Before Alexander destroyed Thebes, ambrosia was sold at the Sleep temple. Worshippers dreamed near the black marble urn for days, weeks, years or until they died. The disciples of Hypnus were content to lie upon stone floors and stare at the temple carvings while dreaming. They witnessed unearthly, cyclopean visions until their coin ran out. No coin, no dream. Beyond the temple gates were the lost souls that begged to feel the god’s touch again. But Thebes was a hard city. At dusk, the guards would scatter the mob by force and sell those unable to flee to the pit bosses.
To drink ambrosia is to know Hypnus. I saw pink starlight drip from statue eyes, Persian insects licked my bones and I knew only love. But in dreams, someone stole my pouch. I awoke outside and saw only empty sky. At first, I did not care. Then the shaking began and I wept for Sleep. Without ambrosia, I vomited and sniveled in my filth. Then came the guards. Laughing and swinging their weighted clubs, they surrounded a man who was once a local potter. We ran while he screamed and coughed teeth into the dust.
At the bathhouse reserved for citizens, I used my father’s name to enter. I bathed in the lowest grotto. Here, the spring was hottest. After the slave left for wine, I crept towards the Odysseus carvings and found Calypso. The nymph was hidden behind a granite basin where towels are collected. I pried out her left eye. It was as large as my thumbnail and made of pearl, glass and topaz. I sold it for half its value and was dreaming in the Sleep temple when the guards came. Only my mother stood for me. My brothers and father didn’t show up for my trial. She begged for divine punishment rather than slavery. Once again, my father’s name saved me. The priests of Hypnus ordained a task.
They knew the man who purchased the nymph’s eye ran a lodge for goat herders three valleys away. I had to wear Calypso’s other eye around my neck so she could watch. They also gave me ambrosia. In visions, I saw Calypso weep blood from her scraped eye. I crossed the three valleys shivering in her dark dreams. I avoided Apollo’s glare by traveling only at night along the bones of Hesperian. The spine of the ancient dragon ripped apart the loamy earth and trailed through thick groves of oak and ivy. At the foot of a great forest was the lodge.
I had half a skin of ambrosia left. Worshippers of Hypnus drink one ladle at a time but I drained the skin. I rested against an ancient oak while waiting for Orion to appear in the night sky. In darkness, the god visited me. Silently he led me across the goat paths towards the lodge. It was not herding season so no one witnessed my crawl through an opening that let in the night air. The longhouse was dim and smoky from oak logs smoldering in the great, stone hearth. An antique bust of Pan watched me from the back of the room. In Thebes, this coarse version of Pan would have been a doorstop. But here in the country, it was worshipped. The crude rock was ancient and blackened from 200 years of offerings. Strapped to Pan’s neck was a silver necklace shaped like a lizard’s claw. The fingers clutched Calypso’s stolen eye. Hearth fires danced with shadow when the men entered.
I ran but Pan smiled and my legs became stone. Heavy, callused hands held me as I struggled. There was a tremendous white flash and then purple darkness. I heard myself moaning as they talked.
“Too thin. They will not like this.”
“The other eye! By the gods!”
“It is him or us. They are wild under the moon…”
“Take him to the shed.”
They gave me syrupy wine to drink and kept me in a forced darkness which I would wake from four times a day. With a wooden tube and stick, they forced honey, porridge and curds down my throat. I gagged but was beaten and deprived of air until I learned to eat. My body grew thicker as my mind eroded. I could not move when they cut me down. The full moon watched as I was dragged to a creek.
They washed me while a priest sang. His attendants lit a half circle of torches that ended in the rushing water. I did not scream as they screwed the silver horns into my skull. The grinding sound was merely curious.
“Long goat, open your hand,” spoke the priest from far, far away.
I opened my hand. The priest poured red powder into my palm. I watched him take a glowing ember from a torch and drop it into my hand.
“Long goat, close your hand.”
I obeyed. Instantly, smoke curled up which I breathed as the priest stepped back. It tasted like musky incense. Then I awoke. Screaming. I dropped the ember into the creek and watched the torches twist to face me like curious, glowing serpents. Confused, I ran away.
I became the wild night air with senses that probed the darkness like boar spears. I could smell women approaching me and hear their bare feet slapping the moist earth as they ran. Crouching in brush near the creek, I waited as they raced by giggling. In this dark stillness, only the moon understood. Then I was grabbed. One hand and then another and more until fighting was useless. The pack descended. Clawed fingers gripped my horns and held down my arms as wild peasant women ripped at my flesh with teeth and bare hands. I could smell Dionysus upon them. I saw a thin girl with dandelion hair stare at me. A trail of intestinal slime led to her bare, dirty feet as she calmly chewed on my meat.
H.P. Mandrake is too cold in California to care. Misses the tropics. Misses surfing. Is not a fan of mainland people, cultures or sitcoms. But man, the Mexican food is awesome.