Short Stories - A Greek Out of Time
A Short Story
This is a story I wrote and attempted to get published in numerous anthologies and contests. Of course I have never heard anything back so why not publish it here on Hubpages? Enjoy my friends, please tell me if it stinks, that would explain why I never get a reply. I should also mention that if this work bears some similarities to an HP lovecraft work, big similarities, then you are well read. I wrote this as an homage to the genre. In fact it was originally crafted with being published in an anthology full of such homages in mind. Hmm...what an ugly sentence, but you get the idea.
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A GREEK OUT OF TIME
In the small Greek city of Duvyar not long after the fall of Troy the priests of Apollo prayed fervently to their god. Oracles recently predicted the doom of the city and all those inhabiting it. It fell now to the priests to ask the gods for advice, to see if there was a means to avoiding this fate. So far there had been no answers forthcoming.
“In these hallowed halls, we humble priests of mighty Apollo give thanks and offer our prayers. In this city’s hour of need we join together as one, gathered from every last shrine and temple, great sun god, we can only hope you hear our prayers.” The priest spoke with a wavering voice. He was among the oldest of his fellows, with only two who were older than he. He made a sign in the air and behind him the initiates and full fledged priests knelt as one, faced the now rising sun, and quietly prayed.
Nearby, two Greek officers looked on. Sergeant Juviades looked to his commanding officer and asked, “How long?”
“They’ll spend the entire day like this. Not eating or resting until the last ray of sunlight disappears over the horizon.” Lieutenant Icleades replied.
“Then I’ll wait.” The sergeant said.
Icleades merely nodded and walked out of the temple. He had other things to occupy his time, like a wife and children who needed his calming presence.
The entire city was in an uproar with travelers hastening to leave and those farmers who had come to market quick to follow. Many of the homes he passed had been barricaded from within. He ignored them as best he could manage. He’d only barely convinced his wife that such extremes were unnecessary but more and more of their neighbors were following suit or simply leaving and he feared she would begin to demand they take some kind of action. She, like many others, was not thinking clearly. He wondered idly as he neared his villa if all of Greece was in such turmoil or if it was merely their city and that was all. Because of the near encircling ring of rocky hills that surrounded them no messengers would be quick to make it to Duvyar.
Arriving at his modest villa he found his wife’s slaves weeping at the doorstep. They saw him and one fell heavily at his feet.
“Master, forgive me.” The cur groveled, never moving his eyes off the ground. The other slaves huddled behind the first, tears streaking their dirty faces.
“What’s happened?” He asked in his strict officer’s tone, expecting obedience.
“The mistress has taken the master’s children and left the city with his cowardly neighbors.” The slave choked back a sob.
Icleades wasn’t surprised, nor should he have been. His fiery wife had threatened to leave many times during the last two weeks. Ever since that cursed oracle had made her announcement that the last days of their fine city were drawing nigh.
She’d always been prone to panic, his opposite in every way. Now she was gone and though he was sure he should have felt some remorse instead he could only feel relieved. With his wife and children gone he could now concentrate fully on his duties. Nothing personal would taint his decisions or orders henceforth. He could almost hear her ranting, “I hope you’re happy, Icleades, you’ve finally gotten your way. How do you like being alone?”
He was thankful the slaves feared him and never looked him in the face. It would not do for anyone to see him smile at a time like this.
Suddenly feeling very charitable he reached down and pulled the now sobbing slave to his feet, looked him in the eye and said, “Let your tears be of joy, good man. For I no longer have need of your services. It is time that you were made a free man.” He then swept his gaze out to the others and raised his voice so all could hear. “You are all free. Slaves no longer. You may stay here at my wife’s villa until the proper documents are writ and signed. I shall have them here for you by tomorrow. All of you may then leave this doomed place with my blessing and thanks.”
Never pausing to receive gratitude or acknowledgement he turned on his heels and strode briskly back to the temple of Apollo. Outside the temple his commanding officer and his entire regiment were camped. Most of the men were milling about nervously. Many of them wore farewell necklaces or wristbands given to them by family members who had already left Duvyar behind. He looked around and felt great pride that not a single one of his men had yet deserted, and he realized distantly that now more than ever he was one of them.
He strode over to the pair of tables his commander was seated at and saluted stiffly. “Lieutenant Icleades sir, seeking permission to make a request.”
Commander Dunallo, hardly looking up from the paper strewn surface, nodded. “Permission granted.”
“I’ve just learned that my family has left the city and I would like permission to free our slaves.”
“And you require the proper paperwork.”
“Yes, sire.” Icleades looked straight ahead, eyes never wavering.
“You shall have them by nightfall and I beseech you to send any freed slaves out of the city. That will mean less mouths to feed if this predicted disaster does strike.”
He clicked his heels sharply. “Of course, my liege.” He then began to take his leave but commander Dunallo had slightly held up his right hand.
“Yes, my liege.”
“Since your as alone in this god’s forsaken place as I, Lieutenant, might I assume you’ll be available for a special mission I have in mind?”
Keeping the surprise from his face he replied simply, “At your command.”
“Good, once you’ve received your paperwork return to me with four of your more trusted men. Make sure at least one is skilled as a tracker. Preferably a local, not one of those damned Turks you’re so fond of parading about.”
“Of course,sire.” The right hand of command fell back to the table’s surface and Icleades took his leave.
Juviades and Icleades stood together, silently observing the priests of Apollo as the sun began to set.
“Two of them, elders of more than seventy winters, died when the sun reached its zenith.” The sergeant relayed.
“It is to be expected. These fools have been starving themselves for days.” The lieutenant replied. He was never a superstitious man.
“It is to be expected, as you say, but they died at seemingly the very same instant. The other priests would not even leave off their praying long enough to see to their elders. I had two of the men take their bodies away. Whispers among the handmaidens of Apollo warn already that the event was an omen from the sun god.”
Icleades raised a brow at that. “An Omen?”
“The two eldest priests dying at the sun’s highest point. They think their god is saving who he can from what is coming.”
“I see. Then the rest of us will surely suffer?”
Juviades nodded in all seriousness. “Indeed. There shall be no mercy for the rest of us.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that.”
“What do you mean?”
“I am being given a special mission by commander Dunallo. I am to choose four of my most trusted Greeks to go with me.”
“Have you chosen?” The sergeant looked hopeful.
“All but a tracker. You wouldn’t happen to know where I could find one of those?”
“Of course. I am the best tracker in Duvyar. It would be an honor and a privilege to join you.”
“When may we leave?”
“Soon enough, sergeant. You have this last duty to fulfill first.” The lieutenant nodded toward the nearly extinguished sun.
Both men stood as still as statues as the darkness fell and was quickly replaced by the light of a million stars and a thousand flaming torches and braziers. That light then reflected off the polished armor of ten thousand Greek soldiers as they formed rank before the three tiered entranceway to Apollo’s temple. Commander Dunallo stood outside, waiting for word to be relayed to him by the sergeant from the high priests.
Slowly and painfully the throng of priests picked themselves up off the marble floor and began to gather in a tight circle. For several minutes they talked amongst themselves before one of their number eventually left them and approached Juviades. Both lieutenant and sergeant bowed at the waist as the high ranking priest stood before them. He said, “The brothers all agree that the death of our elders was a clear omen.”
The sergeant seemed satisfied and was about run off but the priest grabbed his arm. “I haven’t yet finished, son. Some time during our prayers all of the brothers were taken by a vision. This waking dream was so disconcerting it took all of our attention and much of our strength. This is why no one reacted to our elder’s fall. We were truly unaware. You must tell your commander that in all our years we have never been given such clear sign from Apollo. The oracle was speaking truthfully, Duvyar will soon fall.”
Icleades asked the question then that he knew Dunallo would himself. “But how? How will it fall?”
The priest looked glum and shook his head in regret. “Faith among the people has been wavering for some time. When that occurs Apollo’s power weakens. During this recent time of vulnerability Troy has already fallen. Our time is soon to come as well, but in our case something unknown to us before this day will be our downfall. Gods referred to in ancient stone script as the “Old Ones” have awoken. Their worshipers are many, among which are those who have lost faith in Apollo. They will sweep down upon us in their madness, not even saving enough of this city for themselves.”
Both lieutenant and sergeant gaped in shock, unable to move or place another question upon their lips. The priest shook his head in sympathy and walked back over to where his brothers still talked excitedly.
“I must report.” Juviades said in haste as he at once rubbed the top of his shaved head and walked out the temple entranceway. Icleades wasn’t far behind.
Three days later Icleades, Juviades and three only barely superstitious Greek soldiers crept outside of a large cave opening and awaited the rising sun. The lieutenant hadn’t been able to find any men who weren’t superstitious at all so these were the best he could come up with. All he wanted were volunteers, not men who might betray him as soon as an escape might be possible. All three men were orphans. Untroubled by most of the folklore they would have certainly heard if they had parents to speak of. So, more precisely, the men were too ignorant to be frightened by their mission. All things considering the journey had been uneventful and they’d easily located the area their commander had dispatched them to. It wasn’t until they began to patrol around the rocky landscape and found this particular cave that things began to fall into question.
There was a well worn footpath that led right to the place. It was the echoing sound of an untold number of voices that drew them. The unknown beings chanted in an unrecognizable tongue that reassured the Greek warriors that they’d found what they were sent to locate.
The sergeant looked to him and asked, “Was the commander aware of this?”
“No. He’d been informed there were strangers gathering in his lands but not what they were up to.”
“Pardon me, sirs.” One of the soldiers stepped forth and awaited permission to speak. Icleades nodded for him to do so.
“Thank you, sir.” The bearded, barrel chested warrior bowed at the waist and grimaced as if the words he was about to speak were laced with vinegar. “The men and I were wondering if this would be close enough, sirs. We could go back now and report what we’ve found. Surely the commander will send us back with a proper force.”
The lieutenant didn’t even blink. “No. We are to ascertain the nature of any activities going on out here and then return and report. As of yet we don’t know what those people, whomever they may be, are doing and why.”
“Soldier!” The sergeant was there to reprimand the man in an instant. “We are Greeks. We do not fear men. That is all we’ll find in that cave, after all. Not spirits, nor demons, just men. Do you fear what we may find if we creep into the darkness? Will your sword waver when naught but men bar your way?”
There truly was only one answer the man could give.
“No. Of course not, sire.” It was that or death by the unforgiving sword of his commanding officer.
Icleades reaffirmed his original command. “We’ll wait for dawn and then we’ll leave our shields and helms in the rocks so we may better scout the cave. If there are guards we take them swiftly and silently. If not, we creep as far as we can until we see the mob that’s making all this noise. Once we have an estimate on numbers we look for a straggler we can drag off to question once we’re far away from here. Is that understood?” He looked to each of the soldiers and then to his sergeant. They stood at attention, saluted and replied, “Yes sir!”
The Cave turned out to be fairly clean, dry and lit by wavering torchlight. This was almost too much to believe. The Soldiers seemed to calm down a bit though so Icleades took that as a good sign. At least they could be assured there was nothing more in this place than other men. Whether they were escaped slaves, one time soldiers who had left their posts or just brigands, at least they weren’t spirits. At least they weren’t going to be cursed by some vengeful demon from Hades.
Just up ahead the sergeant, who also happened to be a talented scout, stopped and waved for those behind to find cover. The chanting had suddenly halted. It had been going on for quite a few hours without pause. The silence was unnerving. They seemed to have gotten so close to where it was coming from, surely they would hear voices from here.
As suddenly as it stopped it began again, but this time louder. With more fervor the same words were recited. The sergeant waved that all was clear and started trotting ahead.
One of the soldiers tapped Icleades on the shoulder. He stopped and turned around.
“Sir, do you think we should draw blades?” The man was practically yelling just to be heard.
The lieutenant nodded an assent. He looked to the other two men and drew his own blade. They took that as an order and together they trotted after Juviades. Heedless now of the noise they made they caught up with the sergeant as he was cleaning his blade. At his feet lay a man of medium build, well groomed, clearly a Greek. A short sword lay at his side, a deep slash gushed blood at his throat.
Icleades met his sergeant’s gaze and instantly saw the man’s regret. This was no way for a warrior to die and no way still for a warrior to slay his enemy. It was a coward’s way of killing and any good Greek would frown upon it. Battle was meant for the battlefield, not back alleys and dark tunnels. He did his best to reassure his man without speaking that his actions were justified. There was nothing else he could have done. At least there was no other way he, the commanding officer here, would have seen it done.
Juviades pointed into what appeared to be a well lit cavern, crouched down and placed a finger to his lips, urging everyone to be silent.
His concern was well placed for the chanting seemed to have reached a crescendo one second and the next it stopped altogether. This time though the echoing clamor was replaced by something other than complete silence. There was a long, drawn out scream.
Chills ran up the spine of every man, officer and soldier alike. They were crouched at the top of a flight of stone carved stairs, looking down in horror at what was unfolding.
Hundreds of Greek men and women stood in a great crowded circle facing inward. At the center of that circle was a watery pool in the stone floor. A yellow light was waving back and forth from somewhere within its depths. A woman, clad in nothing at all, was tossed into the pool. She resisted as best she could manage but there was no hope. Nor could five Greek warriors hack through that many in so little time.
The woman disappeared from sight and the water swelled and foamed like it was a tiny portion of the very ocean. The chant began anew. This time with trepidation, as if those reciting were expecting something to occur. The chant grew in strength after several stanza’s, reinvigorating the ceremony to its original power. The water continued to ripple and heave. The yellow light shined like some distant beacon, waving back…and forth. Five Greek men watched appalled and mesmerized all at once. Unable to turn away they felt the anticipation of the gathered host. They gasped in sweat ridden fear when the Greek pagans raised their arms in unison, chanting now at the top of their lungs.
The water burst upward, as if alive. Many of the pagans screamed in terror, covering their eyes lest they see what it was they’d helped conjure. Others fainted straightaway. Icleades registered them even through his horror and wagered these were the charlatan’s. They were the folk who followed because they were given little choice. Their eyes were not meant to witness what was about to occur.
Perhaps because he was a Greek soldier Icleades remained alert and aware. He turned for a second to see the look in Juviades’ eyes and realized his sergeant was gone. Along with the three soldiers his most trusted man had fled. He was unsure how long he’d been there alone but he could no more turn away than could his men stay and watch.
From the shadowed depths of that pool arose a massive, fish scaled arm. Grasped tightly in its hand was the comparatively small woman who had been sacrificed.
He heard the woman’s back snap as the hand squeezed her still form tight and the remaining crowd began to panic. Something grasped Icleades then that he did not understand. He became angry. His fear was replaced by an unnatural rage at what he was witnessing.
The hand slapped down into the crowd, smashing nearly a score of Greeks in one blow.
Icleades roared in his rage and barreled down the crowded stairs. With his armor and build he shrugged men aside who nearly crushed a pair of aging women to reach his goal. He landed with a thump upon the hard floor and let his momentum carry him through a hundred tightly pressed, panicked individuals. He saw the arm fall toward the opposite side of the pool, no doubt killing many more with that blow.
When he finally pressed through those still standing he was forced to tread upon the wriggling forms of the fallen. Mercifully his anger had stolen his sight. His line of vision was focused. He was calculating the damage his sword would do against such a colossal foe. Likely very little but there was one weak point. The arm had a very large, very open wrist. If he could slash it the thing might recoil. Apollo provide, the thing might just bleed to death. That is, if it wasn’t a god. He was no fool. If it was a god he was lost already and the prophecy was about to come true. He was throwing his life away but he was determined to do Greece proud. He would make his stand a bloody one.
The great arm raised up again, sightless and unsure, and smashed down nearby his position. He made a last running leap, his perfectly honed blade held aloft in preparation. The arm began to heave upward just as he landed, but he was on its backside. As soon as it flipped over he was flung away. He landed hard but the fall was cushioned by broken bodies, alive and dead. He relied upon adrenalin now. His breath was gone and he could feel the blood rushing to his face. The arm came swinging back his way. Apparently its owner had recognized a challenge amid the cattle. It was still striking blindly.
Ducking under the massive appendage then following it with a backhanded swing he scored a thin slice directly over a bulging vein. The arm jerked, reacting to the pain, and came back hard.
This time the proud Greek stood his ground and plunged his sword hilt deep into the giant wrist. Knowing this blow would gain him a more telling reaction than a simple spasm of pain he dove aside. Relying on the morbid cushion of fallen pagans to save him from breaking his neck he rolled forward after landing. He wanted to be nowhere near that arm when it began to flail about with abandon. Still, the clawed fingers nearly skewered him and tore the armor from around his torso. It hung useless, leather straps severed. The armor had served him well but for the last time. He shrugged it off without even standing, his face to the ground.
Unaware now exactly where he stood on his chosen battlefield he rolled onto his back in hopes to anticipate the arm’s next attack. Instead, he found himself submerged, looking up at the bleeding hand as it pulled back from the hole in the sea. From somewhere above, or was it below, a yellow light waved back and forth. The water was cold. Mind numbing, let alone what it did to his appendages. If not for the adrenalin already in his system he never would have been able to react at all.
The blood was thick and concealed the hole he’d fallen through. The questions begged to be answered but first there must be survival. It was hard to tell which way was up, but that shining ray of light beckoned. He swam for it. Like he’d done as a youth when he would race his brothers. He would always win back then, but it had been a long time.
His mind screamed for him to give up. The pressure in his lungs made his vision blur and his limbs felt like stone paddles. They were getting harder to lift, nearing impossibility. His head broke the surface. It was raining. The ocean was rough and the sky black. He swam for the rocky shoreline of what appeared to be a tiny islet. Nothing lived upon its surface but it appeared high and dry enough to keep a tower safe and whole. Icleades imagined the sea might come along one day and take the tower and its precious, blessed light but this day, it had saved his life. A bell from the tower clanged a resounding call and the Lieutenant looked behind him as he climbed onto the rocks. Fearful the scaly giant would come seeking its revenge.
It never came. He sat there waiting, motionless and uncaring. As the sun rose he thanked blessed Apollo and tore off his freezing linen. His skin was blue and he had little feeling in his limbs but the sun god would surely provide. The black sky that had prevailed last night was removed. The sun brought fog filled whiteness. The warmth of the sun never came.
Gloomily Icleades finally looked back to the tower. There were two men standing by the entranceway. One of them was pointing some sort of light in his direction. They yelled something unintelligible and waved. They certainly looked nothing like those panic stricken pagans. Perhaps they were friendly.
Putting his clothes back on, despite the terrible chill, he nearly ran to their side. Their faces told of their surprise, disbelief even. They held out their arms to him and pulled him inside, welcomed him into their tower. They had blankets, gods did they have blankets. And heat from some sort of fuel powered box. He’d never seen its kind. They spoke to him in a tongue that he almost thought he recognized but the weird lilt these men spoke with was confusing. He decided they must have strong accents even among their own. He gave up trying to speak to them but all were grateful they could comprehend one another well enough without words. He was in need of assistance and that seemed to be more than enough information for them. The situation was fine for him as well. Gods, what amazing blankets.
He could finally feel his fingers and wiggle his toes. These men, yellow clad, weaponless workers by the looks of them, had saved his life. He would not forget their charity. He began to imagine the boons he would grant them once his strength returned. With no power left to resist he fell into a deep slumber.
One year later Icleades sat reading yet another book on Greek history inside the American Mental Institution just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. He’d learned the native tongue quite easily really, after all the English language had its roots in Latin. That was a tongue he’d heard before.
After the shock treatment he learned to lie and since then things had gotten easier. They’d be letting him out soon. They’d been calling him John, but before he was released he was allowed to create another identity. They considered him an amnesiac. He wished it were true. To know where, no, when he came from and having no way to return was tortuous. There were so many things about this strange future that frightened him he almost didn’t want to leave the institution. He knew he was not like the others though. The doctors and nurses knew it as well. They assured him they would be there for him for any kind of assistance if the outside world became too confusing. They were going to “hook him up” with a social worker and she would help him get a job. Whatever that meant. He just had one more book to read and he would be gone.
He’d been searching everywhere and this was the last place he could look without leaving the institution. He’d found no reference or mention of the Greek city of Duvyar. It was as if it had never existed. Wiped from historical maps and ledgers it wasn’t even mentioned in Greek folk lore. He hoped and prayed that he would find something, anything in this last book. In his gut he knew he wouldn’t. He knew he was holding out hope pointlessly. It was his past. It had existed. Whether he was now a madman or not he had been a Lieutenant in the Greek army.
He threw the book down in contempt and walked out the unlocked door. He would see the head nurse now. It was time for him to move on. However cruel this world of the distant future might be it had better learn quickly not to treat Icleades of Duvyar lightly. After all he had single-handedly slain a true monster. What in this mundane world could top that?