The locks on the other cages break easily, now that you know how to slam book against metal. You smash each lock until the book’s binding releases folios onto the floor.
The freed prisoners crowd around you. Their hooked noses are cruel beaks. In their black eyes, you are reflected like prey. You tense to run, although you’re not strong enough to breach their tight circle. But instead of their teeth ripping your flesh, they stroke you with their fingertips.
Goosebumps pock their skin, like chicken skin after the feathers have been plucked. The mounds protruding from their backs are not the beginnings of wings, but raw scabs. Where limbs have been severed.
They cringe from the pity in your eyes. “Cr-r-ruck cr-r-ruck” bursts from their throats. Fingers curl like talons. They run with hopping gaits out the swinging doors into the hospital hallway.
You notice that the wing stubs are centered on their backs, more like angels’ wings than birds’. Anger wells inside you, a primeval anger so dark that light glimmers through. It clouds your mind.
Pain radiates from your back. You want to join your flock.
No, not flock. An unkindness of ravens.
Screams echo from the hallway
As you sprint towards the door, shimmer from a fallen book page draws your attention, because now glitter tantalizes you. On the page, an artist – some medieval monk, you assume – painted with gilt and coal a circle of images connected with arrows: a man, the man with a raven springing from his head, the man covered in dark feathers with angel wings flaring from his back, the raven-angel drinking from a gold chalice, and, again, the man. The drawing reminds you of the diagrams in elementary school showing the life cycle of a butterfly. Hieroglyphics scrawl in the margins.
Thick gilt paint haloes the chalice. The liquid the raven-angel pours into his mouth is molten gold.