Marissa Dakin posed an interesting question– “Are gods really gods if no one believes in them anymore?” –followed by small vignettes imagining the Greek gods in modern times, immortal, but no longer gods, trying to make their way in this world where no one believed them, they had no more power, but were still their domain at their core.
Her Hades sounds more like Ares, as he usually does because people still fear death, and the personification of it is seen as vicious. The cause rather than the result.
So I wrote this, inspired and moved by the world she painted.
Hades steps into the small washup area in the basement of the coroner’s office and sighs.
It’s winter, his wife is away, visiting her mother down south. No one understands arranged marriages anymore, but he always tried to treat her well, and there was love that blossomed there. But her mother feared her lost to his realm forever. So in the winter, she flew south to her mother, and he stayed north, where his job was.
An involuntary laugh, dry like a crypt, escaped his throat in a rasp. If only Demeter had known what it would come to.
Hades washed his hands, toweled them off, wiped the remaining moisture on his scrubs, and sat down, flicking on the small radio in what passed for an office.
A song came on and he instantly recognized the voice. A tear came to his gold-flecked eye as he retrieved a pomegranate from his lunch bag. Orpheus was the only who’d done truly well. Even after a car crash that nearly crushed him, he’d moved onto a modest success as a singer. Even Apollo had to envy as Orpheus’ tracks sold in small numbers but wide distribution. Hermes had helped build the website.
“It’s all information,” the messenger had said, “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” Hades mouthed as Hermes’ voice echoed in his head.
He slipped a pomegranate seed between his lips, the taste bringing vivid memories of Persephone. It was always hard to truly remember her in the winter. Things were different now, though. There’s nothing quite preventing him from visiting Demeter with her, they’re just immortal, not bound by divine law anymore. He could go.
If he was wanted. If his mother in law didn’t do as much as she could to keep him from her daughter’s mind in the winter.
He was needed there, in his office, anyway.
He may no longer rule the underworld, but he still has his duty to the dead. He no longer oversaw an eternal lake of souls, or the Elysium Fields—now he watched a dimly lit chamber of little doors, each holding or waiting to hold a body to be examined. He performed no small number of the examinations himself, but mostly he was there to watch over them, and receive any bodies brought in during the night.
Kharon had long ago traded his boat for a van. Instead of ferrying the dead to the underworld, he now couriered corpses to the morgue. He had another job as a hearse driver too—thank someone for the immortal lack of sleep-need.
Hades hated the night shift. He never took glee in his role, it was a duty, and one his brother was too vain to step up to. But now he had to watch as Kharon brought in women beaten to death by their pimps or husbands or rapists, children caught in crossfires, boys not quite past childhood killed on one side or another in those crossfires… no one seemed to die peacefully in the night, or those who did seemed to always wait till morning. Family discover them in their beds, in chairs in front of TVs, or even witnessed them just- fall, and not move again, and they called the coroner and arranged for the body to be picked up in the morning. Only victims were brought in at night, after the police had come and canvassed and said it could be moved.
Sometimes, when it was a slow night, Kharon would sit with Hades on his break, or when he had no work to do. They would talk, play old games long forgotten by mortals and undiscovered by archaeologists, reminisce. Kharon had no wife in the before time, and it wasn’t easy for him to date mortals now—the gods may not be gods anymore, but he still carries the unnerving presence of death.
Sometimes he would see Hecate or Melinoe as he picked up a body. Kharon would smile, and then immediately wonder if he should be smiling. Melinoe always quickly turned away and left, Hecate would acknowledge him, but give no indication of whether the smile was appreciated or not.
Hades would try to advise his friend as best he could, but then- he married Persephone when courtship was asking the father for the woman’s hand and nothing else, so there was only so much help Hades could be.
In the winter, Hades would vacillate wildly between warmly welcoming Kharon in on these nights, and quietly saying he needed to be alone.
On those nights he would sit, and listen to the radio play Orpheus, and eat pomegranate seeds—and be glad that only the dead knew the silver tone of his tears.