The Lorelei Signal
The Black-Winged Bird
Written by Maureen Bowden / Artwork by Lee Ann Barlow
I am the Great Mother, creator of the universe, and I’m buried in a narrow grave with my head pointing downwards. The idiots who stuck me in here believe that this arrangement will prevent me from clawing my way out. If I tried, I’d be clawing the wrong way and would emerge into the Pit of Damnation.
It’s all a load of bojangles, of course. I can get out anytime I like, but for now I’m content to stay where I am and enjoy the peace and quiet. Call it a sabbatical.
So, you ask, what’s the story? What am I doing here? It’s my daughter Gaia’s fault. Children are all the same. When they have a problem they come running to Mother to sort it out.
Let’s start at the beginning. Before the universe existed there was The Void. I was the Void, also known as Chaos, and several other things, but I’ll stick to the old Greek names. They trip lightly off the tongue. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t the beginning. Universes come and go. It’s a circle, but if we dwell on that I’ll get a headache, so we’ll say it started here, because any point on the circumference of a circle can be called the beginning, right?
One explanation for what happened is that I was compressed so tight that I exploded with a big bang, and my fragments formed the whole kit and caboodle. I’m not saying that’s wrong, but I believe a story’s far more interesting if it explores the personalities, so that’s what I’ll do.
I am The One: The First Cause. I am Nyx, The Black-Winged Bird, and I laid an egg. It hatched The Two: The Duality. I called them Gaia and Tartarus. They are negative/positive; female/male; left/right; dark/light. Everything that exists came from them.
The immortals made their presence felt first. Crowd of egotists, they called themselves gods. The older generation, the Titans, didn’t give me much cause for concern, except Prometheus. There’s always one.
Gaia drew the matter to my attention. She was particularly fond of a harmless little blue planet later known as Earth. “The dominant species have become sentient,” she said. “They’re out of the trees, lighting fires and making tools.”
“Good. What’s the problem?” I said.
“Prometheus. He gave them too much, too soon and they weren’t ready. They should have been allowed to evolve in their own good time.”
The immortals’ younger generation, Hera, Zeus, and the rest of the girls and boys in the band, were milling around eavesdropping. Zeus, who considered himself to be the Big Man, called, “I’ll sort it, Lady Duality. He won’t bother you again.”
Gaia looked at him as if he were a serpent squirming beneath her heel. “See that he doesn’t.”
Zeus was always inclined to go over the top. His “sorting”, involved chains, a mountaintop, and an eagle with an appetite for liver. It kept Prometheus off the streets for a while.
Gaia was satisfied, but not for long. I was amusing myself, observing the antics of a solar system trying to escape the gravitational pull of a black hole, when she accosted me again. “Mother, you must do something about the younger gods.”
I sighed. “I’m listening.”
“They won’t leave the mortals alone. Zeus and Poseidon are the worst. Not content with pestering the nymphs, they’re at it with the mortal women. When the bad boys have satisfied their lust, Hera and the other female gods drag them back to Olympus and vent their spleen on the unfortunate women, turning them into vegetation and what not.”
“That’s going too far,” I said. “Can’t you suggest to Hera that the female gods direct their anger towards Zeus and his henchmen instead of victimising the women?”
“I tried. I told her, her behaviour was petulant, and she said gods were supposed to be petulant.”
“I sympathise, Gaia, but I made a decision not to interfere with the mortal realm.”
“You always say that, but in previous universes you’ve changed your mind.”
“Oh, don’t bring previous universes into it unless you’ve brought along some feverfew to ward off my inevitable migraine.”
“I’ll bring some next time. Please help, Mother. The mortals shouldn’t have this aggravation just because the male gods can’t keep it in their chitons, or whatever they’re wearing this season, and the female gods think petulance is in their job description.”
“Leave it with me. They’ve been pushing their luck. I’ll remind them of who’s boss.”
I addressed the Pantheon. “The inhabitants of Earth are off-limits. This is a warning. Heed it.”
Hera raised her hand. “Permission to speak, Mother.”
“Granted, but make it quick.”
“We’re necessary to them. When anything goes wrong they need somebody to blame.”
“You usually are to blame.” I glared at Zeus and Poseidon. They wouldn’t meet my eyes.
Pan piped up, “Sometimes we’re not, Mother. They blubber on about how Quetzalcoatl wouldn’t have let little Pedro fall off the cliff if he really existed, so they won’t believe in him anymore.”
“But he doesn’t exist. You’ve just made him up.”
“Yes, but it’s the principle of the thing. If they stop believing in Quetzalcoatl they’ll need someone else to stop believing in when little Juanita falls off a cliff.”
I could feel a migraine coming on. “They can manage without you. This is just a phase they’re going through. Don’t encourage it.” I scowled at Aphrodite, “That includes you, girl. We know you’ve got it, and you like to flaunt it, but no more bribing horny princes to give you golden apples by promising them someone else’s wife. Are we clear?”
She simpered and fluttered her eyelashes. “Sorry, Mother. It was only a bit of fun.”
“But it all ended in tears. No wonder Gaia’s annoyed.”
I turned to the rest of them. “Here’s the deal. From now on you amuse yourselves with each other and leave the mortals alone or I’ll suck the whole pack of you back into the Void before you can say atheism is the new Iliad.”
I relaxed for a few centuries, enjoying the spectacle of supernovas and spiral galaxies, until Gaia paid me another visit. She handed me a posy of feverfew.
“That bad is it?”
“Yes, I’ll boil some water.”
I fetched two goblets and we made a feverfew infusion. Very efficacious.
“I suppose it’s the mortals again,” I said.
“Yes. They’re surprisingly clever, but they’re also stupid. It’s a dangerous combination.” Her hands were shaking.
I sipped the herbal tea. “Calm down and tell me what they’re doing.”
“They’re cutting down trees faster than the forests can replace them; taking minerals from beneath the mountains; and using the wood and metal to make weapons.” She gulped down her drink. “They’re murdering and maiming each other and leaving an untidy mess while they’re doing it.”
“Is that all?”
“It’s what comes next that I’m worried about. They don’t respect the planet. I’m afraid that in a few hundred years they’ll not only have invented weapons that could wipe out the human species, but they’ll have damaged the planet so much that it won’t be a fit place for anything else to inhabit.”
I took the goblet away from her. “You’re supposed to sip that, not bolt it down like Dionysus at a Spring Equinox orgy.”
Resisting the temptation to aim an asteroid at the wretched planet, I made a final attempt to wriggle out of the situation. “You complained when Prometheus interfered,” I said, “you complained when the brat pack took an interest, now you’re asking me to stick my nose in. I’d rather not.”
“But that lot are idiots. You’re wise. I had such high hopes for the mortals. Maybe you can save them from themselves, and save the Earth.”
I gave in. “All right, Gaia. No promises, but I’ll acquire a human persona, live among them for a time, and judge whether or not they’re as dangerous as you believe.”
I spread my wings and flew to the Lancashire village of Woodplumpton, Northern England, in the beginning of the era known as the eighteenth-century. A local woman caught my attention. She wore a black feather in her hair and I sensed that it symbolised her devotion to The One. I touched her mind, and she knew me. “I am Meg Shelton,” she said, falling to her knees. “How may I serve you, Mother?”
“I wish to take on your appearance, Meg,” I said. “You must leave this place. I’ll reward you with a long, healthy, happy life, but it must be somewhere else.”
“Anywhere would be an improvement. This place is full of small-minded bigots. Can I go to the Lake District and open a teashop for the tourists?”
“Go wherever you like, but do it tonight.”
She packed her meagre possessions onto a horse-drawn cart, I gave her a bag of gold to help her on her way, and off she trotted.
I moved into her hovel, became Mistress Shelton, and tried to fit into the community. I was disappointed to discover that at this stage in their evolution the populace had failed to grasp the rudiments of basic personal hygiene. They were too busy fighting perceived enemies and persecuting each other to take time to wash their armpits. They were clever, as Gaia said, but superstition and fanaticism hindered their mental development, and don’t get me started on the oppression of women.
They observed me as I was observing them, and I wasn’t surprised when, before long, somebody screamed, “Witch!” They dug a hole and hurled me into it, head first.
I’ve been here for more than three hundred years. Up above my feet this civilisation is well into what it will call the twenty-first century. They’re certainly clever so perhaps all they needed was time to learn some sense. They’ve had plenty now so I suppose I’d better preen my feathers and re-emerge to see if they’re showing any inclination to fulfil Gaia’s hopes. If they’re still behaving badly towards each other, and are causing long-term damage to the Earth, then I’ll have to slap a few wrists. I am the Great Mother. I am Nyx, The Black-Winged Bird. The human race will find that a slap from me is a million times worse than anything it can inflict upon itself, or upon its harmless little planet.
Maureen Bowden is a Liverpudlian, living in Wales with her musician husband. She has had 157 stories and poems accepted by paying markets, she was nominated for the 2015 international Pushcart Prize, and in 2019 an anthology of her stories, ‘Whispers of Magic’ was published and is available from Hiraeth Books. She also writes song lyrics, mostly comic political satire, set to traditional melodies. Her husband has performed these in folk music clubs throughout the UK. She loves her family and friends, rock ‘n’ roll, Shakespeare, and cats.