Icarus MAG

By Caitlin M., Farwell, MI

     My world is a tent. A dirty, gray, worn canvas tent. I saw the outside of it once. It reads “Westley Brothers’ Circus” in cracked and faded paint. That was three years ago, before the Westley brothers started loading me into the back of their canvas-draped truck under the cover of darkness. They don’t like me to go outside. They don’t say why, but I am not as naive as I once was. Not as naive as they think I am. They would like to keep me always in the dark about the world outside my tent. They want me to be small enough to keep under their thumbs. I already know what the world thinks about people who are ... different.

I was too young to know when they found me. Then, I was happy to have a place. A home. A family. I was a star, the headline act. Every spotlight in the circus was trained on me as the crowds poured in to see me, their hands outstretched to touch. But slowly they grew bored with me, the Westley brothers, the crowds, and the others who shared my life at the circus. I was old news, no longer a novelty. My world began to shrink. The spotlights turned away. I faded from their thoughts, a star dimmed now to only a lonely girl.

My name is Tierra. Ironic, isn’t it? That I, of all people, should be named for the earth. I can’t recall my parents, those who gave me my name. When I was small, only a fledgling, they tried to cut my wings. My new feathers were then barely long enough to wrap around my shoulders. They held me down and sliced with knives that clawed and bit. Stab after stab, slice after slice they hacked at me. I screamed. I cried. I begged. They said nothing. They left me beside the road, broken and bleeding, but a winged thing yet. My only memories of them now are the scars upon my shoulders. As long as I live, I can never forgive them. My new family has never tried to take away my wings. Not even after all they have done and left undone. They understand, a little at least. I am one of them. Part of the freak show. What else can a girl with wings be, if not be a freak?

Tonight we’re in some backwater town in the middle of somewhere flat and dry and dusty. I don’t know where exactly; I’ve never seen a map. It’s dark outside, and darker still inside. The only light filters through the canvas from the other freak-show tents and the stars above. I peek through the dingy gray canvas curtains of my tent. Families, each like the next, wander past in the twilight. Suddenly a darker figure looms. I hurriedly step back, it’s Martin Westley. A man whose heart is as stained and calloused as his hands. So thickly and grotesquely shaped, he is only a few dollars away from making a living as a freak-show performer himself. Perhaps that’s why he hates me so. There’s no question in my mind why I hate him. Martin would have left me to die by the roadside, crumpled and bleeding in the ditch. It was his brother Tom who convinced him to take me in all those years ago. I try to shut Martin out. I wrap my wings around myself, a comforting pressure. An embrace. I can hide inside them, if only for a moment. Martin glowers.

“Show time,” he grunts. Martin never speaks. He grunts, and occasionally mumbles, as if he just stepped out of that cave in ancient Africa where fire was first discovered.

I wonder sometimes how he and Tom can be brothers. They are as unalike as a robin and the worm it pulls from the earth. Tom is the robin, small and shrewd and clever. He has none of his brother’s heavy-handed ways, but he is as quick with his tongue as Martin is with a blow. In truth, the circus belongs to Tom. He has a knack for business, for finding those of us who can pay his bills. He knows how to keep us too, bribing and begging and blackmailing. I am different, I hope. I am his favorite among the circus freaks. Perhaps Martin is jealous of me. Does jealousy make one so cruel?

I have forgotten that Martin still stands before me, until he grunts again and points at the curtains behind me. I say nothing, just nod and turn to the second set of curtains, this one slicing the interior of my tent in half. On the other side a low stage awaits, and a crowd of curious onlookers. I can imagine them now, all eyes on the barker in his striped suit standing on the stage, ready to introduce me. The barker begins his speech, telling a made-up story about a made-up person. The person he describes sounds strange and exotic. I wonder if anyone would come to see me if the barker told a story about a frightened and lonely girl. He finishes. I push through the curtains, step onto the stage, blink in the harsh lights. I try half-heartedly to look strange and exotic.

A mass of people stare, their outlines blurred together by the darkness beyond the foot of the stage. They stretch their already overextended necks, trying to see what I have hidden beneath the grimy cape of my costume. I sigh, then stretch my wings, shaking them free of the cloth. The feathers, the same soft russet as my hair, whisper like old friends. I stand tall, stretch my wings as far as they will go. They fill the tent, brushing the canvas yards away on either side of me and casting strange shadows on the walls. The children in the crowd press forward, hands outstretched to touch my feathers. I want them to. I want to see the wonder on their round faces when they feel the downy, silken warmth. I want them to bury their hands in the softness of my wings, and hear their cries when they realize that the feathers live and breathe. But Martin is still watching from behind the curtain, and I don’t dare. My leash is short, as if they fear I will fly away. Slowly I kneel, sweep my wings upward, lay my hands palm up upon my knees. Tom tells me to do this; he says it makes me look like an angel.

Do I look like an angel? I wonder, eyes half open to watch the crowd push toward the stage. They whisper to one another, a sound like the wind brushing on the canvas of my tent at night. Have they ever seen an angel? I saw one once. In a book that one of the other freaks showed me. That angel was tall and beautiful, with wild dark hair and a gown made of endless white silk. I wonder what that angel would think of a bony, grimy, barefoot girl, hair matted and tangled, wrapped in a coarse dress made of what was a bed sheet.

Tears run down my cheeks; I don’t know why. I close my eyes and wait. I can only wait. Slowly the voices dim, then vanish. I open my eyes. The lights are out. I am alone. I cross back through the canvas curtains into my side of the tent and sit down on an upturned crate. Martin is gone. I feel blindly around my feet, groping through the dark. I have left it here, I think ... I find what I am searching for. My book. My own possession. Martin and Tom do not know I have it. They would take it away if they knew. They like to keep me in the dark, and books hold light.

I run my hands over the cover, feeling the brittle, plastic some librarian in a bygone town taped lovingly into place. In the dark I let the book fall open in my lap, to the place where the spine broke long ago. I remember, without needing to see, what is written there.

A story. A boy, and his father. They are locked together in a tower on a rock in the sea. I have never seen the sea. Before I die, I want to go to the sea.

The father builds wings, out of wood, wax, and feathers. He and his son fly away from their prison.

I want to fly. I have never been allowed to fly. Inside my small tent, there isn’t even space to stretch my wings out. I watch the birds sometimes, as they flitter past my doorway. I’ve seen their nests in barren trees as we travel through the winter. I’ve watched the hawks sail overhead, their wings stretched wide. What must it be like?

The son in the story was a fool. He allowed the sun to take his wings and died for it. I will not allow anyone to take my wings. I would die for it as well. I nearly did once. How long ago now? Ten years? Twelve? That is closer, I think. Twelve years since I lay in the brackish water in the bottom of the ditch. How old was I then? Four? Five? I do not know.

I press the book to my chest and cry, but softly, for Martin may still be nearby. He listens, always, as if he might catch me in some stolen moment of happiness. Why should the girl be happy? I can almost hear him think. She must be grateful. I am grateful, I suppose. But I am hollow. Empty, like a bird’s bone. Brittle.

I stand. My book tumbles to the dust, falling open where the spine has broken. Outside there are still voices. Families go past. I push open the curtains, timidly, then farther. I step through. My wings drape around me like my costume cloak. In the dark, the people cannot see me. They do not stare. I am like them, an anonymous stranger in the dark. Two go past, hand in hand. I ache to see them. A family comes close. A mother, a father. A son. A balloon, colorless in the evening, trails on a string. The boy trips over his dragging shoelace, falls. The balloon unwinds itself from his fingers and drifts away into the night sky. He scrambles up, reaching for the trailing string as the sky pulls it away. The twine slips through his fingers; he cries out.

In that moment, I am no longer hollow. With strength I do not realize my thin legs possess, I leap skyward. A spiral of crackling feathers surrounds me as my wings stretch away toward the horizons to my left and right. Down they sweep, forcing the air away; I rise higher and higher. The wild wind whips my hair and dress, whistles through my feathers. Stars surround me like fireflies. I could dance on the clouds. The moon smiles, a crooked crescent. Just above me, the balloon is adrift. My fingers wrap around the trailing string. Again I beat my wings, reveling in the wild tempest I stir up amidst the clouds. I look to the skies. White stars brush across my cheeks, snag in my eyes until they must look like a diamond-dusted ocean, dark and blue and strange. The wind stirs my feathers as I drift in the sky. They are singing now, no longer whispering. First this way then that, I flex my wings, reveling in their strength, the kind of strength I never thought I would possess.

But now I am descending, slowly, slowly falling. I step lightly out of the sky onto the earth again. I fold my wings. The matted grass is slick with dust and dew beneath my naked feet. I wonder at the feel of earth after the lightness of the air. The string, balloon bobbing at the end, is still entwined in my fingers.

Before me, the boy stands stunned. Each of his parents rests a hand on his shoulders. I kneel, hand him the balloon. His tiny fingers clasp the string, but he doesn’t move, eyes wide, staring. I hardly see him. I am still flying, still lost in the sky.

A hand wraps around my arm, enveloping my shoulder in a vice. It is as cold and heavy as wet earth. Martin. What an earthbound wretch. I smile. He cannot touch me now. He cannot hold me.

“Inside,” Martin grunts, points at the tent. I shake my head. I will not. I have flown too close to the sun now, and I am set aflame.



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This article has 74 comments.


on Jul. 3 at 4:11 pm
wuadbwabdu BRONZE, Wenatchee, Washington
3 articles 1 photo 54 comments

Favorite Quote:
If your reading this your too late - Drake

Like many of the people who commented, I respect your opinion. However, I disagree. It was an extremely suspenseful story and one of my favorites.

i love this !

This is great. Excellent. I love it.

Kip.lu SILVER said...
on May. 5 2017 at 2:39 am
Kip.lu SILVER, Tirana, Other
5 articles 0 photos 32 comments
Wow incredible, love

on Apr. 13 2017 at 4:45 pm
HereSheIs BRONZE, Wellesley, Massachusetts
3 articles 0 photos 192 comments

Favorite Quote:
"We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light." -Plato

Breathtaking and beautiful and amazing. This could be part of a published book. Just…wow.

on Apr. 13 2017 at 12:53 pm
bo_olsen PLATINUM, St George, Utah
26 articles 0 photos 65 comments

Favorite Quote:
"I Solemnly Swear That I Am Up To No Good"

I love this. I am blown away. Did I say I love this?

on Jan. 15 2017 at 6:52 pm
TheEvergreen GOLD, Birmingham, Alabama
11 articles 1 photo 64 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Never laugh at live dragons." -JRR Tolkien

I have no words...

on Jul. 23 2016 at 2:20 pm
Silver_Valota SILVER, Redwood City, California
8 articles 0 photos 4 comments
That’s what I was thinking as I read this story. It’s beautiful - simply beautiful.

on Apr. 26 2016 at 1:54 pm
ScarlettJ. DIAMOND, West Newton, Pennsylvania
93 articles 0 photos 90 comments

Favorite Quote:
"You are only confined by the walls you build around yourself." "Follow your heart, but take your brain with you." "You were born to be real, not to be perfect."

I firmly believe you should continue this. I enjoyed this very much. It held my attention. I love the fact that she does not fly away at the end, but gives the boy his balloon back. Your last sentence is very, very powerful. Excellent job!

JayBlue BRONZE said...
on Nov. 2 2015 at 11:52 am
JayBlue BRONZE, Roseau, Other
4 articles 0 photos 5 comments

Favorite Quote:
"If anyone, then, knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins." James 4:17
"Life is only precious 'cause it ends kid." The Titan's Curse

Wow! Love girl! This is fantastic! I got so lost in the story that I forgot where I was. I almost feel like I could fly and I also feel the claustrophobic grip that the circus has on her. It's invigorating. Great job!

stenova BRONZE said...
on Oct. 11 2015 at 11:17 pm
stenova BRONZE, Trumbull, Connecticut
4 articles 0 photos 15 comments

Favorite Quote:
"'Tis not in mortals to command success, but we'll do more, Sempronius- we'll deserve it."

My goodness, this is absolutely fantastic! I'm really in love with this story and your writing style. Just insanely beautiful!

dya.o PLATINUM said...
on Feb. 11 2015 at 10:30 am
dya.o PLATINUM, Milton, Florida
43 articles 0 photos 86 comments

Favorite Quote:
“If consensus is overrated, I think balance is, too.
I have no interest in living a balanced life.
I want a life of adventure.” | Chris Guillebeau

Wow...all I can say is wow! This is amazing!!

Yoela PLATINUM said...
on Aug. 22 2014 at 1:05 pm
Yoela PLATINUM, Seattle, Washington
27 articles 0 photos 47 comments

Favorite Quote:
"My powers stretch over the horizon and work even when my eyes are closed"

That was beautiful. I love how Tierra is so broken, then so strong and amazed at her own skill. And when she is caught, it ends by mentioning fire. To me that fire means that she will not resume her broken state, but rather be fierce with a burning fire. 

JRaye PLATINUM said...
on Mar. 18 2014 at 2:21 pm
JRaye PLATINUM, Dorr, Michigan
43 articles 10 photos 527 comments

Favorite Quote:
"If you build your house far enough away from Trouble, then Trouble will never find you."

"Have you ever looked fear in the face and said, 'I just don't care.'?"

I absolutely loved this! You have a gift - I'd give anything to write like this. Amazing!

on Feb. 24 2014 at 12:26 pm
ty&#39nesha smith BRONZE, Kings Mountain, North Carolina
1 article 0 photos 3 comments
u should write another story like ths i loved it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

on Feb. 24 2014 at 12:24 pm
ty&#39nesha smith BRONZE, Kings Mountain, North Carolina
1 article 0 photos 3 comments
i loved your story a lot!!!!!!!!

on Sep. 23 2013 at 2:08 pm
This article is so cool and so is the picture. I wish I could write like you, took my breathe away!

on Sep. 1 2013 at 1:17 am
StormMarieWhite BRONZE, Centerburg, Ohio
1 article 3 photos 3 comments

Favorite Quote:
“Having a personal philosophy is like having a pet marmoset, because it may be very attractive when you acquire it, but there may be situations when it will not come in handy at all.”
-Lemony Snicket

A great remake of one of my favorite myths :) Good job!

on Jul. 19 2013 at 11:02 am
nelehjr DIAMOND, Lingle, Wyoming
60 articles 11 photos 381 comments

Favorite Quote:
Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain.

Wow! As soon as I started reading I couldn't tear my eyes away for a moment! Great job! I'll be reading this article again when it's printed in the magazine ;)

on Apr. 22 2013 at 7:16 pm
Childofthemind BRONZE, San Marcos, California
1 article 0 photos 42 comments
this took my breath away, you have excellent powers of imagery


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