December 12, 2007
By Max Lipkin, Vero Beach, FL

I rode in the chariot of death itself, a sixteenth century dilapidated water-craft with the bloody residue of its passengers still fresh. The sea of the damned reeked with the pungent smell of burning flesh. All around me the suffering souls relinquished their anguish with chilling moans. Glaring at me was the most malevolent creature in existence. Its gut-wrenching gaze unnerved me so that I cursed myself for being there in the first place. No, I mustn’t allow myself to be frightened. I have unfinished business to attend. My thoughts were shattered as a rebellious spirit latched onto my arm and pulled me into the water. I was consumed in the river as hands covered my mouth and dunked me under. Gasping for air, I reached out to grab onto anything that could save me. I felt as if I were caught between a tug of war as both my arms were being pulled. Yelping with agony, I was heaved aboard.
“Fool! Do you want to die?” spat my ghastly guide.
We drifted for a while until coming to a halt. He wagged his bony finger, indicating this was the last stop. I watched him sail away. Iin the distance all I could see were his menacing red eyes, piercing my being.
I lethargically made my way along the trail of death until reaching a cave. Nothing could be seen inside the pitch black abyss. Reluctantly, I ventured inside, engulfed in the depressing ambiance of the underworld. I walked up the declivitous slope, only praying that I make it through safely.
After hours of walking, I found myself at the gate of Hades. Slowly I walked in; an eerie emerald light seeped out of a pool in the center of the room. Parched from the journey, I sat down to quench my thirst. Looking into the pool, I saw two eyes looking back. Dumbfounded, I could only watch as a spiraling mist enveloped with turquoise luminescence arose from the water. The magnitude of the aqueous creature’s transparent features manifested down to the most meticulous detail.
“Do you not remember who I am?”
I shook my head.
“Take a better look,” it said.
Suddenly, I realized that it was my long-lost friend James. I could only stand there gaping, for I had not seen him since that fateful night so long ago. Millions of questions raced through my mind but all I could manage to ask him was how he was doing. My deceased friend simply shook his head and gave me that sheepish smile that I was so accustomed to.
“Here I am in the belly of the underworld, able to answer any question, and that’s what you ask me?”
Forgetting what state he was in, I attempted to embrace him but only found myself soaked in the water molecules that made up his being. Silence filled Hades house.
“James, I am here for a reason,” I began. “I need to know what happened to you that night. Your mother - she can’t sleep at night. She can’t rest until she knows what happened.”
James seemed to ponder over his response for a moment, his trademark smile nowhere to be found. He explained to me that on the way to my Christmas party he needed to pick up some last minute gifts, he stopped to refuel his car and heard screams. When he followed the noise to find its source, he saw a young boy being mugged. He explained that he went to help the boy but was unable to defend him from all the muggers.
“They shot me,” he said with half a wry smile. “They dumped my body in a river to get rid of my remains. I don’t want you to tell mom that; it will break her heart.”
“But what should I say?”
This time he did not respond. He began to descend into his emerald-colored pool with one last wink.
Needing to regain my composure, I found a nearby boulder to rest on. The granite underneath me began to rumble, and I felt like I was riding an electric bull. With the amount of force the rock exerted, I found myself getting slammed face-first into the ground. With a bloody nose impairing my vision, I could not see the extraordinary transformation that was unfolding right before my eyes.
The once inanimate object grew arms and legs out of its rocky exterior. Its face seemed to be carved by angels as it was chiseled to perfection.
“Who are you?” I apprehensively questioned.
“Mr. Watson, your old science teacher,” he croaked. My facial expressions gave way. “You don’t know why I came to you, do you?” my late instructor stated.
His granite jaws made a grinding sound as he began to speak. He spoke with such passion; even in the afterlife he still had a heart of gold. He told me how he was doing cancer research and was coming close to finding a cure. A breakthrough was so near that he could taste it.

“I want you to continue my legacy. I’ll give you all of my findings, all of my work. Please. Then, I can rest in peace knowing that my work didn’t go to waste.”
With that, he began to break apart, sending shards of rock in all different directions.
“Is there anyone else here?” I yelled.
With only my uncanny echo bouncing off of the condemned walls of the underworld as a response, I felt it was high time I got out of that hell hole. Frantically, I searched for any possible exit. Much to my dismay, my exit found me. A rippling crack decimated the stone floors. Splitting like the red sea, I easily fell through. While in the air, there was no past, present or future on my mind. I was completely immersed in the moment. Something stopped my free-fall in mid-air. I could see nothing but the blazing inferno below, waiting to devour me. A light breeze gently sailed my hovering body onto solid ground.
I was breathing heavily and shaking uncontrollably. Lurking shadows from all the dark corners fused together into a whirling caliginous cyclone. Wide-eyed and overcome with terror, I froze, completely at the mercy of this supernatural phenomenon.
“Do not be alarmed,” she soothingly reassured, “I am not here to do you harm.”
The prismatic dynamics of her shadowy figure brilliantly expressed the myriad shades of grey. Her wispy aura took the form of my mother.
“How are you dear?” she softly said. “I’ve missed you so!”
Her tears were black puffs that floated off her eyes. “There is something I never told you. I adopted you when you were a young boy. My sister Gina, your real mother, was an artist who wanted to work in Italy. Gina was the dark horse of the family; she always kept to herself. Time went by and she didn’t contact any of her family. Eventually I was sick with worry and had to see how she was. When I found her she was in a hysterical state. She seemed to be going insane as the house was upside down. It was on that same day that I found you. Your mother begged me to take care of you. She said that she wouldn’t be able to and wanted you to have a good life.”
I soaked in the groundbreaking news, completely flabbergasted. She went on to tell me that she had searched the underworld to see if Gina had died but had not found her.
“You must go to her. She’ll want to see you.”
I shook my head in agreement.“I will,” I said earnestly.
“For now, how do I get out of here?”
My adopted mother put her hand on the wall and tapped. Hesitantly, I walked through a violet vortex that was my portal to the outside world.
I was transported back to the dock where my demonic chaperon waited. As he rowed me back to the natural world, I reflected on what my supernatural companions had said. Each gave valuable information and tasks I must honor. I left the threshold of hell with a future full of adventure.

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