I focus on the cold, slick pole under my hands; I pretend it’s the only thing here. I refuse to accept that their eyes are watching me even if each pair stings me like a pinprick. I move faster and my golden glow brightens, lighting up my closed eyelids. I wish I could dance so hard that my glow would blind them all, filthy humans.
It is all Zeus’s fault that night after night I am here dancing at Demeter’s, my mother’s club. He was leaning hard on her, sending thugs by to rough her up. He said she was not pulling her weight and threatened to cut off her supply. I guess she believed him. I know there are guards pacing nearby without opening my eyes. They escort me everywhere – just in case I run for it. But where would I go?
There is jarring bass-heavy club music playing but I block it out and dance to my own heartbeat instead. I may be an immortal goddess, but I do still have a heart. If I have to dance, and I do – Mom’s orders – I am going to do it as much on my own terms as possible, even if the only one who knows I am rebelling is me. The doors crash loudly and my eyes blink open of their own accord. It’s him, Hades – Zeus’s brother and overseer of Netherworld – back again, not just inside the Wall but inside Mom’s club. It is the third time this week.
I smile. He is here to see me. We have never spoken; I never mingle with the crowd. Somehow, I just know that it’s me he keeps coming back for. His first visit was a couple of weeks ago. Ever since that night, he leaves a purple and silver flower at his table before he goes. I know the cocktail waitresses think its part of their tip, but they are wrong. He is leaving the flowers for me, a moment of beauty in my ugly life even if I only see them from across the club.
He’s surrounded by his guard. They move like a black oil slick through an ocean of grimy blue jumpsuit-clothed humans, fresh out of the factories and ready for their reward. Zeus imprisoned them inside the Wall to make our ambrosia, but the humans refused to work. So Zeus offered them something they could not refuse – the glow of a dancing goddess, vitamin rich and essential for their survival since he blocked out the sun. Tit for tat, or something like that. We get our ambrosia; they get to live, and I have to suffer their stinking breath swirling around me.
“Come on, baby! Shake it!”
I have slowed to watch Hades and my glow is fading. I pick up the pace, swinging around the pole, humiliated. My mockery of a skirt, mostly fringe that barely makes it to the tops of my thighs, swings wildly. I breathe deeply against the restrictiveness of my tight sparkly bra. I cannot believe my mom is making me wear this. At least she does not make me do a strip tease. Even so, I draw a big crowd every night. Nothing glows brighter, or is more nourishing, than a virgin goddess. I am extremely valuable to Zeus and my mom, but I do not care. I hate this. My mom says I should think of this as a public service. I get to bestow my gift of life on the adoring masses.
A whistle pierces the air.
Ugh. Some adoring masses. I gaze out into the crowd trying to keep the hatred out of my stare. All I see is group of sex-deprived perverts gawking at my show of flesh. Zeus does not allow human females inside the Wall, only workers. And good workers are hard to come by, even harder to keep alive. Every now and then Zeus’s other brother Poseidon harvests new workers from the Wild. But each human worker is a prized commodity for Zeus. If they cause any trouble, workers are killed or sent to Netherworld, which is worse. When I look in their eyes, I see their sickening hunger.
“Go on, I dare you,” says one of them, pushing his friend towards my stage. He stumbles and when he looks up, I can tell he’s been here too long. He’s drunk off of my glow.
I watch with horror as he scrambles, clumsily, onto my stage. That conceited son of a whore thinks he has the right to approach me. I stop dancing, my glow instantly fading to a dull halo, and glare at the intruder. He stares back at me stupidly. And then he reaches out his hand.
I will not suffer the indignity of being groped by his filthy fingers. I grab his throat with one hand, halting him as my fingers squeeze with murderous intent. His blood flows in a warm river down my hand as my nails cut his skin. I could rip out his spine with one tug. I should. My fingers tighten and his windpipe collapses.
Suddenly, my arms are no longer under my control. The bodyguards have my arms tight and are pulling me off the stage. I am down the hall and locked in my cell before I can blink. The guards have left and I am alone.
I am still shaking with anger, but the truth of what I have done is starting to sink in. I broke the Rule: gods cannot harm the workers. Zeus may punish any humans who rebel, but what he will do to me is far worse. I am in big trouble and I may never breathe a free breath again. I may have killed a man. I sigh and drop my head into my hands, one of which is still wet with blood.
The bolt slides back and the door opens. It’s my mom. She looks at me. I can see anger, disappointment, and fear battling behind the green of her eyes. She only stays a moment. There are no words for what I have done. I wonder if she is more upset about losing me as a dancer or as a daughter. And then she is gone, leaving me for the wolves. Again.
I wonder how long before they come for me. But I do not have to wait long before the grinding of the bolt sliding back echoes through my cell again. I cannot look up but I register the four black clad guards in my periphery, another tall man lingering behind them. They take me out the back way. At least I do not have to see the humans again.
Outside it is freezing and I am barely dressed. It’s dark, like always, the only light coming from the neon of the club’s signs. The guards move towards the opening of the alley, but I am rooted in place. There is a hand holding mine.
And then all I can feel is the Wall, rough and solid, behind me. It digs painfully into my skin as his lips find mine, claiming them with violent urgency. His hands thread themselves into my hair, holding my face to his, as his body pins me to the Wall. I cannot turn my head at all. He smells clean, like a god. I never imagined kissing him would feel like this. It feels like my last act and I kiss him back with agony.
But his need is different than mine. His hands start to roam my curves. His fingers tangle themselves in the fringe of my skirt. He tugs.
I hear the desperation in my voice as my lips take advantage of a brief moment of freedom before being overwhelmed again by his mouth, firm against mine. I have to protect my virginity. It is all I have left to save me. It is an errant thought but it spurns me into action. I slap him hard, tearing the skin on his cheeks with my nails.
His head jerks back in surprise, but I have not done any real damage. With a growl he grabs my wrists, pinning them above my head with one hand as the other hand pulls hard at my too short skirt. What little fabric there is gives away.
“Hades,” I beg, near tears. This will ruin me.
“This is the only way to be together,” he replies with longing against my lips. His knee jams between my legs forcing them apart. I try desperately to twist or turn, anything … but it is like a flower struggling against a hurricane. I am powerless. He moves against me.
“Not like this,” is all I can say, repeating it over and over.
I begin to cry in earnest, tears making his kisses salty, small whimpers of fear escaping from me. A sudden pain rips through me shocking me into silence. Hades slips his tongue into my mouth claiming me in every way. He finishes quickly, business-like, only his kisses lingering. I feel like I have spent months at sea; I can no longer stand on solid ground. I would sink, but he is holding me up.
“You’re so beautiful,” he breathes against my forehead before planting a soft kiss there.
“Get away,” I say with anger, but it comes out a whisper.
Hades steps back and releases me from the Wall, which does not feel solid anymore. I sink down, my arms trembling. I will never glow brightly again. I will have to face Zeus and now I am worthless. Hades has sealed my fate.
“Let’s go home, Persephone,” he says.
I stare up at him, shocked. He is holding out a hand like he is some kind of gentleman.
“Are you crazy?” I finally splutter. “I’m going to end up worse than Prometheus.”
“Zeus doesn’t need you now,” he agrees. A smile ghosts across his lips.
“Is this funny to you?”
“Of course not, my love,” he says, getting down on his knee. He hands me a cloak and I quickly cover myself.
“I don’t understand.”
He reaches out his hand again. I flinch, but all he does is cup my cheek and rub his thumb softly against my nose. He dries my tears.
“I love you, Persephone.” I making a scoffing noise but he ignores it. “I had to take action tonight after…” he pauses to glance at my bloody hand. “I could not take you through the Wall. It would stop a virgin.”
I am confused so I just stare at him, waiting for it all to make sense. Hades smiles at me, hope shining in his dark eyes. He looks like a kid at his birthday party. He reaches out his other hand and there is a flower resting in his palm. The neon light brings out the silver against the purple petals. He tucks it gently behind my ear and runs his hand through my hair, helping the tangles.
“Will you come to the Netherworld with me?” he asks.
Somehow I know I can trust him. I have nothing left for me here. I was afraid of Netherworld before, but now? I can almost taste hope on my tongue, sweeter than ambrosia. I give him my hand and he helps me up. The guards come back with a wave from Hades and pass through the Wall. It is suddenly permeable. Hades winks at me and pulls me through.
Stay tuned for Jen’s No Rules Friday next week.