Part Four: Hudor / Water
PART FOUR: HUDOR / WATER
This is the punishment, then. This – my disgrace. Too many lives in the balance, and traded off against one act I foolishly considered to be worth the gamble! Those lives sink lower and lower with an awful heaviness, and my act becomes lighter and lighter, until it evaporates as the folly it indeed was. Yes – finally I see it.
It was not until meeting with Zeus, face to face, at exactly the moment the box was opened that I did indeed see. His face was lined, pale, and drawn. It spoke a particular frailty: the icy blueness of veins threaded beneath wafer-thin, translucent skin. He looked at me then, tired, and resigned. His hand trembled slightly as he gripped mine and bade me sit with him in silence. We sat there side by side, us two, and in truth, I did not know what to expect – whether in his might and power he would banish me from Olympus, or inflict some graver punishment on me. Or indeed if he had absolved me from blame – as I still felt at that time he ought. For I still considered my theft and gift to be for the greater good, a minor transgression for the benefit of those in need. And myself the generous and martyr-like hero, risking the wrath of Zeus for the opportunity to be of assistance to those of lesser fortune!
But as we waited, seated side by side upon ancient stone slabs set atop the heights of Pantheon, this self-righteous, defensive train of thought began to evaporate, as if some collection of creatures were tugging little by little at its façade, weakening it until it finally began to crumble, right at the moment the greatest event since the beginning of time occurred.
Pandora opened the box.
That was when all things snapped into place with a severe certainty. Blurred lines shifted sharply and jarringly into focus, the sounds about us grew crisper and harsher and more and more distinctively refined until they became a collective piercing shriek that was unbearable. I had my hands over my ears and was doubled over, retching from the intensity of it and wondering in feverish confusion if my insides were going to explode. Sharp pain was slicing from my ears through my head and down into my chest like a double-edged sword severing everything in its path, and as I gasped for breath tiny pinpricks of blood began to seep through the pores in my skin, and I finally understood.
I had carried a lantern across a path that was supposed to have gone unlit, its way intended to be hidden and obscured, because what lay down it was far too terrible to be known. It was a pathway with an entrance entwined with sweetly scented roses, and it teased with the headiness of summer in full ripeness, the echo of laughter repeating at every bend and turn, just out of reach and just out of sight. It was lined with lush, softly pliant blades of grass pleasant for the feet to tread, and the sweet perfume of multitudes of entrancing blooms wafted up intoxicatingly, twining their hazy vapours around the bodies of those it came across like the most sensuous of embraces. Who could resist?
But summer has an opposite number, and that is winter.
Seductive and hypnotic sweetness very soon changes to the bitterness of gall once you find yourself on the inside of the cell it has enticed you into. You then find yourself a secure prisoner, trapped with no possible means of escape, seeing the last milder blue-skied trace of the world you left behind slowly disappear as the door to your cell swings closed with a firm finality and a final clang that rings out like a solemn herald’s trumpeting, announcing the arrival of the darkness of despair – of Moros.
Pandora’s box – opened to let all hell loose on earth. It would never be the same again.
Still, I wonder – why did Zeus allow it, and why was this his solution?
Moros stood in glee, overlooking the scene of the fallout: the ultimate demise and ruin of the world as it had been.
Here was truth indeed, the true nature and meaning of all things exposed in wreck and abandonment.
Chaos, the true master of all.
Here was proof that no heart was constant, none able to withstand the suffocation of the cloak of darkness, and none ultimately able to resist temptation.
Pandora betrayed Epimetheus by leaving him, and she opened the box against express instructions not to.
Elpis could not hold out against the darkness, despite Zeus’ promise that the answer would appear at exactly the darkest moment.
Epimetheus fell in love despite seeing how he was a pawn in the game of the gods from the outset.
Prometheus, well, he was just arrogant enough to set the chain of events in motion in the first place.
What a laugh – how easy it was to twist the arm of a fellow immortal, without their even realising it!
What he wouldn’t give to see a show of backbone, of courage, of boldness – but all he had to do was whisper his magnetic words and the deal was brokered! Fools, all of them, mortals and immortals alike!
Most of all he, Zeus, the Light One. Now he looked like what he was: a sad, withered, tired, old man stretched beyond himself into the dregs of eternity because that was his inescapable fate. The lightning bolt was just a child’s plaything – he held no true power.
How easy it was to extinguish the light!
Elpis is singing with a clear, sweet tonality that is unmistakable. The beauty of her voice is that each pure note she sings carries the depths of her heart out upon it. There is nothing false or manufactured about her song. It is eerie and soft; a quiet suggestion of an echo that brushes against the outer borders of the subconscious.
But today the song is indescribably sad, for she sings a lament. The earth is still as it listens, and all is hushed and silent. The winds have died down completely; even the seas have stilled themselves. A veil has hung itself over the sun so that its light might not be so garish in this time of mourning. The air is cold, and the lakes and rivers have frozen over.
I am quiet and still too, listening to the ache in her music, and my own heart reflects hers, taking on her pain and suffering it too as I experience my own infinite heartache with this necessary final twist of the dagger that was foretold since the beginning of the ages.
My beautiful Elpis – have you forgotten my words?
Last night I dreamed of an army of silver birch trees. They were ranged all about me, as far as the eye could see. Yet at the same time I was floating above them, and could see they covered an entire island. At places on the edges of this birch forest the trees were burning, and thick smoke lazily curled up against the ethereal expanse of pale blue sky. Some of the trees had burnt completely, the ground about them charred and black, and from up high an inky blackness appeared to be gradually seeping in towards the centre of the island like a dark creature stealthily swallowing it whole. There was great danger in the atmosphere, as of the attack of a sinister and evil force, but at the same time there was the most overcoming sense of nurturing peace I had ever experienced.
The trees were stirring, mystical leaves trembling and whispering in their silvery wordless communication. Their slender trunks began to slant as swiftly and gracefully they started to glide into the formation of row upon row of neat and orderly legions. Creatures of the forest came out of nest, burrow and hiding place to accompany these their protectors, and what initially appeared to be dark clouds on the horizon moved closer and closer, and I could see that these were not clouds at all but great flocks of birds. They settled into the uplifted branches of the birches, and the air grew glad with their cheering song. I lifted a hand to the papery bark of a tree near me, and it shifted slightly beneath my touch, bending ever so slightly down towards me, branches lowering so that delicate, drooping leaves passed softly over my face like a mother’s kiss. I could hear no words, but my mind was filled with one thought: what will be will be. It straightened again and began to move, following the others.
As I watched, these legions began to move rhythmically, each group in the same manner, now inward, now outward, now weaving one about the other, and I suddenly realised that they were dancing. I thought, in my dream, that this was odd. Here were their borders burning, under attack from I knew not what because whatever the enemy was it was invisible, yet they were dancing! And they seemed almost…joyful! As I continued to watch, the ash from the burned and burning trees began to stir and move too, rising up in great swirls, up, up and up, until the air above the island was filled with moving spirals of it. The dancing trees all lifted their branches, and the birds flew up from them into the midst of the ash, circling with it in dizzying cycles. They continued to sing, and they and the ash spirals began to move faster and faster until I could no longer distinguish the form of a single bird.
A great feeling of grief settled over me as I watched, and a deep heaviness of heart overtook me. I knew that the dancing trees were mourning their lost sisters, and the birds were farewelling them. Still the spiral moved faster and faster, as did the hypnotic dance of the birches, until they too were an indistinguishable blur. The whole island looked as if it were a mere smudge, an artistic impression of what once was there. But the darkness at its edges was beginning to evaporate, drawn up into the whirlpool as the dead surrendered themselves to the end-dance, sucking the poison from the island as the evil desperately tried to maintain its dark hold. It kept shrinking further and further back until finally it had all dissipated, and once again nothing could be seen but the green of the treetops. Quite suddenly the whirlwind died down, the ash disappeared, the birds once again flocked together and flew off out of sight, and the trees were still but for their leaves shivering in the remaining breeze. There were white jagged gaps at the outer edges of the island where the burned trees had been, but as I watched young saplings burst forth out of the soil to populate these desolate places.
And then I was back down among the trees again, and once more I pressed my hand to a silver-white trunk. This time it did not move as it had before, but words wrapped themselves around my senses - ashes to ashes, dust to dust, life to death and death to life: it is done, and all is well.
Now I lie quietly in wakefulness once again. I cannot move a muscle in my body because the death-paralysis has taken hold of the physical. As this has happened my mind has snapped quite inexplicably back into sharpness, out of the apathy and lethargy it had been dragged down into. The only way I can truly explain it is like the separation of spirit and body they speak of as death approaches. It is a welcome liberty.
As I lie I see tiny pinpoints of warm light start to appear in the darkness, and accompanying them is the softest melody speaking of the gentlest warmth of summer and the sweetest taste of honey. They are mesmerising and infinitely soothing, and as they draw nearer my vision blurs as they merge into one source of golden light. It envelops me, and I am completely at peace. And then another vision emerges, this one not a night-time dream, but the supernatural seeing of a mind separating itself from body.
I am looking down at myself in this dark home of all that is evil. I see a poor body crumpled against the unforgiving harshness of stone, limbs askew, reduced to almost skeletal emptiness. A shrunken, wan face with open, staring eyes looks back at me, and I am filled with the deepest compassion, pity, and sorrow. I look at her, and she looks through me. Her eyes are impossibly sad, and I know that she has suffered beyond what she is capable of bearing. There is nothing in her regard to suggest hope – in fact, she considers herself accursed and beyond redemption.
How can this be me, I think?
How have I reached this point?
The vision shifts slightly, and details previously hidden shift into focus. Instead of being transfixed by her eyes, I notice for the first time what her wasted hands have melded themselves to – for she has not let go of her grip on a small black box sitting on her chest – an opened box. She is clinging to it, but I cannot tell whether from desire or from habit. As I look more closely, I see a terrible sight that cannot be unseen. Beneath the box her gown is torn and wet with blood, and through a great tear in it I can see a gaping, putrifying wound in her chest.
Her eyes watch mine meet the awful wound, and as I lift my horrified gaze back to hers I know the truth – her heart has been torn from her, and this frail spectre of a creature is her shell.
I cannot bear to look at her any longer.
A crushing sensation of guilt and shame overwhelms me, coupled with an intensity of longing, the likes of which I have never before experienced. I long for him – I long for absolution, for forgiveness, to be able to reach out to this forlorn creature beneath me without revulsion, but instead with tenderness and compassion.
I begin to sing – it is all I can do. The music tumbles forth from me, a guttural projection that I cannot hold back. It’s an almost liquid, fluid thing that colours the glow between us with subtle hints of slate, navy and violet.
It is a purging, I think, and I begin to weep.
And then strong arms are around me – a quiet voice at my ear – a soft touch smoothing my hair.
“Give it back”, the voice says.
I look down at my hands.
“Give it back”, it says again.
My hands are stained, raw, dripping with a warm, sticky substance – trembling. There is a vitality enclosed in them.
I am holding her heart - bloody and messy, surprisingly heavy, almost black in colour.
“The time grows short”.
She is so still. Her limbs are blue, her lips are blue, her hair is limp and ragged. It repulses me to look at her. And now all I can think is – she should not live, she does not deserve it.
I want to drop the burden in my hands like a hot coal, and flee from it before it can hurt me further.
“Elpis. Return to yourself what belongs to you.”
I close my eyes and swallow. My body is tense, and nausea sweeps over me, wave after wave, and I fight it back. My own heart is beating too fast, and my head is dizzy. My fingers tingle, my legs feel unsteady. Dry tongue sticking to the roof of my mouth, I force my limbs into coordination and obedience to the unwilling command of my brain, and I move toward her, gritting teeth and willing myself to push through this invisible barrier and complete this sole, gruesome task of placing a human heart back into a decrepit human body.
Blood stains on her tunic – dried and brown, punctuated with loose fibres straying around the edges of the tear. Blue-white skin, tinged black and inky at the wound. A terrible stench of decay. Rounded triangle of chin and jaw pointing upward, the arrowhead to the smooth shaft of her throat. Hair splayed outward from her face, thin and matted strands nothing akin to its onetime glorious lustre.
With trembling hands, fighting against a repellent urge so strong I have to almost physically lean into it as if to throw my weight against it and push it away, I finally find myself on my knees at her side. The coldness of her torso presses against my calf, and I shiver – but all at once a great, great warmth rushes over me and in one slow, fluid movement I complete my task and slip the heart back through the torn opening of the flesh, not noticing the odour, not feeling the decayed flesh and fluid. It is done – and I am panting and shaking almost uncontrollably.
A shriek rips its way through the damp, close air of the cavern, startling me with its intensity and the depth of despair and heartbreak carried on it. It doesn’t stop – becomes a keening, keening wail, a river of remorseful consciousness that won’t let up.
I realise slowly in a kind of bemused stupour that the sound is coming from me, my mouth, my lungs, as I curl myself protectively over this tortured body that I have abandoned.
I cannot get enough air.
I clasp her hands in my own, and press my cheek to hers, the wail replaced by great, body-wrenching sobs, as my breath returns, and sense and sensation follow with it, pulling me earthward again with a great, strong, irresistible tug.
She is completely still.
A hand on my shoulder, once again, gently pressuring me to move aside.
I will not move. I cannot move away from her. It is my fault – I abandoned her, left her when she was helpless, fed her to the wolves. And now all that is left is to curl myself around her and let us both enter death together.
The colours have disappeared, the glow is gone. Only the blackness is left, and the soft murmurings of those trance-like whispered voices, the minions of Moros again returning like persistent lazily circling flies:
It is over
At least you tried
It is over
Lie down now
Let us take you away
He never was going to save you
But we are here
I will not, I think, I will not.
My tears have slowed, like my heartbeat. And my senses lulled anew – an earthly lethargy wrapping me so snugly I cannot move any longer, hovering on the earthward side of death once again.
It must be imminent, I think, the end - but no longer will I die on the side of the line that belongs to them.
My thoughts are becoming fragmented, disparate - a string of unlike objects that begin to float up into the air, one by one, strange colours intermingling with a glowingly white atmosphere.
How lovely, I sigh.