OMGZ!

“OMG!  Can you believe she is taking me with her to another 1 of her stupid meetings? Again! “The young, slender girl typed into her cell phone as she slung herself into one of the cushioned chairs that lined the back wall of the small conference room.  Pulling her scabbed knees up to her chest, she glared at them through her mop of dark, unruly curls as the adults began to filter in, one by one. They each took a chair at the round table in the middle of the room.  Her sister’s reply was already causing her cell to buzz in her hand. She didn’t have to look at it to know it would be some sick, positive, encouraging crap as usual, and it was. “Hang in there Beni. It could be worse, ya know? At least U R not here changing diapers” Bernice’s older sister had texted back.

She didn’t bother replying. She jammed her earbuds in and cranked up the volume of her iPod, ignoring the eyebrow that Aunt Jewel had raised when she heard its noise. “Yes”, she thought to herself, “I know, I know, I am damaging my hearing. It’s bad for me. With any luck I will go deaf before your next meeting. Hopefully blind too.  Then I won’t have to be tortured by looking at all of you and listening to you retard nerds anymore.” She stretched out and closed her eyes, slightly rocking her head to the music.

As Bernice saw it, her family had ruined her life. What had been shaping up to be the best summer ever at the end of the school year was now ruined!  All because her stupid parents thought they needed another baby. Another one! Then they worried that they weren’t paying enough attention to her. Then they thought that she should go stay with relatives until they got settled in with the new baby at home.  They said it was because they cared about her. The scowl on her face deepened as she thought about it.  They cared about the baby is more like it, she thought to herself. It’s like they didn’t think she had any friends. As if any 12 year old girl wasn’t capable of taking care of herself for the summer. As though she and her friends hadn’t planned the whole summer out already, and their plans certainly hadn’t involved any adults.  If they had to pack her off on family which one did they chose? Well, Aunt Jewel, of course, to make the misery even more complete.

Bernice’s cell began to buzz again. “He is here!”  Bernice’s friend Sarah had texted. “Which he?” she typed back. “CHAD!” Of course, Bernice thought, of course he is at Sarah’s pool party and where am I? I am stuck in a tiny room in the basement of a college library with freaking nerds.  Her cell began to buzz again. “Guess who is here?” Megan was asking her. “I know!” she texted back. “I’m sorry U R stuck there, it suxs totally.” Megan typed back.  I know, Bernice thought to herself. “So what R U doing?” Megan asked her. “I’m with Aunt Jewel, @ 1 of her meetings. Again!” “OMG, my poor Beni. R U serious that they meet each week to read each other’s stuff and then they end up talking about aliens, elves, the undead and crap like that?”Megan asked.  “Yes, it’s the ‘Fellowship of the Nerds’ here.” Bernice texted back.

Her cell was still buzzing but she didn’t bother to read her friends’ new texts. Talking about it was just making her more depressed. She looked over at them and groaned to herself in disgust. Aunt Jewel was in a heated discussion about how to defend yourself from the undead with the one that called himself Luke. No, it wasn’t his real name, but he was a “Sci-Fi” freak and always going on about the upcoming “Zombie Apocalypse” and crap like that, so his nickname fit. Edgar the regional Society for Creative Anachronism leader, Perry the local Ornithologist, Aunt Jewel’s patient husband and aspiring rock musician Uncle Malcolm, and that over-bearing, know-it-all woman Luna made up the other members of Aunt Jewel’s support group for writers.

They were all discussing various defensive mechanisms that could be deployed to protect oneself from attack by the undead. At least they had moved on from last week’s discussion about spirits and demon possession. That crazy woman Luna had taken them on a tour of the library basement to show them where an alleged “portal to the Underworld” had been that she and a group of her friends had allegedly psychically closed back in the1980’s. They were all getting on her nerves. Here they were, wasting all of this time when she could be back home where she belonged. She should be at Sarah’s pool party now, snuggled up to Chad, staring up into his sky-blue eyes and talking about important things, like locker sharing and saving seats for each other at lunch. But oh no, here she was, in this freaking room with The Nerdling Gang.

She thought about cutting herself. All the girls were doing it at school, but she didn’t like the sight of blood, particularly her own. She had talked about it with Megan and Sarah at the end of the school year. It was one of the things they had talked about doing together this summer, but Bernice knew she would never be able to go through with it, even though she would never own up to it to her friends. She had thought she would pass out when Megan had tried to pierce Sarah’s nose with the sewing needle back during Christmas break. Luckily she had managed to keep her cool and crack a small smile, even when Sarah had screamed.

Her cell kept buzzing in the pocket of her jeans. She let out a big sigh. It can’t get any worse than this she thought to herself. She paused a moment. In her mind, she had a fleeting vision of Chad sitting between her two friends, Megan and Sarah, and kissing each of them. She shook her head and flipped open her phone. I had better keep reading and texting, you just never know, even about your best friends, she thought to herself.

“Something is wrong with Chad and some of the others!” read both Megan and Sarah’s texts. Bernice gave a small sigh of relief, he couldn’t be kissing them if he was sick, but her relief became panic, something was wrong with the love of her life! “What’s going on?” she typed back. She waited several minutes but there was no answer. Her cell began to buzz again, but it was just a message from her older sister. Probably something about the baby she thought as she started to ignore it, but she opened and read it anyway. The message was strange.” Do not go outside. Go to a room without windows and lock yourself in. Trust no one. “

What the crap? She thought to herself. She looked up at Aunt Jewel and the group. From what she could tell, their discussion  now centered on how effective chain mail, halberds and other medieval weaponry would be in combating an invasion by the undead. She sighed and got up and walked out of the room and slowly walked up the stairs that led to the main, functional part of the college library.

She was just cresting the top of the stairs when she looked up and to her left towards the front of the library. The entire front wall of the library was composed of reinforced glass panels. The architect had thought it would be relaxing and conducive to learning to allow as much natural light as possible to filter into the building.  Bernice was anything but relaxed by what she saw. There were dozens of students pressed up against the glass from the outside. All of the students’ clothes and hair were disheveled. They all had vacant stares. Many of them were moaning. They were starting to beat against the glass with their bodies. The only other person in the library, the librarian, finally looked up from his desk as the noise grew louder. “My word, what is going on here?” He said in a soft voice as he got up from his seat and strode towards the front door of the library. “Oh no, wait, please don’t open the door, don’t go out there!” she hollered at him as she turned away and ran back down the stairs trying to ignore the sound of his screaming.

She was panting by the time she reached the conference room. Aunt Jewel and the others didn’t even look up when she entered the room. “Aunt Jewel” she breathlessly began as Aunt Jewel began to wave her off in that distracted, “don’t interrupt us” fashion that all adults seem to instinctively know. “No, Aunt Jewel, it’s important, it’s about zombies,” she started again but she was cut off by their laughter. “Well, yes dear, it’s always about zombies, or at least it is for Luke,” her Aunt Jewel replied as she and the others laughed. She thought about screaming “Fire!”, but was afraid it would cause them to panic and run out of the building into the ever-growing throng of the undead that seemed to be congregating outside the library.  She decided to do what any other sensible pre-teen would do when it needed to convince an adult about the truth, she lied.  “Aunt Jewel, Uncle Malcolm, everyone, something is wrong with the librarian. He needs our help, please come upstairs with me and see him,” she said as calmly as possible. She then turned away and slowly walked back up the stairs. The others were still half-giggling as they followed her.

“So, where is the librarian and what’s wrong with him?” Edgar and Perry both asked in unison when they all reached the top. Bernice pointed to the outside, but it was really unnecessary. They all stared outside for a moment and then they all began to run back down the stairs. “We need to build a barricade, so they can’t get down here when they manage to break the glass!” Edgar, Perry and Malcolm all shouted simultaneously. Luke looked smugly over at Aunt Jewel. “I told you so” he half-whispered as a wide grin spread across his face. “For years all of you thought I was the crazy one, but I told you so.” “Now is not the time to gloat,” Aunt Jewel began, “Or fight amongst ourselves”, Uncle Malcolm interrupted her. The adults began to drag over old shelving units, discarded books, stacks of old magazines, anything that they could find to block the stairwell and keep the undead out.

They were all standing back and admiring their handiwork when Aunt Jewel pointed out the obvious. “This might keep them out for awhile, but they will get in eventually. We have nothing to eat or drink even if they don’t make it though the barricade, so we can’t stay here forever. How are we going to get out? Even if we do get out, where are we going to go?” They were all very quiet. They all looked at one another rather nervously as the noise from outside began to grow louder. The sound seemed to vibrate along the walls so that it felt as though the whole building was shaking.

Luna cleared her throat and they all turned to look at her as she looked nervously back at them. “You know, the story about the portal is real”, she began as the others shook their head and started to turn away. “No,” she cried anxiously, “It is real, the portal is real. It really was here, along that back wall, and my friends and I sealed it all those years ago.  I know this sounds crazy, seeing that it was a passageway to Hades, or the Underworld, call it what you will, but it would take us out of here if we could reopen it.”

“Luna, I like you, I have always thought that you’re a nice lady, “Edgar began, “but you are crazy aren’t you? I mean, assuming what you are saying is true, how is opening a passage to the Underworld, opening a passage to the dead to escape the undead, an improvement on our situation? Do you even know how to open it?”

“You know, eventually the birds will take care of the zombies”, Perry interrupted.  They all looked at him. “It’s true. The zombies are dead flesh that is animated, the birds, or at least the ones that crave carrion, will eat them where they stand. Eventually they will eat them all.” The rest giggled, but Luke began to shake his head. “Perry my friend, it’s contagious. The birds may start to eat them, but what happens to them when they do? They could turn into flying zombie birds for all we know. No, Jewel is right; we have to find a way out of here, or a way to get provisions without being caught. The barricade will not last forever.  I know it sounds crazy, but maybe Luna has a point. If the portal had an opening here it may have other openings to other places, other dimensions even, anything at this point is possible. We should try to figure out a way to reopen it.”

“We could crawl through the HVAC duct-work in the ceiling to the vending machines upstairs” Malcolm offered. “At least until we have a better plan. In the short term it will keep us from starving.” Luke was shaking his head again. “It will just draw attention to us and bring them downstairs. We need to be looking for something to fight with incase they do make it in here. We won’t be able to get them all, but hopefully at least one of us will get the portal to open before we are all overwhelmed.”

The group separated as they began to open the doors to the various rooms and closets in the basement. Edgar shouted with happiness when he found a rusting suit of armor and battle axe in one of the rooms. Bernice was certain that it could not be real, and the others quickly agreed that it must be a museum- quality replica. Edgar was too large to don the armor, but he swung the battle axe above his head with incredible ease, as though he had used one before. “Yes” he said to others, widely grinning, “If any of them make it down here, this will do the trick”. Luke had found a staff that had intricate carvings and beads, feathers and skulls attached. “It looks like a spirit stick from the Wannopangi tribe, but I am sure it will make an excellent staff” he said as he practiced bashing, dodging and parrying invisible enemies. Perry had found a long and extremely sharp looking rapier. He jumped up and then back-flipped off one of the tables, landing with ease and a hearty, “Ah-Har there me mateys!” Uncle Malcolm had found a wicked looking broad sword; it looked like something a highlander would carry. He also grinned widely as he swung the sword in an arc above his head. Aunt Jewel was now armed with what appeared to be a fencing foil and dagger.  Bernice and Luna were the only two who remained unarmed.

Aunt Jewel was concerned. “Luna, keep looking, there must be something in one of the rooms that you can use to defend yourself.” Luna shook her head with a shy smile. “That will not be necessary.” She said as she assumed what is known as “The Whooping Crane” stance and began the slow, steady, deep breathing characteristic of those about to “summon their chi”. The others laughed nervously, who would have guessed that Luna was a closet practioneer of the martial arts?

“So Luna, “Uncle Malcolm began, “How do we go about opening the portal?” “Um, I don’t know really. I just know how we closed it” Luna answered. “That’s okay”, Luke replied, “It’s a good place to start. Tell us how you closed it; maybe we can do things in reverse to open it.” “What I would like to know is why or how the thing was ever opened to begin with?” Edgar asked as Luna began her reply.

“I don’t know why or how the portal was opened. I only know that when my friends and I attended college here in 1986 it had apparently been opened for quite some time.  By that time there had been numerous reports of seeing the undead walking and haunting the library for years. Students, faculty and staff at the library all saw them. If Kim Marsh was still there, she could tell you about the ones she saw.  Ronnie Meece saw them, but he also left several years ago. Clarence and Rosemary have passed on, or they could have told you about the undead that walked the stacks. The director of the library, Robin Banks has retired. He refused to believe in such things, and always insisted that there was a logical, non-supernatural reason for all of the sightings, but even he was a little hesitant to come to the basement by himself. Dear old Buck Hanson, the history professor, seemed to take delight in them, and relocated his office down here for a time as he considered them potential source material, even when the rest of academia thought he had just gone senile. He was the only one that was upset when the portal was closed and the sightings stopped.”

Aunt Jewel let out an impatient sigh, “That’s all very interesting Luna, but we could be overrun by Zombies any moment now. Please just cut to the part about how you closed it.”

Luna nodded in agreement. “Well, after the sightings began to affect the student body and actual evil seemed to take hold of the campus, a group of us decided that something must be done. After researching medieval texts and consulting with a former priest who had become one of the professors here, we realized that we must act to close the portal. We did so through prayer and the freely given blood of a virgin.”

“So what you are suggesting is that we gather around the place where the portal was sealed, pray and put the blood of the virgin where?” Luke asked.

“Where are we going to get the blood of a virgin?”  Edgar asked as everyone turned to look at Bernice. “Wait a minute!” Aunt Jewel screamed, “You are not sacrificing my niece! Are you all deranged? I don’t care if we all have to fight to the bitter end and we all end up becoming zombies ourselves, no one is touching her!” She screamed as she leapt in front of Bernice in a protective stance, foil and dagger drawn.

At that moment they all looked up as the building seemed to shake and they all heard the thunderous roar of glass breaking as the zombies broke into the upstairs part of the library. There were shrieks and moans and crashes as they heard them tearing through the magazine racks and overturning the bookcases and tables. “Any minute now!” Edgar and Malcolm cried grimly as they firmed up their grasps on their weapons and moved closer to the barricade.  The others shifted nervously closer as well.

“Just how much blood would you need?” Bernice quietly asked.  Aunt Jewel glared at Luna as she answered her, “Not much. Not much at all, if it’s anything like it was when we closed it. But you must give it freely. You would need to smear it along the sides and top of where the opening was.” Luna walked briskly to the back wall and pointed. “It was just along here,” she said. The mortar that held the cream colored blocks together appeared smudged with a faint brownish substance at the point where she gestured. Bernice nodded solemnly, deep in thought.

With a loud groan, the barricade tumbled down and zombies began to pour into the stairwell. Edgar sliced the heads of three of the zombies off cleanly with one fell swoop of his axe, their heads rolling along the floor to rest at Luna and Bernice’s feet. Perry leapt from a nearby table into the main throng of zombies with his best pirate yell, slashing indiscriminately at the howling hoard. Luke furiously dodged and parried as he began to bash the incoming zombies, their heads bursting like over-ripe melons, bits of gore splattering everywhere. Uncle Malcolm and Aunt Jewel, their backs against one another, effectively hacked and slashed with their broad sword and foil anything that moved. Luna assumed her fighting stance and looked at Bernice imploringly. Bernice knew that if she was going to do anything, it needed to be soon.

Bernice glanced around the room looking for something sharp to make the cut. Her eyes darted to a nearby shard of glass that must have fallen from the shattered glass panes above. She quickly rolled beneath the outstretched arms of one of the zombies as Edgar neatly decapitated it. She reached the piece of glass and ran back to the wall.

She took a deep breath as she drew the jagged edge of the glass across her index finger. Nothing! What the crap? She thought to herself. Increasing the pressure she drew the glass across her finger again with no results.  Shocked at how tough skin seemed to be, she grasped the shard more firmly and dug it into her palm and sawed it across her open hand, ignoring the pain as the blood began to seep from the wound.  She gasped from the burning, throbbing sensation and threw her hand against the wall as much to steady herself from the shock of the sight of her own blood as to be able to spread it on the blocks.  “Bernice!” Uncle Malcolm cried out to her while he stabbed at an ever increasing number of zombies, “When you get inside don’t forget what Churchill said!”  “Who the crap is Churchill?” she called back as she furiously smeared her palm against the wall where Luna had pointed. “What do they teach them in school? “ Aunt Jewel began as Uncle Malcolm finished his train of thought. “You know the Allies, World War II, he said a lot of things, but Churchill said ‘when you find yourself going through hell, keep going.’ So don’t stop Bernice, keep on going once you get in and don’t look back!” Bernice nodded her head in understanding as she thought to herself, Yeah, I remember now, that heavy guy that road around under London drinking and smoking while it was being bombed. She began to chant out loud various passwords that she had heard or read about, “Open Sesame? All ye, all ye outs in free?  Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious? O Lord, my God, is there no help for the Widow’s Son? Hail Mary, full of grace?”  The blocks remained as firm as ever. Bernice leaned forward, her forehead resting upon the blocks, “Help us, please.” She whispered in desperation as she tumbled forward.

She instinctively threw her hands forward to break her fall, but she still managed to land face first against the ground. She pushed herself up and began to brush the dirt and pebbles off the front of her jeans. She could feel her heart beating violently in her chest as she took in her surroundings and saw that she was no longer in the library basement. She appeared to be in a long dark tunnel, a dim light seemed to come from a faint red glow that originated somewhere up ahead in the distance.  The block wall of the library was nowhere to be seen, it had seemingly been replaced by dirt and rock and darkness. She hoped that the others would survive the zombie attack as she sensed that the only way to get back to that time would be to keep walking forward. Even though she could no longer see the library, her companions, or the zombies, she could still hear what sounded like the shrieks, groans and the moaning of the zombies and this puzzled her. The sounds seemed to be coming from somewhere up ahead in the distance, in the same general direction of the faint, red glow.

Bernice began to cautiously follow the twisting path of the tunnel forward. She braced herself against its steep sides as she went. The tunnel seemed to endlessly snake up, down and around but still in the general direction of “forward”.  She continued to follow the path, the sounds became louder as she went, but they also became monotonous. While the volume had increased the pitch of the moans did not, and after a time Bernice found that she felt sleepy from listening to the nightmarish lullaby.  Bernice shook her head violently as she forced herself to keep walking forward, she was no longer certain how long she had been walking; the muscles in her legs had burned for what seemed like ages. She had just rounded another of the countless bends along the path, when the path abruptly widened into a vast, cavernous pit.

The pit was filled with what appeared to be countless writhing, screaming bodies. If Bernice had to guess a number she would have guessed that the pit was filled with literally billions of bodies. The path became a rocky, narrow strip that stretched across the pit. Bernice was filled with fear and apprehension as she realized that she would have to walk across it if she wanted to keep going forward. She trembled as she hesitantly began to place one foot in front of the other with her arms stretched out from her sides to maintain her balance. She shuddered internally at the thought of what might happen if she lost her footing and fell into the pit below.

Bernice had to force herself to not look at her feet as she made her way across. Every time she glanced downward she felt herself pitch violently from side to side. She continued slowly putting one foot in front of the other while looking out and upwards. When she was about half way across the pit the pathway began to noticeably widen. At the widest point of the path Bernice saw a long stone table with 20 stone chairs. The entire surface of the table was covered with food, as though set for a great banquet. All of the chairs were empty save one in the middle of the table. Seated at this chair was a tanned, heavily muscled man. He wore a white toga and sandals and he reminded her of the Greek Statues that she and her fellow students had read about in Social Studies class. He looked up at her forlornly and gestured towards her as though bidding her to come help herself to some of the food.

Bernice jumped back in surprise at the sound of her stomach growling. She could not remember how long it had been since she had eaten and the food looked and smelled intoxicating. She began to slowly walk towards the food, her hand stretching out towards a bunch of the plump, round purple grapes when one of the many writhing bodies from the pit managed to free itself from the other wailing bodies and pull itself up onto the path. The body rapidly strode towards her and she could see that the approaching figure was also a man, of slender height and build. He also wore a toga and sandals, but his toga was purple and the thinning, grey hair on his head was capped by a golden circle of metal olive leaves. He stopped in front of her, rapidly beating his fist to his chest twice before throwing his hand up in a salute as he said “Salve!” which she recognized as a traditional Roman greeting from her Latin classes with the local priest. He lowered his hand to her shoulder, grasping it firmly as he shook his head and gestured towards the seated man’s legs.  Bernice gasped in surprise when she looked at the man’s legs, seeing that they were heavily bound to the legs of the chair with what appeared to be ropes or vines made of the same stone as the chairs and table. The seated man let out a sigh as his head sunk lower on his chest. The Roman shook his head at him as he sadly whispered the word, “Pirithous.” Bernice repeated the word, “Pirithous?” quizzically to the Roman. “What does Pirithous mean?” she asked him.

The Roman looked at her quietly a moment and then pointed to the seated man and said, “Pirithous”. He then pointed to himself and said, “Julius” and then pointed at her and smiled. “Oh, it’s his name, and you are Julius” she said, pointing at him. “I am Bernice” she said, pointing at herself in the best Latin that she could remember from her local priest’s efforts, “My friends call me Beni.” She did not know why he would find it so, but the Roman threw his head back and laughed as he clapped her hard on the back saying, “Bene, Beni, Bernice! Bene!” She nodded as he stopped laughing, his face becoming serious as they both looked at another approaching figure. His face broke into a smile as yet another man in a toga and sandals approached. Both men threw their arms up in salute with Julius crying out “Achilles!” and the other man, presumed to be Achilles, crying out, “Julius!”. As the second man was just reaching them Bernice’s attention was pulled away by a loud roar as a third man had climbed up from the pit and walked over to join them. Unlike the other two men, this man towered above all of them. He had long, flowing blonde hair with a full beard and mustache. He wore a helmet and armor, with bits of animal skin sticking out where the armor pieces were joined, and heavy iron boots. The other two men laughed at her as she stepped back in fear. Julius patted her on the shoulder again as if to reassure her as they bade the giant welcome with their gestures, calling him “Vidar”.

Bernice was not exactly certain what was going on and she tried her best, in her halting Latin, to ask Julius why they were not in the pit with the others and if they meant her harm. Julius looked at her puzzled and shook his head as he began to laugh. The other two men looked at him quizzically as he spoke to them in unfamiliar tongues. One of the languages was lilting and more musical than his Latin, the other was more coarse and guttural. As he spoke, the other man in the toga also began to laugh while the giant looked grimly on. Julius, whipping the tears of laughter from his eyes, lowered his face so that he stood eye to eye with Bernice and he began to speak slowly. Bernice sincerely hoped that she understood his meaning correctly.

“My dear Beni,” Julius began, “It surely has not escaped your notice that from whatever time and place you came you are far from your home. Surely from whatever time and place you lived, surely your people had stories of the afterlife and other dimensions so that you should know where you are. My people knew this realm as Hades and knew that here in this realm it is in death as it was in life. Just as in life there are those who are stronger and accomplish more and separate themselves from the pack, it is here. You were right to walk so cautiously across, for if you had fallen the dead would not have let you climb out, for it is in the river below that you perceive to be a pit that they have form. But in life there are mighty men and women who distinguish themselves, and so, whether it is for his amusement, or for our added torment, the one who rules here does allow us to leave the Pit, from time to time, if we make the effort to do so. Make no mistake, while free from the hordes of the pit, we are not free from this domain for there is no freedom in Hades or escape from its boundaries.”

“So, um, are you saying I am trapped here?” Bernice nervously asked. Julius looked at her steadily before he lifted his shoulders in a shrug. “I do not know. I do know that none may enter here unless they deserve to be here and I do know that none may leave without his permission, even though from time to time some of us climb out of the pit to roam the caverns. I do know that if you had given in to the temptation of fatigue and stopped to sleep as you journeyed here or if you had given in to the temptation of hunger and stopped to eat you would be trapped at that very spot for eternity as is Pirithous.”

Bernice hastily interrupted Julius before he could say anymore, “But I had no choice, I had to come! I have come to save my family and friends. In my time the whole world is being overrun by the undead and there was no other place to go.” Bernice cried desperately as Julius sadly shook his head, “Your intentions for coming, my dear Beni, do not matter. Pirithous came for love and you see that he has been here so long that your time does not remember, nor has even heard, of the deeds of this great warrior. Surely if you and the people of your time do not know of the great Pirithous and his terrible fate you must see that it is all but impossible for you, a young girl, to stroll in and then out of Hades. Surely you must see that you are all but guaranteed to fail, for there is no nobler motive than love and love did not save Pirithous.”

“Then why are you, Achilles and Vidar here, standing on this pathway with me, if there is no hope?” Bernice sadly asked as the weight of Julius’s words began to sink in and she folded her arms across her own shoulders trying to comfort herself from the feelings of fear and despair that began to well inside of her.

Julius smiled at her. “Little girl, I am here and I am going to help you. I am not going to help you because I am noble, because I am not, or I would not be in this place. I am not going to help you because I think you have a chance of escaping, because I have been here a thousand years and no one has escaped in all this time. I am going to help you partly because I am bored. I am going to help you because there is nothing else better to do in this desolate place. Mainly, I am going to help you for the glory of fighting an adversary once again, even though I know beforehand the outcome of the battle and that our foe will defeat us. Even with defeat certain and sure at least when I stand with you for a few moments I can regain a bit of what I felt back when I was alive. You see, when I was alive, I led a nation and conquered lands and peoples and all bowed down to me and served me as though I were a god. I did not do this for the glory and honor of my country, although I convinced many a man to give their life for Rome. I did all that I did in life for my own glory, for the power that I received. In all these years I have felt no remorse for what I did. While it is humbling to be trapped for eternity, powerless, in this place of desolation and despair, no one can say that they are sorry when they have stood in the center of Rome and been cheered by all her people. So, by helping you here in Hades, even though defeat is certain, just for a few moments, I will feel glory again. While I cannot speak for Achilles and Vidar, I can only suppose that they feel a similar pull, to stand again as men defiant even if not in control of their own fate, if only but for a moment.”

Bernice nodded in understanding. “So, what you are saying is that you are here because you robbed, pillaged and killed not for your country but for your own glory and because you are not sorry that is why you are here?” she asked him. Julius nodded in reply. “And you are saying that while Pirithous here did come for a noble purpose it doesn’t matter because he gave into temptation?” Julius nodded in agreement again. “Why are Achilles and Vidar here?” Bernice asked.

Julius gave her an exasperated look. “You mean to tell me little girl, that none in your time have heard of the great Achilles?” Bernice shook her head in disagreement. “No, actually I have heard stories of an Achilles. He is considered a ‘myth’ from the ancients as is the battle of Troy. They make movies, plays, about it all the time; I saw one about him just this summer with my friends.” Julius looked over at Achilles talking in the foreign language again as they both began to laugh. Julius shook his head and looked at her again as he began to explain, “For all of time, Achilles has remained famous in poetry and art and plays. I do not know what you mean by movie and it does not matter, Achilles says to tell you that he was and remains the greatest warrior of Greece. That he too is here because of love. That he loved Briseis, though he won her by the spear, and that he choked the rivers with the bodies of the dead in his efforts to regain her and avenge the deaths of his family. That he is not now nor will he ever feel sorrow for the death and destruction that he brought to those who took his wife and his family.” Bernice nodded in understanding again as she gestured at Vidar, “What about him?” she asked. Julius smiled in reply, “Well if that hulking mass can be believed, the people of his time think of him as the god of Silence and Revenge. Some from his time consider him their savior and think he will save the world from being devoured by the wolf called Fenrir when he shoves that great iron boot of his down it’s throat. Don’t know whether I believe the wolf-part and end of the world bit” Julius continued, “but I would think being thought of as the god of Silence and Revenge, that whatever he did to be thought of that way by his people, is reason enough to be here.”

“So, if you are going to help me, “Bernice began hesitantly, “what are we going to do? What do I need to do to try to get out of here? Where do we start?”

The three men smiled at her. “Well Beni,” Julius began, “We are going to help you walk the rest of the way across the pit. At the end of the pit is the entrance way to the one who reigns here. You are going to have to go talk to him. It is only with his permission that you will be able to leave, but know that he has never given permission for anyone to leave in all the time that I have been here. Before you can cross the threshold to go speak with him, you must first get by Cerebus. Please tell me that the people in your time have at least heard of Cerebus?”

“You mean the three-headed Dog of legend that guards the gates to the Underworld? That Cerebus? He is also part of the Greek Myths.” Bernice replied nervously, remembering something about the creature from her history and social studies classes. Julius laughed, “Well, that ‘myth’ your people talk about is very real and very large. He has three very real, very large heads filled with three very real, very large mouths full of very large, razor-sharp teeth and very real sulfuric acid. You have to get by the dog to talk to him. We do have a plan though, so don’t worry. While Cerebus is large and menacing, a formidable foe, he is still a dog and we all know what dogs want. We’ve been wasting enough time talking now. Let’s get going.” Julius said as he took her by the arm, Achilles leading them in the front and Vidar following close behind. Both of the men had drawn their swords and swiped at the ethereal hands of the dead that tried to pull them from the pathway as it again narrowed in width and stretched across to the other side.

They were just taking the last steps to cross over to the other side when they heard a monstrous howl. Julius let go of Bernice as the three men simultaneously jumped onto the backs of the lowered necks of the three-headed dog, artfully dodging the pools of burning acid that dropped from its fangs. Each of the men ran up one of the necks until they each reached an ear on each head of the dog. Stretching out their arms, each of the men began to vigorously rub one of the ears as the dog raised each of its three heads, a low moaning sound of delight escaping each of the dog’s mouths. Cerebus was now oblivious to anything or anyone other than the wonderful sensation of its ears being scratched.

“Hurry now Beni!” Julius cried out to her, “and watch the acid!” Bernice ran between the dog’s paws, hopping and skipping over the acid puddles until she was behind the dog. She paused for a moment to look back at the men before continuing on. “Thank you for helping me! Bene Valete!” she cried towards the men. She heard Julius call back to her, “Di te incolumem custodian!” as she instantly recognized the traditional Roman farewell that meant, ‘May the Gods guard your safety.’ You too Julius, may they watch over you and your companions as well, even though you are in this place, she thought to herself. She turned away from them and walked on. She was well past the dog and was now in another long passageway. The air felt very stale and heavy, it burned as she breathed but she could not fight the feeling of hope that she was beginning to carry. She had survived an attack by zombies and had made it into the Underworld. She had faced the temptations of despair and hunger. She had made it across the pit and past Cerebus, she just had to convince the ruler of this place to let her leave. Surely he would see that she did not belong here and would let her go on her way.

She was rounding the bend in this passageway when it abruptly widened into a dead end room. She caught her breath as she looked around and realized she was not alone. On her left there was an enormous, terrifying reptilian beast with wings and red glowing scales, another ancient creature from mythology, a dragon. On her right was a man, clad in leather from head to toe. He stood straddling a dazzlingly bright, yellow motorcycle. What appeared to be a sword poked out of the rear saddlebag, and a lance was strapped to the other side of the bike. They both smiled at her.

She silently stared at them. They stared back. The dragon began to pace back and forth, rubbing its hands in excitement. The slenderness of its arms stood in stark contrast to the massive bulk of the rest of the dragon’s body. It’s rather like the flimsy, useless arms of a T-Rex she thought to herself.  The dragon smiled wickedly at her as though it could read her thoughts and found them amusing.

“Really Michael,” the dragon addressed the man, “I do not see what you and the others see in these weak, silly creatures. Why do you waste your time? It’s pointless and you know it.” The man remained silent as the dragon turned around to address the girl. “Well, get on with it.” The dragon threw its hands up in frustration as the girl remained silent as well.

“Get on with it!” the dragon shrieked, What is wrong with you, are you slow or something, just go ahead and get this thing started! We’ve been waiting all this time for your arrival. You know, on with it, the part where you ask me if you can leave and I tell you ‘No’ and then you cry or beg and offer me anything that I want if I will let you leave and we strike a bargain. So, just cut to the interesting part, what are you willing to offer me, Little Girl, in return for your freedom? Not saying that I will grant your request. I can’t remember when I ever did let anyone go, but I do enjoy the bargaining part, I enjoy the tears and the despair. If you want, you can go ahead and start to cry. I do enjoy it and it does put me in a better mood so who knows, you may get lucky. I sort of doubt it, I don’t want you to have any false illusions or be accused of tricking you, but one never knows, let’s see how good you can cry and beg.”

Bernice looked at the creature with anger and disgust. She now knew why Julius had been so resolute that she would not be leaving. She raised her head and looked at the man that the dragon had called Michael. He had still not said anything; he just stood looking at her. “Do you have anything to say to me?” she called out to him. “The dragon has said plenty but you have said nothing to me so I wonder why you are here? Are you one of the lost souls trapped here as well? If you are, why aren’t you in the pit too? Does he let you out “to play” like he does some of the others?”

“Why are you talking to him?” the dragon screamed back at her. “I was talking to you, Hello? I am the one who will decide your fate here, I am the one that asks the questions here and you will reply to me!” The dragon had stormed across the room, its rancid, acid breath burning the skin of her face. She looked back at the dragon, a sly smile crossing her face. As every teenager and pre-teenager knows, there is nothing that upsets an authority figure more, be that authority figure a parent, a babysitter, a teacher, a school principal or even Lord of the Underworld, nothing upsets an authority figure more than to be ignored. I am utterly doomed, she thought to herself. I am not going to give it the pleasure of acknowledging its existence since nothing I say or do here will win me my freedom. She walked away from the dragon, dismissing him with an exaggerated roll of her eyeballs. She now stood in front of the man and addressed him. “If you are not the dragon’s prisoner, please help me”, she begged the man as she heard the dragon howl in fury and cry “No!” The man held out his hand to her and pulled her onto the back of the motorcycle. As he lifted her up, he tore the spear from the side of the motorcycle and waived it threateningly at the dragon. “Now serpent”, he began, “you know that we are not allowed to do battle until the appointed time, the girl has asked for my protection and has it, stand aside!” The dragon begrudgingly moved out of the away as Michael and the girl roared out of the room, across the pit and through the many twists and turns of the passageway on the motorcycle. Bernice felt very sleepy.

“Thank you for helping me, Michael. I wonder who you are and what you were doing in that room with the dragon and why you helped me?” she asked him. She only half-heard his reply, as though he were far away as she drifted between the faint line that  separates the two states of asleep and awake.

“I am always glad to help those who call upon me for aid. I am especially glad to help those who are brave, who are alone, those who honestly and selflessly call upon me for help. I travel the world helping those who call out to me, and when I am not in the world I am with the dragon waiting for the appointed hour when we might do battle. We have waited many ages for that time, and it gets tiresome waiting. The dragon likes to play his little games while we wait and I sometimes join him in the game, not out of any love for play but in case someone might ask for my assistance. In ages past I was always busy helping those in need, but most do not think to call upon me for help in this day and age, especially if they are unlucky and unwitting enough to come face to face with the dragon. So little one, I am glad that I was there in your time of need and could help you.”

Michael had reached the end of the passageway. He removed the sword from the saddlebag as he gently lifted Bernice up from the back of the bike and carried her forward. He carved signs into the air with the sword as he whispered in a strange, melodious language and a new passageway opened into the basement of the library. He carried her through the lines of bookcases in the basement of the library and laid her sleeping frame upon the chairs where she had been before the zombies had attacked. The others were gathered around the table, oblivious to their entrance. He silently walked back through the bookcases.

Bernice jumped up at the sound of laughter. Aunt Jewel and her support group were laughing at her. “Did you fall asleep, Sleepyhead?” Her aunt called out to her. Bernice slowly got up from the chair and walked to the table in the center of the room and sat down with the others. Was it all a dream she wondered to herself. “So, what are you all talking about?” she asked them as the others looked at her in surprise for showing any interest in the group.

Edgar smiled at her, “We are trying to decide what our topic of discussion should be for the next meeting.” “We are thinking about making it about demon possession again” Luna enthusiastically inserted. “Oh” she nodded in reply. “You know, I have been thinking,” she began, “if you do not have an age limit, I think I might want to join your group, if you wouldn’t mind.” All of the adults looked at her incredulously. “That would be great Bernice!” Luke hollered and the others nodded in agreement. “Are you certain you are feeling alright, Bernice?” Aunt Jewel cautiously asked her. “Yes, I am feeling fine, the best I have ever felt and if it’s okay with you all I would like to suggest that next week’s topic be about demons and angels.” The others nodded their heads in excitement at her showing interest. “You know, I never liked the number six, “Uncle Malcolm began,”seven is a luckier number.” “Welcome to the group, Bernice” Parry said, shaking her hand as Aunt Jewel looked as though she was going to cry.

Maybe the summer wasn’t ruined after all, Bernice thought to herself. Maybe I can make the best of this until I can get back home. It’s just a few more weeks. Chad should really be missing me by then and I can make my move she consoled herself. Everyone says ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’.

Bernice’s cell started buzzing again as she flipped open the top. She read the identical, simultaneous messages from Megan and Sarah, “He just kissed Allison! I am so sorry Beni!” As she closed the cell phone and let out a big sigh she could not ignore the long, heavy white line that now went across the palm of her hand. She smiled to herself and closed her hand into a fist. Thank you again, Michael, she thought to herself. She looked around at the six adults that were smiling at her. You think I’ve drank the Kool-Aid too, she thought to herself. Well, maybe I have.


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