Flash Fiction by Emily Deibler
Even for an immortal and powerful goddess, living away from her mother for six months each year has been hard for Persephone. She is learning that every ghost, shaking as if with fever, is her subject to care for, every crag and hazy river her dominion.
She must be among them, not sequestered in the palace. So she goes out past the iron portcullis and mingles, though the dead aren’t much in the way of conversation. Her thoughts are not of horror, but of alienation; she has never had a home she’s chosen. Indeed, her thoughts are absorbed with her own plights, but in being captivated with herself, she is slowly realizing she has a self that is hers.
All she’s known is her father’s control; when one’s father is the king of all gods, everything is under his power. She sees the twisting dance of lightning in the Styx’s light, though no lightning strikes here. Even the shadows aren’t safe.
By the Styx, she thumbs an asphodel, the white petal yielding under her fingernail. It is there Hecate comes to her in a shimmering robe, full of stars.
They sit together, and Hecate is not one of many words. All the Underworld gods are rather serious. Then she offers to braid Persephone’s hair, and missing her mother and the nymphs so strongly her hands start to shake, Persephone accepts. Hecate is then behind her.
They talk. Hecate speaks of women wronged, a sore topic for Persephone. Of Medusa, of Pandora.
Hecate is saying of Pandora, twining soft, sable hair, “She gave us hope, too. She kept it for women like us.”
“On Zeus’ orders,” Persephone replies.
The air grows stiller, or at least as stiller as it can in the land of the dead. Zeus, Father. Persephone’s sisters were virgin goddesses, and she had been one too, had worn it like a wreath of rue, gold as sunlight. Until Father took a liking to her. And not even Mother could protect Persephone, only cry with her by the fireside, burn her nightgowns afterward, move her to another verdant field where they thought she’d be safe.
Young and sheltered by Mother, Persephone had only seen death in the wilt of a flower and upturned grasshoppers, but soon she felt death in herself. It is then she saw how the gods treated the nymphs who tended to her, some who never came back to the meadows, and she knew hate and resentment. She felt her own smallness and resented that, like the sun taking credit for the growth of a flower while neglecting the water, any fire in her would be attributed to her pain.
No one would protect her, and so she had to protect herself, don her own iron; she hadn’t realized, with all the armor and weapons she’d seen during the war against the Titans, how heavy iron was.
Perhaps that was why Hades kidnapped her. She was a beauty for him to look at and somebody whose anger pulsed in the dark. They were wronged and left with no recourse, and he wronged her, tricked her; soon, in her confused and reluctant love, she’d find ways to wrong him. Maybe in time, she’d find ways to wrong everyone who had hurt her.
But can I make things right for anyone? Is that absent in my cruel blood?
Breaking the drying quiet, imagining pale fingertips twirling in the Styx, Persephone says, “I wish I could be as free as you.”
She doesn’t see Hecate arch a brow. “What do you mean?”
“You’re not beholden to anyone. You’re not with any god.”
We all answer to someone, young one, Hecate wants to say. She likes this spring-goddess, though. At first, she was unsure someone from above, a child of Zeus, no less, could ever understand the dreary and dark corners of the Underworld. See the strange beauty.
But Hecate feels something radiating from this girl-woman, something that might very well help them all. To control the earth like Persephone can, like Demeter can, is not only an exercise in life, but death. And in death, life. “I suppose. There was that time with Hermes.”
“Oh, do tell me!” Persephone is a girl again, cupping her mouth to hide a smile, laughing with the nymphs in the garden, crowning herself with sunflowers.
“There isn’t much to say. He comes here to deliver souls.”
“Yes, I met him.” Really, as the queen, Persephone knows these things.
“We met, traded banter, and, as you would assume, traded other things. We had a boy, but you know, these things aren’t exactly much beyond fancies.”
Persephone looks down at her hands, her knuckles, the black water, thinking of rabbit eyes for a reason she cannot name. Her scalp prickles. It does have a name.
“I had a son.”
“Yes,” Hecate says. Of course she knows, but she can’t. She can’t truly know without seeing. Little Zagreus. Zagreus born with scales, born from rape. But Persephone had loved him, in that she knew it was her duty to protect him from Zeus’ influence. Little Zagreus, who tried to escape by changing into animals on that day Hera let the Titans in to kill him--
“I hadn’t known the Titans had such big teeth. You’d think I’d know, with their teeth.” Red with his blood, my little rabbit. “I knew how to make the earth shatter, I know, but I just cowered. I should’ve saved him. I should’ve . . .” Wetness drops on her palm.
Hecate is still behind Persephone when the witch-goddess sets a hand on her shoulder. “You were only a girl.”
I was always only a girl. I want to be more, but I want her back. It is how things are. Always between two worlds, belonging to neither. “I’m still a girl, and I don’t know what to do. Flowers and songs don’t appease the dead.” A risk to admit such things to a near-stranger.
“You’d be surprised.”
Silence passes like the water, like the stars dying and spreading their dust, like eons.
Persephone thinks of finding Zagreus’ heart amid the marble rubble. Holding it to her chest. It still beat, and in a rare act of kindness—for he could be compassionate when it suited him—Zeus sewed the heart into a mortal woman, gave Zagreus a second life.
If he can live again, amid the terror and gore, why can't I?
“Would you teach me magic?” Persephone asks.
“I would love to.” A funny way to say things. Hecate has never been known to love anything.
It is the first day Persephone takes a step home.
A native of North Georgia, Emily Deibler is a published poet and author. Her short story “Deer in December” was published in TL;DR Press’ Halloween 2018 Horror collection, NOPE. She has also published her poems “Turkey Hunting,” “Patty,” “Samantha,” and “Daughters of the Sun.” Her debut novel, Dove Keeper, came out in October 2018. She can be found on Twitter at @emilydeibler. She is a regular contributor to Marías at Sampaguitas.