Catabasis and Nepenthe
by Mark Brand
forum: Catabasis and Nepenthe
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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Catabasis and Nepenthe


        There is a story the witch-women tell of the gods before the gods. No noble Circe with her hearthbroom and basket existed then, and no San Miguel and his flaming sword. Before the gentler pantheonic gods brought order to the world there was only one god, who spun the universe from a web in the image of a spider. His great all-seeing eyes were pleased with his creation, but a cosmos full of spinning, inert worlds became boring with time.

        The great old god, who had no name for the tongues of men, was himself an ugliness beyond compare. Great black arms stretched and enfolded the universe from end to end, and he jealously guarded the beautiful creation he had spun. He slept in a halo of spinning galaxies and dreamed secret dreams of objects more beautiful than the stars, more graceful than the slow dance of orbiting worlds. He dreamed of creatures that would shine before him in their beauty, and make of his universe a frame for his masterwork. When he dreamed of these creatures, he saw bodies that flowed the way wind sculpted mountains and valleys. In his deepest dreams, they were as soft and smooth as silk, but just as strong, and from them radiated heat like his bright suns. He slept fitfully for an eon, contemplating their manufacture. Finally, when he could stand the dreams no further, he set to spinning.

        They will come, he thought, and they will love me.

        The great old god gathered the whole of his strength, and set to creating his dreams. It was painstaking work. Each curve, each line, perfect in execution. They would be his children, and he their father.

        When he was finished, he beheld his greatest and most beautiful creations. They stood before him shining in their naked perfection and he named them at once. The one was called Catabasis, whose beauty was darkness and light, earth and stillness. In her eyes sat the strength of stone and a smoldering, possessive desire that all other creatures gave way before.

        Her sister was named Nepenthe. Nepenthe was equally beautiful, but reminiscent instead of the golden glory of the stars and fields of living wheat. Hers was the beauty of the ocean and the horizon, and a great tempestuous heart did she have. Her unpredictable will ever fascinated the spider god, and livened his existence.

        They stood before him together and he revealed himself to them and called them "daughters." Catabasis and Nepenthe knew their creator at once, and looked upon his great celestial face. They fell to their knees beside one another and exclaimed their admiration for him. The old spider god had never known praise from his stone and fire creations, and to hear them sing admiration from their sweet voices was a balm that he found himself easily able to become drunk on.

        The three of them lived an age like this, and in happiness and balance did the universe revolve. The great god needed to spin no more. He spent his time adoring his daughters, and enjoying their exploration of the worlds he had created for them. They ran through the fields of wheat he had grown for them, and kissed the sunlight that warmed their bodies. He brought for them every manner of lovely thing into their world. They had fire to warm themselves, and the fruit of every living thing to consume as they wished.

        The great god would visit them as they slept sometimes and bring to their bodies godly pleasure. Beneath their perfect skins lay a webwork of intricate nerve endings that made them highly tactile. He knew when he created them that he was himself a hideous and ugly thing to put before their eyes, so he had created in their bodies a secret special place where the nerves and sensations were most intense. This secret place he could use to pleasure them even without appearing before their eyes. He could come to them as a dream of light or water, and they would know rapture from this place.

        All was well for time out of telling, but their happiness was not to endure. A day came when the spider god went to look upon his daughters and found them hidden under an enormous tree in the greatest of his fields. Shadowed from the sunlight by its branches, he heard a sound which only he previously had been able to produce: it was the sweet passion-song of Nepenthe's voice. He looked closer and saw that Catabasis had found her secret place and they were loving each other.

        The great god appeared before them and asked what they were doing. In a voice that spoke the language of the before-angels, Nepenthe answered.

        "I have noticed that my sister is beautiful, father."

        "And I," said, Catabasis, "and we have found that there is a part of us which wants a special kind of passion. Who better to love me than my sister? You have told us that we are your special creations, greater than all others."

        "It is for me to love you," the spider god told them, "and for you to love me."

        "We do love you, great father," said Nepenthe, "but my sister is beautiful and you are ugly. If you only love that which is beautiful, then why should I love something ugly?"

        At this, the spider god felt the same sort of jealousy he had felt when he crouched protectively around the newly-created universe.

        "You must love me," he told them, but they only went back to loving and pleasuring each other. Their laughter and sweet love-song became like acid to his ears, and what he had once loved about them turned to hate. This was no gentle god of hearth or sword, remember, but an old god, who was given to wanton bouts of passion, jealousy, and viciousness.

        It was with the cold feeling of betrayal and loneliness in his heart that he went to the far end of the earth and created his third child. Into this creature he spun his lust, jealousy, and pride. Where Catabasis and Nepenthe had been given incredible beauty and the ability to enjoy the world, this third child was given monstrous strength, cunning, and the spider god's own secret strength. The third child was given the hunger for power.

        The third child was a son, and his name was Man. The spider god gave to Man the secrets of pleasuring Catabasis and Nepenthe, and Man used it to subjugate them. Man took away from them the comforts that the spider god had given, and twisted their passion for each other into craven lust akin to his own. Their love became polluted by jealousy and frustration. Man fostered all of this and turned their sisterly love into hate. Soon they could not even approach each other without the tempest and the smoldering flame igniting and flaying each other's beautiful bodies. Their indignant, cloying fury was called weather, and ever it raged across the beauty that the spider god wrought. Between them, Man stood smirking in victory, knowing that it was he who was the wrathful god's favorite, created in His image to know ugliness and seek to possess the beauty of his daughters through conquest and subjugation.

        The witch-women today say that Catabasis and Nepenthe could scarcely stand the sight of each other after a while, and they each retreated to the opposite edge of the world, as far away as they could get, lest the sheer force of their desire for one another tear the earth asunder. At one pole, pulling all things toward her, was dark and lovely Catabasis, and at the other her equally beautiful stormy sister Nepenthe, and between lay a world fit only for Man, who would squabble and fight endlessly for the faint echo of the diminished beauty once spun in such glory by the first of the old gods.


copyright 2006 Mark Brand.

Mark Brand is a massage therapist and medical assistant who lives in the northern suburbs of Chicago with his wife/editor Beth. He has been writing sci-fi and speculative sociological fiction for approximately thirteen years and was a co-founder of the literary website His stories have been featured on and in the science fiction anthology Alien Light. He has also published a number of pieces of non-science fiction including a young adult fantasy novel entitled The Prince and The Pitchman (POD published in 2002 through Booksurge), an essay in the 9/11 retrospective To Wound The Autumnal City, and an e-book by the now-defunct Flagstone Publishing entitled "Bunnygirl". His current projects include a portion of the collaborative effort Night.Blind entitled "Human Resources", as well as finishing his second young adult fantasy novel, the upcoming The Journey of the Tallish Ten.