The shadow of the tall oak tree branched across the forest floor, covering Vel’s frail figure like a blanket. She smeared a tear across her face with the back of her left hand. Fingers shaking, she floundered with her dress’s white buttons that stretched from her neck to her knees. Once unfastened, Vel let the laced silk fall to the earth in a fabricated circle. With a sigh of relief, she kicked off her black polished shoes, and began to climb.
Vel’s tight undergarments stretched and wrenched at her body, beckoning her to return to the ground. Her trembling fingers grasped the familiar knots embedded in the trunk. Leaves scraped her pale face. Her confined feet, through thick stockings, fumbled for the well-known boughs, heaving her higher and higher. Branches yanked through her golden hair like clawed hands. Her ears strained to listen as the faint buzzing began to sound from across the vast forest.
Reaching the thickest, sturdiest branch, Vel pulled herself up into a sitting position. The sound of humming quickly grew nearer and louder.
It’s almost time.
The bark scraped the underside of Vel’s knees in a rugged grasp. She could feel her stockings pulling, the threads joining those that had previously claimed the arm “home.” Pointing her stained toes opposite the clouds, she tightened her legs into a confident position.
Feeling secure, she closed her blue eyes and swung upside-down into the sweet breeze. Her arms stretched toward the forested floor, limp and free, as gravity embraced her body. Leafy patterns of sunlight took shape upon her dangling strands of hair. Her long pearl necklace slipped downward, over her face, pirouetting down onto a green landing. Vel inhaled deeply.
They’re almost here.
A warmth of energy radiated off of their nearing arrival, breathing life into Vel’s lungs. The golden light shining through her eyelids began to darken, and the air began to thicken in dance.
Vel slowly opened her eyes. Swirls of color were blending into the wind, teasing her inverted vision. Her mouth crept into a smile. She spread her fingers, feeling the wings’ soft vibrations send a tingling sensation up through her body and into the treetops.
Thousands of hummingbirds circled Vel. A few skimmed the ends of her hair, fleetingly unraveling its ringlets into straight strands. One grazed her fingertips, its feathers caressing her palm’s soft skin. Others darted through the foliage, fast enough to avoid the slightest tremor of a leaf. Some landed on limbs, painting the brown bark, but only for seconds at a time. Their chirps filled the air, creating a supernatural, high-pitched sound.
Vel focused her vision, attempting to concentrate on one specific bird. Its bright red and orange feathers melded into a blur of sunshine with every flit, illuminating the air around it. The bird slowed, hovering, its head quickly nodding back and forth, as if it were aware of Vel’s attention. She slowly reached out toward it, beckoning it closer. Her fingers centimeters from its feathered breast, the hummingbird darted towards the ground in a fiery plunge. Vel’s eyes followed its dive as she realized how high she had climbed.
I’m even with the clouds.
Vel had progressed farther and farther up into the old oak over the years, the height of her climb reflecting her age’s bravery. Fifteen years into it, she was as tall as the branches would allow, about 20 feet up; the remainder of the tree’s stretch consisted of thinning twigs.
She pulled herself back up onto the branch into a sitting position, and embraced the beautiful view that stretched out before her. In between the multicolored darts of hummingbirds, Vel could see nothing but trees for miles, their diverse shades of green blending together into a thick carpet. The bright blue sky, splattered with wisps of shifting clouds, stretched infinitely.
Squinting, she attempted to locate “home,” which didn’t take long to root out. Chimneys promptly pinpointed its position as its deathly dark plumes invaded the sky. The massive mansion towered over the surrounding trees, reminding Vel of how small she truly was.
A slight pressured feeling near her elbow interrupted Vel’s thoughts; a hummingbird had landed on her arm’s most recent bruise. The bird’s plump body was covered in blues and reds, converging into patches of deep purple. Its tiny black feet tickled the tender splotch as it stepped around, and for the first time, in a long time, Vel felt human. The little bird, satisfied with its brief visit, took flight and vanished into its cloud of companions.
As if urging the show to go on, a hummingbird pair, flying side-by-side, entered stage right and caught Vel’s attention. Inseparable, the male followed his mate’s every move, their wings beating in unison. The female was covered in a bright hue of green that spread from her beak to her breast, where it slowly faded into a dark blue. The male flaunted a shade of orange, so pale in some areas it appeared yellow. The two twisted and turned together in a romantic, airborne spectacle. At times, it was hard for Vel to distinguish one from the other, their feathered figures blurring into one. She uncomfortably diverted her eyes, not knowing how to react to the unfamiliar performance of passion.
Suddenly, Vel heard a faint, different buzzing sound. It went on for a few seconds before stopping. Vel looked down at the branch she was sitting on, towards the unfamiliar noise. A bee, ablaze in red, was crawling her way. Vel carefully began to edge down the limb. The bee took flight, proceeded its buzzing, and followed. Vel continued scooting down the branch until her left side was pressed against the oak’s thick trunk. Just when she was certain she was going to be the bee’s next victim, a hummingbird, displaying every color, dove through the air, knocking the bee out of the sky. Vel breathed a sigh of relief and watched as her savior disappeared back into its flying, feathered family.
Abruptly, as if ordered by an unseen tyrant, the hummingbirds tightly gathered into their vivid charm and departed, away from Vel and into the wooded surroundings. It was immediately quieter than quiet, as if the hummingbirds had taken the entire world with them upon their leave. Out of the blue, Vel realized the intense speed of her heart rate and concentrated on controlling her breathing. Her cheeks ached at the rare feeling of a prolonged smile as she began her descent back down the tree.
Vel’s loosened undergarments followed the curves of her body, beckoning her to return to the sky. Her sturdy fingers grasped the familiar knots embedded in the trunk. Leaves caressed her rosy face. Her released feet, through shredded stockings, fumbled for the well-known boughs, guiding her lower and lower. Branches combed through her golden hair like tender hands. Her ears strained for the faint buzzing sound that had recently disappeared.
Once on the ground, Vel pushed her feet into her shoes and pulled her dress up over her shoulders, quickly pushing its buttons into their holes. Once properly dressed, she darted into the trees and headed back to the institution, rejuvenated.