Marlows menagerie of mar.., p.3
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       Marlow's Menagerie of Marvels, p.3
 

          
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shards. A large one cut into her palm. She seized it, spotted the taught end of the purple curtain, and began to saw.

  “After everything I gave you!” Marlow's voice echoed above Angel's sheltering wing, clashing with the sound of the bell and the creaking of the broken joints in the birdcage. “Everything you owe me! You would be rotting in the sewers if not for me!”

  Angel winced as something surely hit him from above; Siren glimpsed glass, metal pieces, hoops and curtains falling past his wings. Her hand was bloody as she tried to widen the tear in the curtain, and its fibers slowly ripped apart with every stroke.

  “Let's see you fly away when I break your wings!”

  Siren caught a glimpse of Nathaniel Marlow reaching down with a clawlike hand. But the birdcage had finally had enough. A long, loud creak above the control booth caused all three to look up, with only a few seconds to spare.

  The fabric fell apart and released Angel's leg. Siren's strength finally ran out as Angel pulled away from the fountain tower. She felt the metal arm shift beneath her and she tumbled against a tangle of hanging fabric, sliding down in a dizzying drop. She had no idea which way was up, or where Angel had gone, or what was making the deafening bangs that surrounded her.

  Siren's tail hit something at an angle, half-cushioned by the tangled curtains, and she rolled onto flat ground. Stars danced over her eyes as the banging ebbed away, and the ringing of the alarm bell finally died. Darkness wavered at the edge of her vision, but slowly it drew back, and the inside of the great cage came back into focus.

  The magnificent fountain had snapped in two, brought down by the weight of half the cage's ceiling, crumpling inward like it had been stepped on. The control booth had smashed down into the water on the far side of the cage, and errant jets of water streamed out of the rubble. The crushed section of the cage was little more than a mass of broken machinery, ripped curtains and glinting scrolls.

  Siren didn't have the strength to lift herself up from the small puddle of water where she lay. She turned her head to see that her tank had emptied, leaving a gaping trench of soggy rock formations and glittering glass pieces. Even if she could push herself toward the edge and drop down, there was no water left to carry her to the sea.

  Siren couldn't tell the puddle from her tears, nor if they were from joy or pain. They were free. The Marvels were probably an incredible sight at that very moment, catching the dawn light in their wings as they soared across the ocean, far away from here.

  She thought of Angel and wished that he'd had the sense to fly away when the curtain had torn. There was no way he had been caught in the collapse; no one could fly like he could. And he had promised they would all escape.

  Her breath caught in her throat as she thought of how she had planned to wave at them all from the ocean when she was free. Still, her tired body was calm as she gazed up at the half ruined ceiling, waiting for the rest of it to fall. How long would it take before she was ended by one of those sharp golden bars?

  Siren closed her eyes and waited. One way or another, they were all free from Marlow forever.

  A tiny ripple lapped against her skin, and her eyes flew open. Had she gone back in time? Angel was looking down at her again with concern. But he was older and dirtier, covered in bruises and a smear of dark red. His smile, however, was very familiar.

  The smooth metal of his wings gently slid under her shoulders and the curve of her tail, folding beneath her and lifting her off the wet ground. Feeling dizzy and surreal, Siren couldn't lift her head from the spot where Angel's shoulder became his wings.

  “No,” she tried to sign with limp fingers. She was too tired to explain her distress – that with Angel carrying her in his wings, he couldn't fly away.

  Angel shook his head, and began to walk, trudging slowly through the wrecked birdcage.

  “No flying,” she managed. “No swimming.”

  But Angel stopped, and Siren saw why. The heavy front doors had remained intact, still barring entry and exit to Marlow's Menagerie of Marvels. The lock waited expectantly in front of her face. Siren took a shuddering breath as she fumbled with her good hand for the key around her neck. Her arm trembled as she held it out, placed it into the lock, and turned.

  Angel drew back a little as the doors rumbled, their gears reluctant to comply. With a clang and a hiss like a resigned sigh, the doors slowly drew open, revealing the entrance she and Angel had never been allowed to approach.

  Beyond the sagging canvas of the tent was a sliver of daylight – the platform of Marvel's train, and the empty tracks that ran across the ocean toward the distant beach.

  Siren collapsed against Angel in relief. She saw the tips of his metal feathers making small flicks. He signed a little clumsily, thanks to his hold on her, but she got the message.

  “We escape together,” Angel signed.

  The darkness around them gave way to a periwinkle sky, with thin trails of smoke from the destruction they left behind. The sounds of collapsing metal slowly disappeared, replaced by the gentle whisper of the calm ocean. Overhead, dark shapes threaded through the pink clouds, some of them holding hands.

  The Marvels flew to freedom, and Angel and Siren walked away.

 
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