The Gatekeeper's Challenge (4 page)

BOOK: The Gatekeeper's Challenge
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“You’ve heard the rumors he’s dead?” She made another sharp turn.

“He’s not in the Underworld.”

“After Dionysus was born, Zeus put him in Hermes’s care to protect him from Hera. When dressing him as a girl didn’t keep him from Hera’s suspicion, Hermes turned him into a goat and named him Pan and raised him as his own son. The stories of the two became convoluted over time, and intentionally so, to protect Dionysus.”

“And this concerns me because…”

“Because unlike all of the other powerful gods of Mount Olympus, he did not swear an oath on the
River Styx never to make Therese immortal.”

Tears fled to
Than’s mortal eyes and startled him. As a god, he could shed tears, but as a man, they felt different. He looked into Aphrodite’s beautiful face, wanting to kiss her with joy. “Thank you. I can’t thank you enough.”

“Not so fast,” Aphrodite frowned.

“What?”

“In order to ask Dionysus to help you, you will need to win his favor. But first, you will need to make it past the maenads. They’ll want to rip you apart.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Five: Surprise

 

Friday morning, Jen picked up Therese in her own truck—Pete stayed behind—and before Therese had climbed into the vehicle, Jen said, “My family has a surprise for you. You have to come over today right after practice.”

“What is it?” Therese asked.

“It’s a surprise. I can’t tell you.”

All through practice, Therese wondered what the surprise could be. Were they going to offer her a summer job? Had Mrs. Holt made her another jar of tomato jelly (which she loved)? Was Pete going to ask her to prom? Her stomach churned with anticipation.

During the ride back, Therese asked for a hint. “Come on,” she begged. “Just a little one?”

“It’s bigger than a bread box.”

Okay, at least that ruled out a jar of tomato jelly.

When they arrived at the Holts, the first trail rides of the day had already begun, but Mrs. Holt had stayed behind and was waiting near the pen.

It must be a summer job, Therese thought with dread as she walked toward Mrs. Holt. Therese hadn’t been on a horse since Dumbo’s accident, and she hadn’t groomed the horses much since, either.


Mornin’ Therese,” Mrs. Holt said. “Well, I guess it’s almost noon. You want some lunch?” Her blonde hair was mostly gray and cut like a bowl around her thin, leathery, freckled face.

“No thank you,” Therese replied.

“Let’s show her the surprise!” Jen said.

“Well Pete and Bobby wanted to be here, too, but I guess Jen can’t wait to show you. Let’s go inside the barn.”

Therese followed Mrs. Holt into the barn, fresh and clean from this morning’s chores, to a back stable and pointed to a newborn gray foal in a stall with Sassy.

“That’s Sassy’s colt,” Mrs. Holt explained. “Dumbo was his father.”

The foal lay close to his mother, eyeing Therese suspiciously.

“But how?
That was over ten months ago.” Dumbo was spooked by a snake last summer and broke two legs and had to be put down.

“Horses gestate for eleven months,” Mrs. Holt said softly. “Sassy was pregnant before the accident.”

Therese looked again at the little gray foal. “What’s his name?”

“We’re waiting for you to name him,” Mrs. Holt said. “This here colt belongs to you, young lady. He’s a gift from the family, if you want him, that is.”

Therese’s mouth dropped open. Just then, Bobby and Pete scrambled in from the pen.

“You’ve already told her?” Bobby complained. “We wanted to be here, Mama.”

Therese couldn’t believe how tall Bobby had gotten since school let out three weeks ago. He was almost as tall as Pete now, but, unlike his brother, had kept the boyish bowl haircut, though now it was covered with a white cowboy hat.

“I just told her, Bobby. She hasn’t even answered yet. What do you say Therese?”

Jen nudged her friend. “Speechless?”

Therese nodded as the tears rolled down her cheeks. First she hugged Jen, then Mrs. Holt, then Bobby, and finally, Pete, who held onto her longer than the others.

Pete chuckled when he released her. “I think that’s a yes,” he said.

Therese went over to the newborn colt, which lay in the hay. Sassy stood behind him, her teats full of milk.

“How old is he?” Therese asked.

“Two days,” Pete and Jen said together.

“May I pet him?”

Mrs. Holt came up beside her. “He’s still getting used to being handled, so for now, use a flat hand at his tail head, just here.” Mrs. Holt took Therese’s hand and guided it to the top of the colt’s tail.

The colt moved his tail closer to Therese.

“I think he likes it,” Therese said, smiling. She reached out and stroked the tail head again.

“Now try gently scratching,” Mrs. Holt encouraged.

The colt moved closer to Therese, and Sassy put her head nearby to get a better view of what was going on.

“It’s okay, Sassy,” Pete said, stroking the mare. “It’s okay, girl.”

“So what are you going to name him?” Bobby asked.

“I’m not sure. He looks like a little gray cloud.”
Cloudy? Foggy? Tornado? Thundercloud? Thunderhead? Cumulus—is that the scientific name for thunderhead? Hmm, Thunderbolt?
Then it came to her. “Stormy. I’ll call him Stormy.”

“Perfect!” Jen said.

“But is he really mine?”

“Well, Hon’, obviously you can’t take him home,” Mrs. Holt replied. “You’ll have to keep him here. But he’s yours to take care of, if you want him, and when he’s older, you can pay me back for his keep by letting me trail ride him in the summers. I’ll cover all his expenses. You just take care of him. You’ll have to ride him when he’s old enough. It’s up to you. It’s a big responsibility, so you might want to think about it.
You have to come at least twice a week to get him used to you and used to grooming.”

Jen put her hand on Therese’s shoulder. “Mom thought it might help you want to be with the horses again. You haven’t been around them much. They miss you.”

The colt nuzzled Therese’s hand, and that sealed the deal. “You’re so cute, Stormy. Such a cute little fella. I love you so much.”

Pete laughed. “I think he loves you, too.”

Therese felt the blood rush to her cheeks. Pete might have said, “I think I love you, too,” the way her body had responded. But he hadn’t. Of course he hadn’t. He was talking about Stormy.

“This is such a wonderful gift,” Therese said. “I’ll have to talk with my aunt and uncle, I suppose.”

“I already done cleared it with them, Hon’,” Mrs. Holt said. “But you take some time to think on it.”

Mr. Holt walked into the barn. “The next group has arrived,” he said. Then he noticed Therese with the colt. “So what do you think, Therese? He’s
perty, ain’t he?”

“Very
perty,” she agreed.

“Named him yet?”

“Stormy,” Bobby said. “She’s decided to name him Stormy.”

“Well that sounds about right,” Mr. Holt laughed, “considering the way he came into this world
kickin’ and a fussin’.”

“I wish I could have been there,” Therese said.

“None of us were,” Pete said. “Dad’s just makin’ that up.”

“No, son, I was here. That was the night I heard the news about Jim. Jim was my brother, Therese. I passed—I mean fell asleep out here in the barn
drownin’ my sorrows. I locked myself in here so I wouldn’t…wake any of you. Stormy here woke me up about four a.m. as he came into the world.”

The group fell silent, and Therese continued to scratch Stormy all around his rump. Sassy’s snort broke the silence.

“I expect she wants to nurse,” Mrs. Holt said. “And the second group is waiting. Better get on it, boys.”

As Pete headed toward the barn door, he turned and asked Therese, “You
comin’ tomorrow night to the festival?”

“Oh, you
gotta come!” Bobby said, ahead of his brother.

“I’m planning on it,” Therese said.

Pete gave her a smile and then disappeared from the barn.

 

Saturday morning, during warm up, something strange flickered just below the surface of the water where Therese swam freestyle. Rather than turning at the wall, she stopped, grabbed another breath, and pressed her face down to take a look. Before the image came into view, she thought it was someone’s towel that had fallen in by accident, but as the image floated toward her from the depths, she nearly sucked in water because of the shock. It was Poseidon’s face—not his whole body—looking up at her. She brought her head up and looked around at the other swimmers. Jen was swimming backstroke in the lane beside her. Carol, Richard, Vicki, and the Holts were up in the stands. Therese dug her finger beneath the swim cap to unclog an ear, grabbed another gulp of air, and thrust her face back down into the water. Poseidon spoke, and, oddly, she could hear him perfectly.

“I have heard your prayers, and although I cannot offer you
Thanatos or save your pet, I can help you beat your opponent. As I control all the waters of the Earth, I can command this small pool to make you the winner of your entire swim meet. Do you desire this of me?”

Therese lifted her head from the water, shook it several times to clear the water from her ears. She saw Gina Rizzo swimming butterfly two lanes down. Jen called over from the lane next to her.

“Everything alright?”

Therese nodded. Then she thrust her head back into the water. Poseidon had disappeared.

“No, Poseidon,” Therese blubbered into the water, in case she hadn’t imagined him. “I want to win this on my own. But thanks, anyway.”

His face reappeared.
“As you wish.” Then he vanished again.

Therese pulled her head up. Gina smirked at her through the water as she came up to breathe during the fly, causing Therese to have second thoughts about her answer to Poseidon.

“What are you doing?” her coach called from above. “Lose something down there?”

Therese blushed as she looked up at her balding coach and his puzzled face.

“I thought I saw a pair of goggles down there, but it’s nothing.”

“Finish this lap and climb on out,” the coach said. “We’re about to start.”

Despite the humidity and the heat in the high school natatorium, Therese shivered on the bench beneath her towel as she waited with her teammates to swim in her events. Her goggles were perched on her head over her swim cap, and she bounced her knees alternately, full of nerves. She looked around at the banners and decorations that were only up for meets. The natatorium had transformed.

This would be her first meet since her parents’ death—the first meet of her life they wouldn’t be in attendance, because the swim team at Durango High was part of a summer-only league. Across the pool, she could see her aunt and uncle sitting beside Vicki and the entire Holt clan—including Mr. Holt—in the stands behind them. She could tell from the way they had all been treating her that they knew what she was thinking:
My parents aren’t here. For the first time in my life, they won’t see me race.
Pete noticed she was looking his way and gave her a thumbs up. She returned the gesture with a meek, nervous smile.

Why hadn’t she accepted Poseidon’s help?

Jen, who sat beside Therese, handed over a green sharpie so Therese could record her event, heat, and lane numbers on the top of her thigh rather than trying to memorize them. When she finished copying from the heat sheet, which Jen had held out for her, she handed the sharpie over, and her knees resumed their nervous bouncing.

“Thanks,” Therese said.

“You want me to write ‘Eat my bubbles’ on your back?” Jen asked.

“Sure.”

“Do me first.”

The night before, Therese had prayed to all the gods except Ares to save Puffy, bring back
Thanatos, and help her team win the meet. She hadn’t expected anyone to actually materialize and answer her. The appearance of Poseidon had her so distracted that she messed up the words on Jen’s back. She had written “Eat my” so big, that there wasn’t much room left for “bubbles.” Knowing Jen, she’d check herself out in the locker room mirror. Therese decided to draw the bubbles. The finished product actually looked pretty cool.

During the relay, she could hear her family and friends cheering her on as she pulled and kicked, pulled and kicked the breaststroke. When she neared the end of the lane, she reached out to touch the wall with both hands so Jen could finish with fly. There was something wrong with the wall, though. It had become a spongy mucky mess. Before she had time to think, her hands slipped through the wall of the pool, and her whole body followed.

BOOK: The Gatekeeper's Challenge
6.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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