Chapter 2: The Aftermath
I awoke sometime later. It seemed like hours, but it may have been moments or days. I had no way of knowing. I was still clinging to the impossibly large creature as it flew over what remained of the Colorado mountains.
The mountains themselves looked utterly strange and alien to me. Some of them were black and stuck out at jagged angles. There were mountains of purest crystal and of darkest amber, standing amongst distant peaks which seemed unchanged but in color. I saw an enormous creature, vaguely reminding me of a ber, which lumbered amongst the stones and seemed to be made of the same stones upon which it walked. The sky was purple and red, in shades the likes of which I had never witnessed outside of crayon box. The sun circled above, spinning like a lazy buzzard around what should have been high noon.
The creature I clung to seemed to slow and descend towards some unknown perch in the mountains. I could still feel its heaving breaths as I held fast to its feathers, and I quickly glanced to to either side for signs of life beyond myself and my mount. Unfortunately I still couldn’t tell if any of the other passengers had survived or if I was alone with my own aching hands on the back of what should have been a plane but wasn’t.
Despite the pain I refused to let go. I offered my burning limbs and protesting stomach neither quarter nor option in the matter. I tried and failed to ignore that I had not eaten since the previous day, or so I hoped. Between my blackout and the sun doing the waltz above my head, I couldn’t be certain. Either way, my last meal had ended up splattered across a non-existent plane’s seat. The very thought caused another grumble of hunger, but I was still too far up in the sky. There was no chance I would survive the fall, and so I had higher priorities and focused on throwing all of my remaining strength into simple survival.
After a seeming eternity, I felt the bird finally perch atop one of the peaks. We had stopped, and I heard the creature’s keening cry for the first time. It was an terribly deep and thundering sound which shook me to my very soul. It almost seemed to vibrate, like a struck piece of metal, and sounded almost… mournful? I pushed my curiosity aside and ignored the ringing in my ears as I looked below.
The mountain looked steep and dangerous, but it was better than open air. I scanned for a safe place to land and spotted a relatively flat and broad outcropping within reassuring distance. It wasn’t as close as I would have preferred, but it was no further than the roof of my mother’s old home. I had foolishly thought to fly from that when I was young and survived with only a sprained ankle. It would be painful but survivable, and I could not rely upon my unwitting steed to find a more suitable landing site in the near future. So with a painful wrench, I tore my hands from the creature’s feathers and released myself into the sky to tumble towards the ground below. As I tumbled I tried to prepare to tuck and roll, to lessen the impact, but I had misjudged both my reflexes and the time I had before impact.
I landed with a dull thud and all the air rushed from my lungs with the force of the impact. I’d be sore for weeks, whether from my harrowing ride or from the hard landing, but it did not matter. I had survived. I lay there for a long moment, attempting to gather my thoughts and my energy before attempting to rise.
As I pushed onto my knees, I listened closely. I hoped to hear some sign that I was not alone with a gigantic bird of questionable reality and unknown appetites. My hope proved fruitful a moment later when I heard a short series of thuds and scrabbling that sounded like others dropping from the bird like enormous parasites fleeing their host.
I stood with a wince, assessing the damages that my tumble had caused, and found little more than scrapes and bruises. The largest proved to be a deep gash in my left arm where an unfortunately placed stone had found my flesh. I had been lucky. Turning my attention to the others, I heard scrambling around the mountains peak, as we all seemed to seek each other as quickly as possible.
A few minutes passed as small group of us gathered, 4 in total when counting myself. I opened my mouth to ask if any knew of others still clinging to our former mount, but I never had the chance. The bird released another keening cry and pushed itself from the mountain’s peak and took to the air once more. We were all knocked off our feet by the force of its wings. As I watched the bird depart, I could only think that whatever chance for others to join us was departing on impossibly large wing.