Okay, so there are actually several birds on this teaser for Flight, the novella that will be out June 26th. That’s because there are several birds IN Flight. Of course. I bet you guessed that, but figured I’d spell it out as sometimes book titles are about as related to the content of the book as a frog to a sea star. Just sayin’.
(And if you don’t get the “there’s a bird on it” reference, check out this segment from the show Portlandia. Yes, I’m from Portland. And yes, I think that show is funny, except when they go way too far…and that’s still entertaining.)
Nathan Jeffries was not a morning person. As he stirred his first cup of coffee in a window-side booth at the Red Hen Diner, his dark sunglasses were the only thing saving him from the harsh light of day. He took a sip of his heavily creamed and sugared brew, and sighed in relief. The. Best. Coffee. Ever.
Taking a break from work to write his thesis back home in Laurens, South Carolina, at his mother’s old house, had seemed like a good idea at the time. He hadn’t realized how much his schedule kept him on track when he was working. Without that anchor, he got lost in the minutia, and hours – hell, days – seemed to fly by in a rush as he avoided work on the very project that had drawn him back here.
His thesis on the differences in breeding habits between subspecies of hawks in North America had seemed like a good fit for his rural South Carolina roots. Growing up he’d seen many a hawk soaring over open land, and diving for their prey. They’d always struck him as noble. He loved the way they rode the air currents, with minimal movement. They just soared.
For some reason he had trouble finding his bearings since he returned. Maybe it was because the work that drew him to his hometown this time was so opposite of the reason he’d lived here last. His mother’s battle with colon cancer had pulled him back to town for almost a year before she died. He’d itched for campus the entire time, feeling constrained by the small town and the slow pace of life while caring for his ailing mother.
Right after her death he put everything but the furniture in storage and signed over management of the property to a local company. He moved out, and re-enrolled in graduate school. He thought he would mourn better on his own terms, but he still wouldn’t say he was over her death.
Since returning, he’d been going through his mother’s things and setting them straight after his two-year break from the reality of her death. She was never coming back, and now he had to decide what to do with all of her things, not to mention the house itself. The housekeeping didn’t help either. Apartments definitely didn’t take this much work. And despite the fact he’d had a property management company checking up on the place and renting it out when they could, the long-term vacancy had left a lot of repairs waiting for him. It was peaceful to pick up his tools and set to work on something tangible, something that showed him results at the end of a hard day and left his muscles aching from effort instead of tedious deskwork.
Nathan hated deskwork. He was a wildlife biologist because he loved the wild. He was drawn to the outdoors, to doing, to feeling with his own two hands and knowing the world with his own senses. So on the thesis end of things, he’d already wasted nearly a month of his six-month break.
Nathan took another swallow of his coffee, and thought of his desk at home, covered with books all run through with sticky notes and highlighters. Then he looked down at the worn satchel he carried with him. He was drafting his thesis in longhand, because he hated being stuck at the computer. This way he could carry his work with him and jot down the next line or a new train of thought as they occurred to him. This morning he just didn’t feel up to it. He itched for activity, and the woodland trail he’d often hiked as a kid sprang to mind. Maybe observation of the subject of his thesis would turn his mood around.
Nathan bought a sandwich before he left the coffee shop, and walked back home. He grabbed just a few more things. His camera and extra batteries, a water bottle, and a Gerber knife multi-tool. He drove the ten minutes to Laurens County Park and walked a quarter-mile over the grassy fields before he chose a spot close to a copse of oaks and beeches.
He sank to the ground and pulled his notebook out, hoping inspiration would strike. The early December day was partly cloudy and almost sixty degrees, much warmer than he’d grown used to for this time of year. He’d left the house in a dark gray Henley, worn jeans and his favorite hiking boots. No jacket necessary.
The nearly naked trees made it easy to spot his hawks. He could see three from where he sat, at opposite ends of the field, scouring the grass for their next meals. As he watched, the hawk at the north took off from his perch at the top of a beech tree and rose until he was a speck, before diving back into a soar above the field. He dropped again, fast, this time to snatch some small creature from the grass with his talons. The bird retreated to the woodland to enjoy his snack.
Another of the birds had disappeared while he watched the successful hunter. The third watched him from the east. No one else was around, and the day had taken on an uncharacteristic stillness. Suddenly, the hawk leaped from its branch and descended, but where a hawk should have landed, a man appeared instead.
Nathan jumped back, wondering if short sleep and a house haunted by memories of his mother had driven him to hallucinations. Maybe the man had been there all along, and he was just now noticing him. There was something about his eyes, though. Something wild, and all too akin to the hawk who had just been watching him from his oak-top perch.
“Nathan,” the man spoke. “I need to speak with you.”
“Did that really just happen?”
The wild-eyed man took him in, silent. He chose not to respond to the question, and instead said, “You have a special affinity for birds, do you not?”
Nathan nodded, bewildered.
“It is your nature to take to the skies, to the branch. You must join me.”
“What are you talking about? Who are you?”
“I am Nemglan, Lord of the Skies. Your father.”
Nathan took another step back. Nemglan was tall and lean, much like Nathan, with dark blond hair and deep brown eyes – it was like looking in a mirror. “What do you mean, my father? My father died when I was a baby.”
“That’s what your mother told you. The truth is – well, honestly, the truth is complicated and we don’t have time to get into it right now. Follow me.”
“I’m not going to just follow you.” Was he crazy?
“Nathan,” the man burst out in frustration, “Do not argue! You must run! You must join me. Now
“I don’t know what you mean. What do you mean join you?”
“You know what you saw. Do I have to speak it?” Nemglan looked over his shoulder, his features stretching in fear.
Nathan felt something break in the air; it felt charged like the silent minutes before a big storm, despite the clear weather.
“RUN!” Nemglan seemed to hover a few inches above the ground, and where he’d been there was suddenly a hawk, the transition too rapid for Nathan to catch, despite the fact he was looking straight at the man (or hawk) who claimed to be his father. And suddenly the hawk Nemglan swooped toward him, nipping his upper arm savagely. Nathan felt something change at the bite, at his resulting fear. He snapped, and suddenly he knew.
Darkness had filled the woods beneath the canopy, as if the branches restrained it from taking over the afternoon. It stretched toward them, and an inky blackness began to seep into the field at its eastern edge.
Nathan cried out. He convulsed and felt his body – change. Then he was flying, everything happening too fast, the hawk chasing at his tail, forcing him on insistently.
They dove into the cover of the woodland at the other end of the field, where the darkness had not yet filled the space between trunks. Nathan’s stomach dropped as they soared between the interwoven limbs of two oaks. He hit the ground and rolled, wing over wing, colliding with the trunk of a tree and coming to rest.
Nemglan appeared in front of him.
Nathan couldn’t speak. He could only thrash his wings, confused that he had wings to begin with. He knew himself still for a man, yet this bird form didn’t feel wrong. He opened his beak slightly in threat. He didn’t trust this man who claimed to be his father, even though the last few minutes told him Nemglan’s claim was probably accurate.
“Don’t worry. You’re through the portal. We lost him. The threat is over, for now.” Nemglan spoke softly, obviously attempting to calm him. His shoulder was dripping blood in a lazy stream; it smelled shockingly appetizing to Nathan, his senses changed and new.
Nathan wasn’t sure what to think. He flapped some more and let out a “caw” that didn’t feel proper at all. When would he change back? Would he change back? He strutted, fretfully, keeping an eye on Nemglan, who stood several paces away, clutching Nathan’s bag.
“I know what you need.” Nemglan’s eyes glittered in the twilit forest. “You need to feel safe. Well, we’re a long way from home, but I do know one place we could go.”
Flight will be available on Amazon June 26th, 2013!