The Lorelei Signal
The Forest of the Gods
Written by C.K. Butcher / Artwork by Marcia Borell
Forena scanned the dank bar, cigarette smoke swirling around her head in a toxic fog. She spotted him. Sitting in the corner. He gripped a large stein of beer, which sloshed and spilled as he talked to the others at his table. Taking a deep breath, she fortified herself for what needed to be done. Now was not the time to become squeamish. Her mothers had trained her for this, and she couldn’t let them down. Not after what they had suffered. She would be their sword, their vengeance. She adjusted her tight red dress, making sure her cleavage was fully displayed, and sauntered across the room. She cringed as her heels stuck to the floor with each step.
As she reached the table, all the men turned, leering at the swell of her breasts and bare legs. Ignoring them, she focused her attention solely on him. Their eyes met briefly, and then his eyes roamed down her body, absorbing each inch and curve. Beer dripped down his beard.
“Mmm. I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure,” he said. Even now, his arrogance rolled off him like he was still what he had once been. Like he hadn’t noticed how far he’d fallen. He picked up a pack of cigarettes and shook one free. Her hand trembled slightly as she pulled a lighter out of her clutch and flicked it on, offering him a light. Leaning his cigarette into the flame his eyes never left her breasts. He puffed until smoke began to spiral through the air. She glanced around, but no one seemed to care that he was smoking.
“Maybe we could go somewhere more private and you could see what a pleasure it would be,” she said, steeling her nerves.
She could feel the others ogling her, burning holes in her body. One guy with a greyish hint to his skin ran his tongue over his lips and made a smacking noise. They all reeked of self-importance, their entitlement clear in their glances and grunts. Her stomach turned, but she focused her attention back on her target.
“If you aren’t interested, I am sure I can find someone who is,” she said, beginning to turn away.
“Tell me your name and then we’ll talk about what we might do next,” he said. Amusement flickered across his face.
She paused, slowly turning back. “Forena.”
“What an interesting name. What did you have in mind, Forena?”
She bit her lip, eyeing the others at the table. “It’s a bit crowded here for my taste, but I know somewhere…quieter.”
“What about the rest of us?” the grey one said. “Seems like a shame for him to get all the fun.” The others murmured their agreement.
She eyed each of them. “Don’t worry, I know who you all are, and you’ll get your turn another day,” she said, smiling and hoping it reached her eyes.
Her target stood, puffing out his chest. A shock of power emanated from his body and rattled the table—a warning. Perfect. She figured he wouldn’t want to share, at least not yet.
“Please, my dear, lead the way,” he said, settling a fiery gaze on the others, daring them to challenge him.
She took his hand and led him away from the table. His t-shirt hung loose, stretched out and stained with grease, and his jeans sagged in the ass. She suppressed a shudder. Oh, how the mighty had fallen. As she walked, she waved her arm in an intricate gesture in front of her, and between one step and the next they found themselves in a garden, bursts of color blooming all around them. A frog splashed into a pond, rustling the reeds and rocking the lily pads. Two large, oak trees stood at the far end on the outskirts of the garden, weaving their way to the heavens.
He blinked, taking in the new scene. She inhaled the heady floral scents. Her heart beat faster.
“Where are we? What is this place?” he asked.
“This is the Garden of the Goddesses, and that,” she said, pointing to the two oak trees on the perimeter, “is the Forest of the Gods.”
“Hrmf. Two trees hardly make a forest,” he scoffed. “Besides, I think if there were a Forest of the Gods, it would be more magnificent than that sorry pile of wood. And, of course, I would know about it.”
“Well, Zeus, you don’t know everything, even if you think you do,” she said. “It’s a work in progress, the goddesses anticipate many more trees joining these.”
Zeus narrowed his eyes, looking more closely at her now. “Who are you again? I thought I knew all the goddesses. Who are your parents?”
She paused, but then said, “I was born from the womb of Nemesis.”
“Ah, we are well acquainted with one another. She was one of my favorites, made me work for it,” Zeus said, sneering. “I’ve always enjoyed the thrill of the chase.”
Heat flooded her cheeks, but his words hardened her resolve.
“She has mentioned you,” she said, ignoring the cold rock that had formed in her stomach. “You didn’t know about this place because the gods that visit don’t manage to talk about it afterwards.” She smiled, her eyes blazing.
“Is that some kind of threat? Who do you think you are?” he boomed.
“I am Forena. My mothers sacrificed a piece of themselves for me to be born. Though I grew in Nemesis’ womb, the goddesses are all a part of me,” she said.
“What? Which goddesses?”
“All of them.”
Zeus stared at her, his face scrunching up.
“That isn’t possible. They don’t have that kind of power anymore,” he said, smirking. “Those women are dried up, powerless old crones. They couldn’t do anything like that without a god.”
“It’s just like you to think gods are more powerful than goddesses, even after so much has changed in the world.” She paced around him.
Forena’s arms flourished through the air. Her irises began to glow, energy—power—pulsed from her body. She relished the look of shock on Zeus’s face.
“My mothers say hello,” she said as she unleashed her power on him, pushing him back toward the oak forest.
Zeus roared in fury and launched his own strike. Forena had anticipated his counterattack but was still unprepared for the raw power he hurled at her. He was so much stronger than the others. The bolt hit her square in the chest and flung her across the lawn. She landed in a bed of asters, their purple petals crushing under her weight. Agony lanced through her body. She sucked in a breath, resulting in a stab of pain in her side. She must have broken some ribs.
Then she heard it. Laughter. He was laughing at her. Heat coursed through her veins.
“Did you really think you could stand against me? I decided to go along with your little charade, curious as to why you were so intent on getting me away from the other gods. You could really work on your acting,” he mocked.
He sent another bolt at her and she barely managed to roll out of the way in time. The smell of dirt and burnt grass assaulted her. She swore. It couldn’t end like this. She wouldn’t fail her mothers. Holding her side and taking shallow breaths, she pulled herself up and cleared her mind.
When she struck this time, she was more purposeful, focusing her energy and reaching deep inside her well of power. Her aim was true, slamming Zeus into the trunk of one of the oaks. He regained his footing and stepped forward, readying his response. He sent bolt after thunderbolt at her. But this time, she was ready. The smell of ozone permeated the air, but she deflected each burst.
Using every ounce of power she had left, she froze Zeus in place. Then, the transformation began. Zeus’s feet planted into the ground, his body lengthened into a hard trunk, his arms changing into tree limbs. He pulled and twisted, using all his power to try to escape, but he only became more gnarled and wooden with each passing moment. Leaves sprouted, creating a halo of green around his head. When she finished, Zeus stood as the largest oak tree in the Forest of the Gods, right between Poseidon and Ares.
Forena traced the swirls in the wood with her finger. A trickle of blood ran from her nose and she swiped it away with the back of her hand. She stared up at Zeus, at his new form. She knew he could hear her; knew he was still aware.
“The time of torture and rape has ended. The era of the goddesses has arrived, and the old gods will take their places here, one by one. Right where they belong.”
C.K. Butcher is a speculative fiction writer, professor, and non-fiction author. She lives in the metro-Atlanta area with her husband, two children, and a slew of pets. When not writing, teaching, or grading papers, you can find her playing trivia with her husband, playing games with her kids, reading a book, or watching an inordinate amount of TV.