevin went to move, but guard boots shuffled to escape the room instead.
When the room stilled, Nadia said, “Zantl, come here now, sweetie.”
Someone came in. Kevin saw boots, the flow of black, shiny hair that reached the floor, and a tucked-in, black tail that contrasted their parents’ bold postures.
Zantl stared disgustingly at Kevin, and Kevin nearly threw up. This person was the child of Nadia and Mikhail, a genderless heir, born and adopted sometime during the winter months.
Kevin was perhaps the first Raeleenian not part of the Guard to have seen Zantl in person like this. Unlike their parents, who came out for assemblies and gave monthly radio speeches, Zantl was a gemstone hidden from the public. Very few even knew what they looked like. This was per their parents’ requests.
Zantl was said to be special beyond their birthright. Schoolyard rumors that grew to the adults’ lips. Supposedly, they had “powers.” Dangerous, mysterious, and deadly powers that could hurt people. Kevin hadn’t seen them in person, but his parents had. It was when the Líders announced they’d adopted a child to become their heir. On the steps of the Asilo, the infant now known as Zantl cried so hard that the reporters who’d come to document the event exploded from the inside. Kevin was just a baby at the time, but those in attendance—his family, who had a particular interest in politics—had witnessed it. They still couldn’t talk about the blood that pooled in the canals that day.
And Zantl had come out of hiding.
All for Kevin and what he’d done.
Kevin did as ordered. He didn’t know where to look.
Zantl looked more like their mother: yellow eyes, black hair. They had to be only a few years younger than Kevin.
Their upper lip curled in disgust. They even had a hand near their chest as they tried to physically get away from Kevin.
“Okay,” Nadia said. “Now that we all have a good look at you, tell me: What in the fuck is going on here?”
So informal. Kevin was speechless.
A sharp whack and he was again seeing sky dots, but this time it was more precise against his right cheek.
Mikhail lowered his walking cane. “She asked you a question. It’d be right of you to answer her.”
Kevin went to wipe away the sting, but his hands were still bound. He used the elbow of his wing.
Mikhail turned eagerly. “Yes, Zantl?”
Zantl folded back their ears. “Don’t hit him. Don’t make him mad.”
Kevin looked up. Merciful, an act of good faith to someone innocent?
Or fear that Kevin was more unhinged than initially thought? From the look in their eyes, Kevin guessed the latter and needed to fix that. “I won’t hurt anyone,” he promised.
Zantl groaned. “I don’t want to be near him any longer. I’m leaving.”
Their father’s ears drooped. “Of…course, Zantl. Whatever you’d like, we shall grant.”
“What is it?” their mother asked. “What’re you feeling?”
Zantl left without another word.
Mikhail sighed and leaned back on his cane. “Ah, well. We’ll get back to them once they’re in a better mood. So, little fledgling, why have our guards brought you here?”
Kevin didn’t know where to start. Wasn’t he already dead by going up to the Muralha? That itself was a punishable offense. “I, um, don’t know.”
Mikhail chuckled. “It’s only been all over our earpieces. Clamor about two ospreys attacking our Guard, about shooting one in the face.”
The memory of the guard flashed behind Kevin’s eyes. “That wasn’t us. That was…that was…” He felt sick. All that blood…
“Don’t try to lie now. We saw photos of the body. We’re still having trouble identifying them. And then we have reports of you flying up and up and up…” He pointed above them. “All the way up to the Muralha.”
He and Derek had flown to the Muralha, the 1,000-foot wall surrounding their city, but they didn’t have the whole story yet.
“And then,” Nadia said, “whatever occurred on that slate of granite, only one of you came down”.
You, covered in scratch marks,” Mikhail added.
“And crying like a child,” Nadia finished.
Mikhail knelt down to get a better look at Kevin. His teeth were naturally sharp. “Whatever excuse you’re going to come up with, you better make it compelling, because your case is not looking good.”
Clear. Concise. Even if it was impossible, what’d happened. Kevin needed to do this right. For his sake. For Derek’s.
He lifted his head a little higher, just a little. “My sibling and I were picking our younger sister up from school. He was a little energetic, and it was my fault for not reining him in. He was kicking rocks and one hit a guard in the face. We tried to explain how it was an accident, but then Derek got scared and took my hand and ran while Nikki stayed behind. She did nothing wrong.”
Mikhail smirked. “Oh, how noble of you, defending your little sister.”
Kevin gulped. “A-and then we ran. I didn’t know what he was doing. We were cornered by the Guard, and then…” He readied himself. “We heard a voice.”
Nadia’s eyebrows raised. “A voice?”
“Your consciousness?” Mikhail teased.
“It was a feminine voice, a voice both of us heard that I don’t think the guards did. It was like she was talking directly into our minds.”
Mikhail tilted his head. His eyes slowly opened in wonder. “And what did this voice say?”
“We couldn’t understand her, but she did something to the guard and killed him. And then it was like…” He bit his inner lip. “She told us to go to the top of the Muralha, and we couldn’t stop ourselves. She asked us to follow her, so we did. She said she was trying to save us.”
Both Nadia and Mikhail looked at one another, having a conversation with their eyes and not tongues.
Kevin’s knees began to shake. He couldn’t do this. There was no logical explanation for this, let alone what happened next. He’d rather die than try to describe it properly.
“The girl,” he continued, “well, her voice, was very worried about us. She said the Muralha was crumbling and it was. I don’t know if you know—well, of course you do, of course—but the wall didn’t look good. Pieces of it were falling into the valleys and forests beneath it.” He picked a large piece of skin from off of his thumb. “She wanted us to go through the Barreira.”
That was the most illogical part of the story. The Barreira was the invisible eggshell around the Muralha that kept everyone in. Nothing could pass through it other than clouds and rain. From that, he sounded like he’d lost his mind to madness.
Hurried footsteps ran back down the hall. The guards outside jumped in surprise as Zantl ran back in, hair flying up around them and boots skidding to a stop. “She did what?” they demanded. “Are you serious? She got one of you out?”
“Zantl,” both of their parents said.
Zantl pushed them away, literally pushed them into the medical equipment. “What else did she say to you?” they asked Kevin. “What does she know?”
He stammered, “I-I don’t know. I don’t even know who she was or what she looks like. I tried to tell her that it was impossible, but then something grabbed Derek’s ankle and tried taking him through. I tried to stop her. I tried to save him, but—” He sniffed. Derek’s nails, digging into Kevin and pleading that he not let go. He’d tried not to, but the rain had been too strong and the girl was so determined to kill him…
Zantl backed away in fear. “That’s insane,” they whispered. “She’s insane. She killed him.”
“No, he’s alive,” Kevin sobbed. “He has to be!”
“She’s crazy. She’s crazy…” Zantl ran his hands up their skull to push back their hair. They swore underneath their breath. Their parents waited eagerly for what they’d say next like true dogs.
Kevin choked on another sob. “I’m sorry. I know it sounds crazy. It doesn’t make sense, but I tried everything to stop it from happening. I didn’t kill Derek.” He dared a look up, a pitiful glance begging for forgiveness.
Nadia’s and Mikhail’s jaws were dropped. Zantl was pacing and muttering to themselves about this supposed girl they knew, but she’d been just a voice in Kevin’s head. She wasn’t real, right?
“Her name,” Nadia asked. She was trying hard to keep her voice level. “Did she tell you her name?”
Kevin hadn’t said. He thought the whole story was too unbelievable, who cared if this girl had a name?
She did have one, though. “Maïmoú,” he said. “She said her name was Maïmoú.”
Nadia’s heart dropped. He watched it fall through her ribs and hit the floor as her mouth hung open in shock.
“Fuck,” she whispered.
“Fuck,” Mikhail agreed. “Zantl—”
“Fuck this!” Zantl ran out of the room again. “Keep him away from me! I’m not to be within a hundred feet of him, do you hear me?”
“Wait, Zantl, what should we do with him?” Nadia called out. “Tell us.”
“Enlighten us, please,” their father begged, but Zantl was already gone.
Kevin felt the room’s temperature drop. He felt humiliated yet confused. His delusional story should’ve sent him to a psych ward, yet they were acting as if this was extremely normal and dire.
Nadia snapped at the waiting guards. “Lock him in a room,” she ordered, pointing a sharp nail at Kevin. “Post a guard…no, bring the Marcos Unit in.”
Was his execution delayed? They usually did it in the streets, publicly shooting someone and broadcasting it on the radio. Had something changed?
The guards rushed in to free Kevin. Others tidied up the space, pretending not to be interested in this world-altering news.
“My,” Mikhail said, watching the room thrum with life. “What a fascinating day this became.”
“What’s happening?” Kevin asked. “Am I—?”
“Are you going to be killed?”
The way he said that so nonchalantly made Kevin rethink everything he knew about the world. Sure, he knew the Líders were cruel. What Líder hadn’t been? They had an awful task with running Raeleen. But to play with Kevin’s life like this, it was demented.
“No,” Mikhail answered for him. “You aren’t. Not now. You’re too valuable.”
“Why? Because of that girl?”
Mikhail just grinned like a maniac, but it was off, like he was about to start crying either from amusement or from fear.
The Líders had always sounded so wise on radio broadcasts. They were confident and all-knowing and knew how to keep the city functional. But today, Kevin had gotten a personal look at their hidden lives. Two adults, both loons and extremely irritable, who clung to every word spoken by their teenage brat.
They were freaks.
“Can…can I call my family?” Kevin asked. “Can I tell them I’m going to be alright? They were so worried when I was taken away. I don’t want them to worry.”
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about them any longer.”
“Because you’re going to be living here, with us, in the Asilo, for the rest of your life.”
— 1 Hour Earlier —
An empty numbness spread through his hollow bones like an irreversible plague. He stood a thousand feet above the world, atop the wall known as the Muralha. Its grey stone chipped underneath his heels. His family had been right: It was ready to give any day.
Tears clouded his vision as he teetered. Around the Muralha bubbled the Barreira. You usually couldn’t tell it was there, unless the Sun rays hit it just right, but at its start, just a few feet in front of him, it oozed and shifted like dark, wet sand. He’d heard the stories but never saw it up close. It looked like the night sky.
Nobody was able to pass through it. Everyone knew that, but still, those tried. Birds flew up and searched for a break. Kevin had pressed his hands into the ink. It was like trying to pass through solid concrete, a fool’s errand.
“He’ll be okay.”
Kevin searched the sky. He’d been hearing that voice for nearly thirty minutes. That’s how long it’d taken for his world to permanently change course. “Why did you do that?” he asked her. “Where did you bring Derek?”
The girl didn’t answer, but Kevin knew. All that lay outside the Barreira was the sky, sky dots, the Sun, the Moon. Eternal emptiness where souls went to die.
She’d killed Derek.
“I didn’t mean it.”
Another gust of wind ruffled his feathers. He looked back into Raeleen, his home, their home.
In the distance, sirens wailed for his execution.