I used to love it, for the first thousand years or so, but not for the reasons you might expect: if not for the thrill of the hunt, it was the greater thrill of the wait. I’d sit on my throne, or loll on my stairs with columns marching off in all directions (sentinels saluting a million melancholy forevers).
Always, my ears snap to the sound of sandal on gravel or even the most minute drops of sweat falling into one of the pools: fear condensed and beaded but that still always falls.
When I hear a noise, however slight, the snakes stop hissing, and they too wait, poised in anticipation.
Because life is a game of waiting, but a game that always ends the same: the furtive look, the once brave man tucked into the shadows; soldiers who fought great wars now turned to puddles, pissing themselves as they connive to ambush me.
So I play along, giving these noble, moronic, and brave-chested warriors at least a final flash of hope—that each might, in fact, be the one to get me: so I look away, or feign sleep, or roar towards the wrong column (despite the fact that my snakes always give me away, looking to where the valorous, lip-trembling warrior actually hides).
The rest always happens fast. The valiant ones attempt to draw close, pillar by pillar, heart-pounding soul motion with sword-clenched fist held high.
The fearful emerge at once, in a baleful rush, shield held low, eyes closed, but then they look—as they always do.
Because they can’t help it, can they?
And there’d I’d be, as I always am, and for a second, a millionth of a second, they witness me with eyes of amazement and a horror that transforms. Of course, I anger because I have my own beauty here in this dark palace that overlooks the rock-dashed sea.
The terrified expression always makes me want them dead, and I scream the scream of beauty lost, of centuries passed, never to be touched again.
The snakes always hiss, and before the sound even reaches the ears, there he stands. And another. And then another: each turned to stone.
But now I wait again, and a new figure approaches.
He has a mirror and a shield (as if I haven’t seen that one before), but this one doesn’t seem brave—just stupid. And I’m tired. Tired of the weight of my ugliness, of this life, of living in a palace where sycophants are stone and life itself is a frozen tableau.
The cold white statues haunt me until I smash them and watch their heads of alabaster roll away.
Oh, and there he is again—using the mirror to see my reflection. God, I’m bored. He’s too small-brained to realize I can see his reflection in my pool. (Though maybe now I don’t care: how many years has it been again?)
So let him come; let him come and gaze upon the beauty I know I carry—but a beauty not for the faint of heart. Only those who aren’t afraid to draw near, close enough to feel my breath, (and I theirs) deserve it.
Come, then, brave imbecile: I am here. Waiting.
All my love,