Lethe Garden Apartments: A Short Story — Part II
ANTHONY REALE

You can read Part 1 of the story here.

Black Water

Miriam woke with a start. Everything ached, from a splitting headache to what felt like stress fractures throughout her legs. She strained forward against her bonds. They looked weak, almost like cardboard soaked in milk. But she hadn’t encountered anything so strong in her life despite its ridiculously weak appearance. Had she been a saner person, she would have laughed; the situation made her so enraged that she could barely see straight. Persephone had coaxed her into the quicksand under the pretense that they’d both escape, yet knowingly left her behind! How could a goddess do such a thing? Miriam hadn’t known the existence of the gods to this point, and now she longed for her previous state of blissful ignorance!

The room tasted like spoiled kelp. Miriam choked on the scent, feeling the seaweeds gripping her internal organs, a sepsis most foul. She tried to scream or howl, but all that she could muster was a tiny whimper. The room shook slightly, almost in response to the girl’s disturbance. A door opened and closed somewhere.

Miriam tried noise again. Not a great amount of luck, but this time she managed a pleasant little humming, a sonic betrayal of her rage. She was going to try again when she heard a strange little song:

“Oh! Nothing matters anymore,
or nothing ever did?
I fell from power so long ago,
I can’t remember who I belong to.”

A girl younger than Miriam walked into the room, jauntily humming her little tune. She appeared to be passing through, so Miriam strained to catch her attention before she left the room entirely.

With a burst of energy, Miriam managed a feeble croak, which successfully stopped the girl. She turned, trying to find the source of the croak; finding Miriam, she rushed closer to see what was happening. The girl was like any Susie or Janie you’d meet in the street: simply dressed in fine linens, hair combed and scented, but instead of eyes in her head sat two flames of pure fire.

Licks of Flame

“What? Who’s this? Were you listening in on my song? That was private!”

Miriam shook her head, moving her skull approximately three inches left then three inches right. The girl came closer.

“Who are you? You’re not Persephone.”

Upon receiving no response, the girl sighed, impatient. She raised her hands in the air, and thousands of small, glowing tattoos appeared on her skin. Thin and runelike, the tattoos obviously held an amazing power. A wave of calm crashed over Miriam, quieting her mind and sweeping some of the agony away. She finally exhaled.

“Thank you, I—”

“Who the heck are you? And where’s Persephone?”

The little girl was insistent and more upset than Miriam had ever seen anyone be. The flames where her eyes should’ve been grew brighter.

“M- Miriam. My name is Miriam.”

“Why are you here?”

“I don’t know. I saw through a light coming through a building and then I just fell down here. You think you’ll let me free of these restraints any time soon?”

“Oh, attitude? From the person who needs something from me?”

“C’mon. I answered you. I am Miriam.”

“Somehow you managed to avoid the ‘Where’s Persephone?’ question. Well?”

“I don’t know. She tricked me. She trapped me here.”

The girl narrowed her eyes at Miriam. Her runes began to glow again and Miriam felt something unsettling in her stomach.

Oil Residue

“What are you—”

Before Miriam could finish her question, a tarry black liquid began seeping out of her pores. She felt immense pain for a moment, then complete relief as the sludge floated up into the air. The mucky source of Miriam’s torture formed a frowning face midair — Hades’ face. He didn’t seem to focus on anything in particular. The small girl glared back at the rippling Hades, her eyes glowing menacingly. After a moment of this, the oil-Hades scowled and narrowed his eyes, then dissolved into the ceiling of the prison.

The little girl’s fiery eyes were insistent.“There. Now it’s time for you to lead me to Persephone before the real Hades comes to kill you. She has—  She has something I need.”

Miriam knew that she wouldn’t be able to lead her to the missing goddess, but she decided to improvise.

“What exactly do you need from her?”

The girl narrowed her eyes at Miriam’s question.

“You need to take me to Persephone. What did you do with her?”

“Nothing,” insisted Miriam. “She tricked me!

“I am growing tired of you, slimy mortal. If you’re going to be difficult, I can either drag you along or I can dispose of you. Which would you prefer?”

“How about letting me go free because I didn’t do anything?” Miriam knew this was pushing it with the child, but she wanted out.

With a horrible yell, the girl’s tattoos glowed again, and the floor fell out beneath the two of them. The little girl was suddenly huge, and Miriam fell into one of the flames in her eyes.

Flame

The sound of falling was what woke Miriam the first time. She forced her eyes open to see nothing. It was as if she hadn’t opened her eyes at all. Despite the fact that she was essentially falling with her hands over her eyes, she could recognize the fact that she was falling. Again, she might add.

Miriam twisted around in the dark void. Before Persephone had trapped her, she had fallen through the placid face of a giant woman. Naturally, she thought she would find another face to fly toward, but this void was holding out on her. Nothing appeared for thirty seconds. The annoying girl’s voice rang out, echoing in the void: It’s your time to help me, Miriam. There’s a certain elixir I make from Persephone’s tears that quite a few gods need to remain young. You’ve stolen my source from me, so you’re going to help me find her. Consider what’s coming next as a warning about what I will do to you if you cross me again. Maybe Persephone’s mother will have some idea where you’ve hidden her. Miriam closed her eyes, trying to process what that message meant. What would she be facing? Before she could answer that question, she fell asleep.

The second time she awoke, Miriam heard a song coming from the wind she was falling through — it felt like cigarette smoke floating through the air in a memory, almost like she was back home, listening to old tapes.  The song was lilting, like a cloud coming around the corner in a municipal building.

“Come home to your mother,
come home to your father,
You belong to no one now,
You belong to me.

I washed up from the sea,
I came home in time for tea.
You’re coming home to me,
You’re coming home.”

Miriam twisted again in the air, looking for the source of the song.

“Am I still in the same room that I was?” Miriam yelled to the song.

There wasn’t a response, unless you count the wind still whipping past her. Miriam rolled over again, not sure which way she was falling at this point.

The void filled with light, and Miriam was sitting in a high chair in an absurdly yellow kitchen. Straight from a 1950’s catalogue: rounded-off fridge with the sideways handles, a checkerboard tile floor, and linoleum countertops. It was a horrendously bright and stationary place after Miriam’s tenure falling through the void. Unfortunately, the kitchen yielded a similarly minimal amount of answers to Miriam’s various questions. This place did include, however, a woman.

Yellow Kitchen

She was the huge housewife that completed the 50’s kitchen replica: chirpy blonde hair curled, pearls around her neck, and a plain pink dress with an apron tied with a bow. She faced away, toward the sink where she was washing something. Miriam could see her massive body convulsing with shivers.

“Ma’am? Excuse me?” Miriam spoke politely, but was ready to break from her high chair and run if necessary.

The giant woman did not react, merely humming as she cleaned.

“HELLO!”

The woman stiffened when Miriam shouted, then became fluid again. She turned, smiling at Miriam, and began humming the tune of the song that Miriam heard in the void. The woman’s face was grotesque, like it was sewn up around the edges. Her eyes were milky and blind, with brown clouds floating through the off-white orbs. She opened her mouth, releasing a large amount of dirt. After the dirt had finished cascading from her mouth, she spoke with a raspy, hissing voice:

“Oh, Persephone, you’ve finally come home to your mother. Come, let me squeeze your cheeks.”

The woman took booming steps towards Miriam, arms outstretched.

“MA’AM, I’M NOT YOUR DAUGHTER. I DON’T KNOW HOW I GOT HERE.”

Miriam’s attempt at explaining the situation went unheard by the massive woman. She decided that she’d prefer to escape instead of being crushed to death by a giant. She pressed her knees up against the plastic table, cracking it off the high chair entirely. She slid downward, falling to the floor. The giant woman was nearly upon her now, so Miriam ran under the table.

“Persephone, dear, really. This is no time for hide and seek! Come give your mother a hug.”

Brown Clouds Swirl

An enormous creaking and groaning greeted Miriam after the enormous lady stopped speaking. The table! Miriam caught a glimpse of the woman’s eyes again: they were confused, searching for this tiny presence under her kitchen table. The brown clouds that were in her eyes swirled with some irregularity. Almost like they were angry. Miriam began to be lost in the clouds — there almost seemed to be words floating in the sleepy, opaque swirls. They were calling to Miriam, trying to get her to read what they said.

The giant woman snatched Miriam off the floor and brought her to eye level, breaking Miriam from her trance.

“Persephone! Welcome home. It’s been such a long time since I’ve seen spring. Although I don’t remember you being so small.” The woman’s words were unbearably loud to Miriam, whose tiny ears perceived each word at the decibel of cannons firing. As she raised Miriam to her face, the woman tightened her lung-crushing grip.

“Had enough yet? Ready to help me?”

This familiar voice sounded like it was coming from within Miriam’s head. Seeing as she couldn’t respond, the voice took its cue off of the sputtering gasps coming from Miriam.

Demeter, I am here!” cried the voice, suddenly across the kitchen.

Miriam craned her neck, looking for the voice, and laid eyes on the little girl with flames for eyes. But she found herself screaming at the sight of something else. Something that made her blood curdle. Miriam had assumed that the kitchen would be limited to normal kitchen fixtures, but she was woefully disproven by the sight in front of her. She squirmed free of the giant woman’s embrace and ran.   

Lying in a corner of the floor was the rotting husk of a human corpse trapped in a massive mousetrap. She hurtled away from the specter, averting her eyes from the internal organs, spilling from the dried skin, acquainting themselves with the tiled floor. Miriam’s destination was a cracked door that looked like it led to the outside world. She was closing in on it. The goddess and the giant woman didn’t seem to notice her, and somehow she made it through, not stopping to look back as she ran outside.

Once she was past the yard, Miriam had the chance to understand where she was. She could see suburban homes all around her — suburban homes for giants. There didn’t appear to be an end to this odd, enormous suburb, but Miriam needed to be away from that house, so she started walking. There were plenty of vehicles on the street next to her, but not one of them matched in any way. There was a horse-drawn carriage, a golf cart, a winged creature drooling blood, and a 1978 Astro Van. It was a disturbing collection with many more parts, but Miriam stopped focusing on them. She didn’t want to get too near any of the vehicles, fearing that touching one of them might initiate another falling-through-the-void episode — something she wanted to avoid. Unfortunately, she couldn’t be sure what might activate another nightmarish occasion like that, so she was being extremely careful about where she stepped and what she touched.

Suburban House

Just as she was thinking about her cautious behavior, Miriam heard a familiar simpering voice again. It was the little girl again. With the fiery eyes. She was laughing.

“Show yourself!” yelled Miriam. “Why did you bring me here?”

“Now, now. Is that any way to treat your savior? I made sure Demeter didn’t crush you!”

The voice was cloying, like a detested teacher’s pet ratting out other students. Miriam still couldn’t see the girl, but her menacing voice was all around.

“Mind your manners, girl! You should speak to me with a little more reverence. I am a goddess after all.”

“Um, sorry. Who are you?” Miriam tentatively asked, quickly adding another “sorry.”

“I am Hestia.”

Hestia’s voice was accompanied by a tug in Miriam’s gut. The goddess’ name held power.

“Can I ask you why you brought me here?” inquired Miriam.

“At first, I was upset with you, because I thought you had kidnapped Persephone. I wanted to punish you, have you crushed by Demeter, but I realized before she could kill you that you could help me! So I let you escape while I confused her.”

“What do you need from me?”

“MAYBE SHOW A LITTLE GRATITUDE, IDIOT!”

Miriam was knocked to the ground by unseen hands. After introducing her skull to the sidewalk, Miriam sat up and bowed to the invisible goddess.

“Please, what do you need from me?” asked Miriam, wincing in preparation for another throttling.

“Find Persephone.”

“But, I don’t know where she is. I already told you that! And she trapped me in her prison in the first place!”

“Hmmm…. Doesn’t sound like her. And my chances of believing an ungrateful mortal are incredibly low at this point. But you spent time in her bonds, and that means something. You shared her pain, so you can see within her. Look within. Find her.”

“I can’t do that,” sputtered Miriam. “I don’t know her just because she forced me into her cage!”

“Try.”

Quiet Ripple

Miriam froze, closing her eyes in an attempt to make it look like she knew what she was doing. No glimmers of inspiration came to her, and no mental maps with Persephone’s location materialized.

“I can take you to her,” Miriam lied, keeping her mind blank as she could and hoping Hestia wouldn’t sniff out her plot.

Hestia, still in the guise of a little girl, took form out of the air. She was now enormous like Demeter, perfectly matched to the titanic suburb. The girlish goddess shimmered with anger.

“So you’re ready to help me now,” said the goddess smugly.

“I was afraid of dying by Persephone’s hand, so I wasn’t exactly rushing to find her after she deserted me. Now I realize the path I was trying to take leads to death at your hands, so I’m changing my tune. I’m just trying to survive this mess.”

Hestia’s eyes narrowed, giving Miriam the odd feeling that she was being dressed down by a six-year-old instead of an all-powerful goddess.

“Fine, coward. You will lead me to her,” Hestia stated flatly.

Miriam nodded solely and bowed to appease the goddess. After an approving nod from Hestia, the odd pair set off toward the east.

Suburb

Hestia was not exactly the best travel companion. She wouldn’t speak to Miriam and only glared at the mortal girl when she’d have to tie her shoe. It didn’t matter though. The scenery was grabbing Miriam’s attention. Either the houses and odd vehicles parked in front of them were shrinking as they headed further east, or she was slowly growing. Everything wasn’t exactly Miriam-sized, but it was Miriam-and-a-half or so. Even Hestia was nearly the same size as Miriam at this point. The small goddess conjured a gimlet from midair at some point, drinking and swilling the glass wildly.

“So… do you know what this place is?” Miriam asked, trying to understand how she had traveled from some villainous castle to a suburb within the span of what seemed like thirty minutes. By now the houses were to their scale. She didn’t feel like a rat in a giant world.

Hestia scoffed, sipped her drink, and looked around.

“This is Normalcy, USA.  It’s a suburb of the Underworld,” the goddess said, spilling some of her drink as she gestured. It sizzled on the pavement. Miriam stared wide-eyed.

“I need you to move faster, mortal. I don’t have all year,” Hestia slurred.

The goddess pushed forward. Miriam looked down at the liquid, which was now melting through the asphalt. Through the asphalt, she could see an obsidian castle sparkling in the suburban sunlight that bled through the melted pavement. Was that the place she had been trapped in just moments ago?

“MORTAL!”

Hestia’s cry was loud, and clearly carried some power.

“DO NOT ATTEMPT ESCAPE. I SEE YOU LOOKING THROUGH THE FABRIC!”

“I’m not going anywhere!” blurted Miriam.  “I just saw through the sidewalk and thought—”

“THOUGHT YOU COULD ESCAPE, HMM?”

“No. And I’m getting tired of the accusations from you. It’s not ‘Mortal,’ it’s Miriam. And you could be showing me a little more respect seeing as I’m helping you out!”

“DEFERENCE? TO YOU? I DON’T THINK SO.”

“I CAN YELL TOO. BUT IT DOESN’T MAKE MY POINT ANY BETTER OR ME SOUND ANY SMARTER.”

Hestia was taken aback by Miriam’s booming voice. She looked Miriam up and down silently.

“Can we agree to just get this done? I don’t want to be here, and you have to harvest Persephone’s tears for your creepy eternal youth potion. Let’s just get this done, and we never have to see each other again,” bargained Miriam, who was hoping that the goddess wouldn’t smite her for yelling.

“I agree to your terms. But I don’t like them. Or you.” said Hestia.

“Fine. How long can you go without your elixir?”

Hestia looked up at the sun, quietly doing bizarre godly anti-aging math.

“Three days,” the goddess murmured.

Miriam steeled herself, looking at the endless suburban landscape. She had no idea where to look for Persephone, a traveling companion who hated her, and the god of death looking for her.

“Let’s do this.”

Purple Sky

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*
*