Three Views of the Maiden in Peril
I stretched back against the rock and sighed, rattled my chains and wondered how much longer I'd have to wait before he showed up. The hero, coming to save me from my fate, always appeared like clockwork. Whatever that was. I suspect it doesn't exist yet, so I must be remembering something from one of my other lives. They started to run together after awhile.
I looked around, taking a guess at where and when I was. If nothing else, it would tell me which hero to expect or which monster I'd be eaten by if he didn't show. This happens more times than you'd ever guess from the stories. Sometimes things happen along the way. Sometimes it's a different battle. Or a different maiden—one who's not potential monster food. Or even the love of a good shieldmate. You know how it goes.
I looked down at the flimsy thing I was wearing and rolled my eyes. After all, there was no one around to see that particular anachronism. If indeed it was one. My dress looked like some sort of mutant toga, so given that I was chained to a rock on the seashore, I decided that I was stuck in ancient Greece. Again. Maybe I was what's her name, but I could've sworn I'd been her a few weeks back and she'd gotten rescued.
But maybe I was one of her predecessors now—one of the ones who didn't get lucky. If you can call winning a Bronze Age hero lucky. I weighed that while I wondered where the monster was and if it would get here before my guy. If it did, I hoped it would kill me before swallowing. Lingering was the worst.
The water began to boil in a pool nearby, and I began to lose myself in the maiden of the moment as a series of whimpers tore themselves up my throat. I thought about teeth and flame and claws. I thought about pain as I stared at the water and waited for my fate. Then I got as far away as my chains would allow and thought about picking the locks. Hypothetically, of course. If I had any tools or any idea of how to pick a lock in this particular time and place.
Strange thoughts filled my brain now as the maiden who would live and die here began to take over. I remembered a childhood in a palace that part of me knew nothing about. I remembered parents, though part of me said they were strangers. Most importantly, I remembered why I was here and the part I was to play. The creature reared its head out of the sea, and I screamed and screamed, high-pitched prayers for rescue and mortal terror mixed together and straining toward the heavens.
The thing reared its scaly head up and up over my rock, jaws lolling open in a roar. I nearly closed my eyes, but I couldn't bear not to watch. Then, just as it dipped its muzzle down, giant maw parting to bite down on the maidenly morsel left for it by a terrified populace, my hero appeared. I don't know whether he hid himself in the rocks until the monster showed up or if his boat had just reached the shore, but now he stood between the creature and me, sword in hand.
I loved him at that moment—adored him with all my heart and soul before I even knew his name. He was my rescuer, my destiny, all that I would be in this lifetime. And I was what made him a hero. What was there not to love? My screams quieted a little as I watched him, wide-eyed.
He drew the monster away, capturing its attention with the gleaming motion of his sword. The huge head followed it, then shot downward, row upon row of razorlike teeth open to obliterate my hero. I screamed my frustration, my terror, as I watched, helpless to do more.
He jumped aside, sword swinging down to slice the monster's muzzle. The thing gave a bellow of pain and swiped at him with a claw, catching his shoulder and ripping it bloody. Part of me noted this objectively; these victories could never come too easily. The rest of me screamed myself hoarse. It was, after all, what I was supposed to do.
He switched his sword to his other hand, tossing aside his shield, and braced himself. This time, he managed to cut the creature's claw nearly clear through. While it writhed in agony, he ran up its limb, then used his sword to scramble up toward its great, flailing head.
I watched as the thing's tail crashed on the rocks near me, covering me in a shower of pebbles and shards. I ducked away, but kept my eyes on the hero. Nothing else mattered now. The moment had come, and he made his way to the creature's head. He raised the sword and drove it down into the monster's brain.
As it bellowed a scream of its own and began to collapse forward onto the rocks, it caught my eye with a look of pure resignation and boredom. I nearly smiled in agreement. After all, who really loves their job? But then the light in its eyes died out as it moved on, and the me that needed to stay here took over completely as I left to go on to my next assignment. As usual, it was right before the hero kissed me, wrapping his great, sweaty, Bronze Age arms around my quivering body. I always miss the good parts . . .
As I walked down the street away from my-boyfriend-the-D.A.'s office, I wondered when it would happen. I knew it was coming soon; the space between my shoulders prickled like I had a target painted there. Cars zipped by as I tried to look brisk and fierce—no one's victim. Not that it would matter, I had a pretty good idea how this particular story was going to turn out. But at least I'd get to be spunky and feisty for a bit. Getting some of the good lines almost made it worthwhile.
When the strange man in the dark glasses and trenchcoat approached me to ask the time, I knew who, or at least what, he was. Every instinct said to run for it, to pull out a nonexistent gun and plug him, to at least scream for the police. But that wasn't part of this role, however much I wished it was. Still, for a split second, I wondered what would happen if I stepped out of character, just this once.
By then it was too late. He grabbed my arm with fingers that wrapped around my jacket like vines, and I yanked back. "Hey! What's the big idea? Let go!" He smiled down at me with teeth that looked like fangs, and I screamed then, but just a little. After all, this couldn't really be happening, right? The D.A. himself had told me that all these stories about monsters, these so-called "supervillains" were just created to sell papers. But right then, I was having trouble believing that.
The man, or whatever he was, wrapped his vinelike hands around me and pulled me down into an open manhole cover. I struggled and kicked, but I couldn't break his grip. We splashed into some noxious, foul-smelling liquid, and he threw me over his shoulder before loping down the darkened tunnel into the city's sewers.
I kept flailing since fainting wasn't an option; I just wasn't that kind of girl. It didn't help much. I did get in a lucky kick or two, but he just grew another arm and wrapped his incredibly long fingers around my legs. He didn't stop moving until we got to his lair. Why did I always get the ones that had lairs? I'd heard that some of my sisters got the occasional villain with a luxury penthouse, but I never seemed to get that lucky.
The guy broke my train of thought by dropping me in a corner. "Ouch! This the only way a creep like you can get a date? You sure don't know how to show a lady a good time." By now I was backed up against the wall and trying to peel his creepy, extra-long fingers off my thigh. I couldn't help notice that they extended right up my skirt, getting a little too close to threatening my virginal status for comfort. I struggled and squirmed while the thing laughed at me.
I stuck my fingers into my pocket and found my keys—good thing, since I'd lost my purse in the sewers on the way here. I tried to look helpless while I gathered the keys and the tiny bottle of mace on the keychain together. I yanked them out of my pocket and emptied the can into the creature feature's eyes, then followed up by slamming my keys into his icky hand.
He screamed and fell over, releasing my leg so I could kick my way free. I jumped up while he was still clawing at his eyes and made a break for it, running as fast as I could down the tunnel leading into the sewers. I could hear scrabbling behind me; he'd be after me soon. I raced along, ripped blouse sliding off one shoulder to expose flawless skin. The heels were a bit of a problem though and I stumbled, falling to my knees with a gasp. I yanked them off and tossed them away, losing valuable seconds.
I dashed barefoot through the pools of murky water, hair a mess, bosom heaving. It was after me for real now, and I could hear a snarl from somewhere close by. I looked back, eyes wide and filled with a silent plea for rescue. Then I stumbled again and dropped to my knees in a lake of disgusting gunk.
The thing was on top of me now, and I struggled wildly while its hands wrapped themselves around me like tentacles. I could swear it copped a feel or two, just in case the whole situation wasn't clear to me. I managed to punch it hard in what passed for its jaw, and it lost its temper. As its fangs closed on my throat, I could've sworn it winked, but I was going under then so it's hard to say for sure. After that, it hurt like hell for a few minutes, but I faded out before the final coup de grace, moving onto my next self.
I wouldn't get to see it drag my body up out onto the street for my boyfriend to find. I wouldn't get to watch how his tortured anguish over my death would give him the strength to realize his true power. He would develop his laser vision or his superstrength or whatever he had in this story as a result. He would save the city or the world or whatever it was on his way to avenging my death. And he'd get there on time to save his next love. No question about that.
Just before I merge into or right after I emerge from my next self, I often wonder why I do some of the things that I do. At the moment, I'm sitting in a graveyard at dusk, mourning over my parent's graves. I hope they were kind and loving people, since being here at this time of day is putting me in mortal danger. I sob a bit harder and turn my eyes away from the lurking shadows.
It is only a matter of time before they come for me, drawn by the scent of my hot, virginal blood like some kind of monstrous catnip. I wonder if the boy next door and his faithful band of plucky friends will get here before they do. I hope so; I don't like dying horribly any more than anyone else does. But I'm still sitting in a graveyard at dusk in a town with a vampire problem. Go figure.
Not that this is my fault, you understand. Ordinarily, I wouldn't do this either but it's my job and I'm good at it. But my characters, these girls who get rescued or die horribly to motivate their lovers, just haven't been built for certain kinds of defiance. And me, I just switch from story to story at the mercy of the plot. Except that this is the longest I've ever gone without my story-self taking over completely.
The realization strikes as I remember where I am. In character, I'm beginning to glance around fearfully, checking the shadows and realizing I've stayed too late. I get up and brush off my frumpy, good-girl skirt. That's a comforting sign. If it were a mini, I'd be doomed, weeping over dead parents or not.
Something crumbles the dirt nearby as dusk drops like a curtain around me. I grab my purse and start walking toward the cemetery entrance. Well, more like jogging toward the entrance. It seems like it's miles away, and it's getting darker by the second, the way weather does when it about to trigger something awful. From the corner of my eye, I see the door to a mausoleum open, and the creak sounds like thunder. I start running.
There's a whoosh of air over my head as something swoops down, buzzing me. I scream, but I don't look up. Or back. I look straight at the gates, still acres away, throw my arms over my head and run like my life depends on it. Footsteps crunch behind me, and someone laughs, a low deep rumble that sends chills up and down my spine.
My breath is coming in gasps, and my heart hammers in my chest. But I'm closer to the entrance now. I might even make it. That's when something hovering above me drags its claws up my bare arms so that the blood flows freely from the scratches. Now I'm in serious trouble. They might have stopped if I kept running, but once they smell blood, they'll track me until they catch me.
I stumble but stay upright, staggering forward just ahead of the things at my heels. This can't last, and the next time I get dive-bombed, I do fall. I roll forward only to find my way blocked by someone standing in front of me. My fingers scrabble at my neck and pull out the tiny silver cross my aunt gave me at my parents' funeral. I hold it up, and the vampire blocking my way steps back a little. A surge of hope fills me until I see how many of them there are and how small my cross is.
I wave the little symbol around me, just enough to get them to fall back in a circle, mouths falling open to show sharp fangs. One of them smiles, and with a gasp of pure horror, I meet my mother's undead eyes.
Suddenly a voice welcome as a rain after a drought breaks through my daze. "Hey," it says, "Why don't you guys pick on someone your own size?"
Part of me wonders who writes his dialogue, but the rest of me is trembling with relief. My hero's on the scene, cross in one hand, stake in the other. His friends, one girl, one boy, stand at his back. The girl snarls, though I'm not sure whether the gesture is meant for the vamps or me. The hero steps forward, waving the cross menacingly, and the vamps back away. He reaches down and offers his hand to help me up, still not taking his eyes off them.
I get up, and the girl at his side catches my eye. In that moment, I see it all. I'm the unattainable cheerleader from school, the one who always treated him like a slightly annoying younger brother. She loves him from the depths of her plain tomboy heart, always has. He thinks of her as his best pal, nothing more. But he'll be mine by the end of the story, and she'll have either moved on or been killed.
I think I begin to make my choice at that moment. But for now, I stand next to my guy and accept an extra stake from one of his friends. Then the vamps attack, and everything's a blur for a while. I manage to stake two before they take me down, and he has to step in and kill one just before it bites me. I summon a look of admiring adoration. His friends kill a few more vamps. My undead mom runs off, no doubt to return in the final reel.
Then, just as quickly as it started, it's over. The vamps have fled or crumbled into dust or whatever they do here. This is my moment, the one where I kiss my guy and make him my own. Or the moment when I suddenly realize that there are other jobs I might be just as good at, even like better. I hesitate for a minute or two as that notion takes root.
Then I make my move. Instead of kissing the guy, I look right into his girl sidekick's eyes and wink. Her startled expression tells me I'm on the right track. I kiss my hero on the cheek and whisper, "Thanks! Goodbye." I feel like a whole other me as I flex my cheerleading-honed muscles, and I do a cartwheel, just because it's something I never do in this story or any of the others. My sensible black skirt drops around my face for an instant, then falls away as I stand up.
I do another and another for the pure joy of doing the unexpected, the unscripted. I whirl until the world spins around me, until I reach the previously unreachable entrance and kick the gates open. I do a couple of backflips down the road. My hero and his friends gape after me but they don't follow.
On a well-lit street a few blocks away, I flag down an older woman and tell her a sob story about my car breaking down. I make sure she can see the crucifix around my neck and she gives me a ride to the bus station. I spend all the money in my little purse on a ticket to the big city down the road.
And nothing happens to stop me. I get on the bus, and it isn't attacked by vampires, and it doesn't break down. And I don't walk into a dark cellar in a killer's house by myself. And I don't follow a darkly handsome stranger to his isolated castle. This time I get to see my story through to the end. I smile at my reflection in the bus window and it gives me a real smile back.
Catherine Lundoffís stories have appeared or are forthcoming in over 60 publications including So Fey: Queer Faery Stories, Time Well Bent: GLBT Alternate History, Periphery: Erotic Lesbian Futures, Khimairal Ink, Best Fantastic Erotica Vol. 1, Such a Pretty Face and Simulacrum. She is the author of two collections of lesbian erotica: Crave: Tales of Lust, Love and Longing (Lethe Press, 2007) and Night's Kiss (Torquere Press, 2005) and editor of the fantasy and horror anthology Haunted Hearths and Sapphic Shades: Lesbian Ghost Stories (Lethe Press, 2008). She is also a contributor to Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy: An Encyclopedia (forthcoming, Greenwood Press). Her website can be found at www.visi.com/~clundoff.
copyright © 2008, Catherine Lundoff
—Shadows in My Mind
—All Roads Are One
—Three Views of the Maiden in Peril
—She Has a Nice Personality
—Running the Road
NANCY JANE MOORE
ADRIENNE J. ODASSO
—Four Last Things
ADRIENNE J. ODASSO
KRISTINE ONG MUSLIM
KRISTINE ONG MUSLIM
—Archetypical Metafiction: Scrutinizing Fallen Archetypes
TOIYA KRISTEN FINLEY