“Mightier,” by Sarah Diemer
Cleo is one of the Mightier, a mysterious group of people who can change the world with the stroke of a pen. But, one night, her new powers are tested when an angel-like creature needs her help to prevent a massive disaster from happening.
(photo by Kathryn Denman)
(Part of Project Unicorn: A Lesbian YA Extravaganza, full of free, original, never-before-published YA short stories featuring a lesbian heroine. Also, every story is a work of genre fiction [Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Post-apocalyptic, etc.].)
by Sarah Diemer
The moon is a ghost, a satellite, turning and rising. Not real. Gram told me that when I was little, told me the story of how the moon fell, how it disintegrated when it touched earth like so much spun sugar. Gone. And somehow, the next night, the moon was back in the sky. People panicked. People were bound to panic, she said, nodding to herself and stirring the cookie dough once more around the bowl, just for good measure.
And then the stories came out. Mass hallucination. The moon hadn’t really fallen. The videos for it were deleted. No one knows how. Everywhere, the videos, gone. People wrote the story that it all was a story, and it was believed.
“The pen’s mightier than the sword,” Gram had said then, looking at me closely. I’ll never forget the expression on her face, as if she expected something from me in that moment.
“Sure, Gram,” I’d told her, thinking about how the moon would taste.
Maybe like sugar.
I’m thirteen when I find the sword under my grandmother’s bed.
I was vacuuming—most loathsome of chores—and listening to music, not really paying attention to much of anything, except for my awesome dance moves, when the vacuum thunked against something hard twice. I knelt down, peering under, and my heart stopped. I thought I was seeing things, but no. There was the sword, resting on the carpeting as gray as mothballs. I dragged the heavy metal thing out from under the bed, the shiny surface of the blade flashing in my palms like a fish. It was lighter than I thought it would be. It’d looked so heavy.
The blade was covered in words.
I stared at them, my heart in my throat. They’re tiny, so small, my nose is almost pressed against the blade before I can make out that one line here says, The moon didn’t really fall. Mass hallucination. And then another, here, There were no aliens at Roswell. Conspiracy. And here, There will be a war in…
“What are you doing?” My grandmother is in the doorway, and I drop the sword. It almost slices off my toes, but it doesn’t, because Gram is there, catching it, somehow, and sliding it back under the bed in one smooth move that no sixty-something woman should be able to do. Her eyes are wide, flashing, angry. I’ve never seen her like this. “It’s not time for you yet,” she tells me, her voice shaking with rage. “You must never touch this again until I say so. Do you understand?”
I don’t understand, not at all, but I never argue with Gram. And when I go back to find the sword again, because it draws me like a light, a beacon, a star, the sword is not under the bed.
And I don’t find it again.
Not until she gives it to me.
Gram’s dying. She’d had cancer for years, but the treatments aren’t working. I’m seventeen. Terrified. My grandmother’s going to die. What will I do without her?
Angela stays over a few times a week now. Gram says nothing. She knows I need comfort as much as she does. But one night, when I tell her that my best friend is coming over, Gram stays my hand, shakes her head, lips quivering. “Not tonight,” she says, voice grave. “I have something to show you.”
I’m in my bedroom, writing poetry, words skipping across the page like they mean something. I feel the press of the words against the page under my fingers. They feel real, the little raises and bumps and curves, and with my pen against the paper, they almost seem to come alive.
When Gram comes into my room, she glances at the notebook wordlessly, takes it from me. I know she’s not going to read my poetry, but it surprises me when she presses her fingers against a random page, too, tracing some of the words with the skin of her fingertips.
“You can feel them, can’t you?” she asks, and I don’t know what she means, so I look at her guardedly, careful. The doctors said that the cancer could make Gram a little crazy, and it makes me sick when I think of it, because Gram’s the most together person I’ve ever known.
Is it finally happening to her? Is she starting to lose it?
She stares at me clearly, unwavering. She doesn’t look like she’s starting to fade. I don’t understand.
“Feel what, Gram?” I ask her then, making my words light.
“The words. You can feel them. They have weight.” Her voice is heavy, and I still don’t understand, so she gets up, leaves my room, and comes back a moment later.
She’s holding the sword.
It’s not like I remember it. I remember it being bigger, but I was smaller then.
It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters, because I’ve searched through our house for years, searching desperately for this, because it called to me. It’s always called to me.
Gram sets it gently into my lap, as if she’s a queen, bequeathing a blade to a knight, and I stare down at the shining length of the blade, the sharpness of it, the words scrawled over it, again and again. Some of them in my grandmother’s neat handwriting, some in writing I’ve never seen. So many words, so many tiny sentences.
I look up to my grandmother standing over me, who places her hands on her hips and nods to me.
“This is your inheritance, my dear,” she tells me, and she sits beside me, crumpling down like she’s suddenly very tired. “It’s time that you understand what we are.”
So she tells me.
“The world is an illusion,” my grandmother whispers, “So much is built on story that I could never tell you all of the things that are true and all that aren’t. Everything is a story, and that’s what we do. We tell the…right story.”
“I don’t understand,” I say, so Gram points to the line on the sword in her own handwriting. The moon didn’t really fall. Mass hallucination.
“The moon up in the sky is a ghost,” Gram tells me, “because I wrote this. I kept the tides from coming, the quakes that would have destroyed the earth, saved millions of people’s lives because I wrote this upon the sword.”
I stare down at the blade, spellbound.
“We call ourselves the Mightier,” says Gram dryly, “but we aren’t. Not really. We take our orders from others as to what to write. But this is how the balance has been maintained. It’s what we do. It’s what I have done. It’s what you must do. You must guard this sword with your life,” says Gram, “and you must know that what you write upon the blade will come true.”
I don’t even think; I don’t even question. I take my sharpie from my bedside table, and I write, quickly, in a small section of the blade: Gram is not dying of cancer. She’s healthy.
“You can’t…” she’s saying, but then she doesn’t look like she has for months and months. She’s like she was before. Healthy. Happy. Whole. But glowering at me. “You can’t use it for things like that,” she says, exasperated, and I snort at her, shake my head, hold the blade to my chest. “You can only use it when one of the messengers comes to you,” Gram’s telling me. And there’s a knock at the door, right at that moment. A special knock. Four long raps, two short, four long.
Gram pales. “Stay right here. With the sword,” she admonishes me, and she rises easily—not like she’s done in months—to go answer the door.
I stare at the Sharpie in my hand, at the blade across my lap, realize, as the adrenaline pools out of me, that what I wrote just actually happened.
“Cleo, can you come out, please?” calls Gram’s voice.
With the sword? I stare at it, the cold metal sprawled over my lap, back to the door, and make the instant decision. I rise off the bed, the sword coming with me, gripped in two hands, blade pointed down.
Out in the hall, I can hear two soft, murmuring voices: one’s my Gram’s, but the other one? A woman. Maybe a girl. I round the corner, and my suspicions are confirmed. There’s a girl standing in the living room. It’s odd, because I think that she looks familiar, but I can’t be sure. It’s just a feeling I get, in my gut. I’ve seen her before.
She has short black hair that’s spiked in all directions, and deep green eyes that look almost like contacts, they’re so bright. She gazes at me fiercely, almost angrily.
“This isn’t just about you, you know,” she tells me then, arms crossed in front of her. It’s not what I was expecting, and my jaw drops a little, but Gram’s waving her hands, sighing.
“Estella,” says Gram warningly.
“It’s not. She can’t be selfish about this—way too much is at stake.”
“Estella, this is my granddaughter Cleo,” sighs Gram, eyes heavenward. “Cleo, this is Estella. She’s one of the messengers I was just telling you about.”
“This isn’t a fairy wishing magic stupid thing,” says Estella, rattling off the words and stepping forward, stabbing a finger at me. She’s wearing jeans and a t-shirt with an unsmiley face on it. It seems to fit her. I bite my lip and frown.
“Who the hell are you? What are you talking about?”
“The sword! You can’t just write shit on it that you want,” she says, running her hands through her hair and groaning. “There’s only so much room on that blade, and when it’s filled, it’s filled, and the world ends, you idiot.” She practically snarls, and I take a step back and then hate myself for backing down even one inch.
“You mean what I just wrote for my grandmother?” I ignore obvious questions like how could you have possibly known what I just wrote. “She’s my grandmother, and she was dying, and now she isn’t. It’s not that hard to follow.”
“That blade has existed since time began,” says Estella, advancing on me. This time I hold my ground, and I think this surprises her. She stops, folds her arms in front of her again. “You can’t just wish for random things. I’m sorry Miss Connie was dying, but that’s the way of things, right? For mortals? They die?” The words seem a little anguished, out of place, and she rubs her hand over her face before she sighs for approximately five minutes. “You can’t write random things on the blade,” she says then, sort of deflating. “That blade is important. For everyone.”
“My dear, why have you come?” asks Gram then, her voice gentle.
Estella looks up, the fight back in her eyes. “There’s been an explosion. Five hundred people dead. It needs to not have happened.”
“Right,” says Gram, looking to me expectantly. “My dear, you’re going to do the writing this time around. It’s going to be much different from what just happened with me,” she says, as Estella steps forward, mouth twisted into a wicked little grin. “You have to be at the scene in order to change it. Estella will help you get there. She’ll help you know what to do.”
“How will I get there?” I ask her, suddenly a little panicked. I stare down at my pajamas, at the sword, but then time seems to slow down.
When Estella grabs my hand, her skin is warm. And then the world around us sort of…shifts. And changes.
I blink: suddenly we’re not standing in my grandmother’s living room.
We’re floating in the air.
I panic, thrash around a little, but Estella tightens her grip on my hand so hard it hurts, and I give a little squeak, holding tighter to the hilt of the sword, gazing down.
We’re floating above the ocean.
“There,” says Estella, pointing past me to a sinking ship. It’s…massive. A cruise ship? There are dead bodies floating in the water, I realize, staring down at them, my heart pounding so quickly, blood rushing through me, I can’t breathe for a moment.
“You have to write exactly what I’m going to tell you on the blade,” says Estella, and when I glance at her, it’s strange, because it seemed, for a moment, that behind her back, shimmering, was the outline of wings.
“Right,” I mutter, uncapping the Sharpie. My hands are shaking so hard, I let the cap from the Sharpie drop into the waves beneath us.
Estella glances up, grimacing. “Shit,” she mutters, looking to the right and the left. “We have company.”
“What does that…” I begin, but then I’m yanked to the side, and we’re skimming low over the waves so fast, I can’t make out individual waves at all, and the blue of the water’s blurring in my eyes.
Behind us comes a screech, and I make the mistake of glancing over my shoulder. It’s fleshy, what’s coming after us. The day had been so bright, the sunshine spilling over the water, still spilling over the water, but where the creature comes, pumping wings filled with holes, seems to be darker, less bright. Muted.
“Don’t look back,” Estella mutters, and we’re dodging through the wreckage of the ship. “We’ve got to hide, or the… Well. We’ve got to hide,” she says, through gritted teeth.
The hull of the ship is smoldering, and I can smell the stench of burning flesh. I begin to gag, and Estella rolls her eyes before I blink, and then we’re in a room. The room is completely sideways; we’re standing on the wall, among the tumbled contents of the room: tables, chairs, books. The smell of burning is still all around us, and water is beginning to leak in through the open door beneath my feet, but I still manage to hold the blade in shaking hands.
“Are you ready? Write, ‘There was no explosion on…’” begins Estella, but she stops as she glances past me, growling.
I turn to look.
I really wish I hadn’t.
Crawling across the floor—or rather, wall—toward us is something that looks like it’s five human skins all stitched together and fitted over a construct shaped a little like an ape. I can see flattened, individual human faces all over the creature that stares at us out of slits in the skin. A mouth made by a gash in the skin opens…smiling, I think. I whimper a little, fall over as I try to back away.
“No,” says Estella briskly, and then there’s a shimmering length in her hands. Another sword? It’s invisible, except for the edges that dazzle.
“Not this time, Estella,” says the creature, in a voice that sounds like five voices spoken all at once. “This time, the tragedy stands. It will remain.”
“It’s not written that it happened,” says Estella with a growl, crouching and holding the somewhat-invisible sword aloft. “And you know that, you fucking asshole,” she adds, and strikes.
The thing moves faster than I thought possible, dodging as it run about on all fours, limp arms and legs flapping behind it from the stitched-together skins. It turns, slit eyes wild, and it lunges for me.
But Estella is in front of me then. And she slices…
The thing falls in two. I can see wood for bones and rusted bolts for joints before it disintegrates, disappearing completely.
“Write, ‘There was no explosion on the Century,’” pants Estella, dropping to one of her knees. “Please hurry.”
I write it, my fingers shaking.
Suddenly, Estella and I are standing in a ship’s cabin. Everything’s right-side up. I can hear laughter outside. All I can smell is pina colada.
Estella drops down in the plush chair beneath the porthole, still panting. “Good job,” she tells me, letting her head rest back. “Fucking asshole,” she repeats, under her breath.
“What…just happened?” I manage then, and the sword drops from my hands, clattering dully on the carpet at my feet.
“Be careful—you could lose a toe,” says Estella companionably, reaching forward on the low coffee table and grabbing an apple out of a cobalt-blue bowl. She lifts the red fruit to her red lips and bites into it. “You kind of need all your toes, I’ve heard,” she says around a mouthful of apple.
“Again,” I tell her, crouching and gritting my teeth, “what just happened?”
She rolls her eyes and rattles things off as she ticks her fingers. “I saved your life from one of the Skinners. The people that are…opposite to me and my kind. The Skinners love destruction. They want the world to end. We’ll combat them as we do each task, but with me at your side, you’ll be safe. And I did just save you,” she says, one brow arched as she grins wickedly. She glances down at my lips as she says, “Don’t I get any sort of thanks for that?”
Adrenaline is still pounding through me as I stare at her lips, too. Her beautiful, blood-red lips.
Is she an angel? Didn’t I see wings?
My entire worldview just shattered right in front of me and is slowly being put together in ragged, torn pieces. So I don’t think anyone is more surprised than myself when I lean forward very slowly, keeping my gaze locked on hers.
Her lips turn up at the corners as we connect. And I kiss her. She tastes sweet. And like the bite of apple she’d just swallowed. When I sink back onto my heels, she reaches forward, threading her fingers through my ponytail, tugging gently at my hair.
And then she leans forward, too, kissing me.
The second kiss is even sweeter. And then she settles back into her chair with a very satisfied grin, and she’s laughing.
“I look forward to working with you,” she murmurs, head to the side, gazing at me with bright, intense eyes, her smile making my heart skip a pretty long beat.
I pick up the sword, stare down at the writing on the blade, hundreds of different writing styles, hundreds of different people who have changed the world.
And there, among them, my words, too.
“Come on,” says Estella, grabbing my hand and standing in one smooth motion. “Don’t cruise ships have swimming pools?”
I follow the maybe-angel out onto the deck of the cruise ship we just saved, out into the sunshine of an impossible day.
If you liked “Mightier,” 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!
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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