Underworld Inconveniences

September 28, 2013
Thomas was dead. He was pretty sure because whenever he tried to poke himself, his hand just went through. Oh, and he also thought so because he was standing in line with a sign that said, “Death ahead. Proceed with caution.” A little too late for that, he thought.

He was dearly annoyed at the moment. The line was pretty long—who knew people could die so much and so fast?—and it didn’t help that the person behind him kept jostling into him. Literally. It was an odd feeling and he disliked it. Finally, Thomas turned around and yelled angrily, “Will you quit it already?” without properly looking at who it was. He felt a twinge of guilt when he saw an old, short lady with sunken eyes that looked to be the age of about 90. However, that twinge of guilt went away when the old lady yelled just as loudly, “Young man, I will not tolerate your insolence! Didn’t your mother ever teach you to respect your elders?!?” She waved her wooden cane in front of his face. “You’re lucky this will just go through you or you would have had a mark by now!”

Thomas Parks made a face to himself and turned around. He was not young; he was 36 years old, with his birthday arriving just next month! Well, okay… maybe he was pretty young considered to her.

After what may have been an eternity, he arrived at the front of the line, where a wooden podium stood, with a girl behind it. She looked to be about the age of 19, with messy brown hair and a ripped, bleeding leg.

“Are you okay?” he hesitantly asked. Did she even feel pain? Half of her right leg was torn apart, and here she was, unceremoniously chewing her tropical flavoured bubble gum with her mouth open.

The girl scoffed in response and pointed at him accusingly with the pen in her hand. “You misfits are always, like, asking that when you get here. Do you have like nothing else to do with your life? Geez.”

He opened his mouth, then closed it again, utterly speechless. Was being nice a crime in the Underworld? He wasn’t entirely sure anymore.

“What a fish.” she mumbled under her breath before thrusting the pen into his hand, only for it to fall through and drop to the ground. Oh yeah, he was dead; his day was going lovely so far. “Oh my god, did they seriously not make you physical yet?” Looking exasperatedly upwards, she exclaimed, “What am I? Like, the only person working here now?”

Thomas glanced upwards too, but all he saw were large—like bigger-than-him-large—, sharp stalactites. He would have been afraid of being impaled if he wasn’t already dead.

The teen practically shoved a pill into his mouth and he instinctively swallowed, before a thought came into his head: what if the girl was poisoning him because he was too troublesome? Oh wait, HE WAS DEAD ALREADY. She proceeded to give him a form (this time it didn’t go through his hand) and then pointed to the pen on the ground. “Fill it out, sign it, then give it back, okay?” she said slowly, as if his brain had died, not him.

He wanted to tell her that he didn’t understand. He wanted to tell her to shove off. He wanted to tell her that he wanted to be here as much as she did and that he didn’t choose to die; it just happened. But instead, he picked the pen off the floor, filled out his information, checked off the ‘mediocre’ box as his chosen line, signed it, and then handed it back.

“Next,” the girl gnawed on her gum monotonously. He continued through the dark hallway until the end brightened and he found himself standing beside a guy who manned what looked like a tourist bus. All the seats except for the last one at the front were filled with transparent people like him.

“My name’s Hermes.” He wore winged sandals and a winged cap, along with a caduceus staff.

He was about to say his name too, but then the guy interrupted him by saying, “Yes yes, I know what you were about to ask and the answer’s yes. I am, indeed, the amazing and handsome god of messengers, travelers, thieves, etcetera etcetera. We would be standing here all day if I told you all my wonderful titles.”

Hermes yawned on his face and he swore he smelled sweet maple syrup. “Sorry!” he laughed it off, although Thomas was not amused at all. “Haven’t been sleeping for a few centuries now; too much work to be done.” he sighed, his tone ending on a sad note.

He perked up again in a heartbeat. “Well go on then, hop on the bus, everybody’s waiting and we’ve got to be crack-a-lacking eggs.” He asked himself: “Is that how it goes?”

Thomas hopped onto the only vacant seat on the bus, which happened to be right behind the talkative god, unfortunately.

“So what’s your name, lad? You forgot to mention.”

I didn’t forget, he thought with a grumpy face.

Hermes brightened when Thomas said his full name. “Hey, you wouldn’t happen to be related to Rosa Parks, have you?” he asked eagerly, moving his head too close for comfort to Thomas.

The poor dead guy outright gaped. He did not seriously believe that this was a legitimate question, asked by a god, no less. He did not bear any whatsoever resemblances to the civil rights activist. He did not have her nose or her eyes or her ears. There was even that minor difference that Rosa Parks was African American and he was Caucasian! “Un-unfortunately not…” he blundered.

“Aw, rats!” he slumped in disappointment.

Rats? Did I hear rats!? Where! Thomas looked around for the person who was talking, but it seemed as if it was coming from his mind. Was he going crazy? Ehem, crazier? Suddenly, the winged snakes on Hermes’ caduceus began to move around. I’m craving some rats too! another voice added. Would he be put into an after death psychiatric hospital if he said that the two snakes were talking?

“Shut up,” Hermes told his stick. “I don’t even know why I bother to carry both of you around these days.

“Anyway,” he continued, one hand on the wheel, both eyes on Thomas (he was certain they would crash at some point). “Rosa Parks was an amazing woman, that she was! Had some really great stories about sitting on seats—just a lovely woman. Orange seats, yellow seats, blue seats, white seats, just lovely.”

Thomas turned to the person beside him and found him nodding along contentedly to what the god was saying. Someone had even begun to mumble in a sing-song voice: “Seats, seats, seats…”

Thomas shook his head, and could not wait for the ride to be over. However, he regretted thinking that because almost immediately, the bus trampled over a particularly large rock, and careened sharply into a boulder on the side of the road. A few people screamed even though all were dead, and smoke spiraled upwards from the engine. Hermes turned around to face the occupants of the bus with a sheepish look.

“Well, what now?” Thomas gritted out moodily.

The god pointed to the river that was about 500 meters out. “C-Charon’s boat is on the River Styx, over there.”

He got out of the bus and stomped towards where the god was pointing, and eventually all the other dead people followed him. “Charon, please just take me to where I need to be.” He half-pleaded in desperation.

Charon wore a black cloak over his cold bones and pale face, and he slouched low in his seat. He gestured for everyone to get on, before he began rowing in the front. A dim light hung eerily at the back of the boat, finally making everything look like the Underworld it was expected to be. Thomas was beginning to get a little scared. “Thomas Parks, the Underworld in itself is a journey that one goes through after death.” he rasped in a quiet whisper. “Detours are necessary.”

This one seems sane, but now he’s sprouting philosophical advice, Thomas thought warily.

“Your consciousness and wit seem to have not faded quite yet,” he noted. Was it weird that the only other sane person was a transparent skeleton that rowed boats for dead people? He thought so.

Thomas furrowed his eyebrows in thought. “What do you mean?” He turned to look at the person beside him and noticed something he did not see before; a vacant, calm smile was seen on almost all of the people on the boat, not at all perturbed by the black swirling waters below or the filthy dead dirt above. They barely chatted, but when they did, they aimlessly talked about trivial stuff as if dying was a normal day to day activity.

Charon continued to row, switching from one side to the other occasionally to stay in line. “The Underworld is a strange place. It dulls the senses; everyone always feels calm when they realize they are dead here. It makes you absolutely insane and neither Hermes nor Hades can avoid it. In the confines of a dark, deep, endless cave, everyone eventually becomes mad.” A somewhat deranged smile slowly creped onto Charon’s features as he said this and a shiver ran through Thomas’ spine.

Thomas was wrong. He was so very, very wrong. Everyone here was absolutely lunatics and if he was the only normal one, then that meant he was the mad one, not everyone else. That was how it went, right?

The conversation ended there, for although he had many questions swirling in his mind, he dared not ask anymore. Five awkward, silent minutes later, they arrived at shore and Thomas was herded to a line to be judged.

One of the judges walked up to him and placed what seemed like a metal popcorn bowl on top of his head. He couldn’t see anything, but it didn’t matter because memories of his life began to flash before his life, quite literally. He was seven, playing with his telescope. He was thirteen, pushing a scrawny boy onto the floor of his school hallway. He was sixteen, dancing with his crush, Sarah, at the school dance. He was nineteen, taking a winter road trip across the country with his best friend. He was twenty one, marrying Sarah, kissing her lovingly. He was twenty nine, and their marriage was falling apart. He was thirty five, and his fourteen year old son hated him for never being there. And then finally, he was thirty six and a car careened into him on the way to his nine-to-five accounting job.

After a minute of conversing monotonously, they agreed, “Mediocre.” and shooed him out.

It frightened Thomas that the judges were apathetic to everything. They had just went through his entire life, labeled him as boring and sent him away. It made him so mad, and so hopeless, and he had always known the truth. What had he lived for? He died a boring death and lived a boring life.

As he left the judging table, he encountered the wretched old woman with the wooden cane again. “Oh darn, not you again…” he groaned.

“YOU IMPERTINENT BOY!” she roared, brandishing her cane in menace. Thomas instinctively ran—or quickly drifted, rather, since his legs were a little misty at the moment—away.

The old woman chased him all the way through the waiting hallway (there seemed to be a lot of waiting in death), the hallway of famed deaths, the amphitheatre (where Charlie Chaplin was performing), and Hades’ not-so-humble abode.

He ran to the ‘mediocre’ line and wished to everything and anything that the lady wouldn’t get through. For once during this whole journey, he was given a miracle. Just as the lady stepped over the red-markered line, loud sirens wailed and two police skeletons escorted the lady away, towards the villain line. She bashed her wooden cane against the skeleton’s heads, shouting, “I’M CHRISTIAN, I SHOULD GO TO HEAVEN!” but it did not faze them at all. Thomas did not know how being a Christian would make a difference here if the Underworld was Greek. He felt sixteen and rebellious again. He made a point of making an ‘L’ sign with his right hand at her. Loser. She growled like a wolf before disappearing around the bend.

“Some of us are Christian too, but you don’t see us throwing ourselves everywhere,” the person in front of him grumbled. He’s missing a leg and both arms, Thomas absentmindedly noted. Did a dog eat him or something?

Somewhere in the hero line, a huge siren went off with lights flashing on top of the machine that looked like a metal detector. “I-I’m dead, I swear!” somebody yelled as two skeleton soldiers dragged him away. Nobody else paid attention and he couldn’t help but laugh. Who tries to go to the Underworld when they’re not dead yet?

As he passed the metal detector and the skeleton soldiers waved him away, a three-headed dog that was at least a hundred times bigger than him wagged its tail and sat down on the ground, conveniently on half of the people waiting in line. The ghosts went right through, although it probably didn’t feel very nice. He was certainly glad that wasn’t him, for he could smell the wet dog scent that emanated from it. “C’mon Cerberus, catch the bone!” a kid yelled from below, and a mini earthquake occurred as the dog’s paws pounded against the ground.

It was too bad he had already arrived at the entrance to the Asphodel Meadows, where all the ghosts sat still and unwavering in an endless array of Asphodel flowers. He heard the scream of people being tortured in The Fields of Punishment, and the laughter of children from nearby Elysium. He was just beginning to get used to the madness. He quite liked the insanity. But now, just as his life had been taken abruptly away from him, the madness will go away too. And Boring was his middle name, once again.

He had made it, and it seemed sort of bittersweet that after all the work that he had done to get here, he was just going to spend the rest of eternity sitting in a field; without activity; without pleasure; without future.

But at least he had one last adventure to end all adventures.

Thomas Parks walked into The Fields of Asphodel.

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Corinelle said...
Oct. 1, 2013 at 5:50 pm
I liked how you incorporated the different mythological icons. It was interesting.
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