The Gatekeeper's Challenge (2 page)

BOOK: The Gatekeeper's Challenge
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“I swore on the
River Styx.”

Her eyes widened. “You never told me that before. Why didn’t you tell me you swore an oath? I’d have given up by now.”

“I tell you in every dream, Therese. You choose not to remember. Now wake up and leave me alone. I’ve grown tired of your company.”







Chapter Two: The Search


Than disintegrated and dispatched to several cities throughout the world, collecting the souls of the dead. The more he disintegrated, the more difficult it was for him to focus on his most important task: finding a way to make Therese his queen. Ares had been clever last summer on Mount Olympus when he’d made them all swear on the
River Styx not to make her a god like them, nor were they allowed to retrieve her from the Underworld once she died a mortal death. The situation seemed hopeless, but Than was not without hope. He was determined to find a way.

For the past ten months he had traveled from god to god, taking counsel from all those who would give it. Most of them had urged him to give up his dream of making Therese his wife and queen. They told him love was fleeting, and he would learn to forget her. They said she would be dead within the next eighty years, and this amount of time was but a blink of an eye to a god. Even his own father told him to forget her, saying she
wasn’t worthy. Hades had gone so far as to force Hip to swear on the River Styx, like the gods on Mount Olympus, never to make Therese a god.

But Aphrodite wept for him and understood his pain. They sat together on Mount Olympus in the banquet hall, alone except for Hestia’s coming and goings as she set the table for the next meal. Aphrodite took
Than’s hand into her own and kissed it, something no god save his mother had ever done.

“I’m so sorry for you,” she said softly. “You may not believe this, but I know how you feel. I’m not allowed to be with my true love either.”

“Hephaestus isn’t your true love?”

She pulled her hand away. “Lower your voice.” She waited for Hestia to leave the room.

“You knew that, Than. Everyone knows Ares has my heart.”

“Then why are you married to Hephaestus?”

“Has it never occurred to you why the most beautiful god would be wed to the only ugly one?”

Than shook his head. “Love is deeper than beauty?”

“God, no.” She waved her hand in the air as if to bat such an idea away. “Beauty trumps all, my dear, and Zeus knows that. He feared the people would worship me above him, so he bound me to that hunchback.”

“But what good did that do?”

“Beauty also comes from happiness. Some of my beauty faded after my marriage.”

“I wouldn’t know. I can’t imagine you more beautiful.”

Aphrodite gave him a smile. “What do you want from me?”

“Can you persuade Ares to change his mind about Therese? Ask him to do it out of love for you?”

“Of course, but that won’t help. We’ve all sworn an oath. Even if Ares sympathizes with your cause, he can’t undo what’s already been done.”

“Does he sympathize?”

“He hates you.”

Than was momentarily distracted from the beautiful goddess by the soul of another plant in the hands of a young Indian boy he accompanied to Charon. More and more he was seeing plants evolving souls of their own, like animals and humans. He had been adding these plant souls to his chambers in preparation for the day Therese would join him. He wanted to add as many plants and animals to his chambers as possible for his nature-loving bride-to-be.

Aphrodite touched his hand again and brought his focus back to her. “I’m sorry. Truly. But there’s nothing we can do.”

“I can’t accept that. There’s got to be a way. Will you at least think about it, and let me know if an idea comes to you?”

Aphrodite nodded, but her face held no hope.

Then today, months after his conversation with the goddess, Hermes appeared with a summons from Mount Olympus. Aphrodite wished to see him.
























Chapter Three: Awake


Therese reached out to Hip but felt something furry in his place. She opened her eyes. She squinted against the bright sun beaming through her bedroom windows. Her eyes gradually adjusted, and she looked around. Her bed covers were thrown across the wooden floor. She lay in her nightshirt, one sock on, one sock off, holding onto her little smooth fox terrier, Clifford. He licked the tears streaming down her cheeks.

“It happened again,” she told him. “It seemed so real.”

She lay back on her pillow and stared at the ceiling. She noticed a crack that hadn’t been there before.

Ten months and not a word from him.

Than,” she whispered. “Thanatos,” she said in case his hearing required his full name. “Please do something. Give me a sign you still care about me. I feel so hopeless.”

When, once again, nothing earth-shattering happened, she pulled her covers from the floor and lay back down on her bed beneath them. Why get up? What did she have to live for?

“You’re so lucky, boy,” she said to Clifford. “If only Artemis could have made me immortal when she did it to you. We could be together forever and still have our memories—” Unlike Mom and Dad, she thought, who, because they were dead were forever oblivious to the life they led on earth. They were happy, though, in the Elysian Fields with all of its delusions. It didn’t really sound so bad, and was maybe a better alternative to this emptiness and longing she felt ever since their death last year—an emptiness and longing that only worsened when Than came into, and then out of, her life.

She wondered if it would have been better not to have met him at all. She shuddered at the thought.
No, better to be miserable.

Then she wondered for the millionth time if she could have possibly imagined it all: meeting the gods of sleep and death, falling in love, receiving magical gifts from goddesses, taking a ride with Poseidon, fighting the man responsible for her parents’ death on Mount Olympus and then choosing not to kill him, which meant she could not become a god and join Than in the Underworld forever. She had been in the worst state of depression after her parents’ death. Could it have all been a delusion?

No, because of the crown and the robe and the blue dress Aphrodite gave her at the end of the battle on Mount Olympus. Because of the locket from Athena she wore around her neck. They were proof.

Clifford did his I-need-to-go-outside dance, so she climbed from the bed. “Okay, boy. Let’s go.” She tugged off the one sock and skipped down the stairs.

“Good morning, Sleepyhead,” Carol said from the granite countertop where she sipped coffee and read the paper. “It’s almost time for swim practice.”

“I’m not sure I’m going this morning.” She slipped on a pair of flip-flops and then followed Clifford out the back door onto the wooden deck. The screen door slammed shut behind her, so she didn’t hear whatever her aunt said next. “Come on, Clifford. Let’s go for a walk.”

She often walked out in the woods in her nightshirt knowing no one would be around to see her. The Melner Cabin was a half mile away toward the dam (just thinking of last summer’s guests in the Melner Cabin made her moan), and the Holts lived three-quarters of a mile on the other side. She had only the deer, the chipmunks, the birds, and the occasional wild horse to contend with, and these companions she gladly welcomed. Just now two chipmunks scurried away from her, and a red bird fluttered beneath the feeder on one of two great elms. She made her wish and blew five kisses before the cardinal could make its escape. She doubted the wish would come true, but it didn’t hurt to try.

She looked up at the twin elms, which were both healthy now thanks to her uncle, Richard, who had cut off the diseased branch and had treated the roots of both trees to keep the Dutch elm disease away. He and Carol married last Christmas, and in January Richard’s adoption of Therese was finalized. They would now celebrate two birthdays for her: April seventh, the day she was born, and January eighth, the day Richard’s adoption of her was official. She had two legal guardians who loved her and took care of her. She had friends who loved her, too.
And Pete. Why couldn’t this be enough?

“Therese?” Carol called from the back door. “Jen’s on her way to pick you up. Better get your suit on.”

Therese groaned. “Come on, Clifford. Let’s go inside.”

Clifford rambled down the trail he and she had made over the years, and together they reentered the house.

“You’ve missed so much practice,” Carol said. “You really need to go today. You’re not sick, are you?” Carol’s straight red hair was pulled up in a high ponytail and rings of mascara had not yet been washed from her face.

Therese shrugged. “I don’t think so.
Just tired.”

“You’re a healthy sixteen-year-old. Why are you so tired all the time? Maybe we should go see Dr.
Lanford again.”

“I don’t like Dr.
Lanford, and I don’t want to go on Prozac again.” The Prozac had interfered with the lucidity of her dreams.

“Maybe a therapist, then.
I’ll do some research. Your parents have been gone a year. This isn’t healthy.”

Therese sighed. “I’ll go get ready.”

She trudged up the stairs, with Clifford at her heels. After she changed into her one-piece, she quickly fed and watered her pets. Puffy still didn’t look so good. She suspected he had stayed in his plastic tower all night again. His breathing had been labored for over a week. The vet had said it was time. Four years was a long life for a hamster.

Jewels, her tortoise, had nearly doubled in size since last summer and had required a larger tank. The tank stretched across the expanse of Therese’s desk, which was no loss to Therese since she always did her homework on her bed. She stroked the tortoise’s shell.

She heard the doorbell, so she slipped on some shorts over her suit, grabbed her bag, and skipped downstairs where she slipped her feet into flip-flops.

“Don’t you want some breakfast?” Carol asked.

“Not hungry.”

When she opened the door, she found Pete instead of Jen.

“Hey, Therese,” he said. “Ready?”

“Where’s Jen?”

“In the truck. Hers isn’t running so well, and there’s no way I’m letting her drive my truck.”

ya, Carol.” Therese followed Pete through the screened front porch and down the steps to the gravelly drive where Jen sat in Pete’s truck, waiting.

Jen climbed out of the front bench seat so Therese would sit between her and her brother. Therese wished Jen wasn’t pulling so hard for her and Pete to get together—though, in Jen’s mind, they kind of already had. Therese now noticed that Jen had dark rings beneath her eyes, and they weren’t rings of mascara.

“What’s wrong?” Therese asked as Pete backed out of the drive.

“Nothing,” Jen said in a way that wasn’t convincing.

“Dad got drunk last night. Jen didn’t sleep a wink.”

“Oh no.”

“Yeah,” Pete said.

“We don’t have to go to practice,” Therese offered. “Let’s go have breakfast.”

Jen shook her head. “I need the practice. I need to get my mind off everything.”

“His brother died,” Pete explained as he passed Lemon Dam. “He and his brother were close when they were young. Last night was a
one-time thing.” Then he added, “We hope.”

Jen shuddered and Therese could see without looking directly at her that she had started to cry.

“Change the subject,” Jen choked out.

Pete and Therese spoke at the same time. Therese said, “How’s Matthew?” and Pete said something about his band.

“Go ahead,” Pete said.

“No, you go,” Therese said.

“Okay. My band is playing in a festival at Pagosa Springs this Saturday night. My whole family is going, I think. I’d love it if you’d come, too.”

“Sounds like fun. I’ll ask my aunt.” She turned to Jen. “Is Matthew going?”

“I think so. Todd and Ray, too.”

“Todd and Ray?
I haven’t seen them since school let out.”

“You could ask Vicki, too, if you want,” Jen added.

Therese nodded. “Yeah. I should, shouldn’t I?”

“It’s up to you,” Jen replied.
“Your call.”

Vicki had come to Durango High School half way through their freshman year and had stuck to Therese like glue. She had mousy brown hair and a face that reminded Therese of a
Who from Whoville. Therese had tried to be friendly but had felt suffocated by the neediness of the new girl, until the terrible thing happened at the end of the summer: Vicki’s mother committed suicide. Therese had made it her mission to get closer to Vicki, and what had started off as charity had gradually grown into a friendship, though still less than equal. Vicki needed Therese and depended on her much more than Therese did Vicki.

BOOK: The Gatekeeper's Challenge
12.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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