The howls echoed in that dark night painting pictures of blood stained maws and sharp rows of teeth in the minds of the people in the ráth. All but one mind, anyway. It was a wolf moon, her father had said. It was wolf weather, the priest had intoned. Still, Aine ni Cathair was drawn to the hills and the cliffs and the open air. She donned a cloak and pinned it fast, pulling the hood up to hide her wild, red hair and her freckle-strewn face as she passed through the doors and into the night.
A steady rain fell and mist clung to the ground like man to a mystery, parting only slightly as Aine passed through. She carried no torch against the darkness and kept her steps light. The path to the cliff was a well-trod one and one she knew as she knew her own heart. That was why she was surprised to find something there she had never seen before: two torches, one to either side of the track.
Aine paused for only a moment before striding between them with determination and purpose. This was her place, her family’s land, and whoever was out here in the night would regret it if they were trespassing.
A lone figure stood beyond, a silhouette carved against the sky. They faced the sea and as Aine came closer, she could make out silver curls of hair.
“Gran? Is that you?”
The woman turned, a smile on her face as she looked at her granddaughter. Again, Aine hesitated. Her grandmother stood in the soaking rain beyond the torches with a knife in her hand, reflecting the light, and a fur over her shoulders.
“T’is, my dear. Come closer so I can see you.”
Aine took another step forward, hearing the howls echoing off the hillsides.
“Gran, why’re you out in the rain?”
The old woman chuckled softly.
“Why, the same reason as you, my dear.”
Another few steps brought Aine even closer before she paused.
“Gran, where’d you get that wolf skin?”
The woman reached to pat the fur of the skin thrown over her shoulders and smiled fondly, as though at a distant memory.
“Why, I’ve had it since I was your age, my dear.”
Aine stood only a single step away from her grandmother now and she could feel the fear warring with confusion in her gut.
“Gran, why’ve you got that dreadful big knife?”
The old woman flipped the blade in her hand and held out the hilt her to granddaughter.
“Why, so you can claim your own skin, my dear.”
The howls echoed in that dark night and the moon climbed further into the sky. The people in the ráth could hear the trembling call of a new wolf joining the hunt. Outside, a red wolf ran at the side of an old silver one, never as free before as she was now.
That was the only word that went through my mind as I watched her step out of the thrift store dressing room. God fucking dammit. This is the part where, normally, our fashionista cheerleader heroine would be thinking check plus for your hard work, your frumpy best friend is going to get the useless jock of her dreams and ride off into the sunset as prom queen. Well, except for one pretty major detail. I did not want her to go riding off anywhere with Darren McAndrews, scum lord extraordinaire. I wanted us to be the ones riding off into the sunset together. Yep. One makeover later and the cheer captain is pining desperately over her formerly fashion-challenged best friend since kindergarten.
The words slipped out of my mouth and Lily’s shoulders slumped.
“Does…does it not fit?” She sighed a little and looked so sad. My mind was racing in five thousand different directions. “I really thought we had it that time.”
“No, no. Lils. It fits. Perfect. Great. Amazing. You look amazing.”
The words were tripping over themselves in a jumble to get out of my mouth and I felt like there were spotlights trained on my face. I knew from the heat rising to my cheeks that I must be blushing. Oh yes, this was rapidly entering worst-day-ever territory.
That was when the floor dropped out from underneath me. Okay, not really. Lily walked over and touched my arm, a concerned look on her face. I tried to be relaxed, calm, not buzzing with some stupid pile of hormones I only half remembered from biology. She must have said something else because she was looking at me like she was waiting for an answer.
“Y-you shouldn’t go to prom with Darren.”
For a moment, we both stood there and I wondered if this was what going crazy felt like. Like I didn’t have control over what was coming out of my mouth.
“He’s an asshole and a lech and a creep and…and…”
No, I was wrong before. This was what it was like to lose control. I grabbed my best friend and I kissed her right there in the back of the thrift store with tears in my eyes and my hands shaking. She looked startled but then her expression softened.
“You never said. Not a word. Not the slightest hint.”
I flailed. I honestly flailed.
“I didn’t know!”
Then she took my hand and her little smile nearly killed me.
“I’d love to go to prom with you, Kat. Assuming you’re asking.”
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.”
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.
“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.
They closed the curtains and covered the mirrors, drawing in close and tight and safe. This wasn’t a time for the living, sun in the sky or no. This was one of the four days that belonged to the others, the dead and the never-so, the ones who dwelled in a distant place the living would only see when time had finished marching and their personal hourglass was empty of sand. This was her time. And it had been her time since 1927 and a boy with none of the manners he ought to have. Her hair was still bobbed short and her skirt still swirled around her knees, or at least it did on these days. Any other day and you’d never have picked her out of the crowd of college co-eds. Today, she was free to be herself though and to dance to a record that hadn’t been played anywhere but her mind since that year. Today, she smiled at a pretty girl and held out her hand, promising forever to the newly dead.
Her bass drum heart boomed so loudly the band on the stage could have used it to keep time. The trumpet crooned and the snare drum begged her to follow her dreams across the room to the beautiful brunette leaning against the bar. She took one last sip and set her glass down on the table. Pulling her courage on, she hummed along as she wove through the crowds. Stepping in alongside, she smiled and held out a small bunch of lavenders.
“How’s about a dance, sweetheart?”
The brunette turned, smiling shyly as she took in the flower and the suited woman offering it. Taking it, she slid away from the bar and tucked it into her hair in a fluid motion.
The night went on like that, with laughing and dancing until the midnight hour approached. The doors were suddenly flung open, church bells tolling the midnight hour somewhere in the distance. Heads snapped up all over the room as the lights came up and the police poured in. She turned, meaning to run together, but the brunette was gone. All that was left were their memories. She had no time, though, to worry about that. She had to make it out before she got caught.
“I didn’t get her name.” The realization hit her like a truck as she stepped into her small apartment. “Dammit!”
Running her fingers through her short blond hair, she wondered if they would ever see each other again. But it was so unlikely. So unlikely that it hurt. With a sigh, her shoulder slumped and she hung her coat by the door. Leaning against the wall, she wondered. That club would be closed for a while after the raid. How could she possibly know which one to go to to find her again? It was like looking for a needle in a haystack or trying to find Cinderella without her glass slipper. Hopeless.