Welp. Here’s the entire first chapter if you’d like to take a look. It’s about 7,000 words or about 30 pages, by the way. If you’re feeling up to the task and have already read the bit I shared before, there’s a big ole horizontal line where you left off.
I almost didn’t share this today because I still sort of think it’s not very good. But hey, I didn’t think the first six pages were that good either but enough people seemed to like it well enough.
The first chapter is the only one of which I’m not satisfied, so constructive criticism is appreciated but just the fact that you’ve viewed and/or liked it is good enough for me. Hopefully it’s engaging enough to hold your attention!
Thanks for reading!
It feels like I’ve been waiting forever on him. I guess it’s a long way, but I mean we come out here all the time. You’d think I’d be used to him being late by now. The river’s turning into a dull blue as I wave a stick I found in it. There’s a tiny flower bud that didn’t quite get the chance to bloom at the end of it and I briefly think it might spring to life if I keep it in the water. Sometimes I like to think I’m waving a part of myself into the river. I see the blurry auburn in my reflection with a couple hints of turquoise. I swat at it with the stick but it always reforms in a chaotic mess.
This place can be really lonely. It’s not even a town or a village or anything like that, but we call it Asphodel is if it were. Ze’s mom, Ria, came up with the name and she jokes that the sun and the moon are just artificial. Apparently, there used to be a lot of people that lived over here, across the river, but those houses have been vacant for as long as I can remember. It’s just one long road of dirt with a circle at the end. We live on that circle but there’s dozens of other two-story houses. All empty. Ria says no one stays here long. Maybe it’s because of the huge field completely surrounding our cul-de-sac filled with weeds and tall, brown grass with one huge willow tree down the low hill behind our house and by the river. I’ve gotten to the point where I can ignore the itchiness of the tall grass and just wear shorts or a skirt but Ze always insists on jeans. It’s not a very appealing place, but we make the most of it. We hang out by the tree with its oddly beautiful, loosely hanging branches mostly, like today if he would ever hurry up.
Pretty boring but I think it’s just because we’re in the middle of nowhere. Ria tells me the walk across the river and into town takes about an hour but I’ve never actually seen the bridge. Sometimes I just walk alongside the river and look for it but I’ve come to the conclusion that Ria just made it up to keep me busy. Ria home schools us so there’s really no reason to go into town. I’ve never been though and I can’t remember a time when she went either. I make an eight in the water with the stick. Where is that boy…?
I thrust the stick into the river. “It’s about time, Ze.” I push myself up and look right at him. His bronze hair sticks to his forehead with sweat and I can tell from the way his royal blue eyes look at me that he ran at full speed here on bare feet. I can’t remember the last time either of us wore shoes, actually. “I told you 3 o’clock.”
“I know, I know. Sorry,” he says, panting to a stop. “Mom made me do some extra problems.” He falls down into the tall grass that’s started to brown with the changing of the seasons. The grass is so tall that I can’t even see him anymore. “Anyway, I brought the rope you asked for.” A long burly rope jets out of the grass and lands behind me.
“You idiot! It’s gonna go down the river,” I say. The rope starts sliding into the river. I lunge my whole body toward it but the current’s already got it and my face and hands get full of dirt. The grass is too tall and pointy to even try to grab for it. I hear a rustle in the grass near me.
“Jeez, Hai. What would you do without me?”
I smack the ground and dart to my feet. “I’d probably have a lot less stress in my life!”
He laughs and starts pulling the rope out of the water. It’s a lot longer than I thought it would be. I notice Ze’s got some serious muscle going on in his arms. Since when does he have time to work out? Or I guess it’s just from climbing the tree all the time. “Didya bring the plank with you?”
“Yeah, it’s somewhere under the tree.”
“Sheesh. You act like I’m an hour late. It’s only been like fifteen minutes.”
“Yeah, well. I got here early.”
“Well plan to be late from now on. Mom’s starting to really push this math on me and I still don’t really get it.”
“Alright, let’s just get to work.”
Today, Ze and I were supposed to build a swing under the willow tree. The plan was to swing off and into the river. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I can’t swim. To make it worse, the river is really deep, even right where the water meets the shore. Come to think of it, this is the only water nearby that I’ve seen. We don’t have pools or anything.
“Do you know how to swim, Ze?”
I squint my eyes at him. “So how do you expect us to survive a trip into the river?”
I look at him for a while as he shimmies up the tree with the rope around his arms.
“Hey, can you throw me the board in a sec? I couldn’t bring it up with me.”
“You didn’t use to be like this, Ze,” I say, picking up the board. “You’re so…” I put my arm through one of the holes in the board. “Weird.”
“I’m just tired of home school, I guess. I want to see the world.”
“Ria says we’re not old enough to really go anywhere though.” I put my other arm in the remaining hole and hold it up to the sky. They look kinda like those really old shackles Ria showed me in a book once. There’s even a little crease down the middle and through the holes as if it actually was used as a set of stocks before, without a place for the head though. “She says we gotta stay here in Asphodel. At least til we’re old enough.”
“Throw me the board.”
I wiggle it off my arms and throw it up to him. It’s heavier than when I carried it over here. “So I guess we’re stuck here for a while then.” I find my seat back near the river. The stick is lying just barely out of the water. Weird that the stick found its way back but the rope almost got lost. Anyway, I go back to waving circles in the water.
“Hai, I think it’s ready,” Ze says after a while.
I look at the stick and make sure I have this exact stick, every feature, stuck in my head. Then I throw it into the center of the river and it plops in without a splash. I turn around and see Ze climbing down the tree. The swing is touching the ground.
“Dang it,” he says, presumably noticing it. “I’ll go back up and fix it.”
He raises it and it’s about 2 feet off the ground, just above the grass. Ze comes down and ushers me to the swing. I jump to take a seat and he starts pushing me.
“This is great, Ze!” Almost immediately getting over my fear of heights, I feel the wind shooting through my hair and it feels like nothing I’ve felt before.
“It’s not too fun from down here,” he says as he pushes me to where the branches of the willow reach. This tree and its browning leaves is kind of like our own little hideout. It stops the rain and the bugs don’t, well… Bug us. He stops pushing, but I can keep swinging on my own now.
The wind in my hair reminds me of the stories Ria used to tell me about his trips with Dad─ how they’d stay at the beach all day, just running and swimming and dancing. I never really see Dad though. I’ve just always been told he’s sick and there’s nothing that can be done about it. Ria checks up on me at home religiously to make sure I’m doing my homework but also to take a peak into his room, but I’m not allowed in there.
“Hey, is it my turn yet, Hai?” Ze asks.
Almost forgot. “Yeah, just give me a few more swings!”
I could stay like this forever. I bet I could swing off onto the other side of the river. Ria says that’s where we can learn a lot more when we’re older. I bet there are a ton of cool people like Ze there. Maybe there’s people over there even cooler than− “Ahhhhhhh!” The swing abruptly falls down sooner than it should have and there’s almost nothing between me and the ground. I keep a tight grip on the rope. My whole body is shaking and my heart is in my throat.
“Hey, let go already,” I hear Ze say from above with a sort of struggle in his voice. “You’re heavy.” I look up and there he is holding the rope that’s not tied to the branch as securely as it was before.
“Ze! You could’ve killed me!”
“Aw, come on, Hai. You aren’t dead yet.” He looks down at me with a wicked grin. I can see the pure excitement in his eyes. “My turn!”
I can’t honestly say I’m surprised, but I won’t let that discount the fact that it still pissed me off and nearly scared me to death. We trade places and after a few pushes, Ze says he can keep swinging on his own.
“Ya know, Ze. We can go across the river in just three years. We’ll be fourteen and Ria will let us go. Why don’t we just wait?”
“Three years? No way I can wait that long.”
I sit down at the base of the tree. “Well, neither of us knows how to swim. Sounds like a death wish.”
“We’ll make it!” He shouts on the back swing. “Besides, Mom says your name means ‘the sea.’”
“It does? How does she know that?”
“The sea? I don’t even know which way the sea is, let alone what it looks like.”
“Looks like you’re gonna have to learn someday.” I could hear the smile in his voice.
“Yeah, well, I’m not about to just dive in!”
“Why not?” He asks, sliding to a stop, looking at me like a confused puppy. “What if I got Mom to come with us?”
I guess that kinda makes me feel better. “Fine.”
Ze’s face lights up.
“Alright, give me another push!”
I don’t bother arguing about the fact he had already swung way longer than I had. The swing was his idea anyway, so, I guess that justifies it. I could tell he was really enjoying himself anyway. More than I ever could. I give him one good push and that’s all he needed to soar back into the air.
“So, what does your name mean, Ze?” I know it’s short for something, but neither him nor his Mom would ever tell me.
“Mom said it means ‘the sky.’”
Sea and sky. I almost feel like Ria named me too. Sky, though. That fits Ze. Just watching him swing so high, the wind blowing through his hair, and that smile covering his whole face… The sky really is his domain. Like a bird that can’t get off the ground. Like a chicken. I laugh to myself.
“Hey, do you see that?”
“Over there,” he says, pointing to the river as he swings forward.
I squint hard to find whatever Ze’s talking about in the river. It just looks like water to me. Lots of water. “I don’t see anything.”
I look straight up and see Ze falling, holding his legs close to his chest. Stupefied, I watch him shoot through the willow branches and splash into the water. The water tears apart and turns white around where he landed with a surge of bubbles. “Ze!” I yell at the river as if it could help him. I don’t know what to do. I can’t swim. I can’t save him. I could run for Ria. No, not enough time. I could jump in, then we’re both dead. “Ze!” Suddenly, the water starts surging again. I see Ze’s shoes kicking just barely out of the water. I grab the closest one and pull as hard as I can. Not working. I push my hands down his leg a little further and pull with everything I’ve got. I’m making a little progression, but not enough. I take a deep breath and shove my head into the water, struggling to open my eyes. Ze’s tugging on something shiny and gold at the bottom of the river. I work my hands around his waist and pull again. Bubbles stop shooting out of Ze’s mouth. Panic overwhelms me and I forget I’ve still got to hold my breath as my vision becomes clouded with the balloons of the last of my air. The shiny thing pops out of place and suddenly Ze is weightless. I pull him out of the water and he lands a few feet behind me.
He’s coughing up water like crazy, lying on his back. I have absolutely no clue what I could do to help him. He turns himself over and coughs up some more water. “The coin,” he barely manages to say. “Get the coin.” He points down the river. There’s that shiny thing I saw him reaching for and it’s floating downstream. I run along the shore, keeping up with it. It’s too far in the river for me to reach. Then I see it. Floating a just a few feet ahead near the shore is that same stick from before. I’m not sure if these river sticks are magic or just all look the same, but I’m not complaining. I snag it from the water and use it to smack the coin. It flies in an arc above me and falls somewhere in the grass.
I rest my hands on my knees and fight to catch my breath. “Ze! Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” he musters. “Did you get it?”
I put my hands on my hips and look to the sky, still panting. “Yeah. It’s somewhere… Over there,” I say, pointing into the field.
Ze jogs into the field. I only notice that because I hear his raspy coughs, trying to get more water out of his body. “Found it,” he says, running up to me, his jeans off and hanging over his shoulder.
“Put your clothes on,” I say, panting and turning my head slightly.
He takes off his shirt. “Why? They’re soaked.” He points at me. “Your shirt’s a little wet too,” he says, laughing.
I immediately cover myself. I’ve almost caught my breath now, my mind’s starting to shift to thinking about how terrifying that really was, but I hadn’t felt that scared when it happened. Is this bravery? No, more like copasetic fear. “What were you thinking, Ze? You could’ve gotten yourself killed.”
“Aw, come on, Hai. We’re already dead, can’t die twice,” he says, wringing his clothes out. Practically buckets of water come out.
Wait, what?” I don’t feel dead. If anyone should feel dead, it’s Ze, but what does being dead feel like? I feel pretty alive right now. “What are you talking about?”
“We’re dead, Hai,” he says, holding the coin to the sky and squinting with one eye. “Don’t you remember? This is the Underworld and we’re stuck in Asphodel.” He puts his shirt and jeans back on.
Asphodel. Ria taught us that ghosts flit like shadows here but is that literal or figurative? I’m not a ghost, am I? I’m definitely solid. Maybe she meant that we don’t really do anything here. She always told us that we can’t cross the river without a token of some kind, but she never had one or had ever seen one. The coin. Maybe that’s why Ze wanted it so badly, to go across the river. Maybe the only reason Ze didn’t die was because we really are already dead. Is this really the Underworld?
Ze’s hands hits my shoulders hard. “Hai, calm down. I was just joking. You never really take me seriously but now all of a sudden you do?” He laughs. “Mom says that all the time when you aren’t around. Sorry, I didn’t mean to freak you out.”
“But what if this really is this the Underworld?”
“Aw, come on. That wouldn’t make any sense. First off, if this really was Asphodel, why can we think and move freely? Second off…” He pinches my upper arm.
“You seem pretty alive to me.”
Aside from the bit of pain in my arm, this sort of relaxes me. It was all a joke, I remind myself. “So what did you want the coin for?”
“To go across the river of course. Mom says that’s the only way.”
“Dunno. I bet a bridge will appear out of nowhere right in front of us or it’ll open a portal or something,” he says, marveling at the coin.
I roll my eyes at yet another one of Ze’s ridiculous notions. “What’s there to do once we get over there?” I look across the river and see nothing but a seemingly endless field, a few buildings in the distance, but nothing too spectacular. At least that field isn’t full of weeds and dead grass. Oh, there are some trees too. Already, across the river seems really appealing. “It does look way better over there. Maybe we should go.”
“No duh. I’m just trying to figure out how this is gonna work.” He flips the coin into the air. It gleams and sparkles in the sunlight until Ze catches it again. “I mean, there’s gotta be some sort of bridge or something,” he says, staring at the coin. Starting to look up at me, he says, “Maybe Mom would−” He’s just staring at me now. Wait, no he’s looking past me at something.
“Maybe Mom would what?” I ask, turning to find what he’s gawking at.
There’s an incredibly tall, bald man in a canoe painted pitch black stopped right in front of us with one giant oar in his hands. He stands with an odd balance, as if he didn’t know what it was like to sit in this boat. His clothes are a pale black and are torn at some places. His entire wardrobe looks like it’s flowing in a wind that I couldn’t feel. The man looks down at Ze and points his bony finger at the coin.
“What can I do for you, young master?” He asks, bowing toward Ze. He rises from his bow and holds the oar behind him. The water around him, once blue, is now gray just like his wardrobe.
Oh god. We really are dead. Wait. “Who are you?” I ask, trying not to sound terrified.
The odd man looks at me with a barely recognizable confusion, then looks back at Ze. “Is the red one a concubine of yours, young master?”
I look at Ze, a little offended but unsure of why. “This is my friend, if that’s what you mean,” he says.
“The payment is only sufficient for one passenger, young master. I answer only to those with payment.”
“Fine.” Ze tosses the coin to me. I stumble to catch it, just barely getting a grip on it before it would land back in the river.
I hold up the coin. “Hi. Now, I’ve got your payment.”
“It would appear so, young mistress. What, may I ask, is your name?”
“You didn’t ask him his name, though.”
“It would be pathetic to not recognize this young master, obviously. Everyone knows his name.”
“And his name is…?”
“I’ve been forbidden by my master to reveal that to anyone.”
“Fine, whatever. My name is Hai.”
“Hi. Again, what is your name, young mistress?”
“I just told you, it’s Hai.”
“Your name is a greeting, young mistress?” He asks with raspy confusion.
“Yes. Hi, my name is Hai. What’s not to get?”
“Your name sounds of Chinese but I do not see it in your face, young mistress.”
“I don’t even know what Chinese is.”
“Well, that comes as a shock, young mistress. You see, China is the largest─”
Ze sighs. “Would you just get on with it already? For crying out loud, this is a really dramatic moment and this is what you’re talking about?”
“Right.” What was I going to ask him again? Oh yeah. “What’s your name?”
“I have many names. Which would you prefer, young mistress?”
“How about English?”
I take a deep breath, trying to hold in my fear. “Is this the underworld?”
“Yes, young mistress.”
Well. I’m dead. But. How long have we been here? Is this actually Asphodel? Why do we have memories if so? But really. What the fuck is going on?
I shakily put my hand over my heart and feel it pounding so hard that it’s difficult to keep my palm pressed there. I grip my chest, trying to focus on the moment between each individual pound, but my mind is tangled in the turbulence of understanding something I thought to be very simple and clear: life.
If I’m dead then why do I feel alive? Am I immortal? Did I have to die to get here? Can I leave? But if this really is the underworld, where are the rest of the dead people?
“Chill out, Hai,” Ze says, nudging me with his elbow.
“How can you always be so calm? Aren’t you even a little bit scared?” I fixate at the ground around his feet, taking deep, quiet breaths.
“Well, of course I am,” he says, burying his hands in his pockets. “But I’m not afraid of chasing the truth. Just being chased by it.”
“Young mistress, If I may interject. I believe he means to say it is better to accept things as they are than to stress over understanding them sometimes,” Charon says with a slow nod.
No, fuck that. I’m going to get answers. Ze’s right. We need to get ahead of this.
“Is there something else you would ask of me, young mistress?”
I take one more deep breath. “For starters, stop calling me young mistress.”
“Of course, young─” he coughs.
“I don’t even know where to start, really.”
“Would you have me take you across the river?”
I guess this seems like our only immediate option. But what about Ria and Dad? Wait, we’re all dead. But does that make it okay? Can we just go for a trip across the river and come back like nothing happened? I can hear Ria now saying “Where have you been?” and I would just respond with “Doesn’t matter, we’re dead anyway.” Are there still rules to living for walking corpses?
Ze nudges me in the ribs. Oh yeah, I got lost there for a second. “Yes, take us both across.”
“The payment is only sufficient for one passenger.”
“You just talked like you knew Ze and you still won’t bring him across?”
“Well, what’s his name then?” I ask, pointing at Ze.
“I’ve been forbidden by my master to reveal that to anyone.”
“Who is your master?”
“If you have to ask, then it would be better you stay here.”
I look to Ze, who is straining his entire face, trying to think of his name I assume.
“Is it Haden your master, or something like that?” Ze asks.
Charon is visibly astonished, his ear almost pressed into his shoulder and now holding himself up with the oar in the canoe. “Close enough, I suppose.”
Hades. He definitely meant Hades, but it’s actually pretty funny so I don’t say anything. Anyway, where was I going with that question in the first place? How does that even help?
Charon coughs. “Will there be any more questions or shall we go?”
Hmmm. This guy obviously has a lot of information. I can’t even think of what to ask, not that I would expect him to answer if he can’t even give us a damn name or two. There’s got to be a way to get around this. It’s so hard to think, knowing that you’re dead either way.
“Hai. I’ll be going now if you do not require my services.”
“Wait. Take me to your master.”
He pauses, staring me down. I can tell he’s deciding whether or not he’s allowed to do this or something. “Of course.” He offers me his hand. I take it and he pulls me onto the canoe. He raises a hand, waiting for the payment. “But before we go…” I toss the coin to Ze.
Ze catches it and understands immediately. “Take me to your master.”
Charon grumbles into the collar of his robes. “Get in the canoe, young master.”
“Call me by name, if you don’t mind,” Ze says with his chin up, wearing a terribly inappropriate grin.
“As you wish, young master. Get in the canoe, Lord Zeus.”
* * *
The trip across the river is just as awkward as the conversation with Charon. However, it feels oddly familiar as well. The sensation of the canoe’s undulations feels extremely natural even though I’ve never done something like this before. Ze holds onto Charon robes the whole way over. And holy crap, it never occurred to me how wide this river really is. We don’t really have a way of keeping track of time without Ria or Dad, but I think the whole trip takes about ten minutes. That’s just to get across the river. Ze is so terrified that it took us another five minutes to help him off the canoe. I’m pretty good at telling time from being at home because there’s a clock in every room and I have to wake up, eat, go to sleep, and a few other things at specific times but Ze has absolutely no concept of time. It probably felt like a year for him.
When we finally get Ze off the canoe, I turn around to see what the other side of the river really looks like. Disappointingly, it looks like the exact same fields I saw earlier. “Charon, why does this look the same as before?”
“That’s because my master resides in Asphodel as well. I’ve only brought you slightly closer.”
I guess I was too concerned with the natural feel of the canoe that I didn’t notice.
“You mean we have to walk the rest of the way?” Ze lies face first in the grass.
“Which way?” I ask.
“Walk with the river at your back and you should reach my master shortly.” And with that, Charon begins paddling away from us, farther down the river.
“Get up, Ze.”
“What about Mom and your dad?”
“I don’t even know where we are, let alone how to get back home. But if we’re going to see Hades, he’ll know how to get home. Sooner we get there, sooner we get home.”
Ze pushes himself up with a long string of mumbled words. “Let’s get this over with then.”
“So I guess we just keep walking until we see something. That’s our best shot.”
“Let’s just go already,” he says, and he’s already walking.
I follow close behind him. “So, what’s this about Zeus?”
“That’s what Mom named me but I didn’t like it so I told her to call me Ze. I actually almost forgot, to be honest.”
“What about you? Is your name short for anything?”
“I don’t know.”
“We should look it up when we get back.”
“Look it up where?”
“You know what I mean. Ask your dad or something.”
I hardly ever see Dad anymore as it is. When I wake up, there’s just always some breakfast on the table, which is sometimes just some pomegranate, juice, and an occasional apple, and I just eat it and head to Ze’s. I guess he’s there when I get home but I’m always too scared to wake him. It’s not like I’d have anything to say to him anyway. Ria teaches us everything, he just works for us and gives us food. I guess. I don’t really know what he does. Too scared to ask.
“Well, anyway I like your name.”
“Eh, just call me Ze.”
We walk for approximately thirty minutes, through the seemingly endless field of weeds and tall brown grass, undulating at a slow rhythm that never stops playing. We walk in silence. There just isn’t anything else to say. Ze complains about the walk every once in awhile, but that’s it. He obviously just wants to go home. I don’t understand why but he seems to be taking finding out that he’s dead really well. Maybe he thinks that everything will go back to normal if he goes home. Me, well I don’t know what I want. Freaking out certainly isn’t going to help anything.
Along the way, a dog stops in front of us, a familiar dog from the movies Ria shows us. It’s got mangy black fur and crimson eyes. And it’s got three identical heads. Which should all be terrifying but he only comes up my knees. Maybe a little higher. Obviously, Cerberus, but not at the same time. He should be much taller. Anyway, he barks with all three heads, but not in unison, when we walk up to him. I guess he had been sleeping until we showed up. Of course, I’m a little hesitant to just meet those blood red eyes but Ze pets him on two of his heads despite barks that have turn to low growls, which eventually disappear altogether. Between the sounds of, panting, the third head whining, and the who’s-a-good-boy’s, I don’t know how to feel. Finally, I walk up to the dog too. He growls a little when I get closer.
“She’s with me, boy.” Ze gestures me over. “Pet him, he won’t bite.”
Reluctantly, my hand meets the third head. His fur is a soft, smooth sable. Tense at first but relaxed soon enough. Almost as if he hasn’t seen anyone in quite some time.
“His name’s Cerbus,” Ze says, smiling and always petting him.
“I think you mean Cerberus, Ze. You’re always half-remembering names.”
“Nah, I think I like Cerbus better.”
“Whatever, let’s just keep going. Cerberus can come too.”
Ze clears his throat. “I think you mean Cerbus.”
“Just bring the dog, alright?”
So when we finally arrive at a small house, we arrive with a smallish, three-headed dog running around us in circles. Cerberus runs up to the door with his tail wagging erratically, barking and panting in ferocious excitement. He jumps off his hind legs and scratches the door a few times.
“Easy boy,” Ze says, pulling him back a little by the collars.
I ease past them and just as I’m about to give the door three quick knocks, I hear a man yell from inside.
“Who’s that?” Cerberus immediately responds with a bark. “Why, you mangy mutt. Haven’t I told you not to bother me when I’m sleeping?” I hear the voice getting closer along with heavy footsteps. “Get back to the gate like I told─” he says, as he swings open the door. If there was a way to make your hair look mangier than Cerberus’, he was trying his best. He doesn’t look too much older than Ze and I, but I can’t exactly meet his eyes because his midnight black hair hangs in front of them. I just look up to where I think they should be.
“I didn’t see any gate on the way here,” Ze says.
Hades is tensed up, just staring at the both of us I think. But with this, he relaxes with a sigh. He swings his head back and his hair follows to reveal a pair of truly black eyes looking us over. “Well, if it isn’t my two least favorite siblings. It’s about time you woke up.”
“Siblings?” I ask.
“We’ve been awake all day, though,” Ze whispers to me.
“Shut up, Ze,” I whisper back.
“You.” Hades points to Ze. “What’s my name?”
Hades guffaws with his entire body, holding himself by the threshold of the door. I giggle a little, holding my hand over my mouth. “I think you mean Hades, Ze.”
I can see Ze visibly in thought, rubbing his ear and looking off into the field. “Nope, I like Haden better.”
Hades is still laughing but clearly trying his best to stop. “Well that’s just rich. You’re as dumb as ever, little brother.”
“Hey,” I say, waving a hand in front of him. As calm and collected as I’ve been trying to be, I’m not just gonna banter here when we’ve got the opportunity for some real answers. I don’t know if I can just keep playing it cool anymore.
“What? What do you have to say?” He asks sternly. “I am not going to stand here all day and explain each and every detail to you. Why the fuck do you think I woke up Mom and Dad?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Yeah, I know you don’t.” He squats down a little, pushing his hair out of his eyes. He squints his eyes, looking directly into mine. “What’s your name, then?”
He scoffs. “Yeah. Go home.” He backs into the building and starts to close the door but it stops right before it can shut. Ze’s foot is the only thing keeping this confrontation going. “Move it or I break it,” he says through the door with a sort of growl.
“What’s it matter if I’m already dead, asshole?”
After a brief pause, the door swings open and he gestures that we come inside. I walk in. “Dog stays outside.” Ze lets go of him and he whines at the door as if there were a barrier there.
Now inside, Hades sits us down in front of a furnace, where he’s prepared three seats all facing the fire. An animal pelt rests between us and the fire. I can’t tell if it’s brown or black in the dim light. Hades makes some mugs filled with a gold liquid and hands one to each of us. I’m kind of afraid to drink it. I’ve never heard of a gold drink that’s safe to drink. Then again, I guess haven’t exactly had a wide variety of beverages. Ze says “Ah” as he finishes his mug and sets it on the arm of his chair. I take a sip of it. It tastes like all of my favorite foods in one cup. A little salty, but I enjoy it all the more. I gulp the entire mug down.
“I’d say it’s been awhile since you’ve had ambrosia, huh?”
“Ambrosa?” Ze asks.
“Alright, I don’t know what this one’s deal with names is but it’s already getting annoying.”
“Just ignore it,” I say. “He’s always been like that.”
“Now, what’s your name again boy?”
“Ze. And for the record, I messed up that word on purpose,” he says, crossing his arms.
“Your real name?”
“Zeus.” I chime in.
“And what about your real name?” He asks, looking at me.
“Yeah, that sounds about right. I had a feeling you guys were a little early. What do you know?”
I can’t possibly just know what he wants me to say to that. I know a lot of things. Or do I really? Can dead people know things? Wait.
“Are we dead?”
“Think. You obviously know who I am and that I am a god right?”
“And if you two are my siblings, that makes you…?”
“There’s more than one god?”
Hades smacks his forehead. “I told Dad soaking you two in the Lethe for two hundred and fifty years was too long.” He looks at the floor, shaking his head. “Okay, what’s the first thing you remember? Either of you.”
“Ria and Dad,” I say.
“Being taught lessons by Mom,” Ze says.
Hades slaps his knee and stands up. “Look, I’m not here to teach you jack shit. Just go home and pay attention to Rhea’s teachings.” He pulls us both out of our seats and begins pushing us to the door. “Come back here in, I don’t know, another fifty years. Bye.” And he shoves us out the door and slams it shut.
“Wait!” I yell, pounding on the door. “You said you’re our brother, right? Isn’t family supposed to be there for one another?”
“I don’t owe either of you a damn thing.”
“What’s your fucking problem, man?” Ze demands, nudging Cerberus away.
“You two are my fucking problem. We’ve all got the shit end of the stick and I am doing the best I can to not just kill all of you and be done with it.”
“So help us.”
“Help you? I dug up our parents to help you so I wouldn’t have to. If you want someone to hold your hand, I’d cut my damn hands off before I give either of you charity.”
“At least tell us how to get home, then.”
“How about you try the damn road I had made from your house to mine?”
I look around the small house and see three dirt roads, pointing in different directions. Never noticed that before. “Which one?”
Hades laughs. “They’ve all got signs. Find the one with your names on it.” And with that, I hear his heavy footsteps retreat back inside the house.
“What a douche,” Ze says, pushing Cerberus off his legs.
I feel Cerberus’ paws hit my butt and I turn around to pet two of his panting heads. How sad that there will always be one head that’s left out. “Well, boy. Looks like it’s time for us to go.”
“I’ll go find the sign,” Ze says, jogging off around the house.
I stay at the door, petting Cerberus who’s finally resolved to lick my leg with his third head. Ze’s back in no time, calling my name as he runs up to the door and pets Cerberus some more.
“Our road’s right over there,” he says.
I nudge Cerberus off me and follow Ze behind the house. Cerberus doesn’t follow but instead whines as he walks back the way we came from originally. There’s a tall sign next to the dirt road with an arrow pointing away from Hades’ house. I can just barely read the sign on my tiptoes. “Zeus & Poseidon.”
Poseidon. I feel like I’ve heard that somewhere before. Kinda sounds like Hai, I guess. But not really. I say the name out loud, and feel the familiarity of my tongue slapping the roof of my mouth.
“So I guess that makes you my sister,” he says, finally. “If we can believe what that guy said.”
“No reason not to, really. I bet I’m older though,” I say, smiling and briefly pondering how old we really are.
“Yeah, you wish.” He puts his hands in his pockets and starts walking down the road. “Whether or not we can believe him.” Ze kicks a rock off the path. “If anyone will know for sure, it’ll be Mom.”
Ze rarely acts this serious. It’s kind of intimidating in his own peculiar way. But I’m just as confused and curious as he is, if not more. Well, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything more than Ze honestly. He may not get like this often, but when he does, I get sort of jealous. That he can be so mature one second but be his reckless, goofball self the rest of time blows my mind. If we’re going to figure this out, it’s going to take more of him acting like this. I really don’t know if I can figure any of this out on my own.
I start to follow closely behind him, not particularly wondering about any specific thing thus far, just taking it all in. Whatever that means. Too much information to process right now. I can’t think logically with my brain so clogged with so many details of increasing uncertainty.
“So we’re gods, huh?”
“Mhm. Just like that from that movie Mom showed us,” he says.
“Oh, that’s right!” I say, just glad that I can contribute even a little to figuring something out. “That’s where I remember the name Poseidon! Zeus too!”
“Oh, you’re right!” Ze turns around as if a light bulb just lit above in his head. “We’ve gotta get home and watch it!” With that, he starts into a sprint.
“Hey, wait up!” I try to run after him but he’s too fast for me. I hear Cerberus barking from way behind us. I wonder if he’ll be okay. I guess he has been for this long, but I’d hate for him to go on completely neglected with Hades.
“Hai, come on already!”
“But what about Cerberus?”
“That guy just threatened to kill us. I’m definitely not taking his dog.”
I look back at the mut and can see him panting as if he thinks we’re coming back. I feel a pit in my stomach as I start to back away toward Ze.
“At least we know how to get here, Hai,” Ze says, walking back beside me. “We can come back some time and play with him.”
“But to leave him with Hades, though? I mean it looks like he doesn’t even give a damn.”
“One problem at a time, sis.” He pats me on the shoulder. “Come on. Maybe Mom will know what we should do.”
“Alright,” I say, begrudgingly.
Ze shoots off down the road again. “I’ll race ya!”
“Like I could ever beat you anyway,” I say to myself and run after him.
And so we run all the way back home, either too curious or too out of breath to notice the bridge over the river that’s never been there before.