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Sarcasm in the Underworld
There are few things on Earth crueler than a 5:30 am January bike ride.
It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s early. You’re tired. No one is out, except for the one vehicle necessary to run you over in the middle of the dark because neither of you can see, think, or care about another human being properly. No knowledge of Earth-saving or gas-saving or “I have to do this or I’m not going to have a locker for second semester” are sufficient to make the ride bearable.
Also, I don’t know whose brilliant idea it was to make “Party in the USA” standard 5 am radio fare, but it’s stuck in my head, and I hate all of you.
In my everlasting brilliance, I’d forgotten a jacket and the light for my bike. Thus my thoughts ping-ponged between my hatred of myself, hatred of my school, hatred of biking, hatred of winter, hatred of Miley Cyrus, hatred of morning, hatred of lockers, hatred of bunnies and rainbows and happiness and did I mention that I hate my school?
This left me very little thinking room for where I was going.
There are exactly three turns in my ride to school. Go on B and turn onto Coloma. Go on Coloma and turn onto H. Go on H and turn onto I. A retarded six-year old could find their way through this. I know this, because I’d been going the same route since kindergarten. But I missed my turn onto H, and what do you know, I was lost.
I wasn’t even two miles from my house.
I slowed to a stop once I realized I’d missed my turn onto H, and was now well past J street. Lovely. I didn’t spend a lot of time past J Street, and it was dark, and I was too blind to see a white elephant tango parade, let alone a street sign.
Just turn around, Styles. Find H Street. This is not rocket science. This is not GPS-requiring activity. This is “Can you follow a straight line?” thinking.
But that’s how I think three weeks after the tragedy on ten hours of sleep. This is more how my thought process works on five hours of sleep:
Wow, I’m way past J Street. I think. What street am I on? Did I pass J? How the hell did I pass J Street without noticing it? It’s got four lanes of traffic and three-hour stoplights. There’s no way I’m that unobservant.
Yes. Yes, you are. Just admit it and move on.
I need to find a street sign.
It’s 5:45 am and you need to be at school in ten minutes. YOU DO NOT NEED A STREET SIGN.
I’m going to follow this random street twenty minutes away from my school until I find an intersection with a street sign.
The sad part is how this is just the begining of my Odyssey of Stupidity.
So, I started going in the general direction of my school, although on the wrong street, so of course I had to hit a dead end. The world just loves me that much.
I started to turn around, brilliantly lodged my front tire in a curbside drain, jerked up onto the handlebars, flipped over the handlebars, landed on my palm, which slid until I crashed onto my back, and just watched as my bike collapsed onto my face.
I think that morning was just 13 years of pent-up karma, right there.
I shoved my bike off my face and just sort of lay there for a good two minutes, knowing that I needed to stand up but in far too much pain to do much about that knowledge. My palm, wrist, arm, back, and most of my face were all vying to win “Most Ridiculously Painful,” but the “I’m Not Really That Stupid” part of my brain left them all in the dust.
At least I still had an arm.
I finally gained the courage to open my eyes and start to stand up. But everything looked the same.
Either the sun had died, or my bike had blinded me. Blinded me. I was...no. No way. I was not going to deal with this.
I thrust my hands in front of my face and could just barely see them, because apparently I’m so white I’m even visible to the blind. No. That was ridiculous. I wasn’t blind. My eyes didn’t even hurt; the bike had mostly scratched up my cheek and bashed up my nose.
So, we’re going to go with the “I blew up the sun” theory.
I stood up and pulled at my bike and started to walk forward very carefully. I couldn’t see much, but I could hear the difference. My footsteps echoed off a hollow, non-asphault-sounding ground, my bike chain rattled and echoed as well, and there were no sounds of cars, streetlights, buses, anything...silence. Everything sounded smaller and emptier.
Then there was light.
I faced a dim, circular room with no discernible ceiling. The hell. How was this possible? How? What on earth was I even looking¬-
Something growled at me.
I really can’t describe the effect that sound had on me. I could barely see anything, even with the dim light. I couldn’t see anything behind me. Somewhere, anywhere, there was some kind of horrible animal I couldn’t see, couldn’t locate, couldn’t track...
It’s a Chihuahua. It’s a Chihuahua. It’s not dangerous. Flipping out over nothing. It’s a chihuahua chihuahua chihuahua
It was a ten-foot tall, three-headed snarling dog. Ten foot tall. Three. Headed. Dog.
Columbia heard that scream.
I had no plan. I had a bike, but I couldn’t ride it away- I’d felt a dead end way back where I’d crashed. Could I use it as a weapon? How the hell do you use a bike as a weapon? Fling it at the dog? I was too weak to hoist that thing onto a flatbed, let alone throw it.
DID I MENTION THE DOG HAD THREE HEADS?
The dog was at the very edge of the circle of light at the ground. Was it not able to pass? Was I safe as long as I didn’t move forward?
Great. Stuck between a dead end and an angry three-headed dog. At 6 am with a broken face in the dark. Dreams really do come true!
I didn’t have a choice. I had to go forward. I didn’t know where I was, but I had to get out. And my only plan so far was forward.
My planning proccess is not exactly world-acclaimed.
I edged forward into the circle of light. The dog watched me and started growling but didn’t move forward. “Hello, doggy,” I said.
(That was about the extent of my getting-past-angry-dog plan.)
I continued walking forward. “It’s okay,” I said, really slowly and calmly. “No need to be alarmed.”
One head started barking. The other two were growling louder. I was about halfway across when I recognized the dog. Harry Potter. Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone! The dog was Fluffy! I was facing off against Fluffy!
No. No, this was not what I wanted to do with my morning. My goals this morning were get to school, get Miley Cyrus out of my head, get a locker. That was it. Those were my morning goals.
Rescuing the Sorcerers Stone was not one of my morning goals.
I vaguely remembered something about music and singing. Yes. I had to sing to the doggy. Sing to the doggy. Because I didn’t have enough signs of outright insanity.
So, I started to sing a stupid, non-“Party in the USA” song I’d heard on the radio this morning. I only knew about three lines to the chorus, so I sang those twice. My voice was as beautiful and lilting as an angel, if the angel in question happened to be a dying donkey with a sore throat.
The dog glared at me disdainfully and started growling, because the only thing my voice is good for is to coersion and torture.
My planning process still failing me, I started just making up my own lyrics after a while. “Oh, I’m such an amazing singer, I could probably annoy the deaf, I would like to kill my school now, there’s no rational reason to be awake at five in the morning...” Yes, I know I should be a professional. It’s really quite impressive.
The dog actually stopped growling, lay down, and put its head between its paws. Maybe it had realized the only way to get me to stop singing was to trick me into coming closer and then eating me.
These are not the problems I was supposed to have today.
I kept singing, and after a while the dog got up, moved over to the side, and made a whining noise. I took this as an encouraging gesture. There’s really no such thing as an encouraging gesture when one is dealing with a dog the size of my kitchen, but that’s where my budding insanity comes in.
I walked closer. Closer. Still not being eaten. Almost out of the circle of light. Just a few more steps. Holy crap, that dog is gigantic. Almost out. It hasn’t even looked at me. One more step. Please don’t eat me. Please don’t...
I took off at a run, which was sort of pointless because I was trying to beat a dog with legs the size of a telephone booth, but I did it anyway. The dog didn’t budge. I ran through another tunnel lit by the same ghostly paleness as the circle until I got tired (ten seconds) and realized the dog wasn’t chasing me (eleven seconds).
I...totally stopped at eleven seconds.
The tunnel was short, leading to a huge, dim carvern. I couldn’t make out much, mostly just a high ceiling and darkness and a river running to my left. The water was disgusting- dark and slimy and greasy- but very quiet. Everything was quiet.
Somehow I never imagined my career aptitude test coming back “Stupid Chick That Dies First in Horror Movie,” but I guess life is just full of surprises.
I stood there hating my life for a few seconds until a little rowboat pushed its way across. It was inhabited by the dingiest man I’d ever seen- small, with a scraggly beard and dirty clothing. He stared at me for a good minute or so, which was more than a little creepy, but it was better than getting eaten by a mutant dog.
“Well,” he said. “This is interesting.”
That wasn’t my first choice of words, but I let it slide.
“You aren’t dead,” he remarked.
“Yes,” I said, because despite my extensive mental library of snappy comebacks, this was not a remark I had ever thought to prepare for. “Yes, that is true.”
“You’re supposed to be dead,” he continued.
“Wow,” I said. “I didn’t realize the competition for top-lockers had realized assassination proportions.”
"Lockers? It has nothing to do with lockers. Do you seriously not know what this is?”
"I was imagining the lovechild of a very minimalist horror movie set and Bigfoot’s sewer system, but at this point I’ll take anything you throw at me.”
“You’re in Tartarus.”
I blinked at him for a few seconds before glancing around the room. “I’m in....tartar sauce?”
“Tartarus? Hell? I’m Charon? Is any of this ringing a bell?”
I tilted my head to the side. “My kindergarten teacher sent me to a Hell made of tartar sauce as punishment for listening to ‘Party in the USA’?”
I was so past surprise at this point, this actually seemed logical to me.
He gave an exhale of irritation. “No. I’m Charon, with a C, the ferryman of Tar-tar-us. There is no tartar sauce. And you’re not dead.”
“I have to admit I’ve never been in a conversation where I have to acknowledge my living status three times.”
“Why aren’t you dead?”
“You’re getting kind of creepy now.”
“I’m supposed to ferry dead souls from this world to the next. You aren’t dead. Go away.”
“I can’t. It’s a dead end.”
This is what my desperation for laughs has reduced me to.
“Where did you come from, anyway? And how did you get past Cerebrus? That stupid dog. He shouldn’t be letting in alive people.”
“Well, I missed my turn because I had Party stuck in my head, and then I got stuck and my bike fell on me, and then I started walking, and I saw the dog, and I sort of shrieked at him for a while, because I thought he was Fluffy, and he didn’t look really happy, so I sung louder, and he didn’t eat me.”
Charon gave me blank look.
“And that’s how I met your mother.”
The only way I could have made that explanation make any less sense.
“I....see. But dead end or not, you still can’t come this way.”
“Well....I might consider it...but there is a fee.”
“What’s the fee?”
“One gold drachma.”
I blinked at him uncomprehendingly. “One....gold...what?”
“Drachma. That’s the payment.”
“I don’t even know what that is.”
“I know you don’t. That’s why I’m offering it. Now go away and leave me alone. I have a job to do.”
“Is it a kind of money?”
“It’s Ancient Grecian money.”
“Money? Seriously? What in God’s good name could you possibly need money for in Hell?”
“Is Forever 21 down that River of Tar you got going on there?
He gave me a little glare. “It costs one drachma.”
“Why don’t you get a credit card instead of this cash nonsense? Get some frequent flyer miles? You could take a nice overseas vacation once a year. It’s gotta suck, working down here in tartar sauce. ”
“If only Greece had stuck with this drachma business, we could have avoided this whole Eurozone crisis. Is that why you collect them? A reminder of a world that could have been? Or do you just like being a jerk?”
Charon turned around to face me, looking angry. “Look. I don’t know who you are, or why you’re here, but I can’t help you. Go away. Go bother someone else.”
“I don’t have anyone else to bother. It’s a dead end back there.”
“Of course it is. You can’t just leave the Underworld.”
“I can’t leave? You have to take me across the river? You acknowledge this? Well, then, what the hell are you doing?”
“So you’re saying you want to die?”
“I’m saying that my options are either to die, or sit here and bother you for a really, really long time.”
He stared at me for a few seconds.
“A really, really, really long time.”
He glanced back at his boat and then at me, an unfortunate expression on his face.
“A reaally, really-“
“Alright, alright, I get the point. Get in the boat.”
I edged closer to the River of Tar I was presented with and surveyed my current position. The boat was about a foot in front of me but a foot and a half down, which made stepping into it somewhat tricky.
"Are you coming or what?"
Rather than do something sensible, like, say, sit down and ease myself into the small boat sitting on a river that made waste treatment facilities look like Caribbean vacation spots, I decided to jump into the boat.
No. No, I am not smart enough to live.
For a river that looked like it contained more garbage more water, that boat sure did buck a lot. It jerked to both sides, knocked me around a bit, and almost capsized about four times, but I managed to remain sewer-river-water free.
"It's a boat," Charon said sourly. "Not a trampoline."
"Trampolines are the best," I said, always in the mood for pointless commentary.
Charon pushed off from the bank and we began our long, slow journey down Garbage River, which had to be one of the most scenic arenas I'd seen in my life. We sailed through the Land of Tartar Sauce, which was composed of a dark, moist cave full of people being tortured. There was a man tied to a spinning wheel while things were flung at him, a giant bird excavating a guy's stomach, some Hulk of a man pushing a giant rock up a hill, someone playing peek-a-boo with an orange tree...
We don't have a lot of entertainment in Sacramento, okay.
"Who's that?" I asked after one of the first.
"Hrmh," Charon grunted.
"That's a cool name."
"I though his name was Hrmh?"
"Now you're just screwing with me."
Eventually, however, this beautiful ride came to an end. Charon pulled up to the bank and grabbed on, steadying the boat so I could step away.
"Here," he said. "Go away."
I peered into the expanse he'd deposited me at. It looked like a dark, moist cave.
"What is this?" I asked.
I tilted my head to the side, contemplating. "This isn't an exit point, is it?"
"I told you, stupid girl, there is no exit point. You can either get off here or you can drown yourself in the river. I'm not taking you any farther."
"Are they going to tie me to a giant wheel and throw torches at me if I get off here?"
There are some questions that are just essential.
"I don't know and I don't care."
"You have twenty seconds to get off my boat before I drown you myself."
"Can you really drown someone in Hell, though?"
"I will find a way."
His tone was plenty convincing. I stood up in the boat, sending it rocking like mad again. I lost my balance, started to trip, and tumbled unceremoniously onto the bank of the river.
Charon let go of the side and started paddling away from me about as fast as he could.
The stones I'd fallen on were uneven and pocketed, sharp enough to scrape up my arms. They hurt, but there was no blood. I almost cared enough to wonder if this was due to the effects of a Hell made of tartar sauce, but then I remembered that I was currently stuck in a Hell made of tartar sauce and I had problems approximately twenty million times bigger than being an AP student.
All I wanted was a locker...
I stood up and began to walk away from the water. I didn't know where I was going. I never knew where I was going. All I knew was that I was incredibly screwed, and there was pretty much no way to undo my screwed-ness, so I might as well just keep screwing myself and see what happened.
Somehow this had never been the best life philosophy.
The darkness began to lessen as I walked, but the light was sourceless. I saw no lanterns, no skylights, no christmas decorations- all I knew was that I could see. The stones of the walkway became more ordered and polished as well, from random shards of greyish concrete to neat squares of a shiny black stones. The walls changed likewise, from "hobo bathroom alley" decor to that same polished stone.
Also, there were skulls lining the walls. I don't know what kind of skulls they were or how so many morons had dragged their physical bodies to this hellhole, but they were there, and they were creepy.
I really should have drowned myself in the river and just been done with it.
I didn't have to walk for more than three or four minutes before the lovely dark carvenous tunnel thing became an even lovelier dark cavernous room thing. Here, the shiny dark stone was perfectly complemented by two tall shiny dark chairs with two disconcertingly tall shiny dark people.
Seriously. Those peeps were at least twelve feet tall.
For a few seconds, no one said anything. They gave me death stares. I gave them intimidated stares. They gave me more death stares. I mentally gave my bike about eight hundred death threats.
"Yo," I finally said. "What's up?"
I really suck at being intimidated.
"Who are you?" boomed the voice of the tall shiny dark person on the left.
"The Ghost of Christmas Future," I said.
Introductions have never really been my thing.
The tall shiny dark people glanced at each other confusedly. "We have a Ghost of Christmas Future?" the shiny dark woman on the right asked.
"I think she's making it up," said the man, giving me a suspicious look.
"Yeah, I'm making it up. I'm not a ghost. I'm totally alive, and really lost, like unbelievably lost, and I swear my only goal here is to get out, okay?"
They gave me some more death stares.
"Man, you guys can really hold those facial expressions."
"You're lost?" said the man.
"Yeah, I just kind of...appeared here. And I don't want to be here. I really want to be at home right now."
"Where did you 'just appear'?"
"In a room with a giant dog."
"You got past the dog?"
"Then you met Charon?"
"That obnoxious bastard? Yeah."
"And you convinced him to ferry you here?"
"Yeah. Y'all think you could get him to stop making people pay with twenty-six hundred year old money, or is that just a wash?"
The man's expression had become slightly less suspicious and slightly more contemplative. "For someone just trying to get home, you managed to venture quite far into the heart of the Underworld."
"I won't say I'm the universe's most strategically-minded person."
"It's impressive, I would say. I don't have too many meetings with living mortals in my lair here."
Yes, children, this what being the worst navigator on the planet will get you. Praise from the Lord of the Underworld.
My values are so screwed up I'm not even sure if i'm supposed to be proud of this or not.
"I am quite fantastic, yes."
"However did you manage such a feat?"
By being the most obnoxious person alive.
"I have my ways."
It's hard to make this sound appropriately mysterious when you're facing two people literally more than twice as tall as you.
The woman was not satiated by this answer. "What ways?"
"Ways-ish ways," I answered, because even three years of AP cannot fix my BS-ing abilities.
"I demand to know your strategy for penetrating my realm!" the man demanded.
"Um..." I said. "Deceptive idiocy?"
(Sometimes I like to pretend it's only deceptive idiocy.)
"That's not an answer. How did you enter?!"
The man leaned back in his chair and tapped his fingers together in an honest-to-god Mr. Burns imitation. "You don't want to answer my question, hm?"
"I don't really have an answer to your question. I didn't do anything special to get here. I just want to go home, and there was only way to go, so I came here."
"So...you began your journey wanting to get away from the Underworld..."
"And to accomplish this you walked straight into it?"
"You've detailed my thought process perfectly."
There was a confused pause.
"What is...wrong with you?"
"We don't really know, but whatever it is, there's one hell of a lot of it."
The woman sighed. "I have to tell you, this is disappointing. Do you know the last living soul to wander in here? It was a man by the name of Orpheus. When his wife was taken, he sailed to the ends of the earth to find her. He came to the Underworld to find her. He sang with such pain, such beauty, such sweetness, we could not deny him his love. Not Cerebrus, not Charon, not I, not even my husband."
"Yeah...I'm just really lost."
"We're unimpressed," the woman said.
"Well..." I said, realizing that my life and freedom were probably going to depend on my ability to make my life sound impressive.
I had a feeling my life and freedom were not going to last more than about twelve seconds.
"My talent might not be as obvious as this Orpehus," I said. "But that doesn't mean it isn't just as useful."
"You don't have a talent," the man said. "Being really lost is not a talent."
Sometimes I get my point across a little bit too well.
"I didn't get here just by being really lost," I said slowly, my mind frantically trying to dredge up any reserve BS. "I used skills as well. I got past that steroid-popping Rottweiler y'all got sitting out there, didn't I? That takes skills, doesn't it?"
I had no idea if that took skills or not. I'd just kind of shrieked at it and ran.
The two were back to death stares.
"And...and then there's Charon. You think I got his services from brute force? I'm a thirteen year old girl. I'm not overpowering anyone."
"I never denied what you did wasn't impressive," said the woman. "But I have a feeling you got here from pure luck, no kind of talent. And I have no desire to reward pure luck."
Wow, she's a sharp one.
"You insult me," I said.
"You spent twenty minutes making sarcastic remarks about the Ghost of Christmas Future and deceptive idiocy," the woman snapped. "You're nothing but a huge, steaming pot of insults."
Oh my god, she's right.
Suddenly, it all came together, everything I'd done in Tartarus, this morning... everything I'd done my entire life. I wasn't impressive? I wasn't extraordinary? Who were they to say I wasn't extraordinary, it was pure luck? Who was anyone to say that I couldn't do anything, I failed at everything, that I was worth just nothing?
They were wrong. I was worth almost nothing.
But I was talented. I had a talent. It wasn't at cunning, creativity, or BS-ing. It wasn't at navigation, coordination, or social graces. It wasn't anything as ordinary as all that.
I looked at the tall, dark, shiny people in the eye and stated, "I am the Queen of Sarcasm."
They were unimpressed.
"You have too many titles," the man said.
"The Ghost of Christmas Future is only part of it," I said. "The Queen of Sarcasm is my true title. My true existence. Do you want to know how I got past the dog? I sang sarcastic songs at him. Do you want to know how I got Charon to deposit me here? I annoyed him with sarcastic comments. Do you know why I'm still standing here talking to you?"
"No," the man said. "No, I really don't."
"It's because I am the Queen of Sarcasm."
They glanced at each other again, eyebrows slightly raised. I knew that look. It was the "I think she might be legitimately crazy" look.
I knew that look well.
"Now send me home," I said, feeling extremely confident for reasons I can neither explain nor fathom.
"Do you have a kingdom, or is this just..." the man said.
"I have a domain," I said.
"You have a domain," the woman repeated.
"Domains are better than kingdoms," I said. Wow, Life Science actually is useful for something.
"Domains are better than kingdoms," she said. "Did you hear that, Hades? She rules more than a kingdom. She rules a domain."
I knew that tone well, too.
"Send me back to my domain," I said, "I implore you."
They gave each other another one of those looks my English teachers are really good at.
"And if I don't send you back to your domain?" asked the man. "Do I get rid of annoying little girls forever and ever?"
I'll admit I hadn't really thought this through.
"No," I said. "That would...that would be very bad."
The man did his Mr. Burns impression again.
"I'll tell you what," he said. "I'll give you the same deal I gave Orpheus."
My heart did a nuclear meltdown impression.
"All you must do to leave is walk out. I'll remove whatever obstruction gave you a dead end at the start. You must simply walk to the river, take Charon's boat, and walk past Cerebrus, all without glancing back."
This sounded awesome.
"Or saying a word."
This sounded impossible.
"Until you stand in the light. If you do otherwise...the punishment will be severe."
"Now get the f*** out of my domain."
I turned around and walked out. I walked past the room, the tunnel, the skulls, the stone, until I faced the river. Charon was waiting for me.
"I cannot believe you're still alive," he said.
I sat on the side of the bank, slid carefully into the boat, and said nothing.
"I would have locked you in Tartarus for sure."
I settled into my seat, sat up straight, and said nothing.
The boat meandered down the river, past sight after sight, torture after torture, gruesome existence after gruesome existence. I stared straight ahead, did not see them, and said nothing.
The ride ended exactly where I'd run from Cerebrus so many hours ago. Charon grabbed onto the bank.
"Well, so long, annoying girl."
I evaluated the bank out of the corner of my eye.
"You were pretty...different, that's for sure."
I stood up and balanced myself carefully.
I stepped onto the bank, stared straight ahead, and said nothing.
I walked through the short tunnel Cerebrus had chased me through before. He was lying at the beginning of it, blocking visitors, but moved to the side when he saw me.
I walked forward, looked straight ahead, did not see my bike, and tripped over it.
I was centimeters away from the light.
I coughed and fell to my knees, crouching in the center of the light. I couldn't stop coughing, shaking, falling. I crumpled further, spreadeagled on my stomach.
Then it stopped.
And I wasn't dead.
I sat up uncertainly. It was light. It was J Street. It was a dead end, and there was a crappy bike lying next to me.
AND I WASN'T DEAD!
I stood up and dusted myself off. It was afternoon, and I was newly locker-less and bike-less, but I was alive, and that was what mattered. I'd annoyed my way through hell and back. I'd made sarcastic evasive remarks to the Lord of the Underworld. I'd truly becaome "The Queen of Sarcasm." And that was what mattered.
"I did not think it was possible to be this happy to see Sacramento," I said.
I spoke, but there was no sound.
I coughed. I spoke again. I screamed. I sang. I looked like an insane person.
None of it mattered.
It can't. Not...not a centimeter. Millimeters! Half a word? How could that possibly matter?
And I would never speak again.