The juices dripped off the roasting meat hanging from the makeshift grill and sizzled as they hit the fire below.  Thom didn’t know what meat it was; he didn’t dare ask. Instead, ravenous from the long walk, he tucked in regardless, far too hungry to care.

It had been almost midnight when they had finally stopped, choosing a little sheltered clearing as their campsite.  But it wasn’t like any campsite Thom was used to.  Stephen gathered together some branches, suspended from two adjoining trees and arranged the leaves underneath as a mattress. It was low, just enough room to crawl inside and barely a metre wide.  Thom wondered how the three of them were going to all sleep in there but he soon realised Stephen had no intention of resting.  

“Come on now, get your heads down. It will be sunrise soon and you need to get some sleep if you’re going to be any good to anyone tomorrow.” As he spoke, Stephen’s eyes searched around in the darkness and his hand rested on side. Thom guessed he had a gun there, but he had not yet seen it.

“Shall I take the first shift?” Alex asked confidently.

He knew he was dead, even before he hit the ground. It wasn’t like the movies, thrashing around as the victim clung to life. Thom watched as his body crumpled to the floor and the gunshot echoes faded across the sea.
From his vantage point behind the gravestone the teenager had witnessed the entire event. He had heard the helicopter long into the distance. A high pitch buzzing, like a distant wasp, had pierced the silence and he knew it was approaching the island at speed. 

I watched Ruby from a distance, longing to part of her again.  She was beautiful, I can see that now, but I had let her pull away from me.  Her dark hair would fall lusciously around her slim shoulders but she rarely wore it down now, preferring to tie it back in a functional ponytail.  Her eyes were tired…they used to be full of cheeky exuberance but worry had stripped away her vibrancy.   

Halfway down the long, seemingly never-ending road Ruby wondered whether to go forward to her destination or turn back and run home.  Her head spun, her hands shook and her stomach turned the familiar cartwheels. She tried to reason with her irrational mind; it wasn’t far, she’d be there in ten minutes…but then again she could be home in ten minutes as well.  She’d made this journey many times before but that had been a long time ago; it seemed so much more difficult now.  She considered what her actual fears were…she didn’t know; all she knew was that she had to get home as quick as possible.

“You can do this Ruby Belle,” she whispered to herself.  Her father had called her that as a child and it always made her feel safe, like his big hands were clamping around hers, but loosely so as not to hurt her delicate fingers. Ruby smiled fondly as she remembered him before the emptiness returned.  She missed him. They spoke often on the phone but it wasn’t the same.  Maybe one day she would be brave enough to make the journey…maybe.  She was tired of making excuses about why she hadn’t visited in two years but she knew she would never tell him the truth.  He would worry so she continued to make up stories of work pressures and broken cars to appease his nagging pleas.  If he could see her now he would never believe it was his strong, capable daughter who was stuck to the pavement not knowing which way to go.  With an exaggerated step she tried to move forward but each time her foot moved forward her insides somersaulted and her brain wobbled.

I once asked her what she meant by that and she said it was like her brain slipped off its axis momentarilyLike that feeling you get when you nod off to sleep for a second but your body pulls you awake. She often wondered whether she actually lost consciousness for a second, a mini blackout that no one noticed but her.  

‘Well, I got further than last time!’ She said as she flopped down on the sofa.  The feeling had passed now; it had gone as soon as she had made the decision to run, so now she just felt stupid and annoyed because she had succumbed once again to her ridiculous mind. ‘Tomorrow, definitely tomorrow’.

It did not take long for Acheron to prepare himself for the journey. He had but a few belongings and, as he did not foresee the task taking more than a day, he chose to keep his packing light. Just a few loaves of bread and water made up the contents of his bag and a small dagger with a bone handle was thrust inside his belt, away from prying eyes. He did not expect to use it but his years as a thief and rogue had taught him to prepare for danger. Maybe if he had had it with him on the day he died the scorned husband would not have thwarted him so easily.

They journeyed in silence, the men moving quickly across the barren landscape and dust billowed around them as their leather-clad feet disturbed the sandy ground. The sun was hot and Acheron could feel the perspiration forming a glistening shine on his tiring body. He longed to rest but his companions, used to the exhausting heat, obliviously marched forwards on the unrelenting flat landscape.

Acheron trudged behind them, each mile becoming increasing difficult. Lykos, the taller of the two men with long, boney limbs that dangled freely as he loped across the sand, occasionally turned to check that the man was still following him but Dareious, who was much more thickset, trudged forward oblivious of their entourage. His balding head was developing a red hue as the sun beat down on to his exposed skin, creating white lines as he grimaced through this unwanted task.

“We’re here.” Lykos uttered suddenly, stopping swiftly making Acheron stumble behind him.  Picking up a jagged rock he etched a circle into the dusty sand with an embellished horizontal line at the centre that was curved at either end forming the capital letter Theta. In a hushed voice he whispered “Domos Haidou”. Beneath Acheron’s feet the ground began to vibrate, increasing in intensity until he lost his footing and hurtled to the floor. A deafening sound filled his ears; a high pitched squeal piercing through the low rumble echoing across the land. Acheron’s head ached from the sound and, although he struggled to stand, his legs could no longer bear his weight and he crumpled back to the ground.

Acheron screamed with the pain and clutched his ears in a futile to attempt to block out the sickening noise. His mouth tried to formulate the word ‘help’ but no matter how much he tried he couldn’t summon the breath to speak. High above black shadows began to form, moving with stealth across the otherwise clear skies. Drawing closer they began to reveal the terrifying silhouettes of huge winged creatures twisting above him, weaving between each other getting closer towards Acheron. Stymphalian birds swarmed overhead, the sunlight glinting off their metallic bodies making Acheron squint as he struggled to watch them gracefully glide through the air. Their bodies entwined into a perpetual ball of twisting metal, ever moving but never colliding as if their paths had been preordained. With a powerful beat they simultaneously pointed their huge wings downwards and launched a rain of metallic feathers that fell to the ground like a shower of daggers towards the paralysed Acheron. He tried to move but the high-pitched squeal had taken away his energy and all he could do was watch as the razor sharp spikes cascaded all around him.

A bright glint passed across Acheron’s eyes as one narrowly missed his face, but others sliced into his arm and thigh and he felt a burning pain course through his body as the red hot metal seared into his skin. The smell of smoldering flesh filled his senses as his skin blackened around the wound and tiny white blisters began to form. The world began to cloud into an agonizing darkness and, as his eyes began to close in defeat, he felt a hand clasp his arm firmly and the sound disappeared into the distance leaving behind it the loud hum of his reeling eardrums.

“I apologise for that, a little deterrent for disobedient souls.” Dareious laughed with an evil callousness. “We are immune as gatekeepers but you were not so lucky.”

Acheron looked down to examine his wounds but there was nothing there; his tanned thigh appeared to be undamaged except for a graze from a rock when he fell. “But…my leg…the birds…” He stuttered.

“Ah, it appears you were subjected to the most horrifying of illusions, the Stymphalian birds; horrid creatures with beaks of bronze and metallic feathers that they launch at their frightened victims. Quite the worst of Hades’ visions but you are safe, they reside in the marshes and one hasn’t been seen near here for thousands of years.”

“Visions?” Acheron asked.

“Visions…hallucinations you might say. Hades plays tricks with your mind to make you believe you are in peril. Men have been known to go insane as the fear consumes them and they are forever haunted with paranoia of its return. Many have endeavoured to leave the Underworld once but none twice.”

In the empty prison only a low growling remained, strangely quieter than usual as if a sense of acceptance had been reached. Hades listened for a while, unconsciously matching his own breathing to the fierce exhalations of his captive and his body calmed in the hypnotic rhythm.

It stopped. Hades held is breath waiting for the sound to return…10 seconds, 30 seconds, maybe more. The silence was excruciating. Slowly Hades edged closer, approaching the door with trepidation and fear. He raised his now shaking hand towards a small steel hatch and listened carefully as he rested his fingers on the handle. The smallest noise and he would turn away, assured that the occupant was still alive. But it did not come. Gently, he slid across the hatch.

A ferocious snarl broke the silence as the creature’s body hammered against the door and long claws thrust out of the hole, slicing into Hades face. Throwing himself backwards onto the hard ground he clutched his face, feeling the warm blood flow through his hand and down his sun-beaten skin.

“You bastard, Hades.” The voice bellowed from inside the cell, “I will kill you, finish what I should have done when you were born. The end is coming my boy, The Furies have foreseen it. You and your pathetic empire will fall.”

An eye peered through the hatch, burning red with a ring of gold. It stared, unblinking, at the cowering God, its menace piercing Hades normal self-assured disposition. The demon’s words had chilled him to the core and a sudden weakness overcame him. “You’re wrong,” He shouted with hatred, “I will endure, there is nothing you can do to hurt me anymore.”

“I am but frail and old, you are probably correct. Just one question, how is your mother, Hades?” The corners of his eye creased up into a callous smile.

“Do not utter her name, she is no longer of any concern to you.”

“You have grown into such strong rulers, more than I could have ever imagined.” The eye, still transfixed on Hades, became a gentle blue-green and the pupil widened as he spoke with gentility. “I’m proud of you and your brothers.”

“We do not need the admiration of a tyrant.” Hades replied coldly and slammed the hatch shut sealing him in once more. Turning his back on the door he began to walk away.

“Thank you for our conference, Hades,” The creature shouted through the stone wall, “I do look forward to our discussions.” His bellowing laughter echoed through the corridor and Hades left him alone to his own amusement.

“Do you have any proof of her infidelity?” Poseidon asked his brother. He supped his deep red wine from a highly ornate chalice, letting the flavour dance on his taste buds for a moment before allowing the warmth to slip down his throat. “Are you not judging her unfairly? She did, after all, defy her family to be with you and it would seem curious for her to succumb to some second rate mortal.”

“I saw them together on the morning that he travelled here with Theseus; she was laughing so gaily, the like I had never been able to yield in her. Also, Charon overheard the men whispering…”

“Charon?” Poseidon laughed, drenching his white robes with a cascade of red wine. “You are basing your surmises on the word of an insidious ferryman that would betray you as quick as look at you? Please Hades, think about what you are suggesting or it will be your downfall.” He stared forlornly at his older brother who stared distantly to the lands beyond the rivers, clutching to the vain hope that Persephone would return to him. “She will be gone for many more months yet, not to return till autumn turns the green leaves to gold and things will feel different then. Time is a great healer; if you truly love her and her you, then you will cast aside all jealousies and your relationship will be subsequently stronger. Now is not the time to act whilst tempers boil high and all reasoning is lost in the clouds of your betrayal.”

“So you too believe I was betrayed?”

“Honestly, no, I do not believe she has done anything more than enjoyed the company of another man, although with your frequent transgressions she had more reason than most. You have to remember that she was an earth dweller, her mother Demeter bathed her in the all the beauty that the world had to offer. To leave that to spend a third of her year residing in such a barren wasteland with only the most loathsome characters of the earth to provide her company left her frequently very lonely. This Pirithous fellow told her tales of her home and her beloved ward Adonis and it brought her comfort.”

“This is her home! I never once denied her visitors; she used to spend hours with Aphrodite ambling along the banks of the river conversing about earthly affairs.  I allowed it to continue despite my disapproval of this pairing owing to her friend’s well-known indiscretions outside of her marital bed. No, I do not accept that she was lonely. I gave her everything she needed, made her queen of the entire underworld. What need would she have for such base trivialities?” Hades turned his head from his brother not wishing to witness his disapproving gaze.

“You allowed her? Oh my dear brother, if you have any chance of winning back her love you must cease referring her to a possession as you would a servant or that pesky dog of yours.”

Hangman’s Curse

Posted: April 16, 2017 in Short Stories
Tags: , ,

Joanna did not know if it was a conscious decision to die.  Maybe it was the million things she had to do that day or the garbled message from her best friend about her recent conquest, but something had made her step off the pavement in front of the car.

The driver, a man in his late twenties sat motionless in the car, unhurt.  ‘It wasn’t my fault’ he would repeatedly tell the multitude of police officers that would flood to the scene in a matter of minutes, appearing from every road that made up the busy intersection filling the area with a cacophony of sirens and flashing lights…but his words wouldn’t be heard.  The driver had been speeding; that is what the middle aged detective, twice passed up for promotion, would write on the report.  His nicotine stained fingers would scrawl his signature at the bottom of the page, consigning the man to six years in prison.

The ambulance arrived remarkably quickly, despite the heavy build up of traffic that the accident had caused.   For what seemed like hours they hurried around her, massaging her chest in a hope that her heart would beat…but it never would again.  With a final look to each other they slowly withdrew leaving her lying still and alone on the cold grey tarmac.  Whilst the paramedic solemnly shook his head to the policeman who was standing nearby, the other gently covered her twisted body with an orange blanket.

Hunter ordered his second cup of coffee as he watched her being carried gently into the ambulance.  From the coffee shop across the street he had watched the whole scene unfold in front of him.  He knew the driver hadn’t been speeding, but he would never come forward as a witness.  Why should he, they were nothing to do with him.  He just continued with his coffee and tried to focus on the thing he had to do that day.

He inspected the mobile phone that lay squarely in front of him on the table, unlocking and locking it 3 times before placing it down in the same place.  No one had called.  He glanced at his watch, 2.13 pm.

She was late.   They had agreed to meet at 2pm.   He had arrived at 1.30, early as usual. He had ordered a coffee and, after a large debate with the waitress on the difference between them, he settled on an Americano as it seemed the closest to what he wanted.  He sat at the table near the window, a perfect vantage point from which to see her arriving.

But who was he looking for?  He had never seen her, didn’t even know what she looked like.  Would she look like him, a city drained has-been that had had the colour sucked out of him?  Or would she look like her mother a… well he couldn’t remember.  It had been 20 years since he had seen her and on that one night he had been flying on an unhealthy mix of narcotics and whisky.  She was just one in a long line of women he had been with, faceless beings that went as quickly as he came.  To him women were just a means to an end.

But now, at 45, he was alone.  No wife or children to share his life and a career no further on than it was when he was 20.  But the letter had said he was her father.  She had tracked him down and wanted to meet him.

2.23pm. The waitress placed another cup of brown murky liquid on the table next to him and smiled.  Millie (or Amelia as it read on her name tag) was a pretty girl of 17; her straightened brown hair fell across her face as she leant over him and her white blouse fell open slightly allowing Hunter a brief glance at the white lacy bra beneath.  She knew that he had looked…she had wanted him to look.  A brief moment of satisfaction gleaned from a half done up blouse made her feel sexy, an object of desire. She had not yet learnt the dangers of flirting but she would on that last, dark walk home after work as she took a short cut through a dimly lit lane.  However, for now she would continue to expose her skin with a misguided pride.  Adjusting her blouse slowly with a coy smile she turned away from the customer as he removed a hip flask from his pocket and poured the whisky into his coffee.

The coffee shop was very quiet, just one other man sat in the corner casually reading his newspaper, so her unnoticed arrival was all the more unusual.  The door swung open and in breezed the woman in her mid thirties with an exaggerated confidence.  The waitress noticed something pass by out of the corner of her eye but, as she scanned the room, she concluded that it must have been her imagination.  She quickly returned to writing her text arranging her after work rendezvous and sang along quietly to the radio.   Only Hunter acknowledged the woman as she strode purposefully towards him.

“Hunter” She stated in her severe and cold voice, towering above him in red stiletto heels.

“No, I’m sorry, you must be mistaken.” Hunter replied, picking up his mobile to once again check for messages.

“She’s not coming…something important has come up.” The woman continued, undeterred by his cold facade.

At that moment his mobile vibrated and the text message flashed across the screen.  Opening it he quickly scanned the brief message.  ‘Sorry, something important has come up.  Hope you can make it on Friday, Amber x’.

“Look sweetheart, like I said before, I’m not interested in anything you’ve got to say.  Now, fuck off and leave me alone”. Hunter took a big gulp of his coffee and turned away.

The woman smiled and ran her hand through her hair.  “You’re going to have to listen to me one day, you can’t keep running away from this.”

“I’ve managed so far.”

“It’ll keep happening, it’s your destiny Hunter.  I’ll be in touch.”

“Whatever”.

The woman exited as silently as she had arrived.  Hunter sat motionless staring at the table contemplating his next move.  Should he phone Amber or wait till she called him?  He reread the message…Friday, he had almost forgotten he had agreed to go to the funeral of her mother.  It had been when she had been going through her belongings that Amber had found the name Hunter Blake written on a tatty piece of paper tucked into the back of her jewelry case.  Maybe he shouldn’t go, leave that part of his life in the past and forget all about Amber. It’s not like he was looking for a daughter, his life didn’t need to change.  He sighed and took a swig straight from his hip flask.

Friday morning arrived with a grey melancholy and Hunter watched as the doleful mourners silently wept over the lowering casket.  All except one who was unmoved…it was Amber.  He had recognized her straight away.  Clutching her umbrella with both hands she observed the scene with an apathetic resolution. Not a flicker of emotion flashed across her youthful face as the priest uttered his final prayer and the weeps of the mourners rose in intensity.  But still her defocused eyes stared into the middle distance completely unperturbed by the burial of her mother.

The congregation dispersed quickly into awaiting cars leaving only Hunter and Amber alone next to the freshly dug mound.

“You made it then.”  She said, flashing a gentle smile that softened the severity of her features.

“How are you doing?”  Hunter asked awkwardly.

“I’m fine, couldn’t stand the cow.  Made my life hell and I couldn’t wait for her to die.”  Amber replied genuinely.

“That’s a bit harsh isn’t it?  She was your mother.”

“Only on paper.  You didn’t know her, what you got out of her was the one thing she was good at.  Anything else like compassion or love was a foreign language to her.  I never really saw her as a child, only occasionally emerging out of the bedroom wrapped in her threadbare silk dressing gown.  She used to call it community service…gave the married men what they needed and saved quite a few marriages if you believe the rumours. I think it was just bullshit to make her feel better…she was a whore, pure and simple.”  Amber noticed Hunter’s face recoil as she spoke with such contempt about her own mother.  “Oh don’t worry, I’m at peace with it, learnt to accept it a long time ago. I wore the disgrace around my neck for years, crying tears for men who assumed ‘like mother like daughter’ and dropped me as soon as they learnt the truth.  But I wasn’t like her and I sure as hell never will be.  Still, she’s gone now.”

“I’m sorry, if I’d have known…”  Hunter started.

“You’d have done what?”  Amber erupted with a deep, smoky laugh. “You’d have swept in with your white steed and rescued me from the nasty witch?  Don’t be ridiculous, I bet you thought twice about even coming to see me today.  I know you didn’t need a daughter but I just needed to know who my father was.  I don’t want anything from you, not even a Christmas card.  You can leave now and never have anything more to do with me.  I just had a hole in my past and I had to know before I died.”

“You’re dying?”  Hunter exclaimed and the image of the stiletto’d woman flashed across his mind.

“Well, we all are aren’t we?  Whether it’s a long time away or tomorrow we’re all heading in the same direction.  But no, I’m not dying by society’s definition of the word.  Look, do you want to grab a beer?”

“Don’t you need to go to the repast?”

“With all my aunts and cousins fighting to be mother hen they won’t even notice that I’m not there.  Come on, there’s a great little pub not far from here.”

The Gallows Inn was situated at the end of a tiny lane covered with over hanging trees shielding it from observers.  It was a dingy little place basked in perpetual darkness with an array of trinkets adorning every nook and crevice from floor to ceiling.  A large plank of rotting oak had become the centerpiece in the cramped bar with names carved deeply into the wood.  Hunter sat in the corner on a rickety table and watched as Amber returned with two glasses of a dark stout.

“I wasn’t sure what you wanted, I hope this is ok.”  She said placing the beer in front of him.

“That’s fine.  This is an interesting place.”  He said, his eyes wandering back to the decorated wood.

“Oh that, it’s meant to be a section of the witch’s gallows and the names are all the women who have been hung from them.  It’s where the pub got its name but I’m not sure.  Suppose it’s better than a random ship’s wheel though! I’m just going to nip out for a fag.  They used to be quite lax about the no smoking law because it’s so out of the way but since that girl was found just down the lane there have been a lot of police milling around.”

“What girl?”

“Amelia something or other.”  She replied absentmindedly as she expertly rolled the cigarette between her childlike fingers.  “She was a waitress, raped and murdered not far from here.  They haven’t found the culprit yet, there’s a nationwide manhunt in place looking for him.  I’m surprised you haven’t heard, the whole country’s talking about it.”

“I try not to listen to the news, if it’s important enough I’ll hear about it.”

She licked the paper, rolling it into a perfect tube and gently nipped off the excess tobacco, placing it back in to her well-worn tin.  “I’ll only be a minute.”  She smiled back at him as she left through the side door.

Hearing the gentle buzz of his mobile phone he pulled it from his jacket and answered it without looking at the number.  “Yes” he said sharply.

“It’s going to happen again Hunter.”  The female voice said gently. “You are going to do it again.”

“Leave me alone, you don’t know what you’re talking about.  She’s my daughter.”  Hunter said reaching for the end call button.

“That doesn’t matter to someone like you, it’s beyond your control.”

“Just fuck off!”  He shouted to the now silent phone.

“Are you ok?”  Amber said as she walked back into the bar.

“Just a cold caller.  I should have checked the number before I answered.  Feeling better?”  Hunter forced a smile through his worried eyes.

“Much!  I keep trying to quit but I like smoking too much!  Still, we’ve all got to die of something.”  She laughed.

Hunter tried to laugh with her but her nonchalant words had hit him more than she’ll ever know.  “I’ll probably have to get going soon, there’s someone I need to see.  Business, you know.”

“Of course, it was great meeting you.  It’s nice to know where I got this crooked nose!  Everyone used to tell me I looked nothing like my mom.  I wonder if I inherited anything else from you.”

“I hope not.”  Hunter replied coldly.

“Well…you’ve got my number if you want to meet up again.”

“Do you want a lift home, my car’s parked back at the cemetery.  The rain’s really coming down now and you’ll catch a chill.”

“Sure, that’ll be great.  See, maybe you would have done okay at this father thing after all.”

They drove in silence through the country lanes on their way back to town.  Hunter turned the radio on and rested his head back onto the seat as the heavy beat relaxed his body.  It had been a stressful day but it had gone well and he smiled to himself as he listened to the music.  He didn’t know what had made him swerve…a rabbit maybe or a cat…but it sent the car into an instant spin as the tires struggled to grip on the wet road.  Hunter fought to get it back under control but the more he tugged on the wheel the more it fishtailed around.  The offside wheel bounced off the curb catapulting the car across the road into the wall opposite, completely destroying the passenger side…that was the last thing he remembered.

He woke in the hospital. His side hurt from broken ribs but otherwise he was unhurt.  The loud beeping from the heart monitor made him sit up with a start.  In the bed opposite lay a twisted and broken Amber buried beneath a mass of wires and tubes.  Hunter rushed over to her and grasped her hand tightly.  “It wasn’t my fault,” he repeated over and over again as he watched her chest gently rise and fall.

“I told you but you wouldn’t believe me.”  Said a voice from behind.

“She’s not dead, she’s just in a coma.  She could wake up at any moment.”

“But you know she won’t, don’t you Hunter.”

Hunter turned to face the stiletto’d woman.  “But she was my daughter, my own flesh and blood.  How could I…I wanted her to live”?

“You don’t have that choice, it’s your destiny.  Some people are put on this earth to heal, to provide life for those in need and some are here to take that life away.  No one can change it…you can just learn to accept it.”

“But I can’t …I won’t.” As Hunter spat out the last words the alarm began to ring on the monitors and Amber gently drifted away.  Nurses flooded in through the door and frantically tried to bring her back, but it was futile, and Hunter watched as the colour began to drain from her youthful skin.  He knew then he had to leave…he had to stay away.  He slipped out of the hospital and disappeared into the cold, empty streets.

In a humid south American bar a few years later a man took a large swig of whisky, wiping his beard with the back of his hand and wincing as the alcohol reminded him he was still alive.  He placed the glass heavily back on to the bar in front of him.

“Same again.”  Hunter said quietly.

The barmaid picked up the glass and placed it under the optic.  “Haven’t seen you in here before, are you new to town?”

“No, I’m just passing through.”  Hunter preferred to keep his conversations short.  He’d met hundreds of barmaids like this one all across the world as he tried to outrun his curse.  Maybe it was working, he didn’t know…if he just kept moving he would never have to find out.

“Well, it’s nice to see a new face.  This place is getting really quiet lately with everyone moving to the city.  Enjoy you drink”.  Picking up a crate of dirty glasses she walked out into the backroom and disappeared from view.

“Hunter?”  A weary voice said.

“Sorry, I think you must be mistaken.”  Hunter replied.

“Hunter, I need your help.”  The man repeated.

Hunter turned to see a man obviously younger than his withered body portrayed.  His voice sounded breathy, like he had been running but there wasn’t a drop of perspiration on him.  “I can’t help you.”  He returned to his drink, turning his back once again on the man.

“I can’t take the pain any longer…every step is agony.”

“Go away, I’m not in that game anymore.”  Hunter clenched his teeth to stop his anger from spilling out if him.

“Please, I need to die.”

Hunter looked once again at the man.  His sunken cheeks and blackened eyes told of excruciating misery.  His life was over but his body was yet to catch up.

“Please” His voice petered out into a whisper until only air escaped from his cracked lips.

With his heart racing he placed his hand on the man’s neck and felt his body crumble beneath him.  Grabbing his jacket he walked out into the bright sunlight and disappeared once again in attempt to make sense of the hangman’s curse.

Deep in the chasms, far below the surface of Tartanus, Hades hastened to replace the chain around the stone door, sealing the unfortunate inhabitant inside the windowless prison. Once closed the cell offered no light and many prisoners had become blind from the complete devoid of light. Hades reserved these imprisonments for the most repulsive creatures, left to rot inside their own minds and slowly deteriorate into an internal madness as a fitting punishment for their heinous crimes. Although he rarely interacted with his prisoners Hades visited this one frequently; this one was different.

“Hades,” a soft voice whispered from behind him.

A swell filled his stomach as he recognized the sweet sound of the person behind him. “Persephone,” he exclaimed as he turned to see his beautiful wife standing before him in a long, red velvet dress. “You have returned to me, oh my love you have returned.”

“I could no longer be away from you; I should never have left.” She replied, a small smile escaping from the corner of her mouth. “I was wrong, I should have obeyed you and kept my attention solely focused on my husband.”

For a moment Hades stared at the beauty of the woman; her smooth, pale white skin and her deep blue eyes that twinkled in the candlelight made her glow with a warmth that drove many a man to madness as he became lost in her allure. He walked towards her and held her softly by the waist, the tips of his fingers gently caressing the contours of her lower back and gradually moving up her spine until he reached the petite nape of her neck. He cupped her face tenderly, caressing her lips with his fingertips and she looked at him with lustful eyes, moving her mouth upwards to meet his expectant lips. Hades paused and smiled as she passionately hung in the promise of his embrace, her eyes widening with every minute as her increasing desire grew. But in a moment his loving smile transformed into an angry grimace, his face contorting with vehement hatred. With his large hands he grasped her throat, squeezing his muscular fingers into her windpipe and lifting her from the ground by her neck. “You contemptible hag, how dare you try to trick me? I should have you tortured for your insolence you contemptible vile creature. Which one are you? It matters not, all three are equally as repulsive and not fitting to impersonate one so pure.” Her body now hung limply and she made gurgling sounds as she desperately tried to beg for her freedom.  Her eyes, which were now an oily black across the entire surface, began to lose focus he propelled her body, limp with fear, across the corridor and left her in a crumpled heap against the stone wall.

“It was but a mere jest, my Lord.” Her voice, once sweet, had dissolved into a high-pitched rasp and her lungs rattled as she panted for breath. No longer wearing the elegant velvet dress she was now attired in a blood soaked dress that barely covered her sore covered skin that oozed with pus as she writhed quietly on the wet floor, soaked with the urine of terrified prisoners. Wrapped around her cowering body were black wings of translucent skin stretched across a skeletal frame.

“So it is you, Tisiphone, you vengeful disgrace for an immortal. I suppose your sisters are near to watch your amusements. Show yourselves to your master, Furies.” Deep inside a blackened corner two rocks began to move, elongated shapes protruding out and unfurling into the shapes of two more females. Both were grotesque like their sister and wore the same haggard faces with skin that wrapped itself tightly around its boney surface. They wore cloth around their middle, torn and bloodied from their hunts but their legs and torsos were uncovered except for snakes that weaved between their breasts and around their small waists as if searching for prey.

“How did you uncover our ruse?” One crone said as she stretched her wings after her recent confinement. Her bright red hair fell in large, messy curls and swept across her face covering her oily, black eyes like deep pools of nothingness; the soulless void where emotion had been sucked from her and her sisters when they grew from the blood of the castrated Uranus.

“Although, Alectro, your sister looked every bit the image of pure perfection she forgot one small detail. Persphone is a strong willed woman and would never admit such shortcomings in her nature. In future you must observe your characters more closely for looks are not the only perception of character.” Hades replied, his tempers waning slightly. “Now, tell me what purpose you have here, did I not give you a task to complete?”

“We have done what you asked. We are merely here to check upon our captive, my lord.” Megaera, the quieter of the three Furies, uttered her reply softly. Her head bowed down towards the floor, unable to look directly at the God, and she flicked her wings nervously.

“For your sake I hope so. Now leave me, find some other unfortunate soul to inflict your distasteful trickeries on.” Hades heard the women scurry away up the corridor, their long nails tapping on the stone floor as they scampered on all fours like animals and their callous cackles disappeared on the windless air.

 

The girl sat huddled alone on the edge of the cliff overlooking Tartanus, the gentle curves of the small figure creating a silhouette against the turbulent sky that was streaked with purple in a stormed fury. The moon shone down like a spotlight highlighting the girl and her luscious, curly hair, that fell carelessly down to her waist, shimmered in the silvery light, the colour of which Acheron had never before seen. The left half of her thick locks was a bright white that shone with a luminescent glow but the right side was a deep black that absorbed the light around her.

Acheron, you must not do the dark lord’s bidding, he has a darker purpose for you and I mean to warn you.” She said, her voice soft and lilting like a well-known melody sung sweetly flowing from the lips of a nurturing mother.

Who are you?” He took a step forward and tried to peer around the girl to catch a glimpse of her face but she drew herself closer, wrapping her arms around her knees tightly.

I am recognized by all men but known by none. Through your dreams I twist my spirit, tormenting your unconscious musings with dark lust and regretful fantasies. But now I carry a crucial message, one you must heed or great peril lies before you. The young child, Adonis, is treasured amongst Gods and men alike. Do not meddle in divine disputes for Hades is an unforgiving man.”

I am grateful for your concern but he holds no fear for me. Whatever threats Hades feels he has to unsettle my existence he has none, for I have nothing left to lose.”

You have more to lose than you yourself can comprehend…where is your brother, Acheron?” She paused to allow him to speak but no words came to his lips. “He is in grave danger; don’t turn your back on your flesh for a truth that is better left lied buried in your past.” Without looking behind her she arose, walked forward and, in a moment, she disappeared, her spirit dispersing into the night sky.

 

The table stretched the entire length of the room, which was larger than most men’s entire abode and reached up further than Acheron’s eyes dared to venture. The wooden clad walls, which at first glance appeared sparse, were actually filled with intricately carved designs and dotted between them were images of men; one stood halfway up a steep incline and another was shrouded by a large bird like creature. At the head of the table hung a painting of a woman, bathed in a glow of orange sunshine and sitting on a meadow of rich green grass and small wild flowers. Acheron found himself unable to tear his stare away from her deep blue eyes, mesmerised by her kindly beauty and happy exuberance.

I see that you too are lost in her charm.” Hades said, snapping Acheron away from the painting. “She is my wife, Persephone, and many men, like you, have become enchanted with her.”

I meant nothing…I mean…I apologise if I have offended you it’s just, I’ve never seen such a bewitching beauty.” His attention was once again drawn to the image and he became aware that his jaw was dropping as his eyes widened to absorb more of her allure.

Hades laughed at the young man as his natural desires overcome his manners. “I am not offended but I will if you do not address your expression.” Acheron snapped his teeth together but still found himself unable to look away. “I used to spend hours watching her in the meadows, surrounded by her close friends and I vowed then to make her my wife. Of course, her mother Demeter was not overjoyed with the relationship; as the Goddess of nature and fertility she cast the world into eternal winter until she agreed to return to the Earth.”

My Grandfather used to tell me folk tales as a child about the years the land laid barren, not a single stem growing in the dusty soil. Many people lost their lives through drought and starvation but I never realized it was just a family dispute that destroyed generations.” Acheron replied with an air of condemnation.

Hades chose to ignore this affront and continued with his story. “Fortunately my brother, Zeus, was able to sway her mother’s mind and agreed to let her stay with me for half of the year. Of course, without the nurturing power of Persephone, the Earth falls once again into darkness while she resides in the underworld and a harsh winter covers the land but at least I can lie in the arms of my true love once more. She is there now and man can once again bask in the warm sunshine and fertile lands that my vegetation goddess provides for you.” He smiled broadly with joy at the thought of his wife and closed his eyes as if to capture her image in his mind.

It must be difficult for you. I am yet to take a wife and now, it looks like my opportunity may have waned.” Acheron joked, trying to quell the uneasy feeling that arose as the God revealed the intensity of his relationship.

You are yet a young man and many a handsome maid resides in the meadows. You may still find your consort but come, let us not dwell on maybes, we should eat before this great feast gets cold.” Hades gestured towards the table that was now laden down with more food than Acheron had ever seen in his life.

Whilst they had been talking the room had been filled with a large array of huge dishes containing enough food to feed a hundred men. Enormous platters were heaving with strange meats sitting on a pool of multi-coloured juices. Bowls of freshly baked rolls, great wooden slabs covered with an array of cheeses and vast jugs full of red wine were laid out, designed to be no more than an arms length away no matter where at the table you were seated. Adorning high metal stands, making it difficult to see across the vast table, were exotic fruits from distant lands, and Acheron marveled at the sight, as the weird colourful shapes fascinated his unworldly mind. Standing proud in the centre of the table was a roasted black boar; its razor-like tusks still protruded menacingly from its mouth but it stared vacantly at the man. Acheron wondered, as he cast his eyes over the steaming mountains of meats and breads, if more people would be joining them but there were only two places set.

Please, eat.” Hades said, grasping a huge leg dripping in a thick, syrupy sauce. “These are particularly good, a cinnamon bird. Very sweet and succulent.” He took a generous mouthful and ate greedily oblivious to the sauce dripping from the side of his mouth and coating his usually white beard with a bright orange hue. “I said, eat.” He repeated, more sternly.

Acheron obeyed and, without looking, scooped up a selection of meats with a long pair of ornate metal tongs and placed the food carefully on to his plate. He tore off a small piece of dark brown flesh from a hunk of meat of unknown origins. A green, gelatinous liquid oozed out of the succulent morsel and dripped down his fingers and, with trepidation, Acheron placed it into his mouth. His tongue instantly exploded in a carnival of tastes, his saliva glands tingling frenziedly as the sweet and blissfully tender meat dissolved effortlessly. Without waiting to swallow he snatched a larger piece and thrust it into his still chewing mouth, relishing the unfamiliar flavours that were dancing on his tongue.

It seems you are enjoying that! It’s drakon meat, a colossal serpent that lives in the depths of the lakes, but probably the most delicious creature to reside in the underworld. Mighty hard to catch, especially with its numerous rows of jagged teeth and deadly venom. However, Charon is very adept and he never seems to disappoint me.” Hades replied before washing down his mouthful with a gulp of red wine.

They sat and finished in silence, Acheron sampling everything on the menu until his stomach was fit to bursting. With a heavy sigh he leant back on his chair and let out a satisfied groan. “I can eat no more or I fear I will explode.” He laughed. “Never have I sampled such wonderful food and I thank you for your hospitality. However, you asked me here to discuss your offer and I am keen to hear it.”