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     By Chantal Gadoury

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“Are we there yet?” I whispered as I leaned my head against the car window. I heard Hades chuckle lowly and he patted my knee with his free hand.
“I didn’t know you were so anxious to get there.”
“I’m not. I’m nervous,” I said, letting out another deep yawn. I hadn’t slept well at all the past night. After my dream of Persephone and Hades, together, I was haunted by her beauty and the woman with the cup. Was she Demeter? Was she a goddess that worked for Demeter? Had she killed Persephone with her drink? I could still almost taste the flavor in my mouth.
“What are you nervous about?” he asked, giving me a confused glance. I shrugged, tucking myself more against the car door.
“Am I going to die?” I voiced quietly. The thought had passed through my mind more than once.
“No, you’re not going to die,” he murmured.
“But I’m human. Won’t my soul want to go to the afterlife or something?”
“You’re not going to die,” he repeated, letting out a sigh. “I promise.”
There was no reason to ask him any more questions. I didn’t want to scare myself with the thought that I was about to sink into the deepest cave in the world. I wanted to close my eyes and sleep, but I didn’t want to be haunted by the faces that were lurking behind every blink. I didn’t want to see them anymore.
“We’re almost there. You should get packed up,” he said, motioning to the exposed iPod and book that were in my lap.
“I think I can just stuff these in my bag when we get out,” I said, glancing up at him. “Unless you have plans on making me jump out of the car like some action movie or something.”
“Fine,” he snapped and looked away from me, back onto the road, and didn’t look at me until we reached the town. There weren’t many trees; everything was rocks and dirt. There was tall, brown grass that almost looked dead and huge rocks forming into grottos and things that could have been temples years ago. He parked the car on a little side road and got out before I had the chance.
“Are you just going to leave the car here? Like this?” I asked, glancing around the surroundings. No one was there.
“Yes, I am,” he murmured, opening the trunk and pulling out my suitcase, and my box of paints.
“Won’t it be taken away?”
“I’ll just get another one if I ever need to,” he said with a smile. “It’s not like getting a car is a huge deal for me.” I could feel my heart racing faster and faster and he walked toward the white rocks that led to the blue sea. It was beautiful; another painting that I wanted to capture. I began to walk gently, wary of my sore feet. At least they were a bit better now.
“Are we going out . . . into the ocean?” I asked, hesitating as he inched closer and closer to the shore line. Down on the other side of the hill I could see a small lighthouse that looked deserted; I wanted to ask him if I could go explore it, but I already knew that he was in a rush. I could tell by the way he was walking so fast, or it was that he didn’t want to be caught.
“Can you keep up?” he called back over his shoulder, stopping for a moment to see how far behind I was. I saw his eyes on my feet, and I knew that he didn’t feel bad for me. It had been entirely my fault. I dashed to close in on the distance between us, despite the sharp pain that shot up in my legs.
“How much farther do we have to go?” I asked, lifting my hand to block the sun out of my face.
“Just a few more feet down the hill, not much farther,” he said, pointing toward a flat part of the hill. I could see there was a slab of concrete with an ancient Greek design on it; it had swirls of ivory leaves and the shape of the sun and moon. He walked to the giant slab in only a few steps; for every step that he took, I was taking two.
“This it is?” I asked, glancing around the white stony beach, and the crystal blue water.
“It’s underneath this,” he said, putting my suitcase and my box down onto the white stones.
“Then, how are we going to get in there?” I asked, hoping that he’d say we’d have to come back another day, but I knew better. This was his home. I watched as he lifted his hands over the concrete and slowly began to spread his arms apart. As he did, the ground began to quiver and the concrete slab began to pulse and slowly move apart. I tried to dig my heels into the stones, but I kept stumbling as the rocks began to stumble on me. He stopped his arm,s just as there was a big enough hole for the both of us to jump down through.
“Ladies first,” he motioned toward the hole. I froze, staring at him. My heart was beating and I glanced around the beach, taking in the sunshine one last time.
“I really don’t want to go down there,” I whispered, trying to keep the fear out of my voice.
“It’s the only way,” he said with a grin, motioning toward the hole again. “The only way into the Underworld is through caves. This is the only one that isn’t around mankind. So, please, be brave and jump.” I knew this was it. I had no choice. If I ran away again, he’d catch me, or someone would catch me and bring me back to him. He was the hunter, and I would always be the hunted.
“I-I can’t,” I stuttered, shaking my head, backing away from the hole slowly. I watched as he walked toward me, and grabbed my wrist gently, and dragging me toward the black hole.
“Summer, do you trust me?”
“That’s debatable,” I mumbled, avoiding his glance. He walked me closer to the hole until I was practically looking down it. I could see the blue ocean water flowing in and out of the cavern below. I felt better knowing that it wasn’t a bottomless hole, but it didn’t help any that I still had to jump.
“All you have to do is jump into the water. I promise it won’t hurt, and you’ll be able to stand up. That’s why I told you to dress for climbing.” He had been right. That morning, he had tossed me one of my old shirts that I loved, and told me to keep my paint smudged shorts on.
“We’ll be climbing today,” he said.”
But I hadn’t imagined this.
“So on the count of three, you’re going to jump. And then I’ll toss down your stuff, and then I’ll be joining you.”
“You promise you won’t close the hole up above me before you’re down there?” I asked, glancing up at him. I was so scared, so nervous that I didn’t know what to think. He smiled and shook his head.
“That would be rather pointless, now wouldn’t it?” he said with a laugh. I gulped, hoping that counting to five would at least calm my nerves. It didn’t.
“How far down is it?” I stammered, trying to delay for time.
“About fifteen feet. If you’re worried about breaking your legs, you won’t. Where you’re jumping in, the water is about six feet. If you swim a little to your right after that, you’ll be in waist deep water in minutes.” I wasn’t sure if I should nod or shake my head profusely and tell him that there was no way in hell I was going down there by myself.
“One . . .” he began, squeezing my hand for a moment and then letting my hand drop.
“Two . . .” I whispered, trying to gather the last of my strength and courage.
“Three.” I didn’t move. Nothing happened. He stared at me and sighed.
“Really? You were supposed to jump.”
“I’m not crazy. I’m not jumping.”
“Persephone didn’t jump either,” he mumbled and I glared at him.
“Well, good thing I’m not Persephone,” I snapped, bracing my balance and I jumped. My scream the whole way down was the only thing that reminded me that I was still alive. As I crashed into the cold sea water, I could still hear the echo of my scream throughout the caverns.
“I’m sure the whole Underworld heard that scream,” he laughed. His voice bounced against the walls of the cave. I swam to the right, just as he said, and felt for the bottom. It only took moments before I was standing up, hating the wet clinginess of my clothes. I pushed back my tangled hair and glanced up at the last glimmer of day light.
“Here comes your suitcase,” he called, tossing it down into the water. I grabbed the handle and tugged it toward me. My feet were cold, and the rocks under me were slippery. I couldn’t see anything. Everything around me was dark and night and cold.
“Are you coming?” I shouted, hearing my voice bounce all around me, over and over again.
“Hasty are we?” he laughed, glancing down at me. I glanced around me again, hearing only the echoes of our voices and the slight roar of the waves. I heard him grunt a little and then there was a splash next to me, spraying more sea water into my eyes. It burned like hell.
“Are you okay?” he asked me, dashing to my side as I wiped the water away as best as I could.
“You should aim your landings a little bit better. You’re a god, it should be perfect,” I mumbled as I tried to open my eyes to glare at him. “Do you have my box?”
“Yes, I have it, I didn’t forget,” he murmured softly, touching my back with his fingers. “Can you hold onto it as I close the hole up?”
“Do you have to do that? It’s going to get dark in here,” I said, glancing around the dark caves again, even though my eyes were burning.
“I can’t let others in here. That wouldn’t be safe.” He handed me my box of paints and brushes, and I watched as he extended his arms out again and slowly began to move them together. The walls of the cave shook and I knew I was going to die. I was going to be stabbed in the heart by one of the stalactites. I watched as the hole became smaller and smaller until there wasn’t a ray of light left.
“Where are you?” I gasped as the dark consumed me. I couldn’t even see my hand in front of me.
“It’s alright, I’m right here,” he whispered, grabbing onto my elbow. I felt him take the box out of my hand and watched as he tucked it underneath his arm. Out of the corner of the dark cavern, I saw a small dim light coming toward us.
“What is that?” I panicked. I could hear my feet splattering in the water. I was scared.
“Calm down, everything is going to be alright,” he whispered into my ear. I felt his arm wrap around my waist and I was by his side. The air was getting thicker and moist, and didn’t smell as sweet as the summer air above did. It smelled of death.
“What is that light?” I whispered, watching it as it slowly became bigger and brighter.
“That is Charon,” he murmured. “Do you know who Charon is?” I watched as the eerie black boat came closer; I could even hear the swishing of the water that Charon was making with his oar.
“Yes,” I whispered. “I know who Charon is.”
“Good then. I don’t have to make an introduction,” he said with a smirk. The boat stopped in front of us and I glanced around the empty boat. The oar stood straight up in the air and I glanced around the caves. Where had he gone?
“Greetings, my lord,” a faint deep voice echoed throughout the caves. Hades smiled and lifted himself into the boat.
“Hello, Charon.”
“You found the girl,” the voice was like a whisper and the hair on my arms stood up.
“Yes, this is Summer.” Hades glanced at me, and lifted his hand out toward me. I ignored his hands and lifted myself into the black boat. It felt slimy, like wet rocks at the bottom of a lake. I wanted to wipe my hands on my jeans but I knew that it wouldn’t help any. I wrapped my arms around myself and tried to warm my body. The caves were cold, and my wet shorts weren’t helping the situation.
“Home, Charon. Please.” I felt the boat shift, and slowly turn in the narrow canal, and the oar that stood straight up began to move on its own.
“Where is he?” I whispered, leaning into his warmth. He turned and smiled.
“You can’t see him?” I shook my head, glancing at the oar as it began to lift and move the boat forward a bit faster and faster. I felt my hand slip around his arm and I pulled myself closer to him. The caves got darker and I knew I was getting farther and farther away from daylight; from the world above. I felt his arm wrap around my waist and I felt safe; secure, even though I didn’t want to be so close to him. Everything was dark and unfamiliar. I almost felt like I was the opera singer in The Phantom of the Opera;being stolen into the dark. I wondered if he would think I was crazy if I began to sing. His arm squeezed me a little tighter as we descended farther and farther into the caves. I wondered where we were. I couldn’t see where he was taking me, but in my heart I already knew the way. I knew what was coming. I had imagined the setting of the Underworld. It would be dark, and the air wouldn’t be as crisp as it was above us. There were tunnels and caves that led to other tunnels and caves, all dark, all silent, and all dead.
“Are you afraid?” he whispered, his breath on my neck.
“A little.” I shivered. Hades stopped and I could finally see a dim light ahead of us. It was a pink glow, something that I had only ever seen in horror films. I should have expected things like that here. This was the palace of horrors.
“I want to warn you that just ahead of us is a lair in which the souls live. You might see things that you might find unsettling.” I nodded, wanting to close my eyes. I wished that this was just some awful haunted house ride and that I could just get off at the end of the tunnel and go back into the daylight; but this ride had no good ending. This was only the beginning. My eyes began to scan the water. It was dark; black. There was no end or beginning to the water and the rocks. The pink glow began to come from the water around us, and I knew that they were. They were souls. The orbs began to grow in numbers until we were completely surrounded. I could hear moans, and cries. I felt a throbbing in my heart. Were my parents here? Was my father now an orb in this black river? I wanted to lean down and touch one; I wanted to see what would happen. I felt myself leaning closer and closer to the slimy boat’s edge.
“No!” I felt him pull me back and whipped my face toward his. “You cannot touch them. Do not disturb the souls.”
“I didn’t mean to . . .”
“Don’t.” He interrupted. I felt myself shiver again and I nodded solemnly.
“Can I ask why?”
“Would you want to be disturbed?” He answered harshly. I didn’t reply.
The oars changed its course, and we went toward a narrow cave. I knew what was coming next. We’d have to go by Cerberus. The watch dog that let everyone into the Underworld Kingdom, but never let anyone out. Hades sat silently beside me, glancing around the dark ruins of his home. Was he happy to be home? I didn’t know how he could prefer this to the world above. I closed my eyes, wanting to just wait until we hit dry land to see the horrors that remained, but the loud bark of his dog jolted me, and my eyes forced me to look.
“Shut it, you dog,” the deep echoed voice of Charon shouted, and I watched as the large, black, three-headed dog stepped back, eyeing me. I was the fresh meat. I was the next victim to enter his Underworld. I knew now, that I’d never go back.
“Welcome to the Asphodel Meadows,” he whispered. The cave became a forest of grass and flowers and trees. It almost looked like home. The light in the caverns were coming from the orbs that floated around the grassy pastures.
“It’s beautiful here.”
“This is where everyone goes. Not the good or the bad.” I saw that the river ended, and I knew that we’d have to journey the rest of the way on foot.
“Are your feet alright?” he asked gently as the boat docked and he lifted himself and a suitcase out of the boat. I nodded and followed him quickly, wanting to escape the invisible eyes of Charon.
“Thank you, Charon. That will be all.” The boat’s oar rose from the water and began its journey back through the narrow cave. I could already hear Cerberus’s bark echo around me.
​“The palace is ahead. Just follow me.” I did as he told me, and I followed close behind him, watching my step as I flanked around. Had Persephone been frightened as he had led her through here? It all felt so familiar; the way the trees bent over the trail, the way the grass moved in the cold breeze from the water. I suddenly felt like Dorothy Gale, following a yellow trail of death to his Oz.

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