The Three Trials of Eleni

This story was originally written for Irusu. Calligraphic scene breaks by www.josweb.co.uk. Thank you to Diana for the edits.

“Great Aunt Hecate, I could do with some company.” It was an off-hand remark made one day while weeding. Eleni had no idea how things would spiral from there.

Eleni first saw the black dog right beside the statue of Hecate. It was big, like a Great Dane, but it didn’t look like any breed she knew. A neighbour’s mutt, she decided. She didn’t approach. Her allergies were nothing to laugh at. She’d have loved a pet- at her advanced age- for company, but it just wasn’t possible.

The next day, she was nearly hit by a car and forgot all about the dog. She would have been hit, hard, if a cat hadn’t darted by her feet at the last second and distracted her from making that deadly last step.

The statue of Hecate had been on her family’s grounds for as long as any of them could remember. A woman with multiple faces at what was once a regularly trodden crossroad. It was beautiful, in its odd way. Each face looked out at the paths, one face with a sharp, spiky crown. Eleni considered that one Hecate’s ‘main’ face and was careful to clean the spikes each visit of whatever had gathered on them. Relocating the bird’s nest had been a feat. Time hadn’t been kind to Hecate’s arms, but at least one was still fully intact, holding a stone torch. There were flat spots between Hecate’s feet where Eleni’s family and travelers long ago would leave small offerings. Sometimes Eleni would leave a few flowers, just out of nostalgia.

But things had changed, and now the only people who walked past Hecate since the main road was built thirty years ago had been Eleni’s family when they had come to cut down the weeds. And with one thing and another, there was just Eleni now.

Eleni wasn’t a young woman. Her black curly hair had gone silver years ago. Her hands were less steady than they once were. She was an only child of only children who’d never married, there were no children or grandchildren, no nieces or nephews, no cousins to take care of the family lands now. She wasn’t sure what would happen once she was gone.

She enjoyed her trips to see Hecate. Goddess of witches. Children said Eleni looked like a witch now. She’d wink at them and threaten to boil them up in her cauldron, and the children would giggle and forget that they were supposed to be cruel. She wasn’t sure who had taught her to do that.

“I suppose you handle ghosts too, Aunt,” she told the statue as she weeded. Her father had told her when she was young that the statue was of her Great Aunt Hecate, a woman with many faces. Her mother had had to break the truth to her a few years later. “Well, there must be one in my home. Doors open, things move, and I hear footsteps in the night. It wouldn’t be so bad if it would stay to visit instead of just making a nuisance.”

The statue maintained its lengthy unbroken record of saying nothing.

“Well, if it drops by, tell it to be more social,” said Eleni. “I’m lonely.”

She decided to take one of the old paths home, for a change of pace. In the distance she could see the neighbour’s big black dog again. It was standing just far enough she couldn’t make out any clear details like a collar. It was watching her, she felt it. She considered calling it over for a petting, but decided against it.

The path was overgrown, with rocks that had been tilled up years ago when the area was farmed hither and yon. Eleni thought to herself that it could be a good project to do a bit of clearing. Make the place look nice again.

A white – wait, was it black? But no, it was white somehow while still being black – cat hopped in her path and meowed loudly at her.

“Well, hello,” said Eleni, leaning down to stroke it. Then she hesitated. Damn her allergies, the cat looked so pettable. It darted off just before her hand could make contact.

Eleni shook her head and took half a step forward.

The path collapsed under her foot, but she’d been moving so slowly she had time to jerk back to safety.

She sat on her bottom in the dirt as the sinkhole took out a good portion of the path, leaving jagged edges and a straight drop where she had been about to walk.

“Old woman,” said Eleni, “that’s two times.”

She leaned over to look at the hole. Just sticking up in the dirt she could make out bones. Human ones.

She sighed. She was going to have to phone the police, wasn’t she.

“Well, I got my wish for company,” she said to herself, as she filled up a jug of lemonade for the archaeological students taking a break in her garden. The hole had turned out to be an ancient tomb, and the university had begged her to let them excavate. She’d agreed, but had insisted on none of that Indiana Jones business. She didn’t want any shoot outs. There had been a long pause before they’d agreed.

Now her land was crawling with people, seeing what they could find to preserve for history. There was talk of buying it from her before she passed on. Or her leaving it to them.

The idea was tempting. It was a solution to her problems. And she quite liked the workers she’d met on the site; they’d even complimented Great Aunt Hecate, saying she was amazingly well-preserved for how old she must be. They were studying her, too, but Eleni had made it clear they didn’t have permission to move or touch her. No one touched Hecate.

She brought the lemonade out to the students to cries of joy and ‘Thanks, Kyria!’, and sat down to drink with them. Two of them, young women, had taken it upon themselves to teach her all about what they were discovering.

“And your own knowledge helps us, you know,” said the younger one, Dimitra.

Konstantina, the older, nodded. “Your family would have known all about this place, once,” she said.

“Hm. Well, I guess we’ve always been here,” said Eleni, sipping her drink. “How much time do you have? I have stories like you wouldn’t believe.”

“Soon, then! I will bring wine and you’ll tell us everything, hm?” said Dimitra. “Where’s your kitty today? When I was here yesterday we had a great time with a piece of grass.”

“I haven’t got a cat,” said Eleni. “I’m allergic.”

“Oh. I thought since he was in your house before he came out…” said Dimitra.

“There hasn’t been any cat in my house. I’d be sneezing and red-eyed for days if one had snuck in,” said Eleni.

Dimitra frowned, then shrugged. “Do you have time for one story before we get back to work?”

“I’d love to,” said Eleni. She held court until the students reluctantly had to disband to return to the dig. Eleni intended to hold them to their offer of wine. And get some lessons for herself about the dig.

The third time she saw the black dog was three days later when she was walking to see what the students were up to. Konstantina had heard bad news from home, so Eleni had baked baklava to give to the group. She’d had the good sense to bring hand wipes too.

On the crest of the hill was the black dog. It howled.

Eleni’s heart gave a start. Then it stopped.

She dropped the baklava and fell to her knees, doubling over in pain.

Everything went dark.

She woke up in the hospital, oxygen mask on. A cat sat on her stomach, improbably. She was sure that cats weren’t allowed in the hospital. But she could barely feel it, so it was all right, she supposed. And it couldn’t set off her allergies behind the oxygen mask.

It was the same not-white not-black cat as before. Eleni gave it a ‘Hello’ with her eyebrows. And a ‘Get!’ right after.

The cat looked her right in the eye, lifted a large fluffy paw, and began grooming itself.

Eleni had just a moment to realize she could see through the cat, before it vanished and a nurse came in to check on her. After that it was a flurry of check ups and visitors now that she was awake again. She had no time to spare to think of the cat, besides realizing ‘I’ve found my little ghost’.

The story of what had happened to put Eleni in the hospital was quite the thing. The students who visited her with flowers and treats told her they had been digging when they’d heard an almighty yowling. Naturally some had rushed off to see if a cat was being hurt. What they’d found instead was Eleni on the ground, in the middle of a nasty heart attack. They’d gotten her to the hospital just in time. Eleni was already on the road to recovery.

They hadn’t been able to find the cat.

Eleni went home three weeks later to find that the students had done an excellent job of keeping up her home and garden. They’d even cut away some of the larger bushes she hadn’t had the strength for.

Looking around her newly landscaped garden, Eleni decided it was time to have a bracing cup of water (coffee was no longer on the allowed list) and sit down to enjoy the students’ hard work. She went inside, feeling like she was dodging something with her feet as she went through the door, and fetched her drink. She glanced at the clock. An hour before the students would come back for a break. She’d been sternly told not to cook, just let them take care of things for now. And relax.

So she did. Sitting in the backyard at a table, legs propped on another chair and sipping her drink, she looked at how open and tidy everything was now. Then she noticed a stone in the corner of the garden, where the ancient bushes had been newly tamed. It looked like someone had drawn something on it.

She levered herself out of her chair and went to inspect.

The stone was clearly a marking stone. On it was a small, painted rendition of a fluffy black cat with a childish name.

She looked at the stone. It was old. Being protected from the elements by the bushes had been good to it, but she could tell it predated even her childhood. She wondered what the students could tell her about it.

The cat walked up to sit beside the stone and looked up at her with an enigmatic feline smile.

“Hello,” she said. She reached out to pet it and her hand made the barest contact, like the cat was made of mist. She stroked as best she could.

Two months later she went to sit by Hecate’s statue, finally able to make the walk again.

“You’re more of a dog person, I was told, but ghosts were also your friends,” said Eleni, sipping her water. “Was the dog yours, too?”

Hecate said nothing, but Eleni hadn’t really expected it to. But she did see the black dog who had foretold her three accidents off in the distance again.

This time instead of standing and watching as before, the dog came running up to her and demanded petting. It was enormous.

Eleni rubbed it between the ears. “And witches work in threes. You were wrong three times, so I suppose you’re mine now?”

The black dog barked.

“You know, I have allergies. I’m not supposed to have pets.” She inhaled and felt nothing. The black dog licked her hand.

“I’ll have students around for years yet, and now you two. That’s not so bad,” she said. “Come on, my girl, let’s go home.” She got up and left the statue, petting her new dog. Shortly after, a cat seemed to walk from nowhere to join them on the way home.

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