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|This story is about a person's journey through a slightly altered Greek Underworld.||
I had gone too far. I had not only committed the petty crime of stealing from my neighbors, but also done so much worse. I just had to go and rob that casino. I made a big mistake, and in retrospect, probably too big. That one last robbery caused my premature but inevitable demise.
So there I stood, waiting for Charon to shepherd me across the river Styx, and I wondered about the misdeeds of my life. No time for that then. Here he came, Charon the river master, to take me to my final resting place.
“Toll please,” he requested in a nasally but surprisingly gravelly voice.
I handed him my coin and stepped into the craft.
* * *
“Ah, finally can see the damn shore,” blasphemed Charon. “I swear, it gets harder to cross the ******* river each time. Alright, when we arrive, get off quick, `cause this weather don't give you much chance for departure.” We thunked into the shoreline and I practically jumped off the skiff to escape. “Gwa ha ha, I told you so outlander. Welcome to Hell.”
I listened to his maniacal laughter fade off into the distance and turned to face the first of my horrors. Standing over twelve feet tall, Cerberus paced before the Gates of Hell. Oh yes, the stories spoke true, its three heads only added to the chaos that shone brightly within its fiery gaze. Its frothing, foaming, maws each contained shreds of flesh and splinters of bone and threatened to tear me apart, limb from limb. Its paws, large as any man's head, shook the blackened, decaying earth on which it walked.
“Hail, puny one!” boomed a deep, battle-hardened voice from beyond the beast. “Do not fear this meddlesome mutt, for it allows the souls of the dead to pass and doesn't harm them. . . usually!”
“Who are you, O' knowledgeable one,” called I.
“I go by the name of Ghengis Khan, and hurry past. I wish to greet ye properly!”
Heeding his advice, I slowly crept forward past the behemoth. The rancid breath of rotting flesh fell upon my exposed neck and its damp stench almost knocked me out. A large bell chimed nearby and the abomination started barking just as loudly at me. I dashed forward, throwing all caution to the wind, and leaped though the gates to safety.
* * *
“Uh, what happened?” I queried as I came awake.
“Ye hit yer head pretty damn hard with that heroic jump of yers,” replied a voice.
“Who- oh, you,” I said, recognizing the sinewy legs of Ghengis Khan.
“What, not happy to see me after I saved yer sorry ass back there? If I hadn't closed the damnable gate, the dog woulda had yerself fer dinner.”
“Thanks, I guess. . . where are we anyways?” I asked, standing up.
“The halls of the great King and Queen, Hades and Persephone. Your punishment awaits you ahead.”
“Oh yeah. Well, shall we?” I asked as I started forward towards the throne room.
“Welcome to our humble abode, mortal,” greeted Persephone as I made my entrance.
“Thank you m’lady,” I replied while dipping into a gracious bow.
“I’ll need your name, then,” said Hades on my right.
“I go by Nathan Ritter, your excellency.”
“You learned humility early on, I’ll give you that. Ah, here we go. Nathan Ritter, son of James Ritter, who has two counts of thievery, one count of assault, and innumerable count of betrayal and deception. You will find him in layer three, the one for violence. Son of Peggy Taylor, née Jacoby who had multiple counts of minor trickery, but redeemed herself by raising Saint AJ. Stepson of Richard Taylor who had numerous counts of overlookable sloth. They both now live their blissful afterlives in Elysium. You, on the other hand, take more after your fath-”
“I am not like him!” I screamed in protest and outrage.
“Twenty counts of theft and two counts of armed robbery, in one of which your partner shot an innocent. Quite a record. You’ll get your final sentence after a tour of hell. Ghengis Khan, you seek redemption, do you not?”
“I do, Your Eminence, but-”
“Then you shall accompany this man as his guide and mentor. Now go to the Asphodel Fields to begin your journey.”
Suddenly, he disappeared. One moment, his regal stature radiated throughout the room. The next, the blackness of a bottomless pit engulfed me completely.
* * *
I know not for how long I fell, but it as it neared my fall's end, I wondered, “What's that way down- oh ****. This is gonna hurt.” Wham! I slammed right into the haystack, sending hay and straw flying into the air. “Oh my aching head,” I thought as I crawled out of the hay, brushing myself off.
“Ha ha ha! Ye need to learn to land on yer feet, lest ye wish to keep hittin' yer head.” came the ever-recognizable voice that belonged to Khan.
“Where the hell do people have hay anymore?”
“Why, right here in the Asphodel Fields. The souls of the neutral, or the neither heroic nor wicked, rest here. Also the wicked, after they complete their sentence, rest here as well.”
“Wait, 'after they complete their sentence,' whadduya mean? I thought that the evil and wicked went to Tartarus to accept their eternal punishment.”
“Yeah. That didn't work out as planned. The gods altered Tartarus so that the punishment remained meaningful. After a time, the punished got used to their sentence and no longer suffered. Nowadays, the wicked get punished in accordance with the magnitude of their sins.”
“Okay. . . strange, but I sort of get the idea.”
“The people here live their afterlives as they would have had they lived in Feudal Europe. Every one of them works as a serf in service to the lightened ones, the achievers of Elysium. They in turn answer to Hades and Persephone. Now,” he said as we finally started toward the closest ramshackle house, “we will greet the inhabitants and continue on to the beginning of Tartarus. You need remember this alone.” Rap rap rap. “Ah, never mind, you'll find out soon enough. The door creaked, opening to reveal two middle-aged people, a man and his wife.
“Greetings, good sirs,” said the man, “Anything I can help you with on this fine afternoon?”
“We need the Grand Tour,” said Khan before I could react.
“Well then, welcome to my-our humble abode. I'd like you to meet my wife, Isabella, and our two children, Wilhelm and Jessie. I, myself, go by the name of Hans.”
“We don't have much time and don't want to keep you preoccupied, so we'll go.”
“Wait!” I interjected. “How did you die?”
“Die?” Hans replied comically. “We sure as hell don't look dead. We've lived here as long as we can remember.”
“We gotta go. Now!” interrupted Khan, yanking me the other way. “You idiot, all Asphodelians drink from the river Lethe before given a plot of land. They don't remember anything of their past lives. They think that they've lived here forever because they don't have any previous memories. If they realize the truth, they'll start to rebel, which is what actually happened in the Christian 'War of the Angels'. The spirits of the dead rebelled and the gods all but eviscerated them. C'mon, let's go before they get suspicious.”
We set a brisk pace for the blackened mountains in the distance. Up until then, I hadn't noticed the world around me. The greenness of the grass, even in the damp and rank air that smelled of death and despair, amazed me. As the mountain range in the distance grew nearer, the smell got worse and worse. Up ahead, the grass ended abruptly and cold, barren, dark rock replaced it. Out of the blue, an invisible force threw me backwards.
“What the hell!?” I yelled in anguish and outrage.
“Oh right, I forgot to tell you, this wall can only be passed by those whose sins exceed a certain magnitude. Basically, you need to kill or betray someone to pass it. Speaking of which, we have company.”
I turned to see who had followed us. The boy, Wilhelm, stopped creeping and cautiously yet openly approached us. “W-w-w-will you take me with you? I-I've never gone out to the mountains bef-” the boy crumpled as Ghengis Khan's fist descended upon his head.
“What did you do that for?” I angrily questioned.
“You will sacrifice this innocent to pass the wall. Here, use this.” Khan picked up a sharp rock from the ground. “I would recommend the neck. If you slice it, he will die silently and swiftly.”
“You can't expect me to kill this kid! That's inhuman!”
“You will kill him!”
“No! I-I can't. It's just not right.”
“Well done. You have passed your first test.”
“Test? What test?”
“You denied sin and your path leads to redemption. Now, shall we?”
“Shall we what?”
“We're going this way.”
“I can't pass that wall, remember?”
“Please, now give me your hand.”
“Okay.” I extended my hand toward him. He grabbed it, pulled me forward, and slung me over his shoulder. “Hey, what are you doing?”
“I said you can't go through the wall. I said nothing about going over it.”
“You are not throwing me over.”
“Why not? Here goes nothing.” He set me down and lifted me by the armpits. “Bye.” His muscles coiled and he launched me high into the air. I shut my eyes mid-flight so as not to see the ground.
“Hmph,” grunted Khan, now suddenly on the other side, and stopped my rapid descent.
“Thanks,” I muttered and blacked out.
* * *
“I really need to stop doing this,” I said, coming awake once again.
“I thought you’d have a stronger stomach for that,” apologized Khan upon hearing me.
“Obviously, I don’t,” I said looking around. “Now where-”
“The Bowels, the third level of Hell. Here we will find those of violent intent as well as your father.”
“I do not want to see him.”
“He has changed, you know. Find out for yourself if he has or not. You can set him free if you wish.”
“Yeah, we’ll see,” I replied, my voice dripping with sarcasm.
We started forward at a considerable pace. A slight breeze picked up and brought with it the agonizing wails of tortured soul, which caused us to continue forward at a slightly slower pace. Soon, we hit the ledge of a cliff and looked down upon a grueling scene. Flying clubs beat down upon the men below. Some men cringed upon the ground, while others ran in circles to escape their fate. The clubs rained blow after blow upon their victims. One man stood out among the filth. He welcomed the club with open arms, his body a mass of bruises.
“Yes, your father. He accepts his punishment for he repented his sins and has found the light. Elysium shall never accept him for he has sinned too much. Asphodel, however, will accept him sooner than any other sinner here. If you wish, you can visit with him for a time. You may also wish to send him to the Asphodel Fields now. But in the meantime, just go down to him. The clubs will not harm you as you don't belong here.” he said seeing the look on my face, a mix of curiosity and skepticism.
“Very well, I will meet with him if only to see that he has changed,” I said as began my descent down the cliff face. I focused all my energy on the effort, for to fall would be to endure the pain of those below. I reached the ground and observed my surroundings. Their faces and sunken eyes had no glow of life left in them. I crossed the treacherous rock with little difficulty. As I approached the man I had picked out before, his slid into focus. A sparkle penetrated the eyes' perpetual gloom.
“My son,” a weak, dry, and raspy voice slipped between his cracked and decaying lips. “I have waited so long to see your face, to hear your voice, and to apologize for all that I have done to you. But first, you must set me free. Then and only then, can I speak with you properly. I promise, I will explain everything.”
“You haven't changed a bit have you? You're just as selfish as you ever were. You aren't sorry for what you've done. You just want me to release you from your just reward.”
I finished my mini-tirade and my father dissolved. He turned to sand and the wind blew his remains away.
“Bravo!” cried Khan from somewhere behind me. “Another test braved, another test passed. You keep this up and you'll be back in Asphodel in no time. . . but first, look at that.”
“What?” I asked, looking into the haze.
“This!” Pain flashed through my head as my eyes crossed, and everything went black.
* * *
“Okay, I REALLY need to stop doing this,” I complained, as I once again awoke.
“Before you ask, your final resting place lies just up ahead,” said Khan, hearing me.
“All right; let's go.” I stood up, brushed myself off, and began my final journey. As I strode boldly forward, a large golden gate loomed in the distance.
Upon reaching it, my guide stopped me. “Through that gate lies the place where you belong. I may not continue past this point. I have to return to Hades to see about this redemption thing.”
“Goodbye, my mentor. Perhaps I'll see you again someday.”
“Perhaps,” he replied, turned and walked back into the haze.
I sighed “All alone now, I guess. No turning back.” I grabbed the gleaming handles and flung wide the gate.
* * *
I looked around at the casino, the one in which I had died. “Did I get a second chance?”
“No,” replied someone to my rhetorical question. “Welcome to the Eastern Wing of Elysium. Anton Candelabra at your service.”
“Wait, Elysium? The Elysium? The one for the righteous or heroic? What about my sins?”
“Hades has give you a pardon. After facing and refusing the opportunity to commit the most awful crime of murder and denying a sinner freedom from his punishment, Hades has decided to. . . reward you.”
“Okay, let me get this straight, I didn't kill a kid and saw my father's true colors, so now I can go free. And this business about the 'East Wing', you mean to tell me that Elysium has more that just a casino?”
“Yes sir, the ski and snowboard lodge lies just downstairs. Take the elevator down that hall. Oh, by the way, your mother and stepfather are down there. They would like to see you.”
I immediately dashed down the hall toward the elevator, hit the button, and waited. While I waited, a lady came up next to me.
“Excuse me,” she said, “Are these the elevators that go down?”
I looked at the sign that read, “Casino, top floor.”
“Yes ma'am.” I replied, sustaining my sarcasm.
“Thank you,” she replied and walked away.
Ding! I turned away from the woman's departing back and stepped into the elevator. I hit the “L” button, assuming it would take me to the lodge. The doors shut and the elevator dropped. I lost all sense of time while I lie glued to the ceiling. The elevator finally screeched to a halt and the doors opened.
“Congratulations,” my step dad greeted me as I stepped out, still disoriented.
“Oh thank Zeus you have arrived.” exclaimed my mother, “I worried that you'd gotten stuck in Tartarus with your father.” She pronounced the last word with utter venom.
I hugged them both, then kissed my mom's cheek.
“C'mon, let's watch the sunset. It's beautiful here in Elysium.”
At that moment, watching the sunset with my family, I knew that in facing the challenges I encountered , I had earned the right to live here in Paradise.
|Curse & Vengeance|