If you were a giant god sentenced to eternal torture, how would you entertain yourself during your vacation?
By D. L. Lewellyn
Tityus gave only half a thought to punching the obnoxious birds in their wrinkled bald faces because doing so was an act of futility. He knew this because he’d done it a million times over thousands of years, and it hadn’t yet stopped the two giant vultures from chewing out his liver every twenty-eighth day, starting precisely at six p.m., Eastern European Time. It was now seven.
The voracious creatures will finish digging into his side in exactly one hour, after which Tityus will endure more agonizing pain with the regrowth of his immortal organ, only to have the endless punishment repeated at the next new moon. In the lulls between, the giant often wondered who suffered the worst torment, the birds who were sent to Hell to eat the same meal every month for eternity, or Tityus from having to provide it.
He decided it would feel good to punch the bobbing heads anyway. It was worth the extra pain as strips of flesh were wrenched from his body by the force of his own blow. At least he’d caved in half their ugly faces, and there was immense satisfaction in all the flapping of black wings and screeches through shattered beaks. It was even better when they went aloft to find a ledge and wait for their skulls to mend.
A sound between a moan and a sigh seeped from the giant, echoing through his stone and moss-covered grotto nestled deep below the base of Mount Parnassus. Zeus might be liberal handing out sentences to his dozens of offspring when they went astray, but it didn’t mean he wasn’t keeping track of every single one, always watching, always ready to condemn. Tityus hoped his father just witnessed his act of bored defiance.
Since he’d been given a bonus reprieve, he took the opportunity to recline more comfortably on his loamy pallet, which stretched along with him across his nine-acre earthen home. He picked up the remote and flipped through the three programs his sister had selected for him to view on the eighty-foot screen, which hung on his southern limestone wall. It was only recently that Persephone had come up with the ingenious device in her efforts to give him a diversion between bouts of torture.
He smiled at the thought of his sister.
She was the only one who believed he’d been goaded into his crime of passion by Hera and pleaded his case every chance she got. Even the goddess who bore him and the one who raised him didn’t believe his side though both had reason to blame Hera for their problems. It seemed everyone stuck together when it came to condemning him, but not Persephone. His sister’s loyalty and affection never wavered.
She also understood that finding what he sought through his view to the human world was the only thing keeping him sane and that on those rare occasions when he found the perfect distraction, he could ignore the prospect of the gnawing and gnashing at his flesh, and the pain when red ropes of liver were tugged out and slurped up like so many earth worms that shared his home.
It took the better part of the first week, once the vultures finished their meal and his liver grew back, to select his target, and Tityus was in the middle of planning how he would go about the couple’s torment when a leafy vine began winding up his leg. Since his limb was the length of three stadiums, it took some time for the greenery to get close to his face, but Tityus waited patiently for his sister to make her appearance.
The vine stopped its horizontal travels at his hip, then shot straight up as it thickened into limbs that stretched into a torso. A neck and head appeared next, and soon the dulcet tones of the Queen of the Underworld chimed through his grotto.
“Hello, Brother. Have you made your selection?”
He had to dial down his voice to keep from blasting Persephone off his hip. “I have. Though each couple was as tempting as the other. Thank you for that. Choosing was half the fun.”
She clasped her hands together and grinned. “That is just what I hoped for. It has been too long since you’ve enjoyed yourself, Tityus, and I’m happy to do my part to make the point to Father that the retribution he inflicts on his offspring just as often spreads to mankind. You must know I have been pleading your case again. Not only were you manipulated by the jealous Hera, but your crime was incomplete, and this punishment has gone on long enough. Not to mention, it is agony to hear your groans of pain as they shake the very core of the Underworld.”
Green eyes as big as moons brimmed with affection, and he nudged her gently into his waiting palm. “Ever my champion, dear sister. I don’t know what I would do without you. Won’t you recline and stay for a bit?”
“That is why I’m here.” She reached out and patted his thumb. “I will convince Father one day soon. Meanwhile, you deserve a reprieve to toy with humans.” She laid back on her elbow and propped her head in her hand, while her vines wove a canopy over her, anchoring them themselves around her brother’s fingers. “Now, who did you pick?”
“If I only have time for one, this pair has the best potential to give us a top-rated show.” He clicked the remote, and the giant screen came to life. The sibling gods looked down on two people crouched in a square pit divided into grids in the middle of an archeological site not far from the west bank of the Nile.
Sarah had no clue what she did to Nathan with that earnest look of concentration. Parts of him clenched enough to be uncomfortable when she pushed her glasses higher on her pert nose, which was smudged with red dust. Not only did his heart thump erratically, but he almost groaned out loud.
That embarrassing prospect broke the spell she was weaving over him, and he cursed to himself. If she could read his lusty, turbulent thoughts, she would for sure request his replacement. He reminded himself that she’d shown him a few signs these past weeks to give him hope.
Nathan turned his attention back to the brush he held in his hand and focused on the shard of pottery they were easing in stages from the three-and-a-half-thousand-year-old soil. This section of the dig had turned up another small cache, which was laid out on a cloth next to them, consisting of tools, a handful of human bones, two delicate cat skulls, and three nearly intact clay jars.
The shard wasn’t even the most exciting thing they’d unearthed today… except… “Is that cuneiform?”
Her sweet, yet husky voice got him going again when she said, “Yes. I believe our theory has been confirmed. Do you agree?”
He was struck by her eyes that glittered with excitement and had to give himself a mental shake before answering. “It’s harder to deny when we add this to the rest. But Sarah, we’ve been breathing the dirt in this six-foot square hole for eight hours. Let’s cover it up, stash our findings in the locker, and get out of here. It’s time to go to the city for a night of celebration.”
“You really want to finish the day’s work without cataloging these beauties? Don’t you want to know what these symbols tell us?” She cocked her head. “Have I worked you that hard?”
He laughed. “I just need to get clean and go sweat at a club with dancing and liquor. Morning will be soon enough to study our treasure.”
“I suppose getting sweaty for a different reason would be a nice change of pace. You’re on.”
But those words passing through full pink lips and the vision of her moving on a dance floor forced him to stay crouched for a minute longer while waves of yearning rushed once more through his lower regions. Maybe torturing himself with an evening in her company wasn’t such a grand idea after all. On the other hand, it could be his long-awaited opportunity.
Tityus paused the video feed, and when he spoke, small boulders slid down the embankments surrounding his prone form. “You can see he’s got it bad and has no idea she’s been exploring her sexuality. I’ve got a few moves set up to help her decide things.”
Persephone’s eyes gleamed. “I can assume her decisions won’t include poor Nathan?”
“That’s the plan, but only after we squeeze more entertainment from them first. You did good, Sister. I can already smell his pathos,” and he closed his eyes and inhaled the pungent air to demonstrate the sensory input, which caused a small cyclone to whirl a path around them and rattle her vines. “His suffering and their confusion will go a long way towards helping me endure my next round of torment. I’m already collecting images for my dreams.” He cracked an eye open to peer at his sister. “And we might even enjoy some collateral damage. There’s a third party involved.” The quiet when the giant ceased speaking left a vacuum in the subterranean chamber.
The walls shook again when he chuckled and said, “Is our uncle aware of your new penchant for misguiding love-struck humans?”
The Queen of the Underworld let out an undignified snort. “Hades does not care how I occupy my time, only that he can call me to him whenever he wants. And speaking of the demanding one, I feel his pull now. I promise to be back for another installment. But don’t wait for me, you can catch me up.”
Tityus was used to Persephone’s spontaneous appearances and abrupt departures and didn’t mind when the forest of greenery disappeared with his sister in a wispy puff. He clicked his remote to open the next scene.
Nathan was sweaty just as planned, but he’d never had so much fun getting into this state of bodily dampness. Sarah had arranged for several of her friends from the university to meet them at the discotheque in Luxor, and the girls had made it their mission to keep him on the dance floor for the past two hours. He finally had to beg them for a break, so he could go cool down and freshen up.
Revived and happy enough with the results, he pushed his way through the crush of dancers and back to the bar where he’d left his charming companions with their drinks. When he was close enough to spot them through the crowd, he came to a dead stop. His heart plummeted like a stone.
Sarah sat on a stool facing her friend Eman, who had her lips buried in Sarah’s neck. At first, it looked like Eman was simply trying to be heard. Then, he saw their clasped hands and a pink tongue darting in Sarah’s ear. Sarah laughed and pulled back, her eyes glittering with excitement, and something else.
He couldn’t believe he had things so wrong!
The shock wore off almost immediately, but that only let a whole slew of other confusing emotions overwhelm him while he stood there gaping, until the thought of what he must look like penetrated the fog.
Sarah spotted him before he could shake it off and act normal. Her smile froze, then she frowned.
Eman turned to see what Sarah was looking at, and it was clear she had no idea his world had just collapsed because she grinned at him and waved, then raised the drink she had waiting for him. His arm went up in a halfhearted answer, and he somehow got his legs moving again.
After another hour passed of being dazed, he had to wonder how he was still sitting in this raucous place hunched over his whiskey in the middle of the table Eman had expertly snagged for them. All he could feel after his third drink were the constant sharp jabs to his heart as he strained to hear the drowned-out chatter from the four girls still having a great time. If anyone asked him the topic of their conversation, he would not be able to relate one bit of it… for all the above reasons.
On the one hand, the pain confirmed his feelings for Sarah went much deeper than he realized. On the other, he feared it would be his new constant companion. The intensity that felt so good at the dig today now ripped him to pieces, and he thought he might be on his way to suffocating in this night club that had turned garish and stifling. He had to get out of there.
“Will you be good with getting Sarah back to the site, Eman?” He’d spoken so abruptly they each turned to him in surprise. He cleared his throat. “I’m going to call it a night and head back.”
Sarah laid a hand on his arm. “Are you okay? Maybe you should have a coffee first.”
That was sound advice, but the thought of watching Sarah and Eman whispering together another minute made him want to throw up. “I’ll be fine. I’ll see you at eight tomorrow. Don’t be late.” He attempted to smile at his lame humor, but judging by Sarah’s furrowed brow, his face must look as wan as he felt.
He slapped a few bills on the table mostly to make sure she had enough to get back to the dig. “Enjoy the rest of the night. It was a pleasure meeting all of you.” Sarah nodded then turned to her friends without another glance in his direction. He forced his shoulders not to slump in defeat and left.
This time the flowering vines trailed down the side of the cavern before finding purchase on the giant’s arm that stuck partly up from the earth. The writhing greenery tickled, waking Tityus from a satisfying dream that kept playing back the moment Nathan’s puny human heart was crushed to a pulp.
He cracked open a giant green orb and waited for Persephone to materialize on a dirt mound that covered his shoulder. The more he buried himself in the earth, the better he dreamed. He didn’t dwell too much on the reasons for that, though Zeus would be the first to tell him he had a mother complex.
Persephone wore her favorite skull crown today and leaned on her staff to peer into his eye. “Well? Was it as entertaining as you hoped?”
The damp soil covering him rippled, and a myriad of stones were tossed up from the vibrations when he said, “Even better.”
“What do you think Nathan will do now? Will he be able to endure working so closely with Sarah?”
“You made it just in time for the next installment. When Nathan left the club about two in the morning, he was in a state of mind that made him the perfect mark for the rare Luxor mugger, which I ensured crossed his path. The thief took all his cash, then beat him senseless. That event alone will last me a good while, and the violence wasn’t even due to me. Sarah is about to discover he never made it back.”
Persephone raised her cupped hand and a bloodred mist swirled in her fingers. When it dissipated, she was holding several bunches of purple grapes, the size of which no human had ever seen. She plucked half the fruit off one and tossed it into Tityus’s mouth, then asked him a question. “Is he alive?” Tityus nodded as he chewed, and she said, “You realize having him harmed could make your plans head in the wrong direction.”
Her brother jolted her with another nod, swallowed more grapes, and said, “The gamble that humans might find their way despite our interference is what makes this so satisfying.”
She smiled. “Then, let’s get comfortable and watch.”
Tityus clicked his remote, and the shadowy grotto lit up from the desert scene now spread across the limestone wall like a portal had just opened to Thebes. The morning sun gleamed across the sand and the ancient pyramid, and the archaeological encampment looked small in its shadow. A lone figure crouched in the pit under an umbrella and worked with meticulous care on a spot in the strata at the level of her eyes.
But the anxious archaeologist bobbed up the ladder at every sound to check the dirt track meandering towards Luxor. Her voice was overly loud when she called out, “Hey, Charles. Have you heard from Nathan yet?”
A man crouching in the adjacent pit answered her. “Not since you asked me fifteen minutes ago. But I’m concerned, too. I sent Jack to hunt for him this morning. I’m sure he must have holed himself up in a hotel room to sleep off the whiskey. You know what a lightweight he is. We should both quit worrying.”
As soon as that last word drifted over the sand between them, the sound of a car had them springing up their respective ladders to peer over the edge of their pits.
Back in the grotto, Persephone said from where she reclined in her vines from the spot on Tityus’s shoulder, “That must be Jack with Nathan. If I’m wrong, I’ll find you eight victims for next month’s program.”
Tityus’s deep laughter stopped abruptly when he spotted an eagle much too large to be natural swooping over the dig site and around all the tents to land on a clothesline strung with colorful blankets flapping in the breeze. “Uh… Persephone. Do you think… ”
“Yes,” she drawled. “It’s Father. Hell’s gate! How did he find out?” She barked out a laugh. “Never mind. Stupid question. We’re better off working on our plausible deniability.”
They looked over the scene again to find the car arrived at the encampment and parked under a cover. A burly, bearded man stepped out of the driver’s side, then opened the door to the backseat to help out a slighter man who was clearly in pain and struggling to move.
“Nathan!” Sarah shouted as she scrambled the rest of the way up her ladder and ran to the car.
The eagle made another pass over the scene, and Tityus and Persephone eyed each other when a screech that could only belong to the powerful god who was their sire sounded all the way to them in the grotto, even as the humans beneath the winged creature were oblivious.
When Nathan heard Sarah call his name, he forced himself to straighten and face her. She came to an abrupt halt and gasped. “Oh my god. What happened to you?”
Embarrassment was visible through the damage on his face, but he summoned his dignity and said, “I had a little run-in on the way to the taxi stand and woke up in an alley with my pockets inside out. Thankfully, Jack thought to check the police station where I ended up this morning because I had no way to identify myself.” This time, they all looked up when another screech rent the air and watched as the bird of prey disappeared over the horizon.
Sarah turned back to her colleague who was turning wobbly before her eyes, and her voice hitched. “You scared me to death, Nathan.” She stepped closer and softened her words. “I’m aware of what I did to you last night. I’ve been confused about things, and I’m sorry. Today, everything is different. Will you forgive me?”
Hope bloomed on Nathan’s face, which looked somewhat grim with his distorted lips and puffy eye. He cocked his head at her. “What are you saying, Sarah?”
“Eman is finishing her doctorate at Cambridge. We said goodbye last night. For good. You’re the one I want to be with. Can I hope for the same?”
The burly Jack cleared his throat, which effectively brought the two back to their present surroundings, and he said, “While it’s clear this exchange is doing Nathan a lot of good, he’s about to drop where he stands. Are you ready to have a lie down, kid?”
Sarah raised a shining face to Nathan’s as she wrapped her arm around his waist and walked him to the med tent. The look in her sea green eyes was the final nail in the coffin for Tityus’s schemes this hiatus. The giant punched the button on the remote violently enough to crush the entire thing, and the view to the desert went dark, throwing the grotto into shadow.
Persephone was already turning wispy with her disappearing vines. “I’m sorry, Brother. But you understand I must return to Hades. I promise to do what I can to cool our father’s wrath.”
His laughter was full of both irony and resignation as he said, “You will do better for me staying clear of Zeus for now, and away from here, but don’t wait too long for another visit, dear sister.”
In the lull after her departure, Tityus settled his huge body deep beneath the earth in his lonely grotto and hoped for nurturing dreams of humans suffering unrequited love, while he waited for the next new moon… and the vultures to circle.
The End… Until the Next New Moon