This story is by Carmella T. Penny and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
She was picking flowers. Ruffly yellow daffodils, pungent clover, and wild roses of dark pink and star-white. Her golden tresses of hair mingled with the waving tips of sweet-smelling grass as she bent forwards to pluck a wild daisy. When she lifted her face in the pure yellow sunlight, her eyes caught a glint of the sun and revealed the exact blue shade of the sky. The god of sunlight and music took one look at her shining face and fell in love.
“That maiden will be my wife,” declared Apollo, “and she will love me as I love her.”
The Muses sang of his charm and showered him with words of encouragement. Aphrodite herself, the goddess of love, gave him her blessing and a flower from her personal rosebush.
Palistrophea’s clear, strong voice soared through the heavens like a birdsong as she weaved garlands from the blossoms in her lap. Apollo could not resist her. He disguised his godly glory and skated down a sunbeam to meet his intended.
Palistrophea gave a start and a scream as a ray of light hit her eyes and a strange figure appeared before her.
“Do not be frightened, fair maiden,” he said gently.
She stared at him, struck speechless. Where had the strange man come from? She had thought she was alone.
His hand was outstretched. Soft waves of blonde hair encircled his head like a halo of light. His limbs were supple as Hercules himself and yet as graceful as a sprite. There was something strange about him that she had never experienced before, but her conscious mind did not realize it. All she could sense was a strange enchantment in the lustrous vitality of his body. He is like Love in the flesh, thought Palistrophea.
Instinctively she knew that if she looked inside the endless blue depths of his eyes, she would lose the power to resist. There was too much supernatural temptation. She cast her eyes downwards.
“What do you wish of me?” she murmured.
Apollo stepped closer. His hand slipped over her shoulder, his arm brushing against hers as soft and caressingly as a mother to her newborn. “I wish for your hand, lovely maiden,” he told her eagerly, lifting her chin with his other hand in hopes of meeting her gaze.
His touch brought the wildest sensation she had ever known; a mixture of lavish decadence and burning passion. His skin was like sizzling oil, silky and fluid like light but as scorching as fire, so that her skin felt deliciously warm and flaming with every brush of his hand. She relished the searing pain.
MY hand?! she wondered. Surely this angelic being did not care for a mere mortal like herself—a peasant one, at that. He was glorious, he was flawless, and temptingly sensuous. But a sixth sense whispered to her that something indispensable was lacking.
“I am honored and grateful, Your Majesty,” she said earnestly, for he seemed like a king of some type; “but I cannot accept your gracious proposal. Forgive me. I am already betrothed, and I love my intended as I love life itself.”
He recoiled like a serpent. All flames of desire surged away from her shoulders as he withdrew from her touch. “What?” he exclaimed. Rejection was a wound he’d never felt. “You have refused me? How dare you! But you shall have another chance, for I am just and kind. Say yes to me and all the splendors of the gods will be yours.”
“No,” she said quickly. Be strong, Palistrophea, she whispered to herself. “You are charming and no doubt very rich and powerful, but I love another.”
“Rich and powerful!” snorted Apollo. “Wretched mortal woman, I am the god Apollo!” He struck the ground with a golden rod and bursts of sunlight lit up his figure with the rays of the sun. “Dare you refuse me now?”
She gasped, glancing automatically at his divinity, and spun away instantly, blinded by the penetrating light rays. She covered her stinging eyes with her hands and threw her face over her knees, trying to hide herself from the force of the light.
“It can’t be!” she cried. “The great god Apollo—in love with me?!”
“Forget this mortal of yours,” commanded the god. “I am your true lover.”
He shed the sunbeams and Palistrophea stared at him in disbelief.
She gathered all her courage. “I can’t,” she told him. “My love is for Jacquilles alone. I love him like life itself; he is my life and to him only do I give my love.”
“Foolish child!” raged Apollo, striking the ground with his golden rod. The earth shook and Palistrophea shivered with it. “Do you think your Jacquilles feels about you the way you do him?”
“Of course,” she exclaimed. “I know it.”
“We’ll see about that,” sneered Apollo. “I’ll fix it so that your precious Jacquilles will never think of you again. When you’re lying, sad and lonely on your deathbed, remember that you could’ve been Apollo’s wife!” With that he vanished in a flash of fiery sunlight, as quickly as he’d come.
NO! screamed Palistrophea in her mind. If he hurts one hair on my adorable Jacquilles’ body, I will never forgive myself.
It was evening when Apollo found Jacquilles wandering deep in a lonely thicket, hunting. Suddenly a large white deer darted in front of Jacquilles and leapt away into the thickest part of the brush. If I can take it alive, it will be a perfect sacrifice to the gods in honor of our wedding, thought Jacquilles. He dashed after the animal, losing all track of direction in his hot pursuit of the lovely prize. All at once the deer vanished, and Jacquilles finally looked at his surroundings and realized that he had no idea where he was or which way he had come.
His second thought was that he had found a secret paradise. For this small clearing was in the heart of the woods and clearly a habitat of the Immortals. Glittery emerald-colored leaves hung laden from every chocolate-brown tree and the trunks were gnarly and thick, as though home to many creatures. Flowers carpeted the grass in various shades of unearthly pastels. Stars twinkled in the sky, in the pool, and in the trees. Way up in the firmament, the moon lit up a small, gleaming pool with a soft white glow. Jacquilles stared in awe at the pool. Its smooth surface was as still and glassy as a mirror. He bent down to see how far down it went.
Jacquilles bent his knee to the rich brown dirt and stopped, transfixed by the sight he beheld in the pool. A lovely female, beautiful as the moon and glowing with the same soft white radiance as the stars, gazed up at him from a helpless position underneath the water. Her face might have been leagues down under and yet he felt as though he could touch it simply by putting out his hand. Her hair streamed outwards in all directions, wild and endless, an encapsulating shade of woody brown. He could tell her skin was as soft and tender as a white rabbit’s fur. Although underwater, it gleamed in the moonlight with an enchanting shine. Her lips was red and lustrous and moved in and out in voiceless plea, and her eyes were enormous, large saucers of shimmering depth, begging him with a craving urgency to follow her and protect her vulnerable body forever. He gazed deep into those soulful eyes, yearning to stay there forever.
Slowly, she extended a long, graceful hand, gently beckoning him. Abandon all and come to me. Live with me. Love with me. The sea is mine. It shall be yours. I shall be yours. My flesh, my soul, my heart will be yours. Give yourself to me.
He was falling deeper and deeper, unable to think of anything else, unable to remember that anyone else besides this lovely pool-nymph had ever existed. His hand was moving in slow motion, transferring itself from his side to the water—and closer—and closer—
The ringing scream broke the spell. Palistrophea! His betrothed, the love of his life! How could he forget her? Had it not been for the sound of her anguished cry, he might have fallen prey to the nymph in the pool forever and sunk to a lustful death. With a massive effort, he jerked his face from the direction of the pool. He stood up, closed his eyes, and made a rush through the thicket, letting the sound of her cries serve as a guide.
“PALISTROPHEA!” he cried. “I love you! I will never leave you!”
She knew his favorite hunting spot. Reunited on the same path where Apollo had appeared as a white deer in hopes of breaking up their union, they embraced each other, caressing with the sweet affinity that true lovers have, the knowledge that neither one would ever let go.