Traveling to the Underworld is a lot easier and harder than I’d expected. All you have to do is drive an hour down the highway at full speed and make a sharp left turn at Albuquerque and Boom! You’re there.
I’ve never been there before. Obviously.
I’m there now.
It’s where I must go.
My beloved wife is there. She isn’t supposed to be there. Not yet. Not now.
Not ever. Or so I wish.
I slow to a meandering speed of sixty miles an hour and ease on by the enormous three headed dog guarding the entrance.
That was too easy. I should be worried about how easy that was. But I’m not. I’m just gonna go with the assumption that Doggie Three-Head has never seen anyone willingly drive themselves into the Underworld.
I don’t look back to see if he? they? it? …..
(I really don’t know what pronoun to use. That guard dog could very well be a girl for all I know. Ehh, I’ll be politically wrong and go with he.)
So, I don’t look back to see if he is chasing me. I know better than that.
I drive all the way to the central hall and stop my car.
Music fills the air. Rich, warm violin music that sings of peace. Cellos that can break your heart. Soft, gentle woodwinds that speak of lost love. I know I should stay in my car, but the music pulls and tugs at me and I can’t resist.
I get out of the car and walk to the center of the room. The music fills me with comfort and joy. Yet, tears stream down my face and I don’t even know why.
I close my eyes and let the music tide and pull around me.
Until it is gone.
I open my eyes and rub away my tears.
Hades stands before me in his black mourning cloak and his crown of black irises. “You should not be here.” His voice is heavy with the scent of funeral flowers.
“Why are you here?”
“I have come for my wife. She doesn’t belong here. Not now.”
His expression saddens. “All who enter my realm enter it in their rightful time. All except you.”
“I want her back.”
“How much do you want her? What will you give me in exchange?”
I hadn’t even considered it. “I love her.”
How can a person answer a question like that? Love is love. You can’t put a number or a price on it. But somehow I must. “I love her with all my heart.”
“Then, I will take your heart.”
“No! That is too steep a price.”
“Then, I will take your child.”
I think of Cora. Beautiful, feisty, red-headed joy. How could I surrender her to this place? But I have nothing more valuable than her. “I can’t just give her to you. My wife would hate me.”
“Then, your wife can never leave.” He turns and walks away.
“Wait! Can’t we compromise?”
He looks back at me. His expression is cold. “You are not willing.”
“I am. Make me an offer.”
“I have made you two.”
“Then, make one more. And make it one I can agree on.”
He returns to me. “Very well. Give me your daughter for six months of the year and I will give her to you for the remaining six.”
“For how long?”
He seems surprised by my question. “For the rest of her life, of course.”
I almost say yes. But then I stop and imagine her going throughout her life like that. Who would hire someone who can only work six months of the year? And what if she were to get married? No. “It isn’t fair.”
“I thought you said you wanted to compromise.”
“I do, but I can’t make that decision for her. It’s wrong.”
“You’re being too difficult.”
“I can’t help it. This is my child’s life that we’re talking about.”
He frowns for a bit. And then he smiles. “Then, go. Take your wife back to the Living World.”
“Take her home. Be happy. Be well.”
“Huh? What’s the catch?”
“Oh, there is no catch. Just be careful when you leave.”
“If you’re going to sic three-headed Fido on us—”
“No. Just remember that you cannot look back as you are leaving. No matter what you hear. No matter what you think. And same for your wife.”
“Oh.” I frown. “Is that all?”
His smile grows unnerving. “Yes.” He disappears and my wife, my beloved wife, stands in his place.
Neither of us speaks. We just hug and kiss and weep joyfully. Sometimes that is the only thing to do.
We get back into the car.
I throw the car into reverse.
I hear that music again.
She whispers a soft, “Oh!”
I squeeze her hand. “Don’t look back. No matter what. Promise me you won’t look back.”
Tears fall. Down her face and down mine.
But I clench my teeth and step on the accelerator. “We’re gonna get out of this snake oil joint.”
The violins are a warm blanket.
“We’re going home.”
The cellos are hot chocolate with new marshmallows.
“Just keep looking forward.”
The woodwinds are a soft feather pillow.
The car zooms out of the central hall.
The music chases us, entangles us, begs us to look back one last time.
I want to look back, but I don’t.
She’s sobbing, but she doesn’t look back.
“We’re almost there. Almost there. Almost—”
Fido is sprawled out in the entrance, completely blocking it off.
I don’t stop to think. I keep my foot on the accelerator.
We fly towards Hades’ dog at full speed.
He stands up. All three heads look down at us.
All three heads snarl, snap, and nip at my car.
The roof is torn off.
The windshield is cracked.
One. Two. Three. Four windows smashed.
I try to maneuver around his large legs and succeed. Until he stomps one of his hind paws on my hood.
We’re whiplashed from the sudden stop. I’m surprised that we aren’t dead. But we are in the Underworld. Maybe things just work differently down here.
My wife opens her door and pulls me out. We duck and dodge around Fido, managing not to get trampled into mashed beans.
We run to the entrance, hand in hand, without any further doggie interference. I don’t know where Fido is, but I am not looking back.
The entrance is so close.
The music ends.
Then, I hear, “Mom? Dad?” Back there. Behind us.
We stop in our tracks.
“Help me! I don’t want to be here. Help me!”
“It’s a trick.”
She looks up at me. “What if it isn’t?”
“It is. It has to be.”
Cora cries. “Mom! Look at me. If you look at me, he’ll let me go. Please.”
The anguish that I feel is reflected in my wife’s face.
“We can’t…My baby.”
“Dad! Dad, please look at me. Please! Just one look. That’s all.”
My little girl. My little Cora. I think of her laughing with her friends. I remember holding little baby her in my arms. What if it isn’t a trick? How can I walk away from her? How can I leave her behind?
I look ahead.
The entrance is right there.
Just a small amount of steps ahead of us.
“Please. Just look at me.”
What if it is her? My little girl. Trapped in the Underworld.
“Orfaeo, if it is her…”
If it is her..
I look down at her.
I look down at my wife and I understand.
“I love you, Eurydice.”
“I love you too.”
We both look back.
My beloved Eurydice is gone.
And I stand outside of the Underworld all alone.