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Jon Dixon
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Well, why not. What the hell...

In a response to Holly's beautifully heartfelt post about finding it hard to write this week, I shared an experience I had yesterday when I hit a wall in my own writing. I gave up trying to wrangle words that just weren't having any of it and starting sorting out some old box files in the office. One of them contained probably twenty years-worth of random, unsorted photos. And some of them were pictures of a holiday I went on fifteen or so years ago with my best friends to Corfu (in the ancient days when such a thing was possible). 

As I thought back to those two weeks of long, lazy cicada-serenaded days and nights I remembered the genius locii of the place , and I remembered a fancy that I had, all those years ago, when we were exploring in the hills above the villa where we stayed. And suddenly I had a ... thing... 'Story' is probably giving it too much credit ... a vignette. Based on that fifteen year old fancy, I wrote it down. And here it is, barely edited. I write fantasy, mostly, and I guess that's what this is.

It'll probably never be published. It'll probably never even be seen by more than a few people. Most of them on here I suspect!

Feel free to critique or hurl tomatoes or brickbats. Or maybe even olive branches or laurel wreaths if you're feeling particularly kind. 😀 


Last Days

In the last days of the gods, and the second month of their affair, Panope took Antisthenes far up into the olive groves that shade the rolling hills above Corcyra. There, on a wooded slope that looked across the city to the sea, quite hidden, was an old shrine to the goddess Tyche, roofless and walled with ancient stone.

Panope pushed the door ajar and nodded, seeming satisfied with what she saw.

‘Come in,’ she said, and beckoned to him from a patch of dappled sunlight. ‘Come.’

Once within the walls, they sat on marble benches and ate their lunch of bread and cheese and fruit, and drank sweet wine. The sun was warm as oil against their skin.

‘I used to come here all the time,’ Panope said. ‘To write my songs and poems, play my pipes, and be alone but for my thoughts. Always alone.’ She looked around as if it was a place that she had never seen before. ‘I've never been here with another.’

Her eyes were sad again, her presence fugitive and insubstantial, Antisthenes thought, as if the sunlight gave her being and without it she would fade. His heart ached at the prospect.

‘Until now,’ she said, and lifted up the leather satchel that she'd carried with her, offering it to him.

‘Open it,’ she said.

Antisthenes undid the straps. Inside he found a set of reed pipes, very old and dark and worn with playing, some sweetmeats, perfumed oils and a long-toothed wooden comb. And nestled next to them were sealed ink pots, reed pens and rolls of vellum. On some such rolls the ink was old and faded. On a few the ink was fresh and dark.

‘What are these?’ Antisthenes asked softly, as he carefully laid them out along the bench next to Panope.

‘My poems. And my songs,’ Panope said. ‘Fragments of my heart.’

She lifted up one of the vellum rolls, the writing on it black and new, and offered it.

Antisthenes unrolled it, read it carefully, curiosity transforming into wonder then a strange amalgamation of heartbreak and joy. At the end his eyes were wet enough to blur the words until he blinked them sharp again.

‘You wrote this?’ he murmured.

‘Yes,’ Panope said, and offered up another.

Antisthenes read the second sheet. A tear welled at the corner of his eye. He shook his head.

‘You bring to me a gift,’ he said finally. ‘A thing of precious beauty. Your soul in ink.’

Panope’s eyes glowed bronze and amber, flecked with golden iridescence, pupils wide and dark despite the sunlight.

‘My soul?’ she said, almost a question. Then, like an epiphany, ‘My soul.’

Antisthenes read the sheets again, more slowly, as if each word were a revelation.

‘These are written recently,' he said. 'The ink is fresh. You wrote these since our meeting?’

‘I had not written for a year or longer. I'd stopped coming to this place. I had no reason to, until that day two months ago you met me in the woods. I was alone, the others faded all and gone. Until you came to me... and out of nowhere, in these final days, all my love songs are of you.’

Sunlight touched the spiral ridges of her horns with gold and chased away the sadness in her eyes. She seemed less insubstantial now. She smiled and stepped to him on delicate cloven hooves, her every move a dance, her arms outstretched. Their fingers met and gently intertwined.

Antisthenes drew Panope into a close embrace and gently brushed her lips with his. Her mouth still had the aftertaste of wine and peach-flesh. Her ears flicked with delight as she returned his kiss. She pressed herself against him, solid, real, as tenderness became an urgent need.

‘I will never let you go,’ he whispered as they lowered themselves down into the scented grass, arms wrapped around each other, skin to skin, the fur of her flanks soft against his thighs. ‘You are my treasure and my goddess. You have bound me to your beauty and your grace until whatever end may come. And even then, I will be with you, yours for all eternity.’

‘And I am yours until my fading,’ Panope breathed softly. ‘And beyond if possible. The ocean to your shore. Fuel to your flame. The blood within your heart. I love you, human man.’

That evening in the olive groves above Corcyra, pan-pipes softly played. All else was silence, sunlight, and enchantment, in the last days of the gods.

  • Sweet.A few little cuts would make it more etherial - 'lunch' for example is a bit mundane. The sentence including the phrase 'urgent need' because I think you've established that already.Is Panope a faun, or a unicorn, or even a goat - those delectable furry flanks?  But it's also the name of one of the most obscene shellfish nature ever created: the geoduck.

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    • Thank you, Cicely. Panope is a faun. Although I think I may be changing her name after having looked up the geoduck, which I confess I hadn’t previously come across! 😲

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      • Good point about lunch! I guess gods don't do lunch, but they do feasts! Now, what greek delicacies would they have? Bread, goats cheese, wine, fresh fruit, grapes and apricots, and dried fruit, figs, dates almonds, and honey. And the wine amphora never dried up no matter how much wine they poured out of it into small earthen bowls.

        Make a feast of it! Get him drunk! In the end she seduces him... which is what she had planned to do all along... Very greek. It's still the preferred excuse for adultery today: she biguiled me!

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      • Very good. This piece has a confident and distinctive voice. I felt I was there among the old stones and olive groves with the blue agean sea as a backdrop and "the sun as warm as oil"... good imagery. 

        The way the story is framed with the sentence "in the last days of the gods" at the begining and end, works well as it immediately shows us this is a fantasy story drawn from greek mythology. This frame works like a window into another sphere.

        I think it can be tweaked & tightened in places, like this:

        "roofless and walled with ancient stone and roofless" (better balance)

        "seeming satisfied with what she saw"  (precision)

        "Come in,’ she said, and beckoned to him from a patch of dappled sunlight. ‘Come." (tighten structure, more precision)

        Antisthenes thought, as if knew the sunlight gave her being and without it she would fade. (tighten structure, more precision)

        ‘Until now, something or other’ she said, and lifted up the leather satchel that she'd carried with her, offering and offered it to him. ‘Open it,’ she said. (This sentence sounds incomplete. It needs more in place of something or other. You can put all dialogue here in same paragraph, because it's still linked with her action beat.)

        Suggestion: "Until now no human eyes have seen this." She lifted up the leather satchel she'd carried with her and offered it to him. "Open it."

        I don't want to drive you mad with my nit-picks. Every writer has a preferred way of writing, these are just opinions & sugestions. Use or discard as you see fit.

        Great piece. Thanks for sharing. Post more soon...

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        • Thanks so much for the kind words. And the excellent suggestions.

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        • It reminds me as if everyone is Christian.

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          • I enjoyed your piece and thought it was very sensitively written. I agreed with the comments re 'tightening'.

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            • Thank you, Helen!

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            • Yes, clear and resonant voice - what more do you need.  You were't tempted to put it down, that's for sure.  D.M Costa's revisions also good! 

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              • Oh wow this is beautiful, actually brought a lump to my throat 

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                • Thank you so much, Kelly! I'm glad you liked it. 🙂 

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                • How did I miss this way back when you first posted it?

                  Yes, it could do with the sort of tightening Donna mentioned, And, not to be (too) picky, I wondered early on what PoV you were going for (this being a tale where omniscient would work well, but needs to be done carefully, swooping out and in with the changing of angles). Indeed, I could probably pick out all of the aspects of craftsmanship improvement that get called out in so many requests for feedback.

                  But… It as an excellent piece. The basic tale holds together well. The scene is properly set. The overall structure works.

                  A couple of edits and it will be stellar.

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                  • Thank you, Rick. Coming from you that means a lot as I really admire your insight and your critical eye! 🙂 

                    I must confess that with this one (which I wrote almost as a exercise, since I was stuck on a knotty problem with the novel at the time) I was consciously trying to write to a particular rhythm; not slavishly copying but aiming to reflect the kind of prose-poetry feel that a lot of the better translations of the classical myths have. It seemed to suit the subject matter. So I sometimes cared far more about having the 'right' number of syllables in the line than keeping the words to a tight minimum.

                    As for POV, it turned out to be Antisthenes in the end, although oddly, I still think of Panope as the 'protagonist'. But you're right, it could just as easily have been omniscient and still worked.

                    It's a little vignette that I like, which isn't always the case with stuff I write, even though its length makes it pretty much unplaceable as a commercial piece.

                    Thanks again for the kind words! 

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