Magazine, website & books written by teens since 1989

Icarus This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

By
     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.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the January 2008 Teen Ink Fiction Contest.




Join the Discussion


This article has 62 comments. Post your own!

RougeOlympian said...
Jan. 17, 2010 at 4:34 pm:
This story is so profound, so magnificant, words can't describe it. It' one of a kind and shows so much feeling-it's so- I guess I've gone speachless. I know of the story you mentioned about the boy who flew to high and the sun melted the wax from the boy's wings. It was a perfect thing to connect the story to and I cound truly say that this was one storyI shant soon forget.
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
RealLifeNightmare said...
Dec. 26, 2009 at 10:21 pm:
Never have I seen better writing on this website. Congratulations. I am grateful the editors put this up. It deserves to be created into something much more. I can honestly say that this manuscript could be published around the world. It reminds me of my childhood (I still am one though). I was the star of the family, then brought down to the bottom, no longer the best thing anyone could ask for. Not that I ever was. My parents tried to change me. Morph me into their doll, but I told them to sto... (more »)
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
katieh4ever said...
Dec. 26, 2009 at 6:27 pm:
i loved this story! its beautiful. :)
you're an amazing writer!! :)
theres inspiration behind it, so when other people read it, they're inspired too.
this story inspired me.
u dont need to take away or add anything to make this story incredible. :)
thank you for writing this :D
good luck and best wishes!! :)
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
~*TheDreamer*~ said...
Dec. 26, 2009 at 3:19 pm:
This was so well written and so inspiring! I love this story!
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
wowiee said...
Dec. 4, 2009 at 10:06 pm:
omg this is amazinggg
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
Electricity This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 16, 2009 at 11:10 am:
my friend tried to write about Icarus once, and it was ok. but this is so much better and amazing! Great job, keep writing!
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
snc947 said...
Jul. 30, 2009 at 5:50 pm:
o my gosh. Caitlin, if you continued this story, you could totally write it and create it into a book. I AM NOT JOKING!!! This is now one of my favorite stories of all time. Thx for sharing it!!! :)
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
autumnaleqnx said...
Jul. 2, 2009 at 11:45 pm:
Honestly, a lot of the other winning stories I've read are mostly fluff, but yours definitely stands above the rest. I was completely pulled into the story at the beginning, and you kept my attention until the end with your uncanny characterization, use of imagery, and story-telling. Please continue to write in the genuine, insightful way that you have.
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
Tasha G. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jun. 9, 2009 at 4:37 am:
What happens next? I could read more about this girl... Good job!
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
Written said...
Jun. 9, 2009 at 2:59 am:
Charming story, keep writing.
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
SheilaZyra said...
Jun. 9, 2009 at 1:14 am:
I love this story! It's definitely one of my favorites!
You are a great writer, and very good at expressing things. I also love how the color of Tierra's wings are dark, not white. It somehow adds more to the story.
I can't wait to see more from you! Keep up the good work!
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
Xinwen This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jun. 8, 2009 at 1:03 pm:
Oh.. wow. Amazing. I love the idea of it, and it's very well-written. Nice work. :)
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
sarah.surprenant@gmail.com This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 23, 2009 at 11:03 am:
Reminds me very much of "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
Mr.Knightley said...
Apr. 13, 2009 at 7:28 pm:
I can see why this story won the fiction contest.
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
MarineLover said...
Apr. 7, 2009 at 9:24 pm:
This was absolutley beautiful and inspiring. Thank You.
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
Gossamer said...
Apr. 2, 2009 at 8:59 pm:
Oh, that was so incredibly awesome! I want to bring it to my English class. But the end seemed kind of funny. Didn't she say that flying too close to the sun is a bad thing, that it'll take your wings away?
Oh, I get it. You were contrasting her to Icarus. He was foolish with his freedom and ended up dying. But her getting close to the sun was a good thing, 'cause it cut her tethers, so she gained her wings and flight instead of losing them.
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
JustAbbi This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Mar. 17, 2009 at 12:44 am:
Holy goodness. Ok first let me just say that I absolutely CRIED.
I could see the girl and her russet wings stretching towards the stars with a balloon in her hand. That was absolutely amazing.
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
almost gossamer said...
Mar. 14, 2009 at 1:03 am:
Though I liked the general idea of this piece and enjoyed your interesting word choice and descriptions, I felt that the imagery in this story was contradictory. When describing the story of Icarus and Daedalus, you said “The son in the story was a fool. He allowed the sun to take his wings and died for it.” This implies that the sun was a dangerous thing that caused Icarus’s downfall, and that he should have guarded his wings from it more carefully. However, at the end of t... (more »)
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
emberae said...
Mar. 4, 2009 at 3:25 am:
I want to see what she does! Tierra... so beautiful! I loved the last sentence... so poignant! I HATE MARTIN! soo mean... couldn't tear my eyes away. I like that her wings were russet and not white, because it was so much more realistic... continue!

<3, emberae
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
Maddancer said...
Jan. 14, 2009 at 2:05 am:
I love this story. It was very captivating and creative. You have a great imagination Caitlin. Bravo.
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
Site Feedback