Fiction Writing, Writing Technique

Six Pleasures of Reading

Writers of fiction, it is often assumed, derive a solipsistic and almost wizardly pleasure in the mere act of creating worlds, in spending hours and years in “the streets, the factories, the cathedrals of the imagination” as Janet Frame puts it, just for the sake of it. Tolkien spent decades perfecting Middle Earth, and it is quite plausible to imagine that he did so in large part for his own amusement. But even the most self-sufficient authors are usually ultimately writing for others; they want their stories to be read.

Similarly, reading is an act of desire. When you browse the library shelves or open a book, you’re engaged in pleasure-seeking behavior. What sort of delight is desired depends on you, but delight is what you want.

My conclusion is that if a writer wants readers, the writing should give pleasure. With that in mind, here are some delights to be derived from reading. I’m sure you can think of others—if so, please share your thoughts!

A Kay Nielsen illustration of 1001 Arabian Nights

Friendship

I recently learned about a phenomenon called ASMR (autonomous  sensory meridian response), the tingling feeling that some people get in their heads and spines when something pleases them. I don’t remember ever feeling this myself but my husband says he got it as a child when he saw or read about people being kind to each other. For this reason, he is still particularly drawn to hospitality scenes in movies and literature.

 Sharing a story is a kind of hospitality in itself: the writer wants to offer something tasty, and the reader wants to consume it. A writer wants to guide someone through the land of imagination, a reader wants to follow along and marvel at novel landscapes. If the bargain is kept up happily at both ends, the reader feels befriended and broadened.

Arthur Rackham’s 1908 illustration of Mole and Ratty messing about in a boat

Getting Carried Away

One of the greatest pleasures of reading is being spirited away—that is, temporarily forgetting your physical self and surroundings in order to inhabit a different consciousness and to roam about in a strange land surrounded by unfamiliar people and things. The more vivid and convincing the fictional world, the easier it is to be transported and transformed.

Illustration from 1914 by Maginel Wright Enright for Story Hour Readers, Book Two, by Ida Coe.

Formal Satisfaction

One of the appealing things about formulaic fiction (detective novels, romantic fiction, true crime) is that you know what kind of story to expect. The pleasure here depends on how well the author fulfils these expectations.

Frederic Dorr Steele 1903 illustration for “The Empty House”

Boundary Breaking

Even in fictional worlds, I am always unconsciously gathering experiences and perspectives and comparing them with my own. A story that examines a situation or idea that is ordinarily taboo or ignored or buried and that does so with radical honesty (rather than shock-jockeying) is necessarily interesting because it confronts accepted norms. Books that touch a nerve with their atypical-yet-honest views include Notes from the Underground, andthe works of Janet Frame and J.G. Ballard.    

Crystal World (after J.G. Ballard) by Ann Lislegaard

Humor

A writer who can make readers laugh will not be short of readers, hence Wodehouse. In books like Huckleberry Finn, Mansfield Park and Norwood humor emerges in an ear for mimicry and an eye that appreciates the anomalous and absurd.

E.W. Kemble illustrated the first edition of Huckleberry Finn

Playfulness

Playfulness I would characterize as an author’s willingness and skill in manhandling reality. For a playful author, everything goes: shape-shifting, talking flies, devils incarnate, unexpected inversions and distortions of reality. In the short stories of R.A. Lafferty, for example, certain things happen that you know must be impossible and yet, within the framework of the story, they are convincing and disturbing. Examples of playful novels must include Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, The Zap Gun by Philip K. Dick and  Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.

Fiction, Original Fiction

The Post-Mortem Players

Melinoë took Angela’s hand in hers and pulled her towards the source of the terrifying sound. It seemed to be coming from a corner room. Sure enough, when they entered the chamber, Angela saw an arresting sight. There was a drumkit in the middle of the room, or rather several drumkits, and in the very center was a creature that seemed to have a hundred arms, most of which were beating time in a kind of fractal rhythm that Angela felt in her face rather than heard with her ears.

 

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Standing nearby was a solid looking man with long dark hair and solemn features who seemed to be carved from darkness except for his eye-whites, which were more correctly eye-yellows. His mouth was open in an ‘o’ and the sound emerging was variously like the chittering of millions of bats, the crash of surf echoing in an rock tunnel, the screams of bereaved mothers and the sudden cracking of an Antarctic ice shelf. Next to him was a kind of blue cloud – a constantly shifting shape whose rhythmic movements seemed to create deep and deeply unpleasant bass notes that shook Angela’s bones.  Nearby, nodding his head up and down appreciatively, was a long-haired guy wearing what looked like white face-paint and a black cross on his face. And joining in now and then with a blood-curdling yodel was a skeletal looking boy whose bare torso was decorated with triangular red scratches.

As usual when confronted with anything weird, Angela pulled out her smartphone and started recording the spectacle. A kind of gas started seeping up through the floorboards and a group of demons started dancing to the rhythms—trying to murder each other, but in a jerky, stylized manner.

 

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This might have gone on for ten minutes or an hour, Angela wasn’t sure. When she looked at the recording time it said 5.22, which shocked her. The end of the song seemed to leave the air in tatters and everyone emerged as if from the fog of war.

“Praises, Lord Erebos!” Melinoë said cheerfully to the singer. “What a delightful tune. Is it new?”

“Yes, we wrote it today,” Erebos rumbled.

“I wanted to show you Angelia, Hera’s daughter, she’s just back from an exchange program with the Overworld.”

“Hi,” Angela smiled shyly.

“Praises,” said Erebos, “Let me introduce you to the band. Over there on the drums is Briareus—he’s a Hundred-Hands, as you can probably tell. Then this,” he motioned at the long-haired mortal. “Is Øystein Aarseth. He’s from a place called Norway. He’s sort of our musical guru.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Angela said politely.

 

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Aarseth glared not at her but at the wall, like a cat.

“After he died he went to Christian Hell first” Erebos explained, “But there was some trouble between him and a cellmate so they decided to send him here.”

“That place was a drag, man,” the depth of his emotion forced him out of his pose, “I’m so effing glad I’m out of there. I feel like my music has reached a whole new level down here.”

“Øystein was a musician in the Overworld, you know him?” Erebos asked eagerly.

“Oh, of course,” Angela said, though she hadn’t.

“Yeah, I told you, everybody’s heard of us man,” Øystein said. “We were sick–burning the churches, we, like, took it to the next level. Well Varg had to take it too far because of his complete lack of intelligence, but before that, we were making a name for ourselves.”

“Yes, yes,” said Erebos restlessly, as he’d heard it all before, “And this here, our bass player is Moros, my step-son. It’s sometimes difficult to see him. He’s shy and usually just appears as a sound cloud.”

“Oh, well, I thought that bass playing was great!” Angela enthused in the general direction Erebos was pointing, which seemed a bit hazier than elsewhere in the room. “I play the bass myself, so I appreciated it,” Angela said. The air wriggled a litte. 

“And this here is Alala,” Erebos waved at the boy with red-triangle tattoos. “He does the war cries. He’s exceptionally good at them.”

To demonstrate, he let out a holler that made Angela’s hair stand on end.

“Great,” Angela said. “Oh, hey, I just recorded you guys if you want to have a look.”

“Angelia has a magical advice from the Overworld,” Melinoë explained. “You can see anywhere in the Overworld with it. It’s amazing!”

Øystein, who’d never seen a smartphone, sneered and sulked in the background. Erebos, though, showed a keen interest. He watched the performance with an artiste’s eye and nodded with approval.

“It’s a kind of time-delayed mirror, is it not?”

“Er, yes. Sort of,” Angela said.

“You know,” he rumbled. “After all Øystein has been telling me, I would like our music to be better known. I have a feeling we would make quite an impression up there among the little people.”

“Yes, I think that’s…fair to say,” Angela nodded.

“I have a pipe dream that once the kids have grown up a bit that Nyx and I would go to Norway—see the fjords and things. Maybe we could even do a concert there.”

 

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“I’m not going back to that dump,” Øystein scowled.

“No, no, of course,” Erebos said soothingly. “You could stay here and manage the studio. But what do you think, Angelia, is it a good idea?”

“Oh, I think so. Yes,” she nodded. “But I think, you know, you might need a name for your band.” 

“Yes? I suppose you’re right. How about something along the lines of ‘Hell’s Fellows’. Would that work?”

“Uh…” 

“Or, I know! How’s this: ‘The Post-Mortem Players’.”

“Probably Øystein can help you better than I can,” Angelia took a couple of steps back.

“Skull Worms, Gangrene, Crucifixion Town,” Øystein offered. 

Erebos shook his head. 

“Not very subtle, is it? Do we call ourselves artists or don’t we? I mean to say, we might as well pick ‘Nose Plug’ and be done with it. Where’s the poetry in everyday things?”

“GANGRENE!” Øystein screamed.

Erebos ignored him.

“Listen, young girl, perhaps you could talk to your king and arrange something in relation to that Norwegian tour?”

“Well,” Melinoë interrupted, “Angelia is going to be a bit busy in the next few weeks, especially with Aunt Hera coming, but maybe we can talk about it later. Meanwhile, do you know where Achlys might be?”

“Sulking in his room, as usual. You know, I keep  trying to persuade him to join the band with his lyre—Øystein has a brilliant amplifying system all ready—but Achlys absolutely refuses.”

“Well, he is so gifted,” Melinoë gushed. “After all, Orpheus himself taught him, and the lyre sounds better acoustic, I think. So soulful. I can see why he’d want to go for a solo career…”

Erebos shrugged.

“Not my cup of nectar, but each to his own. Well, lads, should we take it from the top?”

The music started up again and Melinoë and Angela made a hasty exit.

 

 

Original Fiction, Uncategorized

The Daemons Next Door

Angela opened the fridge door and took out a vegetarian sausage. She started cooking it on a frying pan when suddenly she saw that the sausage had a little face. The face was furious and started yelling at Angela, telling her that she wasn’t even cooking it properly—she had to remove the plastic casing first and to put more oil in the pan. Angela peeled the plastic off as the sausage continued to berate her. Then she hurriedly got more oil and poured it in but it turned out to be gasoline and the kitchen exploded in a fireball.

Angela woke up with a scream. Sitting next to her in the darkness, watching her intently with big pop eyes, sat Melinoë. Angela screamed again.

 

Gorgona_pushkin

 

“What is the matter with you?” Angela cried.

“Was it scary?” Melinoë asked eagerly.

“Huh? Yes, it was scary.”

Melinoë nodded and smiled a little bit.

“That’s good. I thought it might not work.”

“What? Wait a minute, did you do this?” Angela asked, narrowing her eyes.

“Of course. Nightmares are my forte, I told you. I don’t usually get to see the people dreaming though. It’s usually long-distance, so I have no idea how effective they are.”

Angela clutched her head in her hands and groaned.

“Let’s get something straight,” she said at last. “I may be sharing a room with you, but I’m not your guinea pig. Please don’t give me any more nightmares, OK?”

“Why not?” Melinoë put her head on one side, bird like.

“Because it’s hard enough getting used to this place without bedwetting added to the mix, OK?”

“You didn’t like it?”

“No, I didn’t like it.”

“Well what about when I change shape? Can I still do that?”

“You can do that all you like. Go crazy. Just don’t mess with my slee—agh! For the love of—”

Angela found herself looking at a person who was made entirely of wriggling mice.

“OK,” Angela clenched her teeth, “As I said, that’s totally fine. Just let me get some sleep.”

 

***

 

When Angela arrived at the Hades household dining room, Persephone and her two daughters were already daintily addressing a breakfast of pomegranate smoothies, ambrosia cups and bread made with Elysian wheat. Cerberos was sitting next to Persephone, pitifully resting on of his heads on the table hoping for a scrap of bread.

“Good morning, Angela,” Persephone said. “Did you sleep well?”

Melinoë bit her lip and shot Angela a warning glance.

“Oh, yes, I slept great, thank you,” Angela smiled.

“Good,” Persephone smiled. “I thought later, you might come up to the women’s room; we want to prepare you for your ceremony tomorrow.”

“My what?” Angela said.

“You know, your ceremonial dipping in the Acheron, to symbolize your homecoming.”

“Ah.”

“We need to dress you and do your hair and make-up,” said Elpis, “You will look so beautiful!”

“Oh, a kind of makeover?” Angela asked. “That sounds fun.”

“But before that,” Melinoë interrupted, “I can take Angelia over to introduce her to the next-door neighbors.”

Must you?” sighed Persephone, “They’re so ghastly.”

 “Yes I must,” Melinoë pouted. “They’re really cool and Achlys said they all want to meet her.”

“All right, but be sure you get back before dinner.”

 

Locri_Pinax_Persephone_Opens_Likon_Mystikon
Pinax of Persephone opening the “Likon Mystikon”

 

Melinoë took Angela’s hand and the two hurried out of the great cold mansion, down the steps and down the street to a house constructed of grey-veined black marble. Running along the top of six great black columns was a golden architrave engraved with scenes of murder and mayhem. As they entered the courtyard, Angela gasped at the sight of a rectangular pool filled with some viscous red liquid.

“Is…is that blood?” she whispered.

“Yes,” Melinoë murmured. “Isn’t it amazing? I really like the aesthetics here. Oops, there are the Keres—get back behind this pillar. They’re real hellions. One’s full of violent death, the other one’s the personification of disease in wartime.”

From their hiding place, they observed twin girls running at top speed around the blood pool. Both wore black tunics and wings reminiscent of black swans. One was brandishing a knife and, judging by her ferocious expression, fully intended to do the other one an injury. The other was surrounded by a mist of mosquitoes, black smoke and an indescribably rotten stench. After three or four circuits of the pool, they stopped running and paused to gather up handfuls of blood, which they drank thirstily.

 

keres

 

“Let’s go to the women’s room. It’s usually quieter there.”

Quietly, so as not to alert the twins, Angela and Melinoë walked upstairs and found themselves in a large room containing a big loom. Around it sat three serious women, all dressed in white. One was heavily pregnant and had a distracted air. Another held a long piece of wood with notches in it. The third held a pair of scissors.

“They’re the Moirai,” Melinoë murmured. “They decide how long people live. The pregnant one is Clotho. She’s spinning thread of a life from a distaff onto a spindle. Lachesis has the measuring rod—she decides the length of a life. And Atropos holds the shears—she does the snipping.”

Angela gaped at them, fascinated.

“They do that for every single person?” she asked.

“Yes, they’re always working. Come on, let’s find Nyx.”

 

vischer fates 1530

 

 

Melinoë took Angela’s arm and pulled her along a corridor toward a bedroom with richly painted walls. A woman dressed in diaphanous dark blue reclined on a richly decorated couch. She had long silky dark hair and her face was alarmingly pale except for black eyes, from which there flowed rivulets of what looked like black ink. She barely noticed the girls come in but made a slight gesture with her wrist, which seemed to acknowledge their presence.

“Praises Auntie Nyx,” Melinoë curtsied, “Angelia is back.”

This made Nyx pay attention. She lifted herself on her elbow and surveyed the newcomer.

“That’s not Angelia,” she said. “She doesn’t have that catastrophic aura. Who is this?”

“You’re right auntie,” said Melinoë, “Her name is really Angela. But you can’t tell anyone, OK? Persephone’s planning to fool Hera into thinking she’s her long-lost daughter Angelia.”

“Oh, I see. Because the real Angelia has gone AWOL,” she sighed and lowered herself back. “What a lot of trouble. Persephone has so much energy. Well, never mind. Welcome to Hades, dear. Will you girls have some grapes?” she indicated a golden tray overflowing with black grapes.

 

N1.3Nyx
Nyx in her chariot in a lekythos from around 500-475 BCE

 

Nyx inspected Angela again, her eye lingering on her sweater and jeans.

“What extraordinary clothes! Are you an eastern person?”

“No ma’am, Kansas is pretty central.”

“Have you ever done any babysitting by any chance? My children are wearing me out.”

“Well,” Angela started, but then looked at Melinoë, who was shaking her head and making the cut-throat sign. “I’m…I’m not really very good with kids.”

“What a shame. I believe I will go out of my mind as it is. Melinoë, darling, would you be a dear and tell Erebos I won’t be down for lunch. I have a terrible headache.”

“Will do, auntie, bye for now,” Melinoë kissed her hand and the girls left her apartment. As they walked the halls, an ear-splitter roar rent the air. Angela nearly jumped out of her skin.

“What was that?” she was going to say, but a deafening racket ensued, accompanied by drums so low and loud that they seemed produced by a giant’s heart. She noticed that they were steadily moving towards the infernal din, and she worried that they would be engulfed by some hitherto unimagined monster, or an army of millions.

Note: This is chapter 4. Click here for chapter 1, here for 2 and here for 3.

 

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Attic black-figure neck-amphora from Vulci. Leagros Group, 510-500 BC

Women's Writing

Ten Women whose New Writing will Stop You Climbing the Walls for a Little While

There’s a chance you may be experiencing some emotional stress right now. You need distraction, relief and mental stimulation. Luckily, reading a story offers an easy way to access all three. One study claims that just six minutes of reading slows the heartbeat and lowers blood pressure. That might be poppycock, who knows, but if you like reading anyway. Here are new works–in many different genres–by ten women to get you through this seriously strange spring.

 

jenny brown

 

  1. Without Apology: The Abortion Struggle Now

Jenny Brown

In the early stages of the spread of COVID-19 in the United States, right-wing media and abortion opponents were already exploiting the crisis to attack abortion access. This week the Trump administration announced that Planned Parenthood, a major abortion provider, will not be receiving any of the coronavirus-relief funding earmarked for small businesses struggling with the effects of the pandemic. This is just the latest of countless attacks that have been growing in number and ferocity for a few decades.

In Without Apology, Jenny Brown provides historical and political context for this intensifying struggle between feminists and the anti-abortionists. She describes what the United States used to look like without legal abortion — when feminist collectives organized abortion care — and what women face trying to get an abortion today. Part of Verso’s Jacobin series, it is a vital text for those wishing to learn more about serious threats to civil liberties faced by many in the United States today.

Jenny Brown is a National Women’s Liberation organizer and former editor of Labor Notes. She is also the author of Birth Strike: The Hidden Fight over Women’s Work.

Verso Books is having a RED MAY sale, with 50% of all print books and 80% all ebooks, so why not browse their backlist while you’re there?

 

2. Becky’s Bash

Becky Dahl

Becky Dahl is a wonderful writer who has started a substack named Becky’s Bash. So far the pieces are short, satisfying tales that transport you to vivid, sometimes shocking places. She grew up in Perth, Western Australia but now lives in Vancouver and both locations feature in her writing so far. In fact, her latest story “Flash and Bang” is a terrifying true tale of drama in her apartment building. I encourage you to subscribe!

 

 

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  1. The Girl with the Louding Voice

Abi Dare

Adunni is a Nigerian teen who longs for what her mother calls a ‘louding voice’—the ability to speak for herself and decide her own future. The way to get this, she believes, is getting an education. Her dad has other ideas and sells her to be the third wife of some schmo down the street. Adunni runs away and discovers her only option is working as a servant to a wealthy family, where she is inevitably mistreated. She realizes that the time has come to find her louding voice and tell everyone to back the heck off.

 

  1. It’s Not All Downhill from Here

Terry McMillan

Sixty-eight-year-old Loretha Curry is a wife, mother, business owner, loyal friend to a diverse group of women and all that jazz. She refuses to accept that life is over at sixty-five and good for her, I say. This is the latest offering from the author of How Stella Got Her Groove Back and promises to be similarly uplifting and full of pep.  

 

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  1. Actress

Anne Enright

A woman in her late 50s reflects on her late mother’s life, trying to understand the person behind the famous actress and to find answers to aspects of her own history that have never been clear. Who was her father, the nameless man she imagined as a lost hero?

Anne Enright is a prolific Irish author who won the 2007 Booker Prize for the novel The Gathering, which she described as “the intellectual equivalent of a Hollywood weepie.”

 

 

  1. Motherwell: A Girlhood

Deborah Orr

Deborah Orr was a Scottish journalist who died last year at age 57. This is her memoir of a childhood in a working-class neighborhood during the 1960s and 70s. With sensitivity and biting wit she details her relationship with her formidable mother, her laborer father and indeed the town of Motherwell itself. There’s a very good, sympathetic review of it here by Andrew O’Hagan, from which I provide the following quote:

 

Motherwell is a searching, truthful, shocking (and timely) observance of the blight that monetarist policies can bring about in a community of workers, indeed on a whole culture of fairness and improvement, while also showing – in sentences as clean as bone – the tireless misunderstandings that can starve a family of love.

 

 

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  1. Wow, no thank you: essays

Samantha Irby

Samantha Irby is a popular essayist and seems to talk about stuff that actually happens in her life, which is refreshing and nice. Also there is a bunny on the cover.

She is also the author of we are never meeting in real life and has a blog called bitches gotta eat where you can get a feel for her TMI breath-of-fresh-air style.

verandah 

 

8. The Silence

Susan Allott 

If you’re looking for a hot-off-the -press thriller, you might consider The Silence, which was published two days ago and won’t be getting an irl book launch.

In Allot’s own words, “The Silence is a literary thriller set in Australia, about long-buried family secrets that are caught up in the mistakes of Australia’s colonial past. When Isla’s dad calls in the middle of the night to say the police have been to see him, Isla goes back to Sydney for the first time in a decade. She starts to ask questions, and soon everything she believed about her childhood, her family and herself is in doubt.”

 

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  1. The Moment of Tenderness

Madeleine L’Engle 

It turns out that the celebrated author of A Wrinkle in Time  left some unpublished stories in a drawer, which one of her nosy-parker granddaughters found and decided to share with the world. I haven’t read them yet but allegedly they reveal the emotional arc of L’Engle’s early life from her lonely childhood in New York to her life as a mother in Connecticut.

 

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  1. If I Had Your Face

Frances Cha

Four young women who live in the same building in Seoul seek refuge in friendship as they separately endure intense societal, sexual and economic pressures. It’s a world where plastic surgery is the norm, where

You can listen to an audiobook excerpt here.

 

Original Fiction

Home is Where the Hades Is

“Praises, my dears, welcome home,” a musical voice floated out on the still air as Thanatos and Angela climbed the stairs to the entrance of the enormous mansion. 

Looking up, Angela saw a tall woman wrapped in silks of rich colors—the purple of the grape, the gold of ripe wheat, the blue of a kingfisher. Her tight curls were crowned by a crown of golden leaves and her face and body were those of a simple, joyful country girl accustomed to herding sheep, gathering crops, dancing in festivals and swimming in sunlit streams. Her skin was chalky white and her smiling mouth bright red.

 

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“Who’s that?” Angela whispered to Thanatos, amazed.

“The Mistress,” he said, as if it were obvious.

A ringing laugh echoed against the marble surfaces.

“My name is Persephone, darling. I’m your stepmother.”

Angela curtsied and took the hand that Persephone extended. It was as cold as a refrigerated cucumber.

“Did you have any trouble at the river?” Persephone asked Thanatos.

“Everything unfolded as you predicted,” he murmured.

“And the judges? Did that that stickler Rhadamanthus give you trouble?”

“Some, Mistress,” Thanatos admitted, “But your plan worked beautifully.”

“Excellent,” Persephone smiled broadly, her cheeks round as apples. She sighed happily and took Angela’s face in her hands. “Let me look at you, dear. Lovely. I think you will do very well.”

“What?” Angela asked.

Persephone laughed. “I mean, silly-cakes,” she said, pinching Angela’s cheek, “That you will be very happy here. Now come with me and meet everyone!” She took Angela by the hand and took her into the cool recesses of the marble mansion.

 

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The first room they stopped at contained a very big man sitting on a throne frowning at a scroll of papyrus. His face was mostly lost in a bushy black beard and the dark curls of his head were tamed somewhat by a simple gold circlet. He wore a tunic of coarse black wool with a gold chain around the waist.

“Hades!” said Persephone. “Hades, hey!” She clapped her hands.

“Mmmfph?” He grunted, basso profundo, “What is it?” he looked up in alarm, as one who has suddenly been woken from a daydream.

“Hades, this is Zeus’ daughter Angelia—you remember her.”

“Eh? Who?”

“Oh Hades, she’s your niece! She’s the one Hera banished from Olympus after she threw her designer handbag into Mount Etna?”

He shook his head.

“You must remember. She’s the baby who replaced Hera’s face cream with a pot of snakes?”

“Doesn’t ring a bell.”

“Was I really that bad?” Angela whispered.

“When she came to live with us she used to be so, er, vivacious that Cerberos used to come and hide under your chair, whimpering?”

That pernicious little shrike?” He gripped the edge of his couch until his knuckles turned what. “What’s she doing here? I thought we banished her.”

 

Hades
What now?”

 

Persephone patted Angela on the shoulder, “Not at all. She took a little holiday, that’s all. But now she’s back and look—all civilized and sweet.”

Hades looked her up and down.

“Hard to tell from appearances. Have you checked her for weapons?”

“He’s such a joker,” Persephone murmured to Angela.

“Just keep her away from my blueprints,” said Hades.

“Yes, dear.”

Persephone beckoned Angela away.

“Come away, I’ll take you to the women’s quarters to meet your house sisters.”

Persephone moved swiftly ahead and somehow to Angela it seemed as though she were floating. Her own feet made loud slaps on the stone floor, but Persephone was silent. She seemed to throw out golden specks of grain that caught the light of lamps blazing in niches carved in the walls. Angela noticed the sweet overripe smell of persimmons and apples.

They reached a hall at the end of the mansion. It was painted in rich reds, yellows, purples and oranges. In the center of the hall there was a huge loom being worked by a tall girl in a rose-pink peplos. She was just as pale as her mother, though her hair was blonde and wreathed with roses and baby’s breath. She gazed at Angela with wonder, with large child-innocent eyes.

“Praises, dear girls, your sister is here!” Persephone announced with a smiling voice. Angela felt genuinely important and proud, a novel sensation.

“Oh, I’m so pleased you’ve come!” the pink girl cried and flew over to Angela with the same eerie floating motion.

 

39

 

“I’m Elpis,” she said taking Angela’s hand in her cold one, “I just know you’ll love it here. Everyone will adore you, won’t they mama?”

Elpis turned her limpid eyes to Persephone, who nodded smilingly. “Just wait until we do your hair and put you in proper clothes and tend to your skin. You’ll be the belle of the ball!”

A nasty laugh came from a corner of the room. For the first time, Angela noticed that there was a giraffe standing there, blowing soap bubbles out of its nostrils.

“Ridiculous girl! Remember your manners,” Persephone said sternly.

The giraffe blinked placidly at her with long lashes, then suddenly disappeared.

Elpis let out a shriek as she saw a tarantula scuttling the floor in her direction.

 

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Mama! Tell her not to!”

The spider metamorphosed into a copy of Elpis, except that she wore a bushy beard.

“That’s enough young lady,” Persephone thundered. “Behave, or Hades will hear of it.”

There was a disembodied sigh and then a pop-eyed teenaged girl appeared. She was just as pale as the other two but wore a plain black peplos held in place by a brooch that looked like moonstone and gave off iridescent flashes apparently of its own accord.

“This is my youngest daughter Melinoë,” Persephone said somewhat apologetically. “You’ll be sharing her room for now. In fact, why don’t you make yourself useful and show Angela her room?” Persephone suggested to her daughter.

Melinoë scowled and puffed out her cheeks.

“All right. Come on,” she said without looking at Angela.

Melinoë didn’t wait but headed straight for the door and Angela had to hurry to keep up. They ended up in a little corner room with two basic beds covered with extremely thin cushions. Angela thought wistfully of her comfortable bedroom back home.

Melinoë sat down on her bed and stared at Angela, who squirmed under the scrutiny.

“Wow, that was amazing how you changed into different stuff like that,” Angela blurted to break the silence. “That was neat.”

The teen continued to stare.

“It’s my thing,” she said.

“What?”

“Most people here have a thing, you know, a power. Mine’s changing shape and giving people nightmares. Elpis gives people false hope–she lifts their spirits even though something terrible is about to happen. My boyfriend Achlys is really good at making people feel like they’re being bitten by termites.” She chuckled. “What’s your thing?” Melinoë crossed her legs and put her chin in her hands, leaning forward with interest.

“Um. Well…” Angela bit her lip. “I’m not sure I have a thing.”

“Oh.” Melinoë looked glum.

Angela felt her smartphone in her pocket and took it out. Luckily the batteries had not completely died.

“But, I do have this. It’s a, uh, a sort of crystal ball that you can use to see into the Overworld.”

Melinoë definitely brightened up.

“Can I see?”

“Yes. I’ll show you a picture of the jazz band at my school.”

She played a video of the band playing ‘Misty’. Melinoë gazed at it intensely.

“They all look like you,” she said. “They have that healthy skin and look all happy. It looks nice.” Melinoë sighed.

Angela was surprised.

“Don’t you like it here? Aren’t you a princess?”

“Practically everyone’s a princess here,” Melinoë scoffed. “It gets pretty boring. Plus I hate my sister, she’s such a suck up. Also Persephone gets on my nerves.”

“Your mother?”

“I call her Persephone. The parental bond has been severely attenuated by the fact that she keeps cutting off my allowance.”

“I see.”

“Anyway, I should probably tell you something.” Melinoë screwed up her nose and scrutinized her black-lacquered nails.

“What?”

“Well, I kind of promised I wouldn’t tell, but now that I’ve met you I like you so I probably will.”

“OK. What?”

Melinoë got up and put her head around the door, then returned to the bed and sat next to Angela.

“Persephone brought you here under false pretences. You’re not Hera and Zeus’s daughter. The real Angelia is violent and crazy so she got banished to an island when she was five years old. But Hera’s coming to visit for the wine festival in a few weeks and she said wants to see her daughter. Persephone’s been feeding her lines for years about how well Angelia is doing and now she’s terrified of Hera finding out she’s been lying all that time.”

“So I’m going to be the substitute?”

“Exactly.”

“But why would she lie about it?”

“Persephone’s really wants to move to Olympus, because it’s more prestigious, but she can’t do that without Hera’s blessing. Also, if Hera finds out about Angelia’s banishment she’ll be mad. I mean, like, really mad. She’ll have a conniption fit.”

 

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Bruiser

 

“We’ll, I’m mad myself actually,” sputtered Angela.

“Yeah, but you don’t count. Hera is the Queen of Goddesses. Plus, you haven’t seen vindictiveness until you’ve seen her at work. Persephone’s terrified of her, and she’s hard to scare.”  

“So, what am I supposed to do?” Angela asked. 

Melinoë shrugged.

“Just chill. Hang out with me. I’ll show you around. It’ll be fun.” Melinoë smiled, turned into a tabby cat, curled up and went to sleep. 

Angela sat on the hard couch staring at the cat-girl wondering exactly what she’d got herself into. 

 

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One of those days