Monsters and Heroes

The first thing Lysandra did was belt on a sword stolen from her brother. If she succeeded, he need never know. If she failed, it would never matter. The second was to tie a cloth over her eyes. It was hard to be certain when she would meet the monster, so it was best she be protected. With any luck, the patron of Athens would be with her. Or maybe the Goddess of Love, given the nature of her quest. Taking a breath, she began to feel her way through the rocks that led to the cave. She was certain she would find what she was looking for there.
It was slow going, that sightless progress from beach to cave. Lysandra stopped twice, certain she heard movement but never once daring to adjust her blindfold just in case it was the monster. Her questing hands found stone before her and she nearly jumped out of her own skin when it moved, falling backward.
“Lady of Wisdom, please let that not have been her I just knocked over…”
A voice sounded from behind her, disturbingly close.
“The Lady of Wisdom has no place on my island. And neither do you.”
Lysandra didn’t turn. It would have done her no good. She let her hands fall to her sides and tried to keep from shaking.
“Neither does Pelagia.”
She wished for a moment that her voice had sounded more fierce, more determined, less afraid. But there was nothing she could do now. Snakes snapped all around her head and Lysandra knew that Medusa had come right up behind her. For a long moment, they both stood there like that. Then Medusa spoke, her voice low and dangerous.
“Do you know what happens to the people who come here?”
Lysandra licked her lips nervously.
“They turn to stone. When they see your eyes, they turn to stone.”
“Which is why you wore a blindfold, clever Athenian girl. Then you know the girl you’re looking for is stone. So why are you here?”
“Because I think you know how to turn her back.”
Lysandra listened to the shifting behind her as Medusa considered her words.
“Assuming for a moment that I could, why would I? Why would I restore any of them? What do you know about any of this?”
Medusa grabbed Lysandra by the arm and the girl screamed. Clamping her free hand over her mouth, Lysandra felt hot tears beginning to soak her blindfold.
“I don’t. I don’t know anything beyond the stories. They…they said you were a monster. I just came to rescue Pelagia. Because. Because I love her.”
When Medusa spoke, there was distaste in her voice.
“So, of course, you carried a sword to face a monster. Everything becomes clear. Once, I was as human as you, girl. As it happens, I can do what you wish, but it will be for a price.”
Lysandra’s heart leaped into her mouth and her pulse hammered in her ears.
“I’ll do it. Anything you want, I’ll do it.”
“There’s spring on the island. Use the water from that to wash the stone off of her and only her. Then take your Pelagia and go tell them that I am dead. I don’t care what story you tell, but make it convincing. I’m tired of would-be heroes trying to test themselves on me. I just want to be left alone.” Medusa let go of Lysandra’s arm. “I’ll be in my cave, so you can take your blindfold off. If you swear to the deal.”
Lysandra didn’t hesitate.
“I swear it on the River Styx.”

Lysandra had tucked the sword back among her brother’s belongings before she and Pelagia went to the agora with their news.
“I tell you, the gorgon Medusa is dead.”
Lysandra stood on a low wall, hands on her hips.
“And who slew that monster?”
“Was it you, girl?”
Lysandra glanced at Pelagia at her side and then smiled, spinning a tale no one would ever forget.
“Not I. It was a hero, a demigod named Perseus. I can tell you exactly how it happened.”

Happiness

Silent halls are never a good sign. Halls that go silent just as you appear are far worse. General silence means something has happened, something bad enough to rattle the entire student body. It had happened the year before when the homecoming king got drunk and drove himself and the homecoming queen into the lake. But that had been too-quiet hallways and tears and memorials and grief counselors for the cheer squad and the football team. This was different. This was a directed silent, weaponized exclusion, and a splash of bright red paint to shape a single, damning word on her locker. Her shoulders slumped and she wondered if the janitor would clean it off or if she had to. She opened her locker and pulled out her books, deciding in that moment to fight back the only way she could. Sure, they could turn the social structures of high school into a weapon and turn it against her, but she was armed with the one thing they couldn’t tolerate: her own happiness.

What It’s All About

Charlie hung her backpack on the hook on the stall door and leaned against the partition. With any luck, she could wait in here until the boys out there looking for her were gone. They wouldn’t think to look in here. Hopefully, anyway. If she heard the door open, she could always climb up and perch on the toilet. Maybe they’d just think the stall was locked. She double checked that she still had her pistol tucked into the waistband of her jeans. Good and good. Somehow, she didn’t think this was what her Daddy had had in mind when he’d gotten it for her before she left for college two years back. She could hear voices raised out in the store. Maybe they’d get the cops called on them. That’d serve them. She doubted it though. How many states had they chased her through and still managed to evade the notice of actual authorities? She didn’t even know why they were chasing her, of all people. Just that they were. When it got quiet again, she counted slowly down from 30 before grabbing her backpack and heading back out into the store. The cashier was looking at her funny but she grabbed a box of cereal, a jar of peanut butter, a loaf of bread, and a bottle of water. After a brief hesitation, she grabbed a small bottle of vitamins. Then she plunked it down on the counter along with a few small bills.
“Keep the change and thanks for not ratting me out.”
The girl behind the counter nodded.
“I’ll even let you out the back. That lot might be waiting in the parking lot.”
She smiled, shoving things into her backpack.
“You’re a lifesaver.”
It might even be true. She honestly didn’t know what they wanted her for. She’d never known. And she really didn’t plan on finding out. The cashier helped her slip out the back door and she set off into the woods. Based on the map, there was a highway. She could probably hitch her way to the next city and disappear there for a while. It would be risky, but it might just be worth it. She rested her hand on the slight swell of her abdomen. A few more months. Then maybe she might find out what this was all about.

Left

She was all he had left. All he’d had left since the day those things had first shown up. The common parlance called them zombies, and they almost matched the tropes of the horror movies, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that they were nearly impossible to kill and had long since destroyed civilization as we once knew it. He had been home with his daughter, far from the cities where the outbreaks had been the worst. His wife, though, she had been at work at the hospital. They had never heard from her again.

They had to move again now, he and his daughter. They were making their way west, aiming to trek into the mountains and then start making their way north. Assuming they could enter Canada, of course. The rumors coming from the frozen north were that the creatures were there too but only in the southernmost areas. It seemed they had trouble with the cold. They were moving on foot, the car a scrap heap hundreds of miles behind them. They each carried a backpack and he had his father’s rifle. Not that he thought it would be useful against the creatures. But if other humans tried to be a problem, he would deal with it.

The underbrush was thick in this part of the forest, with lots of bushes that obscured the area around them. That was how they stumbled onto the scene. A creature. Just one, thank anything that might still be listening. It was feasting on a kill. He reached out but his daughter had already stopped in her tracks. The creature would be on them in a heartbeat if it noticed them. They couldn’t let it notice them. The head shot up and the creature sniffed the air and hissed. It was a hollow rattling sound, the kind of thing that leaves a body with their hair on end no matter how brave they think they are.
The only way anyone had been able to come up with to kill the things was complete destruction. Water was useless, as were the old legendary standbys of decapitation and firearms. Fire took time and left them able to function while immolated, which wasn’t really an improvement. Acid was reasonably alright if you could keep the creature contained. All in all, the most effective was probably a woodchipper. He had a rifle and his daughter had a knife. Things weren’t exactly looking great. He took a breath and then shoved the rifle into his daughter’s hands, pointing towards a way around. Then he ran at the creature, screaming.

She was all he had left. If only one of them was going to make it out of here alive, it would be her.

Lost Girls

Peter had told Wendy that girls didn’t get to Neverland nearly as often, they simply didn’t get lost like boys did. And he was right. And he was wrong. Baby girls don’t get lost. It’s the older ones who sometimes find themselves straying. It starts when they put their hair up and let their skirts down. Some of those young women find themselves walking down the roads they were forbidden to tread, dreaming the dreams they were told to never have. Sometimes, these young women puzzle out which is the second star to the right and sometimes they go back to help the lost girls left behind.

Meredith wouldn’t say she was lost, though her parents certainly would have if anyone had asked them. She hadn’t felt lost since the day years ago when she had first climbed aboard the ship that had appeared at her window and the Captain had promised her she was safe. Now, she fished in the pocket of her trousers and pulled out a silver compass. With luck, tonight the lady moon would guide them to another lost girl so they could bring her home. The needle spun for a moment as she laid it level in her palm and then pointed steadfastly. With a smile, Meredith nodded and shouted back.
“Captain! She shows due west.”
The Captain was a tall woman with wild curls, bold manners, and a fierce protective streak when it came to her crew. She smiled now at Meredith and turned to the woman who stood at the helm.
“We chase the setting sun, then. Merry, keep us on course.”

Susan had done everything right. She had put up her hair and let down her skirts. She had discovered makeup and boys and followed all the rules. The problem was simple. She wasn’t happy. She was cold and confused and distant. Sitting up at night in her room, Susan read by the light of a single candle. Or at least she had been until she heard the knock on her window. She held her candle with care as she opened the window onto the strange scene that met her. A ship hung in the air by her window and a person leaned over the rail to smile at her. The impossible ship was one thing, but the person was entirely another. They had short hair, cut nearly like Susan’s elder brother had just gotten his for military service, and wore a white shirt and trousers. Despite all that, Susan was utterly certain that this stranger was a woman.
“So, you’re the new lost girl.”
The woman reached out a hand to Susan with a wry smile on her face.
“Blow out your candle, but you can bring the book.”
For a moment, Susan hesitated. None of this was possible. Something, though, in that woman’s eyes drew her. Then the words truly sunk in.
“I’m not lost. I suspect you may be since your boat is in the air and not the sea.”
The woman laughed and leaped over the rail to climb in Susan’s window.
“The whole crew’s lost. And we’re not. And the lady moon sent us here to find you.” The woman showed Susan a silver compass which pointed inexorably at her no matter how she moved. “Which means you’re one of us. I’m Meredith, by the way. First mate.”
“I’m Susan. And I’m afraid I still don’t understand what you’re going on about. I’m not lost, regardless of what the moon may or may not have told you.”
Meredith tucked the compass back in her pocket and sat perched on the windowsill.
“Have you ever felt like you don’t fit in the life they have lined up for you? Like maybe you want to be someone other than a daughter and then a wife and then a mother? Like maybe you don’t want to be kissing boys?”
Susan’s head snapped up and her voice was shaky when she spoke again.
“How can you know that?”
“Because I was like you when the Captain came for me.” Meredith ducked back out the window, holding her hand out. “Come on, Susan. Come be a lost girl and find yourself.”
Susan only spared a brief glance backward before blowing out her candle and reaching for Meredith’s hand.
“I don’t have to wear trousers, do I?”
“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”
Meredith helped her over the rail and they stood together on the deck as the ship turned towards the second star to the right. Susan watched as the lights of her childhood home vanished behind them, turning away when she could only see darkness below her. Then she reached for Meredith’s hand.
“Will you help me? Until I know the ship and the crew and how things are?”
She added the second part in a rush, a blush coloring her cheeks. Meredith smiled and kissed Susan lightly on the cheek.
“Gladly.”
The moon gilded the ship and the women who crewed her silver as they journeyed through the night, and she smiled. Another of her daughters had made her way home.

Confessions

“There’s something I need to tell you.”
Elena was tripping over the words, struggling to get them out. Worse yet, in the mind of Gemma, her girlfriend wouldn’t meet her eyes. Nothing good came of stammered, awkward confessions with zero eye contact. She resolved, though, not to fall into the trap of assuming she knew it was the worst. After all, would Elena be this upset if she were ending things?
“Lena?”
The blonde scuffed her sneaker against the ground and then sighed.
“It’s…complicated, okay? And a really long story. But, I really really want to be completely honest with you because I love you.”
Gemma reached for Elena’s hand and then pulled her closer.
“Whatever’s wrong, you don’t need to worry, Lena. I promise.”
Again, Elena paused. Then she kissed Gemma lightly on the cheek.
“Nothing’s wrong exactly.” After another short pause, she met Gemma’s eyes. “I’m not human. Well…I used to be. I’m a vampire. Have been for a long time.”
That set Gemma back and she looked her girlfriend over incredulous. Elena was a petite blonde with a preference for pastels and floral prints who’s worst vice was a near-addiction to thin mints.
“A vampire. You.”
Elena pouted just slightly. Then she opened her mouth, releasing her fangs in front of another person for the first time in her preternaturally long life.
“Believe me now, Gem?”

A Thousand Deaths

“I daren’t stay long. I just had to see you.”
Elizabeth’s hands trembled just slightly as she spoke, her eyes downcast. Lady Lillian reached out one hand to seize the hands of her former maid.
“Lizzie, dearest Lizzie. You know what Father said he would do if you returned.”
There was fear in her eyes and tender concern in her words, but Elizabeth just smiled.
“I care not. I would die a thousand deaths if it meant I could see you the once more. And someday, your father will not be able to come between us.” She hesitated a moment. “You could leave with me, Lillian.”
A sharp intake of breath. Lillian squeezed Elizabeth’s hand tightly.
“You don’t know what you’re saying. What that would cause. Father would never allow it.”
“Then don’t ask for permission. Or forgiveness. I will always love you, Lillian. The question is whether or not that would be enough for you to give up all of this.”
She gestured broadly as the country estate and swept her hand out to take in the tennis courts and gardens and even Lillian’s clothing. For a long moment, Lady Lillian looked away. Her eyes took in every piece of this world that was all she had ever known. Finally, she took a step towards Elizabeth.
“Only but let me fetch clothing that will go unnoticed in the city and we will be away.”
Lillian pulled Elizabeth into her arms and kissed her gently. Someway nearby they heard the baying of hunting hounds and the young women sprang apart.
“I will wait for you after dark, Lillian. By the old apple tree.”
With one last lingering handclasp, they parted with dreams and hopes and fears rich in their minds.