Back to Index

 

 

 


Hydra in Exaltation

by

Diana Mills

  

Open Gate 8, They said, and let us see what the Hero can accomplish....

 

I

Jolting and rattling like a tumbrel

my dusty chariot rumbles across the

sun-blasted land. Nothing but stones,

nothing but bones, olive-tree skeletons

etched on the skin of a waxen sky.

 

"Not this way, Shadow!" I cry. "Go back to

the crossroads!" But my wily charioteer

scorns my fear. "Go back? Man, we got a

job to do! Signpost says, THIS WAY TO

LERNA, so I'll follow the sign." And

cracking his whip at the wind

Shadow drives on.

 

II

Moon-Queen sits astride

an ebony throne, her nakedness

glows like the sable bones of Night.

Nine stars nine on her crescent

crown dazzle my sight, her moon-white

gaze penetrates the impenetrable

fathoms of my soul.

 

"Greetings, Herakles. You are

welcome in my domain for now."

 

Shadow smirks and bows. I hesitate.

"How is it you know my name?"

 

"Your fame runs before you, son of Zeus.

So here's a question to test your

mettle: are you for real? Or just

a wannabe hero in borrowed gear?"

 

"I am a Tru-Hero, my Lady! And my

Tru-Quest is to save Lerna from Hydra,

the evil water-serpent whose very

breath is death!"

 

Moon-Queen laughs. "Aha! So you're

letter-perfect in hero-speak, eh?" She

leans forward, drawing me into the

moon-white pools of her eyes. "A word

of advice, young man. Nothing is ever

as it seems. Black is white and white

is black. Good and evil are but two

sides of the same tarnished coin. And

Truth is a question of perspective...."

 

"Save your breath," sneers Shadow.

"This guy's an Absolutist." She laughs

again and claps her hands. "Ah, well...

Let's see what stuff you're made

of, Zeus-son."

 

III

In silence Lerna's wretched folk

crawl out from the cracks and crevices

of their godforsaken land. A nightmare

army in gas masks and putty-grey NBC

suits, surplus items from some bygone

war, bought at bargain prices in a 4 x 1

store. Moon-Queen hands me a mask, I

thrust it impatiently aside.

 

"Wear it, fool!" she hisses. "When you

strangled the serpent in your cradle you

strangled your own Wise-soul. This questing

discipleship is the price of that folly. Only

when you overcome the Nine and reveal the

One will you be granted access to the

Halls of Wisdom...."

 

"I've no time for mystical mumbo-jumbo!

I've come to save these wretches from Evil!"

"Oho! Have you indeed? Then wear the

Mask as a safeguard against Hydra's

Poison or be doomed to failure and

ignorance for the rest of your days.

Without the Mask you may not

proceed with your task."

 

"Better do as she asks,"

urges Shadow.

 

Grudgingly I don the Mask. It

clings to my face like a second

skin, through its narrow eyeslits the

world appears flat and shrouded in

smoke. "Can't see a damned thing!"

I complain. Moon-Queen chuckles.

 

"Use your nose, fool. Does it not tell

you what is and what is not?"

 

"Lerna," I growl ungraciously, "stinks

like a charnel house."

 

A crack, less than a nano-breadth from

edge to edge, splits the invisible fabric

of space and time. Through it steps a

Child clothed in threadbare flesh. She

wears no mask. Her glaucous eyes

pierce me with their unblinking stare,

her voice barely stirs the reeking air.

 

Our land is poisoned

our crops are poisoned

the water we drink kills us

the air we breathe kills us

we die by the thousands

by the tens of thousands

only five hundred of us

are left in Lerna

from death and desolation

good Lord deliver us

 

"Deliverance is here!" I cry, flinging wide

my arms to embrace Lerna's wretched folk.

"Herakles, son of Zeus, will save you

from the Evil One!" And waving aloft a banner

inscribed freedom for lerna! I set off, fired

by the desire for a Victory to outshine

all victories past, present and future

forever and ever amen.

 

IV

Ten thousand swamps trace a maze

across the land, each one identical to

the one before, all of them wrapped in

murky gloom. I charge through the

gloom this way and that, stumble, fall,

rise and charge on, chasing the ten thousand

spectres of my desire. "Which way?" I shout.

"Which way to Hydra's lair?"

 

Child extends her bone-white

hand. I will take you there.

 

Swamp water

swirls around my knees

rises to my neck

seeps through my Mask

fills my mouth with sulphur

burns my throat with bitter fire.

"How much longer in this

disgusting mire?" Child ignores

my complaint and leads me on.

In the murky gloom

her shaven skull

glows like Athene's

burnished helmet.

 

At the place where

the swamp-maze

touches the rim of the

sun Lerna disappears down

a crack no wider than a

nano-breadth from

edge to edge across the

invisible fabric of

space and time.

 

Follow me, Herakles son of

Zeus, into the Deep.

 

V

We enter the crack.

Cerberus snarls as we

scurry past to push open

an iron gate whose hinges

creak with mournful sound.

And so we spiral

down

down

down

through Avernian darkness

nine levels

down

to the

innermost ring

of the

bottomless pit

boilng mud hurls

geysers of steam

into the fetid air

Oh! Look there!

to our left

a cave gouged from

the belly of ashen hills

scorched ground

littered with the

remains of Lerna's

hapless inhabitants.

 

"Zeuspater!" I groan in

dismay. "And now what?"

The way lies through fire,

whispers Child.

 

Worth a try? I take six

arrows from my quiver, light

them with a spark from my

tinderbox, then fit all six

to my bow, take aim and

shoot them straight into the

mouth of the cave. A furious

bellow shakes the hills and

Hydra sallies forth in a

blast of yellow flame,

raging and cursing,

poisoning the air with

her toxic breath

 

Canis Ophiucocephalous Exterminator

 

Zeuspater,what a sight!

Fifty feet of brindled

she-dog bristling with

spikes and armed with six-inch

steel claws. Nine serpent heads

on long, scaly necks, each head

marked with the deadly V. Pale,

bulbous eyes and glistening fangs,

nine forked tongues flicking

between razor-sharp teeth.

 

"Who's the prat using me for

target practice?" she roars and

seismograph needles all over

the world leap off their scales.

 

I roar, "Herakles the Hero,

son of Zeus!" and with one swift

stroke slice off the nearest head.

Blood gushes like a fountain as

the head hits the ground: in less

than a nanosecond two more

sprout from its mangled neck. I

chop them off, four more take

their place. Another slash of my

sword. And another. Twelve heads

now and I still have the original

eight to deal with.

 

Hydra laughs, belches sulphur-laced

fumes in my face. Growls, "Go home,

kid. This is a man's job."

 

And I...hesitate. Lerna's fate lies

in your hands, whispers Child. My

frustration (or perhaps my fear)

explodes in the stinking, eye-watering

mirk. "Blast the gods! There's not a

hope in hell I can suceed in this work!"

 

Child's eyes burn into mine. The way,

she repeats, lies through fire.

 

With a disgruntled sigh I unsling

my favourite club made from

hand-polished sustainable oak.

"One last try, Child. That's all

the goodwill I'm willing to spend

on this damn-fool caper."

 

Oil oozes from the scorched earth.

I strike a spark to ignite the oil,

a flame leaps up with a hollow roar,

its orange-black glow reflected

in Hydra's bulbous eyes. "Geronimo!"

I mutter and thrust my club into

the flame. It catches fire,

blazes like a beacon.

Hydra crouches, sphinx-like,

among Lerna's discarded bones.

I circle her once, twice, seven

times more, each time closer,

blade in one hand, burning

brand in the other. Snarling,

Hydra draws back, poised to spring

as I leap forward to strike.

 

Nine tons of rancid she-dog flesh

rear above me. I'm encircled by

a hissing of venomous heads. Hydra's

steel claws lash out. I dodge them

and slash off one head, burn it

to ashes with my fiery club.

Hydra shrieks, reels, totters back.

I attack again, steel and fire, slash

and burn, head after head. A long

and bloody business, but at the end

Canis Ophiucocephalous Exterminator

lies dead on the ground. I rip off

my Mask and dance around, punch

the air with triumphant fists.

 

"Deed's done, Child!

I've saved Lerna!"

 

But Child has vanished.

 

VI

Gingerly, I pick through

the pile of smoking Hydra-heads.

Nine blackened skulls and their

clones briefly sparkle like jewels

between my fingers before

disintegrating. But the tenth

skull...A TENTH SKULL? In a

flash I'm on my feet, sword drawn

and oak club blazing, ready to

destroy the enemy.

 

I am invulnerable, son of Zeus. With

every blow I grow stronger. The Nine

will be redeemed in the One.

 

"What the hell?...Why are

you pretending to be

Hydra's head, Child?"

 

A bitter wind gusts

across the ashen hills,

fills the night with the

chill of unshriven souls

keening before the

pearly gates.

 

I chop the tenth head to pieces,

burn it and bury the remains.

Bereft, I call to Child:

"How can I get out of here

if you're not here to guide me?"

 

Moon-Queen laughs.

Her white eyes

glimmer through the

smoky pall that hangs

over Lerna's

ten thousand swamps.

 

VII

That damned tenth head!

Half of me wants to

dig it up, the other half

is afraid of what I'll find.

To dig or not to dig-that's

the REAL question, Hamlet!

It haunts me. Forty days and

forty nights tormented by

the same dreary conundrum

 

to dig or not to dig to dig or

not to dig to dig or not to

dig dig not dig dig not

ad nauseam

excavo excavas excavat

excavamus excavatis excavant

ad infinitum et

ad gloriam Zeuspater

excavatur omnipotens

per seculae seculorum amen

 

Day 41: I yield to temptation

 

fling myself on the burial mound

tear away ash, mud and stone

digging to find

my own soul

delving into thoughts

so secret I've even

kept them from myself

here in the soul's

ground zero

the sum of my

nihil no-thing nada

I dig

deeper and deeper

break through earth's crust

pierce the mantle

plunge into molten magma

touch Earth's iron core

EUREKA!

my groping fingers

close over the tenth head.

I pull and tug,

it refuses to budge.

I tug and pull,

muscles straining

against sinew and bone

as I struggle to unearth

my prize. Inch by inch,

I prise it loose from its

bed, sink to my knees,

with the final heave lift

a stinking, shapeless mass.

 

"Is this what I've been

fighting for? These rotting

remains of a genetic freak?

Is this my Hero's glory?"

 

Child calls to me through

the gloom: Black is white

and white is black. Look

again, foolish Herakles.

 

The tenth head shimmers

in my hands, divides into nine

rays of light. "Zeuspater!" I gape

in wonder as they merge

into a single, radiant star.

 

"Life and death hang on

your next move," warns

Moon-Queen astride her ebony

throne. "The power to redeem or

destroy your soul lies within

you. Think carefully, you won't

have another chance."

 

Holding life and death

between my hands

I stagger to my feet,

raise the head,

my fingers brush

the silken fringe

of heaven's robe,

seven rays stream

from their tips,

weave a rainbow bridge

to span the Void

between earth and sky.

My voice flows across the

Cosmic Web, finds echo in

all its dimensions and universes:

throughout the infinite network

of space and time

galaxies and constellations,

planets and moons

are singing my song.

 

Here is the One

in whom is contained

the Wisdom of all things.

I place the One

among the stars

as a beacon to light the Way.

 

Moon-Queen smiles. "This test

is won. You may proceed,

son of Zeus."

 

Child takes my hand

and together we

set off for the Bridge.

Cracking his whip at the wind,

Shadow follows close behind.

 

 

Finis

 

 

 

Back to Index