This story is by L.E. Gibler and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
There were many things Persephone regretted in her long life – and her own agreement to immortality was definitely one of them. Staring hard at a calendar, she tried her best to count just how old she really was. There had once been a time when she celebrated her birthday, but now she couldn’t even remember when that was. All she could remember of her first years so very long ago was the warm sun and the dry earth beneath her feet.
“You’re overthinking again.”
Her head popped up at the sound of a visitor. Squinting, through the sudden sunlight streaming from the open front door, she barely made out the silhouette of a man. However, she didn’t need to see more.
“What brings you to the Pacific Northwest, Anubis?” She turned to immediately bring her guest something to drink from the refrigerator. It had been months since she had a visitor, but this one was like welcoming family home.
“You know why I’m here, Kora.” He had been considered a giant of a man three millennia before, now he was of middling height, but a physique that was nothing less than that of an athlete. To the world outside of theirs, both appeared to be in their late twenties – aged more by experience than time itself.
Persephone nodded, as much at the name only he and his wife used for her as for the words themselves. “I had wondered who Death would send.” She nodded towards the laptop not far from her where she had been skimming the news. “He’s back.”
Even though her words were far from a question, Anubis still nodded. “Yes, he appeared two days ago.”
“And that’s what Death wants me for – to be bait again.”
“So it would seem.” Anubis took the seat that was offered and a sip of the iced tea. He was even older than her, but he had been born to the life of the un-dead, she had made the choice far too long ago. The son of Death watched her for several long moments without speaking. “Father believes that he can only be contained if he tries to violate our laws. As a son of Death, Cerberus is bound to obey the same rules that I do, that a Reaper does.”
Persephone nodded, memories for them both flooding her mind. She might not remember what it had been like to be an innocent girl on the shores of the Mediterranean, but she could well remember what it had been like to be a frightened woman, incapable of dying, but hunted all the same. Anubis reached out and squeezed her elbow, waiting for her to meet his dark gaze.
“He first appeared on an island in the Caribbean – and then again yesterday, in Arizona.”
“I know, I saw the news this morning. Holes in parking lots do tend to give his mode of transportation away.” She dropped her head into her hands. “What must I do?”
“You know that he’s coming for you.”
“It would seem rather obvious. Humans get very little of our pasts correct, least of all me, but that particular hound of hell has a penchant for picking up my scent.” For the first time in a long time, Persephone’s thoughts were not for herself as the full ramifications of her old friend’s words penetrated centuries of cynicism. “What of you? What of Nefertiti? And Setepenre?”
He surprised them both by reaching his hand out to cover hers. “They are safe. Just as before.”
Slowly, she found herself nodding, more relieved than she could have imagined. “So I’m the bait, but I don’t really get much of a say in how I’m dangled this time.”
“You know Death.”
She didn’t immediately answer, but he didn’t press her. “Do you know how often I’ve wondered in the past few years why the hell I made the choice to remain undead? I once called it being alive, Death certainly shared it as such, but I know better now. I’m a demon, made by the right hand of the Devil.” She shook her head, there was no reasoning her situation, even with someone she trusted.
“I once envied humans,” Anubis said, his words, as always, carefully measured. “And then there was a time that I envied the newness of it all that a Reaper experiences. Now, I envy only Death. Only he can never end.”
“We can’t really die – for all our differences, we have that in common.”
“Hades’ soul was taken – it was how we stopped the beast the last time.”
Persephone winced – she couldn’t help herself. Her former husband, who had been just as much a tormentor as the hound he kept with him – had proven that it was possible for the children of Death to end.
“How long until he gets here?” she asked in resignation.
“Based on his current speeds, I’d say by nightfall.”
She forced a smile. “Guess we’re getting the gang back together.”
For all of his long years on Earth – Anubis still didn’t have an easy sense of humor. His stoicism was his trademark, and despite her attempt of levity, he remained passive.
“Others will be coming, they should be here before night.”
Persephone didn’t bother to ask how they were arriving so fast – she had been a Reaper too long not to know how the sons and daughters of Death could travel quickly. And it always involved the lost souls of others.
By nightfall, a handful of Reapers and four more children of Death had arrived. The stroke of midnight set everyone on edge. Persephone left the safety of her house and went out into her sloping yard, watching the gentle waves of the Puget Sound reflect moonlight onto the hillside. Despite Anubis’ wish that she stay near the house, Persephone knew that to be bait, she had to be out where her scent could carry for the monster to find. There was such peace all around, and for the briefest moment, she could close her eyes and forget the pain of her existence. In another moment, though, her idyll was shattered.
Everyone who had arrived was poised to act against a raging monster. They had posted lookouts, surveillance, and traps all around the property, but Persephone knew better. She had been used to trap the creature twice before – once with only the help of Anubis, and once when Death had decided that the murder of another son must not go unpunished.
She knew the second he arrived, from the tips of her toes aching to help her feet to flee, all the way up to her eyes that were suddenly full of tears.
“You were expecting me.” He came out from behind a tree, but whereas his brother Anubis radiated power with a polished body, Cerberus had given up his human form ages ago, along with his last grasp on his own fleeting humanity. Instead, his head flickered – from human to hound – as he approached his prey. “It’s been too long.”
Even as certainty fell like rocks into an ocean, hope found a way to flutter through her chest. Maybe this was what she needed – maybe he could do her a favor after all. It was well known that the children of Death held more powers than the Reapers. There was a chance that the most deranged of them all could finally do what Death would not and end her centuries of suffering.
“Not nearly long enough,” she replied sharply. “It took you nearly six hundred years to break out of your prison this time. What kept you?” Her words landed like a barb on his skin, each one destroying more of the illusion of his own humanity.
“You locked me up, my goddess – or do you not remember?”
A crazy power filled her every pore, and she went toe to toe with the creature in front of her. Her way out was at her fingertips, she just had to press the right buttons. “I locked you up once a very, very long time ago. I was not your jailor last time. That was your dear old Dad.”
The beast within him growled low. “You built the cage. And like a rutting dog, I followed you in.”
“Rutting would require something that never occurred.” She couldn’t help the smile when she saw his head split to three, his whole body torn into the three-headed monster of myth. His howl had once sent shivers down her spine, but now she closed her eyes and welcomed the respite that she knew was coming. When he savagely tore her soul from her body, she knew a moment of pure bliss. The world around her faded, and she drifted off into a place she had never known before. Dying had once been the thing that frightened her most, but now, she welcomed it like an old friend. She had learned long ago, there were fates far worse than death.
Jack Gorfinkel says
I loved the mythological setup of your story. Great job!