“The Edge of Day,” by Sarah Diemer
Punished and cursed by Zeus for nothing, Hemera–goddess of the day–is sentenced to the pit of Tartarus each night, while her beloved, the goddess Nyx, is sentenced to Tartarus in the day, so they will never be together again. An evil, twisted monster lurks in Tartarus, but Hemera and Nyx hatch a plan to be together regardless of darkness.
(photo by Kevin Dooley)
(Part of Project Unicorn: A Lesbian YA Extravaganza, updated twice weekly on Mondays and Thursdays 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.].)
“The Edge of Day”
by Sarah Diemer
We can’t touch. Though we pace close enough to each other that I can smell the fragrance upon her skin, the oil combed through her thick braid, I can’t reach out, press the curving lines of my fingerprint to the indent at her neck, that place I used to press my lips against, used to drink in.
We can’t touch, but the punishment is much worse than that. I can see her. I can see her, and she’s within my grasp, like a lovely torture that can’t be sated.
And she is so beautiful, you could never understand it. I still can’t. Not now. Not ever.
In the beginning, I tried to smile at her as we passed on the cold stone steps. I would gaze at her all the time I could see her, and then, when I descended into the pit, the pit she ascended from, when her form was gone, I would cower in a corner, the stone warm beneath me, because this is where she whiled away the day, and I’d weep until there was nothing left.
Now, I don’t smile. What a joke. I can see my world, and I can’t touch it, can never touch it, and I dare not speak her name, because to do so…to do so…
I trace my fingers over what she’s carved into the stone surrounding me, the pit that consumes me like a rotting mouth every twilight. She’s written my name, over and over, Hemera, I love you, over and over, just like that, carved in symbols and lines with bits of rock from the pit floor, the words strong and sharp, still.
“You are pathetic,” he hisses from his corner of the pit when I press my palms against the lines again, when I press so hard that when I remove my hands, the lines are there, angry and red against my skin. I don’t glance his way, don’t want to see his withering, dripping form today, so I keep my attentions on the words carved in stone, the words she wrote to me. Only for me.
“Why do you continue this?” he whispers, dragging himself closer. His body is broken, decaying, but it will not die, that was his punishment.
I close my eyes and ball my fists.
I will not turn and look at Cronus.
“You will not ever have her, Hemera,” he says, voice sibilant, hissing, as he drags himself over the rocky floor. I can hear his flesh catching at the sharp pebbles, shudder, turn my face away from him further, against the corner.
“Don’t come near me,” I hiss back, feeling the warmth of the sun beneath my hands, flaring there, hot, ready.
“You think I fear a goddess?” he asks, and his wheezing laugh makes me sick. “A goddess of the day? You are weak. They bind you here each night. I do not fear you, little Hemera.”
And now I turn. As he knew I would.
He’s hideous. Tortured, bent, broken, one of the oldest gods. They called him a Titan. No more. The new gods came and he was vanquished as all old gods are, as I know I will be eventually.
This imprisonment won’t last forever.
I tell him this, gritting my teeth. “When Tartarus is opened, when we’re freed and the old gods fade away, I’ll go with Nyx to the ends of the earth, and we’ll be together again, old man. And you can’t stop us.”
“I would,” he says, drawing the words out over his rotting tongue, his eyes rolling back in his head as he gazes up at me, pulling himself over the ground with broken fingers toward me. “I’d bleed you dry, spit out your bones,” he whispers, crawling closer as I stand taller, straighter, “and I might, someday, little Hemera. Pathetic goddess of the day. And your beloved, too. Nyx, goddess of night. The pair of you devoured. I would like that very much.” He licks his lips and I shudder. “I devoured the gods,” he says, head to the side, eyes glittering in the darkness. “Zeus. Hades. Poseidon. They were mouthfuls to me. I don’t think I’d even taste you…”
Every night, it’s like this.
Also my punishment.
Every day, I’m free. I could flee to the ends of the earth. Zeus would never find, could never drag me back, force me to make the sun rise and set again, if I wanted to hide and stay hidden. But it would cost too much. That’s the price: if I leave my post, if I refuse to bring the day into being, the humans will die.
Cronus drags himself closer to me as I go to sit in the same spot that I know Nyx occupies each day.
“Give up,” he hisses smiling with his sharded teeth.
I shift the fabric beneath me, pull it closer about me, but my fingers scrape against the rock, and I don’t remember it being grooved right here…
In the dark of Tartarus, my fingers make out a single word.
Shaking, I scrabble my hands to the other side of the grooves.
Here. The last of it…
At dawn. The pit entrance.
I’m shaking, and Cronus thinks he’s gotten the better of me. He starts to laugh as I bunch up the fabric of my skirts around my hand so that he can’t see me trace the words over and over. Come to me at dawn. The pit entrance.
Would that break our vows? Dawn is the merging of night and day. Could it work? In this liminal space…what could we do?
Cronus is uncertain—I’m not paying attention to him, and he crawls around to my line of sight, but I turn away, heart racing.
“Give up,” he hisses, but his words are uncertain now.
I say nothing to him. He crawls away.
I still my breathing, quiet, quiet, stare up and up and up, imagining, somewhere, stars.
I can feel the edge of the dawn, eventually, tugging at my bones. I rise, earlier than usual, move soundlessly to the first of the steps ascending from the pit.
“What is little Hemera up to, I wonder?”
He latches his scaly hand onto my ankle, and I kick back viciously, hearing a slurp as my heel collides with something wet and messy—his rib cage. I shudder, ascending two more steps, just out of his reach.
“I’ll tell them,” he whispers up after me, holding up his hands to me, this broken, despicable god. “I’ll cry out to Zeus, and he’ll…”
“Zeus?” The word catches in my throat. How much I hate him. “Zeus would listen to you? He put you here. His father who created and devoured him. He has no use for you.”
“Someday,” says Cronus, gazing up at me with dripping, hate-filled eyes, “I will eat you up. I will make you watch as I devour Nyx. And then I will eat you in pieces. I will cut out your heart.”
“Not today,” I tell him, and my words are burning. I turn around and I race up the stairs, away from the despicable, broken thing that I know—one day—will rise again. We all know. We’ve always known. Even Zeus fears that pit he banished his father to, for things ebb and flow, and gods rise and fall, and someday, Cronus will rise again.
But no. Not today.
I fly up the steps into the soft sky, the barely brightening earth. She’s there at the edge of the steps, waiting for me, breathless.
I step close, so close I can feel her heartbeat, so close I can close my eyes and feel her warmth.
But I don’t close my eyes. I drink in her beauty, the smile on her perfect mouth, her flashing eyes as she reaches out.
Impossibly, she brushes her fingers over the skin of my wrist.
We both stay, still as statues. “You can’t,” I whisper, gazing over my shoulder at the land that I imagine, somehow, will disintegrate in a fiery inferno. “Zeus said…”
“That if we touch or make one misstep, the earth would suffer for it,” she breathes out, leaning forward. Her lips are so close to mine that my heart sings out in my chest. “But the earth isn’t suffering for this,” she whispers, eyes flashing. “Zeus lies. About everything. Why wouldn’t he lie about this?”
I close my eyes. I lean forward. I kiss her.
There is no roar, no engulfing inferno. There is only the sound of her breath, her blood, her arms about my neck as night and day merge, as dawn lengthens and stretches, as we meet together in the liminal time, one.
She backs up from me, smiling deeply, touches her fingers to my face, sighs out and walks toward the descending steps.
“Twilight, Hemera,” she whispers. The way she says my name, like she always did, a whisper, heartfelt, three syllables of warmth that contain prayer.
Someday, Tartarus will fall. Cronus will rise. But night and day will be reunited for all of time. We will go to the edges of the earth, the two of us together, and we will never look back and Cronus will never catch us.
And we’ll be free.
Until that day, we have the edges of it.
I step out into the rays of the rising sun, lifting my arms and unfurling the splendor of the morning.
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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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