Pan Beneath the Cracks

When I was a child, I fell through the cracks. I was walking along with my mother, on the way to get my hair cut. I was looking at the ground hoping to find a shiny quarter or other silly object that would have delighted my six-year-old mind. But I found only cracks; cracks in the sidewalk, cracks in the world, cracks that lead to dark places beyond even the imagination of even a lunatic like me.

Up to this point, nothing exceptional had occurred in my short life. I was just as every other child was: carefree, boisterous, obnoxious, and mischievous. My mother and I were going to the hairdresser, and if I were good then she would take me to go get ice cream. It was a sunny, beautiful day and as soon as we started from the house I happily chased the neighbor’s cat until it ran under the fence.

There are times, often when I am laying awake at night, that I wonder. Was it something about that day that made me fall through into that other place, or was it something within me? If we had walked that same path another day, would my life have been any different? Pan told me that it was something special within my mind that allowed me to travel to his realm, but can a slave trust the word of the slaver?

I kept looking at the ground and seeing the poorly maintained sidewalk, until I grew dizzy and the tiny fissures grew larger and larger, and then they were like the walls of a canyon surrounding me. It was then that I realized I was falling, although I felt almost weightless. The colors around me shifted and became alien, as did the shapes. I blacked out in midair, and when I regained consciousness I was on the ground.

I was only a child, and I had never seen a Salvador Dali painting, but later in life I would see hisParanoic Visage and shiver uncontrollably, for that is the closest I can come to truly describing the world I found myself in. The sky was open and blue, yet held the feeling of pressing in on me like the walls of a box. There were people, but their appearance wasslippery, as if their forms were too complex or strange for my mind to hold onto. There was no sun, yet the sky was bright, and no creature or structure threw a shadow. There were trees in the distance, if such obscene things can be called trees, although at this moment I cannot explain exactly why I considered them obscene. These trees, they coiled and twisted with malevolent intent, threatening my childish mind at a subconscious, primal level.

One of the people touched me on the back of the neck, and the feeling was like an electric shock, except with revulsion instead of electricity. I threw myself away from it and curled in the fetal position. The thing simply stared at me with eyes that I could not see clearly, and then it picked me up by the collar of my shirt and carried me. I sensed neither good nor evil intent. This creature was simply doing its duty. The landscape became empty except for those horrible trees. They curled and twisted, taking on shapes that defied any sane comprehension.

They danced around me without moving a limb. Every step I took made them shift in my perspective, and they grew in places that made them waltz to an incomprehensible and unheard melody. But the more time I spent among that bizarre the forest, the more I began to hear the melody. Even at first it must have registered at some level, or how else could I have perceived the trees as dancing? I knew where each tree would be just from the song, and later I realized that the trees were frozen in the middle of a dance that repeated itself infinitely. Even now, after all the times I have been summoned to that horrible world and privy to its secrets, I cannot truly understand the true nature of that vile dance. But there is a mad beauty in it too, and that only confuses me more.

From between the trees, strange creatures stared at me. I saw what would be normal animals, but they were horribly maimed. I saw a fox without hind legs dragging itself with its forepaws. I saw a tabby cat with its ears completely severed. This got to me, since even at the age of six I liked cats. Our family cat would come near me as long as I was gentle with her, and sometimes slept on my bed. The neighbor’s cat was too skittish and didn’t trust me enough to come within petting range. I saw a blind squirrel and a raccoon without a nose, and other horrors that my mind refused to process.

At some point during our trek through the forest, three even stranger creatures confronted us. They had the upper bodies of very hairy, ugly men with muscular torsos and heavy brows like cavemen. Their lower quarters had thick, foul smelling fur ending in cloven hooves. Each held a pointed stick in his tremendous fist. They surrounded my captor and grunted at it, then began poking it until it dropped me and uttered an unearthly shriek. It took off running back to its village, and that was the last I ever saw of it. I lay with my face in the dirt, even more afraid of these things than I was of the creature that first picked me up. From that first creature I sensed curiosity and a purpose; it was supposed to bring me somewhere. It did not bear me any ill will. These three, however, gave off an aura of brainless cruelty.

Two of them lifted me roughly off of the ground and stood me on my feet, and hovered over me. One stood behind me, and began to poke me with his stick until I stumbled forward. When I stopped, he poked me again, and I realized that they wanted me to walk. The horrors grew more numerous the farther we went. Several times I saw more of the goat men, usually doing something horrible. I saw a group of them surrounding one of the shifting creatures and beating it with clubs of wood. A few times I saw them doing something to a sobbing naked woman. Later in life I would understand the nature of rape, but at this moment I just knew that they were hurting her.

We reached a palace that would have been grand if it had not been made of sticks. Even to my young mind this stronghold seemed a paradox. It was the size of a castle fit for a king, and even had some of the shape. But it was made of sticks lashed together, with several huge trees serving as turrets. Yet there was something forbidding about it. It was as if something completely alien attempted to imitate a human structure and failed.

As we approached the huge doors opened, and we entered a very dark hall. It was lit on both sides by a strange glowing fungus, but it did little to illuminate the far reaches of the room. There were no torches, since the building was made of wood. As we made our way through the winding corridors, a haunting melody followed us, played by a multitude of unseen wind instruments. I didn’t recognize them then, but on my subsequent trips I came to know it well.

We came to an audience chamber covered in the glowing fungus, with a wooden throne that looked almost organic, as if it had grown there and was still alive. In contrast to the horrors I had been dragged through, the man who sat the throne was absurdly handsome. His face was kind, and he looked at me with an almost fatherly expression. Then he spoke.

“Child, I have been waiting very long for one such as you to come. I am the god Pan, and this is the kingdom great Zeus gave to me. So few are able to travel to my realm beneath the cracks in your world.” He stood, and walked over to me, where he knelt and put a hand on my shoulder. A tear glistened in his eye. “You have seen my kingdom, and you have seen my people. You have seen my beloved Maenads, frozen forever in their wooden dance. Only one such as you can help, and it is a burden I hesitate to lay on your young shoulders.” Kneeling, he was at my level, and his piercing blue eyes bore into my very soul.

My own father was a decent man whose only real crime was being overworked. He was not abusive, nor even critical of me. But he was absent, and when he was at home he was far too tired to play or talk to me. He was slightly overweight, balding, and wore glasses. I suppose that in the beginning I saw Pan as the father I always wished I had. I don’t know how, or why, but when I recall my logic at the time that is what I remember thinking. I do acknowledge my own naiveté in this matter, but I also blame the fungus. It may not affect the creatures of that place, but every time I came there, it addled my mortal mind. That fungus was everywhere I went: the palace, the forest, and the villages. There were things that I never should have believed, and other things that I should have noticed, but didn’t until it was far too late to go back.

“I will only ask you for your help, child. Please, do as I request and save my people.” And just like that, he sprung his trap. How could I refuse that golden deity, the only symbol of good in that horrid wasteland?

“What would you have of me?” At that moment, I would have done anything this god-like figure requested of me. I also think the fungus was impacting my speech patterns, changing my words to fit the strange, semi-formal style of this world.

“I will mark you as one of my acolytes. When you go sleep in the mortal world, you will sometimes arrive here. You will be taught the ways and nature of this world, and when the time is right I will need your help in bringing myself and the Maenads to the mortal world, where we can thrive peacefully once again.” He grabbed my hands and smiled. “Just think! There’ll be music and merriment, all day long. Your world needs it sorely, child. I long to touch people’s hearts with joy and energy, as once I did. The mortals will throw down their pencils and abandon their concrete cities, to join me in the forests and dance to my panpipes! My Maenads will live again, but as beautiful maidens instead of trees, and we will frolic among the plants and live! Help me restore life to your world!” His face beamed with eagerness, and I was lost.

“I will help you Pan, mark me as one of your acolytes.” Pan smiled even wider, and it was only much later in my life that I would look back, and I would see something sinister in that smile.

“This will hurt for only a moment, be brave.” He grasped my right palm with his, and my hand flared with pain. I bit my tongue and didn’t make a sound. When Pan removed his hand, I saw something resembling a tattoo of a bearded, horned head. A wreath of thorny roses crowned it. “I will summon you back when it is time for your lessons here, but now go back to your world in peace, my acolyte.”

I awoke in a hospital, with my mother and father sitting by my bedside. According to them I had fainted from heatstroke while walking. For a few seconds I dared to believe that everything I had experienced was just a fevered dream. Then I looked down at my right closed fist. I didn’t want to open it, but slowly I unfolded my fingers to reveal the unmistakable mark of Pan. For better or for worse, I was bound to Pan and his bizarre world.

It was two years later when I returned to Pan, in his realm beneath the cracks. This time I did not need to actually walk along a cracked surface. I only went to sleep one night, and found myself walking along a sun baked asphalt road, with the intertwining cracks that stretched out to eternity. Then I was spinning, and falling through. I had only a moment to feel dread tinged with ecstasy before the road swallowed me up.

This time I found myself in the forest of those disturbing trees. Pan stood before me, seeming somehow out of place. “Jake,” he said to me, “it is time for you to learn how to dance with the Maenads.” I stared at him in confusion. He continued, “This is how we can bring them forth into your world.”

“But…aren’t they just trees?” I ventured nervously. Pan looked almost affronted.

“These are my beloved Maenads, not simply trees, Jake. They were cursed into this form by the…others. Many have been jealous of my talent and charisma.” He rested a hand lovingly on the trunk of a tree. “They could not get to me directly, so they took out their frustrations on those I loved. What once was a group of beautiful, carefree young women is now a twisted and stunted forest of trees.”

“So how can we change them back?”

“We dance with them, Jake. That is the only language with which we can break the curse.” Only Pan could have rationalized dancing with trees. “This dance that I am going to teach you resembles nothing seen in your world, so you must show this to no one. Now follow my lead.” Pan contorted his body to mimic the twisted posture of the tree before him. I did the same. He slowly stretched out a hand to it, and stroked the upper trunk with his index finger. I imitated, feeling vaguely uneasy. He shook his body in front of the tree, and sidestepped, and I followed his lead. Other strange steps took place, steps which can’t be described in this language. They can’t be told; they must be performed to be understood.

At some point Pan stood back, and I was dancing alone with the tree, following the moves that Pan had taught me. He watched silently, and I continued for a few minutes. Then suddenly I realized that the tree before me was no longer a tree, but a beautiful naked woman with verdant green skin and flame red hair, dancing with moves that fit mine like a jigsaw puzzle. Puberty and the hormonal urges were still years away for me, and yet at that moment I had the urges a twenty-year-old might have for her. And this woman wanted me too; I could see it in her mossy dark green eyes. I could stand it no longer, and I broke the dance to reach out and caress her, ravage her, satiate both of our passions on the forest floor.

I found myself clutching a tree, nothing more. I stood back sheepishly, my strange urges gone. I looked to Pan and expected him to be confused, amused, or both. But he was smiling and clapping his hands. “I saw a woman there, Pan. The tree turned into a woman.”

“Indeed it did, Jake. I knew you had the talent necessary. They are very fond of you, my boy.” He gestured to the forest. “Each of them awaits their turn to dance with you.” A twinge of that out-of-place lust ran through me, and was then gone. “But this dance must be performed in your world, along with some other rites. The curse on this realm can only be broken until the dancing ends. But the curse does not extend into your world.”

“What other rites must be performed?” I asked.

“I will teach you those in time, but for now do not worry. I will teach you all that you need to know in order for our worlds to merge. Now it is time for you to return to your world, but I will summon you more regularly to my realm, in order to practice the Dance of Awakening. I will also teach you the Dance of Lethargy, which you will need once you learn the final rites. Do not be overwhelmed, all this will be learned in time.” Then I found myself awake in my own bed, with my alarm clock going off and my head spinning.

I continued to return to Pan’s world, although it was not always on a regular basis. I might be summoned every night for a week, and then not go beneath the cracks for a month. But even when I did not visit that realm, I still dreamt of the Maenads, and the dance I did with them.

Also during this time, a thought began to occur to me, and despite my attempts to dismiss it I kept coming back to it. I recalled my first visit to Pan’s realm, and I continuously thought about the shifting people whose village I first came upon. During my time beneath the cracks I saw many different places in the forest, in Pan’s palace, and even some remote human villages. Yet I never saw the shifting people again. For a while I didn’t have the courage to voice my question, and over the next two years, I mastered Pan’s Dance of Awakening, and it was time for me to learn the Dance of Lethargy.

For this Pan brought one of the hairy half-men that I learned were called satyrs to practice on. I much preferred the Maenads even in their wooden state, for they did not exude such a powerful and unpleasant odor. Before the dance began, Pan strapped a long dagger to my waist. By now I had learned not to question him, so I said nothing.

“In this dance, eye contact is crucial. You must never break eye contact with the one you dance with, or it will all be undone. The Dance of Awakening breaks a curse, but the Dance of Lethargy weaves one. These two dances are opposites of one another in many ways, as you will see. Now we shall begin.”

Pan did not participate this time, he only directed me. We had to start over a few times because I accidentally broke eye contact with the satyr while moving. They were not beautiful creatures to look upon. This dance was much less pleasant that the first, but also exhilarating in a very dark way. As the satyr began to lose energy, I felt more and more exuberant. When the satyr dropped at last to sleep on the ground, Pan signaled for me to halt. At this point I did not want to stop, I wanted to dance and run and use up all the energy I had taken from the satyr. But still I halted at Pan’s command.

“Very good. Once you have practiced and mastered this dance, then it will be time for you to learn the last rites and begin the work that will allow my Maenads to manifest in your world.”

“Pan, who are the shifting people?” I blurted out. I didn’t even think about it before I spoke, the question just came out.

“Shifting people? I don’t know what you mean.”

“When I first came here, I encountered a village of creatures whose faces and features were constantly moving. One of them helped to escort me to your palace.”

“Oh, you mean them. They…are people that can no longer hurt me, Jake. They were jealous of my kingdom, and my talent, and they would have cast me down, but I tricked them with my music and dance. They were evil people, but I showed mercy and did not kill them. I took their forms, and in their forms lay their powers, so they could not act against me. Two in particular plotted against me. One wanted my Maenads, and claimed that they were his to begin with. The other wanted my musical talent, and claimed his good looks and high birth made him better than me. He turned all the others against me, and they descended upon my vale. And I…tricked them.” Pan was frowning. “I think that will be all for today.”

Pan seemed unsettled as the vision of the forest clearing faded from my vision to be replaced by my room. I wondered whether these others were the same ones that cursed the Maenads and confined Pan beneath the cracks. I also wondered who the two others were that envied him, and for the first time I considered the possibility that Pan might be lying to me. His story was hesitantly told, as if he were embellishing or making up parts of it. But his stricken expression was consistent with the nature of his tale, and so I dismissed the possibility. But one small inconsistency stuck in my mind, and planted its seeds.

Later that year, I hit puberty and had my first wet dream. In it, I was dancing with one of the Maenads, and I reached out to her, knowing that the curse would resume but not caring. To my surprise, the Maenad did not turn back into a tree and instead fell into my arms. In my dream, I was not a child but a full-grown man, and I held her as I caressed her. Then I bore her to the ground and removed her clothes and mine. My ten-year-old inexperience was not part of the dream; instead I had the expertise of a practiced adult.

Then I suddenly awoke and at first I thought shamefully that I had wet the bed, but the stuff was not urine. It was then that I knew what the dream had meant. Ten years was very early for this, but nonetheless it had happened. I attribute this early pubescence to my experiences in Pan’s realm, most specifically the times when I danced with the Maenads and felt the pangs of lust far beyond my years.

A few nights later, I was summoned to Pan’s realm and in addition to my training in the Dance of Lethargy, he set me to an exercise routine that I was to complete in my own world. He promised me that now we were closer than ever to beginning the transfer from his world to mine.

Nevertheless, five years passed before anything changed. By this point I had changed from a pale, scrawny youth into a tall and muscular young man. I also lost my virginity during this time, with a red-haired girl from my class who also developed early. We had a few encounters, and then she wanted to stop for fear that her parents would find out. When I was with her, I found myself pretending that her skin was green. It was strange, and yet natural. Somehow, I always expected that I would envision the Maenads during any sexual encounters in my world.

One night I was summoned to Pan’s realm, in a familiar forest clearing. What was unfamiliar was a terrified woman standing next to Pan. She was not tied up, but she seemed incapable of running. Pan smiled at me. “Jake, you have perfected the Dance of Awakening and the Dance of Lethargy, and you are now at an age to learn the last rites involved with bringing the Maenads to your world. They long for your touch and mine, Jake!” Pan strapped a long dagger around my waist, as he had done the first time but not since then. I looked at him puzzled. “Begin the Dance of Lethargy, Jake, and I will tell you what to do after that.”

I began the Dance uneasily, and locked gazes with the woman. It was different this time, and I tried not to think what would happen when she passed out. She was about ten years older than me, plain-looking with brown hair. I felt no attraction to her, but I did feel a measure of pity.

When she had fainted, Pan spoke quietly. “Draw your dagger, Jake.”

“Why?”

“These are the last rites. The passage does not come without a cost. Now listen carefully.” Pan waved his hand, and the forest floor became a sidewalk. “This is an illusion so that I can properly direct you. Drag the woman over to where the sidewalk is cracked.” I reluctantly followed his instructions. “Now slice her throat and let the blood pour through the cracks, and then repeat after me.” He said the words without emotion, as if he were directing me in some new dance.

“You want me to kill her? Why?”

“I am your god and master Jake, you may not question me. If you must know, she killed her husband and infant child in a fit of madness. She deserves to die, now do it.”

“I- I can’t–“

“I have been grooming you for this since you were a child, Jake. Now do it!” I unsheathed the dagger and held it above the woman’s throat.

“Please, there has to be another–” Pan grabbed the hand with the knife and pulled it across the woman’s throat, spilling her blood over the illusionary sidewalk.

“Now while the blood seeps through the cracks, repeat these words. In the name of Pan the Almighty, greatest musician in existence, I invoke a Maenad from his realm to mine. Repeat it back to me, Jake!”

“I-In the n-name of P-Pan the almighty, g-greatest musician in e-existence, I invoke a M-Maenad from his realm to mine.”

“The blood is drawn and paid through the cracks, from my blade to the hands of Nature’s God. Repeat!”

Tears were streaming down my face as I recited. “T-T-The blood is d-drawn and p-paid through the c-cracks, from my b-blade to the hands of N-Nature’s G-G-God.” I collapsed backwards but Pan pushed me up angrily.

“The Dance of Awakening, Jake, now is the time!” I knew nothing but obedience at this point; I was like a puppet with Pan holding the strings. I began the Dance wearily, directing my movements toward the corpse. From the cracks a tree began to grow, and once it stood fully-grown from the pavement, it split down the middle to reveal a Maenad. Then all this vanished, with the exception of the dead woman. That was no illusion.

“When you take the life of the mortals in your world, you are not killing them in truth. They will circulate down here to take the place of the Maenad that goes up. You are not killing, you are exchanging.”

“What if I don’t want to…exchange?”

“You bear my mark, Jake. You are mine to command. I can cause you so much pain you’ll forget all about the morality of replacing the worthless whores of your world with my creatures of infinite beauty. Now go, and take my dagger with you. You will awake with it by your side. I had hoped, and in fact I still hope, that you will do this of your own free will. It will be so much easier if you are in harmony with this world. You must find women who are intoxicated to exchange, now go and try not to get caught. And remember; you’ve already killed one, so what’s a few more?”

I awoke drenched in sweat and shuddering, clutching a long metal object. It was the dagger that Pan had given me. It was still early, about one in the morning. I quietly got up and got dressed. I stopped by the kitchen to get some rubber gloves, and then I stuffed them in my pocket and slipped out the door and onto the streets.

The handle of the dagger was sweaty as I gripped it, but I did not unsheathe it. I had to subdue my prey with the Dance of Lethargy, so that the blood would not be wasted by bludgeoning or stabbing the woman in order to gain submission. This thought process was oddly cold and detached in mind and for a moment I worried more that this would be too easy than too hard.

The bar I sat by would be closing in about an hour. I had only to wait for a woman to come out. Soon enough one did, stumbling from severe intoxication. I watched her for a few seconds to see which direction she was heading, and then I circled around to the sidewalk and waited for her to walk away from the lighted area of town, toward a cluster of warehouses. Watching from a distance as she approached, I hid in the shadows. Our town was relatively small and somewhat safe; even if she hadn’t been drunk she might still have chosen to walk through that district. But after the things I did, the town lost most of its good reputation.

I approached silently, and as soon as she could see me in the gloom I spoke. “Care to dance, my lady?” Startled, she looked up and met my gaze as I began the Dance of Lethargy. She was transfixed like a deer trapped in the headlights of an oncoming truck, and she fell to the sidewalk without a noise. I drew my dagger and knelt over her.

My hand trembled. This woman had done nothing wrong, why should she have to die? I lowered the dagger to her throat, but stopped. Pan’s mark on my hand throbbed with pain.

My thought pattern changed. What right did she have to live? What useful function did she provide society that should allow her to be exempt from serving Pan? What right did she have to stand in his way, and why should she be free when the Maenads of Pan’s realm remained imprisoned in wood? These thoughts were foreign to me, although they did not seem so at the time. With a vicious thrust, I spilled her blood on the sidewalk and watched it dribble through the cracks. I uttered Pan’s litany with a savage delight, and performed the Dance of Awakening as the blood coursed out of her veins.

I stood back and watched as a tree began to grow from between the cracks, and then split once it reached its full height. A creature more beautiful than I could have ever conceived of came out of the tree. A Maenad in Pan’s realm was one thing, and when I practiced the Dance of Awakening I knew they were beautiful and unworldly. But this woman was exotic, alien, and beautiful. She was nude, and I was hard long before I finished removing my clothing. When I did she came to me, and we made love right there on the sidewalk, with Pan watching and smiling through the cracks.

Afterward, I bathed and washed my clothes in an ice-cold river a little ways away from the warehouses, wishing that it could wash either my conscience or my sins away. The Maenad had run off into the night, leaving me naked and breathless. After I was clean, I donned my wet clothes and walked back home. By the time I reached the house my clothes were still wet but no longer dripping, so I left no evidence that I had been anywhere but in my bed that night, and no one noticed that I had left.

Over the course of the next few months, I repeated this process three more times at different places. Each time, my savagery and ecstasy grew, and my guilt shriveled away. The last time I near hacked at the throat with my dagger, and laughed out loud as I performed the Dance of Awakening. My passion for the Maenads was insatiable, and even now…I must fight to keep hold of it. No one suspected me. I wasn’t excruciatingly careful, but neither was I careless. The police were looking for a depraved madman, not a popular, athletic high school student, as I was then. After the first time, I bought a raincoat at a thrift store and wore it every time I brought forth a Maenad, and hid it by the river where I had cleansed myself. I still cleansed myself, but this time I did not need to wash my clothes, only my soul.

A few days after the fourth Maenad, I returned to the realm beneath the cracks. I didn’t go to Pan this time, but to that village of the shifting people that I had not seen since my first visit. The one who had first guided me toward Pan’s palace stood by me. I don’t know how I distinguished that one from the others, but I just did. There a group of them clustered around me, and I sensed a general sadness and disappointment. Then the one that stood beside me spoke in my head.

“You weren’t supposed to be his. You weren’t supposed to do these things.”

“Wh-what do you mean?” I was too startled to think about the creature’s words.

“You weren’t supposed to end up at Pan’s palace. You were to be brought to Apollo and Dionysus.”

“You brought me to Pan’s palace!”

“We were intercepted. I am Hermes, and once those filthy creatures would not have dared to even look upon me, let alone beat me and poke me with their sticks.”

“Pan told me about you, all of you! You were envious of him and plotted his downfall! He was right to have captured you!”

“Pan lies to you and lies to himself. I don’t doubt that now even he believes his own stories. He has been down here a long time, and that can do things to an immortal.” The creature continued speaking to me in my head.

“Dionysus, the God of Wine and Revelry, had a following of young women called Maenads. Pan has always been a hideous creature, and every maiden or nymph he propositioned rejected him. But Pan is clever, and cunning, and his constant rejections made him ruthless. Songs and dances are his weapons, and he learned to use them well. He and his satyrs composed a song, a very horrible song. They themselves stuffed their ears so they could not hear it. One day they cornered the Maenads and played their song. The women were never the same after that. They were thoroughly mad and utterly mindless. They followed Pan, and were possessed by insatiable cravings of the flesh.

“Apollo, the God of Light and Music, saw this as an affront to music and Dionysus also felt wronged. We complained to our father Zeus. The four of us traveled to Pan’s Vale to confront him. But Pan knew this would happen, and he was ready. He surrounded us and played a different song and dance, a stronger version of what you know as the Dance of Lethargy. Dionysus and I could not fight it, but Zeus battled Pan and almost won. He cursed Pan and his subjects to the underworld, and turned the Maenads into trees so he could no longer enjoy them. Then Zeus succumbed to Pan’s hypnotic dance.” The shifting creature paused, and another stepped forward.

“Immortals cannot die, Jake, no matter what happens to us. Pan skinned us all alive, and with our skins went our power. What remains is simply our essence, a crude image of what we once were. The rest of the gods and goddesses came down here for revenge, but Pan tricked them all. He seized the realm from Hades and made it his own. One by one he captured them and skinned them. Still he tortures Zeus down in the dungeons beneath that wooden palace, but Zeus will not remove the curse. Pan wears Apollo’s skin now, to conceal his own revolting features.”

“Why did you not tell me this sooner? Why now, after I’ve already killed four women?” I asked bitterly. I had believed in Pan and his dream, even after I had been forced to kill. My passion for the Maenads more than made up for it.

“We did not know what had happened to you after the satyrs confronted Hermes. Sometimes Pan craves human flesh, and we assumed that you were to be his dinner. We only realized what had happened after the Maenads began to leave this realm. Then we waited for an opportunity to summon you here and explain it all to you. You-” But the creature’s words were cut short, as a bright light ascended the horizon and streaked toward the village.

With a noise like striking thunder, Pan stood before us, wearing what I now realized was Apollo’s skin, his eyes smoldering. He flicked his fingers, and the shifting creatures caught fire. Their shrieks filled the air, and no matter how long the burned they could not die. Then he turned to me. “You see. I have complete control over them. And you.”

“Is what they said true?”

“Is it that much different than what I told you? They conspired against me. I tricked and captured them.”

“But they were gods and guardians of the world. Is it true that you stole the Maenads from Dionysus?”

“No! They chose me over him!” Pan’s eyes grew brighter, and Apollo’s skin began to smolder. “They chose ME! What did that drunken jackass have to offer them that I could not provide?” The skin caught fire. “They chose me over him, they chose my music and my world. THEY CHOSE ME!” Apollo’s skin blackened and fell off, revealing Pan’s true features.

He looked nothing like the disguise he wore, and neither did he look like the face of the mark he had made on my hand. Instead this creature was wizened and ancient, a half man monstrosity with scraggly white hair and lunatic eyes. “Will you continue to serve me, Jake?” I trembled from head to foot, and shook my head no. Pan screamed with rage and leapt at me. At the same time, my mark flared with agony. The mark was the only real power he held over me. I was not a denizen of the realm, so he could not burn me or do any of the other things he could do to the fallen gods.

I grappled with Pan, and threw him off. He leapt at me again and we wrestled, pummeling each other as hard as we could. Soon the ground cracked beneath us and gave way. We fell down into an abyss, and landed in a river. We fought in the river, and I tore out tufts of Pan’s greasy white hair. We rolled to shore, and Pan raked his claws against my flesh and spilled my blood into that ancient ground. Yet this fight was but another dance, the last dance that Pan could teach me. In my mind I called it the Dance of Savagery. We were animals, tearing at each other and fighting for dominance over one another. Pan stomped my face into the ground with his hoof, and I bit his leg and cracked his knee. Our injuries seemed to heal quickly, otherwise the damage we did to each other would have been lethal. The Dance of Savagery lasted for hours.

Soon, when I have finished this confession, I will end my life. First, I will cut Pan’s mark off of my hand, and then I will cut both of my wrists. I killed three more women and released three more Maenads before I worked up the courage to do this. It is the only way. I lost the fight with Pan, and in doing so I lost my freedom. In the depths of the underworld, beneath the cracks of the world beneath the cracks, Pan tore open my chest and pulled out my heart. He ate it in one gulp, and I became no more than his puppet. When he commands, I have no will to resist, but when he gives no commands I can act on my own. He thinks me mindless, but I can think and understand.

I have given a lot of thought to the creature’s plans, and I wondered how Pan could travel from his world to mine. His body was still cursed by Zeus to remain. I had no answer, until I realized that the mark was spreading and growing larger. I am the vessel that he will use to transfer his essence, the vessel he planned to use from the start. Why else would a jealous creature such as he tolerate my actions with his Maenads? He wanted my body to be trained for when he inhabited it, and that doubled as a way to keep me loyal.

But Pan cannot inhabit a dead vessel, and to be sure I will also remove the mark. I cannot ask for absolution or forgiveness. I am a murderer and an acolyte of Pan. My death is not noble, and I should have done this long ago, when Pan first forced me to kill. Those who read this will call me a psychopath and a schizophrenic, and maybe it’s true. I’d like to think that none of this is real, that eve rything I saw and did was only a p roduct of some faulty neurotransmitters. Nothing would make me happier than for there to be no scheming, insane creature lurking beneath the cracks, but I don’t believe that’s the case. He lurks beneath the cracks, and if you ever fall between them, do not listen to his lies or his promises. Pan lurks beneath the cracks, and it is only a matter of time before he finds another like me, another child to bend to his will. But it is time, now, for me to be free.