By Will Greenway
I dangled over the cliff, only the will to live holding me suspended above the barnacle studded boulders. Breakers lashed the rocks and night birds cried. The granite grew moist under my hands as I tried again to pull myself to safety. Muscles shuddering, I rose until I could see over the brink. Arms crossed, unmoving, dark-haired Alecta stared at me, the light from the cloud-ripped moon reflecting in her eyes.
The gold Pegasus medallion around her neck glinted as her slender body heaved. Alecta’s tone mimicked the rumble of the white-water below. “Admit it, Derek– confess. Dwell in Hades with a clean conscience.”
It would be an admission without forgiveness. Any love that once shone in those dark eyes had been burned away by rage. That rage came on so quick, so unexpected. I knew she’d been troubled. I wanted to talk– to understand. In the past, we’d come to this rugged shore to work out our problems. Alecta’s savage push from behind caught me by surprise.
My fingernails scraped across the uneven surface. “Alec, I swear there’s nothing–!”
“Liar!” she exploded, stomping near my hand.
Recoiling, I scrabbled for a purchase. My aching fingers dragged across sharp cracks and fragments. I halted myself by wedging a toe in a crevice. Pain shot through my foot. I glimpsed the ocean frothing around the stone shelf a hundred feet below. Clods of dirt spiraled out of sight.
The smell of salt and decaying kelp burned in my nose. I’d performed mercenary ops all over the world. I’d brought down dead-eyed assassins and curly-haired kids with uzis; whatever the mission called on me to do. A mountain of experience and Soldier-of-Fortune articles hadn’t prepared me for this; my wife trying to kill me.
I’d shed my past and started a new life. I hadn’t done an op in three years or anything else that I deserved to die for. Why wouldn’t Alecta understand?
If I couldn’t convince her of my innocence, I would become a bloated corpse battered into shreds by the surf.
The hammering of my heart made it difficult to think. What to say?
Anger and hurt streaked across Alecta’s pale face like thunderclouds blown across the moon. Tears glistened on her cheeks.
“Derek, I loved you!” she moaned. She spoke as if I were already dead.
My reply came hard, metered between ragged breaths. “If you love me, you’ll forgive me.”
“Forgive?” Alecta spat the word like venom.
I felt the cliff giving way under my foot. Clawing for a handhold, I pulled myself an inch higher. Serrated rock pressed into my chest. Sweat stung my eyes.
A weak airy voice replaced Alecta’s commanding tones. She sounded like my first wife, Cassandra. “How many times do I forgive, Derek? How many times can I look the other way? How many times before I hate myself for believing your lies?” The breeze whipped her white dress. She balled her hands into fists. “You never loved me. You only used me!”
My stomach knotted. Alecta’s gone insane.
Did she think I’d repeated what I did to Cassandra? I left that behind. I was faithful to Alecta. I cherished her. I never needed to lie about anything.
Think man, think! “Not– true!” I took a breath and managed to squirm a little closer. “Your sisters came over– Tiffany said–” I huffed for breath. “She said how much I must care for you. Megan agreed.” I snatched hold of a bush growing in a crevice.
“You don’t care enough to even pronounce their names right!” Alecta’s resonant voice again. The wind in her hair made the strands look like writhing snakes.
The cliff gave way under my foot. I heard pebbles and sand pouring into darkness. Pulling hard, I rose another inch. My arms burned with fatigue. The bush held.
Stupid. She always blasts me for not using their real names. What did they go by? Tisiphone and Megaera, I always stumbled over their strange names. They’d been amused when I christened them with English pseudonyms. They both shared Alecta’s tantalizing mystique. An almost supernatural charisma that kept me spellbound for hours at a time. Alecta was forceful and flamboyant. Everything my first wife hadn’t been.
Have to keep her from trying to shove me off again.
“Alecta, come on. You–” I found another toehold and slithered closer to safety. “You know I care. I did everything you ever wanted.” I felt my shirt getting slick from blood, my skin raw and torn from scrubbing against the ledge. “I haven’t so much as looked at another woman!”
I wriggled until most of my chest rested on level ground. My feet still dangled into space. I needed to hook a leg up.
Alecta blocked my way. My hand went to the survival scabbard clipped on my back belt. Still there. The thought of having to use it on her made my stomach double.
She studied me the way an entomologist examined a bug. The edge in her voice made me freeze. “What about Cassandra, Derek? What about her?”
The skin on my back prickled. “Cassandra? My first wife killed herself in Crete three years ago. She’s dead!”
Her eyes narrowed. “Dead– but not avenged. I loved you, Derek.” She swung her boot at my face.
I lunged under the kick. A surge of adrenaline gave me the strength to drive through the pain and fatigue. I shot forward and hugged her knees.
She screeched and went down, flailing at me like a demoness, raking at my eyes and sinking her teeth in wherever she could. I subdued Viet Cong soldiers with less trouble. I finally wrestled my way on top and pinned her. Arms and hands bleeding, I caught my breath and stared at her. Blood and dirt were smeared on her face, Alecta glared at me teeth bared and eyes blazing.
Lightning lit the sky. Thunder rolled over the point a few seconds later. The crashing of the waves became more vehement.
“Cassandra is gone!” I yelled. “What’s done is done. She was a simpering little weakling. She had no spine. She’d rather kill herself than confront me. So I was a bastard, fine, but not to you– never to you. I haven’t done any of those things since. She wasn’t worth avenging!”
Alecta snarled. Her face turned red. The thunderheads blocked the moonlight casting us in darkness.
“You’re wrong.” Her voice echoed. “The gods are forgotten but they have not left this sphere. She was one of the few remaining of Hera’s faithful. In her hour of despair she beseeched our lady for retribution.”
Hera? I remembered Cassandra’s hoopla over ancient mythology, crystal reading, and sooth telling. They’d all ended up being the final nails in her coffin.
“Alecta, this is ridic–”
Bolts jagged across the sky. The roar drowned out my words.
Alecta seemed to grow. She tossed me off and stood. A red light shone in her eyes. “Not Alecta– Alecto. You are unrepentant, Derek Virgil.” Her presence filled the cliffhead. Fat drops of rain splattered on the rocks and ground. The water turned to steam as it struck her body. The outline of scaled wings gleamed on her back. “You mistreated Cassandra until she took her own life. You walk the Earth without conscience– unpunished.”
I staggered to my feet. I felt lightheaded, my mouth dry. Alecta was a creature, not human at all. My hand went to the knife. “I’m sorry for what I did now. I can’t take it back. What can I do!?”
“Guilty!” she roared, pointing a long talon at me.
The rain pounded down. The sea rumbled and the clouds blazed.
“Waiting is over!” she boomed. “I am Alecto, sister of Tisiphone and Megaera. I am fury! I am vengeance!” She reached up as if to grip the sky. The thunderheads glowed. The hair on my body stiffened and I felt her power building.
“Alecta!” I yelled, dropping to my knees and holding up my hands. I met her eyes, silently pleading for her sanity to return.
Towering over me, she paused. Her glowing eyes narrowed. She still had a talon aimed at my chest.
“Speak,” she snarled.
“You loved me! Isn’t that worth anything? I’ve been good to you.”
Thunder crackled and I saw the shadows of two more winged shapes in the flash. A sulfurous smell filled the air. I glanced back and saw Tisiphone and Megaera, now huge with glowing eyes and wings of brass arching from their backs. Ebony snakes seemed to dance in their hair and writhe around their bodies.
“The mortal has been good to you, Sister,” Megaera said in a rumble. She bared gleaming white fangs.
“And improved your disposition,” Tisiphone added.
I turned back to Alecto, daring to hope the sisters could somehow talk her out of executing me.
“His becoming virtuous does not alleviate his crime of murder. There is the act and then punishment. The intervening time is irrelevant. I dallied with him only to determine if he was properly remorseful for his heinous acts of adultery and negligence.”
Her words cut into me. My chest felt ready to burst. I grabbed for the knife.
Megaera laughed and the cliff rumbled. “It didn’t take you a year to learn that. I think you grew attached to him as I did.” She picked her fangs with my blade. Her wings creaked.
Lightning cracked the sky and the rain hissed. The droplets stung my face. I looked for a way to escape but they’d hemmed me in.
“Punishing with those skybolts is so unimaginative,” Tisiphone droned. “Vengeance doesn’t always have to be death, you know.” One of her wings brushed up between my legs. I jumped. I stared at Tisiphone. She looked at me and raised her eyebrows.
“He’s my mortal,” Alecto snapped. “I can slay him if I wish!”
Tisiphone shook her head. “Let’s not be hasty.” She gripped my shoulder with a clawed hand. Her flesh felt like ice. “You’re sorry for what you did, aren’t you, Derek?”
I sputtered something incoherent, my throat tight.
She leaned over so her face was close to mine. I felt her breath hot against my skin. It smelled like dying flowers. Her voice dropped a notch. “Aren’t you, Derek?”
I nodded vigorously. My blood seemed to harden in my veins.
“See, Alecto? He regrets what he did.”
“Let go of him.” Powerful hands gripped my waist and dragged me away. My back pressed against clammy flesh.
“Why do you always have to be so selfish!” Tisiphone shrieked. “We’re your sisters– share him!”
“Exactly!” Megaera agreed. She dropped my knife and rubbed her hands together. Sparks flashed as her nails scraped against one another. She smacked her lips like a starving woman at a banquet. “I don’t want much– not at all.”
I felt tension in Alecto’s body, not the reaction of someone planning to be generous. My gaze went from the glowing eyes of my captors, to their teeth and claws.
Alecto’s nails dug into my shoulders as I tried to wriggle out of her grip. “I’m not done with you,” she rasped in my ear. “Move again and I’ll pull out your spine!”
I tried to swallow, but my saliva had dried. I looked at the cliff edge and out to the ocean. It took all my will to form words. “Could we get back to the love part again?”
“Stay out of this, Mortal,” Megaera growled.
“I say we share him!” Tisiphone stamped her foot causing the ground to quake. “I’m eldest. I should get him first.” She reached for me.
“Nix!” Megaera slapped her hand away. “No, me!” She lunged, fangs bared, eyes fixed on my neck.
Alecto thrust a hand into Megaera’s face, shoving her back. “Away!”
Megaera hissed. Her eyes burned like coals.
I tried to shrink so as not to be seen. If they fought I could slip away.
“I’ve decided.” Alecto spun me around and lifted me as though I were a doll. Her glowing eyes met mine. “I did love you.” She kissed me hard, smashing my lips with her own. I gagged as she frenched me with a tongue that reached down my throat. She dropped me in the middle of them. “I’ll favor you this– you may choose your fate.”
My gaze went to each set of burning eyes. Talons opened and closed. Teeth clicked and wings groaned metallically. Tisiphone wanted a toy, Megaera to feed. Alecto– I didn’t know what she would do now. No matter, it all seemed to end as torment.
During the argument, a gap large enough to slip through had opened between me and the cliff. No suffering that way. Damn them, I’d tried to make amends for my crimes against Cassandra and humanity.
I glanced again at the sisters. No absolution. No atonement.
“Choose,” Alecto intoned.
The sky lit up. Thunder roared. I bolted for the cliff. As I swan-dived toward the waves, I heard them cackling.
Fury and vengeance followed me all the way down.