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The orange Grecian-potted bowl in my hands, filled to the brim with my beautiful trinkets, was not making the sounds that I wanted to hear. Its usual comforting babble was replaced with high, arching scrapes and clatters that I deemed to be unsuitable for my sixth sense hearing to discern.
New trinkets were in order: I needed finer shells, shinier—or, perhaps even, dirtier—coins, and fresher bone. The ossein, however, was the most important of these three needs. For months, I had been using the same fox vertebrae and jackal rib that I had scavenged out of my last hunt, but as of late, the Visions they had been giving me have turned out to be foggier and less accurate than desired.
I needed new, virginal bones. Ossein of a freshly sacrificed animal, not those of roadkill or carrion found on the beach behind my oceanside home.
The Oracle of Delphi was inside of me; I knew this, I’ve known this. All I had to do was reach inside myself and I would feel her warm, earthy presence within my chest and I would be fulfilled with painted pictures of tomorrow’s world. But as of late, her presence was filled with a new sort of rage that I was altogether unfamiliar with: the white hot, bubbling rage of a god-killer. The Oracle’s glass shard of a voice dripped deicide, dripped the seductive oozing of a black hole; a black hole that I was all too willing to become spaghettified in. But the Oracle needed me as much as I needed her. I was her host and she was my clarity, we depended on one another to see the sun and shadows of the collapsing world.
Her veiled voice revealed nothing but a lust for blood for the past few weeks, and I, being her humble servant, her beautiful pet, her beloved green-eyed fire, was determined to please her everlasting needs. If flesh, still warm with the blush of life, cloaked in a smooth red velvet from the inside out, mangled in a beautifully artistic way, was what she desired, then it was what she would get.The Oracle would seductively whisper my name in the dead of night and I would once again be filled with the knowledge that I lived to please her; it was my obligation since she pleased me so with her Sight. We made a fair trade, she and I. And now that her Vision, my sixth sense, was becoming the dull end of the blade, it was my duty to sharpen the knife.
It was dawn and I stood on the shores of the Thermaic Gulf of the Aegean Sea. The dull, bronze blade gripped tightly in my fist was glistening softly in the light of the sun’s bloody birth. I was searching for green turtle shells and washed up fish carcasses. These treasures would suit my agenda just fine because I had high plans for the shells to be the new bowls for my trinkets; the fish bones, I had foolishly hoped, would quench the thirst that the fox vertebrae and jackal rib left within my bewitching, my darling Oracle. The water of the Aegean was warm today, now that the kalends of July were upon Greece, and the wind was balmy as it gently tangled around my arms and through my long, dark hair.
I thought that today would be the most perfect day to call upon the Oracle of Delphi, I thought that maybe she would be in a slightly better mood now that the month of June was gone and over with because her master, Apollo, disliked Hera and her month of “Juno” so. But I was wrong.
With each fish bone I picked up, every turtle shell I detached from the little green creatures, and each sand dollar I robbed from the grainy shores, I felt an impending feeling of distress and agitation that I knew was not my own. My ruby gem, my garnet-eyed beast, my gold-winged angel, was frustrated because I did not understand her needs. I could not. I was not godly like her, I was but a mere mortal simply trying to placate her needs. And her desires, I had begun to realize quite some time ago, were drenched in more than animal blood, in more than the rich and tough sinew of wolves, in more than the the cleaved tails of polecats. She required a human sacrifice, demanded one, screamed for one. All I had to do was scour the meat out and figure out a way to take it down.
“It,” because corpses do not deserve genders. “It,” because spilled blood does not know the distinction between male and female when it looks itself the mirror. “It,” because even bones knew that there was little difference between themselves and the bones of their friends. Hades knew that the excommunicated viscera of a child’s looked little in difference from that of an adult’s. There is no gender in gore, only carnage.
As I stood there, ankle deep in the Thermaic, I began to come to the sudden realization that the baubles I had collected in the light of the rising sun were all for naught. The Oracle was not picky, only particular, and my misguided thoughts that sea life could possibly be what would please her was exactly that: misguided.
So, on the heels of this epiphany, I spun away from the beckoning waters, threw my treasures carelessly into the sand, and began the trek up the beach to my small cottage that was equidistant from the sea and the small town of Litochoro. With the sea on my back and Mount Olympus in my immediate vantage point, I melted into Greece.
My home in the wonderfully small town of Litochoro was not where my roots first began growing. My small, olive-skinned mother, born in Larissa, and my tall, black-haired father, born in Athens, met in Ioannina on holiday by happy coincidence, and birthed me nine months later in Ammoudia, a small fishing village at the mouth of Acheron River in Epirus.
Legend has it that the Necromanteion, an ancient temple devoted to Hades and Persephone, is located at the mouth of the Acheron, while other, conflicting stories say that the temple’s roots are buried in the ancient city of Ephyra. Despite this, it is a mythological certainty that the House of Hades and Persephone derives from the junction between the Acheron River, which flows from the Underworld and is known as the River of Woe, and the Cocytus River, the Underworld’s River of Wailing. Either way, I was born near this dedication to the Lord of the Dead in my small village at the mouth of the mortal Acheron. For some reason, probably for the same reason as my knowledge of the Oracle of Delphi residing inside my lungs, I felt that this connection was deeply important to my sense of identity.
Hades and Persephone had chosen me, I had thought. Brought from two great cities, like the two great rivers, I flowed as one with Greece. I was Greece, and Greece was me. The blood of the gods, of the Oracle, was within me. I was chosen by the gnarled hands of Hades, by the scorching rays of Apollo’s sunshine, by the flowers of Persephone that grew in my mother’s garden out back. This assertion was my defining character. It was important to me that those around me knew just what I could do when it came to the metaphysical realm.
But ultimately, the realization that I was chosen by the godheads was what drove me out of Ammoudia when I became of age. The beautiful beach, the exotic wildlife, the dazzling sun, were not enough to keep me. The knowledge that the Necromanteion could have possibly been beneath my sandaled feet, silently calling out my name, waiting for me to stumble upon its breathtaking ruins, was not enough to hold me down. I needed to escape.
The simple fishermen and craftswomen could not fathom how a girl as small and frail as I could hold such strong spirits inside of my guts. No one could understand that I was not human, that I was something more, my Oracle and I. It was not normal, they would whisper, that I would communicate with the dead, that I would collect animal bones and shells and burn them in order to read the Signs of the Future. Having vision greater than 20/20, in the sixth sense, to my dull neighbors, was considered an “abomination.”
I needed to move, I decided, to the other side of the country where the rumors about me had hopefully not spread yet. Mount Olympus’ golden voice leached into my dreams and whispered to me promises of redemption and revenge, and who was I to pass up such an opportunity? This time around, they would believe me when I said, “Troy’s destruction is imminent.”
My only neighbor for miles was a rather large old man named Alistair, who had beady eyes, the color of my morning coffee, that he used to survey his lawn every afternoon, cigarette dangling haphazardly out of his thin-lipped mouth. His leathery skin was more sun-kissed than most and what was left of his once curly, chocolate hair was small tufty patches of snow. The years had weathered him like an abandoned ship left at the docks.
Before his retirement ten years prior, however, Alistair used to be a hiking tour guide of sorts. Every summer, he would take groups and groups of tourists up the slopes of Mount Olympus with the hopes that someday, perhaps, the gods would notice his patronage, his constant pilgrimages. Alistair would pack his bag full of survival gear, strap on his boots, and up they would go. I had asked him once if he ever saw the Kingdom of the Gods up at the top, and he only stared at me with his beady, little eyes, his thin lips pulled into a tight line. I guess even those who try the hardest will never find holiness, at least, not in this life. Except for me and my Oracle, of course.
Although Alistair only helps train the new generation of Mount Olympus tour guides, he still does hike the mountain at least twice during the summer. However, after spraining his ankle on his last trek the summer prior, I highly doubted that I would see him strapping on his boots and grabbing his walking stick anytime soon. He focused more on his off-season job, now: fishing in the Thermaic Gulf and selling the cuts to tourists and villagers.
The fact that Alistair had seen the highest peak of Mount Olympus more than once was grounds enough for me to decide that he was the flesh that the Oracle desired. Taking into account his age and lackluster familial status, however, I knew he was the one. Being a mid-seventy-year-old with a weak ankle, smoker’s lungs that somehow still managed to breathe in mountain air, with absolutely no living family left made Alistair the perfect candidate for my magnificent plan.
I had decided that it would be best to do in the middle of the night. I’d run over frantically, spewing lies about a nightmare, a burglar, a stranger at the door, and lure him to my rescue. My siren call would not fail me, I knew this. The Oracle of Delphi would make sure the plan went as plotted, even if it was my own dead body that she found solace in when she cleaved herself from my veins and flashed true clarity before my emerald eyes.
It was the Ides of July by the time I had bucked up the courage to go through with my little scheme. The temperature was a record high and the humidity was almost tangible, so I suppose that could be a driving factor as to why I was suddenly able to seriously toy with the idea of sacrificing Alistair to my Oracle—they say that heat does strange things to the human mind.
I had risen early to the quiet sound of the Thermaic kissing the shore and the loud squawks of the native sea birds. Catlike, I stretched in bed, groggily went through my morning routine, and made my way downstairs before I settled into my kitchen for breakfast. After toasting a piece of lightly olived bread that I had made a few days prior, slathering it with Thyme honey, and cutting up a ripe peach, I poured myself a cup of coffee—black—and sat back in my chair with the newspaper sprawled out on the table before me.
Rocking back and forth on the legs of my cedar chair, I looked out the northern window of my cottage, towards Alistair’s house, between bites of bread and articles in the paper. I don’t know why. Perhaps because there was no really interesting news in the paper: the same old terrorist groups were running rampant in Athens; a woman lost her son at a beach on Crete and later found him an island over on Kasos, wandering the domestic fish markets; a man lost his arm in a rather violent argument over a football match, etc. It all seemed rather drab—so been there, done that—to me. And I knew what would make the biggest headline of them all, what would take the media by storm and dominate the news for weeks. All I had to do was go through with it carefully and no one would even know it was me.
So as I finished with my last gulp of coffee and nibbled on my final slice of peach, I began to dream up the ways of which I could sacrifice his body to the Oracle. No doubt it would have to be in my cellar, where I held up altars made of pure bloodstone for Apollo, Hades, and Persephone that intertwined one another with the help of vines of overgrown plants that had crept down from the garden outside my cottage. His blood would spill over all three altars, I decided, but I would give each god a single rib as further tribute for their patronage. The rest of the body, however, would go to my little fire opal, my red diamond prize, for the Visions that she would bestow upon me.
My plan was foolproof, I thought. I checked my kitchen and found all my knives nicely sharpened and just about singing with joy over finally being used for a holier-than-thou purpose. My favorite one, the short bronze blade that I had received for my eighteenth birthday as a coming-of-age gift from my father, the one that I used to cut out the soft bellies of turtles in order to get to their shells and to slit the throat of tangled foxes that found themselves stuck in my snares, was the brightest of them all. I promptly named the blade Lysias, or, one who destroys, and the twin blade it came with, the knife that I tended to be a bit unfavorable towards because of its slightly longer length, Odessa, or, filled with wrath.
Rooting through my cellar, I organized exactly twelve black and red candles, six of each, in pristine order upon the shrines. I laid the bow and arrow that I had spent months crafting down in front of Apollo’s altar and covered it with the leaves of the tallest palm tree the beach behind my cottage offered. Following this, I placed the chunks of gold and silver that I had worked so hard to burgle from the richest and most naive tourist of Litochoro at the foot of Hades’ shrine, and beside it, I situated a sheaf of grain and an obsidian bowl of deseeded pomegranate before Persephone’s altar. I then took my twin blades and dug them into the soft earthy floor of the cellar, in the exact middle of the three shrines, Lysias facing the north and Odessa facing the south. The sacrifice could now commence.
The night was going through the childbirth of a new moon and the pure onyx canvas of the Heavens was lit only by tiny puncture holes in the shapes of imagined friends and foes. Draco slithered with Serpens across the darkness, Hercules fought off an invisible enemy, and Pegasus whinnied as he prepared for flight. Although it was by mere coincidence, I thought it appropriate to put my plan in action on the night of a new moon; it was as if Hades’ Helm of Darkness was protecting me from any wandering eyes.
I slipped into the navy blue nightgown that I hardly ever wore and messily knotted my hair at the crown of my head. The more I looked as if I had been awoken in the night by some sort of unknown terror, I thought, the more likely Alistair would be to come to my aid. I lightly slapped my cheeks a few times to turn them crimson and (hopefully) blotchy, carefully splashed water on my eyelids for a teary effect, and rubbed my dark eyes rather harshly in effort to make them seem bloodshot. After mussing my hair up a bit more and slipping on a pair of non-matching slippers, I deemed myself good to go.
My first step outside was like walking head first into a brick wall constructed entirely in humidity and cicadas. The insects’ song was the foreshadowing music at the beginning of a rather suspenseful scene in a horror movie. I cracked a small smile at this thought. It pleased me to know that this wasn’t just some film, conjured up in the mind of some sociopathic screenwriter; this was real, this was me, this was the Oracle of Delphi, and together we were going to bring justice to Apollo, Hades, and Persephone by bringing a proper sacrifice before them, before Mount Olympus. We would please the gods, which would then please the Oracle, who would then please me. It was the most beautiful order, I thought.
Making sure to leave my front door ajar, as if I had forgotten to close it in the throes of panic, I scurried over to Alistair’s small cottage that was less than a half mile from my own, and vastly different in appearance.
His front porch was beginning to see some obvious signs of weather mistreatment. Sagging, and slightly rotten, the woodwork told grim tales of boot scratches and dimples delivered from the careless dropping of heavy artifacts. The shutters that were once a proud turquoise, the exact shade of the sea, had faded to a near Alice blue, and the khaki colored stones that made up the rest of his entire house were seasoned from harsh winds and pummeling rain. More than a few of these bricks had begun to fall over the years, and Alistair had done little more than patch it up with plaster. Where I took great care of my house and its outlying gardens, Alistair did little more than shrug at the possibility of his cottage caving in on him. Old age had given him a little too much nonchalance, if you asked me.
After barreling—carefully—up the decaying stairs of Alistair’s front porch, I paused for a moment, hesitated, with my fist up in the air, inches from his door. Time resumed and I let go; almost savagely, I began to pound on his door, screeching his name, choking on my fake hysterical cries, I wailed what I had hoped was a convincing moan of panicked frustration.
It worked. He flung open his door within a matter of seconds.
He was dressed in his pajamas, an old nightgown that was probably from 1950 and a well-worn cap, and his feet bared light blue slippers that he must have bought last winter. Alistair seemed slightly out of breath, as if he had run to the door from his upstairs bedroom, which he probably had, and there were a few windswept tufts of alabaster hair poked out from under his light green cap.
“Cassandra?” He croaked my name in bewilderment, as if he couldn’t possibly believe that I was standing on his doorstep in the middle of the night, dressed in a nightgown, expression contorted with hysteria. And, I guess I would have had that same, dumb look on my face if the positions had been reversed.
“Alistair,” I wheezed out between pants. “You’ve got to help me!” I doubled over, putting my hands on my knees to triple the effect. “There’s someone in my house! I didn’t know what else to do, who else to go to! The police would never get here in time!”
My poor, naive neighbor. His eyes just about bulged out of his head at my words and his mouth gaped open so far that I thought it might touch the floor in a matter of seconds.
“Please!” I cried, reaching out and grabbing his hand, trying to pull him towards my awaiting cellar. “Please, you’ve got to help me! I need to get that man out of my house!”
After gaining composition of himself, Alistair straightened his back and rolled his shoulders with determination. “Hold on,” he said, “I need to lock up Kipsy and I’ll be right back.”
Kipsy was Alistair’s dark brown mutt that I swear was as old as its master. It growled at nearly everything and barked all the time for no goddamn reason. I hated it. I often thought about sacrificing the stupid dog instead of its equally stupid master to my Oracle.
Alistair returned moments later and allowed me to pull him to his unknown doom.
There are many words to describe what I did to my poor, unsuspecting, elderly neighbor, so I’ll just name a few. Sacrificed, killed, murdered, disemboweled, beheaded, slaughtered, exterminated, executed, annihilated, eradicate, erase, rub out, did away with, snuff out, crucified, tortured, immolated, liquidated, abolished, silenced, purged, obliterated, vaporized, demolished, razed, eviscerated, gutted, etc. The list goes on and on.
To put it simply, I lead him down the stone steps of my cellar, kept him charmed with my knee-shaking, teary-eyed act, and pounced on him with Lysias and Odessa when he wasn’t looking. I shoved the favored blade between his ribs and slowly flicked my wrist upwards, while I used the other blade to slice open his right carotid artery. Angling the neck towards the altars, I dowsed all three of them in the projectiled waterfall that was the body’s blood. It wasn’t until the bleeding began to slow that I carefully set the body down on the floor and set to work.
Moving the body’s head north and arranging its limbs at corresponding compass points, I carefully sliced the nightgown that the carcass wore in one fell swoop with Odessa’s blade and then stuck Lysias hilt-deep within the corpse’s skin, sliding down as if I were cutting vegetables for dinner in order to gain a better vantage point of the rib cage. The rest of my handiwork began to get a bit hazy around this point. I began to see in fractions of time, like a film strip missing frames. All I remember is the constant smile that I wore on my face as I pulled organ after organ from the cadaver’s slightly overly plump frame, and thinking just how easy it is, just how enthralling it is, to erase a life.
And in the end, my final product was a literal shell of a body: no organs, no bones, no musculature, no blood vessels, no nothing. All that was left was a hollow bit of skin in the shape of a human being, and this pleased me, my Oracle, and the gods more than words can describe. I had done well.
In retrospect, I guess that I was a bit vicious in my handiwork, perhaps even wickedly so, but at the time, in that adrenaline-pumping moment, “right” and “wrong” seemed to vanish from existence. Everything seemed so noble, so pure, so philanthropic, so holy. The Oracle was singing in my lungs, the bit of Rome in my blood was dancing as it burned, Mount Vesuvius was re-erupting beneath my skull, and it all was how it should have been. But so it goes, I suppose.
I stood back and admired the carrion for a moment before I thought to lite the remains ablaze in the fire pit I had constructed earlier out of a few rocks from Alistair’s own garden. After placing a rib on each of the three altars, I dragged the literal husk of a person to the corner, dowsed it in kerosene, lit a match, and watched. The smell charred my nostrils and left acidic scorch marks down my throat, but I did not care. I only cared about removing the evidence and sacrificing it to my saviors—to Apollo, to Hades, to Persephone, to the Oracle of Delphi.
After not even ashes were left of the corpse, my eyes seemed to wobble in their sockets, and I felt a wicked Cheshire grin smear its way across my face; it had worked. My Oracle counterpart was simply crooning in joy, twisting and turning in happy little dances that only I could feel beneath the cage of my chest. I could feel the metaphysical aspect of my body being pulled at like tiny pats on the back by the gods themselves, and I knew I had done the correct thing.
The Oracle of Delphi clawed at my ribs and pulled me from the inside out, like one great vacuuming black hole, into her awaiting mouth. Her jagged teeth accidentally sliced into my flesh as she shoved my very protoplasm past her chapped lips and down her desperate mouth. I felt the splash of her stomach acid against my greedy fingers and heard the cruel gurgling noises that she was making as she crammed my flesh further and further down her raw throat.
Closing my eyes against the carnage, I fell limp as a fish and allowed it to happen because I had known from the very beginning that this would be my reward for my marvelous sacrifice. The Oracle and I would finally be one, no more she, no more I, but a resounding we, a resounding us, in its place.
The gift bestowed upon me by the gods was more than the simple Vision that I had wanted in the first place, it was much, much more. I was much, much more. I became the Oracle of Delphi, we became the pythia together.