I didn’t turn my head when I heard the crunch of gravel behind me. I knew who was standing there. I continued to stare out on the barren plain of jumbled scrub and broken rock.
“What are you here for, Uncle?”
Hades cleared his throat and replied, “Nobody ever could sneak up on the Guardian of Lamark.”
“I see. So you’re just here to taunt me.”
“No,” said Hades, “no that’s not why I’m here.” I grunted but didn’t reply. Instead, I reached over and patted Jealousy on the head. Hate stirred at my other hand.
“How’re you doing, Dinlas?” he continued.
“I’m fine. You came a long way to ask me that.”
Hades edged forward, just into my peripheral sight. He glanced at me, then turned and looked out onto the plain as well.
“How long have you been here, Dinlas?”
“Thousands of years,” I replied.
“I meant this time.”
“I don’t know. Maybe a couple of mortal days.”
Hades sighed. “Three weeks, Dinlas, you’ve been out here three weeks. Your people are wondering where you are, and they aren’t the only ones. Zeus is looking for you.”
“Yeah?” I replied. “What’s he want?”
“He’s wondering why no one is working on this fancy tower.”
“Oh, yeah, the Romans. I got them working to renovate my warehouse. Apparently this guy I brought in, Eddie Pastorini, was important in something called a ‘union’ for the construction workers. When I put him away, I ended up hiring much of his former crew. They had some contacts and got those guys to start working on my warehouse renovations.”
Hades stepped forward again. He was now squarely in front of me and blocking my view of the plain. Impeccably dressed as always, he wore a tailored pinstripe suit and polished oxfords. In his hand he held a cane. His sharp attire provided a stark contrast to the otherwise broken and jumbled landscape around us. He took off his sunglasses and looked down at me sitting on the ground.
“You gotta let it go, Dinlas. What’s done is done and you’re never going to change that now.” He paused, then added, “Is it Morpheus? Are you having nightmares again?”
I shrugged. “Not as much as a few thousand years ago. But I still get them.”
Hades brushed at a speck of dust on his trousers, then replied, “Morpheus loves to try and drive gods and mortals mad. Morpheus knows our desires, knows our fears, and knows just how to use it all against us.”
I forced a chuckle. “Uncle Hades, have you ever, in your existence, had a nightmare?”
Hades furrowed his brow for a moment before he replied, “No, actually, I haven’t. You know, I count mortal souls all day long and when I go to bed, I sleep like Dionysus after a weekend in California wine country.”
I shook my head and looked down. I had to pull myself together for a moment. Once I was back in control of my emotions, I responded.
“Morpheus has no interest in driving anyone insane. Madmen pay no heed to nightmares. They can’t even tell the difference between wake and sleep. No. Morpheus is a beast. A beast that drives a man to the edge, to the brink of insanity, but never willingly pushes him over. Morpheus is like a new lover. Exuberant and energetic the first time, riding you over and over with enthusiasm and passion. Dreams and nightmares spring up at every nod of sleep for hundreds of years on end.” I stopped here. Hades put his sunglasses on the end of his nose and was looking over the top of them. Obviously, he was waiting to hear more. I lowered my voice and continued, “Then the dreams stop, when you start to crack. Like a practiced courtesan rides you to the edge, then stops. The harlot works, almost imperceptible, while she watches you try not to explode. Then it’s a dream here, a vision there. Like the lover who smiles and straddles you, brushes her lips against yours, but barely strokes so you don’t reach a climax. Morpheus works you slowly, steadily, always keeping you on the edge. That maddening razor’s edge between self-control and total abandon. There you are, trapped in anguished ecstasy. Forced to endure the eternal struggle between trying to pull back and regain control or giving in and surrendering to the madness. So easy it would be to give myself over and be lost forever. To become mired in the dreams, spells, and nightmares. Revel in the visions of blood and gore. Embrace the screams and wails. To sing along to the begging and pleading of the citizens that Cerberus and I slaughtered.”
I paused for a second to remove my glasses and pinch the bridge of my nose.
Hades took the opportunity to cut in. “Dinlas, I-I really had no idea it’s been like that all these years. But what’s done is done. You are the only one opening the door for Morpheus’ one-night stands.” He tapped the side of his head and continued, “And until you fix what’s in here, Morpheus is gonna keep coming back for those occasional strokes whenever Morpheus feels like it.”
I nodded my head, replaced my sunglasses, and looked back out at the desolate plain. Once a thriving city of healers and physicians, now there was no sign it ever existed.
“You are right, Uncle. I will rid myself of this unwanted menace.”
Hades nodded. “I will speak to Morpheus, but you know Morpheus answers to no one. In the meantime, you must go see Zeus. Do not delay, his anger grows with every moment that his giant tower, his monstrous…concrete phallus, is not complete. There, I have delivered his dispatch, the rest is on you.”
I nodded my understanding and stood to dust my pants as Hades watched me. I tapped a cigarette out of the pack and lit it. I inhaled deeply, then asked as I exhaled. “Uncle Hades, tell me truthfully, do you have any regrets? Regrets that has eaten at you for thousands of years?”
For the briefest of moments, a pained look crossed his face. It was the look of love lost, of love unrequited.
“No, Dinlas,” he responded when the moment passed and his face hardened again, “I have no such regrets. Now go. Zeus is waiting, and his patience is at its end with you.”
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