…And when his host would have offered a victim in sacrifice, Hercules told him to wait for thirty days, and then, if he had returned safe from the hunt, to sacrifice to Saviour Zeus, but if he were dead, to sacrifice to him as a hero.
I was his first labor for a reason.
The man was neither strong nor beautiful, as he should be if he were truly a god’s blessed son. He was ugly and short, with weak arms, and ragged teeth. He was naked. He was either a starving beggar, or an ascetic. He bowed before me. He warned me that he was the son of a God, and if I did not do as I was told he would destroy me. He told me that I was to leave my canyon forever. I was to flee to the south and farther.
I roared with laughter. I devoured the little man, flesh and blood and bone. For days after, I had terrible headaches, like someone screaming in my ear all the time. My insides ached like they were being burned in fires. I sprouted a mane as if I were a man, and then I could barely move with such high fever. I burned down below where something cancerous grew out of my flesh.
I vomited anything I tried to eat. I could outrun nothing, so all I could eat was grass and gravel. I was dying from the inside. I crawled down from the mountain, scraping my impenetrable fur along the stones. I moaned for a wise woman to ease my pains.
Hera was there, waiting for me. She called me by a name I had never known.
The transformation fulfilled upon my new name. I rose up to two legs. I had hands strong as steel and a face in my mouth with ragged, strong teeth.
I had eaten the divine, yet the divine had eaten me.
Heracles, she had said. Bastard son of my husband, once, but my son and my glory, now.
Slayer of the Nemean Lion, reborn to my will.
I fought back. I roared when I could. I struggled against my new self. I watched through my own eyes while I became something else, until even that sight failed me, and I was long dead. My body lived on, in its way.
All that was done after my destruction – all that was saved – was born of a young god wrestling with me to be born: monster and hero in one flesh.
I watch through my own eyes, but it is not my sight that I see. I watch and roar somewhere only I can hear.