This story is by Sage Mandzik Kahn and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
I watch the sea of festival-goers and breath in their excitement, preparing myself for tonight’s gig. The music swells and I sing along quietly, warming my voice as I walk through the crowd. I nearly trip over a girl crouched on the grass. Laughing uncontrollably, she gathers loose feathers and jams them back into her headdress. Trying not to step on her fingers, I stumble backwards. Someone steadies me with large hands, breaking my fall. Turning, I find myself staring at the hairiest man I have ever seen. Legs covered in fur, a ropy beard partially covering his deeply tanned chest, dark hair tangled and crowned with two golden horns. His smell overwhelms me — rich and earthy. Feral. Animal magnetism radiates from him in waves. I stop singing and stare into his eyes, mesmerized.
Releasing me, he strokes a wet finger across my forehead, my cheeks. Something inside me blooms. He laughs quietly and it tickles my spine. Caught in his gaze, breathing in his heady scent, I feel whatever he smeared on my face begin to drip slowly down my brow.
“Hey Selene, we need you backstage,” Alice calls, appearing from the crowd, grabbing my hand and pulling me away.
“Did you see that guy?” I gasp, following Alice reluctantly. She peers back, puzzled, “What guy?”
“Just now, standing with me? Tall, with fur legs and horns? Hot in a kinda weird way? He dabbed this paint stuff on my face.” I wiped at the drips, my fingers stained indigo.
“There’s nothing on your face.” Alice says, rolling her eyes. “And you were alone. No satyr in sight. Are you high? You’re not supposed to show up high.”
“I’m not,” I protest, my eyes sliding back. But he’s gone.
Twenty minutes later I can still smell him. The satyr. His scent is lighter, but still pungent and pervasive. I rub at my face, but the dye, if thats what it is, stays put.
“Selene, snap out of it!” Alice growls, helping me wriggle into a sequined dress. “You just ruined your make-up.”
“I need some air,” I gasp, and stumble away. Alice calls after me, but I don’t care, I need to find him. I follow his smell; I can almost see it, a verdant haze trailing invisibly through the dancing crowd. Humming, I sway in time to the beat, losing myself in the music and his scent. I spot a frenzied group of dancers throwing each other through the air in front of me and stumble forward, somehow sure that I’ll find him there, in that crush of bodies, where the wildness is thickest.
I’m drawn toward him, as if a cord is wrapped around my middle, drawing me towards him, deep into the crowd. I begin to sing softly and the hold his scent has on me suddenly loosens. What am I doing here? I should be backstage getting ready, I think, looking for a way out of the crowd. The song slows, the dancers part in front of me, and suddenly he’s there, gaze locked on mine, one hand pressing a golden pan flute to his lips.
All thoughts of fleeing slide away. I walk forward, tilting my head back to keep our eyes locked. I can hear the melody coming from his flute now, a soft trilling that resonates in my very blood.
I’ve been waiting for you, his eyes say.
Who are you? I silently reply.
I whisper, “What do you want from me, Pan?” His lips quirk and he shifts to the young man to my left, wearing camouflage shorts and a heavily embroidered vest. He’s swaying slowly, oblivious to the demigod standing beside him, but when Pan’s song reaches his ears he throws his tattooed arms in the air, dancing with abandon. Pan turns in a slow circle, his notes flowing from one dancer to the next, each falling prey to his charm. He takes my hand, weaving through the oblivious crowd, his followers streaming behind us. With every step another person is caught by Pan’s melody, until it seems the entire audience will soon fall away from the stage.
Behind me I hear the music end and a faint announcement that the next band, Cephalus, is delayed. Cephalus. The name pulls at me. In a moment of clarity I realize that I am the lead singer in Cephalus; I should be on stage right now. I look up at Pan, noting for the first time his wickedness, his smell no longer enticing, but fetid. My nostrils burn. I try to slip my hand from his but he pulls me close, pressing his thumb to my head. He’s trying to anoint me again, to push me deeper under his spell. I pull away, grabbing the flute from him. Around us the crowd stumbles, breaking free from his control. Pan growls and, pinning me against him with one arm, he takes back his flute and blows; magic flowing with every note.
I struggle, but he’s holding me tight. So I do the only thing I can; I sing. My voice follows his at first, accompanying the flute, following his bewitched melody as it reaches out to cajole and memorize. But now I have his cadence. I weave my voice through his song, inside it. And I sing for all I am worth. My notes wrap around the cord that connects us. I lift my voice and it snaps, crumbles to dust, breaking his rhythm from within. He falters and I twist one arm free, reaching for his brow. My thumb rubs across his gnarled skin, leaving a trail of silver behind. He snarls as if burnt, flinching away.
Well sung, he says, and he’s gone. I’m standing alone, in the center of the crowd, singing at the top of my lungs. With a small pang of regret I turn, and still singing, lead my audience back to the stage.