Offerings to Hekate
Offerings to Hekate
By Ellen Lorenzi-Prince
Something woke her. Something that troubled her as she could not identify it. The sun was hot. She didn’t like being awake in the heat of the day.
She heard nothing, smelled nothing out of the ordinary. But her skin twitched.
Nothing threatened. The forest hummed. The river sparkled. She was not hungry or sick. And last night’s kill lay undisturbed in a branch above her. She still remembered the first hot blood, how fiercely it flowed between her teeth and down her throat. She could dream of it yet. She turned and resettled.
And growled. Something again. Something wrong. So wrong, it made her beautiful world flat. So strange, it made her beautiful strength know fear.
She leapt to the ground. She could not rest with this not-thing crawling under her skin and behind her eyes. She paced through the brush, not stalking, but still silent and unexpected enough to startle a few ground fowl. She ignored their clutter. She must find this bad thing and kill it.
Her pain grew with every step. Soon she was snarling and panting. She would run the other way if she could. If she could escape this thing by running. This thing that was now like the breath of some great beast on the back of her neck. Her neck, though she was top hunter in her land. She spit when she felt the teeth touch.
She stood at the foot of a mountain. Away from the river and trees. The scrub and rock ahead were not hers.
She howled out to Heaven from her belly. She howled down to Earth through her paws. And waited to be torn apart.
Then a miracle; the thing changed.
It was an almost-smell of something most delicious. New meats and crystal pools. And it was calling her on. She trembled to her tail. She could not pass this by. She sprang up the slope.
At a cave, the smell had sound, prettier than leaves stirring or water falling. The cave appeared clean and uninhabited. Not feeling the sky above her nor buzzing life surround her itched her skin again, but not enough to resist. In darkness she padded on.
The something grew intoxicating. The cave grew long and narrow. She could not remember the taste of blood on her tongue, but she felt the rush of it in her head, in her limbs and her loins. Near blind, she trotted, scrambled, and scraped through, lusting after increasing sweetness.
Then she fell! Right through a hole in the tunnel floor, into a large cave that opened up below. Falling on a pile of grass, she was shook but not hurt.
But where was she? The something had gone quiet, but there were stranger things to worry about. The walls were wrong. And they had no openings.
She leapt again and again for the hole through which she fell, but it was too high. Her feet slid from the walls. She paced around and around. She jumped for the opening again.
She was trapped. That thing had lured her and trapped her. She screamed her betrayal and her fear. And threw herself against the walls until she fell unconscious.
She awoke remembering where she was. In a cage of slippery stone. Far from her favorite tree. She felt her heart pierced by the silence, struck dead as the dead walls surrounding her. A hundred bruises pinged her body. She did not want to move. There was nothing to move for. Her desolation was complete.
Then she heard the sound. Eerie and shivering. Eating her bones as she lay. Worming inside. With the rest of her life destroyed, the sound began to take on shape. Grew darker and heavier. Warmer. It was something…
Something suddenly familiar.
It was women singing.
She burst into tears, crying for her lost forest. Lost forever.
Then she stood up and opened the door and recognized the Sisters who had sung her home. They opened the circle to receive her as one of their own.
The new one bathed and ate and rested. The women who guided her through these motions had sympathetic eyes but brisk hands. Alone again, draped in sheets of a softness she hadn’t felt in months, she could not sleep, weary as she was.
She understood she had survived her initiation. She had worked for years to achieve this. But she remembered it like it happened to someone else. She didn’t care. What she cared about was her memories of the forest, slipping away like a dream. Where were the folded velvet smells? She felt a huge emptiness inside, as the texture of her experience flattened into human slots and categories.
She stopped thinking and stared at the ceiling.
When a priestess came to fetch her body, her mind had to return to it as well. She was led to the square. Being under the night sky again was like a thousand kisses on her face. People had gathered to welcome her home. Everyone looked at her expectantly. She didn’t know what to think or to say to them. Leopards were mostly solitary creatures. She was solitary, since she hadn’t any cubs.
The priestess whispered in her ear. “You must show them who you are. Show them your power.”
Her power. Who she was. This yearning pit of darkness that was her spirit? This feeble body that stood on stick legs? She looked at the people. One swipe of her old claws would take out all the nearest of them.
What she was, was consumed by fire. The shell of her skin held back an inferno of rage, unrequited lust, unspeakable desire. The priestess touched the back of her neck and her skin split.
And Leopard Woman leapt out. Blood red, a hundred feet high. She roared. She laughed. At this size, the whole world was hers! She saw snowy peaks. She saw woods and rivers. She heard the stars sing.
She saw the people small below. The faces mostly stunned or anxious. The elder priestesses looked thoughtful. Others, touched by envy, she remarked as enemies. A few delighted faces she counted as potential friends.
But they all counted… because these were her people. Her carrier must walk among them during the day. The nights were hers. But it was not the time.
She cloaked herself again in the flesh. Her fiery flesh. This body had possibilities, she realized. She smiled at her people and waved, and winked at a certain one who caught her eye.
And the people cheered, excited and partially relieved, more than ready for the party to come.