A news crew interviews a young woman who once claimed she could fly.
"Not what I expected." Hector Piroso leaned over the steering wheel and squinted through the window of the news van.
In the passenger seat, Madelyn Oats had a better view, despite the dust caked on the outside of her window. In the back, fussing over his tablet, Paul Turling nodded to himself and said, "Alright, let's go."
Madelyn pushed open her door first and bounced off the loose dirt with her black heels. Straightening her red blazer with the "News 27" logo above the pocket, she cocked her head and pronounced, "I love it."
They'd parked on the side of an off-yellow, one-story clapboard house flanked by a rusty, red fence with the paint sloughing off in large, bark-like chunks. The road they'd taken for the last mile was unpaved but relatively-smooth aside from some hard, dark stones loosened by flash-flooding.
Striding along the dirt path, Madelyn peeked over the fence and surveyed the property. A single, blue hatchback nestled up against the front of the house even though there was space for at least five cars. The blackened skeleton of a curb lining the entrance was crowned by pink-and-white bricks. On the other side sat a shabby wooden fence with unfinished plywood nailed across it. Aside from a white shed and a green dumpster, the rest of the property was empty with dried weeds and gravel.
She shielded her face, as a bracing wind made her stagger back to the van. Paul massaged his forehead with the knuckle of his thumb and held his smartphone in the air. Hector adjusted his back brace and checked the camera settings. Madelyn grabbed her satchel and gave the lonely house another look. She caught movement around the back.
"Hello?" She leaned against the van and tried to stretch up as tall as possible. All she could see was the fluttering of a straw hat.
Listening, she found it hard to make out the sound of footsteps until a slight figure emerged from behind the rusted fence and waved at them.
Approaching first, Madelyn greeted her, introduced herself, and explained, "One of our producers reached out to you about an interview."
The woman before Madelyn looked like she'd been flicked with a paint brush. Dark starfields of freckles swarmed around her nose, forehead, and outlined her polite smile. Rusty hair a lighter shade than the fence twirled out of her straw hat and over her shoulders.
"Right! Why don't you pull up closer?"
Hector had plenty of space to back the van against the house without endangering the hatchback. Madelyn smirked at the classic, white-picket fence surrounding the front porch.
Inside, the woman offered Hector some space by her kitchen table to set up his equipment. Paul went over his notes while Madelyn glanced around. The inside was as rustic and old-fashioned as the outside aside from a black, flat-screen TV sitting on a dusty coffee table almost too big for it. A brown-and-white cat darted through a darkened doorway and she never saw it again.
Paul concluded the living room had the best light with the curtains half-open. Hector tested the sound and Madelyn handled her makeup with a quick trip to the bathroom. After running through a few iterations of the questions with Paul, Madelyn wrote some corrections and added a question of her own.
With a polite smile, she offered the questions to the woman to read over as Hector mic-ed them up. Nodding her head, the women seemed to agree to everything but paused when she came to something right at the end. Clearing her throat, she pressed her thumb to a sentence and said, "Actually, I would appreciate it if you didn't ask me that question. Sorry."
Straightening, Madelyn looked over at Paul, who approached and gazed at the question. With a deep breath, he quickly conceded, "Alright."
Using a red pen from his pocket, he struck out the question and passed the sheet back to Madelyn. The woman agreed to everything else.
Finally settling into the interview, Madelyn began, "I could recite what our viewers might know about you in passing or from books and movies but I'd like you to introduce yourself to us, if you please."
Her hair still a tangle from the straw hat, the woman brushed it back. "Well, my name is Linette Pritchard. I'm....uhh...thirty-ish, you could say. I was born in Fillmore and lived there till I went to college in Oxnard. Things got a little complicated after that. I had some good fortune and some bad fortune. And I wound up here."
Madelyn flashed a perfectly-practiced grin at the age quip and wore a well-fashioned smile at the rest of Linette's words. Hector watched his setup but shifted around carefully as Paul scribbled notes.
"And that's how you see yourself?"
Linette shrugged at Madelyn's question. "That's how I am."
"You don't see what happened to you as...remarkable?"
Leaning into her chair, Linette sighed. "I try not to look back."
Squeezing her hands in her lap, Madelyn stated, "You were a little girl who could fly. You couldn’t keep your feet on the ground.”
Linette pressed her hands together. "That's what I'm told. I was a kid. A silly little kid with a big imagination."
Scrunching her thin eyebrows with a harsher look than she intended, Madelyn inquired, "You dispute the evidence, which you yourself have provided over the years?"
Suddenly, Linette broke into a wheezing, coughing spell. Hector passed a bottled water to her and she drained half it, apologizing that she was still winded from working in the backyard. Madelyn took a small sip of her own bottle and glanced down to check the questions.
Eventually, Linette answered, "I was a very imaginative kid. And I had a nice computer. Some things are really easy to fake, even for kids."
All three of them looked Linette in the eye. She dipped her head and apologized, musing, "That's probably not what you want to hear."
Madelyn took a deep breath but kept her smile. "It's unexpected, at the very least." She looked at her colleagues for confirmation. Paul had a pen gripped against his mouth and Hector looked dumbstruck.
Stretching out her arms at her sides, Linette admitted, "It's a weight off my conscience. Like...I dunno if any of you have heard about the Cottingley fairies from over a century ago. Two girls who said they met and played with fairies. They produced a series of photos as evidence. To his dying day, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was convinced they were real."
Only Paul admitted to some awareness but was unable to check on his phone because they were so far from the nearest cell tower.
Pressing two hands on her legs, Linette explained, "It's the same. I lied for years because I was a little girl who wanted to fly, who wished she could fly. I tricked some very reasonable people. And I was scared about what would happen if they ever found out the truth. That's why I did my best to live a quiet life and gave away my residuals to charity."
Clasping her fingers in front of her, Madelyn asked, "Why now? Why come out with this now?"
Linette gave a casual curl of a smile and a shrug. "It's been ages since anyone asked if it was real or not. If not for the anniversary of the big announcement, no one would even care."
Stretching her fingers like she was trying to turn invisible faucets, Madelyn clung to her smile and asked, "Could you please run through the truth about all this? When did it start? What did your parents say? What did you do to convince everyone along the way?"
Clutching her legs to the underside of the chair with her slippers dragging on the knotted carpet, Linette recounted her early years, explaining how her first memories were of leaping out of her crib and bed, feeling like she was flying across the room. She speculated that perhaps this was why her parents first "misconstrued" her adventurous leaps for "flight".
Referring to the notes, Madelyn inquired about the most solid evidence, "What about the ‘launch’ video beside your family's old farmhouse?"
Linette asserted that was owed to one of her older cousins helping her with editing at the time but that she picked up a lot of stuff on her own. "I know many people thought it was seamless and impossible to fake, especially for a child, but all it takes is patience."
"Two county police officers attest to seeing you soaring in the sky beside their vehicle."
Stretching out a hand, Linette remarked, "I was home in bed that night. I played along because it was fun that adults actually believed my stories. I have no idea what those officers saw that night but I can assure you it wasn't me."
Item by item, Linette refuted the evidence until they got to the films and shows. Madelyn recited that the CCO of the production company claimed until his passing several years ago that Linette actually flew, unassisted, for all her appearances.
Shaking her head, Linette urged, "Any footage I brought was doctored and, when we filmed on set, I always claimed tiredness, so the crew arranged rigging to hold me aloft."
Scanning her list, Madelyn shook her head. The script was full of asking about old cast members she kept in touch with, the climate of the productions, and rumors around the set. Setting the list down, Madelyn asked, "How many people knew?"
Wiggling her fingers, Linette answered, "Just a handful of people. I don't want to call out anyone for indulging my fantasies or indict them for misleading. This is on me. The whole thing. It would be...better if the world just forgot my name."
Madelyn let her smile slip. They wrapped up with a few questions about her family and finances. Linette steadfastly denied that money was an issue.
Paul ordered Hector to shoot some b-roll around the house. Linette apologized again and offered to show him her sentimental collection of memorabilia from the productions.
It didn't take Paul long to notice Madelyn's expression and ask, "What are you thinking?"
Loosening her hair from her tight ponytail, Madelyn shook her head and confessed, once Hector and Linette were out of the room, "I don't buy it."
"All of it", Madelyn folded her arms and glared at the walls. "This wasn't some shaky-cam of a kid dangling in the air in Russia which has been processed and blurred to death. Linette could fly and they recorded it. She didn't do it out in public but there was never any doubt, even from the craziest people."
Paul turned up his hands and sighed. Madelyn paced around the room.
As Hector and Paul were packing up, Madelyn managed to corner Linette in her kitchen. She turned off her mic and set it on the counter.
Following a deep breath, she asked, "Why did you say all that? Why did you claim you can't fly when it's obvious you can?"
Tucking her arms in and her face down, Linette gave a look at Madelyn and persisted, "I'm sorry you had to find out this way, but I can't fly. Honest."
Huffing, Madelyn retorted, "Bullcrap. I watched Liftoff with Linette every single week. Their special effects budget was crap, especially for the era. Your flights looked perfect."
Quietly, Linette noted the work of each visual effects artist by name.
"Why are you doing this?" Every question Madelyn could imagine boiled down to that.
"Because we all need to face the truth some day. I'm sorry to disappoint you but I'm not anyone special."
Madelyn clenched her teeth and wanted to shout and argue but she grimaced at the blank wall of Linette’s face and had no words.
Back at the van, Madelyn slumped in the passenger seat. She scuffed her heels on the mat.
She cast a look in Hector's direction as he put the equipment away. "What?"
"You gonna be okay?"
Flicking her hair back, Madelyn slowly nodded. "It's fine. It's just some silly thing from a long, long time ago."
She avoided looking at the yellow house and prepared to put on her belt. Hector cursed and dug through his equipment. After a minute, he asked, "Made...you remember where you put your mic?"
With a frown, she felt around her pockets and satchel. "Uhhh, I thought I gave it to you."
Hector started marching back to the house but Madelyn put a hand up and said, "It's mine. I lost it. I'll find it."
He again asked if that was alright. Paul even gave a quick look. She nodded and muttered, "Yeah. I'm not gonna cause a fuss."
She knocked on the front door of the house. No answer. Pressing on the knob, it swung open.
"Miss...Pritchard? I'm just checking for some lost equipment. Is that alright?"
Still, no answer. The house was quiet aside from the noisy icebox in the kitchen. Scanning around, Madelyn noticed shoes and slippers down the hallway. Turning, she frowned at the straw hat on the couch. Scouring the area turned up nothing.
On a whim, she lifted the straw hat. Or tried to lift it. Tilting it up, she set it on the carpet with a ruffle and a "THUNK". On the couch, under the hat, was her mic. She shook her head.
Searching around, she called "Miss Pritchard" and then "Linette" a few more times, still without an answer.
Trying to step around the shoes and slippers, she banged her toes into them and groaned for a few seconds before the pain passed. She scooted them across the floor but didn't try to pick them up. With a grin and a snicker, she took a deep breath and said a clear, "Thank you" to the empty house.
Returning to the van, Hector relieved her of the mic.
Paul cleared his throat and announced, "Ready to return to civilization? I gotta update a few people and that wildfire over in the Pinecrest area might be worth checking on. Not sure what we're gonna do with this. Another Hollywood fame thing, right?"
Hector gave a slow, methodical nod and muttered, "I guess, man. Made?"
Madelyn held her heels slightly off the carpet like she was hovering. She gazed up and responded, "Yeah. Just a little girl with a big imagination."
For the whole time it took to make a wobbly U-turn with rocks rattling against the undercarriage of the van, Madelyn peered out the window. She gazed at the brilliant, stark blue for some sign of a form or shadow across the sky. She thought she saw something but soon convinced herself it was just an electrical pole, even though she never saw it again.