This is my round three entry for this year’s NYC Midnight (NYCM) Flash Fiction writing challenge.
The challenge, as always, is to write one 1,000 word story, within 48 hours, based on a selection of prompts. I was given group 10:
This was another exciting round for me because I have never written a historical fiction piece before. I struggled LOADS but this is the reason I love this competition; it allows me to write out of my comfort zone.
You can read the final result below. As always, honest feedback is welcomed. Also I apologise now for any typos – it’s always fun writing a story from scratch, with specific prompts, in just 48 hours!
Book of the Dead
Synopsis: When a once famous playwright decides to make a comeback in 407 BC in his home town of Athens, life may not pan out the way he hoped.
Can his former lover rectify the mistakes of their past or is there a fate far worse waiting for them?
As Kleio walked out of the entrance to the Parthenon, her white dress swayed like the Athenian olive blossoms growing in the trees on the outskirts of the city.
It was early as she made her way to the Altar of Athena. Except for the intoxicated few, who slouched over marble steps, the Acropolis was void of most men.
With a book clutched tightly to her chest, Kleio walked across the open courtyard. The penalty for a woman traipsing through this sacred ground unescorted would be a public flogging. None of that mattered to her now, though. It was time for her to be reunited with Euripides. It had been too long.
The playwright had planned on making his comeback by spending the day signing whatever objects people brought him to the altar. Being out of favour for so long too, he also wanted to appease the Goddess of Wisdom after relentlessly abusing his female counterparts within his plays.
For years he thought himself a scholar, brave in fact. Not only had he depicted the reality of his society in his writings, he dared to personify the Gods. Only Kleio knew how he feared the wrath of Hades.
* * *
“Let Aphrodite strike me down herself if it is wrong for me to be with you!” Euripides tore at his hair as he pleaded with her. “You are foolish to my needs Kleio.”
“Haven’t we done enough wrong without you cursing the Gods? I might as well row us up the Styx myself.”
“How can you speak to me with such little respect, such little regard?”
“You know why: Choerine. She’s provided you with three strong boys. She’s there by your side every year at the festival of Dionysus. She was there when you won the thing too! She’s the one you married. Choerine! What more do you want?”
Kleio dared to turn away from him, but he grabbed the back of her dark hair and pulled her towards his body. Holding her so her back pressed against his hips, she could feel his enraged lust spiralling.
“I could have you right now if I wanted to,” his warm breath tickled her neck with the gentleness of a feather. “Bring shame to you and your family name, my dear Kleio.”
“You already have,” she felt his hand pulling her robe aside. “I was yours years before you met her.”
“And I will make you mine again.”
Euripides let go of her with unexpected gentleness and turned her around to face him. Silently, she let him carry her towards the wooden table, allowing him to make her his once again.
“How cruel a curse it is to be born a woman,” she whispered.
* * *
For hours she watched him sign copy after copy of parchment and highly sought-after material cloths. Only the rich and royal blood brought books. Audaciously, Euripides would take breaks to bask under the shadow of Athena’s temple. Kleio wasn’t fooled by his actions, though. She knew he was scared.
Living as a recluse, in voluntary exile in a cave on Salamis, had aged him quickly. She wanted to run her nail down the inside of every line and furrow which had developed on his face. She wondered if he had enough strength left in his lips to make her blood pulse once again.
Today was a big occasion but even Euripides was unaware of the fate the Gods had in store for him. He returned to Athens, hoping to win back his popularity by presenting people with the rare opportunity to own a once-famous playwright’s signature. All day long people had turned out to catch a glimpse of him. Patiently, Kleio had waited at the back for her moment. Then, when the sun began to set, she knew it was time to make her presence known.
* * *
“I will go away,” she nuzzled her cold nose into the nape of his neck. “Just feel it though. Just once. Before we leave.”
Kleio took Euripides’ hand and placed it onto her stomach. He rubbed his finger over the area where her naval was beginning to protrude. He looked up suddenly and their eyes met. He had felt the first tiny kicks of their baby.
“Where will you go?”
“I will get word to you once we’ve settled somewhere.”
“Your belly; it feels hard, like unripe fruit.”
“When it’s born, it will be sweeter.”
He kissed her for the final time and as she walked away the aroma of olive oil lingered behind. When he knew she was no longer near, he kicked at a clay food container which cracked as it hit the floor, its contents spilling out like guts.
An edible, orange sphere, with part of a thick vine sticking out of its top, rolled towards his foot. For a long time, Euripides watched the vegetable as the fire reflected its flames against its skin, creating a raw glow. Eventually he knelt down and stroked its smooth, firm surface. Keeping them locked up, only a single tear managed to escape.
* * *
Kleio did not survive childbirth. As the pain raged on inside of her, their two heartbeats left the world as silently as they entered.
She had waited a long time to be reunited with Euripides, stuck between the living and the dead. Finally she had been granted a temporary pass from the underworld to bring Euripides back with her – in return for his signature in Hades’s book. It was a selfish wish on her part but it meant they could embark on their journey across the River Styx to face their punishment in the Underworld together.
The crowds had vanished now, along with the warmth of the sun. Kleio walked up the steps towards Euripides, welcoming the expression of realisation on his face as it turned white. She handed him the Book of the Dead.
Patiently, she waited for him to join her on the other side.