Short Story: Pneuma Kleptis pt.9

Pneuma Kleptis pt.9

by Lee Hulme

Catch up: Pt.1     Pt.2     Pt.3     Pt.4     Pt.5     Pt.6     Pt.7     Pt.8

The creature didn’t sleep, not during the feeding cycle, but it could grow tired, and it often needed to pass time. Over the centuries it had learned to enter something akin to a doze. Sometimes it even dreamed. Sometimes the memories it couldn’t find while awake showed themselves again.

The creature, buried beneath its cloak, drifting peacefully, heard a familiar word being called. It was a few moments before it recognised the word as a name, and a few more before it recognised the name as its own.

“Melita!” the voice called again, filled with kindness but tinged with annoyance.

Melita found herself crouched beneath a cloth-covered table, feeling the urge to giggle. As footsteps entered the room she remembered why: an apple, stolen from her mother’s kitchen, the core still held in one hand.

“Melita,” the voice said softly as the cloth was lifted and a dark-haired woman with an, olive-toned face appeared. “Did you eat it already?”

Melita nodded, holding out the eaten fruit.

“Then no treat for you today. Out! You have extra work to do.”

Melita groaned but crawled out and stood, brushing herself off. Her cotton garments were loose and comfortable, her sandals snug, and her hair – a soft brown, much lighter than her mother’s – was tied back at the nape of her neck.

“Why, child?”

Melita hung her head,” I was hungry, mama. I’m sorry. What chores may I do?”

Her mother sighed dramatically, this was far from the first time and Melita was always willing to do more chores in exchnge for her wrongdoing, “You may sweep the floor – every room, mind – and prepare the table. We have an important guest this evening, remember, so you must be on your best behaviour, and you must go to your room directly after we eat.”

“But mama-”

“But nothing, child. The priest of Dionysus is attending us this evening to disuss your patronage, and I do not wish him to see what a troublesome beast you are before we are agreed!”

Melita droopeed slightly but nodded.

“My child, I love you with my whole heart, I know how hard it has been for you since your father crossed the river, but you have a talent that should not be wasted. If not for yu I would have followed your father and others deserve the same help you gaveme. If the priest will patronise your education then your future as a healer of minds is assured.”

“Yes, mama,” Melita nodded, straightening up.

The creature shifted in its sleep and the memory changed, slipping forwards, as it always did.

Melita, older now, creased her forehead and glared at the scroll she was writing on. Her final essay was laid out in front of her, drafted and now almost copied neatly. Finishing this would give her the freedom to practice healing medicine, specifically the art of healing the mind but how she did hate copying things into a neater hand.

Dionysus’ priests had seen her untappped skills, and as representtives of their god, saw their way through to paying for her education, in the understanding that she would work for the glory of Dionysus above others.

Melita had come to understand what this meant. Servitude to their temple. Sacrifices, prayer, payment earned – all must be tithed to them. She was a investment, expected to reap an increased return. But as much as she disliked this, the ability to hone, improve, and use her skills to help others was more important.

Now here she was, reaching the end, soon to enter the world as an adult, a healer. Her mother, already proud, would be so happy, and that, also, weighed heavily towards Melita’s continued acceptance of the interference of the temple priests.

Yet no amount of education or discipline had been able to temper the rebellious streak in her. The streak that would steal an apple, knowing she would be caught, because that was half the fun. The streak that played tricks on her teachers, then laughed the loudest, knowing she would be targeted as the culprit. Tonight, after handing in this final essay, she had a plan to release the tension that had built up inside. She smiled to herself as she finished copying the draft text neatly onto a fresh scroll and left it to dry.

That night, she waited until the world seemed to sleep, before creeping out of her room, carrying a bag that rattled slightly as she moved, and to the Dionysus temple next door. The doors were locked but it was a simple task to defeat this and slip inside, closing the door behind her.

Once in, she straightened up and strolled to the marble sculpture of the god, holding a bunch of grapes in one hand,and a goblet ready to drink in the other. The god of wine, most people called him. The god of enjoyment and merriment. They forgot his other side. The side that caused madness. Dionysus was a god of contrasts, not as simple and merry as his priests liked to portray. The more madness she saw in patients, the more resentment she felt for this two-faced god.

Melita opened her bag and removed a hammer and chisel. The bag, not yet empty, she left on the ground. With a few sharp smacks, she removed the hand holding the goblet, allowing it to drop to the floor.

Next she reached into her bag, removing a mask and some cord.

She had carved the mask herself, panstakingly, and with many attempts. Here was the face of Dionysus, but instead of showing twinkle-eyed merriment, the mask revealed his crazy-eyed madness.

She looped the cord around the sides of the mask, through holes made specially, and reached up to attach it to the statue.

From behind her, someone cleared their throat.

Melita managed to hold back a cry of surprise, but her heart hammered and her vision wavered for a moment. She took some deep breaths as she climbed back to the floor and turned around.

In front of her stood, well, Dionysus. Just like his statue he held a bunch of grapes in one hand, a goblet in the other, but this face was not a merry one. Nor was it the face of the crazed mask she had created. In this face was nothing but cold fury.

Melita gave him her stoniest glare, even as her insides seemed to melt in fear, and waited for her life to be over.

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