While Hades waited for Pliny to arrive, he pulled up the security network on his laptop. If this Quintus Laevinus had ever been here, he should show up in the webcam archives. Clicking on the folder marked Propylaia, he merrily mused about how he was glad to have installed these cameras. They were quite useful. He couldn’t believe it took the mortals almost 2000 years to catch up on the technology.
In short order, he found the proper day and timestamp and began playing back the video. He saw Quintus, just as described, walking to the edge of the river. When he notices everyone else producing coins from beneath their tongue for the fare, he probed his mouth with a grimy finger. But Quintus had no coin. Afraid of what Charon might do to him without a coin, the poor man sadly walked away.
Part of Hades felt bad for the man, but the business side of him scoffed at another deadbeat lying in a shallow grave. Before he could watch any farther, Pliny was shown into the office by Charon. Hades pressed the pause button and watched the ancient philosopher walk in, still dressed in the ancient robes and sandals of his office. Though, for some reason, he had affected the habit of wearing socks, too.
Hades pushed the fashion faux pas from his mind and addressed the philosopher. “So Pliny, it says here you were the Case Worker on this file.” Tapping his name on the paper for emphasis.
“Yes, Sir. It appears so. Is there a problem?”
“A problem? A problem?!? Yeah, the guy never arrived 1900 years ago and the text is written in Latin. That’s the problem.”
“But sir, that was the language of the gods. Even you spoke it. All the records were written in Latin.”
Hades rolled his eyes. “Yeah, well the language is deader than you are. Don’t you think I may have brain dumped it after all these years?”
Sliding the folder across the desk, Hades demanded, “Ugh…stop humming already and tell me what it says.
Obediently, Pliny began to read the story:
At one time in the city of Athens, there was a large two-story villa. Built of stone with a wood thatched roof, it had a spacious open-air courtyard containing a working fountain and a beautiful garden. Despite its grandeur, it eventually became regarded with ill-repute. Some even suggested it was filled with a pestilence.
Often in the dead of night if anyone were attentive, they would hear faint sounds resembling the clashing of iron. At first, the residents thought it was the local blacksmith trying to keep up with ongoing campaigns of Roman conquest. When the blacksmith was questioned in the market, he assured the owners that he maintained respectable hours and it wasn’t he who was causing these nocturnal disturbances.
Over time, the perplexed residents of the villa began listening more carefully. Soon, they realized the sound was more like the rattling of chains. The noise would seem to be coming from a distance away, but it would start coming closer…and closer…and closer—louder with each increment.
One evening, the men of the villa were resolute in determining the source of this puzzling occurrence. They lit the oil lamps and headed to the front room. They sat their woven mats on the mosaic floor around a Tavli board carved into the floor. They decided to pass the time until the sounds returned by quietly casting the bones. They had scarcely finished their second round of a game of Plakoto, when the rattle of chains returned.
The men leaped to their feet and grabbed their lamps. The villa cats hissed and raised their hackles as their backs arched, before skittering off to their hiding spots. The father raised a finger to his mouth to remind the boys to remain quiet. Directing them to follow, he slowly paced his way in the direction of the oncoming noise.
They didn’t have to go very far. Approaching through the courtyard, the specter resembling an old man appeared shuffling. He was extremely emaciated and squalid in appearance. Rotting leaves and dirt clung to his skin and twigs protruded from his long beard and bristling, disheveled hair. As he shuffled towards the men in the courtyard, he raised his shackled arms above his head and let loose a low, guttural moan.
The men dropped their lamps, allowing burning oil to spread across the cobblestone walkway. Without a second glance, they retreated inside and barred the door with a large wooden beam. In the haze of the burning oil, the specter disappeared, presumably back to his resting place. The distressed residents spent many sleepless nights in the villa with nowhere to go.
Each night, the specter would return, its frustration growing with each appearance. The wails of the old man would echo through the hallways as the chains dangling from his manacles clanged down the mosaic tiled floors. Sometimes, he would send pottery shattering to the ground. Other times, he would linger in the bedrooms of the family, beckoning them to come towards him. The unimaginable and dismal terrors the family endured kept them without sleep.
After many nights of broken rest, their health was ruined and they were struck with symptoms presumably from distemper—as the horrors in their minds increased, they were led steadily on the path towards death. There was no respite for the family, even in the daytime when the ghost did not appear. The terrors lingered in their memory and their imagination. Visions of nightmares passed before their eyes as though it were reality. Within a short time, the family and even the servants all perished from disease or fled in madness.
The villa was abandoned to the ghost and presumed damned to be uninhabitable for several years. In time, the hushed whispers about the town faded. The story of the unfortunate family and the poltergeist became no more than a fanciful legend told over a jug of wine. The ownership of the property remained with the family, but no one moved in, knowing full well the legacy of the property.
Early in the third year of the rule of Trajan, a relative, possibly a great nephew, inherited the deed to the property. He was an unscrupulous young man in his early twenties—a drunkard and a gambler. Heavy in debt, he was excited to turn a tidy profit from this good fortune. Hoping to unload the property on someone ignorant of the malevolent history, he posted in the market and at the temples, advertising the property for rent or sale. He even went so far as to advertise at the taverns and villas of ill-repute. Realizing he needed to maximize his chances, he rode out to the shore one afternoon and posted notice all along the docks.
It wasn’t long before word got around about these advertisements. The desperate young man soon became the laughingstock of all Athens. The weeks passed and soon the changing weather signaled the coming of autumn. He was sure this cursed villa would be a burden he carried to his grave.
As it happened, a philosopher by the name of Athenodorus had journeyed to town at this time. Needing a room to stay, he headed for the nearest taverna for a meal and a mat to curl up on. As he was going inside, he noticed the faded advertisement scrawled on the side of the wall. He decided it was worth inquiring whether the advertisement was still valid.
The barkeep raised an eyebrow when he inquired about the villa. Unable to stifle his laughter, the barkeep slapped his hand down the cold, marble counter. Knowing the owner was desperate, he leaned towards the philosopher and told him the villa could probably be gotten for only a few coins. The traveler was suspicious of this obvious jest and asked how someone could possibly let go of such a place for so little compensation.
The patrons of the establishment had gathered around the two by this point. The barkeep was more than keen to share the story of the haunted villa, while the others chimed in with information or simply nodded their heads in agreement. When they were finished, they expected Athenodorus to give up his ridiculous pursuit, but he could not be dissuaded. In fact, he was even more eager to make the purchase.
Early the next morning, he gathered his few possessions and settled his fare. The barkeep tried to change his mind one more time, but Athenodorus would not hear of it. With a smile, he set off down the road towards the city center. Stopping at a food vendor, he bought a savory, stuffed grape leaf roll for his breakfast. Inquiring about the owner of the villa was met with a similar mixture of humor and horror. Before long, he tracked down the man huddled outside one of the local gambling establishments.
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