Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Death of Orpheus

***AUTHOR'S NOTE: Piece originally published September 9, 2010. I am reposting to celebrate the release of my ebook, "Orpheus," now available for the Kindle at***

Orpheus looked up at a circular clearing in the ceiling of the forest. Wisps of chilly fog clung to the dirt and long grass swaying around him. Bumps rose on his bare ankles from the cold. He stared heavenward and waited for Apollo to appear. In anticipation, he tuned his lyre then began singing out psalms to meet the rising sun. Wild animals gathered around. They grew tame and peaceful and listened.

The sun appeared, flaming and orange and bright. Its light began to break the chill. Orpheus smiled. He paused in his singing. He heard another song, a darker chant, rising with the new dawn.

A woman emerged from the forest. Bare skin covered in dirt and leaves. Thick tresses of wild hair – that may have once been blonde, may have once been black, but were now a muddy brown – splayed out around her head like Medusa’s serpents.

“Will you join us? Will you play your lyre to Lyaeus? Will you dance with us and succumb to wonderful oblivion?” The woman gyrated her hips and ran her hands down her body. She began to gasp. A smile crossed her face. Her eyes rolled backwards to hide her iris and reveal only whiteness.

“I am Apollo’s poet. I only sing his song.” Orpheus ignored the woman and resumed his song to the sun.

The woman stopped her ecstatic dance and stared at Orpheus. She snarled. “Have it your way!”

A spear rushed at him. The man sang harder and the spear, tipped with leaves, passed him by and left him unharmed.

Other women emerged from the forest. None of them were clothed in robes. They were only clothed by dirt and filth and dried blood. They chanted and sang and danced and laughed. They rushed at Orpheus and attempted to tickle him and seduce him with leaves and flowers and hinds.

Orpheus ignored them and continued his psalms. The sun became brighter as it rose higher in the sky.

The women grimaced as they touched Orpheus and found his body unresponsive. His discipline, his song, carried his concentration.

“This is the one who scorns us!” the first maenad cried out.

The women laughed and picked up stones. They threw them at Orpheus. He sang as rocks bounced off his skin, leaving him cut and bruised and bleeding. But he would not be broken. The attacks only strengthened his song. The attack gave him something new to sing about.

But soon the Bacchantes emboldened their own song. They beat their own drum at an opposing beat. Orpheus lost his way and lost his song. Once the psalm ended, he cried out to Apollo for help as the women rushed him. They tore skin with tooth and nail. They ripped flesh from bone and rendered organs to one another, presenting them as flavorful offerings to Lyaeus himself. Blood dribbled down filthy chins. The God Who Releases appeared pleased as the women danced in abandon in an embrace of primal ancient rite. The world as it was faded and shifted around them. The world devolved into a depraved feast.

The animals of the field, those innocents who had gathered to hear Orpheus’s songs, became prey. They were ripped and torn and devoured while still crying out. The brays of fallen oxen became part of the maenads’ song. Beating hearts, extracted from chests, beat to the rhythm of their drums. There was laughter and ecstasy within a riot of terror, and chaos danced in the light of the newly risen sun.

Orpheus was ripped apart, tendon by tendon and bone by bone. The echoes of his song were lost in the mindless maelstrom of abandon.

Orpheus's now silent decapitated head eventually floated on winding streams to Lesbos. Apollos rescued the silent head of his poet from a hungry serpent.

But this was all above. Below, Orpheus’s ghost sank beneath the blood drenched soil.

Orpheus now looks to Eurydice with confidence. He knows they are together, they will be together, and they will stay together. At last, he no longer fears looking back. He stares at her and smiles. She remains by his side and they love each other. Orpheus no longer feels the need to sing to Apollo. He finds eternal contentment with Eurydice as his new sun, and she loves him in return even without the glamour of song.

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