A black cloud descends around me and the world again goes dark; colours drain and the light loses its shimmer.  I know the world is there through the obscured perspex that covers my eyes, a distorted reality just out of reach.  The storm ominously hangs around me, a dark presence pressing down on me, making it impossible to breathe and gather my chaotic thoughts.

I run…I move ahead…but the icy cold breeze bites at my exposed skin, and i can feel its grip tighten on my weakening body. I can hear it, mocking me, laughing at my actions with a callous snarl. “What do you think you are doing,” it sneers, “You can’t do that, you’re not strong enough.” until the cacophony deafens my ears with its constant attack.

There is no release, no chance of relaxation.  A never relenting barrage of darkness that consumes your soul, and everyone around you.  There is no escape because the darkness is you.

Advertisements

She stood silent.  The wind whipped around her, making her hair tie itself into a thousand knots but she stood…silent.  The world around ebbed and flowed in its usual chaotic manner, never stopping to take a breath as it hastened around in an endless tirade of entropy.   Caught in a whirlwind of unpredictability she had become accustomed to the overwhelming loss of control but had never tried to step away, but now it had forced her to be…silent.

 

The day had started as usual, locked in the normality of the humdrum but longing to flee.  The dark cloud followed her, walking in her shadows, never letting her escape the feeling of dread and despair that had plagued her for as long as she could remember.  Was there a beginning, she couldn’t remember but she knew there would never be an end. It followed her, watched her and twisted her thoughts into blackened images of an inverted reality until it was impossible to see the truth through the distorted lies.    

He looked at his expectant face with sorrow. Tears ran down his little face as the rain splattered against the window and flooded the patio in glistening puddles of water. The rocket ship, once a magnificent monument of papier-mâché and PVA glue, was now a twisted, soggy mess with the painstaking artwork of a five year old dripping onto the concrete.

The father sighed. The opportunity to spend a magical moment with his estranged son was ebbing away and he could hear the disappointment in the child’s voice. “It’s ok son, we’ll build another one next time you’re over. It’ll be even bigger and better than this one.”

The son shrugged. He knew that that could be weeks away but he smiled anyway. “Ok dad, we’ll make it big enough to get inside and then we can fly off to the moon.”

“Sounds great,” Dad rejoiced in the innocence of his boy. Handing him a spoon, they eagerly tucked into the ice cream and watched the lightning flash across the darkened sky.

“Do you think they have ice cream on the moon, dad?”

“Maybe, but we’ll pack some just in case.”

Seconds, maybe minutes passed. His eyes, yellow flecks swirling in grey, deep pools stared at her, burning into her mind with ever increasing intensity. Unable to to look away, her gaze unblinking and focused, like an invisible beam drawing her closer to him. Images filled her mind, his thoughts flooding into her conscious. Bad thoughts, dark thoughts, some so depraved that she felt a sickness fill her throat and she longed to look away but they were inside her head, becoming part of her.

“I can’t…” she murmured, the sound of her voice sounded distant through the cacophony of voices enveloping her. “No more…”

With a sigh he closed his eyes and her body crumpled to the dusty, dry earth.

“Never ask again, this is proof that you are not and never will be ready to know me.” He stared down at her sobbing frame and he was shrouded in sorrow. She should have been the one and if not her, who…

The gnarled joints twisted and jerked as her body remembered the gracefulness of youth, 70 years of memories flooding through her muscles like electricity; the dancer was reborn. With a creak and a crack an elegant line was stretched between hand and foot, although the route was less smooth now, scattered with age spots and varicose veins. But she held her head high; her still dainty neck and delicate shoulders wore the contours of age in gentle creases but her eyes, once tired, now sparkled with exuberance. She smiled. She knew her lines were bent and her posture poor but for a moment she was once again that timeless beauty of 1955.

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.

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.”