When Gods Grow Old

Sipping her coffee, Helen watched the red sun rising over the nearby forest. The car jolted as she turned onto a long drive on the right and passed under the arching sign which read Mount Olympus Retirement Home. With short blonde hair and grey eyes, Helen was barely thirty. She smiled in the cool morning air as she climbed from the car, but there were slight creases at the corners of her eyes. “Another day,” she murmured before drinking the last of the black coffee in her thermos and tossing the container onto the passenger seat.

Inside the chilly foyer, Helen waved at the receptionist on her way by. “Hey, Frank.”

Half-asleep behind his desk, Frank managed a faint nod. “He grumf…” he replied in the odd sort of grunt that he generally used for communication. Helen nodded as though she understood and continued into the main facility, stopping by the break room to drop off her jacket and purse and get another cup of strong, thick coffee. It wasn’t nearly as good as what she brewed at home, but it would do. She also took a small grey can labeled Harpy Repellant from a collection in the cupboard and slipped it into her back pocket. Satisfied, she swallowed her lukewarm coffee in three gulps and walked to the main offices across the hall.

“Morning, Helen,” chimed Alexandra when she entered.

“Good morning,” Helen said. “What kind of day are we looking at?”

“Hard to say,” the younger woman replied. “It’s been quiet so far, but we had a little bit of an issue during bingo last night. There’s whispers of another war brewing—hard to tell if they’ll amount to anything. Maybe you’ll pick up more when you make your rounds.”

“Maybe,” Helen shrugged. “I hope they behave themselves. I almost got the hair singed off half my head last time they decided to go to war, and besides, we just got the rec hall painted again.”

“I know it,” Alexandra nodded. “And if you see Jim, let him know I’m looking for him.”

“Anything important?”

“Not overly,” Alexandra said, filing some papers in a cabinet. “He’s just been gone longer than I expected and I need him to look at the hinges on the basement door at some point, they’re coming loose again.”

“Always tough to break in the new guy,” Helen chuckled. “If I see him I’ll send him your way.”

“Thanks.”

Helen returned to the door and pulled it open. Instantly, she jumped backwards, a faint scream caught in her throat. Lurking in the hall was a tall older man. He was wrapped in a bathrobe and shocks of white hair flared out from his head in every direction, matching the wild appearance of his equally white beard.

“Zeus!” snapped Helen as she regained her composure. She heard Alexandra snickering quietly behind her. “I’ve told you not to surprise people like that!”

“Watch what I can do,” Zeus whispered in his soft but still-powerful voice. With an attempt at a dramatic flourish he held his hands in front of him. A look of intense concentration passed over the old man’s face as he prepared himself. He snapped his fingers with both hands and small bursts of sparks leapt into existence between his fingertips, as brief as the sound he created. He repeated this display twice more and then looked at Helen in expectation.

“Very nice,” Helen said. She put a hand on his shoulder and steered him into the hall. “Now, let’s get you back to your room.” Just them, another woman, grey-haired but younger than Zeus, appeared around the corner.

“Athena,” called Helen. “Would you mind walking Zeus back to his room?”

“Certainly,” replied the woman. “Come along, Father.” She took Zeus by the arm and returned his smile as the pair rounded the next corner. Helen watched them leave before beginning her rounds.

At the first apartment, she rapped lightly on the door, still thinking happily about Zeus and Athena. They were always so good together. Well, usually at least. There was no response to her knock, even when she repeated it. The silence inside remained unbroken and Helen put her ear to the door. There was water running inside. Again. She opened the door and went inside. The door to the bathroom was cracked open. “Poseidon?” Helen called. No one answered, but the sound changed suddenly as unseen water began splashing onto the floor. Helen pulled the door wide. The old man inside the bathroom jumped and spun to look at her. His face wore the expression of a child who has been caught doing something he desperately wanted to hide.

The man’s wild grey hair and beard shone with droplets of water. He was wearing only a pair of blue shorts and carried a blunt wooden trident in his left hand. The running water was coming from the overflowing sink in front of Poseidon. Helen stepped beside him and turned off the flow. A few streams of water trickled into the spreading puddle on the floor before silence fell over the room.

“Poseidon,” Helen began firmly but not without kindness, “what did we say about playing with the sinks?”

“Not to,” answered Poseidon, not meeting Helen’s gaze.

“And what are you going to do about this mess?” Helen continued.

“Clean it.” Poseidon sighed and bent down to the floor. He scooped the puddle up in his hands and held it, looking at Helen.

“Should we put it in the tub?” she asked. Poseidon hesitated and looked at the tub before nodding. Helen pulled back the curtain and promptly let out her second scream of the morning. A cold, scaly tentacle shot out of the full tub and wrapped around her arm. The cold tentacle, beating with a powerful heartbeat, rough and scaled, tightened as a hideous grey head emerged from the cloudy water. Black eyes met Helen’s gaze as a thin tongue flicked over long teeth.

Helen tried to pull away, but the monster held her tight. It let out a gurgling snarl and jerked her closer. The teeth clicked together. it’s stink clawed at her nostrils. Suddenly, Poseidon’s deep voice roared in a strange language and be brought the trident down on the kraken’s head. The beast whimpered and released Helen. Chastized, it sank back beneath the surface of the water.

Gasping, trying to still her thudding heart, Helen turned to Poseidon. The god of the sea retrieved his puddle and dropped it into the tub, his eyes fixed on the ground between himself and the young woman. “He’s gotten big,” Helen managed to say. Poseidon nodded again, finally daring to look at her. “Breakfast is in fifteen minutes,” Helen continued. “Do you need anything before then?”

“No,” answered Poseidon.

“Alright, get dressed and I’ll see you in the dining hall.”

Outside the room, Helen leaned against the wall and closed her eyes. “Monsters in the bathtub,” she groaned. Finally, her heart slowed and she opened her eyes—and nearly screamed again, jumping backwards and hitting her head off the wall behind her. “Hermes!” she snapped at the hunched old man floating mere inches away from her. She rubbed the back of her head as Hermes drifted backwards a couple feet so that he was no longer nose-to-nose with her. He wore a rough bathrobe and winged sandals which fluttered in exhaustion as they kept their wearer afloat. Hermes squinted at her through his bad eyes and didn’t say anything. “Sorry,” Helen said. “You just startled me. What can I do for you?” Hermes blinked at her, processing the question.

“I have a message for you,” he said slowly, working to form each word.

“What is it?”

“I… forgot,” finished the messenger dejectedly. He brooded for a moment, not looking at her. Helen was unsure what to say. What do you tell the gods’ messenger when he can no longer remember the messages he is entrusted with? But before she could speak, his face brightened with a new idea. “I shall find out again what the message was and then I shall tell it to you.”

“You do that,” Helen agreed, “and make sure you come to breakfast too.”

“Certainly,” Hermes called over his shoulder. He fluttered down the corridor, twice bouncing off the wall with a grunt before he turned the corner and disappeared. Helen checked her watch and sighed before heading off in the direction of the kitchen. She was having an off day. But what day was really normal in this place.

In the kitchen, Alexandra and Penelope were busy cleaning up after the breakfast preparations. “Poseidon’s pet has grown,” Helen announced as she entered. Penelope chuckled and continued her work but Alexandra turned pale.

“Has it?” she asked. “That thing scared me when it was small.”

“Just don’t go near the bathtub,” Helen told her. Penelope dropped a handful of orange peels into the furthest sink. Inside, there was a snarling sound and a few drops of water sprayed out, spattering on the ceiling.

“Charybdis is hungry today,” Helen grinned.

“That thing scares me to,” Alexandra said, keeping her distance from the sink.

“She’s harmless,” Helen said, dropping a slice of bread in for the creature. There was something strangely attractive about feeding the sink-bound monster.

“Might want to check on breakfast,” Penelope pointed out, putting a stack of plates into the cupboard.

“Right.” Helen moved to the large dining room which was bustling with activity. Hermes hovered overhead, fluttering back and forth over the tables and looking confused as he gnawed on a bit of sausage. Bits of scrambled egg fell from the plate in his other hand. The pieces bounced off the tables and heads of those below. A hash brown fell into Zeus’s juice and he looked up in shock and a half-hearted flash of wrath, searching for the source. Giving up, he returned to his meal, shocking each piece of bacon to a crisp before popping it in his mouth.

Beside him, Hera threw an angry glance at each flash of sparks. She didn’t approve of Zeus’s showiness. She smacked his hand as he reached for his last piece of bacon and whispered something in his ear. Zeus gave her an unhappy look before biting off half the bacon, un-crisped. After that, he sat sullenly in his chair and refused to speak.

At one of the central tables, Dionysus threw a furtive look around the room before drawing a small flask from one of his pockets. He poured the violet liquid into his juice and took a long draught. Grinning broadly, he set the glass on the table, sloshing a little of the drink over his hand.

“Hector,” Helen beckoned one of the kitchen staff. “Dionysus is adding something to his juice again. Would you get it from him?”

“Certainly,” said the young man, watching Dionysus take a drink directly from his flask. He chuckled. “Old man steals grapes every time he can get his hands on them. Takes them to his room and brews that magic mixture himself. We still haven’t figured out how.”

“Good to know,” Helen said. “We’ll have to keep a closer eye on him. We don’t need trouble like before.” Hector worked his way between the tables toward Dionysus. When ordered to give up the flask, the god threatened and begged the young man, but Hector refused to be swayed. Finally, he coaxed the flask away from its owner. He waved it at Helen who gave him a thumbs-up before she left the room.

She passed the next hour in the main office, filling out paperwork and filing it. Then she tried to staple a stack of forms together only to find that the stapler didn’t work. It was empty. To make matters worse, there were no more staples anywhere in the office. “Great,” she groaned, leaving the stapler and the forms on her desk.

The supply closet was located in the corner of the building, for some reason, situated as far as possible away from anything else important. Still grumbling about the lack of staples, Helen rounded a corner jerked to a halt. In the center of the hall, there stood a life-sized statue of a man, apparently carved perfectly in stone. The statue wore overalls and had a rag tucked into one of its pockets. It stood with both hands splayed against a closet door that bore the words “Keep out!” in bold letters, apparently trying to shut in whatever lurked behind the door. Helen sighed. “Jim, we told you not to go open this closet,” she told the statue. “But I knew you weren’t one of those guys that likes to listen. Now look where it’s got you.” She left Jim frozen where he stood and retrieved her staples. Once the paperwork was finished, she sought out Alexandra, finally finding her outside of Zeus and Hera’s apartment. “Jim opened the closet,” she said simply.

“Really?” Alexandra asked, her arms full of folded towels.

“I’m afraid so. We’ll have to have someone move him before the end of the day.”

“I’ll post it on the memo board,” Alexandra said.

“Thanks.” The two women parted and Helen made her way to the community room. Various clients sat and read or played cards with each other over small tables. Helen meandered through, greeting people as she passed. In the corner, she paused by the table where Helios was sitting alone. The old man had a pile of yellow clay in front of him and was meticulously molding small cows, setting them out in a herd in front of him.

“My poor cattle,” Helen heard him whisper to himself. He stroked one of the models and held it in front of him. “All gone…taken.” She turned away and instead walked to where Aphrodite and Ares were playing checkers. Helen stood silently beside Ares and watched him contemplate his next move. He jumped one of Aphrodite’s pieces and removed it with a grin. Aphrodite put away the hand-held mirror she had been checking her reflection with and looked over the board. With a smirk, she winked at Helen and jumped three of Ares’ checkers, ending on the back row of the board.

“King me,” she said.

“Villain!” shouted Ares, rising to his feet and overturning the game board. All over the room, people turned to look, but no one seemed surprised. “You cheated! I, Ares, god of war, cannot be defeated!”

“Sit down, Ares,” Helen said, touching him on the shoulder. The old man instantly quieted, lowering himself into the chair. He glared at the table while Aphrodite hummed to herself and straightened her hair.

Next, Helen stopped by the couch where Artemis and Aeolus were watching a nature show. Artemis held a plastic bow in one of her hands and three suction-cup arrows in the other. A gazelle bounded across the television and the bow leapt. An arrow stuck to the screen where the gazelle’s head had been and Artemis grinned broadly. Aeolus patted her on the shoulder.

“Attention, everyone,” called a voice from the center of the room. Helen turned to see Zeus raising his arms, beckoning for silence. Ares stood behind him, waiting. Helen sensed trouble brewing. It was incredible how often it started with Ares and Zeus. “It has been brought to my attention,” Zeus continued, “that dishonor has been done to my son. This has happened on more than one occasion in recent times. I now fear I have no choice but to declare war on the offenders.”

“Zeus,” began Helen, but he paid her no attention. Helen started across the room, but she was too far away. Zeus marched to Aphrodite’s side, his face dark, his hands clenched. “Feel the wrath of Zeus!” he cried. Then he poked her in the arm. There was a snapping sound and a bolt of electricity leapt from his finger tip. Aphrodite yelped and recoiled in pain before rising to face Zeus. She drew herself up in anger and slapped him full across the face.

“Treachery!” called Ares when he saw the strike. “To war, all loyal gods!” Helen heard the cry and turned from her path. She took cover at the side of the room as chaos broke loose. From the couch, Artemis turned and fired another arrow, striking Hera in the ankle. Hera glared and hurled a pillow across the room in retaliation.

“Fear the wrath of Aeolus!” shouted the small man beside Artemis. He withdrew a hand-held fan from within his shirt and flipped the switch on its side. The foam blade whirred into life. Aeolus rushed into the fray, aiming his fan with both hands and whistling as loud as he could. No one else seemed to notice.

There were battle cries in the forgotten tongues. Weak flashes of light limped across the room as the gods’ magic sputtered into the air. Someone started throwing grapes and Zeus’s molting eagle ate one out of the air before perching on the television to sleep. Helen stayed out of the conflict. She had hoped to avoid another war, but she knew better than to be disappointed.

“Alexandra is looking for you,” said a soft voice behind Helen. She turned and saw Athena who was watching the battle with her soft eyes. “Don’t worry about this; others are already coming to break it up.”

“Thanks,” said Helen. She dodged another flying pillow and ducked out the door. Three orderlies passed her as she left and they quickly began restoring order.

Helen found Alexandra waiting for her near the break room. “I can’t get into the west wing,” the young woman informed her.

“What’s the problem?”

“There’s some sort of wall built across the hallway. I couldn’t figure out how to get past it.”

“Hephaestus?” asked Helen.

“It seems that way,” Alexandra nodded.

“I’ll check it out,” Helen sighed. Today was not a day she felt like dealing with Hephaestus. “While I’m doing that, can you swing by the rec hall and make sure everything’s calmed down?”

“They go to war again?”

“Ares lost at checkers,” Helen explained.

“Of course.” It was nothing new.

In the west wing, Helen found the wall that Alexandra had described. It wasn’t difficult. The wall did indeed fill the entire passage. However, rather than being impassible, there was a door set into its dark grey surface. “Hephaestus?” Helen called. There was no answer. Helen resigned herself to the task and walked through the door. She found herself in a small room. It was dark, with only a faint glow emanating from Greek letters etched in the walls. The air was damp, musty, and cool – bitter and unsettling. Five doors led forward. Helen released the door she had entered by and it locked with a sharp click. Then the wall behind her creaked loudly. The entire surface began to sink downward as more wall emerged from the ceiling to replace it. Helen spun, searching for a way to avoid being trapped, but there was nothing to be done as the door dropped completely out of sight. Now, a sheer barrier blocked the way Helen had come. Biting back her frustration, Helen turned back to the room and examined the five remaining doors before selecting the center one.

The glowing runes continued in the next hall, and Helen followed the twisting passages at random, venturing deeper into the labyrinth with each step. After fifteen minutes, she found herself faced with a second room, identical to the one she had first entered. Without hesitation, she pulled open the door on the far right. There was a piercing roar. A large, fierce head shot out of the darkness. Glistening fangs snapped on empty space where her arm had been. Some and leapt backwards as a fierce head shot out of the darkness. A multitude of glistening fangs snapped down on the empty space where Helen had stood moments before. There was an angry hiss and a second head darted over Helen as she ducked to the ground. She rolled kicked the underside of a third head and rolled past a forth. Blind white eyes glared vainly in her direction. From the ground, Helen kicked at the door. It swung into thin, muscled necks and bounced back. The heads of Scylla retracted into the darkness and Helen locked the door. Panting, she sat against the wall and recovered her senses. She cursed into the dim light and head a low growl from behind the door. She tried to remember the last staff training session – “No anger, No fear, Only understanding.” Stupid.

After a minute, Helen rose and scratched a large X on the door with one her keys. Then she chose the far left door and stepped through. Immediately, the scent of damp musk met her nostrils. Helen tensed, sensing danger. Still looking forward, her hand found the handle of the door she had just come through. It was locked. “Curse you, Hephaestus,” she growled under her breath. Was any job really worth this much trouble? Really?

Twenty feet down the corridor Helen heard a bellow behind her. She spun as her heart pounded into her throat. The hulking shape of a minotaur filled the hall. The monster roared again and charged. It pounded down the hall. This time, the training worked. Helen darted toward the beast and dropped to the ground before reaching it. She clasped her hands over her head. The minotaur couldn’t react in time. One hoof kicked her in the side as the minotaur tripped over her. Helen groaned and felt her breath burst out of her. Pain flared in her ribs. The minotaur lost its footing. With a desperate cry, it tumbled forward, crashing headlong into one of the walls. There was a blinding flash and the minotaur shattered into a million ethereal shards. Helen ducked her head and shielded her eyes.

When she looked up again, the labyrinth was gone. She lay on the floor of the west wing corridor with a lone figure standing over her. “How was it?” asked Hephaestus excitedly as she sat up. Helen looked at the watery eyes of the man as he waited for her response. She jumped to her feet and raised a hand to slap him. The she caught herself. Her hands balled into fists and she forced them to her sides. It took all her strength to do no more than jab an angry finger in the old man’s face. “Don’t. Ever. Do. That. Again.” Helen said through clenched teeth. Now that the danger had passed, all her emotions welled up and overflowed on the ragged man in front of her.

“So it was good?” Hephaestus asked after a moment’s pause. He looked at Helen as though she was daft and unable to answer his simple question.

“It was… Was it…?” Helen spluttered. “I… If you do that again, we’re taking all your tools—for good this time.”

“Don’t do that!” Hephaestus cried, finally alarmed.

“Do you promise not to create… whatever that was again?”

“I solemnly swear that I will not create another labyrinth,” he promised. Then, under his breath, he added, “in the west wing.” Unwilling to argue further for the moment, Helen turned and marched down the hall. She would see that someone confiscated Hephaestus’ tools. He had been warned enough. It was time to do something. She slid to a stop when Hermes appeared in front of her.

“I remembered my message. Well, I found the person who told me… actually, I found someone who reminded me who told me who then reminded me…”

“Hermes!” interrupted Helen. She took a deep breath, forced a smile, and then continued. “What is the message?”

“Hades requests a smoke machine,” Hermes grinned.

“A smoke machine?” asked Helen. It was an unsettling request. “Where is Hades anyway? I haven’t seen him all day.”

“Hades is in the basement. He’s working on a project.”

“Wonderful,” Helen said shortly. She heard Hermes bounce off the wall with a soft thud as he continued absently in the other direction.

As soon as she saw the basement door, Helen knew something was wrong. The solid door was barely clinging to warped hinges and twisted black scarring marred the polished oak surface. It stood slightly open and a shroud of darkness obscured any view of the landing below. Helen hesitated at the top of the stairs, looking up and down the hall. She would have to talk to maintenance and the orderlies about keeping a better eye on these things. But right now, there was no one around to tell. And Helen was tired of putting up with these things. She had worked here long enough. She was going to take care of this herself.  When she was able to put a foot through the blackness with nothing happening, Helen started down the stairs.

The light from the hallway quickly weakened and was overcome by the basement shadows. Further down, the dull scent of sulfur hung in the air, stinging Helen’s nose. She reached the landing and peered into the obscurity that stretched away on either side. To her right, there seemed to be a faint orange glow. The bitter scent was also stronger in that direction. Helen glanced back up at the crack of light above her, unsure whether to continue, when a harsh question interrupted her thoughts.

You dare venture into our domain, mortal?” crackled a female voice. Helen turned to her left and saw the dim shapes of two creatures flying two feet above the ground. Gray, scabbed skin was stretched over bony frames. Leathery wings beat slowly behind, ruffling thin strands of grey hair. The faces of the two creatures were faintly female, but they had beaks instead of mouths and their yellowed eyes glowed faintly in the darkness.

“Clara, Martha,” Helen said, looking from one to the other. “It’s been a while.”

It has indeed,” said the creature on the left coming forward with a sneer.

Remember, sister,” whispered the other. “Remember our orders.”

“I have not forgotten,” snapped the first harpy.

Our master has instructed that no one be permitted to enter the underworld without his permission,” continued Clara. “You have entered and must not be allowed to inform others of our presence.”

“We wondered where you two were lurking,” Helen told them. “Some of us thought you had finally gone, but I knew you had to still be around here somewhere. I suggest you let me go. It’s your master I’ve come here to see.”

He does not wish to be disturbed,” spat Martha.

“Well, he’ll have to learn to accept disappointment like the rest of us,” Helen said. She turned away. The harpies let out horrible shrieks and clawed at Helen’s shirt. Cold talons scraped her skin and the creatures hissed in her ear. Helen pulled the small aerosol can from her back pocket and closed her eyes. She pressed down on the top of the can and sprayed it back and forth between her two attackers.

The harpies screamed and released Helen. She opened her eyes, which immediately began to water from the fumes. However, the repellant was effective. Helen barely caught sight of the two creatures as they fled into the darkness, disturbing the cobwebs which clung to the pipes on the ceiling. Helen huffed and wiped her eyes as she walked toward the glow she had noticed before.

A few feet toward it, Helen heard faint creaking and moaning sounds which reminded her of the sound effects used in the cheap haunted houses she had gone through as a kid. She turned away from the glow and managed to follow the sounds to a small radio plugged into one wall. The CD case on the floor nearby had a vibrant picture of a jack-o-lantern on it. 30 Great Halloween Sound Effects announced the jagged green letters above the picture.

Helen let it keep playing. The glow was coming from the next room and, stepping through the doorway, she found a narrow stream of water running across the basement floor. It started in the shadows to her right and disappeared against the wall to her left. The “river” was no more than a foot across and glowed faintly orange as it trickled over the cement floor. A pair of cement blocks stood on either side of the river. Two boards rested on these blocks, forming a sort of makeshift bridge. In the center of the “bridge” stood a cloaked figure leaning on a large staff. Helen approached and stopped on her side of the river.

“Hello, Charon,” Helen said. “Where’s Hades?”

“Toll for the boatman,” was all the figure replied.

“Really?” Helen asked. “That’s really how this is going to go?” She moved to the side and stepped over the river. Charon looked at her with tired eyes and sighed. His grey hair was slicked back formally and the black cloak he wore shone slightly in the faint light from the gold threads which had been woven through it.

“Where’s Hades?” Helen asked again.

“My master is indisposed,” Charon explained with resignation. “In his wisdom, he instructed me to guard the bridge over the mighty and fearsome River Styx. The unworthy are not permitted to wander the underworld.”

“This isn’t the underworld, Charon,” Helen said in exasperation. “It’s the basement.”

“My lady is so observant,” the boatman replied dryly. He sighed. “Follow me.” He stepped off the planks and led Helen toward a closed door in the far wall which he unlocked with an ornate key. Inside, the room was brighter, but the long, fluorescent lights hanging from the ceiling had been covered in orange plastic, bathing the entire scene in a strange glow.

An old lady with dark hair reclined on a decrepit couch in the corner, watching the activity in the rest of the room. Boxes and plastic tubs collected from the rest of the basement were stacked against the walls. These had been draped in grey sheets in a pathetic attempt to resemble rock formations. A large metal bucket just inside the door was smoking slightly, and it was from this that the sulfur smell was rising, sickeningly strong now that Helen was so close to it.

In the center of the room, dressed in a black bathrobe, Hades hurried back and forth among piles of assorted junk and stolen tools. Taking a hammer and a pair of rusty nails, he attempted to fasten one of the grey sheets to the wall. The nails bent on the cement and fell to the floor as he cursed them. A second radio in the corner was playing a song that would not have seemed out of place in a slasher film as Hades frantically went about his work. In the far corner slept a great three-headed dog. The animal’s black fur showed signs of graying and his wrinkled face drooped as a trickle of drool ran down the side of one mouth.

“Hades,” said the woman on the couch. Hades, having just hammered his thumb, didn’t respond. “Dear,” said the woman louder. “We have a guest.” Hades sucking on his pained thumb and surveyed the newcomer. He froze when he saw Helen, thumb still in his mouth, eyes wide. The hand with the hammer went reflexively behind his back. Then he blinked and recognized Helen. He pulled his thumb from his mouth and glared at it. “You have my smoke machine?” he asked Helen, looking expectant.

“No.” Helen choked on the fumes from the pail. She moved aside. “Hades, what are you doing?”

“I am creating my domain,” he said, returning to his work. “Welcome to the underworld!”

“It’s the basement,” Helen pointed out again. Charon turned to Helen and shrugged.

“I wish Hephaestus was here,” Hades muttered under his breath. “He was always better at this.”

“How are you, Persephone?” Helen asked, approaching the couch.

“As well as can be expected,” replied the older woman. “I told him I would rather stay upstairs, but he just won’t listen.”

“Silence!” snapped Hades, throwing the hammer on the ground and turning around. “I will have my realm, and you will not undermine me. Charon, since you can’t seem to guard the bridge, stay here and help me. But first…” Hades stalked across the room and seized Helen by the arm. Despite millennia of aging, he was unnervingly strong. He had always made Helen uncomfortable. “Since you don’t seem to appreciate what I am doing here, I am afraid that you must remain until I am finished, lest you bring others to try to stop me.” Hades dragged Helen to the sleeping dog and kicked it in the side. One tired head rose and blinked at the pair.

“Cerberus, you guard her,” ordered Hades. The dog looked at Helen and blinked again. A large pink tongue lolled from one mouth. It licked at Helen’s hand. Hades groaned in exasperation and walked away. Retrieving his hammer he began ordering Charon around while Persephone watched with a wry smile on her face. Helen tried to step around the large dog and all three heads turned to face her. Three toothless mouths growled in warning and Helen stopped moving.

“Poor Cerberus,” she said in a soothing voice. She reached up and scratched him behind one of his gigantic ears. “Poor puppy, stuck down here in the cold, dark basement. I bet you want to get out of here, don’t you?” All six eyes closed in relaxation as Helen continued to pet him. Finally, she stopped and tried walking past. This time, instead of growling, the dog blinked slowly and lay his heads down to go back to sleep. Helen stopped behind Hades and put her hands on her hips.

“When are you going to give this up?” she asked. Hades jumped at the sound of her voice and dropped the hammer on his foot. He let out a squeak of pain and turned to Helen with a pinched face.

“How did you get past…?” he began. Then he saw Cerberus fast asleep and groaned. “Stupid mongrel.”

“You’ve had your fun,” Helen continued. “Now let’s go back upstairs and have some lunch.”

“Is it lunch time already?” asked Persephone. “He’s had us down here since before breakfast. Hades, I’m hungry. Let’s go upstairs. I miss my real chair, not this thing you found buried down here.”

“No!” snapped Hades. “I will finish what I started!” He stomped his way to the only door and locked it with a key identical to the one Charon had used earlier. “Now no one is leaving,” he said, putting the key into one of his pockets.

“Hades!” Helen snapped. He ignored her.

“Want to play cribbage?” Persephone asked from behind Helen. She remained glaring at Hades a moment longer, wondering if she could force him to give up the key. He was always the difficult one. “Yeah, alright,” she answered, scowling at the lord of the underworld.

Three cribbage games and seven smashed thumbs later, Hades was growing increasingly agitated. Additionally, it was his unfortunate underling Charon who bore the full brunt of Hades frustration.

“It’s not hanging straight!”

“Where did you put the hammer? Well, find it!”

“Why can’t you do anything right?!”

As Hades continued to growl orders and stalk around the room, Charon spoke little and obeyed each order he was given without argument.

“Push that crate over there!” snapped Hades, pointing to a crate he had positioned himself twenty minutes before.

“Of course, my Lord,” replied Charon. Hades, too distracted to hear the dry sarcasm in Charon’s voice, also missed the exasperated look that burned on his face as he moved the crate.

“Haven’t you had your fun yet, my dear?” asked Persephone as Helen reset the cribbage board.

“Never!” roared Hades, turning with a wild look in his eyes. “This…this is not about ‘fun.’ This is about what is necessary! This is about what is fair! I am the lord of the underworld! I will have my domain” His eyes were wide and his breaths came rapidly. He hadn’t stopped moving for at least half an hour – pacing up and down, gesturing wildly as his bathrobe threatened to slip off of him.

“You can’t stay down here forever,” Helen pointed out, now shuffling the deck of cards.

“Watch me,” Hades almost whimpered, staring at his open toolbox with a dazed expression.

“What is that?” asked Persephone Helen under her breath, suddenly distracted from her husband.

“What?” Helen asked her. Persephone’s eyes roved over the room, trying to locate the source of whatever had distracted her. A moment later, Helen heard it too. In the corner, Cerberus lifted the center of his three heads, ears perked up in curiosity. Charon stood in the center of the room with a handful of nails, gazing thoughtfully at the locked door.

“Nails!” ordered Hades, looking around to see where Charon had gone. “What is everyone…?” he asked. Then he noticed every eye in the room now fixed on the door.

With a blinding flair of light, the door handle began to glow brightly. A beam of electric blue light shone through the keyhole. There was a loud CLAP and the door burst open with a shower of sparks, slamming into the wall and bouncing back on smoking hinges.

No one moved as Zeus stepped into the room. His appearance had not changed except for a fierceness which was glowing behind his eyes. Alexandra followed him into the room with a large orderly close behind. Cerberus gave a single happy bark to greet the newcomers before laying his head on the ground again and closing his eyes. Hades let out a cry at the interruption yet remained shocked and unmoving where he stood.

“Helen,” called Alexandra, hurrying forward while the orderly took the hammer and a carton of screws from Hades.

“You may have won today,” the lord of the underworld snarled. “But I will not be imprisoned forever.”

“Hades!” said Alexandra firmly, as she turned to face him. “If you do anything like this again, I will assign you a session with Mrs. Baker.”

“Not her!” cried Hades, suddenly afraid. “I concede.”

“Ajax, can you take Hades back to his apartment.” The orderly nodded. Hades looked around the underworld with a final sigh and followed obediently. Persephone paused to say farewell to Helen before leaving as well. Cerberus was already asleep.

“Where’s Charon?” Helen asked. The only figure left in the room aside from the two women was Zeus. His work done, the old man looked as though he was about to fall asleep. He rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet, eyes half closed.

“Charon?” asked Alexandra. “I never saw him.”

Helen merely shrugged. “How’d you know where I was?” she asked as they each took Zeus by an arm and guided him out of the room. Alexandra threw a disgusted look at the smoking, stinking bucket as they passed it.

“Hermes was flying around, murmuring something about the underworld. I knew Hades would only do something like that in the basement, and I realized that it was probably where you had disappeared to. I grabbed Ajax and it was his idea to bring Zeus—and it was a good thing we did. I’m not sure what Hades did to the door but I have no idea how we would have opened it otherwise.”

“Well,” Helen sighed, “another day on Olympus.”

Alexandra nodded in understanding. “Want to get some lunch?”

“Why not?”

Zeus, all the ferocity gone from his expression, brightened at the words. “I can help,” he said. “Look what I can do.” He snapped his fingers, and sparks flickered in the darkness.

“Sure, Zeus,” Helen said. “You can help.”

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