"And you can tell those people in your so-called coven that when and if I decide to be a bride, it will be to a man I chose!" Leppi jammed her finger into the 'off' switch of her cell phone with enough violence to make up for the fact that she couldn't slam it down onto a receiver.
"And what, if I can stick my nose into your business, was tha all about?" Becky stood in the doorway of their dormitory, a little afraid to enter. Leppi was obviously furious and she didn't really want to start a fight or get involved in one someone else had started.
L. P. Wainwright was still seething but she took a couple of deep breaths and then made an attempt at a smile.
"Oh, hi Becky. I'm sorry. That was my—utter idiot of an aunt Hester. Since I turned eighteen the court order giving my dad total custody of me doesn't apply anymore and she's bugging me."
"Bugging you? Your aunt?" Becky knew Leppi as well as anyone can know a college roommate after a semester and a half and she had met Mr. Wainwright back in September and again at winter break. An Aunt Hester was new. She threw herself down onto the bed to listen.
Leppi dropped onto a giant throw pillow on the floor. "My grandparents were hippies, you know? But they're cool about it, all artsy and organic but with their feet on the ground and their heads screwed on tight. Mother was—I guess it would be polite to say she was a little odd but to be honest Becky, she was plain weird. I mean, she may not have been when she married Dad but by the time I reached my pre-teens she was totally into the occult and a creepy kind of Wicca. Additionally, she started using really strange mushrooms and cactus buds. I'm pretty sure that's why Dad divorced her and why he got sole custody of me. I'm not sure Mom even cared very much by then and I'm also sure it was what got her killed."
"Killed? I thought you said your mom had just disappeared."
"Oh, she did that but you can't convince me she didn't end up raped and murdered by some creep she thought had a highly evolved soul and a beautiful aura. I know my aunt insists that she isn't dead, that Mom has 'moved to another Plane of Existence' but as far as I'm concerned she's dead and she did it to herself by being just stupid."
The bitterness in Leppi's voice was clear. Becky nodded to herself silently. Her roommate felt abandoned by her mother and was still angry. Psychology 221 had been very clear about that sort of thing. "And to keep you from getting weird like your mother your pop aimed you at engineering school?"
"And I thank the earth and all stars he did! At least materials have provable properties. People, on the other hand . . . Everything was going great until I turned eighteen. Now in order to keep my aunt away from me I have to get a restraining order and to do that in this state I have to prove my life is in danger. Fat chance of that."
Becky pulled herself up into a full lotus. Obviously someone needed a shoulder to cry on or at least an ear to fill. "If I can pry, just what is Auntie-poo doing that makes you so crazy?"
"Are you sure you want to know?"
"I want to know if you want to tell me. If you don't want me to know, let's go get a pizza or something and flirt with the football team."
Leppi's face grew bleak. Becky could almost see a dark cloud forming over the other girl's head. "Dad says that about the time my mother realized she was pregnant with me she started going on and on about how she was carrying the beginning of a New Age. Somehow she either convinced Hester (or Hester convinced her, I don't know which) that I am fated to be the Bride of the Earth."
"Bride of the Earth? Mother Earth's a lesbian? Hey, doesn't your aunt know gay marriage is illegal in this state?"
The attempt at levity failed. Leppi whipped the pillow off her bed and hurled it at Becky's face with enough ferocity to hurt a little. "No, dammit! My aunt and her bizarre friends claim that the Earth can either be Gaea or the Green Man but not both at once so he/she needs a human to mate with so that the alleged Avatar of a New World can be born. And they think I'm the one . . ." With those words, Leppi burst into tears. "And she won't leave me alone!"
"Come on, Leppi, you definitely need a pitcher of beer and some rowdy company. Let's go to Nino's for some politically incorrect pizza. Let's see, we'll have double garlic and sausage and onion . . ."
Monday Becky took Leppi to the mall and got her a new cell phone with an unlisted number. "There now, only your father and I know the new number. Can you trust your grandparents to not share it with Hester?"
"I think so. But they're on a cruise, sort of, so they won't be within phone range for another couple of weeks."
"What is a 'cruise, sort of'?" "They're taking a riverboat up the Amazon. Gramps wants to taste piranha."
"Oh-kaaaayyyy, sorry I asked."
When they got back to campus there was a crowded Faire in the main quad. Booth after booth was recruiting students for Earth Day activities. There were hikes for the fun of it, picnics that hinted at risqué possibilities and various environmental groups calling for help cleaning up parks, vacant lots and beaches. The girls looked them all over but nothing appealed. They were just about to head back to the dorms when LEPPI turned pale and ran back the way they came, Becky in hot pursuit. She ducked behind a booth and squatted down on the grass.
"Jeez, Leppi what's . . .?"
"Shhh! Don't mention my name and don't look at me. Go find some guy to chat up, Becky. I'll sneak out the other way and meet you back at the hall. Now git!"
Leppi's intensity made Becky follow directions. She walked over to a booth advertising an outing to clean out a nearby pond. It looked harmless enough and she recognized one of the hawkers. "Hey, Derek."
"Hey yourself, Beck. Have you found something to do for Earth Day?"
"Not, yet," Becky replied, "but whatever it turns out to be will have to be pretty close to campus. Leppi's got a bad case of the nerves and wants to stay in familiar territory."
"Really? We've got just the thing. Clarrige's Pond is only a couple of miles down the road. We're going to do a major clean-up of the place. Over the years it's gotten full of trash, old shopping carts and that sort of thing. The Department of Parks and Wildlife says that once we get it cleared out they'll rehabilitate it into a fishing pond for little kids. They'll stock it with sunfish and run piers out towards the center. It will be a great place to put a Nature Center as well. Want to sign up?"
Becky thought about the idea. There were guaranteed to be a lot of people there and game wardens were armed peace officers. Leppi should feel safe. Her crazy aunt's coven was unlikely to try and cause any trouble with so many others around.
"Yeah, put us both down. It sounds like just the thing Leppi needs to get her mind off her problems."
Back in their room Becky found Leppi once more sitting on the floor but this time she was huddled in a corner and wrapped in a blanket.
"Leppi, what the f . . .?"
"It was them! Hester and her buddies were at the Fair. They were walking sunwise around the quad and chanting. Becky, they're after me. They even come to campus looking for me."
"Those weirdos in green robes? That was your aunt's coven?"
"Yes! Her I know by sight and I've seen a couple of her friends in the pictures she emails me."
Becky put her cell phone to her ear. "I'm reporting this to campus security. I'm not sure how much good it will do. The Administration will probably go all mealy mouthed over their First Amendment rights but this is a private college. We should be able to claim their presence makes you feel unsafe and detracts from your education. By the way, I signed us up to help clean out Clarrige's Pond next Saturday. It is Earth Day, after all, and it seemed like a safe thing to do. There will be all kinds of people around if the coven shows up and starts to get pushy."
April twenty-second dawned clear and unseasonably warm so Becky had little trouble convincing Leppi to slip her jeans and T-shirt over a bikini and clamber up into the bed of Derek's old pick-up. They greeted friends and wormed themselves in between the garden tools and wheelbarrows that Derek and his buddies had jammed into the bed. As promised the ride was over almost before it began and the work of unloading and starting the clean up began.
April had rarely been so warm and both girls were perfectly happy to slip off their outer clothes and help with the clean-up, wading around the edges of the pond gingerly trying to find unwanted debris on the bottom without cutting their feet. When lunch time arrived, the local submarine sandwich shop provided huge, long loaves filled with a variety of meats, cheeses and sauces. Full and warm, the crew stretched out on the grass for a restorative nap and fell into a deep sleep. Peace reigned over the scene... until one person suddenly sat up.
I'm over here by the wood, darling. My goodness, my little girl has grown up beautifully. Come where I can take a good look at you.
"Mommy? I can't see you. Where are you?"
Just inside the edge of the woods, dear. Just come over here.
Leaving the sleeping crowd, Leppi stood up and started walking toward a copse of trees that stood off to one side of Clarridge's Pond. As she walked along a large mute swan glided over near her and paralleled her path. It made her nervous. "Mother?"
I'm just inside the trees, dear. Come right this way.
"Mother, why did you leave? You never wrote or anything. I thought you were dead."
Keep coming, my Leda. Just a little farther . . .
Leppi's head felt muzzy and it was hard to concentrate. She stumbled over a root and caught herself on a small tree.
There was no response so she took a few more steps. The little copse was unnaturally dark for such a small wood but there seemed to be a lighter area in the center. The girl kept going unaware that the swan was now flying overhead, following her. She entered the clearing and saw a large boulder in the center, its top side flattened like an altar. As she stood in confusion, hands grabbed her wrists and dragged her toward the rock.
Before she could scream, a hand clapped over her mouth followed by a triumphant cackle. "The bride is here!"
Figures in hooded green robes hauled her up onto the smooth surface of the boulder. Gold chains and cuffs grew out of the rock and were fastened to her wrists and ankles and a gold ball was forced into her mouth, held there by a silk gag. Other hands stripped off her bikini leaving her naked, spread-eagled and helpless.
So my disobedient daughter thinks she can refuse the Green Man's betrothal? Foolish girl. Behold, he comes, bringing your Destiny on his wings! Ho, Cerunnos!
Down swooped the swan, alighting on the stone between her feet. It cocked its head and in her mind she heard it speaking to her.
Well are you named, Leda Persephone, bride of the Green Man. You will bear my child, mortal, and your world will never be the same.
It beat its wings again and hopped up onto her thighs. Leppi tried to scream. She writhed in her chains only to hear the being laughing. The coven around her began to sing and dance sunwise around their captive. Aunt Hester spun in ecstatic circles, her hair flying, her arms lifted to the sky. As she danced, another figure coalesced out of the air and floated next to Leppi's head.
"Resistance is futile, Leda my child. The Green Man will have you. He will plant his seed within you, my fertile little one, and your belly will swell and grow great with child. And when it is born I will come again and guide its growing up. This demi-one will bring a new age into the world. You should be grateful."
The claws on its webbed feet dug into her thighs. The pain and the feel of the dripping blood drove Leppi hysterically frantic to no avail. A great dark phallus jutted out from under the bird-thing's tail feathers and jutted forward. As she watched in terror it seemed to change shape repeatedly. First it was a swan, then a green man with leaves instead of hair and then a hairy, muscular man with deer's antlers sprouting from his forehead and then finally back to a swan again. It roared, half laughing half trumpeting. "Maiden, I would that you loved me but the smell of your fear amuses me. I will take my own and use you as I will."
His hard member pounded at the entrance to her virginal sex, forcing her painfully open. Once she was penetrated the green robed dancers began to cheer and sing strange atonal hymns.
"Yes, Divine Cerunnos, use my daughter for your pleasure!" Leppi's mother was fairly frothing, her eyes wide and starring with madness. "Quicken the wench, my lord, beget your child in her. Honor my line with your seed!"
Tears of fear and pain streamed down Leppi's face. The brutal pounding went on and on as the giant bird flapped its wings adding bruises to the cuts and scratches. At last it let out with a steam whistle scream and shot its load into her. It rose in the air with an unearthly laugh and its victim fainted.
She came too under a blanket with Becky's anxious face next to hers.
"Leppi, are you okay? What happened? We heard this noise and found you . . ."
"They got me," Leppi croaked. "The coven held me down and—and one of them raped me." Even in her dazed, injured state she knew that if she told the truth no one would believe her.
An ambulance arrived and police cars circled the wood. As she was loaded into the waiting emergency vehicle a policewoman held her hand. "It's going to be okay, Leda," she reassured her. "We have a rape task force in this county. I know what happened was horrible but you're a strong woman, Leda, you will recover."
Leppi lay in the hospital bed, an IV in one arm and bandages over all her wounds.
"Now Leppi, you can't be sure . . ."
"Yes, I can. And there isn't any sense in calling me Leppi, Becky. My name is Leda, Leda Persephone and there isn't any way I can get around that. That damned bird or demon or pagan god or whatever he was fucked me and knocked me up. I know he did. I don't know if he took that swan shape because of my name or if my damned mother named me that because she knew someday this would happen but it did and I am."
"Now don't be like that. You're still traumatized. I'll tell the doctor and she'll prescribe a morning after pill for you and . . ."
Leda started to cry again, this time in anger. "And it will come back and rape me again. Next time it might not be a swan. Hell, Becky, it could be one of our houseplants or a big dog or something. No, I'm fucked, fucked royally. At least my dad believes me. He wants to take out a contract on my aunt but I told him that wouldn't do any good 'cause the swan probably can't be killed and mother's already—gone wherever the hell she is."
"But Lep—uh Leda, you can't just give up."
"Oh, I'm not giving up. I know what I can do. This is just a setback, Becky, not a defeat."
In late January the next year, Leda sat on her bed in the dormitory room with her laptop open and books on either side of her. She was struggling a little with fourth semester calculus but it was beginning to make sense. She had no doubt that she would pass it comfortably. The girl raised her head and starred at the wall, daydreaming of power plants, superhighways, and bridges when suddenly there was a disturbance in the air.
"Leda, where is my grandchild?" Her mother's face was stern.
"Your grandchild?" Leda's answer came in a sneer. "My baby is with its adoptive parents somewhere in Europe or North America, Mother. I made sure those parents would be loving, conventional and very straight people and I made sure I would never be able to find them. And neither can you! You could force me to have the baby but you can't force me to give it to you. It's gone, Mother, and I don't even know if it's a boy or a girl. And just in case you start getting ideas about getting that monster after me again, I had my tubes tied. Fuck off, Mother!"
The apparition let out a screech of rage. "Ungrateful, disobedient child! That baby was planned for generations, you wretched thing. Now because of you willfulness we will have to start all over again and it will be another hundred years before the New Age begins. A mother's curse on you and your horrid father!"
The air swirled again and Leda was alone. She smiled and turned back to her books.
The following August, two young mothers sat on a blanket watching their infants crawl about the grass.
"He's adorable, Heather. You were so lucky with that adoption. Some parents I've heard about find their adopted children are so horribly damaged."
"Yes we are. He's cute and funny and loving, just the cuddliest baby. He does have a couple of odd quirks though. I've never seen a child so good at getting out of his diaper. No matter what kind I buy he can wriggle out of it and go naked. He thinks it's so funny! And when we come to the park he will not stay on the blanket."
"I noticed that." Martha picked up her daughter and wiped her nose then put her back down. "He never goes far, just to the edge so he can sit on the grass. I guess he's a real nature child."
The park was beautiful, its hundred shades of green reflected in the nearby pond. A flock of swans glided by but one, the largest floated closer where it sat still, regarding the women and the babies. The little boy sat up and looked back at the bird.
"Da!" He giggled and bounced and waved his chubby hands at it. "Da-dah!"