This story is inspired by Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Magnus Chase and the gods of Asgard, and my siblings.
“Hi again Max!” Azazel said cheekily, like he wasn’t essentially killing all of us. “What are you doin’ here?”
“Well, I was gearing up my boat to take a trip back home, but it seems someone tried to nick it.” He answered back.
Before Ali could stop me, I turned around and smacked his laughing gear. Trying to glare at him was hard because he looked like a miffed gormless zombie. His hair was sticking up all around his head, and he was hanging his mush wide open. I heard Ali gobber over the side of the boat in disgust.
“Can you two stop lovey-eying each other? We’re trying to get somewhere, and I don’t want you two getting off back there, or we may have to abandon ship. Azazel! Stop playing with the flag! You’re going to break it!” She reached over and slapped Azazel’s hand away from the flag. Azazel groaned a barely audible, “Fine.”
The boat ride took the whole night, and the sun was rising by the time Azazel once again shouted, “Land ho, mates!”
We all groaned and looked out at the island, which was coming closer by the second. In the distance, we could see a small hotel and a lighthouse. This island looked a lot more like the one I had seen in the pictures. Max hopped out of the boat once we reached a small dock, and he grabbed the rope attached to the bow. After tying it around a pole, he started grabbing bags and tossing them ashore.
As Ali, Azazel, and I got out of the boat, someone emerged from the front door, rubbing her eyes in the dawn of the morn’. Her dress was a deep blue, with light blue specks that looked like raindrops on a sunny day. The blue hair on top of her head was in curlers, a few strands falling over her face. The smile she wore couldn’t have been brighter as she saw Max. I wondered briefly if she was a girlfriend, but I pushed away the idea as soon as it came. (No, Bronte, I was NOT jealous!)
She ran over and kissed him on the head, her mud-brown skin contrasting with his. He rolled his eyes as the lass checked him up and down like her most prized possession.
“Ow!” Max said as she grabbed his shoulders a little too hard. I managed to keep myself from laughing. (Stop with the kissy noises! Bronte! What are you still doing in my room!?)
Max looked at me for help, and I shrugged. This was fun to watch as he tried to squirm out of her arms.
“Mom! Stop it!” Max yelled. The lady looked at him.
“Maxie, you’ve gotten so big!”
Max finally squeezed out of her arms and looked back and forth between us and the lady.
“This is my mother, Cascade. Mom, this is Azazel, Felicia, and... um, I don’t think I got your name yet.” Max said as he introduced us to his mom.
“The name’s Ali. Nice to meet you.” Ali shook Cascade’s hand.
“So, you’re Cascade, right? I reserved a room, and-” I started to say before she smiled.
“Don’t worry, honey! You don’t have to pay. It’s been so long since Maximòn brought girls home!”
“Mom!” Max groaned, seemingly embarrassed. Azazel and Ali tried not to laugh, and I turned as red as a raspberry.
Max started to protest, but Cascade cut him off with a friendly, “Come inside! I’ll tell you about the festival!”
“Festival? What festival? "I asked. Why would an island with a literal population of 3 have a festival?
They ignored me and walked into a nearby two-story building. It looked ancient. Its drapes were a worn floral pattern, and the doors and shutters creaked on their hinges. The walls were made of wood with plastered-on sand to make it look like stone. The roof was patched in multiple places, and the doormat was barely hanging together by a thread.
I walked inside, and the others were sitting at the table, immersed in a deep discussion. Although they didn’t notice me, I felt like something was watching me.
“Is there someone else here? I cautiously asked Cascade and Max.
“No. Are you okay, Felicia?” Max asked. There was concern in his voice. I stubbornly ignored his question and came to sit at the table. As I tucked into a biscuit, Cascade and Max explained what the festival was.
Cascade said that, “The festival is an annual gathering on the Calf of Man that celebrates the union between humans and animals. Everyone from Isle of Man sails over and decorates the island with colourful and earth-friendly party decorations. The extra food would be fed to the animals in a respectful manner. They’re always so cute begging for the scraps! I love to talk with them and share life stories! It’s so...”
I began to tune her out, but not on purpose. I smiled at this because I knew that Dad always loved animals. Occasionally, he would find an injured animal on the road and play doctor with it. He would keep it in the garage for a day or two, and we would send it off, perfectly healed, into the nearby woods around the local pond.
If the animal was already dead, we would give it a proper burial, and often, I’d see creatures scampering through the underbrush, and most would accidentally kick some dirt in on their way past.
Just sitting there remembering my dad brought tears to my eyes.
Suddenly, the ceiling was very interesting. I looked up and pretended to study the intricate pattern so Max didn’t see me crying. I don’t know how long I stared at the ceiling, but when I looked back down, I nearly jumped out of my pants. There was a small canary sitting in Cascade’s hand, and she was stroking it and talking like it was a human sitting at the table with her.
“You aunt said WHAT! No way! So rude!” Cascade looked deeply invested in the bird’s story.
“Anyway,” Max said, interrupting Cascade, “the animals get the scraps; we clean up and have a happy ever after until next year. The end. Why don’t we go start decorating?”
My face probably gave away how confused I was about her sanity because Max said, “She can talk with local creatures around the island. How else are we supposed to celebrate with the animals?”
Cascade just smiled and motioned us out of our chairs.
“Come along now, children! Much to prepare for!”
Ali quickly hopped up excitedly and spouted plans for exploring the island and certain ways to hang up the streamers for ‘maximum quality’. I didn’t pay much attention to her and Azazel as they followed Cascade out the door. I shivered as a cold, wet feeling enveloped me, and I couldn’t help but think about everything that could go wrong. Something felt... off. I looked over my shoulder, expecting to see someone there, but there was only a box full of party hats.
Max walked over and picked the box up, saying, “You coming? I don’t think I can tolerate those two alone.”
I shrugged. “Bit tired today, I think I might go off to Bedfordshire.”
As I said this, my eyelids grew heavy, so I headed upstairs. I faintly heard Max say, “Your room is number 3!”
I opened the door to room number 3, and sat down on the bed after closing the door. I hardly felt bad about lying to Max anymore. The events of the past few days had been a lot, and I just needed time away from people and to think for myself. Sitting on the duvet felt good, and I thought back to the letter. It had sounded pretty urgent at the time, but now, I didn’t know why I even went on the quest in the first place.
In fact, I couldn’t remember the last time I slept peacefully, and I really just wanted to sink into a warm, plush duvet. I was exhausted from not sleeping at all. Even with the feeling of being watched, I fell down onto the bed and went into a deep sleep.
I woke in my bed at home with a feeling of familiarity but also danger. I threw off the duvet and walked out of the room. Walking down the stairs felt like walking down a dark tunnel with a false light at the end. The house was eerily quiet, when usually I would hear my dad snoring and Dazi screaming while Chloe tried to shush her. I checked the kitchen, the dining room, and the patio. They weren’t there. I went through all the rooms checking for my family, but every time I thought I heard something, I’d open the door and see nothing. I checked until I got to the last room; it was the room I’d been dreading opening.
The door to my parent’s room creaked open, and inside was not a room at all, but a black void. I poked my head inside and was suddenly pushed to the ground.
“Blimey! What was that?” I yelled, as if anyone could hear me.
In response, all I heard was the slam of a door and soft but evil chuckling. I got off the ground slowly and looked up. I gasped.
My dad was hanging in a cage above black lava so hot that I could feel it, even though it was far below me. It bubbled and every time one popped, it seemed to get warmer. I looked back up as my dad coughed. I saw him wipe away blood with his bruised hand. His hair was a mess, and he looked like he hadn’t eaten in days.
“Dad?” My voice wavered. I yelled it again, but he seemingly couldn’t hear me. His glazed-over eyes were staring at me, though. Their stricken expression screamed, “RUN!” but my feet were glued to the floor. Tears streamed down my face, and I didn’t bother wiping them away. What bloody daft prat of a monster would trap an innocent lad like my father? I was filled with rage, and as I was about to step forward and open the cage when the ground started to shake. A figure emerged from the darkness and pulled out its spear. His hair and eyes were silvery like the moon, and he brandished a spear sharper than a knife. He came towards me, and as he picked me up, I fainted.
Floating is the most accurate word to describe what I felt after that. In contrast to the void, where I was standing there was a pure sunshine color. It felt warm and comforting, like it wanted me to lay there and sleep for the rest of eternity. As I lay there, there was a sensation like something was flying towards me. A dark shape clouded my vision, and I shouted in surprise when it grabbed me and shot me through the air.
I landed hard on the ground underneath a lush green canopy. Birds were chirping in the air, and the grass underneath me was soft. It waved lazily in the wind, and the crickets chirped at the pace of my heart, which was beating really fast. I was terrified that something else would come and take me away from this fantasy once again.
A rustling in the green bush beside me made me grip the grass in fear. A woman-like figure stood up from behind it, and I (stupidly) felt relieved when I recognized her.
“Hi my little bloom. Nice to finally see you again.” Demeter smiled, but I knew it wasn’t real. I could see sadness in her eyes. “Look, I went out of my way to make sure that none of you die just yet, but if you don’t leave someone here, one of you WILL DIE! My darling, I don’t want it to be you, so please don’t travel with any more than three people.”
“You can’t expect me to just believe everything you say! First of all, I’ve only met you two times before, in DREAMS, and that just makes you mad as a HATTER! How am I supposed to trust you when you don’t give me any reason to?!”
“Honey, I know that Nyx has your dad imprisoned, and I want you to do anything you can not to go save him. He can save himself, but STAY SAFE and take all the precautions you can. I don’t want to lose you this soon after I just met you. Please.” She disappeared before I could say anything to that.
I kicked the ground in frustration, and slipped, falling into yet another void. I screamed, hoping this time, I wouldn’t fall into the depths of the Underworld.