The Fear in Love
I’ve always had a pretty substantial fear of running into my girlfriends’ exes – a perfectly rational fear, I believe. And no more so than when the ex in question is the malevolent god of the dead. Hades was at least seven and a half feet tall, with black robes that flowed down to the floor. The hand that clutched his skull-topped staff was skin and bones, and almost as pale as bone at that. His skin had a sick, wan quality to it, making it pretty easy to believe he hadn’t seen sunlight in about 3000 years. Draw a beard on any picture of the Grim Reaper and you’d pretty much have Hades.
Well… a beard, plus have him looking right at me with a stare that could freeze your blood.
The other customers in the coffee shop were falling over each other now, trying to run to the other exits, but none of the doors would open up. A big guy grabbed a chair and hurled it at one of the big picture windows, but it just cracked the glass and bounced off back into the shop. The blackness outside was more than just nighttime, it was solid. It was like somehow the coffee shop was wrapped up in stone. If the fluorescent lights cut out, it would be black as the grave in there.
“Hades, what are you doing here?” Stephanie said. She stood up then, facing her husband, and a darkness flashed through her eyes. For the first time I saw the cold, fierce Queen Persephone that, until that point, I’d only read about in my Total Moron’s Guide. She walked up to him, striding purposefully, anger gripping her face. “This is an affront, Hades – never before have you tried to follow me to the surface world during the summer months. This is my time. You have no business here.”
“No business? No purpose?” He pointed his staff at me again. “What about him? This mongrel? This mortal? Did you think I wouldn’t know? Did you think my soldiers weren’t watching you all summer, Persephone?” The rage in his voice could have shattered rock, and although I was expending most of my energy concentrating on not losing control of my bladder, I did have the presence of mind to wonder just how much Hades’ little buddies picked up on over the summer. Were they just watching Stephanie and me, or did they overhear our little conversations with Athena?
“You, child.” He reached out with his free hand, and although he was on the opposite side of the coffee shop, somehow his fingers wrapped around my throat and lifted me off the ground. I sputtered, clutching at his hand, but his grip was impossible to break. My legs flailed about and I tried kicking his body, but it was like kicking a statue. After stubbing pretty much all of my toes, I gave up on the kicking and just worked on the breathing.
“PUT HIM DOWN!” Persephone screamed. There was a flash in the air around her and a sound like thunder, and the sweet girl I loved was buried beneath the Queen’s rage. “You will release him, Husband, or you will face the wrath of the Queen of the Damned!”
The voice spilling from her was as chilling as Hades’ own. I couldn’t even believe she was the same woman… but then, I suppose she really wasn’t. Still, at least she was on my side. That was a small amount of comfort while I was turning purple.
“Harlot! Do you really believe you intimidate me?”
“I am the daughter of Zeus!”
“AND I AM HIS BROTHER!” He hurled me away then, and I crashed into another one of the windows. I bounced off just like the chair did, and broken glass fell down around me. Hades, meanwhile, hadn’t missed a beat. He advanced on Persephone, not walking so much as swarming at her, and hissed, “and make no mistake, woman, about who is the better. One of our brothers has already tasted my wrath. Do you believe your father would fare any better?”
Persephone’s nostrils flared, but she relaxed her fists. “Why are you here?”
“For you,” he said.
“I would have been with you in days.”
“Yes, but before I take you back, I think it’s important that your pet truly understands what he’s dealing with.”
He grabbed me and hurled me, again, at the window. With the glass gone, though, I fell through into the darkness beyond. What had been like stone moments before now dissolved around my body, enveloping me in the most complete, all-encompassing blackness I’ve ever experienced in my life. I’ve been out in the woods at night, I’ve been in windowless rooms with no power, I’ve been blindfolded (I was in a fraternity during the brief period I was in college), but I’ve never seen anything as totally and completely black as the substance Hades threw me into that afternoon. I fell for what seemed like a long time, spinning through the air, finally crashing with a hard jolt against a stone floor. My eyes struggled to adjust to the darkness, a totally futile effort until I saw a deep blue flicker of light. I was grateful for it for all of a second, before I realized the source of the light – the hot rage that burned in Hades’ eyes. As he approached me, I saw his face, his arms, his staff, and eventually, I could see my own body in the night.
“You. Boy,” he said. “What’s your name?”
“You don’t know?” I said. “I thought your spies…”
“I don’t have time to remember the details of every mortal that my wife chooses to dally with. What is your name?”
I coughed, some sort of dust in the air parching my throat. “Adam. Adam Solomon.”
“Adam Solomon. Names the Christians would have approved of, yes?”
“I guess. I never thought about it.” I tried to pull myself to my feet. If I was going to get killed here, I decided, I’d at least try to die standing up. I made it on one knee before I slipped and jarred my chin against the floor again.
“You. You’re nothing. You’re a toy. That’s all you mortals ever are to her. The sooner you realize that, the better for you.”
“How can it get better?” I moaned. “You’re here to kill me, aren’t you?”
“Kill you? Child, don’t elevate yourself like that. I am a god. Your life, your death, these mean nothing to me. No, I am here because I want you to know the truth about this woman that you think means so much.”
I looked up at him, feeling a trickle of blood dribble down from the corner of my mouth. I must have bit into my lip on that last landing. His eyes were still mad, but there was a sort of sadistic smile on his face now too. I decided I’d liked it better when he wanted to kill me.
“Tell me, boy, do you believe you’re special? Do you believe you’re unique? Do you think you’re the first? Do you think you’ll be the last?”
I’d love to tell you I said something cool here, something tough. “No, I’m just the best,” maybe, or, “She won’t need anyone else after me.” But I was staring up at a god, my mouth was bleeding, and I felt like I’d just fallen to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The best I could manage was, “huh?”
“You mortals are our playthings. Our amusements. You mean nothing to us. But that doesn’t mean you don’t pay the price for your hubris.”
There was another flash, and the smile on his face widened. “Look, boy. Look at the fate that one of your predecessors met.”
He stepped aside and, through the darkness, I saw a shape. It was, I could vaguely make out, a man sitting in a chair, his hands resting on the arms, feet tight against the legs, head falling back against the tall stone rest. It was too dark for me to make out his face or any details, but he didn’t seem happy.
“Oh, boy, you can’t see him from there. Go.” He hit me with his staff, sending me rolling in the direction of the chair. “GO!”
Wiping the blood from my mouth, I began to crawl towards the man in the chair. As I approached, I realized the man was naked, his skin taught against his bones. I could make out every rib in his chest, and his arms and legs weren’t even thick enough to tempt a hungry dog. There were thick, black snakes coiled around his limbs, wrapped around both his own arms and legs and those of the chair, binding him to his heavy stone seat. Each of the snakes – at least five of them – was biting into his flesh, as if they were feeding on his blood. I couldn’t see how he could possibly have anything left in his body to feed them, but they held tight, refusing to let go.
“What the hell is this?” I whispered. As my voice broke the silence, the man’s head rolled over to look at me. His eyes were empty, like there was nothing behind them. No intelligence, no memory, no soul… nothing. He made a sound that was something like a moan, but without even the understanding of suffering that a moan implies.
“What is this?” I said.
“Say hello, Adam Solomon. Introduce yourself.” Hades walked up to the man in the chair, placing a bony had on the man’s shoulder. “This is Peirithoüs. Say hello, Peirithoüs.”
Peirithoüs moaned at me again, and Hades smiled. “Good boy.
“Peirithoüs was once a king, Adam. Do you believe that? When you think of a king, do you imagine a man sitting upon a golden throne, a heavy crown on his head, a thick robe of velvet and fur weighing down his shoulders? Is that what you imagine?” He laughed. “Well, Peirithoüs still has his throne. He was king of the Lapiths so many years ago, until he and his friend Theseus made a foolish vow. They both promised one another they would marry daughters of Zeus. Thesus chose Helen. Peirithoüs was a bit more ambitious. Can you guess who he selected?”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have to.
“That’s right. He decided he would marry my wife.” As he said it, Hades lashed out with his staff, smashing it into Peirithoüs’s ribs. There was a loud, cracking sound, but the horrible skeleton in the chair didn’t even seem to notice it. “You see, he came down to my realm through the gate of Taenarum. He and Theseus both. He had the gall to come to me, to ‘state his intentions.’” He laughed at that, a deep, horrible sound that was far worse than the words of anger he’d bellowed in the coffee shop.
“I invited the young men to have a seat. And they did.” He tapped the stone leg of the chair. “This is one of the chairs of forgetfulness. The moment Peirithoüs sat here, he forgot about wanting to marry Persephone. He forgot about his friend Theseus, sitting in the chair next to him. He forgot about the Lapiths, left back on the surface world without their king. He forgot everything.”
“So… so why is he still there?”
“Because, child, forgetfulness was not enough.” He smashed his staff into Peirithoüs again, into his face this time, and the man groaned, then stopped quickly, forgetting his pain. “I wanted him to feel pain. And he has felt pain. Heracles came down here once, and took Theseus away, but I kept Peirithoüs for myself.” He hit him again, and that time even I felt it.
“It’s been many thousands of years, Adam. I don’t even recall exactly how long any more. Some people would ask me, plead with me to show him mercy. But I don’t believe in mercy anymore, Adam. Do you?”
I looked at Peirithoüs, listened to him moan. I thought about being strapped into that chair, bound by snakes, every second forgetting everything that had happened in every second previous. Hades just smiled.
“Do you see now, Adam? Do you see what waits for you if you persist in this childish pursuit?”
I didn’t answer. He smiled again.
There was a burst of wind and I had to shut my eyes. When I opened them again, I was kneeling in the coffee shop, the terrified customers all around me, Persephone standing where she was when we left. “What did you do?” she screamed. “What did you do to him?”
“Why nothing, my dear. Nothing at all.” He stepped up to her and took her hand. “The summer is over, my Queen. The time has come to return with me.”
She looked back at me. “Adam–”
“His time is over,” Hades said. Then he leaned in to her and whispered, “Unless, of course, you wish for his time to truly be over.”
She looked at him with a mixture of hate and rage, and not a trace of the love that she would need to mimic for Athena’s plan to work. I didn’t care. I was terrified for her, terrified for myself… I was crippled and scared and if there was anywhere for me to run I couldn’t swear that I wouldn’t have been running there.
Hades smiled at me. “Goodbye, Adam Solomon.” Then, shouting to the coffee shop, “Goodbye to you all! Maybe if you’re all very, very good, I’ll see you again someday.”
The black mists twirled into the coffee shop through the destroyed windows, and again, I had to shut my eyes. This time, I heard people shouting and screaming all around me. I covered my face until the wind died and the whistling in my ears stopped. When I took my hand away, I felt the sunlight on my face. Around me, people were talking, gasping, unable to believe anything they had seen. I didn’t blame them.
I heard Amber’s voice, and soon I felt Perry’s hand touch my arm. The two of them helped me to my feet and I staggered backwards, still uneasy. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“What did he do to you?” Amber said, voice quivering.
I took deep breaths, then fell back into a chair. There was a siren outside, and I wondered how long we were under that black envelope Hades threw around the shop. Long enough for someone to call the police, at least.
“Adam, come on, snap out of it.” Perry shook my shoulders a little. “Come on! What did he do to you?”
“To me?” I said, eyes blinking in the sunlight. “He didn’t do anything to me, Perry.”
“When what did he do?”
“I’ll tell you what he did. The son of a bitch made a mistake.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Go get the books,” I said. Find… find a place called… Tane? No – Taenarum. Find out where it is. Find out everything about it. Athena’s plan be damned. I’m going down there and I’m bringing Stephanie back to the surface once and for all.”
Summer Love by Blake M. Petit is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at www.evertimerealms.com.