This story is dedicated to Joanni.
Sometimes I wonder why people who have lived most of their lives tell you when you finally love someone, you’ll know it. I don’t know about you, but this has led me to get lost in relationships time and time again. Each and every time I think this is the one, this is true love I end up being wrong and getting hurt in the process. It starts to take a toll on you after a while.
Getting over a broken heart only hardens it. You start limiting yourself with standards. When I was young to the game I thought these were stepping stones to something greater, something ultimate. In recent years I have gone from romantic to skeptic, thinking I can play the game and not let it play me. For all my worldliness I’m the same fool I’ve always been, and because of that I’m destined to be alone forever. Part of me wonders if I met my one true love a long time ago and let her get away.
Do you ever feel so old you can’t tell the difference between a memory and a dream?
In my dreams I love her, but often I think they are memories. For a long time I have felt unwell, feint, as if always walking in a daze. I have trouble even remembering who she is. It wasn’t until a hospital in Southern Italy called me that all these memories became clear again, but life does not carry on in a linear fashion…
When I first met the Alchemist, he told me that he could turn anything into gold. But an Alchemist is more than that. A true Alchemist could turn his gold into the Elixir of Life. A true Alchemist knew the secrets to immortality. My quest was not for fortune, nor was it for fame, it was for knowledge. I found the Alchemist to save the only thing I cared about. My quest was to keep my long lost love from dying.
The first lesson the Alchemist taught me was: Nothing is that easy. My quest was far from over; when it had already taken so much just to get here. . .
Our love was never a secret, but our lives were. For years we lived together. We lived for so long I can’t even remember my birthday. We used to worry about things like that, our past, where we came from, but that was a long time ago. Time has a habit of numbing you to things. With her by my side I learned to live in a shroud of mystery, and could weather the strangest of tides. Unfortunately I could not say the same for her.
She left me and America behind altogether, convinced our heritage came from the east. I could not follow her, my job was here. Back then I was concerned with things like a six-figure salary and luxury office. So I let her go. All I wanted to do was work for tomorrow and all she wanted was to live in the past. It was never going to work. But when she left I remembered what it felt like to be alone. The feeling made me weak, and in my weakness I chose to forget.
By the time I got to the hospital she was in the ICU, in quarantine. I had no other option but to watch my long lost love die. I could not just sit and wait for that day. I needed answers. So I did the only thing I could think of at the time. I picked up the search for our past where she had left off.
I tried to uncover the mystery of our history. God bless her heart, she had already done most of the work for me, leading us to Italy, more specifically Rome before the fall. That was over 7,000 years ago… The impossible part was that she had not traced back our family lineage, but our own emigration. How could she find such a thing? How could I not even know how old I was? I’ve lived for so long I can’t even remember my birthday. Is it possible there is something more to all this?
When I learned the true depth of these questions I found the path to the Alchemist. Rumors of our immortality had made our old household legendary. A man had bought it and sold everything older than Jesus to a stranger in Machu Pichu. I tracked the address and found the stranger on the highest peak on the highest hill. There inside his temple he used our old keepsakes to turn regular metal into gold, he was the Alchemist.
As a favor for using our old trinkets for his own wealth the Alchemist told me the recipe to Immortality. First was the Alchemist’s gold. That, we already had. There were 3 more items I had to find: Drops of Neptune, Essence of Light, and the Mark of the Dead.
“Where do I go?” I asked him, “What do I do?”
“There are 3 brothers who live in America. They are estranged and live very far from each other. The first you will find in Alaska. He will have the drops of Neptune, whether he realizes it or not.”
II. The Port of Anchorage
It took me a twice as long to get from the continental US to Alaska than it did for me to get from Europe to North America. Anchorage was a fisherman’s town and everything the History Channel’s Deadliest Catch made it out to be. Horrible conditions, rough people, there was not a hairless chin in sight, or a smile. By the time I got to the place I was looking for, he was already setting sail, and would not be back for nearly a month. So I had no choice but to get on the boat with him.
I had to work for my passage and it was not easy. It didn’t matter how much money I offered Don. He wouldn’t take it. He was a man of odd morals. As if money meant nothing to him. I’ll tell you this. I never missed my luxury office more than when I was on that boat. Not a day went by that I didn’t get soaking wet or sea-sick. When I tried to stick to my quarters, Don sought me out specifically. Those were the only times I could question him. Days at a time would go by before I could get information out of him. It wasn’t until I confessed to my own tragedies that he opened up. It wasn’t until I told him of how I lost my wife that he explained how he was just like me. Don had lived for hundreds of years. But it was not the love of a woman that kept him young.
Long ago, Don found out that no matter what he did, no matter how much he improved his life or made himself a better man, he could never court a woman. Don spent his days traveling, trying to get away, and despising himself for something that wasn’t his fault. Don found peace in the vastness of the deep blue sea. Ever since then he never strayed far, moving from port to port, country to country, the only constant in his life was the water, and that was all he needed. Strength in this knowledge brought him unnaturally long life, but fear of never finding love kept him isolated. And bringing up these old issues brought few tears to Don’s eyes.
That was when I realized what the Drops of Neptune were.
The strangest part of my trip was asking a grown man for his tears. I took a glass cylinder that held three hundred dollar cologne that I had not used once, emptied it out, and swiped them off his bearded cheek.
By the time our journey was midway through we were close enough to Seattle for me to be dropped off. Don could not tell me the whereabouts of his other two brothers. But what he could do was point me in the direction of his nephew. The last remaining family member he kept correspondence with.
III. The Montana Wilderness
I am not exaggerating when I say the first time I saw Eric he was carrying an entire oak tree under his arm. He put the tree down to cut into firewood later and picked up a bale of hay. Eric placed the hay down at the edge of the forest and whistled. A pure white cloud lowered from the sky and settled on the field.
From the immaculate mist galloped a horse painted with the very same color. A purebred stallion, it looked as if some unknown force helped it move effortlessly along the cascading grass over to us. Eric laughed as the horse licked his face. To this day I have never seen a more beautiful moment between man and beast.
What more could an unsaddled horse ask for? Acres upon acres of open field to roam were a well-deserved gift for such a loyal companion. Eric lived in a cabin 50 miles away from civilization in every direction; it was clear that Eric did so with purpose. I just didn’t know what that purpose was until I had a chance to sit down and talk with him.
Eric tried for many years to live in towns and do right by people. In the old days they called him a hero or a champion. He could do what many couldn’t, incredible feats of strength and agility that could not be explained by nature or science, lifting a train to rescue a child or stepping in front of a bullet to save a life. At first his antics gained him respect and fame from the townsfolk, but every time, like clockwork, escalation would bring the maniacs and madmen out of the woodwork, causing mass harm to the innocents. Eric wanted to be humanity’s protector, but the more good he did the more evil followed.
In the Wild West was when he changed his name to Eric Calles, and tried a different form of life, one of seclusion and secrecy. He never revealed his true identity or his awesome power. Instead he watched on as bad things happened, like any other man or woman. Eric found himself growing weaker and weaker, aging for the first time since childhood. He knew he could not stand it much longer.
One hot hazy noon, Eric stepped forth, the only one in the entire town, and stopped the hanging of an innocent man, just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the wrong skin color. The town watched in horror as Eric stepped against crooked lawman emptying their revolvers into his chest. But he did not flinch or stop. He threw them aside and freed the man with the noose around his neck. After that the town feared Eric and what he was. He knew then that he would never be accepted. He left civilization that day never to return, never to help humanity again. And so his purpose was wasted away in the woods.
When I asked him why he didn’t start to age like Don did when he was away from the water, he told me it was because of his father. His father had two surviving children. One was the heir of two immortals and the bane of their father’s existence. The second son was half immortal and half human, the pride of his father, who in his later years came to call himself Eric.
Eric took a small chest out of hiding and opened it in front of me. Inside of it was a small orb with an ever-glowing light inside of it. “Here…”
I never thought he would just give it to me. In fact I was more than reluctant to take it.
“You need it, don’t you?”
“More than you know…”
“I’ve spent the better part of my years withholding my true nature. Long have I yearned for a day where I can help those who cannot help themselves, yet it seems that day may never come.”
The next question I asked him…I already knew the answer to, but had to be said nonetheless, “What will happen to you?”
“Hopefully… I will die.”
IV. The L.A. Mortuary
Eric had lost touch with his father for many years, so many in fact, that if the two of them crossed paths in a crowd they might not even recognize each other. So Eric did the only thing he could, pointed me in the direction of his other uncle’s last known address, California…
“You come here looking for something specific,” the Undertaker started up, “What if I were to offer you something a little more immersive in return?”
The offer was too enticing to ignore, “Like what?”
“Who are you?”
“I have many names. Here, in this land, in this time, they call me Cedric.”
I sat down with Cedric the Undertaker in his mortuary and let him talk for a while. What he told me next changed everything…
“Each of us are built differently, but one thing remains the same…we are all immortal.”
“First there were the Elementals, our ancestors, dark fundamental forces that used chaos to rule the world. But this earth deserved better, a more human reign of dominion. And so the children of the Elementals usurped them and claimed dominion over this world and the men who dwelled in it for a millennium. But for those who live forever, millennia can go by in the blink of an eye. We were each given our duties, our realms.
“I don’t know how it started, but the original sentiment of my charge was immediately lost. Rumors quickly turned to legend and before I knew it I was seen as the spiteful brother who was burdened with the underworld. And in my exile I continuously plotted to take back what was rightfully mine. I was turned into the evil one, when in reality; I took on the Underworld in graceful stride because I knew 2 universal truths: in order to secure the realm of the living you must first tend to the flock of the dead, and no one else would ever choose to do it but me.”
“If it’s specifics you want than hold on to your seat, because I remember everything, so let’s start from the beginning… with Mount Olympus…”
“Our most powerful era was in Greece, back when we were still seen as gods. Zeus tried his hardest to keep us from contact with the humans. I was the least of his worries. As time moved on and Greece fell while Italy rose to power our names were changed and some of us were lost or forgotten. One clear moment defined us all after that, the birth of Christianity. The day Rome converted to monotheism was the day we were all set free. To put it bluntly, we got to retire from being gods. That came at a cost. Zeus made us combine all of our divine powers together and place them into Pandora’s Box.“
“I no longer could enter the Underworld, which meant my watch was finally over. Our divine powers molded into an effervescent orb of shining white light. The box became raw power. Whoever possessed the Essence of Light would be more powerful than any other immortal, even Zeus. Most of us found quiet homes on earth amongst the mortals. There was only one of us who lived on in the spirit of man, never taking on the disguise of a mortal coil, the son of Zeus and Hera, most hated of the Olympians, Ares, and the god of war. He lurked in the shadow and caused 2 thousand years of strife and conflict between humanity in an attempt to simultaneously get his powers back while dishonoring his father. “
“Others fell to the opposite extreme. Athena, the daughter of Zeus, goddess of wisdom, courage, strategy and warfare forgot what it meant to be immortal. She went by a different name, a human name. The poor girl was too ahead of her time, and when she tried to stand up and fight for what was right she was murdered by the masses. In those dark ages, men still feared the minds of women. When they saw one plated in armor and wielding a sword it did not matter what she fought for. She was betrayed and executed, burnt to death on a French stake. History knows her as Joan of Arc. “
“We all learned an important lesson when Athena was murdered; being immortal does not make you invincible. Her death showed humanity for what it truly was, wild, unpredictable, savage, and most of all powerful. Many of us fled into hiding after that, even from each other. Zeus was never the same. He chose to forget Athena, and his other children, because he knew what would follow. “
“Apollo became a famous singer and song writer, responsible for many works of both inspiration and profound ideology. He was the voice of an era. It was not long before he was assassinated for just being him. No one would ever hear the song spell from his lips again, yet his messages of peace and love would never be forgotten. The world knew him as John Lennon. Artemis vanished in the late 50’s as Amelia Earhart and shortly after so did the notion of pre-marital virginity.”
“Dionysus became more of a disease than a man. You can find him inside every man who uses substances to deal with life. Aphrodite found her way into each influential socialite group of every decade, from Mary Magdalene to Marylyn Monroe, now she lives inside reality TV with premises like 16 & Pregnant. And Hermes, the messenger god, brought the entire world together with the creation of the internet. Demeter died with the industrial revolution. And Hephaestus is the Alchemist who you sought out to save your beloved.”
“Now tell me Joe, have you figured out which one of us you are yet?”
“I….I….need the mark of the dead…I need to save my wife….I don’t have time for this!”
“After everything I told you just now…you still refuse to make the necessary conclusion…”
“Why do you talk to me like that?”
“Then just go if you remain wilfully dense, go back to your luxury penthouse and corner office in Manhattan. After all these years…little has changed…” The Undertaker took out a blank death certificate signed it, and handed it to me before saying “Be careful what you do with that.”
With all 3 items recovered for the recipe for immortality I returned to Machu Pichu ready to make my deal with the Alchemist. My journey was over. There was no way of knowing what would come next now. All I could hope was that my long lost love would come out of all this alive and well.
V. The Temple at Machu Pichu
“I see you found everything. And in the process, did you learn your origin?”
“I did, all too well.”
“Then you know who I really am…”
Joe handed the tear drops and the death certificate over to the Alchemist, “You were once called Hephaestus, maker of tools and weapons for the gods.”
“WRONG!” The Alchemist burnt the two handheld items instantaneously and lunged for Joe.
The force of him knocked Joe off his feet. As he fell back, just before he hit his head and was knocked out he heard the Alchemist say, “Maybe now, I will finally be able to kill you…father…”
In his feint Joe began to unravel the final coils of his mysterious past. That last word the Alchemist muttered was the key piece to the entire puzzle. After everything he had heard, Joe could finally put it together and make some sense of it all. Why he lived forever…Who he was among them…And who this was before him in so much anger…one of his sons…
He moved less like a person and more like the wind. This was no mortal. This was something more, someone who has remained abstract. The Undertaker spoke of Mars, the god of war, doing such things. According to Roman and Greek mythology, Ares was the son of Zeus. ..Zeus?
Am I the King of the Gods?
“You did exactly what I wanted you to do. All those years of trying to grow strong again in order to kill you and nothing ever happened. That’s when I searched for Pandora’s Box and found out you gave the orb to your favorite heir. That pompous bleeding heart would never let me get near it. Now with the Essence of Light at my disposal I will regain my original strength and destroy you, old man.”
Ares opened the chest and the light poured over him. He closed his eyes to accept it and reached in for a touch. The light was unlocked and spread across the room. The next thing Joe felt was Ares’ foot on his throat. It might as well have been a boulder it felt so heavy. There was no way Joe could get free. There was no way Joe could breathe. He was going to die if he could not think of something quick.
The wall of the Alchemist’s house crumbled to pieces after being hit with tremendous force behind Ares and Joe. With his foot still pressing down on Joe, Ares turned to see who interrupted his highly anticipated reunion and patricide.
‘Of course, it could be no one else…’
Eric flew in atop a mighty white steed with splendid wings. Of course, how could Joe not see it before, back in Montana? The beast from the cloud was no mere horse, but the fabled Pegasus. He dismounted and stepped into the house his old self. Before Montana, before the wilderness, before the Wild West, before Christianity, before Rome, there was Greece, and in Greece there was one great hero who has lived in legend every day since, and his name is Hercules.
“You have no power here, brother” warned Ares.
“I have enough heart to stop you, Ares.”
Hercules jumped into action and tried tackling Ares. The impact shook the foundation of the entire continent, but Ares did not budge. Ares grabbed Hercules by the throat and lifted him up off his feet.
“What a rare opportunity we have here . . . my chance to rid the world forever of the two worst gods in existence, tell me you half-human fool, what did you hope to achieve by coming here? Did you think sacrificing yourself was enough to save our father or did you actually think you could kill me?”
“…Even…with…all of…your power…the…god of…war…can’t see a simple diversion tactic…”
Ares turned around to the open front door where Don and Cedric had brought in Joe’s long lost wife, now laying on the floor with her arm stretched out enough for Joe to lock hands with her. Joe cried out and his wife opened her eyes.
The electricity between them felt like a river breaking through a dam to Joe. It jump-started his heart and brought the last three thousand years flooding back into his consciousness. Joe was whole and once again Jupiter, Zeus, the king of the gods, and the lord of lightning.
Zeus snapped Ares’ foot in half and Ares vanished into thin black air. Joe stood up as Zeus, white static in his pupils, and conjured a storm of lightning bolts inside the house, forcing Ares out of the darkness like venom from a wound. Ares took the form of a viper constricting Zeus’ wife. And just like that Joe’s power was taken from him again. Ares reformed into his human self but kept his victim covered in shadow below him. He threw Don and Cedric out through the door.
Right before Ares killed a sleeping Hera, Hercules grabbed the Essence of Light and smashed the orb in between his hands, forever destroying it. The light exploded all around them, dispersing amongst them.
Hercules, half-human half-god, always the great equalizer…
Hera awoke and disbanded Ares cloak of shadow. She joined Zeus, along with Poseidon and Hades, against Ares, but she would not fight him; so typical a man gets when faced with confrontation. Hera approached the god of war with open arms. And what did he do? He did not strike her, he did not flee, he did not push away. Ares fell to Hera’s embrace.
“My son…my poor misguided boy…What has this world done to you?”
Ares cried in his mother’s arms. So much grief, so much suffering, all brought on by the internal strife of a family apart. It was a mother’s rite to bring them back together, it was her presence that fixed everything.
For all the destruction and death Ares brought to this world over the thousands of years just to be heard by his parents they still did not kill him, but they would not forgive him either. Instead Hera brought Ares to the same chest the orb came out of. Ares would be forever trapped in Pandora’s Box and the world would always be a better place for it. He willingly did so under the love and care of his mother. Hera saved the world, when all she wanted to do was protect her boy.
The rest of the Olympians were readjusting to their old powers. Hades made his first trip to the underworld in two thousand years and brought back Athena, Artemis, Hephaestus, and Apollo. The Olympians were once again together, this time forever. And in one romantic action reminiscent of their time as gods but new to a notion so clever, they unanimously decided to sacrifice themselves.
After living for so long you look forward to the end, now they could do it in such a way that it would be eternally effective and appreciated. That one romantic action was Zeus stepping forward and kissing his wife, Hera. In that kiss each and every one of them disassembled out of reality and into the elements they once symbolized, all except for Hercules. He who was half human and half god took his place as guardian, he who would always be around to protect and serve humanity, saving them from themselves. The last to leave reality were Zeus and Hera. And just before they unravel together into infinity Joe whispers into her ear,
“I’ve missed you so much, my sweet Annie.”
Wherever there is chaos there is Ares.
Wherever there is celebration there is Dionysus.
Wherever there is love there is Aphrodite.
Wherever there is a home there is Hestia.
Wherever there is bread there is Demeter.
Wherever there is ingenuity there is Hephaestus.
Wherever there is communication there is Hermes.
Wherever there is innocence there is Artemis.
Wherever there is art there is Apollo.
Wherever there is wisdom there is Athena.
Wherever there is death there is Hades.
Wherever there is water there is Poseidon.
Wherever there is light there is Zeus.
And wherever there are mothers there is Hera.