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FANTASTIC STORIES OF IMAGINATION

OCTOBER 1963

In the pre-dawn hours the old man scoured the city to find a worshipper for the goddess he loved.

A Night with Hecate

By EDWARD W. LUDWIG

She awoke slowly, as if from a thousand-year sleep. Out of the dark vacuity of consciousness came the single thought:

"I am alive. I still exist."

She tried to open her eyes, but her eyelids were frozen shut. She tried to open her mouth in anticipation of speech. Her lips seemed fused and as dry as ancient, sun-baked leather.

Out of the black silence came a voice, a humming-bird drone, far away:

"Awake, mighty Hecate... oh, gods of wind, fire and, pain ...by the heart of Astaroth, the tongue of Asmodius, awake ...per vota nostra, ipse name surgat nobilis dicatus Hecate!"

The muted words of the chant were as tiny fingers of warmth touching the witch-goddess, dispelling the clouds of forgetfulness. The fingers seemed to caress her face, opening her dark, black-browed eyes, giving softness and warmth to red, sensuous lips.

She became aware of a soft breeze stirring the midnight blackness of her long hair, brushing it across the clear, white flesh of face and throat. The breeze teased at the edges of her frail robe. The garment, as delicate and light as a veil of fog, fluttered back to her shoulders so that moonlight fell upon the whiteness of her full breasts and naked body.

The voice cried, "Hecate, beautiful Hecate! You are here!"

"Yes, my children—at last."

She sucked the cold night air deep into her lungs. How wonderful it was! The familiar summons, the joyous awakening, the thrill of the magic moon and the dark sea of worshipping faces; then the wine, the throbbing beat of drums, the lusty dancing, the frenzied chants, and—most wonderful of all—Love.

"You are more beautiful than ever," said the voice, reverently. "In all the universe there is none as lovely as you."

She closed her eyes, smiling, letting the words echo through her consciousness. She stretched her arms above her head, basking in the joy of feeling alive. Then she brought her hands down, ever so slightly, over naked waist, long firm thighs, smooth white knees. She was aware of the rapid rise and fall of her breasts.

She opened her eyes, still smiling.

"Thank you, my children. I—"

She stopped, her tongue frozen. Her slow gaze fell to the clearing which should have held a choked sea of eager faces.

There was but a single face.

Just one.

It was that of old Martin. He was a sparrow-faced little man, his shaggy gray hair tumbling over his wizened features as he knelt before the stone altar.

She remembered. Suddenly she felt very old and very weary.

I had forgotten, she thought. I had forgotten that I am alone. It is the year 1997, and I am alone....

DESPITE the grief that had welled up within her, she held her head high.

"Beautiful Hecate," came Martin's soft voice, "you are sad. Are you angry with me?"

Her slender body lost some of its stiffness. "No, not angry. But I do not understand your people. I do not understand why they let the old gods die."

As she spoke, a dark procession of lost faces marched through her mind. Great Dagon, lovely Diana, beautiful Venus, swift Hermes, mighty Zeus. How strong they had once been!

But those who worshipped the other Master had come with their holy water and their crucifixes and their edicts. Then, and by far the worst, had come the doubters, spewing forth cold logic to prove that the Elder Gods could not exist. The entire Earth had been washed with logic. It had been soaped, brushed and toileted and laid to dry in sterile sunlight.

The Elder Gods had died like leaves on an October tree, falling one by one—for without believers they could not exist.

Now only she—and the King himself, the Master of Darkness —remained.

Hecate's sad eyes turned to the sparrow-faced man. "You're a poet, Martin. You understand men. How did it happen? Why did men stop believing?"

The old man shrugged. "Perhaps my people became old. They lost their fear of the night. They told their children there was nothing to fear in a darkened room, and they lost the...

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