The Natatorium

An emporium of oddities from around the world, complete with somewhat informative plaques that almost never match the item they are meant to be describing.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The First Installment!

Here is the first installment of my NaNoWriMo Novel (!), working title "The Death of Persephone." I need to average about 1,666 words a day to hit 50,000 by the 30th. This one is 1,023. Please read and enjoy, but remember--it's not going to be as good as it could be, as good as I want it to be, or anything else but what it is; the by-the-seat-of-my-skirt pace forces me to crank out some stuff that isn't always very good on my way to the good parts. Nonetheless, feedback is appreciated. I can take it all into account at the end of the month when I will (eventually) start revising.

Okay, without further ado, here's the feature presentation:

The Death of Persephone

By Natalie James

Death. The word rings in my ears, even now. I should have become numb to it long ago, but the sound of it still arouses my sympathy, my fear. I should be glad that I am still able to feel after so many years of creation, destruction, ecstasy and grief. There was a time when I lost my ability to feel; and it was then only that I was truly dead. The King of Death himself had to resurrect me. Who could have known that the god who had killed me hundreds of times would be the only one with the power to bring me back to life? I certainly didn’t know. I had remained enveloped in the illusion that I was saving him.

Our meeting was less than ideal, to put it mildly. You’ve heard, I’m sure, that he raped me. We were the only ones present the first time he saw me, and only he and I know what truly happened. But because of the uproar that followed, because of the war that erupted between my mother, the gods, and their human followers, those who told the stories assumed that a grievous crime had been committed. It is only natural that they took my mother’s side; their survival depended on her. She controlled the earth and its yield; failure to appease her wrath would have meant death to mankind, and then the vain gods and goddesses would have no one to look down on from their mountain. My mother was one of the few deities who walked among men and women on a daily basis. She nurtured them and the earth with her gift of fertility. Under her hands, the earth yielded a bountiful harvest. She truly cared for them, and I grew up living on the earth, walking where they walked, sleeping under the stars in the soft grasses of summer, which, in those days, were eternal.

We didn’t exactly live among them; we couldn’t have if we wanted to. We were not human. But we shared their air, their rain, and even, sometimes, their shadows. I did not have human friends, but occasionally I would exchange words with them, if they happened upon my companions and I in the forest. I smiled at them, their faces frozen with looks of wonder. Mostly, I loved them. I loved the humans as if they were children or pets. It didn’t bother me that I didn’t garner much worship for them; before I met Hades and the world began to oscillate in cycles, they had to reason know who I was, and I suppose I had no real purpose.

I grew flowers. My mother did the hard, meaningful work of blessing the land with fruits and grains, and I would promenade over meadows and through hamlets, weaving through glens and woods, leaving petals in my wake. Wherever I went, they grew behind me, like an endless train of sweet-smelling softness. There were some old women who told their grandchildren that Persephone was the beautiful, delicate little demi-goddess who grew the flowers for them, usually when a child had been thoughtful enough to bring her grandmother a bouquet of clover and tiny daisies. Mostly, flowers were not thought of much at all; they were not useful or nourishing, they were simply pretty. Most people assumed they were just an afterthought of the gods, to make the world more bearable. I even heard several times that wood nymphs were responsible for being stewardesses of the flowers. As if wood nymphs could create.

I mostly went about my days singing and dancing, eating, drinking, lounging and laughing. The flowers sprung up behind me, forming patches when I lingered in one place for a while, and I had no cares. Mother was often attending to the earth, or journeying to Mount Olympus to petition the gods for more or less rain or sunlight or wind. The day Hades came, Mother was on the Mountain. You’ve heard that he was on an errand, driving his fearsome chariot, and that he happened to see me as he was going on his way. You’ve heard that he simply spotted me and immediately coveted me, that he plucked me from the ground without stopping like a running man plucks a bloom from an overhanging tree branch. They told you I screamed in terror and swooned helplessly in his arms like a rag doll, completely powerless as he opened the earth and plunged his chariot down through shadow and fire, back to his home in the underworld. Generations of children have heard the story, and I know what they imagine. They feel themselves being snatched from warmth and light into cold darkness, as the earth closes over their heads and they lose all sense of space and time, only knowing that they are falling with nothing to hold on to, that they are in Death’s arms.

That is not quite how it went the first time, though that scene would come later, repeated a thousand times as he dragged me home. The first time, he did not stumble across me by accident and grab me on an impulse. He may have seen me by happenstance, but he had known for some time who I was. He had heard of Demeter’s daughter, the sprite-like girl who frolicked around trailing flowers, and he had been intrigued by me. I was the daughter of one who sustained the people, who kept them alive, and he was the one who killed them. He was the necessary antithesis to my mother and I; the humans would have overrun the planet and starved were he not there to keep the balance. He had the unfortunate fate of being the dark half of the cycle of life and death, and therefore the hated one. He has always been vilified as a cruel god who delights in causing pain, but in truth, he is the only one who ends it. Only the very old, the painfully afflicted, and the heartbroken understand how sweet Death can be. That was the Death I knew.


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