Author’s note: Growing up in sleepy St. Helena in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, I became fascinated by Greek mythology. I spent hours reading the ancient tales of adventure and many more hours imagining what it must have been like to exist within such a fantastical world where magic and gods engaged with humanity on a personal level.Of particular interest was what it might be like to be one of the less-developed characters within the sagas. For example, for months, after reading the story of “Pandora’s Box,” I wondered what life must have been like inside the box before it was opened. I’d learned that Pandora had been given a box (actually a jar in the original story) by a vengeful Zeus intent on punishing her lover’s brother. When a curious Pandora opens the box, all the “evils” of the world are released, with only “hope” left behind. Here’s a three-part story that came from those musings.
“Look, it’s just a matter of balance,” said Plague Virus.
No one was listening except Envy, who examined Virus up and down, thinking he looked pretty good with his spaceship-shaped body, all hexagon and transparent. “I wish I had a body like that,” he said under his breath.
From a distant corner a trembling voice called, “I’m scared.”
The group paused for a moment and then erupted in a roar of laughter.
“I can’t believe Fear is afraid again — what a wimp,” said Tapeworm.
“You can tease me all you want, but I am just being honest,” Fear said, lowering his little pointy head, his wee beady eyes wet and glassy.
The light began to fade, and everybody looked up.
“Hope, keep your damn light on. We have work to do down here,” said Tick, who had taken it upon herself to become the de facto leader. “How can we get anything done with you continually fading?”
The light brightened, but only slightly.
For what had seemed like many hours, maybe even days, years or longer, they had all found themselves together in the dark, the only light coming from the glow of Hope as she hovered above, keeping her distance from the others. The floor was smooth and shiny, probably some type of polished metal. No walls or ceiling were visible from where they stood. Stacked nearby, Centipede had found crates of food, water and some wool blankets. Using a few of the crates, Tick had built a makeshift table around which the group now gathered. Jealousy had been put in charge of rationing the supplies. Hope’s dim light made the whole scene look like a seedy card game.
“OK, who remembers how we got here in the first place?” Tick snapped, sliding a limp mouth tentacle along the top of one of the crates.
“Please don’t put that thing on the table.” said a dark wispy creature with long, sharp fangs “It’s the only place we have to eat, and you’re putting your slimily mouth parts all over it.”
“Who the heck are you anyway?” asked Tick.
“Me? My name is Passive Aggressive. Not trying to offend, but I think a little more decorum would go a long way.”
“Please keep your opinions to yourself. My mouth parts are not slimy and are certainly cleaner than your breath, which I can smell from here.”
Envy slipped back into the darkness.
“Hey, Wasp, have you gathered your search party together?” asked Tick.
“Yes, sir ... ma’am ... anyway, I’ve got both ground and air patrols ready for orders,” said Wasp, rubbing her barbed mandibles back and forth.
“Great. With a floor like this, seems to me we’ve got to be in some sort of building or some sort of container. So get out there and see if there is a ceiling to this thing and if you can find any walls or exit points. Be careful, you might find other groups. No idea if they’ll be hostile. It will be dark and difficult work. Report back within the hour.”
Wasp gave a quick salute and flew off to gather her troops. The light flickered above.
Time passed slowly as they waited for Wasp’s return. They could hear sounds out in the dark, as if they were surrounded by other beings just out of the light’s reach. Tick once noticed the glaring reflections of eyes beyond the puddle of light but said nothing about it to the others, not wanting to cause alarm.
It was getting cold. Fear shivered.
“Who’s been hoarding all the smokes?” asked Bedbug, nervously preening his legs.
“Yeah, and where’d all the doughnuts go?” added Gluttony, who had just then crawled into view.
Everyone turned accusingly toward a limp green man with long thinning hair.
“Why’s everyone looking at me?” he asked, briefly looking up toward Hope.
“Look, Gluttony, we know you got the stuff. Hand it over,” said Rattlesnake, flicking her tongue in and out slowly.
Gluttony looked around at the glaring eyes surrounding him.
“OK, OK. Here. Take ‘em,” he said as he handed out cigarettes and doughnuts. “They’ll kill you, you know. Just trying to save you guys from your bad habits.”
“The patrols should have been back by now,” said Tick as she slyly glanced over at Mosquito, who stood near a crate absentmindedly stroking her distended belly. “We need to figure out who put us here and how we can get out. I don’t know about you all, but I need to get back to my family — they must be worried sick.”
Just then someone yelled, “I just hate waiting. Hate, hate, hate it.”
Everyone turned toward the speaker and then a collective groan permeated the air. Hate smiled a big toothy grin and took a deep bow, saying, “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
More time passed. Everyone waited.