(photo by jeansmachines24)
(Part of Project Unicorn: A Lesbian YA Extravaganza, updated twice weekly on Mondays and Fridays with a free, original, never-before-published YA short story featuring a lesbian heroine. Also, every story is a work of genre fiction [Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Post-apocalyptic, etc.].)
“No Bigger Than the Moon”
by Sarah Diemer
What if you were meant to be with someone?
I don’t know how the world works. Hell, I don’t even believe in god, and I don’t think there’s angels, or some shit, watching over us. But I think that when I was born, something happened, something I can’t explain. That I was meant to be with Kylie.
It’s this thing that happens in my gut whenever I’m around her. Like a line, stretching from me to her—I can feel it. A gravity, maybe. She’s my star, and I’m just a planet, revolving. Someday, when it’s legal, I’m gonna marry her, and it’s going to be the sappiest wedding ever. And I’m totally okay with that. Sophie—that’s my step-ma—says I got it real bad, which I guess is as good an explanation as any. Kylie knows I love her, would fly to the moon and back for her, would do anything to make her happy.
But I don’t expect this.
She’s white as a sheet, like all the blood’s drained down to her legs, and she’s standing at the back door, leaning against the frame as if it’s the only thing keeping her upright. She’s breathing hard from running the three blocks from her house to mine, and she can’t quite get the words out, but she straightens after a moment, pushes the hair out of her eyes, stares at me.
“Ted needs help,” is what she tells me. Ted’s her older brother, by a year—he just turned eighteen two days ago. He’s looks a lot like Kylie—long, straight black hair, long nose, dancing green eyes. But unlike Kylie, he’s a fucking bastard. I’ve never liked Ted.
“What’s wrong?” I’m asking her, but she’s shaking her head, tears bright in her eyes.
“You’ve gotta come with me, Anne, I can’t explain it…” She’s already halfway off the back porch, hands shoved deep into the pockets of her hoodie. “Are you coming?”
“Geez, yeah, yeah, I’m coming,” I mutter, grabbing my jacket off the peg. “Sophie!” I holler. “I’m going to Kylie’s to…study!”
“Yeah right you are,” she hollers back from the living room. “Use protection.”
“Very funny,” I return, but I’m blushing when I shut the door behind me. Kylie doesn’t think it’s funny, or embarrassing or anything…she’s already off the porch and trotting across the lawn, back to the sidewalk. I follow as fast as I can, catch up, run beside her. “What the hell’s the matter?” I’m asking, already breathing hard as we slog down the block.
“Ted’s sick,” she huffs, turning the corner. “I don’t know what to do, and Mom and Dad…I don’t think they’re going to be much help.”
“Whoah…” I slow down, stop. “Look, if he’s sick, why don’t you just take him to the doctor…”
“It’s not like that.” She’s grabbing my arm, pricking me with her long nails. “Christ, Anne, it’s not…” She runs her hand through her hair, starts to cry, great choking sobs that wrack her body. I’m speechless, but eventually neurons fire, and I gather her into a hug.
“He’s so sick,” she whispers, over and over. “I don’t know what to do.”
“It’s all right…” I tell her, but now I’m afraid. I don’t know if it’s all right. Kylie never cries. I’m shaking. Something’s very wrong.
“C’mon,” she says, wiping at her eyes, her running nose, with the sleeve of her hoodie. “C’mon, he’s all alone…he’s probably so scared.” She hiccups a great sob, but trudges down the sidewalk again.
It really only takes eight minutes to get to Kylie’s house, but it’s the longest, quietest walk we’ve of my life. My heart’s racing as we get closer. A million scenarios have played through my head, and I keep sneaking glances at Kylie, her hood pulled up and over her face so I can’t really see her. The bright afternoon, the sharp sunlight filtering through the towering clouds…it’s taken on a much more sinister color.
Kylie’s parents work late, so of course there’s no car in the driveway or garage. We go in through the garage door, and up into the kitchen.
A crash comes from the living room as we shut the door behind us.
“Ted, it’s just us!” Kylie’s voice comes out in a panic. She rushes into the living room, and I’m right behind her. But in the doorway, I stop as if I’ve hit a wall.
“It’s all right,” she soothes, arms held out, up and open, like she’s going to receive a message from god.
She’s holding her arms out to a gigantic white horse.
It’s massive, head almost scraping the eight-foot ceiling. Its nose flares, and its nostrils are blood red. When it lifts up its head, opens its mouth to scream, I step back so quickly, my foot comes out from under me, and I skid on the tile floor of the kitchen.
Its teeth are pointed like knives, and it has a mouthful of them.
“No, no, don’t be afraid,” says Kylie, turning to look back at me, tears cascading down her cheeks. “Please, Anne, don’t be afraid…”
“What…the fuck…” I manage.
“This is the sickest fucking joke…” I start, but she puts her face in her hands, her shoulders shaking with sobs. The horse stops pressing itself into the corner and steps forward, nostrils whuffing. It clops tentatively behind Kylie, pushes the small of her back with its gigantic nose.
“I don’t know what to do,” says Kylie, voice tiny. “I came home from school, and Ted was really sick on the couch, and then he just…began to change. I wouldn’t have believed it, either, but I watched it happen. Grandma Lorrie always ranted and raved about how we had kelpie blood, and that ‘the change is gonna happen at the eighteenth birthday,’ but…I mean…” She’s looking up at me with tear-filled eyes. “Why would we have believed something like that? And now when Grandma Lorrie’s gone, it actually happened. I mean what the fuck, I think my brother became a kelpie.” She sits down on the floor miserably, puts her face in her hands again. “I don’t know why I brought you here,” she whispers. “I just thought that…I just needed you.”
“What the hell’s a kelpie?” is the first intelligent thing out of my mouth. She looks up at me, eyes wide.
“You believe me?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” I mutter, leaning against the butcher’s block, staring at the dejected horse, its nose almost brushing the ground. It gazes at me with one mournful eye. “Are you Ted?” I ask it, and it raises its head, nods like a ridiculous pantomime of that really weird show with the talking horse. What was it…Mr. Ed?
“This is fucked up,” I say then to no one in particular, but I cross to Kylie, sit down next to her.
“What do we do, Anne?” she whispers, voice shaking.
“What’s a kelpie?” I repeat.
“Well.” She picks at the frayed edge of her jeans. “It’s a…water horse. Supposedly, they live in water, have sharp teeth, lure people to their deaths and eat them.”
Ted shakes his head vehemently, rolling his eyes.
“But I don’t think Ted wants to eat people,” says Kylie slowly. “I just…I don’t know. Grandma Lorrie said kelpies lived in the ocean, and we’d have to go back someday. Oh god, Anne, she said I’d do the same thing…” Kylie takes a great huffing sob, leans forward, is crying again.
“Let’s just…let’s just deal with this one step at a time,” I offer, putting my arm around her shoulders, pulling her toward me. “So…”
“I’m worried that if we don’t take him to the beach, he’s going to die,” she says, voice so soft, I can hardly hear her. “We have to get him there.”
“Great.” I look up. And up. And up at him. Ted shakes his head again, sighs. “He’s going to look right at home in the suburb.”
Kylie shrugs, stands, brushes off the bottom of her jeans. “I don’t know what else to do.”
“How are we going to get him out the door?”
Turns out that he could just squeeze through the back door, out onto the lawn. Kylie crawls onto the picnic table, stands up, angles her finger to me. “C’mon, we gotta go.”
“I’m not riding that. I’ve never even ridden a merry-go-round,” I’m muttering, not that that matters. She crooks her finger again, and I climb the picnic table, too, sort of hop up and slide my leg over his back. He’s wider than a barrel. Perhaps wider than a Smart car.
I help Kylie up, and Ted doesn’t waste a second—he’s already moving. “Whoa!” I’m muttering, grabbing great chunkfuls of his mane. I manage to not slide off in the first five steps or so and congratulate myself on this fact: the ground is awfully far away.
“Don’t go faster than this, okay, Ted?” Kylie asks around my shoulder. He tosses his head in the air, nods again.
So, this gigantic white horse is walking down the sidewalk. And we’re both riding it like a magical, mystical unicorn—sans bridle and saddle. But it’s not a magical, mystical unicorn, but a bloodthirsty kelpie.
I rub one hand over my face, then grasp at his mane again.
This is the strangest day…
A car drives past very slowly, man almost veering onto the sidewalk in his attempt to stare at the freak show. I scowl at him, and he rights the wheel, but Ted’s head gets a little higher, and he sort of skitters in place for a moment.
“Don’t lose your cool, big guy,” I mutter, patting his neck like they used to do on the old black and white westerns. “Don’t you think people are going to find this a little strange?” I ask Kylie over my shoulder. She shrugs against me, tightens her hold around my waist.
And then, I hear the blaring siren.
“Oh shit,” Kylie whispers, angling back. “Oh shit.”
I glance to my left. A cop car has pulled up on the side of the street, the guy hopping out, kind of staring for a long moment, his shades not masking the “what the fuckness” happening on his face.
“What…” he says, then shakes his head, comes up onto the sidewalk, peering up at the two of us. “Is that a draft horse?” he’s asking. I sort of stare at him blankly, and he shakes his head. “What are you two up to? You can’t ride a horse on the sidewalk without proper…I mean, you can’t ride a horse in…”
Ted turns around, angling his massive head back. The cop stares as Ted flattens his ears…
Oh god, Ted, don’t do it…
…and bares his teeth.
The razor-edged, pointed monstrosities flash in the lowering sun, and the cop lifts up his sunglasses, staring
“Go, go, go!” Kylie yells, and kicks her brother in the sides—hard. I think Ted was surprised more than goaded, but he takes off down the sidewalk at a dead run. I wasn’t expecting it, but my hands were tangled up in his mane, which is the only reason I’m not a splat beside some garden gnome.
I bounce up and down, up and down and sideways, but Kylie jerks me back up, yells in my ear, “hold on with your legs!” Normally, I’d have all sorts of things to retort to that, but I don’t quite have it in me. I do try to hold on—I think that’s what Kylie’s doing—but it’s much easier said than done.
I don’t know how I manage, but I do, somehow. The houses whiz by, there are clattering, terrifying moments when Ted dashes across an intersection, and I think for certain that I’m probably dead, but then we aren’t, and behind all of this is the constant, droning blare of a siren.
“Ted, take the alley!” Kylie shouts, and Ted manages to slow down enough to thunder down an alleyway. We’re out of the suburbs, now, drawing closer to the shopping district, and just beyond it: the beach.
Ted’s slowed down, sides heaving, snorting as his breathing increases. “You’re doing fine,” says Kylie, but her voice is shaking.
The sirens are softer, now, in the alley. Maybe they went the wrong way. Yeah. I’ll just keep thinking that. We cross back parking lots and side streets, and eventually, the tang of salt water assaults my nose. We’re almost there.
Kylie directs Ted over to a dumpster, and we both slide off onto it. I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to walk in a straight line again. Everything aches.
We three walk together, now. Kylie keeps her hand on Ted’s shoulder, and I try not to panic about the cops. We get out from between the buildings, and the dying sun behind us sets the beach in a long shadow. There’s a guy playing Frisbee with his dog, and a jogger, and yes, they totally stare at us, but it’s pretty deserted compared to the usual crush of people, so I’m not complaining.
We get to the shoreline, and Kylie’s throwing her arms around Ted’s neck. “I don’t know if this is the right thing to do,” she’s telling him, “but I really hope it is…”
He shakes his head, eyes the sea. I think he’s worried. But he places a hoof tentatively in the receding water and shudders, sighing for a long moment. I think it felt…good.
“This so fucked up. This is so fucked up,” Kylie whispers as Ted walks into the surf. He keeps walking, and we keep staring, because when the waves hit him, he doesn’t float or rise up…he just keeps plunging into the water, walking down and in until he disappears from sight in a matter of heartbeats.
“Oh my god. Oh my god, Anne…” Kylie clutches my arm. “Did he drown?”
“I don’t…think so…” I manage, my heart in my throat. I don’t know. It didn’t seem like he would, but I haven’t even brought up the Wikipedia page for “kelpies” yet on my phone. I don’t know anything about them. About this. I don’t know.
“He’s just…gone…” says Kylie, swallowing a sob. “Oh my god…Anne…what if he’s drowning? Anne…please…” She’s staring at me, eyes wide.
“Oh well, fuck,” I mutter, taking off my sneakers, peeling off my jacket. And then I’m trudging into the waves, too.
I’d fly to the moon and back for her, wouldn’t I? Swimming out to see if I can spot her brother, the weird monster, is really not that high on the List of Impossible Things I’d Do For Her.
The water is ice cold, dashes against my jeans like a thousand needles. I grit my teeth, huff out, and step in further, eyes peeled on the incoming waves, on the outer water. Nothing.
“Do you see anything?” Kylie calls. I shake my head, wade in deeper.
Something white flashes on the incoming wave that’s rising much too fast. It hits me in the chest, pushes me back toward land.
I trudge deeper.
Another wave. Another flash. This time, I get water in my mouth and nose. I wasn’t expecting how ferocious the wave was. I wasn’t expecting…
There’s a piercing tear in my arm. I feel…strange. There’s water everywhere, now, a twist of it that’s holding me down, and I see a glinting eye rolling in the blue.
Another piercing pain, and numbness. Red mingles with the white.
He looks beautiful, suspended in the water. A mystical, magical unicorn.
Kylie told me, once, that our love was bigger than the moon.
I think she was lying.
If you enjoyed “No Bigger Than the Moon,” you can now enjoy the entire month of “The Monstrous Sea” Project Unicorn stories on your eReader, and support the project at the same time!
Sarah Diemer is an award-winning author of lesbian young adult (YA), speculative fiction. Her debut novel, The Dark Wife, the YA, lesbian retelling of the Persephone myth won the 2012 Golden Crown Literary Award for Speculative Fiction, and was nominated for a Parsec Award (first two chapters of the audiobook). She writes her lesbian adult fiction under the pen name Elora Bishop, including the Sappho’s Fables: Lesbian Fairy Tales series, which she co-writes with her wife, author Jennifer Diemer.
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