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A SHORT STORY by Willard Manus

Yes, a goddess. That was the only word to describe her. Goddess, gooddess, goddess. The word kept pinging round in his head like a pinball. One minute she wasn't there, the next she was: striding across the beach at Lindos, hitting all the bells and lights for him.

She just seemed to happen and everybody on the beach must have spotted her at once, because suddenly everything went silent. The hush lasted only momentarily, but what a moment it was: electric, palpable, spine-tingling. Only a goddess could do that, he thought. Only a goddess could generate that kind of collective excitement.

George Chapman did not ordinarily think of women as goddesses. He was 38, a New York boy, cool school, a guy who'd seen a thing or two.

But this was different. This was an extraordinary moment and it called for extraordinary reactions. Because that creature was surely not of this earth. She had just descended from the moon, or maybe from the planet Venus.

She was tall and powerfully built yet moved gracefully, with a shining stream of golden-brown hair cascading down her back, flouncing as she walked. She wore a white bikini bottom, with thongs that curved tautly round her brown loins, but, like most of the women on this Mediterranean beach, preferred to go topless. Her high-riding, pink-tipped breasts were the most perfect he'd ever seen. Her legs were terrific too, long and smooth and lovingly sculpted, and as she picked her way along the frothing edge of the sea, face held upright and smiling into the sunlight, a smile that spoke of warmth and sensuality, she seemed to know how desirable she was, yet she bore the knowledge lightly, without a trace of arrogance or self-consciousness. She not only accepted her own being but took bemused delight in it.

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The sight of her transformed George Chapman, made him take immediate action. He picked up his totebag and paid his bill at the beachfront restaurant run by his friend Tsambiko. Then he set off across the beach after the goddess, fully expecting her, though, to disappear when he caught up with her. That was the way of goddesses: they voyaged here and there, visitants from another world, voluptuous naiads, purging men's souls of all malice, implanting the seeds of love and hope. Their job was to melt the frostiest of hearts and then evaporate before your eyes.

She had reached the far hillside enclosing the bay and had stretched out on a rock shelf to sun herself. He knew the shelf well. His boat was moored to it.

He glanced at the Maritsa now, bobbing just a few feet from where she lay, her generous breasts turned up to the radiant Greek sun. A whole carousel of thoughts spun round in his mind. He tried to sort them out. What if she agreed to take a trip in the boat with him? Where would he go? And what would he do about his wife?

Most of the crowd on the beach were day-tourists down from Rhodes city, but those who worked the umbrella and restaurant concessions were locals who knew him well. Living in a Greek island village was like living in a fish-bowl. Ten minutes after sailing off with the goddess, his wife would get wind of it.

George Chapman had been married for seven years. He was happily married. He loved his wife. Ordinarily he did not covet other women. But there was the goddess, lying there, rubbing suntan lotion into those luscious breasts with slow, sensual movements. It made him want her with everything in him.

He picked his way over the jagged rocks, smiling tentatively as she peeked up at him. Hauling the Maritsa close, he boarded the boat and stripped down to his trunks, bringing his speargun and dive stuff out of the forward compartment.

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"Where do you do your fishing?" she asked. Her English was tinged with an odd but pleasing accent and her voice was warm and husky. She had blue-green eyes, her mouth was pink and ripe, and her shoulders were lightly dusted with freckles.

"Not far from here. Are you a skindiver?" he inquired.

She shook no.

"What a pity. The water around here is beautiful, blue and clear. You can see a hundred feet down."

"I wish I had a mask and snorkel," she sighed. "I'd love to go with you."

"I've got extra equipment," he said, struggling to keep his tone casual. "And I'd love to have company."

She regarded him with new eyes now. George Chapman was a long way from being godlike. He was not even handsome. But thanks to all the diving he did, he was in excellent shape, lean and hard and solidly muscled.

"The problem is," she said, "my tour bus goes back to Rhodes at five. And I have to catch a plane tonight."

"Not to worry, it's only noon. And if you miss your tour bus, there are public busses that leave later."

She mulled this over, still measuring him in the way that women measure men they've just met. Good vibrations passed between them and he knew, with a sudden rush of blood, that she was going to come with him. And that he was going to have her.

Quickly, he unmoored the Maritsa and started its outboard engine. They chugged out of the bay, passing the bare brown hills on top of which sat the village's main tourist attraction, an ancient acropolis.

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Somebody on the hillside waved to him. He knew that it wouldn't be long before word reached his wife that he was out sailing with a beautiful young girl. So be it. This was no ordinary infidelity. He was trying to make love to a goddess. How could another mortal judge him for that?

Fifteen minutes later they reached a tiny island called Pendanisi, where he dropped anchor on the lee side, in the shallows. Instead of going ashore, he took her into the water, showing her how to use the mask and snorkel. Once she got the hang of it, he put on his dive jacket and weights, grabbed his speargun and set off, paddling with his flippers.

She followed behind, yellow hair spread out around her in the translucent blue water. She had shed her bikini bottom now, but showed no self-consciousness when he stared at her nakedness as he came up from a dive.

He realized it would help his cause if he could spear a big fish. Trouble was, there weren't many big fish left in these waters. Compared to the Pacific and the Caribbean, the Aegean was a barren sea, thanks to overfishing and the indiscriminate use of dynamite by the locals.

He kept searching, though, paddling around and peering down into the sea, following the lines of sunlight as they penetrated and wriggled toward the bottom. She swam along behind him, watching his every move, waiting for some action.

He said a silent prayer as he searched along the spine of a small reef, the sun burning into the back of his neck. Please let me find a fish, a nice big one, and I promise not to ask for another all summer.

Then, just like that, he saw one, a fat grouper, maybe eight or nine pounds, sitting on the bottom alongside a boulder. The mottled brown fish with the big head and knobby eyes was staring up at him, warily. His heart kicking over with excitement, George Chapman lay motionless on the surface, trying not to frighten his prey. He let himself drift right over the fish, who moved half a foot or so out from the boulder to get a better look at him, pectoral fins undulating slowly. Then, deciding to play it safe, the fish whisked under the boulder, belly churning up a cloud of sand.

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It was about a 30-foot dive. George Chapman took a breath of air and pushed down, compensating once, twice, before reaching the bottom. Veering sharply to his right, he crept around the rock and came to the small hole where the fish had disappeared. Lying flat, he put his mask up against the hole and peered in. At first he saw only darkness, but then his eyes adjusted and he made out a dim shape on the right. Quickly, he backed off, thrust his speargun in, aimed at the shape, and pulled the trigger.

Instantly the spear began vibrating wildly, whipping the water into a froth. He was running out of breath but decided to try and get the fish out immediately, before it could burrow into a tight corner and became difficult to extricate. Grabbing the spear with both hands and bracing his knees against the rock, he pulled with all his might. The fish came toward him, close enough for him to grab it by the gills with his gloved hand. The gills' sharp, spiny slits ripped his fingers open, but he was still able to turn the fish's head, grab it by the eyes, and pull it free.

He started up for the surface, head pounding away, feeling dizzy. The sunlight was blazing like white fire up top and the goddess lay nude and lovely in the midst of it. Her eyes were wide with excitement as she watched him struggle to the surface, kicking mightily to get there before his breath gave out.

"Fantastic!" she cried as he broke water, sucking air down through his snorkel. "Oh, how fantastic," she kept saying as they clambered ashore.

Still holding the grouper by its eyes to immobilize it, he used his free hand to unsheathe his knife and give the fish a whack to put it out of its misery. Then he peeled his jacket off and sat down to work the spear loose, feeling chilled and tired from his exertions. She quickly covered him with a towel and moved close to him. Here (quite masterfully, he thought) he elicited a cry of compassion by exhibiting his gashed hand. All smeared with blood, it looked far worse than it was. She took it, pressed it to her lips, and kissed it.

The shock of warm loving mouth on cold damp flesh proved irresistible. He slid his arms around her and kissed her passionately. She reacted by reaching behind her, taking a handful of her long, wet hair and twining it round him, joining them.

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He bent over and nuzzled her breasts, licking those hard, pointy nipples. He lost all awareness of anything but her presence now and of the powerful sun pouring down on them. He felt joined to the heat, the fires of creation, the powers of the universe...

Then he heard the ugliest, most upsetting sound imaginable. He tried to will it away, but it kept coming closer. Seconds later the red-and-blue boat of Nikos Sortirakis chugged into sight, heaped with wire fish baskets and nets.

Nikos was a sun-stained, wizened old fisherman who had spawned nine children and 25 grandchildren in his 70-odd years. He was forever boasting about the women he had seduced while working as a chef in Marseilles before WW II. He still loved women and his eyes gleamed lubriciously as he spied George Chapman and the goddess, wrapped in each other's arms on the edge of the island.

George waved his arms wildly, signalling for Nikos to get the hell out of there. But the old buzzard not only ignored him, but cut his engine and drifted close, eyes riveted on the goddess's naked, gleaming body.

George made some quick mental computations. Chinas, the next island, was only 10 minutes away, but suppose Nikos followed them there? Or what if another fisherman showed up?

He'd do better to take his goddess to a more distant place; what he lost in time would be more than compensated by the gain in privacy.

They set out across St. Nicholas Bay, heading west. At the far end was a hidden cove fronted by a tiny patch of beach. One of George's spear-fishing buddies, an Austrian named Peter Kittel, had told him about it. Peter liked to hike there with a girl friend, spend the day diving and making love. He'd named the place the Bay of Lust.

But when they reached it, they found someone sitting on one of the boulders overlooking the cove's entrance: Panayotis Giahas, the town clerk, fishing with a bamboo rod for sea bream.

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Panayotis smiled at them as they came close, and said, "Yasoo, Giorgi. How goes it?"

George tried to answer politely, but when he opened his mouth all that came out was a growl.

Twenty minutes away from the Bay of Lust was another secluded spot, this one a small cave in the low cliffs along the shore. It was dark and cool inside here. Sea water flowed through it, foaming white along its raked floor of volcanic rock. It was a perfect hideaway for a couple of eager lovers.

Only trouble was, it was already occupied.

"You son of a bitch!" George Chapman roared. "What the hell are you doing here? You're supposed to be fishing!"

"So are you," said Peter Kittel as he raised himself from an air mattress-- and from the arms of a plump blonde.

George called him over for a private chat. Look," he said, "I've got this girl and we can't wait. She's got to get back to Rhodes--"

"So does this one," said Peter. "Her name's Brigitta and she's Swedish and she loves to fuck. So why don't you clear out and let us finish our business."

"But mine's a goddess!" George Chapman bellowed.

"Yeah, and mine's the Queen of Sheba!"

Back out to sea George and the goddess went, with her sitting astride the thwart, gazing at him, a little ruefully now. She was still topless, though, and seemed to be pleased at the way he kept staring at her breasts. Yes, they are nice, aren't they, her eyes seemed to say. When are you going to enjoy them as much as I do?

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In the end, he couldn't find a place around Lindos where they could make love. Refusing to give up, he accompanied her back to Rhodes city in a public bus filled with long-limbed Danes and sun-blistered Germans. Once they reached town he tapped a shopkeeper friend for a pair of jeans, a sport shirt and some pocket money.

It was now seven o'clock. The goddess's plane was scheduled to leave in three hours. Unfortunately, she had checked out of her hotel room earlier that day. Which meant they would have to find a bed in a big hurry if they were finally going to make it.

They started searching, the goddess urging him on with daunting looks. It was August, though, the high point of the tourist season, and there wasn't a free room to be had in the New Town.

George Chapman refused to give up. Rushing to Rhodes' Old Town, which sat behind high fortress walls built by the Crusaders,
he went up one street and down another, going from pension to pension, begging for a bed, a hole in the wall, anything. Each time the answer was the same, but he would not be deterred.

Obsessed, he began pounding on doors with his fists and shouting obscenities, until the goddess finally grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him.

"Stop it! I've got to go. My plane takes off soon."

He sat back in the darkness of the taxi, exhausted, soaked with sweat. But his brain was a pinwheel of prurience as he tried to work out how he could screw her at the airport. They'd check in, then rush out into the fields behind the landing strip and...

He was going to have her, dammit. Nothing was going to stop him, not now, not after all this.

He found himself leaning over and shouting at the cabdriver, "Beeil dich, beeil dich!" What was he doing, speaking German? He didn't speak German. Yet he couldn't stop: "Schnell, schnell!" he screamed.

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When they reached the air terminal, George Chapman rushed to the ticket desk, bulling his way through a crowd of waiting people. The crowd reacted angrily; someone shoved him. He shoved back.

"Wait your turn!" a man shouted.

"Lass mich in Ruhe," George Chapman snarled, like a Nazi villain in a Hollywood war film.

Right then, in the midst of all that tumult and insanity, he had a sudden flash of lucidity.

He knew, deep down, that the goddess was not to be his.

It was fixed, fated. Mere mortals like him could never have a woman like this. The heavens would not permit it. It was the way of things.

Another thought occurred. As much as he wanted the goddess, maybe it was better that he didn't. Look what had happened to the other mortals who had made love to the goddesses of yore.

Half-remembered chunks of Greek mythology tumbled round in his mind. He thought of Asclaphus, dallying with Prosperpine in the Elysian Fields, being changed into an owl for his troubles. And what about Endymion, a nice innocent kid put into perpetual sleep by Selene, the Moon Goddess.

The moral was clear. Tangle with one of these babes and you became part of the epic machinery, subject to the classic ways of punishment, a Homeric doom.

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So perhaps he was lucky, he realized, as he said goodbye to the goddess a bit later. He hadn't been changed into a bear or an owl. No scorpion had been made to come out of the earth and sting him to death.

Meanwhile, the goddess stood with boarding pass in one hand and handbag in the other, her eyes full of tears. "Oh my darling," she cried as she threw her arms around him, "I wanted you so very, very much!"

She kissed him a last time and sauntered off toward the waiting plane, towering above the throng, looking in her simple white shift altogether the most beautiful thing on earth. But even then, even as she disappeared up the ramp to the plane, he kept telling himself that he was better off this way, that he had got off lucky, because God knows what fate might have befallen him had he coupled with her.

Soon the plane began to taxi out and in a matter of minutes it was lifting off, and the goddess was gone, she was climbing toward the moon and he would never see her again. She was gone forever from his life and suddenly a pain pierced his heart like an iron spear.

Impaled, George Chapman writhed around on the bloody stake like one of the damned in hell.