The Melomid (I/II)

Posted on February 16, 2006 by Jenna

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In the broken lens there are fragments of histories.

The flayed colossus falls at the sea.

Its body seethes as it falls. Inside becomes outside; outside becomes inside. The geometry of the bloody meat is not consistent. Rather it is as if some maddened impulse within the creature’s form is engaged in frantic experimentation, creating new projections of flesh, new organs, and new bodily structures to answer a need that is unrelated to the flesh. It manifests new meat in the way that a child in a sandbox might struggle to build God: first in one structure, then the next, obstructed principally by the problem of categorization, to wit, God is not manifest in any conceivable artifact of sand.

As it nears the tumult of the sea the colossus discovers wings. It spreads great membranes of flesh in every direction, supported by jutting bones. It flutters there, obscenely suspended above the water, leaking blood, sacs of gas bloating out to give it lift. One imagines the question forming in the wracked mindless abyss of its body: is this correct? Is this what I want? As the Godmaking child might ask, when the shape in sand is a crucifix, or a fish, or the tetragrammaton, or Om.

The wings are not correct. Hopelessly the colossus bulges forth new attempts: mouths, eyes, a great clawed hand that reaches for the sun and closes about its fire.

The hand is burned. There is the smell of cooked muscle.

With a howl, the colossus falls.

When it strikes the sea, the hungry sea devours it. It shares its portion with the earth. The earth and the sea bulge, like pregnant women. They give forth children, including the anakim, the erinyes, the incandoi, and the melomids.

Near Crete in the Second Tyranny there lived a melomid. Men called it Papakenos. It stood seven yards in height and it hunted men for food. It is recorded that Marsyas of Crete challenged Papakenos and hurled a spear into his flesh, discovering thereby that melomids suffered neither pain or injury from such a wound. Marsyas then essayed to cut Papakenos with his sword, but strong-armed Papakenos seized him up, tore him limb from limb, and devoured him.

On Papakenos’ island there also stood a door locked to strength and to intention, such that only a person of great will and great power might open it. Some say it led to Heaven, others to Mount Othrys, and a few that it led to Never. In any event, the islanders were too weak and Papakenos too dissolute to pull open that great door.

Pentheus, son of Phineus, sinks his ship on the reefs near Papakenos’ island. This forces him to come to shore and look about in some distress.

“Hello?” he calls.

The wind blows sand along the shore and towards the pink line of dawn.

Pentheus stomps his foot.

“Hello?” he calls, somewhat louder.

There is a sound in the distance reminiscent of the shaking of pots or the slamming of lids. This sound, unique to the island, signals the islanders’ retreat from a potential confrontation; we will discuss its provenance in due course.

Then there is a great and boisterous shout, “Hail the shore! Hello!”

Pentheus follows the sound. He comes upon Papakenos, who stands between two hills and wrestles with a door. For a moment the scale of things confuses Pentheus: the door looks no larger than a mortal door, Papakenos no larger than a man, and the hills nothing more than great mounds of earth. Then Pentheus recognizes the true circumstances and begins lightly to quake.

“You there,” says Pentheus. “Are you a giant?”

Papakenos turns. It smiles gap-toothedly at Pentheus.

“I am a melomid,” it says.

Pentheus frowns. He walks a little ways around the scene; he sees that behind the door there is only more hills and the burgeoning sunrise.

“Does that mean, a practitioner of futility?”

“Rather,” says Papakenos, “a creature coincidentally engaged in a futile task. The distinction is this: if I change the circumstances or the task, then I may accomplish great things.”

“I am Pentheus,” says the man. “I recommend to you the task of dredging up my ship and helping me with repairs.”

“Ah, it does no good to recommend,” says Papakenos. “But: help me with this door and you may find yourself rewarded.”

Pentheus looks nervous. “Will you snatch me up and eat me if I get close?” he says.

“Who can say?” Papakenos answers.

Pentheus scratches at his nose. “You can?”

Papakaneos laughs. Then, ignoring Pentheus, it resumes its wrestling with the doorknob and heaving against the door. Pentheus, watching, feels his cheeks begin the slow burn of shame. He thinks: would your father weep to see you here, standing ineffectual by the hills? Would your wife turn away and seek another man? Surely it is so! Ah! Pentheus! There is no excellence in this hesitation.

So Pentheus strides forward. He meets Papakenos’ grin with his own, snakes his fingers into the doorjam, and begins to pull of his own accord. The wood cracks and splinters at the edges under mighty-thewed Pentheus’ strength.

“What will happen?” Pentheus says. “If we get this open?”

“It opens onto a land of infinite pleasure and all good practice,” says Papakenos.

For a moment, Pentheus pulls even harder, and the door looks like to open: but then he remembers the crime of hubris, releases his grip, and staggers back, whitening.

“Such a land,” he says, “would belong to divine beings, and I would have no place in it.”

“For shame,” says Papakenos.

The melomid turns away from the door. It stalks to a hill. It sits down, facing Pentheus, and begins to sulk.

“I will not compromise my intention for the sulking of a melomid,” says Pentheus. “That path is too tragic! It lures even great heroes to their end.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes,” confirms Pentheus.

“I had not known,” says the melomid.

There is silence for a time.

“I am unworthy in asking this,” says Pentheus. “But I am a sailor, not an islander. Without my ship I am bereft. Would you help me in raising it?”

“Who can say?”

Once again, Pentheus offers, “You can?”

Papakenos laughs. It rises to its feet and casts a great shadow over Pentheus. It says, “It is not so.”

Its great hand closes on Pentheus’ shirt. It lifts him into the air. Pentheus kicks and struggles. The melomid’s hand sets Pentheus on its shoulder.

The giant begins to walk towards the shore.

“This is my secret,” says the melomid. “I am incapable of intention. Action, yes: thought, yes: even passion and hunger. But I cannot conceive that mental construct of intention that should direct my actions. Rather my actions flow backwards into my mind, so that I say, ‘Ah! I carry Pentheus: perhaps I am cooperative today.’ Or ‘Ah! I struggle against this door; perhaps I seek to open it.'”

“That is a grave matter,” says Pentheus.

“Yes,” agrees the melomid. “It distinguishes me greatly from women and from men.”

Pentheus reflects.

“So,” he says, “you do not know if you will help me or drown me?”

“Who can say?” the melomid says, and begins its boisterous laughter, which seems now eerie and disturbing to the mind of Pentheus the man.