Flight of the Light Dwellers

Original flash fiction by Ava Kelly and the history of the artwork behind the IQARUS banner.

flight by ava kelly - a light painting on black bacgground with stylized birds made of light trails in yellow, blue, green, white

Author’s note. The history of the IQARUS banner artwork begins years ago, in Venice. It was winter, mild in that area, without snow or chilling winds. It rained a bit, as we ran from the center of the city to the train station, whooshing this way and that through the emptying, narrow streets. In the darkness, the lights of winter decorations breezed by like birds in flight, like creatures made of light. In that moment, it was a mesmerizing story coming to life, of friendship and laughter and youth. This light painting, Flight, (and the rest in its Light Dwellers series) is a celebration of that time.

Flight of the Light Dwellers

by Ava Kelly

The workshop is quietest in the dawn hours. Out there, the world wakes with groans and whispers, but in here, the air remains still for a while longer. From their perch on the shelf, Birdie can see both the narrow street and the expanse of the glassblower’s shop. Outside the window, hoarfrost covers the cobblestone, glittering under the biting winter sun. The furnace at the center of the floor is cold as well, but it always leaves a lingering taste in the air, a reminder of its warmth, and Birdie is thrown back to the beginning.

Back when they took shape in the hands of the apprentice. When they received life from her breath.

Now, the apprentice is the master of the workshop, teaching her underlings the same she was taught. Birdie’s been here all these years, watching over her.

“Good morning, uccellino,” she calls, entering through the squeaky door.

As it does every time, the tip of her finger pets Birdie’s head, sliding down Birdie’s glass back in a smooth motion. It leaves Birdie rocking on their belly, swaying crookedly for a while.

***

Birdie’s wings are uneven. Not that they ever blamed the apprentice for this slight, but it was her doing. Birdie’d been her first tiny creature, born out of a blob of blue glass, red streaks fanning out over her wingspan. When Birdie was almost done, a loud noise from outside startled the apprentice, and half of their left wing was clipped.

It didn’t hurt. It never hurts. Except…

Birdie turns their attention to the street. With shouts and clangs and ruckus, the winter heralds are finally beginning their work. Climbing on ladders, reaching up, up, up, they decorate the street with wires, some crisscrossed in between the buildings, others intricately wrapped around the lamp posts.

These are them, the glass birds filled with incandescence. At night, they come alight from within, fiery creatures in green and red and blue and yellow. Some are as white as the snow, others take a purple tint that reflects off everything. Even off Birdie, as they sit with their beak pressed against the window pane.

One of the younger glassblowers leans against Birdie’s shelf, rattling the pieces there.

“I hear they’re trying to make it look like a giant snowflake from above,” he says.

Birdie wishes to see it, too. Wishes to fly over the city and its canals. Wishes—

***

With the dusk and the night, the lights outside begin to sparkle, one by one until the entire street is bathed in their brightness.

It doesn’t happen immediately. It takes days, a gradual build-up that Birdie thinks is necessary when preparing for the sky. But it does, eventually, begin.

The light dwellers spread their wings.

They rise. One day above their installations, the next above the rooftops, then higher, and higher, to mingle with the stars above. Their bodies are wispy, wiry and twisty, fluttering against the darkness. In silence, they dash through the air, flocks of color in the corner of Birdie’s eye.

In the deep yearning of Birdie’s heart.

***

Time passes, Birdie watches. Then, one nightfall close to the final flight of the light dwellers, something happens. A shutter above bangs open under a stronger gust of wind, causing one of the wires to flop down. It comes to a stop with a bulb hanging right next to Birdie.

For the first time, Birdie can see the fire within, as blue as Birdie’s body, scorching and frosty and entirely mesmerizing. With care, Birdie rocks closer, clicking against the glass separating them. If only…

From where the light dweller’s shine touches Birdie’s wings, beams form, bouncing back and forth, to meet in the center of Birdie’s chest.

Oh, Birdie thinks

The rest of the flock gathers, coiling in a twining beacon. Birdie’s new friend moves back and—and—Birdie rushes after. Through the window, into the cold winter air, up above the city, above the sea, above the world.

It springs from within.

Birdie flies.

***

Ava Kelly (they/them)author photo of ava kelly is an engineer with a deep passion for stories. Whether reading, watching, or writing them, Ava has always been surrounded by tales of all genres. Their goal is to bring more stories into the world, especially those of friendship and compassion, those dedicated to trope subversion, those that give the void a voice, and those that spawn worlds of their own. Long ago, Ava has begun the trek through the artworld with photography, the cello, and poetry. In another artlife—because what is engineering if not creation—Ava is tinkering with artificial intelligence, robots, and all sorts of systems, but that is nothing compared to the challenge of foodmaking. Currently, Ava enjoys experimenting with recipes, with about half successes. And half worksinprogress—insert wise wink here. As in, we are all journeys, not destinations. Website here.