I coasted down the mountainside with dew beneath my feet and air kissing my cheeks. All the wolves howled, all the crickets chirped, and the all owls hooted as I passed. All the night creatures offered their greetings for I was their guardian.
I was Syrinx, the nymph charged with protecting the wilderness from the axes of man.
This was Arcadia a hidden place untouched by seasons, where flowers were always in bloom and rocks were evergreen.
My sisters’ laughter carried down the mountainside. They were frolicking on the highest peak, perfecting their dance routines. Most Nymphs used dance to sway the hearts of men from committing violence on the woodlands. I wanted to influence men’s hearts with my mind, with my writing.
I rode down the slope until I was certain I was alone. I reached into my tunic and produced the instruments of my craft: a sheet of papyrus, a quill, and a bottle of vegetable juice.
The papyrus was blank which meant tonight was going to be filled with “What if” statements, the questions where all stories come from.
I twirled the quill. “What if the Spartans kill a child in one of their brutal hazing rituals and he claws his way back from the underworld for revenge?”
I skipped into the forest and pitched my idea to the trees.
“The story could take place at the encampment near Krýstallo Lake. Let’s say the councilmen row to the center of the waters and tell the cadets to swim to shore. Careless, they let one drown. Little do they know the cadet’s mother is a powerful necromancer. She resurrects her son to exact revenge on the encampment.”
I bowed to the shrubs so they could follow the plot.
“What if this young Spartan comes back, hardened by the fighting pits of Hades? Oh, and now he’s a hulking giant wearing a tragedy mask and wielding a rusty makhaira.”
The shrubs swayed in the wind, nodding at my pitch.
“Back at the encampment, the councilmen are too distracted with wine and women to secure the grounds. The resurrected Spartan guts them all one by one.”
I spread the title in my hands. “I’ll call it Paraskeví the 13th.”
The trees clapped their branches in approval.
I kept walking to keep the inspiration flowing. I came upon a clearing where Eros, the god of love was bickering with Pan, the self-professed god of lust.
Eros’s feathers were aflutter and Pan’s tail was wagging furiously. Both had quivers on their backs and bows in their hands. Pan pointed to the peak of the mountain, the tallest tree in the forest, and a target strapped to a barrel of hay in front of them.
The gods were having an archery contest. My sisters had said the two were bitter frenemies and their midnight matches often stretched into the morning. They weren’t intruders per say, but I figured I ought to keep an eye on them.
Pan caught me watching. He licked his fingers and ran his claws through his beard. He winked in my direction and returned to the competition.
I turned away. My time was better spent sharing my words with the woods.
I pinched my quill. “What if there is a nightmare with the power to kill sleepers? Not one of Phobetor’s minions, but like a rogue agent. Maybe a mortal who steals the power to invade dreams?”
The leaves tilted in my direction eager to see where I was going.
I tapped the quill to my teeth. “Let’s say the killer is a custodian at the Academy of Athens. He stalks the philosophers’ prized pubescent playthings. The philosophers discover him and burn his cabin to the ground. The students think themselves safe, safe as they can be, until the custodian appears in their dreams.”
The blossoms at my feet closed their pedals, cupping their ears, to hear me clearer.
“Let’s say the custodian draws his victims someplace creepy, like an iron forge on the outskirts of Morpheus’s domain? Oh and he looks like a nightmare too. Let’s say he wears a wide-brimmed cap to hide his face, a green and red robe to conceal his scorched skin, and a gauntlet with daggers for fingers. Oh and when he cuts the boys in their dreams they wake up bleeding.”
I spread my fingers through the air. “I’ll call it A Nightmare on Fteliá Street.”
The trees clapped so hard their pinecones rained down. Still, I wasn’t satisfied. I knew I could come up with something better if only those feuding gods weren’t there. I had no idea how long they’d be so I tiptoed closer to hear who was winning.
Pan pointed across the terrain. “Through that stone arch that looks like your mother’s open legs, off the boulder that looks like Ares’s limp dick, nothing but target.”
Eros raised his eyebrow. “You do know Ares is my father, right?”
Pan shook his head. “Not the way I heard it.”
“I’ll tell him you said that.”
“Can you make the shot or not, baby face?”
Eros bowed. “After you, goatsie.”
Pan drew an arrow from his quiver, licked one of the feathers, and strung it through his bow. He put his right hoof forward, drew the string past his beard, and aimed for the boulder.
Eros leaned over Pan’s shoulder.
Pan released the arrow. It zipped beneath the arch, ricocheted off the boulder, and landed diagonally in the center of the target.
Pan leapt high and clicked his hooves together. His tail wagged so fast it blurred.
Eros smirked. “Alright, settle down goat boy.”
The cherub reached into his quiver, rolled an arrow through his fingers, and plucked at his bow like he was playing a drawstring bass.
Pan swatted the breeze. “Come on you glorified New Year’s baby.”
Eros strung the arrow through the string, turned to Pan, and made the shot blind. The arrow dinged off the rock and sliced Pan’s arrow in half.
Pan’s tail went limp.
Eros’s wing wrapped around his shoulder and flapped toward his face, fanning a yawn.
Pan cracked his neck. “Good, you’re awake. Now we can get serious.” He pointed to the heavens, “Off of Andromeda’s forehead, off of Orion’s belt, off the moon, nothing but target.”
Eros blew on his fingernails. “Good luck breaching the stratosphere.”
“Oh, go pee in a fountain.”
Pan licked his palms, rubbed them together, and ran them through his hair. He dug into his quiver for the right arrow, held it before his eyes, and pinched the feathers until he was satisfied with their placement.
Pan strung the arrow through the bow and aimed it straight up. He pulled the string back until his arms were wide open and the bow bent. He gritted his teeth. The resistance pulsed through his biceps.
Pan let go. The arrow blasted off with a trail of flame, a comet hurling into the cosmos. It sparked off of Andromeda’s forehead, shattered Orion’s belt, left a crater on the moon, and plummeted back to earth. It impacted in a shockwave of smoke and pine needles. When the dust settled it was clear the arrow had left a flaming hole right in the center of the target.
Pan pumped his fist, moonwalked on his hooves, spun around, and did a little kick.
“Suck it, Eros. Suck it!”
Eros stretched his wings wide, interlocked his fingers, and cracked his back. He reached into his quiver, twirled an arrow, and combed through the feathers. He pressed the arrowhead between his fingers, and held it out in his palms to check the balance. He was taking his sweet time.
Another idea for a story came to me then. This one felt electric, like it was important.
I turned to the trees. “What if the Romans invaded Greece, stole our Gods, and rebranded them with different names? May they call Eros something stupid like, I don’t know, what rhymes with stupid? Drupid, Screwpid, Cupid? Something dumb like that.”
The treetops bent. Blossoms opened in my direction. Even the grass leaned in to listen.
“What if sometime later a Roman emperor decided there was only one God and the Olympians were actually demons?”
The treetops nodded, tell us more.
“What if the Olympians went into hiding while one of the lesser gods took his new role as a chance to become more powerful? What if he studied Rome’s new theology and crowned himself the prince of demons?”
I clapped. “Now that’s a fucking villain!”
There was a twang. I turned to see Eros on his back and his arrow flying light years off coarse.
Pan raised a hand to his brow. “Going…going…and there are going to be some really pissed off Martians.”
Eros’s wings sprung him off the ground. He landed on one knee and a fist and he looked pissed. “That doesn’t count. I was distracted by that babbling bitch.” He pointed at me.
Pan crossed his arms. “You’ve been trying to throw me off my game all night and now you get your pampers in a twist because of some muttering nymph?”
Eros balled his hands into fists. “Yes, because that chick isn’t playing.”
“Maybe she ought to be.” Pan winked at me again.
Eros bit his lip. I hadn’t been around a lot of gods, but I knew wrath when I saw it. The cherub reached into his quiver and loaded his bow.
“Maybe she should indeed.”
Pan’s chest heaved forward. He wobbled on the tips of his hooves and fell to his knees. His mouth hung open and his tail went slack. He reached back, fumbled between his shoulders, plucked the arrow out, and snapped it in his fist. Blood spurt from the wound. It turned to mist before it could hit the grass. The wound sizzled and popped. Spirals rolled up the god’s back. When they passed the wound had vanished.
Pan took a deep breath, blew smoke from his nostrils, and turned toward the sore loser. Then something bubbled up inside of him. He clutched at his chest and shifted his eyes back to me. They were glowing as red as hearts. I also knew what that look meant.
Whatever chemical cocktail Eros had spiked his arrowhead with it was potent.
I turned and ran down the mountain, hoping fauns were like bears and stumbled on their way downhill. It wasn’t until I’d committed to the direction that I realized Pan was bipedal and he’d close the gap in no time.
I needed a new strategy so I dove into the underbrush. Gravity would do me no favors, but the forest had my back. The bushes cleared, rose pedals bloomed to show me the way forward, and leaves fell to hide my tracks as I passed.
When Pan followed me into the woods vines descended to wrap their tendrils around him.
The pines dipped down to lift me into the canopy. I swung from the branches while the vines wrapped around Pan’s ankles, hands, and mouth. They held him for a moment, but the beast bit, swiped, and jerked his way free. Then he turned around and kicked the trees hard enough to split their trunks and reduce their bodies to stumps.
I vaulted from the treetops as they tipped. I had no time to lament my charges falling to protect their guardian. I kept leaping until I realized that the tree line was ending. There was a river ahead and the gap was too wide to jump.
My sisters, the wood nymphs, were on the top of the mountain, too far to come to my aid, but my cousins, the river nymphs, were right ahead working on their synchronized swimming routines. I watched them splash from my perch. Their legs bobbed from the water in a circular formation.
“Cousins!” I cried. “It’s I, Syrinx and I’m dire need of help. Pan’s been driven feral by Eros’s arrow. He’s cut a path of destruction through the forest. I beg you, please, grant me refuge in your waters.”
The nymphs swam together, treaded water, and whispered into each other’s ears. When they acknowledged me they spoke as one.
“Have you eaten in the last thirty minutes?”
I wiped the berry juices from my lips, “Not much, does it matter?”
The river nymphs bickered.
“Have you showered today?”
I pointed to the sky. “It hasn’t rained, so no.”
Their bickering grew louder.
“Do you have proper bathing attire?”
I felt beneath my tunic and shrugged. “I can go commando.”
The nymphs crossed their arms. “The river is at capacity, sorry.”
The forest groaned behind me. I looked to see the canopy collapsing. Pan was knocking several trees down at once.
I went out on a limb. “Cousins please! Can you do something to keep Pan from getting his hands on me?”
The river nymphs huddled, whispered amongst each other, and swam out into a line. “We can turn you into a bloom of algae, a growth of duckweed, or a clump of reeds.”
“Do you have anything where I can still, you know, walk and talk and drink wine sometimes?”
The nymphs shook their heads. “Those are your options.”
“Fine, fuck it. I’ll go with the reeds.”
The tree I was hiding in quaked. I looked down to see a pair of red eyes staring up at me. Pan knocked the trunk over. I dove into the river. The moment my fingers pierced the water my body turned into reeds.
Pan watched this transformation, but that didn’t stop him from pacing around the clump. He waited for me to change back again. Those terrible red eyes trailed around my stalks all night. He circled until morning, when at last he sat at the river’s edge and pouted.
Pan let out a long lonely sigh. It flowed through my stalks and came out as a whistle. He was so startled by the sound he shot up. He huffed and puffed to see if he could reproduce that same tone. His breath reverberated through my hollow body and then he grabbed at me.
Pan tore out my stalks, arranged them from smallest to largest, and tied them together with twine woven from hairs he plucked from his tail. He’d broken my connection to my cousins. I would never be able to put quill to papyrus again. I was to be a Pan’s flute forever, the instrument of his artistic expression at the expense of my own.
Ain’t that some bullshit.