Archive for January 19th, 2009


Summer Love Chapter 21: I Need a Hero

Chapter 21

I Need a Hero


Hades was a big place. Sure, it had been a couple thousand years since anyone walked through its gates, but up until that point they’d somehow managed to find room for a few hundred million tormented Greeks. Finding someone who knew his way around would be easy. Finding someone who could help… that would be hell.

I sat on the middle of the stone bridge, looking back and forth. The poor souls toiling away behind me would be no help. With the panic draining from my mind, it was starting to dawn on me where the mound of bones I’d found outside the gates must have come from. The black-robed baldies must have left them there after an escape attempt. What was odd was that, try as I might, I couldn’t remember the face of the man who’d been vaporized after I set him off. I remembered that someone had been there, and the dried skeleton lay in the dirt as a testament to that, but I couldn’t remember his face or what he looked like… to be honest, I wasn’t 100 percent sure it was even a man and not a woman.

Behind me, on the other side of the bridge, was a much larger island, divided into sections. In the distance, I could make out a hill, where a man seemed to be pushing an enormous stone. Just as he seemed to be approaching the top, he stumbled and the boulder rolled back down. Without even a cry of frustration, he turned and began marching back down the hill again. While I was watching, a flaming wheel rolled past – a creepy enough sight, but it got even worse when I realized the howling sound it made wasn’t caused by the rolling, but because of a man strapped to it, roaring with an agony I couldn’t imagine. On the sides of the island, I saw a series of enormous, one-eyed creatures howling into the blackness.

I stepped off the stone bridge onto the enormous island, and everywhere I looked I saw someone else being tortured. A woman danced so hard her feet were bleeding, but she couldn’t stop or rest. A man was being forced to consume sumptuous cakes, meats, cheeses and food, but his midsection was split open, the food spilling out as quickly as he could gobble it. I tried to ignore the screams and moans around me and stumbled forward, slumping across the island looking for anything that could be helpful. I saw another stone bridge in the distance, so I made my way vaguely in that direction, but I didn’t have any idea if it would take me somewhere worth going.

“You… boy…”

I turned in the direction of the voice, looking up at a goblin with a sneer on its face. “Who are you?” it whispered. “You do not belong here.”

“No kidding,” I said. “Do you know–”

“YOU DO NOT BELONG!” He pulled a whip and cracked it in my direction, prompting me to run. I bolted through tendrils of smoke and dove beneath a sputtering flame cut loose from the wheel. I slipped, rolling down a slope and splashing down into a pool of water. As I pushed myself up to my hands and knees, I began cursing whatever gods were responsible for putting me here.

“Watch your mouth, lad,” someone said. “It’s not worth it for the momentary release, take my word for it.”

I wiped the water from my eyes and looked at a man standing in the pool. Above his head was a tree branch, hanging low with plump, luscious berries. Although he was in water, his face was dirty and grimy, and his body was shriveled and thin. Perhaps the worst part was the fact that he was undeniably familiar.

“You,” I whispered. “I know you. I’ve seen you before.”

“How long ago was that? A day? A year? A century? It loses meaning here.”

He bent down, reaching for the water with a cupped hand, but it drained away before he could even get a drop to raise to his chapped, bleeding lips. The last time I saw those lips, they were sucking at a cup in Perry’s coffeehouse… and didn’t get a drop out of that, either.

“You warned me to stay away from Steph—Persephone.”

“The master was not pleased with you,” he said. He looked up at the berries, easily within reach. And he raised an arm, though, the branch lifted, and the berries were pulled away.

“Who the hell are you?” I said.

“My name was Tantalus, when I was alive.”

“What are you doing here?”

“This is my punishment.” He knelt this time, trying to bring his head to the water. It was gone in seconds, without ever touching his mouth to the pool. “I was invited to feast with the gods. I tried to fool them.”

“Fool them?”

“I slew my own son… served him to the gods as meat. Only Demeter tasted of his flesh. I… I have been here ever since.”

“God almighty,” I whispered. Tantalus laughed, a sound without an ounce of mirth to it.

“Which one?” he said.

“Isn’t there anyone here who isn’t a monster or a wretch?” I said. “Isn’t there anyone in all of Hades who’s actually got his head together?”

“Not here. Not in Tartarus,” he moaned. The name struck a chord somewhere in my mind. I’d read about this place before, I knew.

“Tartarus… land of the ironic punishments?”

“Land of the just punishments,” he said, watching again as the berries were pulled from his grasp.

I pushed myself back and sat on the bank of the pool. “Dammit, I’m lost,” I said. “I’m in the middle of Hell and everyone around me is a basket case.” I looked up into a black, blank sky. All I could see were islands floating in the distance, people being tortured, punishment being meted. Everywhere I looked there was nothing but emptiness and despair. Everywhere except for the one twinkling star I’d noticed when I first stepped through the gate.

“What is that?” I asked, looking out at it. I pointed, and Tantalus followed my arm. When he saw the light, he blanched.

“Elysium!” He cried. “Its light grows smaller still.”

“Elysium?” According to the books I’d read, Elysium was where the heroes went when they died. They were escorted by Zeus himself, and set up to spend eternity like kings. “That’s Elysium? It’s still here? When I heard how Hades went nuts, I guess I thought it would have been gone.”

“Not gone… smaller.”

“How do I get there?”

“West.” Tantalus pointed to the light. “Go west. Find paradise… in the west.”

I stood up, dripping wet, and started to walk away. Tantalus bent down again, trying to reach the water, moaning. I looked around, seeing no one, and scooped up a handful.

“Here,” I said. “I suppose I owe you this much.”

As he bent over to sip the water from my hands, though, it began to dribble away. As tightly as I kept my fingers together, in seconds, I was dry.

“Sorry, dude. I guess Hades’ just punishments can’t be circumvented that easily.”

As I walked away, I heard Tantalus begin to cry – heavy, dry sobs. There was no water in his body to create tears.

*   *   *

The path through Tartarus wasn’t as bad as I would have expected. Sure, everyone nearby was being mercilessly tortured in horrifically creative ways, but for the most part they all ignored me. I didn’t see another one of the men in black – the “Telos,” I guess they were called. Maybe they only needed them closer to the gates.

I kept the spark of Elysium in sight no matter where I went. Eventually, I crept to the edge of the island that I supposed made up Tartarus. The stone bridge there was much longer, and extended so far I couldn’t even see where it led. Steeling myself, trying to remember how the reversal hadn’t been too big a deal when I slipped before, I began to move out across it.

I walked for what felt like an incredibly long time. Eventually, my steps across the bridge started to echo – a clink here, a clink there. And with each clink, I saw a spark of light in the distance. As I got closer, I saw a wave of motion just before each sound. There was someone swinging something… a hammer? A hammer was coming down on an anvil. That was the clink, that was the spark. Someone was making something. He was an enormous man, a mountain of a man, with a heavy red beard lit up by the flash of the strike. As I walked down the stone bridge to the tiny island where he was waiting for me, he smiled.

“Adam Solomon,” he said. “I’ve been expecting you.”

“How the hell does everyone down here know who I am?”

“But do you know who I am?”

“I don’t suppose you’d just cut to the chase and tell me? I’m terrible at this game.”

He held up the thing he’d been pounding on the anvil. It was a long strip of golden metal, glittering in the low light, with jagged edges that sparked as he twisted it. It looked like a lightning bolt. “How about this?” he said. “Any help?”


He laughed with a loud boom, and the stone bridge quaked. Had I still been on it, I probably would have plunged off. “Zeus? Gods, boy, are all the mortals as dense as you now?” He shook the lightning bolt at me. “Aye, Zeus used to throw these things down at you to make his point, but where do you think he got them?

I searched my memory – I did recall stories about some blacksmith that forged Zeus’s lightning bolts, but…

“Hephaestus!” he exploded. “Damn it, boy, you don’t know who you’re dealing with here?”

The name was familiar – I was pretty sure Athena had talked about this guy as one of the gods who had thrown in with Hades. The fact that he was sitting here, waiting, couldn’t possibly bode well.

“Hades knows every soul that enters his realm, boy. He knew you were here from the moment you stepped in. It’s just a question of how long it is before you wind up falling into a firepit or getting devoured by a Cyclops. But frankly, he also doesn’t want word of your presence getting back to the queen.”

“Persephone? She’s here?”

“Dense again. Hades wants you over and done with. That’s why I’m here.”

“I’ve seen this movie,” I said. “Is this one of those things where you give me one last chance to turn around and go home before something really bad happens to me?”

“Not exactly. I am the something bad.”

He pulled back and hurled the lightning bolt into my chest.  

Next: Chapter 22-Hungry Heart

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Summer Love by Blake M. Petit is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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January 2009

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