I R O N_S H A D O W S / P A P E R_W I N G S
I remember those afternoons, those golden afternoons. They rested on a broken roof—bowls of warm whipped potato, gilded chrysanthemums serenading the late sunlight. I remember her, her graceful figure on amber flight, her mount a prided firebird that had already taken her ten times around the world. I remember how she soared into untouchable heaven, and left me to sigh.
The blacksmith and the adventurer. What stranger match could there be?
The flowers of our roof garden poked their heads through the cracks, smiling in the wake of her breeze. She had never given me a flower in her life.
How formless her world! She loved it more than the daisy petals she held in her palm. They rained down through the wind like delicate snow, sending me tidings from love above. Such had been the fantasy of the sky to her—a twisted, jumbled wonderland-wasteland she had sworn to bring to life.
She would sooner give flowers to the sky than to me.
I remember, like wading in an endless stream. Every week, the crystal flow brought us another song. Together we would sing to ourselves, while the sunset brought her away.
I remember our boy Icarus gazing out beyond the terraces of our prison stronghold, the sunlight flooding his eyes like dreams.
"One day, I will fly away like her!"
Dreams written, his poem. Dreams, sweeping the late-afternoon butterflies away.
Perhaps I feared too much those innocent words.
I remember glorious days, when the stars were chandeliers installed by the Goddess' divine dream. I remember how we stood on the edge of our titanium-frame castle, anticipating her return.
Follow the compass, follow the river. Let the stars take you home.
The song she adored was the song we sang, over and over, Ica and I.
Take you home.
We sang her a safe journey, sang her to her destination. We sang till we slept, waiting for the heartbeat of the wings to awaken us.
In the dark, fire wings washed leaf-tides through our sleep, whistling their own lyrics over dewy flowerbuds. She descended upon the sleeping garden rooftop—her smile was more dazzling than the stars. And her embrace was warm, though she had been in the cold sky so long.
"One day, I'll fly away like you…" Ica murmured sleepily in her arms.
"Yes, dear, one day." She turned to me, with a hint of laughter. "Same time next week, hm? One day, you two could join me on my journeys—"
But I shook my head in gentle refusal, for my metalwork chained me to the ground. I knew not the rhythm of the sky. The sky would never beat in synchrony with my heart.
All I did was wish her "good night". She smiled, but was silent. Like the sky.
My beautiful voyager. I smiled sleepily.
She had never given me a flower, or a "goodnight", before.
She once told me that she dreams of riding the Divine Bird with Queen Cygnus herself.
Again, the seventh night descended. Seven-night cycles of flight came back again and again, one new story every time. Again we sang on the seventh night, awaiting her on the windy rooftop.
I could not ward sleep off for long. And so we blinded ourselves to the stars, murmuring the words behind closed eyes. In our messy little garden we lay—the flowers breathing in communal silence, lacy guarded sentinels around us.
The silence hung, a sweet perfume—and there I smiled, my very last smile.
In the shadow, I awakened not to the beat of wings. The rustle of paper aroused me, fluttering like a petal from atop my head.
No smile, no stars, no firebird. The stones were cold.
A note, a plain paper scrap—hurriedly scribbled, filled with loops like loops in flight.
I must hurry now! I have found my road to joy, a beautiful land. I concede that I might never return. And every moment, I grow to love it so…
…Love it, more than you love me?
I could see the letters falling apart. And they shattered my own world—she was the thread binding it together. The whispers had ended. Why…why did the world seem to await my answer?
Beside me, his voice was a rustle as he rubbed his eyes and looked up at me. "Why isn't mum home?"
I turned not, so he may not see my tears.
"She'll be back. Don't worry."
But in my heart, I know that these words are wrong.
The monstrous, monstrous sky. Devoured my only true love.
And so the world melted into greyness. Into the towers of steel we locked ourselves, to hide from the abomination above.
Why trust love? It will only ever break your heart.
I pulled the curtains over the windows, over the sky, and the shadows were thrown across the ground.
"Dad, dad, I want to become a bowman."
"No, Icarus. I won't let you fly away."
Another pair of wings.
The paper construction flutters from the rail, a snowflake, as I shut the curtains. I cannot bear the sight of the sky—and yet he opens the windows to them everyday.
Why can he never forget?
Little white wings, oh, so much like a dove's. He only ever does this now—making them, one pair, after another, after another…
Sometimes, he climbs to the abandoned rooftop garden with nothing but scissors and stacks of blank paper. And I will glance out the window to see a hundred paper wings flutter away from the rooftop, into smoky Kerning afternoons. I'll find little paper wings everywhere—in the shower, between the cracks of the stove, in the corners of my metal workshop.
And he asks, over and over, where the love of my life has gone.
"On a really great adventure."
Thus he sits a shadow at every window, the bars cast across his face like lines of age. I can blame no one but myself for aging him so. He looks at nothing else now, nothing but the sky—at dinner, in bed—to that place, where his mother escaped my world.
"Wow, dad. She is wonderful, isn't she?"
"Wonderful." An empty echo.
And all he can remember is she. His paper wings flood my drawer.
Time runs in circles. His creations have grown distraught—hooked, crumpled, torn and creased, their snow white feathers. He waits longer at the windows everyday, cheek pressed to the prison bars, warmth of the golden afternoon glazing his eyes…
"Follow the compass, follow the river. Let the stars take you home…"
His voice used to prod me merely. Now it is the thrust of an infinite dagger.
Is it time I break his tiny construction of heaven?
"Ica. You must see this."
The old note unfolds within his hands, a lotus. The words shimmer, in brightening eyes.
"Is Mum—really gone?"
I cannot speak. The tears slip free.
His sorrow is but pure—mine is not, for mine is hate, in another guise.
The wind tears through the clouded windows, sending drops of ice through the bars. The storm is still at its beginnings; the windows rattle under the sweet scent of raindrops.
But indoors, the storm is already at its darkest.
…I should not have killed his hope like that.
Icarus…Icarus, I swear you have gone crazy!
Up and down the stairs he runs, each hour—up and down, gathering blankets and tablecloths from the neighbours, in wide arms…
It's as if he is building a monster in his bedroom. He locks his door everyday, enters and stays for five hours at a stretch. The room is forbidden. What does he hide inside, that makes him smile so much more than before?
I worry. But worry will not heal me, nor heal him. I can only cross my fingers.
"What is it, Ica?"
He grins like the sunshine as he finally flings the door open to me. At the far end, his curtains are flung wide, the sunlight gushing in like the Goddess' waterfall.
It is bewildering; upon his bed is a sunlit heap of cloth—all the cloth he has collected, silk, wool, lace, satin—sewn at the edges, end on end. Rising halfway to the ceiling.
And that flame in the middle of the floor—a flame that his mother left behind, which she used, failed to use, to construct her firebird.
"Icarus! What in the world is this?"
"You'll see, Dad! All your life, you've built only chains and locks and traps. But now I have built something that will set us free!" He smiles. "I will find her, Dad!"
"No, do not take that flame. It is the only thing she left, the only thing to remember her by—"
"And what use is remembering, if she never returns? Come, Dad!"
But he is already binding the cloth and the flame together, the beginnings of an inconceivable hot-air balloon. And the curtains flutter defiantly wide, the soft blue winds laughing at the cold tears in my eyes.
Locked himself in his room for three days, Icarus. Three soundless days of cold porridge and peeling wallpaper and flickering shadows. How can he live? A rebellious traitor would never linger under lock and key.
With my tools, the door comes easily undone: the soft gale leads my gaze once round the empty room.
The blanket creation has vanished. With it, Icarus.
Upon the dusty bookcases and messy bed sheets, a silver blue light paints everything, from the far window. The glass pane slants outward into the silent cerulean morning, reflecting the perfect sunrise, the skyscrapers beyond. The curtains billow carelessly, like a dancer's dress.
But they are not open, strangely so…
As I pull them gently aside, a dozen white wings cascade from the curtainrail, carried by the morning wind in snow flight to adorn the glittering ornaments. I hold out my palms, listless, as one descends into my hands, and the rest dance through light and shadow.
How strange—there is no sorrow, no disbelief, as I look on into his empty heaven. No anger. No anger.
Only pain. Pain. Pain.
This shackle of black steel—it makes me fall, over and over—every time I try to reach for the whispering cold sunlight.
That is me. I know the art of smithing like I know my name. These chains were wrought in iron, made to never let a man escape. They were made to trap him forever.
The sun sings of diamonds and lace through the windows. Yet each day, the shadows grow steeper, deeper.
Why am I still trapped, when my wife and my son have flown free? These locks and gates I smith in the workshop—absurd irony. Irony. The things that keep me alive are the things that bind people to the ground.
Bind people, blind people. I smithed our own wedding rings.
Well, but we have a gate, and certainly a lock! We chain our door thrice across, bolt the windows shut.
Still, Ica managed to free himself.
Now I can only stay chained to my shadow, staring at shaking memories, wishing the emptiness of my rooftop garden didn't stab me so. I wonder now if my realism is what keeps me imprisoned.
Dad! I have found her. She is in the sky, among the clouds—I will call her, and bring her home with me. Wish me luck, Dad!
It arrived in the fax today. How is it that he has access to a fax machine?
But the plain, scrawled words allow me to suspend belief—they bring a gentle light to my eyes. It is an oasis in a frozen desert, a breath of fresh hope.
Could they truly be on their way home?
Ica, Aria—please come. Fly home safely. Follow the compass.
Let the stars take you—
i was trapped in a circle, but now all the circles are gone.
Clanging of metal, bursting wood. Two uniform-clad men in my living room, shadows and spiked boots ripping my carpet.
"We are here under orders from the king! Daedalus Palaemonus, you have been charged with the illegal practice of goods sales to unauthorised dealers—"
I sniff. "Illegal practices, illegal practices. Just excuses to get rid of the people."
"Don't get smart with us. Come now, and we will not harm you."
Cold rings. Cold, cold, cold—this is the metal I know so well…
The ground dragging across my knees, the fiery scrape of stones and a crushing grip. Rain-soaked gravel. Oh how I thrash and struggle against these iron hands!
Grey clouds and winds—they flood my eyes, drowning me. Yet the grips never go.
Rattling, rattling rain and chain and falling bars of ringing steel—monochrome scatters of shadow between them, binding me deep into a square of iron. Clamping down on all sides…damp and filthy, crawling with spiders and mould. Gleaming, slimy moss walls.
All of a sudden, every branch is gone. I am trapped at the centre of the crossroad.
So angular and square—so suffocating—and how much I thirst for a circle, even a circle in a dream!—
And yet all I see are dark rectangles, pale right angles. Angles of shadow, and motes of tantalising light.
Beneath my feet, the bloodstained grime is my only requiem.
Don't remember. Don't remember, Daedalus. You were meant to be a prisoner all your life—love was but a temporal delusion to deepen your sorrow.
You were always meant to be a prisoner, Daedalus. The Fates wrote it upon their palms.
This morning, in the grimy dimness of the ragged morning, I found a crumpled pair of white paper wings in my pocket.
How much they looked like my sky. My love. My freedom. They reminded me of stormy days that were brighter than now.
Here on my wrists ring the impenetrable chains; around me the blackness is fluid. I asked never to glimpse the sky again, but this is more than I bargained for. The windows lead only into Xbsolute Xero.
Somewhere there, the line faded—
And the darkness of this cold world is beginning to crush me.
Likewise I crush the limp white wings in my raw, blistered hand.
Head rising. Lips crack.
"You got a message from the warden, Daedalus."
Floods of ice.
"Oh, and something else. Reckon it's from a relative or something."
Nothing there—nothing here in my heart either—as the prison guard thrusts the tiny, crudely-wrapped package into the cell.
It crunches in the gravel. Crawling along, laughing still, the spiked ball drags a deep trail behind me. I raise it in rough worn hands, light cascading down the wrapping. Atop it is a small printed note. Too formal.
It makes my arms grow numb.
Sentenced to: Death
Your execution is scheduled at: 05.10.2019, 18:00 KCM
You are not permitted to have any meals starting from 3 hours before your execution.
To die. That is the reason I've waited.
There is nothing, nothing deeper than despair and its unrelenting grip. Who will hear my parting words?
Parting words. Scripted things that I once dreamt of disclosing, on a deathbed.
I saw my son's hands clasped in mine—as I engraved the birthright in moonstone. I dreamt of embracing my wife, presenting her with the locket I always meant to give her—it's still here with me.
But my wife and son aren't even here, those traitors. And here I lie, in a dark cell, an hour away from my graceless death—a journey I will take alone.
Goddess. Dear Goddess. You take me now down my road to Calvary—and I shoulder the heaviest burden in the world. You force me to die alone—without love, without light.
Have I atoned for my sins yet?
The despair is what draws these tears—despair for the end that will destroy the things that could have been. They run like blood, the warmth streaming down my face.
Salty, warm liquid. What is the difference? Blood tastes like iron. So do these.
In the stone garden I pray, blood raining down my face.
Again I glance at the ground—the plain package that remains seems to taunt me. I lift it, turn it around in my hands, wondering: From whom?
My wife? My son?
My eyes are still flooded, though my laugh is harsh and deep. Parcel. From my son. Have I gone crazy?
I smudged the text with my tears, but I can still make it out.
There is no light in my cell, only the endless scent of earthy moss. The package is a lump of shapelessness. Beneath me, the ground is cold, grimy, residues of the decades left to be my legacy—
But the words are no less clear.
TO DAE...LUS PALAEMONUS
FROM ...R SON, ICARUS
And even in this lightless place, even though my tears have washed some letters away, the words are enough to flood my world. The wrapping is flimsy and easy to tear—
Two roses. Two roses, they emerge from the plain package. Their stems are wrapped in foil, and when I hold them, the foil crinkles—a crisp metallic sound.
Two bright crimson flowers. They seemed to shine upon the entire room, lighting the grey walls with fire.
I hope you like these roses. One from me, and one from Mum.
Touching the rose to my lips, I feel the breeze sweep the rooftop, the wildflowers dancing. My lost Aria.
She has never given me a flower in her life.
I'm sorry we never came back, Dad. But Heaven is a beautiful place. I found myself at the border, and called out to Mum—and then the Goddess welcomed me through the secret gate…
I understand—yet I don't! I cannot speak. Words are far too useless—
Did you die? I want to ask, as my tears slowly cloud out the words. Is this your way of saying that you died?
But they won't hear my words. All my thoughts and dreams die with me.
Aria…you were visiting heaven all along. You asked me to come …but I refused.
Heaven is strange. Once we enter, we cannot leave. It is an absolute decree. We couldn't come back, Dad. But the Goddess allowed me to write you a letter.
Are you well? I hope your business is going well. Time passes slower up here. For me, it's only been a day since I entered Heaven. But I don't know how long it has been for you. I hope you haven't forgotten…
"I'll never forget, Icarus," I murmur, tracing a shape in the grime, with my forefinger. I'll never forget the songs we shared.
We hope to see you in due time, Dad. But till then, make the most of your life. Enjoy it for us, both of us.
The handwriting beneath changes—handwriting filled with loops, like loops in flight.
I fly for you, Daedalus. Every beat of my bird's wings is for you—but I believe it is too late for me to say so.
Light lives in all that was loved by the Goddess; love is a beacon to each ocean you roam. Don't lose yourself without firelight to guide you—follow the compass, follow the river.
Let the stars take you home.
And suddenly, I understand.
They aren't the ones waiting to come home.
I always loved you, Daedalus. I hope it isn't too late.
Icarus and Aria
The tears finally run free.
I glance down into the grime, mingled with drops of water, where the brilliant roses lie.
The sketch at my feet should serve as a fitting last word.
you were always meant to be a prisoner, daedalus
the fates wrote it upon their palms
My road to Calvary is not as uneven as it should have been—my burden is yet lightened.
I'm coming, Icarus and Aria. I'm coming home. I won't get lost, I promise.
My last minutes in the world—nothing but images now.
The guillotine, bloodstained, blade gleaming rust-red. The merciless visages of stone around the platform. Like men at poker—but tainted with blood.
I'm coming home. Thank you for the roses.
"Here, scum." That call is for me. Submission. Silent delirium. Slowly, I ascend the staircase, the pathway to Golgotha.
The sky is open, and free.
The wood is warm and cold beneath at my neck, pressing into my throat. The blood is rank and imminent, screaming stories of death and iron traps and helplessness, dragging me into the pit of despair.
But the winds sweep through the blue, blue sky, too free to be captured. White paper wings on the wind, eternally free. To me they carry tidings from love above.
This is a moment I've known since marriage. This is the day the daisies toss their white gowns into the air.
I'm coming home.
I stand in liminality.
And metal sings as it falls to the earth, my fading swan song. The metal that I know like the back of my hand—it cuts the sky and tumbles through the winds.
A singular blade. A singular line in the fabric of the dimensions.
even the fates forget, sometimes.
I left the sketch of a wing on the floor of the prison cell, beside the crumpled remains of a parcel wrapping—and two pristine red roses, encircled by a locket chain. Somehow, the grime has not darkened them to shadows.
There is an empty apartment on the top floor, somewhere in Kerning City. No one remembers it. But no one forgets it either, paradoxically. The rooftop is somehow more timeless than the sky itself.
Faded lines are strangely permanent. Kronos traces them perpetually, like spider webs of an equinox he cannot relinquish.
Afternoons, golden afternoons—they rested on a broken roof, these endless visions that are locked away somewhere secret.
I remember her. Aria. She was my world, my song—the unknown protector of my heart, of fiery amber wings.
And I remember him. Icarus—a fifteen-year-old child who flew away on a fantasy, and accidentally found his way home. He was always our white moonstone bridge.
This mere smile—does it not embody all the lost glory of the world?
He finally had his adventure—he flew away like her. And I'm glad.
I once refused his desire, trapped by chains that I couldn't see. Within them I struggled, an eternal prisoner. There I lay, crying helplessly for light, while the angels turned to ice around me.
And there was only one answer. In tears, I gave him up to the sky—his dream, my Nemesis. In tears, I gave my only son, to take the burden of the world.
And he took flight to the stars—
shattered the iron chains for me.
It isn't too late, Aria. It never will be.