The dark-haired beauty examined the painting of a young woman embraced by a swan; amusement and repugnance battling across her face. The museum curator noticed her interest and approached.
“Wonderful; isn’t it?” he said.
“Leda and Zeus; right?”
“Yes, the god loved her in the form of a swan,” answered the curator. “A lovely myth.”
The woman arched an eyebrow. “Seriously?”
“Of course,” said the curator. ‘A beautiful white bird seduced the Queen of Sparta.”
“But… she thought that was sexy?”
“Well, Hera, the wife of-”
“Oh, figures. Cheating bastard shapeshifts so he can bonk another woman.”
“But that union created legends! Helen of Troy, Clytemnestra, their twin brothers -”
“Yeah, but the method! ‘Hey baby, wanna lay my eggs?’ – Worst pickup line EVER.”
“Good point, but-”
“How could a bird force Leda to do anything? He must have offered her one hell of a bribe.”
“Yeats wrote that-”
“Though I suppose Zeus was out of touch with mortals already. Olympus is a long way from Sparta – by altitude anyway.”
Hera left the curator red-faced and spluttering. The goddess of marriage looked forward to watching Zeus squirm when she mentioned her trip to the art gallery, though his infidelity was so ridiculous she could barely keep a straight face. Turning into a swan? As if her husband wasn’t already a bird brain.
Bordering the wastelands, the survivors huddled in wrecked buildings, trying to save the detritus of their once towering civilization. The solitary stragglers of the West found each other by taking mutual refuge in the hollowed and burnt shells of skyscrapers, department stores, and libraries. Fortifying what was left, they scrounged what remained of their past to take solace in tales read ’round the warmth of oil drum fires.
Over time, even these sanctuaries fell to the hordes that surrounded them. Soon, only one solitary stronghold remained to shelter the last of the survivors. Those inside struggled to save their own flagging humanity.
Her eyes fluttered open to rest upon the lone figure. She stretched, long limbs partially entwined in silken sheets. Sweat from the previous night’s exertions still glistened on her skin.
“Come back to bed, love,” she said, but the shadow remained fixed before the dawn-soaked window.
She extended her legs once more, rising from the bed with fluid grace to stand by his side. Leaning against him, their sweat mingled as their bodies joined once again. Her arms curled around his shoulders.
“It was a mistake,” he whispered.
His chest rose and fell heavily as she stroked his flesh and nuzzled his neck. “How can you say that?” she asked, planting kisses between each word. “It can’t be wrong for us to be together like this.” Her tongue licked salt from his neck, found his jaw, his chin.
“It’s wrong,” he said.
“It’s not wrong for wolves to prey on rabbits; is it?” She took her lover’s face in her hands. “Now that we’re the same, we’ll hunt together. We were meant to share… everything. ” Her hands grabbed his hair, pulling his face down to hers. She sucked his lips, nipping the flesh. His passion rose, breaking free to match her own.
His fingers traced the four long strips torn into her side. Already the wounds were beginning to heal. Despite himself, he longed for the next full moon – with her by his side.
The flickering porch light had annoyed her for months, but when the hunky electrician started fiddling with her wires she didn’t mind one bit. “It was a loose connection,” he said and screwed the cover back into place. “But I think I’ve got it fixed.”
“I don’t know,” she answered in her silkiest voice, eying the collar of his shirt and his conspicuously absent wedding ring. “I think I saw some sparks.”
He looked at the light, glowing brightly in its glass sheath. “No, there aren’t.”
The willow grew near the brook, and the girl had often climbed its branches in her youth to gaze into the cool clear water. Despite her father’s prohibitions, she found her only solace in its branches. The constraints of rank and privilege had always weighed heavy on her young shoulders: she often spoke to the tree and confided her deepest thoughts to its silent branches.
When she grew older and her father died, she fled once more to the willow’s embrace. She felt her father’s presence there – scolding her even as she searched the waters for a peace she no longer possessed. The branch she perched upon broke, giving beneath her and falling into the crystal blue water.
She knew she should swim. Instead, she opened her arms wide – her tresses a golden halo, her dress spread like angel wings. The water caressed and carried her, and while it bore her up she sang snatches of old tunes. When the weight of her clothing pulled her down, the songs of her childhood ceased – along with dreams and guilt.
The tree, ever her friend, had provided her escape.
Bud stumbled outside and watched the stars churning in the heavens. His breath floated skyward in big white puffs in the evening chill.
“Duuuuuude,” said Dan.
“Hey, watch this,” said Bud, inhaling sharply. He let out a long slow breath. Both men watched the resulting stream dissipate into the heavens.
Dan swigged his beer. “I can do better than that.” He bent forward, angled his butt skyward, and let rip. The resulting noise and odor doubled both men over with laughter.
Bob sat in the snow and waved a hand in front of his face. “Hey, you could have warned me!”
“Could you see it though? I always wondered,” said Dan.
“Naaaah.” Bud produced a lighter from his pocket. “But do it again!”
Dan snorted but angled his body appropriately. The resulting blue flame licked his clothes and singed the hair on Bud’s hand. Both screamed, the lighter fell, and Dan dropped into the snow – extinguishing the fire with a hiss.
Both men stared, horror stricken, at the large burn mark over Dan’s crotch.
“What are you going to tell Gina?” asked Bud.
“Ever heard of spontaneous human combustion?”
“That’s not real; is it?”
Dan grinned. “Yeah, but she’s drunk too. I think she’ll buy it.”
She wandered through the tiny space; the deafening noise of the crowd drowned out everything except her pulse beating against her skull. Aunt Phyllis shouted something about her medical history. Cousin Bryan assaulted her with his newest dissertation topic. Her parents bombarded her with the latest gossip.
A miraculously unoccupied corner beckoned, and she sat. Her earbuds drowned out the din. Mp3 ocean waves washed over her. She forgot her pounding head, lulled by the roar of a beach she’d never visit.
She slept. A smile crept across her face. In her dreams, the apartment emptied, planes departed, and she sat alone in blessed silence.