This was so long in coming, so long in the works, I wasn’t sure I’d ever understand how it surprised me so much. I’d always known I was different, but I must have never allowed myself to fully embrace just how drastically different I was from the rest. Perhaps I had to try so hard to convince myself I was normal so that I could survive my adolescence. But none of that mattered anymore. Being normal would never again be an option, now that I had a fifteen-foot wing span.

As a child, I would have never guessed that I was an angel. I’d always known I was special and different, but I had no idea just how different until I neared my thirties. That was when my wings began to grow.

I was quite a sight to see, though. I stood five feet, ten inches tall and I had a healthy build. I was a Hopi woman with long, thick, black hair that I had not cut in fifteen years. It nearly reached my knees. I’d grown up with pale skin compared to the rest of the tribe, but I was always still too dark to pass for white. My eyes were large and dark hazel with long lashes. My bottom lip was large and full, but my top lip was smaller in an almost strange way. My mother had called it a cupid bow and said other women would always wish they had my lips. I just thought it made me look funny because none of the other women in the tribe had lips like mine. Just like none of the others had eyes like mine.

My wings looked much like one would imagine angel wings. They were covered in feathers like I’d never seen. They were kind of opalescent, and nearly luminescent—an amazing, sparkling white. They were each over seven feet long when fully extended. When I folded them, as I usually did, the tips of my wings were about a foot above the ground and the folded joints were about a foot above my head. They did not emerge directly from my shoulder blades, but rather from the space between my spine and shoulder blades. Moving my shoulders caused great movement in my wings, but that’s not how I flew. My wings were full of muscles just like the rest of the human body, so I had to exercise them just like any other muscle group.

I tried to fly a couple of times with no real luck, so I had my younger brother, Will, get me quite a few books about the mechanics of birds and how they fly. After extensive research and a lot more exercise, I gave flying one more attempt. Well, as the saying goes, the third time was the charm. I took off from my roof, glided down a bit over my garden, and then soared off into the night sky.

I flapped my massive wings to gain altitude and I was taken aback with the beauty of my surroundings. The mountains that ran to the north and the west took on a whole new appearance from this angle and the sight of it nearly brought me to tears.

I flew around for about ten minutes before I decided to pay my big brother, Brian, a visit. Since it was Thursday night, I knew he would be out back barbequing. I circled around the neighborhood a few times to make sure no one else was outside to witness my landing.

As I tilted my wings to lower my altitude, I saw my brother walk out of his back door with an empty plate and head for the smoking grill.

My landing was, without a doubt, highly ungraceful and the shock of my unexpected arrival caused him to drop the plate he was carrying.

“Damn it, Hope!” he grumbled as he picked up his plate.

He was a bit unnerved and kind of angry that I’d flown to his house. His furrowed brow, pulsing temples, and flexed jaw would’ve been enough to terrify anyone who didn’t know him as well as I did. It took me a minute to calm him, but he composed himself once I assured him that no one else was outside to see.

We went into the house, once he removed his food from the grill and then sat down for dinner. Well, he sat down. I stood since there were no chairs or stools on which I could sit. He had brought the only stools he had over to my trailer so I could sit down at home. We hadn’t intended on me leaving my place and visiting others.

I told him all that had happened since he’d last visited me. I explained about my flying attempts and Will bringing me all of the books from the library. I babbled on for a while about how my wings worked and how I was able to fly. While I rambled on incessantly, jumping from subject to subject as was my style, Brian appeared to only half listen, as was his style. But I knew my brother well and I understood, as many did not, that he rarely appeared to pay attention even though he absorbed everything that was ever said to him. One of the only times he even looked at me was when I told him about my second flying attempt.

“Man, I thought I was screwed. I couldn’t stand up on my own and I couldn’t drag myself into the house, either. Will just happened to show up and he helped me inside,” I told Brian while he paused and stared at me with a blank expression.

He turned his attention back to his food with a shrug. I understood what he was thinking, though. Yes, what I did was stupid, but everything happened for a reason. So it wound up being okay.

By the time we were done eating, I felt I had filled him in on recent events as much as I could. He sighed as he stood up and turned toward his bedroom.

When he emerged, he held the pipe that our grandfather helped him make as a child, as well as the cigar box where I knew he kept his supply of herbs. It was a peace pipe, like our ancestors had used to smoke their sacred herbs. It was ornately decorated and made from a very long antler that came from far away. Only once was tobacco ever smoked out of this sacred pipe. When Grandfather tied the last knot on the pipe’s decoration, he filled the bowl of the pipe with wild tobacco and the whole family smoked it to let our ancestors know that this pipe belonged to this family.

Ever since our teens, we had exclusively used the peace pipe for smoking cannabis when we needed to meditate on a problem as a family. No one smoked from our pipe unless they shared our blood.

Without saying a word, Brian opened the back door and stepped outside. I followed him since I was well used to our tradition, even though it had been almost two years since I’d visited him. We sat down on the four-foot tall stone wall that marked the edge of the patio and watched the night sky.

After he passed me the pipe and exhaled his first puff, he broke his silence of the past hour. “We cannot continue hiding you. I think it’d be best if you presented yourself to the tribal elders. Immediately.”

I choked on the smoke I was inhaling, due to my shock at his words. I started to protest, but he held up his hand and shot me a glare to silence me as he continued to speak. At six feet, five inches tall, he was thickly muscled and had a bevy of expressions that could freeze almost anyone. He’d certainly always managed to get me to stop short.

“When our grandfather helped me make the pipe when I was a child, he told me many stories of our people. Each knot, each feather, each bead, each thread, every little thing about this pipe is a story or prophesy. This right here?” he said as he pointed to the long white feather that hung from the pipe right next to a black one of the same length. “This tells the prophesy of the winged flying woman who will unite and save our people as our calendar nears an end.”

I was about to ask him about the black one when he turned toward me and regarded me with a contemplative gaze. “We cannot put this off any longer. Now that you can fly, you must present yourself to them. The calendar ends in a little over two years. They’ve been expecting you for well over twenty years now. It’s up to you now to save us all from destruction, little sister.”

I was stunned. I couldn’t believe that he’d known all this time that this was predicted to be and he hadn’t told me. I was on the verge of being angry, but I was so filled with such fear that I wasn’t sure the anger had any room to grow.

“What do you mean, I am to save everyone?” I gasped as my grip on the wall beneath me tightened.

He shrugged. “They’ll be able to explain it further. You know I’m still just an elder-in-training. But, yeah. It’s up to you now to prevent the destruction of our entire tribe.”

“You seem just a little too calm about that,” I said slowly as I tried to decipher his composed, blank expression.

He shrugged again before he took another puff from the pipe. “Either you will win, or we all will die. Why should I stress? I cannot stop it either way. Only you can. Only you can save us all or allow us all to perish.”

“What about Taniya?” I whispered in my fear.

I couldn’t help it that she was among my first thoughts. She’d been my best friend since we were toddlers. I also hadn’t seen her since right before my wings had sprouted. That was when she’d moved clear across the country to New York.

“You’re going to have to let her die,” he said in a soft, sad tone as he looked up at the stars.