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Anthesteria, when the divine and the dead walk hand in hand.

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The colour red has many distinguishing connotations; the one colour has an array of shades that can invoke a spectrum of emotions, each one differing wildly from the next. Historically the colour red symbolised courage and superiority, soldiers often wearing crimson tunics whilst generals wore scarlet cloaks, their bodies painted completely red during ceremonial triumphs. However the colour red is traditionally infamous for staining the history books with a far more scandalous symbolism; throughout millennia this seemingly illustrious colour had fallen further and further into a steep spiral of scandal and sexual provenance.

It was from this downward descent that the sexuality of the colour red was born. Red by a large margin was the colour most commonly associated with seduction, eroticism and immorality; the industry of prostitution becoming the predominant industry to claim the colour for its own personal banner. The red light districts of cities became infamous for their windowed beauties, they enticing those who walk past with a single glance or gesture. People from all walks of life would often find themselves amidst the body of a stranger, limbs entangled like intricate knot work whilst their minds were bewitched by lustful demons that were usually suppressed.

But there were those who would listen to those demons as opposed to snuffing them out before a seed of desire could grow. It was a case of roots before branches. Before a person could act on such impulses the idea of indulgence had to burrow beneath years of restraint and social conditioning to take root. Icarus was only a boy when his outlook on life changed drastically. It was the moment he felt the dark ruby liquid splash upon his sun kissed skin, his olive eyes wide in a mixture of shock and foreign arousal as the scene continued to unfold before him. His father had held the blood dipped blade expertly in his grip, whilst the dying deer gasped its final breathes, its suffocating gurgles the only sound in the suddenly stagnant wood.

Icarus had watched the light that once inhabited the deer’s eyes fade until they resembled hollow sockets. To his father it had been a routine task, years of practicing the trade that had been passed down from his forefathers; but to Icarus it was the beginning of the rest of his life. From that moment on the incarnadine colour consumed him; he welcomed it into his dreams with his entirety. Like his namesake all too soon his reveries did not satisfy his needs, like his ancient counterpart, Icarus longed for more than he possessed. He yearned to feel the tepid liquid upon his skin whilst its vessel grew as cold as the hard ground that it would infinitely reside.

As the years flittered by like newly fallen petals caught in a playful breeze, Icarus’ rubicund dreams became more violent, his desire more insatiable than ever. However, amid the bloodshed and carnal scenes that filled the cavern of his mind he found that throughout the chaos and consumption, one singular face remained. It was the face of a woman who continuously snaked her way into his thoughts; regardless of the macabre scenes that unfolded around her she remained immaculate, her chalky pallor unmarred. Icarus never saw her face whole, it was always fractured; glimmers of ivory skin here and wisps of honey coloured hair there. She was probably like the many others who had involuntarily bequeathed their fate to him, but it did not matter; it was only a matter of time before their paths would cross and her journey would come to an abrupt end by his doing.

Whilst the moon was in full bloom, spring was still in its early stages, the hard ground softening as winter’s hold on the land weakened and the colours of the earth sprang forth once more. However Anthesteria, the festival of Dionysus, was in full swing, the previous year’s wine filling the many cups of the villagers who paid homage to God of wine as they drank frivolously, their usually restrained demeanour nowhere to be seen. On Pithoigia, the first day of the festival, rosy cheeked crowds carry the wine God’s statue to his temple, anointing it and the surrounding area with the seemingly holy liquid whilst gorging themselves on the remainder. The Gates of Hades were said to open at this time of year, the Queen of the Underworld herself, Persephone, rising from the doom and gloom of the shadowy kingdom to reconcile with her mother Demeter after yet another arduous winter.

Choës was the second day of the festival, the borders that once kept the living and the dead divided no longer stood, their gateways momentarily ajar for the deceased that wished to temporarily venture back home. During Anthesteria and Anthesteria alone were the dead permitted to return to the land of the living and it was during this time that their deaths were celebrated and their previous lives rejoiced. But not all of the dead met their ends peacefully, some encountered atrocities that should never befall an individual. So given the opportunity, some would leap at the chance to inflict the same pain and turmoil that had been exacted upon them. The villagers knew this, and despite the gayness that enveloped the town during this temporary euphoria, pitch of the buckhorn shrub was slathered on doorways, prohibiting the deceased from entering. However it did not ensure that the living would refrain from leaving.

Whilst the drunken ruckus continued to escalate outside Icarus stared from within the safety of his pitch strewn walls; he was no fool, he knew vengeful spirits who perished by his hands lingered out there, waiting for him to step over the threshold. It was Khutroi, the last day of Anthesteria, those faithful to Dionysus donned masks as they paraded around the streets oozing sexuality whilst they indulged in more wine and celebrated the sacred union of Dionysus and Ariadne, the God’s virgin wife to be. Icarus’ olive orbs flickered from one masked face to another, each veneer signifying the animals most treasured by the wine deity.

Standing safely behind the pitch marked door Icarus found that regardless of the many intricately designed masks that inhabited sea of people, it was the claret coloured liquid that occupied his thoughts. Again crimson clouded his mind, begging him to go forth and paint the streets until his appetite was contented. He could feel the fibres of his muscles tense and quiver with eagerness at the very thought of it; something foreign made his heart beat at extraordinary paces like it had done so many times before. He swallowed with excitement, his mouth suddenly parched; he swept his tongue over his lips to relieve the dryness, a futile action as, as quickly as the moisture came it left his skin once more.

Closing his eyes Icarus inhaled deeply, allowing his lungs to expand to their full capacity as they took in the scents that filled the air; it was a mixture of burning wood from the fire pits that were scattered along the roads and the sweat of those who danced passionately and engaged in sensual acts. He exhaled, the breath passing his lips and stealing the non-existent moistness that resided there. When he opened his eyes he thought he was dreaming just like so many times before; glimmers of virginal ivory skin and wisps of hair that glittered like ambrosial nectar. However this time the enigma of his dreams stood before him whole and not in distorted fragments like that of a broken mirror.

She stood out from the crowd like Eos herself immersing from the horizon, she had a glow about her that was almost blinding that at one point Icarus had to restrain himself from shielding his eyes. With his mouth ajar in disbelief Icarus watched the young woman dance frivolously amongst the crowd, the ribbons tied to the rim of her drum billowing playfully in the wind as she continued to sway to and fro to the buoyant rhythm. He continued to watch silently, almost hesitant to blink in case she disappeared as quickly as she appeared. For the time being his excitement had plateaued, he needed proof that this was no dream or cruel trick. He needed to feel her skin beneath his own as it bruised beneath his touch, the quiet rasps of her breath against his face as she struggled for air.

It was during these personal moments Icarus realised the young woman had ventured down the dirt road towards outskirts of the village, the crowd’s numbers dropping dramatically as she went. Icarus felt the fire in his stomach that had previously reduced to embers reignited as if Prometheus himself had handed him a torch. Tucking his late father’s faithful hunting blade into his belt Icarus took flight, giving no regard to the vengeful spirits that lingered in the vicinity. Once again his instincts took over like they had done many, many times before; he spurted off after her, leaving clouds of dust in his wake. Initially he struggled to cut through the drunken crowds, the occasional individual tugging at his arm to join their intoxicated endeavours.

But Icarus ensured that he did not lose sight of his target, regardless of how many times he ducked and dodged his eyes remained locked on the honey haired woman, his excitement hitting a crescendo when he reached the woodland road. A melodic laugh rang through the air, nearby birds fluttering from their perches as he ventured along the pebble dashed trail. It was almost dusk, flashes of fluorescent oranges and violet visible from the canopy roof as clusters of leaves rustled to reveal the flaming sky. By now his palms were clammy, his throat even drier than previous occasions; he was going to savour each individual moment whilst she prayed that death would claim her swiftly.

Stealthily he ventured on until the path brought him to a clearing in the forest, various flowers decorating the scene in sporadic bursts of colour. Vivid red anemones rekindled his bloodlust, their scarlet petals sending his thoughts reeling as his eyes expertly scanned the area. It did not take long for Icarus’ olive orbs to find stunning grey ones, they staring back at him with an expression that baffled him. The young woman stood before him, languidly leaning against a nearby tree, its trunk distorted and ragged from years of solidifying its place in nature. Neither of the pair spoke, his intentions were clear whilst she still remained as enigmatic as she had done in his dreams.

For the first time Icarus was able to drink in her appearance fully, he not having to piece together clues in dribs and drabs like he had done previously for so many years. Like the surrounding flora, the young woman’s hair swayed gently in the breeze, the honey glazed waves rippling past her breasts and accentuating the low neckline of her toga. Despite the cambers of her body that were visible beneath the pale jade fabric, Icarus was drawn to her face; her skin was unmarred like that of a marble statue, her rounded lips possessing a rosy hue that brought him back to his task. His eyes lingered on the skin of her neck, it exposed for him to caress and contort between his bare hands.

He approached her slowly, like his father had approached the deer all them years ago; the woman did not move from her place against the tree, she merely toyed with a lone lavender stem, the blooming flower traipsing across her collar bones, enticing him further. Within moments he was pressed against her, his body pinning hers against the tree; in one hand he held the now unsheathed blade whilst the other resided beside her head. The young woman stared up at him defiantly and Icarus smiled. If she were to resist and fight it would make the experience more enjoyable, the struggle for power had always enthralled him. Yet she did not struggle. The young woman made no attempt to fight or resist him, even as his free hand snaked from beside her head to the soft skin of her throat and squeezed ever so slightly.

Instead she remained silent, gazing up at him from under rows of lashes as if goading him to continue; Icarus leaned in and inhaled her scent. No particular fragrance graced his nostrils, instead waves of sentiments bombarded his sense; feelings of fear and grief that he did not understand. It was in this moment of confusion that a searing pain suddenly assaulted his chest as the woman dragged her nails down his ribcage, it feeling like she had rang her fingers over each one of his ribs individually. Darting backwards Icarus cried out in pain, it so loud the forest abruptly erupted into a frenzy of panic as nearby animals reacted to the shrill sound. The small dagger that once resided in his hand had fallen onto the ground, nearby blades of grass splattered with droplets his own blood.

Grasping at the wound Icarus stared incredulously at the woman before him, her eyes filled with a deadly intent that he recognised all too well. Gracefully she brought her hand to her mouth, her taloned digits dripping with his favourite thing – blood. Slowly she brought each one of her fingers to her lips, her tongue sweeping up the tearaway liquid in swift singular motions. Icarus shook with a mixture of shock and anger, this was not supposed to happen; it was her that was meant to bleed, her that was meant to be writhing in pain. Yet instead it was he that was lying on the hard, cold ground whilst the precious crimson fluid continued to leave his wound.

Her grey eyes reflected the dark smile that resided on her lips, but her eyes did not remain on him for too long, instead they strayed past him, remaining there. Icarus growled in anger, twisting his head to see just what had stolen her attention. However what he saw took his breath away. Circled around him was a myriad of women, their appearances torn and bloodied from horrific encounters that had obviously led to their demise. Icarus recognised them instantly, his heart sinking dully. Each one of the women, obviously beautiful and fair before their untimely end, stood around him with expressions of malicious intent. In the distance the young woman could hear crowds of people chant in unison, the music and festivities that once filled the air having been replaced with a singular phrase.

“Be gone Keres! It is no longer Anthesteria!”

The young death deity’s lips twisted into a sardonic smile at finally hearing her name, residual droplets of scarlet clinging to her snowy skin as she sauntered off further into the woods whilst blood curdling screams of agony rang through the air, deafening out the sacred chants. The need to eternally bathe in the sweet incarnadine liquid that had filled Icarus’ dreams for so long finally came true.

He just never dreamed it would be his own.

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