The Story Behind the Story: One of my readers (via social media) sent me a picture of a mist-shrouded forest; serene and a touch of the ethereal to it. I knew a little bit about the reader from her posts and comments on my writing: she was a single mom, raising a child under challenging circumstances and struggled at times with what she faced. She also loved fairies, had a wonderful sense of humor and appreciation of the beauty in our world (despite all she dealt with in life). When she sent me the picture, she asked: “Can you write me a story about this scene?” I did and WINGS was the result.
Some of the reader comments (the full story follows them):
“Just beautiful! I cried a few tears as I read this… Every time I think Dennis Lowery can’t write any better, he does. This story gave my wings a much-needed pick me up… I love that each story he writes, I find myself in it. This story is the perfect focus on the woman with kindness from the man, tragedy, pride, vulnerability, joy, and peace.” –Sarah Odendahl
“That is a really good read. I quite enjoyed it.” –Jocelyne Corbiere
“That was a beautiful story, and full of meaning. Sometimes, we need to stop and fill our minds and hearts with love and tenderness for life can be very hard.” –Kathryn Nokony
“Dennis, I just loved it, actually read it twice… Forgive me but I see romance in so much, and when she asked ‘What will you do with me?’ It’s not what you wrote, but the way you wrote it, that made it come alive. Also, when she said ‘You’re a man,’ all of “his” response was so well-written. I promise not to reveal too much of the story because I encourage everyone to read it — but when each character shared their story of pain and courage; different but yet familiar, and she said: ‘To fly…’ and stated her outcome so far. I had to take a break from the story; I felt tears running down my face because it became so real to me… The ending was surprising but great. What a great message in this story… Thank you for sharing your great gift with me. A great, compelling, short story… ‘Wings’ touched me deeply, your writing moves me!” –Bernice J.
“That’s a fantastic short story. My girls love fairy stories.” –Liz Moshier Echols
“Every time I read one of your stories I’m in awe! Keep ’em coming please.” –Regina Dollar Castleberry
“I love to read your stories, you take me right there.” –Jo Myers
“That was beautiful!” –Janet Mix
“This was gorgeous! My only regret is how short it was. That was beautiful, a very cool story!” –Macady Watson
“Love the story…” –B. Ambrose
“I love your stories, especially Wings. You’re a great writer!” –Lisa Fuller
“Great story! They will meet again!” –Susan Gabriel [And you never know… she may be right]
“Well-written and I would love to read more of your work in the future!” –Yannick Bretschneider
“Oh my gosh…I wish it would’ve been longer. It is a shame she went through all that. It also would have been so nice to get more backstory on both the man and her. But this story was absolutely flawless in my opinion.” –Luke Cooper
“This is such a unique story, and the words are so descriptive!” –ARS
“So beautiful. It had me in tears. But then, Dennis Lowery always seems to touch my heart with his words. I think this might be my favorite.” –Nina A.
“This story was beautiful!” –Alison Fu
“Incredible, and so moving!! Thank you for the beautiful story, Dennis.” –Linda Anani
“So beautiful. Almost brings a tear to my eye.” –Lisa Korn
“You soar, Dennis Lowery. One of my very favorites…” –Lena Kindo-Kamara
“Very nicely written. My favorite genre.” –Paul Wade
“I enjoyed reading Wings, definitely magical, Thank you for sharing. Now I want more. You’re an excellent writer” –Yolanda Ocasio
“I think this story sends a positive message to young people who are not happy with their bodies, or life situations. I enjoyed reading this short story, Dennis Lowery Thank you.” –Hazel Payne
“So beautiful…” –Sherry Thompson
“You know women so well… you have fulfilled your purpose.” –Renee McDaniel
“Magic. And even better you were able to write it so quickly. You know the writing is so good that you can feel that you are in the story. That is one heck of a trick.” –Mike Trani
“Fabulous Dennis Lowery – truly enjoyed my morning read. Loved it.” –Diane Carolyn
[She quotes from the story] “Why do you go on then?’ ‘Because,’ and he smiled at her from the knowledge that only comes from experience, ‘Because, I deserve to find what I’m looking for.’ As we all do. Wonderful story Dennis Lowery.” –Samantha O’Brien
“Loved it.” –Robert Partridge
“It is beautiful!” –Claire Toffolo
“I love this part… ‘We fly highest and farthest then. That freedom… the feeling of our wings drinking in the wind, is what fairies long for.’ Truly beautiful, and so much feeling, Dennis Lowery.” –Margie Casados
Fánaí came upon her in the twilight mist. She was at the foot of a pile of large rocks that had sheared off the escarpment above. A gash ran from her forehead into the thick tangle of auburn hair. It had happened some time ago, maybe that morning, since it had clotted and dried despite the dampness of light rain.
He unslung his pack, quiver, and bow, and kneeled. The cold ground and the damp chill of the evening coming on with sundown settled into his joints. In the waning light, he saw the bruises on her face. Her torn clothing could hide others.
Fánaí stood and looked around. He had traveled far, and this was a strange country. Not so young but not so old, in his late 40s, no family left and tired of the sameness of his own land, he had followed a dream. To find a place where magic still lived and perhaps a place where he could heal. Fánaí had not expected to discover a young girl hurt and unconscious at the foot of a mountain.
Shaking his head, he stooped again to pick her up. A hardness, high, mid-back where he expected pliant skin made him fear broken bones hidden beneath. The girl opened her eyes and sat up as he got his arms under her. She coughed and stared at him, eyes wide. But their glinting umber lacked the wildness, the skittish confusion of pain; she seemed focused, not disoriented, as she asked: “What will you do to me?”
The girl shivered, cold and wet from the day’s rain, which had stopped. A chill mist blanketed the ground and thickened among the rocks. He took off his cloak and wrapped it around her shoulders. Curious but not asking about the trepidation he sensed behind her question, he said, “Well, the first thing is a fire to dry out and warm up.”
“You’re a man,” she said, part statement and question, “why are you helping me?”
“There’s what could be a cave where we can shelter from the weather.” His chin jutted to gesture beyond her shoulder at a shadowed area behind the rocks. Walking from her, he gathered sticks and slabs of bark from nearby trees, checking the underbrush farther back to find what was dry. “It’s not far,” he returned to where she sat on the ground. “Can you walk?”
“Why are you helping me? My people receive no kindness from men.”
She stood and, though young, was as tall as he. Looking closer at her, he realized what had felt strange about her back. He had heard stories of mythical creatures that lived here—the lands far to the east of his own—but never thought he would see, let alone meet one.
“Humans,” she locked eyes with him, “men take advantage of us, especially lady fairies.” Her hand went to the long, slim blade sheathed at her hip. “I won’t let you hurt me.”
The gray sky grew darker, and the crowding clouds above threatened more rain. They now stood facing each other. She had cast off his cloak and, shaking with the chill, asked again: “Why are you helping me?”
The mantle at her feet was a gift from his wife. Given to him, knowing how he loved his walks even in autumn and winter. The wind’s icy bite made him shudder, but Fánaí ignored the desire to drape its warmth across his shoulders. “You need this,” he said, setting the armful of kindling on the ground, picking up and handing her the cloak as the rain fell. He grabbed his pack, slung it over a shoulder, and re-gathered the pieces of brush and tinder. “Bring my bow and arrows.”
Fánaí turned toward the rocks. Entering the hollow, he found it led enough into the mountain to be dry inside, away from the opening’s exposure to the wind-swept rain. He kicked a clear spot in the dirt at the back of the cave and dropped the load of kindling. More was needed if his back told him right. A hard freeze was coming with nightfall.
The girl still stood in the rain but wore the cloak. Passing her, he gathered larger pieces of wood from the copse of trees that began where the rocks and boulders ended. Four trips yielded enough for the night. With the fourth armload, he found her in the cave’s rear, sitting with her back against its stone terminus. Her knife was out and in the hand that rested on her lap. His pack near the kindling, bow, and quiver of arrows beside her.
Using flint and steel, he struck long runners of sparks into the tinder. They caught, and he nursed them with breath and handfuls of dried grass and twigs from an old, abandoned nest he’d found with the last load. As the fire took, gobbling the wood and wanting more, he sat and fed it bigger pieces. It warmed the cave and cast light in a growing circle until it reached the girl.
She used a cloth from the pouch carried at her side—soaked from rainwater—to wipe away the caked blood from her face and gingerly along the cut on her head. Her features, though pale and strained, were striking. The now clean lines of her face and cheekbones caught the light. His eyes went to the fire, and he said without turning to her, “I’m Fánaí, and I mean you no harm.” The fire crackled in the stillness, broken after a dozen heartbeats.
“I… I am Shayleigh….” the girl said.
“Are you a princess?” Fánaí thought a girl as beautiful as she must be. “Running away from an evil prince?”
“No,” she replied with a half-laugh, half-cry. “I’m anything but.”
The tear that rolled down her cheek, dull, opaque, and without shine, unlike humans, dried instantly. “How did you end up here?” he asked, cocking a thumb toward outside where he had found her.
“I was headed to the Peak,” she gestured toward the cave ceiling, hesitated, then added, “where fairies learn to fly.”
The craggy rocks far above them, shrouded by the lower rim of the rain clouds, had appeared unclimbable to him. When he had raised her from the ground, he’d felt the two hand-sized humps on her back. The edges of a bone frame jutting beneath, not breaking the skin. His look moved from her face to between her shoulders, half-turned toward him.
“They’re late,” she said harshly and twisted away. But she realized that gave him a better view of where her wings should be and spun to face him. Her features—even angry or maybe because of it—had the fragile beauty of fine porcelain and gleamed in the light. Her eyes flashed at him, then the flicker faded. She looked so young, lost, and lonely.
“In my land, most have forgotten that fairies were…,” his eyes flicked to her shoulders again, “are real. Some believed that if they existed, it was long ago. She studied him, and he thought perhaps she sensed his regret—her eyes steadied on him—as he continued. “Why did you leave your people?” he asked, adding more fuel to the blaze.
“I was common, nothing—no one—special.” Shayleigh shifted closer to the fire, wrapping his cloak tighter around her. “I’m a year past the age when girl fairies should get their wings.” Her bitter tone grew sharper. “I met a boy before then who I thought would be my lifemate. And he thought the same of me. So he said….” She paused, taking a deep breath. “When my wings didn’t come, he acted ashamed of me… as if I had become ugly… unworthy.”
It all came out in a spurt—a stream dammed for too long, then released. More dull, gray tears pooled in her eyes, quenching the glow he’d seen earlier.
“He couldn’t accept me… as I am… and for what I was; what I was destined to become. Wingless.”
“And so you left,” he said, understanding in his own way how she felt.
“All he told me—his love for me—was a lie.” She looked up at him. “And I had no family. There was nothing there for me. Nothing there with him. No one for me, and I was so lonely.”
Fánaí closed his eyes, the weight of his past and how it had taken all his strength to bear it unforgotten, and opened them to find her watching him. “And without wings, you came here.” He leaned to hand her a cup of water poured from his canteen, noting her blade was now sheathed.
Shayleigh nodded. “But not for them… for me!” He studied her bruised face and hurt for her. “To fly… or fall.” She bowed her head and whispered, “I fell.”
He wondered at how tough she must be to not have been hurt badly. Not pitying her—that would pain her more than the cuts and abrasions—he said: “In my life….” Stretching his legs, he stood with a grunt and a crackling of joints and took a few steps. “I thought I was trapped between what had happened and what could never be.” He studied her from across the fire. The flame’s dance of light and shadow on the stone behind her as she sat with her head down. He turned his back to the fire and contemplated the darkness beyond. “The road is so much longer when we have no dreams to believe. And we have no destination… life has no purpose.” The steady sound of water running down the mountain filled his quiet pause. Wearing away more rock, he mused and continued. “It stayed that way until I decided one day to walk and not stop until I found what I sought.” Turning around, he returned to the fire to find her watching him.
“Have you found it?” she asked.
“Not yet.” He could hear the same yearning in his own voice.
“Why do you go on?”
“Because.” He smiled at her with the self-awareness that only comes from experience. “Because, Shayleigh, I deserve to find what I want.”
She stared into the fire, her eyes mirrored the light, and the silence stretched from moments to minutes.
Finding the loaf of hard bread in his pack, he broke it in half and handed one piece to her. “All I have to share; I’d planned to hunt tomorrow.” Taking it, she tore off smaller bits and ate.
Biting off chunks, Fánaí chewed his until finished, dusted his hands on his pants, and drank from his canteen. “Tell me about your kind… fairies… what do they enjoy? What do they love?” he asked.
At first, it didn’t look as if she would answer.
“We love to ride the wind… especially after rain, when the richness of the air and moisture gives our wings more bend and reach.”
Shayleigh straightened and squared her shoulders. Her eyes widened, seeing something not there as she continued.
“We fly highest and farthest then. That freedom… the feeling of wings drinking in the air, spreading on the wind to lift us is what we—I—long for.” Her eyes fixed on his. “To dance through the sky is why we exist. You can always tell when we’re happiest. When we fly, we cry with joy, and those tears trail behind us in a stream of colors.”
As she set her eyes on him for a long moment, he understood what she meant and had known a similar longing. She must have sensed that as she grew quiet again, a more thoughtful, less painful silence.
Fánaí nodded. “Sometimes, all we need is just one thing—one meaningful thing—to carry us, to help us get on.”
“On with what?” Shayleigh asked. Her head bobbed… chin to her chest.
“With life.” It had grown late, and he banked the fire, telling her, “Time for sleep; you need rest. Tomorrow is a new day.”
The girl slipped into a semi-doze, and Fánaí stepped around the fire, spread a blanket, and eased her onto it. Covering her, he brushed the strands of hair from her face. So young and beautiful, he thought, just like my daughter if she had lived.
* * *
Fánaí awoke to realize dawn had passed, and it was near midmorning. The days and miles behind him had worn him down. The fire had burned to embers, and as he sat up, he realized his cloak now covered him. Standing with a groan, he looked to where she had slept. Shayleigh was gone.
Outside, he stood near where he had found her and then slowly turned, his breath a wreath around him in the freezing air. The sky had cleared, and as his eyes searched the rocks above, a bright rainbow arched overhead. The largest he had ever seen, so high and extending so far, he couldn’t see its end. The sweep of wings and laughter carried to him on the wind. A message that Shayleigh would live and, somehow, somewhere… find happiness.
Fánaí smiled at the magic and realized he had found part of what he had searched for. Meaning and purpose, where his choices and actions made a difference, not only in his life but in someone else’s too. The past could not be left behind—he could never recover who and what he’d lost—but his step would be lighter as he continued his journey.
# # #
NOTE FROM DENNIS
Having just read this story, I think you’ll understand its context and message, but I want to touch on it here.
In our lives, we all go through adversity. Good things we expect to happen. Don’t. People who present as believable and appear honest in their words and intentions. Then prove they are not. Someone we love is lost… and it devastates us. We cry over what’s happened (or not happened) because we’re hurt, sad, or bereft.
But—in life—at other times, bad things we’ve worried over never materialize. Someone we don’t trust based on appearances or our superficial judgment proves us wrong. They speak the truth and stand by us when we have no reason to expect them to do so. They earn our trust by their actions. And sometimes, when something beautiful happens, we cry because we’re happy… the most profound thing that touches our soul’s wellspring.
One of the most important things to realize is that hard times and sadness are transitory (though they may not appear so at the time). Moving beyond them, changing bad into good only happens if we have faith in ourselves and believe that if what we want is worth it, then doing what may be hard… is what we must do.
And this is perhaps the most important thing to learn: We must try… must take that first step. Then another. And another. Though we may get lost along the way. Though we may make many attempts and still fail.
Understand that perseverance—self-determination—more than anything, gets us (you) through tough times and tragedy. Even when we (you) feel no one loves us (you) because of who we (you) are… or sometimes… who we (you) are not. How others think of us (you) and how they treat us (you)… is external. That’s right, I’m making it (the ‘you’) personal. Because that’s what life is. It’s personal. Once you realize what’s inside you controls your life, you can decide and (I hope) act to make good things happen. Sadness turns to joy. Doubt turns to confidence and earned trust. And you can fly… leaving a rainbow behind you for those around you to see, just like Shayleigh.