The ethereal song of the blackbird infuses an azure sky as Hephaestus plunges his hand into a tepid lake. He digs his fingers deeply into the wet soil removing handfuls of clay, pondering his undertaking: to create the first woman.
He warms the clay in his hands, making it easy to mould. He shapes her
curvaceous breasts, sculpts her hips and lengthy red tousled hair to hang on her slender shoulders. With the carving of her two delicate hands she is complete. He looks at her fair skin and her brows arched over almond shaped eyes. “Pandora,” he exclaims, in awe of his creation. Hephaestus rummages through his filthy bag and removes a box. “You are to take this box with you. It is a gift,” he says, handing it to her.
She holds onto the brownish-red box.
“But you must not open it,” he warns.
Her brows rise. “Why?” she asks.
“You are only to open it when I give you permission,” he says sternly.
“What is inside?” Her voice rises with curiosity.
He hesitates. “Something very precious and with great power.”
Pandora’s grip on the box tightens.
The box weighs on Pandora’s hands as she climbs the steep steps of a palace
built on a hill. She looks at its wooden columns and walks under its tympanum adorned with a sculpture of a titan bearing fire. It is as Hephaestus had described it to her; she marvels at the grand pebbled mosaic floors and the fresco of the twelve Olympians that embellishes the walls.
“This will be my new home.” She smiles at the splendor that awaits her.
As a gust of wind batters her bare flesh, a door opens from the far end of the palace. A man with a peculiar round head and bulging eyes strides towards her. His nose is akin to a pig’s snout and the skin on his neck is shriveled like a turkey’s wattle.
“Pandora.” Epimetheus salivates as his sordid stare explores her naked body. “I am to be your husband.”
The vivid light of noon gradually diminishes to the deep red glow of a setting sun as Pandora spends the day gazing at the box. Her fingers quiver as she touches its rim. She slightly lifts the lid and lowers her head to peer into the box.
“Madam Pandora,” a slave boy calls from the hall. Pandora’s limbs start, the lid slips from her fingertips and the box shuts with a thud before she can peer inside. She lifts her head as the slave boy enters.
“Your betrothed would like you to join him at the market,” he says, glancing at the box.
She places the box in the center of the table. She leaves, blushing at the slave boy’s lecherous gaze.
Pandora finds herself immersed in pleasure at the sights of colorful tunics, golden necklaces, sparkling gems and pendants inlaid with pearls in the open-air market. Sweet scents of rich oils, rose, myrtle and cinnamon perfume the air.
A fair-haired young man with curls framing his long neck approaches Pandora and Epimetheus. He holds a basket filled with fruit.
“Madam, would you like a piece of fruit?” he stares at her elegant frame. Pandora looks into the basket full of figs, grapes and olives. “I will have a fig,” she says.
Smiling warmly, he gives her a fig, then turns to Epimetheus and offers him the fruit. Epimetheus shakes his head, giving him a drachma for the fig. Pandora feasts on the young man’s bright eyes as he gives a slight bow before leaving.
While the sweetness of the fig fills Pandora’s mouth, a tall man with taut cheeks, a broad chin and swarthy skin approaches.
“Chitons!” the man yells, carrying various linen clothing over his brawny shoulder.As Pandora catches sight of his glance, she smiles.
“Chitons and cloaks!” He weaves his way through the crowd.
She looks at her betrothed with his strangely protruding forehead and dribbling mouth; an odd inflammation deforms his ears.
Is this to be my husband? He is old enough to be my father! Pandora thinks to herself in disgust. He will be in the way of my happiness. He will interfere with me finding a man I love.
She falls into a reverie, imagining herself watching her betrothed peacefully sleeping in his bedchamber; his sagging eyelids closed, the rise of his plump cheeks with each horrid puff from his mouth. As she walks closer her brows knit with a scowl; she would go mad living another day near him! She sees his unusually large fingers laid on the bed sheets. Her stomach churns at the thought of his heavily veined hands caressing her body on their wedding night. Her blood pulses with an unruly anger as she draws closer to him. Oleander flowers sit in a rich red vase on the bedside table; she impetuously seizes the vase and strikes him on the head. He shrieks. With a tempestuous upward surge of her arm she strikes him again with full force. His body convulses. She clouts him once more. Pandora breathes in deeply and steps back. She looks at the walls, floor and bed; a crimson liquid stains all in front of her. Madness. A blend of blood and perspiration drips from a lock of her hair. She shuts her eyes, holds her aching head. The air reeks with the sour scent of the Oleander plant and her senses are besieged by this orgy of blood. As Epimetheus gasps for a final breath, his lungs heave. He is still and his eyes hold a cloudy, empty cataleptic stare.
Pandora rouses from her reverie at the sound of a goat’s bleat. Her breath deepens, impious thoughts stir in her mind and the reverie of the death of her betrothed awakens a delight within her.
She turns to the noise of people hastily rushing on the dirt road and she stands fixated looking at them; it is odd that no one is like her. She wonders why all the men stare at her.
“Where are the women in this town?” she asks.
“You are the first woman created by the God Hephaestus,” Epimetheus replies.
“Other than you Pandora, he has only created men.”
Pandora’s mouth gapes with disbelief. “Are there any women elsewhere?”
Pandora feels light headed. All darkens. She collapses.
Pandora wakes with a start to a loud pounding sound; she discovers herself lying in her bed, on her side, near the window aglow with the sun’s light. One grim thought spawns another as Pandora lowers her thick lashes. She is floating through a life she does not like. Her limbs hold little desire to move. She yearns to sleep and shut the world out. When she wakes may she be happy, may she be in a different life, a perfect life.
Her grim thoughts cease as a finger crawls from behind her to find her naked nipple. She jolts. It must be my vile betrothed, she thinks. Perhaps he does not have the chivalry to restrain his desires until our wedding night.
She hastily removes his hand from her breast. Feeling soft boyish skin, she quickly looks over her shoulder into the handsome black eyes of the slave boy, naked and lying next to her.
“What are you doing here?” she asks, her eyes widening.
“I was instructed to wait here until you were awake,” he says. “I crept into your bed when your betrothed left the palace.”
She twists her body to his while hearing a rhythmic pounding.
“Do you hear that noise?”
He shakes his head. “No, I hear nothing.” He strokes her neck.
“It grows louder.” She turns her head towards the door, imagining the pounding sound to be the opening and closing of the box’s lid.
“Pandora, only silence fills this chamber,” says the slave boy.
Her heart races; thoughts of the box plague her. She envisages herself opening the box; two glaring eyes look onto her from within and a slithering sound pervades the air. She awakens from her fancy when the slave boy removes the bed sheet that cloaks their naked bodies. A crimson blush flares on Pandora’s cheeks. The slave boy’s hand creeps again to her breast.
All she can think of is the box. She imagines a woman with thick dark hair and glaring blue eyes emerging from the box, waxen skin and large naked breasts. She holds the decapitated head of a strange man on her arm, his mouth wide open showing pointy edged teeth, his eyes holding a mad stare.
The slave boy rouses Pandora from her daydream. He stands naked near the bed and he parts her legs, pulling them towards him. He lifts her and her legs entwine around his torso.
Depraved thoughts of the box flood Pandora’s mind and heighten her arousal: She imagines a fair skinned woman with a large blue serpent wrapped around her body rising from the box. The serpent’s yellow eyes stare at her, revealing its sharp fangs with an angry hiss.
Filled with perverse desire, Pandora’s kiss roughens, her grip on the slave boy’s back grows forceful. Pandora imagines two men with grey complexions creeping out of the box, they bow their heads in shame for all the immorality the box holds. Pandora’s blood quickens as the slave boy’s loins move inside her. She thinks of a destructive fire blazing from the box. She is certain there is some dark, unholy power locked away in that clay box that will fill the world with evil. Her body violently thrusts against the slave boy’s loins. He satiates her desires and she heaves a sigh of pleasure.
An odd sense of fear comes over Pandora as she watches the angelic sleeping face of the slave boy. She sits upright, turning her head in the direction of the constant pounding sound. Heart racing, she stands and follows the sound.
The soles of Pandora’s bare feet grow cold as she walks across the burnished marble floor. Her eyes narrow as she sees the box is no longer on the table where she had placed it; instead it waits for her in the center of the hall, its pounding causing her head to throb, her forehead to crease. She draws closer as she becomes aware of the box’s changed appearance; on one side the clay has disintegrated. The box begins to violently shake. Her breath quickens as she steps back. She grasps the torch from the wall and her hand trembles as she approaches the box. Her brow becomes drenched with perspiration as the warmth of the torch’s flame embraces her naked skin. Her entire body shakes as she holds the flame near the box’s rim, pondering its destruction. She becomes light headed, she screams, howls, confused, frenzied. Staring imploringly at the box, she falls to her knees and sobs.
Pandora’s gaze numb, she slumps in the chair, her chin clasped in her hand. I am trapped in my own life; I do not know how to escape, she thinks to herself. A betrothed whom I do not love and nothing of value to keep me to this world. She thinks of Epimetheus, his expressionless face and vacant stare, as if there were not a thought that stirs in his head.
Pandora’s eyes turn to the bookshelf. At the edge sits a garnet book. Thinking
it unusual in size, she grabs it from the bookshelf. Her eyes explore its cover, searching for its title; there is none, only an embossed plant with fringed petals in the centre of the cover. Leafing through the pages, she glimpses several highlighted entries: Hemlock, Rosary, Pea and Oleander. She reads out loud: “Each part of the Oleander plant is poisonous.” She purses her lips.
Pandora frowns at Epimetheus as he slurps his soup. She looks at the slave boy standing at the corner behind him; the slave boy reciprocates with a covetous stare.“Where is your exquisite box?” her betrothed asks, looking at the table where she had previously placed it.
“I have placed it somewhere safe,” she says. “It is far too precious to leave here where anyone could take it.”
Epimetheus nods. “Hephaestus gave all of us a box similar to yours.” He fills his spoon and returns to his slurping.
Pandora looks puzzled. “I am not sure what you mean.”
“When Hephaestus creates a person, he gives them a box.”
“Did you get a box?” She leans her head forward.
“What is in the box?” her heart quickens.
He coughs. “This soup has upset my stomach,” he says wiping his brow.
“Did you open the box?” Her voice grows louder.
He screws up his nose at the soup. “I do not feel well.”
Pandora examines his sickly green complexion.
“Yes I opened the box,” he sighs. His eyelids half closed, his neck bends forward and he vomits on the table. Pandora turns her head in disgust; her hand covers her nose. The slave boy rushes to him.
“I need to rest. Take me to my bedchamber.” Epimetheus’ voice falters as he rests his arm on the slave boy’s shoulders.
“Pandora, the garden has many medicinal plants. Please find one to help with this sickness.” Pandora nods. The slave boy leads Epimetheus to the chamber.
The sweet aroma of lilac enchants Pandora as she wanders through the blooming garden. The chirrup of the birds weaves through the air between a medley of crimson, violet and gold flowers. She catches sight of the notorious plant and halts to stare at its roseate petals.
How pretty and innocent the flower looks and no different to the others, she thinks. Her slight hand reaches to pick it. Placing her aquiline nose near the petals she breathes deep into her lungs the heavy scent of the Oleander. She twirls the flower by its stem between her fingers and thoughts of the Oleander’s poison crawl back to her mind.
Pandora carries a tray into the chamber where her betrothed lies on a mahogany bed. The cups clink as she places the tray at his bedside table and darts him a look of disdain.
“Pandora, my dearest, you have brought me a warm drink to soothe my stomach.”
A wicked smile crosses her lips. She watches as he shuts his weary eyes. “Do not forget to drink it before you sleep, I picked the medicinal flower myself.”
His eyes strain to open. “Of course.”
“Pandora,” a voice calls from the hallway. She raises her head to the direction of the voice, then quickly looks back to Epimetheus, already snoring loudly. She rushes out of the chamber. Pandora follows the voice down a long hallway. Her breath deepens as she reaches the room from which the voice calls.
“Pandora,” the voice now whispers from within the box. She looks down with a wild glint in her eye. Her heart pounds as she nears the box; it sits in a corner. She reaches out to touch it; her fingertips feel its cold exterior. Her forehead sweats as she lifts the box; it feels heavy in her slender hands. What could there be inside? She thinks, looking at the box. If Hephaestus told me I could eventually open the box, then surely there would be no harm in opening it now.
A chill runs down her spine as she holds the edge of the box. She opens the lid. All is still. Where is the chaos she had expected? Pandora looks up as Hephaestus rushes into the room with a winded rage.
Her eyes scan the entire box. “There is nothing here.” Her mouth hangs wide open.
“I cautioned you not to open the box,” he yells.
“You made me believe there was more!” Pandora’s tone grows angry. “There was meant to be something precious and powerful inside.”
“There was something precious and powerful,” he says.
“You are lying,” she stares at the box. “It is empty.”
“You were not to look into the box until you developed your character,” he says.
“Then the box would be opened and you would have the one thing that was missing when I created you.”
Her heart quickens. “What is it?”
He hesitates. “I have watched you from afar. Your behaviour has been a harmful influence to it,” he says. “Your actions have shown little thought for others.”
“The box called my name. It whispered telling me what I should do.”
“You do not take the blame for your doing, you blame the box or any other thing for what you willingly do.”
“No!” she shakes her head. “I loathe my life. I did it in the pursuit of happiness.”
He interrupts. “Your putrid nature grew so much in force that it could distort the very box in which it lay.”
“What was the precious thing inside the box?” her lips tremble.
He huffs. “Your soul was in the box.”
She gasps. She shakes her head.
“What shall happen to me now?” she asks, helpless.
Her heart violently pounds; descending into a dark void, she frantically bangs on a clay wall. She has become imprisoned inside the box.
Helen Mihajlovic is a published writer in books and online magazines. Her short story ‘A Dark Love story’ is in the book ‘100 Doors to Madness’ available at Amazon. Other published stories are ‘A Sinister Nature’, ‘The Temptation of Eve’ and ‘The Prince of Devils’. Helen also makes films, her film ‘Dominica- A Tale of Horror’ may be viewed online. She is grateful for a good editor Alison Strumberger and feedback from Roger Smith. All stories are dedicated to her brother Bill and mother.
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Deadman’s Tome Book of Horrors Anthology
Deadman’s Tome is a growing horror zine that publishes short stories and flash fiction whether it’s ghost stories, zombie invasions, bigfoot sightings, slasher sprees, bizarre fiction, classic horror literature, lovecraftian literature, or erotica. The darker the tale the better. Pandora touches on a Greek myth and literary classic and for a reminder that curiosity and desire often lead to terrible fates, even if they’re pleasurable at the time. If you enjoyed the story, or even if you didn’t, leave a comment below as it helps the authors.