Plumes of smoke emerged from the tops of new machinery and technology, staining the New York skyline dark grey. Scientists deemed the pollution a worthy sacrifice. Soon, these machines would spur a revolution that would perform the most miraculous of miracles. These inventions would allow people to fly, time travel, and do things never done before!
In the meantime, everyone had to cope.
Lila hitched up her skirts. Sure, it was unladylike and sure, people disapproved – but she hardly cared. She tore through the streets, hurrying back home. She could already spot a tower of smoke billowing from the chimney.
“Grayson!” she barked at her husband, slamming open the door. The young, fair-haired man jumped away from the boiler, which was trembling madly in the corner of the room.
“I can explain!” he said meekly. She clicked her tongue impatiently and pushed Grayson aside. She began fiddling with the knobs. The machine groaned, then slowly came to life again – working at a renewed steady rhythm. She wiped her brow and took a step back.
“Excellent work,” Grayson praised. Lila turned around sharply, prodding Grayson in the chest.
“That’s the third time this week!” she lectured.
“I’m sorry?” he said, grinning that winning grin of his. When Lila did not budge, he tried a different approach. “I only wanted to make you tea before you got home. I tried. I really did. I even hurt myself.”
Her face immediately softened. He had to bite his cheek to prevent from smiling like an idiot. It was when he caught rare glimpses of Lila’s gentleness he felt it was worth facing her wrath.
“Where?” She reached for him, but he skirted away.
“It’s fine now,” he said hastily, feeling the slightest bit guilty for tricking her. Not enough that he’d admit it truly was his fault for setting off the boiler, but Lila didn’t have to know that. He plucked the kettle from the stove and poured out two cups of tea.
“Are you feeling all right?” He could catch the genuine concern in her seemingly casual question.
“Yes. A bit bored being here alone, though.”
Years ago, Grayson had been injured in a mechanical accident. Now, he was reduced to doing odd jobs around the neighborhood for money. It mostly involved woodwork for elderly ladies who liked to pinch his cheeks (of both varieties. And really, nobody deserves to be pinched down there.)
Lila slid her bonnet off. “I’d feel more sympathetic if you didn’t almost blow up the house.”
Ah, she was still bitter. Grayson knew that she was never truly angry with him, though. After all, he was practically useless as a man, but she kept him nonetheless.
“I see you,” Lila sang, having caught Grayson eyeing his old aviator goggles that were sitting in a glass case in the cupboard. He smiled sheepishly. She narrowed her eyes in response. “I wish you would give up on those silly dreams of yours. That’s the reason why you got injured in the first place.”
“Yes, dear,” he said teasingly. He leaned over to kiss her cheek. She pretended not to take notice, choosing instead to snatch up the daily paper.
“I am so sick of these so called innovations,” she said, shaking her head as she read. “There is nothing wrong with what we have. Change isn’t necessary.”
“It doesn’t hurt,” Grayson defended. He thought the scientists were on to something great.
“Have you seen those dark clouds in the sky? Once they fall heavy and descend on us, the responsibility becomes ours.”
KERR-RUMP! The boiler was acting up again, quivering violently in its corner.
“I’ve got it,” Lila said, getting up. She smacked a wrench against the main valve. This usually did the trick, but not this time. “Strange,” she muttered, hitting it again.
“Lila… I don’t think… LILA!”
CRACK. The boiler teetered to the side, leaning dangerously out of place. She gasped, frozen in her spot as the bolts that held the boiler together popped out of their sockets. The machine was falling – and Lila stood right under it. She threw her hands over her head uselessly in cover, but found that this wasn’t necessary… Something pushed at her aside, and she flung to the other side of the room.
There was a CRASH as the boiler came tumbling down.
“Grayson!” Lila shrieked as she turned around to check the damage. Grayson was wedged between the floor and the boiler, trapped. She caught her throat, worried, but Grayson looked up and gave her a small smile. He was all right.
She sighed in relief.
He tried wriggling out of his crypt. “Oh dear,” he muttered as his trousers tore. Lila kneeled down beside him, hands ready to help if need be, but paused as she caught sight of his body.
Where there should’ve been the flesh and skin of his leg, there were wires and pipes and nails. Gears churned as Grayson pushed himself out from under the boiler. Grayson’s expression darkened as he saw Lila’s stricken face.
“When?” she asked. Her eyes were glued to his leg, staring in utter shock.
“The surgery,” he answered. “They had to amputate my legs.”
There was a long moment that neither of them spoke. Grayson watched Lila carefully, gauging her reaction and very afraid of what it might be.
An eternity later, Lila finally rose. She lifted her arm and pointed towards the door. “Get out!” she shrieked. “Get out, get out, get out you FREAK!”
Lila lay in bed, feeling lonesome. But mostly, feeling guilty. She missed Grayson by her side, yet at the same time sickened by the thought that she had slept next to a machine for the past year. It was insane! She could hardly believe it.
Still keen eyed, she slipped out of bed and headed to downstairs to make tea. In times like these, tea was the solution to everything.
It was a bit hot downstairs. Abnormally so. Humid, almost. Had it rained that day? She turned towards the kitchen and gaped.
The kitchen was dyed in red, flames lashing out and licking at the walls. The broken boiler sat in the middle of the room, burning. Oh, she had been foolish not to remove it – and now she paid the consequences!
She ran towards the cupboards, but the fire flared out at her. She cut her hands on broken glass as she scurried backward up the stairs. She ran into the bedroom and threw open the window. Should she jump? Should she jump? The room grew hotter, and she knew the flames were advancing.
No, no, no. It wasn’t a question anymore. She had to jump.
With trembling hands, she reached for the window and positioned her feet on the small still. Her heart drummed against her chest. She was going to die. Oh, she was going to die. She stood there, too afraid to move forward or to move back.
Moving forward was too frightening. Jumping into the unknown was frightening, and she didn’t want to risk that.
She stepped back, but was jerked forward once more. Her dressing gown had caught onto the window, causing her to lose balance. Her heart stopped as she toppled over.
Down, down, down she went… falling, falling, falling with nothing to stop her. Surely, she would die now. She squeezed her eyes shut, bracing for impact…
But impact did not come. She heard something creaking, then felt something too. Strong arms wrapping around her waist. The wind whipped around her. She was still moving, but… it was different. Was she hallucinating, or was she rising?
She dared to open her eyes, finding herself face to face with a familiar man.
“Grayson!” she exclaimed. “You came back!”
“I came back.”
Then after it registered, she shouted, “You can fly!?”
“I can fly,” he echoed. A pair of wide, metallic contraptions protruded from his back. They kind of reminded Lila of angel wings…
“Was this… from the surgery?”
“Yep,” he chirped, then shot her a grin. “See, science isn’t so bad after all.” She nodded in agreement. If science brought her Grayson, then it was wonderful!
She threw her arms around his neck, partially for safety and partially because she was far too embarrassed to verbally express her apology and gratitude. Then she laughed nervously as she pulled something out of her pocket. “I couldn’t leave the house until I had these.”
She reached and wrapped something across his forehead. Grayson couldn’t see, but he knew what they were. The smallest stream of sunlight flitted through the dark clouds, reflecting off of his aviator goggles.