First published as a hidden bonus birthday story in The Gray Sisters: A Modern Myth and Faerie Tale Online Literary Magazine in 2020. It is a modern, slice-of-life, myth between 1000 and 3000 words.
Penelope was flying on the back of a winged puppy and talking to the moon when she first heard the humming of a voice. She told the puppy to land so she could investigate, but the puppy ignored the command, as puppies are wont to do. So instead, Penelope waved goodbye to the moon and jumped off the puppy’s back.
Her pigtails grew and braided themselves into long ropes. The ropes attached to the clouds she fell past until enough had gathered to form a giant parachute. As she drifted through the sky, she tried to find the source of the humming, but it felt like it was all around her. The harder she looked, the more pervasive the humming became.
She twisted her body to and fro, desperately searching for the invisible vocalist. The familiar voice both summoned and confused her, and try as she might, she could not place it. The sky darkened and it got harder to see the ground below.
Her vision of the ground became hazy, obscuring the landscape below. Penelope realized that new clouds were forming below her feet, but these were not the fluffy happy clouds from before. These clouds were thick and angry, and flashes of purple light burst from within them.
The other clouds feared the storm clouds and struggled to escape Penelope’s hair. One of her pigtails fell loose as half of her makeshift parachute fled.
Penelope called out to the moon to help her, and though the moon stretched its beams out to pull her to safety, it was too late.
Penelope had already fallen, disappearing into the dense storm clouds.
Penelope shot upright in bed, her breathing labored. As she calmed, she realized that the humming had followed her from her dreams into her bedroom. Fully awake, she now recognized the voice as belonging to her father.
And just like that the fantasy and fervor of her dreams were forgotten, and she remembered what day it was. She glanced at the clock. Or rather what day it was going to be in just one more hour.
She threw off the blankets and padded out of her room and down the hall. Turning the corner, she spotted her parents.
Her mother was tilting the top of the Kitchen Aid out of the bowl, its metal whisk was hidden beneath white foam peaks. Her father was stood behind her mother, holding her waist lightly. He swayed them both and hummed the tune that had infiltrated Penelope’s dreams and drawn her back to consciousness.
“Penelope!” Her father loudly whispered when he spied her, “You’re up too early!”
“And you need to whisper quieter, if you don’t want to wake the boys up too.” Her mother warned him.
“Are you making my moon cake?” Penelope asked, whispering just as quietly as her father.
“We are about to put in the fluffy eggs,” Her mother responded. “Do you want to help?”
Penelope nodded her head vigorously, running over to her parents in the kitchen.
“Here, you and papa pour the eggs, and I will mix,” her mother instructed while handing Penelope’s father the mixing bowl. He lowered the bowl for Penelope to hold the other side and carefully they tipped it sideways. Slowly the frothy whipped egg whites plopped into the bowl below, and her mother gently folded them into the doughy mix.
“Now go get the cake pan,” her mother told her.
The upper pans swayed ominously as Penelope tried to pull her chosen pan out from under them. She tugged and until her father helped her by lifting the other pans off the top.
“Not that pan,” her mother reminded her.
“But it’s a circle like the moon!” Penelope observed.
“Yes, but it doesn’t pop open, get the other circle pan.”
Penelope dove back into the open cabinet while her father dove after the pans she had ignored again. This time she victoriously surfaced with the springform pan clutched in both hands. She held the pan up and her mother carefully poured the batter in.
“Papa, tell me the moon story again,” Penelope said as her mother took the filled pan and walked towards the preheated stove.
“But you already know it,” he countered as he walked towards the back door. “Maybe it’s your turn to tell me the story.”
She pitter-pattered after him arguing, “But, I don’t know how to tell stories.”
“Really?” His eyebrows raised. “Because you just told a whopper.”
“Papaaaa,” she whined.
“Ok. Ok. What if you help me tell the story then?”
Penelope thought about it before nodding hard once. “I can help.”
Her father opened the back door with flair, and Penelope let out a breath in surprise. All around them fairy lights flickered in an open topped tent of translucent tulle. The floor had been covered in lit candles of all shapes and sizes; and above them the brightly shining crescent moon approached its zenith.
“Papa, did you do all this?”
“I sure did.” He winked at her. A scoff sounded from the kitchen, and he quickly closed the back door. “Maybe with a bit of help.”
Penelope looked at him with knowing eyes. “Which parts did you do?”
“Well… I ordered the candles, and I got out the ladder, and I pulled up the sky map…” He cleared his throat. “But we’re getting off track. I think someone wanted to hear a story.”
Penelope clapped her hands and scurried into a chair at the table.
Her father smiled, then looked confused and scratched his beard. “Now how does the story begin, again?” he wondered aloud.
“Once upon the My-Sin-Ay-Ian age…” Penelope prompted.
He snapped his fingers, “Yes that’s right! Once upon the Mycenaean age, on the Island of Ortygia, there lived a little girl who was celebrating a birthday.”
“Like me!” Penelope exclaimed.
“Yes, like you.” Her father chuckled. “Her mother had asked her what she wanted for her birthday, and the girl said...”
“And not just any cake. Her favorite cake. And making a cake back in the Mycenaean age was no small thing. You got to harvest and mill the grain and steal honey from the bees and—”
“Papa, you’re getting off track,” Penelope chided.
“Ah, so I am.” Her father laughed, “but where was I?”
“The girl’s mama made her her favorite cake for her birthday.”
“Of course she did! But because cakes took so much work, the cake wasn’t ready until the very last hour of the girl’s birthday.”
“And because it was so late it was dark inside,” Penelope jumped in, “and she had to go outside and eat the cake under the light of the moon.”
Her father eagerly asked, “And then what happened?”
“And then, and then Arty-Miss in the moon came down and said ‘hey, what are you doing?’”
“Exactly!” Her father beamed. “Artemis, the spirit of the moon and protector of women, came down from the sky, and said ‘Hello young maiden, why do you not slumber, and why are you eating cake?’ And the little girl bowed like her mother had taught her and said, ‘Goddess Artemis, my mother spent all day baking me this cake because it is the day of my birth.’
“And then since her parents had also taught her how easily the Greek Gods could be offended, she bent even lower and offered, ‘but please accept this humble token of our gratitude as is your due.’ Then she placed the cake at Artemis’s feet, and backed away.
“Artemis considered the cake, and after a long moment, she used her hunting knife to cut a slice off.
“‘Your offering is well received, young one.’ The goddess placed a morsel in her mouth and closed her eyes in pleasure. When she opened her eyes again, she said, ‘Inform your mother that her talent has earned your family a blessing. You and yours shall eat the rest of this cake, as I only desire this slice.’ The cake began to emit the moon’s light at her words, ‘as you do, you may make one request and I shall hear it.’.
“With those words Artemis shot into the sky; but the rest of the cake remained, and it continued to glow. The girl took the cake back inside and told her family about the goddess’s visit. They did as Artemis had instructed, and as soon as the request was made, the cake’s light floated up and flew the message back up to the moon.”
“Did the wish come true?” Penelope questioned when her father had finished the story.
“The myth doesn’t say, but I like to think the request was granted,” her father answered.
“What did she wish for?” she asked.
“What are you going to wish for?” he parried.
“No!” She squealed, “I can’t tell you or else it won’t come true!”
As her last word faded into the crisp air, the candles and the fairy lights all dimmed, and silence fell.
The back door slowly creaked open, and her mother emerged from the darkness. In her hands was the freshly baked cake adorned with six lit candles.
As she set the cake down on the table, all three of them turned their eyes to the sky. The moon was directly over them. Penelope’s mother cut a single slice away from the still lit cake and set it to the side, a dedicated piece for Artemis. Then she nodded to her daughter. Penelope scrunched up her eyes, took in a deep breath and blew out the candles.
The candles and fairy lights cut off at the same time, and Penelope gasped in amazement.
Her mother smiled in the dark. Her husband had been right, these remote-controlled candles and string lights really added a lot to the moment.
After a few seconds, the candles flicked back on and the fairy lights came back up, illuminating Penelope’s excited grin. Her parents smiled down at her and said in unison, “Happy Birthday Penelope!” and then her father added, “Now who wants some cake?”
Later that night, after she had gone back to sleep, the moon’s beams pulled Penelope out of the storm clouds and placed her safely back on her flying puppy.
“How did you know,” the moon asked her, “that Samali is my favorite cake?”