Flash Fiction: Narcissus and the Echo Chamber

This is a mood piece. I was in a mood when I wrote it. But the critic raved, so I was motivated to share…

Once upon a time, in Ancient Greece (because things like this don’t happen today—we’re far too modern) there was a beautiful boy named Narcissus.

Beautiful doesn’t do him justice. Narcissus was drop-dead gorgeous. I mean, he positively glowed like gold. If gold were radioactive. Which it’s not. But it doesn’t sound right to say that he “reflected like gold,” now does it? Besides, it would be inaccurate. Narcissus would never have allowed himself to reflect back as much pure light as gold does. Narcissus was all about keeping whatever he could for himself.

No, let’s say that Narcissus sparkled like diamonds. This was one good-looking kid.

And here’s the thing—Narcissus knew how beautiful he was. If you told him, “Narcissus, you’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever laid eyes on,” he would simply say, “Right?”

And if you told him, “I can’t live without you, Narcissus, I must have you,” he would say, “Don’t be an ass! I’m too good for you! I’m too good for anyone! Nobody can have me but me!”

If Narcissus envied the rest of the human race one thing, it was that he couldn’t enjoy, from the outside looking in, all the beauty he was radiating to others. They were gripped with ecstasy just looking at him, but he? He had to look at them. Ugly, imperfect, un-beautiful… bleccchh!

So Narcissus had to content himself with the compliments, the gazes, the longing looks, the money paid him for posing nude, the admiration of others.

And it was never enough. So, to fill his time, he walked the countryside, telling people about his favorite thing—himself. He gave speeches, wrote and sang songs, passed out leaflets, all about how wonderful he was.

It was to be expected that, wandering as he did, he would develop followers. The first of them was a girl named Echo. She was in love with Narcissus, so in love that she gave up speaking for herself, and only repeated what her beloved said, in an effort to sound more beautiful.

Echo was the first follower, but not the last. Each day that passed, dozens of girls and boys joined Narcissus, and, because she was the first, they all changed their names to “Echo.” (Don’t read the books. They’re wrong. There were scores of echoes, not just one. I mean, come on, what good is just one echo? If you only got one echo back, who would ever bother yelling into canyons, or going on Facebook?)

Why didn’t any of them change his name to “Narcissus?” Well, one did. The Echoes screamed at him until his brain flowed out of his ears and then they used it to make tea.

You would have thought that Narcissus would be happy, being followed everywhere by his Echoes who agreed with and repeated his every word. But it wasn’t enough for him. All the Echoes in all the world would never be as beautiful as he was.

No, Narcissus had to have himself.

It being ancient times, there were no mirrors, no webcams, no phones with cameras to take selfies. (Although rumor has it that the god Apollo had a Blackberry Storm.) The closest Narcissus could come to giving himself a rape gaze was to look in a river. So he tried that. It didn’t satisfy him. How could it? It was a river! As he gazed at the reflection of his beauty, he could see mud and rocks and slimy shit floating through his face.

But, dammit, neither could he look away. Distorted as his reflection was, it was still the prettiest thing he’d ever seen. He had the testimony of all the Echoes to tell him so! So he didn’t look away. He sat on the bank of the river and gazed at his beauty, while the Echoes sang his praises and occasionally decapitated each other in an attempt to get closer to him, until he turned into a flower.

And when I say, “Flower,” I mean desiccated, stinking corpse.

But it was the prettiest desiccated, stinking corpse you ever saw. Just ask the Echoes.

Suggested musical accompaniment: “There’s a Douchebag Dancing on my Broken Heart,” by Bleeding Raoul.

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