This week, I’m publishing a double-header of the final two chapters as I bring this novella to a close.
Last time, Antonios was confronted with the true nature of the terror sleeping in the deep, awoken by the folly and nihilism of others. Now, in the endgame, Antonios tries to make good his escape from this subterranean . But even if he does, what sort of world will he return to, when his faith in reason and logic has been so brutally shattered by the deep places of the Earth?
I pounded along the corridor, muttering half-hearted reassurances to myself that what I had seen was a fabrication, a nonsense, but when a hellish roar came from behind me I panicked anew. I came across Albert, standing in the corridor, blindly staggering along, using his hands for guidance along the rocky wall. I called to him, but either it came out as a garbled mess or he could not hear me above the din and his own mutterings, for he paid no attention to me. When I caught up with him, I saw he had clawed the bandages from his eyes, leaving only two red blotches of horror in the middle of his face.
“Antonios!” he cried between babbles of pain. “What is happening?”
“We must leave. Medas is dead; she was the one who caused all of this to happen.”
He stopped moving forward for a second, and a sick semblance of a smile drifted across his twitching lips, almost as though he had experienced a moment of perfect clarity. He looked up, at what I could not fathom, for even if he had still possessed his sight, there was nothing to regard but darkness and dust. Then he pointed a finger at me, and said, “The city is sick through your fault.”
“Shut up, Albert!” I cried, dragging him along. “The Giants are trying to kill us! We have to leave, now!”
The ground shook and rumbled beneath us, and a huge eldritch scream, a volcanic eruption given life and rage, throbbed through the walls. The Giants were trying to break free and bring their battle to the surface once more! That was it; my mind had caved and all reason from me fled. I was convinced of the Ekpyrosis; if they reached the surface, it would be the fate of the world to burn! And yet, what could men, a single man such as I, do about such things? The Stoic in me rose defiantly for a fleeting moment, urging me to accept this lot with all the humility and grace I could muster, but another bowel-shredding roar cascaded along the corridor, and shook me to my water. The animal in me wanted to flee. I grabbed Albert and dragged him back towards the Great Door. The stumpy corridor led to another set of splintering steps that wound round and down in the darkness. We stumbled and stuttered, almost breaking our necks as we took them as quickly as I dared, and we tumbled out of a broken door into another part of the sinkhole below Athens. It was evening, and far above us a few stars glittered impassively, watching the judgment and doom of our time on Earth, which would be but the flicker of an eyelash in their long and violent lives.
“Where are we, Antonios?” cried Albert, at turns both howling with pain and distress, and then cackling maniacally at the revelations turning within his mind. “We who wore the helm of Hades, who were so blind, but now see!”
Here there was no path, and I had to clamber over mounds of rubble to get a better vantage point. The electric lights had mostly been extinguished, leaving only a few dusky spots of illumination in a dank and preternatural fog of shattered ruination. I eagerly followed this light which, mercifully, led to the makeshift road cleared by the dig team. With Albert flagging, we hauled our sorry selves along that thoroughfare, hoping upon hope that the helicopters still remained.
To my eternal wonder, as we cleared the final bend, there was the helipad, and one of the three helicopters remained! Kat stood by the final helicopter, with the pilot Sofia already in the vehicle, and the blades whirring.
Kat cried something to me, but she was perhaps a hundred metres away, and inaudible below the whirring of the blades. She gesticulated furiously for us to get over there and get away. Despite my burning lungs and spinning head, I uttered some unintelligible words of encouragement to Albert, and began to cross the huge clearing.
When the thunder came I immediately shielded my face, thinking that the rain might penetrate the gloom and cover us all, but the precipitation in the air was not liquid. I stopped myself in my tracks as the vast mounds of ancient Athenian debris and rubble burst forth from the Great Doors as they ruptured like a dam, spilling forth what it had kept at bay for so many millennia.
The terrible figure of Eurymedon, King of the Giants, emerged from the debris, brandishing a sword of gleaming, liquid fire, and screeched at the Heavens with a ripping sound that brought tears to my eyes and made me wish for my mother’s breast. His muscles rippling, Eurymedon charged through the rubble, sending wrecked powerlines, cars, bits of old shops and walls and buildings and streetlights and glass into the air as though they were toys, showering us with lacerating pieces of glass and rock and paint and metal. I covered my face instinctively but something knocked me from my feet. Next to me Albert was struck on the side by a gruesomely twisted beam of metal which cartwheeled him over and left him in a lifeless bundle a few metres from me. The King of the Giants cried something in a wicked tongue not meant for the ears of men as he reached down to pick up the helicopter. The rotary blades screamed agonisingly as they were bombarded by debris, but whirred on stubbornly, and when Eurymedon reached to pick up the strange metal beast, the blades viciously cut the Giant’s fingers, sending fiery blood spraying into the air and across the scene. Eurymedon roared and cursed something else I could not understand, before driving his flaming sword into the heart of the helicopter, whereupon it groaned and spluttered into death.
Kat and Sofia scrambled away from the ruined helicopter in my direction, but from another direction slithered another hideous Giant with huge, powerful serpentine tails for legs, and with eyes and a beard coloured a diabolical, volcanic red. It slammed a coiled, scaled leg down upon Sofia, leaving Kat to reach me by herself.
When she reached me I tried to stand, but my legs yawned in pain, and I could barely stand, let alone flee.
“What do we do?” cried Kat, taking me by the hand.
I shook my head, at a loss.
One by one they came into the clearing: Ephialtes, Lion, Mimas, Asterius, and more, and more Giants than I could name, spilling into the sinkhole. One of them set its hands about the wall of the sinkhole, driving its fingers into the subterranean crust and trying to get some purchase on it. It managed to shovel a sandaled foot into the sides of the ruin, and tried to propel itself upwards, but its vast weight only succeeded in crushing the rubble and bringing the wall down in a huge cloud of mess and dirt.
The Giant toppled back onto its back and was smothered in the dust and muck, and it let out a strangled, winded huff. One of the other Giants cried at it, a raw look of disgust on its face. Polybotes himself shoved the others aside and plunged his sword deep into the chest of the stricken Giant. I then felt for a mere moment what it was like to know the Fates, for I could see the destiny of Polybotes before that great Giant himself, and I knew at once that the Giants were destined to fail in their quest, because it was in their nature to destroy themselves. I bowed my head in fatal understanding.
It was Asterius who took up the mantle of attempting to scale the sinkhole, plunging fingers like tree trunks into the rubble and attempting to grasp it, but his terrifying size and weight only succeeded in tearing a hole from the walls of the sinkhole. Asterius fell back onto his rump with a crash, a look of hateful astonishment upon his face. And then he looked up at the hole he had made. Slowly at first, little more than a trickle, came the sides of the sinkhole, collapsing at that point where the dead Giant had tried to ascend, and then in a great landslip and slide, one hundred meters of towering rubble crashed into Polybotes and buried him. The wave of rubble slammed into the legs of he whom I suspected to be Picolous, who in vain tried to hold back that tide and was swallowed by the flowing mess. Finally Asterius, still dazed and sitting on his rump, was showered with boulders, while a huge chunk of rock and road fell upon his head, splitting it open and spilling out a mess of black blood and snakes inside.
I turned onto my front, tried to crawl away, and found myself in the shadow of a mangled car. Kat had deserted me, or perhaps had been swallowed up. I was alone. I cried out in frustration, and fear, and sorrow, just before I heard the walls crashing around me, creating a vile slope. Clenching my jaw and breathing hard, I forced myself to my feet and dragged myself to the ascent, trying to stick to the shadows. Lion appeared to my right, his coiled hair bristling like a mane and his teeth glistening like fangs. He too was attempting to climb the hill to the surface, but must have stood upon a weakened part of the rubble, for it collapsed beneath him, and he fell, stricken, his disgusting serpentine legs waving uselessly in the air.
Onward I climbed, but the top of this slope only took me a few dozen metres farther up, to a tiny ledge of gnarled steel jutting out of the earth. I could find no further footholds. Spent, despairing and maddened, I fell upon the tiny ledge, rolled onto my back and watched the stars swirl around above me. Somewhere near me, beside me, behind me, there was the awful cry of Giants as they were trying to make their way to the surface, and a sickening rend tore through the sky, as if the very Earth were being ripped in two. When I looked back down, the entire hole – the road, the Great Doors, the excavation – had gone, collapsing a second time.
I tried to cry out one final time for help – to whom I could say not – but I was shrouded in an abyss of lifeless shadow where my own voice became silence, and I was knocked into a foul and dreamless sleep.
A thudding, relentless vibration that thumped my ears and rattled my brain woke me with a violent start, but – perhaps mercifully, for what I would have said would no doubt have been jumbled ravings – before I could speak, the pain coursing through my body made itself apparent, and all I could manage was a groan. In any case, I couldn’t raise my arms; I assumed initially through weakness, but the straining at my wrist made me realise I’d been strapped down.
I blinked, trying to figure out where I was. The sky moved past in impressionistic blotches, each nimbus rearranging itself into the face or form of another ancient creature taunting me with the inevitability of its uprising, the rank squalor of its hideousness, the vulgar futility of its impending heavenly duels and the helplessness of us mortal spectators.
A man sitting next to me, wearing a full-head helmet that shielded his face, spoke to me. “You’re incredibly lucky, sir. When that hole collapsed a second time, we thought that was it. How the hell did you make it onto that little ledge?”
I shook my head weakly.
“You’re going to be just fine,” the man said. “Looks like you’ll escape with just cuts and bruises.”
I sank again into a fitful state of unconsciousness.
I later learned I had, contra omnes dissident, been found and airlifted from the scene of the further landslip in that hellish rabbit hole, by a Greek Government-sponsored rescue team. The ones who spoke to me – a handful of doctors, and a great many people in suits who seemed to communicate to one another in nods and notes – said they had descended to rescue whoever they could find, but their obvious lack of interest in me told me otherwise. When I mentioned the name Apoystraphus, the suits looked at one another, said something I could not understand, and informed me I must be mistaken, for there was no person related to the mission of that name, and no such place as Phalcou.
Money can even buy you a non-existent identity, it seems.
In between bouts of wasted consciousness, in which I tactlessly related the larger-than-life details of my ordeal to what I ought to charitably describe as sceptical minds, I slept, only to wake to further details of my physical injuries, though there was no mention of what had happened to my mind. I confess, in my weaker moments, I did doubt myself, en aporia, just as a good Sceptic should! It was in the telling that my weakness struck hardest, when the ridiculousness of my tale was brought into the light of the surface world, and related to people who had not been pursued, crushed, or maimed by Giants.
And it was then, painted in the shame of the disbelief (or, worse, the wilful ignorance) of others, that I realised the hubris of man. The lack of will to understand. The certainty that we know it all.
After countless days of relating my tale, it was on the day that I shook my head in silence and confessed (untruthfully!) that I no longer believed my own tale, that I was discharged.
Discharged into a world I no longer recognised.
The Athens of my youth was replaced by a city with a hole, a perfect mint, and to my astonishment people had actually started to adjust to this new phenomenon. The second landslip was evidenced by the fact that Locos Likavitou had been swallowed by the Earth, and the sinkhole now had increased its ambition, gobbling up the roads all the way to Locos Strefi.
A day or so after leaving the hospital I visited that place. Nobody seemed to wonder whether or not a third “landslip” might arise; it had become just one of those things. Nothing to be done. Just part and parcel of everyday life.
And when I realised that I could not accept this, I thought of Medas, and I wept uncontrollably. I returned to the University and found myself poring obsessively over her research. At time I would catch myself – the Stoicism in me was not so shattered that I had abandoned all semblances of self-awareness – but experience was a master Lion-tamer.
When my academic career seemed to flounder in the face of my apparently increasingly outlandish fields of study – and oh! how I longed to inform my critics of the poetic irony of their denunciation of my apparent resorting to wallowing in the so-called imagined fury of emotion, in opposition to my career as student of Zeno – I visited the site of my adventure, flirting with the edges of the sinkhole, jostling among the end-of-the-world preachers (who had taken up permanent residence there, it seemed, in ironic opposition to their message of choice) to peer into the gloom, half-expecting Lion to clamber from the ruins and haul us all into the abyss, or for Pallas to leap from the darkness, sword raised, and to swipe a dozen of us puny humans aside as he made his way to the heavens to foolishly grapple with Athena and her cohorts.
“Fools!” I cried at those preachers, more than once, to their great amusement. “There is no end of the world! There will be no reckoning! This is Athens. This is no place of Final Judgment. This is a place of rebirth. Athens may be crushed by our hands, but it will be reborn, in fire and in blood! Weep for the ones who cannot be saved, and pray not to your false Gods of Abraham, but to the mighty Twelve, who will cast aside the fixtures of depravity, and mould us anew in a perfect Golden Age!”
It was after many weeks of relaying this message to an audience of dwindling interest that one of the Christian eschatologists approached me and asked me if he could buy me a coffee. It was a sympathy coffee, obviously; unlike me, the Muslims and Christians were able to maintain their apocalyptic traction with a continual conveyor belt of touristic audiences – who in turn mocked, pitied, photographed, and ultimately tossed coins at them – with the advantage of their religions being globally understood.
“It looks like you’re having a hard time selling your version of the End Of All Things,” he said, clapping me on the shoulder. It was strange, but when he was not publicly preaching his version of John’s Apocalypse he seemed, well, normal. “You want to know why I think you’re not pulling in the punters? Because you need showmanship!”
I looked him dolefully and envied his seeming knowledge that it was all just an act. I said, “It’s all true, I tell you. I saw it all.”
“Hey, dude,” he said, with sympathetic eyes. “I’ve seen it all, too. And you know how it all turns out? Everything turns out ok. Because Jesus loves you, baby.”
And at that moment, I prayed for forgiveness from Medas, for I saw that she was right. And I prayed to the Twelve.
I neglected to partake in the coffee that the man was willing to buy me, and instead walked to the edge of the sinkhole. During the weeks that had elapsed, the security around the perimeter had waned along with the general mood of despair, and it was easy to reach an unguarded section of precipice from which one could stare into the doom.
And stare I did, and I felt the inevitable tug of that hell beneath, tempting me to jump in, and succumb to the horrific catastrophe I’d seen (or foreseen).
I leant in, flirting with the edge of disaster, teetering to the point where, for just a moment, I no longer knew whether a breath of wind might topple me over into that vast pit, or push me back onto my backside, safe.
Thanks for reading The Gigantomachy Of Antonios Costas! I had great fun writing it, and pulling together so many different ideas into one adventure story. The whole story is now stickied to the top menu under Novellas.
I may publish a new novella in this serialised format to the site in 2022, along with a few more short stories.