High School Winner
There’s a boy in a town in France whose hollow bones whistle with the passage of wind and whose heart pulsates blood that runs black and thick.
They call him Icarus, after the winged boy in the Greek myth. Purple storm clouds swirl irises beneath translucent eyelids, but it’s the speckled grey wings beneath his shoulder blades that give him his name. Upon his birth, the air was choked with rumors of demons and disgraced fallen angels.
“Bird-boned boy,” they whispered. “Born atop the hill.”
“Destined to kill.”
Yet for some reason, the mayor of a town in France refused to let anyone harm the boy with the lonely stare.
His mother died promptly after his birth, and the identity of his father remained unknown. Still, there was suspicion of the town drunkard. Who else but scum could have given life to such a monster?
Icarus stayed with nuns until he was five years old. Then, despite protests, he was admitted to school. Nobody was sure who pulled what strings to make it happen, but that Fall, Icarus found himself surrounded by wide-eyed kids who only knew to fear. It’s a shame the other kids had predisposed notions, because if one had been willing to ask him to play, things might have been different.
On his first day of school, Icarus’s wings knocked down bookcases, desks, and shrieking students in a domino-like effect. Parents stormed the mayor’s manor. but he remained staunch, despite the suspicion seeping into the eyes of his wife and daughters. Icarus stayed in school where the muscle of his body was ripped to shreds by the howls of kids and parents alike.
And it never occurred to anyone that when Icarus turned away, it wasn’t in defiance but in concurrence—it never occurred to anyone that no child should ever wish for death.
The days have collapsed into years, and Icarus is still in the back of the schoolroom, wings folded as best as he can. To keep from complete desolation, he promises himself that somewhere far away there are people less afraid of change.
Icarus strives for normalcy. He likes Annika, a spindly, freckled girl. He eats his food in scarfing gulps, like every growing boy. He loves to run, but he isn’t allowed to race. Perhaps they fear he will take off. Having wings is bad enough—the thought of him flying is unbearable. They tell him flight is impossible, and so he never bothers to try.
His classmates are beginning to see life in a new way. Icarus has always known things like cowardice and bitterness, but as his classmates begin to discover love, he does as well.
He approaches Annika in the schoolyard. He, like many others, mistakes her quietness for complacency, her pink skirts for frailty. Like everyone else, Icarus doesn’t realize that Annika was dressed that way by her parents. Unlike everyone else, however, if Icarus were to find that Annika liked wrestling and collecting bugs in jars, he wouldn’t scorn her. It might make him like her more.
After lunch, Annika is standing with a group of girls, but she’s staring at the boy’s kickball game. Icarus says the only words he can think to say to her.
“You’re really pretty.”
And the rosary ring on her finger splits his lip open. Her scream echoes and pierces the heart of anyone with a little girl to protect. It’s ironic, that this little girl could protect herself.
The people in a town in France flock to the schoolyard in gross fascination to see how Icarus’s blood runs black and thick. Carnally spurred on by the sight of blood, they chase him with pitchforks and torches how their medieval ancestors once chased after witches. Cries of demon, devil, and death erupt anew. The mayor is too scared to help the boy with fiery lungs.
Icarus races for the first time. For a moment he really feels like he could fly. But then he reaches the safety of the nuns, and he sees that they can’t quite meet his eyes. His heart sinks so quickly he feels foolish for thinking of flight.
That night, Icarus stands alone. The snarling wind slashes at his throat. His ears buzz with the sound of waves crashing in vehemence against cragged rocks below.
The people of a town in France see him from inside their homes but cannot be bothered to leave dinner.
Annika presses her face against her window. She traces the outline of his wings with dragging reluctance. He looks so small, but she notes that he doesn’t look weak. For the first time, she considers that the two aren’t inherently correspondent.
Annika nods doubtfully when her mother tells her she did the right thing. Then she screams for the second time that day as his silhouette falls from the cliff like silk into the night.
Her ring is stained with his black blood. But when the light comes on, the blood only looks red.
They claim they saw him die, even though the night was darker than their rotted souls. Young children are told stories of a monstrous bird boy to scare them into obedience. Icarus becomes like a myth, and the children dare each other to look for his ghost underground in molding, fetid basements, wherever smells like bitter death. They are looking in all the wrong places. If they would just look up once in a while—if only they would look up.
In a town in France there are only two, a political man and a freckled girl, who stand atop the hill of Icarus’s birth to look at the sky. And there he is, flying through everything unsolid, hair electrified and eyes ablaze with the rippling wind beneath his wings.
Some years after Icarus’s departure, the mayor’s wife will give birth to his first legitimate son. The mayor will look to the clouds and promise to do it right this time. His son’s wings will be speckled grey.
© The Leyla Beban Young Authors Foundation 2015. All rights reserved. PO Box 610005, Redwood City, CA 94061 firstname.lastname@example.org (650) 262-3076 Tax ID 46-3489728