Timeless Tales Magazine: Hades & Persephone

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Timeless Tales 11

Editor Tahlia Kirk

www.timelesstalesmagazine.com timelesstalesmagazine@gmail.com

Art Director Geoffrey Bunting


0 0 8 The Case of the Crying River Bill Bibo Jr. 0 2 0 The Tenth Planet Alexandra Faye Carcich 0 2 6 The Mysteries of Eleusis Leonora Lewis 0 3 6 Seasons Isa Prospero 044 Love, Eurydice Alethea Kontis 0 5 0 Persephone’s Dream Delbert R. Gardner 0 5 6 On the Subject of Seeds Geoffrey Bunting 0 6 6 Visiting the Pollinators Frankie Cabahug 0 7 6 Demeter’s Sorrow Eva Pohler





GEOFFREY

BUNTING GRAPHIC

DESIGN

G E O F F R E Y B U N T I N G . C O. U K


Fiction

Words by

The Case of the Crying River

Bill Bibo Jr.

[To be read in your best movie trailer narration]

About the story

“In a world where strange and bizarre creatures, pulled from every myth or legend, live and work along side a human population, there are always tales of kindness and honesty, but also of darkness and despair. When any crime of mythical proportions lifts its crooked head, it is up to one team to save them all. Special Agents Ramses II, reanimated pharaoh from Egypt’s ancient past, and Bernie Clayberg, golem, lead the expert professionals of Mythical Crime Scene Investigations. These are those stories, these are the cases from The Wrong Side of the Rainbow.” [End narration.] “The Case of the Crying River” is my 8th short story featuring Ramses and Bernie. They have appeared online and in print from Stupefying Stories, Havok Publishers, and others. When I saw the call from Timeless Tales, I knew the myth of Persephone and Hades was

right for Ramses and Bernie. At its center is a crime perfect for solving by my master sleuths. The first step was to look at all the characters involved in the myth and figure out who they are in this world. Demeter, goddess of harvest and agriculture, became the CEO of a mega agricultural corporation. A formidable businesswoman, she still possessed powers over nature, but not over her daughter. Persephone, the spoiled daughter, obviously loved bad boys. For Hades I took inspiration from the motorcycle gang movies of the 50s and 60s. Think The Wild Ones with a touch of Beach Blanket Bingo. Finally, mix in some noir and a heavy dash of corny humor. With each story this world has grown so much that a novel has been screaming to be born. I have succumbed. It’s in the works. More short adventures will surely follow as well.


THE CASE OF THE

CRYING

RIVER BILL B I B O JR.


The banshee’s scream cut through the quiet air of my relaxing afternoon. A porcelain collector’s plate depicting the famous sauna scene from “Four Weddings and a Jackalope” tottered on the edge of a shelf in the foyer. It was the second scream that brought it crashing down. I ran to catch it, but my clay feet were heavy and I was too late. Being a golem, I wasn’t built for speed. Meera O’Connell, banshee and resident housekeeper, answered the telephone a half second before it rang. “Sir, it’s for you,” she wailed, setting the receiver on the table so she could grab a broom from the kitchen. I think that’s what she said. Her thick Irish accent made it sound more like, “Sure is a furry moon”. A suave, cleanly wrapped mummy picked up the receiver. “Ramses here… Director Archimedes, how may we be of assistance?” I tried to pick up the porcelain fragments, but my thick fingers proved ineffective. Meera brushed them away. “You know I don’t do missing persons,” Ramses said. After a minute he hung up the phone, grabbed his jacket and tarboosh. “Bernie, we have a case.” “Where are we going?” I asked. “To check out a missing person.” As we left our townhouse, a single snowflake drifted to the ground at my feet. Whenever a crime involves mythics, the Rainbow City Police call Mythical Crime Scene Investigations. And whenever MCSI wants the best, they call us: Special Agent

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Ramses II and me, Bernie Clayberg. We’d just solved the Case of the Feathered Corpse and I was hoping to have some me time to recover from the embarrassment. But crime is immortal and the law cannot wait. We pulled into the parking lot of Delphian Grains, an Olympian Corporation farm outside of town. The crop fields stretched off far into the distance. By some trick of the light they looked to go on forever. Chief Inspector Krupke of the Metropolitan Police was already headed our way. His second, the ever-present Officer Yaztremski, was never far behind. “Open up, Bernie. It’s showtime,” Ramses said. He proceeded to place a piece of artificially flavored parchment in my mouth. It is commonly believed that a golem is incapable of any original thought, action, or speech. As a construct we are thought of as nothing more than a tool or any other implement. We are called into action by the placing of distinct directions written upon parchment under the tongue. Our will is given over to following those directions. Sometimes too literally. But it’s all deception. Only Ramses, Meera, and the rabbis who gave me life know the truth. And we aren’t about to tell anyone, as it’s proven quite useful in our work. “Ramses, what are you doing here? I thought you were taking some time off to unwind,” Krupke said. Office Yaztremski chucked a little too loudly.

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“So did I, Krupke, but the Director called in a favor. They’d rather have this case solved and quickly.” Krupke glared and Officer Yaztremski got silent real fast. “Then I’ll leave you to it,” Krupke said. A snowflake landed on his nose. He quickly brushed it off, but another took its place. “Carl, tell the boys to pack it up. Looks like we’re no longer needed here. The mummy team has this all wrapped up. Ramses, you can find the Grand Lady over in the gazebo.” A small green hill, just above the top of the crops, sat at the junction of the grain fields and a narrow tributary of water. In a nearby pool, a dozen nymphs held each other while crying. “Bernie, wait here while I find out what’s going on,” Ramses said as the nymphs’ tears splashed my feet. Atop the hill stood a grand gazebo built from intertwining stalks of golden corn. Behind a single desk that looked to grow out of the ground sat Demeter, CEO of Delphian Grains. Her radiant green hair was woven with leaves and grains of wheat yet flowed in the slight wind as she waved to a chair in front of her. Ramses eased his stiff frame down. “Special Agent Ramses, thank you for coming.” Her voice was soft and gentle, yet I was sure it could command all the land around us. “It’s my daughter Persephone. She’s been abducted.” “Were there any witnesses?” Ramses asked. “I saw it all. She was at the pool playing with her friends when a multitude of motorcycles descended upon us. Their leader, Hades, a horrible ugly creature, grabbed my daughter.

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She fought him off as best she could, but to no avail. Before help could arrive, they were gone. “You must find my lovely Persephone and bring her back to me, or I don’t know what may happen. She’s just a child.” She broke down and laid her head in her hands. A sudden chill emanated from her. Instantly the nearest rows of grain turned brown. A small maple leaf fell from her hair, withered, and died. Ramses tried to question the nymphs. Between sobs, they pointed to where the abduction had taken place. Numerous tire imprints covered the soft earth. There were signs of a struggle. I found a few pieces of cloth from Persephone’s tunic and a muddied scrap torn from an abductor’s jacket. It showed a pair of bells, red and set aflame. “Hell’s Belles,” Ramses concluded. “The toughest, meanest, cruelest motorcycle gang in Rainbow City. And all because of a simple typo when they had their jackets made. Never rely on spellcheck, Bernie.” More snow began to fall. “We’d best be quick about finding Persephone. Her mother’s wrath can be quite dangerous.” Being made of magic and clay, the cold had no effect on me, but I Ramses was mainly bones held together by strips of linen. He pulled his jacket tighter as we walked back to the car. *** We sat at the bar of The Spoke and Choke, Rainbow City’s most notorious biker bar. The place was empty except for

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the human behind the bar. He came over and wiped the bar with a rag that probably did more damage than benefit. “Are you sure you two are in the right place?” he asked. “We’re waiting for a friend,” Ramses said. “It’s your funeral,” he said. “Until your untimely demise, is there something I can get you?” “How about some information?” Ramses held out a photo of a young angelic Persephone. The bartender didn’t look up and moved to the opposite end of the bar. “Bernie, I should tell you something,” Ramses said. “Before I joined MCSI, I did some things—long ago—that I’m not very proud of. When graverobbers broke into my tomb, they tore me from the halls of Osiris where I was reliving my happiest days while awaiting rebirth. Through their ignorance, this life was forced upon me again. Let me just say I was a little grumpy. During that time, I fell in with a bad crowd. Hades was one of those. I haven’t seen him since. Let’s say we didn’t leave on the best of terms. I’m not sure how he’ll react to seeing me now.” “We may have another problem,” I whispered. “I overheard one of those crying nymphs say, ‘Why does Persephone have to like bad boys so much?’ It got me thinking this may not be an abduction.” As if on cue, the door burst open. A raucous band of demons strode into the bar like they owned the Underworld. About a dozen human demon wannabes followed, adjusting

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their mechanically applied horns and flashing their surgically implanted fangs at anything that moved. At the end, breathing fire and brimstone, came Hades, their leader and spiritual guide. He was shorter than I expected, though with a taunt muscular form barely held within his leathers that warned of danger. On his one arm was a happy and very clingy Persephone. Demeter must have given Ramses an older photograph for this young woman was neither a child nor angelic. Still the wildly tinted hair and scandalously draped tunic could not hide her Olympian features. On Hades’ other arm was a half inch of snow. He brushed them both off and moved to the bar with his gang. Downing a waiting draft of Labyrinth Ale Hades noticed us sitting at the opposite end. He strutted towards us, smiling. He side smashed a jar of pickled eggs with his fist along the way. The bartender groaned loudly and left to grab a fresh jar. “Boys, look who we have here,” he said. “If it isn’t Special Agent Ramses of MCSI.” He plopped down on a barstool facing Ramses. “Did you know we used to hang together? After he was reanimated, Ramses here was a real badass, killing everyone who’d dug up his tomb and their entire families. His work at that time was beautiful, something really special. Do you know, he even designed our jackets?” The last comment drew some angry shouts from his gang. “And then you gave it all up. For what? To clear your conscience? To save your soul? Do you even have a soul now?”

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“As much as I’d like to reminisce,” Ramses said. “I’m not here for you, Hades. I’m here for Persephone. Your mother wants you to come home. I’ve come to take you back.” “My mother can take a flying leap off that little hill of hers. She never lets me have any fun. Do you know how boring water nymphs are? Every day it’s ‘Let’s go swimming here’ or ‘Let’s go swimming there.’ Well, I’m not a child and I’m not going back. You can give my mother this—” and spat in Ramses’ face. She moved to spit in mine, but couldn’t get enough fluid, so turned away in a huff. Ramses wiped his face and glared at me. I shrugged. “That’s right,” Hades laughed. “Persy’s not going anywhere she doesn’t want to. Ramses, it’s been fun. Boys, show these two the door.” He and Persephone backed out of the way. I suppose smashing a chair over my head was intended to get my attention, but I really didn’t feel anything at all. I quickly ended the fight as Ramses called headquarters. *** “So, Persephone is back with her mother and all is right with the world,” said Director Archimedes. Ramses balanced next to me on a wooden perch in the Director’s office. Being part owl he had removed all the chairs. Though I will never understand why he tries to hide his massive wings inside a three piece business suit. It looked very uncomfortable. “At least, for the moment,” Ramses said. “Hades is out on probation. The best we could do was to book him on

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Disorderly Conduct. It turns out that Persephone is actually 18 and can legally do as she pleases. I would warrant a guess that it won’t be long before she leaves home again. And Hades is probably waiting for her. I doubt Demeter will take it well. “Director, may I ask why the personal interest in this case?” “The wife keeps wanting me to eat healthier. Says the last pellet I coughed up showed I need more fiber. To be perfectly honest Delphian Grains makes the best field mouse flavored granola in Rainbow City. If what you say is true, I should go stock up.” A flurry of snowflakes fluttered by the window. “Director, you may need a warmer jacket.”

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Fiction The Case of the Crying River

About The Author

Bill Bibo Jr., architect by day, crazed author by night, lives and plays in Madison, WI. He always listens to the world around him. And he tries never to interrupt if it’s good. One of his favorite successes was winning the inaugural Caldwell Vineyard Writing Contest. His short short story appears on the back label of their 2007 vintage Rocket Science wine, served at the 2011 Astronaut Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Payment was a case of amazing wine, still helping him on his way to becoming the drunken best selling author of which he’s always dreamed.



Fiction

Words by

The Tenth Planet

Alexandra Faye Carcich

About the story

On January 5th, 2005, the tenth planet was observed by a team of astronomers looking for large outer Solar System bodies at Palomar Observatory. She takes 557 earth years to complete one orbit. Occasionally, the tenth planet’s orbit intersects and is closer to the sun than its nearest neighbor, Pluto. My brainstorming sessions often start on wikipedia. At the bottom of the “Persephone in Popular Culture” page, in the trivia section is this tidbit: “When a 10th ‘planet’ was discovered in July 2005, a poll in New Scientist magazine picked Persephone

MORE TIMELESS TALES STORIES BY ALEXANDRA FAYE CARCICH:

Curious Machinations Issue 6 Psyche & Cupid

Troll Hunters Issue 7 The Snow Queen

as the public’s favourite name. Its status as a planet was later downgraded to dwarf planet together with Pluto and was given the name Eris.” There was something really charming about the ninth and tenth planets being linked in their degradation. Thank you Wikipedia and thank you to all the proof readers who helped me balance the anthropomorphism of the planets and the scientific details.


THE TENTH PL ANET

ALEXANDRA FAYE CARCICH Timeless Tales X 21


Blooms of ice cover Persephone’s surface. Nurtured by the cold, tendrils of frost crawl along the ground, sending out shoots and branches, petals frozen in perfect asymmetry. These glittering crystals refract every color as light passes through their icy facets. The tenth planet is an undiscovered garden, radiant in isolation. Over centuries of solitude, she etches the history of the universe on the vast flat of the ocean. With geysers of heat under the surface, she carves the movement of the stars, the moment they explode, and the devouring black points in galaxies’ centers. Her only companion, the moon, is attentive in its orbit. For hundreds of years they are each other’s only comfort as they traverse the black vacuum of space. They are enough for each other. Nothing and no one mars the perfection of the garden. The stars are blessedly distant. As they roam the galaxy, a remote neighbor emerges from the night. He is a pinprick, barely a competitor for brighter stars, shrouded in the mystery of miles. Persephone ignores him, until he emerges, russet and ruddy, beckoning the tenth planet closer. As days spin past, Persephone creeps nearer, allured by curiosity. Closer and closer, the neighbor is no stray asteroid but a planet, her superior in size. Closer to him, she is also closer to Sol’s heat. Subliming petals crack and fragment. Climbing prickly stalagmites grow on Persephone’s surface, covering it with a guard of spikes. One sunset, they are face to face. Persephone’s moon passes between them, trying to shield her, but too late. Assaulted by meteorites for centuries, his many eyes look on Persephone. Her garden is revealed, no longer a secret. Her countryside lays exposed to the stranger’s view. Chaos reigns on his surface: from mountain ranges of ice to oceans of gas. Icebergs drift across gaseous fumes. He is Pluto, the ninth planet. And they are too close. Pluto drags her by force until she is between him and the sun. His gravity locks them together. Compelled, a prisoner of his might, she orbits closer to Sol than she has ever been. His nearness creates a new heat in her. The garden she had cultivated in seclusion melts. If she cannot escape, the frozen ocean will evaporate and her record of the universe will be lost forever. As she flees, he pursues her. Cruel Sol, with new intensity, pierces her sky during the day. At night, every night, the tenth planet and Pluto spend face to face. He traps her with his unwanted embrace.

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For fifty years, the tenth planet struggles to escape, as her diary on the oceans slowly evaporates. Her surface is ravaged, the garden in ruins. With a last pull, she frees herself from her remorseless neighbor, and spins off into the night. Nothing is left of the time before she met him. Persephone’s surface has been reduced to vapors and steam. Smog fills the air, obscuring the stars. After the last of her chronicle has dissolved, the ocean turns to gas, her diary—fumes. The surface is desolate and barren. In the soundless void, the years pass. The ocean sinks and reforms: solid. The smog slowly settles in the growing cold. Something new emerges on the surface. The fumes take new shapes as they freeze. Gasses solidify where they are, branching out tall and intersecting. There are towering spires and mountains, like on Pluto. On the peaks bloom colorful refractions. Everything is different than before, broader and bigger. She does not recognize the grotesque disorder that her surface has become. Centuries pass from the time of intersection. The single moon has become a poor companion. Its constant attention on the tenth planet is monotonous and predictable. The satellite is too small to be a real partner. They are not equals. Now, the surface flourishes. The new growths are different and intriguing. The ice flowers have trebled in variety. The beauty of the past seems repetitious and flat compared to the unpredictability of the spires and profusion of blossoms. Without destroying the carefully cultivated gardens of old, nothing new could grow. Without Pluto’s interference the surface would be unchanging ice. On the flat of the ocean, the tenth planet records a new history— of the relationships of the stars, their distances, their reflective followers, all the worlds and the lives intersecting and influencing each other. She feels alone for the first time in all of her existence. Sol grows a little brighter. Then Pluto emerges from his tangle of neighbors, and travels closer. The tenth planet hurries to meet her husband in the night.

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Fiction The Tenth Planet

About The Author

When Alexandra Faye Carcich is not writing she is studying history, weeding the garden, or walking her dog. In her spare time she teaches Argentine Tango to college students and art to homeschoolers. Her work has been featured in Timeless Tales, Enchanted Conversations, Zooscape, and Gingerbread House Lit Mag. You can read her poetry on Instagram: instagram.com/alexandracarcich



Fiction

Words by

The Mysteries of Eleusis

Leonora Lewis

About the story

I was watching a lecture from The Great Courses with my mother. The lecturer was talking about how the Greek Gods punished a king who thought to honor them by serving them his son at a feast. Only Demeter, distracted by the loss of her daughter, gnawed on a shoulder bone. I started thinking about the explosion that blew up the island of Thera in Minoan times and something clicked. I began to wonder if the story of Demeter refusing to let crops grow because of the loss of her daughter started out, not as a story about seasons, but a story of a terrible famine caused by the fallout from that tremendous eruption. When I saw the call for submissions for Timeless Tales on the theme of Hades and Persephone that’s when I knew it was time to get busy on that story.


THE MYSTERIES OF ELEUSIS LEONORA LEWIS


Only a few months ago, a normal day meant I ruled my dark quiet realm alone—the university museum’s basement. I’m in charge of all pieces that aren’t in an exhibit—everything that’s packed away—which is the vast majority of the museum’s collection. Most of my communication with college kids and academics was through the email. Then one day, Ms. Summer Martin came bursting into my domain, bringing with her the spicy scent of honeysuckle. Rowdy jumped to his feet, wagging his tail, doing his happy dance around her. Everything about her reminded me that outside, spring had sprung, with blue skies and birds chirping away. “Dr. Adams. I’m here to work on translations.” I realized she was one of many students and volunteers doing the thankless grunt work of translating ancient clay and lead tablets along with some scroll fragments that had languished for years in the basement. I throw down my pencil and lean back in my chair. “Excellent. You’ve probably heard that I scan the artifacts and upload the images along with a key for the applicable language; Akkadian, Hittite, Linear A or B, or Classical Greek.” Her eyes sparkled and she kept shifting from one foot to another like a ballerina getting ready to dance. “I want to see the artifacts.” I knew I liked this kid. “Dr. Adams,” Summer’s voice danced down the basement steps a moment before she appeared. “I found something in the translations. You remember the lead tablets you showed me? One of them mentions a court case.” I nod. “That makes sense. The Greeks usually recorded court cases on lead.”

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“An elderly woman named Agafya maligned the Eleusinian Mysteries, the sacred rituals of life and death. She interfered with the public rituals, like the torch lit procession searching for lost Persephone. According to fragmentary witness accounts, Agafya claimed Hades’ abduction of Persephone occurred on the island of Thera, not Eleusis. She said Hades opened a hole in Thera’s sacred mount and pulled Persephone down into it.” I considered this. “The mysteries were an important source of revenue for a town like Eleusis. Yes, I see how Agafya’s accusation could cause a problem.” I opened my file of completed translations. “Considering the sacredness of Demeter and Persephone to devotees of the cult, I hate to think what happened to the old woman. We’ll probably never know.” I’d made one of my rare trips to a local hamburger joint as a treat for Rowdy. When I made it back to my quiet office hole in the ground, I found Summer waiting for me. She immediately picked up where our last discussion had left off. “Agafya’s grandson, Eusebios, agreed to keep her locked up in his house in exchange for leniency,” she told me. “After some cross referencing, I found scans of ostracons catalogued from a farm between Athens and Eleusis. I think I can prove it’s where Eusebios kept her.“Show me.” She had me bring up the image on my laptop. There was something poignant about the pot shard with the fragment scribbled onto it. It said: “The arms of Dread Persephone will soon embrace Agafya.” “Just because this was found at the site doesn’t prove the farm was Eusebios’.”

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Summer reached over to take the mouse, her butterfly hand resting on mine guiding me to bring up the picture of a drinking cup. “You see the name on the cup?” “Eusebios,” I read aloud and gave a low whistle. “Well, all right. This is strong circumstantial evidence. Good job, Ms. Martin. All your diligence paid off. This is certainly more interesting than an inventory to translate. In fact, I daresay this should be good for a publication credit.” “This translation is a lot more than a publication credit, it’s a lot more than that.” Summer practically lit up my dim office with its malfunctioning fluorescent lights. Physical Plant still hadn’t found their way down to change them. “I’ve been thinking. Everyone has always taken the story of Hades’ abduction of Persephone to be about the changing seasons. “What else could it be?” I thought about the similarity to the Egyptian myth of Isis reassembling the pieces of her husband. Like Persephone’s mother, Demeter, Isis also wandered the earth, cloaked and disguised. “What if everyone is wrong? What if, instead of an origin story for the seasons, it’s actually about a real natural disaster?” I considered this. “The old lady, Agafaya, said Persephone was abducted from Thera...” I realized where Summer was going with this. “Are you thinking the eruption on Thera, the biggest bang in the ancient world, became the myth of Hades carrying off Persephone?” “Yes! The fallout from the volcano caused years of bad crops, cooler temperatures, and famine. It fits the story of Demeter searching for her lost child, refusing to let crops grow.”

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“It makes sense,” I agreed. “But you’re a folklorist.” I regretted the words the minute they left my mouth. The betrayed look on her face felt like a punch to my gut. Enough pain to make me think about seeing my internist. Rowdy looked at me and whined. Maybe I was too abrupt. I’ve always had a problem being around people. Three tours of duty does that to a fellow. “I’m not questioning your translation,” I tried to explain. “I worry about your hypothesis’ reception. After all, you’ll need more proof, which can’t be gained without grants and backing.” At that point, I should have shut my mouth, but I could already see the Archaeology department’s big shots having a field day ripping her apart. “You know folklore gets no respect. It gets kicked around between the English, Anthropology, and History departments because nobody can decide what to do with it.” “I know I’m a folklorist,” she told me. “I know how to track stories as close to their original source as possible. I know I can’t prove the Minoan Springtime Fresco from Thera has any connection to Persephone. I know any temple to Persephone, if it existed, is rubble at the bottom of the sea.” I have to tell her like it is. “Kind of convenient. Find a temple to Persephone at the bottom of that caldera, you’ve got it sewn up. Volcano blows, temple falls into the hole, you got Hades dragging Persephone into the underworld. Too bad life doesn’t work out like that.” Summer’s leaving me. That’s how it has to be. I’m at least fifteen years older than her—a vet with a service dog who mostly just wants to be alone. She’s got her whole life

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ahead of her. She’s found her rainbow to chase that will become a life mission. Some people never find it. Their life is an endless search. I looked for it in the army, serving my country, and found it at last in a museum basement. Summer will never know how much I enjoy her interruptions for long talks about antiquity and mythology. I’m not selfish enough to keep arguing. “Let me know if you need help. I’ll do what I can.” Rowdy followed her to the door for one last head pat before coming back to sit at my feet. They dismissed her findings, the distinguished controllers of grants, publications, and leaves for fellowship research. Summer kept making inquiries of important names in Bronze Age Archeology in case unpublished field results might back her conclusions. I knew it because I began getting calls and emails asking me if she was on the level. I always said, “Yes.” Now, ten years later, there have been many discoveries of Bronze Age sites sacred to Demeter showing her as a cloaked old woman, the guise she used when hunting for her lost daughter. Only this form of the goddess is not about winter. There’s the evidence of child sacrifice and ritual cannibalism, proof of famine and starvation. The diver’s discovery of rubble from a temple to Persephone in the Thera caldera clinches it. I watch Dr. Summer Martin’s presentation on the university live feed. I haven’t heard her voice since the time she called to thank me for my behind-the-scenes references. I’d come up with some excuse to cut the call short.

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Now she’s finishing her presentation and turns to wave goodbye to the press and faculty. I return to my work. A few minutes later, I’m surprised to hear her steps—the rhythm still familiar after all this time—descending the stairs toward my underground realm.

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Fiction The Mysteries of Eleusis

About The Author

Sarah M. Lewis has a BA in Art History and a MA in History from the University of Mississippi. Her work has appeared in 2017 Write to Meow, Bubble-Off Plumb, and 2019 WWG Anthology Forest of Angels. She won first and third prize for poetry in the August 2011 Writers’ Journal Poetry Contest. She lives in Texas, is an active member of the Woodlands Writing Guild, and keeps her ears open for a good story.



Fiction

Words by

Seasons

Isa Prospero

About the story

I wanted to write a version of this well-known and much adapted story from a different point of view, and it occurred to me that, as the myth explains the existence of seasons, it implies there once was a time before seasons. How did common people react when the weather abruptly changed? Imagine the confusion of living through the first winter of all time. So I chose a couple of humans to play out this tale while Hades and Persephone played out theirs off-screen.


Seasons

Isa Prospero


One day, things are different. Everyone notices when it starts but no one quite knows how to describe it. Later, when affairs are more or less settled, words will be created to fit the new reality. Then people will say: it is cold, it is winter. At first, however, they only have one name for what is happening: death. Philo knows something is coming when he feels the earth tremble. He falls to the ground, surrounded by bleating sheep, as thunder rises from below. He knows it can only mean one thing—a god is near. Then the sound subsides, the world stops shaking, and he finds himself chasing his animals. That’s how he finds them, just over a hilltop. Not one god, but two. Her: pure and beautiful and glowing, surrounded by her nymphs. Him: hard and grave and muted. The nymphs scatter like the sheep but Philo is frozen by the sight, the violent dance taking place in front of him. One day, the bards will tell conflicting tales, but the truth was right there to see. He’ll whisper it to his wife that night, what he saw—the two figures entwined in a fight, slashing the air with words and light. Her, refusing and cajoling. Him, ignoring. He has seen her before, the goddess with her nymphs, drifting with their delicate feet and splashing one another with water. “You would leave me right away for any of them,” Agathe would tease whenever he spoke of it. “I would not,” he always protested, entirely honest. The first time he saw her, he knew she would be his wife. So it does not surprise him when the somber god ignores all reason and protest and pulls the goddess with him into

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a whirlwind, for his kind is much less mindful of consequences than mortals. He has seen something which will make his kingdom of shadows seem bright and he must have it. It wasn’t like that for Philo. He courted. He waited. He asked. How strange that humans should be the ones to learn patience, they who have so little time. “There will be consequences,” Agathe says quietly, holding his hand in their bed. “There always are when they play their games. Speak to no one of what you saw! Don’t meddle with their affairs. Promise me.” She’s always been brilliant, outside and in. He’s always done what she asked. The next wave they feel together, sometime before dawn—not a rumbling but a piercing scream, full of fury and terror, rushing across the land. They wake in a sweat. Yet the sun chariot still crosses the skies, so they rise and go to work, unaware that things have changed. Forever. Irreversibly. It starts small, a brisker wind than usual. Colors seep out of the leaves and flowers throughout the day. Then it gets worse: fruits falling rotten to the earth, a wetness that drives them to their hearth. It’s her, they hear later. The mother. They know how precious a child is, having lost two before they were fully formed inside Agathe. It doesn’t matter, Philo used to tell her, we have each other. For him it was always enough, because what else could a man want? His lot has been luckier than most. For years now, all he’s cared about is making her happy. But there’s little he can do to allay her worries as sun and moon go through their wanderings and the changes remain.

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Soon, the sheep have nothing to graze. The markets are emptied. People whisper. And the mother’s anger grows as she walks the earth, knocking on doors, asking after her missing child. The final blow comes without warning. Later, people will know to expect this as well—along with the biting winds, the thinning animals and the sterile earth. Later, they will know disease, coughs that won’t go away and ailments that will turn their bodies frail. Later they will know to stock food, to grow enough to last through the cold. Not this time, the first time. One day, Agathe doesn’t rise beside him. He leans over and finds her eyes shut and her head burning up. He does all that he can. Feeds her from his own plate, begs help from neighbors, sacrifices their last surviving animals for any gods who might be listening. To no avail. “My love,” he calls her, clutching her hand every free moment of every day. “This will pass. Stay with me.” By the time Agathe’s bones are sticking out beneath her skin, the goddess stops at their home. A simple thing, a hut not fit for a deity, but he’s too tired to care and so is she. Harrowed and wide-eyed, she looks more crone than goddess when she asks after her daughter. Agathe’s words ring around his head. Do not speak, she told him. Do not meddle with them. He wavers. Imagines himself trading the information for Agathe’s life, selling one god to another for a prize. He would even do it for food, for the trees to bloom again and for his sheep to have something to graze. But the goddess’ eyes sparkle with a rage that her visage can’t hide, piercing through him, and he realizes Agathe is right. There can be no trade with those who do not even see you.

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That doesn’t stop him falling on his knees, touching his head to the ground, and begging for life to return to them. The goddess doesn’t hear, or doesn’t care, and disappears into the night. “You did right,” Agathe will tell him the next time she’s conscious, her face wan and her eyes bloodshot. “Did she find her daughter?” “That’s what they say,” he tells her, so choked up he can barely tell the story. This is what he heard: the abducted bride was tethered to her husband’s domain, and there she must stay for some time before returning to her mother above. And, thus, in the realm of the dead, will be the cause of others dying. Agathe tries to smile. “It will pass.” A statement of fact, his words back to him. “Yes,” he confirms. “She’ll be back soon. Stay with me.” And so it happens. One day, a flower blooms. A burst of color among faded leaves, a red bud promising hope. No one sees it, that first one, though they are all waiting for it. But soon they feel the change—in the air, in the trees. The earth breathes again and restores life. Later, they will say: it is warm, it is spring. But Philo will always remember it as the day Hades took his wife.

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Fiction Seasons

About The Author

Isa Prospero lives in SĂŁo Paulo, where she translates, copyedits, and hoards books. Her fiction has appeared in Brazilian publications like Trasgo, Mafagafo, and Superinteressante, as well in Strange Horizons and The Fantasist magazines and international anthologies. To see some of her work, visit her website: isaprospero.com.



Poem

Words by

Love, Eurydice

Alethea Kontis

About the poem

Many years ago, I called myself a “fairy godmother in training.” I randomly took girls under my wing—mostly daughters of friends—who for whatever reason felt out-of-place in a chaotic world. I was…maybe less of a mentor and more a magical beacon of weirdness, but I was always shelter in the storm. I was an unworn prom dress that happened to live in my costume closet. I was a bouquet of flowers on opening night of the musical when parents had to attend a funeral. I was a bucket of markers and post-it notes at my desk when Mom had to work the cubicle farm on the weekends. I’ve always wondered how I might have fared in Orpheus’s shoes. Would I have been strong enough to walk out of

the Underworld without turning around? In many ways, I HAVE walked out of one Hell or another in my life. My beacon of weirdness made the difficult paths these young women walked a little less treacherous. By the time it occurred to me that I could be their guiding light, I realized I already was. And that, dear reader, is how I became an official Fairy Godmother.


L ove, Eurydice

A le th e a K o n ti s


I walked this darkness before you This familiar sadness Did you smell my candle on the wind? The Fates swept away my breadcrumbs, my footprints in the dust There is little left of me but legend I have stumbled, fallen, fell I have stories I can tell She said, “Don’t turn back,” so he never turned back Until he saw the sun And I Torn to pieces, ashes, asp-riddled veins and broken Re-broken heart, married yet childless Never dreamed I’d be followed Out of the madness, out of Hell Never believed I was anyone’s light in the darkness Dreamed once, but never again Didn’t realized how brightly I shone But I heard your echo there, in the black Felt your shadow so close on my heels I thought it was my own Young heart, poisoned and broken as I was once, a timeless age ago Daughter in all but blood I am no man to turn back before the dawn Believe in me enough to haunt me into the daylight I believe in you You walk your own footsteps Kindle your own fire Trail your own breadcrumbs because you never know You never know And you will never know who follows you Until you listen to the shadows and walk Until you see the sun

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Poem Love, Eurydice

New York Times bestselling author Alethea Kontis is a princess, storm chaser, and geek. Author of over 20 books and 40 short stories, Alethea is the recipient of the Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Grant, the Scribe Award, the Garden State Teen Book Award, and two-time winner of the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award. She has been twice nominated for both the Andre Norton Nebula and the Dragon Award. When not writing or storm chasing, Alethea narrates stories for multiple awardwinning online magazines, contributes regular YA book reviews to NPR, and hosts Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow every year at Dragon Con. Born in Vermont, Alethea currently resides on the Space Coast of Florida with her teddy bear, Charlie.


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Poetry

Words by

Persephone’s Dream

Delbert R. Gardner

About the poem

Author’s Statement prepared on behalf of Delbert by Marilyn Gardner (wife) and Adele Gardner (daughter): Del and Marilyn (and later, Adele) loved discussing literature and creative works, including those he composed, such as “Persephone’s Dream,” which he created on his manual typewriter, complete with cross-outs and insertions. His drafts show the great care he took with finding exactly the right words and nuances. Both Marilyn, who took his creative writing class and typed many clean copies of his manuscripts over the years, and Adele, his protégé who later computerized his submissions as agent and then literary executor, love hearing his strong, distinct voice in his writing, and enjoy the chance to focus on his lines. Marilyn describes how she became “very familiar with the flow of his writing. It was like the rhythm of the waves to me.” Marilyn and Adele recently spent a lovely hour discussing “Persephone’s Dream,” tracing its allusions, mythic origins,

and historical and modern implications. We explored the evolution of the poem as Del hammered out the shape through various drafts. Del’s writing was very much a family project. Marilyn guarded his rare writing time; his children, though eager to spend time with their funloving father, happily participated by playing quietly during these short but valuable sessions. At the family table, between jokes, conversations, and reading aloud, he would sometimes read us his own work, which we loved. Literary discussions were so engrossing that once while they were dating, he picked Marilyn up at Syracuse Airport to bring her to Keuka Lake, where his brother’s family waited dinner; but they got so engrossed in the conversation, they ended up in Canandaigua! Through raising four children and multiple jobs, Del and Marilyn still found time to read to each other and discuss literature and creative pursuits; and Del always made time to encourage Adele’s writing and lead her to literature she loved.


DELBERT R. GARDNER

Persephone’s Dream


I live with my father in a house of many rooms (In my father’s house are many mansions). Each day a handsome blade pays court to me (With golden hair and violet eyes and the sweetest smile). I think I love him; probably we will marry. He’s very respectful to Father, who stands behind My chair (a highly ornate and cushioned affair Faintly redolent of dust and incense)– A pose like those in Victorian family portraits. The young man brings me gifts and kneels before me; His little golden moustache tickles slightly When he presses my hand with reverence to his lips. He speaks to Father of his love and of his prospects; And Father nods and smiles, offers cigars. Later my lover takes his leave with a smile That bathes me in a beatific light. I feel that I will burst with happiness. But when night falls and Father and I retire, He to a room many echoing chambers from mine, A cloud of vast uneasiness descends, Foreboding what I know will happen soon: At the window the night marauder will appear And try to destroy me. I have no defense; I am as vulnerable as an opened oyster; He can scoop me up and devour me With a lewd smacking of lips, and I will be nothing. Suddenly there he is, as I foresaw, His head and shoulders framed by the window casing. He is changed: the mild violet eyes Are turned to pitiless purple, the moustache Is stained with blood, the sensual underlip Is overhung with hideous fangs. I know There is not a drop of mercy in his being, Only voracious lust to drink my blood Till I am pale as an ivory figurine, And then to carry me to his underground lair

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Where he will cut me into seven portions For seven ritual meals with subtle music. He doesn’t speak, but I know what he is thinking. The shoulders stir, preparing for a leap; He sucks his underlip beneath his fangs And expels his breath with terrifying hiss. Dissolved with fear, I try to rise from bed, But my legs refuse to move. He suddenly bounds Into the room, and--I don’t know how-I am flying, flying, flapping my feathered arms And trailing my useless legs behind me. I flit Through many rooms just out of reach of the demon, While he pursues with intermittent leaps. My mouth forms soundless words: “O Father, save me!” Then I am kneeling in my father’s room Beside the bed and sobbing out my fear; The beast, I know, will not come through this door. Drowsy and grumpy, Father rouses up. “Go back to bed; it’s only a foolish dream.” “I can’t go back to my room alone,” I whimper. “The fiend is waiting right outside the door!” But Father doesn’t understand the horror; To him it’s only a silly girlish fear, And he wants his sleep. I plead with him, For if I can stay with him till morning comes Or till the dream is over (I vaguely sense That I am dreaming), I know I will be safe. He finally lets me curl up in a chair, Where I doze securely (almost) till the dawn. But a time will come when Father will send me out Into the night marauder’s arms; and from That dream of death, can I awake to love?

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Poetry Persephone’s Dream

About The Author

Dr. Delbert R. Gardner (www.gardnercastle. com), World War II veteran (Army Air Forces), used the G.I. Bill to become the first member of his family to attend college. For twenty-one years, he taught English literature and creative writing at Keuka College, Lycoming College, and Syracuse University. Over seventy of his poems, stories, and essays appear in Lamplight, Mythic Delirium, Goblin Fruit, The Literary Review, Poetry Digest, American Poetry Magazine, and more. A scholar of the Pre-Raphaelites, he wrote An “Idle Singer” and His Audience: A Study of William Morris’s Poetic Reputation in England, 1858-1900. His daughter, Adele Gardner, serves as literary executor.



Fiction

Words by

On the Subject of Seeds

Geoffrey Bunting

About the story

Shocking absolutely no one, women are given a rather poor show in Greek myth. Despite her name being in the title of the story, Persephone is often relegated to the periphery of The Abduction of Persephone, while Hades and Demeter fuck about negotiating whether the Greeks get crops all year or only half. Despite the promiscuous nature of the Greek gods, with Zeus in particular being a real sloppy bitch, the relationship between Hades and Persephone stands out as one of mutual respect, fidelity, and understanding – free from the violence and faithlessness that punctuates so many godly relations. I wanted to show a

slightly different side of the story in its original context, in which Persephone takes the lead in the relationship and which demonstrates the actual power that many goddesses held despite the way they were written by Greek men.


Να·μας·στα·πέριορα·τ’ αλαιν·on·the·σργμου σ τ ου· s u b j e c t· ρ γ ου ς κι·πάτα·of·seeds·ητους Σκυθικούς·δρόμους. Τ ώ ρα·δουλ ε ι ά·σου, · ω Ήφαιστε, όσα ο πατέρας π ρ ό σ· μ α ς·τα ξ ε · ν α άνομ·geoffrey·τούτο 5 · ψηλ·bunting·οις·τ·ν γ ν ο ι α σ τ ε ί ς· κ α ι ·τ ο ν λεωργ·ν·πέριορα·χμ·σαι αλαιν·νων·ορα· δεσμ·ν


Sing, Muse. Sing for me the tale of how I got caught in the middle of all this fucking drama. How did I, greatest of all man’s calamities – I who all men, from the bravest champion to the lowliest beggar, fear – master of all souls and collector of all debts – chief of shadow and pestilence; first of the dead… how the fuck did I end up married to my niece, a woman better suited to a god wreathed in sun-gilt armour than I? She is the early morning light on a day of rest, the sun reflected off the dancing wheat in spring fields – so why does she crave the shadow? She is cunning, that woman - it’s enchanting, really.. Yes, and I was young and only newly come into my own. She knew what she wanted and how to take it. Perhaps she had sat upon her father’s knee and heard stories of my becoming and, coming from my brother, heard only disaster and ruin. A cat, too long pampered and accustomed to comfort may neglect the mice and rats only, in a moment of rare aggression, to bring down a greater prey – so too Persephone. She had been kept too long. The yoke of her mother, the duties of deific station – the hunt was the only joy she had. For my part, all those years ago, I longed to be hunted. *** The Underworld, beautiful though it can be, is still, by its nature, under. When the world was still young, I would often surface and beg the indulgence of my nephew and his retainers. Much as a tame dog might laze in the sun on hot days, sniffing at the breeze with contented ease, so I longed to bask in Helios’ favour. She must have followed me, finding me in an orchard with the sun in my eyes and my back against a great oak. I thought I was alone until she danced from tree to tree before me, playing at hiding, the sun hitting her just right. “Why do you sit alone?” she asked. At first she played ignorant, bending the grass with her dancing and addressing me like nothing more than an old man. Like a cat playing with a mouse. The pretence was short-lived. “For the peace,” I replied.

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“What need have you of peace?” She ran behind my tree and I felt her lips close to my ear. She wooed me with all the hits. “Orcus, Clymenus, Pluto, Polydectes, Eubulus – Ditis Pater.” Old and familiar names, already forgotten to the tongues of men but she knew them all. She skipped through the orchard, white dress flowing, grass stroking her ankles, pre-Raphaelite curls in her hair. Always she watched, like a child observing a toy they had craved for months. “One would think,” she shouted, her fascination momentarily caught by a fallen apple. “That the dead would give plenty of peace.” “You would be surprised.” “I like to be surprised.” I sensed danger. All gods are dangerous after their own fashion. But I know real danger. After all, I was dangerous – perhaps more than any other. My brother, the old thundercock himself, was dangerous too. I might be feared by all men, but he was a threat to all women. But she was a real danger. A danger to the senses: beauty to blind you, wit to distract you, and when your guard fell, she had you—like a tiger waiting for a kill. I swatted at the air before her like I was driving away a fly. “Why are you even here?” “You interest me.” “What is it, exactly, that interests you in an old man you’ve only just met?” “Just met? We have met many times, even if you do not recall. I’m not without my godly magics, even if I don’t boast about them. You don’t know what forms I can take or where I may tread unseen by even your mighty eyes. But if you really must know: my mother knows you better and hates you for it. I mean really hates you. It would give her such conniptions to know I was here – with you, alone.” “So you’re bored. Bored of the gods,” I laughed. “Who could blame you, I suppose: bright lights and ambrosia day-after-day – the purity of repetition, isn’t it? But be warned, I am not a toy for your amusement.”

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“You scandalise me. May a niece not visit her uncle?” I would have spoken harsher, but she held up a finger for silence and I was powerless to not oblige. Perhaps I was bored too: bored of the isolation of the dead. I may have lived in a perpetual crowd, but once you’ve seen one corpse you’ve seen them all. And here was one the very opposite of dead, who brimmed with life like a cup overflown. So I played her game—went to her when she beckoned. She said, “Let’s play a game, you and I.” She held her hands behind her back for a moment and produced, in her open palms, a pile of seeds. “Pomegranate. Do you have these where you come from?” “You tell me, as you seem to know so much.” She nodded. “But there is much that is refused to me” – yeah, no kidding – “and I don’t know of the world below, even if its master interests me greatly.” “We grow them by the thousands, in the groves of Paradise.” “Don’t you think that these, which I grew myself, would taste much sweeter?” She was tasting victory. The thin red smile stretching across her face, like water seeping from a jug, told me so. “So we will play,” she beamed. “I will ask you a question and you must tell me the truth. I will know if you’re lying. If you are honest, you may have one of these.” “I do not have time for games.” “But you will play anyway. I can see it in your eyes. How exciting! First question: My sister, Aphrodite, lies when she speaks of the pure love of our father and Dione, doesn’t she? She was born from severed testicles, and we all know it.” I laughed. “You know your histories. Your father never loved anything so much as himself. Even if Aphrodite was Dione’s daughter, which she is not, it was not love that catalysed her conception. Zeus takes what he believes to be his – and he believes everything is his. Aphrodite sprang from Uranus’ frothy balls.” “Which makes her your aunt?” “Technically. Though the way she acts, you’d think she was human.”

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She stood on tip-toes before me and placed a seed on my tongue. “Thank you for the truth. You know, they say that a man and a woman who share the seeds of a pomegranate are bound together forever.” “I know. It’s an old trick.” She giggled. “It is. But you didn’t refuse.” “I did not.” “Good!” she cried and laced her arm in mine, leading me through the orchard and scoffing seeds like a child eats sweets. “Is it my turn?” I asked. “That wasn’t the game I intended to play. But I suppose it’s only fair.” “Why are we here? The two of us – alone. What do you want?” “That’s cheating – that’s two questions. But I suppose I will let you off.” She took her arm from mine and fell upon a stump. “I’ve grown up with stories of your villainy and whatever rants my mother and father could conjure, and you never sounded half as bad as them. They have all their golden joy and light, but not everything that looks good feels it, and not all that sounds bad is – right? “They may be great gods, but my mother is a heartless witch while my father is the king of apathy. He won’t be a real parent to me, but makes sure my mother raises me how he wants. Hera won’t let him visit now I am grown. I have never seen so much hate in one woman – but who can blame her with a husband as lascivious as my father? And how long before it’s my turn? Before he grows bored and turns his gaze to me, or sends one of his gross sons my way? I don’t think I know one god who isn’t fighting with another. It’s petty and stupid. “Then there’s you. For all the tales of your evil, there isn’t one in which you are truly cruel. You live in the dark and do your job. In a world where men want to hold me in place – to bind me to inertia, to be seen and not heard, why wouldn’t I prefer something malleable? You’re death, ever-changing – you’re flowing water. They would make me their queen: little more than an ornament in their fights. But you would give me power, and love, and protect me from my father.”

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She stood and brushed down her dress. “I suppose,” I said, plucking a seed from her hand. “You deserve one of these.” I placed it on her tongue and she smiled – a real smile, the first I had seen that was not part of the game. “You see, now we really are bound together forever,” she said. “Your fingers taste of ash, though. We would have to change that. My turn again, how many women has my father bedded?” “Too many to count.” “And how many were willing?” A shadow fell across us. “Just one,” I replied. “Hera. He loved her?” I nodded. “He does, and she him. You say you’ve never met a woman so consumed with hate, but she doesn’t deserve what he has done to her. There was a time when my sister was beautiful and happy, but Zeus has driven her into a greater darkness than even I know.” She gave a solemn nod. “But she has all the power, really. No one says it, but we all know it.” “It is a large price to pay for all that power.” “Is it a price you would have me pay?” “You’ve asked so many questions, is it not my turn again? I am not the only god who takes no part in Olympus’ petty squabbles, so why me?” She cuffed me on the arm, hard. “We’ve been through this. But I see your meaning. It is hard to say – I don’t know. I think, perhaps, I like your honesty. It is very human of you. I think, I was just looking before, but now...I don’t know. You don’t treat me like a child.” “You’re not a child.” “Exactly. But when all of us are ageless, it’s easy to treat the youngest as if eternity is nothing more than a playground for them.” “Then no. It is not a price I would have you pay.” She laughed and we swapped seeds. “I already knew that.” After many hours of walking, she led me to a great opening in the earth—one of the passages to my home. While the sun shone bright around us, no light could touch this realm.

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“Will you lead me in?” she asked, knowing what that would mean. “If you would will it, it is your home too.” Instead, she took my hand and led me back into Hades. The cave was long, with many paths to deter curious mortals. But she knew the way and I saw then that she had visited my home without my consent before. We have met, many times, even if you do not recall. It takes powerful magic to fool me; powerful magic indeed. “Let’s not marry,” she said after some time. “What is the alternative?” “To live untamed. I am not some horse, only obedient to the one who holds my reins. We can be together without these constraints. My mother would never allow our marriage anyway. There would be some wildly unreasonable dowry, I assure you.” We came at last to my home, deep beneath the earth. Where she went, sunlight followed. The grass of Paradise grew greener with each footstep, the murky light of Tartarus fresher so that even the titans sang with joy when Persephone passed them. In time, the dead—whether rewarded or punished—came to love her as a queen. And months into our union, she took up the great mirror from which I observed the wide world, anointed it with the holy chrism, and filled it to the brim with water. “You have watched me through this, haven’t you?” she said. “I’ve watched all through the mirror.” “You know how to make a woman feel special, don’t you? Fine, be evasive. But it is good to know that we are both to be commended for games well played. You old villain.” The mirror shimmered with a thousand colours and slowly the face of Demeter filtered into view. “Mother,” Persephone began. “I have something to tell you.”

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Fiction On the Subject of Seeds

About The Author

Geoffrey Bunting is a writer, book designer, historian, and former dancer. He has written for History Today, Modus, Super Jump Magazine, Bridge Eight, UX Collective, and a number of others. He can tie his shoelaces really well, does not like moths, and has a Star Trek novel getting in the way of real work. Geoffrey also works as Art Director for Timeless Tales Magazine and as a book designer has worked with National Geographic, Harper Collins, Pearson (now Anspear) and a number of other major publishers and independent authors. You can find him and his work at geoffreybunting.co.uk.



Fiction

Words by

Visiting the Pollinators

Frankie Cabahug

About the story

Before I started writing this story, I thought about how ancient agrarian Greek communities used the myth of Persephone’s abduction to explain the cycle of seasons. I wanted to capture the same tensions found in the original story: dark versus light, the unnatural versus the organic, the underworld versus the wheatfield. I placed my retelling in a speculative future setting because I thought it was the best way to complicate the contrasts in the myth.


V ISITIN G THE POLLINAT O R S

frank i e ca bahu g


The rocket had been delayed by an hour on account of a minor solar flare. Demeter’s neck ached from the angle she’d held staring at overhead screens, picking out Kore’s capsule as it landed into the sea. She stood by the stanchions in the waiting area, at the very front of the exits, so her daughter wouldn’t have to look for her in the crowd. She spotted Kore at the top of the ramp, dragging her wheeled luggage in one hand and waving with the other. “Mom,” Kore said, like it was a full greeting. Demeter leaned forward for a hug and a quick kiss to Kore’s forehead, resisting the urge to take her daughter’s face in her hands and scan her from hair to collarbone. Instead, she said, “You look well,” and pointed at Kore’s suitcase. “Is that all?” “Yes. I packed light,” Kore said. “I brought the car.” Demeter took the suitcase and headed to the parking lot filled with whirring vehicles rushing to take off. The delayed landing had put them squarely into rush hour. Above, cars formed long queues, looping across the sky. “Thanks for picking me up,” Kore said. “I thought you’d have more things with you.” “No. I could have taken the train home.” Trains are for people who don’t have mothers, Demeter wanted to say, but didn’t. Her neck was still sore, and traffic probably wouldn’t let up for hours. She was happy her daughter was home, she reminded herself. When she asked if Kore wanted dinner, Kore shook her head and turned on the radio. *** Demeter tapped the tea dispenser and filled her mug, her third so far. She was used to eating breakfast at dawn.

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Usually she’d be browsing the markets by now. But Kore had never been an early riser. Plus all that jetlag. At this rate, they’d be breakfasting well into midday. Kore emerged from the bathroom, her washed face still sleep-creased and wan. She headed straight to the basket of fruits Demeter had arranged on the counter. All the summer stone fruits Kore loved — apricots, peaches, plums — Demeter had pictured this assortment of yellows and purples greeting Kore home, burnished by the light of the kitchen window. Passing her daughter a mug of tea, Demeter said, “Let’s visit the orchard this afternoon. You must want some air and sun.” “I was thinking of staying in, actually. Up late last night.” “Did you want to pick up some pills for the jetlag?” “Oh, it’s not that. I was up late talking to Hades. He wanted to know how my flight went.” From the warmer, Demeter brought out a steaming porringer and the muffins she’d made the other day. They would have been oven-fresh had the rocket arrived on time. Kore picked up a peach from the basket and rocked the paring knife back and forth against the pit, but the firm flesh didn’t give. “You shouldn’t be eating that first thing,” Demeter said. “I made porridge. Pair it with that. Or eat a muffin first.” Kore bit into the peach, impatient with the slow progress of the knife. “Oh I missed our fruits so much,” she said. They had fruit shipped all over the galaxy, of course, but what could compete with sun-ripened, tree-fresh? Demeter smiled. She knew what her daughter liked. Knew before she knew herself, no matter what Kore thought to

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the contrary. Demeter felt like she’d been proven right in an argument that nobody wanted to acknowledge was happening. She said, “You wouldn’t have to miss them if you visited more often.” Kore said nothing. Demeter emptied her mug and stowed it in the dishwasher. She looked out the window. A thin scattering of clouds. It would be a warm day. She pushed a button to reload the water basin of the bird feeders on the balcony. “I just don’t think it’s right that you haven’t been planetside in six months,” Demeter continued, even though she knew it took at least three months for the satellite to face earthward. “People aren’t meant to live like that, you know. Like living in a tunnel—it’s not natural.” “I don’t want to have this debate again,” Kore sighed. “Humans have lived in space for almost a century. It’s natural to us now.” When Kore first told her that she was going to visit the Plouton Satellite after her studies were done, Demeter had not objected. She mistook it for passing fancy. It was only after Kore told her that she’d already bought a ticket that Demeter found herself parrying the placations Kore lobbed her way: Of course electric lights were near indistinguishable from sunlight. Of course the air, while recycled, was sanitized, not the imagined monoxide miasmas. The radiation exposure levels in space were negligible these days. But all Demeter saw was a tiny colicky baby who wailed when left for a single second. Never, not even once, did Demeter prepare food from the replicator. No drink was warmed in the microwave. Not a strand of synthetic fiber could be found in her swaddling clothes. There was no acceptable exposure risk, not for your only child.

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She leaned forward and pushed Kore’s overgrown bangs away from her face. “How’s your Vitamin D? Have you had a blood test?” “We take vitamins. I told you, everything’s fine.” Kore turned her head away from Demeter’s searching fingers. “I’ve been to the doctor. If something was wrong, you’d know.” *** They rode to the orchard in the late afternoon. In the distance, they saw the neat rows of trees, canopies vibrating from the pollinators darting at the flowers. Ventilators puffed cool air and turned the grass into waves that hid the hoses shooting nutrients straight to the root. Out here, unlike the space colonies, there was only pure, cloud-filtered sunlight. Kore was silent throughout the ride, but her face relaxed once they walked under the shade of the trees. She toyed with her braid, and Demeter saw in that gesture, the young Kore, the girlchild who often sidled to her mother’s side for protection. Surely, that didn’t have to change. “Maybe Hades can take a job here.” “No. His family owns a section of the satellite. He couldn’t find as good a job on Earth as he does there.” “Maybe if he tried harder.” Kore darted forward. “I don’t really want to talk about him right now. I know you don’t like him, Mom, but I can’t do this, with you.” She walked faster, towards the borage patch. Demeter called out after her daughter, “I don’t have a problem with him! It’s just that he’s —” but she didn’t know how to continue. When Kore had announced that she was extending her visa, Demeter called up her ex-husband, hoping he could

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convince their daughter to come home. But to her surprise, he’d said that he had no problem with Kore staying longer. Besides, he’d said, he thought Hades was a nice man. And Demeter had been too proud to ask, “Who?” She’d hung up, shaking with rage as much as humiliation. The shame that Kore had excluded her from something so important. By the time she knew that Hades was Kore’s reason to move to space—that he was the one who sent her the ticket in the first place—it was too late. There was only so much you could say through holographic screens before the other person turns away, says they have to go, later, bye. But today she felt the pressure swell behind her eyes. She wanted, finally, to have it out. Here, where her words couldn’t be cut off by the press of a button, she was filled with the overpowering desire to go after her daughter. She would scream, to her face, everything she’d been meaning to say these last six months. But when she found Kore, she was sitting on her haunches, head held low, mouth mid-moan. In front of her, by the thickets of borage, she had retched her breakfast. “I told you, you should have eaten something else. All that fruit on an empty stomach —” “Mom,” Kore interrupted her. The flesh of Kore’s eyelids grayed as she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “Mom, I came here to tell you, in person.” And suddenly Demeter knew what she was going to say. Pictured the seed settling in her stomach. She did not look at Kore, who continued on—about how they hadn’t planned this, but they were so happy...they’d be getting married now, of course, with the baby on the way. Demeter looked

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only at the wind-up bees hovering in the air, their metallic carapace dusted with pollen as they flew from stem to stem. She looked at the petals already falling as they prepared to give way to fruit. So much lived because she nurtured and nursed and cared; so much grew because of the light. But here in the middle of the garden Demeter understood, for the first time, the greater pull of grief and darkness.

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Fiction Visiting the Pollinators

About The Author

Frankie Cabahug draws and bakes dessert in Vancouver, Canada. This is her first time publishing fiction. She has previously published reviews in The Pacific Rim Review of Books and essays in Sunstar Daily and Making Waves: Reading BC and Pacific Northwest Literature. She posts illustrations on instagram.com/frankie.hugs.art.



Fiction

Words by

Demeter’s Sorrow

Eva Pohler

About the story

The story of Demeter was originally part of a larger work called Persephone: A Prequel to the Underworld Saga. Readers of The Underworld Saga, which takes place in modern times, asked me to write my version of the Persephone myth, so I did. Since my Underworld Saga is a defense of Hades and an attempt to undermine the depiction of Hades as a satanic figure in the Disney animated film Hercules, I created a version in which Persephone longs to marry Hades to escape being suffocated by her mother but in which Persephone also wants to spare her mother the truth.

“Demeter’s Sorrow” was created to show Demeter’s overzealous need to mother, in order to justify Persephone’s motivation in the larger work. Although the ancient stories tell of Demeter’s visit to Demophoon’s family and of her attempt to make him immortal, the rest of the story is my invention. I wanted to justify Demeter’s contempt for Hades and to emphasize the themes of maternal love and sacrifice.


DEMETER'S SORROW Eva Pohler


Demeter wandered around, disguised as an old woman, until she came into a pretty village on a hillside. Near its center was a well, surrounded by a stone bench. Demeter sat, covered her face with her hands, and wept. After some time, four girls came to fill their jugs, and when they saw Demeter weeping, they asked if she needed help. “I don’t think anyone can help me,” Demeter said. “My daughter has been stolen from me by the lord of darkness.” “Oh, no!” the youngest cried. “She’s dead? You poor thing!” The little girl put a hand on Demeter’s shoulder. “The people in this village are kind,” the oldest said. “Anyone would take you in, but you would make us happiest if you stayed with us for however long you need to.” Demeter smiled at the girl, surprised by her kindness. “Thank you. But first, go and ask your mother if she has room and food for me.” A half hour later, they returned, skipping. “Our mother says yes!” the youngest cried before they’d reached the well. Each girl had a smile for Demeter and something else besides—an orange, a feather, a flower, and a walnut. “Please say you’ll come and be our grandmamma,” one of the middle girls said as she handed over her present. “Our mother just had a baby and is stuck in the house all day,” the girl who had not yet spoken said. “She would love your company.” “She said so?” Demeter asked. All four girls nodded. Demeter was moved by their enthusiasm. They didn’t even know who she was, yet they were so welcoming to her. She stood and allowed them to take her by the arms. The girls giggled and talked the whole way home, asking about her favorite color, favorite food, favorite thing to do. Demeter answered as best as she could, though she had to make things up since her real answers would reveal her identity. After a while, they came to a small house on the edge of the village. Demeter was appalled by its condition. The

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exterior was badly worn, and it seemed too small for such a large family. There were no flowers in the garden, and the door had a hole at the bottom of it. Waiting inside, baby in her arms, was the mother. She smiled warmly at Demeter. “Welcome to our humble home. My name is Metaneira, and this is Demophoon, my newborn son. Come inside and sit with us by the cozy fire. I’ll have my daughters bring you honey-sweet wine and spicy lamb stew.” Demeter was at once smitten with the baby. “May I hold him?” “It would be an honor!” Metaneira said as she handed her precious bundle to the goddess she thought was just a lonely old woman. Demeter couldn’t believe this household would treat a stranger with such kindness. Her pleasure made flowers bloom around the house. No one noticed yet, but they would soon, though they wouldn’t understand the cause. Demeter also fixed the hole in the door while no one was looking, and reinforced the entire house with magic, to keep the place from falling down. But mostly, she sat by the fire and sang to the baby, remembering the Persephone’s days as a baby. Demeter was sitting beside the cozy fire with Demophoon bundled in her arms when Metaneira returned home with a basket full of corn and potatoes. “It’s the strangest thing,” Metaneira said as she set down the basket and took off her coat. “Crops are failing across the lands. Neighboring villagers are starving. But our little farm has had the best harvest of my life. I’ve just been to market, where I sold corn and potatoes by the bushel! Dozens of them!” “It pleases me to see you so happy,” Demeter said. Metaneira smiled. “You brought us this good fortune. The gods must favor you.” Demeter held the bottle of goat’s milk to the baby’s lips. “Your baby has grown bigger these past few days. His strength is remarkable.”

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“And that is your doing, too,” Metaneira beamed. “You’ve been a wonderful blessing to us, dear.” Metaneira’s daughters burst through the door, jugs full of water. “It’s so cold out there!” the youngest said. “It’s never this cold!” the oldest said. “But it’s nice and warm in here,” Metaneira pointed out. “Come warm yourselves by the fire.” To Demeter, she said, “Let me take my son. I’ll bathe him and bring him back to you shortly.” “I can bathe him,” Demeter said, holding the baby close. The mother frowned. “I don’t mind doing it, my dear. I rarely get the chance to hold him as it is.” “I’ll do it, Metaneria. That way, you can get on with making the supper.” Metaneira nodded, but Demeter could see she’d hurt the mother’s feelings. As Demeter bathed Demophoon at the basin, the youngest daughter offered her help. “Can you take the jug of water back to your mother for me?” Demeter asked. “I’d be happy to.” As the girl was about to leave the room, she turned back and asked, “Are you going to keep my baby brother for yourself?” “Of course not, child,” Demeter scolded. “He belongs to your mother.” The girl apologized and left the room. After supper, Demeter thought it would be wise to allow Metaneira to hold her own son. She didn’t like the suspicions that seemed to be growing among the household. Demeter cleaned the supper dishes while the family visited around their fire. Metaneira’s husband, Celeus, had returned from his hunt, and the girls begged him to tell about his adventures. When the supper dishes were clean and the stories were finished, Demeter asked if she might once again hold Demophoon. The mother kissed her baby’s forehead before

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handing him over—sadly, it seemed. The goddess realized she had allowed herself to grow too fond of the baby and was hoarding him...as she had her own daughter. Her heart still ached for Persephone, but she shouldn’t rob Metaneira of her child to divert that heartache. As the mother stood to ready herself for bed, Demeter whispered, “I won’t remain in your house much longer. You’ll have your baby back soon.” The mother either didn’t hear Demeter, or pretended not to hear, as she ordered her daughters to bed. Then Metaneira told Demeter goodnight before following her husband to their bedroom. Alone with the baby, Demeter took a vial of ambrosia from her robes and anointed it all over Demophoon’s sweet skin. If she was to spare him from death, tonight was the night she must make him a god. As she anointed his skin, she sang the lullaby she’d sung to him each night: Sweet little cherub, don’t you cry. Sleep will be coming, and soon you’ll fly Up to the stars and into the night. A kiss for Selene and all is bright. She kissed Demophoon on the forehead, stoking the fire with her free hand. “You will become like me, sweet boy,” she whispered. “And then, when your family has long since died, you will still walk the earth, until you’re ready to join me on Mount Olympus.” She swaddled him more snuggly in his blanket. She knelt down to place him in the hearth’s flames. Behind her, Metaneira screamed. “No!” Demeter jumped. She’d been so focused, she hadn’t noticed the mortal enter the room. Metaneira rushed to Demeter’s side and ripped Demophoon from the goddess’s arms. “How could you? How could you want to kill my baby?” The baby wailed with fear. His mother bounced him and

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patted him and kissed his little head. “It’s alright,” she whispered to her son. “I’ve got you now, my sweet lamb.” Demeter was mortified by Metaneira’s accusation. “I would never kill Demophoon! I love him as if he were my own child!” “You must be mad.” Metaneira stared at Demeter with wide, frightened eyes. Her voice and body trembled as she patted her boy. “I saw what you were going to do. If I hadn’t come in when I did…” “Your son would be immortal, like me.” Metaneira jerked back her head. “What did you say?” Demeter transformed into her true form—a beautiful, slender, youthful woman—but kept her radiance dimmed, so she wouldn’t burn the mortal’s eyes and kill her. Demeter’s old robes were replaced by a purple silk gown. Her corn-blonde hair fell in braids across her back. A crown of diamonds sparkled above her golden-brown eyes. In spite of Demeter’s precaution at keeping her radiance dimmed, her transformation startled the woman. Metaneira fell back on the floor. Her baby fell from her arms and struck his head on the brick hearth. The baby’s crying came to an abrupt halt. Blood poured from his head. “No!” both women screamed. Celeus rushed from his bed to see what the commotion was all about. His daughters peered down from their loft, rubbing their sleepy eyes. “What’s happening?” the husband cried. Demeter took Demophoon in her arms, covering his wound with his blanket. She tried to breathe life back into him, but Hermes had been too swift. He’d taken the baby’s soul before Demeter had noticed him. With eyes full of tears, the goddess glared at each member of the unfortunate family. “I am Demeter, goddess of the harvest.” “A goddess?” Celeus asked. “Here, in our house?” He fell to his knees. Demeter saw the girls above them drop to their knees as well.

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Metaneira was already on the floor at Demeter’s feet, sobbing for her son. She said nothing. Demeter looked down at the poor woman. “You were good to me while I was feeling low, and I thank you for that. But now Demophoon is dead.” “No!” the mother cried. “Please! It can’t be! Oh, no, no, no!” The woman beat her breast and rocked herself to and fro at Demeter’s feet. The girls above broke into sobs, too. “Can’t you fix him?” the youngest asked. “We’ll do anything you say!” Celeus said. “Please save my son!” Demeter glanced across the room at the despairing family. This is not what she had hoped for them. “I’ll take his body to Lord Hades and beg for his soul to be returned.” Metaneira kissed Demeter’s feet, again and again. “Thank you, dear Demeter. Thank you so much!” Demeter held the lifeless baby close as she left the cottage and god-traveled to the gates of the Underworld. She waited on the riverbank, once again, for Charon to appear in his boat. When she saw the old man nearing the gate on his raft full of souls, she spotted Hermes among them. He held Demophoon’s soul in his arms. “Hermes!” Demeter shouted. “Give that soul back to me at once, before the body becomes cold.” Hermes gave her a look of surprise. “Demeter? Is that you?” “The soul you carry in your arms,” she repeated. “Please give it back to me.” Hermes glanced all around. Demeter saw the look he exchanged with Charon. “You’ll have to take this up with Lord Hades,” Hermes finally said. “I don’t have the authority.” “Tell him I’m here,” she said. “Please tell him to let me inside the gate.” Demeter carried the lifeless Demophoon in her arms as she flew back to the village at the base of Mount Parnassus. A crew of men were already at work on a temple to her.

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She found Metaneira at home sobbing, while her daughters attempted to console her. As soon as Demeter entered the house, Metaneria leapt to her feet. Her four daughters were close at her heels. “Is he alive?” she cried peering at the baby in Demeter’s arms. “My baby brother!” the youngest girl said. “Is he safe?” “Not yet,” Demeter said to them gravely. “Not yet?” the oldest daughter asked. Metaneira looked expectantly at Demeter. “So he will be soon?” “Maybe. It’s not that simple,” Demeter said. “Please, dear Goddess,” the second to the oldest begged. “Explain it to us!” At that moment, Celeus entered the house. He fell to his knees just inside the door. “You’ve returned! Do you have my son?” His daughters fell to their knees as well, following their father’s example. Only Metaneira remained standing, her face close to the lifeless baby. Demeter explained: “The lord of darkness told me there was only one way he could return Demophoon’s soul.” “And what is it?” Metaneira asked anxiously. “Someone must take his place.” More gasps filled the room. Metaneira fell to her knees, clinging to Demeter’s legs. Tears filled Demeter’s eyes. In another moment, Metaneira said, “I’ll do it.” The four daughters jumped to their feet and crowded their mother. “Please, don’t, Mamá!” the youngest cried. “You can’t leave us!” “No, Mamá! I won’t let you!” the oldest said. “I’d rather die than let you do it!” the second to the youngest said. “No, Ophelia! It can’t be you, either!” the second to the oldest cried. “Mamá please! Demophoon is in heaven. Let him stay!”

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“I agree,” Celeus said, climbing to his feet. “My beloved Metaneira, you’ll break my heart beyond repair if you do this thing.” Metaneira stood, and, unsteadily, went to her husband. She cupped his face in her hands as tears streamed down both of their cheeks. “I love you. I don’t want to leave you. But my instinct is to save my son. Can you understand that?” “Your daughters need you,” he said. “That’s true, Mamá!” the oldest cried. “Oh, please! Oh, please don’t go!” Demeter’s heart was breaking, too. She hated Hades for making her do this. Surely, as lord of the Underworld, he could have thought of a better way. Metaneira turned to her daughters and embraced each one. “Listen to me, my sweet little lambs. I love you more than life itself. And I would do this for any of you. You are all old enough to help your Babá, yes? And you will take good care of your baby brother. You won’t blame him for my death. He is innocent, you know.” “Mamá, please!” they begged. Metaneira turned to Celeus. “If I don’t do this thing, I will be miserable for the rest of my life—knowing I might have saved my son. If I hadn’t been given this choice—if he’d died and there was nothing I could do—I might have moved on. But knowing I could save him…it will kill me if I don’t.” Celeus gave Demeter an accusing glare. His eyes told her that he blamed her, but he said nothing. Demeter couldn’t stand to be in the presence of the grief-stricken family a moment longer. “You must choose,” she said. “The body grows cold.” “I have no choice,” she said. “Take me to the Underworld.” As Demeter god-traveled with the baby and his mother away from the village, she tried to ignore the wails and cries of the family members left behind. Demeter god-traveled with mother and baby to the gate of the Underworld and called for Hades. “I’ve done as you asked! I’ve brought you the mother!”

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“I’m frightened,” Metaneira said through a chattering jaw as she looked across the river at Cerberus. “Will you stay with me until the very end?” Demeter squeezed the mother’s hand. “I will stay with you as long as I’m allowed.” “Can I see Demophoon before I go? Just once, to say goodbye?” She glanced at his lifeless body cupped in one of Demeter’s arms. “I will ask. It’s not up to me.” Metaneira kissed the goddess’ hand. “Thank you.” The enormous black iron gate screeched open, and Demeter thought about racing inside to find Demophoon and Persephone, taking her chances against Hades—but before she could commit to the idea, Charon emerged from the gate with an empty raft. As soon as he passed the threshold, the gate screeched closed behind him. Cerberus watched attentively. “Where’s Hades? I need to speak with him!” Demeter shouted from across the river. “He’s not at home.” “What?” Demeter was outraged. “How can he call himself the lord of the Underworld if he’s so seldom here?” Charon said nothing, but slowly pulled his pole through the river. “What about Hermes?” Demeter asked. “Can’t he help me?” “He hasn’t yet come with the next batch of souls,” Charon remarked. “Is there no one in charge that can help me?” Demeter complained. Again, Charon did not reply. “He’s a man of many words,” Demeter muttered beneath her breath. “What’s wrong?” Metaneira asked, her teeth still chattering. “Is something amiss?” “I guess we’ll just have to wait,” Demeter said with a tinge of anger she couldn’t suppress. How she hated Hades.

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He’d abducted her daughter, refused to allow Demeter to see her, and now he was destroying a family dear to her heart. “I don’t know how much longer I can take this,” Metaneria said. “I may just die of fear right here and now.” “Wait, that’s it.” The idea that came to Demeter was horrific, but it was worth a try. What did she have to lose? “What?” Demeter conjured her dagger. “The surest way to get a god of death to come to us is to force his hand.” Metaneira’s eyes grew wide. “Is it time, then?” “I’m afraid so, my dear,” Demeter answered. “But it will be quick. One sharp pain, and then it’ll be over. Then you’ll be free.” Metaneira nodded, though her teeth continued to chatter. “I’m so afraid. Do you suppose you could sing to me, like you did as you rocked Demophoon to sleep?” Tears now spilled down Demeter’s face as she smiled at the woman. “I promise to look after your baby and protect him as if he were my own.” Metaneria didn’t say it, but she unwittingly prayed, Isn’t that what you always wanted? Aloud, Metaneria said, “I would be forever grateful, Goddess.” Demeter sang her soft tune as she raised the dagger. Sweet little cherub, don’t you cry. Sleep will be coming, and soon you’ll fly Up to the stars and into the night A kiss for Selene and all is bright.

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Fiction Demeter’s Sorrow

About The Author

Eva Pohler is a USA Today bestselling author of over twenty-five novels in multiple genres, including mysteries, thrillers, and young adult fantasy based on Greek mythology. They include The Mystery House Series, The Mystery Book Collection, The Purgatorium Series, The Underworld Saga, The Vampires of Athens Series, Vampires and Gods Series, and Cupid’s Captive Series. Her books have been described as “addictive” and “sure to thrill”—Kirkus Reviews. Learn more about Eva and her work at www.evapohler.com.



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