By S. McManus
It was awfully windy for a first flight. She watched as he perched on the cliff, wings and arms straight back and knees bent under salt-hardened pants; he was a poor imitation of a bird. It was an awkward position to see a human in, and she wondered why the arms had to be held up at all.
“But of course,” she mused, “they’ve never seen how angels do it.”
The man pondered for a while, seemingly gathering his courage in that same rigid position, before breaking into a run, pushing down the last few meters of strong, prickly rock as he did. A leap. The wind caught itself in the wing pit for a second, and he was lifted not more than a palm higher, air near solid as his feet spun frantically. His wings would’ve blazed if there was any Sun out. But inevitably, his inexperience was only a second behind him, latching on and swinging its way around his left foot, pulling him off to the side as he broke formation and strained his back and shoulders to balance himself. His arms twisted haphazardly, hands groping for a support he was much too far to reach. And soon he was freefalling, not much different from a motherless fledgling, fluttering his wings as much and as fast as he could. Trailing behind him the wings formed an enormous shadow, vast enough to dwarf his own figure. He was no more than a babe thrashing through the air.
She held her breath as he rapidly approached the debris of rock accumulated at the bottom of the cliff, but a stray sea breeze shifted his off course and untangled the contraption of his wings. She let out a slow exhale. In a single beat his wings slammed downwards with all their strength, and came alive, arching, spreading, propelling him upwards and rocking the water with waves. They breathed gust into the air. The boy let out a loud whoop as he hovered then fell once more, but this time twirling as he descended and then sweeping upwards in an airy laugh.
“Wing-bearer!”, she called, “stray from the water if you do not want your wings to sink with them!”
His body vaulted at the sound, piercing even as a faraway storm blew in his ears. Facing this way and that his wings stuttered, his face curled in a frown as he peered into empty sky. He spotted her at last, above him in the distance, nearly blending in completely with a stratocumulus, of which were strewn around generously. He neared her with his eyes just as cautious and skittish as any human beneath a set of dark brows. There was no mistake, he was just a boy.
“Don’t be afraid, I am but an image, I cannot harm you.”
“Yet you live with the gods,” he questioned, tilting his head to the side, child-like.
She laughed, “I see no god here.”
At this distance, she could inspect his wings more closely. It was a horrid, oil-stained thing. The feathers of plucked, small beasts, meshed with wax that now hung heavy with salt and moisture, form drooping with new weight.
“Amazing, aren’t they?” he grinned, flapping wider so that the tips traced the shape of a long bow,
“they’re my father’s pride and work.”
“Oh, I know who you are, son of Daedalus,” she looked him in the eye, “remember your purpose and be wary of where you fly. What use are those wings beneath miles of ocean. Or worse,” she considered, “plucked dry in the heat of the Sun?”
There was in instant in which he looked older, more scared, serious, but it was gone as his eyes crinkled and he dove backwards with a cry.
“I’d never touch the ground again if I could help it.”
Their meetings kept on like this for some time, him sneaking off the island to stretch and strengthen his wings while she would look on from wherever she was perched at the time, occasionally calling for him to dodge the odd wind current that would cause him to crash against the cliff when he got too careless. He swore he heard a giggle each time. When he could, he joined her, sometimes too tired to uphold himself so she would climb down onto the mounts so that he could lay his feathers in the grass and rub his cheeks with dirt. He pried her for answers, every time, befitting of his nature, but found none in her hazy allusions.
“You look different here.”
Her appearance was never truly remarkable, or so he remembered, but she took upon a new glow at the end of each day, her features sharper and an amber bleeding into her cheeks and hair.
“I am different almost everywhere I go, and in fact, I am different every second, but it is so slow that you would not realize, even if you watched for years.”
“I could watch this for a thousand,” he sighed, observing as the sunset turn peachy and soft, hues scattering in the afterglow. It would be gone in the next minute.
“You forget yourself”, she moved to stand up, “your wings themselves are made of wax, it is only in the harsh light that they befit an angel’s.”
She straightened her robes as she got up, following the shape of his wings and back, where they paled in the shadows. A had was there, in the lower back, printed by the melting wax dripping off around it. Her eyes shot open at the sight.
“You’ve been with the Sun!”
He glanced at her, “his name is Helios.”
“I couldn’t care less about his name!” the waning sunlight blazed in her eye, “why have you gone to him?”
And he smiled that same smile he had when he’d flow up from the sea level.
“It’s different with him. It’s exhilarating. He has power, he has light and it makes you feel like you have it too. It is true freedom and nothing like where I was meant to be locked in for a lifetime.”
“Is this not freedom to you?”
He watched as the last bit of color was dragged into the sea.
“You are like me, are you not?”, he motioned to the way she was poised to leave after the sunset, as she always had since their meetings had begun, “tied down to this Earth, forced to wake and slumber, yet beyond what a mere mortal could be?”
“You think yourself immortal?”
“All I know is that I’ve gone farther than what many demi-gods have.”
“And it will cost you greatly.”
A low gust swept through the clouds, strengthening as it ran up the hill and shook the bushes of Mount Ida.
“It’s been written in the stars,” he murmured, gazing blankly at the evening mist in wonder.
“And who do you think writes them?”
He snapped his head to her, surprised.
“The fates are not kind,” she pondered for a moment, “and I have heard your name whispered among them.”
“Then I am destined for glory.”
“Or you will live on as the pitiful fool who failed to reach it.”
She was forced to leave then, as her eyes already warm and vision turned dark and slitted. The clouds caught her as she was struck dumb.
They spoke less in the next few days, and on the fourth, he didn’t come at all. She waited, clouds rolling around her, even as the sunlight burned through them. When the sunset came, it was weightier than shade, a stark contrast to how it looked not even one week before. She looked at the figure hovering, reaching out for the last slips of Sun, until it finally stilled and stopped. He fell, a smear of grey dripping down the horizon, just as the last bits of color dispersed like ash into the wind. She closed her eyes, asleep to the smell of burnt skin.