“Hades”: a short story
There were a surprisingly large number of positions open for men willing to dole out and deal with death, Hades discovered as he searched Monster.com from Olympus’s breakfast nook. Now that their heavenly home was planted in Middle of Nowhere, Virginia, that breakfast nook faced a landscape of backyards filled with tree houses and fish ponds, wooden fences and large gazebos; then again, Hades had rarely been allowed in Olympus when it had a cloudy view, so he couldn’t really complain about the downgrade.
Ten pages of scrolling later, after he had passed the calls for coroners, soldiers, grave diggers, ambulance drivers, and emergency room doctors, this post caught his eye: “Grief Counselor at Willow Hospice needed immediately. Must have at least a bachelor’s degree and counseling certificate. Looking to fill this position quickly, so please email your resume and cover letter to WillowHospiceHR@wh.org. Salary commensurate with experience.”
“You should do it,” a voice said over his shoulder.
His brother, Zeus, had come down to get a cup of coffee. Gods, how Hades hated that man, from his shirtless chest to the lightning bolt tucked into his robe like a sheriff would holster his gun. Cerberus hated him too, or perhaps just picked up on Hades’ dislike, and two of his three heads peaked out from under the table to growl at their leader.
“Gods damn it,” Zeus said as, startled, he spilled coffee down his hairless chest. “Can’t you keep that thing under control?”
“Sorry,” Hades said, while under the table, he stroked Cerberus’s third head. “Bad boy.”
“Anyway,” Zeus said as he dabbed off the coffee with a piece of parchment paper Hades had planned to use to jot down job options, “I think it would do you good.”
“The grief counselor thing. Maybe you should try what it’s like on the other side.”
Maybe you should try what it’s like to be fully clothed, Hades grumbled, but he kept his lips shut. Even being there, with Zeus, was better than the underworld.
“Here.” Zeus snapped his fingers. “Now you’ve got the job.”
Then he and his lightning bolt went back upstairs to find Hera or, if Hera wasn’t around, some other damsel in need of electrical assistance.
The first thing Hades noticed on his first day of work was the silence. Everything was just…still. Residents lay on their cots like soldiers, and their busied themselves with feeding them ice chips or reading to them until they closed their eyes. Nurses moved softly from room to room, adjusting a tube here or a monitor there.
And I thought the underworld was depressing, Hades thought. This is worse than Tartarus.
His first appointment was with the daughter a recently deceased resident. She was already in his office when he got there, facing the desk where presumably he was supposed to sit while addressing her. Her eyes stayed in that direction, even when he closed the door.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Hades said as he settled into the chair. This was step one in the ten step plan his boss had emailed him along with his W-2 and something called a direct deposit form.
From the front, the woman was much younger than Hades had expected. In her early 20’s, perhaps, though he did not interact with enough young people to know for certain—most children and young adults went to Elysium or Field of Asphodel after judgement. Plus, this woman was mostly covered in a black poncho despite the summer heat.
“Would you like to talk about your…” Hades checked the client list in front of him. “…mother?” The girl didn’t say anything. “Or perhaps any feelings of grief you have? Trauma? Have you had any flashbacks?”
The girl arched her eyebrows. Hades knew he was talking too quickly, but he couldn’t help it. Interpersonal relationships had never been his strong point—after all, he was a god. A god whose father was a titan now imprisoned in the very hell Hades now ruled.
“Perhaps you should tell me about yours,” the girl said. Her stony gaze found his wavering one and held it there, like two halves of a bridge swinging down to meet in the middle.
“Your feelings of guilt. That was what you felt when you walked in here, wasn’t it?”
Hades was growing increasingly uncomfortable. Who was this girl? And why was she questioning him?
“How about trauma?” The girl’s voice was like a needle pushing into the fabric of his brain. “Are you have any memories? Of your father, perhaps? Of the darkness you’ve condemned him to?”
Hades wanted to put his hands over his ears, but he had a feeling this was one voice he could not silence. Doing so would only show weakness, and such actions were not appropriate for the gods.
“And if you, a god, have darkness in your heart, then how can you sentence others to a lifetime of suffering for the same exact thing? Quite a riddle, Hades of the Underworld, though not one I think will be easily solved.”
“Who are you?” Hades demanded. “And why did you schedule this meeting if you didn’t want to talk about your mother?”
“She wasn’t my mother,” the woman said. Then she rose and cast off the black poncho, revealing the torso of a lion—or, rather, a sphynx. “I was hers.”
Then she spread her wings and flew through the window behind him, leaving only the black poncho behind.
Kelly Ann Jacobson is the author or editor of many published books, including novels such as Cairo in White, the poetry collection I Have Conversations with You in My Dreams, and anthologies such as Dear Robot: An Anthology of Epistolary Science Fiction. She also writes young adult fantasy novels under her pen name, Annabelle Jay. Kelly received her MA in Fiction at Johns Hopkins University, and is now working toward her PhD in Fiction Florida State University. Her work—including short stories published in such places as Northern Virginia Review and Iron Horse Literary Review—can be found at www.kellyannjacobson.com or