Authors: Melanie Dugan
“Here.” She holds out her hand. He sets the earwig on it. She curls her hand carefully around the insect, whispers into her fist, opens her fingers and the earwig is gone. “Home,” she says to my questioning glance.
“Will I be finding your passengers around here for weeks after you leave?” Helios asks with a smile.
Hecate glances around. “I doubt it. Too tidy. They won’t want to stay here. They’ll come with me.” A garter snake uncoils itself from around her left ankle and slips beneath the nearest couch.
Helios observes this with a smile. “Please,” he says, waving us forward into a smaller, more intimate room. “Come in. Coffee, tea, juice?” he offers. “Mead?”
“Rainwater, please, if you have any,” Hecate says, settling onto a low, wide couch.
“Nothing for me, thank you,” I say.
Once the libations arrive, Hecate says, “We are here to ask about Persephone.”
“Ahhh.” Helios’ glance slides neutrally from her to me. “Well …” he says consideringly.
“Helios,” I say. “I am sick with worry about her. She has been gone for nine days and sent no word to me. No matter what Zeus says about her being an adult — or nearly — it’s just not like her. If you know anything —” I stop, a sob clutching my throat.
Beside me a sparrow alights on one of Hecate’s heads and settles there, pulling strands of her hair around itself into a nest.
Helios is silent for a while, then he gives me a long look. In a measured, quiet voice he says, “Persephone is with Hades.”
“Nine mornings ago they met in that field your daughter cultivates near his poplar circle.”
Helios glances at Hecate, who is batting at the sparrow, murmuring, “Shoo, shoo.” The sparrow flies off. “I’m not surprised,” she says off-handedly. “I knew something was up down there. The beetles and ants, the worms and snakes, all the creatures of the soil and beneath have been jumpy this last week. I asked a couple of worms what was going on, but you can never get a straight answer out of them.”
I stand, shaking with fury. “Does Zeus know this?” I can barely form the words, I am so angry, my voice a low growl.
“He is omniscient,” says Helios.
“Nigh omniscient,” corrects Hecate.
“Demeter,” Helios says in a soothing voice, “don’t get bent out of shape. Hades is a good guy, one of the Big Three.”
His words are almost inaudible above the roaring in my ears, the black foam of rage rising around me.
I thought we had it sorted out. Demeter was going to do a bit of legwork, and Hermes was going to snoop around, too. Given enough time, I figured the Persephone thing would blow over; she’d turn up with a bit of a hangover, Demeter would give her a scolding, and we’d be back to business as usual. Is it wrong to want a little peace and quiet?
Anyway, a couple of weeks after our last meeting with Demeter, Hera and I are snuggled up, just about to drift off to sleep, when the most unearthly — actually, the most earthly cacophony assaults my ears. Those humans can set up quite a ruckus when they want to.
I roll over and pull the pillow over my head, trying to block out the weeping and wailing, but it’s no good. Even with the swan feathers stopping up my ears I can hear the noise. I sit up in bed and listen. From the supplications I can make out, some areas earthside are experiencing too much rain and there’s flooding, other areas have been hit by drought; the temperature’s too high, the temperature’s too low; crops are failing everywhere; stores have been ruined and depleted.
“What’s going on?” I mutter to myself.
“Mmmmm?” Hera mumbles, her eyes hidden beneath a sleeping mask.
“It sounds like the weather systems on earth are out of whack.” That’s Demeter’s department. What’s she up to?
“Zyzylfyx,” Hera murmurs, turning on her side.
Obviously I’m not going to get any help from her.
I climb out of bed and head for the main hall. “Hermes,” I yell. “Hermes.
He materializes right behind me, startling enough at the best of times, but tonight I am in no mood for such shenanigans. “Don’t do that. Why can’t you just manifest in front of me like everyone else?”
“And don’t call me Dad. Zeus is the name.”
“Right, Zooos.” I’m sure he gets his irreverence from his mother’s side of the family.
“I don’t have time for this. What’s going on earthside? Why am I getting supplications in the middle of the night?”
“Well, go find out.”
“Right,” he says. And disappears.
Hestia’s not around and the coffeemaker isn’t turned on, so I have to settle for instant. Awful stuff. That’s my next project — once I get my desk cleared — good instant coffee.
The sands of time sift slowly when you’re drinking bad coffee. It feels like an aeon, but it’s probably only a matter of minutes before Hermes is back.
“So what’s the problem?”
“No crops, Zooos. Too much rain, not enough rain, drought, freezing. Bad stuff.”
“I gathered that. What’s Demeter doing about it?”
He shakes his head. “No Demeter.”
“I didn’t see her anywhere. Persephone, either. Looks like they’ve gone, split, vamoosed —”
“Yes, yes, yes.” I wave him to silence. “Persephone I knew about. But Demeter? You’re sure?”
“You’re the omniscient one.”
“Nigh omniscient.” There are dead spots. “Dionysus, Bacchus, Pan and Hephaestus generate so much static —” so does Hermes, but I’m not going to let him know this — “that they might as well be dead spots some of the time.”
“Really?” He gets a dangerous glint in his eyes.
“You broadcast that and before you know what hit you, you’ll be running a flower shop.”
“Got it,” he grumbles.
“So Demeter’s gone AWOL…”
“She seems to have taken an unauthorized leave of absence.”
“Oh. Yeah. Right.”
“Get me Ceres. She’ll have to pinch hit for a while until I can figure this out.” I feel the rumblings of a headache beginning. “And would you please find me a decent cup of coffee.”
“Sure thing, Daddio.”
I awake to a dream. To silence: no bird song, no murmuring of wind or water. Only absolute stillness.
I awake to shadows. No sunlight sneaking around the curtains and into my room, trying to pry my eyelids open, whispering, “Get up, the day has begun, there is so much to do.”
Or do I awake?
A movement catches my eye. I glace over. Lying there, tangled in the sheets beside me, is Hades, his dark eyes burning into mine. I see warmth there, and longing, and also doubt.
“Where am I?”
“In my bed,” he says.
“No — where?”
“In my realm, in Hades.”
A shiver of panic runs through me. “I’m dead. Am I dead?”
He rolls onto his back, stares upwards, exhales. “Define dead.”
“You know, not alive. Dead.”
Hades chuckles wryly. “You can be walking around in the upper world, the picture of health, looking as though you’re bursting with life, but if you have nothing or no one to love, nothing you care about, no ideas in your head, you’re deader than most of the spirits under my jurisdiction.”
“But am I dead?”
He rolls over, faces me again. “Do you feel dead?”
“No.” In fact, in some ways I feel more alive than I ever have before.
“That’s because, my Persephone, you are definitely not dead.” There is a throb of emotion in his voice.
I turn away from him. What have I done? I bury my face in my pillow.
“Persephone.” He sounds so faint and far away.
I have abandoned the sunbright upper world, I have abandoned my mother, and for what? This place of shades?
I turn to him, avoiding his eyes. My cheeks are wet. His fingers trace the tracks of tears on my face.
“I was afraid of this,” he says sadly. “And yet, you chose. I would not have brought you here against your will.”
“But I didn’t know what I was choosing,” I protest.
“Of course you didn’t,” he says with some irritation. He sits and swings his legs over the side of the bed. “That’s what making a choice is about — taking a gamble. Choice, chance — it’s no coincidence the two words sound similar.” He sighs, stands, pulls on his chlamys. “I must go make some arrangements. I’ll send in your breakfast.” He turns, leans down as if he’s going to kiss me, hesitates, seems to change his mind and pulls away. He stands for a second, then walks quietly from the room.
In the emptiness he leaves behind I give in to my tears. I am surprised how large a part of me seems to be missing with my mother’s absence. After a while I stop. Tears solve nothing. If mum were here she’d tell me to pull myself together. Almost Level-1 Goddesses don’t waste time feeling sorry for themselves, they make the best of things. If life hands you a lemon, hybridize it into something sweet. What is there in this situation that can be sweet?
I get out of bed and cross the room, pulling open the heavy, wine-coloured curtains covering French doors that lead onto the terrace outside. Beyond the terrace lies a realm of grandeur and beauty.
The scene before me is bathed in a faint, silvery light so soft and gentle it’s as if it’s lit by the waning moon, though there is no moon to be seen, or stars, or sun, only an overarching velvety darkness. Far off stand tall mountains, their vertical walls etched by the subtle illumination. Between the mountains and this place stretches a wide plain covered in vast forests that pull back here and there to admit fields. Rivers traverse the plains, snaking through forest and field.
In the world above such a scene would be bustling with activity — shepherds guiding their flocks, farmers working their fields, dogs barking. Here it is silent.
I turn from the window, feeling small and overwhelmed.
Hades reappears carrying a gold plate. He comes to stand beside me and holds out the plate. A pomegranate lies there, cut into sections. Seeds spill out and roll around; the plate is red with their juice.
I look at it hungrily. I haven’t eaten since I arrived, and I am starving. “I don’t think I’m supposed to,” I say.
He smiles. “The pomegranate seeds are a metaphor, my love. We’ve already covered that territory.”
I remember last night, his body against mine, our limbs twined together. “A metaphor?”
“You mean it doesn’t matter whether I eat this or not, the deed is done?”
“He nods. “Exactly.”
I take a section and push some seeds into my mouth. A thought occurs to me. “What’s my mum going to say?
“Persephone,” I hear impatience in his voice again, “you’re an adult.”
“I don’t feel like one.”
“It can take a while,” he admits. He selects a slice of pomegranate and sets down the plate on a nearby table.
I feel so lost and uncertain. Until now I have always been my mother’s daughter. That was my place, my home in the world. I knew what was expected of Demeter’s daughter, even when I resented doing it, or was bored by it. But now I am something else, no longer simply my mother’s daughter. Now I am Persephone, and I must learn who that is and what that means.
“Oh, Rich One —”
“Please,” he says, sounding annoyed. “My name is Hades.”
“But I thought protocol prohibited me addressing you so informally.”
“I don’t care,” he says. There is impatience in his voice. Somewhere I hear a rumble, like heat thunder on a summer day. “I am so tired of all these nicknames — ‘Oh, Rich One,’ ‘Oh, Unseen One,’ ‘Oh, Kind Host.’ No one ever calls me by my real name. My name is Hades. Call me Hades.”
His eyes are on me, intent. “Yes?”
“May I explore your realm?”
“Of course. I will be happy to show it to you.”
No, I mean alone.”
“Oh.” This request seems to make him more somber than usual. I sense his feelings are hurt. But, “Feel free,” he says.
“I just need to sort some things out.”
“I understand.” He turns away, his face hidden from me. “Take as long as you want. Go safely.”
And then he is gone, but on the floor beside me sit a pair of sandals. When I put them on, I find they are crafted of the softest leather and cradle my feet gently. I have never worn such comfortable shoes. “Thank you,” I say to the empty air. I open the French doors that lead to the terrace, and step out.
So Pers is gone and Demeter comes around asking questions with this look in her eye that makes me think maybe I won’t tell her the whole story. I don’t want her turning me into a stinging nettle plant, or crabgrass.