We were all pretty fucked up. Undoubtedly in more ways than one. But we made it work after the rocky start.
I remember I was alone. After recovering from what they did to me, I was kept in a solitary enclosure to adjust to the changes. It hurt, god did it hurt, every inch of my body felt like it was dying, but unable to decay. I was given enough room to stretch my new appendages, but the pain was too much to bear at first. Only once I had grown numb to the agony did I finally test my wings. It wasn’t easy, learning to fly, but I could at least get myself off the ground. Once they saw I could handle myself, they moved me to a large enclosure with trees and plants. A habitat, of sorts. I grew accustomed to climbing my trees and gliding down to the ground occasionally, but I much preferred being above. Then, after what might have been weeks, something new arrived.
She was clearly not made as I was. Her face a patchwork of purple, her arms replaced with living, thorny vines. She giggled at nothing, her mouth a grotesque, gaping grin. Sometimes she purred or meowed. I don’t think she knew I was there, at first, giggling to herself and shuffling around on the ground. When I chose to descend for a better look, she hissed at me, lashing out a vine to attack, and I screeched in response. We were wary after that, and I kept to the tree branches. She would hiss and growl when she saw me cross from one tree to the next, occasionally circling like a predator. But I was comfortable at the height, and had no need for food to survive, so I did not see any threat. We did eventually grow accustomed to each other, and I finally ventured down to inspect her again. She did not lash out any more, and instead her vines caressed me with fascination. She took interest in the mask sewn to my face, in the metal claws embedded in my hands, in the unique details of my body. I was curious about her, too. Her hair was stained with shades of lilac, and thorns sprouted from beneath her hair and her cheeks, imitating ears, whiskers, and some sort of vine-wrapped decoration. Blood stained the base of each thorn, looking just as painful as my own additions, yet she only giggled when I touched them. Perhaps it was her way of coping. Or just how they had made her think. I wasn’t sure I wanted the answer.
We continued to interact after that, and I began to learn how to understand the meaning behind her movements and noises. She seemed to figure out my caws and chirps as well, to comprehend my posturing, and we developed a wordless language. Rose I called her. The flowers that grew from her thorny limbs brought distant memories of roses and their sharp stems. She was affectionate, always eager to greet me when I descended from my perches, and nuzzling me when I reciprocated in my own way. Having a companion was nice, and I found myself craving her presence after lurking above too long. When she was lonely, she would yowl and scratch at the base of the tree I was in, begging me to come back down. I found it hard to refuse.
They introduced another after we had grown fully accustomed to each other. She was a sickly color, arms attached in unnatural places, with ears and a tail. Embedded in her body were strange rocks, pulsing with a light that instantly put me on edge. She was unpredictable and aggressive, and while I could escape to the branches, Rose was not so lucky, getting chased around by the angry, barking one. I couldn’t stand by and watch her be attacked, so I would swoop down, screeching and swiping my claws at the intruder until she backed off, creating a den in a far corner where she would sleep. Rose appreciated my help, and I helped her construct a den of her own within a tree trunk, while I took up residence in its branches. It took much longer for this newcomer to adjust to living with us, and there were many confrontations between her and Rose, which I had to break up. But despite the bites, and a few lost feathers, she finally settled down enough to sniff us over. She was still guarded, and bared her teeth if we startled her, but she at least stopped chasing Rose. I figured I should think of something to call her, too, but the only thing that kept standing out were the strange rocks embedded in her body. I knew there was a word for them, but couldn’t remember it. I couldn’t think of any green rock names for a long time. Finally, a hazy memory surfaced. Jade . It wasn’t the name of these rocks, but it was at least a green rock. Jade struggled to understand us for a while, but with constant interactions, we began to learn her way of communicating. She was very expressive, if still prone to angry outbursts, but it was an interesting change of pace.
Integrating her into our routine was tricky, at first, but she was eager for attention, and her tail wagged when either of us gave her affection. She had moments where she would run around or chase us, but without any malice, simply wanting to play. She took delight in following me as I flew around, leaping up and trying to reach me, or wrestling with a stick she found. Rose would indulge in a chase now and then, but preferred to observe. We helped Jade move her den to the base of our tree, and expanded it by digging out some of the dirt around the roots. Sometimes, the three of us would settle in the den, becoming a tangle of vines and limbs as we talked about what we were feeling, falling asleep cuddled together with one of my wings draped over us like a blanket.
The last to join us was more timid, hesitant to approach us, at first. He looked the most human of all of us, lacking any animal tendencies or body parts. He only had one arm, which was stripped of flesh above the elbow, exposing the pale, off-white bone. The other ended abruptly in a severed stump below his shoulder, and one of his eyes was gouged out. Still, once he realized we wouldn’t attack him, he grinned and grew more friendly. He spoke in words, which sounded so strange to us, having gotten used to caws, barks, and mews. The language was almost alien to us, but he persisted, and the broken knowledge slowly returned. Clown , I decided. He reminded me of a clown with his ridiculous hat. Jade had the easiest time regaining speech, and the two chatted constantly, Rose’s deformed mouth made it difficult for her to form words, but she tried her best, relying on Jade for help. I didn’t try to speak. My mask was firmly sewn all around my face, limiting the amount of movement for my jaw, and talking required a lot of movement. It was just easier for Jade to translate until our new companion learned to understand our nonverbal communication.
Clown liked making jokes, or pulling pranks on us, and then falling into manic laughter. More than once, he would trick me into a compromising position, and then cackle like it was the funniest thing. I found myself not minding as time went on, and we settled into a familiar rhythm. Jade’s den was built bigger, and more often than not, I found myself drifting off with a wing draped over the three of them, listening to Rose purring, and our new friend snoring quietly in our arms. Some days were active, with Jade racing around excitedly, and one of us winding up the butt of a joke Clown had set up, but other times, Rose would pull us down into a lazy pile, and we’d spend hours looking each other over. Hands and vines would trace over one person, feeling the jagged edge of a glowing rock, or petting and smoothing someone’s hair. My favorite times were when the others would settle around me, stretching my wings out to stroke the feathers, preening a bent feather here and there, combing through the downy feathers at my shoulders. Jade’s hands would massage the aching muscles of my back, relieving the tension from supporting the heavy appendages. I loved familiarizing myself with their bodies again and again, hearing their soft sighs of contentment, seeing Jade’s tail wag as we worked together to get the mats and tangles out of her long hair, hearing Rose purr like a motor as we stroked her back and cleaned dirt from her vines, watching Clown’s face smooth into a relaxed smile, devoid of his crazed grin, as we lavished him with attention.
It might not have been ideal, being stuck in the enclosure of a place we didn’t want to be, mutilated and psychologically damaged beyond repair, but with the four of us together, we could tolerate it. We could handle what those people had done to us, and might do in the future.