Most were originally from the Old Country, from the Alps and river bends, from deep and silent forests or barren, rocky steppes. They were manitores and goblins, imps and lamia, unicorns and dragons. Once the Old Country grew too populous, they migrated to the New, took residence with vast, wild herds of buffalo and ancient sequoia trees.
Now that, too, was over. The sphinx suggested moving south. The yeti voted north. The creatures split, moving to the farthest poles, to homes encased in ice. Mermaids took to frozen underwater caves, far above leviathans and hydra. Centaurs left hoofprints in the snow. Gnomes and satyrs fought quiet wars for tundra. Gorgons fed their snaky hair the eggs of puffins, terns and snowy owls. Griffins took the skies. Sirens taught their songs to whales.
This too did not last long. The phoenix came to warn them. There were expeditions, Shackleton to the south, Peary in the north, both determined, well-equipped.
“They’ll never come this far,” the witches said. “Such cold is only tolerable with magic.” The genies gave up swirly nods while the pixies chittered.
“I say we fight,” said the leader of the Golem-Troll Alliance. The ogres and the giants grumbled their assent.
Loch Ness rose up along the shelf of ice. “Too late,” she said. “They have something that we cannot battle.” Most creatures answered with defiant shouts. But in the skies, Valkyries caught the burning tears of angels.
“What is it?” asked the basilisk. “What could humans bring to wipe us out?”
In the end, the creatures listened to the phoenix. She had died and been reborn so often that no one had more wisdom within the hollow space of grief. She negotiated for them, absorbed the shock and outrage from both sides.
WILD buildings went up in every major city, in London and Berlin, New York, Beijing and San Francisco. They bore the mark “1909,” the year the poles were conquered, the last unclaimed space staked with flags. Mostly, no one notices the buildings. They remain untouched by war or reformation. They stand, sometimes, beside gleaming shopping malls or amid the curves of superhighways.
Once in a great while, a small child might lay her hand upon the bricks and find them warm and furred like pelts. Between the ornate ironwork and window black, she might catch a glimmer or a spark. A young boy might crane his neck to a WILD building for an hour or two, and wonder. At those times, the creatures hold their breath and watch, afraid, again, to hope.
The child always wanders off, forgetting. Loch Ness sighs inside her subterranean pool of shadows. “Disbelief,” she whispers. “We are no match for that.” At the farthest poles, the polar bears and penguins, the narwhals and the ermine are the only living things to mourn the absence of the angels.
Learn more about Wing-Feather Fables here