Pheidippides ran from the sea, the crash of waves and Persian steel still echoing in his ears, a memory of salt spray kissing his neck. Behind him his brother Greeks piled the dead on the scarlet sands and gave hearty thanks to Pan for scattering their foes. Harsh chants of victory gave way to the steady thud of his sandals on the path, joined by the rushing of blood in his ears as he ascended the steep mountainside. His heart soared at the news he carried, of the triumph granted by the satyr god.
Pace after pace the road stretched out behind him, dust rising and finding the sweat so that his shins were coated with mud. He stumbled, toes ramming against a rocky outcrop. Pain seared his nerves and blood dripped into the dirt but he righted himself without pausing. His lungs burned and an ache throbbed through his legs, rising to meet the muscles straining for each ragged breath. He rubbed the sweat from his eyes but still his vision shifted, trees by the road blurring into a green veil that danced in the breeze. Then the leaves were torn asunder and a horned figure stepped forth, grinning fiercely as he sprang towards Pheidippides on cloven hooves.
Fear seized the runner. Had Pan, having broken the Persians, now come for him as well? Not even daring to catch the god’s eye he hurled himself forward, faster through the thin mountain air, and out into the hills below. He felt a piercing gaze on his back, heard laughter rattle on the wind, and thought of the enemy soldiers, eyes wide with panic as the Greeks bore down upon them.
At last Athens appeared across the plains. He staggered into her streets, women and children watching him nervously as he ran on, each breath a wave of fire through his chest. Finally he reached the temple and sank to his knees on the cold marble floor. Staring up at the goat-legged figure before him he called out one last hoarse word.
The statue smiled at this prayer of thanks, and Pheidippides felt the panic fade, leaving him to drift into welcome blackness.
Originally published in Carillon 18, June 2007.