The boat scudded up on the further shore of the Styx. The two Madeleines, good and evil, climbed out, bid farewell to their guide Phlegm, and set off into the fourth circle of hell.
It was a bit disorienting. Crowds of people were running around in circles, pushing huge boulders back and forth. The rocks crashed against each other, and then they all went round and did it again. As Madeleine Prime passed one group, she heard one of the rock-pushers yell at another, “Why do you hoard?”
“Why do you squander?” the second rock-pusher shouted back.
“Why don’t you shut up?” Madeleine snapped. She had a lingering headache, and the sound of rocks crashing together all around her didn’t help in the least. Rather than walk through the crowds of people, she powered up and rose into the air, Evil Madeleine trailing along behind. From her height, she could see across the circle, to a distant greyness that reminded her of a November rainstorm. “Lovely,” Madeleine said. “Of course I forgot to bring my umbrella down here.”
“Hey, who’s that?” Evil Madeleine said. “She looks sketchy.”
“This, from you?” Madeleine Prime said. Then she took a hard look where her counterpart indicated. A woman, black-haired and tall, stood in the distance near the storm, but still inside the bounds of Circle Four. She looked very grim. “You may have a point…” Madeleine Prime said. She thought about flying away, but that storm looked to be Circle Three, and they had to go that way anyway. If they were going to confront a mysterious unknown, they might as well get on with it.
As the two Madeleines approached, the woman pulled out a flashcard. “Right, Pape Satàn, pape Satàn aleppe, blah blah blah.”
“You’re not Pluto,” Madeleine said, in mild surprise.
“No, I’m Rain,” she said. “Current incarnation of Death. Pluto’s away right now, so I’m filling in. And no, I don’t know what that saying means. It’s standard.”
“Oh. Well, nice to meet you, and see you around-”
“Hang on,” said Rain acidly. “I’m actually on your side, you know. I’ve been down here before, helped some people, saved a planet from sacrificing people to a volcano spirit, and so on. The point is, you’re in danger.”
“It’s hell,” Madeline returned. “I’m used to it. What’s the problem now?”
Rain gestured back at the storm. “Up ahead? That’s Circle Three. Gluttons wallowing about in eternal slush, the usual. And right past that is Circle Two, where the lustful are blown about forever in a violent windstorm.”
“I’ve read Dante,” Madeleine said. She was still trying to get a handle on Rain. The incarnation of Death wasn’t carrying a scythe, and didn’t have a skull for a face, and didn’t speak in all capitals, but she still had that solemn air of doom hovering about her. Madeleine knew Rain had a story somewhere. She wondered if she’d ever find out what it was.
“Yes, well, I don’t know about Circle Three, but you’re going to meet some friends in Two.”
“Friends?” Madeleine, a little uncomfortably, ran through her list of deceased acquaintances, wondering which of them would’ve been condemned to hell for that particular vice. Ever since her high school breakup, she hadn’t dated much herself, hadn’t even read any literature more romantic than the Song of Solomon for a college study group. Then she gasped. “Not-”
She flashed back. Christmas Eve, 1997. The snow had let up at last, and the stars had come out. Evan Benjamin Wizowsky had left his nice new car out in the open in the hotel parking lot. Madeleine had slagged it, in the first-ever use of her flame blasts. She’d never heard what had become of Lizzie and Evan. Now she knew. This was going to get awkward. One didn’t always expect to meet one’s ex in the Infernal Regions.
“How’s it going, Charles?”
“Sucks. Bad enough I’m doomed for all eternity, but I swear, those Twitter idiots summon me one more time-”
“Have you tried sending the hellcats instead?”
“But weren’t we saving the cats for the Apocalypse?”
To: Wild Wombat, Fortress Death, Room Three.
Dear Sir: I really must protest.
You had no right to kidnap Lady Sal.
You see, dear sir, she is an indoors cat
And she has not been fed since nine o’clock.
I would have fed her, but I did not know
That you would pick my street in which to test
Your Mega-Teleporting Ray, Mark Two.
The ray, I must add, missed her litter box
And Lady Sal will need to use it soon.
She always has to go when she gets stressed .
And teleporting stresses her so much.
I know you’re evil, Mister Wombat, sir;
I hope that you are not ill-mannered, too.
Last Tuesday, Captain Shiny broke my car.
He said there was a missile coming down.
He used my car to stop the missile, and it worked.
The plan, that is; my car was, sadly, toast.
So this has not exactly been my week.
And now, you see, you’ve gone and made it worse.
Please, oh please, return my Lady Sal.
Sincerely, Sarah Anastasia Barnes
P.S. What’s with the cape? Capes are passé.
This is an attempt at blank verse for yeah write’s monthly poetry slam. I thought about covering the traditional subjects of poetry like summer days, lost love, and so forth, but I like supervillain poetry better. It’s fun.
EDIT: I have changed the poem somewhat since I first posted, in hopes of achieving proper iambic pentameter.
“Today,” ranted the Malevolent Med-Student, “we steal …THE MOON!”
Candystriper, his minion, protested. “Can’t we steal money? Dolla dolla bill, y’all!”
“No. We steal the moon.”
This story was written for the Shapeshifting 13 challenge at Grammar Ghoul Press. Candystriper and the Malevolent Med-Student have been supervillains of mine from way back. They’re fun.
Madeleine stood on the banks of the river Styx, in the fifth circle of hell. She’d seen some nice rivers in her day, winding gently across the landscape like glimmering blue threads, rolling on towards the distant sea. This river looked like it had been spit out of a toilet. It gurgled foully at her. Madeline took several swift steps back from the bank. “It’s a good thing I can fly,” she said. “Oh, but wait. I can’t just fly over this thing; I’ve got to find my evil twin in it somehow. Life sucks.”
“Don’t it, though?” said a voice. Madeleine spun wildly. One tended to get jumpy about hearing sudden voices in hell.
The speaker was standing several feet away, next to a boat that had scudded up on the shore. It looked like a moon-faced troll in overalls. “Hi,” it grunted. “Phlegyas Delahanty. I go by Phlegm. Ya wanna ride?”
Madeleine looked askance at the boat. “Will that even sail?”
“Course it will,” the troll said. “Ain’t a brick. It’s got a motor and everythin’.”
Madeleine wished she had her car, right then. Not a lousy boat with a motor and everything, but her own sturdy car. Suddenly she had an overwhelming flash of car-sickness. She wasn’t really homesick; home, for her, was a tiny little apartment with odd stains in the floor and paper-thin walls, which she could just barely afford and wouldn’t miss. Her car wasn’t great either, not one of your sporty models, but it was hers, and she loved it. She had named it Jenny. It probably missed her. Jenny would be sitting there in her narrow parking space, wondering why she had been neglected, as oil puddled in a hurt way on the asphalt below her. Madeleine could still remember where the keys had been left. They would be in her purse on her rickety folding table, along with a tube of lipstick and a pair of sunglasses and a pen. She would probably never write with that pen again…. Madeleine, for the first time in her trip through hell, broke down.
Phlegm rummaged about in his overalls. “Here,” he said finally, shoving a grey rag at her.
She took it and wiped her eyes. “Thanks,” she said. “It’s been a tough day.”
“Figured. Bein’ in hell and all.”
“Yeah. So. I do need a ride. But I also need to find someone. She’ll be in there.” Madeleine waved towards the river. “Looks like me. But a bit more evil.”
“Don’t suppose ya could delineate the spot a bit, could ya?”
Just then, a cloud of steam billowed up in the distance. A high voice came shrieking over the water. They were too far to make out what it said, but it sounded furious.
Phlegm’s boat, with Madeleine aboard, soon reached the trouble spot. Evil Madeleine was yelling invective at several people, who were all yelling right back at her. Madeleine remembered that Circle Five was where the wrathful and sullen were imprisoned. Apparently the wrathful were also quite knowledgeable about insults and expletives. Madeleine’s ears went red. Some of those words described physical actions she wouldn’t have even imagined were possible, let alone hygenic. Even Phlegm seemed a bit appalled.
Evil Madeleine, finally, seemed to get tired of screaming and launched herself forward at the swearing crowd. She tripped over a lump in the muck, which let out a grumpy “Oi!” of protest. Evil Madeleine, meanwhile, had fallen flat in the river. She came up like a firecracker, spluttering in muddy anger.
Madeleine Prime whipped up beside her in the boat, cutting her off from the mad crowd. “Oh, come on,” she said, snatching her evil twin by her shirt and pulling her aboard. “We’ve only got four more circles to go.”
Penny Sybil hadn’t wanted Mr. Stamper in her office again. The last job had been a disaster. A major casino starship destroyed, a full-fledged space battle, allegations involving criminal enterprises, innocent squidlings caught in the crossfire…. it had been an unholy mess. Penny was a lawyer. She hated unholy messes. So uncivilized.
But, her clients had been insistent. Mr. Stamper was the one they wanted, no question. So she had made the call. Now the otter sat calmly in her office, staring at the little plastic plant on her desk. “What’s the job?”
“You’ve heard about the Lassiter wormhole?” Penny began.
“Yeah. Fully natural, first one in that sector. Heard it was unstable.”
“Not anymore. They’ve sent through sensor droids already. It’s quite remarkable. Passage takes 17 minutes. No indications of native life present in the wormhole either, which means there’s likely to be miminal environmental impact.” Penny was quite active in her local chapter of the Society to Protect Wormhole Aliens.
She produced a holo-pad projection of the wormhole, and waited for Mr. Stamper’s eyes to light up with the thrill of the unknown, the sense of discovery. They didn’t. Penny got the sense they hadn’t lit up for some time. With a sigh, she plowed ahead. “It, apparently, opens into another universe. Not another quadrant. Another universe.”
She thought this part would be obvious. Apparently she’d have to spell it out. “So, my clients are outfitting a ship to go through the wormhole and begin exploration. They requested you as chief security and tactical officer.”
“Fine,” said Mr. Stamper. “When do we leave?”
Penny was taken aback. “Wouldn’t you, ah, like to know who the rest of the crew is? The captain, at least?”
“Doesn’t matter. Photon torpedoes don’t ask who’s firing them.”
“Oh…well…” Penny felt oddly desperate. “You might be interested to know that there’s another member of your species on board. She’ll be handling communications. First contacts and so forth.”
“Er, yes. Her name’s Maria Lancaster. Quite an impressive resume.” Penny produced another holo-pad and displayed it for Mr. Stamper. A ghostly blue figure of an otter traced itself in the air.
Mr. Stamper didn’t even blink. “She would be.”
Penny was startled. “You’ve met before?”
“Yeah. She went by another name then. We had drinks once. It’s not important.”
“Oh.” Penny gave up. “Here’s a data chip with all you’ll need about the ship, when it launches, weapons complements, and so on. If you have any further requirements, I would be more than happy-”
“Yeah,” said Mr. Stamper, and he took the data chip and walked out. Penny decided she had to make inquiries. Her clients would not be happy if the grand mission of discovery flopped because of inter-personal conflicts among the crew.
I was listening to a CD of the musical themes from Star Trek over the weekend, and suddenly I decided that I really wanted to write a story of space exploration. Prince Evinrude and Co. will return, later.