Dreams of Flight
by Dan Eagle
©2005 Dan Eagle -- all rights reserved
An eagle flies high above the tree line in the crisp, clear mountain air. Scanning the pines and grasses below, he's looking for motion, with the keen vision possessed only by birds of prey. Something catches his eyes -- movement -- in the meadow below! The eagle descends; the moving object quickly comes into focus -- a brown field mouse! Folding his wings back, the eagle picks up speed as he plummets towards the ground. He is completely focused on the mouse, pulling up at the last instant, bringing his talons to bear, thrusting forward to grab the unsuspecting mouse. Throwing his wings out, he feels the air rush around him as he decelerates, while the mouse races ever closer to the safe haven of the trees. His razor edged talons stretch forward to the breaking point. Something futilely wiggles and struggles in his claws -- the mouse! He jerks his talons closed, and is rewarded with the sharp crack of the mouse's spinal cord and the gush of hot blood oozing over his talons. Exhilaration pushes further into him like a red-hot dagger, pulsing through his body, heightening all of his senses--
Mark jolted upright in the middle of a wet and stormy night, scrambling for the light switch. With a click, light flooded the room and he looked wildly around, searching for any trace of an eagle in his room. This wasn't the first time his dreams had awakened him. This dream was different though, simply because he was an animal. Realizing that he wouldn't be able to get back to sleep after an experience like that, Mark climbed out of bed, and started to walk to the kitchen. As he walked down the hallway, he noticed an odd feeling of liberation and contentment, neither of which were familiar to him. Dreams had never affected him in that way before, but then again, he'd never flown through the heavens in them either. Pushing the thought out of his mind, he continued to the kitchen, got a glass of water and returned to bed.
In the morning that feeling of liberation and content had vanished. Mark felt slightly empty without it, like a part of him had been stripped away. While eating breakfast, Mark decided that it just might be safe to tell his parents, after all, the last time they had talked together about the subject of his mental health, he had gotten a promise that they wouldn't over-react to anything odd that might happen to him. In turn, they had made him promise to tell them about anything odd. And they would keep their promise, right?
"Oh, Christ..." sighed Mark's father, sinking into his chair. "You dreamt about being an animal? Of all the vile, unsanitary, filthy things... Sue, get Dr. Kramer on the phone right away, and make an emergency appointment."
Dr. Kramer was the family's psychiatrist, who Mark was forced to visit yearly for the psychic evaluation his parents demanded. The doctor seemed nice enough, but Mark got the feeling that he was always looking for the slightest excuse to run a battery of tests, if only to get a larger fee out of his parents.
"An ani... ani... animal... oh God." His mother managed to sputter weakly, as she snatched up the phone, and stepped around the corner, peering around the corner at Mark like was a mental patient who might attack at any moment.
Mark had completely forgotten about the innate phobia of all animals his parents had acquired after what happened to Paul.
"Look what you did to your mother!" Mark's father had raised his voice now, and he just sat staring at Mark, his steely gaze filled with scorn. Mark shrunk into his chair, and took a sudden interest in the arm off the chair, desperately trying to avoid his father's piercing eyes.
"You just had to be different, didn't you? You just had to be unusual. Why couldn't you have been normal? Why... Why..." His father trailed off. The arrow-like gaze faltered, then fell to the floor as his eyes closed, and his head tilted back to stare at the ceiling.
Any thought of his parents' promises exterminated from his head, Mark retreated to his room to lie sprawled on his bed, staring at the wall with unseeing eyes. A cyclone of emotions-- the strongest being betrayal -- whirled through his mind, eventually dying down to weak, aimless gusts of anger, shame and uncertainty.
"I guess it's not really their fault they reacted like that. Not after what happened to Paul," Mark thought to himself..
Paul was eight years Mark's senior, and Mom and Dad always had liked him best. It was always "Paul this" and "Paul that" and "why can't you be more like your older brother", until the night Paul simply disappeared, almost seven years ago. The search teams found his clothes down by the woods fairly quickly, along with bear tracks; what they never did find, however, was blood, or even any sign of a struggle. Mark, being only been 9 years old at the time, didn't understand why his big brother had gone away. But before he left, he'd given Mark a necklace, a stylized eagle shape. Mark never could figure out why everybody else thought it was just a shapeless blob of metal. He held it now, running his fingers over it, thinking about his brother. Mark's parents had decided that the best way to preserve their eldest son was to preserve anything and everything they could remember him by. All of Paul's old things were on display, report cards, a few of his High School sports medals. They had even gone so far to have an artist create a huge painting of the last picture they had of Paul, which now hung above the mantle, and had a light shining on it, day and night. Long ago Mark had stopped noticing all the mementos, and accepted the fact that Paul always would be his parents' favorite son.
"Paul," he whispered, "sometimes I wish you hadn't gone, so at least Mom and Dad wouldn't be like this. If you were here, I know you'd help m-" Bang bang bang! The fist pounding his door jarred his thoughts like a jackhammer.
"Mark, in the car, now!" his father declared urgently. "We're taking you to see Dr. Kramer, to see what this all means."
On the way to the office, their car was quiet as a tomb. The radio was off, and even the low sound of the wheels crunching over the tarmac seemed earth shattering. His parents never once looked back at him, and their forced stares forward just heightened Mark's feeling of insecurity.
Walking into the office sent a shockwave of apprehension over Mark. The simple act of being there sent trembles down his spine. If you didn't know the doctor, it would seem like any normal waiting room; standard cheap furniture, magazines stacked on a table, surrounded by the usual industrial white walls, and gray tone carpet. But once you knew the doctor, all this seemed to be facade just a disguise for the rooms that lay beyond. Mark dragged his feet as much as possible on the way to the examination room, but that only delayed the inevitable. Too soon, the doctor had him lay down on the clichéd red couch, and started his barrage of questions.
"You know that your parents brought you here because they're worried about you," the doctor said, his voice dripping with sympathy. "They're not upset; they really are scared for you."
"I'd appreciate you telling them to show me more of that. Maybe they'd stop screaming then," Mark shot back at the doctor, finding the courage to try to put him off balance.
With the patience of a prizefighter, the Doctor continued on: "It's not unusual to have dreams about animals, so long as they play a very minor role in those dream, but it is unusual to have dreams about being an animal. Now why don't you start by telling me about the dream, with as much detail as you can remember."
"It's hard to remember, I think we'd be better off to skip over it." Mark lied.
"Come now, do you actually think I'll accept that as an answer?" Kramer purred. "I can't help you without knowing about the dream Mark."
"I... I don't..." Mark said in a small voice.
"Don't what, Mark?" the Doctor soothed. "I believe I asked you a question. It's impolite to give me a partial answer. Let's try this again. Will you please tell me what you remember of the dream?"
This was part of the reason Mark hated these visits He always felt violated after these visits, like his mind had been raped, and had all its secrets torn from it with a rusty hatchet.
"I don't... remember. I forgot after this morning." Mark sputtered.
"I didn't ask you if you forgot. I told you to tell me about the dream." A frown had crept onto the Doctor's face for the first time Mark could remember, and his voice had become harder. "I'm through asking politely, now I'm demanding that you tell me. Do you see anything that resembles a camera in this room? Any tape recorders? Microphones?" Suddenly the razor edge of Kramer's voice disappeared, replaced instantly by a smile, and a soft voice. "Don't you see Mark, I'm really your friend. I'm here to help you, not hurt you. I don't know why you think that I'm the bad guy, I'm just doing my job, which you have never made easier by cooperating with me. So just this one time, will you please try to help me help you?"
Mark's face flushed with anger, but some recessed portion of his brain seemed to take control, and compelled him to recount the events of last night. He felt more and more uncomfortable as the story went on, perhaps because the doctor's smile continued to grow larger all the while. Dr. Kramer seemed to pick up on this, and watched with what seemed to be concern as Mark shifted uncomfortably on the couch as he continued to press for more and more information. After exhausting all the information Mark had about the dream, he smiled and stood up.
"Well Mark, I'm glad you finally realized how easy things could be." Kramer's voice was calm, but with an undercurrent of sarcasm. "Don't you see how pleasant things can be once you just decide to cooperate with me?" He walked over to the door, and held it open for Mark. "Now why don't you just follow me, while I tell your parents exactly what I've found out."
Back in the waiting room, Dr. Kramer greeted Mark's parents. Mark's father still wore a frown on his face, while his mother seemed to have recovered more from her shock. They waved Mark off, and he sat on the opposite side of the room, dreading the results. As Dr. Kramer started to discuss Mark's condition with them Mark's father opened his mouth to interrupt.
"Frank..." Mark's mother cautioned, laying a hand on his arm.
"Well, honestly I'm concerned," the doctor said in his even-keeled voice. "Your son has certain fantasies about life in a state of nature. Quite common, if truth were told. However, I believe these fantasies could become an obsession, which would be very unhealthy. I recommend attacking the problem before it starts: Take him on a camping trip, and forcibly expose him to the full reality of 'natural' life -- no candy or processed foods, no sleeping bag, and so forth. In almost all cases this leads to the realization that nature is far more suited to the animals, and the patient is just simply not willing to give up all of the creature comforts that he or she has taken for granted for so long."
Mark wondered how this appointment could get any worse. He'd never liked camping trips before, with good reason. His parents tried to be like the families on TV, and that usually meant campfires with sing-a-longs, which he dreaded. This time though, it sounded more like Boot Camp than a camping trip. The rest of the day was as quiet as the car ride had been. His parents talked among themselves, but nothing was said to Mark, except at dinner, when he was asked to pass the salt. After dinner, he returned to his room to worry about the day's events. He lay there for almost an hour, ideas running like a herd of horses through his head before he finally succumbed to the long, dark claws of sleep.
The eagle climbs swiftly, the blood from his kill dripping from his talons, falling to the rocky ground below. This time he isn't searching for prey, but a place to land and devour his lunch. Seeing what looks like a suitable boulder, he descends once more, coasting to the top of the boulder, landing as light as a feather. Releasing his prey from his razor sharp talons, he lowers his head to fit his beak around the mouse's body. Food! Opening his powerful beak, the eagle bites into the mouse, feeling the soft tickle of the fur as he shreds it away from the muscles. This allows a torrent of hot crimson to flow over his talons. He dips his beak, flicking his tongue out to taste the blood. Hot! Sticky! This puts him into a sensual nirvana. He bends his head as he laps up all the blood he can, luxuriating as the hot coppery taste courses through his mouth and down his throat. He hesitates only a moment before ripping into the mouse. He tears the meat off, swallowing chunks whole, until he comes to the tendons. Grabbing them in his sharp beak, he twists his head to the side, snapping the tendons away from the bone. As they dangle from his beak, they slap against his chest, leaving a trail of crimson in sharp contrast to his white chest feathers --
Blood! Mark jerked upright in a panic and sprinted for the bathroom. Once there, he shoved his head under the faucet, and nearly broke the handle off trying to get as much water into his mouth as possible, drenching his head. Calming his raging pulse, he managed to reach over and turn on the light, and then ran his hand along the inside of the sink to see if there was any fur in it. After checking his mouth and cleaning up, he returned to bed, where he lay awake for nearly an hour, wild thoughts racing through his head like a herd of wild horses. He thought about the Boot Camp trip he'd have tomorrow, and more importantly, what he would say to Dr. Kramer. But eventually, the cold grasp of sleep reclaimed him...
"Mark!" his father yelled from downstairs. "Get ready now! We're leaving in ten minutes!"
"Not again," he muttered under his breath as he rolled out of bed. Throwing on a shirt and pants quickly, he ran down the stairs and snatched the toast and bacon his mother had left out on the table for him. At least she still cared about him.
"Now, Mark! We'll be late!" his father yelled at the house, while he turned on the engine of the car.
During the car ride, his mother tried to start a conversation with him, but gave up when she found that Mark's nodding didn't make much of a conversation. After that, the same silence that had been maintained since yesterday fell back into place again.
At Dr. Kramer's office, he was all but shoved into the back room by his father, and sat there for a while before the Doctor made his entrance.
"Welcome back, Mark," the doctor said quietly. "I trust that you had another dream last night?"
"Well, actually I did..." Mark started to say.
"Oh, before you say no to me, I'd advise you to take a look at that." He whispered, extending a long bony finger in the direction of a packet of paper. The title read: "Asylum admittance forms & Tests"
"Well as I was saying," Mark tittered, paling visibly, "I had another dream last night."
"Good, very good," the Doctor said after a large smile. "Now, what was this dream about? Eagles again?"
"Well yes, it was, but this time it wasn't a different dream. It was the same as last night, only I woke up sooner." Mark lied, watching the Doctor's smile evaporate.
"That's it? You didn't notice anything new?" Kramer asked frantically.
"No, nothing. Well, except everything was a bit clearer." Mark said, trying to hold his face rigid, and failing as a small smile crept onto his features.
"Mark, Mark, Mark." Kramer sighed, hanging his head. "Why can't you understand that if you don't cooperate, I can't help you? Before we leave to address your parents again, are you sure that there is nothing else you'd like to tell me?"
Mark continued to sit with his arms crossed, and just stared at Kramer.
"Well Mark, you know I can only help those who want to be helped." Doctor Kramer said in a slow, measured tone. "Let's go see your parents."
Back in the waiting room, Kramer addressed Mark's parents.
"Well, it seems that the dreams have gone into remission, however, this is likely temporary, and only because of the thorough questioning that I gave him yesterday," the doctor said, with as much sympathy as he could muster. "I still think you should go ahead with the trip."
"Yes," Mark's father agreed. "The sooner we get these dreams out of him the better. All our bags are already packed, and loaded in the car. We'll head for the mountains as soon as we leave this office."
"Well, then, I suggest you get going," said the doctor.
While on the way to the mountains, the tension in the car was so thick it could have been cut with a knife. As they gained altitude, the air became thinner and cooler. Mark felt more alert the further they went up the mountain, and started to feel more at ease as they went. He wanted to be out of the car, in the woods, and alone.
The family arrived at the summit shortly before nightfall; they had dinner immediately after the long car ride. Mark's father cooked hamburgers. Though he'd never really liked his father's barbecuing before, tonight Mark felt he could eat almost anything. When his father brought the plate over, he sat with Mark, and draped his arm across Mark's shoulder.
"Son, I know you've been through a lot these past few days, and I'd like to... apologize for what I've done. After what happened to Paul..."
"I know, Dad," Mark said. " You've just been stressed out. It's okay, I guess..."
With that, Mark's father reached over and hugged him in a rare display of emotion. After his meal, Mark looked around the campground. It was your typical mountain camp out. They were in a thin forest atop the mountain, in a small clearing amongst the trees. There was a lush carpet of green grass underneath the tent, and a wooden picnic table and stove near the car. About a mile away, Mark could see other peaks, also topped with trees. Looking around this summit, he saw that there was a ridge almost a mile away from him. This ridge had few trees on it, and was littered with small boulders. Just by looking at it, Mark felt an odd feeling of attraction, like the hill was beckoning to him. Later, a campfire was built. The usual sing-a-longs started, but neither of his parent' hearts were really in the singing.
About 9:00, the drive finally caught up to his parents, and they got in the sleeping bags in the tent, while Mark slept outside.
"Well," he thought, "at least if they're in the tent I won't wake them up. Maybe I'd be able to sort this all out if I just take a long walk tomorrow morning. I'll leave early enough so that they'll never know I was gone."
Before falling asleep Mark set the alarm on the watch he sneaked in for 5:00 AM, roughly forty-five minutes before the first rays of light would appear. Worn out after the day's events, Mark fell into a deep sleep.
Ripping further into the flesh of the mouse, the eagle succumbs to the rich odors that envelop him. Snap! He hears the bones crack, feels them crunch in his powerful beak, and tastes the marrow in them. The thrill of the chase is lessened now, and the eagle can truly enjoy his feast of mouse, and taking in the flavor and texture of every scrap of meat. He can feel the body's resistance as he pulls out the stringy tendons and rips the meat off the bones. Finishing the mouse off, he licks the blood off his talons and positions himself for take-off from the rock.
BEEP BEEP BEEP!!!! Suddenly the alarm interrupted the dream with a loud noise that split the air in the quiet pre-dawn forest. Mark waited a few minutes to be sure his parents were still asleep, then took a flashlight and set out for the ridge. He wasn't so sure he wanted to be alone any more; his desire for solitude was being replaced by a growing fascination with the ridge, that ridge he'd particularly noticed yesterday. Walking as quickly as the dim light of the flashlight would allow, Mark reached the ridge, and walked toward the edge of it. As he approached the edge, numbness started to spread through his body. His muscles defied him as he walked further toward the edge, unable to command his body to stop. He stood there for what seemed like an eternity, looking over the ridge into the valley, his entire body as inert as stone, as new dreams of eagles dominated his mind. Relishing the same feelings of freedom and contentment he'd felt yesterday, Mark didn't even notice the first rays of silver light, emanating not from the sky, but from a carving in a boulder in front of him. He felt drawn to it, and pulled off his pendant to hold it up next to the carving.
"They're... the same..." Mark whispered, stricken by surprise.
It wasn't until the skin on his body starting tingling and becoming uncomfortable that Mark was finally able to move. Running his hands over his arms, he noticed the hair was gone, starting to be replaced by small raised bumps. The feelings of contentment still calmed him though, and instead of panicking, he silently watched himself with a sense of wonder and curiosity. When Mark pulled off his shirt to get a better look at his chest, he noticed he was shrinking as well. His shirt that had been waist length only minutes before had now reached his knees! The only thing keeping his shorts on was the elastic, and even that was becoming loose as well. Mark's arms were about as long as ever, but it seemed he had a lot less flesh wrapped around his bones, and glossy black feathers were emerging from his 'goose bumps'.
Crack! Mark lurched forward; his spine had just reformed itself into an arched shape. The first tinge of pain hit as his arms rotated around in their sockets, shredding muscle that was quickly reattached. His legs shrunk, and his toes splayed out painfully. Lying on the ground, he started to feel lighter; his bones were hollowing out as the marrow disappeared from within them.
Snap! Until then his face had been unchanged, aside from his hair disappearing. But now his face contorted, the bones grinding into other shapes, and his jaw was absorbed into his head as his nose lengthened and become pointed with a yellow tint. His skull collapsed in on itself, ending not far above his eyes, leaving him with a much smaller head, and feathers started to grow. Turning his head to look at his arms, Mark found a pair of eagle wings, fully grown and feathered. Craning his neck around, Mark found that he could look much further behind him. The body he saw wasn't made of chunky, pink flesh; rather, it was streamlined, covered with black feathers and a tail plume.
For the first time Mark tried to rise on shaky legs; he toppled forward, his balance thrown completely off by his wings and tail On his second attempt, he succeeded in standing. He moved his wings, spreading them and folding them to his body, testing their reach.
As the first rays of sunlight appeared, Mark took his first step as an eagle.
Walking wasn't enough. Mark wanted to fly! For the next half hour he experimented with his new body, but he lacked the coordination to achieve flight straight from the ground. Walking to the edge of the ridge, he decided the best way to learn to fly would be as the newborn eagles did, by falling out of the nest and spreading their wings. Mark practiced moving his wings up and down once more, and stepped off the cliff, entering freefall.
Flap, flap, flap, tilt upwards, glide. The feeling of falling overpowered his human mind -- but eagle instincts took over, keeping him from plummeting to the ground. He could feel the wind rush by him, rippling his feathers, and keeping him aloft. He felt free; able to go wherever he pleased. Taking of control of his body, he let his gaze travel across the trees beneath him. He marveled in his new sight, and was able to pick up the smallest of details in the trees below, the squirrel skittering in the trees, the birds singing to the dawn light. Suddenly his joy evaporated -- he was falling! Panic gripped him. Fortunately, his instincts took over again, guiding his actions. Flap, flap, flap, glide. Feeling under control once again, he banked his wings starting his first awkward turn. Trying to land was the difficult part, and he tumbled to a stop as he hit the ground sideways.
Searching his mind, he realized that he knew how to do many things already; he just had to concentrate on finding them in his mind. Stretching his wings out, he tensed his muscles in preparation for flight. Tense, get ready, get ready, flap, flap flap! Propelled by his powerful wings, he soared upward away from the ground, enveloped by the speed, and leveled off high above the mountain. As he looked into the recesses of his mind, he suddenly had the impulse to fly faster, and dive toward the ground. He wrapped his wings back to his body, feeling the air rush past him, stinging his eyes as he accelerated toward the ground. The colors below him blurred as he picked up speed, until finally he spread his wings and rocketed over the treetops, seeing only a green blur beneath him. Rising once again, he let out an eagle's scream of pure ecstasy.
Later that day, he finds himself flying high above the tree line in the crisp, clear mountain air. Scanning the trees and grasses below, he's looking for motion, with the keen vision possessed only by birds of prey. Something catches his eyes -- movement -- in the meadow below!