Gods, this is weirder than my usual lot. It's good, but crazy, and it got to three-point-eight thousand words so I decided to stop before it dropped into a poke at the Church. I'm better than that.
You want a summary? There is no summary that can describe this story. I'm not even going to try, but you're welcome to. It'll get lost on 99 percent of the readership here, but this place needs something like this.
Dedicated to Myrah and all the other awesome MR writers who graced us with their presence before real life cruelly snatched them away.
I don't own Maximum Ride. Nope, I seriously don't want to either.
When I was a little girl, I never really thought about the future. After all, I didn't know if I was going to survive to be a grown woman. It was always running for your life and not knowing when they were going to catch up back then. You had to live in the moment, get caught up in the rush. Nothing else was important, it was all family, and where you were heading next.
After all that ended, I was more than a little bit lost, you could say. I had nothing to run from anymore, nothing to hide from, and I could go and have a normal life. It was funny – all the things I wanted to come true when I was a little girl suddenly were possible... and all I wanted was to go back to being that little girl who had nothing, because even though I had nothing, I was me.
Now, I'm being silly. I'm still me, of course, but I'm just older. I've lived thirty-four years, and I've filled those years with more than most people would ever dream of. I got to see the world, and I got to help save it. Then I came home, settled down, got married and had a whole pile of kids. I've got a family who loves me.
"Now, once upon a time, there lived a princess, and her name was Princess Max. She lived in a castle with her father, who was the king, and her brother, who was a handsome prince, even though he was many years younger than Princess Max. There were others living in the castle too. Lord Iggy had come to the castle to study with the king. He was the same age as Princess Max, and they were friends, and they loved doing things together when Princess Max wasn't doing princess things and when Lord Iggy wasn't studying. They'd ride all through the gardens on their horses and they'd swim in the lake with the mermaids.
"There was another boy there too, and his name was Prince Fang. He was the same age as Princess Max and Lord Iggy, but he had come from another kingdom, where an evil Witch had taken over and sent Prince Fang away. His parents had disappeared, and Fang couldn't find them anywhere. So King Jeb had taken him in and taught him how to be a good king so that when he grew up he could go and fight the Witch and get his kingdom back. Because he missed his parents, Prince Fang was often quiet, and he didn't say much. He would be serious all the time, and he would only play with Princess Max and Lord Iggy sometimes.
"One day, Prince Fang finally heard some news of his long-lost parents and he decided to run away from the castle and go back to his home country to find them. As he was packing up his things, Lord Iggy burst into the room, and saw what his friend was doing. Before Prince Fang could say anything, Lord Iggy had gone running to find Princess Max and tell her what Prince Fang was planning, because they both knew that Princess Max was the only one who could make Prince Fang change his mind."
"Why momma? Why was Printheth Max the only one who could make Printhe Fang change his mind?"
"Princess Max was a very beautiful girl, but she was not only pretty, she was very smart, and kind, and very brave. And Prince Fang was handsome, and very smart and brave too. And it wasn't long after they met, that the princess and prince began to like each other very much. They knew that they were too little then to be more than friends, but they also knew that when they grew up then they would get married and rule the kingdom together."
"Aw, Momma! That'th tho thweet! When were they going to get married?"
"Princess Max knew that she had to wait to get married to Prince Fang until she was old enough, and until Prince Fang got his kingdom back from the evil Witch. Now, where were we? Oh, Fang had just found out where his parents were..."
...and so we all went to find them. We had an address, but that was from fourteen years ago, and so we didn't know if it was still the right one. And besides, it was always a bit of a joke, going up to some house and asking if the person who answered the door had lost a child fourteen years ago. We crossed into the right state, but none of us had ever heard of the town, and we didn't exactly have a map, not after the laptop died after that dunking it got in that lake in Arizona...
…It was all Gazzy's fault, but you couldn't exactly blame him. Anyway, we landed in a little town just over the border, with the intention of locating the town Fang's parents were supposed to live in. This town was small, and had a couple of diners and a convenience store, along with a lot of old buildings that were falling apart. We went into the store, and that's the first we heard of it. When Max heard the news...
"...she immediately ran to Prince Fang's room and told him that he couldn't go, because he wasn't ready, and she was sure that the Witch would get him too. Prince Fang didn't listen to Princess Max this time and he said he was going and that she couldn't stop him. Max stomped her foot, and then ran out of the room. She went to Lord Iggy and said that if Prince Fang was going to be silly, then they would go to and make sure that he stayed out of trouble. They'd go and save the kingdom.
"So Princess Max and Lord Iggy packed their things, and went down to the stables to get their horses. Prince Fang was already there, and he was so very surprised to see them. 'No', he said to them, 'you mustn't come!' But Princess Max and Lord Iggy wouldn't listen. They decided that they'd stick by their friend and help him save his parents and his kingdom.
"Princess Max and Lord Iggy saddled up their horses and loaded up their bags. They jumped on their horses and rode out of the stables, and through the gardens to the bridge over the moat. They crossed over the bridge, and laughed at the crocodiles. They galloped through the gate, and headed out into the sunshine. They didn't stop for hours, until they found a clearing with a pretty stream..."
...we stopped there for the night. We didn't sleep, we were in shock. We didn't know what do to now, because there was nowhere to go. We knew that things were going to get bad – heck, they already were bad. It was then that Angel told us what she knew. This was the back-up plan, she said, they knew that the world's population had to be reduced and this was how they were going to do it because we'd stopped them before. They released it at major airports, that much we knew. London's Heathrow, Singapore, Dubai, JFK, LAX... So many people... We couldn't do anything, and so we ran away. We tried to reach the Martinez's, but they were already dead, and the authorities caught up with us at their house. We were quarantined, separated. And in us they found the cure, not that they ever told anyone. After all, it had to be kept a secret...
"...so that Prince Fang, Princess Max and Lord Iggy didn't get caught. If the Witch found them then they would never save the kingdom. So they rode throughout the land, disguised as gypsies. And the Witch never found them. Prince Fang found his parents, right where they were said to be. They were locked in a tower, a huge black tower guarded by dragons with sharp teeth and huge claws and fiery breath."
"Did they get eated by the Dragonth momma? Pleathe thay that they didn't!"
"Nope, they didn't. Brave Princess Max slew any dragons that tried to eat them with her mighty sword. And then they climbed all the way up into the tower, and found the room where Prince Fang's parents were. The door was huge, and it was bolted shut. They thought they'd never get in, until Iggy remembered that King Jeb had taught him something, just in case. He could unlock doors without needing the key. So Lord Iggy tried to open the door. Just as they thought that he'd never be able to, there was a little click, and the door swung open. And inside, inside were Fang's parents, who he hadn't seen since he was little. And so Fang managed to rescue his parents, and then all they had to do was get rid of the evil Witch, and they could all live happily ever after. But that's a story for tomorrow, my little one, so get yourself into bed now, and I'll tuck you in."
"But momma! I wanna hear about what happens next!"
"And if you go to sleep right now like a good girl, I'll tell you what happens tomorrow."
"I promise. Now goodnight, my little one."
"Goodnight...momma, can you tell me thomething now though, pleathe? Do Princess Max and Prince Fang get married and have a happy ending?"
I laugh. "Now that would be telling, Lucky. You'll hear tomorrow."
Max and Fang never got a happy ending. I'll have to make that part up. They can get married and have many beautiful kids in my dreams and in my mind. In my stories. Little princes and princesses all. They saved the world, and they killed the Director, stopped the war, and let humanity regain a little of what they lost. A quarter of a century later, we have something resembling civilisation again.
So many people died. First, during the Sickness, and then during the War.
They died, along with Iggy and Angel.
Gazzy's thirty-one now, and he's a doctor. He hates the name Gazzy, and he's called Aaron now. I don't know why he became a doctor, but he's good at it, and they needed people after the War, to train as all sorts of things. He's in Africa, helping the new colonists settle there. We don't talk much anymore, mostly because we don't have anything to say, but politely, it's because the letters take so long on the ships across the Atlantic. I don't think he ever forgave me for getting married and having children, for passing on what he calls our curse. He says he'll never fall in love with someone, and I believe him. If Gaz says something like that then he means it.
Total died a year after the War ended, and he's buried with Max and Fang. I know that neither of them would want their graves to become a monument, but they are. They're a beacon of hope. People are always asking – Were they really Angels? They saved us, they healed us. And there are always the stories of the flock, the winged children. During the War, we were on the front lines and we were seen by many. The stories have been told so many times that they have become distorted, but that one single fact remains true. Avenging angels we were not, but the wings cannot be denied. One day, far in the future, their graves will probably be exhumed, their wing-bones discovered and awed over, Max's and Fang's. But not for a long time yet. That would be desecration to a people who believe in Angels.
We never, of course, found Iggy or Angel's bodies. There's nothing of them for people to find. They died during the sickness, and were probably buried in a mass grave, if they were at all. Lots of people were just burned. Cremated. There's nothing left of them but ashes and memories. Even so, there's the engravings on the marble. Something for the world to remember them all by, so I don't have to do it alone.
Maximum Ride – Max Maria Martinez-Batchelder: The will of but one can change the earth.
Robert Elias 'Fang' Jefferson: Heaven is what the eyes cannot see, but what the mind can dream.
James 'Iggy' Griffiths: Cry not for those called back to Heaven's rest.
Angel Ride: The truth be in the minds and hearts of all, but is spoken true in the words of children.
It takes a day for me to fly there. So I don't often, and the children never come with me. I take a few things each time to them, but never flowers. We never had time for flowers. So it's just things they'd appreciate. A chocolate chip cookie. A drawing. A fuse. And a little teddy. Not flowers. Who appreciates flowers anymore, anyway?
Community is everything. Well, Family is everything, but Community is important. Nobody can produce enough on their own, and there aren't really any supermarkets anymore. Out the back, I tend the vegetable gardens and the two milk cows. The kids look after the chickens, and my husband looks after the other animals; the meat cows, sheep, and the pigs.
Anything we cannot grow for ourselves is traded for at the biweekly markets. Money still exists, of course, but you can't eat it, and so it's not as huge as it was before. It's not uncommon to pay the doctors and the teachers with a leg of lamb and a dozen eggs.
We live in a place, in what used to be Kansas, that's called Goldenfield. The area – and that's anywhere within a few day's travel – has around thirty thousand people. There are a few towns, but mostly everyone's spread out, making their living on the land.
I'm known to the area as Marika Hayward, wife of Dennis Hayward, and nobody asks any questions of it. 'Mrs Hayward's a pretty thing,' they say, 'but not taken to foolery like some old wives.' It's the old wives, of course, that remember the way things were before, when a woman could get by without sewing or cooking or cleaning, milking the cows and bartering a merchant down at the markets. The younger ones don't know the world any different, and are happy.
Me, I have a home.
A proper home.
And that keeps me happy enough.
I pray to the angels to keep me from harm
My brothers, my sisters, my Da and my mam,
Take away the sickness like you did before,
And keep us in the light for evermore.
A friend of Gazzy's surgically removed his wings. It wasn't a big loss to him, he said, because it wasn't as if he could fly anyway. The Sickness had taken his flight, and all the wings were was a dead and useless reminder of what he used to be. Outwardly, he looks human. Inwardly, I know better. He pretends he doesn't.
All of my six children were born without wings, but they grew in, and all were flying by the age of four. I was so worried with the first birth, so worried that I would be forced to move from what became my home because I was different. So afraid that the people would see me as proof of their Angels. I'd, no, we would have become living goddesses. A sign to the people that the Angels truly did walk among them, and deliver them from harm.
I have truly been blessed that we have been able to hide what we are for so long. As long as it is a secret, me and my children are safe. It's hard for them to be different, to have a secret to hide from the world. I hate to think of what will happen when they get old enough to be courted and married. My oldest two girls are sixteen, and not quite there. I hope that they will find husbands that have been as understanding as mine.
I tell my children of the Flock in little stories. Silly little things designed to please. I never heard Little Red Riding Hood or Peter Pan when I was a child, so I can't repeat them, and few books survived the War. Besides, my stories are better. I always could talk. Words are my medium.
"Once upon a time there was a little girl called Ariel. She lived with her big brother Gaz in a castle in the clouds. One day a ferocious monster took Ariel away, and Gaz was very upset. Even though he was still a little boy, he decided that he was going to go and fight the monster and get his sister back."
"Did he get Ariel back from the monster, momma?"
"Do you think he got Ariel back from the monster?"
Ali: Nope, I bet Ariel beat up the monster and ran away.
Tiffany: Nuh uh! Gaz came and they beat up the monster together!
Junior: Yeah, momma! He kicked that monster's butt and saved his sister!
Christy: I hope he did... Did he momma, please? Finish the story.
Nicky: It's stupid. Monster's don't exist anyway.
Mayla: Yes they do, Billy next door told me so!
Lucky: He did it all by himself, didn't he. Would you rescue me if a monster came, momma?
Five times I've told that story. Maybe sometime I'll tell them the real version. Maybe I'll tell them of a little girl named Nudge who loved to talk, but who loved her family more.
I'll tell them of Max, who wasn't a princess, who wasn't an Angel, or a saviour or anything but a girl who got told that she was destined to save the world. A girl who got on with it and saved us all. Who paid the price in blood and death. She was only sixteen when she died.
I'll tell them of Fang, who was strong and silent and who believed that out generation could change things. They have. We live it, his dream of change. He wasn't a prince. He wasn't an Angel. He was a fighter, and a dreamer. He was fifteen. And the last thing he said to Max was 'Will you marry me?'
Then there was Iggy, the boy who I loved just a little bit different from the others. The one who I could have loved so much more. He couldn't see me, but he knew me so much better than that. Who has need for seeing a face when you can see their soul? I never knew what happened, only that when we were let out of quarantine, when they could take no more of the precious, sickness-curing blood, he was not there. 'He's gone. I'm sorry,' they said.
Angel. My little sister. My first daughter – the girl I helped to raise even though she was two and I was seven. The only one who knew that the reason why I talked was because the silence reminded me of the School and the only thing worse than the silence is the screaming. Angel wasn't an Angel, but that didn't matter, because we called her than anyway. She was seven when she died, all alone. We heard her calling for us at the end. We could hear her, but she couldn't hear us. She was too far gone to come home.
I might even tell them of Total, the impossible dog. Ella, the first best friend I ever had. Maybe I'll explain about the other me, the other flock. Maybe Omega and Mara and Ari. Jeb and Anne and the Director.
But not the Erasers. The monsters are going to stay in the stories where they cannot hurt anyone.
Darkness cannot harm me,
I'm in the Angels' sight,
Their wings shall come and hide me,
from the darkest nights.
If I should be afraid,
I only need to pray,
Calling on the Angels,
To keep me safe until the day.
Before I go to bed each night,
And after I rise,
I will offer up my faith,
To the Angels in our lives.
I will never truly go,
I will never die,
The Angels are there waiting,
To take me into the sky,
And I will play in heaven,
I will have my wings,
Living in eternal bliss,
And this is why we sing.
Angels, for your glory,
Angels, for your light,
Angels fight the evil,
Angels fight the night,
Angels save our families,
Angels save our world,
Angels help the boys,
Angels help the girls.
I love the Angels,
The Angels love me,
And so me and my Angels,
Live on into Eternity.
It's funny how getting old seems to sneak up on a person. I'm sixty before I know it and I'm tending to my few grandkids. I'm annoyed a little by this newfashioned trend to having only one or two children to a family. And it seems that most of my brood are destined to live alone. I'm happy for them if they are happy for themselves. I never go to Church, and my children don't and my six grandchildren don't. Our family never will. We know the truth of the Angels, and the truth would break the people's hearts. So we'll remember for them, so they don't have to.
I gather the grandchildren together. None of them were born with wings, but I wasn't worried. If they grew them they'd be different. If they didn't, then they'd be different. All of them grew wings, and the gift of flight is passed on again.
How about I tell a story?
There once was a little girl called Nudge. She didn't think much about the future. After all, she didn't know if she was going to survive to be a grown woman. For her, it was all running for your life, and not knowing when the bad people were going to catch up. She had to live in the moment, and get caught up in the rush. Nothing else was important to her, it was all family, and where she was heading next.
Now that her life's nearly over, she's a little bit lost, you could say. She's got nothing to run from anymore, nothing to hide from, and she's had a normal life. It was funny, all the things she wanted when she was a little girl came true... and all she wants is to go back and tell that little girl who had nothing that, even though she's not the same as she was, it's still her.
Marika Monique 'Nudge' Hayward: Angels walk among us, even if we do not see.
Beloved wife of Dennis, mother of Alianne, Tiffany, Dennis, Christine, Nicholas, Michaela and Lucy.
May she rest in peace.