Short story: Anapa in the House of Gods

Illustration by Nyantee Asherman

Anapa and I entered the wine god’s garden to destroy him. The wine god’s door was deep within the House of Gods. It led us into a leafy paradise of green and gold. We passed rows of trellises choked with grapevines, and my mouth watered at the sight of the fat purple fruits.

I asked Anapa if I could take a grape. “Take what you need while they still bear fruit,” he rumbled. Massive and graceful, Anapa bore no weapons, only a farmer’s sickle. His white loincloth and gold ornaments shone against his midnight skin.

There was little sustenance for my kind in the House of Gods. The taste of a single grape overwhelmed me with thoughts of home, of farmer’s markets and fresh peaches, of meals and drinks with friends whose laughter I could not remember.

The look on Anapa’s face might have been pity.

We came across the god under an olive tree, red-faced and naked, sharing a jug of wine with a fair, plump mortal. “It is time, young one,” Anapa told him.

“Have you come to kill me?” The wine god was as playful as he was belligerent. “That farmer’s tool looks hardly adequate. Much like something else of yours, I dare say.”

He was barely out of boyhood, though he had lived an eternity. Perhaps for the same reasons Anapa pitied me, I pitied him. “I have not come to kill you,” Anapa said. “She has.”

I hesitated. I thought of refusing, spitting in Anapa’s face, walking out the oaken door. Instead I closed my eyes. When I opened them, the garden ran red with blood. The plants withered and dried. The olive tree’s branches bent like skeletal fingers, and its black leaves scattered in the cold wind. Horrified, the mortal woman held the wine god’s head in her lap and wept.

It was always fast, almost instant. One would think an immortal’s life would end gradually as a mountain wearing down to gravel. Anapa knelt and shut the wine god’s eyelids.

Later, as Anapa rubbed oil and resin into the corpse’s skin, I asked, “Where will they go, when we are done?”

“Into the earth,” Anapa said. “Just as mortals do.”

He wrapped the body in linen. I offered to help, not for the first time. Anapa refused. His long, thin fingers moved with such certainty that my attempts at assistance would only hinder his work.

We walked the dim, silent halls of the House of Gods. They had been full of light and warmth once, before I killed the hearth goddess who tended the fires. I had extinguished the songs of revelry and battle which once resounded from the thunder god’s feasthall. Each death sapped my strength. I was young and strong when we began, but I began to feel like a limping crone, or a helpless infant. Anapa led me in the dark, his eyes aglow, like a wolf.

“Where are we going?” I asked. “This place is like a maze.”

“I feel their presence in the dark,” he said. “I see those who remain.” I heard the words hanging in the air: Those who have not perished at your hands. Those who have not taken their own lives to preserve their divine pride.

To me, the halls were cold and lifeless until we opened the next door and stepped into a new world.

We entered the domain of the goddess, a stone palace near the verdant bank of a wild, rushing river. “The water floods,” Anapa told me, “when she weeps for her husband. He has risen before, but he will not rise again.”

The goddess awaited us inside. She stretched out her arms, and her arms were wings, unfolding in dizzying flash of green, scarlet and white. She enveloped Anapa in a feathery embrace. “Embalmer,” she said, “I am ready to depart.”

“Of course, my queen,” he replied. His voice caught. I looked to him, but his eyes were shut, his face pressed against the queen’s.

She fell limp in Anapa’s arms. Her feathers, dull and grey, floated to the floor.

Anapa wept openly as he laid her on the embalming table.

“Was she your lover?” He did not reply. “Your mother?”

“She was everyone’s lover, and everyone’s mother. Everyone’s whore and everyone’s queen.” He touched her cheek before he threaded the hook through her nose to extract her brain.

“Then why?” I smacked the tool out of his hand. The clattering it made when it fell surprised me. “Don’t you feel anything? I’ve killed your friends, your family. Don’t you ever think about what you’re making me do?”

“Only mortal thought can destroy the gods.”

“I know!” I shouted. “You’ve told me a thousand times. But you never tell me why.”

He picked up the hook.

“Tell me!” My fists flailed against his broad chest. “Why me?”

He closed his hands around my wrists and plucked me from the ground like a blade of grass. He placed me in the corner of the room and resumed his work: removing the still-warm organs of the goddess.

“Death is the blessing of birth. The earth is not the end for us.” His golden eyes, rimmed with red, were focused on his task. “This world lacks the language to make you understand.”

We climbed higher in the House of Gods, stair after stair, death after death, until I could not go on. Anapa carried me close, like a sleeping child. I saw my own locks of hair falling out, grey and thin, drifting to the ground like feathers.

“It is done, mortal.” Though Anapa’s voice was a murmur, it rumbled like an earthquake in his chest. He crouched down, for we had entered a dusty, low-ceilinged attic.

“Is it?” I had almost grown used to the give and take. Wandering the hallways guided by a jackal.

Anapa held me in one arm and pushed on the ceiling with another. A trap door opened, revealing a night blooming with stars.

“Where are we going?”

“We are sending the gods into the earth.”

“The earth?”

“Earth is sky,” Anapa said. “Death is birth.” He hoisted me onto the roof. Bones creaking, I stood. The roof glistened with thousands of sarcophagi, carved of polished stone or wood, or cast in clay. I recognized the purple and green coffin of the wine god, the feathered sarcophagus of the mother-queen. The roof rose towards the sky, and the caskets of the gods seemed to become the stars, and the stars engulfed the graveyard on the roof.

“You should go back,” Anapa said, gesturing to the trapdoor.

I obeyed. My body felt fresh, strong, alive. As I climbed down the door, I looked back. “Aren’t you coming with me?”

“I cannot follow you into your world,” Anapa said. I guessed that he would not want to if he could.

“Wait,” I said. “When my time comes… will you come for me?”

“Perhaps,” said Anapa, “you will come for me.”

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