I take a deep breath.
The mountain air is clean, smelling like greenery and last night’s rain. It’s still warm from today, the first day of summer, but already cooling as the sun sets.
I fasten the helmet strap beneath my chin, put on my thick gloves that are padded with a plastic puck in the palm, and check my longboard again.
The asphalt road waits before me, finally clear after the long winter and spring. Black grey, surrounded by wildflowers, trees on one side, the deep, green valley on the other. I’ve ridden this road so many times I can see its course in my mind, flowing down the mountainside like a river.
I put my right foot on the board, and push off hard with my left. Another couple of pushes, then gravity does the rest. I lean left or right to move with the road, almost effortlessly after all these years of practice. Soon, I’m going fast. Faster than a wooden plank and four polyurethane wheels have any right to go. It almost feels like flying.
This late in the evening, I have the road to myself. Just me and the wind rushing in my ears. I put my hands behind my back and lean forward, bending my knees to keep my balance. Soon, there’s the first sharp curve. I crouch and lean into it, grazing the padded gloves over the ground to brake and steer myself in the right direction.
Once I’m past the curve, I get upright again, taking in the bright blue sky, the setting sun. Take a moment to revel in the thrill of going this fast.
Above me, swifts tumble and soar, catching insects, playing bird games. Going faster than you’d think a bundle of feathers would ever be able to. Like me, they return here in summer after the long winter keeps them away.
One flies low, its black wings glinting in the sun, tumbling through the air, in complete and utter freedom. I once read that swifts can stay aloft for months at a time, sleeping in the air, nesting up high, rarely ever touching ground.
If only I had wings like that.
Another curve in the road, and then, immediately, there’s a tunnel. I move with the curve and enter the darkness, keeping my eyes on the light ahead, watching for car headlights that could surprise me in this narrow space.
In here, cool nothingness surrounds me. Only the wind rushing in my ears, the beating of my heart. I could be floating in a sea, or flying in a dark sky, if not for my feet stuck to the board, my final connection to the ground.
The bright light at the end gets bigger. The sounds come back with the warmth of summer. I ride out of the tunnel and am engulfed in light.
The setting sun is before me, shining through a dip in the mountains, showering everything in yellow, orange, red.
It surrounds me, blinds me, pierces through my eyelids and deep into my skin. Gives me warmth, strength.
It builds me wings.
I can feel it.
I throw off my gloves with clumsy fingers, then take off my helmet. I need to feel the wind in my hair, the sun on my skin. I need to feel all of it.
I spread my golden wings.
My legs move the board right and left, following the road from memory. I speed down, barely feeling my feet touch the board, so fast, so free. I laugh in the warm light.
I’m almost soaring like the swifts in the endless blue, towards the setting sun.
The sound of a car engine.
I barely keep my balance. The sun blinds me, golden spots floating before my eyes. My legs don’t know what to do. They move left, then right, wobble on the board.
The car honks, tires screech.
My wings melt.
I steer away from the noise, but I’m going too fast. I can’t stop, I can’t see where I’m going. I lose control of the board, feel it roll off the road and get stuck in the grass while my body keeps moving.
I am free.
My body is airborne, the road behind me, the valley below. The setting sun ahead. There’s nothing but air surrounding me, nothing but the blue sky, nothing but the swifts calling out and swooping all around me. Nothing to keep me on the ground. I am flying on my own now, absolutely, utterly free.
They’ll call it a tragic accident. Carelessness. Hubris.
But, for now, I spread my wings.
Lotte van der Krol is a multi-genre writer from the Netherlands. She likes to walk in the woods, following the strange sounds that are almost like music but not quite. Her work has appeared in Popshot Quarterly, Capsule Stories, Weird Christmas, and others. She’s on twitter @lottevdkrol and on lottevanderkrol.wordpress.com