Not knowing how I got there, I found myself in a bed. The linen sheets wrapped about my frame in loose tangles would not release me, nor did I give them permission. I sat up, realizing that I had been bathed and fitted in a simple, lovely green nightgown. It did not matter how it happened, because the stickiness of old, cold sweat was gone and my skin was warm.
On a chair next to the bed my dress draped perfectly, freshly laundered during my rest. A simple card on the nightstand read: join me, when you are ready.
I replaced the nightgown with my simple clothing once again. Looking at the lovely green of the cloth, the thought fluttered so briefly through my mind to take it with me. Surely it would sell for a decent value in town. The thought, though tempting, was forced to surrender to my will. I refused to repay kindness with bad grace for it would only welcome darkness.
Picking up the brush in front of the vanity mirror, I held it aloft to my hair but stopped. My black tresses had already been brushed. A small smile stretched my lips…and then pursed. Was I this man’s guest? His prisoner? His plaything? Or worse? It didn’t occur to me until now that I may very well suffer the same fate as those other unfortunate women who had at one time wandered the wood toward their own demise.
Straightening my posture, I put on my best mask: a truly disarming smile.
I wandered through the bedroom door and into the room beyond. It was large and well furnished. A love-seat and chaise upholstered in scaly leather sat upon a bearskin rug in front of a roaring fire. Though clearly not innocent setting, it was inviting.
“There you are darling,” he said as he entered the room. “I was beginning to think you might never awake.” He motioned to the chaise, “please…”
I smiled but stood still, unable to will my unwilling body.
Then he smiled, the sharp V of his lips parting to reveal perfect teeth. “Athena,” he said and motioned again.
I melted when he spoke my name and my body became limber once again. I was surprised when I sat upon the scaly green leather by the cool and soft touch beneath my hands. “You know my name, but do I know you?”
His crystalline gaze set upon me as he reclined on the love seat. A deep chuckle resonated from his core. “Yes, you know me.” He stretched out his legs toward the fire and my eyes fell upon the obvious abomination. In the place of his left foot was a cloven hoof, shoed like a horse but in gold that reflected the dancing flames before it.
My throat turned to sand, dried up and brittle. I gave him the clearest nod I could muster but he knew it was weak. I was in a most clear danger.
He stood up and walked over to the bar. “Forgive me, you’re thirsty,” he said, approaching with a crystal decanter of wine and a glass. He poured the wine out, but when it filled up in the glass it was only water. My eyes grew wide as two moons and he laughed. “Please accept my apologies. There are those who say my humor is twisted.”
He placed the glass in my hand and I sipped the clearest water, instantly refreshing the desert of my throat. My voice returned and faintly I spoke: “Am I to die tonight?”
He hummed and paced before the fire before answering: “That is up to you.”
He knelt down in front of me and rubbed my ankles with his soft hands. “You can surrender to me now and I’ll care for you…for a while. You’ll be well treated and dressed. Gifted with gold, jewels and pearls. And every night you’ll dine as my queen. But eventually every meeting has a parting. After some years I’ll bore of you.” There was no need to say more for the piercing lust of his eyes illuminated the intended end.
I fought the bile of my loathing and every ounce of desire to shrug his advancing hands. Instead I replied: “Or…what?”
He withdrew and stood up, no longer affectionate but now calculating and reptilian in his gaze. He pointed to the big green door behind me. “Or you see what is out there. It may lead to your survival or your death.”
Standing upright, I squared my shoulders and walked toward the green front door. I grasped the black iron handle and opened it.