The boy was here again and today he had brought his friends along.
“Wait,” he held out a hand to stop his friends from rushing in and spoiling his show. The other kids stopped. They were agog with curiosity.
She knew why. They were here to witness the empty basket speak. It was a game that had gone on for almost three hundred years, and she, who knew everything, didn’t know when it would end. Oh…the games they played with her…they ravaged whatever remained of her pride. Her pride? Oh, how she hated her pride, for it was her pride that had brought her to this.
The boy approached the basket gingerly, ready to pull back if the basket sprung to life and pounced upon him. After all, If it could talk, it could attack too.
“What do you want?” he asked, like he expected the basket to answer. But he was right. Sibyl was bound to answer every question she was asked, and she was bound to answer it truthfully. So was her destiny for she was the prophetess and the seer. She was Sibyl.
“Death,” she croaked. Her voice was the only part of her that hadn’t aged. It still was the smooth, sweet voice of a seventeen-year-old.
The boy’s friends found it amusing that an empty basket should speak, and they now wanted their share of the fun.
“What do you want? What do you want?” They chanted.
“Death…death…death!” she screamed, but her screams only goaded them to ask again. Her lips, if they existed, would be parched now, as would be her throat. She felt the pain of her bleeding lips, her aching jaw, her cramped muscles, and her squeezing lungs; she felt everything, except that she now had no lips or throat, or body. Long ago, when she had met Apollo, she was a beautiful young maiden of seventeen. Then the years had taken their toll, and she had aged. She had turned, eighty, ninety, a hundred, a hundred and fifty, and she had kept dwindling in size, until she turned into a dried-up mummy the size of a bird. They had transferred her into this basket then, but she had continued to dwindle until she had disappeared completely.
Now she was just a grain of sand with a voice.
It had happened when she was young and foolish. One mistake. Just one mistake – a single moment of mistaken pride, had brought her to this. She recalled that day once again, for the thousandth…no, the millionth time in these thousand years.
She was someone who could see everything that the future held…she even knew that the god who had stood in front of her that morning, would in time lose his power and be forgotten. And yet she had made the mistake that would squeeze every last drop of happiness from her life – a mistake that would make her beg for death, but which wouldn’t let her die – a mistake that will forever suspend her in the liminal zone between life and death.
After Apollo had disappeared in a puff of smoke, Sibyl had dropped upon her couch, her lashes wet and heavy upon her tired red eyes, her face streaked with tears, her shoulder aching from the effort of crying. She knew then, in that moment that followed the one in which her false hubris had destroyed her life, that nothing could change her destiny. She was seventeen then but she knew that soon her youth would flee, and time would start etching wrinkles in her aging skin. Her joints would soon begin to creak, her teeth would fall, and her back would bend. She knew that she would reach that point in life when death would be a welcome relief, but she wouldn’t die.
Because she couldn’t die. Not anymore.
She had thought herself to be brighter than the gods, and her pride had given her a life of a thousand years. Life, but neither health, nor youth. When Apollo had asked her the price of her virginity, she had picked up a fistful of sand and asked him for as many years of life as were the grains of sand in her fist. He had agreed readily. In the euphoria that followed, she had denied the god his right. When he had tried to pull her closer, she had run away, giggling. He had followed her. She remembered his handsome face, confusion writ large upon it.
“You promised,” he said, his eye fastened to hers.
“I don’t want you,” she had replied. Apollo was not only breathtakingly handsome but also a god, and making love to him would be a dream come true for any woman. And yet, in that moment, she had felt so powerful and strong – almost unbreakable, because after all, her boon had made her almost immortal. He couldn’t touch her for at least a thousand years.
It was a deal that she had made with Apollo, but she hadn’t paid him back. She had cheated the god of what she had promised him. He had looked crestfallen, but only for a moment.
“Sibyl, you asked to live a thousand years, so you will; but you didn’t ask me for youth, so you’ll age as you would have. Perpetual youth would have been my gift to you, had you kept your side of the bargain,” said Apollo, looking devastatingly handsome but equally ruthless.
“Apollo, wait…” she had run to him. “I am yours,” she had tried to tempt him back, but he was gone…in a puff of smoke.