Jed is hit by a car and travels to the underworld. Will he escape with the power of love?
|Jed blinked his eyes open and looked around at the fantastic view. He was in some kind of sailboat on a winding river. But, this was no ordinary river, this one was carved into the top of a mountain or something. Jed couldn’t tell how far down it was on either side, the foggy mist that hung everywhere hid the bottom from sight. He couldn’t see much into the distance, but to the left there were other structures that looked like cone shaped towers. These belched black sooty smoke into the hazy air. It was hot and humid, no breeze and the water was as smooth as glass, yet the boat moved forward, and it seemed, downhill.
Jed was very disoriented and unsure of anything. He closed his eyes and tried to remember what was going on. Vaguely he remembered something knocking him over. He reached up and rubbed his forehead, feeling the greasy sweat that was beading up from this muggy air.
Yes, he could remember now. He was out jogging, like he did every morning. He had stopped at the gas station about a block from his house. “That’s right, I was done jogging and getting a bottle of water before I walked the last block back home.”
He didn’t realize he had spoken out loud, and the heavy air seemed to suck up the sound and smother it. He had a dollar tucked in his Mp-3 player case on his arm. He had gotten a bottle of cold water and then? No, it was five dollars, he had a five-dollar bill and the clerk had handed him some bills and some change. He had folded the bills and tucked them in with the Mp-3 but the change didn’t fit, so he had held that in his hand.
He opened his eyes and looked at his quenched fist, then opened it. He had a handful of coins, still. He was still in his t-shirt and running shorts, his feet still filled his running shoes, but the Mp-3 case and ear-buds were gone. Even as he wondered about this, a hooded figure that had been standing at the front of the boat turned and took the change. He couldn’t see the face, and whoever it was, didn’t speak a word.
Jed knew he should say something, but it didn’t seem important. Somehow this made sense, but why? He closed his eyes and tried to focus his thoughts, but things seemed to swirl and fade in and out. For just a moment he thought he heard someone say, “Lie still, don’t move help is…”
The sound faded out and it was quiet again. Jed remembered leaving the gas station with his water. He was thirsty – very thirsty – he had forgotten to bring any water with. Yes, he was thirsty and had gotten a bottle of water and walked out to the corner with it. The traffic was heavy and he opened up the bottle and was taking a drink.
He jumped and the boat rocked but the water did not ripple. It seemed odd, yet Jed really didn’t feel concerned about it. What was important was what he had remembered; the car! He stood on the corner, taking a drink of water when he seen from the corner of his eye, the car trying to make it’s turn into traffic beside him.
For a minute, maybe two, Jed was back on the corner. He was holding a bottle of cold water. The traffic was bad, but why? “Because it’s early, everyone is trying to get to work on time and it’s the morning rush.”
He reached up and swiped the cool bottle across his forehead before opening it and taking a long drink. He was still drinking when the car waiting at the corner beside him shot out into traffic trying to cut in and make it’s turn. Jed realized the guy wasn’t going to make it; he was thinking there’s going to be an accident. He was right. At the same time as the car shot out into the very small break in traffic, a truck decided to switch lanes and hit the side of the car. Jed didn’t have time to do anything, before he even knew for sure what was happening the car was pushed up onto the sidewalk and into Jed, who was going over backwards. He could see the water and the bottle as it spilled out and seemed to hang in the air, then everything went black.
Jed opened his eyes, he was still in the boat getting ferried down the strange river. He had been slammed into by a car, then it was black. He had heard voices yelling and a horn was going off, then it was not only black, but deathly quiet, too. The next thing he remembered was someone kneeling over him, calling his name.
“Jed, you need to come with me, it’s time.”
The person was dressed so strange, in some kind of white robes and sandals. The guy had a full beard and bushy hair. Jed had gotten up when the stranger called him, and was standing beside his own body, still lying part way on the sidewalk and partway in the gas stations lot. There had been a lot of blood. “Don’t look, Jed, it’s not you anymore. Come with me, it’s time.”
Jed was confused but followed the person as he walked out into the road. The scenery was still the same, a busy road, but it was all transparent and fading out fast. “What happened? Who are you? What is it time for and where are we going?”
“My name is Hermes, and I’m here to help you on the first part of your journey. Come.”
And then he was at a river. Not this river, but a normal looking river. Only it wasn’t really normal, it looked like any other river but there was a sadness that hung in the foggy air over the river. Then, a boat pulled up to shore, the boat he was now on. “Charon will ferry you across to the other side and take you the rest of the way down the five rivers.”
Then, Jed was in the boat and they were crossing the river. He couldn’t see the other side; the fog hid it. All the way across, there was this feeling of despair and woe, then the other side came into view. Jed looked back, but now he couldn’t see the side they had left. “There is no use looking back, there is no way back.” Charon had spoken those few words.
Then, Jed was on the bank and watching lone individuals wondering aimlessly along the bank, wailing and shrieking as they went in and out of the fog. “Who are they?”
Charon looked at him and Jed remembered the images of death standing in a dark robe and hood, holding a sickle. “They didn’t have the fare to cross the next river, so they are trapped here between the rivers Acheron and Cocytus, for eternity. In your language they are the rivers Woe and Lamentations. Do you have the fare to cross?”
Jed shook his head at the face, hid in the shadow of the hood, and seen the red eyes glimmer. Then he remembered the coins he had and the bills tucked in his Mp-3 case. “Yes, I have some money.” He opened his hand and there was the change. He couldn’t find the case that was strapped to his shoulder. “I had more.”
“Nothing from the other side can cross except for the cloths you wear and the coins, they are not of the world we go to. You may cross over.”
Then Jed was back in the boat and they were floating along again, but soon the river forked and they turned onto another river. Jed cried out as the boat floated into what looked like flames. There was no heat, but around him was fire. “The River Phlegethon, a river of fire. Fear not, it will consume you not, only the living would be consumed by the flames.”
Jed closed his eyes again but then felt the boat turn sharply and knew it was burning. He opened his eyes expecting to see them sinking in the flames. Instead they were floating on a calm but murky river. He could see the banks on either side, but they also were murky and he couldn’t make out anything as they passed along. Charon leaned over the side, turned and was holding a ladle dripping with the dark, murky water. “Drink.”
Jed wasn’t sure about this, but even with his doubts he took the ladle and sipped at the muddy tasting water. “This is the River Lethe, the river of forgetfulness. All your memories of your life will be forgotten and when we enter the river Styx, you will start you next life.”
Even as Charon spoke the words, Jed felt the ladle slipping from his fingers and the murkiness closing in, then it was dark and he wasn’t aware of anything. Not until now when he opened his eyes and seen the strange river they were on. “Is this the River Styx?”
Charon looked at him and for a second, Jed could see the eyeless skull partially hidden inside the hood, then it was too dark and only the red orbs of Charon’s eyes were visible. “Yes, but you should not know this. How is it you know?”
“You told me when you gave me the ladle with the water in it. You don’t remember, it was just a few minutes ago, before I dozed off.”
“That was water from the River Lethe, it is the water of forgetfulness, so that you will forget your life among the living. You should not remember anything other than who you are. How can this be?”
“I don’t know.” Jed answered. Everything seemed normal, like this was all supposed to be happening, yet he could remember the car, the guy called Hermes who helped him, and the long boat ride. He looked out and seen the same steep sides dropping away, the still water with no ripples, not even from the boat, and the hot, humid air filled with haze. “Where are we going?”
Charon didn’t speak for a long time and Jed was just about to ask him again when he turned and pointed at him. “I don’t know how this can be, you should not remember.” Jed should have been shocked at the bony hand pointing at him, it was the hand of a skeleton, but for some reason it seemed just as it should be.
We are on the river Styx, it winds around the underworld many times, but soon our trip will be done. Then Hermes will meet you and take you to the gate of Hades domain. If you know what’s best for you, do not ever speak of the things you remember, it is not allowed here.”
“Charon, where is here?”
“I will tell you but once, and then heed my words and speak not of anything of the world of the living or your journey here. You died and Hermes brought you to me to ferry to the underworld, the land of the dead. Your body is rotting in the earth above and your soul will reside here, forever.”
He turned and Jed knew it would do no good to speak to him again, he wouldn’t answer. He also understood Charon’s request that he not speak to anyone of these things, but he didn’t know how he knew. He was still in thought about what Charon had said, “You Died,” when the boat shuddered and stopped. They were on the bank of a bleak and barren land, then Jed was standing there, alone; Charon and the boat were gone. He looked up the river, but he couldn’t see very far, it was too hazy. He turned and looked around, it was dark and shadowy, but overhead there was no sky and no sun to cast shadows, there was just a lighter glow in the foggy haze that hung everywhere.
Then Hermes was beside him. “Come.”
Jed walked beside Hermes over the barren ground to a bright gateway. As they neared, he realized it was carved out of one huge diamond and it was the only thing he seen that actually wasn’t shadowy or hazy, it glittered brilliantly like it was in full sun. As they passed under the archway a huge three headed dog sniffed at them. “Cerberus, Hades guard dog. He will not harm you as you enter, but beware, he will let no soul escape. To try will only lead to torments.”
Then just as fast as he had arrived, he was gone and Jed stood alone in a dark, shadowed, and barren land. He seen no one but was aware of other people moving in the haze. He could almost see them, but just as they should emerge from the haze, the vanished back into it. He could hear them mumbling and sometimes talking, although he could not make out any words. It was as if the foggy haze absorbed both light and sound.
“Welcome to the Underworld, Jed, come” A figure stood just a short distance ahead of him, and it beckoned to him. He walked closer and at first he thought of the guy form the mermaid movie. He looked like that guy, with the crown, the white robes, the trident. But then he seen it wasn’t a trident, it was a pitchfork. “I am Hades, and this is my domain; your souls home for eternity.”
He turned and walked by Jed’s side and they traveled for a long time, but here there didn’t seem to be anyway of marking the passing of time. Nothing changed as they traveled over the barren ground, others moved in and out of the haze, but never enough to see them for more than just a shape. “Who are they?” Jed asked as they walked on and on.
Without slowing, Hades answered simply, “My subjects. All souls come to my world after life ends. Once judged, they go to different places, based upon their deeds in life. Come, soon you will meet the three judges, but until then, you are my guest.”
They walked on and Hades spoke again. “These are the souls who are not evil, but they didn’t do any good in life for other’s. They wonder here for eternity, slowly fading into the nothingness until they become part of the underworld. The ones who did good for others go to a more pleasant place called Elysian Fields.”
“What about the ones who did evil?” Jed had to ask. He didn’t know if he was good or evil, he couldn’t remember anything before the car slammed into him and then his ride here.
Hades stopped and looked at him. “The evil are taken to many places. There are different levels of evil, so there are different levels of torture they must endure for all eternity. The bottom most pit is called Tartarus and it imprisoned the evilest of the evil.”
Hades didn’t move, he just studied Jed. “How is it you remember your death? Did not Charon give you water from the River Lethe?”
“Yes, he did and he said I would forget. How did you know I could remember?”
“I know all that is in my domain, I am the god of the underworld. You thought it and I know it.”
“Then, you must know why I remember these things, yet nothing more.” Jed wasn’t mocking the god, he knew better. He was just curious and had to ask.
“You are a bold one to question a god. But that is not always bad, just as it is not always good.” Hades turned and began walking again and Jed picked up the stride and walked on beside him. “You did not die right away, Jed. You would have suffered greatly as your soul waited for the body to die. I assume Hermes stepped in too soon and saved you from all the pain. He tends to like aiding humans as much as he likes to trick and fool the gods for his humor. You remember your death only because you hold a weak link to the world of the living as your body dies. Soon it will all fade. Yes, Jed, it’s already fading as the last breath of life leaves your corpse.”
Hades was right, even as they spoke Jed was losing his memory to the murkiness; he tried to remember it but it was gone. He remembered Hermes meeting him on the bank and then taking him to the beautiful diamond gate, that was all. He didn’t feel sad by the loss, it was not important, only here and now mattered; Jed knew this.
“All is as it should be.” Hades said, then laughed. As he laughed he thrust his fork into the ground and it began to shake. He laughed even harder, “It has been too long since I left my world for yours and struck my fork into the world of the living so they could feel the power of Hades. Soon I shall visit the surface and create a massive earthquake with my fork.”
“Why?” Jed wasn’t concerned at all about any of this, but he was curious.
“Why indeed, Jed. To bring many more souls to my world. Don’t you know, I am a greedy god and want many subjects in my world.”
“Of course, you deserve many subjects, my lord.” Jed bowed his head as he spoke.
Hades laughed even harder. “We are here, tonight you are my guest, we feast and then tomorrow you will meet the judges who will determine your fate.”
Jed looked at the massive palace in front of him and laughed along with Hades, even though it shouldn’t be funny, he had no idea if he was a good soul or an evil one. Still, it didn’t matter, all was as it should be.
They entered the palace through a grand doorway that opened upon the central passage. Many rooms connected to this main entry, tapestries and paintings hung upon the walls, Servants came to Hades, taking his fork and outer robe. They walked through a huge passage to the parlor. Overstuffed chairs that could seat giants filled the floor as well as couches and small tables. Some of the tables were low to the floor and around them pillows and cushions offered seating and lounging to the guests present. As they entered, all the guests turned to face them and bowed to the god of the underworld.
Hades clapped his hands together. “Please, be comfortable, dine, drink wine, and enjoy my riches.”
Everyone clapped and returned to what they had been doing. Hades and Jed crossed the room to another, an anteroom with a big fireplace burning logs the size of cars. “Cars?” Jed pondered this strange word and vision that flashed through his thoughts. No, he didn’t remember anything of cars.
“What is it? You look puzzled, Jed?” Hades had picked up on this instantly, but the split second thought that had flashed in Jed’s mind was gone before the god had seen it.
“I don’t know, I think it is the wondrous collection of trophies upon the walls, so many beasts I’ve never seen.”
“Ah, yes. I see how you would be curious of such things. Most of my collection did not survive and are gone, such as this unicorn and this griffon. Here above the fireplace is the head of a young dragon and there guarding the banquet hall are stuffed orcs and ogres. Perhaps, if time allows, you can visit my gardens in the central court and witness the creatures I have collected, well, those that had souls, for they reside here for my pleasure.”
Jed hadn’t noticed when, but Hades had grown. He was now the right size for the huge chairs they had passed, and the fireplace, to him was not large at all. Jed stood almost to the god’s hip and Hades leaned slightly as he spoke in his thunderous voice, “Come, let us dine and celebrate your arrival this night.”
Jed still couldn’t tell day form night, or any passing of time, nothing seemed to change at all. They walked across the filled anteroom to the banquet hall beyond. It also displayed bizarre images on tapestries, many paintings hung along the great walls, massive chandeliers hung from giant chains, and even Hades seemed small in the giant hall filled with table after table, all laden with foods of every kind. Some Jed recognized, most he did not.
Hades led him to a table and announced to the guests, who all had turned and bowed, “This is my guest, Jed. Welcome him to the underworld and let him feast and drink wine this night.”
Jed was seated and noticed for the first time that he, like all the rest, were dressed in tunics, and Jed somehow knew they were called chitons. He lifted a silver bowl shaped cup, a kylix, filled with sweet red wine, a silver platter filled with food, and silk napkins for his fingers. Everyone drank and ate from silver, except their host, Hades. His were brilliant gold studded with diamonds and jewels.
Jed also noticed that here, in the palace, there was no haze. The air was cool and dry, the lighting was bright, and the windows showed blue, cloud filled skies outside the palace. A gentle breeze drifted in and cooled the room just enough to make the warmth of the many fireplaces feel good. The aroma of the food soon had Jed eating from the many foods, and although he ate and ate, he never got full. The same was true of the wine, he drank from the large silver bowl of the kylix again and again, but he didn’t get intoxicated.
Then, in the blink of an eye, he was in another chamber, still chewing on some unknown but tasteful fruit. Hades was beside him, bigger than ever, and in front of him was a long, elaborate table with three men in red robes sitting behind it. Hades lifted his hand and gestured towards them. “Behold, a new day, and time to be judged. I present to you the judges of fate, Rhadamanthus, Minos, and Aeacus. These three will determine if your deeds in life were good or evil and where you will spend eternity.”
Jed lowered his head to the judges and waited. They talked between themselves, but never loud enough for Jed to understand their words. Then, after a long wait, they called his name. “Jed!”
He looked up at them, now standing behind the table and pointing at him. “We have concluded your life and determined your fate. In life, you were a kind soul, you helped others, and did many fine deeds. You will go to Elysian Fields!”
Hades voice behind him thundered in his ears, “So be it!”
Then there was a huge flash of lightning and deafening thunder. The ground shook under Jed’s feet and then he was standing in a large field. It was filled with sweet grasses, many beautiful flowers, and a crystal stream gurgled past, just in front of him. There were trees laden with fruits scattered here and there. Not one type of fruit, but each held all sorts of fruits. Jed knew somehow that it wasn’t right to see a watermelon as big as his head hanging from a tree, but it didn’t matter.
He picked it and sat next to the stream and ate. Again, he never got full, but then, he never felt hungry, either. He finished the fruit and left the rind upon the ground. As he stood, it seemed to melt and vanish into the field. He walked a bit, and noticed that the scenery never changed, he was always surrounded by the same things. It was like they moved with him.
He couldn’t see very far; the haze was thicker here than it was when he first arrived. He tried a few times to get closer to the edge of what he could see, but it never got any closer. Around him was a pleasant field, but he could tell just beyond what he could see clearly, others wondered around in the fog. Sometimes he could see just enough to tell they either sat down or fell down, and the ground beyond his range of clear vision was barren and shadowy, just as it had been when he entered the underworld.
“That’s because you were a good person, Jed. For you, eternity is this nice spot right here, but for others who were not as nice with their deeds, they have other fields. Some are filled with rocks, hidden in the grass. The soul there trips often and feels the pain of stubbed toes and bruised elbows for eternity. Others only have rocky ground and hard dirt to rest upon, and some have trees that only bare rotten fruit. In short, you reap what you sowed.”
Jed turned to see who had spoken in such a soft and lovely voice. Beside him, standing on the grass was a very beautiful woman, dressed in a flowing gown that seemed to have a life of its own. She had rings and bracelets studded with diamonds and jewels, and on her head was a golden Tiara filled with sparkling diamonds. The drabness of this place, like the shadows, seemed to retreat from her presence, and where she stood it looked like bright sunshine shone upon the ground.
“I am Persephone, the wife of Hades, therefor queen of the underworld. Please, do not bow, I did not come here by choice or fate, but was abducted by Hades and brought here. I reside part of my time here, as his wife, the other time in the world of the living. Unlike my husband or Hermes, who can travel to the world of the living whenever they wish and for as long as they desire, I am bound to spend half my time here and the other half with the living.”
Jed stood and bowed slightly to his queen, then asked, “Why do you inquire of me, a mortal soul, what can I do for you, my Queen?”
She smiled and it seemed the underworld got brighter until it faded from her face again. “I come not to ask of you, Jed, but to welcome you to the underworld. When you arrived, I was on the surface among the living, so now, back here once again, I come to welcome you. It is I who insisted that this lovely field be here for those who have done good in life, and if I could I would insist on even more for you. I want your life here to be pleasant, and since you cannot visit the other souls who reside here, have arranged for others, besides the dead, to be able to visit from time to time. Now, my husband seeks me, I must go.”
Before Jed could say anything, she faded until there was nothing. “Thank you.” Jed spoke to the place she had been.
For a long time, he was alone, walking when he desired but never going anyplace other than the same field and the same trees and the same stream. He could move about the various trees and pick any kind of fruit he desired from any one of them, but never because of hunger. He could drink the cool water from the stream, or scoop some into the shell of an eaten fruit and watch it turn to sweet red wine. Like hunger, he never thirsted but enjoyed eating and drinking just for the taste and to do something. The only thing that marked any passing of time was the times he would find himself in the great chamber or the banquet hall. Never as Hades guest, but when another soul arrived, sometimes, he was chosen to attend the feast like those who had been present when he arrived.
He didn’t really think about anything, there wasn’t anything to think about. Also, he rarely remembered anything. Once in a while he would have flash of some memory, but it would vanish again in the blink of any eye, and once gone, again forgotten.
Although he never got tired or slept, he sometimes would lie upon the soft grass and look up at the haze above. It was always brighter than the haze around him, and there were no shadows overhead. He didn’t know why he did this, but it seemed he should be lying on his back looking up at the light. Sometimes when he was lying like this, he would put out his hand to the side a bit and it would feel as if someone was holding it. Then, as quickly as it had come, the sensation would vanish and he would get up and walk, or drink, or eat, or just sit upon the grass and try to see the other figures moving in the shadows.
His life here wasn’t pleasant, but it wasn’t unpleasant; it was just empty and desolate, although he didn’t quite understand this, either. Most of the time it just seemed that this was life and he existed, but there were times when he sensed there was more, or was once more. A couple of times, as he lay on the grass, his eyes closed and the feeling of someone holding his hand, he would hear someone far off calling to him or talking to him. But, when he opened his eyes, there was nothing but the same scenery as always. It would ponder him for a very brief second, then it was forgotten.
One day, as Jed lie upon the grass after enjoying a big, juicy, peach, he closed his eyes and heard a soft voice calling him. He wanted to just stay there and hear that other voice, for he knew as soon as he opened his eyes it would be gone and forgotten, but for now he could almost remember the beautiful face that voice belonged to. Then, when the sweet voice called his name again, he felt someone give him a slight shake. He opened his eyes and seen a very beautiful woman sitting beside him, smiling.
“What are you doing, Jed? I know you have no dreams, you have no memories, and you will never be tired. Why do you lie there with your eyes shut and smile?”
He sat up, like her and asked, “Who are you?”
She stood, wearing a sheer and silky wrap of light green and yellow swirls. Jed gazed up at her young and voluptuous body as she smiled down at him with light blue eyes fixed upon his. Her hair was not one color, but a blend of brown and red with lighter streaks running along its length. She had a headband of leaves holding her long, and wavy hair back from her face.
“Let me try and explain, Sweet Jed. I am Shanilla, one of the honey nymphs often called ash tree nymphs. We are not true goddesses, but demigods, created when the god Uranus was castrated by his son, Cronus. He threw Uranus’s genitals into the sea and the droplets of blood that landed upon the ground became Erinyes and Melaie. From the foaming sea, Aphrodite emerged.” She danced about as she spoke in an almost songlike voice.
“I am from the Meliae, a daughter of sorts. They were the ash tree nymphs of old, spirits that resided in the ash trees that grew upon the coast where Uranus’s blood was spilled. I was born of the seed of those trees which were destroyed by a great volcano. Unlike a true goddess that cannot die, we are not immortal and can be killed. I was transported by birds and grew upon a mountain range, where Hermes liked to lie and sleep.”
“One day, as he lay sleeping, another of the gods was going to take vengeance upon him for a prank he had pulled. Hermes was always kind to humans and nymphs, so I rustled my leaves to arouse him. He fled quickly and was spared the vengeance, but I was set fire for warning him. The other god left me to burn but Hermes returned as soon as the other left and carried my spirit here to the underworld. He placed my spirit within one of the mystical trees here, so I would be safe.”
As she finished speaking, she slipped the edge of her garment from her shoulder and let it drop to the ground. She then danced around Jed, singing a beautiful song. He watched as she moved so gracefully, so beautifully, then lie down beside him with her head upon his lap. “I get very lonely here, but sometimes Hermes comes to visit me. Other than him, there has been no one until you arrived in my field. I watched you and sensed how good your deeds were, then decided to come out and talk to you.”
“I’m Jed, as you already know. Thank you for visiting with me, I have been lonely, too.” He looked down at her beautiful face. Her long hair covered his legs and her lips tempted him to kiss them. “Your very beautiful, I’m terribly tempted to kiss you.”
“I would let you do more than kiss me.” She winked at him as her hand worked inside his tunic and made him become hard. “I’ve been terribly lonely and I so desire to be touched, to be kissed, to be loved. Make love to me, Jed. Make sweet passionate love to me here beside the stream, then together we will bathe in it. I will come often to visit you, Jed, and we will make love through eternity.”
She had slipped the cloth from Jed’s shoulder and undone the pin that held the folds of his tunic together. Now she ran her fingers over his chest as it fell to the ground beside her garment. “Do you know, Jed, that in time, as it passes in this place, you begin to fade into the underworld itself? Yes, I’m sure Hades told you that. But, being a goddess, I never fade, and by making love together, you also will remain as you now are.”
She lifted herself up as he leaned down and their lips touched in a short but passionate kiss. Shanilla rolled from his lap and he lie beside her, looking into her light blue eyes. “Do you want me, Jed? Do you desire me? She rolled to her back as she pulled Jed up on her. “Take me, Jed”
And he lost himself to her mystical gaze and her magical seduction. His lips found hers as his hands began to caress her breasts. He could smell the wonderful scent of the ash trees and then something sweeter. Was it honey? No it was something different but something he knew.
She rolled again, and now she was on top of him. He looked up at her and her face shimmered as his hands glided up her slightly rounded belly to her full breasts. Her hair was auburn and her eyes a delightful aqua-marine. Jed knew her, but it wasn’t Shanilla, it was someone he once knew… “Melissa?” Jed spoke the name as he remembered.
Shanilla looked down upon him puzzled. “Who is Melissa? There is no one else here, Jed.” She leaned down, her breasts upon his chest and kissed him again.
Jed kissed back, his memory fleeting and almost gone. Then it returned, stronger and lasting. He gently pushed her to the side and off of him, turning to look at her puzzled face beside him. “Do you not desire me, Jed?”
“I did, honest. I wanted you so much. But then I remembered Melissa. You, remind me of a woman named Mellissa, and it’s her that I really want to hold and to kiss.”
Shanilla sat up and crossed her legs in front of her nude and beautiful body. “Who is Mellissa, and how is it you remember her?”
She did not sound upset or angry, just curious. Jed wasn’t sure if it was good or not to say anymore, but he so desired to talk to her now that he remembered. “Melissa was very beautiful, she looked a lot like you. She was my wife.”
“You remember your wife?”
“I did not for a long time, but you remind me of her.”
“What else do you remember, Jed?”
“I don’t remember anything… Wait there is more. I was hit by a car and died, then brought here. Charon told me not to talk about it to anyone, but I had forgotten. Will I be punished for remembering?”
“I would not punish anyone, and I will not punish you for remembering your wife. I just don’t understand, once you drink from the river, you forget all about life and start over. Something is not right. Do you remember more?”
Jed, for the first time since he had been in the boat, tried to remember. “I was jogging, then the car and then it all went black. But, there was something more before I died. I cannot remember it, it’s like the shadows here.”
“But, you remembered Mellissa, Jed.”
“Yes, I do remember her – I miss her so much. I can almost see her sitting where you are, beside me. Sometimes I hear her talk to me, but it’s too far away to tell what she is saying. She holds my hand; I can feel it sometimes when I close my eyes.”
Jed began to weep, the tears flowing down his cheeks. Shanilla wiped at one and then embraced him there on the ground. “You should not be sad, Jed, there is no sorrow here. Why do you cry?”
“I miss Mellissa so much, I can’t help it, I just want to tell her I love her and will never forget her. She cries for me, sitting beside me in a cold room, holding my hand and calling to me, I can almost see it, but it’s so far away.”
“You must not cry and do not remember this or Hades will know and he will take action. This is not allowed in his world. Please, don’t let yourself remember. I will summon for Hermes, he alone I will trust to tell all this to, he may know why and what to do.” She stood after she spoke and wrapped herself in her sheer tunic.
Even as Jed sat and watched her, she turned as she wrapped the tunic and then she was a beautiful ash tree beside him. He stood and went to her, placed his hands upon her trunk and thanked her. “Thank you for bringing my memory of Mellissa back to me, for your love and passion, and for trying to help me. I cannot block the thoughts of Melissa, I would rather face Hades and Tartarus than to forget her again. I’m sorry for letting you down.”
“It will not be Hades you face when you turn, and it will not be to Tartarus I take you.” A voice behind Jed made him tense. “Turn and face me, Jed.”
Jed turned and seen Hermes standing there, Shanilla was beside him, and as Jed stepped back in surprise, the tree that should have stopped him was gone. Instead of the tree stopping him he stumbled a couple of steps and fell backwards into the stream.
“That’s not quite how I pictured you in the stream when we talked, Jed.” Shanilla giggled as she spoke.
“Hush and return to the tree before Hades senses you’re here. Again she turned in a circle and became a tree. This time she was just another tree like all the other trees Jed had seen and picked fruit from.
Now Hermes stepped forward to Jed and reached down to him. “Take my hand mortal, and hurry before Hades comes to see what these thoughts are all about. He will do far worse than Tartarus, he will break your tie to the land of the living.”
Jed took his hand and Hermes lifted him from the stream. “This happened once before, and there was hell to pay for me because I didn’t wait for Thanatos to come, just like I did for you.”
“Who is Thanatos?”
“Thanatos is the god of death, not until after he comes and breaks any ties to the world of the living am I supposed to come and guide you. But there was great damage done and you would have suffered, so I did not wait. Now, it seems there remains a tie to the other world. Come, we must move quick.”
Hermes continued to hold Jed’s hand and they went, quickly. Jed had walked and walked and never gotten anyplace but now, holding the hand of a god, he moved from his field to the barren and desolate land that the underworld was. He could see others, some solid and some transparent moving around. They did not see him but he could now see them among the shadows, the haze was gone.
“As long as you travel while grasping my hand, you will see the underworld as it is, not as it was presented to you. Look, the palace of Hades.” Hermes pointed as they sped along the ground.
Instead of the magnificent palace Jed had visited it was crumbling and desolate like the world around them. It looked of death and decay, and a stench emitted from the area it sat upon. They continued on until they came to the grand gate that marked the entrance to the underworld. This was as Jed remembered, a huge diamond carved into an arch. Sitting beside it was Cerberus, the three headed hound of hell and his fiery eyes were watching them. As they got closer, Cerberus foamed at the mouth and bared his vicious teeth.
“Do not fear Cerberus, he will not attack anyone on this side of the gate. He prepares for you to try and escape but I have an idea.”
Hermes had barely stopped talking when lightning ripped through the sky above them and thunder rattled the ground. “Hades is aware of you; we have little time.”
Even as Hermes spoke, the ground began to shake and then split open. Fire and smoke rose from the rip in the ground as another thunderous blast filled the air. In the distance, a huge beast pulled a flaming chariot that carried Hades. Lightning flared from his fork and the thunder came from the great wheels of the chariot as it sped towards them.
“Shanilla, come to me now!” Hermes shouted in a voice almost as loud as Hades. In the blink of an eye the beautiful nymph was running with them.
“My sweet loving nymph, we need you. You must run through the gate and into the river Styx, wait for us below the surface. And Shanilla, do not run to fast, keep Cerberus on your heels.”
She sped ahead of them as they slowed near the gate. Behind them, Hades closed in fast. Just as he was almost upon them, Shanilla burst through the gate, Cerberus hot on her heels. “Now Jed, run like the wind.”
As Hermes spoke, wind came up and they became the wind blowing just in front of Hades and his beast pulled chariot. Through the gate they fled across barren ground and right over the river Styx. Jed felt himself rise and fall like an eddy of wind as Hades chariot slowed at the bank. His booming voice called out to them, “What is this trickery you pull, Hermes?”
“No trickery to you, Lord Hades of the Dead. I must undo my mistake and right what is wrong, nothing more.”
“No one can leave the world of the dead, Hermes, you know that.”
“I do, and I ask nothing of you. If I succeed in returning Jed to the living, so be it, but if we fail, we both shall perish here in the river Styx. Do you give your word?”
“It is not possible for mortals to return, he is but a soul and Charon will not ferry him back. Besides, he has drunk from the river Lethe and will never remember his life. He has dined in my palace and eaten the foods of this world, both at my table and in Elysian Fields, he is poisoned to the world of the living and will be consumed by the worms of the dead should he even manage to get to dirt of the surface. He is doomed, return him to me.”
“My dear Hades, what have you got to lose? Let Jed decide if he wants to try and return or stay here.”
Hades didn’t speak for a moment then asked Jed, “What do you desire, mortal soul?”
“To return, or at least to perish trying.”
“You have his answer, Hades, will you call off Cerberus and let us ty?”
“Yes, I will let you lead him to his end.”
Hermes moved closer to the bank. “Then, let us make our oath here on the river Styx. I will refrain from ever tricking you again if you agree to let Jed return, if he can.”
Hades stepped from his chariot and it vanished into the shadows. He stood and looked at Jed then at Hermes. “So be it.”
He stepped out onto the river and he and Hermes grasp each other’s hands. Together they spoke. “It is done, the oath is taken, let whoever breaks it be condemned to this place for all eternity, never to leave.”
Hades floated backward to the bank. “Do you know, Hermes, if you fail you will never leave the underworld again, and be my subject for all eternity?”
“Yes, I know. But if you try and stop us you my dear Hades, you will be trapped here for eternity, the loyal subject of your sweet wife. And, with you no longer god of the underworld, she will be free to return to life for all time.”
“I will not interfere with this mortal soul and his foolish quest. His fate is in your hands now.” As Hades finished speaking he faded and was gone. Cerberus was again inside the gate and paid them no attention. For a long time, they floated there just past the bank over the river Styx and Jed was beginning to wonder if they would just stay here, forever.
“Why do we stay here, Hermes?” he asked the god beside him, still grasping his hand.
“If we separate now, you will sink into the river, condemned to live beneath its murky surface, wondering the river bed for eternity, do not release my hand. If we travel across to the other side, the food you ate here will become the worms that devour the dead and consume you from the inside. Hades is right, we are trapped here; there is only one way for you to return, you must take the ferry.”
“Just focus on your love for Melissa. Think of your wife and reach out with your thoughts to her. Let her guide you on this return journey. Also, Jed, be aware, when you return you may be paralyzed, and in terrible shape from the accident. Are you sure you want to return?”
Jed focused on his memories, he thought of Melissa and now, outside the gates, he could see her more clearly. He could hear her voice speak to him, asking him to come back to her. “Yes, no matter what, I want to return. Even if it’s just to tell her one last time I love her.”
“Then let it be so. Be ready, Jed, the ferry comes bearing another soul.” Hermes pointed and around the last curve of the river appeared the boat Jed had traveled in.
It seemed like an eternity had passed. “How long have I been here” He asked.
“Here, time is not, it is eternal, but in your world, the land of the living, mere days have passed. Be ready now and when I say, step into the boat. We have one chance to do this, and the boat will vanish as soon as the soul has both feet on the shore of the underworld. Shanilla, be ready to take us, as a current, back across the rivers.”
Then the boat was on the shore and the soul was stepping out. Jed and Hermes stepped in just as the soul stepped out and Hermes grabbed Charon by the shoulders. For the first time Charon could see the two of them and protested as Hermes thrust him backwards and over the side of the boat. “Fear not my dear Charon, Hades will return you to your post as soon as we exit your boat.”
They were already moving back up the river at a great speed as Hermes spoke and Jed could see Charon sitting with his legs in the water, shaking his fist. He was yelling something but they were already too far up the river to hear him.
“Hold us to the center, my beautiful nymph. Once a tree nymph then a nymph of the underworld. Now, a river nymph; my what a full life you live. And live you will, I will protect you, as always, from the wrath of the gods for saving me.”
The boat centered and went even faster up around the bends. Soon they veered onto the river Lethe and Hermes instructed Jed to carefully lean over and drink of the waters. “But, won’t I forget what little I now remember?”
“No, as you pass to the underworld, the water makes you forget, but returning it will restore what you have forgotten., now drink we will be on the river Phlegethon soon.”
Jed drank and everything went black. He would have toppled right out had not Shanilla not been ready and swerved so he fell back into the boat instead of over the side. Jed did not hear the voice from the river ask, “Why did you not hold him and pull him back in?”
He never heard the reply from Hermes, “I cannot interfere with his journey, I can only guide. He must make the journey on his own, or at the most, with the help of a nymph who pulls our boat. Once more he must drink form a river and again, I count on you to keep him in the boat, my lovely nymph.”
Jed heard his name from far away. He was looking through blank eyes at a white ceiling with fluorescent lights. There was beeping and humming around him but he could not move. In the shadows there was a boat on a river and it sped along at unnatural speeds. Then the voice called and he was in the boat and the ceiling and lights were in the shadows. He could move now and he turned his head to see Hermes looking at him.
“Jed, you must stay with us. Do not leave the boat to follow your memories or you will be lost in them for all eternity. Focus on them, but do not let them lead you out of the boat. Now, we enter the river Phlegethon, do not fear the flames but when I tell you, lean over and drink deep of the burning water. Heed me well, if you drink before we exit, you will be consumed, but if you do not drink before we exit, you will be eaten by worms when we cross the river Cocytus and your lost soul will wonder the banks of the river Acheron for eternity. Be ready and drink when I yell drink.”
The boat now sped up the river of fire and Jed grasp the side ready to lean over and fill his mouth with flames. If it burned or not did not concern him, only the memory of Melissa filled his mind and he was willing to do anything, to endure any pain to return to her.
Jed leaned over and just stuck his face in the burning water and sucked in as much as he could and swallowed. He expected to feel heat but as he gulped down the burning water his face was in the river Cocytus, cool and clear. He sat up and looked at Hermes.
“You did good, mortal. Yes, you are mortal once again, the fire of the river burned the foods of the underworld and scorched the world of the dead from inside you. Once again you are you. But you have no body yet, just a free soul that needs to go home. Do not let go of my hand until you there.”
The boat swerved again and they were shooting across the river Acheron and as Jed grabbed Hermes outstretched hand, the shore of the world of the living came into view. As he held tight the boat crashed into the bank and he was thrown from it. Everything was black and he was on the ground by the car that hit him. He couldn’t tell if he still grasped Hermes hand or not. He tried to open his eyes but they were already open. He couldn’t see.
Then he was lifted and jarred about. It hurt like hell – no, not like hell but it hurt a lot. There were voices and sounds then he was lifted and moved again. Now he was lying on his back and being moved quickly. There was a bright light above him and people moved in and out of his field of vision. They had on white caps and white masks, robed in white.
Jed had let go of Hermes and was back in the underworld. Then it was dark and then light and dark. He was moving and it was lights on a ceiling that caused this light and dark. He was looking up a them as they passed over him. Then it was still and his eyes were shut. He was still holding Hermes hand; he could feel it warm in his. He turned his head and looked at the god who had helped him escape the underworld as he said simply, “Thank you.”
He blinked as it sunk into his groggy mind, this wasn’t Hermes, it was Melissa and she was staring at him with a big smile. “Jed? Oh my God, your awake.”
Doctors and nurses came running and he was trying to push them away so he could see his wife. They checked and looked, one shone a light in his eyes and moved it back and forth. Then they stepped back and just one doctor stood by him. “Do you know who you are and where you are?”
“Of course I know who I am, I’m Jed and I’m… I’m”? I think I’m in a hospital, I was hit by a car and then Hermes came.” He looked around for his wife and seen her standing just past the doctor.
“Melissa, I’ve been gone for so long, but I’m back, and I love you. I came back because I love you and you never gave up on calling me back.” She pushed past the doctor and took his hands.
Jed pulled her down and felt her lips kiss his, then she stood back up and smiled at him. “I missed your kisses, they’re sweeter than the kisses of a honey nymph, sweeter than Shanilla’s.”
“What? Who’s Shanilla?” She asked and looked around.
The same doctor that had asked Jed who he was answered for him, “Your husband has been in a coma, but he may have been dreaming while he was unconscious, we don’t know what goes on in their minds. Just be glad he’s back and he seems to be quite well. We will run some tests and then, if everything looks good, you can take him home.”
Jed spoke next, “How long was I gone?”
The doctor answered again, “You have been in a coma for six days. You have a concussion and there was some cranial swelling but other than a few bruises, you were pretty lucky. We will run a few tests and make sure everything is good so you can go home with your wife, maybe as soon as tomorrow.”
They ran test after test and Melissa hung as close to her husband as was possible, kind of getting in the way a few times. That afternoon they took X-rays of Jed’s head and told him he was healing fast. He ate dinner that night with his wife, and they talked until after seven. Then the nurse came in and they moved Jed to another room, now unhooked from all the noisy machines.
They sent her home to get things ready for him, gave him some pills to make him sleep, and then it was dark again. He was dreaming of his wife and they were in a field of flowers and sweet grasses when Hermes appeared. “Forget this place, Jed; you do not belong here. This was all in another place and time, and you belong now with your wife, in your modern world. The gods have all left except for Hades who stubbornly clings to his domain in the underworld. You have a new God and we are no longer present in your world. Do you understand, Jed?”
Jed opened his eyes and Hermes was standing there, but transparent and wavering like a wind was blowing him. Jed nodded. “I must go to my place with the others now, Hades choice was to stay in the underworld and he can never leave his palace. Charon and the others are all gone. There is only one thing I ask of you, mortal, take care of my dear, sweet, nymph. She waits for you to come to her and nurture her, just as she once came to you.”
“Jed smiled as he remembered the sweet and beautiful nymph, “Yes, I will take care of her. Where is she?”
“You will know her when you see her, and although she cannot separate her spirit from its home in your time, she can and will visit you often in your dreams. Have a happy life with Melissa…”
Hermes voice fades as the god faded and soon the hand Jed had been grasping was gone. He felt sad to see him go, but he was happy to be back. The next day all his tests indicated he was well enough to go home with Melissa. In fact, he was healing faster than what seemed possible. He was put in a wheelchair and pushed to the front doors while Melissa went for the car to drive them home. While he waited, a stranger walked past holding a plant. He stopped in front of Jed, turned and looked at him with glowing eyes. “This is for you, I was told to deliver it and you would do the rest.”
He handed Jed the plant and walked on. Melissa pulled up and the nurse helped Jed into the car still holding his gift. “Drive carefully.” Then the door was shut.
Melissa looked over at him. “What do you have there, Jed?”
“I don’t know; some guy just gave it to me.” He looked at the spindly plant and smiled. “It’s an ash tree! Shanilla.”
“What, you lost me. Someone gave you a tree named Shanilla?”
“Yes, someone gave me a tree named Shanilla, and I know the perfect spot to plant it.” He answered as Mellissa pulled away from the curb.
He planted the tree in the backyard, just outside the dining room. He watered it and tended it over the years and it grew fast and strong. Many nights he sat under its outstretched branches and just leaned against the trunk. Many nights the spirit of the tree would visit him in his dreams and talk of the life he now lived. In the early morning hours, Shanilla would lean over him and press her lips to his before returning to the tree.
Many years passed and children and grandchildren played in the shade under Shanilla, or swung in the simple rope and tire swing that hung from one of her branches. As Jed and Melissa grew older, he wondered what would become of his lovely nymph when he passed from this world. That very night she came to him and gave him a seed. Have your grandson plant this and I will live on and watch over him and his family. She kissed him and then was gone. In the morning Jed found the seed on his nightstand. He never seen Shanilla again, but once, while in the nursing home, while his son was visiting, he asked about the seed.
“How is that ash tree doing you planted from a seed, Herman?”
“It’s doing great; I can’t believe how fast it grew. You know, grandpa, sometimes at night, she comes to me and tells me about your adventure. She loves you, did you know?”
“Who loves who? Melissa wheeled herself into the room and joined them.
“I was just telling grandpa how much I love that tree he gave me. You remember, he gave me a seed from that big old ash tree in the back yard? Well, it’s grown very fast, and what a very special tree it is; special indeed.”