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THE BOY WHO LOVED THE SUN

By Isabella Nesheiwat
 

He fell in love the way a candle burns out. Gradually, until all that is left is darkness. 

For years, the boy and his father were held prisoner within the four walls of that tower. There was nothing for them to do besides contemplate how gloriously his father had ruined their lives. Eventually, his father began planning a means of escape. He stayed knee-deep in his plans, using tiny bits of chalk to draw out sketches on the granite stone surrounding them. Waist-deep in these plans, the boy was left to his own devices. 

 

Desperate for any kind of affection, the boy would reach his hand out of the window, straining to sink his fingers into the rays that cascaded toward the earth. Soft as a lover's cheek, he could feel warmth remaining on his fingertips for days afterward.

His father counted down the days to freedom, the boy counted down the days to his final flight home. Eventually, his father's plans bore fruit. The feathers painstakingly collected, the leather sized and cut, the wax meticulously poured. Straps affixed to bony shoulders, the contraption skin-tight - the wings rested heavily but comfortably on shoulder blades. Finally, they were ready for flight.

 

The boy needed no preparation, no moment to steel himself for what was to come. He had dreamt of this moment for years. So without a second thought or steadying breath, he jumped. 

 

The sun fell gracefully upon his bare back, a welcome warmth like coming home. His father, those long years in the tower, the monster in the labyrinth… It all fell away as his wings caught the updraft and pulled him up to soar among the clouds. All the boy could think about was him - his radiant beam, his golden chariot, his brilliant god. 

 

Limbs entwined with sunbeams, the boy felt his lover's presence, his finger-light, scorching touch, all along his skin, down his back, his thighs, his ankles, his feet. Soaring up, up, up towards the sun, towards home, all the boy could do was laugh. 

 

Never before had he felt so free. 

 

Can you hear it?

The sun is calling my name.

Over and over, repeating.

The sun has a voice, silky and golden as his hair, brilliant and piercing as his dappled rays through the trees.

Come home, he calls to me.

My love.

My love.

My love.

Can you hear it?

He is calling my name.

Can you hear it?

 

He fell the way a candle is snuffed out. Suddenly, until all that is left is darkness. 

 

All the boy could think of was him. His once radiant beam, his once golden chariot, his once brilliant god. All he could feel was the god's scorn surrounding him. Limbs bound by sunbeams, wax melted down his back, his thighs, his ankles, his feet. Tracks of betrayal permanently scorched into his skin. Death pressed burning kisses down his shoulders where the wings were fastened to the harness. Feathers floated like unanswered prayers through his outstretched fingers, still somehow reaching out, aching to touch him, whom he loves. 

 

The sun painted everything in shades of gold, and all he could do was laugh. The phrase 'god-like punishment' rang with sudden, perfect clarity. He had dared to love something brighter than himself, and now look.

 

The fall was the easiest part. The betrayal was as hard to swallow as the water that forced its way into his lungs. He had seen him, that beautiful golden dream of a man, hovering with open arms, calling him higher and higher and higher, towards home. 

 

But then that loving smile faded to derision, and those loving arms clenched tighter and tighter and tighter and...

Is this what I get for loving a god?

 

Just before he hit the water, the god leaned down and placed a single burning kiss on his lover's cheek.

Centuries later....

The god sits at the bar at the end of the world, incessantly gulping pint after pint of something strong and bitter. Every day the memories seem to drift both closer and further away - close enough to touch, but too far to grasp. Soft, wavy locks cascade to the dirty floor like rivers of liquid gold, lazily tied back with a scrap of charred leather. The only remaining fragment of a life once lived, a love once had. 

 

The drink, though expertly made, does nothing to soothe him. It's a poor replacement for the ambrosia and…... whatever the other thing was. 

 

He has lost everything. His memories, his power, his chariot, his family. His sister. She has left him now too. She won't answer his calls anymore. She hunts still, but he is no longer there to light her way. Centuries have passed, leaving him behind with his loneliness. 

 

But isn't this what you wanted, brother?

 

Tossed about in the hurricane of his own thoughts and emotions, he almost doesn't notice the stranger seated at the other end of the bar. Lanky arms shrouded in leather, heavy platform boots tapping in time to the music, cheap black-dyed hair concealing his features from the god's curious gaze. The stranger sits slouched on his stool, forehead almost touching the perpetually sticky bar, staring at a single spot on the counter long after the bartender wiped the stain away. 

 

Something like painful remembrance plucks the god's heart like fingers on the strings of a lyre. 

 

He cannot bear to look away from the stranger, desperate to place him in the mishmash of memories he is unable to parse through. The god tries to recall past memories, from when he still rode across the sky, but everything is an impenetrable blur. 

 

With a sharp twist of his neck, the stranger's storm-gray eyes meet the god's own. And narrow.

 

Words escape the god's grasp. He cannot breathe. Memories from the peripheral of his vision that have been intangible for centuries, finally coalesce into solid form. He still cannot name this stranger, but something inside thrums with recognition, mockery, disdain, indifference, and a heady guilt that settles in the center of him with permanent finality. 

 

"Can I help you?" 

 

His voice. Sharp and strident, the metallic sound of a sword being unsheathed. There is no kindness there, no gentleness exists in the voice of this stranger. 

 

It was those eyes, in the end, that did it. Some distant, still unattainable memory tried to rise to the surface. Those eyes... Surrounded by pink, puckered skin, faded blisters— - scars that will never fully heal. Kissed by the sun. But... weren't they supposed to be on the other side of his face? Something is not quite right about this stranger. 

 

He is not who the god believes him to be. Wants him to be.

 

The god clears his throat, shifting awkwardly in his seat. "No, sorry. I… I thought you were someone else." 

 

The stranger rolls his eyes and picks up his drink to sit somewhere else, leaving the god to nurse his drink alone.

 

Later, much later, the god stumbles home, tripping down ancient cobblestone streets he once knew well. Like a stain on the backs of his eyelids, he cannot seem to leave the stranger behind. 

 

Blocks away from his cramped apartment, the wind gains a sudden speed, changes direction. 

 

Suddenly unnaturally strong, his remaining mortal strength could barely cleave a path through the gale. The howling surrounds him, forces itself down his throat, fills his lungs until all that remains within him is the bellowing wind. 

 

And then, a shift. Howling turns to piercing turns to something else, something ancient, something human. A scream filled with anger, grief, sadness, fear, and betrayal charges through the gust, piercing him to his very core. It is unbearable. The unending persistence of its shriek forces the god to the ground. The memories hit him as sharply as his knees strike the cobblestones beneath him. It is a slap in the face, a knife in the gut. The walls he had constructed that once kept him from remembering are shattered in a single blow. 

 

He knows that voice. He heard it once, sometime long ago, giddily repeating the god's own name as its owner flew boundless towards him. He once laughed at it, burning the boy out of the sky.

 

And then, as quickly as it arrived, the wind, the howl, the shriek– all of it is gone. The silence is almost as painful as the scream. He can breathe again, and the act of doing so makes him aware that he hadn't since the wind changed direction. He choked on the air that returned to his lungs, as his vision cleared, as his ears rang with the echoing wails of that scream he had tried, had forced himself to forget. 

 

In the blistering silence that remains, the wind returns to its normal speed and strength. It trails like cold fingertips across his cheeks like the gentle caress of a careful lover. 

 

And he hears something else. 

Shivering with retribution and forgiveness and anger and hurt, a whisper reaches the god's ears, 

echoing down the centuries in a voice he knows now he will never, ever forget.

Find me in the ashes.

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