The Sibyl by John Mueter

The Sibyl

John Mueter

Dr. Orion Westover, Ph.D., head of the Classics Department at Springfield University, eminent scholar, published author and gifted linguist, despite his middle-aged stodginess, was a man who loved adventure. Nothing pleased him more than to leave his cluttered office behind, hop on a plane, and get out “into the field” for the summer. He loved to poke about in the dusty stones of some ancient Greek or Roman ruins in order to decipher barely legible markings. Under the hot sun, the subject matter he studied so laboriously at his desk came to life and spoke to him.

Orion led a well-ordered life and saw himself as a rational and sensible man. Yet, in his deepest slumbers, when he had surrendered his normally obedient intellect to the alien regions of the dark, he frequently experienced the most remarkable dreams. They were vivid, disturbing, intoxicating, and they defied any kind of explanation or credence. His nocturnal visitors seemed to emerge from a realm nearly vanished in the haze of time. Warriors in glistening breastplates, frightening hags with bony hands, and laughing satyrs cavorting in olive groves inhabited these dreams. He suspected that even Athena and Apollo might have appeared to him. These exalted deities revealed wondrous things, revelations that he desperately tried to remember when he awoke—but they always dissipated like smoke from a chimney on a windy day. He didn’t share these experiences with anyone, not even his adoring wife. His colleagues would have suspected that he had gone off the rails completely.

But one day, unexpectedly as the best things are, he made a discovery that changed everything and put a new slant on the phenomenon of his nocturnal visions. In the Topeka Public Library, of all places, he came across an extraordinary book.

Stopping in Topeka had been a completely spontaneous decision. He was driving on the interstate, on his way west to a conference of Ancient Greek scholars in Colorado, when he decided to exit. He cruised through the downtown area in the hope to finding a suitable place to have lunch. Finding eateries that offered good quality food was always a challenge on these long road trips. He decided on a small café, where he consumed a passable tuna salad on rye. On his way out the door, he espied the public library just across the street, a handsome neoclassical edifice. It beckoned to him. It was his habit to check out the classics offerings of provincial collections. University bibliotheca were the most interesting, of course, but even municipal libraries could offer some pleasant surprises.

He browsed the small collection of books on classical subjects and was pleasantly surprised to find a few of the Loeb editions that offered original Greek or Latin texts with the translation on the opposing page. Not every library had those. He was ready to leave and head back to his car when, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a volume on its side, behind the other books on that particular shelf. He carefully extricated the book from its hiding place. To his surprise, it was in German and by a scholar he had never come across before. The title was Die Geheimnisse des sibyllinischen Mysteriums, which translates as Secrets of the Sibylline Mysteries, by Eusebius Blankenschmidt. It had been published in Berlin in 1904. He was mightily intrigued as the subject of the Sibylline Oracles was a subject dear to his heart. The book didn’t have a Topeka Library identifier in it. As there was no way he could check the book out—he didn’t even live in Kansas—he did something he had never done before: he surreptitiously “borrowed” the book, concealing it under his tweed jacket while he headed for the exit. No alarms went off. If no one had even cracked the book open in over a century, who was going to miss it? He planned to send it back when he was done with it.

As he was quite fluent in German (not to mention Homeric Greek, Modern Greek, Latin, French, and Portuguese), he set to work translating his newly found treasure. It was a curious work, speaking with assured authority on subjects where most scholars tiptoed lightly. In chapter seven, entitled The Enduring Presence of the Oracle, he encountered a startling assertion: The Sibyl was still on this earth and accessible—if one knew how to find her. His heart was racing, his mouth dry like cotton balls as he read further. According to Blankenschmidt, the Sibyl, mouthpiece of the gods, still held court in Greece. And then the author gave the precise directions to the Oracle’s whereabouts as well as the incantations needed to access her holy precinct. It was too preposterous! If he hadn’t been reading this in a scholarly work, Orion would have dismissed it as some kind of hoax. Yet, the book was too old to be mere New Age claptrap, and its scholarly tone seemed authentic. He read on, enthralled. The prospect of meeting a living Sibyl filled him with an indescribable euphoria. He had to check it out.

Dr. Orion Westover had been to Greece dozens of times over the years. Although he wasn’t planning on the trip just then, he decided to fly over as soon as the semester ended. After landing in Athens, and despite the fact that he was suffering from the effects of jet lag, he undertook the long and uncomfortable bus ride north to Delphi where he hoped to induce himself into a sibylline mood. He had visited the famous site many times before and knew it well. On his way up the hill to the site of what used to be the Oracle, he was, as on previous visits, saddened by the crass commercialism that blighted the place. There were trinket stalls and shops that sold tacky T-shirts. And then there were the hordes of people who traipsed up and down the hill. Where did they all come from? What did they want? Of course, the Sibyl didn’t reside in Dephi any more as the place was overrun with tourists. Her current abode, according to Blankenschmidt, was on the Aegean island of Samos, just off the coast of Asia Minor.

The following day, Orion sailed on the overnight ferry to Vathy, the main town on Samos. Upon disembarkation, he boarded a local bus that took him to the opposite end of the island. Beyond the last stop, the town of Karlovassi, there was forested, uninhabited mountainous terrain, a part of the island where even the locals rarely ventured. They believed that it was inhabited by ancient spirits.

Once a year, at the onset of spring, it was the custom of the old women of Karlovassi to process into the hills, carrying with them an idol festooned like the Virgin Mary. No one could say when this ritual had originated, it was so ancient. They reverently removed this relic from its shrine, located in one of the villages at the foot of the mountain, and ceremoniously carried it up the forest path, chanting all the way. A priest did not participate in this. The object of their veneration was, in fact, an ancient statue of the Goddess Demeter, dating from the third century BCE.

Orion took a room in Karlovassi’s only hotel and rested up for the adventure that awaited him the next day. He could barely sleep for excitement. He got up early, checked his gear one last time, and set off. He had to hike uphill quite a few miles, but the walk was exhilarating. As he was an avid hiker, he was in good physical shape for the climb. He didn’t encounter a single soul. The Aegean sun filtered through the lightly spaced pines, endowing the forest with an aura of timeless enchantment. Orion remembered that Pythagoras was born and had lived on the island of Samos, some 2,500 years ago. Perhaps, he mused, the ancient philosopher and mathematician had walked on this very path. It was an awe-inspiring thought.

He had Blankenschmidt’s book with him, just to be on the safe side, and had drawn himself a map according to the author’s instructions. But after reaching the summit of the mountain and wandering about for a good hour, he realized that he was completely lost. He didn’t know which way to turn. Then he saw it: the cleft in the rocks that Blankenschmidt described as the entry way to the Samian Oracle. It had been hidden behind a growth of trees. The space was really too small for an adult to slip into. The instructions demanded that one recite the correct incantations, close one’s eyes, surrender to Apollo, and walk into the cleft. Despite the fact that it was too much like Harry Potter on platform nine and three-quarters at King’s Cross Station, Orion summoned all the faith he could muster and—by Phoebus Apollo, son of Zeus!—it worked. He was in!

The passageway through the rock was still very narrow as well as unpleasantly dark and damp, but he forged on. After several minutes, he saw a bit of light ahead. He arrived at an open space in front of a cave. The place seemed to be deserted. He was amazed that he had managed to come this far, but now that he had reached the precinct of the Sibyl, he wasn’t quite sure what to do next. He waited a few moments, then cleared his throat and began the lengthy salutation he had practiced, in Homeric Greek:

“O mighty Oracle, omniscient Sibyl, servant of Apollo, in your wisdom and mercy, hear my humble supplication for your attention…”

He continued on in this vein for a while. It seemed to do the trick as smoke began emanating from the cave itself. He could barely make out the figure of a woman, a very old one, shrouded in black, sitting on a tripod stool.

“Enough, you blithering fool!” came a penetrating screech from the cave. “Don’t you think I know who you are and what you want?” Orion was stunned to hear this delivered in English, with the trace of a New Jersey accent. “I am the Oracle, the Seer, the Prophetess, am I not? And yes, I speak English, or any other lingo you care to use.”

He switched to English himself. “Oh Revered Sibyl, hear my supplication.”

“All right, already. You got my attention. Business first: where’s your offering?”

Orion fished the jar of Samian honey he had purchased in Vathy out of his backpack and placed it on a low rock just in front of him.

“Good stuff, that. Now, what can I do for you?”

“Divine Sibyl, how is it that you are still functioning as the ancient oracle?” Orion’s curiosity as to her continued existence superseded any questions he had about the future.

“As you well know, I am not divine. When Apollo granted my sisters and me a boon, we requested eternal life, but we neglected to ask for eternal youth to go with it. What a ferkakte deal that was! So we live on, just getting older.” She stopped for a moment to cough vigorously. “This damn incense, just not used to it so much anymore. Believe me, you don’t want to see me too clearly anyway. Helen of Troy I definitely ain’t, ha-ha-ha!” She laughed heartily at her own joke. Orion was pleased to hear that she had a sense of humor.

“Anyway, there were ten of us. My sisters slumber on, but they will never die. I’m the only one still in business. Maybe the others are on a cruise of the Greek Islands, ha-ha-ha!”

The Sibyl’s guffaws soon turned into a convulsion of hacking. When she had recovered she continued. “The Pythia in Delphi closed up shop a long time ago. It’s terrible the way the place is overrun. You’ve seen it for yourself; so little reverence for the Mysteries.” She shook her head and clicked her tongue. “This place is very difficult to find. Only the most dedicated, such as yourself, can succeed in locating me. And that is the way it should be. I have had a few visitors over the years. The last one was that German—what was his name?—Krankenblimp or something.

“It was Eusebius Blankenschmidt.”

“That’s right! My memory isn’t what it used to be. See how you do when you’re three thousand years old!

“But Blankenschmidt was here over a century ago!”

“A mere blink of the eye, as they say. He was very clever and was able to find me after much trial and error. He asked me if he could publish the secret of my location. I said sure, fine, no one will bother to come anyway. You see that I was right. Your finding that book, by the way, was no accident. The gods still work in the lives of those who pay attention to them.”

Orion was really enjoying the conversation. It was not at all what he had imagined his meeting with the Sibyl would be like. He posed his next question: “What was it that really terminated the activity of the oracles?”

“Just don’t get me started! That patriarchal, monotheistic fiddle-faddle of a religion–such a downer, so lacking in imagination, so heavy-handed, so boooooring! Where’s the mystery? Where’s the fun? Ugh!”

There was a long pause. Orion thought he should move on to another subject. He asked the first thing that popped into his head. “What does the future of humanity look like?”

“Future? You think you have a future? Ha! Look what you have done to the planet—you’ve ruined the place! In your endless greed and stupidity, you have raped Mother Earth. You just don’t learn. In my day, humanity wasn’t so smart either—they deforested nearly all of these beautiful islands. Men did that because they wanted the wood for their ships and they never thought of the consequences. That’s the whole problem—you don’t think things through! You just act, stupidly and blindly. There will be much turmoil in the future. Just don’t ask me to give the specifics, because I won’t. It wouldn’t make a bit of difference anyway, even if I did. But just remember this, O mortal: no outside force is doing it to you—you have brought it on yourselves through your own actions. Humanity will survive. The mysteries will be restored. Men will again learn to revere Gaia, the Mother of the World.” There was more coughing and sputtering, then a long silence. The Sibyl continued, “You must go now. I am getting tired.”

Orion had many more questions, but it was clear that the audience with the Sibyl was over. He bowed deeply. “Thank you, Revered One, for receiving me.”

As he turned to go, he heard one last bit of advice from the crone. “And you’d better get that incantation right or you’ll be stuck here with me forever, ha-ha-ha!” The sound of her cackling echoed from the inside of the cave and receded to nothing.

Orion faced the far too-narrow cleft again and succeeded in passing through. He descended from the summit of the mountain as if he were walking on air. Who would believe that he had just had an interview with the living Sibyl of Samos? A few days later, he boarded his return flight to the States. There was nothing else in Greece that could top what he had just experienced.

Dr. Westover was inspired by his encounter on Samos and went on to write a book entitled The Oracle Speaks. Although he didn’t directly describe his experience with the Sibyl, or the nature of his dreams, the passion and conviction with which he expressed himself raised eyebrows in academic circles. While he hinted that the Sibyl might still be a living presence, he didn’t divulge too many details. The old crone should only be discovered by the truly perseverant, he reasoned. The introduction to his book included a hearty extension of thanks to Eusebius Blankenschmidt. His academic colleagues in the field of classical studies scratched their heads over the mention of that name.

The Public Library of Topeka received a curious package sometime later. It was a book, in German, along with a note from a Dr. Orion Westover of Springfield University, asking their pardon for making an unauthorized withdrawal of the material. The librarians were rather perplexed as the title of the book was not listed in their catalog, and they had never seen it before. It was added to the pile of unwanted books put aside for the next library sale. They were sure no one would ever buy it.

I suddenly awake from my dream, sitting up in my bed, the image of Atalanta still strong in my memory. My breath is deep with a feeling of helplessness gripping my soul.

My muscles began to twitch and, for no reason at all, I find myself grabbing a T-shirt and shorts and pulling on a pair of white, scruffy trainers. I shoot out into the street, no pause. No small talk with passing neighbors, out into the street, no turning back.

At that moment, as the cold winter Barcelona twilight fogs my eyes, it hits me. I suddenly knew something about myself, something I had been waiting a long time to realize. After months of slogging it out, I had I finally become a kilometer fiend, an urban runner. Craving my next street fix.

From my apartment, it’s a slight incline up towards Avinguda Meridiana, the main artery valve that pumps traffic in and out of Barcelona. My leg muscles tense up, readying themselves for the onslaught. With every stride, the district comes to life, bread shops taking hot, delicious deliveries. A lone street cleaning truck sits, noisily ticking over as yellow clad hose workers hunch over, spraying the previous night from the pavement.

Even at this early hour of the morning, cars barrel down the road, chasing green lights, angry horns fading in and out of the morning breeze. Steadily heading down the avenue, the water tower, Torre Akbar, looms out of the distance, its blue and red lights fading to gray in the morning haze.

My breath is deep and cold; I know I’ve got at least ten kilometers in me. It’s a beautiful feeling, like finding out that, after months of hearing snippets of neighborly conversations, I can suddenly speak perfect Catalan.

This is where my journey starts to get interesting. I’m well into my second kilometer and going strong. Avinguda Meridiana suddenly develops a central sanded Rambla section where dog walkers stroll about, bracing themselves against the morning wind.

“Que Valiente!” says an elderly dog walker as I thunder past. His French bulldog bolts after me, until it suddenly reaches the end of its leash and rebounds back, snarling indignantly.

Once the central Rambla area comes to an end, the street, Consell de Cent, plugs in from the right hand side.

From here, I cross on a red light. An Arabic meat van steams past me, only inches from my face, giving me glimpses of lamb carcasses swaying back and forth like Halal pendulums.

The van comes to a halt next to a market butchers shop. Two stocky Middle Eastern men dismount, singing verses of an age-old song to each other, pitching back and forward the warbling ancient tones of their ancestors, oblivious to my presence as I shuttle past them. A morning flea market suddenly opens up to my left. Shadowy creatures in high-visibility jackets move amongst bric-à-brac stalls, seeking undiscovered treasures with magnifying glasses and flashlights, and a fleet of white utility vans off-load furniture salvaged from the street at the entrance to the market. Each van spray-painted with a thousand tags and a galaxy of bizarre multicolored spray-painted effigies. They jostle for space like oversized bumper cars. A tired looking Policeman plays referee, trying to hurry them on with sharp words to little effect, while a crowd of Gypsy breakfasters’ cheer them on from the sidelines with chants fueled by coffee and brandy. The atmosphere is carnival like, infused with disorder and confusion.

On the next intersection, a block of disused warehouses reverberate baselines from an undisclosed illegal party still rolling into the early hours of the morning. The street Consell de Cent suddenly runs into the Diagonal, the boulevard that cuts Barcelona in two. It opens the city up and allows modernist architecture to course through its veins.

At the intersection, I can take the central area of the boulevard. I’ve got a straight shot all the way up to the Royal Palace in Pedrables, into the green areas and wide open spaces of The University campus. These spaces are a runner´s dream, devoid of urban population overload and fresh air you can breathe that filters down from the mountains.

As I mentally plan my route, I decide I have other plans in store for today’s journey, submerging myself a little further in my runner’s theme park. At this point, my breathing has become slightly shallower; beads of sweat begin to form on my brow. My head begins to prickle. I’ve broken into the fourth kilometer. Kilometer four rebels, whispering sweet words of self-doubt. It tries to undermine my reasons for leaving my flat at such an ungodly hour and finding myself so increasingly far from home.

My breathing becomes heavier; my legs begin to burn, and sweat trickles down my spine. At the intersection, I decide the best form of navigation is to take a sharp turn going upwards towards Sagrada Familia.

The people’s church sits looming over the horizon like the mother ship drawing me in. A sudden incline forces me to bow my head momentary to the ground as I rotate around 90 degrees onto the Carrer de La Marina and pound up the street.

Sagrada Familia goes unnoticed at this hour of the morning; there are no hordes of tourists to gaze at her admiringly. Luxury autobuses, with reclining chairs and tinted windows, are elsewhere. Flash photography is, thankfully, absent.

I wait until I’m practically underneath the church before I crane my head to take her in. It’s a beautiful and welcome diversion, as if Gaudi had created her for freaks like me when he imagined her, the people’s church, the runner’s distraction. As I look up at her, I almost fall backwards as I try to catch a glimpse of her towering spires.

Kilometer five: from here I take Carrer de Mallorca, joining the flow of the early morning traffic which bottlenecks and, like a sling shot, sends it out clear across the city.
As I continue, Barcelona takes on the visionary city grid design of L´Example. Built back in the late 1800s, L´Example is a template for effective city planning, the extension that linked the city together into a grand conurbation, which integrated the villages and metropolitan areas to produce the city, my theme park.

The innovative shape of the L´Example does not make for good running; navigating the octagonal blocks can be a frustrating chore, doubling back on myself constantly, sharing the pavement with recently ejected nightclub ghouls that fumble about sweaty and bleary-eyed in the morning twilight. Talking too loudly, their dispossessed shouts sound like encouragement as I pick up my pace to race past them. They lurch out at me as I quickly leave them behind, picking up pace, pushing my stride into the next block.

Diagonal reappears, joining with Passeig de Sant Joan. I have reached the sixth kilometer mark. My pace slows after the sudden sprint past the nightclubs; I take this point to make a short power rest. Standing with my hands on my hips, my head bowed to the floor. Salty, humid diesel-scented air fills my lungs, and my sweat pockmarks the pavement.

Another runner, stretching next to a children’s park, acknowledges my presence. A middle-of-the-road veteran with a Barcelona Marathon T-shirt. He strikes a lean, neat shape, cut from years of pavement pounding, dressed from head to toe in black, aerodynamic Lycra.

“I’ve just come down from the Mountains,” he says in Catalan, giving me a thumbs-up and waving his hands in the direction of the summit of Tibidabo and the Church that perches on top. For a moment, he thinks I’ve misunderstood him. His eye’s narrow as he tries to read my expression.

“Every morning I do it.” He begins stretching his calf muscles and running on the spot. “You can’t appreciate Barcelona until you’ve seen the sun come up over the city. Then the day belongs to you.”

He doesn’t wait for an answer. Without another word, he jogs off in the direction of the Ocean and the Gothic district; another runner, another route, another ticket to ride in the runner’s theme park.

With a new found sense of motivation, I take off toward my intended next destination: The avant-garde district of Gracia.

Gracia is an interconnecting web of alleyways and squares; a network of turn of the century bohemia, interlinked into one district of Barcelona.

Running Gracia is like running the gauntlet. Make a wrong turn and you could end up doubling back, desperately searching for an exit out of the maze, urban exploration at a unique level. Take an alleyway or a side street and find yourself suddenly lost, coming out in a secret square, a forgotten piece of Barcelona still maintaining it’s quiet dignity a hundred years down the line.

It would be easy to find a main thoroughfare and make a straight honest run into the hills, but that would take all the enjoyment out of it, so I take an alley so narrow that I almost scratch my elbows on the walls. The potent smell of urine and stale beer perfumes the alley and violates my nostrils. Discarded bottles of Estrella Damm beer roll around in the morning breeze. I hear my own steps echoing down the street as I thud out into Plaça Vila de Gracia, the districts main square.

Two guitarists sit in the shadow of the square clock tower, playing Bob Marley medleys to each other, stopping occasionally when they hit a bad chord. They don’t notice or seem to register me as I pass by.

Plaça Del Sol, another infamous square and a renowned center of local Anarchism, suddenly opens out before me. A police van sits, quietly ticking over on one of the square’s corners, while two local policemen smoke and observe an urban tribe of street punks as they gulp Xibeca beer for breakfast, a silent standoff with the local constabulary.

My presence in amongst the punks causes them to stir. A crossbred dog from their pack fires across the square at me, taking me by surprise, causing me to suddenly shriek and sidestep, knocking over a plastic chair from a bar terrace, which clatters to the ground, echoing around the square, causing all life to suddenly come to an instant standstill and making all attention suddenly turn to me.

An alpha male from the punks lets out a whistle and the dog suddenly grinds to a halt at my feet. All it’s aggression ceases, and it watches passively as I jog unsteadily past.

The scare has blown the air from my lungs. The bored policemen let out a burst of laughter that rolls like thunder across the square, followed by the punks who join in. For a second, they are united in their mockery.

As I reach the corner of the square and aim myself towards Carrer de Verdi, the laughter subsides, and the tension slowly creeps back in.

I begin the approach to Carrer de Verdi, a street known for its Middle Eastern restaurants and mojito bars. Here my seventh kilometer begins; the doubt in my mind long gone. My legs rage fire; my rhythm is steady and strong.

The entrance to the street is blocked. Two subcontinental gas bottle vendors are trying to reverse their truck out of a bad turn.

The gas bottles rattle wildly against the steel cage of the truck, awaking Gracia from its slumber. Several elderly shoppers stand transfixed. Others discuss the situation and watch as the vendors try to back out of the turn and reverse high up on the high verges of the street. The truck shakes, bouncing violently of the curb, rocking dangerously backward and forward.

Taking a momentary risk, impatient, I duck under the tailgate which is blocking the pavement and set myself up for a straight run up Verdi, and in to my goal: The Collserola Mountains.

I reach kilometer eight. My legs are going like pistons, independent from my brain which reels in discomfort. Doubt is back in my mind again, urging me to stop, take a rest. I need a change of scenery; the gauntlet has got the better of me. Distraction is needed.

I hit a side street, throwing my internal GPS into confusion. For a moment, I’m unsure which way to turn. Seeing a gap in between the blocks of modernist masonry, I can see the Collserola Mountains looming out toward me. I search for break in the buildings and find myself on Avinguda de Vallcarca, a boulevard that leads upward and onward.

A sudden incline takes me by surprise and, as I follow the avenue round and up, droplets of sweat form on my brow. The street begins to slowly fill with locals going about their daily business. Taxis thunder past, looking for early morning fares.

As I follow the road around, the incline becomes more severe. The droplets from my brow begin to pour, leaving a water trail behind me, and my breathing becomes so severe that several morning shoppers and dog walkers turn around, surprised by the heavy-gasping creature plodding up behind them.

Finally, as my vision blurs and turns to white, I can’t continue. I’ve made it to the foot of the mountains. The boulevard narrows and turns into lanes that snake around the mountainside. I can smell the fragrant pine trees, effusing the early morning with chlorophyll. Insects begin to buzz around my head as the sun burns through the clouds.

I drop down on a knee high wall next to a water fountain, ten kilometers of adrenaline coursing through my veins. Sweat runs into my eyes, stinging. Barcelona, in full view, peeks out from between the trees, giving me glimpses of familiar landmarks.

The city is now in full swing. Noise levels increase, a cacophony of sound gaining momentum, which rises and breaks against the mountainsides like waves against a rocky shore.
Suddenly, a sharp rustling sound comes from a nearby bush, catching my attention, followed by a series of playful grunts.

Out of nowhere, a jet-black wild boar breaks cover from a nearby forest path, followed by a litter of four small, light-brown, stripy young boars who file past me. The sow glares at me, meeting my eyes. I freeze, not daring to move. My heart jumps into my throat. I fight the instinct to run. Instead, sitting still like a statue, my eyes move cautiously in their sockets.

The boar stands directly in front of me, locking me in eye contact, daring me to make a sudden movement, her maternal instinct symbolic of nature’s pure, basic savagery. Her litter files past me, playfully oblivious to the danger, unfamiliar with the world of man.

They begin to drink from a puddle of water collected at the foot of a fountain only a couple of feet away from me. They frolic playfully in the pool of water under the stern eye of their mother who keeps me under surveillance; then, presuming that I pose no immediate threat, she trots off down the lane with her brood in tow and crosses into a woodland patch.

My heart slowly sinks back to position, and I take a breath of fresh mountain air. Ten minutes later, my adrenaline rush has worn off. I feel sleepy, hungry, and strung out. I realize, as the sun takes position over Barcelona, that I couldn’t have asked for anything better. The day belongs to me.

A moment of pure clarity washes over me. I’ve pushed myself to the limit with the last uphill stretch, the runners’ mantra echoing in my brain, “You feel like dying and then you are reborn.”

My journey through the streets of Barcelona, homage to the runner’s heroine: Atalanta. The Greek mythological character who challenged her suitors to a footrace, and those who could not beat her died trying, a trial by sweat and pure, bloody determination to push through and come out the other side—Run or Die.

May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
May Barcelona hold you in the palm of her hand.

About the Author

John Mueter is an educator, musician, composer and writer. His short fiction has been published by the American Athenaeum, Freedom Forge Press, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Halfway Down the Stairs, Deep Water Literary Journal, Wilde Oats Journal, and Lowestoft Chronicle. He currently teaches at the University of Kansas.