Beginnings - Part 1
"Alan, don't. I know you love your inventions, but this is too far," Eleanor protested. She looked over at their child, who was sitting on the floor playing with some metal gears Alan had given her.
She was three years old, and she was walking and talking well. She had a head of golden blond hair and had gray eyes that were almond-shaped and tilted slightly in. Eleanor was her mother and Alan was her father. They had named her Maia, and both loved her dearly.
However, Eleanor was starting to doubt her husband's love for Maia. This idea proposal he had made was too much. She knew that Alan loved his inventions, and was always trying to find something to test them on, but she would not--would not--let him test them on their daughter.
"Honey, it'll be amazing! Don't you realize how much greater Maia will be? She'll be able to fly!" He presented yet another point to Eleanor, which she immediately shot down. Her gaze turned back to him.
"Oh, so now you're saying you don't appreciate her as she is? She's your--our--daughter!" Eleanor said yet again. Alan wasn't seeming to get that she was even human.
He sighed. "I can't. I can't live like this. You get angry at me for going down to build, then I come up with something great and you don't appreciate it! How, Eleanor? How do you expect me to keep doing this?"
"You come up with something great to test on our daughter! Are you insane? I'm beginning to think you are, because this is too far. Actually, if you can't live like this, take your inventions--" here she almost spit in disgust, "--and leave!"
"And you think I'm cruel! You're taking her father away if you do this, which is more of a mental loss than my plan is. Do you know how that will hurt her? What about in ten years, when you'll have to tell her? She's going to be heartbroken, and infuriated at you. You! Do you get that?" He jabbed a finger into her chest.
Eleanor's voice suddenly became deadly quiet. "No, she won't. She won't get mad at me, because when I explain why you had to leave, she will be mad at you. Because, unlike you, we are sane. We are compassionate people that don't use other people for their kids to experiment on."
He gasped. "I didn't use you, no, I love you--"
She pushed him backwards by pressing her palm into his chest. He didn't say anything as she led him to the downstairs door and opened it. She pushed him down, and he almost lost his balance, but regained his footing and stood looking up at her from the first step down.
"Go pack your things. You're leaving, and you're never coming back." Eleanor put ice and steel into her voice. Her heart had already hardened.
His face hardened. "I'll be coming back. You can count on that."
She slammed the door and waited until his steps sounded on the basement stairs, gradually fading away.
He could leave through the basement door. No need to come up here, she thought, and locked the door.
She turned away, checked on Maia, then went into her room and started getting rid of his things--mostly pictures. His stuff was all downstairs.
"Maia?" she called.
"Yeah?" Her small voice carried to Eleanor as she walked down the hallway, towards the dining room.
Beginnings - Part 2 (One Year Later)
Alan roamed the streets of Gearford. He arrived at an abandoned home and went inside. His inventions were spread out among the first floor, and his bedroom wasn't anything different. He was searching for an apartment to live in, but none were available yet. He had been searching almost every day for a month until sunset, and this day hadn't been any different.
He picked his way through the various gears and parts, then turned around to survey the room, his back to the bedroom door. His eyes found the old wooden china cabinet in the corner, where he had put his greatest invention.
They were mechanical wings. And he had a very special plan for them.
(Four Days Later)
Alan pulled the curtains closed, shutting the moonlight out. He turned around and surveyed the mess of boxes that was his new apartment, littered here and there with furniture bought from thrift stores and picked up off the street. He turned corner after corner around the stacks of boxes, eventually making it to his bedroom, which was the only furnished part of the house.
He went to his nightstand and reviewed the piece of paper that was set there. He confirmed once again, in his mind, that this is what he wanted to do.
Then, with his mind made up, he climbed into bed and fell asleep.
(The Next Night)
Eleanor laid her hand on the brass doorknob of Maia's room. She opened it and let a small, dim sliver of light slice through the darkness, illuminating Maia. She was sound asleep, tangled up in her purple covers and lilac sheets, and all that was showing was a pool of blond hair on the pillow. The only sound in the room was the sound of Maia's deep, even breathing.
She smiled and closed the door with a soft click. With her mind at ease, she went into her room and crawled under the covers. Within minutes, she was sound asleep.
Alan lifted the window from its frame and gently set it against the house. He did the same with the screen--both were unlocked--and climbed inside. He paused, listening for any sounds, but all he heard was Maia's breathing. It was the sound of sleep--deep and even.
He silently walked over to her bedside and looked down at her. Alan pondered untangling her from her covers, but that might wake her up, then Eleanor, so he just picked her up, covers, sheets, and all.
Alan laid her on the table under the window, climbed out, and brought her through as well. He gently laid her on the grass, replaced the screen and window, and brought her to his black steambike. He laid her in the wagon he had attached to the back of it and got on the bike.
He looked up at Eleanor's new house. It had taken him a year to find her, and months to work with another great engineer, who had passed a couple weeks ago, then days to figure out exactly what he would do.
Now he was here. Maia was with him, and he was all set to carry out his plan.
He looked at the road before him.
And he started the steambike.
Beginnings - Part 3 (Three Years Later)
Maia stalked past Alan. She stifled a small noise of pain as she folded in her mechanical wings, feeling the pins and needles spread from the stem of the wings all the way down her spine. She went into her bedroom and closed the door, completely ignoring Alan.
Alan watched the door longingly. Ever since he had stolen her from Eleanor, she had hated him. She had hated him when he had implanted her with the wings, she had hated him when he had given her all the medicine he could to help with the pain. Now she hated him after he had taught her to fly.
He knew she loved flying--he could see it in her face every time he suggested it--but she hated him. And he had no idea why. She took every chance she could to play with her friends, and each was marked by a look of malicious triumph directed at him, the triumph of escaping.
At seven years old, she was acting like a teenager. He sort of admired it, because she was so, so smart and this was a way she showed it, but sometimes it was hard to argue with her because she made such good points.
He turned away from the door and went into the kitchen. He looked out the window, just as a flock of birds flew past him. He watched them recede into the distance, eventually disappearing and leaving a cloudless blue sky in their wake.
He knew that now she knew how to fly, he would have to control her. She would fly away as soon as she got outside, so those wings would have to be controlled if he was to keep her.
He thought for a moment, then he got an idea and whirled to go into the basement.
He knew just how to do it.
Eleanor laid her hand on the brass doorknob of Maia's room. She opened it, letting a small, dim sliver of light slice through the darkness, illuminating bare white sheets. No pool of blond hair showing on the pillow, no tangled purple covers and lilac sheets.
She remembered every time she had ever done this. For a year, Maia had a bed in this bedroom that Eleanor had looked into every night. And every night she saw that blond hair, she smiled. It was hard to believe her mind was put to ease that easily, now that she knew the world for its true form.
This time, she didn't smile. For three years, she hadn't smiled when she looked in. Maia was her joy, and Alan took that from her. She didn't think she would really, truly smile ever again.
Her mind wasn't at ease--it never was, not since that day three years ago she opened the door to an empty room glowing with golden sunlight.
She knew she couldn't get the police. She wasn't divorced, and Alan had never really done what he said he was going to when he stole Maia away from her. She had no valid reason.
She had no idea why she didn't get divorced. Maybe it was the hope Alan would bring her back. Maybe it was just the hope Alan would change. Either way, she didn't get divorced. Some small part of her said no, and for some reason she listened to it.
It was the same way now. She thought about it, looking at the bare white bed, and that small part of her protested. She listened, despite her long, long list of reasons to get divorced.
She closed the door with a soft click. She went to her bedroom and climbed in the covers.
Eleanor laid there staring at the ceiling.
Sleep never came easy anymore.
Becoming Maia - Part 1
I sit on my bed and think. He isn't going to let go of me, I know that. He kidnapped me from my mother when I was young--that's what he tells me, at least.
He tells me all the stories. Kidnapping, implanting. I am seven. I shouldn't be thinking these thoughts, or saying these things. Or, really, even knowing these things.
I look at the window. A possibility. Then I look back, at my wings. I stretch them out, feeling the sharp pricks run down my spine again. I'm getting used to them, but they're still a pain. Even after three years, he tortures me without knowing it.
Flying. I went flying today. I was part of the earth, I was part of the sky. I felt a cloud for the first time--cold, wet. Not all it's cracked up to be. But I still enjoyed it. Loved it, even.
"Maia," comes his voice, "dinner!"
I fold my wings in, over sized for my body because they were designed for a teenager whose finished growing, and groan inwardly. I hate every moment with him, even when he does something nice. Most of our dinners are sun-dried and dehydrated. Most of our breakfasts are over-done eggs. And most of my life is getting away from him, all day, always.
I get up off the bed and walk to the door. Once down the hallway, I sit in my chair and glare at his back as he bends down to open the mini-oven. It is his homemade mini-oven, steam-powered. It's what most of our food smells like--smoke. Sometimes it tastes like smoke, too. The dinner's not perfect without an ashy taste to it.
He sits down and plops a tray in front of me, not even noticing my glare.
I look down at the steaming ravioli in front of me. Then I look up, at his bent form, devouring the ravioli.
"Hey," I say, "it's not dehydrated."
He looks up. "No," he says, "it's canned."
His gaze turns back to his half-eaten ravioli. Honestly, I think his mouth is immune to temperature.
We finish our dinners in silence. Even with his head start, I finish before him and get up. I make it to my room as soon as possible, just as he is opening the cabinet with the trashcan in it.
My mind is made up. I grab a small, black leather backpack and stuff it with clothes. I'll get the food later.
I take a picture of my mother out of its frame and push it carefully into the small, zippered pocket on the inside of the backpack.
Then I smile, take a picture of him out of its frame, and rip it up. I lay the pieces on the bed like a completed puzzle, with just cracks in between, and listen for him to go downstairs.
I raid the pantry. I grab cans of those raviolis--he got a lot when he went shopping--and other varieties of cans I barely see. I raid his room, find his money stash, and take his wallet. It's made of nice leather, black like my backpack, and I decide not to spare him any money. My cruelty doesn't compare to his.
I take out anything extra and leave just the money in the wallet. I shove it in with the food and clothes, zip the backpack up, and go back to my room.
I close the door and lock it.
I put the backpack down and open the window.
I hear his voice. "Maia," he calls. "I've got something!"
Probably another one of his cruel inventions, I think. I sling the backpack over my shoulder and climb out the window.
His footsteps come down the hall. I stand by the window and listen to him jiggle the brass doorknob of my room.
"Maia," he says, slightly irritated. I listen as he goes into his room. I can feel him open the drawer, find his wallet gone. Keys jingle. His footsteps come back, more hurried now. I smile at the sound of his footsteps lightly pounding the wooden floors.
As he unlocks the door, I run, spread my wings, and jump into the air. Silently--he must've put a lot of lubricant on these things--I push them downward, and I rise up a couple feet. The wings catch the air and lift me up quickly, as if I was a balloon, because they are over sized. I look back once I'm high up in the air, at his tiny face looking through the window. He holds something in his arms, something big and probably metal.
Hasta la vista, jerk.
Becoming Maia - Part 2
I soar over the town for quite a while, until my wings get too heavy for me to pull any longer, around sunset. I'm far from his apartment, and I'm happy. But these cans are kind of heavy.
I land by a tavern, which would be convenient--if I was seventeen. But I'm only seven, about to turn eight, so instead I turn into a nearby store.
I put on my best lost-kid face and go up to the clerk.
"Can you help me?" I say. The woman bends down with a pleasant smile on her face.
"What is it, sweetie?" I notice she has a lot of lipstick on, then I remember I'm seven. Sometimes I forget that.
"I was shopping with my father in this street, and it was really crowded," I look back out at the deserted street, "and I got lost. I've been looking for hours, but I can't find him."
The woman straightens up. "Well, let's fix that."
I always wince at word choices like that. 'Fix.' As if it's a machine, or something.
I guess an insane father obsessed with machines does that to you.
She comes around the counter and takes my hand, then leads me to the back, where a man--I guess her husband--is bent over a pile of gears, springs, and screws.
I push away the memories of watching my father work at his table and follow her. She leads me to a bedroom in back, through one of the many doors of the workshop.
I look at the lilac sheets on the bed, and the white covers with deep purple flowers on it, swirled with lilac designs.
"Your mother gave you everything. You had a beautiful bedroom, with the prettiest lilac sheets, and a deep purple cover on it that you absolutely loved. You always got tangled in those sheets, and she would always open the door, ever so gently, and look in on you. She would cry--with joy, of course--after that, and tell me stories about it, lying in bed with me. 'The only sound was her breathing, Alan, and it was so beautiful,' she said. 'The light shone in just so, and oh, Alan, her face--I can't believe I have her. She's the most beautiful thing I could have ever imagined. You--you should do it some time. It's enchanting, just so. . . I can't describe it,' she would say. After that, she would curl in to me, and I would lay there, my arms around her, listening to her breathing and stroking her hair, golden just like yours. Her breathing was deep, and even, and I would fall asleep imagining your future."
I box up my emotions--not for him, but for her--and nod. "Can I stay here?"
The woman nods. "Yes, sweetie. We'll try to find your father. Do you know his name?"
"Eleanor. That's my mother's name. She's more famous than him. I don't think you could find him without her," I lie. I know my mother's name was Eleanor, and I want to find her.
"All right. It's getting late--how about you get some sleep?" the woman says. She pulls back the covers and leaves the room. I take my backpack off and shove it under the bed--I'm lucky she didn't ask what was in it--then climb under the covers. She comes in, turns the light off with a smile, and closes the door with a soft click.
"In the morning, I would wake up to the sounds of her cooking. You would already be in the living room, dressed with your teeth brushed and your toys already spread out across the rug. She wouldn't spend more than five minutes without a glance towards you. We would have eggs on weekends, when she wasn't working. You loved her eggs--one time you got hold of a raw one and managed to throw it at my head!"
Becoming Maia - Part 3 (Three Years Later)
I land in front of an apartment complex. I go around to the side, pass a few barred windows--the bars look new--and find the right one. I look in on a light bedroom, with a white dresser and a bed with dandelion yellow sheets. A picture is on the bed, but it looks like it's ripped up.
I see the doorknob turn. My father comes in. He doesn't notice me in the window, but instead sits on the bed, his back to me. His eyes wander the room, and I watch his head. Dresser, closet, mirror. Mirror.
I see him stare at the mirror. His sad blue-gray eyes stare back at me. He gets up, as if he is done with his grief session, and walks out.
Normally I would have thought he was done, but I know him. He saw me; I saw him. I can hear his footsteps pounding, receding.
The door opens just as I jump into the air. My wings push powerfully downward, then up.
"Maia!" he screams. The second scream for my name dies down. I can imagine him crying.
I look back at his tiny figure, receding into the distance, but no remorse comes.
The only person I will regret making cry is my mother.
"That was a messy day. I spent at least half an hour in the shower trying to wash that egg off--double the time I usually spend. I came out and you were sitting in the living room with another egg, and your arm was back. This one landed on my leg, and it was plastic, but I jumped and yelled. She laughed. Do you know her laughter is my favorite sound in the world? It's so beautiful--"
"Why'd you leave her?" I ask.
I remember three years ago. Lilac sheets, purple flowered covers. That woman let me live with her for a couple months, then she tried to give me up to someone else, but I ran away. I was eight then. Now I am ten, and much smarter. Much smarter than eight, much smarter than I should be.
I land several miles away from the apartment and dig inside my backpack. I pull out a shiny gear, copper with little brass inlays all around it.
I made a bet years ago, with another kid. I lost, but I promised the kid this gear I showed him once. I ran away before I got to give it to him, and my memory is practically photographic. Now here I am, in front of their plain brick house, putting the gear in their mailbox. I stole it from my room a couple days ago, when I saw my father leave. I wrote him a note, too. This is for the bet I lost years ago, if you remember. You're welcome, but please don't come back to my apartment. I won't be there, ever.
I lay the note on top of the gear and latch the mailbox closed. Suddenly, I hear the sound of an engine, where this street was mostly deserted.
A small carriage rumbles towards me, with a familiar face in the windshield. How'd he get this far?
I run from the carriage, then jump. The wings are still too big for me, so the wind lifts me up like a balloon.
The engine stops and a car door slams.
Me, Myself, and I (Two Years Later)
"I left her because I wanted you. She wasn't seeing sense. She wasn't seeing how I could improve your life, make you stronger. She thought I was insane. And what I realized eventually was that she wasn't necessary."
I fly up from the airship wreck, my black backpack slung over my shoulders. I shove something into the leather belt I bought a long time ago with my father's money.
He bought a new wallet. I know that because I took a twenty from him the other day. It's an old brown leather wallet, with frayed edges and broken, cracked gears adorning the front. He doesn't seem to be faring well with my thievery--he usually could afford a much nicer wallet than that, especially because it's for him. He always spent more money on himself than on me. That was why our dinners were dehydrated.
I used that twenty for the belt and the arm bracers, which have another folded bag in them and a sharp obsidian pocket knife.
I cut the excess pieces off of the small gear system I am holding with that knife and look at all the screws and nuts in it. All the money I can make.
Now that I am becoming a trader, I will make my own money, and will spare him, though I would happily keep stealing money from him. No amount of money I take amounts to what he did.
I land among the wreck and put the gears in my backpack, then take out a granola bar. Lunch is coming soon, and I know a nearby deli that I can buy a sandwich at, but I just feel like having a granola bar.
I finish it and continue flying until I land on a deserted street outside a central square. There, I see a metal door with a plaque on it. I don't bother reading it, but I push the door open. Dim light greets me; I enter into a dull gray room filled with tables made out of concrete slabs. The floor is concrete and covered with markings and several different varieties of dust and powder.
A man is bent over one of the tables, with a bright, curved lamp above him. A similar lamp adorns all of the tables, which all have projects on them, marked by the unique mess of gears, screws, nuts, bolts, and a number of other mechanical items on each table. I go to the table the man is working at. He looks up in surprise when I tap his shoulder.
"I got them," I say. He nods, his long, overgrown brown beard shaking a little as he does.
He takes out a leather wallet and riffles through the money inside. His foot starts tapping a rhythm on the concrete floor.
The man looks up. His brown eyes seem like they're hiding secrets, and this entire place makes me uncomfortable.
"I'm sorry. I can't do that for you," he says. His wallet closes with a soft thud, and suddenly I feel watched.
"Then I'll leave," I say. I turn to do just that, but my face meets a gray shirt and a hard chest, then warm hands seize my arms.
"Not so fast," says the man, behind me. I turn my head to the side, then bring my knee up hard into the second man's weak point. His arms loosen their hold and I slip out as he doubles over.
I duck under a fist from the first man and kick his legs out from under him, then start to run. More men come, all dressed in gray, closing in on me as I make for the exit.
One man grabs my wrist from my left; my fist meets his stomach. I'm twelve, but in the five years I spent alone I learned some fighting skills, and honed them until I could survive on my own without a fear of being attacked.
I push all my weight against the door. It opens, and I burst out, running down the alleyway away from the central square.
I see a brick wall at the end of the alleyway, and I hear their pounding feet run faster as they realize what I am about to do.
I jump, snapping the wings out and soaring over the wall. Angry shouts ring out behind me as the men stop at the wall, and I look back to see them running back to the warehouse.
I look back at the blue sky ahead of me, cloudless and welcoming. My gaze goes then to the buildings below me, forming a gray-and-brown patchwork.
"And when I realized that, I planned on doing it in secret anyway. But then we had a huge fight over it, and she made me leave. So I came and took you back, took you to the future you were meant to have. I made you what you are today, and I loved you the whole way through. Do you understand that?"
"No, Alan. I don't. You kidnapped me and made me this," I say angrily. I spread my wings, which are over sized for my seven-year-old self. They touch the walls of the small kitchen from end-to-end. I feel no wrongness calling him by his first name.
He pauses and looks down. Then he raises his head and his icy blue eyes turn back to me. "Do you know what your mother said before she made me leave?"
My anger leaves, to be replaced by curiosity. "What did she say?"
"She said that you wouldn't be mad at her for making me leave, you'd be mad at me for this supposed atrocity of making you better than other people."
"Well, she was absolutely right. Society--the world--sees me as weird, different. Do you know what that feels like? They stare, Alan, and then they glance away. But I know they're not done yet. I feel their gazes behind me, staring at me, thinking that I am not one of them, that I should not be accepted. Do you know why I have friends? Do you really know why I am accepted by them, Alan? No, you don't. You don't know that they expect me to give them something every time I come. You don't know that they expect me to follow whatever they say, play what they want to play. You don't know that my wishes don't matter. You don't know that every other kid I look at thinks that I am not only weird, and different, because I have this, but because I am a seven-year-old teenager, Alan! I'm seven and I am making a speech to you about how to take care of a child. I'm seven and I am already matured past my age, my size. You did this to me, Alan.
"You did this."