Ryan helps me and Joseph onto Sparky's back. He seems forlorn as he climbs to sit behind her neck. I don't say anything as I pull Joseph closer to me to keep him from falling. Sparky spreads her great wings and pushes off the ground, and with only a few seconds she's a hundred feet in the air.
She rotates around, so we're facing east-ish, and begins to fly. The ground beneath us is gone. She's so fast that in only a few minutes the rubble of the grocery is behind us, dissappeared.
The flight is long, quiet, and tedious. Ryan's fingers are tanlged into Sparky's feathers, his legs wrapped around the base of her neck as if it's the back of a horse. I move foward, trying to find a place where I feel more comfortable. Her wide back isnt good for straddling. But I do my best, staying away from Ryan. I know he doesn't want anyone near him. He wants to get lost in the scenery that changes with the seconds.
Whenever Joseph asks me where we are going, I say, "Somewhere safe."
When he asks how long it will take, "I don't know."
If we can stop for a break, "Not yet."
If we have any food, "None."
Where his sisters are, "Someplace better than here."
We only stop once, in the middle of the night. Sparky doesn't leave us. She lies down and rests, and we lay next to her. There's no speaking, no eye contact. In three hours we're back up in the air, moving on.
At the end of the second day, Sparky decends. She lands on a stretch of highway on the outskirts of a large city.
"We should walk the rest of the way," Ryan says, "In case they think she'll attack."
We all dismount and head towards the buildings. For the longest time, it's silent. If anyone's here, they're not making themselves known.
The only sounds we do here are hissing, like the Jack's. Signs of them are everywhere, claw marks on the walls, blood on the road, broken doors, cars ripped to shreds, dead bodies. Because of the latter, I keep Joseph in my arms, head tucked against my chest so he doesn't see.
Sparky doesn't seem at ease. Her crest is up, her feathers erect like a rooster before the fight. She growls at every little sound.
"Felicia, look where we are!" Ryan points up.
Time Square. The giant TV screen above us is shattered. Everything is broken and covered in blood.
"We're in New York," I whisper. I look around more carefully. I'd been here once, and it was full of life. But now, there's nothing but emptiness.
Sparky growls again, low and threatening. At the entrance of the subways down the street are three Jacks. They return her calls, hissing. Sparky rears up and spreads her wings, growling louder and roaring. The Jacks back down and return to the subways.
We continue on, past the subway. It isn't long until we reach Central Park. Sparky looks down at us and purrs.
"We're here. There's people there." Ryan says, picking up his pace. The three of us follow as he keeps talking, "Felicia, I want you to take Joseph and go ahead. I'll stay with Sparky. We won't be too far behind. Follow the walkway. When you see people, wave to them, we'll slow down and give you time to prepare them for Sparky."
I put Joseph on the ground, shake out my sore arms, then take his hand. We jog down West Drive, not seeing any signs of people until we're tired and out of breath, at an intersection just past the lake. Then in the distance I see people sitting on the pathway, and though they're far away, they're moving and talking and actually alive.
I look back at Ryan and wave. He waves back and turn turns to Sparky. I hug Joseph, and he's confused because I haven't told him anything. I tug on his arm, full of joy, and we race on toward the group.
"Hey! HEY!" I yell, waving my free arm.
The people see us and stand up. There's six in this group, three men, two women, and a baby. An older man walks toward us as the others stay behind. His grey hair is flecked with brown, and as he comes near he smiles, eyes sparkling.
"Where did you two come from? What are your names? I haven't seen you around before."
"I'm Felicia and this is Joseph. We've come a very long way, sir. It's been quite a trip."
"You're very lucky. We thought there was no one left aside from the larger cities. Of course, our population has gone down quite a bit."
"You mean there's more people?" I say.
"Yes, a few hundred total. We haven't kept good track but that doesn't matter. You two must be tired."
"Sir, it's not just me and Joseph. We have one other person and a... uh... pet."
The way I say pet gets his attention. "What kind of pet?"
"Uh, a bird. Kind of. She's big. Really big. She's one of the animals that came out of nowhere."
He face drops for a second, then fills with confusion, "Um, what? You actually tamed one of those monsters?"
"Well, yes, sir, but she's the one who brought us here. She's saved our lives countless times."
"I don't believe it," he says, shaking his head, "But--"
He's interrupted by the loud chirp of Sparky. Ryan comes walking slowly down the path. Sparky is a few meters behind him, with her neck stretched out so her head is next to his. He's got his arm around her chin.
"What... the... ****?" the old man yells. He stumbles backward toward his group. One of the men pulls out a pistol and points it at Sparky.
Ryan waves, "It's alright! She won't hurt you!"
Everyone is silent at they approach. Sparky purrs quietly, her massive head resting on Ryan's shoulder.
When they're close enough, Ryan stops and tells Sparky to stay. She obediently lays down next to him like a giant dog. Ryan keeps walking toward the group. When he reaches the older man, he puts out his hand and says, "Hey, I'm Ryan. That's my pet." He's got that big ol' goofy grin on his face. I can't help but giggle and feel reliefed that he's back to himself.
The man takes Ryan's hand, unsure, "I'm Micheal."
Ryan then turns to the rest of the people, intrducing himself. The man with shaggy blonde hair, the youngest man, is Richard. The man with black hair and the pistol is Jake. The young woman with red hair and green eyes is Elizabeth. The other woman is Lisa, with her baby, Darcy. Lisa stands at the back of the group with her child, her large blue eyes wide and frightened of Sparky.
Ryan then wraps his arm around my waist and says, "Felicia is my girl, and Joseph is our kid."
Their shocked faces makes him laugh, "Just kidding! Do we really look old enough to have a kid Joseph's age?"
Richard is the only other one to laugh. Micheal sighs angrily.
"You're a really stupid boy, Ryan."