He looked around and stared up at the blue sky. It kept him from looking at the dying emerald grasses at his feet. It reminded him too much of her eyes.
How many years had it been now? Enough that he was forgetting the details that hung on his mind like the fringe of some great tapestry of his memories… "Long enough…" He muttered.
Did you wait long? He looked up. No…no, it couldn't be!
He shook his head. It was too much to get his hopes up again. That's not her…
His vision cleared and the man before him asked again, "Sir, did you wait long?" His voice was like gravel as if the words had to trip over sharp stones to be heard over the grimace of his smile.
"N-No, not too long. I was just admiring the scenery around here." The boy tried to stand and felt his legs' refusal. The flash of her had taken his energy.
The man offered his hand. "I would assume you'd do that considering." He pulled the boy up. "Now then, shall we tarry on to my shop?"
"Y-yes, of course." The boy stared around him again, drinking in the light and the sky and the sounds. There was no girl…and if it had been her, she would have looked different…different like you look now too. He bit his lip and followed after the man.
The silence fell hard on their shoulders. It was barely filled by the birdsong of the countryside and the lazy muttering of the stream as they crossed the bridge towards town.
"It seems you had no trouble finding the place." The man said.
"Not really. Your instructions were very…direct." The boy huffed, trotting to keep up with the shopkeeper.
The road shrank as the trees grew over the boulevard, the sun losing its light to the shapes of shadowed leaves and dark stepping stones. "I feel very lucky to have heard anything about you at all." The boy said softly, his words failing as sure as the sunlight.
"Yes, about that. Please know my curiosity is quite peaked as to how you did find out about me." The man looked over his shoulder, his smile a slight bit sinister.
"I met one of your other customers." The boy said, not missing the malice in the shopkeeper's eyes. "He had a feather with him. A red feather. And your calling card. That's when I contacted you."
"Oh, my…all this for a feather? Surely I could have just sent one to you." The man laughed. "But there'd be no profit in that seeing as it isn't the feather that you want, eh?" He stopped at a doorway, "Here we are. Now then, give me a moment to open the lock."
His hands fiddled with a strange latch, his long fingers twirling the dials. "Please know, Sir Customer that once you step into this shop, the deal that we agreed upon will be substantiated." The door swung open and the Shopkeeper swept his hand forward for the boy to enter.
"As long as you deliver on your end of the bargain and you have what you say you have, then I have no qualms about the price." The boy stood resolute, his eyes grim. He glanced at the view around him and then stepped with no hesitation over the doorstep.
"Very good." The Keeper said, leading ever onward. "These are my records." He waved at a collection of books. "If you don't mind to sign here…"
The boy stared at the open book, the names of a hundred others written on the pages before in strange colored inks. "Yes." He hurriedly signed some name or other, not really thinking about it. Names didn't really matter where he came from…nor would they matter for him anywhere else if the Keeper was true to his word.
The man only smiled as he closed the book. "I do hope you don't mind stairs. The elevator seems to be broken at this time. And stairways seem so much more apt in this situation.
"My store has been here for many generations." The Keeper said, making polite conversation, "Collectors of all types have come here over the years. But I must say, you are the first to come asking for what you seek."
The boy followed, his mouth clamped shut. The Keeper climbed without a sign of being winded. His steps seeped renewed enthusiasm with each stair passed until it seemed he was almost bouncing upwards.
"I will take your silence as consent to continue my boast of this establishment." The Keeper muttered as they passed into a hallway. "Each customer came with a purpose and one way or another I always left them with that fulfilled. Each search was completed, every whim and whimsy of the heart and mind satisfied. None have left these premises wanting. And I'm sure Sir Customer, you will be another who gets exactly what he wants." He paused. "And in time, so will I…"
The boy looked up. "More stairs?"
The Keeper nodded, "More stairs. I do love them so. It gives such an air of sophistication and wanderment."
"Wonderment, you mean?"
The boy glared at him, "I think you meant 'wonderment', not 'wanderment.'"
"Whatever Sir Customer says." The Keeper climbed, smirking.
"Do those stairs even go anywhere?" The boy's curiosity got the better of his melancholy.
"They do for other customers, but not for you. Ah, we have arrived." He stepped back and ushered the boy forward. "This, Sir Customer, is my aviary. Mind your head; the ceiling is open to the sky. Don't let the light blind you…they like the light in here."
"Now, had you asked for one with white wings that wouldn't have been a problem." The Keeper waved his hand, "Those come a dime a dozen. Even ones with tinted wings aren't that rare. But one with red wings is quite a find. I've heard that the wing color is based on sin itself. I've seen ones with green wings for jealousy and ones with blue wings for hatred and even purple ones for pride. But red…"
"It's love. Red wings are tainted with the sin of love." The boy whispered. He looked up as one of the cages began to drift down from the rest. "The only ones more rare are black wings…the color of abandoned hope."
Inside the cage a pair or green eyes stared through the bars of the cage. A young girl with white hair and a sad smile fixed her gaze on the two outside her prison.
Her hand reached out and gently touched the face of the boy. Behind her, a set of wings came into view. But the boy barely noticed, he only had eyes for the girl herself. He breathed out her name and reached to touch her back. But the Keeper grabbed her hand. "Now then, here are your red wings."
The Keeper grabbed the back of the boy's jacket and stripped it down. White wings slipped out of his dark coat. "Liar." The Keeper seethed. "What deception is this?"
The boy growled back. "Give the girl to me. I will keep my word." He stepped between the man and the strange girl in the cage. His heart raced up to his throat, half in fear and half in determination. Her hands wrapped around him.
"Fine." The Keeper spat and opened the cage door. "But be warned, you'll not set a foot outside my store with her if you have lied to me."
"That won't be a problem." The boy said softly.
He held the girl in his arms and whispered, "Hello. It's been a while. You were supposed to wait up there for me, stupid." He hugged her closer. "You shouldn't have come back down here. It's just like you to get caught. I was only a year behind you… just one year."
He kissed her. But she remained silent. That was one part of her punishment for leaving heaven as a sinner. Her stained wings were the second.
"Time for you to go on back up there." He lifted her up. "Know that I love you." Her wings unfurled and she drifted up. "Go on."
The boy watched as the girl flew up and out through the hole in the aviary ceiling. The sunlight lit her wings and the red drained away to a brilliant white.
"Be safe. I love you." He whispered staring at her wings.
"This is all well and good." said the Keeper. "But the trade is as of yet fulfilled."
The boy only stared. The girl disappeared into the sky. "There." He turned and as he spoke, his wings began to change. "I will never see her again." He still smiled but as he continued, his wings, as if dipped in tar, turned pitch black. "I will take her place in your menagerie."
He climbed into the cage and stared through the bars, his dark wings drooping. "The trade is complete."
The Keeper smiled. "That it is." He closed the doors of the cage behind him and walked away.
Red Winged, Black Bird
By Meredith Hodges-Boos