dark forest blossom
Photo by Alex Lvrs on Unsplash

Hunger by Basiliké Pappa

When a boy is born, the first face he sees is that of the Betrothed. When the baby is a girl, the Intended comes to claim her. That is why newborns cry; because at that moment when everything starts, they can see the end that is promised to them. It is a promise sealed with a kiss on the forehead. The memory of that first kiss quickly fades under the light of the sun and into the ways of life. But sooner or later comes a time when the Intended and the Betrothed return for a second kiss. They give this one on the lips and it is the last thing anyone ever feels before they become shadow.

At the beginning, the Intended ruled in the land beyond the iron walls alone, with only shadows and his Hound for company, in a sort of apathy that fitted his status. Little did he know that it was all going to change when he went to seal the promise with a girl that was born to a rich landowning family. Standing by the birth bed, the Intended bent down for the kiss. But when his lips touched the little forehead, the crying did not come. Surprised, he looked at the baby. Eyes like midnight skies looked straight back into his. He felt a tingle at the tips of his lips, the corners of his mouth rising. With an awkward cough, he turned around and left. At that moment, the baby girl started to howl. As for the Intended, he was so dazzled he never thought to use his wings. He walked through the door like a mere mortal man, and it took him some time to realize he was literally walking the streets.

The baby girl grew into a maiden who preferred the solitary cry of the scops owl to the dawn chorus. Darkness was mystery, its delicate side a deception. In her garden, under the moonlight, she could almost hear the roots of plants digging further into the earth, demanding to be fed. There was a sweet pain in the night, a longing for something that stays beyond one’s reach. She didn’t know what to call it, so she named it hunger.

Darkness was rustling of dry leaves. The hollow of an oak tree. Her footsteps down a staircase. Iron walls and a gate opening without a sound. A meadow and the murmuring of a river. Silver lakes laying still, reflecting nothing. Asphodels. Trees of turquoise, with golden leaves and precious stones for fruit. The trotting of the Hound. She was afraid of the Hound at first. But he always wagged his tails at her, nuzzling his noses into the crook of her arm.

Then there would be a stopping of her heart, as her beloved came to greet her. He had bright eyes to see her better, strong arms to hold her closer and dance her all night to the music of invisible violins. He had perfect lips to kiss her sweeter. But she would always wake short of the kiss. The precious stones she found every morning under her pillow were little consolation. She always buried them in her garden.

Judging by the maiden’s worn-out shoes, and by her turning down every suitor who knocked on their door, the maiden’s mother locked her in her room until she confessed who her secret lover was. The maiden laughed. Locks and keys could not keep her from going beyond the iron walls and dancing her shoes to pieces. She often told her beloved stories about her suitors – what they did, what they said, on what preposterous excuses she had declined their courtship. She liked to make him laugh – a deep laughter that made the Hound tilt his heads and look quizzically at his master. But lately, she had noticed, her beloved only smiled at her stories, unknown thoughts clouding his eyes. But he was always loving with her, so she attributed it to work overload.

The only time the Intended cried was when he decided to never summon the maiden beyond the iron walls again. It was the saddest sound ever heard in the great below. Then he dried his tears and resolved to return to his former apathy. But he found it was impossible; he had the hunger now. The more he denied it the more it grew. Restless, he went out into the world and started giving premature kisses, mostly to maidens. The people chanted and burned incense. The healing sciences flourished. The temples gained more gold. A long, bitter winter began, threatening to last forever.

Even the Immortals shivered mid-feast. If the Intended turned everyone to shadow, what would their point be? They tried to reason with the Intended but he–stubborn primordial–would not listen. Of all the Immortals, the one who was most vexed was the Mistress. The young were her favorite playthings, and their early passing condemned her to a life without entertainment. Finally she decided to take matters into her own hands. In a dream, she showed her heart-shaped face to the maiden; her red lips revealed a secret only the Immortals shared.

From then on the maiden stopped eating. The cramps in her stomach became painful, the world more hazy with each passing day, but she would refuse food no matter how her mother pleaded with her to eat. She became so weak she couldn’t get out of bed. There she lay, a wax doll in front of the fire that always burned in her room to keep it warm–melting, waiting.

Then one night, when her heartbeat was ever so faint and slow, she heard soft footfalls near her bed, the rustling of wings sweeping the floor.

“Why did you make me come for you?” said the sad voice of the Intended. “I thought I’d see you again when you were old enough to need my kiss.”

Gathering her strength, the maiden whispered: “Feed me.”

The Intended shook his head.

“Beyond the iron walls the skies never change. The shadows tell the same stories forever, and that’s a long time. Don’t do something you may regret.”

“Feed me,” said the maiden again.

The Intended sighed.

“People will avert their face from you. Isn’t it better to live and be loved by a man of flesh and blood?”

“Feed me,” said the maiden for the third time. “Or you’ll have to kiss me.”

The Intended bowed his head, saying nothing, listening to the maiden’s weak heartbeat.

The fire crackled in the hearth, sending sparks into the chimney. Snapping out of his thoughts, the Intended cut himself across the chest with a sharp nail.

The maiden was caught in a whirling mass of nothingness. She spun in expanding circles that sent bolts of euphoria through her limbs. Distant lights flickered under her closed eyelids. Waves of energy coursed through her veins. There was an itch between her shoulder blades and she wanted to scratch it so badly. She heard the deep laughter of the Intended, felt him pull away and opened her eyes. Black-feathered wings lifted her into the air. She flexed them, casting a great shadow on the wall.

“They suit you,” said the Intended, wiping a drop of ichor from the corner of her mouth with his thumb.

“Thank you,” said the Betrothed with a sly smile.

And at last they kissed, until the winter melted away and there came a spring that promised to stay forever.

Ever since the Betrothed rules with the Intended beyond the iron walls. If she has regretted it, she hasn’t told a shadow.


Basiliké Pappa lives in Greece. Her work has appeared in Heron Tree, Sledgehammer Lit, Glitchwords, 11 Mag Berlin, Rat’s Ass Review, Dodging the Rain, Eunoia Review, Surreal Poetics, Bones Journal for Contemporary Haiku, Sonic Boom, Visual Verse, Timeless Tales and Intrinsick.

Author's note

We, like the shadows, tell the same stories forever. Like the trees, we send our roots to feed deep into myths for our storytelling to grow. The characters we love have gone through many metamorphoses, and what makes the re-imagining of their stories such a strong wine is seeing through them, following the threads that connect one transformation to the other. My Maiden—my Kore—is Persephone, but also one of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. The Intended is Hades, but also the wolf from Little Red Riding Hood, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The great below is a mixture of Greek, Egyptian and Sumerian mythology. As for the kiss at the beginning and the end of one’s life, that’s all mine.