This story is by Audrey Flores and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Wren had been aching to enter the room for months.
Grandfather had forbidden it. Curiosity said, “What could the harm be?”
The morning was still, like the universe knew there would be disturbances and was preparing itself.
The bedroom on the third floor was furnished simply. The most intriguing thing about the room was the wallpaper. White doves in mid-flight across a deep blue sea. At least, Wren thought of it as the sea. Wren had never been to the ocean, but she imagined it would look similar. The birds spread their wings in uniformity, alternating left and right. They were graceful, but they looked unhappy. Tired. Trapped. Far from the way Wren lived, but they called to her just the same.
Wren’s room was right down the hall. She had lived eight of the ten years of her life there. Her origin was mostly unknown to her. Grandfather would change the story every time. Sometimes she was a wild child that had been living with coyotes when he and Grandmother found her, or she was an angel that the heavens gave to them as a gift. She loved curling up in his arms and listening to his wild tales and hearing him spin herself into them. She did less of that these days, but her imagination grew as she did, and so did her curiosity about the world.
Wren didn’t remember much about Grandmother. She didn’t like the way Grandfather’s face shadowed when he looked at her pictures. She preferred the warm, caring Grandfather that surprised her with little wooden carvings and treats every once in awhile. Her favorite was a simple wooden heart that he made into a necklace for her. She wore it often and stroked it when she was thinking.
Every year since she was seven she asked to move into the dove room for her birthday, but her request was always denied. Wren could feel the magic in it. The room reached out to her with invisible fingers. She had never felt so intrigued. She could feel the walls whisper to her, taunt her from her room down the hall.
A week before she gathered up the courage to enter the room, for the first time since she glimpsed it through an open door years earlier. At that moment, the room noticed her, too, and it had tried to get her attention ever since.
That morning, the pull was stronger, like the room was desperate. Wren succumbed to its magnetic call and slipped away after lunch when Grandfather took his nap.
As the door swung open, she felt an electric peace envelop her. She ran her fingers along the wing of a dove, wondering what it felt like to be a bird, flying over the treacherous sea on heavenly wings. She imagined the spray hitting her feathers, the wind roaring, the sky swirling dark. She noticed something along one of the delicate bird’s wings. Wren twisted her neck so she could see better. “Vacat vobis, liberum,” she whispered.
A sharp ringing filled Wren’s ears. The outlines of the doves grew, glowing with a bright light. The fluttering of white wings made her jump back. The doves leaped from the walls and circled her in a frenzy. The room sighed. Wren stood in the midst of them, feeling as disoriented as the doves around her.
“She’s been changed by the Realness! We won’t be able to carry her!” A voice said.
A dove landed on her head, causing Wren to shriek.
“Wren! If you want to fly, use your own wings!”
Wren stared. “How–?”
“Oh, we all know you, because you noticed us.” The dove wriggled out of her hands and landed on the floor. “We were sent to escort you home. Look, you’ll just have to follow us, we can’t carry you.”
“But I can’t fly!”
“Of course you can. They can change your image, but they can’t change what you are.”
“W-what do you mean?” Wren was shaking.
“Your memory has been altered by the Realness of this place, so you don’t remember your home. You were stolen when you were very young, from the world above this one.”
A pair of strong arms lifted her from the ground. The bird leaped off of her head and joined the throng.
“Wren, stay back!” Grandfather pulled her to the doorway.
“Grandfather wait! Let me go!”
The room filled with anger. The doves turned and dove at Grandfather. Their whiteness was suffocating, the cries of pain from Grandfather were too much. Wren slipped from his grip as his hands went to shield his face. She begged it to stop, stop, stop–
“STOP!” Wren threw her hand in the air, her body filled with rage. The room obeyed. The doves froze. The room was still. Wren felt like she was going to explode, as if all of the chaos had been sucked into her. Tears began to fall from her eyes.
“Grandfather, what is going on?” She pleaded.
Grandfather sank to his knees, scratches crisscrossing his face.
“She couldn’t have kids.” His figure crumbled inward with grief. His eyes were red and raw.
“So she stole me?” Wren said quietly. This thought rippled through her, shattering her reality.
Grandfather swallowed. “Your Grandmother disappeared one day, and a few weeks later she brought you home. She produced papers and everything, and I…I didn’t ask questions. I was just so happy to have you, and love you.” He paused. “She fell from that window soon after you arrived.”
Wonder and confusion welled up in the room.
Grandfather pulled a key from his pocket. “I found this with her things when she died.”
Wren got to her feet and took the large key. Her fingers tingled. She felt like she might faint, the heavy feeling of betrayal and grief filling her stomach.
A choice lay before her. The room was on the edge of its seat, hoping she would make the right one.
How do you leave someone who is so selfless and loving behind? How do you ignore such a fantastic discovery about yourself? Wren closed her eyes and breathed.
Wren smiled at him. “Thank you. I…I forgive you.” Her voice broke. “Please come with me. You’ll be all alone here.”
Grandfather gave her a broken smile, then pulled her into his arms. “I don’t belong there. I’ve enjoyed every moment you’ve been here, but you’re not mine to enjoy.”
Wren’s tears wet his flannel shirt as she squeezed him tight. He set her back on the ground.
“Don’t worry about me. I don’t have the strength to do the wonderful things you’re going to do.” Grandfather brushed a tear from her cheek. “You were always meant to fly. Go find your family, Wren.”
Wren’s mind reeled. She nodded and turned to the doves, suspended in the air above her.
Open the window, the room said.
Wren got to her feet, the key held tight in her fingers. She felt something burn within her as if she were discovering the very center of herself. The room urged her on.
She approached the window, the key burning in her hand. Wren undid the latch and opened the shutters. The room seemed to giggle in delight. The doves burst to life, altered their course, and began to escape into the freedom of the sky. She longed to taste that freedom.
Wren turned back to Grandfather, one hand clapped over her necklace. He gave her a nod.
She climbed out of the window to the roof below, the midday sun striking her face. The key became white hot, like lightning, but Wren clutched it still. Wren took a deep breath, braced herself, then leaped off the roof.
The ground fell away from her at a dizzying pace. The wind rushed through her choppy brown hair. Her heart raced.
A dove rose next to her, his eyes twinkling. “We’ll take you to the Gates. Edrasi is waiting there.”
The ascension took Wren’s breath away. They rose above the busy world into the clouds. She laughed dreamily, part of her mind in disbelief.
As they climbed higher the doves began to circle her, slowly at first, then at such a rate that Wren became dizzy again. The sun ignited their wings and they became a burst of light, blinding her for an instant. A bright tunnel opened before her and she soared through it.
Wren landed hard on all fours on a pearly walkway, her wrists stinging. She looked up and beheld the Gates, a magnificent passage that she longed to enter. The doves disappeared. Wren ran to the Gates, forcing the key into the keyhole as fast as she could. The Gates swung open.
A centaur, large and intimidating, strode up to her.
“Wren,” Edrasi said, his voice gentle. “Welcome home.”