A story half-inspired by gniq's The Power of Recall, and also by the astronomical phenomenon that so few have actually seen and appreciated.
There was something awesome in the thought of the solitary mortal standing by the open window
and summoning in from the gloom outside the spirits of the nether world.
— Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
During a total solar eclipse — a phase known as totality — the Moon lies in a straight line between the Sun and the Earth, blocking sunlight from the Earth completely. It is only then that the magnificent corona of the Sun is visible around the Moon's shadow. Striking as it is, totality only has a maximum duration of 7.5 minutes.
One step further. Two steps further. Three.
He likes the feeling of the gritty dirt under his cold, bare feet. It feels natural. Primitive. Almost buoyant. He can taste the freedom, waiting patiently, lingering for his proximity, over the ledge.
Behind him, far away, he can hear a myriad of sounds. Shrill and unpleasant sounds echoing in his ears. Is it the birds crowing? Is it the trail of traffic? Or is it . . .
Icarus. It sounds vaguely familiar. He takes another step forward, and a sharp scream follows, punctuating the divine silence surrounding his world. His toes tap softly, as though counting, counting the time for the beings behind him to come close enough.
One. Two. Three.
He turns around. Four people, gasping and panting, panicked and stunned. A man, a woman, a young lady, a teenage boy. They halt in their tracks, and he cannot help but smile. He imagines an invisible dome isolating himself from them, and in his mind their hands touch the surface of the barrier, rippling upon contact like an aqueous wall. Impenetrable.
– – –
High above him, far away, an unsolicited shadow peeks around the sun, kissing its edge, tainting it — and the air around it — a contrasting black. A phenomenal process, progressing, unseen, unheard by the rest of the world.
A dying breath.
– – –
"Icarus! Please!" The woman speaks, her voice wavering, her haphazard ponytail whipping about in the wind, her arms outstretched towards him. But never across the bubble. "Don't do anything stupid . . . Icarus!"
She reminds him of the face he used to see in the mirror, the mirror that frequented his morning memories before he added a spider-web decoration to it. He tilts his head to one side, slightly, and remembers who she is. He smiles at her again, but she only bursts out in shuddering sobs and shakes her head.
"Icarus, don't smile like that . . . it's scaring me. I'm sorry . . . I'm so sorry," she weeps wretchedly. "I shouldn't have been so demanding of you, Icarus. I know it's my fault you almost had a breakdown. It's all my fault!"
At the little outburst she starts crying all over again. The man holds her back and she sobs even more, straining to get closer to her son. The boy draws back slightly. Edges closer to the drop. Stares at her hands. Imagines the tool she used to hold in them.
"I'm sorry . . ." she repeats. "I didn't know I would pressurize you like this . . . I just wanted you to be a better person, Icarus, but I didn't expect things to . . ." And she collapses, helpless, into the man's arms.
In his mind's eye the tool begins to take shape: a huge sack. A huge drawstring bag. Trapping him inside. Suffocating him. Raining down demands, expectations, unfulfilled wishes — you're my only child, Icarus. I want you to succeed in life, Icarus. I don't want you to end up like me, Icarus. I just wish for you to work hard and get a good job in future, Icarus. Is that too much I'm asking for, Icarus? Why do you disappoint me time and again, Icarus? Why can't you just make me proud of you for once, Icarus —
What about me, mother?
– – –
Around him, far away, the world comes to a halt. No more do the birds crow; no more does the traffic scream. High in the heavens the black disc races across the glaring sun, and the sky darkens. The animals think it is dusk. The humans think it is Armageddon.
– – –
He watches the trembling figure before him. Recognises her no longer as the person he knows. He shifts his eyes to the man, who looks back grimly. And the man speaks.
"Look, Icarus, come back here. I know you're too . . . miserable about all that has happened. And I know you hate me because I'm not your real father. And apparently, apparently you think I've no reason to take over his place, but then — just spare a thought for your mother, will you?"
My mother? He does spare a thought about her. He spares hundreds of thoughts about her. His mind is occupied by images of her. Naturally there is no more space left for this new man.
Breaking into us, our family. Like the way the mirror gets broken.
"Icarus," the man says. Urgently. Impatiently. Do you speak to her like that too? "You heard what I said. You've got a long life ahead! Just forget the past and live on normally!" Pause. "Or if you wish, if you're worried, I won't go to the pub again," he adds, albeit with evident reluctance.
The pub. It is always the pub. It always happens at the pub. How would things have changed if that man never went there in the first place? If it never was there in the first place. Many a late night he spent, this new man — this stranger — stumbling out of the glass door. Laughing like a maniac. Flushed like a stage actor. Swaying like a walking toddler. Furiously drinking like a dying man in an oasis.
Many a late night his mother stayed up, fretting, worrying. Many a late night his mother explained to him that it is okay, that she should. Many a late night the man stumbled in, equally drunken, increasingly irritated. Many a late night the man abused his non-unanimous authority and yelled at her. And many a late night he spent under the covers, forced to sleep, forced to listen, forced to hold back his tears, only to let them fall upon the pillow, upon her weeps, echoing into the small hours of the morning.
And still . . .
– – –
Behind him, far away, the moon continues its journey, sealing off half the sunlight from the city's dwellers. The nocturnal creatures arise from their daily slumber. People stick their heads out of the windows, wondering if the world has gone mad. But none notice the insignificant commotion in between them and the sun.
– – –
"Icarus?" a smaller voice whispers. A weak, yet worried voice. He sees her long tumbling hair, her glistening eyes, the two strange dark trails down her face. Thinks she would look much lovelier without the trails. "Icarus, can you . . . can you come back please?"
Why do they want him to come back, he wonders. He likes it here. Close to the edge, close to the end. Embracing the picturesque view spanning out wide, around him, below him.
"I still love you, Icarus . . . I shouldn't . . . I'll come back to you, I promise! I shouldn't have gone off — gone out with — I shouldn't have left you, I'm sorry . . . I promise, Icarus, I promise I won't do it again . . . I promise . . ."
The smile on his face fades. He scrutinises the girl. She looks like she had been crying. He recalls having seen that face up close, having cupped that face with his hands, having kissed that face gently in the night, as the breeze caressed them, as the city lights swiveled around them.
But he also remembers seeing that face from a distance, seeing that face leaning so close to someone else's, seeing that face cupped by someone else's hands, seeing that face kissed — invaded — by someone else's, as the breeze caressed them — as a chilling gale swept him away — as the lights revolved around them — as they lost themselves in each other, as his existence was totally wiped out, beyond that sanctuary of theirs.
He recalls her smiling. Smiling at him. Looking at him with that special smile of hers that he thought was reserved for him and only him. Now he remembers her directing that same smile to someone else. At first it was his. Then it was shared. Then it was viciously snatched away. And ended up as someone else's.
What are you promising me? What have you promised me?
– – –
Above him, far away, the black circle turns the sun into a weak crescent. It casts a bigger form of itself onto the land. Slowly, slowly, swallowed by the shadows of the false night. The sky turns deep blue. The first few stars start to appear. Crickets start calling.
– – –
The last person has spoken. He turned his dwindling attention to him. The rest of him was staring beyond the teenager, at the darkened sky. A prelude to a storm. A finale to a performance. All a performance. All an act.
He wants the young man in front of him to clap, to clap for his excellent acting. But he doesn't.
"Damn you, Icarus."
"Stop agitating him!" the woman cries. But none of her advice is heeded. Instead the young man takes a step closer. One step closer. One step closer to the dome. One step back for the boy, in return, closer to the edge. The back of his sole steps on air. It feels so deliciously clean. The wind licks at his heels. Pushing him on. On and on.
"Damn you," the teenager repeats. Spits on the ground. Glares at him. Disposes of his own former terrified self. The boy thinks of the dirt on the floor, mixed with the nasty saliva. "You're a bloody petty fool, you know that, Icarus?" he snarls, pointing at his friend. His finger touches the dome. Jabs hard at it. It ripples, but stays. The boy in the dome smiles at its rigidity.
"Don't you try that sad-smile trick on me, Icarus. I'm not going to fall for it like those twits there." Sweeps an arm over the other three. "What's it with you anyway? Come across a few problems in your life and all you can think of is to end it?" Snorts in disdain. Looks hard at him. "That's such a sorry excuse."
"I'm not here to beg you to stop acting foolish and all that and regret in the end, Icarus. If you can still regret eventually, that is. I just want to tell you that whatever you do it's your choice. It's your own bloody path you choose to take. I'm not going to tell you to turn back. Because you aren't worth it. You don't have the guts to face them all.
"If that's what you are, Icarus, then I'm sorry. I'm sorry I ever knew you. I'm sorry I ever made friends with you. I'm sorry I ever cared for and bothered with a pathetic thing like you."
That marks the end of his oration. He spits on the ground again. Mutters under his breath. Gives the boy a final look before turning around. Makes his way across the rooftop. Goes down the stairs. As if nothing has happened.
The boy at the edge doesn't say anything. He merely smiles on. Wonders why this person seems so different from the rest. Wonders why he seems so indifferent. Wonders why he is, still, no different from them, after all.
I'm glad to have been friends with you, too.
– – –
Over the sky, far away, the moon disc finally engulfs the sphere of light. Day plunges into night. The entire world is silenced. The winds breathe their farewells. The fourth dimension freezes. A fiery halo of light burns around the circle of black. A celestial ring of fire, whispering, echoing the ancient tales from the sun, tales from millions and millions of years ago, to the numerous residents of the planet.
– – –
He stares at the zenith. Awed. Dazzled. Enthralled. Completely blown away. Raises a thin arm outwards, upwards, skywards. Connects a thumb to a finger, makes a circle. Holds the shape against the ephemeral transition.
It flares in his hand. Swirling, swimming, streaming in the nightlight. Dancing fairies, skirts twirling, wings fluttering, faces glittering, eyes smiling. Smiling, smiling upon him — for him alone. One pauses in her dance, gazes down at him. Extends a slender arm towards him. Beckons him forward, forward. Come with us, she says. Come along with us . . . Join us in our sky.
He gazes at her. Shifts his view to the three before him, who are squinting upwards as well. To them he is momentarily forgotten. To them he has perpetually vanished — a final disappearing act. To them he is eternally a past, never to resurface.
Why do you apologise after breaking your promises? Why do you not keep them in the first place? Why do you see only when all is over and gone?
A single tear falls down his face. He laughs quietly. Raises both arms high above his head towards the sky. Towards the ancient worshippers of the eclipsed sun. Closes his eyes.
Take me along with you.
The corona flares a final time, a prominence sweeping across its side, sending the solar wind blasting into space. A signal of affirmation. A moment of truth.
And he falls, leaning into the embrace of the sun, his feet leaving the last of the ledge. Behind him the wax sublimes into nonexistence, his white wings erupt into individual feathers and fall with him, down and down. Icarus, dominated by the star of life, reaching for the end, for the beginning that is to come.