Archive for September, 2008

29
Sep
08

Summer Love Chapter Fifteen

Chapter 15

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.

“Good.”

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.

“Adam?”

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.”

Next: Chapter Sixteen – I Will Find You

Creative Commons License
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.
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28
Sep
08

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 86: The Manga Episode

Since the dawn of the Showcase, we have been hit with requests that Chase and Blake talk about the Japanese-born phenomenon of manga. The only problem? Blake and Chase don’t know squat about manga. So in this special episode, recorded at BSI Comics, the boys invite their resident manga expert Kenny Fanguy to sit in, explain the popularity of the form, talk about some of his favorite manga titles, and reveal the previously unknown legend of Bob Viz. Fans of manga — listen up and tell us how wrong we are. People who don’t read manga — listen up for one of the funniest chats the Showcase boys have ever hosted! In the picks this week, Chase recommends the new Rapunzel’s Revenge, Blake pleads with you to read DC’s The Family Dynamic, and Kenny suggests the newest volume of the manga series Negima and the series Seraphic Feather. E-mail us with your comments, “Ask Chase Anything” questions, or anything else at Showcase@comixtreme.com!

Episode 86: The Manga Episode
Inside This Episode:

27
Sep
08

What I’m Reading: Starman Omnibus Volume One

Let me tell you a bit about my personal history with James Robinson‘s Starman. This was one of several new comic book titles that spun out of DC Comics’ Zero Hour crossover in 1994, and I was going into my senior year of high school. I was still reading a prodigious amount of comics, but funds were limited and I had to be selective about what I bought on a monthly basis. Although I got the zero issue of the comic and enjoyed it, I didn’t enjoy it enough to add it to my monthly pull-list. The only issues I got over the next few years were the One Million issue (part of the DC One Million crossover, natch) and two issues that crossed over with Jerry Ordway‘s sublime Power of Shazam! series, which I was a huge fan of. Several years later, having heard for I didn’t know how long that this was the best-written superhero comic ever, I finally picked up the first trade paperback, and I loved it. So I got the second volume, and I loved that too. But then… I could never find volume three. And, not wanting to jump ahead in the series, I stopped reading.

Until now.

DC has recently released Starman Omnibus Vol. 1, the first of a projected six-volume set which will collect all 80 issues of the regular series, a few specials and annuals, and the spin-off Shade miniseries, finally, in one place. This first hefty hardcover collects issues #0-16 of the ongoing series. In case you’ve never read the book, Ted Knight was the original Starman, a hero of DC Comics’ Golden Age, a member of the Justice Society of America, and one heck of a swell guy. But when he — like most of his JSA teammates, were fast-forwarded to their true ages during the time crisis of Zero Hour, Ted realized it was time to pass on his Cosmic Rod to a new generation. His younger son Jack, the proprietor of a secondhand store, had no desire to become a superhero, so the rod went to the elder Knight, David, who eagerly embraced the chance to become the new Starman.

And he promptly went out and got killed.

One of Ted’s old foes, the Mist, was targeting not just the new Starman, but everything Ted Knight and his family had built. To save himself and his father, Jack had to take up the weapons of Starman and go into battle, refusing the name and refusing to think of himself as a superhero, even though it was clear from the first page that it was he, and not David, who truly had the hero’s heart.

With the Starman series, James Robinson created a hero of depth and power unlike anything seen since Stan Lee and Steve Ditko turned out Spider-Man. Jack never wanted to be Starman, but he loved his father. Ted never hated Jack, but his disappointment in him gave Jack that impression. David wanted to be his father so badly, but he never got a chance to prove himself. In these 17 issues, which contain three complete storylines and a few assorted one-issue tales, we already see a great deal of development in Jack. We see him agree — if not welcome — to carry his father’s mantle, we see the birth of Jack’s own arch-foe (a decidedly different sort of villain than most comic books), we see the return of an obscure one-time holder to the Starman name and the rebirth of a villain of the Golden Age, and we are introduced to a wonderfully rich supporting cast and a brilliantly thought-out city.

Let’s talk, for a second, about Jack Knight’s Opal City, one of many fictional cities that dot the landscape of the DC Universe. Unlike Metropolis or Gotham, though, whose geography seems to change depending on who’s writing the story that month, Opal City is mapped, planned out, and designed meticulously by Robinson’s collaborator for most of the Starman series, artist Tony Harris. Opal City is as much a character in this book as Jack and Ted, the O’Dare family, the Shade, and the Mist. As a place, it feels alive, it feels real, it feels like the town that could birth a hero.

I’ve long regretted not picking up this comic when it was being published, and have at times wondered if it wouldn’t be more expedient to try to hunt down the back-issues than the horribly-absent trade paperback volume three. Now, I don’t have to make that choice. I’ll be waiting for the new hardcover omnibus each time DC puts one out.

Where I Go Online

Here’s a nifty little website I recently discovered: oneword.com. At this neat site for writers, you are given a one-word writing prompt, then 60 seconds in which to write whatever comes to mind based on that word. No backtracking, no editing, no changing your mind: just put it on the proverbial page and submit it. The word for this week, for example, was “feathered.” Sixty seconds later, I’d written this:

A long beaked bird soared through the air, feathers dangling from the wings, bristling as the wind whistled through them. The feathers were red, blood-red, and the bird itself was as long as a city block, large enough to blot out the sun, large enough to consume anyone or anything that entered its field of vision. It was enormous. It was a monster. It was a god. And, as far as Larry was concerned, it was pretty friggin’ cool.

It’s a fun writing exercise. Heck, even if you’re not a writer, it’s fun. Give it a click and see what you come up with.

 

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26
Sep
08

What I’m Reading: The Book of Lies

Brad Meltzer is one of those authors who happily straddles the world of novels and comic books, and although I first became a fan of his with his groundbreaking Identity Crisis series, I quickly followed him into bookstores. I just finished his newest work, The Book of Lies, and I’ve gotta tell ya, as thrillers go, it’s everything I’m looking for.

The Bible tells us that Cain slew Abel, and thus became the first murderer. However, the Bible does not tell us howAbel died. Over the centuries, the first murder weapon was lost. Fast-forward to 1931, when a Russian immigrant named Mitchell Siegel is shot dead. The murder is never solved. A few years later his son, Jerry, creates a comic strip hero whose most outstanding feature, in those early years, is the fact that he’s bulletproof. He calls his creation Superman.

These are the two facts upon which Meltzer builds this fictional yarn. In the present day we see Cal Harper, a former fed turned social worker who happens, one night, to stumble upon his long-lost father. Cal’s dad is in trouble, though — there’s a hold order on an important shipment he was meant to deliver. When Cal pulls a few strings to help his dad out, he winds up being chased by a zealot searching for a long-lost artifact that links together the first murder with the murder that helped shape the first superhero… a mysterious creation known as The Book of Lies. The father and son have to engage in a chase halfway across the country to the birthplace of Superman, with both enemies and people who should be allies chasing them in a deadly little race for the truth.

As he often does, Meltzer uses a lot of historical fact to weave the fabric of his story — not just Biblical fact, or the facts surrounding the death of Jerry Siegel’s father, but also truths from World War II and the present-day state of the old Siegel home. (Which, incidentally, Meltzer is spearheading an effort to help restore at the website OrdinaryPeopleChangetheWorld.com — check it out, see how you can help.) These facts all help to put together a very strong foundation for the fiction Meltzer lays on top, supporting the action scenes and the mystery, and ultimately leading to a revelation about the story’s Maguffin that makes it really entertaning for me. In the end, the story turns out to be about one of my favorite subjects, which I won’t spoil here except to say that the final reveal turned this from a book I just enjoyed to a book I loved.

Although I’m still catching up on reading Meltzer’s pre-“Crisis” work, this is easily my favorite novel of his I’ve read to date. I’ll definitely be waiting for him the next time he lands in a bookstore — or a comic shop. Whichever comes first.
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24
Sep
08

Everything But Imaginary #279: Time to Carve the Pumpkin

Halloween is fast approaching, and while I’ve been prepping myself with horror movies and spooky novels, where are all the creepy comics? I’ve got a few suggestions for you this week…

Everything But Imaginary #279: Time to Carve the Pumpkin

23
Sep
08

The Greatest Hazard of a Teacher’s Life

If I were to hazard a guess, I would say teachers probably get sick more than almost any other profession out there. Oh, I’m not saying we get sick worse than, say, coal miners, or the guy that shovels out 100-year-old stables, but in terms of pure frequency, I’ll bet we’re up there. After all, we spend our day surrounded by hundreds of children. Sweet, innocent, children. Filthy, disease-carrying children. Children who instinctively steer towards paddles and mud. Children who think nothing of petting or picking up wild animals that have been rolling around in God knows what. Children who, if they could, would reserve bathing for special occasions, such as Halley’s Comet. Children are like a commuter train for germs. Headaches, sore throats, runny noses? For teachers, these just come with the territory.

Now for the kids, it’s not that big a deal. They’re young, their immune systems are strong and — here I agree with the late George Carlin — the more germs they encounter today the stronger their antibodies will be tomorrow. For we adults, however, it’s different. We’ve peaked. The SWAT members of our personal White Corpuscle Corps have either fallen in action or are running low on ammo. Plus, for many teachers, the immune system has been weakened by the years of alcohol abuse that some students have been known to drive them to.

So what can we, the Teachers of America, do to protect ourselves? Not a whole hell of a lot, actually. These kids come in the room every morning and cover every square inch of our classrooms with the bacterial equivalent of Al-Qaeda. then the bell rings and they go on to do the same in their next classroom, while the students for second period file into our rooms carrying not only the bacteria they brought with them that day, but also the bacteria from every other student in their first class and every student they rode with on the bus, every student they smoked with in the bathroom, etc. Kids pass germs back and forth like they were Pokemon cards (this is assuming kids still play with Pokemon cards, I don’t really know). If one kid in class gets the chicken pox at just the right time, the teacher can look forward to a two-week vacation. This, of course, has its downside. The minute some terrorist realizes the airborne pathogen distribution potential of a 10th-grade cheerleader, we’re sunk.

Oh, there are someprecautions we could take. Hosing down each student with antiseptic foam as they enter the building is my favorite, but it’s also impractical. At least, that’s what the school board keeps telling me. So is outfitting each teacher with a haz-mat suit. So we’re reduced to more conventional weapons — bows and arrows against viral guided missiles. Baby wipes and anti-bacterial gel are good things to have, but you’ve got to be careful. Kids love using up such supplies. A 240-count box of tissues will be used up in the course of a week, and a 32-ounce bottle of Germ-X will be lucky to make it through to lunch if its existence becomes public knowledge. (If your Band-Aids have Spongebob on them, just wait and see how many phantom cuts arise.)

Teachers have the most important job in the world; I believed that even before I became one. And our constant exposure to disease is just one of the facets that also makes it one of the most thankless jobs. so parents, the next time you want to show your appreciation to your child’s teacher, don’t send her an apple. Send Sudafed. Trust me, in the long run it will mean a lot more.

22
Sep
08

Summer Love Chapter Fourteen

Chapter 14

Sweetest Goodbye

Everything that happened the summer before… everything that had seemed so incredible, so powerful, so real the year before… it was nothing compared to my second summer with Stephanie. We spent virtually every second together, day or night, it didn’t matter. And during the days, we spent most of it outdoors. The park was practically our home, but we also went to outdoor concerts and restaurants, we took road trips, we went to the zoo… I was, I admit, a bit self-conscious about taking a goddess to such places. I mean – what could I show her at a zoo that she hadn’t already seen? But she was happy, she smiled, she wound up teaching me things about the animals I never knew before. I even finally took her to that drive-in movie she had suggested the summer before.

Athena became our intelligence agent. She would appear every few weeks and talk to Stephanie about people and places that I wound up having to search through my Total Morons Guides to even begin to comprehend. The biggest concern at present, it seemed, was that Hephaestus was believed to be forging new weapons for Hades. He was the guy, it turned out, who had been making lightning bolts for Zeus to smite we puny humans for a few thousand years. Word had it that he was working on something new, something for Ares. As chilling an idea as that was, as long as he kept turning out Zeus’s lightning bolts, the king of the gods seemed determined to remain neutral in the conflict between his brother and children.

The conversations became more confusing and more depressing, until finally I decided to use the occasion of Athena’s visits to try to catch up on the comic strip, which was the only part of my life that suffered that summer. I had built up a substantial buffer of comic strips to update the website five days a week, but by early July the buffer was worn away almost entirely, and I was squeaking out the strips far more sporadically. I resorted to using character templates, re-pasting older panels with new dialogue… anything I could do to save a little time that I rather would spend with Stephanie. I even wound up missing a few updates, something I had never done before, and always promised I wouldn’t. A couple of my more vocal readers were none too happy about it, too.

I tried, a few times, asking Stephanie about her other life: what it was like to be a goddess, to never grow old, to stride across the history books. She was sweet with her answers, but insistent about not really providing them. She wanted to live out this one last summer as a mortal. Asking her about the war was even more pointless. She would shut herself off completely. It was the only thing that happened in those months that created the slightest bit of tension between us.

I was blissful well into August, but as the mercury (in the thermometer, that is, not Hermes) reached its peak for the summer and began the slow crawl back down, I knew our time together was growing short.

“How much longer?” I asked. “How long until you have to go back down to… to him?”

“It isn’t like that,” she said. “You mortals choose a day and say, ‘This is when one season ends, this is the end of a year, this is the end of a century.’ For immortals, time isn’t defined so easily. When the times comes to leave, I’ll know.”

“Okay,” I said, licking my dry, worried lips. “And when will that be?”

She took my hand. “Soon,” she said.

After that, our conversation changed. It grew quieter, like we were both trying to talk our way around the situation instead of talking about it. I hated it. Things began feeling rushed. Dinner, parks, dancing, trips. Suddenly it was as if we had to be doing something each and every second, because if we didn’t, we’d be wasting our time. It was Stephanie who finally calmed me down.

“We don’t have to do anything, Adam. Just being with you is all I want.”

“I know,” I said, voice cracking. And I knew that she was right, that simply being together should have been enough. But when the clock ticked its way into the Labor Day weekend, it dawned on me that I had become an Army wife. I was desperate to fill the void with Stephanie now, because she was leaving. And even if she survived, there was a good chance I would never see her again.

On the morning of Labor Day, we stopped in at Perry’s for a breakfast of coffee and New Orleans-style beignets, deep fried and smothered in powdered sugar. I gobbled mine up. Stephanie ate half of hers and asked for some fresh fruit to go with it.

“Coming right up,” Amber said, winking. She had been extremely polite to Stephanie since the whole “goddess” revelation. I think she was hoping Steph would put in a good word for her.

Sipping her coffee, Stephanie looked me in the eyes. She was smiling, but there was a sadness in her face, and I knew why immediately. “It’s time, isn’t it?” I said.

“Almost,” she said. “I can feel it now. A matter of days at most. Zeus, but I’m going to miss you, Adam.”

“I’ll miss you too. You’re… I mean… somehow it…”

She nodded. “I know.”

“It hasn’t been long enough.”

“I know. And I’m thousands of years old – it feels much briefer to me.” She took my hand in her own and squeezed it. “No tears,” she said. “When I leave, no tears.”

“I promise nothing.”

“When I’m gone, Adam… what will you do?”

“Mope like a petulant child and kick anything that won’t kick back.”

She shook her head. “No, I’m serious. What will you do when I’m gone?”

I shrugged. “Go back to work, I guess. I’ve got a lot of comic strips to draw. Not that I expect I’ll be able to really find anything funny to write about.”

“You’ll always find the funny, Adam. But that’s not what I meant. I mean, will you…” her voice trailed off.

“Aw, that’s cute,” I said. “Not often you see a goddess at a loss for words.”

“It’s not often I’ve been at a loss.”

“You want to know if I’ll find somebody else, right?”

“I guess so.”

“No. I don’t know. No. I…” I drew a little heart in the powdered sugar on my plate. “How could any woman compare to you?”

“She couldn’t. But I don’t like the idea of you spending the rest of your life alone.”

“Eh. Life, shmife. I’ve been alone before.”

“I mean it, Adam. I know better than you just how short mortal life is, and there’s nothing that can make it more miserable than loneliness. All the people in Hades who wander around, aimless, helpless, hopeless… those are people who never found happiness in their lives, so there was nothing waiting for them on the other side.”

“What, I can’t expect you on the other side?”

“Adam, you won’t go to my hus… to my Underworld. We don’t really know what happens to mortals of your faith. I’m certain there’s something after your time ends, but wherever you go, I won’t be there.”

“I see,” I said. “Not much of a Heaven then, is it?”

I lifted her hand to my lips and placed a soft kiss on the back of it, and I wish like hell that I’d kissed her on the lips, because it was the last time I kissed her in this world. Almost as soon as my mouth touched her, there was a rumbling sound and the coffee shop was plunged into darkness. It was early morning, the sun had been streaming in through the windows, but now things were pitch black. Amber hit the lights, and they flickered on, but it was no ordinary darkness outside. It actually seemed to consume the meager illumination of the fluorescents making it barely brighter inside than it was out.

“What’s going on?” I asked, but I don’t know if Stephanie heard me or not over the panicked screams and commotion raised up by the rest of the customers milling about the coffee shop. Perry seemed to have the same nasty premonition that I did, and reached behind the counter for the baseball bat he’d started to keep there.

“Adam, what’s happening?”

“Your guess is as good as mine, bro,” I said. “Stephanie?”

“Damn them. Damn them, damn them,” she hissed.

“It’s Hades, isn’t it?”

It hardly needed a reply, and she didn’t give me one. The doors to the coffee shop burst open and two men stepped inside – gray rags, gray skin, gray hair, gray bears. I couldn’t tell if either of them were the same men who had harassed us the summer before, but they looked so much alike that I don’t think it mattered. The other customers in the shop tried to run for the door, but one of the men held up a hand and they stopped dead in their tracks. Their eyes were black and empty, and they bored into me like a drill. “You should have listened, child,” one of them said. “You were warned. Now, let the fates of the rest of these mortals be on your head!”

“What is the meaning of this, Tantalus?” Stephanie howled. “As your queen, I command you–”

“Your commands hold no sway with us!” the other man said. “We are here to serve a higher power.”

“You mean–”

“BEHOLD!”

The doors opened again and the blackness outside of the shop swirled inside, coalescing into a figure. It was a tall man, gigantic even, and his features were chiseled as if in stone. His eyes were black and lifeless, his beard the same color and hanging in tatters. His robes were black, and although he didn’t carry a scythe, the skull-topped staff in his left hand was intimidating enough, especially when he pointed it at me.

“YOU. MORTAL. PREPARE TO ACCEPT YOUR FATE. HADES IS COME.”

Next: Chapter Fifteen — The Fear in Love

Creative Commons License
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.




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