This week’s story is one of my favorites. A few years ago, I got an assignment to write a story for the themed anthology Hags, Sirens, and Other Bad Girls of Fantasy, so off I went to do a little boning up on mythology. I stumbled across the story of Hera and her lame son, Hephaestos. To fit with the theme of the anthology, I turned Hera into a modern-day hag, the last of the old gods wandering the world among people who no longer believed in her. Homeless was the result. I hope you enjoy it.
Published by Thunder Valley Press
Copyright 2010 by Annie Reed
Hera remembered beauty. She remembered warm summer rain and cool evening breezes, the sweet smell of jasmine and the sweeter taste of revenge. She remembered the power of the gods and the subservience of mortals, and she remembered her children and her husband. All things long gone in this modern world which had forgotten her.
Chill wind buffeted her through the threadbare wool of her stained coat, whipped her matted grey hair about her deeply-lined face. Shoulders hunched against the cold, Hera shuffled along a city street bordered not by temples of marble and granite, but by monstrous buildings of chrome and steel, brick and glass. Monuments to money, not to ancient gods, crowded this world. The air tasted thick and foul, and smelled of hot metal and snuffed candlewicks. The rumbling, screeching noise of automobiles and buses made her head ache. The sidewalk was hard and unforgiving beneath her aching feet.
She held her coat closed with numb fingers and looked for a place to rest for a while. Just for a short while, until someone told her to leave, and then she would begin the search all over again like the rest of this city’s homeless.
Hera avoided brightly-lit places, just as she avoided staring at the people who crowded the pathways of unforgiving concrete in this city of modern man. People never looked at her, not anymore. She was just another in an endless stream of dirty, unwanted street people, unpleasant reminders of what could happen if the fates were less than kind. She avoided looking in the windows of the buildings she passed, afraid she might catch a glimpse of her reflection in the glass. Only by avoiding the reality of her ravaged face could the memory of her own beauty be enough.
Sometimes Hera wondered if other ancient gods walked the streets of this world as she did. No longer worshiped, the gods had faded like the titans before them. Some found their place among the stars in the night sky, as Zeus had. Others had fled to the depths of the ocean or to deep caverns beneath the earth. In time even the gods of this modern age would fade as man found new gods to deify. Gods without believers could not exist.
Yet Hera had stayed. She had grown old and bent and haggard with the passage of time, and she had been powerless to prevent it. She waited to fade completely, to take her place with Zeus and her children in the night sky, but something kept her here. Some power had cursed her with this shadow existence, neither mortal nor immortal, neither woman nor goddess, and utterly alone.
Hera heard sniggering laughter behind her. Rough hands pushed at her back, shoved her hard until she stumbled. Hera cried out as she tried to keep her balance. Behind her the laughter grew louder, grew cruel and self-indulgent.
“Got anything on you, grandma?”
(read the rest of the story here)
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Homeless was previously published by Daw in the anthology Hags, Sirens, and Other Bad Girls of Fantasy (2006).