She watched as the stripped the colors from the old statues and wept. Why were they doing this? These people weren’t from here. They didn’t know, didn’t understand. They had never seen the nymphs of the forest or the satyrs frolicking in a field. But they imagined that they had. They had read Herodotus and Homer and Pliny and dreamed that they had stood atop Olympus among staid and stolid gods of dignity and refinement, relegating their fatal flaws to mere misdemeanor and rendering their colors to muted silence. She pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders, wondering if her family would ever come back and set to rights what had happened. Would they hear her silent tears or sense the bitter anguish? She took up the poker once more and checked three small brazier before her. They might remove the colors, these foreigners, but they would never extinguish the flame
None of the other runners noticed when he joined them, keeping pace with the others. There was something about this man that seemed familiar, especially to those who had been running marathons for years. The cameras would catch him as he jogged, but no one ever saw him start and no one ever saw him finish. For those who had seen the runner, there was no question who he was. He always encouraged the others, pushing them to finish the race. He had made it once, and they would too.
When they looked through the pictures, through the whole history of the sport since the invention of the camera, they found the same man running with the pack. He wore a number in every race and that number was never on the registered list of runners. They’d looked in every marathon, even when there were two races on one day. And there he was. They called him the Runner, but he had once had a name.
He burst into the assembly, just another soldier from the Athenian army. He bore news from the battle but all he could do was cry out one word, declare their victory. Then he fell to the stones of the floor, dead. He was the messenger. He was the runner. He was Philippides and his was the marathon.
There was something about the man leaning on the counter that inherently bothered me. At first, I wasn’t sure what it was. He was probably just another tourist, or maybe one of the souls trying to argue their fate with my Lady.
“Can I help you, Sir? We’re having a special today on clay pots and carnival glass if you’re interested.”
He chuckled and gave me a grin.
“Actually, I was hoping your boss was in.”
That caught my attention and I stood straighter, trying to identify him. He was tall and thin, but in that muscular way, with a crop of bright red hair that didn’t seem to know what gravity was. His eyes were hard to describe, but something in them reminded me of open flames. He had spiraling tattoos going up both arms that looked almost like some kind of snake, but the style was pretty distinct. Not exactly tribal, a little more… Then it hit me. They were Norse. He wasn’t an Olympian. He was something else entirely.
My comprehension must have shown on my face as he started laughing again, calling my attention to the scars on his face. They were around his mouth…like someone had sewn his mouth shut.
“So, is the flower child in?”
“I think she’s out back, World Breaker.”
He flipped a coin into the fountain as he strode out the back door of the shop. It wasn’t until he passed through the door and I heard him greeting my Lady that I relaxed again, slumping against the counter. My momentary peace was shattered utterly by two sets of giggling voices and I looked up again, eyes huge. Children. There were two little boys running around now, in and among the various items in the shop. Suddenly one of them poked his head over the side of my counter, blue eyes huge in his small face.
“Where did Dad go?”
Then the second one appeared at his side, slightly taller but built nearly the same.
“Who are you?”
“Do you have any candy?”
“Will you play with us?”
I pointed towards the back, hand shaking slightly.
“He went that way. I work here. I don’t have candy. I’m working.”
They both nodded, clearly happy with my answers. Then they scampered off towards the back. Closing my eyes, I silently prayed that I wouldn’t hear crashing or shattering.
The problem with working at the white elephant is that you never really know what’s going to come through the door. When that white elephant is on the seashore at the convergence of two ley lines, it gets worse. Or at least more exciting. Really depends on your outlook on life. I was the summer help that year, hired largely to deal with the sudden influx of tourists poking through the labyrinthine barn that was the store. Make sure they didn’t got lost amid the knick-knacks and statues, keep the fountain in the center running, cover the register if it looked like someone might actually want to buy that lobster trap they found under a pile of sea glass and clay pots. Things like that.
Mostly the store was run by my boss and her daughter Mel. It wasn’t a serious job for them, but then they didn’t need it to be. Not when her husband wore perfectly tailored suits and drove a car that I’d have to work for the rest of my life to even consider affording. The front of the shop had two pillars holding up the overhang, dressed up to look like old Greek columns. The first time Mom dropped me off, she laughed and said it looked like I was working in a mausoleum. It was funny then, I suppose.
It was a work day like any other. Mel was out for a bit to walk Spots the Great Dane and my boss was on the front step watering the flowers. I was rearranging the collection of questionably acquired street signs. How the couple got in past her to end up in my sphere of responsibility, I will never know. But then, I’ve also never seen tourists this lost. The woman was sure they’d taken a wrong turn, the man laughed, somehow certain they were in the right place.
“If you need help with anything, just give a shout.”
They didn’t seem to hear me, their argument becoming less and less clear to understand. For a moment, I thought they’d switched languages. Finally, she hissed at him, baring her teeth and he chittered back. I set down the stop sign I’d been working on positioning and turned. Taking a step towards them, I held up my hands defensively.
“Excuse me? Sir? Ma’am? Are you alright?”
They both turned towards me and I nearly fell backwards. Their faces were gone. He leaned in, chittering loudly at me. Before the scream could issue from my lips, my boss was there. Her hand was on my shoulder, her eyes on them. When she spoke, it wasn’t that distant and distracted tone she normally had.
“You’re being rude.” She wasn’t speaking to me. “Are you here to appeal the decision of the Judges?”
Both of them nodded and she sighed.
“Fine. But I would say it’s fairly clear that Asphodel is already calling you. If you wanted Elysium, maybe you should have lived your lives. Now, get out of my store.”
They turned into shadows at her command and vanished through the cracks between the floorboards. I knew I must look like someone had just slapped me with a fish. That would have made more sense.
“Sorry about that. Sometimes people just don’t like harsh truths.” She pulled a cloth out of her pocket and held it out to me. “Wipe your face, you’ve got some dirt. We’ve got a box coming in this afternoon. Can you take it?”
Her eyes focused on me again, pure and direct.
“Very good. And don’t worry, I’ll teach you to deal with them properly when we’ve the time. You’ll need to learn if you’re going to be in my service.”
The problem with working in the white elephant is that you never know what’s going to come through the door. But with the stygian iron in my pocket and the words in my mind, I know I can face just about anything. But that’s what you get when you end up in service here.