Tighten the strings. Tighten the strings. Tighten the strings. They have to be tight. They have to hold. Straighten the feathers. Straighten the feathers. Straighten the feathers. All in alignment, good. Check the wax. Check the wax. Check the wax. Sealed. It should hold. It should. God, I hope this works.
Gripping his son’s thin shoulders — He seems so frail… Is this really a good idea? — He repeated the instructions. Again. Three times. It had to be three or it wouldn’t work.
No, wait. He shook his head to ground himself, to come back to reality. That’s crazy. He shook his head again. Three is just a number. One more shake, just in case. It doesn’t have to be three, it just has to be right. He nodded once in determination. Then two more times.
“Do you understand?”
His son rolled his eyes and shifted his feet the way he always did when he was embarrassed and uncomfortable with his father’s quirks. “Yes, yes, yes.”
“Don’t mock me. This is important.”
He let out a long suffering sigh. “Yes. I understand. It will be fine. Stop worrying.”
“Good.” Good. Good. He squeezed the delicate shoulder bones. Once. And quickly turned away.
“Let’s go then.”
They made their way to the window, checking to see that the coast was clear. He went out first, squeezing through, careful not to damage the wings. He leaped off the ledge and let the brisk sea wind catch his wings and carry him upwards. Not too high. But high enough. He looked back to see his son doing the same, just as instructed, a huge grin painted across his youthful face. He took a deep breath. Then another. And another.
As they flew out across the ocean, he began to relax. It’s working! It’s working! It’s working! He smiled for the first time and enjoyed the view. The waves cresting below. The clouds above. The seagulls flapping curiously nearby, yet still maintaining a cautious distance from these bizarre creatures which should not be flying. His son. His only son. Healthy and unharmed and soaring beside him to safety.
Hours passed and he mentally checked and rechecked and rechecked his calculations. They seemed to be on course. They would make it.
Toward midday, the clouds parted and the sun beamed down at them, warming their cheeks. It was a welcome sight, after many long days locked in a dark cell. They shared a smile of pure joy at the freedom and wonder of it all. His son let out a whoop of elation and began swooping about, this way and that, dipping and rising.
“Be careful!” he shouted, still relaxed, enjoying his son’s happiness.
“Don’t worry so much!” he called back. Laughing in delight, he spun in loops, experimenting and trying new moves and tricks. Just as I do with my inventions. He sighed with pride, denying the niggling little worry creeping back in. A quick mental check of their course would calm him. Or three.
Satisfied, he glanced over at where his son had been. His heart lurched when he realized how high the boy had gone while his mind was elsewhere. His breath caught in his throat when he saw a feather fall, released from its position as the wax softened. Then a second. And a third.
Before he could cry out, the whole contraption collapsed and the boy hung in motionless bewilderment for one endless moment.
As his son plunged through the air in front of him, their shocked eyes met. He tried to grab his shoulders in his hands. They came back grasping only three thin, frail, delicate feathers. Numb, he squeezed them two more times.