FICTION: The Edge of Greatness

By Chloe Curnow | BA English and Creative Writing, Stage 1

I stood on the window ledge, my hands braced against the wall on either side, my toes curled, my heart in my throat. I looked down, struck by the dizzying distance between where I was and where the water surged beneath me. I tilted my head, turning my attention to the sky. The stars gazed back at me, stark against the inky black.

My knuckles were whitening under the strain of holding on too tightly. I slowly relaxed my grip, and uncurled my toes. I had assumed it would be impossible to feel any more afraid than I already had, yet the heartbeat in my throat stumbled and my stomach swirled. I imagined my loose body falling, a dead weight, arms flailing uselessly, the hollow smack as I broke beneath the waves, the water exploding my lungs.

I rolled my shoulders, feeling the weight behind them, on top of them, the heaviness cutting into my skin. I inched forward a little more, till my toes were suspended in the air. The heartbeat in my throat froze and dropped to my stomach. Sweat beaded on my forehead, my palms cold and clammy. I couldn’t breathe around the lump in my throat.

I rolled my shoulders, feeling the tension surging back into my body, knotting muscles that seemed only too glad to be knotted again. I swung one foot out, and immediately pulled it back to the ledge. I tried again, failing to block out the vertigo that swelled in my head, painting the world white and blurring my vision till the stars were silver stains and the moon had melted.

I rolled my shoulders again.

The night air stung my face and pulled at my hair. I turned my face away, and looked over my shoulder at the sleeping bundle on the other side of the room, near the door. I wondered what they dreamt of and whether their hearts would be crushed when they woke to discover that it had only been a dream. I wondered if they would wake up to a scream or silence.

I returned my gaze to the night. Far beneath me, the waves collided against the stone, foaming horses rearing their navy heads as they arched backwards into the ocean. I held my breath and closed my eyes. It was such a simple feat to fall forwards. It was just so…

My feet left the window ledge and suddenly I was tearing a downward pathway through the air headfirst, a tunnel of wind buffeting around me, cocooning me in an icy howl. I could see the black swirling depths punctuated by jagged rocks rising up to meet me. I pushed my arms up, straining to bend the prison of air that pressed all around me.

My toes trailed in the cold biting waters. I could see my reflection twisting and rippling with the beat of the water, the distorted image of my eyes and my silent laugh looking back up at me. Behind me, rising up over my shoulders, white wings spread, large and looming, full of wind, billowing. I closed my laughing mouth, blocking the wind from my burning lungs. My bones had been hollowed out; all that was left in my body was my heart, kept beating by the pure ecstasy of wild euphoria. I was a man made into an angel, I was a man made into freedom. I was a man who had burnt the shackles of humanity, and become some ethereal majesty whose mortality couldn’t hinder their power.

Was this love? Was this the sensation that drove others mad with passion and desire? Was this the feeling of hot bodies entwined in satin and silk, moaning with pleasure? It couldn’t be. How could any earthly desire compare to the feeling of complete freedom? I wasn’t bound to earth; I was soaring through the sky where no other mortal had gone before. I reached down a hand towards the water, dipped my fingertips into the waves. The water stormed around my skin, the rough surface wilder from the rushing wind caught beneath my wings.

I flexed my shoulders and I felt my wings shiver and shift. In a few slow beats, I had risen away from the ocean, and I was ascending. Suspended between the heavens and the earth was where the world was timeless. Time had slowed or time had quickened. Time had stopped or time had simply vanished altogether. I could fly forever, through dawn and dusk and day and night. I would see time passing all around me, but it could never pass me again. This was my joy; I had found the love that the world had been searching for from the beginning, and it was all mine.

My beating wings had taken me high, and I twisted my body until my wings were beneath me, keeping me aloft on a bed of air. The stars were still so far from me; only in my dreams could I reach out my hand and brush my skin against the white fire and be filled with light. I reached out a hand then, in my dreamlike state, curling my fingers around the night. The stars flickered. Through my half shut eyes and the veil of lashes, I saw shadows deepen the darkness, heard a sound like a howl caught within the wind, heard whispers and shouts cut through the black.

I let out a sharp gasp, and my wings jerked violently before going limp, and I hurtled silently down, my eyes gazing wide at sharp shadows that blocked out the stars, heard a final whisper of galloping hooves on the wind. A crimson rose bloomed around the arrow embedded in my chest. I broke the waves. A swirling blackness smothered my eyes, my heart imploded. I released a single breath into the cavernous blue.

I had teetered on the edge of greatness, but mortals were not meant to fly.