Icarus sat up. His head was throbbing. He looked around to see it was dark outside, and the green glow of his clock confirmed what he thought: it was very early morning. Icarus leaned over and flipped the switch to one of his lamps. He squinted, adapting to the harsh light. His desk was the usual mess, his laundry in heaps by the closet, and the shelf of sketchbooks and supplies was sagging.
He frowned. That last one wasn’t a usual thing.
Icarus swung his legs over the bed and stood up. The cold, hardwood floor was a nice change from the soulless linoleum. He angled the wall lamp to shine better at his shelf before walking over. “And what do we have here?” Icarus muttered to himself. He squatted down and rested his scarred wrists on his knees. The tattered, knotted bracelet Miro had made him brushed against his left knee, providing some comfort to whatever uneasy feeling had just settled over him.
Nothing seemed too out of the ordinary. Everything was in its proper place, the oldest of books starting from the bottom left, the newest and most completed one a good few inches from the other side of the shelf. He tapped the oldest one and looked at the supplies on the upper shelf. The neat stacks were leaning from the sagging, which risked a disruption in his perfect little system. Icarus reached over to pull away the stacks of colored pencil boxes.
Something cold wrapped around his wrist. Icarus let out a yelp and tried to jump back, but whatever it was was holding tight.
His shelf groaned and it ceased sagging. Something brushed against his knees, but whatever it was refused to take form.
He stared up in horror, his groggy mind racing for answers.
Be seated at your station.
Icarus’s eyebrows knitted together. “My wha?”
Something heavy thwacked him in the face. His head snapped to the right. Oh. His desk. It wanted him to be at his desk.
“Why didn’t you just say that instead?” Icarus muttered, rubbing his cheek. Great. Now his headache had worsened.
Whatever it was said nothing to him. Instead it yanked him to his feet.
Icarus side stepped to his chair and sat down, the thing still holding on to his wrist.
“Okay. I’m seated at my station.” He waved his free hand in irritation. “Now what?”
His new sketchbook, which had been resting at his desk, flew open. Begin.
Icarus looked up, assuming whatever it was that held him was towering over him. “What?”
A pen rose from one of the painted tin cans. It dropped onto the blank paper.
You are to begin. There is much catching up on given how you refused to do anything for the last two weeks.
A hot anger flashed inside him. Icarus pushed the chair back, ready to pummel the force that held him down. Instead, it increased the grip on his wrist.
Draw, ordered the voice.
Icarus yanked his wrist from the thing and rubbed it. The bracelet rubbed against his skin and didn’t appear damaged from the rough handling. Icarus felt his stomach churn as his eyes fell on the scars. Licking his rips, he snatched up the pen. Nobody told him when to draw or how to do his job, so who did this thing think it was?
Your taskmaster, it answered for him, as if reading his thoughts. It is my job to put you back on the right path. You proved yourself worthy, so do not make me think I made the wrong choice. Begin.
Icarus frowned. What was it talking about?
The thing shifted. It went from hovering over him to looming right behind him. An image came to mind and his fingers twitched. He looked down and began to draw.
It was an odd, birdlike entity looming over the silhouette of a young man. The thing had the body of a man; a very toned and tanned man. His hands were large and planted on the desk that the silhouetted young man was seated at. Golden wings emerged from his muscled back. But the face was obscured by the eagle-like head. Its plumage was copper, bronze, and gold; its blue eyes were aflame.
Icarus dropped the blue marker, not even realizing he had picked it up.
The page turned.
Begin. Something else now.
Icarus blinked. He reached for the blue marker but stopped. Instead, he went for a wooden pencil. He began another sketch, this one of a tall and slender man. There was a smirk on his face and his eyes were obscured by thick locks of black hair. In his outstretched hand was a McIntosh apple.
Icarus huffed. He hadn’t even had a chance to color the man’s skin. What was this thing going on about?
Once again the page turned.
Begin. But do not go on impulse this time. Close your eyes and think–then let whatever it is that comes to mind take over.
Icarus let out another huff, this one sending a lock of hair from his face. “Yeah, fine.” He shut his eyes. The floorboards creaked behind him. Had the thing suddenly lost interest and was walking around? Or maybe it was growing impatient and shifting on its feet.
Regardless of its mood, the important fact was the thing was still in his room. Icarus twirled the pencil in his hand, trying to think of what he was supposed to draw. Not on impulse it had said. But he was completely empty, nothing could come to mind.
There was a flicker of fire.
Icarus’ eyes snapped open. He looked down at his sketchbook, a hellscape staring back at him. Flames twisted around an apple orchard, and through the flames and scorching branches, Icarus could see he had put in an oak tree. It was massive, and from its thick branches dangled nine bodies with nine different colored nooses.
He yelped and shoved himself from his desk, but he didn’t get far. The back of the chair collided with something big. Icarus leaned back to look up, but there was nothing to see. The entity was still there, and he wasn’t leaving.
I see. The voice echoed in his ears. Icarus looked back at his desk. He watched in horror as the paper was torn form his sketchbook and lifted from the air. Do not ever think of this again.
The paper exploded into colorful shreds.
Icarus sat up. Birds were chirping, he noticed. He looked around to see he was back in his bed, and saw his desk was untouched.
The young man frowned. He rubbed his bare wrists out of habit and slid out of bed. It was cold. His eyes scanned the room and stopped at the open window. The dark green curtains fluttered in the light, winter wind. He shuffled over and looked down at the world below. It was still dark. One of his neighbors was taking his dog out for the early morning bathroom break. Icarus pulled the window shut and drew the curtains. His eyes landed on the digital clock–five in the morning. He looked back at his bed where the thick blankets were a tangled mess, and he decided he didn’t want to go back to sleep.
Icarus slipped out of his room and padded down the stairs. He didn’t know what day it was, but that didn’t matter since his father had said something about winter break. But it was still too early to make noise.
He didn’t bother with any lights and fumbled around the kitchen for the coffee. Eventually, he found it and made his way to the coffee maker. Giving in, Icarus went for the stove light. He cringed, his eyes adapting to the tiny but harsh light. The entire kitchen was spotless. So it must be a Saturday given how Friday was Virgil’s cleaning day.
The coffee maker gurgled to life. Icarus turned and leaned against the counter, his gaze drifting to the backyard. The hammock was gone. He cocked his head to the side. Darn. He had been hoping to lounge in it if it wasn’t raining.
“What’re you doing up at this hour?”
Virgil stood in the doorway.
“Uh.” Icarus then shrugged. “Woke up. Didn’t wanna sleep.”
Virgil nodded, his eyes narrowed from sleepiness and the stove light. “How much did you put in there?”
Icarus turned. “Four cups.”
“You willing to spare some?”
“Yeah.” Icarus said after a moment. “I guess I could always make more.” He turned and opened the cupboard.
“I’ll go for the blue one.” Virgil shuffled over to the table. He dragged the chair across the tile and flopped down.
Icarus nodded and pulled out a blue mug. He reached back in for his, his fingers wrapping around a purple mug. The boy made a face and shoved it far back, opting for the gray one instead.
Virgil watched him. “You had some attempted visitors yesterday.”
Icarus cocked his head to the side.
“Some kids from your art club–yeah, I figured.” He snorted. “Your face says it all. Don’t worry. Your father and I were able to make up some excuse to scare them off.”
“Seth was here yesterday, though.”
Icarus’s head snapped up. “When?”
“While you were asleep. Sometime around dinner.”
Virgil waved a hand. “He was making his rounds, that’s all.”
Virgil nodded. “Just wanted to check on everyone before retiring for the night.”
“Oh.” Icarus looked away. “Hey, the coffee’s done.”
Virgil stood up. “Awesome. Thank you, Icarus.”