Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Feeling White

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I could actually feel the stuff coursing through my system. It wasn't something I had been unprepared for, but the actual sensation caught me by surprise. Looking back, I can only really describe the feeling as white. I suppose the closest analogy I can come up with is that it felt like liquid light flowing through my veins alongside my blood. They told me the stuff would mix well enough with my bloodstream, but it felt separate, kind of disconcerting. Liquid light flowed through me, but there was no heat to it, just the shining white feeling.

Judging from Theo's and Avery's faces, they were feeling the same effects I was. At least there was no pain.

By the time we found Barstow, drove across town, left the jeep in a hotel parking lot on the far side of town, and started out into the desert on foot, I knew the drugs were only a handful of moments away from taking full hold on me. We turned separate ways once we were out of town, each just picking a direction and going.

I stumbled in whatever direction it was chance had given me, willing the ticking seconds to stop feeling like they were an hour long each. The men had told us the name of the drug, but it was one of those ridiculous forty-seven-letter-long names that were impossible to pronounce unless you had a Ph.D., and I hadn't cared to listen anyway. They had also told us to hold off succumbing for as long as we could to get the full effect, so I focused as hard as I could on the sand in front of my Reeboks.

The soft thud that came from behind me and to my right told me one of the others had gone down. Forcing the muscles of my neck to obey, I turned to look, only then realizing my eyes were clouded. But I knew it was Avery that had given way.

A second sound of impact told me Theo had collapsed, but then I realized I was lying on my side in the sand. I had let it take me. Sweet dry heat flowed over me; gritty, odorless sand made my bed. I had a dim awareness of my surroundings as the drug penetrated every last bit of what was me.

I opened my eyes and I was flying. I knew I was a hawk; that's what the people called me. Hawk. But the word wasn't what my heart said I was. In my heart, such things didn't matter. Food, hunting, flying, mating-- it was the instincts that took over. This wasn't some acid trip or hallucinogen effect; the men had explained...

Explained what? What men?

White. White air. Bright sunlight surrounded me, clean clear air supported me and gave me lift. It took no thought to find thermals to give me lift, to adjust the tilt of my wings and tail to dive or bank. This was pure joy, to live.

The noise sent me into a panic. I didn't know what it was, by my every instinct said to fear the sound. It was a crack, loud and short. It came again, and a third time. That third crack came along with great pain in my little body. I was wounded. All my efforts to control my accelerating descent failed, and I cascaded to the ground.

I opened my eyes and I was surrounded by white. My talons clenched weakly. I hurt, but I would heal. To the depths of me, I knew that.

Faces. There were faces. My eyes darted around, taking in my surroundings. This was not my forest home, or a desert-- where that fact came from, I didn't know at the time, but looking back, I can remember the thought and identify it. This was the kind of place I avoided, where the ones who looked at me and said, "Hawk" made their nests.

Nearby, on a medical table-- again I can only put words to it from looking back-- was me, my body. My human one. The one I came back to once the drug had run its course.


The purpose of the drug was never fully revealed to me. Once I'd come to-- come back to my human body again-- I saw the hawk I'd been. He's perfectly fine, a fully-functioning, normal bird. His wing healed without a problem; they hadn't aimed at me to kill, just to wound. I can only guess at the reasons behind it all. "To study animal life more intimately" is the phrase I decided on about a year afterward. I was questioned again and again about my experiences as the hawk-- the ten hours and fourteen minutes I'd spent being him. My reports had been added to their findings, filed, copied, distributed, discussed, refuted, defended, shredded, recopied, refiled, and all those things that happen with research findings. I actually got contacted by a wildlife researcher in the Netherlands to discuss my experiences.

There are a few things I was told outright afterward. One was that there were certain reasons we'd had to go to Barstow and wander into the desert as part of the experience. The "why" was, to my growing frustration, not told to me.

Second, Theo came through the process as easily as I did. He returned in the body of a black bear cub. The cub is fine.

Avery never came back.

I received my pay and eventually stopped hearing anything involving the drug. About four years later, they stopped testing it, for classified reasons.

I think I know the reason: sometimes, when I wake up, I'm still a hawk.

"Feeling White" was, like many of my most recent short stories, writted for a First Line Fiction contest. It won third place in the month it was entered.

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