Christopher S. Ledbetter
The distance between darkness and light was a nano-moment, my mother once told me. A sliver of space. The breadth of a strand of hair. I hadn’t known what she’d meant until that day. And still wished I hadn’t.
I trudged up the darkened beach, digging my toes in the sand with each step. Visions of pearl-skinned sea nymphs still danced in my head. Their iridescent eyes and seductive charms made me smile.
“C’mon, Zeus,” Anytos called.
I held a finger in the air.
"Zeus, seriously," he insisted, throwing a stick at my feet.
"Wait. Hold on." I closed my eyes to enjoy the images of those sea nymphs. Just a moment more.
"Zeus!" His words sliced sideways through my memories.
I sighed. “I’m coming.”
“Sun’s nearly up. We don’t have much time!” Tos stood at the top of a dune calling down.
I hated the pre-dawn runs we took every morning. The birds weren’t even up yet. I couldn’t wait to get back to the goats I tended with my mother. Against her wishes, I’d named each one. That’s why she never let me slaughter them for food. Or rather, why I never participated.
There was nothing too terribly stressful about goat herding. They were a self-sufficient lot. Sometimes watching them was like watching the sun crawl across the sky. In those moments, my mind wandered like a stray goat.
I’d always felt like I could do more. Be more. Something inside of me clawed for the extraordinary. Yet I had to face that I’d likely never leave Crete.
I joined Tos at the top of the dune and looked across the dusty Cretan expanse that stretched into low-lying hills. Tos turned to me. "You ready?”
“Let’s do it…”
Before I’d finished, Tos had taken off running, like being shot from a bow. His feet pounded the path as he ran ahead.
I crested a high ridge in pursuit. A burning sensation spider-webbed through my lungs when I saw the sun’s first ray in the east. Pushing onward, I strained to keep pace with Tos, whose legs moved at a pace I simply couldn’t match. Not yet anyway.
“Faster, Zeus,” he yelled over his shoulder.
“We’ve been running non-stop since the southern coast.”
I stopped and clutched my chest. Ragged breaths came in gasps. I placed my sweaty palms on my knees and inhaled deeply. I knew that the daily running would benefit me somehow. But, that didn’t mean I had to like it.
Anytos turned abruptly. “Whose fault is it we’ve been running such a distance, huh? I promised Amalthea I’d keep you safe, Zeus,” he responded. “You. Here. Not safe. Let’s go!”
"Hmmmph." I stood straight, stretching to one side then the other. I knew he was right. We’d been out way too long. But boy were those nymphs worth it. I took another deep breath as I stared back toward the east.
“I knew I shouldn’t have let you talk me into going to see those sea nymphs again,” Anytos continued. “Shoulda known better than that. The Tribe is gonna be pissed when we get back.”
“Don’t act like you didn’t have a good time.” I managed a half smile despite my fatigue, rustling fingers through my hair.
"That’s totally beside the point. The longer we’re away from the cave, the less safe you are."
I totally resented not being safe. I’d watched my mother’s pained expressions over the years. Stress from living in constant fear.
Tos began running again, building another healthy lead. Rocking back on my heels, I resolved to finish. One last push. Come on. Dig Deep.
I lunged forward. Chasing Tos up the next incline, my feet barely touched the ground. I ran so fast, I didn’t even feel the rocks on the tree-lined path. As I reached the next ridge, a ray of sunlight speared my eye through the trees and blinded me momentarily.
I forced my stride farther. Wider. My arms whipped the air at my sides. I grinned as I closed the gap between us.
Ahead, the cave opening beckoned. The Cave. My home. I knew the drill. Get to the cave before someone sees you. Someone like who? I always wondered who’d ever come looking for me?
I saw the dark silhouette of mother sitting on a hillside just above the cave, surrounded by lightly grazing goats. Crouched, her right hand gripped a hooked staff, on which she counterbalanced her weight. Her tunic rustled gently in the thick, salty breeze.
The sun rose faster than usual. Like ridiculously fast. I stopped to look into the sky, marveling at the rapid ascension. Darkness to light. Tos pulled my arm almost from its socket.
“That’s not normal, Zeus. We need to get in the cave!” he said. His face looked like a fig left in the sun too long, wrinkled and severe.
We sprinted the final stretch around my guardian tribe, the Kouretes, who danced in a circle. Their chants filled the air. Fully armored, their tunics flapped around their frames as helmets clanked atop their heads. Shouts echoed across the plain, punctuated by the clashing of spears to shields. They always said that they chanted to ward off evil spirits. To protect me. All I heard was constant noise, really.
As we drew closer to the cave, my mother stood suddenly and turned toward the sun. The sky brightened, and the sun’s brilliance grew more insistent. I shielded my eyes but the heat was searing. Spots dotted my vision as I watched my skin darken by the second. Sweat beaded all over my bronzed skin at once.
My heart began to race wildly. “What’s going on here? Why is the sun falling?"
“Remember we kept telling you somebody might see you if you’re out too long?”
I nodded nervously.
“Hyperion’s descending!” He pushed my shoulder. “Get in the cave!”
“The Sun Deity? Why is…?”
“Don’t ask questions. Just do it. Now!”
The Kouretes’ noise grew louder. But, I still didn’t understand. All that time I thought I’d been hiding from other people on the island, not Deities.
Tos pushed me. “Hurry!”
I took off running with Tos close behind. We’d just reached the cave when I heard my mother yell. I stopped in my tracks and turned.
I held my breath and turned to head back into the brightness and scorching heat. Tos’s fingers dug into my arms to pull me back.
I yelled, "I can’t leave my mother out there!" I jerked my arm from his grasp and grabbed my helmet from inside the cave. After grabbing my shield and spear, I ran into the clearing outside the cave. I heard Tos behind me.
The fiery orb hovered close to the earth. Flames grabbed at the sky in every direction.
"Mother!" I called. She scampered down the hill as fast as she could. The goats scattered in front of her.
The Kouretes took up battle stances, shields folded across their chests, spears ready to throw. Amalthea ran behind them and I joined her.
“Get back in the cave,” my mother growled through clenched teeth. She looked over my shoulder as Tos approached. “I thought I told y…”
A loud explosion erupted in the sky that shook the ground with its force. Amalthea turned around as a figure emerged from the freakishly large ball of fire. The mountain of a man rode a soot black chariot pulled by four ginormous stallions the color of sunsets. I could only assume he was Hyperion.