I didn’t want to, but I eventually decided to open one eye, and then the other, and then looked around in the dusty tomb. I sat up slowly, trying to shake the cobwebs from my mind, then stretched languidly with a big groan. “Ohhhh, my head,” I said to myself just to be sure I could still talk. “I don’t know who, but someone definitely spiked the punch last night.”
Donning my sandals and reaching for my thyrsos, I walked over to the table, picked up my ivy crown, and placed it on my head crookedly. Who cares about isometry, after all? Not me. Looking around, I let out a soft laugh that turned into a cackle in the next breath and eventually died into a cough.
I made my way outside to the narrow street and took a few steps before a lot of yelling was directed my way, followed by a trumpeting bellow. Turning, I had barely enough time to side-step the laden elephant lumbering down the street. “Oh great,” I said out loud, adding an eye-roll, “I must be in India again. No wonder the bike lanes are on the wrong side of the street. Leave it to me to get plastered in a place where the only alcohol they sell is the rubbing kind.” I laughed heartily at my own joke until I ran out of breath and then leaned heavily on my thyrsos.
Slowly—every step took me closer to the edge of the village—and a few more steps after that led me into the woods. Once safe in the darkness of the forest, I swayed for a few seconds and thudded my thyrsos against the ground three times. I waited with my eyes closed, quiet and unmoving. A few minutes passed when suddenly everything around me went quiet. There was no more chirping and no more rustling about. Another silent moment passed before the reason for the hush announced itself with a low but powerful growl.
Opening one eye, and then the other, I smiled broadly and did a little jig at the massive male panther standing in front of me. He gave me a bored look, licking his maw. Looking the huge beautiful cat in the eyes, I made a circular motion with my index finger, pointing down. The large beast gave me a look, and I swore he rolled its eyes at me! A few seconds passed before the panther gave up with a snort and turned his back.
“You better turn around…” I returned the panther’s snort and reached out to scratch behind his ears. Heaving a leg over his back, I slid down close to his haunches, getting comfortable. I leaned forward a bit and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck. “To the airport, Jeeves,” I said with a chortle, “I have family that isn’t expecting me.”
The panther rolled his eyes at me for real this time, but I ignored the gesture. Moving along with the gait of the beast, I closed my eyes, trusting the cat’s sense of direction. I thought back on times of old…times of very old. The call of Olympus had not reached out to me for a long time…until recently. I couldn’t guess at what this calling I had felt the past months was all about. All I knew was that I had avoided it long enough, and it had gotten to the point where it was drowning all the other voices in my head.
When I opened my eyes, I was already standing where I wanted to be standing: in front of one of the many sliding-door entrances to the airport. I walked in with a mumble, leaning on my thyrsos, and made my way to the kiosk. I stared the tired-looking employee in the eyes. “I would like one ticket to Athens, please. Yes, the original one. None of the copies they made ages later. And of course, I want it to be first class. That’s where you get wine for free, isn’t it? Tell them to stock up on extra bottles of red. What’s that? Name? Dionysos. Yes, like the god. Last name? Don’t have one. I’m like…Cher, but prettier. No. What makes you think I was kidding? Do you take a check?”
The ride on the plane was a mix between drool-on-myself-more-than-usual boring and tear-my-beard-out-and-feed-it-to-someone annoying. Things started off well enough after the whole check-in fiasco…the airlines do not take checks. I am not in the mood to rehash that nonsense. Since when is a piece of paper with the name of a god on it, worthless? I bet if my name were Justin Bieber, she would have accepted the check. I really need to work on my celebrity status!
The person assigned to serve me in first class was a tiny little thing with smooth sepia-toned skin, straight raven-black hair, and the most beautiful pale green eyes. The tag pinned to her vest read Shiree, but after the third time I blurted out a bit too loud for everyone’s liking, “More wine, sweet Cherry!” She walked up to me, puckered her lips, and narrowed her eyes, asking me politely to call her “Stewardess.” Two hours into the flight, after her eighteenth trip to my seat for more wine, she finally resigned to me calling her “Bartender.” She did threaten me once by telling me she’d have the flight marshal put me in handcuffs, but backed off when I waggled my eyebrows at her and told her she could use my set if she wanted.
As we began our final approach and started getting ready to land, I looked out the window. It took me a minute to register that I was nowhere near the water south of the city, but further west, past the hills where Pallene used to be back in the day. I laughed to myself, and Cherry, the Bartender, gave me a stern look from her temporary seat, all buckled up. I gave her the stink-eye in reply and looked back out the window. A new airport out in the middle of nowhere would make it a lot easier for me to find transportation a la Dionysos. As soon as we landed, I walked through the gates and out the doors. Suddenly, the trip I dreaded so much is filling me with excitement, and I can’t figure out why. Leaning on my thyrsos, I turned right, walked past the overpass leading to the parking lot, and kept going until my feet touched earth.
I am not going to lie. As soon as I smelled the open air, saw the pine trees sway, and heard the cicadas chirping in the sun, my heart quickened. My lips tried to repeat out loud what my heart told my brain to say. “It has been too lo…” was all I got out before a tear escaped my right eye and trickled down to water my beard. Before I knew it, I was on my knees, bawling, like the time sweet Ikarios was taken from us sooner than expected.
Steadying myself on my thyrsos, I jabbed at the earth with my left thumb, where my tears fell and murmured softly. Finally making it back up to my feet, I looked around and realized that no one had noticed me. Walking under the bright sun, I headed for the closest thatch of trees. When in the shadows, I turned back to the path I took and cackled in delight at the small vine that popped out of the ground, right where my tears had fallen. Those grapes will be sour to eat, but they will make a hell of a retsina…if anyone bothers to cultivate them.
Hidden in the small forest, I closed my eyes, trying to concentrate as much as my brain would allow. I pounded my thyrsos into the ground three times and waited, unmoving. I tried to picture a bull, or even better yet, a donkey. Even though I was not in the city, I was close enough that I would be lucky if I could summon a chicken. Another few minutes passed, and sweat started to roll down my back. Just when I was about to give up and go look for a taxi, I heard a low growl. For the second time in minutes, I found myself on my knees again, but this time laughing like a toddler.
“What in all the Mavrodaphne grapes of Patra are you doing here?” I asked the very same panther that answered my summons thousands of miles away. I headbutted him while tickling him right under his jaw. His bright emerald eyes looked back at me and blinked once, then he moved to lick the hand that was still holding on to my thyrsos. I patted him on the head and smiled. “Don’t think that showing up here will excuse you for giving me attitude, mourgo mou,” I admonished the cat which of course, scared him so much that he yawned and gave me a bored look.
I laughed one more time and snapped my fingers. “That’s it! That will be your name from now on! Mourgo you shall be! Oh, hey now…” I snatched back my hand before the ungrateful panther bit it off after a loud growl. I waited a few seconds for Mourgo to get over himself before
I looked him in the eyes and made the same circular motion with my index finger pointing down. The cat openly rolled his eyes at me again but turned around to let me sit. A minute later, I was perched, and I concentrated on daddy dearest. Mourgo started a slow, steady walk, while I closed my eyes and trusted my bond with the panther to get me where I wanted to go, once again.
When I opened my eyes, I stood where I was supposed to be standing, but not where I was expecting to be standing since I thought I’d be standing a lot higher up from where I was standing right then. And that made my head hurt as if I was suffering from brain freeze. I could sense the power of the immortals, but…not from where I expected. “Wait a second…I’m not on the mountaintop…” I stood on a small hill under the shadow of the mountain I knew so well. Sprawled in front of me, I saw what looked like a brand new mini-city with patches of homes and stores and streets and cars. In between them, a huge tower that stretched up and up and up.
I whistled and then heaved a big sigh as my neck craned up the shining tower, designed with as much pomp and circumstance as the family could muster. I rolled my eyes and started mumbling to myself as I made my way toward the big tower.
“Some things never change. Now I know where the party is. Leave it up to Daddio to make the new place look like a big…”