But I had no idea who I was or what I’d done to earn her animosity.
“Did you know I’m drowning right now?” This was so hilarious I started to giggle a stream of bubbles.
“I will have my due,” Styx snarled. “You will PAY for your broken promises.”
“Okay!” I agreed. “How much?”
She hissed in annoyance. “I can’t even do this with you right now. Return to your foolish quest!”
The goddess vanished. Someone grabbed me by the scruff of my neck, yanked me out of the water, and dumped me on a hard stone surface.
My rescuer was a young girl of about twelve. Water dripped from her tattered green sheath dress. Bloody scratches covered her arms. Her jeans and red high-tops were shellacked with mud.
Most alarmingly, the rhinestones in the corners of her cat-eye glasses were not just glinting. They emitted their own pale light. I realized those small constellations hovering next to her eyes were the only reason I could see the girl at all.
“I feel like I know you,” I croaked. “I want to say Peg. Or Megan?”
She frowned, looking almost as dangerous as the goddess Styx. “You’re not kidding, are you?”
“Nope!” I gave her a cheerful smile, despite the fact that I was soaked and shivering. It occurred to me that I was probably going into hypothermic shock. I remembered all the symptoms of that: shivering, dizziness, confusion, rapid heart rate, nausea, fatigue…Wow, I was batting a thousand!
Now if only I could remember my name. It occurred to me that I had two of them. Was one of them Lester? Oh, dear. How awful! The other was something that began with an A.
Alfred? Hmm. No. That would make this young girl Batman, and that didn’t feel right.
“My name is Meg,” she offered.
“Yes! Yes, of course. Thanks. And I’m—”
“Hmm. No….Oh! That’s a joke.”
“Not really. But your name is Apollo.”
“Right! And we’re here for the Oracle of Trophonius.”
She tilted her head, sending her left eyeglass frame constellation into a higher astrological house. “You can’t remember our names, but you remember that?”
“Strange, isn’t it?” I struggled to sit up. My fingers had turned blue, which probably wasn’t a good sign. “I remember the steps for petitioning the Oracle! First, we drink from the Springs of Lethe and Mnemosyne. I did that already, didn’t I? That’s why I feel so odd.”
“Yeah.” Meg wrung the water out of her skirt. “We need to keep moving or we’ll freeze to death.”
“Okay!” I accepted her help getting me to my feet. “After drinking from the springs, we descend into a cave. Oh! We’re here! Then we go farther into the depths. Hmm. That way!”
In fact, there was only one way.
Fifty feet above us, a tiny slash of daylight glowed from the crevice we’d fallen through. The rope dangled well out of reach. We would not be exiting the same way we entered. To our left rose a sheer face of rock. About halfway up the wall, a waterfall gushed from a fissure, spilling into the pool at our feet. To our right, the water formed a dark river and flowed out through a narrow tunnel. The ledge we were standing on wound alongside the river, just wide enough to walk on, assuming we didn’t slip, fall in, and drown.
“Well, then!” I led the way, following the stream.
As the tunnel turned, the rock sill narrowed. The ceiling lowered until I was almost crawling. Behind me, Meg breathed in shivering puffs, her exhales so loud they echoed over the babble of the river.
I found it difficult to walk and form rational thoughts at the same time. It was like playing syncopated rhythms on a drum set. My sticks needed to move in a completely different pattern than my feet on the bass and top hat pedals. One small mistake and my edgy jazz beat would turn into a leaden polka.
I stopped and turned to Meg. “Honey cakes?”
In the glowing rhinestone light of her glasses, her expression was difficult to read. “I hope you’re not calling me that.”
“No, we need honey cakes. Did you bring them or did I?” I patted my soaking wet pockets. I felt nothing but a set of car keys and a wallet. I had a quiver, a bow, and a ukulele on my back—Oh, a ukulele! Wonderful!—but I didn’t think I would have stored pastries in a stringed instrument.
Meg frowned. “You never said anything about honey cakes.”
“But I just remembered! We need them for the snakes!”
“Snakes.” Meg developed a facial tic that I did not think was related to hypothermia. “Why would there be snakes?”
“Good question! I just know we’re supposed to have honey cakes to appease them. So…we forgot the cakes?”
“You never said anything about cakes!”
“Well, that’s a shame. Anything we can substitute? Oreos, perhaps?”
Meg shook her head. “No Oreos.”
“Hmm. Okay. I guess we’ll improvise.”
She glanced apprehensively down the tunnel. “You show me how to improvise with snakes. I’ll follow.”
This sounded like a splendid idea. I strolled merrily onward, except where the tunnel’s ceiling was too low. In those places, I squatted merrily onward.
Despite slipping into the river a few times, whacking my head on a few stalactites, and choking on the acrid smell of bat guano, I felt no distress. My legs seemed to float. My brain wobbled around in my skull, constantly rebalancing like a gyroscope.
Things I could remember: I’d had a vision of Leto. She’d been trying to convince Zeus to forgive me. That was so sweet! I’d also had a vision of the goddess Styx. She’d been angry—hilarious! And for some reason, I could remember every note Stevie Ray Vaughan played on “Texas Flood.” What a great song!
Things I could not remember: Didn’t I have a twin sister? Was her name…Lesterina? Alfreda? Neither of those sounded right. Also, why was Zeus mad at me? Also, why was Styx mad at me? Also, who was this girl behind me with the glowing rhinestone glasses, and why didn’t she have any honey cakes?
My thoughts may have been muddled, but my senses were as sharp as ever. From the tunnel ahead of us, wafts of warmer air brushed against my face. The sounds of the river dissipated, the echoes growing deeper and softer, as if the water were spreading out into a larger cavern. A new smell assaulted my nostrils—a scent drier and sourer than bat guano. Ah, yes…reptilian skin and excrement.
I halted. “I know why!”
I grinned at Peggy—Megan—no, Meg.
She scowled. “You know why what?”
“Why snakes!” I said. “You asked me why we would find snakes, didn’t you? Or was that someone else? Snakes are symbolic! They represent prophetic wisdom from deep in the earth, just as birds symbolize prophetic wisdom from the heavens.”
“So snakes are attracted to Oracles! Especially ones in caves!”
“Like that big snake monster we heard in the Labyrinth, Python?”
I found this reference vaguely unsettling. I was pretty sure I’d known who Python was a few minutes ago. Now I was blanking. I flashed on the name Monty Python. Was that correct? I didn’t think the monster and I had ever been on a first-name basis.