“Thanatos, get out of my bedroom!”
As soon as the shriek reached Thomasina Kirby in the living room where she was folding laundry, that good woman rolled her eyes and flicked a towel severely.
“Playing those blasted video games again instead of doing her homework,” she muttered. “Sooner or later I’ll have to say something to that young lady.” But then, seeing a single unpaired sock, Thomasina’s mind wandered. Somewhere on Earth, she mused, there was almost certainly an enormous clot of orphan socks, a kind of giant garbage patch where misplaced strays had been drawn by some kind of planetary magnetism. The question was, how could one locate the exact spot?
Meanwhile, Thomasina’s twelve-year-old daughter Angela was sitting on her desk chair glaring at a very tall man in a diaphanous tunic who was stooping awkwardly by her wardrobe door. Everything about him irritated her: his fine reddish-brown hair and beard, his gentle smile, the enormous swan-like wings sprouting from his back, even the butterflies that fluttered about him like a living cloud of yellow, violet, red and pink. What’s more, there was a distinctive herbal scent emanating from him that she found utterly repulsive, like honey mixed with eucalyptus.
“I already told you it’s the wrong house.”
Thanatos inclined his head, as if demurring.
“However,” he said in halting English, “The name of you is Herald Kirby from the polis of,” he checked a tablet he held in his hand, “Wichita, Kansas?”
“Ugh,” said Angela, rolling her eyes in a manner not unlike her mother’s, “My name is Angela Smith, which is I suppose somehow related to the Greek word for herald—but that’s neither here nor there. Wichita is not a polis, it’s a normal town in twenty-first century America and you have zero business being in my bedroom.”
“Angela,” he inclined his head, thinking. “Yes, it is very like: Ἀγγελία—it is sure that you are the woman child I seek,” he looked happy.
“It is not sure,” Angela retorted.
The creature looked hurt and Angela, being essentially kind-hearted, regretted her harsh tone.
“Mr. Thanatos,” she said gently but firmly, “I’m sorry but there’s been some kind of mix-up. This—” she waved a hand dismissively in his direction, “Isn’t done these days. There’s a whole different procedure.”
“Yes. We don’t go in for all that winged-creature-underworld stuff. We have hospitals and modern medicine and morphine.”
“Morpheus, my dearest nephew, son of Hypnos!”
“No,” said Angela, “Morphine. A drug. A chemical structure. Nothing to do with your bizarre family.”
His wings drooped in disappointment.
“Besides,” Angela continued, “If you just look at me it’s totally obvious I’m in perfectly good health. I’m still a child, technically, and children only die if they one: get in an accident or two: are unlucky enough to get some terrible illness or three: commit suicide.”
He examined her closely, with large, dark, serious eyes.
“The woman-child is dreadful pale,” he said hopefully, “And stomach bloated as if with the famine.”
“Excuse me,” Angela said tugging at her T-shirt. “I’m extremely healthy. I just saw the doctor last month and he said I am well within the normal range. Just because you Athenians subsisted on nettles and moldy olives doesn’t mean it’s healthy.”
Thanatos drew himself up a little.
“My relations sup only on nectar and sweetest ambrosia.”
“Whatever. The point is, your usual…clients, let’s say…probably all had malnutrition,” she sniffed. “And worms, if they lived to my age at all. Also, why are you still here? I’ve got things to do.” Huffily, she swiveled her chair around to read her schoolbook and put her earbuds in, hoping that he would vanish, as he had last time.
Unfortunately, five minutes later she turned around to see that he was reclining on her bed flicking through a copy of Teen Vogue.
“Get off my bed!” she growled, with convincing enough fury that he scrambled up, feathers flying.
“Ugh, I’ll have to wash my bedspread to get that smell off it now,” she moaned
There were three sharp knocks on the door before it opened a crack, to allow better hearing.
“That’s quite enough, young lady. Turn that game off and do your homework.”
“I’m trying to mom, but—” Angela suddenly wondered how exactly she would explain.
“Sorry,” she corrected herself. “I’ll turn the game off now.”
“Any more shouting and I’m confiscating that computer for a day,” Thomasina threatened before shutting the door again.
Angela looked over toward the wardrobe and noticed that there was a shimmering transparent silhouette where Thanatos had been. Gradually, the transparency became colored and three-dimensional—the same annoying demi-god.
“Nice, very brave of you,” Angela sneered.
Thanatos raised his eyebrows proudly.
“You are mistaken, I do not fear the woman. I vanished in order to consult with the King of the Dead.”
“Yes. It seems that you were thinking an incorrect thought.”
“You thought I came to bring you the terminus of blissful oblivion.”
“Hmmph. Is that what you call it?”
“In fact, my task is otherwise. I have come to take you to receive your realm, O Princess.”
Angela looked at him with greater attention.
He knelt on the floor, keeping his distance to avoid kicks.
“Yes, Princess Angelia, Daughter of Hera and Zeus!” he bowed his head respectfully.
“Well,” said Angela, who wasn’t displeased, “I’m actually the daughter of Thomasina and Gerry Smith. Though I admit it might be nice to be a goddess.” She twirled a pen thoughtfully between her fingers.
Thanatos lifted his head to gaze wonderingly at her.
“The mortals? They are not your parents!” He said it so solemnly that she felt not only inclined but also compelled to believe it.
“How’s that?” she said.
“When you were an infant, your father Zeus entrusted your care to five lovely nymphs. But you were very…unruly and they could not prevent you from doing mischief. At the age of nine months you snuck into your mother Hera’s house, stole her valuables and handed them over to Europa. She was so angry she could have killed you, but you cleverly hid here in this place. Unfortunately, ever since, you have been unclean.”
“What do you mean?” she sniffed her armpits. “I shower daily!”
“The day you came, the woman in the house was in labor. You were besmirched with the pollution of birth.”
“So that would have been…when Tori was born! I always thought she didn’t seem that much younger than me.”
“And the next week you were taken by the mortal guardian to a funeral procession—so you were tainted by the pollution of death.”
“Grandad. Anything else? Did I fall into a dungheap maybe? Eat human flesh?”
“No, the pollution upon you is very much worse than those trifles.”
“Right. Thanks a lot. So, why are you here again?”
“My lord the king has asked me to collect you for purification in the waters of Acherusia Lake.”
“Which is where?”
“In the realm of the Underworld. And then, after the ceremony, you shall receive your title.”
“So…I would be in the Underworld…but not actually dead?”
“Of course. After the purification, you would enjoy immortality.”
“I see.” Angela flicked the pen very quickly between her thumb and forefinger, making it drum against her leg.
“So, tell me more about the position though. Do I get a crown? And a palace? And beautiful dresses, stuff like that?”
“All, your Majesty.”
The ‘Majesty’ bit took her by surprise. She glanced at him to check whether he was making fun of her, but everything seemed to be in order.
She glanced at the textbook on her desk, which provided a blow-by-blow description of the process of photosynthesis, and her eyes blurred over. She thought about her family—her mortal family, that is–and imagined leaving them. It seemed all right. Tori could have her clothes. She always wore them without asking, anyway. And her mom probably wouldn’t mind. She’d never even bothered to tell her she was adopted, anyway. As for Gerry, he probably wouldn’t notice. In fact, he’d probably be happy that the utilities bill was going down. No more nagging about thirty-minute showers!
“OK, sign me up,” she said. “Do I need to bring anything?”
“All will be provided, your Majesty.”
“Then let’s get this show on the road.”
They were gone in a dazzling slow-motion flap of white swan wings. The displaced air knocked a glass off the table so it shattered on the floor.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake!” a voice cried from without. In a few seconds, the door opened suddenly and Thomasina burst in, looking with fury at the broken glass on the floor. “What in the world?” she murmured.
No window, so she couldn’t have got out that way. She tiptoed around the broken glass and checked in the wardrobe and under the bed. Nothing. Except a strange medicinal smell.
“That will need a wash,” she said, yanking the bedspread off the bed.
“Funny about daughters. One minute they’re appearing out of the blue, next minute they’ve gone the way of socks.”