PseudoPod 831: Idomeneja

Show Notes

From the author: “The speculative elements from this story are based on the death masks found in the grave circles at the site at Mycenae. I have taken serious artistic liberties with the archaeology and the language, Linear B.”

 

 


Idomeneja

by Eris Young


The whole ride back to the village I hold you steady in the bed of the pickup, praying the straps hold, the wood isn’t rotted, that you won’t be tumbled into dust before I even get you out. Every dip, every hill crested, my heart jumps into my mouth. Sweating, I look eastward, watching for light creeping back into the sky.

It’s morning by the time I get you back and into the house. Relief of a cool entryway, of knowing you’re safe in the garage below the tiles under my feet. Birdsong comes in through an open window somewhere. I wash the dust off my skin and it pools, red, around the drain.

I crawl into my sleeping bag for a few hours, then sit on the balcony to watch the sun move. It dips behind the ridge to the west, but I wait, chewing my cuticles, for true sunset. When it is well past the horizon, when it is safe, I go downstairs.

Now that I have you, I don’t feel rushed. The house, paid up for a month, has olive groves all around. It sits in a construction site, the builders paid to go away. In the village near the dig site they are used to archaeologists, to not asking questions when something needs to disappear. This is not even the first time Christos has been asked to drive to the site after dark. I will find out later that the fee he charged me is a standard one.


The wood is rotted on top: some water has pooled on it, at some point, in the last two thousand years. It splinters blackly as I pry the lid open, heart pounding.

Your mask is delicate, rumpled. I hold it under the bare bulb to see the inscriptions, and it nearly floats out of my hands. Later I will look again, trying to find the ghost of your features there, but the design is too stylised. It might as well be my own face beaten into the metal.

I take a photo, with flash, and hear a rustle, no louder than a scrap of paper falling to the floor. We are the only ones here, so I know it is you. The idea that you might be so keen to meet me makes me want to cry.

I’ve been putting off looking at you. Don’t think it’s because I’m afraid to see your face. It’s been ten years since I found out about you, six since I started planning. I knew from the first second what I would find in your sarcophagus.

You are beautiful. The fruit of so much labour, I can finally taste. I lean over to kiss you on what remains of your teeth, careful not to disturb your jaw. You kick, or twitch, again. I lick your dust off my lips and whisper,

Idomeneja

You don’t move, but I feel you respond to your name, and suddenly I understand: you have been waiting for me much longer than I’ve been waiting for you. So I don’t flinch or hesitate at all. Are you proud of me?

The first few drops fall onto your face, sending up little puffs of brown dust, but then they start to absorb. I try and get as many as I can into your mouth, until they start leaking out again through a hole in your jaw or neck.

I grow dizzy: we are both shaking like leaves. I can still hear you rustling as I climb the stairs into the house, lock the door behind me.


You drink from me every night, like a baby bird, a calf. Your fingers grow softer, your grip stronger. Your mouth bruises the skin of my inner arm. It hurts. I know it hurts, my love. You’re regrowing muscle, bright new teeth burrowing their way out of your skull, your crushed pelvis reassembling itself. I’m sharing the pain with you, savouring it as you savour me.

I’m hungry all the time, too, as if I was nursing you, or growing you in my womb. I eat peanut butter from the jar, handfuls of fried whitebait. Meat, rare and red. I take iron supplements, and still wake up each evening, ready to go to your side, dizzy.

But you will take much, much more from me before this is all done.

I pace, fidget, impatient. My fingertips fray with the action of my teeth. Now that I’m so close to what I want, my body feels more tired and shabby than ever.


One morning, with you asleep for the day, I finally take out the mask: I’ve been too preoccupied with you to look at it.

I recognise a few ideograms right away, from textbooks or other digs: one meaning ‘burnt’, another meaning ‘pure’ or ‘clean’. I have to work at the rest, and the mask is too delicate to take a rubbing. I should open a curtain to let in more light, but that feels somehow risky, as if the sun will burn me, too.

I find mention of the mask’s ‘holder’ or ‘keeper’, but nothing of a ‘wearer’. One figure stands out, significant: ‘corded’ or ‘bound’. It becomes clear that the mask is more than just grave goods. But the language is opaque, ritualised. Not meant to be understood by someone from my century. So my suspicions can only remain suspicions, for now.

Just to be sure, though, I lock it back into the hidden panel inside my hardshell suitcase, securing it before I go to wake you.


Your cataracts clear. Your face fills out. I start to see how you must have looked in life. You are younger than I expected. I sit you down in the bathtub and clean away the dirt of 3,000 years with a washcloth and baby shampoo. I massage conditioner into your scalp. You press back into my fingers, eyes closed.

Your hair grows to thigh-length, then stops. Your bottom lip is full, so you appear to pout. As my body becomes thinner, yours grows languid, plump. Is this what you looked like at the moment of your death?

It must be: though your throat is smoother and more golden every day, there is a red gash here like a second mouth, refusing to knit. I know from when I unearthed you that whatever did this scored the bone. So even when you appear whole, pretty scarf from a tourist shop covering your neck, you can only mouth words at me, throat straining, in a language I can neither hear nor understand. My chest tightens with a gnawing grief at your lost language, realising I’ll never hear you speak it.

You are so hungry. It hurts me to admit that you need far more than I can give you. I do what you need me to do, of course. But I go about it angry, jealous. I make more of a mess than I should.


And after that, of course, we must leave. I’ll get a passport made for you by someone I know in Athens. It’s silly, but I take a photo with my phone, just to make sure you’ll show up. I set it as my lock screen, like we’re a couple on vacation together.

By the time I’ve locked up, dropped the key into the mail slot, you’ve already climbed into the driver’s side of Christos’ pickup. You buckle in, adjust mirror and seat-back while I stand, frozen, in the driveway, trying not to let you see how startled I am. I don’t know what it means that you know how to drive a stickshift: a skill I have not taught you. A skill I don’t even have; I had planned for us to walk to the village, where there is an all-night car rental.

I am tired, though. I let you drive, fall asleep watching your eyes move in their sockets, the graceful economy of your soft arm turning the wheel, your fingers curled around the tennis ball stuck onto the head of the gear shift.

I wake to suburbs. I’ve been worried the city would frighten you, but you drink it in, stripes of streetlight and neon painting your hungry face. I think you realise there will be more for you here. The thought sets my stomach fluttering.

Athens is huge, dirty, loud, busy, even at night. It is crumbling and ancient and gorgeous. It suits you. You reach up to finger the glass mati hanging from the rearview. You read exit signs and ease from highway to side street. Like you’ve driven this way before.

I go cold. I remember Christos’ body, lighter than a bundle of sticks in my arms.  It rattled in its skin as I tipped it into the turned earth of the construction site. I had let you drain him completely: you were so hungry, and at the time I couldn’t see what harm it would do.

Now, I think through the implications, the possibilities. I wonder what else you’ve learned from Christos. My throat begins to itch with a familiar restless want, like thirst.


You are capable of such drama. I sleep in one night, and wake to find you tearing up the hotel room. You’re so wild I don’t immediately realise you’re looking for something. My suitcase is lying open in a corner, cloth lining shredded. My chest tightens, but the false panel is still intact.

I breathe out slowly, trying not to look toward the suitcase. You turn to me and gesticulate, mouthing silently in your ancient language. Then you kneel. You beg. I know what you want. It is so close I could give it to you with a glance in the right direction. But I keep still, my face a perfect blank, as if I do not understand.

You fly at me, in inhuman, incandescent malice. But your clawed hand stops just short of my eyes. I do not flinch. You’ve confirmed my suspicions: you cannot hurt me. You seem to realise it at the same time I do, and become docile again.


As a treat, I take you out to eat. To be safe, we have to wait until very late, three or four in the morning. You fill out a gold lamé dress you’ve chosen for yourself– high-collared, of course. I’m gaunt and pale in the only suitable thing I own: a black cocktail dress I used to wear to conferences. I show you how to walk in heels.

We go to Exarchia, join a group of young men drunk enough not to care who we are, to mind my accented Greek, your silence. As we’d hoped, one of them latches onto you. You catch my eye and drop back, letting him pull you into an alley. After a minute I shout,

“I’m going to check on my friend!” No one notices me leave.

The nameless boy is very drunk. He doesn’t mind when your teeth sink into his neck. Maybe he thinks it’s sexy.

But as his face goes grey and he starts weakly to struggle, I remember the smooth action of your hand on the gear shift. I remember Christos. I wonder what this Greek boy knows that I don’t.

I reach between you and the lolling teenager and gently turn your face to mine.

“We can’t kill anybody here. It’s too dangerous.”

Your body tenses. The lamps of your hungry eyes fall on me, your mouth smeared black in the dark. For a moment I think you’ll see through me, to the real reason I won’t let you drain this boy. That you will try to hurt me again. But of course, you don’t. I let you drink from me, back at the hotel.


And then, it happens. I’d thought there would be more fanfare, somehow. But you simply pull away from me one evening and offer up your own wrist. I take your hand, feel its weight. I need to make sure you are really doing this, that I’m not dreaming this moment, as I have a thousand times before.

I shudder all over, touch my lips to the skin of your wrist, peach-soft. I look in your eyes and see resolution there, determination. You are making this choice, and earlier than I had dared hope.

Your blood is thick and bright and sweet. It flows like honey down my throat. I open myself to accept it. It runs down my chin and between my breasts, into my lap. It tastes just as I knew it would.

And when I can hold no more, you must drink it back from me. I knew this would come, have been craving this moment for a decade; I’m not frightened. You must empty me completely so newness can fill me. A sigh escapes me. I give it all to you, no holding back anymore. I reach up to grasp your shoulders, but my arms are weak. You are so tender as you lay me down.


It’s quiet. I can’t see. I’m not breathing, no pulse beating in my neck. The urge to fidget, to pace or chew my fingernails, is gone. I realise I have never felt my body completely at rest before.

I wait for you to come to me, knowing I have all the time in the world.

My body is so heavy. I’m hungry– thirsty. I know what I need. Just thinking about it starts up a want in me deep and pulsing, just like I’ve wanted you all these years. I give myself up to this sweet want for a while, soak in it.

I move my head, and something shifts. I drag my arm up and drop my hand onto my face– all the movement I can manage. My fingers meet familiar contours, the particular slick delicacy of beaten gold. The mask is much heavier than I remember.

My fingers scrabble, instinctively trying to pull the mask off my face. But before I can hook a fingertip under it my hand seizes, nerves on fire, like someone is bending my fingers back on themselves, pulling them out of their sockets, and I have to drop my hand. I try to move, to feel around where I am, but raising my arm took all the strength I had. I stop, waiting for the pain to subside.

I’m on a rough surface, stone. A breeze touches my neck, smelling of greenery, dust and urine.

Where am I? Where are you? I try to call out, Idomeneja!, but my voice is dead in my throat.

I hear something, a car driving by, wind rustling through leaves. Distant bark of a dog. I can feel more than see the open sky above me.

Something else starts up, quiet but slowly gathering. A new sound. It’s pretty, I think, before I realise what it means. All of a sudden, I know what you’ve done. Why you gave me what I wanted so readily. If I had the strength, would I weep, or laugh?

The sound is birdsong. It rises all around me with the dawn.

About the Author

Eris Young

Eris Young

Eris Young is a queer, transgender author of speculative fiction. Their work has appeared in magazines such as Escape Pod, Fusion Fragment and Metastellar, as well as anthologies including Uncanny Bodies, from Luna Press Publishing, and their story All That Water won first prize in the 2021 British Fantasy Society short story competition. They are the fiction editor at Shoreline of Infinity sci fi magazine.

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About the Narrator

Steph P. Bianchini

Steph P. Bianchini lives in Scotland after (regretfully) relocating from East Asia. They are a scientist and an academic by professional practice and a historian by education. They blog about the space sector, speculative fiction, and Japanese manga at The Earthian Hivemind and edit the ezine “Frozen Wavelets” of speculative flash fiction and poetry.  As a fiction writer, Steph is a member of SFWA and HWA, writing under the byline Russell Hemmell. Their short stories and poetry have appeared in various publications, including Aurealis, Cast of Wonders, Flame Tree Press, The Grievous Angel, and others. They joined the PseudoPod team as an associate editor in 2020.

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