The Joy of Flight
When I was born, my color was blue. I never loved it; I was judgmental of how it clashed with the ruddy brown of the rest of my coat. Even the fur itself was at odds, sticking out at all angles where the colors bordered each other. The coat of a Xweetok is typically soft and silky, but my azure streaks were perpetually coarse and poofy. I’d like to think that I’m not a vain Neopet, but after all we all have aspects of ourselves of which we are critical. I was lucky in that my biggest self-perceived flaw was easily changed.
I thought so at first, anyways. In reality, paint brushes are expensive, and in my youth I was quick to spend many of the Neopoints I’d managed to earn. My first makeover came courtesy of Jacko the Phantom Painter, who in a singularly unnerving experience gifted me a Striped Paint Brush. My new colors, periwinkle blue contrasting with a soft pink, were infinitely better than my old, boring blue. The thrill of rinsing away the paint to find my fur shockingly different was instantly addicting.
And so began my new hobby. I opened a bank account and started saving. I started spinning the Fruit Machine and never missed a day. If there was a chance that I could get my paws on a paint brush, I was there doing it. Strawberry, Starry, Gold—I lost count of just how many colors I tried out. I even spent a memorable six months with my mane literally on fire (I was in my rebellious phase at the time).
As time went on, my friends one by one began to settle on a permanent color for themselves. They would shake their heads and smile when I’d show up sporting a crazy new style. But unlike so many Neopets, I didn’t feel that urge to settle on, essentially, an identity. I was still loving the freedom of change, and I didn’t see that stopping anytime soon.
It was a lucky day at the Alien Aisha Vending Machine that forever altered the commitment-free lifestyle I’d been living. I rarely gambled at the Machine, because Nerkmids were so expensive and I’d never won anything better than a Petpet Paint Brush. But I’d splurged at the Marketplace, where I’d found a shop that was having a massive sale. Not expecting anything better than a trading card, I inserted the Nerkmid and pulled the lever.
Out fell a Faerie Paint Brush.
I had wings. And antennae. In all my experiments with color variations, I’d never experienced such a drastic change to my body. My center of gravity had shifted, and I didn’t quite know how to process the extra information my new antennae were giving me. I felt awkward and unsteady, but one glance in the mirror was all it took to know that I looked amazing. The way my caramel-colored body complemented the grey-blue of my mane made me feel ethereal, especially after I noticed the crystal-clear cerulean of my irises.
I studied the brand-new wings on my back; they were damp and filmy, and to me they seemed so very thin. How could I ever expect these to hold my weight? I was surprised by how easily I could control them, the delicate wings shifting and fluttering with barely a conscious thought. It was astounding how quickly my body adjusted to the new appendages. They fluttered delicately, and I could feel the air moving around me in response.
I had spent practically the whole journey home from the Rainbow Pool debating with myself whether the wings I was now sporting were just ornamental, or if they could really get me airborne. With some reluctance, I tested the wings with one firm swish and yelped in surprise as the movement propelled me several feet forward, bumping into the coffee table before the bookshelf brought me to a swift stop, sending several paperback books tumbling to the floor.
To avoid rearranging anymore of my furniture, I moved out onto the front lawn to continue my dubious experiment. I was still plenty skeptical about actually flying, but I had to know for sure. It was a perfectly beautiful day with cheerful Cirrus-shaped clouds dotting the vast blue sky. The sun shone down warmly on me, a light breeze playing across my wings. Breathing in the fresh air, I could feel a tiny, curious yearning building inside me; a new, unfamiliar urge that I still barely grasped.
It became clearer as I flexed the new muscles in my back, letting my wings stretch out to their full span. I still couldn’t help but marvel at the power I could feel building in them. With an almost painful knot of anticipation in my belly, I tensed my wings again and beat them once, hard.
Once again I hurtled forward, rather than up, adrenaline surging as I realized that I was definitely about to smash face-first into the knoll beside the garden. My claws scrabbled across the ground, tearing up chunks of sod as I tried to slow myself down. (It didn’t occur to me until later that I probably could’ve used my wings just as effectively to decelerate as I had to propel myself forward.)
I landed catawampus in one of my large hydrangea bushes. Nothing was wounded but my pride, so I dragged myself out and shook off my coat, sending bits of leaves and twigs flying off. Grumbling to myself, I marched back inside for a much-needed Banana Achyfi and a bit of planning, grateful that none of my neighbors were close enough to have witnessed that embarrassing moment.
It was time for Take 2, and I was no longer apprehensive—I was absolutely determined to master this flying thing. No way was I going to be the only Faerie Neopet that couldn’t use her wings! The sun was lower in the sky, and I was set on getting in the air before the end of the day. I took a slow, deep breath, and with extreme care I positioned my wings as parallel to the ground as I could. As I began to gently flap them, leaves and other detritus in the yard skittered away in a haphazard circle. I beat my wings harder, and felt my stomach swoop as my paws lost contact with the grass. I hovered there for a minute, rising and falling slightly in time with the beat of my wings.
I touched back down softly. The fur all over my body was standing up, prickling from excitement and success. In the privacy of my own yard, I danced a little jig, thrilled at what I’d achieved. I stopped quickly though, a serious expression on my face as I focused, eager to try again immediately. It was easier to leave the ground the second time, now that I had a better idea of the effort required. I bobbled around, limbs flailing as I tried to find my balance.
And somehow, hanging a few feet in the air in my shady little front yard, I felt the weightlessness consume me. It was like a switch had been flicked inside, transitioning from clueless and clumsy to suddenly being in my element. Instinct took over and I shot skywards, gossamer wings slicing hard through the air. Bursting through the canopy of trees, I watched the world shrink and fall away as my wings carried me higher and higher.
No longer did I doubt their ability to carry my weight. I had never felt safer or more secure than I did at that moment, tumbling through the vast space far above Neopia. My apprehension from earlier had evaporated, to be replaced by a feeling of completeness. I finally understood what so many friends and colleagues had meant when they had counselled me about settling on a permanent color. This was who I was destined to be; I had never even fathomed this as a possibility. I’d hardly ever spared a thought for my airborne Neopian fellows, for as a Xweetok I’d always felt most at home with the earth securely under my paws. But now, there was no comparison.
Flying was wonderful.
I gained even more height, reveling in the rush of wind through my fur. The sky was a brilliant orange in the light of the descending sun, and it glittered stunningly on my wings when I glanced back to look. I spiraled through the air, turning somersaults and feeling the terrifying drop before my wings caught me safely again. My new antennae helped me find currents of warm air, and I rode them until I was almost brushing the bellies of the clouds. I went no farther, though, because at this altitude the temperature was colder and I could feel beads of moisture collecting on my coat.
I cartwheeled through the sky, learning all of the tiny movements and adjustments in my pinions that determined my course. After a while I started pushing things, launching skywards like a rocket and then folding my wings in close, plummeting down until my wings opened, sending me into a gentle drift. I laughed, loud and free, at the sheer joy of my amazing transformation. A soft trilling drifted up from beneath me, taking me by surprise. It was a Pteri, dancing through the air and swiftly closing the distance between us. He was my twin in Faerie coloring, his vibrant plumage stunning.
“Welcome!” he called, “Welcome to the skies!” It must have been obvious to him what a novice I was from my giddy glee.
“It’s glorious!” I responded. It didn’t even come close to describing the myriad emotions currently flowing through me, but I think he understood anyway.
The Pteri and I wheeled through the air together, though he literally flew circles around me. His more aerodynamic shape was streamlined for this, while my build and coat left me slower, more air resistant, and with less precision in my movements. But it didn’t bother me one bit; I was too thrilled with this magical new world of which I was now a part.
Finally, with a salute and a swish of his long, splendid tail, my new friend veered away, continuing on with his own journey. I watched him fade to a speck as twilight began to stain the sky a deep purple. The temperature was dropping rapidly, and the muscles in my pinions would soon be in need of a rest. I pointed myself homeward, drifting lazily downwards.
The pinpricks of light below me slowly began to distinguish themselves into the sprawling collection of Neohomes in my neighborhood. I got turned around more than once, having had no practice at navigating from an aerial perspective. Eventually though I spied the spire of my roof through the foliage, alighting smoothly on my lawn.
My chest was tight with emotion from the afternoon’s events. I was too overwhelmed to go inside just yet. Folding my wings down along my back, I sat back on the cool grass to watch a waning Kreludor rise above the treetops. I breathed deeply; an all-encompassing sense of inner peace swept through me. I had found something precious today.
Grinning, I realized that I would have to find a new hobby; taking a dip at the Rainbow Pool no longer held any appeal to me. A coincidental chain of events had led me to this discovery; a gamble, a stroke of luck, and a little paint brush with wings. My antennae swayed in the evening breeze, and I opened up to my full wingspan to feel them catch the air one more time.
I had been blessed with the joy of flight.