Susan leans on the door handle, using her body to muffle the click of the opening latch. She pulls the door open and glances behind her at the blanket-draped form of her husband Jim, sprawled on the bed. The thick carpet muffles her footsteps and Jim, breathing slowly and deeply, does not stir.
The hallway is darker than the bedroom, but Susan’s eyes adapt easily and she moves confidently towards the stairs. Halfway there, she pauses and places her hand against her son’s closed door, but does not go in. She does not need to enter the room to see him—Kyle will be lying on his side, the blankets twisted around him and his small fist loosely curled by his chin. Ricardo, Kyle’s treasured stuffed elephant, is probably on the floor beside the bed on sofa cushions Jim placed all around, fearful that the small boy might fall out now that he’s outgrown his crib. She does not go in to replace Ricardo in Kyle’s sleeping arms. She does not check that he is curled up snugly in the bed and not on the floor.
The light of a passing car traces moving shadows through the blinds and onto the hallway walls. When the light reaches her face she blinks, and continues her slow progress to the end of the hall and down the stairs.
In the laundry room off of the kitchen, Susan chances to turn on a light while she pulls some clean clothing from a hamper on the washing machine. Moving more quickly now, she changes out of her nightdress and steps through the laundry room into the yard beyond.
The night air is warm and slightly humid, laden with the scent of blossoms and newly mown grass. The quiet is accentuated, rather than broken, by the occasional distant sound of a passing car on the main road, the closer rustle of small animals in the bushes. The neighboring houses are dark, their occupants tucked in bed dreaming of epic battles and far away places.
She wears a pair of comfortable jeans and a sleeveless shirt, which fastens around her neck, leaving her back bare. Without shoes or socks, Susan steps onto the dewy grass of the back yard.
Arms loose at her side, she begins to shake her body, twisting from left to right. Had anyone observed her, they would have thought of a cat or dog coming in out of the rain, twisting its body rapidly to shake the water from its fur. But there is no one to observe her, and no one to see the blur of feathery wings shake out of nothingness and wrap themselves around her, like a cloak.
With a quick glance at the quiet houses nearby, Susan crouches on the ground, wings pooling on either side. Then she leaps into the inky sky, heading straight and fast towards the thin clouds and the stars scattered above them.
The city is never dark, and even in the deepest part of the night there is always a scattering of people heading into or out of bars, or simply strolling around on some business known only to them. Susan avoids the brighter, livelier regions of the metropolis. She heads instead for the dark industrial neighborhoods clinging to the fringes. Like an eagle, which can pinpoint a tiny rodent while circling far above, Susan has no trouble seeing the movements of the few individuals in the shadowy streets below.
She drifts silently over the trashy, tangled alleyways, only occasionally having to pump her powerful wings to stay aloft. After some minutes of gliding serene, seemingly aimless, over the city, Susan spots something below her and hangs still for a moment in the air. She folds her wings upwards and plunges towards the street.
Danny leans against the brick wall outside the pub and surrenders to the waves of nausea that come from too many beers in too short a time, although to be fair, he is no longer quite sure how long he was in the tiny, rather dirty bar he has just vacated.
When the stomach cramps relent, Danny wipes his mouth and looks towards the door of the pub. No one appears to have seen him, but he feels it unwise to remain near to the mess on the sidewalk. The proprietor of this particular watering hole is not known to look kindly on such adornments to his doorstep.
He steps around the corner into an alley that he knows is a short cut to the apartment building where he is currently wearing out his welcome on a friend’s couch.
Danny is several steps into the alley, just beyond the spill of lamplight from the street behind him, when another wave of nausea hits. He leans against the nearest building and stares first at the ground, then at the huddled shape of a man sleeping under some newspapers half way down the alley.
There is a rustling, rushing noise that Danny has barely registered when something large and grey drops from the sky onto the sleeping man ahead. In the darkness, he can make out what looks like a cloak, and arms, and a woman’s head as she bends back the head of the homeless man and sinks her teeth into his neck.
The man’s eyes open wide in shock, but it is Danny who cries out—a moan that is silenced as her head turns and yellowish eyes fix on his.
In the darkness he is unable to make out the details of her face, but it seems pointed, unnatural, and her hair slicks back on her head like feathers, merging with the wings that sprout between her shoulder blades. She opens her mouth to reveal a row of pointed teeth and releases a shrieking cry.
Danny stumbles backwards, turns, and runs.
At the mouth of the alley he glances behind him. There is no pursuit, and in the darkness all he sees is a feathery shape hunched over its unmoving prey.
The early morning sky is beginning to lighten as Susan steps lightly into the kitchen, the grey-brown mass of feathers vanishing with a rustle between her shoulder blades. She runs her fingers through her long hair, which falls in waves around her shoulders. With several blinks of her eyes they return to the clear blue that Jim claims are the reason he fell in love with her. She changes back into her nightdress and returns her clothes, folded, to the laundry basket.
Susan climbs the stairs and stops before Kyle’s closed door. This time she twists the knob and enters the room. Kyle opens his eyes and sits up in bed, gazing at her expectantly, though still half asleep. She sits on the bed beside her small son who tilts his head backwards and opens his mouth, making soft mewling noises like a hungry kitten. Susan lowers her mouth to his, gently holding his chin. She will continue to feed him this way until the night when he has grown enough to join her on the hunt.
When she slips into bed beside Jim he stirs, but does not awaken.
Author commentary on "Night Flight":
I don't often write in present tense, but it just seemed to work for this story.
With this, I tried to create a believable mother, someone a lot of women might project themselves onto. At first it's escapist - if you put yourself in her place, you're soon flying away in the night. But she's also a predator. Of course, Susan is just doing what she has to do for survival - both her own and her son's. I wasn't trying to paint Susan as evil, merely to play a bit with the morality of predators and prey.
I really love this one a lot, and I had fun writing it. I did submit it, once, for publication, but the comment that came back with the rejection letter made me stop submitting. The editor in question pointed out that the story lacks an arc - it's really more of a vignette. And she was right. I thought about what I wanted to do with the story, where I wanted it to go. Eventually I realized that I liked the vignette and I didn't really care to take it anywhere else; I'd said what I wanted to say. I went on to my other projects and, since I really do like this as it stands, I decided to share it here.