The cabinet meeting room was utterly silent as the members all stared at their President. He leaned back in the chair comfortably, looking for all the world like a man asleep. Other than one rather large detail: his face was open in the middle a very small furry creature sat at a set of controls. It looked out at the room with wide, surprised eyes and a hand hovering near a button it very much hadn’t meant to push. Then the laughter began. The Vice President was doubled over the table laughing so hard that it sounded like hissing. He raised his head at last and reached to remove the device that disguised his nature. For a moment, his skin flickered and then he revealed the pearly scales below. Double-lidded eyes blinking slowly, he looked around the room.
“Alright, tell the truth. Is anyone here human?”
One by one, disguises were removed until not a single human remained in the room. Skins lay discarded over chairs and devices sat powered off on tables. The furry creature commonly known as the President was the first to speak, looking at his three-foot tall, gray Secretary of the Interior.
The gray alien groaned expressively.
“That was us. Our craft malfunctioned when exposed to the atmosphere of this planet. It took years to figure out why.”
The reptilian Vice President looked down the table at the seven-foot tall, hairy, ape-like Secretary of Defense.
“Bigfoot is a hoax, huh?” he asked in an accusatory tone.
The Secretary of Defense puffed out his fur, appearing to double in size.
“We consider that term to be quite insulting.”
“Alright, here’s the big one.” crackled a creature made of pure energy who served as Secretary of the Treasury. “Kennedy?”
Head down, the Vice President slowly raised one scaly, clawed hand.
“That’s our bad. The humans did really get to the moon though.”
For a moment, there was quiet, then the Secretary of State tilted their head to the side, bat-like ears quivering.
It was the exceptionally tall, blonde Secretary of Education that spoke, her metallic armor rustling oddly as she stood. Her eyes were an ethereal glowing blue as she surveyed her fellow cabinet members.
“We carry on. None of our missions are compromised, I trust, and the All-Father would be most vexed if I returned home now. This will simply be our little secret.”
There was a chorus of agreement before another gray alien, the Secretary of Energy, spoke up.
“What about the Attorney General? He’s not here.”
The creature riding in the head of the President scoffed.
“Him? He’s human.”
The Vice President smiled though.
“Don’t worry, though, we’re scheduled to replace him with a clone later today.”
There are a few different classifications of dead people, and that’s the problem. Most of them, thank whatever, move on. I don’t know where they go. That’s not my job. My job is the other kinds. The never-were, the lost, the malefactors, and the desperate. That’s what I call them. The never-were are the ones I hate to meet the most. They’re a mixed bag of child spirits, some of them died young and some were just wanted so badly that they couldn’t leave. The lost at least don’t know what they are. They keep going about their lives with no idea that anything’s changed. It can get unnerving with the old ones. They don’t know how the newer buildings work and they end up going through them. The malefactors are pretty much what it says on the tin. They’re bad. If it tries to crawl into someone, kill someone, take over and destroy things, then it’s a malefactor. The scariest though, are the desperate. Malefactors do it because they have to, because evil and destruction is their nature. The desperate want to. They’re trying to find a way to cling to life in any way they can. They ride in other people’s bodies and try to reclaim who they were, they refuse to give up their past. All in all, it’s a bad time. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to tell what kind you’re dealing with. The lines blur and that’s when things get dangerous. That was probably how I ended up backed into a corner with four children smiling up at me. Their eyes weren’t black when I let them in. I know they weren’t. I know the rules. But today, it looked like the rules were being broken.
“Don’t worry. Our parents are on the way.”
I could hear the front door opening and my pulse hammered in my ears, blotting out the rest of what they said. Slow, deliberate footsteps made their way up my stairs and I turned towards the sound, dreading what I might see. My blood ran cold as I stared into my own eyes. The other me smiled slowly and walked forward, placing a hand on the shoulder of the tallest of the children.
“Now don’t worry, dear, there will be more than enough for all of us to feast.”
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.
Mrs. Tipton smiled sadly at her newest boarder when she opened the door of the lodging house.
“Oh, my dear, I never thought you’d be joining us.”
The old woman at the door slumped her shoulders and pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders.
“No one lasts for ever. Not anymore.”
Mrs. Tipton nodded slowly, sadly, and stepped aside.
“I’ve set aside a room for you on the top floor. It’s only been Annis up there for years and I think she could use the company.”
Together, they climbed the rickety old stairs through the lodging house. They could hear the sounds of the other boarders in their rooms. Annis was singing, her windows wide and her voice like the wind on the moors. Jenny’s door was thrown open and the smell of a stew simmering wafted into the corridors. One woman stood in her doorway in a gown that had fit once, had been considered elegant once. Now, it was tattered and her looks had long since faded. She smiled distantly at the pair as they passed by.
“I’ve heard, Mrs. Tipton, that there’s to be a play staged in my honor this evening. At the Globe, no less. Another of William’s bits of brilliance, I’m certain.”
Mrs. Tipton returned her smile and patted the woman’s hand reassuringly.
“That’s right, Titania, dear. I’m sure it will be just delightful.”
They left the Faerie Queen humming to herself and dancing through a glade that existed now only in her mind. Soon, they reached the top floor and the vacancy.
“This would be your room. Let me know if you need anything and if you’ve any questions about the rules, I’m sure Annis would be happy to help.”
The old woman looked at the tidy bed with its clean sheets.
“Once, I slept on an oven, you know.”
“I know, dearie.”
Mrs. Tipton watched as the woman went to the window.
“I never thought it would come to this. I thought if I could last through that wretched Stalin, I could last through anything. Even when they were afraid of the atom, they remembered to be afraid of me.”
Black Annis stood in the doorway, a sorrowful expression on her monstrous visage.
“Humans don’t need us monsters anymore, Baba Yaga. They’ve made worse than we could ever be out of themselves.”
Alright, I’ll admit it. I have no idea what I’m doing here. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I believe in the cause. I made my sign myself after a late night craft store run. The cashier was so funny, asking if we had a project for school.
“No, ma’am, we’re actively participating in our democracy.”
That had been my best friend’s flippant response. I’d seen this kind of thing on TV and I was scared. They kept saying it would be fine though. Somehow, I don’t think they really understood.
Now, I was trying not to cry as I heard shouting and loud bangs that sounded a lot like explosives to my ears. That was when he appeared out of the smoke. A tall man with dark hair cut military short. He was wearing wraparound shades that obscured his eyes, a bandanna over the lower half of his face, and a tight t-shirt with a Spartan logo on it. He grabbed my arm and hauled me up.
“Come on, kid. How’re you doing?”
I tried to speak and started coughing. He cursed in a language I didn’t understand and handed me a bottle and a bandanna.
“Swish and spit. Wet the bandanna and hold it over your mouth. Got me, kid?”
I nodded once, uncertain. We both heard the sound that caught his attention then. It was like a loud pop and then something hissing. I didn’t think, I just moved. Doing as he’d told me, I kept the bandanna over my mouth as I stayed low hoping this stuff worked like smoke. He grabbed my arm and pointed, making signs I’d never seen. I could follow it though. Grab the woman near us and follow him.
He led us up a side street where there were a few people working on a sort of street triage. He nodded to them, clearly knowing each and every one of them. My eyes were burning and tears streamed down my face. The woman we’d helped out was worse off though. Another woman grabbed a bottle of something and was talking quietly to her, saying she was here to help. Not to worry a bit.
When my eyes were clear, I started helping. He coached me, teaching me things I never thought I would learn. I learned more about how medicine really works than I ever had before. And not gentle, kind, sterile medicine. This was rough and we could only do our best. Sometimes, I wondered what he was doing here. He was a soldier. He had to be. But he just laughed and said he fought in these trenches now, in this new kind of war for liberty. If he was a general, I think I would follow him to the ends of the earth.
“Come on, kid. You and me, we’ve got more people to help.”
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.”
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.
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.