Issue No. 16, Spring 2016

The Boys in the Bluffs
Jennifer Todhunter

They were boys before they were bats. Three boys who would have cared about things like careers, and work, and any direction other than up, had it not been for their untamed hearts.

When they weren’t climbing, they were knocking back beers at the local bar, their hair knotted with wind, their hands calloused and coated with chalk. Each one would look you dead for rights in the eyes when he banked the eight ball in the corner pocket, having bet the boys’ bar bill for the night. And when the music was almost too quiet to hear, they would grab the hand of a girl sitting by herself at the back of the room or on a stool along the bar, and they would dance with her so closely she’d feel the muscles in their back and their earthy breath inside her body.

The boys would bring the last-call stragglers still wanting conversation or to finish their dance back to their cave in the bluffs. They’d light the night with headlamps, and pass around a bottle of rum stashed in a canvas bag behind a boulder. Their visitors would bring cigarettes, dark chocolate, and the occasional bag of mushrooms, while the boys told stories about places they’d been, people they’d met, and how close they’d come to dying.

 

Sometimes, before the sun rose, one of the boys would snake his body around a girl who’d made her way into his sleeping bag, and he’d remember what it was like to connect with something outside of nature.

During the winter, the boys brought blankets and bivy sacks into their cave, saving money they earned doing odd jobs for a few groceries and a six-pack most Saturday nights. They pulled themselves up ice walls with axes and crampons, and warmed their bodies around the fireplaces of strangers, sometimes tucking under their sheets for the night. When the temperature outside became too cold, and the trek to the bar too long, the boys hunkered in and slept, resting their bodies for spring. While they slept, their bodies worked, craving the movement that had become constant and necessary to their survival. The boy’s ears became more prominent beneath their unruly hair, their sinewy fingers longer, and a set of retractable wings grew under their skin.

The boys re-emerged that spring, rejuvenated and eager to climb. They aired out their cave, organized their gear, and loosened their muscles on an easy ascent. Their grins ran like winter thaw, fresh and fast, and when they arrived at the bar, you didn’t want to beat them on the pool table or keep them off the dance floor. You wanted to watch them win because there was something captivating about the way they looked without a want in the world.

They left the bar alone that night and bypassed their cave, heading straight up the main peak that overlooked town. They jammed their elongated fingers into hairline cracks, smeared their feet across the granite face, and rose with the moon. After assembling a portaledge, the boys leaned up against the cool rock and stared out at the view before them, until there wasn’t a noise but the owls hooting and the wind whispering in their ears. Then the boys hooked their wings onto their fingers and soared through the dusk-filled sky, gliding on wind currents and twisting their way toward the ground.

The boys didn’t head into town much after that, enchanted by their newfound ability. They spent their days sleeping in their cave, and their nights drifting on the breeze, competing to see which one of them could fly the farthest. Occasionally, a girl who’d shared one of the boy’s beds before their transformation would find her way along the trails and into the cave where their gear was neatly folded, and their scent remained strong. Sometimes, she’d stay there until daylight came, and the boys returned home, their cheeks flushed and their hair tangled. And sometimes, one of the boys would sweep her up in his wing-like arms, and hold her cocooned against him, as he hung upside down and slept.


Jennifer Todhunter is a number nerd by day, word fiddler at night. She enjoys dark, salty chocolate and running top speed in the other direction. Find her at www.foxbane.ca or @JenTod_.