The Furies, Part 3: Endless

(Click here for The Furies: Part 1: Spite.)

He woke to light, searing light, life-destroying light. He struggled to hide his face, but something was holding him down, pinning his arms to his sides. “The light!”

“Alex,” Ellie said gently. He felt a pressure on his hand. “Alexandros, they have strapped you down. They thought you were trying to kill yourself. What else could they think? They didn’t see the window break. They didn’t see you rise up like that girl in The Exorcist. They didn’t see the scratches appear on your body. I–I saw it happen, and I still don’t know what to think.”

“The light!” he said. “Why is it so bright?”

“It’s morning. Don’t worry about your presentation, Andros. I called your company and told them you had an accident. I didn’t know what else to say. Your boss is going to use the minutes from the last meeting to give the presentation. She said she hopes you feel better soon. And I am missing yet another day of work! Oh, well.”

Easing his eyes open, he found the cooler shadow that was his sister, seated again by his side. Behind her stood a tall woman with a brilliant, shining robe and wild, black hair, her wings spread wide. She was staring at him with hatred. “You,” she spat, “foul, polluted, cursed! How can you bear the stench of your own life?”

Ellie looked over her shoulder. “Are they here, Alex?”

Another tall woman with waving hair and open bat-like wings stood at the foot of his bed. Her breasts bare, she wore a long, brown skirt. Behind her, the morning sun was shining through the window, blindingly bright. “I would fill your mouth with stones,” she growled, “so that you could not pollute the air with your putrid breath. I would break your teeth.”

There was another to his left in shimmering green with serpents wrapped around her forearms. Her hair was dancing fire. She too was glaring at him, and as he looked at her, blood began dripping from her eyes. “I would squeeze your brains between my fingers. I would smash your genitals with a rock.”

“Yes,” Alex said, “three of them. They are here. It’s blinding.”

“Three?” Ellie asked, nodding grimly. “I read more about them while you were passed out. No one knows how many there are, but three is the most common number. Their names are–”

“I don’t want to know their names, Ellie! Please don’t tell me.”

The fury with white and black wings laughed. “I am Maegera. I am Jealous Rage. I am Spite.”

“I am Tisiphone,” said the one with bat wings. “I am Punishment. I am Vengeance.”

“I am Allecto,” said the one with flaming hair. “I am Unceasing. I am Endless.”

“We are the daughters of Night.”

“The furies,” Ellie said slowly, looking around her, “punish oath breakers and the worst kinds of murderers: those who have killed someone in their own family. I read some parts of a play called The Eumenides by this Greek guy. The main character, Orestes, killed his mother, so the furies attacked him. Once they have started, they will not stop. They will haunt you to your grave. They will carry you down to Hades and torture you there.”

“I kept her alive. I took her abuse. I cleaned up her vomit and shit.”

The furies cackled loudly and began circling the bed, their feet skimming across the linoleum. “How can you bare the stench of your own life, you festering wound? How can you stand your own putrid breath? How can you live with that thing hanging from your body? Why don’t you kill yourself? Why don’t you end your own life?”

“I understand, Alex,” Ellie said, tugging on her hair. “She was cruel to you, always cruel. I saw it. She took out her anger at Dad on you. Sometimes I got it too, but she hurt you more because you reminded her of him.”

The furies were slowly rising up into the air. “Why don’t you end your sad and shameful life? Why don’t you hang yourself? Why don’t you take poison? Why don’t you drown yourself? Why don’t you set yourself on fire?”

“It was a long line of tragedy. Orestes killed his mother because she killed his father, the great warrior Agamemnon. She killed Agamemnon because he had sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia for fair winds to carry them to Troy.”

“Why don’t you slit your wrists? Why don’t you stab yourself in the heart? Why don’t you cut your throat? We will help you. Ask your sister to untie your restraints. We will help you because we are merciful.”

“A long line of tragedy, like in our family. You blamed Mom for Dad’s disappearance. She was hard on you because you reminded her of Dad. Dad beat her because his father beat him. His father beat him because he was, I don’t know, disappointed in the American dream. And on and on and on. Tragedy after tragedy, but it doesn’t excuse a crime like that, Alex. Even though it may seem justified, matricide is the worst crime possible. It is a mother who gives life, so to take hers is–”

“I did not kill her.”

“Then why are they here, Alex?”

A knock startled them. A nurse stood in the doorway. “Having a little family conference, are we? You might want to save it for the cops. We’ve called them to let them know you’re awake, Mr. Kostas. They will be here soon.”

The nurse checked the monitor and his I.V. “So, how are we feeling this morning? Are we in much pain? I’m afraid I can’t give you any painkillers until you have spoken with the police. They want to know what’s going on. Were you attacked? If so, by what? Animals? Psychos? Or are you just suicidal? Whatever is going on, you seem to be having a hard time, right? How about some breakfast?”

Alex shook his head.

“Orange juice? Apple juice? Coffee? Tea?”

“No, thank you. I don’t need anything. Please go away.”

The nurse shrugged her shoulders. “Just doing my job.” She wrote some numbers on his chart, then slipped the clipboard into the bin by the door. “It’s what I do. I’m a nurse.”

The furies were circling overhead. Allecto’s legs had stretched into the body of a snake, swimming through the air like a mermaid. Tisiphone was a rabid wolf with bat wings, snarling and dripping foam. Maegera had sprouted spiders legs and was scurrying around the ceiling, clacking her mandibles. “Why don’t you shoot yourself? Why don’t you jump in front of a train? Why don’t you throw yourself off the bridge? Ask your sister to untie your restraints.”

Alex was crying. “What happened to Orestes? It ends badly, doesn’t it?”

“No, no, they didn’t get Orestes. He held onto a statue of Athena for protection.”

“Athena? A statue?”

“He summoned Athena and Apollo, and they held a trial. Athena was the judge. Apollo spoke in Orestes’ defense because he had counseled him to kill his mother. Ultimately, Athena determined that the murder of Orestes’ mother was justified because she had killed Agamemnon. I guess a man owes more to his father than to his mother. The furies did not agree. They were not satisfied with the decision.”

“Ask your sister to release you. We will let you kill yourself because we are merciful. We will let you end your miserable existence. Ask her to untie the restraints. Ask her.”

“A man owes more to his father than to his mother, Athena said, because the seed of a person comes from the father. He plants it in the mother. That’s why they call it ‘seed.’ According to the Greeks, a mother was nothing but fertile, passive soil. Ha, what patriarchal bullshit! Gives me a headache just to think about it. There were larger issues at stake here. Apparently, the furies were goddesses in their own rights until the newer gods, the male gods, like Zeus and Apollo, came along and subjected them. They were angry at being demoted to demons.”

“Ask your sister to undo the straps.  We will help you die. We will tear the life from your body. We will rip you to pieces. We will eat you and shit you out. Ask her.”

“Ellie, what happened?”

“Athena appeased the furies by swearing that Athenians would honor the ancient goddesses, alongside Athena and the male pantheon. They would offer the furies the first offerings, a kind of compromise between matriarchy and patriarchy. The furies agreed and let Orestes go. The play ends well. Actually, ‘The Eumenides’ means ‘the kindly ones.’”

Alex choked on a laugh. “The kindly ones! You should see them!”

“You want to die. We will help you. We are merciful. Ask her. Ask her. Ask her.”

“Ellie, are there–are there any statues of Athena in San Francisco?”

“I’m not sure. I don’t think so. Why would there be? Wait, isn’t there a picture of Athena on the Seal of California? A woman in a helmet with a spear, looking out over the bay?”

“Where is it? Where is this seal?”

“On letters? Official documents? Wait, I know. There’s a giant seal on the front of the state building in the Civic Center, I think, but it’s up high. You couldn’t reach it.”

“Ask her. Ask her. Ask her. Ask her. Ask her. Ask her.”

“Unfasten me, Ellie. Take me there.”

She looked down at Alex’s hand in her own. “Maybe I am your protection, Alexie. They seem to leave you alone when I am holding your hand.”

He laughed. “Some fucking goddess of wisdom you are! Untie me, Ellie, and let’s go to Civic Center.”

To release his bandaged right hand, she had to let go of his left. At once Tisiphone swooped down, tore away the restraints on his ankle and bit his foot, growling. Allecto lashed him with a snake, its fangs gouging parallel lines into his midriff. Maegera grabbed him by the hair and began to drag him off the table, laughing like a crazy woman.

Ellie took Alex’s hand again, and the erinyes snarled and let go. “We’re not going to the Civic Center,” Ellie said. “We’re going to visit Mom’s grave.”

(Part 4: The Kindly Ones)

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