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‘I love you. See you tomorrow! X’
Chief Watson reread his last text to his wife-to-be one more time. He thought it was a simple message that expressed his feelings for her without being too cheesy. Some other couples would probably send an endless amount of texts with dozens of hearts and kisses if they were in his situation, but Watson was anything but a fan of sentimental nonsense and neither was his fiancé. Showing affection was necessary, but there was a line not to be crossed. They had based their relationship on that particular principle from the start and were both convinced that that was the reason why they still loved each other after all those years. He had definitely missed her during those three weeks she had to take care of her mother on the other side of the world. The knowledge that she would return soon – after all her mother’s condition could only change quickly for the better or the worse – could put him at ease, though. And indeed, a couple of days ago he found out that his mother-in-law was feeling better and that his fiancé would come back soon. Soon was today, hence the smile on Watson’s face was even brighter and more spontaneous than usual; something that could not be said about his partner who had just entered the car and sat down next to him.
‘Morning, chief.’ Eline’s voice sounded anything but cheerful. She gave Watson the address of the crime scene they had to go to, after which the chief started the engines.
‘Hi, Eline. I have a feeling you’ve had a rough night.’ Watson prepared himself for a concerningly serious story. Eline was not someone who looked unhappy without a proper reason. He always knew when she needed someone to talk to and she was always there to support him as well. When you’re a team, it’s important to get along. Watson considered himself very lucky with a partner like Eline. They weren’t just very good colleagues, but also best friends.
‘Rough is one way to put it.’ Eline looked at her partner and saw him responding with a concerned frown, a sign that he was willing to listen.
‘Do you remember I had this crush on Rachel Van Kamp, the pharmacist from that one village nearby? Well, we’ve been on a couple of dates and everything seemed to go really well, so when she asked me to come over, I thought we were finally going to take things to the next level. I was right: we both had a good time, drank a little and then one thing led to another… I’ll spare you the details. Anyway, she eventually told me that she has been married to a man for four years, who she has a two-year-old son with. She told them she couldn’t join them for their weekend at the beach so she could spend the night with me.’
‘And you probably feel like a naïve idiot.’
‘Of course I do! It was just another case of a woman who had grown tired of her marriage and wanted to try something new at the cost of another person’s feelings. My friends even warned me about her, but I was too blind to believe them. I’m such a fool!’
Chief Watson looked Eline straight in the eye. Time for a pep talk.
‘Eline, I understand you’re blaming yourself for all of this, but nothing about this whole situation is your fault. You thought you had met an honest woman you saw a future with, so your instinct told you that your friends’ warnings were just gossip. After all, you knew Rachel better than they did. We often let our feelings take control over our actions, that’s just a typically human thing and not something you could have avoided. The only one who’s to blame is Rachel: she lives a life filled with lies and betrayal. How were you supposed to know that she was married and lying to you that whole time? If you feel responsible for a possible divorce, then I can tell you that that won’t be your fault at all. It’s obvious she has been wanting to leave her husband for quite a while. It was going to happen one way or another. And maybe this woman didn’t turn out to be Ms Perfect, but you’re a sweet, beautiful girl. You’ll find someone else in no time. I’m sure you will.’
Eline looked at Watson with gratitude. That was exactly what she wanted to hear and she knew her partner would be able to lighten up her mood.
‘Thanks, chief. For real, thank you. I don’t know how you do it, but you always know exactly which words to use to make someone feel better. Your fiancé should be damn glad she has someone like you.’
Watson smiled. Others had frequently told him that he had great communication skills. Eline might have gone to him the most for advice or a pep talk, but she definitely wasn’t the only one. He actually didn’t mind doing that. If he could make someone else happy, then he was happy too.
‘Thank you, Eline. I’m just glad I could help. And my fiancé should indeed be glad she has me,’ Watson laughed.
‘No, I’m serious. If I were attracted to men, I’d know who to choose!’
‘Stop it or you’ll make me blush! Got any info on the case we’re about to investigate?’
‘A jogger found a dead woman in the park next to the airport this morning. That’s all we know so far.’
‘See, that’s why I never go jogging: it’s always those joggers who find dead bodies lying around!’
The rest of the trip was rather quiet. Chief Watson could tell that Eline was noticeably happier than when she entered the car. That made him feel good. Perhaps it was a little strange to go look at a corpse with a smile, but by now they had seen so many dead bodies that those didn’t bother them much anymore. Once they had arrived at the crime scene Eline went to the corpse first while the chief gathered some more information, like they always did.
‘Chief Watson and detective Allemand; what can you tell us about the victim?’ Watson asked one of the forensic investigators.
‘Good morning, chief. The victim is a 29-year-old woman that probably left the airport right before her death, considering she was carrying a lot of luggage with her. We’ve found bite marks in her neck and stomach, but they’re not human, so we’re not talking about murder. She was found by a passenger who immediately called the police. She also had her ID with her, which I’ll need for a minute because I can’t remember her name. It was one you don’t really hear every day.’
‘Take your time,’ is what Watson would have said if Eline hadn’t come up to him all of a sudden.
‘Chief, I think it’d be better if you didn’t take a look at the body and just went home.’
Watson reacted confused: ‘What’s up with you, Eline? Did that animal hurt her that badly? I’m used to a lot more than just some bite wounds, I’ll be fine.’
‘Chief, I really think it’s a bad idea to go look at the body. Please just listen to me,’ Eline objected.
‘And I think you’ve forgotten who’s in charge here! Why are you keeping me from doing my job? I assume the body’s right there? Let’s take a look at it, then.’
Determined, Watson walked over to the corpse while Eline vainly tried to stop him.
When he arrived at the body Orpheus Watson desperately fell to his knees. Before him lay both his sweetest dream and his biggest nightmare: finally he could hold his fiancé Eurydice again, but only as a lifeless body soaked in blood.
Orpheus’ favourite pub had become his second home by now – perhaps even his only one, because the house where he lived no longer felt like home. Eurydice was no longer there to wake up next to, to make him happy with her contagious enthusiasm or to make him realise how lucky he was to be with a woman like her. Whenever he returned to that house, the silence and emptiness reminded him of his loss. That’s why the pub served as a good distraction: there was always some kind of company. Since it was quite late, there weren’t a lot of people there: besides the bartender and himself, Orpheus only noticed an unknown woman who had been looking at him all night.
Probably someone else who pitied him, he thought. The news had spread rather quickly: in a few days’ time everyone in the neighbourhood knew what had happened to Eurydice and how miserable his almost-widower – after all, they hadn’t been married yet – felt because of it. Orpheus really didn’t appreciate that so-called empathy. He wasn’t at all convinced that anyone actually sympathised with him. When someone offered him their condolences or said something like ‘How horrible for you,’ all he could hear was: ‘I’m so glad you have to go through this and not me!’ So the lady who was staring at him better didn’t come up to him to offer her condolences. He really didn’t need that right now.
Suddenly Orpheus heard his phone ringing for the millionth time that night. It was Eline. He didn’t expect it to be anyone else: she was the only one who had tried to reach him several times after the incident. Although he had never returned her calls ever since Eurydice passed away, she kept trying nonetheless. But talking about his fiancé’s passing was about the last thing Orpheus wanted to do right now. He decided to ignore the call once more… Fuck, wrong button.
‘Chief, about time! Did you finally find out what the green button’s for?’
Watson sighed deeply. ‘Don’t worry, I know exactly what the green button does. That’s why I’ve managed to avoid it up until now.’
‘Orpheus, I understand you’re having a hard time. I can’t imagine what you’re going through and honestly I’m glad I can’t imagine such pain and grief. But just isolating yourself without even giving me any sign of life isn’t going to solve your problems. I haven’t seen or heard from you in two weeks. You weren’t even at the funeral. I’m really worried about you.’
‘Funerals don’t bring the dead back to life, Eline. I said goodbye to Eurydice when I found her lifeless body in that park. If I had gone to her funeral, I would’ve had to say goodbye again. The first time was painful enough.’
‘Listen chief, you can’t keep avoiding contact with the people who care about you. We’re all worried sick. They’re not very happy with your absence at the station either. They understand you need time, but they’re planning on firing you if you don’t give them a ring soon.’
‘Just let them fire me! What do I care?’
Orpheus heard his partner let out a deep sigh. She knew this was pointless.
“You know, Eline, we were going to marry this week. Wouldn’t that have been nice? Eurydice and I in city hall with you as my best woman, waiting for each other to say ‘I do’ followed by a modest party with friends and family. We were looking forward to it so much.”
‘Orpheus, stop that. You’re just making it harder for yourself.’
“You know what’s funny? I sent my very last text to Eurydice the day before her death. ‘See you tomorrow!’ is what I had written. I did see her the next day.” The irony had Orpheus laughing for a bit. ‘I don’t know if there’s a god, but if he exists, he surely has a sick sense of humour!’
Eline sighed deeply once again.
‘This is pointless. Just call me when you do want to listen to me. If you get a call from work, then be sure to answer it. Something important about Eurydice was discovered during the autopsy. Stay strong.’
Orpheus put his phone down on the bar and quickly ordered another glass of scotch to ease his misery. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the unknown lady approaching him. ‘Oh, just wonderful,‘ he thought while rolling his eyes.
‘I can tell you’re not looking forward to receiving any more pity from a stranger, so I won’t give you that,’ the lady said, ‘However, I can also tell you’re in need of emotional help and I would like to offer you some if you’re willing to accept it.’
Watson frowned. ‘What are you, some kind of psychologist?’
‘I’m much more than that. I can give you the real solution to your problem.’
‘Unless you can revive the dead, I don’t see how you would be able to help me, madam.’
The lady smiled. She took a pen out of her purse and a beermat that was within reach on which she wrote an address.
‘Come to this address tomorrow and I’ll explain it to you. This is a one‑time offer.’
On that note she ended the conversation and left Orpheus behind in the pub.
Waking up with a hangover had become nothing new to Orpheus by now. Getting drunk as a way to cope with his misery caused a severe headache in the morning, but that pain was nothing compared to the pain he felt on the inside. It was like nothing could cheer him up anymore. When he looked in the mirror, the joyful, optimistic Orpheus from before was nowhere to be found. Every morning he told himself the same thing: ‘Tomorrow I’ll get better. Then I’ll be the man I used to be. I’ll find help, visit friends and do anything to feel better again!’ But he never found the strength to do what he promised himself and every single time he condemned himself because of his own weakness. When he picked up the beermat from the floor and read the address that was written on it, he decided that today would be different. He wanted to give the lady from yesterday a chance. It wouldn’t hurt to just try… Or would it? No, he couldn’t think about that. He would never get better with that attitude. He got into his car shortly after, entered the address into his GPS and followed the designated route to his destination.
The GPS brought him to a remote house right in front of a forest. There was a note on the front door which read: ‘FOR SERVICES PLEASE FOLLOW THE PATH NEXT TO THE HOUSE.’ Taking orders from a piece of paper, Orpheus walked towards the path that led deeply into the forest. After dozens of metres he stumbled upon a typical gypsy caravan and the chief immediately regretted his decision to come here. But he had already got this far, so he might as well just take a look. As expected, the inside was colourfully decorated with religious symbols and big rugs on the walls and floor. There was also a noticeably strong smell of incense mixed with tobacco. The lady from yesterday was sitting at the table in front of him. She was wearing an impressive, but atrocious robe, he thought.
‘Good afternoon, chief. I’m glad to see you’ve taken my offer into consideration after all. Please take a seat.’
Suspicious yet curious Watson sat down at the table. He would only leave if she asked him for money. Until then he was willing to listen to her intentions.
‘Could you just tell me why I had to come here, please? I’ve got other things to do, Ms… Sorry, what was your name again?’
‘You didn’t have to come here at all, you made that decision yourself. If you want to, you can walk through that door at any moment you like and go back to the pub to get drunk and try to forget your misery. But I’d appreciate it if you listened to what I have to say first. By the way, you can call me Esmeralda, Mr Watson. Or can I call you Orpheus?’
‘Call me whatever you want,’ Orpheus said impatient.
‘Orpheus and Eurydice… Curious names, aren’t they? You two could perfectly fit in some ancient Greek myth.’
‘Said the woman with the most clichéd name for fortune tellers there is. Where did you find that one, on namesforwitches.com?’
‘.net, not .com,’ Esmeralda mumbled. ‘Let’s skip the small talk and cut right to the chase.’
‘About damn time,’ Orpheus thought.
‘Last night you said I could only help you by reviving your beloved Eurydice. I can do many things, but messing with the rules of death unfortunately lies beyond the capacities of mortals like you and me.’
The urge to stand up and return home had become very tempting with the chief, but since the fortune teller hadn’t spoken about money yet, he remained seated.
Esmeralda continued: ‘I may not be able to directly help you reach your goal, but I can give you the information necessary to get on the right track.’
Orpheus remained silent and kept staring at her with a blank look, curious to know what kind of nonsense she was going to tell him.
‘My office isn’t situated in this remote forest for no reason. I chose this place because deep in these woods there’s a passage leading to the Tartarus, commonly known as the Realm of the Dead or the Underworld. You can get Eurydice out of there and continue your life together in the upper world.’
Aha! There it was: the clue of the story, the reason why she had invited him here. She wanted to convince him that his dead fiancé wasn’t actually dead, that there was still hope for their future together and that he could stop whining. What a heroine!
Orpheus responded indignant: ‘Does fooling other people amuse you? Is that perhaps some kind of weird fetish of yours? You feed on the naïve hope of others after you’ve made them believe that they can forget about all their worries and that everything will be alright. Of course it’s important to you that your clients believe you, because pleased clients mean a lot of cash. But that’s no problem for you, because you just pick the ones who are the most vulnerable and naïve to believe such hopeful lies! How are you not ashamed of yourself?’
‘Have I once talked about money since the start of this conversation, Mr Watson?’, Esmeralda defended herself, ‘You’re a cop. You constantly interrogate liars and always succeed to find out the truth, that’s your job. If I were lying right now, you would have known for a long time. So look me in the eye and tell me in all honesty that you truly believe I’m lying.’
She didn’t show any typical signs of mendacious behaviour, Orpheus could not deny that. He remained sceptical, however.
‘If there really is a passage leading to the underworld, then how come that’s not known by the general public? If we can really make contact with the dead, then why has the media never covered that before? That should’ve been international news a long time ago, shouldn’t it?’
‘The trip to get there is not an easy one. The underworld wasn’t made for the living; the closer you get, the more anxious you’ll feel. You’ll feel disoriented, uneasy and exhausted. Those who happen to walk in the right direction without knowing about the existence of the passage immediately turn around because of that uncomfortable feeling. The few who went there intentionally and succeeded to return, have decided to keep sensitive information about the underworld within very close circles. That’s also why I don’t know anything else about the Tartarus.’
Orpheus still wasn’t sure whether he should believe her, but he was intrigued by her story. He decided to play along a little longer.
‘So how do I get there?’
‘That’s simple, you’ll find the passage where the sun doesn’t shine.’
Confused by Esmeralda’s strange choice of words Orpheus stared at her with a questionable look. With rolling eyes she responded: ‘The North, Orpheus. The sun never shines from the North. Just keep walking in northern direction and if you start feeling uncomfortable, you’re on the right track.’
‘What do I do once I get there?’
‘You’ll have to convince Hades, the god of the underworld, to give you back Eurydice. I’ve heard from people in the neighbourhood that you have great communication skills and are very good at convincing others, so there’s a chance you’ll get her back. That chance isn’t big, but there is one.’
Orpheus Watson couldn’t believe he was starting to doubt the authenticity of Esmeralda’s story. Was he actually considering to look for his dead fiancé’s soul in the realm of the dead? That was too ridiculous for words!
‘Why should I believe you?’
‘Let’s make a deal: you don’t have to pay me for my services until you’ve brought back Eurydice from the underworld alive. If you decide to just go home, then we’ll pretend this conversation has never taken place and you can go back to your pathetic, depressing life of sadness and solitude. Convinced?’
On that note Orpheus stood up and shook Esmeralda’s hand. He couldn’t believe he was actually about to try it, but he also realised he had nothing to lose if the whole story were made up.
‘Here goes nothing,’ he thought to himself as he shut the door behind him and prepared himself for an unusual walk through the woods.
Although it was still noon, the clouds and the dense foliage made the forest look very dark. Meanwhile Orpheus had been walking for over ten minutes with no result. Oh well, if it turned out Esmeralda had made everything up, he had at least gone outside for once. That was something he hadn’t done in a while. And by making sure he kept walking in northern direction, he had also used that compass app on his phone which had always seemed useless up until now. Orpheus noticed that that tiny bit of hope made it possible for him to look at things on the bright side again. He began to imagine his life with Eurydice. What if Esmeralda was right and he managed to retrieve Eurydice alive, how would they explain that to everyone? Should they even tell the truth? He couldn’t really come up with a believable alternative explanation. Maybe they should just start a new life elsewhere, in a place where no one knew them. It would definitely be tough to leave without saying goodbye to their families and Eline, but if others found out about their miracle, the consequences would be unpredictable.
When Orpheus woke up from his daydream, he realised that the forest had become noticeably quiet: he didn’t hear any singing birds or rustling in the bushes; just complete silence. He also felt that it had become much colder. Was he getting closer after all? Or was he just imagining it? He knew senses were easy to manipulate. The hope that he was getting closer could cause things that weren’t there to appear like they were actually there. It suddenly got really cold; too cold for the time of the year. When Watson could see his breath leaving his mouth, he knew for sure he wasn’t imagining the low temperature. You would think the underworld was a realm of fire and lava, though. Then all of a sudden everything changed really fast: Orpheus could barely breathe anymore, his legs felt tremendously heavy and the trees looked like they were dancing in front of his very own eyes. The concerning silence quickly turned into a deafening, constant squeal. Now the chief understood why people who came close by accident immediately turned back, but he had to hold on. The unbearing discomfort he felt meant that Esmeralda had told the truth. He had to reach the underworld if it was the last thing he did. He felt weaker with every step he took. He became increasingly exhausted and nauseous. The few metres he was walking felt like kilometres. He wanted to keep going, but he couldn’t: after a couple of seconds everything turned black and he fell to the ground, completely unconscious.
Waking up with a hangover had become nothing new to Orpheus by now… Only this time he hadn’t drunk anything. Yet he suffered from a severe headache and woke up with a horrendous stench surrounding him. It didn’t smell like a combination of alcohol and sweat this time, though. His bed was far less comfortable than usual too: wet, but also painful, as if his mattress were filled with spikes. When Orpheus looked around him, he saw that he wasn’t in his bedroom at all. Instead, he was in a cave made of a peculiarly dark stone – stone that could move. No wait, he was moving. Totally confused he looked up to find out he was being carried in the mouth of a gigantic beast. He couldn’t see what kind of beast, but he did see a dog of the same enormous size walking to his left. When the beast stood still and dropped Orpheus to the ground, it became clear that there were three dogs. Or actually one dog with three heads! Then he remembered: he was in the woods looking for the entrance of the underworld. The sight of the hellhound could only mean that he succeeded in doing so, though he couldn’t remember how. The sudden growling of the three heads didn’t give him the impression that he would have the time to think about it either. How the hell was he supposed to get out of this situation? That beast would definitely catch him if he tried to escape! Maybe that wasn’t even such a bad thing: if he died right now, he would have all the time of the world to look for Eurydice and he wouldn’t have to worry about their life together in the upper world. When each head of the hellhound came closer and showed its enormous, sharp teeth, Orpheus decided not to move and accept his fate.
Watson saw a man coming out of the shadows like a villain from some horrible superhero movie.
‘Show-off!’ Orpheus thought to himself. It looked like the mysterious appearance had almost complete control over the beast, since it immediately followed its owner’s command and quickly retreated. When the man came closer, Orpheus saw that he looked skinny and pale with pitch-black hair and terrifyingly dark eyes. This had to be Hades.
‘Forgive him, a mortal entering this realm is not something that occurs every day. Lving humans’ flesh is one of his favourite treats,’ said the impressively low voice of the god of the underworld.
Orpheus swallowed. He felt genuinely intimidated.
‘Oh, don’t worry, I’ll make sure he doesn’t eat you. If you’re not here to waste my time, that is. But the fact that you just remained completely motionless when you were about to be devoured indicates courage, so I have faith that you won’t disappoint me. This means you’re in a favourable position right now, but keep in mind that my expectations have also become extra high. So if your reason for coming here doesn’t meet those expectations, I’ll have to make you suffer extra hard.’
Watson tried really hard not to come across as nervous or scared, but Hades could easily see the terror on his face. That caused a vicious grin to form on his face before he continued his monologue: ‘You undoubtedly know who I am, but just to be sure I’ll tell you again very clearly. I have many names: some call me Lucifer, others Pluto, Hades, the King of the Dead, God of the Underworld, Lord of the Dead Realm… Choose whichever you prefer. But tell me, what’s your name?’
‘Orpheus Watson.’ He found it easier to keep a straight face now.
‘Nice to meet you, Orpheus.’ Hades reached out his hand to Watson’s face, expecting he would kiss the ring around his finger as a sign of respect or subservience – it was a matter of perspective. Watson didn’t appreciate this at all and rejected the oppressive request. The grin that appeared on Hades’ face was much bigger than the previous one, which was not necessarily a good thing. In response to the arrogance of the mortal young man Hades slapped Orpheus in the face, who consequently fell to the ground.
Hades grabbed him by his collar and warned him: ‘Listen, you little brat, not letting Cerberos intimidate you was brave and impressive, but disrespecting me is stupid, very stupid. Maybe you don’t quite realise with whom you’re dealing, so let me make that very clear to you: I decide what happens to you if your story fails to convince me and even if it doesn’t, I’ll still determine your fate after your death. And I can assure you that there are things far worse and more painful than death itself. So I advise you to drop that meaningless pride of yours. Understood?’
Orpheus nodded carefully.
‘A minute ago I had a good feeling about you, which played in your favour. Now you’ve disappointed me, though, so you’re starting from scratch again. Let’s hope your story will please me.’
Orpheus stood up and tried to find the courage to explain his reason for coming.
‘I have come here because…’
‘Shut up!’ Hades interrupted him, ‘Wait ‘till I’m sitting on my throne. I prefer to look down upon people while they look up at me.’
Meanwhile Orpheus had become extremely nervous. He just wanted to skip this part and flee back to the upper world with Eurydice. Hades sat down on a throne made of stone which Orpheus hadn’t noticed because of all the commotion. Next to it stood another throne on which a woman was seated. He didn’t known whether she had been there the whole time or had just taken a seat during the chaos of a minute ago.
‘Speak,’ Hades ordered after he had found a comfortable position.
Watson took a deep breath and then started his monologue: ‘I have come here to take my beloved Eurydice White back to the upper world. We’ve been together for seven years and still love each other as much as in the very beginning. Everyone who knows us can confirm that we make a lovely couple. We were going to marry in a few days, but she was unfortunately sent to this place two weeks ago. I’m heartbroken. I barely eat, don’t go outside anymore, neglect my friends and I just feel like a horrible person. I feel like my life has no meaning without her. That’s why I’m begging you to please send her back to the upper world alive. Please!’
Judging by Hades’ look the chief’s despair and supplications were not able to impress him.
‘Every time a human appears in front of me I have to hear the exact same story, but with different names. Do you even realise how boring and exhausting that is?’
Those words made Orpheus panic on the inside. He had to be able to convince Hades somehow, he just didn’t know how.
‘Luckily I’ve had a lot of time to think of some punishments, so your visit won’t be such a waste of my time after all. Persephone, could you get me my list, please?’
Orpheus enthusiastically looked at the woman for a second. Of course, Persephone! That was it!
‘Excuse me … Persephone is your wife, isn’t she?’
Hades looked uninterested.
‘Correct. What’s your point?’
‘No, nothing. I just remembered your myth. You know, the myth in which you kidnapped her while she was picking flowers, but her mother didn’t want her daughter to spend her whole life in the underworld. So you agreed to keep her here for half a year and send her back to her mother for the other six months.’
‘Again, what’s your point?’ Hades asked impatient.
‘Most people would call this an example of Stockholm Syndrome, because Persephone would’ve supposedly fallen in love with you in captivity. But by the way she’s looking at you I can tell that she truly loves you. As a police officer I know when someone is telling the truth or not. With couples I’m also able to tell when one of the partners’ love isn’t sincere and I can assure you with one hundred percent certainty that Persephone’s feelings for you are completely legit.’
‘Listen kid, the more you waste my time, the more severe the punishment will be. I’d keep my mouth shut if I were you.’
‘What if your mother-in-law decided that your wife could never return to the underworld again without you being able to do anything about it, would you give up that easily? No, you wouldn’t. I know because I can tell the chemistry between you and Persephone is too strong. The chemistry between Eurydice and me is at least as strong, you must feel that too, right? Why else would I put both my life on Earth and my life in the underworld at risk?’
Orpheus realised that he had to make it a lot more personal if he wanted his plan to work.
‘Hades, I know you like to come across as this intimidating, cruel monster. Who could blame you? Your family saw you as a monster, so they treated you like a monster and eventually you started acting like a monster. But I am convinced that there’s also some good in you. Otherwise an innocent woman like Persephone would’ve never fallen for you. I am begging you to show mercy. I understand your family and humanity daily let you down, but you don’t have to take out your frustration on people who don’t deserve it. I don’t know if I deserve it, but I know that Eurydice doesn’t deserve to suffer here. So if you really don’t want to send her back to the upper world with me, then let me switch places with her. She can continue her life in the upper world while I stay here. I’m even prepared to accept every punishment you impose upon me, as long as she’s happy.’
Hades looked questionable. Did it really work? Did Orpheus’ words actually touch him?
‘Orpheus, you’re not a bad person. But I can’t just free someone from this realm, it doesn’t work that way.’
And what if we attach a condition to it?’ Persephone proposed, ‘Although I don’t appreciate the fact that you two have been talking about me in third person the whole time as if I wasn’t here, I admire your courage and determination, Orpheus. I want to give you the possibility to leave the Tartarus with Eurydice.’
‘Honey, we can’t just do that,’ Hades objected.
‘I said there was a condition attached to it, didn’t I?’ Persephone was speaking directly to Orpheus now, ‘Eurydice will walk behind you during your whole trip back and will eventually become the only dead soul that will ever leave this realm alive. The only thing you cannot do is look at her until you’ve reached the upper world. If you do, Eurydice will definitively be sent back and you will no longer be welcome here as a mortal. Are you willing to adhere to that condition?’
Orpheus nodded affirmatively. They both looked at Hades to hear his opinion.
‘Seems fair,’ he responded, ‘Turn around and I’ll let Eurydice appear behind you.’
The chief did as he was told. He could barely believe this was really happening. The sudden change of Hades’ behaviour towards him was certainly strange, but he couldn’t really care less right now.
‘Eurydice?’ he asked quietly. No response.
‘It’s no use trying to talk to her right now,’ Persephone explained, ‘The souls that arrive here possess no emotions or self-awareness. She will keep following you to the upper world because my husband wants her to. The closer you get to the upper world, the more human she’ll become and her memories will slowly return.’
Hades gave some further information: ‘Since you were unconscious when you arrived here, you won’t know your way out. I will clear the road through the thorn forest to the right of this cave. It’s a different route, but it’s safer and it gets you to the spot where you have to be. You won’t feel uneasy when leaving the underworld, that only happens to people who try to enter it. We’re not very fond of visitors, I don’t know if you’ve noticed that.’
So if he understood correctly, Orpheus just had to have faith that Eurydice was actually walking behind him. It wouldn’t make sense for the royal couple to lie about that if they could just keep him here to torture him, so after extensively thanking them he walked out of the cave, hopefully with Eurydice behind him.
The thorn forest was anything but a nice view, though it probably wasn’t half as disturbing as the rest of the realm. The thorns were all dozens of centimetres long and extremely sharp. They looked like they were all simultaneously coming at you while you were walking past them. Luckily, the cleared path made sure Orpheus could walk through without getting stabbed in the eyeball a hundred times. He wondered how Hades managed to do that in such a short time without even having been in the forest himself. Did literally everything in this realm follow the orders of their ruler? If so, did they obey out of fear or respect? The former made more sense, unless Hades treated the residents of his realm differently. Such questions kept Orpheus busy so he didn’t have to think about the possibility that Eurydice wasn’t following him at all. He just wanted to finally be home with his fiancé and forget about all this misery as soon as possible.
How much longer did he have to walk? If he hadn’t lost his consciousness upon his arrival, he would be able to estimate that better. The most important thing right now was to keep walking, even if the trip seemed to last forever. Would they have decided to fire him at the station yet? Eline had warned him about that, so maybe he should check on that when he got to the upper world. Would time even work the same way as it did in the underworld? Perhaps days had gone by, or maybe just a couple of minutes? Maybe it was even…
And at that moment all uncertainty suddenly disappeared with the chief. The sudden relief that hearing Eurydice’s voice gave him made him feel indescribably overjoyed. All worries and doubts disappeared and the trip back to the upper world seemed far less tough now.
‘Yes, Eurydice, it’s me! You’re probably very confused right now, but I’ll explain everything later. Right now it’s important to just stay right behind me.’
The thorns started to look a lot shorter and less threatening. It couldn’t be that far anymore. Just a few more minutes and this would all be over. He had decided to only tell a couple of people about the miracle and then move to another place with his fiancé. It would be far too dangerous for the living if the existence of the underworld were a generally known fact. Hades would show the new mortals no mercy. Orpheus was just an exception and he had to keep Hades on friendly terms. That could drastically change if the underworld started to flood with other mortals looking for their dead loved ones.
There were barely any thorns left and Orpheus could see some sunlight coming through. They were really getting close now. A few more steps and he could finally see and hold Eurydice again.
He didn’t like those words at all. Last time someone said that to him he found his fiancé dead in that park. Curious to know what the problem was he stopped walking nevertheless.
‘What’s wrong, honey? I told you: I know all of this is very confusing, but we’re almost there. Just have a little faith in me. You’ll see, things will soon turn back to the way they once were.’
‘I remember what happened to me, Orpheus. I know what you’ve had to go through to get me out of the underworld, but I’m begging you to cancel your plan right now!’
Orpheus couldn’t believe what he was hearing. What had gotten into her all of a sudden?
‘Come on, Eurydice. Now is not the time for bad jokes. You’re not claiming that you’d rather go back to the underworld instead of returning home with me, right?’
‘Of course I’d rather come with you, but I can’t!’
‘Yes, you can! Hades and Persephone made sure of that. You’ll be the first dead soul to leave the underworld alive. We can finally be together again.’
‘No, Orpheus, if we continue this I won’t just be the first dead soul that gets out of here, but I’ll also be the only one. That’s how Persephone phrased it. I just can’t come with you.’
‘But why does it matter that you’ll be the only one? How big is the chance that someone else will try to convince Hades to take a soul with him to the upper world? No one has ever succeeded before me.’
‘Orpheus, have you never wondered why I didn’t take the plane I was supposed to take the day before my death?’
‘You took an earlier flight to surprise me, that seemed the only logical explanation.’
‘Yes, but I didn’t just want to surprise you with my early arrival.’
It stayed quiet for a while. Orpheus hoped Eurydice would get the hint and explain the real reason. She did.
‘I took an earlier flight because I had received great news the day before: I was pregnant.’
‘Well, that’s a plot twist,’ Orpheus thought. They had been trying to get a baby for years, but it had always been in vain. Suddenly he remembered something Eline had told him on the phone: something about Eurydice was discovered during the autopsy. If he had called sooner, he would have known about her pregnancy. He wanted to scream out of joy, but he knew very well what the problem was.
‘The baby died together with me and is still inside of me. If I come with you, our child won’t survive. I won’t be able to live with that loss, but if you turn around now, I won’t have to. Then I’ll just go back to the underworld and forget who I am and what happened to me.’
‘But I can’t go on without you!’ Orpheus cried in despair, ‘I’ve just got you back, I can’t say goodbye a second time!’
‘Maybe you can arrange something else with Hades? Maybe he can let us keep our self-awareness in the underworld and let our child grow up like a normal kid. Then we will just be waiting for you until your time has come.’
That plan was completely worthless and Orpheus knew it. Hades and Persephone were fully aware of her pregnancy. That’s why they wanted to release Eurydice on that one condition: they knew this would happen. The possibility of an alternative deal was non‑existent, there was no doubt about that. But seeing his future wife suffer like he had the last couple of weeks was not an option either. He was about to make one of the most heart‑breaking decisions of his life which he would undoubtedly regret afterwards. He slowly turned around with his eyes closed. The pain he felt at that moment was even more unbearable than the pain he had felt before. He hesitantly opened his eyes and finally saw Eurydice again. He looked one more time at her long, red hair, her blue eyes and her beautiful, full lips which spoke the words ‘thank you’ before disappearing for good.
The many setbacks from the past few days had put a very smothering pressure on Orpheus. The more he thought about all the misery he had suffered recently, the more he became short of breath. He had lost his fiancé for a second time now and the worst part was that he could have avoided it the last time. He wanted to believe that Eurydice was in a better place now and happier than she would have been in the upper world, but he knew that wasn’t true. Eurydice couldn’t feel anything there. She was nothing but a lifeless spirit who wasn’t capable of feeling joy. With those thoughts running through his mind the smothering feeling just seemed to get worse.
Orpheus remembered how he reported Esmeralda on his journey right after his arrival to the upper world. He wanted to thank her for the information and was willing to negotiate about an amount to be paid, even though he hadn’t been able to retrieve Eurydice alive. When he arrived at the caravan he saw her feeding a chained hound. The canine immediately started to growl at the sight of the stranger. Curious by its sudden aggression Esmeralda turned around and rapidly tried to hide the surprised look on her face once she saw Orpheus. The chief thought that was a little too obvious.
‘Orpheus Watson, what a delight to see you again. Where is your fiancé? Didn’t you find the passage?’
‘I did! You were right about everything: the passage, the underworld, Hades… Truly everything was exactly like you described it. I’m sorry for not believing you earlier. Unfortunately I couldn’t convince Hades to release Eurydice.’
‘I am so sorry to hear that. I really hoped it would work, but sadly it doesn’t seem like the dead and the living will be living together anytime soon.’
The dog was clearly not happy with Orpheus’ visit. The growling became louder and made room for barking afterwards.
Esmeralda vainly tried to calm the animal down: ‘Cerberos, off!’
Of course she would call it after the hellhound, what did Orpheus expect? The beast was almost as aggressive as the real Cerberos, but it didn’t listen to its owner like the original one did. The barking kept getting louder and louder.
‘That dog wasn’t here when I paid my first visit, was it?’
‘No, you’re right. My husband had taken him for a walk.’
Orpheus noticed that Esmeralda used a lot more intonation than usual and even smiled with bared teeth, something he had never seen her do since their first encounter.
‘Why are you lying?’ he asked.
‘What do you mean?’ she replied.
He looked at her suspicious. Why would she lie about something so insignificant? Then he remembered something: Eurydice wasn’t killed by a person, but by an animal. Orpheus read in the newspaper that the bite marks came from a big dog. Now he understood why Esmeralda had been so keen to help him: she wanted to clear her conscience.
‘Was your dog by any chance in the same park as Eurydice the morning she died?’
‘What are you trying to insinuate?’ Esmeralda sounded indignant and nervous at the same time. Orpheus was starting to lose his patience.
‘Answer the question.’
‘No, Cerberos was here with me.’
‘You know very well that I can tell when someone is lying and you must be one of the worst liars I have ever had the displeasure of meeting!’ Orpheus screamed intimidatingly.
As a response to this behaviour Cerberos began to jump up and down hoping to break loose, while loud growling alternated with aggressive barking.
‘An animal that attacks people must be euthanized. Your dog is way too dangerous!’
‘Cerberos has been maltreated for years by his previous owner, he can’t help it that he has become this way. We don’t put traumatised people to sleep either, do we? Then why is it okay to do that to animals?’
Unbelievable! Was she even hearing herself? That beast had killed someone and she didn’t find it necessary to do something about it. Orpheus could not comprehend that at all.
‘Your dog is a danger to society, Esmeralda. It is my duty to declare all of this to the police. You will get an appropriate sanction for trying to hide Cerberos from us.’
Right after those words were spoken Esmeralda took a gun from under her robe and pointed it at the chief. He was not impressed, not even a little.
‘As a friendly chief I’m known by practically everyone from the neighbourhood. If you pull the trigger now, the residents will notice I’m missing. They’ll look for me and they’ll find me, too. Your house might be the most remote one in the whole town, but a body will always be found, I can assure you that. Then all traces will lead to you and you won’t just be punished for what your dog did, but you’ll also be convicted for murdering a police officer with an illegal weapon. Prison will then be your new home until you’ve become old as hell and your life is nearly over. I’d hand over that gun if I were you.’
Realising that she had to admit her defeat she gave Orpheus the gun. He carefully accepted it and pointed it at Esmeralda. She looked at him with shocked and uncomprehending eyes.
‘W-what are you doing? Think about what you told me ten seconds ago. Do you really think it’s worth it to waste your life behind bars?’
‘I stopped living two weeks ago and it’s all because of you and that hell beast next to us.’
Cerberos hadn’t stopped barking and growling that whole time. His aggression increased every minute. Orpheus looked at him with a blank stare, pointed his gun at the beast and pulled the trigger.
He still didn’t know what he had to think about that whole incident. Did he do the right thing by taking matters into his own hands, or should he have left that to the people who were qualified for it? If he had chosen the latter, he would have risked the chance of Esmeralda running away with her dog. Then that canine threat would still be walking around. While he was questioning his conscience the smothering feeling just seemed to increase. It had become so bad that he could barely breathe anymore. He kept trying to gasp for air, but he couldn’t. Orpheus Watson wondered when someone would find him and how that person would react to the sight of a dead police officer dangling from a noose in his living room.
Based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.