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Authors: Melanie Dugan

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BOOK: Dead Beautiful
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I bumped into him totally by accident at a flood once. All the water nymphs got called up and he was there. Someone invoked him because their cellar was wrecked. Gods and demi-Gods don’t usually make house calls but Darryl was so kind-hearted he made an exception.

We were standing around after the water levels had peaked. He was waiting for them to fall so he could check out the cellar and we started chatting. I asked him, “Up to anything interesting these days? I mean, aside from floods, ha ha.”

He smiled and said, “Yeah, yeah. I’m seeing Persephone. We’ve been hanging together.”

“Oh yeah? Pers? She’s my best friend.”

“Really?” He looked at me a bit differently after that, but I’m not sure he really saw me.  “She’s great, eh?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Really great.” But it bothered me how happy he seemed when I could tell Pers was really not that interested in him. I thought about saying something to him, setting him straight, but I figured it would sound like sour grapes, so I kept my mouth shut and smiled and said, “I’m Cyane, by the way.”

 

Persephone

 

But I didn’t want nice. It’s boring. I mean, sure, some people want nice (who…..?) or at least reliable and predictable, same old, same old. Helios is big into that: up, down, up, down. I can see how it’s good, but it would drive me nuts.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted, though. I knew what I didn’t want, but it would have been difficult for me to put into words what I did want; it was more a feeling. I wanted things to not be the same all the time. I wanted my life to be different from my mum’s. I wanted to do something that mattered, to make a difference.

Darryl talked to me but I didn’t hear him. I tuned him out, which wasn’t really fair of me. I imagined Hades — tall, supercilious, amused — standing to one side listening to Darryl. He would smile wryly at Darryl’s earnestness and his simple dreams. It was mean, but I wanted to laugh when Darryl told me what he wanted was a wife, two or three kids and a tidy, well-built house. Don’t you want adventure, I wanted to ask. To try new things? To be scared a bit? To know you really existed before you become the name of a car or manned space vehicle?

My hands itched. I felt like — I don’t know — shaking him. There had to be more than just these little dreams. Little dreams diminished you. I wanted more.

 

Cyane

 

I should have known something was up. Pers was kind of grouchy. We were in the greenhouse and I found a really pretty flower, kind of trumpet-shaped. The inner trumpet part was the lightest orange — like the first kiss of dawn. The outer petals were a creamy white. I held it up. “What’s this, Pers?”

She just about yelled at me. “Put that down.”

I was so surprised I almost dropped it.

I guess she saw the look on my face. “Sorry,” she said, taking the pot from me. “I’m under a lot of stress lately. This whole Olympus thing …” the words trailed off. “I thought it’d be a lot more fun up there, but it’s all rules and regs. You can’t breathe without someone telling you you’re doing it wrong.”

“Yeah,” I said. “My mom doesn’t really like it up there when she has to go. Stuffed shirts, she says.” Then I remembered Pers’s mom is one of them. “Not all of them.”

She must have guessed what I was thinking because she laughed. “Your mom’s right. They can be. ‘Perhaps you didn’t realize, oh Persephone, daughter of Zeus, that is not the correct way to pick your nose,’ ” she said in a really prissy voice. We both laughed. “No, but really, that’s what it’s like. Sometimes I just want to run away,” she said. Then added, “But that’d be hard on mum.”

“You could take some time off,” I suggested. “We could get the nymphs and go swimming.”

She frowned, I thought she was going to shake her head, but she looked at the pot she was holding for a sec. “That’s a good idea,” she said, as much to herself as to me. “Sure.”

 

Persephone

 

Jonquil. Desire.

I didn’t want to give it to him in the poplar grove. If I did, he might — I don’t know — I just didn’t feel comfortable giving it to him while we were alone. It seemed too risky. So I had been trying to figure out what to do when Cyane — that silly nit — picked up the pot and started waving it around in the air as if it were a toy.

“What’s this?” she asked.

I had been working on that plant for a week, tweaking the colours until I got just the right balance, the orange of the trumpet pale but not sickly-sweet, the petals touched with the merest hint of buttery yellow. I had been fine-tuning the shape, too, getting the proportions just right, the trumpet not too large, the petals fanning out in a perfect circle.

I guess I spoke a bit sharply. Cyane got all big-eyed and nervous-looking. I thought she might turn into a rivulet there and then. “Sorry,” I said. I told her about Olympus, all the rules. She relaxed; she seemed to understand.

It slipped out about running away. I didn’t mean to mention it. I didn’t want anyone getting suspicious. If mum found out what I was thinking about she’d ground me. She obviously has her heart set on Darryl and me hooking up, which isn’t going to happen.

“You could take some time off,” Cyane said. She mentioned going swimming with the nymphs, which didn’t interest me that much. I was increasingly irritated by them — all they talked about was boys, music and dresses. My first thought was no, but then it occurred to me: He won’t manifest while they’re all there. We can go swimming by the cave. I can drop off the flower surreptitiously. He’ll get the message and I can wait for his reply. “Good idea,” I said. “Let’s get the girls.”

 

Hades

 

I heard their laughter. It trickled all the way down to my palace, where I was working with 00/01/11. Zeus is always market share this, market share that but I’m more than a number cruncher. I have these people — well, not people anymore, former people, ex-people, shades — and we’re not doing enough for them. So 00/01/11 and I were checking operating costs to see if I could cut a few drachmas in one department in order to upgrade services in another department.

“Excuse me,” I said. I got up and shut the window. I sat down again and tried to concentrate, but it was no good; I could still hear the girls’ silvery voices tumbling down through the darkness to my realm.

I had to do this right. I didn’t want to arouse suspicion. I didn’t want to draw Hera’s attention. “Well,” I said to 00/01/11, “This is a lot to think about. How about we call it a day. I’ll give this some thought, see if I can come up with some other ideas, and we can get together in a week or two.”

I needn’t have worried. 00/01/11 doesn’t have the imagination of a rock. Not a suspicious bone in his body, he’s a bureaucrat through and through. “Certainly,” he said, straightening the papyri on the desk in front of him, then filing them into this little black rectangular package he always carries around with him. “Let me just check.” He pulled a small sundial out of his himation, then grinned weakly. “I always forget this doesn’t work down here.”

“Quite all right.” I waved and a feeble ray of light hit the sundial.

“Thank you. I’ve got to trade up,” he said. “The new model has much better reception.” He peered at the device. “The next two weeks are somewhat crowded. We’re coming up to vernal equinox and that’s always a bad time. Sacrifices, invocations. Just thinking about the requisitions involved gives me a headache.” He pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger. “And then there’s talk of instituting a new calendar, although the current one seems perfectly fine to me.” He shook his small, bald head. “Shall we say three weeks from today?”

“Excellent,” I said, trying to keep the impatience out of my voice. “I look forward to seeing you then.”

“Until then, oh Rich One.”

“Hades will do fine, 00/01/11.”

He bowed his head but did not say my name. The next instant he was gone.

Do you have any idea how lonely you can feel when no one ever wants to call you by your name? There’s always this tippy-toeing around, this euphemistic coyness — Oh, Rich One; Oh, Unseen One. The name is Hades, for crying out loud.

I was not in the best of moods when I ascended to the cave. There they were, a dozen or more of them, glowing in the sunlight. Persephone, Cyane and the nymphs splashing in the water, dousing each other and shrieking with laughter, then throwing themselves on the grass, the water glinting on their shapely limbs.

I saw Persephone cast a quick glance in my direction but that was all. She stayed near the river, never coming closer to the cave. I waited, watching, as they plunged into the water, gasping at first at the coolness, then surfacing over and over. I saw them emerge, dripping, from the river, their diaphanous gowns clinging to them. I listened to their girlish voices, although I made a point of not eavesdropping on their conversation.

She had brought them here, I was sure of it. But why? Sad to say, my appearances are not always greeted with joy. They have even been known to cause panic, so I am judicious about manifesting. Persephone could safely assume I would not appear in front of that crowd.

Oh, sure, there’s all this talk about my Helmet of Invisibility but do you have any idea what that’s like? Yes, it works, but who do you think powers it? Me. The whole time I’m wearing it, I have to really concentrate. I walk around thinking, stay invisible, stay invisible. One sneeze and it’s game over. I’m sort of checking out some amorous action — Cupid and Psyche — and my allergies kick in and there I am, standing in front of them, and do I feel like a voyeur. And you know how it says on all those antihistamines, “may cause drowsiness, do not operate heavy machinery” — well, that holds for the Helmet, too. Take a pill and try and run that thing and you find yourself walking into walls and popping in and out of visibility. So for allergy season — i.e., all the time, in those days — the thing’s a write-off. On top of which, have you ever been inside one of those things? Hot, humid, and the inside of it smells like old socks. Its usefulness is really limited, and in this situation there was no way I was going to use it.

My impatience grew as I watched Persephone and the girls, prompting rolls of thunder and a cluster of thunderheads to appear on the horizon. I tried to calm myself. Demeter might grow suspicious of such a sudden change in the weather. She might come to investigate.

They were getting ready to leave. Sitting up, dusting themselves, arranging each other’s hair. I stood in the darkness of the cave feeling testy. Yes, caves are my domain, but I spend as little time in them as possible; they’re dank and full of bugs and bats. Despite Chinese sentiment, I have never felt bats were a particularly auspicious creature. Too flitty for that, and inclined to get tangled in loose-fitting clothes, such as himations, chitons or peploses.

Some of the girls patted the grass in search of combs and pins (I knew some of the ones they could not find would end up in my coffers eventually). Some checked their mirrors to make sure their coiffures were in place. I watched them adjusting their robes, tugging here, smoothing there, turning this way and that in front of one another.

When all was ready they turned and sauntered off. My temper flared. I could not stop it; a low growl rumbled. Had I come here and waited, for nothing? Some of the nymphs glanced skyward, held out their hands, palm up, to check for rain.

As if it was an afterthought, Persephone waved them on, then turned and ran back. She set a small ceramic pot in the mouth of the cave, and hurried away.

The flower glowed luminously against the encircling darkness. I recognized it, and knew.

 

Cyane

 

I began to think I’d got it wrong. I had thought Pers was up to something — getting me to drop off that bulb thing, the way she seemed preoccupied a lot of the time, and the way she snapped at me that time. I kept expecting her to say something, to let me in on what was up, but she didn’t.

We went swimming, just like before, and it seemed like things were getting back to normal. After that, whenever she wasn’t up on Olympus, she was helping her mom, just like in the old days. When she had some free time we’d hang out, sometimes with the nymphs, sometimes with the dryads and Nereids.

I decided it was Olympus that had been making her cranky and spaced-out, spending all that time up there and having to learn all those new rules and regulations. Now she was getting used to it and settling down. Pretty soon the good old Pers I was used to would be back again.

 

Persephone

 

Of course I knew he was there. I heard the low rumble — the girls thought it was thunder, to me it sounded like laughter.

We lolled around, played the usual games. Once I glanced at the cave and I was pretty sure I saw him there, a darker shape within the cave’s deep shadow. But I was pretty certain he wouldn’t manifest with the girls around.

It was a nice afternoon, but all afternoons were nice in those days. One warm, sunny day following another. Who knew it could be any different? The water was just right, of course, freezing cold at first, but you got used to it. We swam, we splashed, we lay on the grass (a nice patch of Kentucky bluegrass I had laid down myself just for us) and let the little breezes dry us.

BOOK: Dead Beautiful
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