Loki, emerald-colored skin as vibrant as ever, galloped up to the steps of The Hall of Earthly Gifts on his eight-legged horse.
Bacchus shuddered. “I will never get used to the look of that thing.”
“Home, Sleipnir,” Loki addressed the horse. The ungainly beast galloped off without objections.
The trickster god turned to his fallen peer. “Bacchie, baby, good to see you. You look skinny.”
“Why, Loki? Does that make you green with envy?”
“Oh I’ve never heard that one before.”
“I hear it’s not easy being green.”
“Did you have Vig invite me here just to make juvenile jokes at my expense?”
“No, but it’s a nice little perk of the situation.”
“You want me to help you or not, it makes no difference to me.”
“All right, my apologies. So how exactly do you plan to pull this off?”
“Don’t you worry. You do you’re Q and A thing with the Spinster Pandora and I’ll do my thing.”
The two headed up the stairs of the hall.
“Why doesn’t that make me feel any better?” Bacchus said.
Loki slipped around the back of the hall as Bacchus swung the brass knocker.
The enormous door opened, dwarfing the diminutive goddess who stood in its shadow. “Oh
Bacchus, sweetheart, you’re back?” She engulfed him in a hug.
“Well, not exactly, but I could use your help.”
She ushered him inside the entry salon and pushed the door closed behind them. “Anything for you. What can I help you with?”
“Well, I have some questions…About um, you know. The box.”
Questioning drew together her delicate features. “The box?”
“Oh oh oh, the box. Right.”
She led him straight to the vessel. For all its gilding and ornate carving, it didn’t seem an impressive or imposing object. The newly acquired phrase ‘bigger than a breadbox’ popped into Bacchus’ head, though if the thing were actually bigger than a breadbox, it wasn’t by much.
“Voila” She presented it to him with a flourish of her hands.
For all of Bacchus’ inspection of the thing, he couldn’t find a handle or lip of a lid, no hinges or fissure in the construction indicating that it was anything but a solid object.
“And this is the very box that was opened? You know doom on mankind—screaming, pain, suffering…” his voice trailed off.
“Yes. The very one.”
“How exactly does it open?”
Pandora fished a key from her pocket and walked over to the box.
“Whoa, should you open that?” Bacchus asked.
“Oh yes, it’s perfectly harmless now.”
“Won’t hope escape?’
“You know, the evils escape out of the box, but the lid is closed before hope can escape therefore mankind always has hope.”
“Hope isn’t a specter. It can’t escape, silly boy. Hope is what the box is made of.”
The goddess proceeded to release some hidden lock. A keypad of sorts popped up with ancient Greek symbols in bas-relief. Her fingers skipped over the symbols touching them in a specific sequence. An ethereal voice emanated from the box and asked Pandora, “What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening?”
“Man,” Pandora replied.
The box rearranged itself into a golden lotus, its petals splayed out around a gaping, hollow center.
“That looks an awful lot like a—” Bacchus murmured.
Pandora nodded and suppressed a giggle. “It does, doesn’t it?”
“Pardon me for asking this, Madame Pandora, but how in Hades did you open this box by accident all those eons ago? It seems well designed against an unintentional breech.”
“What? I opened the box? Oh no, I knew better than to open this box.”
“Really? It’s the only version of the story I’ve ever heard.”
“Well you are very young as gods go. No, it wasn’t I who opened the box. It was Lucifer. And he didn’t open it by accident.” Pandora paused to sniff the air. “Do you smell blueberry muffins?”
Bacchus took a half-hearted whiff. “Um, no. I’m afraid I don’t.”
“I love blueberry muffins. I have some over in the Culinary Gifts wing. Would you like me to fetch you some with a little tea?”
“No, thank you.”
“How silly of me, you don’t even drink tea, do you? Would you like some of your own gift to the world? What wine would one serve with a blueberry muffin?”
“Riesling, but thank you, Madame. I’m fine. So, you were saying…?”
“What was I saying? Oh yes, blueberry muffins. Did I tell you about the streusel?”
“Yes, you did, sounds like wonderful stuff.” Bacchus fibbed to move the conversation along.
“Now, why did Lucifer open the box?”
“He was angry.”
“Why was he angry?”
“Some adolescent temper tantrum. The Father had thrown over Lucifer’s mother, Gabriella, for a human woman—Ellie or Ava or Eve, something like that.”
“And how did you get the blame for it?”
“Well, I am the keeper of all earthly gifts, am I not? And hope is an amazing essence. It was The Mother’s greatest gift to the mortals. Nothing evil can breech it so The Sorrows were fixed tight until Luci showed up…Honestly I had no idea he meant to do anything wrong. He was such a beautiful young man, all dimples and blond curls. He asked me to sneak an apple for him…I shouldn’t have left him alone here, but how could I have known?” The crinkled edges of her eyes caught the tears that threatened to spill over.
Bacchus cupped the aging divinity’s face in his hands. A pang of guilt stabbed at him, but he reminded himself the box he intended to steal would be put to good use, not evil. “No no, my sweet lady, you did nothing wrong. Lucifer tricked you, he used you.”
“The Council didn’t quite see it that way. I spent two centuries in Purgatory before they let me return to my post here.”
“Of the few weaknesses The Father has, his son is his greatest. He couldn’t very well let his own son take the fall for unleashing The Sorrows.”
“I suppose you’re right. But Lucifer wound up falling into Darkness anyway.”
“Yes, that he did.” The fallen god reached in his pocket and pulled out a cotton handkerchief. With the gentlest of touches, he dabbed away the goddess’ tears. “No more thoughts of unpleasant things now. Hey, why don’t you tell me a little more about streusel?”
She clapped her hands together. “Oh my, there’s just so much to tell I hardly know where to start.”
“Could you explain to me the difference between ‘streusel’ and ‘strudel’?”
“My dear boy, they are vastly different things. Streusel is the crumbly topping one would put on a cake or pie or muffin. Strudel is a type of pastry filled with fruit. Or cheese. Or nutmeats. You can, of course, put streusel on a strudel, that’s extra lovely.“You know who loves a good strudel? Charon. Especially apple. He drops in from time to time for some between ferry runs. Oh how I love a man in black.”
to be continued...