“Falling Home,” by Sarah Diemer
The angel Silver, and her brother Det, race through the many levels of hell, trying to find the soul of Silver’s dead girlfriend before the host of devils track and devour them.
(photo by Poe Tatum)
(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.].)
by Sarah Diemer
“It’s not working!”
Det flicks the needle, trying to shove it into his arm, the Glow pulsing in the syringe like a hundred thousand suns. His hands are shaking too hard, though, and I have to take it from him, patting the white skin around his crow tattoo, trying to find a vein.
“Hurry, hurry…” he glances over his shoulder, shaking his head. “They’re coming…”
“There…” I mutter, inserting it. He hisses in pain, but then I’m pushing down on the syringe, the Glow shooting under his skin.
He becomes luminous as something bangs against the metal door, like a body was hurled against it.
“Do you, c’mon, c’mon,” he mutters, becoming almost too bright to look at as the Glow takes hold.
“Fuck…” I whisper, trying to draw more Glow into the syringe. The fear’s making me shake too much and I’m clumsy. Push it down, don’t listen to them pounding against the door…there, got just enough.
The door shatters inward, metal flying, red-hot pins everywhere while I inject enough Glow into myself to ascend.
And we do, while they scream in frustration, claws just missing us. Too late.
“Oh, for the love of…” I mutter, spitting sand out of my mouth. I’m blinded by the grit in my eyes, try to drum up a few tears to wash it out. Fail.
“Fifth level,” says Det, resting his head next to mine on the gritty red ground.
“How do you know?” I can just see how red everything is now, the undulating, blood-colored hills bending off in all directions.
“The fifth level of hell is all about discomfort,” says Det, grinning widely as he sits up, offers me a hand. “Aren’t you itchy, Silver?”
I am. I’ve been trying to ignore it, but I scrub at my upper arms now, hissing out.
Det’s wings are crawling with lice.
“That’s disgusting,” I frown at him, but then glance back at mine. Yup. Lice-covered. How lovely. I arch them back, try to shake them, but I’m still too clumsy from the ascension, and they sort of flop down like a drunk seagull’s.
“I can’t believe we haven’t found her yet…” Det mutters, scrubbing at his face with one too-white hand. “Actually, you know what? I can. What I can’t believe is that you had us start in the seventh level. Watch, she’ll be in the first just waiting for us, and I’ll proceed to kill you for all of this torture.”
“You never used to call spending time with me that,” I pout as a pack of demon dogs crest the nearest hill. Their eyes are on fire, a blaze licking upward from each sunken hollow in their rotting faces.
“Well, it is,” says Det huffily as he takes out his angelic blade. It shings, shining in the dull, half-light of hell. “We used to do lovely things together. Remember that time we went to the party the seraphim were throwing, and you made out with that girl from the angelic host…what was her name?”
“Mariah,” I tell him, drawing my own blade as the dogs leap closer, maggot-covered tongues lolling out of their mouths. “And she wasn’t even nice.”
Det slices two of the dogs in half as our blades meet, and I get the last three. Pieces of flesh litter the sand and are sucked down and in, as if the earth is hungry. I grimace at my dirty blade and try to scrub it off on my pant leg before sheathing it again.
“Silver,” says Det, breathing out. I wince, preparing myself for his “I’m out” speech, but he says nothing, only steps forward and places his hands on my shoulders. “I’d do anything for you,” he says then, mouth turning up at the corners. “But next time, can you fall in love with a girl who isn’t mortal?”
“I’ll work on that,” I promise him, fighting my tears. He can be such a dork, but he’s my brother, and for fuck’s sake, I don’t know what I’d do without him.
“Okay,” he says, nodding, taking the pocket watch out of his vest. “We have fifteen minutes before they catch up with us.”
I nod, too, kneeling down so that the sand prickles me through the jeans. I close my eyes, still my breathing, my wings spread over me.
All around us, the souls drift, in various stages of agony and annoyance. It’s like a river at night—they’re all the same shade of spirit, all stuck together, all moving with the rotation of hell and all its levels.
They’re not all the same.
My eyes spring open, and I’m running across the packed sand, wings arching over me before I pump them, and then I’m flying, Det right behind me.
“She’s here?” he asks, panting, and I nod, veer off from the bone creatures that give a strangled cry—the flock of which I almost fly through.
“Ten minutes before they show, Silver…” my brother mutters, flying into formation beside me.
I gulp, breathe out.
My blood thunders through fear-filled veins.
Will it be enough?
I’d always hated Earth duty. Everyone hated Earth duty, but you had to have it every hundred years. It’s what made things fair, said the angelic host. And, really, it wasn’t so bad, said the angelic host.
They’d never had Earth duty. They didn’t know.
Transitioning humans’ souls fucking sucks. Humans are mortal. They don’t know what comes after, though a great deal of their mythologies is all about, no, totally there’s pearly gates and harps and haloes or no, totally, there’s devils and brimstone and a lot of fire. They have so many pieces wrong and right, and it’s this whole jumble of fear that makes human death so messy that no angel wants to touch it.
But we have to help them transition. That’s the system: angels help mortals transition off of Earth. There’s no way around it. So we take turns and are miserable for a handful of mortal years while we deal with death and dying and really terrible shit.
And we have ways of coping. Like donning mortal forms to make the time pass in an as-close-to-enjoyable-fashion as possible.
“You know what’s really terrible is being a teenager,” my brother Det had told me. “You have to try it. They have to go to school, and it’s a little like a gladiator arena there. You remember those?” I told him that I did, thank-you-very-much, and I had no intention of reliving that. “Oh, they don’t hack each other apart anymore,” he’d told me, eyes alight. “They’re just assholes to each other.”
“That makes it so much better,” I’d grimaced. But because Det was on duty with me (lucky him), and he’d decided to take a mortal teenager form (he always makes stupid decisions without consulting me), I really had no choice. So I did, too.
And the very next day, I’d met Sophie.
“Five minutes,” Det mutters when our feet touch hell sand again.
When I gather her soul into my arms.
She flutters her translucent eyes open, looks up at me, stares.
“Silver…” she whispers, ghost mouth moving into a soft, tired smile. I almost cry as I press her see-through head to my shoulder, holding her as close as I can, her fragility pulsing beneath my fingers.
She murmurs: “you came to get me.”
“What’s the number one rule?” asked Det, the night that I’d taken her to the prom, wearing a mortal tux because it’s what I felt most comfortable in, slicking back my spiked short hair into what he’d dubbed an “unholy Mohawk.”
“Don’t get involved with mortals,” I’d told him, adjusting my tie in the mirror.
“And what the hell are you wearing?” he’d bemoaned.
“I like boy clothes,” I’d tossed over my shoulder, grinning. “Screw you.”
“This is very, very bad,” he’d managed. “If they find out, the balance will have to be restored. You know that there are consequences.”
“No one’s gonna ‘find out,’” I told him, hissing at him as I lowered my voice. “Shut up, Det. Don’t jinx me.”
But it was already begun.
Prom night was when the accident happened.
When Sophie died.
“Hurry,” Det hisses as I crouch down on the red sand, digging through the knapsack for the vial of Darkness and the syringes.
“I’m hurrying, and you’re not helping…” I mutter in a sing-song voice as I hear the clicking and clacking, the tell-tale sign that they’re getting closer.
“We just assume that if we inject Darkness in the lower levels we’ll fall below the last level of Hell and start all over again at Heaven. We don’t know that.”
“Shush, Det, we discussed this. It’s got to work.”
“We’re out of time…” says Det, crouching next to me, hands shaking. “Where is it, you’re not fast enough…”
We both glance up at the veritable wall of demons crawling toward us across the sand. I grit my teeth, draw up enough Darkness in the syringe for Sophie. I inject her translucent skin, and she goes dark and disappears. Okay—okay…Det next. I inject him through his tattoo’s crow eye, and then me next.
I close my eyes as the closest demon reaches for me, pressing down on the syringe top.
I feel claws across my skin.
And then nothingness.
“Was it enough Darkness to get us there?”
A flare of light.
“Yeah. Just enough.”
I open my eyes.
Det sprawls beside me on the glowing sand. He’s spread-eagled, looks exhausted, but is glowing and beautiful again, as any angel is when they’re Home.
And Sophie is here. I begin to cry as she opens her beautiful green eyes, sits up, hand to her head. But she glances at me, brows up in a quizzical frown, but then I gather her face in my hands, pepper it with kisses.
“You so owe me,” Det sighs as Sophie puts her arms around me, squeezes me tightly.
“I don’t understand…” she whispers, glancing past me. I know she’ll see the Ocean of Stars, and beyond that…space. It probably looks like a dream, she probably doesn’t understand it…but waking up to this is definitely better than hell, right?
She stares up and up and up at my wings, eyes wide.
“I always knew you were weird,” is what she finally says, then, grinning at me, drawing me into her arms, kissing me.
I’m so relieved, I laugh.
“Are you ready to go back?” asks Det, brow up, eyeing my knapsack. Sophie looks beyond me, out to the ocean, out to space.
“Is that…is that a galaxy up there?” she whispers, as a shooting star roars by so close, its thrum is deafening. “Oh my God, it’s beautiful…”
“Soon,” I tell him, patting the bottle of Light.
Regenerating a dead girl.
I’ve had to explain worse.
I kiss her hand, so relieved I feel light as feathers. When she wakes up on Earth again…things will have to change.
But that’s not right now. And if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s this:
Take each moment as it ticks.
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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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