John John Is Not Hades

Submitted into Contest #96 in response to: Write about someone welcoming a stranger into their home.... view prompt

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Fiction

Black sheets of rain tore across Jack’s front yard. Snug in the warmth of his living room, Jack looked up. A deluge pounded the ceiling. Jack sat in his Astor Velvet reading chair. The downpour sounded like an amateur drum circle had converged on his roof. 

Jack went back to his book, The Argonautica. King Amycus had just knocked out three more of Jason’s shipmen. So much for Xenia, Jack thought. Jack began reading The Argonautica because he wanted to enjoy an old-timey greek myth, but he was burnt out on the Odyssey and the Iliad. He had taught those stories too many times to too many college freshmen. He was also tired of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+. The problem with streaming TV, he thought, was that the pressure to create ten episodes of an idea, one that could be easily be expressed in ninety minutes, made for shit TV. And, judging from the disappointing writing ability of the latest class of freshmen, it seemed like every one of his students was binging on shit.

“Not a wasted word,” Jack said aloud to himself. Revisiting the idea of Xenia raised Jack’s eyebrows. The Greeks actually thought that the gods walked among them. And, as such, they considered hospitality to strangers a moral imperative. It wasn’t a “do unto others as they do unto you” idea as much as “do unto others as if they were gods because if they are actually gods, and you fuck up, you’re in deep shit.”

Lights flashed across Jack’s wall. He jumped up and looked out the front window. Headlights blared in from the street, through the curtains of rain, and into Jack’s eyes. “Ah!” he said, holding his hands up to his eyes, but still keeping his fingers spread so he could at least try to see what was going on outside. The lights extinguished and hazard flashers began to blink. A figure scurried in front of the glow of the hazard lights and approached his front door.

Anticipating the door bell, Jack opened the front door.

“Hello?” Jack called out.

“Dr. Branson?” a girl said.

“Yes.”

“Dr. Branson, my name is Alice Sutherland. May I use your phone? My car ain’t working right.”

Dr. Jack Branson stared briefly at Alice and tried to place her.

“Dr. Branson, it’s raining,” Alice said.

“Oh, oh my. Of course, come in, Alice. Come right in.”

Alice entered Jack’s home, drenched and dripping. “Dr. Branson?” Alice said to an empty living room. But before she could ask again, Jack returned with three Cherry Grove beach towels. 

“You’ll probably want to dry off,” Jack said. 

“Thank you.” Alice grabbed the bright orange mermaid towel and dried herself. 

Jack placed the dark blue lighthouse towel and the deep red seagull towel on a section of his couch. He gestured for Alice to sit.

“Alice, do you not have your cell phone?”

“Battery’s dead, Dr. Branson.” Alice sat where Jack invited her to sit.

“I see. Well, you are welcome to use my phone.” Jack pointed to the old-fashioned rotary phone next to his Astor Velvet reading chair. 

“What is that?” Alice said, pointing to the rotary phone.

“It’s my phone.”

Alice turned red and looked down at her feet. 

“Alice, are you in one of my classes?”

“Yes, Dr. Branson. I’m in Classics 101.”

Jack raised his bushy eyebrows and looked up, as if counting.

“There’s four hundred of us,” she said. 

“Forgive me, Alice, but I don’t recognize you.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to, sir.”

Jack paused and then returned to the matter at hand. “The phone, yes, it’s an older model. Let me help you with it. Who do you wish to call?”

“Triple A.”

“Ah, of course, I have a Triple A membershp, too. Do you have your membership card?”

“It’s on my phone.”Alice pulled out her phone and tried turning it on again. It was dead. She frowned. 

“Oh, drat. Well, in that case, I can call for you. We can use my membership and get you a tow.” 

“Thank you, Dr. Branson.”

Jack pulled his wallet out of his sport coat inside pocket. He retrieved his Triple A card, called in a request for a tow, and placed his wallet on the table next to his Astor Velvet. 

“John John will be here in 30 minutes. He’ll tow your car to the nearest service station and then give you a ride to wherever you need.” 

“John John?”

“Yes. He is the best mechanic in town. He happens to have two names—both are John.” 

Alice shivered and sneezed. Jack handed her a box of tissues.

“Alice, would you like some tea?”

“Yes, please.”

“Black, herbal, chai?”

“Herbal.”

“Ah, how about chamomile?”

Alice nodded. “Thank you,” she said.

Jack stepped to his kitchen, a room away. The old style ranch house got along just fine without one of those newfangled open floor plans. Still, he liked to talk to his guests in a loud voice from the kitchen while he prepared refreshments.

“I hope you like the Iliad. We’ll be traveling to Greece and Troy in earnest,” Jack shouted. As Jack waited for the tea kettle to boil, he continued to broadcast the enjoyment he hoped Alice would have in his class. He poured the chamomile into a tea ball and filled a mug with fresh hot water. “Shit for brains. That’s Netflix for you,” he murmured under his breath. 

“Personally, I prefer the Odyssey—” Jack stopped in his tracks as he turned the corner into the living room. The room was empty. 

“Alice? Alice, where are you?”

The three towels Jack had brought out just 10 minutes before were folded and stacked in his Astor Velvet. Jack touched them. They were completely dry. Jack looked at the floor and saw that it, too, was completely dry. 

“My gods,” Jack mumbled. 

Jack ran out into the torrential rain that continued to fall. He ran to where Alice’s car had been to find nothing but his gravel driveway—no car, no tracks, no trace. 

“Alice!” he shouted into the rain.

Jack walked back to the house, slower than one normally would when it was raining so hard. He entered the house, dripping wet, and walked to his rotary phone. “John John!” Jack said aloud. He clutched in the inside pocket of his sport coat and didn’t find his wallet. He looked at the table beside his Astor Velvet. His wallet was gone. 

Back on Olympus, Iris sipped camomile tea with Eris. 

“What did you do with his wallet?” Eris asked. 

“A Griffin ate it,” Iris said. 

“Shit for brains,” Eris said.

“That’s the Odyssey for you,” Iris said. 

They laughed hard into eternity.

June 03, 2021 01:27

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