The feathers were like motes of dust in the sunlight; the wind that blew away whatever had been left of structure, flapped our coats, tied perfect knots in our hair, it gathered up the down and pins and whorled them about in fractals of song, clattering like windchimes as they blew around the tripping, staggering, leaping, dancing children.
Did you come from the sky? Did it hurt to break through? Are there more like you? Are there more like us? Can you teach me how to sing? If I tie your feathers to my back, can I fly?
The children asked countless questions, grabbed hold of its hands, walked with it, pulled it along. We who no longer danced, who no longer sang, left it to the devices of the littlest ones we cared for, to let them learn the music that had been lost.
On the even of the eleventh day, the song it had been singing changed — we looked to find it walking with the children, hand in hand in hand in hand. They all wore its expression, one of calm at the lips, and homesickness at the eye. It wasn’t singing a different song — the children had simply lifted their voices to sing with it.
Some of us knew terror, then, a chilling thing that crept through us no matter how hot the wind that blew the dust and ash. Some of us were made of ice in the middle, cores of frigid loss that resonated with what the children sang. We reached for the children then, tore them away from it, pulled them close to our breasts and drew their heat against ourselves as though to protect, as though to be warm again.
It continued to sing, even sheltering the one child that had been left to it, that no one reached for.
The Captain admonished us for our fear, and stepped back to put his hand out, to let it twine fingers with his. When it began to sing again, he lifted his voice to join it, and when the children sought to leave our embraces and join the music as well, it was hard not to wail as though lost, but at the Captain’s insistence, we gave ourselves over to the sound, and by the time we were cresting the next hill, the wind had changed.
And all of us were singing as well.