16 November 2012

"Bottoms Up"

By Curtis C. Chen

The Lieutenant lifted a still-burning cigarette out of her ashtray and touched it to the corner of my letter, setting it on fire.

I jumped out of my chair. "What the hell! Ma'am," I added quickly.

Markey crumpled up the paper and dropped it and the cigarette back into her ashtray, out of my reach, letting my words of protest burn away. "Did you really think, for one second, that I was going to let anybody else see that fucking letter?"

"They're not ready for this," I said. My legs felt weak, and the urge to throw up was quickly returning. "I'm not ready for this."

Markey stared at me for a second, then turned around, unlocked one of her file cabinets, and knelt to pull open the bottom drawer. I heard glass clinking, and then she stood up holding two lowball glasses and an unlabeled bottle of dark red liquid. She thumped the glasses down on top of her desk, pulled the stopper out of the bottle, and poured.

"Please tell me that's not blood," I said.

She filled both glasses about half full, then pushed one across the desk toward me. "Drink."

I picked up the glass. The liquid was a dark ruby color, too translucent and not quite thick enough to be actual blood. But I wouldn't have been surprised to find out that it had been thinned by something even more disturbing.

There was magic, and there was superstition, and then there was tradition. Lots of people held on to completely nonsensical traditions for no good reason, and I didn't put it beyond Markey to be beholden to some weird cultural heritage that might have included light vampirism.

"Please tell me this isn't human blood," I said.

"When Hades abducted Persephone to the Underworld," Markey said, "she was forbidden, by the rules of the Fates, to eat or drink anything while she was there." She held her glass up next to her desk lamp, swirling the liquid around. Crimson light played across her face. "If anyone still living consumed food or drink while visiting Hades, that person would have to remain, trapped by her own indiscretion."

"Please tell me this isn't your blood."

"Persephone's mother, Demeter, discovered that Hades had abducted her daughter, and forced Zeus to demand Persephone's return," Markey said. "It's interesting to note here that Zeus was the one who had originally goaded Hades into abducting Persephone to be his bride in the Underworld."

"I don't suppose I could get a mixer for this?" I said.

"Zeus didn't want any more trouble that day," Markey said. "So he ordered Hades to return Persephone, and you don't fuck with Zeus. But, as you no doubt are aware, Greek gods are all about following the letter of the law. Before he released Persephone, Hades tricked her into eating four seeds from a pomegranate."

Relief swept over me. I held my glass up to my nose and inhaled a sweet, fruity scent that was not at all like blood.


Image: POM by Howard Walfish, May, 2009