A Piece of the Miracle, part one
by Jason Mitchell with Andy Hollis
©2000 Jason Mitchell and Andy Hollis -- all rights reserved
Zeke Hanley reached back over his shoulders for a really good scratch. He pumped his arm and dug in with his fingernails hard enough to rip the skin. Beside him, at the dinner table, Sarah Jane, younger than Zeke by a year, shoved her brother a couple of times.
"Ma, Zeke's scratching himself again and he's getting in my way."
Everyone at the table put down assorted silverware to stare at the middle boy. Zeke blushed but couldn't stop scratching.
Ed Hanley cleared his throat. "Son, there's no call for you doing that at the table."
"Sorry, Pa," Zeke managed to get out. "It's driving me crazy." He pulled his hand away from his shirt, a little bloody.
"Did you give him some of that stuff from the doctor?" Ed asked his wife.
Mary nodded her head. "I've been rubbing that stuff on four times a day and it don't stop the itching, Ed."
"He can always go outside and rub up against a tree," Brian, the eldest boy, commented.
After swallowing a huge mouthful of mashed potatoes, Zeke said, "Can I, Ma? Haven't tried that yet."
"After you finish your greens," Mary said. "Just don't rub the bark off that birch tree, we'll need the kindling later."
Ed Hanley settled back in his chair to watch his children eat. It was, he thought, getting harder and harder to put food on the table with the mills closing down right and left. Jobs were drying up faster than a stream in the summertime that was for sure. He had a rifle and wasn't that picky what the meat was, but groceries, heating oil, and electricity were eating up the cash. Now Zeke needed to see the doctor and that was more money.
"Come on, Zeke. I'm taking you out back myself."
"Sure, Pa." Zeke bolted from the table and out the cabin door like a lightning bolt.
The Hanleys' cabin stood in the middle of a lightly wooded area, with several acres of clear land for planting. Four bedrooms, an indoor bathroom, with a living room and kitchen was more than anyone could ask for from a cabin that Ed had built himself. He stood on the back porch and watched his son attacking an old oak tree.
Crossing over the grass, Ed shook his head. "Hold up on that, son. Take your shirt off so I can see what's bothering you."
Zeke pulled off his shirt, ragged but still wearable, and turned around. The skin across his shoulders looked torn, bloody and bright red. Ed shook his head, and got in for a closer look.
This one, Ed thought, had his mother's small frame and almost delicate skin. At eleven, he looked all skin and bones and skinny as a corn stalk. Zeke, he had to admit was as pretty as his mother, too. Brian, however, was growing up stocky with a good set of muscles, but Zeke. Zeke was his mother's boy. He could sing like an angel in church but he was probably never going to be fit for man's work.
Ed tugged at a tag of skin on the boy's shoulder. A strip of flesh maybe three inches long pulled off in his hand.
"Do that again, Pa," Zeke pleaded.
Tugging again, Ed took off a longer strip. "There's something coming up underneath this. Boy, you and I are going down to the stream to scrub this dead skin off your back. Then, I'm going to get that doctor with his fancy medicine that costs an arm and a leg. Come on."
"Think this will help, Pa?" Zeke said trotting along slightly behind his father through the woods. He listened to the sounds of startled birds as they walked.
Zeke ran down the hill to the stream. Without hesitation, he shucked off the rest of his clothes and jumped in. Ed followed a bit more slowly. Watching the boy swim, he tugged off his shirt and waded into the water.
"The water feels good, Pa. Have a swim."
"Some other time, boy, come here and let's get this over with. Will you look at that," Ed grumbled. "Even without your clothes you still look like a girl."
"I'm the way God made me," Zeke said defensively, but he'd been through this with his Pa before. "Everyone says I'm way too pretty to be a boy. You think so, Pa?"
"You're pretty all right, but at eleven you should have a lot more between your legs than that. Something else to ask the doctor about."
As gently as he could, Ed dug into the boy's back with his fingers until he found something leathery and tough about an inch down. Slowly at first, then faster as Zeke pleaded with him, he cleared away the inflamed skin until he had uncovered what looked like a leather pouch, larger than a basketball, that rode on Zeke's shoulders like a pack.
Zeke spun around in the water and hugged his father for all that he was worth. "Thanks, Pa. It doesn't itch any more."
"But what in the name of blazes is this?" Ed asked rubbing the leathery skin between his thumb and forefingers. "You feel this?"
"Yeah, but it's like your rubbing my skin through jeans or something."
"Don't this beat all. It's growing, too." Ed let go as the pouch started to expand. Zeke cried out in genuine pain as the leather stretched and grew large enough to cover his entire back.
"It's itching like crazy again, Pa."
Ragged lines cracked through the leather pouch then tore open. As the leather shredded, two limbs, like an extra set of arms, unfurled from Zeke's back, then spread out to dry. Wet, and bedraggled, Zeke's new wings fluttered in the breeze as the down that covered the skin slowly dried and fluffed out.
"Oh, dear God in heaven," Ed said and dropped to his knees in the water. "I knew you sang like an angel, boy, but you didn't have to turn into one."
"You mean I'm dead?" Zeke asked, horrified. He craned his neck around to see the wings then looked down to study the reflection in the water. He patted his chest, and took in a deep breath. "I'm not dead, Pa, and I ain't an angel. Look, I can flap them."
"Stop that, boy, you want to take off? You aren't going to do no flying yet."
"This is the Lord's doing," Mary announced as she studied her son's new appendages. "It's best that we don't interfere."
"But Ma," Zeke complained. "How can I go to school like this? I can't wear my shirts now, and you know how Mrs. Jackson gets."
"They're going to look beautiful," Sarah Jane commented. "Like a bird. Is Zeke going to start laying eggs?"
"I say we take him back down to that doctor and get our money back for that lotion," Ed said.
"And have that doctor try to use Zeke like some sort of lab rat?" she glared. "Not while there is still breath in my body he won't, Edward Hanley."
"We got to do something, Mary. How's the boy going to get along looking like that?"
"Well, those wings are small, yet. Fold them up as tight as they go, Zeke. Maybe if we strap them down and put a large shirt on him no one will have to know."
"But they get all cramped, Ma. If I'm going to be a freak, at least let me show everyone what happened," Zeke said. He flapped his wings until he felt his feet start to leave the floor.
"How come he gets the wings, and I don't?" Brian demanded. "I'm older."
"Cause you have too much sense to want to be a song bird," Ed snapped. "Look, Mary, we can't hide those wings forever. He needs schooling. What about when he starts flying? Cut up my old shirt for his wings, and let's get him into town to see the doctor."
"Okay, Ed, but I think it's a mistake."
"I'll do it myself, then," Ed said. Ed always wore worn plaid shirts unbuttoned over dingy gray undershirts and equally worn jeans with muddy work boots. It was like a uniform, reminding one and all that he was always ready to do man's work when it came along, he thought. Although he hated to do it, he cut slits in the back of his blue shirt then worked the shirt onto Zeke's shoulders. The shirt draped down to the boy's knees like a dress. "That will have to do."
Ed parked in front of the empty Woolworth's; opened the door of the pick up for Mary, then went around back to lift Zeke down from the truck's bed. "Boy, you don't weigh anything at all," he said hefting his son a couple of times. Zeke's wings flapped wildly until Ed set him down on the sidewalk.
"Woah," said a boy running down the street. "Where'd you get those, Zeke?"
"Sort of grew," Zeke said. "Going to be flying soon."
"You hush up, both of you," Mary said. "Run along, George, we got to take Zeke in to see the doctor."
George ran, blond hair blowing in the breeze, shouting for all he was worth. "Hey, everyone, Zeke Hanley grew wings. Come and see."
People poked their heads out of shop doors and from car windows to see what the commotion was about. As they spotted Zeke, several cars slammed on their brakes, and a growing crowd surrounded the boy in spite of Mary's best efforts to get him inside to the doctor's office.
"Got yourself a real angel there, Ed," several people called out.
"Don't," Zeke yelped as someone tugged at a wing. He bounced away. "That hurt."
"There's nothing to see here," Ed called out and hustled his wife and son, inside.
Zeke spent a few minutes catching his breath in the doctor's office, and trying his best to sooth the cramps in his wings from all the flapping.
The nurse behind the desk dropped her folders to the floor when she spotted the boy's wings for the first time. The other patients in the room stared, but didn't say anything from the glare Ed gave them in return.
Dr. Miller walked out of his office. "What's the problem out here?" He examined the tableau before him and then briskly motioned the Hanleys to follow. "Oh. Better get your boy into the exam room, Ed. I've got a couple of phone calls to make. Do you need a hand with those files?"
"No," the nurse managed to say.
"Good, come on, Zeke."
"What's with you, Doc?" Ed asked. "You act like you always see boys with wings."
"It's not new, Ed. Just the first case we've had here, that's all."
"I'm not the only one?" Zeke crowed out. "That's a relief."
"How many other kids have wings?" Mary asked as they followed Dr. Miller into the exam room.
"At least three that I've heard about," he said. "Get up on the scale, son. There, that's what I thought. Okay, Zeke, up on the table."
"What? What did you think," Ed demanded.
"He's losing weight, and fast. Almost twenty pounds since he was here for the itching last week."
"He doesn't have twenty pounds to lose," Ed said. "Where?"
"From his bones, most likely. I'll have to get x-rays to be sure. From the size of his wings, and the muscles I see on his chest already, he's going to be a strong flyer."
"We don't want a boy flying all over the hills, Doc. Someone might think he's game and shoot him down. Couldn't you just cut them off, and forget about it?"
"Pa," Zeke said. "I don't want them cut off."
"You want what I tell you to want, boy, and don't forget that. Mary says that this is the Lord's work, but I don't know. I can't see God wanting my boy to be a freak for the rest of his life."
"I'm not a freak, Pa, if there's other kids that's got wings. Maybe I got this from you, you never can tell, Pa. You going to cut yours off when they grow in?"
"I'm not growing no feathered wings," Ed stated with a finality that brooked no further discussion.
"Right now, Zeke's right," Dr. Miller said. "It's only kids, and isolated cases at that, but it could be anyone. There's a doctor by the name of John Harris taking charge of this since he's kind of an expert on unusual cases. I'd like to call him, and maybe get Zeke up to see him, and soon. He's in Ohio, and he's set up a foundation for this so you wouldn't have to pay anything."
"How come we ain't heard about this before?" Ed asked. "This should make the six o'clock news if nothing else."
"They've really been keeping this under wraps so far, Ed. The last thing Zeke needs is to be swarmed over by the media for his wings. How many people know?"
"Everyone in town the way George Carson was carrying on," Mary said. "You're not planning on sending Zeke out there by himself, are you?"
"Of course not, you or Ed will go with him."
"I'll go," Ed said. "You have the little ones to tend, Mary."
"I'll go," she corrected him. "You can take care of those babies as well as I can."
"Okay, it's settled," Dr. Miller said. "Dr. Harris will have you and Zeke flown out to Columbus next Monday," he said to Mary. "Plan to stay there for a week or so, and the best thing I can tell you is to keep Zeke at home this week. He's already starting to fledge," he said and pointed to the golden brown feathers appearing at several points on the wings.
"What about this?" Ed said. "Pull down your shorts, Zeke. I want to know if this is normal for a boy his age."
"No, it isn't," Dr. Miller said.
"He just has that little nub there, and looks like he ain't got anything in that sack at all. Is he a boy or a girl?"
"Why don't you ask him?" Dr. Miller asked. "Sometimes it's much more important what you feel like on the inside than what you look like on the outside."
"Well?" Ed demanded and tapped Zeke on the head.
Zeke looked back and forth between the doctor and his parents. "Shoot, Pa, I'm a girl. I can't even pee standing up. You always said I was a girl, too."
"Yeah, but that don't mean anything. I was just trying to shame you into being more like your brother than your sister."
"Ed," Dr. Miller cut in, "you tell a kid something long enough and they do believe it. In this case, it looks like someone made a mistake when Zeke was born. I'd be willing to bet that if we ran some tests it would show that Zeke was female on the inside. Look at that face, for one."
Zeke flushed down to his toes.
"Well, I ain't putting him in dresses, that's for sure. He's my son, and is going to stay that way. What about those tests?"
"I can't run them here, too expensive but I bet Dr. Harris could. I'll call him back and make sure he does them, too."
"Dr. Miller," the nurse said from the doorway. "It's getting bad outside. The whole town is here to see Zeke, and they have cameras from the TV station, too."
"That's bad news," Ed said. "You keep him here until I get the truck and my gun if I have to. Then wrap him up in something and I'll clear a path."
The crowd was bigger than Ed anticipated. In spite of his shouts and threats, no one would make room for him to leave the building.
"It's a miracle," several people shouted out.
"We want to see the bird boy," said the others.
"He ain't either," Ed shouted back. "He's just my boy. Go home."
Ten minutes later, the standoff ended as a squadron of police cars pulled up. Uniformed men from both the police and Sheriff's departments scrambled out of the cars to manage the crowd. Firing blanks into the air, the officers forced their way to the front of the crowd as the sergeant in charge bellowed through a megaphone, "Everyone back or we will use gas."
As one the officers donned their masks, and waited for the crowd to get the idea.
"You have until the count of five to move back," the sergeant ordered.
"Come on, Harry, we ain't gonna hurt the boy. We just want to see him, that's all."
"We don't care if he has green and purple spots and breaths fire," the sergeant said. "That little kid isn't facing this crowd alone. You folks move along, and get those kids out of here before we do set the gas off. You got that?"
"It's a miracle. Oh, sweet Jesus we have an angel in our town," called out an elderly woman. Several others began to sing hymns.
"I've gotta do something," Zeke said from inside the doorway, and pulled away from his mother's hold. He opened the door, stood on the doorstep with his wings spread out, and sang. The voice that came out of his mouth shocked him as it resonated against his hollowing chest and soared about the crowd. In seconds, Zeke's rendition of "Amazing Grace" silenced the crowd. For the moment, everyone there, including Zeke's folks, could believe that an angel had truly sung, and just for them.
Quiet, with heads bowed, the people filed out of the street and dispersed as the song ended.
"We've been blessed by an angel," the same old woman called out. "Thank you, Jesus, bless you."
Ed wrapped a blanket around Zeke's shoulders and hurried him out to the truck with only a quick thank you to the officers.
"For the last time no," Ed shouted into the phone. "I don't care how much frigging money you can pay him, I am not having my son dress up like a girl, go on TV and tell people he's an angel and then ask them for money for your church."
"But Brother Hanley, think how much you need that money, and what miracles that boy can do."
"What sort of lessons do you plan on teaching him, Reverend?" Ed asked with a slur on the title. "That it's okay to lie about yourself and God if you get paid enough? It's hard enough trying to teach my kids right from wrong, without some so-called holy man trying to tempt them like this."
"But the money we could bring in, Brother Hanley!"
"I told you I don't want your money. What part of 'no' don't you understand? My boy is not an angel. I know folks around here are pig-headed enough to believe he is, but we aren't going to confirm that."
"Are you absolutely certain he isn't an angel?"
"Of course he isn't. He's a little boy, with a great voice, and wings. Suppose I got him one of them light swords like in the movies and had him fly over your church telling folks what a blasphemer you are? He doesn't have to say he's an angel, but I bet those folks would shut you down in seconds. Do I make myself clear?"
"Extremely, but this is the Lord's work, not blasphemy."
Ed hung up the phone, and tromped through the cabin. "And he calls himself a man of god."
"I'll do it, Pa, if it will help with the money," Zeke volunteered.
"No, we don't need that kind of money, boy. Been working hard all my life to make an honest dollar, and I'm not going to change that now just because you got some kind of wings. You fly yet?"
"Not yet, Pa," Zeke said and spread out a wing. He stroked a feather. "Don't have my flight feathers in yet, but I got another couple inches off the ground. How are we going to get to the airport tomorrow?"
"That's easy, Sarah Jane. You got to get to school now, don't you? Your Ma will take you, Brian and Laura in the truck and you will keep that dress on, over your wings, until you get to Ohio."
"But Pa, you said I wasn't going to have to dress up like a girl," Zeke half screamed, and stomped his foot on the cabin floor. "I won't do it," he said with a wink to his mother.
"You'll do it, and you won't say a word to anyone. I'm not going to have you dressing up for no preacher to fool people out of their money, but this is different. Lord knows that you're pretty enough to be a girl, and with a hat and dress on, no one's going to believe that you're a boy anyway."
"Pa," Zeke protested, but the man glared at him until he shut up.
"Ma, this thing itches," Zeke said squirming in the dress. "I can't wear this, and my wings hurt."
"That will just have to be the case, Zeke," Mary said and made a final adjustment to the outfit.
"Good God, Zeke, you're a babe," Brian said. "Looks like I got four sisters now and a baby brother.
""You take that back, Brian," Zeke said, balling his fists even though he knew the threat had no meaning.
"Don't you dare start a fight in that dress, either one of you. Zeke, you're a young lady now, and don't forget it. This is the only way we have to get you out of here and to the airport, okay? When we get on the plane, you can change clothes in the bathroom and wear your Pa's big sweater, but until then, you're Sarah Jane."
"Can I have that dress when you get back, Ma?" Sarah Jane asked. "If it makes Zeke look that pretty I bet I'll be a beauty queen."
Zeke twirled around in the dress, and stared at himself in the mirror. "I am pretty," he said, awed by his reflection. Zeke had worn dresses before, for Halloween and sometimes when his Pa wasn't home, but this was the first time he really saw himself as a girl. He liked the feeling.
"Don't you start getting ideas," Ed said. "You can't start dating boys until you turn fifteen."
"Ed, that's horrible," Mary said. "Fourteen. Come on, kids, we don't want to be late for school."
Zeke followed behind the others to the car. He sat in the cab with his mother, and Rebecca, the middle girl, while Brian rode in the back.
"You sure do look pretty," Rebecca said studying her brother for the first time. "Are you going to be a girl now?"
"Of course not. I ain't going to be a girl. I'm just in disguise until we get to school so don't you say anything to the people at the bottom of the hill."
"Oh, like Halloween?" she asked.
"Yes, and you can have some candy when you get home from school," Mary promised. "There they are," she said and pointed to a crowd of vans, people and equipment that almost blocked the road. She eased the truck to a stop just before the first news van.
"I'm taking my kids to school," Mary called out as the first swarm of reporters approached the truck and snapped pictures. "If you want to talk to Ed about Zeke they're still in the cabin." With that, she gunned the engine until everyone moved out of the way. She drove slowly from the site, and permitted herself a long sigh.
"We did it," Zeke said hunching over so his wings were not pressed into the seat as well as the fabric of the dress.
For safety sake, Zeke chose not to drop the disguise when they arrived at the airport. He enjoyed the attention he was getting as a pretty girl, and not a winged boy. The trip from Raleigh to Columbus took no time at all, and Dr. Harris had a car waiting for them at the airport on the other end.
The driver carried luggage with him as he led the pair through the medical building to Dr. Harris' office. Only a small boy, with a head of bright blond hair, sat in the waiting room. The boy hardly looked up as the driver herded them into a back office.
"I'll get Dr. Harris. He's been expecting you, and cleared his schedule for this."
"Thanks," Mary said. "You've been more than kind."
Dr. Harris entered the room a few minutes later with the same small boy behind him. "Hello, Mrs. Hanley. I'm sorry, I thought you were bringing Zeke with you."
"I did, doctor. Only way to get him out of town without all the reporters making a fuss."
"I see," Dr. Harris said and studied the apparent girl sitting on the exam table. "Oh, I want you both to meet Corey Williams. Corey's the financial wizard that is financing this project, and he has been a great help to the other kids, so far."
"He has?" Zeke asked uncertainly.
"I'm over forty. I went through some changes of my own a while back, and I can understand a little bit of what you guys are going through."
"Mrs. Hanley, I'm going to ask you to excuse us, please. Corey can get you a cup of coffee or something. Zeke, please take off your dress, and everything else."
"At last," Zeke sighed and started unbuttoning. "I have some regular clothes in my bag."
As Corey took Mary out of the room, Zeke struggled out of his clothes, and relaxed as he finally spread his wings.
"I bet that hurt," Dr. Harris said.
Zeke nodded. "Didn't have a choice." For the first time since the wings had grown in, Zeke looked into a face that seemed really concerned about him and not just his wings. He took in a deep breath and blurted out the one question on his mind. "Do you think I'm an angel? Are the others?"
Dr. Harris gave the boy a warm smile and shook his head. "Worried about it?"
"What do you think an angel is?" Dr. Harris asked as he gently stretched the boy's left wing.
"An angel's someone that's perfect, and lives in heaven. I ain't perfect, doc, and..."
Tapping the boy on the nose, Dr. Harris said, "It's okay, son. I've never met a perfect eleven-year-old, and I don't think I ever will. From what I've seen I can tell you for sure that you aren't an angel."
"That's a relief. Maybe now all them preachers will stop pestering Pa about me going to their churches."
"I doubt it. You've made the headlines all over the country, Zeke. They call you the 'Singing Angel', and every time I hear that story about you it gets worse."
"I bet. I love to sing, more than anything," Zeke said. "I'm the best singer in the choir."
"I bet. The other -- winged kids -- not angels, don't have your talent for music. At least, they've been able to keep fairly quiet, but with all the publicity you're getting that may not last. Okay, take off the rest of your clothes and lie down on the table, on your side or your stomach, whichever is the most comfortable for your wings."
"My side," Zeke said and pulled down his panties. He stared, shocked, frozen by the sight of his groin, now completely bare of genitals. Ten seconds later, Zeke opened his mouth and screamed at the top of his lungs and didn't stop. It was one thing to dream about being a girl, but another to suddenly become one.
Mary pushed into the room, saw the reason for Zeke's noise and started crying herself. "What happened?"
"You're the one that wanted me in that damn dress," Zeke said between sobs. "Now I've turned into a girl." His sobs grew louder until Mary wrapped him in a hug.
"Zeke, now don't talk like that. It's not the dress that did it."
"Your mother is right, son."
"But I'm a girl. They said I was pretty enough to be a girl, and look at me."
"You're not a girl, at least not yet," Dr. Harris said. "We need to do some tests, and find out what is happening." He glanced around the room, then focused on Corey. "Can you do anything?"
Corey shook his head, but walked over to place his hand on Zeke's shoulder. "Zeke?"
As soon as Zeke looked down to meet his eyes, Corey turned inward and made the connection between them. He used a touch of his power to calm the boy's hysterics, and make him feel comfortable with himself again, then probed a little deeper. As Zeke caught his breath, and stopped sobbing, Corey withdrew and let go of the boy.
"You're going to be great," he said. "I know it. Take it easy. John, could I see you for a moment while he gets himself together?"
"We'll be right back."
Corey sat on Dr. Harris' desk, and drummed his fingers on the top. "She is a girl now, John."
"In what way?"
"In every way. I don't have a clue as to what those kids are changing into, but it isn't quite human. Zeke's a female that's all. Deep down this is right for her, but she's probably not going to accept that for a long time. I know I wouldn't. But, on the other hand, she does want another chance in skirts and things, and in the long run she's going to fight it, but not too hard."
"Can you do anything for her?"
"Already did. She wants to be a Country Western singer. I think she's going to be big and I am prepared to invest heavily in her career."
"What? But all the changes? She isn't worried about her wings?"
Corey shrugged. "She's a kid, John. She's got her priorities straight, though. She's always been focused on her music, at least as much as her father would let her, and all the rest isn't important. She likes the wings, and whatever she's becoming is supposed to be winged. We are going to have to fight to make sure some hot shot surgeon somewhere doesn't try and remove them from one of the kids."
"I know what you mean. Okay, I'll go back in."
"I'm calling a record company I know in Virginia. They handle kids, and this one will make a mint. All she needs is a good agent and promoter."
Dr. Harris poked his head in the exam room. Zeke still sat huddled against his mother, but the boy's face was dry and he even gave the doctor a slight smile.
"I'm okay. Just upset a bit, that's all."
"I can understand that, Zeke. I really can. Feeling any better?"
"A bit, and maybe Ma's right. This might be for the best. But I don't know yet. What's happening to me?"
"Right now, that is anyone's guess. You aren't alone, and we are going to do our best to get you through this -- okay?"
Zeke nodded while Mary let him go. "Doc, the boy's father wants those wings cut off. Can you do that? I know that this is the Lord's work, all of it, but we don't have a life back home anymore, what with all the reporters trying to get a peek."
Dr. Harris shook his head, and started the exam again. He stretched out the other wing, rubbed his finger across a couple of the feathers, and sighed. "The worst thing we could do right now is to cut them off. That may be a possibility someday, but the problem is Zeke is still changing, as you can see. Exactly what he will be when he finishes the change is beyond me at the moment, but it appears that Zeke and the other kids are evolving into a brand-new species. Zeke, lay on your tummy for a moment and spread your legs apart as far as they can go." As Zeke took the position, Dr. Harris motioned Mary over. He spent some time examining the new structures.
"See this?" he asked.
"Looks a bit like a cat," Mary commented. "A female cat."
"Feline or not, whatever Zeke is changing into, he -- well she is going to be a female of the species."
"You mean I am a girl, for real?" Zeke demanded.
"Yes, but not like any other girl on the planet. Until we know how extensive these changes are we will have no real idea how any of will affect her, but it looks like she will be able to have children with the other winged boys."
"Well, don't that beat all. Four girls after all. Ed is going to flip."
"Okay, you can roll back on your side now."
Zeke followed orders, as Corey knocked on the door. "Can I come in? I've got interesting news."
"Sure," Zeke said and gave the other boy a wide grin. "I'm a brand-new species. Going to be some sort of animal. Ain't that right, doc?"
"Not an animal, but something not quite human, okay?"
"Whatever you are," Corey said, "you are going to be a singer. I called that company I told you about and the owner is flying out here today to hear Zeke sing. She's bringing some really rich backers, too. You're such a media sensation right now that you could be wealthy in minutes with your voice."
"You're kidding?" Mary said. "A real singer? He's always been the best in choir every Sunday but Ed never wanted him to go any further."
"She wants to," Corey said. "And she's going to be great -- but, as a major interest in this venture, do you think we might change your name from Zeke?"
"A girl's name?" Zeke asked.
"Zeke doesn't suit -- her anymore," Mary said. "What about Ruth or Rachel for the Bible?"
"Ma, not again. I'm tired of being saddled with a Bible name. Brian lucked out, but he was the first. All the rest of us sound like Old Testament books. I like Robyn."
"Then it's settled," Corey said.
"We'll talk about it later, Zeke," Mary said quietly. "I have to call your Pa, and let him know what happened, and then what?"
"I need to finish my exam, and Corey and I will take you out shopping for girls' clothes before we get you into the motel. Just how rich are those record people?"
"Uh." Corey said and grinned. "It's Steve Corbin and his wife? He owns like half the planet while that computer guy owns the rest."
"Who?" Zeke asked.
"You're not kidding, are you?" Dr. Harris asked. "What in the world is a man like that doing flying out here for this?"
Corey shrugged. "I told you that this was going to be big, and Mrs. Corbin really wants to hear Robyn sing."
"Okay, now, Mrs. Hanley there is the phone. Please feel free to call your husband. Corey, you do whatever you have to and please let me finish up here. I still need blood work and I would like to get a ton of x-rays, but that's going to be impossible at the moment."
"I don't believe this is happening to me," Robyn said studying herself in the mirror of the motel room. She did look good in her red blouse over a denim skirt. The vest was just big enough to hide the wings without making her look silly. "This morning I was a boy with wings and now I'm going to be a girl singer." With make-up on, eyebrows plucked and two diamond studs in her ears, she couldn't recognize herself at all.
Corey looked up from the TV set. "Well, you do look great."
"Pa always said I wasn't going to make much of a man. He was always picking on me like that cause I never grew big like Brian."
"I can relate to that," Corey added. "This is as big as I get from now on. Pity. I'd date you in a few years, wings and all."
"You would?" Robyn asked, pleased. "I don't know if I'm ready for that, but thanks -- thanks a lot, Corey. I just wish I knew what else was going to happen to me."
"Are you ready for this afternoon? I can call it off if you want."
"No," Robyn half screamed. "I've always wanted to be a singer, and thanks to you, and God, it's going to happen. I just hope I can get some lessons. Do you believe in God, Corey?"
"I guess. Why?"
"Why did He do this to us?" Robyn blurted out.
"It's not something that He's doing to us. It's something that's happening. I haven't thought much about religion lately, but. I've always seen God as a father, and a good one at that. He created us, and is letting us make our own choice with our lives and this world. I think sometimes He whispers a suggestion here, and plants an idea there, but he doesn't interfere when we make mistakes. I can see Him laughing with us and cheering when we do something right -- like walking on the moon, and I can see Him crying when we do something wrong -- like dropping the bomb on Hiroshima."
Robyn smiled, "I like that. Thanks, that's a big help. Should we go?"
"Yeah, I guess, after this show is over. Just think, if you hit it off with the Corbins, it's going to be limos and jewels for you. I love those earrings your Mom got you. Maybe I should get one?"
"No, it wouldn't suit you at all."
"Okay, I'll trust your judgement on that. I'm glad this is going so smoothly for you. I thought you were going to fight being a girl all the way. I would."
"I thought I would, too, but after that first talk with you everything seemed to make sense. Is that cartoon over yet?"
"Okay, you made your point. Let's get your Mom."
Someone knocked on the door. Corey peeked through the peephole at a boy who looked to be twelve or thirteen. "Who is it?"
"Sandy Corbin. You were expecting my dad? We came to see you instead."
"Can you prove that?"
The boy put his eye up to the peephole. "Yes, I can." He held up a wallet and let three million credit cards fall loose. Corey opened the door.
"I've never seen so much plastic in my life."
"You should see the collection I have back home. I get one or two in the mail every day."
"I'll bet. Hi, I'm really glad to meet you. I'm Corey, Robyn's just inside."
Sandy stood about a head taller than Corey. He had dark, auburn hair, bright blue gray eyes, and a pleasant, round face. He stepped inside, and caught his breath. "Wow, I thought you were a boy... I mean, you're the singer? I'm Sandy and I'm the richest kid in the world. Do you have a boyfriend?"
"Yes. No. Ah, I..." Robyn stuttered as she shook Sandy's hand. "I was a boy this morning, and I'm still changing."
"Yeah, cool it, hot shot, she's not used to being a girl yet, and she's not even the same species."
"What do you mean she's not my species? I think she's the most..."
Someone knocked on the door. Sandy moved first, peeked through the peephole, and said, "Who is it?"
"Your father. May I come in?"
"Can you prove you're my Dad?"
"You have until the count of three to open the door or I'll call your mother."
"That's him," Sandy grinned. He opened the door to let a young man, in cut off jeans and T-shirt inside. "It was worth the trip, Dad. If Aunt Agnes doesn't sign her on the spot can I? I think I'm in love."
"Hi, kids, please ignore my son, he gets like this at times. I really shouldn't let him come along to meet people, but his mother insisted. I'm Steve, and I could have sworn they said you were a boy named Zeke."
"I am, or I was. Pa always said I wouldn't make much of a man, and all these changes proved him right. I'm Robyn now."
"And I'm Corey Williams, and I've been a fan of yours for more years than you would believe, sir," Corey said and pumped Mr. Corbin's hand.'
"Ah, that would explain a few things. They said that you were forty-four and lived in the Thatcher Home for Children? I thought they meant as staff. I see my people can't tell a small child from a middle-aged man."
"They're right," Corey said with a laugh. "I am forty-four. I have an MBA and I now own a large on-line brokerage for kids. Robyn here has changed from a typical down home boy to this vision of winged loveliness, and I changed from a middle-aged man to a scrawny kid. Go figure. And..." Corey stared at the man. "Any time you feel like it, sir, you can, too. My pediatrician at the home is now my roommate, and there's room for one more, but with your money we could really have a blast. Forget the kid there, he's going to grow up and we don't have to."
Mr. Corbin closed his eyes and shook his head. "The worst part about this is that I believe you."
"You could really turn my Dad into a little kid?"
"He'd wind up a bit older than you, twelve or thirteen, but with him it would be permanent, and eventually he'd be your little brother."
"Oh, wow. Go for it, Dad. He's right. We'd have a blast."
"Not on your life, Sport. That is tempting, son, but try someone else."
"Could you turn me into something?" Sandy asked.
"Nope. I can't help you at all, Sandy. You are going to be an artist. That's what you most want, and you have more than enough talent to be fantastic. What you need is a really good teacher that could actually concentrate on you, and not get all bent out of shape over your Dad's money."
"You've got that right," Sandy said. "Everyone gets bent out of shape over Dad's money."
"Young man," Mr. Corbin said. "No matter how old you really are, remind me to hire you or at least put you on retainer. You are an extremely perceptive individual and I could use you for that."
"Sure," Corey answered.
"I have to ask this, Corey, but why are you living at a children's Home when you have so much money?" Mr. Corbin asked.
"Where else could I go? Who's going to adopt me when I can't grow up again? Unless... Sandy, if I followed you home would you keep me?"
"I see your point, but. Well, young lady? Are you ready?" Mr. Corbin offered his arm to Robyn.
"In a second," she said. She took off the vest, stretched her wings for a moment, then covered them up. "They cramp," she said ignoring the look of complete shock on Sandy's face and his father's as well.
"They told me you had wings, but I never believed it," Sandy said in almost a whisper. "Would you go out with me?"
Robyn looked down, with her cheeks flushed.
"Uh oh," Corey said. "That's it, folks. Robyn has just discovered boys, but are the boys of the world ready for her?"
"Shut up," she said. "I'd love to go out with you, but none of that boy/girl stuff."
"Okay, deal," Sandy said although everyone in the room knew that neither one meant it.
The TV announcer looked grim as he read the news. Robyn didn't want to hear it, but she knew she had to.
"To recap our top story, on a tragic note, Timothy Sellers, one of the seven confirmed winged children was shot to death outside his home this morning by a self-proclaimed religious fanatic. The gunman told police that he had prayed to the boy every night for a week, and when his prayers were not answered he decided to prove once and for all that the boy was a fake. Timothy had spent months begging people not to believe the stories that he was an angel.
"Mob violence also broke out in North Carolina when the congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ in Freemont found out the scheduled appearance of Robyn Hanley, the so-called singing angel, was canceled. Robyn's managers have been quick to point out that they have not scheduled any personal appearances for the singer and declined the invitation when the pastor first made it.
"Steve Corbin announced today that he was donating his share of the proceeds from Robyn's recordings and concerts, and a matching sum from his personal accounts to provide security and finances to all of the winged children. He also added that for anyone concerned about what he is doing for other children in need to please refer any questions to his wife who could describe for hours which charities they support."
Ed turned off the TV. "So when is this concert of yours?"
"In two weeks, Pa. Uncle Steve says the security is so tight not even a mosquito could get in."
"Seems strange doing it all by TV cameras and satellites but I guess we got no choice. No one's going to take pot shots at you, Zeke -- Robyn or whoever you are," Ed said, embarrassed.
"It's okay, Pa. It's confusing for me, too. This happened so fast. I like being a girl, I really do, but sometimes."
Ed picked the girl up with a flutter of wings. "I guess that's what really counts. You flying with those things yet?"
"Almost, Pa. They're getting bigger again, and I got ten feet up the last time. Still working them out. Now I got a terrible itch on my backside. This new place is great, but I can't go outside to scratch on a tree without twenty guards with me. No one knows we're here, but this is getting bad."
"You tell that doctor of yours?" Ed asked, not sure if he should take a look like the last time or hope that it would go away. At least this time he could afford the fancy lotion.
"Yeah, but he didn't think it was anything."
"Well, get your Ma to take a look, young lady. She can check it out this time." He hoisted the girl up over his head. "You sure don't weigh anything. Light as a feather." He set the girl down. "Just remember that whoever you are -- you're my songbird."
"Thanks, Pa," she said and went in search of her mother.
Less than an hour later, Dr. Harris called back. "Robyn? Are you itching again?"
"Yeah, I really am, Doc, and it's getting bad. Right on my backside, too."
"Any lumps or bumps back there?"
"Not that I've felt, why?"
Dr. Harris paused for a moment. "Two of the other kids are growing in tails."
"All right," Robyn said. "I always thought I'd need one when I start flying. Have any of the others been able to stay up?"
"Nathan's been able to soar like a glider for a ways, but not for very long. Your wings aren't really big enough to support your mass in the air -- yet. Flying may come along the more your body adapts to these changes. Suzie turned out to be a female, just as you did, but so far there seems to be no way of telling why some of you have changed genders and others have not."
"How many kids?"
"Ten and counting. Got word from Los Angeles this morning that there may be two more. We're flying them out here now before the wings come in."
"Okay, thanks, Doc. I have another call coming in." Robyn pressed the flash button and hoped for the best. "Hello?"
"Hey, beautiful," Sandy said. "How do you like Virginia?"
"It's different. I mean I like the new place. To me it's almost as big as your house, but I don't have any friends here. I can't go out or go to school, and the only kids I have to talk to are my brothers and sisters. Corey calls sometimes but he's busy."
"Welcome to the club, babe. Think about me? I don't even have brothers or sisters. The Hollis kids are gone for the summer, and all I have is you. Want to come over for a movie?"
"I'd love to, but not tonight. I think I'm growing in a tail."
"You're kidding? No, you aren't. What sort of tail?"
"Dr. Harris didn't say, but two of the others have them already."
"Well, I'll bet it makes your hugs extra special."
"You are so sweet," Robyn said blushing.
"You are so sweet," Brian said, with a sneer. "Come on, sis, I need the phone. Tell your boyfriend to hang up."
"I heard," Sandy said. "Call me when you know something about the tail, okay?"
"Okay," Robyn said and hung up. "There, for a big brother you are a clod."
"If you weren't a girl now."Brian said with a balled fist. "I ought to."
Robyn screamed, spun around and grabbed the back of a chair for support. She screamed again.
"I didn't do nothing," Brian said as Mary ran into the room.
"It hurts like anything, Ma. It hurts."
"What hurts?" she asked, then stood back as Robyn's tail burst out from the girl's panties and from under her skirt.
The tail, just a bare lump waved and wagged for a moment, and Robyn sighed as the pain subsided. She turned and started scratching the skin as golden brown feathers covered the tail from tip to base.
"Oh dear Lord, what now?" Ed demanded as he too entered the room.
"Looks like an eagle's tail," Brian commented.
"It's gorgeous," Robyn said now stroking the feathers as the itching stopped. "I love it."
"You would," Brian said. "Now you really are a freak. Like an animal."
"Brian, you take that back," Ed demanded. "That is no way to talk to your sister -- ever. You hear me?"
"Better do something about that now," Mary said. "Okay, sweetheart, come with me, and we'll take a look. Going to have to fix your panties now along with your blouses."
Robyn met Sandy at the door. She said nothing as she let the boy in, then turned around and waved her tail in his face. "Well?"
"That is way cool," Sandy said, awed. In answer, Robyn hugged him. "Best hug ever. Can I touch it?"
"Go ahead, I'm preening it every chance I get to keep the feathers neat."
Sandy stroked the tail, gently and watched Robyn's look of pure contentment. "Good news. Dad's got all the other kids together and we will all be your concerts. He's got an orchestra lined up, but won't tell any of the musicians where the concert will be held. He's just going to fly them in the day of the concert for one rehearsal with you before show time."
"I gave a him a list of the songs already. Any requests?"
"Only that you call me when you get settled in the new place. Dad won't even tell me where it is."
Robyn felt giddy as she let the last note of the last song fade out. The orchestra finished with a huge flourish, and Robyn took a long bow as everyone in the audience applauded wildly. With the cameras still rolling, she cleared her throat and tried to imagine the thousands, maybe even millions of people watching her by satellite relay.
"Thank you, thank you very much. Now I want all you folks watching tonight to listen up. You see this?" Robyn turned and fanned out her tail for the camera. "I don't know any angels that have a tail like that. Do you? See, we aren't angels at all. We're something else. So stop calling thinking that we can heal you or pray for you or whatever. We can't do any miracles and if you want someone to pray for you, call in a preacher, cause we aren't going to do it.
"After tonight I'm going to give more concerts, but all of us are moving to someplace safe. I don't know where we're going and I don't think even Mr. Corbin knows where we're going, but we ain't going to let any more of us get killed. You hear that? They tore the wings right off one little boy in Russia and he died because of it, and they stoned a little girl to death for being a demon. So just forget about us. And that goes for all you people camped out around our old cabin in North Carolina. I don't know what you think is going to happen, but God ain't going to visit you there, and we ain't ever coming back. There's a new owner, and he's got every right to kick you people off the property. And I'm telling you that the place isn't a shrine and if anyone starts charging you money for a chance to visit you're being ripped off. We can't stop people from scamming you if you're still fool-headed enough to think we're angels, but no matter what anyone tells you we ain't blessing no statues or pendants or stuff."
Robyn started waving her arms motioning for the others to come up to the stage. "This is all of us, for the moment," she said, letting the camera pan around the fifteen children. "We're not angels, but we are God's children no matter what we look like, I want to end this concert with a couple of my favorite hymns. You guys can join in or not."
With a deep breath, Robyn began to sing "Holy, Holy, Holy" almost in a whisper. Several of the kids joined in and the orchestra picked up the tune. Taking the hand of the boy next to her, Robyn lead the kids in several more rounds of the hymn. As all of them joined hands, it wasn't long before wings started flapping and the kids rose from the floor. She switched to "A Mighty Fortress," to end the show.
"Angel fever, or more aptly, angel madness, is sweeping around the world today after last night's concert by Robyn Hanley. Stores everywhere are selling out of angel-related items and the crowds of anxious shoppers are getting violent.
"This morning, four people were killed as a mob of people crowded around two newly winged children in Bombay. The children escaped, unharmed, but police had to fire into the crowd to keep the people from reaching the kids.
"Last night, Joseph Grainger, the man accused of shooting Timothy Sellers, was lynched in prison when he bragged about killing one of the angels. The other inmates hung Grainger by the neck in his cell, and mutilated his body after his death. It is rumored that the prison guards looked the other way during this process.
"Delegations from several religious denominations have petitioned the White House and Congress for the return of the winged children. The church leaders contend that these children belong to the world and not to one man, no matter how much money he has. So far there has been no response from the White House, but the response from the Corbins is clear enough.
"A spokesman for Corbin Enterprises said, 'The fact that these children have grown wings does not interfere with their rights as United States citizens to live wherever they choose. The children and their parents are free to come and go as they please or to leave the complex if they so desire. But there are no guarantees that the security that can be provided outside of the complex will be adequate to protect the life of one of these children. More resources have to be employed to rescue newly winged children from overzealous mobs.'"
"I don't see why we gotta stay here," Brian whined, waving his arms toward the huge expanse of swimming pools behind the complex. "We're out here in the middle of nowhere. No kids -- nothing."
"Now, boy, don't you start nothing," Ed said. "There are kids here without wings, lots of them."
"Yeah, but I can't understand half of them and those I can talk to are so snooty I don't want to talk to them. Couldn't we just go back to the new house in Virginia and leave Robyn here?"
Ed shook his head. "We'd have to change our names and be ready to rush back here if anyone found out who we were. You know there are lunatics out there would start torturing us to find out where this place is."
"It's still no fair. All those kids get wings and I don't. It might not be so bad here if I could fly."
"You ask that little kid -- you know, that little blond kid that hangs out with Robyn? He seems to arrange things like that."
"Corey? What's he got to do with anything? Okay, Pa, I'll ask him, but."
As Brian wandered off, Ed signaled the waiter for another drink. He stretched out on the lounge and put his hands behind his head. Go back to Virginia where he had to get his own drinks and mow the grass for that huge place the Corbin's talked Mary into. Not likely. He had it made now, in the lap of luxury, and he wasn't giving it up.
Several minutes later, Robyn flew in and landed next to her father's seat. She wore a one piece bathing suit, and Ed had to admit how good she looked in it. She didn't have anything up front, yet, but none of the girls did, but.
"What's with Brian?" Robyn asked with a shrug. "He's pestering Corey about wings now."
"So? He wants to fly like a bird. Think the kid can do it?"
"I don't know. I thought Brian hated it here. Then again, there was another death this morning. I think winged kids ought to be declared an endangered species, or something, Pa. It's like we're getting about half of them and the mob is getting the other half. What's with these people?"
"People are either scared out their minds about you kids, or they want a piece of the miracle and don't care how they get it. You kids are the ones paying the price. It's always been that way when something new comes along. In the old days they used to say if God had wanted man to fly He'd have given him wings. Now that God's given you the wings, they want to rip them right off. It don't make no sense, but nothing ever does when you get a lot of frightened or greedy people together."
Corey ran up to stand next to Robyn. "Hey, Mr. Hanley. I couldn't do anything for Brian. Since the change would have made him female, like Robyn here, he decided against it. Just got a call from your boyfriend."
"Yeah, someone sent Uncle Steve a ton of letter bombs for hiding you guys away the way he did. They didn't get through, but a postal worker was hurt. It's really getting bad out there and I have to go back to Columbus."
"Why?" Robyn asked.
"School. Can't miss the fifth grade again now can I? Besides, I'm always needed at the Home, and that's my purpose in life now, while you get to sing for the entire world."
"When are you leaving?" Ed asked.
"I guess when Uncle Steve and Sandy get here. Sandy said a day or so."
"You'd better listen to this," Corey told Robyn and shoved over a pocket TV.
The announcer read off the news, then said, "To recap our top story this evening, Alexander Corbin, the son of billionaire Steven Corbin was kidnaped today by what was described as a full regiment of masked gunmen. The boy was traveling with his father to visit the winged children.
"The kidnappers did contact Mr. Corbin this afternoon demanding a trade, Sandy for one of the winged kids."
Robyn switched off the TV. "Okay, so what do I do now? I have to go."
"Uncle Steve won't permit it. He is refusing to negotiate with those people until they come up with a monetary figure."
"They won't and Sandy's going to die. I won't let that happen. Any suggestions?"
"You can call Uncle Steve, but I'm telling you he won't let you go."
"Then come on Mr. Genius, I'm going anyway."
Part Two Next Issue