Chapter 20:

The Palaces of Doom and Gloom

I Became the Plus-One to a Party of the Gods

Caisey knew he shouldn’t have trusted Rina. She was the last person whose ‘trust me’ should be believed considering she was the most mischievous person he knew.

“Rina…” he started, exhaustion dripping from his voice, “Why am I dressed like this?”

It was the next morning and, an hour ago, they had been in Rina’s room, each person staking claim on a spot in the room. Don on the soft floor, Lisa lounging on the comfortable chaise, and Rina in her large bed… Or there was Caisey’s option, pacing back and forth everywhere like a madman. This is how he had told Don and Lisa about the unfortunate circumstances surrounding his accidentally ‘summoning’ them to the Gods’ Realm.

There were the expected protests and curses thrown toward the Gods’ Realms unfair laws and practices. Then, there were tears and lots of sweets eaten to drown their sorrows. Finally, after everyone’s bellies were a whole size bigger and the sugar intake had dried up their tears, Rina threw a browning roll of tattered paper across the room at Caisey who had a miserable frown on his face.

In his mind’s eye, he kept seeing Don and Lisa just bloop! out of sight, never to be seen or heard from again. They’d just live their life without him back in the Mortal Realm while he’d remember the loss of them for an eternity.

With the browning roll of paper in hand, Caisey asked, “What’s this?”

Rina blinked, “Well, I mean, if you opened it…” she replied.

“Right, sorry.” Caisey mumbled and unfurled the crisp parchment. His initial reaction to what he saw was the furrowing of his eyebrows. Then a bubble of laughter pushed up his throat and he looked up to find Rina butt-bouncing excitedly on her bed.

“Okay, really. What is this?” Caisey asked, waving the paper back and forth. “Do you really think this could work?”


“Just like this?”

“Absolutely! No changes necessary.”

Caisey arched a brow, skeptical. “I somehow don’t believe—”

“You better BELIEVE IT, baby! No need to worry. On that note, what are we still doing here? We’re wasting quality time!”

“Wasting away, is more like it.” Don said, effectively dragging the mood back down to hell. He hadn’t moved from his place on the carpet for the longest time. Caisey had to keep stepping over him as he paced the large floor. Now, he took a good look at his friend and could see how much sadness had engulfed him.

Caisey was having the worst case of mixed feelings he’d ever had before. He felt like both Rina and Don, both elated and depressed like an ineffective espresso.

Attempting to make Don feel better, Caisey nudged Don’s ribcage with his toe. He expected Don to react like a squirmy cat the way he normally did, but today, he just let Caisey kick at him. 

Don continued talking. “Lisa and I were terrified that something had happened to you, Case. You had disappeared overnight, and you’d taken nothing with you. We almost filed a police report, but an odd feeling of security told us both that we shouldn’t. I guess I get why we got that feeling now, but it was strange not knowing before. Anyways, we waited. A week passed and nothing. Then two, and three. It was starting to become clear that we’d likely never see you again…”

Lisa picked up where Don had trailed off, “I remember the feeling when we decided that no news was good news. Like, there was no local news about an ax murderer offing a college-aged boy on his way to the convenience store or anything.”

“That was oddly specific.” Caisey commented, rubbing the back of his neck.

“Lisa’s secretly an ax murderer.” Don spoke face down into the carpet, his voice muffled.

Lisa threw a baby sized pillow from the chaise at her boyfriend and insisted, “I just watch too many slasher films.”

“Because it’s how she practices. She watches those things without blinking, like she’s taking notes. It’s creepy as hell. Case, have you ever seen—” Don was saying, just beginning to raise his smooshed face from the floor as he got into a groove. However, Lisa had hurried over from her lounge chair, straddled his back, dug her fingers into his hair, and yanked his head back so hard he choked.

Caisey and Rina remained where they were, watching the pair wrestle on the floor. Rina was cracking up, her eyes sparkling. Caisey was hoping she wasn’t getting any brilliant ideas over there.

So, to stop any such ideas from forming, Caisey walked across the extravagant room and plopped down on the bed next to her.

“So, this plan of yours…” he began.

Rina giggled, ‘I know it’s a little unconventional, but it’ll work!”

“Unconventional? Rina, you had to be downright high when you thought of this.”

Rina rolled her whole body back onto the bed as she shook with laughter. Caisey leaned down onto his left elbow, watching her laugh from a closer position. He continued, “If this works, I’ll spend all of my days scrubbing the floor you walk on. I’ll be more devoted than even your best cherub.”

“Really?” Rina asked, jolting up. She looked excited. “Good, because a team of my cherubs bathe me. If you need any pointers, ask them.”

She just put that out there with the same tone of voice someone would use to tell you that your shoe was untied, but she watched Caisey’s expression closely. He knew she was ready to pounce if he gave her an inch of good material, so he sat there for a moment willing the heat from his cheeks before the blush showed.

But of course, no dice.

Redness blossomed over his whole face in an instant. He stuttered and yelled, “I-I-I c-could do that!” His mind was instantly filled with lots of less than holy business and he reprimanded himself for having the mind of a pubescent middle school boy.

In between gasps of laughter and a pinkie swear forced from a reluctant Caisey, Rina announced that it was probably best to put their plan into action. An hour later, the gang was out under the bright sun, standing near a beautiful pond and a unique tree with pink and purple flower buds sprouting on wiry branches. There always seemed to be a light, cool breeze in the Gods’ Realm billowing through the most beautiful things: elegant clothing, locks of hair, and this magnificent tree, for example.

This landscape had an ethereal beauty that Caisey almost wanted for himself. He quietly wished that Rina's palace could be moved right in front of it, so he could wake up before this sight every day.

And then he flushed, realizing that he'd imagined a future for himself in this place, living among the gods. Sharing a home with Rina.

But a sudden crack of thunder scared him from his thoughts and pulled him to the reality he'd been trying to ignore. Lurking just a skip and a hop behind the enchanting pond was a string of palaces that could have come directly from the Underworld.  They were, in short, places of doom and gloom, hilariously out of place next to the various yellow and pink palaces on their right.

Dark and imposing, these palaces formed their own avenue that Caisey would have just dubbed 'Hell' if he'd had anything to do with it. The whole lot had foreboding clouds looming overhead. Some palaces were decorated out front with freaky-looking carvings of creatures that shouldn’t exist, and Caisey hoped that the graveyard outside one palace was decoration. One palace in particular was so disturbingly dark that he was positive Lady Nox lived there.

And in this avenue Caisey and his group stood, waiting outside a sickly gray palace with blinking eyeballs etched and scattered in every place one could possibly imagine. It was like the palace itself was watching them, somehow daring them to take a step further.

Basically, Caisey's group didn’t need to be told that they weren’t invited.

“Which is why,” Rina said, straightening the sash of Caisey’s dark gray tunic, “you are wearing this and why we’re going around back to be your backup.”

“I don’t need backup!” Caisey cried, “I need a replacement!” He had made three unsuccessful attempts to turn back. Now, he knew he was stuck being the center of the plan. 

Shhhh, man! If you get caught it’s game over.” Don reminded him. Caisey frowned deeply but nodded his head. He knew what he had to do if wished to avoid the alternative at all costs. 

So, with a deep breath and a steely glare at his friends and his beloved goddess for not going in guns blazing with him, Caisey trudged forward. Behind him, Rina, Don, and Lisa scuttled away to provide 'back up' should he get fileted inside by a creature with too many eyes. Caisey just knew they'd be too late to save him and thought about how best to haunt each one of them in his afterlife.

At the grandiose double doors, Caisey stuck his chest out in determination, knowing that what lay behind those doors would change his life. He used both arms and all his shoulder muscles to slam the giant eyeball-shaped knocker against the massive palace doors. His heart hammered in fear as the door creaked open and a creature far taller than him poked its head out.

Caisey wasn't sure if it was a cherub or something else, but it surely was hideous. “State your business.” It demanded, its gravelly voice reverberating in Caisey’s brain.

“I… I request an audience with the Ladies Atropos, Lachesis (Lak-iss-iss), and Clotho. It is an urgent matter.” It was an awkward attempt, at best, to make himself sound official, but the creature scrutinized him for several long seconds before stepping aside and pulling the double doors back with it.

Caisey sighed in a mixture of relief and apprehension and forced his body to move inside.