There used to be a man who could fly up at the abbey. That was Wilkins Abbey, an old church built back in the 19th century or something that sat up on the river like an obsidian edifice through which the light shone, the hill taking on the gape and shoulders of a grinning giant whenever the sun would set behind it. We'd always look up at it and watch him come and go, his big wings unfolding like a forgotten statue, and he'd take to the air.
He always seemed so happy, even though he was crying when he would fly by all of us, he would always wave and laugh. Sometimes he would ask if we wanted to join him in the air, but we always said that no, we couldn't fly because we didn't have wings. He would tell us that having wings is great, and we should try it sometime, even though it would make him sad to realize we didn't have them.
Sometimes we would see lights coming from inside, and the flying man would tell us that they were people made of blue light or fog or something, that there were men and women who would come and give him food or change the channels on his television or leave plates of sandwiches out where he could get them. They would leave toys or books for him every once in a while, and he would come give them to us because a flying man has no use for peripheral things, he said.
We saw a blue woman at the market one day, and she was like he said, made of blue light or hard fog and only her robe was real. Her eyes were just limpid pools made of shining crystal that slowly rotated underneath her eyelids, and to leave she just faded away before her robe caught on the wind. She looked at us sternly when she saw us using the toys the flying man had given us.
The flying man had to go through the sewers to get home, though. There were bugs in the sewers, and he would give them his tears and let them run all over him and he sang openly to them. We would hear piping and deep thrumming coming from beneath the town at night when we were trying to sleep and we knew he was singing to the cockroaches and the worms.
There's charcoal people in town. They'd fight us over the books and toys and their fingers were always scratchy and rough. They have red pupils and their whites are cracked and easy to see in dim evenings. Thick coats and hats made of the same dust drape over them, and at night they used to look at the abbey and hold their hats in their hands in awe. They asked us if we wanted wings, too, and when we told them that the man who had them kept telling us to grow some of our own, the charcoal men would shake their heads and cluck and tell us that people couldn't do that by themselves.
They kept trying to get into the abbey, but they couldn't get near the blue people, who would come and go randomly, but always seemed to know when a charcoal man was coming. You had to be able to fly to get to the parts of the abbey the winged man lived in, but the charcoal men could break apart into dust and just blow there if they had to. They kept coming and going at his house, leaving behind their smears and trying to talk to the flying man outside of the abbey, but he wouldn't talk to them for very long. They kept telling him he was selfish for not giving his wings to anyone else, and he'd tell them he was just waiting for other people to grow their own, thinking that if enough people watched him fly, they would want to fly, too.
But really only it was the bugs who cared about him; the blue people, he said, only kept the charcoal men away. The things they left were incidental, or something like that. One day, though, we found the winged man not flying, but standing in the woods next to the culvert where he could get into the rivers under the hill that he could follow into the abbey holding a steel mask surrounded by triangles like a sun mask or something.
He said the bugs had found it, and they gave it to him. After that, he'd carried it everywhere, strapped to his back between his wings. Our storyteller said that there used to be a metal man with roots like muscles under the metal in his body who lived up at the abbey before the man with wings, and the blue people would come and give him things. He would keep his toys and give the food to the villagers, and the charcoal men came after him, too. She said that he was also tired and lonely, but kept telling everyone about how wonderful trees were, and they should grow some around here.
There's a forest west of town, covered in bugs and creeper vines. We went out there with the flying man and found pieces of metal all over the place and put together an armor-man from them and the steel mask over the course of several weeks. The man with wings spent days and days sitting on a log looking at it and frowning.
We saw him at the bar the next day, he was reading a storybook from the library about how the man made of metal had seeds inside his body, and told the bugs to take them all and run out into the empty field and grow a forest for everyone. He was crying that day, but he wasn't happy like he used to be. He left to go into the sewers that night and we never saw him again. The charcoal men came down the next morning and said the abbey was empty now.
Everyone's back hurt a lot, and the charcoal men came and took down the library to make mining tools to carve up the inside of the mountain. They said they were going to fix the abbey so the blue people never come back and no other strange men, like men whose heads are made of light or men who have stars in their hair, ever come by the abbey again to show off how much more amazing they are than anyone else.
They came instead and brought people to pretend to be men and women with stars in their hair and have coats made of the winter because that was better for all of us. They said they didn't know what happened to the man with wings, but they were glad he was gone, because he was making everyone want things that they couldn't have on their own.
We knew what happened, though. We heard it in the sewers. He went down and sang to the bugs, to the cockroach kings and the lady worms. He told them that because they were the only ones who cared, they could all have a little piece of him, like the metal man ho made the promise to throw his seeds to the west of town to grow a forest, to give everyone in town a feather. He let them flow into him, to hide inside him, he let their caring joy and love consume him, and the next morning everyone woke up with a feather on their backs.
Now everyone in town has little wings, about as long as our arms, and the charcoal men live in the abbey. We haven't seen a blue person in years. None of us can fly though, but we all try. We all come outside and look at the abbey and flap our little wings and sing, we smell the sweet summer air, and nothing happens, then we all go back inside and talk like we really did go flying.