|a recent Little Free Library find|
Set in ancient Delphi, a man climbs the mountain seeking the old woman rumored to live alone, once a revered and feared pythia, who long ago had forsaken god and was chased out of the village by an angry mob.
And indeed, the man finds the old woman and a mute man-child. The man explains to the old woman that he is seeking the answer of his fate and tells a story of how a criminal carrying a cross stopped to rest his head on the man's house. And the man told him to move along. So the criminal cursed him to live forever.
The man didn't think much of it until he heard people saying that the criminal was actually the son of god. So now the man is feeling deep anguish.
The old woman listens to his story. Then she tells her own: When she was young farm girl, the temple priests came and told her that she was to be the new oracle since the last had died of snake bite. They prepared her in a wedding dress and lowered her into the holiest of holies, a cave full of snakes and goats where she chewed medicinal leaves, allowing her to be overtaken by god.
And she was very good at it. She thought she would become a beloved member of the community, but instead everyone avoided her, afraid of her power. So she lived a very lonely life.
Until one day, by the river, she met a one armed stranger. And they made love. She didn't know whether or not he knew she was the pythia. Still they met in secret each day. And she grew to love him deeply.
When the next festival came and the pythia had to go to the temple to be lowered into the holiest of holies, she was afraid of what god would do since she had betrayed him for a man. And she was overtaken with a force stronger than any had ever known, and in the midst of the screaming violence that shook her body, she was aware that the one armed man, having heard her screams, having ran past the guard, entered the underground chamber and saw her being taken by god, and fled.
Soon after, he was found dead in the river.
She became pregnant, and when her body showed it, the people grew angry at her infidelity and, fearing god's reaction, chased her up the mountain where she gave birth alone to a baby that grew into a gray haired man-child with a smile frozen on his mute face.
When she is done with her story, she curses her fate, that her love turned into this grotesque being that ruined her life.
And after some silence, she admits that at times she wonders if perhaps this child she bore is actually the son of god.
The old woman had been so consumed with talking to the man (she hadn't talked with anyone in years) that she didn't realize her man-child had wondered off into the night. She panics. Did he actually understand how she cursed him? She jumps up and runs out calling for him.
The visitor, amazed at how agile the old woman is, follows her as she hurries up the mountain in the dark. Just before the top of the mountain, the footsteps grow smaller and smaller, changing from a man's to a boy's to baby's until they disappear altogether.