Night Flight

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
July/August 2007

William Gwaltney

I walk out into the hot summer night and head across the lawn to the barn. Fresh dew covers the lush grass, and I lift the small red backpack that hangs by my side so that it will not get wet. Fireflies flash silently through the air, gleaming like tiny flying diamonds. The full moon shines almost as brightly as the sun. I reach the barn, where my horse, Athena, stands in her stall. When she hears me coming, she lifts her head and pricks up her ears. She snorts softly. I reach into my backpack for an apple, and place it on the top of her door. She devours it happily. I open her stall and she prances out. I take off the thick wool blanket which covers her. She trembles with excitement. She knows what comes next.

I slide her bridle over her head, and fasten the tiny buckles. I take a moment to slide my backpack over my shoulders. Then I slip up onto her broad bare back. It wouldn’t be the same to ride her with a saddle. I turn her out of the barn and we walk down the driveway until we are out of earshot of the house. Then we walk a little farther just in case. I don’t want to wake my parents.

When we have gone a safe distance, I ask her for a gallop. She responds immediately, taking off, her neck stretching out, her hooves striking the ground in a quickening rhythm. The gentle thundering of her hooves ripples through the still night air. She pulls hard, asking for some extra rein. I let her have it, allowing it to slip easily through my fingers. Faster and faster we go. I feel as though we’re flying and suddenly, we are. She gives one last push with her mighty back hooves, then spreads her giant wings and we begin to soar through a black velvet sky.

Night Flight flying in the night

The moonlight is shining on Athena’s snow-white coat

We fly low over the tops of trees, startling birds who are already asleep. They awake unhappily, squawking and shrieking, flapping and fluttering. We are the largest thing they have ever seen in the night sky. Then we clear the trees and we are flying over open ground, sparkling with the same dew that I walked through earlier on my way to the barn. I keep Athena down low so that people cannot see us easily. We fly over backyards where dogs look up at us and bark an alarm. But when people come out to investigate they do not see us, for we are flying so fast we are already gone.

I look down to see a series of tiny ponds below me. The moonlight is shining on Athena’s snow-white coat, and I can see her image reflected in the ponds as we glide past. I ease her down out of the sky and we land softly by the water’s edge. I slide off of her back. Athena slips her delicate muzzle into the water and drinks noisily. When she is done she lifts her head and water dribbles from her lips. I cup the water in my hands and bring it to my mouth. It is cool and refreshing. I remove my canteen from my backpack and fill it. I scoop up some water and pour it over my head. Athena watches me closely, enviously. I pour the contents of my canteen over her back and she closes her eyes in bliss. I refill my canteen and relax on the bank of the pond as I sip from it. I am suddenly aware of just how beautiful the night is. The moon’s reflection dances across the water. Crickets sing from the nearby meadow. Tiny bats flutter over the pond, snatching mosquitoes out of the air and swooping down low for an occasional drink. The scent of summer flowers lingers in the air. After a short rest, I mount Athena again and we are off.

As we soar beneath the stars, the gentle notes of “Pachabel’s Canon” drift lazily below me. I look down and see that there is a concert on the lawn of the museum. This is one of my favorite pieces of music, and hearing it played live is a special treat. I guide Athena down behind the museum and together we sit and listen to the beautiful notes hanging in the still night air. Even though I have no saddle, the feathers of Athena’s furled wings feel so soft and comfortable that I feel as if I am sitting on a down comforter.

When the last note has been played and the concert is over, I turn Athena around and we run again. I am reminded once more of how much I love the way it feels when she finally lifts off. Her speed creates a wind that ruffles my hair and lifts the mane off her neck. It makes the feathers dance on her wings. As she flies, the beating of her wings makes a comforting sound similar to the sound made by my mother’s sheets, snapping on the clothesline on a windy afternoon. I feel as if I could fly forever. I wish that everyone could see her, she is so beautiful as she flies, but I know that this secret must be mine alone. I shudder when I think of what might happen if people knew that she existed. She might be taken or stolen from me. My parents might decide that it is too dangerous for me to fly. Someone might kill her, just because she’s different. Even if none of that happened, publicity could be the end of all that we love. There would never be quiet times again for us to just fly silently through the darkness; under a canopy of glowing stars… enjoying ourselves and all the night has to offer.

Night Flight red apple

As we fly, I look down at my watch and realize that it is getting late. I turn her slowly in the air and she soars back towards home. I ease her downward and she lands gently on the grass, running at first but slowing down gradually until she is walking once again. I walk her slowly around the pasture, giving her only sips of water until she is cool. Then I lead her back to her stall.

I approach her with the blanket and she dances away. She shakes her head. I know that it must be terrible to wear this thing on such a hot summer evening, but I also know that this is one of the only ways to keep my secret. I speak to her soothingly as I put the blanket on and fasten the straps. I pat her and tell her what a good girl she is. She nuzzles me before moving over to check her feed bin. When she finds the carrots I have placed there, the look on her face is one of pure joy. In small ways, she is just like any other ordinary horse.

I leave her and walk quietly back to the house. My dog, Luger, meets me at the door.

He does not bark, but he chuffs softly, his big tail wagging loudly in the dark, banging against the walls and sweeping objects off low tables. I make him sit down so that his tail is quieter. He is the only one who knows my secret, and it wouldn’t be good if he woke my parents.

I eat a quick snack in the dark kitchen before heading up the stairs to bed. I can hardly wait to fall asleep and dream… about tonight and about all the nights to come, gliding through the starry skies on Athena.

Night Flight William Gwaltney

William Gwaltney, 11
Englewood, Colorado

Night Flight Gwyn Welch

Gwyn Welch, 12
Hancock, New Hampshire

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