Here’s the entry from winner No. 2, Jessyca-Ann P., in our Cassie Clare steampunk writing contest. You can see yesterday’s entry here. Enjoy!
Touching the Sun
He’s only nineteen-years-old and a complete hermit. That’s Arthur.
Many think he’s absolutely mad (which is sorta true) and others don’t even notice him at all. His bright blue eyes are clouded with imaginary blueprints and strings of calculations. His fair skin is stained with grease especially at the fingertips and his blonde hair spikes off in all which way direction, singed at the tips from the latest electrical fire he accidently caused in the tiny room that serves as his workshop, his bedroom and his kitchen all in one.
“No! No! No! That’s not it!” he shouts. The gears in his head clog with frustration and his entire universe threatens to implode. His leather-wrapped fist crashes down on the wooden table, causing nails to rattle and screws to hit the floor.
With a glance at the nearest clock, Arthur brings down the goggles from his eyes to rest around his neck and wipes his dirty hands against his apron. He moves towards the only window in the room and pushes the glass forward until he feels fresh air on his hot skin. He looks out at New York City – where he was born, raised and will probably die.
The streets are busy, which isn’t unusual. It’s a sea of merchants and mechanics, the occasional wandering soul. Out of the masses that clutter the streets, there’s only one that could pull Arthur from his work. Around the same time every day he escapes his world of dangerous experimentation and strange mechanical sounds for a simple glimpse at an angel. Like clockwork, there she is below.
She’s indeed a vision. A girl who couldn’t have been more than eighteen-years-old, petite with hair the color of ink, chopped all at different layers and straight bangs that fall to conceal her forehead. His eyes scan her up and down from the tight corset accentuating her chest, down the draped skirt on her hips, those shapely legs and finally a pair of leather boots. A gold necklace dangles from her neck, a combination of pocket watch pieces and a golden amulet in the shape of a songbird.
She isn’t the most beautiful though she’s far from being the most hideous girl in all of the five boroughs. There’s just something about her, innocent yet alluring. They’ve never met and Arthur intends to keep things that way. He watches as she smiles at the street vendors and giggles at her trailing suitors. She means the world to him, but him being a simple artisan and her being worth so much more, she’ll probably never know.
She’s in the crowd on the day he decides to take his flying contraption for a spin. Arthur stands on the ledge of the inn’s rooftop. People have gathered in the streets, looking up at him, probably pegging him as a lunatic attempting suicide. Luckily, he’s in his best outfit – a gray vest over a clean white shirt, a skinny blue tie around his neck, a fresh pair of pants and shined shoes. Securing his goggles over his eyes, he walks over to his latest modified version of Arthur Haskell’s Latest Greatest Flying Contraption. An acronym doesn’t really work. It takes away the grandeur.
Arthur runs his fingers over the wings of such a powerful machine and he can only pray he’s flying with angels and not diving with the devil. Filling his lungs with the deepest of breaths, Arthur crawls into the single seat and starts the engine. He takes hold of the leather wheel and takes flight.
There are gasps from the crowd as he pummels over the building’s edge. Just as the people on the street duck in fear, the bronze vehicle jerks upward and takes to the sky. He wears a wide grin as the streets erupt in cheers. He sails through the air, barely grazing rooftops and heading toward the water. He skims the surfaces and feels the spray against his face. Arthur takes a wide turn and heads back to the main street, making the fatal mistake of checking if she is watching.
Arthur looks down as he always does, but unlike every other day since he was thirteen, she is looking up. Their eyes meet. He’s a good hundred feet in the air, but he’s had so much practice picking her face out of a crowd. His concentration is obliterated with a deadly scream. Arthur’s gaze shoots forward and he sees a woman in a window, looking at him with utter fear. Reacting quickly, he takes a sharp turn and goes flying into the street below.
Pedestrians cry out and jump out of the way as Arthur and his contraption crash into a produce stand. Splinters of wood fly, tomatoes squish and apples go rolling. Arthur feels a sharp pain shoot through his right arm and he can’t feel his legs. With his free hand, he manages to yank off his goggles and drag his palm over his face.
“That was bloody brilliant!” Arthur shouts to no one in particular.
“Bloody brilliant? What in the devil’s name do you think you’re doing?” a feminine voice asks, filled with terror. Arthur blinks, hoping his vision would settle and his breath catches in his throat when he sees her standing beside him.
“I…um, I was…trying to touch the sun?” he cheekily replies.
“Touching the sun, huh? Silly. Don’t you know the story of Icarus?” she asks, kinking a dark eyebrow until it disappears beneath the bangs of her forehead. “The Greek speak of Icarus who tried to escape Crete by wings constructed by his father, a remarkable craftsman. Is that what you are, sir?”
“Well, I don’t know about remarkable. I did crash,” he says, dragging his gloved hands over his vest stained with only the freshest goods. “It may amaze you, miss, but this isn’t my first attempt at flight. I’ll admit the first few trials were a smidge more successful.”
“Oh, I know,” she says. Arthur looks up at her in shock. Here’s an audacity to her eyes as the corner of her lips curve in a smile. “I watch you sometimes.”
It may be cheesy and a cliché, but he swears his heart literally skips a beat. That’s just how surprised he is. He reminds himself to be suave, but he can’t help the glee-embodied grin that forms on his face.
“Why, Miss Adams, may I say that’s a tad bit forward of you?” he smirks.
“I abhor formalities. My name is Marie,” she says sharply. She fidgets and plays with her necklace, twirling the songbird between her fingers. “As I was saying, I watch you sometimes, flying, soaring, not a care about whether you live or die, and I’m here, firmly on the ground, safe, but scared to death.”
He doesn’t know what to say to her, but Arthur manages to stutter, “I—It ‘s how I’m built.”
“It’s brave,” she argues. “You’re bloody brilliant indeed.”
His palms grow clammy and his throat turns dry when he sees the slow roll of her eyes, up and down, looking between his bright eyes and his wet lips. She starts leaning in, her teeth catching the flesh of her bottom lip, the only hint of hesitation on her face. He doesn’t know what to do and toys with his fingers, but before their lips touch, a blaring horn shatters the mood.
“Marie!” a voice calls out in the distance.
“James!” she calls back, standing on the tips of her toes, waving frantically. Arthur knows a lost chance when he’s lived one so he shrinks back, bows his head and kicks at the dirt. When she turns back towards him, Arthur forces a smile. “I must be on my way now. Try not to crash into any more produce stands, will you?”
“No promises, ma’am,” he says softly. Hitching up the edge of her dress, Marie starts to make her way over to her latest suitor. His heart hammering, Arthur purses his lips and calls, “So what happened to the boy with the wings?”
Marie stops a moment and smiles at him from over her shoulder. “Upon escaping, his father warned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun nor too close to the sea. Icarus was absolutely giddy, drunk with the power of flight. He didn’t listen. He lost his bearings and fell into the sea where he drowned.”
“Well, it’s a good thing I know how to swim!” Arthur grins.
She laughs lightly and shakes her head. “Good day, Icarus.”
“It’s—I—um, my name it’s…Arthur, actually,” he mumbles.
“Hmm, I think I prefer Icarus,” she playfully replies.
“As you wish,” Arthur relents and then adds, “Marie.”
Arthur watches her disappearing into the crowd and wears a broad smile. He’s gotten her attention and that alone feels so much greater than touching the sun.
Oh wow, that was awesome. I really, really want to read more.
Thanks to everyone who read my piece. I still can’t believe I was one of the winners.
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