Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Prompt: Steampunk Icarus

Carrie stretched along the broad chainmail-covered oak branch and peered through the summer foliage. She shifted against the uncomfortable metal rings and wished for the millionth time that there were a free tree anywhere in the hold that she could climb. But Father insisted the chainmail protected them from the burrowing spybugs Overlord Darius kept building and sending through the forest.

She didn’t think the chainmail helped against many of the other things Darius built, but Carrie kept her own counsel. Father still treated her like a young girl, and if she brought it to his attention how grown up she really was, he might think to marry her off. That didn’t suit her at all, so she willingly played the part of the still-young ingĂ©nue, which gave her plenty of freedom to explore and invent, her two favorite pasttimes.

The tree provided a convenient work space and hiding place for her own latest creation, a small bird that could carry messages and, if she could ever get the recorder right, even imitate enough sound to relate them by speech. Well, except for the wings, which kept falling apart as soon as the bird got airborn. Carrie couldn’t figure out how to balance and strengthen the light wing blades. She reached into her deep skirt pockets for the tools she kept carefully hidden. Holding the bird’s right wing spread out against the trunk, she loosened and tightened the tiny screws and gear fittings.

The creak of the side door cautioned her to shrink back into the leaves. Carrie frowned at the sight of her annoying cousin, Johnny. He pushed the heavy door open and looked around outside the hold. Seeing no one, he crept out, carrying a bundle, then pushed the door closed with a grunt. He picked up his bundle and headed up the hill where Carrie’s favorite tree stood sentry.

At the top of the hill, he unfolded his bundle and Carrie leaned down to watch in fascination as he strapped on a harness with folded wing blades along the back. Jonny pulled the goggles on his cap down over his eyes and fiddled with the gears across the front straps. Carrie gasped with delight as the wings whirred and shifted open.

The wings spread across Jonny’s back and as long as his outstretched arms. He slipped his hands into straps along a support brace and waved the wings back and forth, then up and down. They looked like sheets of paper thin hammered metal, glinting in the afternoon sun. Leather straps stretched across in three lines along their length, giving them individual flexibility while still operating in concert. Carrie was amazed by their range of motion. She looked down at her little bird, then back to the wings along Jonny’s back, and she gasped again.

That’s it! She thought suddenly eager to climb down the tree and race to her room for supplies she hadn’t considered before. Her impatience was tempered by her reluctance to be discovered, and her curiosity about what Jonny would do next. He didn’t keep her waiting. Finding a steady tempo moving the wings, Johnny faced into the light wind and ran down the hill. Carrie held her breath as the wings caught the air and lifted his until his feet barely skimmed the ground. She almost shouted his victory when he rose into the air. He was flying!

Then his left wing suddenly crumpled, one blade turning in and pulling the others inward. Jonny cartwheeled in mid-air, tumbling to the ground in a heap, wings akimbo. He stretched out and lay on his back, heaving breaths Carrie could hear from her hiding place. Crying. Jonnie was crying.

Carrie jumped from her branch with practiced ease and ran to him. She knelt by his side, looking at his arms and legs, trying to see any injury. As soon as he saw her, he jerked the goggles from his head and struggled into a sitting position, wings spread around him in disarray. He folded his arms over his knees and dropped his head against them, hiding his face from her.

Carrie sat next to him and put a hand on his shoulder. He flinched, but she didn’t move or speak, and he relaxed. They sat quietly together until his breathing returned to normal. He lifted his head and looked up at the clouds, the tree, anywhere but her. In a strangled voice, he said, “Go ahead and laugh. My brothers have plenty. That’s why I was trying to hide this time.”

“Why would I laugh?” Carrie asked.

Jonny looked sideways at her, then rested his chin on his arms. “It’s all I want, all I dream of. Flying. I know these wings are close. I’ve worked so hard on them. I thought I had it this time!” He exclaimed angrily and shrugged out of the arm straps, unbuckling the harness and letting the wings fall behind him.

Carrie held out her little bird with its broken wing. “I think we’ve been trying the same thing, really. And watching you, I have an idea. Want to work together?”

Jonny reached out and touched the little bird, turning its beak with his fingertip, then stretching the wing out. He leaned closer to examine her handiwork, then looked up at her with a smile. Carrie had never noticed how blue his eyes were, just like Father’s.

“Icarussa! What are you doing down there? Come in this instant! It’s almost time to dress for dinner!”

Carrie groaned as her nurse leaned over the hold wall, calling down to her with a frown. Jonny grinned and jumped to his feet, holding out a hand to pull her up. He collected the broken wings into a bundle and motioned to the door.

“After you, milady,” he teased. Carrie growled at him as she stuck her nose high in the air and swept past him. His laughter followed her to the door. He jumped ahead to pull it open and swept down in a teasing bow. Carrie shook her head in annoyance, and then her eyes widened in surprise as he lifted his head and winked.

“Want to meet up after dinner to work our projects together?”

Dumbstruck, Carrie nodded.

Jonny continued, “I have a good feeling about this, Icarussa. We’re going to fly, I tell you!”

Dogs in house:
Houdini, Brindle, Bacon

Mediaeval Baebes, Mistletoe & Wine

Time writing:
~40 minutes (I was on a roll)

March word count:


  1. Prompt: Steampunk Icarus

    William pulled the goggles over his eyes. "Here we go."

    "You know, I'm not so sure this is a good idea after all," said Greg, next to him.

    William reached to jerk his goggles off in frustration, then the teasing tone of Greg's voice penetrated his consciousness. "Yeah, well," William said, "doesn't matter now does it!" And he thrust the lever forward.

    The steam-powered sling shot whistled and the wheels of the gliding machine rattled over the ground. Then silence. William's stomach jumped into his throat; they were falling. Crap, the idea had been...

    Great! They arced out away from the cliff face and were briefly going up! Then down. Then up. William remembered he had controls. Greg was already busy working the tail of the machine, and William took up his role with the wings.

    He could see the farm below -- the hot houses reflected light from their glass roofs like giant pools. Horses sure looked funny from above. Was that round hat Elaine's? He hoped she looked up. He couldn't wait to tell her it was him up here!

    1. Nicely done! I love the up and down feeling - you describe that so well. I think you have a better handle on the "steampunk" concept than I do with your use of some of the common tropes - steam-powered, goggles, etc. Elaine's hat could be a parasol, in keeping with the typical costumes. I should probably ready some steampunk before I try to write any more ... which is too bad, because I'm thinking the next prompt might be set in the same world...

  2. Love yours! Especially how "Carrie" is short for Icarussa. I really struggled tonight.

    1. Glad you liked that! Yours doesn't read like a struggle. Thanks for joining in!