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Authors: Melanie Dugan

Dead Beautiful (9 page)

BOOK: Dead Beautiful
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Hera is patting her back and making sympathetic noises. She motions for me to refill Demeter’s flute with more mead.

“Kidnapped is a pretty strong word,” Hera says.

Demeter wipes her streaming eyes and nose on her peplos. “I just don’t know what else to think,” she says, accepting the flute.

“Just thinking this through,” Hera offers Demeter a handkerchief, “not that I doubt you, but why would someone kidnap her? Have you received any threats lately?”

“Thank you,” Demeter says, patting her eyes with the handkerchief. “No, no threats.” She tosses down the mead in one swallow. This is a side to her character I haven’t seen before: tears, hysteria, knocking back alcohol. It’s a good thing I called a halt to our little tete-a-tete when I did. Don’t want to end up with some sodden, wailing banshee. “Nothing like that,” she says.

“O.k., here’s an idea,” Hera says. “Let me know what you think. Why don’t you go check out Persephone’s favorite haunts. Maybe get that water nymph —”

“ — Cyane.”

“ — to help you. You’ll know them better than anyone. Meanwhile we’ll start making enquiries —”

“Now hold on —” I interject. I have a lot coming up. It’s vernal equinox soon; that’s always a crazy time of year.

“Her father,” Hera continues talking as if I haven’t said anything, “will do his parental duty for once and we’ll see what we can find out.”

“Would you?” Demeter takes Hera’s hand. “Oh, would you?”

Hera clasps Demeter’s hand in both of her own. “Absolutely. You get started, and we’ll send Hermes out on a little fact-finding mission. If we hear anything, we’ll let you know. If you find anything, give us a shout. And we can revisit this in two days, all of us get together here again. How does that sound?”

I look at Hera admiringly. I love it when she gets all bureaucratic and takes control like this. Maybe once Demeter’s gone, I’m thinking, we can slip back into the bedroom and do a little filing. 

“O.k.,” Demeter says. “And you’ll send Hermes?”

“I’ll go get him right now.” Hera stands.

“Thank you,” Demter says, rising.

“One mother to another,” Hera says, looking Demeter straight in the eye. “You have my promise we’ll get to the bottom of this.”

Then they are both gone.

I feel — well, it’s difficult to put into words. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt this way before. Extraneous.

 

Persephone

 

In the swirling dark I pressed my mouth to his, wrapped my arms around him. I was irritated. I resented any space between us, even the smallest atom. I wanted to merge with him, to lose myself in him.

We broke apart, stood staring at each other. Like the breaths of drowning men bursting from the sea’s grip, ours came in great, shaking shudders.

“Persephone.” I heard caution in that word. Was he having second thoughts?

I pulled him to me, wrapped his arms around me, put my mouth on his, trailed my lips across his cheek, down his neck. I felt his body answer mine, rise to my growing hunger.

“Persephone.” His voice was fainter, fading.

Then I understood. I decided. I took him. I felt his heat in me. We tumbled together, a rushing in our ears; words, promises sucked out of our mouths, only our eyes could acknowledge the other. Our gazes locked.
You
.

 

Hades

 

Wow.

I had no idea.

I thought I was in the driver’s seat.

For a moment I wavered. After all, she is the daughter of a Level-1 Goddess, soon to be a Level-1 Goddess in her own right. You don’t go messing with those Level-1s lightly. With Aphrodite it’s one thing; everyone knows what’s up with her. She’s not Zeus’s daughter, either. But Persephone is a whole different chariot race. Mess around with her and I run the risk of incurring Zeus’s disfavour, to put it mildly. On the other hand, what’s he going to do? Send me to Hades? Ha ha ha.

She read the doubt in my eyes. She pulled me to her and kissed me. What’s a God to do? Even we have our limits.

I gave up, I gave in, I gave myself over to her.

 

Zeus

 

Almost as soon as she was gone, Hera was back.

“Hi, hon. I thought you handled that really well,” I tell her. A little flattery might do the trick, get her back in the mood. There’s still time for some hanky panky before Hestia shows up to tend the fire.

But Hera slaps me down. “What is the matter with you? Do you always think with your nether regions?”

“What? I just thought — ”

“No, you didn’t,” she replies, stalking away from me. “That’s the problem. You didn’t think.” She turns, pacing back towards me. “This is serious. Don’t you understand that?”

“What? A teenager’s missed curfew. No biggie. In fact, pretty standard operating procedure in my day.”

She stops pacing and glares at me. “What are you talking about? At her age, you were still inside your father.”

“Oh. Right.” Bad memories. Hot and crowded. Let’s not revisit that.

“Listen,” Hera says. “I don’t think you get the full import of what’s going on.”

“Which is what?”

“If it were simply a matter of her being out past curfew, you’re right, no big deal, they’ll sort it out.”

“Well, thank you for acknowledging I may have a brain cell or two.”

“Yes,” she says. “That ‘We’ve never been separated even for one night’ nonsense. There’s a big part of the problem. The poor girl’s been smothered, absolutely smothered. She’s due for a some big acting out any day now.”

“Right on.” Agree, agree, agree. I’m on your side, baby. We’re on the same team. Let’s go work on some plays.

“But,” she rounds on me, “if she isn’t just playing hooky and she has been abducted, we are in big trouble. Don’t you see that? I mean we’re losing adherents to this Jesus fellow — a pleasant young man, but have you ever listened to what he’s advocating?”

“Yeah, sure — love thy neighbour as thyself, yadda, yadda, yadda. You know, I agree with him on some points.”

“That’s sweet,” says Hera in a voice that indicates it’s not sweet. “What he’s really advocating is the overthrow of the status quo: the first shall be last and the last shall be first, or some such, and he’s not talking about standing in line for Aristophanes’ latest.”

“Yeah, well, the system isn’t perfect. It needs some adjusting.”

“We are the system, you big dolt.”

“Now wait a minute — ”

“Don’t you get it? We are the status quo he’s talking about overthrowing. We are the first who are going to be last if he has his way.”

“Well, when you put it that way …”

“And if we can’t protect a Goddess — almost Goddess — what kind of Gods are we? Just how much power do we really wield? If we can’t take care of our own we’re going to look like a bunch of losers, and humans certainly won’t believe we can look after them. There’ll be a huge drop in confidence; you can just kiss all those sacrifices good-bye and go find work as a janitor, because, after all, what else are you qualified to do?”

“Consultant,” I shoot right back — but she’s right. As usual, Hera’s right. It’s one of the things I love about her; it’s one of the things I hate about her. I flop onto my throne. “Oh, Me. So now what?”

“I think the best we can hope for is that Demeter finds her somewhere.”

“And if she doesn’t?”

“I sent Hermes down to earth incognito. Maybe he’ll turn up something.”

“Oh, wow, Hermes. That’s a plan.”

“Well if you can think of something better,” she snaps.

“No, I’m sorry. It’s a good idea.”

“And we can try to keep Demeter distracted until we sort things out. We don’t want her overreacting. That could cause more problems.”

“Good thinking. Sorry if I’ve been grouchy. I’m just stressed.”

She looks up. The irritation in her eyes shifts, softens. She crosses to me, puts her hand on mine. “I know you are, sweetie. I’m sorry I chewed you out. I think you’re doing a great job.”

“Really?”

“Yes, I do.”

“And I’m not a dolt?”

“No, you’re my Zeus.” She rubs my arm. “Top God.”

“You make me feel like a God.”

“Oh, you,” she chuckles. “Come on,” she says, tipping her head in the direction of the bedroom. “Grab some thunderbolts; you can be the high pressure weather front, I’ll be low pressure. We’ll mix us up a little weather.”

“Really?” When she talks like that I feel not just nigh-omniscient, but totally omniscient.

“Don’t just sit there all night.”

 

 

Demeter

 

Where is she? Where is my daughter?

For two days I search the heavens, asking Persephone’s friends if they have seen her. None of them have any idea where she is, none have heard from her. At the end of that time, Zeus, Hera and I gather in the main hall as Hera suggested, only for me to learn that Hermes has no information yet. Hera seems concerned about my state of mind. She suggests I take a spa day. “You need to relax a little,” she says. “You’ll worry yourself sick, and that won’t help anyone.” It’s kind of her, but something smells wrong: sympathy, empathy, compassion — these aren’t Hera’s style. I wonder if she knows something I don’t.

I return to earth and check in at the office. A few messages from the locals await me, the usual requests for sunny days, temperate weather, enough rain. They can wait; finding my daughter is more important.

I examine Persephone’s greenhouses. They seem in good order — she has always been a tidy girl. The temp and humidity have been set as though she planned to be gone for a while.

For seven days and seven nights I wander our neighborhood, canvassing the other spirits, the naiads, the dryads, asking if anyone has word of my daughter, but none of them can tell me anything.

Then, on the seventh dawn, Hecate materializes, rising like fog from the living ground and coalescing in front of me. An effective entrance, it certainly grabs my attention.

“Hail, Enodia, Goddess of Paths, Daughter of Earth and Sky. Peace be upon you,” I say.

“Hail, Demeter, Giver of Good Gifts.” Hecate’s three heads speak at once, but they’re slightly out of synch which gives her words a weird buzzing quality. One head nods in my direction.

“You’ve got a twig or something in your hair.” I indicate my left temple. Her right-hand head twists around, trying to locate the twig, but it can’t turn quite far enough around. Hecate reaches up, pats her hair, finds the twig and pulls it out.

“Thank you,” she says, bending over and tapping it into the ground. A slender green shoot emerges from the tip of the twig, and small leaves pop out of its sides. “I get out there in the wilderness and come back looking like a bird’s nest.” She straightens. “Anyway, I hear you’re looking for Persephone.”

“Yes.” My heart quickens. “Do you know where she is?”

Hecate shakes her head, and a spider drops from her hair. She catches it in her upturned palm and murmurs, “Sweetie pie” fondly, before wrapping its silk thread around the branch of a nearby shrub. “No, although nine days ago I felt the ground tremble and heard it shriek.”

Trembling, shrieking ground. Lots of help, I’m thinking, but I bite my tongue. “Yes?”

“Have you spoken to Helios?” She bends down, loosens the sandal from her left foot and shakes out a beetle. “There you go.” She taps it on its rear and it scuttles away.

“No. I talked to Zeus. He said —” I stop. Zeus said almost nothing. Hera did most of the talking.

“I think it would be wise to talk to Helios,” Hecate says.

“Why?”

“Excuse me.” She shakes out her chiton. Seeds, flower buds, dried leaves and petals, blades of grass tumble to the ground. “Ah,” she sighs, wrapping the fabric closely around herself again. “That’s better.” She looks at me blankly.

“Helios,” I prompt.

“Oh, yes.” She nods. “His nickname isn’t the All Seeing One for nothing.” A morning glory tendril snakes its way out from under her robe and begins to coil its way down her arm. “No, no, no,” she says patiently. She unpeels the vine and drapes it on a nearby branch, which it twines itself along.

“I thought that was a figure of speech.”

She smiles. “Every figure of speech has at its centre a seed of truth. Shall we?” She inclines her head, ready to go?

 

Helios’ place has a pleasing simplicity to it; it is almost but not quite austere. The surfaces are off-white and uncluttered so that the rooms seem to be formed of light. The effect is quite different from Apollo’s place, which is painted a stark, glaring white that hurts the eyes, and where every horizontal surface boasts an award of some sort, usually gilded, for excellence in odes, paeans and panegyrics. Apollo goes in for sharp corners, level surfaces, exactitude. Helios favors curves, soft, receptive surfaces. The atmosphere at Helios’ place is cool, calm and restful.

Helios greets us in the front foyer, stepping forward solicitously. “Darling,” he says after the requisite greetings. He reaches up to remove an earwig that has fallen from Hecate’s hair and landed on her shoulder.

BOOK: Dead Beautiful
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