Short Fiction: More Wine, Polyphemus?

(Note: I wrote this in an attempt to convince potential employers I am capable of adapting within the Fantasy genre. They requested Alice in Wonderland. I couldn’t stomach the thought of that, so this is what they got. Although they assured me they liked it, someone else got the job. So it goes.)

So the Greek Hero and the Cyclops enter a bar, except the bar is really a cave, and when the Cyclops is done with his wine, he is going to eat the Hero. The Hero holds up the wineskin.

“More wine, Polyphemus?”

The Cyclops holds out his ivory bowl. “Yes, please do.”

The Hero tops him off, and the sheep in the back of the cave bleat. Perhaps they, being sheep, understand what men do not.

The Cyclops downs it in one go, wiping the dark droplets that cling to his beard. “Hmm, good wine. Very good wine. I have never tasted such wine.”

The Hero holds his bowl, the wine untouched. “And you are not likely to ever again. This is special wine, of my own private vintage.” It sloshes as he chuckles. “You are not likely to have such wine ever again.”

“We have good wine,” the Cyclops tells the Hero, accepting another pour, eying the dark font as it travels from skin to bowl. “The cyclops, that is. Our grapes hang heavy from the vine even though we pay no heed to your silly-assed gods. Think we give sacrifice to Zeus? Think you wrong! Zeus is a fool to expect homage from us.” His words drown for a moment in the sweet, undiluted wine. “Hmm. But this is a bit of ambrosia and nectar.”

In the back of the cave, the Hero’s men watch. Crouched behind the beast’s flocks and pens and jars of curdled milk, they wait, clutching their well-crafted weapons.

The Hero sets aside his bowl and stretches, rubbing the tight muscles of his thigh. “What a shame it is, to drink with such a capable companion and then. . . . Ah, but never mind that, my friend. We shall not think of it. More wine?”

The Cyclops assents.

“Ah yes, very good wine. Pray tell me your name, sir, so that I may offer you a stranger’s gift. I am not so good at gifts, being a large one-eyed cannibalistic monster, but I shall do my best.”

“I am sure you will, my friend. You may call me Nobody, for that is what I am called by my mother and my father, and by all that I know.”

“I know you,” the Cyclops says between licking the third and fourth finger of his right hand. “I am glad to know you. A toast: to Nobody.”

He drinks.

“I never have visitors, you know. They find me too brutish. My father, especially.”

The Hero nods, with great sympathy. “You don’t say.”

“I do say. Hell–I am the son of a god. How’re you supposed to deal with that, hmm? Makes family reunions especially awkward. Son of a god–look at me!”

The Hero’s eyes twinkle. “I am looking, my friend. And what I see is strong, stronger than any god I’ve ever heard of.”

“Dead right I’m strong. That’s why I don’t pay homage to those pansy-assed fools. Don’t need to–I’m stronger than all of ‘em!” He takes another long mouthful, really savoring this time, letting a little run down his chin. When he is done the bowl is again empty, and again he motions for more. The Hero consents.

“You ever try to get sunglasses for one eye? Impossible.”

“But you are very tall, my friend.”

“I am tall. The other cyclops see me and tremble in terror. Oh, but this wine. . . . As my stranger’s gift to you, my friend Nobody, I shall eat you last, after your companions. First them, then Nobody. My gift to such a personable guest.”

“I am truly honored.”

Still, he drinks. Still, the men wait. Not yet, not yet.

“The other cyclops must look up to you.”

The Cyclops spits out a glob of wine and human flesh. His eye rolls back, once, then is again righted. “The other cyclops are morons!”

Almost. The wineskin is nearly empty; it lays flat on the floor of the cave beside the Hero. The cyclops drains his bowl, then cradles it in his palm.

“They laugh at me, you know. Call me a momma’s boy. Momma’s boy? My momma is a nymph! If your momma was a nymph you’d be partial too–I can tell you that right now. Momma’s a nymph and my father’s a god. What the hell went wrong with me?”

The Hero lifts the skin and drain the last few drops of the sweet, undiluted wine into the Cyclops’ bowl. It is now, or it is never.

He drinks; the Hero digs his nails into the wood of his bowl.

“My father wanted me to be doctor–can you believe that? Me, a doctor!”

His eye starts to droop. The muscles of his mouth twitch: once, twice, and then are still. His head forward, then back, and with a crash that rattles the jars of curdled milk in the back of the cave, he is out. The sheep bleat and cower against each other.

The Hero sets down his bowl, untouched, still swimming with the sweetened wine. He creeps as close to the monster stretched out on the floor as he dares.

The Cyclops snores.

“Now,” the Hero says.

And the men rush from the shadows with their brand, hot from the fire and burning, and they drive the brand deep into the unblinking eye of their host. There is a sizzle. There is a crackling, a singing of eyebrows and a cauterizing and hissing of flesh. The men hold fast, the Hero twists the brand deeper into the head of his host, and the sheep bleat.

And the Cyclops awakens.

“My. . . my eye!

A roar, such as none present had ever heard in all their journeying, issues from the mouth of the Cyclops, along with more than a gallon of undiluted wine and the miscellaneous body parts of several of their companions. They drive the brand further into his eye.

“What have you done to my eye?”

The beast clutches the thing sprouting from the center of his face and roars. The cave shudders; rocks tumble from their places high above the heads of the men and of their Hero, and they flee in terror toward the sheep in the back of the cave. Then the voices of others come to them, the voices of the cyclops who inhabit the island.

“What’s going on in there, Polyphemus? What trouble have you gotten into this time?”

The Cyclops scrambles for the mouth of the cave, but in his weakness and frenzy cannot remove the great rock that blocks the entrance. So he crouches there, blood issuing from his great, gaping and unseeing eye, a half-digested human hand tangled in his beard, and tells them in one great gasp,“Nobody is here! Please, my friends, you must help me. Nobody is killing me!”

And at that there is a silence. The men and the sheep listen, and wait, and then, from without comes the deep, rumbling laughter of the giants.

“Well that’s a new one!”

“Quick to blame, that one he is!”

“It’s always nobody’s fault as far as Polyphemus is concerned!”

The cave trembles with the sound of their laughter.

“At least he got it right this time–usually he blames his parents!”

“But, my fellows. . . it was Nobody! I swear, to the gods of Olympus and my father Poseidon of the sea, I swear until the day I die that it is Nobody’s fault that I lie here in a pool of my own blood, and weep unanswered tears from my unseeing eye!”

“Bad as all that, aye? It’s worse than we thought!”

“Goodnight, Polyphemus. Sleep tight!”

“Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

“But. . . but guys! Wait!”

“Go cry to your daddy, Polyphemus. Maybe this time he’ll listen.”

And they are gone.

The Cyclops breaks down, begging the tears to come but they do not. They cannot. He does not have the parts to make tears anymore. This only makes him try harder.

“You stupid little Nobody. This is all your fault.”

The Hero, crouched in the shadows with his men–again waiting, for they cannot leave until the rock is moved, and they cannot move the rock themselves–grins. And it is a sly grin.

“Your fault! You little, little man! You little Nobody. I was supposed to be a doctor, and now look at me.”

He sniffs, and feels around for more wine. A little to the left, perhaps, and he would have found the Hero’s untouched bowl. Alas, he does not.

“I woulda been a great doctor, too.”

And, knowing nothing else to do, he lays down his great, unseeing head, and curses the gods and curses himself, and last of all curses the little man called Nobody, on whom so much blame in this world is placed. Then, he sleeps.

(to be continued. . . ?)

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4 Comments

Filed under fiction

4 responses to “Short Fiction: More Wine, Polyphemus?

  1. I love the story. Hope you continue it. I do love stories based on myths, especially on Greek myths. They are such much fun to rewrite and add stuff.

    • Why thank you! I’ve had it in the back of my mind ever since posting, because it didn’t occur to me until then that I left off halfway through the story. Odysseus and his men are still trapped in that cave…

      And you’re right, Greek myths are the perfect framework for retelling because they deal in such primal, universal themes. Even after thousands of years we haven’t changed all that much, have we? Thanks for reading!

  2. I’m trying to connect the nobodies from this post and the one that follows. Who’s eye are you planning to gouge with your fiction?

    • I’m afraid you’re trying to psychoanalyze me, which is a scary prospect indeed this early in the morning, so I will limit my comments to: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” and hope that sounds sufficiently philosophical. Thanks for the perusal!

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