When Thou Wakest, a Free YA Short Story — Part of Project Unicorn (A Lesbian YA Extravaganza)

When Thou Wakest,” by Jennifer Diemer
YA/Fantasy
Drawn to the new girl at school, Felice finds out that she and quiet, gold-eyed Greta share the same dreams–and, perhaps, a past thousands of years and millions of miles away.


(photo by Gilppari)

(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.].)

“When Thou Wakest”

by Jennifer Diemer

In the beginning, the stars fell.

They weren’t stars, truly, but light-bearing vessels of life, streaking across the sky and plummeting, comet-tailed, into the empty seas. When these celestial eggs cracked beneath the saltwater, souls like tadpoles gushed out of them, flailing with useless limbs in the churned-up, softly glowing waves.

The souls remembered nothing, saw nothing, knew nothing. And as they surged toward the surface, ravenous for air, they changed: limbs lengthening, skin stretching over new-formed bone and muscle, faces shifting to accommodate mouths and noses and shocked, wide-open eyes.

Atom by atom, stroke by stroke, the sky hatchlings became people, the people of Earth.

And when they stepped out of the water onto the moon-washed sand, they looked up at the sky and, as one, felt an ache they could not name, would never name. It was homesickness, primal and raw—but they didn’t remember their home in the stars, knew no home but the one palpable before them, and so they looked away and walked on, heavy with gravity, to explore this dark and vacant world and name its nameless wonders.

*

“Are you all right?” Mina asks me in homeroom, offering me a pink Starburst. “You look like you got run over by a truck.”

“Thanks.” I unwrap the candy with a frown. “It’s just that dream again.” The sugar stings the back of my mouth, making me wince. “You know, about the darkness. Falling and…forgetting.”

Mina shifts in her desk chair, glancing around. We’re early; everyone but Tim Bender, making paper footballs in the back of the classroom, and Greta Lyndon, seated quietly beside me, is still out in the hallway, gathering books and gossiping about their weekend exploits.

“Well, it’s just a dream.” Mina shrugs, digging around in her purse. “Don’t let it get to you.” She pulls out a square plastic compact and presents it to me on her open palm. “This stuff will cover up those bags under your eyes.”

I stare at the compact dubiously.

“Seriously, it’s, like, Magic Eraser for saggy faces. C’mon, Felice. What will Ms. Heywood think if you walk on stage looking like you’re strung out?”

I push her hand away. “Maybe I should just skip the audition.”

“You’re not skipping it. You promised me you’d do it so I don’t have to go alone.”

“I know.” I sigh. “But I don’t want any of that makeup. I’ll take my chances with my saggy face.”

Mina huffs. “She’ll put you on stage crew.”

“Fine with me.” I lean back and tilt my head away to gaze toward the window. But my eyes only make it halfway: Greta’s staring at me—Greta, who’s barely spoken three words aloud since she transferred to Bailey High two weeks ago. I’d assumed she was shy, but now, caught in her steady gaze, I rethink…everything.

When she smiles at me, I fall—too fast.

Mina taps me on the shoulder. “Going to the ladies’,” she whispers, and I nod, wave, even as Greta’s lips part, still curved up at the corners.

“What?” I ask her.

Her smile shifts, small and secretive. “Dreams are kind of like hauntings, aren’t they?”

I blink, shaking my head. “Hauntings? What do you—”

“Sorry. I overhead your conversation. About your recurring dream.”

“Oh. Right. It’s just…a stupid dream. I’ve been having it the past couple of weeks, and nothing really even happens, but I keep…” I bite my lip, and my eyes fall upon Greta’s hand on her desk, gripping a yellow pencil. She’s sketching something, and she leans over the notebook page, her dark hair falling forward as her brows draw together in concentration.

“What are you drawing? It looks like—”

She smiles and covers the page with her arm, brown as wet sand. “Only some ghosts.”

*

Every night, I have the same dream:

All I see is darkness. I feel suffocated by it, and frightened. I worry that I’ve made a mistake, but I’m trapped now; I can’t change my mind. I can’t go back home, because I’m falling—too fast, falling… And, worse, I’m forgetting, though I struggle to hold onto my memories, clawing them back from the lip of oblivion.

I remember a world cast in gold, glorious beneath the triple stars.

I remember a hand in mine, smooth and long-fingered, brown.

I remember stroking hair the color of night, as soft as broffel fur.

I remember a kiss…

I remember a promise. A promise of…what?

And then the darkness bursts, and I still can’t see, but I feel panicked and wet, and I thrash about, moving up and up, and my insides stretch and snap and crack, and I want to cry out in pain, in fear, but I have no mouth—

But then I do; I have a mouth, and I swallow something that makes me choke, gag, and when I burst through the wetness, when the world dries up and my eyes fly open, I know that I am born—born fully grown. And…I almost remember…

My feet, for I have feet now, hold me up of their own accord, and I see others around me, others with dripping bodies and awkward gaits, their eyes trained on the stars far—too far, and all wrong—above our heads.

And I almost remember…

I can’t remember.

I feel, though, as if I have lost something irretrievable, and I grieve for it, even as I marvel at the color of the moonlight on sand. Hot tears streak over my face; I catch them and hold them before my eyes, gazing at my reflection in the water, unrecognizable.

*

Ms. Heywood puts me on stage crew, and I breathe a sigh of relief, even though Mina’s upset that we won’t share rehearsals. Still, she can’t stop bouncing around because she got the part she wanted more than anything else in the world.

“Helena’s the star of the whole play, really,” she tells me over burgers—cow in her case, veggie in mine—at Rudy’s Diner, taking a long gulp of her vanilla milkshake. She wipes away a frothy mustache with the back of her hand. “I mean, it would all be so dull without her—nothing but flitting fairies and people making sappy doe eyes at each other. Blech.”

“Mm,” I pretend to agree, though Helena is my least favorite character in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For me, it’s all about those dull flitting fairies. But I’m happy that Mina’s happy; she’s been fretting over the audition for weeks.

“Well, cheers.” I hold up my own milkshake and tap its plastic rim against Mina’s. “I guess it’s too early to say break a leg, so…break a toe?”

She laughs and chomps into her burger, but then her eyes go wide. “Hey, that Greta girl is staring at you again,” she mutters around a mouthful of pickles.

“What?” I turn around in the booth and find Greta seated to our right, all alone. She offers me a little wave, but she looks nervous, idly moving French fries around on her plate.

“I’ll be right back,” I tell Mina, and she gapes, choking.

“Seriously? Someone’s, like, stalking you, and you want to go sit at her table?”

“Don’t be dramatic. This isn’t reality television, just reality. Anyway, I wanted to ask her something.”

“What? Why do you keep staring at me, maybe?”

“No. Just…something.”

“Well, hurry up.”

“I will.” I know Mina hates to sit by herself in public places, so I walk quickly to Greta’s table and fall into a chair without preamble. “Hey.”

“Hi.” She smiles and pushes her hair behind her ears. “Would you like a French fry?”

“Oh, sure,” I say, but don’t take any. I stare down at the glob of ketchup on her plate and work up the courage for my next question. “When you said—in homeroom—that dreams are like hauntings…” I lift my eyes to meet hers. “What did you mean?”

She swallows, looks away. “They kind of linger,” she whispers, breathing in and then breathing out. “Like ghosts linger in a haunted house. Dreams,” she says, meeting my gaze and holding it, “stay inside of you, live up here.” She taps her forehead, smiling softly. “Whether you’ve invited them in or not.”

“Yeah.” I take a French fry and chew it thoughtfully, remembering the falling and the darkness, my face—not my face—reflected in a teardrop… “Do you have a lot of bad dreams?”

“Bad? No, not bad, exactly.” She shifts uncomfortably, biting her bottom lip, forehead creased. “The truth is,” she says, leaning forward, “I think we’re—”

“C’mon, Felice,” Mina says behind my shoulder, startling me. Her eyes narrow in Greta’s direction. “You said you’d go over my scenes with me tonight.” She stuffs a Styrofoam container into my hands. “Got your burger boxed for you.”

“Oh. Thanks.”

Greta gives me a regretful smile. “See you, then.” She swallows, making spirals in the ketchup with a French fry, her gaze downcast.

“Yeah,” I sigh, standing to follow Mina to the door. “Maybe we could talk tomorrow at school?”

Greta’s eyes widen, and her smile does, too. “I’d like that. I have third period free.”

“I’ll skip chem. Meet me in the library?”

She nods as Mina comes back into the diner to grab my arm and drag me away.

*

We’re sitting together in the MYTHOLOGY section—one tall shelf of old, gold-lettered volumes. There’s no one nearby; students rarely touch the books in the school library anymore. They borrow e-books, instead, or use the computer pod to waste their free periods on Facebook.

Greta’s flipping through a thick, red clothbound book spread before her on the graffitied table. I lean toward it, examining the artwork, and then smile.

“The drama club’s putting on A Midsummer Night’s Dream this year,” I say, and gesture to the painting on the glossy page: luminous fairies dancing in a ring. “I’m on stage crew. I get to push Titania’s chair on and off stage.” I pretend to prop up a nonexistent collar, winking. “Major responsibility.”

Greta smiles softly. “I’ve always loved that play. The idea of falling asleep and then waking up to a whole new reality…” Her voice trails off, and she bites her lip, thoughtful. “Have you ever felt like you’re not—this sounds strange, I know—but…”

“What is it?” I prompt her.

She sighs, closes the book. Its cover reads Otherworlds: A Study of Unearthly Creatures. “Okay, I’m just going to say this, and if you think I’m crazy, that’s all right. I can handle it. I…think. And there’s really no other way to go about this, other than blurting it out all in one breath. So here goes.” She inhales deeply and stares straight into my eyes—something she’s never done before, I realize, as my lips part, astonished. Because her eyes are lovely, as dark blue as the evening sky, and the irises are surrounded by thin circles of gold that almost seem to shimmer beneath the library’s fluorescent lights.

Her eyes are rimmed in gold. Just like my eyes.

“Greta…” I begin, but she smiles her gentle, subtle smile again, and I realize something else: Greta’s eyes are beautiful, yes, and so is her mouth, her nose, her night-colored hair…

“I think we came from the same place,” she says quickly, all in a rush. “I mean, a long time ago. In the beginning—when people fell from the sky.”

When people fell from the sky.

My heart stops. …I’m falling—too fast, falling

“I guess it’s like reincarnation, that we still have the dreams, or…I don’t know. I think we all came from up there, everyone, but some people have buried that memory so deeply, and some people—like us—can’t seem to forget, not totally, and that’s why our dreams…our eyes…” She shakes her head, frustrated, and cradles her head in her hands. “This is coming out all wrong.”

“No, no. Keep…keep talking. I’m just—I have to think about this for a second. You’ve mentioned dreaming… You have the dreams, too? The—the darkness and the water and—”

“And waking in a foreign world.” Her eyes shine brighter now, excited. “Yes, nearly every night, I dream of this. And you do, too?”

“Yes.” I swallow, tracing the title of the red book with one finger. Otherworlds, I think. Other…world… “Are you saying that we’re, like, aliens or something?”

Again, that hint of a smile. My eyes follow the line of her lips, and a blush creeps over my cheeks. “I don’t know everything, Felice. I only know that I remember a beginning. A different one than the scientists or the churchgoers claim.” Her gaze points toward the ceiling and the flickering yellow lights there. “I think it all—we all—began far away from here, in another place. I remember choosing to come.” She turns to me with passion blazing in her eyes, setting the gold circles around the blue aglow. “It was a choice, to be an explorer here.” Her hand covers mine on the table. “A choice we made together, Felice.”

“We…what?” I swallow again; my mouth is dry as sandpaper, and when I blink, I see flashes of my dream behind my closed lids: the long, dark descent; the submersion; the stretching, transforming; emergence into the light of an unfamiliar star…and, before that, before all of that, my hand caressing a soft head of hair the color of night.

“I think I remember you.” My voice is a whisper: the sound of a page turning, the placid shifting of a wave. “I remember promising—”

“To reunite, no matter how many lifetimes it took us to find each other.” Tears shine in Greta’s eyes now, and one falls, sliding over her smooth brown cheek. “Do you really remember, Felice?”

I close my eyes.

*

We’re scarcely older than children—it seems like only yesterday we were chasing broffels across the desert plains—but we’re old enough, they say, to make the decision, to choose our own fates. Our futures.

Hana clutches my hand, whispers a prayer beneath her breath not for us but for the world we’re leaving behind.

It’s dying, our world, gasping for air and warmth and water and light, and the only hope for our people, for our souls, is to leave and root in another place, someplace unspoiled as yet by pride and greed. Someplace wet and empty, bright and green…

We’ll call it Earth. That knowledge has been implanted in our memories, and little else. Still, Hana and I have promised each other to strive to remember each other and our home.

We kiss, and it doesn’t feel like a last kiss, but it could be. It’s supposed to be. They say the forced forgetting is for our well-being, to stabilize our soon-to-be fragile mental states, in order to ease integration into an unfamiliar planet.

But to forget Hana… No elder could ever convince me that there’s something good to be gained in that. There’s only pain at the thought. A wrenching.

I won’t forget.

Before we enter the great cavity in the wall that will change us and then propel us, unbodied, into the universe, Hana draws me close for another last kiss, and then another…and I cherish the softness of her night-colored hair between my fingers. Our bodies, these bodies, that come together like two halves of one whole, will never be again, but our souls, thousands upon thousands of miles away from home, will—no, must—encounter one another again.

“A gift,” Hana says then, and she slides a simple gold band onto my finger, and shows me that she wears an identical band. “By gold, you’ll find me,” she whispers. “And I’ll find you.”

“Yes,” I breathe, gathering her into my arms.

We step into the cavity—black, too black to see, to ever understand—and Hana’s hand slips loose from mine.

*

“I don’t get it,” Mina whines, hanging upside-down over the rocking chair in her bedroom, giving me her patented Are you seriously serious? expression. “I mean, obviously I knew you were a lesbian and everything. You told me that when we were, like, in fourth grade. But Greta? Felice, does she even talk? I don’t think I’ve ever heard her voice. And what on earth do you two talk about?”

I smile to myself, flipping through the script for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “Stars,” I whisper, but Mina doesn’t hear me, didn’t really want a reply.

She sits up, long legs dangling over the arm of the chair, and stretches out her arm to reach the bottle of nail polish on her dressing table. “Do you think Helena would wear pink nail polish, or red?”

“Red, definitely.” My eyes skim a few lines from the play: What thou seest when thou dost wake, do it for thy true love take. My heart flutters a little, thinking of seeing Greta in the audience tonight. She swore she’d come early to try to snag a front row seat. It’s sweet that she’s so supportive of my chair-moving debut, but what I’m really looking forward to are our plans for after the play—skywatching in Greta’s backyard. Her parents are out of town, and her little brother’s going to a slumber party at a friend’s house, so it’ll be just the stars and us.

And our talk of dreams.

Every night, in our dreams, we seem to remember more and more. But sometimes, lately, I don’t dream of the darkness or the fall at all. I dream only of Greta—Greta, not Hana—with her enviable math skills and her frustrating ten o’clock curfew and her small, slow smile that makes my heart skip beats like a stone skipping water.

“Run through my lines with me one more time?” Mina asks, daubing red polish onto her big toe.

“Sure. Where should we start?”

“With the part where they wake up in the forest after Puck messed everything up. You go first. Lysander’s lines.”

I clear my throat, read aloud. “And run through fire I will for thy sweet sake…

*

In the beginning, the stars fell.

They weren’t stars, truly, but light-bearing vessels of life, streaking across the sky and plummeting, comet-tailed, into the empty seas. When these celestial eggs cracked beneath the saltwater, souls like tadpoles gushed out of them, flailing with useless limbs in the churned-up, softly glowing waves.

The souls remembered nothing, saw nothing, knew nothing.

Save for two souls, two amongst the millions, who fought fiercely to hold onto the stolen past, because in the past, they knew, they would find their futures—and, ultimately, each other.

For millennia, they orbited one another, never near enough to touch.

When at last they woke to a sympathetic geography, they knew each other by the gold in their eyes, like remnants of stars.

If you liked “When Thou Wakest,” you’ll love the stories from past months’ collections for your eReader:

Available On:

Amazon (for Kindle)
Barnes and Noble (for Nook)
Smashwords (for all other eReaders + online reading)

You can now enjoy entire collections worth of stories in Project Unicorn, Volume One on your eReader or in person in paperback form (I’m a real book!), and support the project at the same time!

Available On:

Amazon (for Kindle)
Barnes and Noble (for Nook)
Smashwords (for all other eReaders + online reading)
Createspace (paperback)

eReader edition on Etsy (all proceeds to authors)
Signed paperback on Etsy, PLUS free eReader edition!
(all proceeds to authors)

Jennifer Diemer is the author of genre lesbian stories for adults and young adults. She co-writes the Sappho’s Fables series with her wife, author Sarah Diemer/Elora Bishop.

Connect with Jenn on Twitter and Facebook.

What is Project Unicorn?

How can I support the project?

If you love what we’re doing with Project Unicorn, the two greatest things you can do to support it is to talk about it on your social network, blog or web site, and purchase each eZine as it comes out.

Project Unicorn is a very large undertaking, but we’re deeply dedicated to giving queer-girls stories they can identify with. Thank you so much for being supportive, and please consider purchasing an eZine to help us continue with this project! ❤ (You can also show your support by buying our other books, or simply donating to buy the authors a cup of tea. <3)

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About Sarah Diemer

I write about heroic, magical girls who love girls. I drink a lot of coffee. Follow me at http://twitter.com/sediemer or find out more about my work at http://sarahdiemerauthor.wordpress.com
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2 Responses to When Thou Wakest, a Free YA Short Story — Part of Project Unicorn (A Lesbian YA Extravaganza)

  1. Arielle says:

    GAH! This story! <333 It's so beautiful! It might just be my new favorite!! I wish we could stay longer with them. Learn more about their past. Watch their future blossom. <3333

    Like

  2. elaby says:

    That was SPELLBINDING. The creation myth you’ve given us is not only gorgeous but would explain so much about the way I feel (and I think a lot of people feel) at times. Felice made me fall in love with Greta through the way she talked about her. This is utterly beautiful, and what an addition to the stories of the origin of human life. Wow.

    Like

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