Some Kind of Wonderful (Part 1)
Comics Retcon Universe 007
Some Kind of Wonderful
Charlie Sandsmark and his mother, Helena, travel around the world from one archaeological dig to another, looking for evidence of the ancient Amazonian culture. So far they have found nothing, until Charlie discovers something wonderful about himself on a small island in the Aegean Sea.
Author's Note: Here's Part One of a brand new Retcon. I started to develop an interesting concept for what I thought was going to be a Wonder Woman story but as I started looking for ways to make her a believable teenager, I came upon Cassandra Sandsmark. A lightbulb went off in my head. I'd like to thank djkauf for the lightning quick editing and DC Comics for the use of their wonderful characters.
“Mom, do we really have to be here?”
My mother ignored me. She always ignores me when she gets involved in something. It was her thing. She has this habit of finding something that really interests her and blocks out the rest of the world. I think it’s one of the reasons my Dad left. He got tired of being ignored, too. At least that’s what I’ve always gathered. My mother tells a different story though. She’s like that, too. She always puts her spin on things which is never a good thing when it comes to her. I wouldn’t call my mother a radical feminist but she definitely wasn’t shy about her beliefs either. I guess that’s what makes her so hard to get along with in the Academic Community. Dr. Helena Sandsmark, the Grab-You-By-Your Balls Feminist Archaeologist.
At least that’s what everyone at the community college calls her. At the museum where she works they actually call her Dr. Amazon. That one made me smirk. I smirk because if you’d actually met her you’d see she was completely different. There are a lot of young Grad students afraid to attend her classes because of her rep. My mother kinda likes to break through barriers and go against the norm. She tells me that being a woman in a male dominated field helps. In order to succeed she needs to make the others fear her and take notice. I laugh at that too. My mother is not an overbearing woman in the least. She’s often described as tall, dark and menacing. In truth, she’s barely five foot six, wears glasses and is the kindest person I know.
Except when it comes to her work.
When it comes to her field, she doesn’t like to believe in what others before her have come to believe. She always tells me to stand up for what I believe in and if I think something is wrong, I should find a way to make it right. That’s what drove the two of us on this particular journey. Mom works at the Field Museum in Chicago, her expertise is in Ancient Greek civilizations and culture. She’s been studying it for the last fifteen years. In fact she liked it so much that in her first year of college---while in Athens on a vacation---she met and fell in love with my father, a local whose name was Zeus. See, I told you she loved the culture. They spent a hot and wild few weeks together, she didn’t even know she was pregnant until she got back to the states. Even then, she didn’t let that stop her. After I was born, my grandmother raised me while my mother pursued her degree.
I’m not saying she was a lousy mother but she can get distracted. I guess it runs in the family. You see her passion and distraction is what drove us to this place. Me, I’m a distracted slacker---my principal’s words, not mine---Mom is a distracted academic. We originally went to Crete; Mom was currently in the midst of writing another boring book on something else equally boring. Don’t ask me to explain the details. We were scraping through the ruins of Knossos---the place where the Minotaur was supposed to be, I think---and Mom found something tucked away in a corner. Ok, so it was this tiny little etching. Most of the scholars before her thought it was some kind of ancient graffiti. But Mom has this theory. It’s one that’s not highly shared by anyone else in her field. You see she might be a scholar of Ancient Greece but my Mom’s real passion lies with the Amazons. And you wonder why people think she’s a feminist. You see the historical place of the Amazons---Themiscyra, I think it’s called---has always been believed to be in modern day Turkey, on the Terme River. Ok, so bear with me a second because this is where things get kinda boring. It’s a little known belief that the Amazons used to live on the coast of the Black Sea in a place once known as Pontus. Many scholars believe that they moved their civilization up the Terme River, which was back then known as the Thermodon River.
Ok, so are you with me so far? Well Mom---and a few others---believe that the Amazons never even lived in Pontus. That their actual home was in the Aegean, somewhere near modern day Crete. In fact, she theorized that somewhere out there there was a small island where the Amazons actually called home. My mother calls this the True Themyscira---notice the different spelling in the name. She believes that the Pontus site was falsified to keep men from discovering the Amazonian secret. Except whenever anyone asked her to clarify what said secret was my mother has never been able to come up with a straight answer.
So what does this have to do with an ancient doodle on a wall, well I’m getting to that. According to Mom, the wall “doodle” was actually a piece of Amazonian text, lost to the ages. She’s found similar writings all over Greece and she believes that they are actually map markers, supposedly leading to her True Themyscira. So after finding this latest little squiggle, the two of us jumped on a plane, hauled it back to the mainland and she did her research. I love going on her little trips, I love getting all the time off from school but sometimes they were so damn boring. As cool as you think it would be---maybe Indiana Jones or even Lara Croft like---we spend most of our time in libraries or museum basements looking at old books covered with ancient dust.
We only had a six-month sabbatical this time and we were on our last week of that. When I was little, I used to enjoy these little adventures, scouring the globe with her. I mean how many kids do you know who can speak ten different languages by the age of thirteen and six different ones that no one wants to know by the age of sixteen. In case you’re wondering, I’ll be turning seventeen in two months. So most of her sabbatical---my extended “vacation”---has been spent in libraries. But this time, according to her, she was on to something. This time she was right, this time we were on the trail of something to redefine history.
And that leads us to here. On a small island in the middle of nowhere. I mean nowhere, too. We spent three hours on a small fishing boat to be carted out to this tiny little speck that doesn’t even appear on maps. The fisherman who brought us out here said that they mostly avoid it because there’s some kind of disturbance that messes with their equipment. He said that his grandfather’s grandfather used to tell stories of men stepping onto the island and never being heard from again. Well you can imagine how excited Mom got when she heard that. After that she was convinced we were in the right place. So she paid the man, told him to come back in a couple of hours to collect us and maybe he too could be a part of history.
“Charlie, would you put that damn thing away, you know I hate it.”
That damn thing was my PSP. It’s the only thing that’s been keeping me sane on this trip. Like I said before, I used to love bouncing around the world with her. Back when I was ten. But I’m an American teenager; I need television, and video games and shopping malls not moldy tombs, dusty libraries and hours riding in leaky boats and rickety old pickups. Where’s the fun and adventure in that? My mother doesn’t see it that way. She doesn’t like modern living much. She much prefers living out of a knapsack, sleeping in tents, washing her clothes in the river. The PSP was a gift from my grandmother. At least she knew what it was like to be me. My grandfather---her husband---was like my mother, always out looking for something. Except he was a treasure hunter, convinced that there was something always buried just below the surface.
“C’mon Mom” I whined, not bothering to look up from the screen. “You dragged me out here in the middle of God knows where, in the sweltering sun and you expect me to give up the only piece of modern convenience I own.”
Sixty-five percent of the year, we live with my grandmother in the suburbs. It’s this nice three bedroom Victorian. Its kinda cool because my room was once the attic. When I was born, my grandfather converted it into a bedroom for me. First, it was a nursery then it slowly evolved with me. He was Greek, too; I think that’s where some of my mother’s passion for Greek men came from. Some people say that a little girl often falls in love with a man who reminds them of their father. My grandfather was David Kapatelis. He once told me he wanted to be an archaeologist when he was younger but then jokingly said in “another life”. My grandmother, Julia, was married. The way she tells it, she and my grandfather had a whirlwind romance.
My mother uses my grandmother’s maiden name Sandsmark. It’s not that she doesn’t love her father’s name, it’s that feminist thing again. She’s under the impression that just because a woman is married she shouldn’t have to take her husband’s name. So when she got old enough, she chose to take my grandmother’s last name instead. Of course, she followed tradition, making sure I took her last name too. But I think that was because she never knew my father’s last name. Funnily enough on the birth certificate in his place, it says Zeus, I wonder if that makes me a Demi-God.
My mother stopped whatever it was she was doing and walked over to me. We brought a pair of beach chairs with us and I was currently occupying one, trying to stay out of the sun. I burned easily. My mother leaned over my shoulder and huffed.
“Of all the games to chose you had to pick that one” She sighed. “It’s a disgrace.”
The game she was referring too was God of War. It was all about a Greek warrior named Kratos, out to get his revenge against Ares, the God of War, for killing his family. My mother hated it because it was completely inaccurate. I liked it because of all the blood and violence. I also liked the fact that it got under my mother’s skin so much. She was a stickler when it came to things like that. Even though she constantly complained about how Greek Myth was male dominated---don’t even get her started about poor Medusa---she also hated it when Hollywood screwed things up. I used to like the original Clash of the Titans when I was a kid. My grandfather and I used to watch it but we had to do it in secret because if my mother ever caught us watching it she used to lecture us on how wrong it was. Last spring my friends and I went to see the remake and when I got home, she grilled me on it, wanting to know what they screwed up this time. Ok, I admit, they fucked that one pretty bad. It was cool to see Medusa and the Kraken rendered in CGI though.
Her complaining about my games annoyed me. But I knew how to push her buttons too.
“Are we done yet?” I whined, putting an extra effort into my whine.
She smirked, pushing her glasses up onto the top of her head. She gave me a look, the look, the one that told me I wasn’t fooling her. She opened her mouth to say something but closed it just as quickly. I smirked; she went back to doing whatever it was she was doing. I paused my game to take a look, sometimes I got curious too. But there was nothing to look at. When we arrived on the island an hour ago, she broke out her gear and set up on the beach. Then she proceeded to comb through the white sand, looking for some evidence. She often told me that some of the best evidence could be found on the beach. So far, she had her little metal bucket filled with evidence: unfortunately, for her it was all modern junk. A lot of it crap washed up onto the shore.
I sighed and picked up my game again. It was a shame that we were still on the beach. The rest of the island looked kinda cool actually. It was mainly this huge jungle looking forest. Do they call them jungles on islands? Anyway, the foliage was so thick it looked like you’d need a machete to cut through it. My grandfather would have loved this place. He used to tell me that some of his best times were spent bushwhacking through places just like this one. He used to have the greatest stories about all the crazy stuff he used to do. Of course, he exaggerated a lot of them but it was still fun to hear them. I knew just looking at that place there’d be no way I could convince he to let me go poking around in there. Besides, she had the only machete and she guarded it like it was made of gold. I think she half expected me to try something stupid like that.
“Mom, this blows,” I complained, setting my PSP aside. “Can I go poking around in the jungle?”
She didn’t even look at me when she answered. “Not on your life.”
I blew air form the corner of my mouth. I groaned. “Can I at least go walking along the beach? Who knows I might find a beached mermaid or something.”
My mother stopped her beachcombing and gave me a funny look.
“Hey, it could happen.”
She smiled slightly. “Are you sure you’re not going to go wandering into the woods.”
I groaned. “I’m not a little kid anymore. You tell me not to do something; I’m going to do it.”
She nodded. “Ok but be back here in an hour. I have to use the radio and call Costas so he can come and take us back to the mainland.”
I smiled real big and gave her a half-handed wave. She didn’t even notice and went right back to her whatever it was she was doing. Me, I unzipped my hoodie and tossed it on the chair. I used to have real long hair, down past my shoulders. It was something cool to do in middle school. But when I became a freshman, I cut it all off. I think my mother was a little perturbed by that. I used to let her braid it and things like that. In my household, I was always taught to be gender tolerant. When I was younger, my mother raised me to believe that there was no real gender, that they were just names that male society used. So she often put me in pink, braided my hair into pigtails and let me play with dolls. I didn’t know anything was wrong until a couple of guys in elementary school kicked my ass for wearing a purple t-shirt to school.
My grandfather changed things after that. He didn’t undermine my mother but he made sure that I dressed more like a boy. He taught me to fight too. He was an amateur boxer in his youth. He had this punching bag and some weights in the garage. Every night for almost three years straight the two of us used to go down there are work out. It angered the hell out of Mom but because she worked all the time, there was no real way to stop it.
My hair was finally getting longish again, which secretly made Mom happy I think. It was down to my shoulders and as black as night. Just like my father’s, according to her. Whereas my mother had a mixed complexion mine was more olive colored, like a Greek. I guess it had something to do with all that Greek blood flowing through my veins. I had striking blue eyes though. My father had blue eyes but not nearly as dashing as mine. When I was little, it used to upset me that my mother didn’t tell me more about him. I thought she was being secretive but in truth she didn’t really know all that much. They only spent a short time together and most of that was wild love making. Don’t worry, I didn’t find that out until much later but it still creeped me out to here.
I got half way down the beach when my mother called out to me. “Charlie, if you find anything interesting don’t pick it up. Shout for me and I’ll come right away.”
I rolled my eyes. “I know the drill, Mom.”
I said it half aloud. Not that she heard me anyway. When she got into her work, she really got into it. One time in Athens---last summer actually---we were on this little farm following another one of her crazy leads, when a bull broke from its pen. It went rampaging around the yard, smashing a few wine barrels, busting up a wheelbarrow. It Came close to hitting my mother about three times. But she never even flinched. It took the farmer and two of his hands nearly twenty minutes to wrangle the bull back into his pen. I found out later that my mother never even knew it happened. She was so engrossed in her work she didn’t notice a thing. Me, I spent the whole time in the tree nearby, clinging onto a branch for dear life.
I wandered away from our little camp and off toward something, anything more exciting than playing in the sand.
My grandfather and I used to camp a lot. We used to pack up the truck and drive for a long time to this great camping ground. I’m not sure where it was but it was fantastic. He had this great spot---a secluded place where no one else seemed to show up. In case you haven’t noticed already, my mother and grandfather didn’t exactly see eye to eye. He used to say for the life of him he couldn’t figure out where her feminist attitude was coming from. He wasn’t saying it was bad but at the same time, he wasn’t saying it was healthy either. Every time the two of us would try to do anything together, she would try her hardest to nip it in the bud. I think she thought he was trying to undermine her ability to raise me. The only problem is that he and my grandmother did all the raising actually.
Anyways, we had this sweet spot. It was this great clearing, near a lake. The two of us would fish and tell stories around the campfire. He would share tales of his youthful adventures and make me feel like I was an adult. My grandfather had this thing where he never talked down to you, no matter how young you were. He said a person is a person no matter how young they were. So he treated me like an adult, which I loved. When we weren’t fishing or telling stories, he’d teach me other things. For instance, he taught me how to fire a bow. Yeah, I’m not sure why that had any significance but he seemed to think it did. My grandfather wasn’t a hunter---he abhorred the practice---but he said his family came from a long line of hunters. He also taught me how to throw a javelin and discus. We did all of that in the woods. He was obsessed with things like that.
Once again, he said it had something to do with our ancestors. He talked a lot about our heritage, about what it meant to be Greek.
Right now, walking barefoot through the white sands on the beach, I missed him so much that my chest hurt. If you haven’t figured it out already, my grandfather was gone. He passed away right before I entered high school. I’m not really sure how it happened either. I know you expect me to say he died of old age or cancer but the truth was much more horrifying. He was mugged then stabbed. At least that’s what I was told. He was walking out of the bank and someone grabbed him at his car. He was dragged into an alley where he was robbed and killed. I cried for days afterwards. It was a senseless, heinous crime. My grandfather was an innocent; he couldn’t have hurt a fly. When I asked my mother and grandmother why something like this would happen they were very subdued about it. I think it was hard on them to talk about it.
Thinking about it now sent a tear rolling down my cheek.
The cawing of a bird interrupted my thoughts. I snapped around, looking for it. It was the first animal I’d heard since we got here, before that I was convinced the island was deserted. I scanned the tree line, even going so far as to look up at the canopy. But I couldn’t find the bird. It was a strange sound, one that I’d never heard before. There weren’t many birds back home, well nothing exotic anyway. AS much as I hated going on these little expeditions now, I always liked looking at the birds. In some places we went to, there were some fantastic birds. My favorite time was when we spent two months in Africa. My mother was convinced that some secret of the Amazons was hidden there. So she dragged me through a few countries. It was horrible. But I loved all the animals, especially the birds. It was kinda cool because I’d only seen animals like this in the zoo. But to see them out in the wild, in their own habits, it was exhilarating.
The bird cawed again. Ok, so it wasn’t a caw exactly, it sounded almost like a giant cat meowing. I know it sounds strange but that’s what I heard. I continued to scan the tree line but I still couldn’t see anything. I heard the noise again and bit my lip. I turned around, trying to see if my mother could see me. She was at the other end of the beach now, busy poking in the sand. I looked back at the dense foliage and made a split decision. I had to see if I could find that bird. I took a deep breath and pushed my way through. It was hard going; the underbrush was thick. There were these giant ferns with huge leaves the size of my head. As I was trying to push through, one of the leaves slapped in the face. It kinda stung but I bit my tongue to keep from crying out.
Finally, I pushed inside. I stumbled and ended up on my knees. When I looked up, it was little walking into a whole new world. Only the foliage around the perimeter of the little island jungle was thick and dense. The stuff inside was wild and overgrown but it looked much more manageable. I clamored to my feet, using a nearby tree to help myself up. The one thing I noticed immediately---besides all the green---was how much hotter it was in here. Outside the little jungle, it was hot but inside it was like walking into a sauna. I started to sweat almost immediately. After only a few steps, my shirt was clinging to my body. I actually thought about taking it off but decided against it.
The other thing I noticed was the bugs. There were a lot of them, most of them flying insects. They zipped in front of my face, buzzed annoyingly in my ears. I swatted loads of them away. The light in the jungle was muted, getting to the floor below by patches in the canopy above. It was barely seeable in here. Luckily, I was prepared. My grandfather taught me. He said that a person should have three things when traveling: a pocketknife, a book of matches and a little flashlight. Though I left my hoodie back at camp, I was carrying my backpack. I slipped it off my shoulder and set it on the ground. I unzipped it and rummaged around inside. It was mostly comics---Warrior Angel and Mega Babe---and a few spare video games. I pushed those aside and found the flashlight.
I pulled it out and clicked it on. The beam cut through the patched light like a light saber. I zipped up my pack and reslung it on my shoulder. I shined the light in front of me, making sure I didn’t bumble into something I shouldn’t. A place like this---where there was so little light---was a good place to do something stupid. I watched this TV show--- Buck McGrady’s Survival Guide---where the host, Buck, always warned of dangerous places like this. He always said it was a good idea to keep your wits about you and make sure you know where you’re stepping before you do so. So that’s what I did. I shined the light on the ground first then all around me. I didn’t want to step in a sink hole or worse, onto some poison reptile.
I continued taking things slowly, using my light as a guide. I was trying to follow the path of the bird; going in what I thought might be the right direction. But after its first initial caws, it had completely disappeared. It was possible, thought I’d never admit it openly, that I’d been hearing things. Maybe I was so bored and so hard up for adventure, that my mind created the stupid bird. After all, I’d never heard anything like it before. Perhaps my brain was sun addled or something. I think that can happen. People sit out in the sun too long and they go a little bonkers. There was this guy I saw when we were in a street market in New Delhi; he acted like he could have been sun addled. He came up to us while Mom was buying something from a vendor---information I think. He was real creepy, got right in my face. He actually touched my hair and said what a pretty golden color it was.
The nut was so addled that he couldn’t tell black from blonde. He kinda freaked me out. The vendor ended up chasing him off. After that, I stuck pretty close to my mother. But the whole time we were in the market, I felt the guy watching me. Even though he was long gone, I had this strange feeling that he was lurking somewhere in the shadows. For the rest of the time in the market---hell while we were in India---I kept looking over my shoulder, making sure he wasn’t there.
I stopped to wipe my sweaty brow. My clothes were now so wet with sweat that it looked like I’d been caught in a rainstorm. My hair was sticking to my head like a helmet and my socks were sloshing around in my boots. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d sweat this much in my entire life. What’s worse was the fact that I was getting nowhere, except farther away from the beach. I turned and looked behind me but saw nothing but dark green. I cursed. I hadn’t realized how far I’d wandered into this mess. My mother was so going to kill me, that is if I ever got out of this place. I bit my lip, shining the light in front of me and then behind, trying to decide what I should do. I could continue forward and hope to stumble onto a bird that I wasn’t sure existed. Or I could wander back and hope to stumble out of this place.
My mind was made up for me when I heard another strange bird call. It was the same as before and it was coming from in front of me.
I snapped the light up, scanning about. At first, there was nothing then something blue glinted back at me. At first I thought I’d come upon some kind of stone or something. Then the blue thing moved. I jumped back, startled. It was about twenty feet in front of me and slowly moved out of some ferns. My mouth dropped open: it was a peacock. I stumbled back as it wandered out in front of me then stopped. At first, it didn’t seem to notice me at all. But as I trailed the light along its larger than normal body, it snapped its head around to face me. I’d seen peacocks before, in the zoo and while on safari in Africa with Mom. But I never in a million years thought I’d see one here, after all, we were in the middle of the Aegean. Peacocks were native to Africa and Southern Asia, not way over here.
The bird stared at me. Our eyes locked for a moment and it was as if it was looking right into my soul. My fingers trembled and I dropped the flashlight. The bird didn’t move. I cursed and bent to pick up. As I did, the bird seemed to follow my movements, bending its head with my body. I watched it mesmerized as I slowly picked up the flashlight.
“What kind of freaky bird are you?” I asked, finding some semblance of courage.
The bird cocked its head. It was creepy because it almost looked like the thing understood me. The bird and I continued to stare at one another. It was kinda creepy because when I moved, it moved. I tested it. I waved my hand and it seemed to move its head, mimicking the movement of my hand. Then I nodded my head and it bobbed its head. I took a step back and it took a step back. I laughed. It didn’t laugh with me of course but it seemed to rear up like it was laughing. Things changed though when I took a step forward. As soon as I did so, it reacted badly. It puffed up real big, opening that huge plumage of tail feathers it was famous for and snapped at me. I stumbled backwards, tripping over a tree root. I cursed, shaking my hand. There was a deep gash where the bird nailed me with its beak.
I pulled a bandana out of my pocket and wrapped my hand.
The bird stood before me, its tail still spread out, trying to look as threatening as possible. It was working too, because there was no way I was going to try that again. It took a step toward me, challenging me to do it. I shook my head, holding up to show my hand. It backed off after that, getting the message I think. There was no way I was going to mess with terror bird again. The bird didn’t lower its tail until a few minutes later though. Me, I couldn’t just lie there like an idiot. I was scared to move for fear that it might come at me again. Finally, it seemed to calm down and wandered further away. I took that as the opportunity to finally push myself to my feet. When my bandanna wrapped hand touched the ground I winced.
The bird cocked its head. Maybe it knew that it wounded me.
I leaned against the tree. “What the hell are you doing here anyway?” It cocked its head again. “Don’t you know that you’re not supposed to be on this island?”
I’m not sure if it understood me or not but the bird ruffled its feathers. Then it turned and as quick as a whip, disappeared back into the jungle. I was stunned for a few seconds, not sure, what I just witnessed. Did it understand me and flee when I called it out? I shook my head, that was ridiculous. It probably got bored with me and decided to go back to wherever it came from. But it was still kinda screwy to see a peacock in the Aegean? I shook my head and looked down at my hand. I had more pressing matters to worry about though. I could feel the blood seeping through the bandanna. I cursed. The son of a bitch got me real deep.
I clutched the flashlight in my good hand and turned back the way I came. I pushed my way back through the foliage, only getting slapped in the face a few times by fern leaves. It took me a lot quicker than I thought to get back where I started. I thought I’d wandered real deep into the jungle but it was only about a twenty minute walk back to where I started. When I finally pushed my way out onto the white sand, the light was so bright it was blinding. I stumbled and fell out, face first. I got a mouth full of sand, cursing my stupidity. I pushed up, spitting sand from my mouth.
“Charlie!” I heard my mother’s voice call out to me. “Where are you?”
Great now I’m in real deep.
I pushed myself up with my good hand. I brushed the sand off my body and made sure I had no telltale signs of wandering off where I shouldn’t. I was clean but they still didn’t save me from explaining my hand to her. She was going to freak. So I took a deep breath and started walking back toward her, ready to face the music. When she saw me, she looked relieved. All our stuff was packed up and in a pile behind her. My mother was walking toward me, her face an expressionless mask. When she saw me with a wrapped hand, cradling it like I’d had it chopped off, she shook her head.
“I’m sorry Mom, it was this…” I started but she cut me off.
“You went wandering off into the jungle didn’t you?”
I tried again. “It wasn’t my fault. There was this bird…I followed it.”
She rolled her eyes and shook her head. “It’s always something with you, isn’t it?”
“I didn’t do it on purpose. It was this fricken bird…a peacock. If you can believe that.”
For a second there was this spark in her eyes. But was gone just as quickly. Instead, she grabbed my hand and unwrapped the bandanna. When she saw my cut, with all the swelling blood, she went livid. “Jesus, Charlie. I tell you not to do one thing and you go off and do it anyway. This is bad, really bad. You’ve ruined the rest of the day now.”
My eyes swelled with tears a bit. I know I’m practically an adult but that kinda stung. She never listened to me. She always assumed that when something bad happened to me it was my fault. I hated her for that. My grandfather would have listened. In fact, he would have stalked right off into the jungle looking for the damn bird who did this to me. In fact, he’d probably wrestle the bird to the ground and drag it back out here so I could bite it, an eye for an eye.
My mother stalked off back toward our stuff but stopped when she realized I wasn’t following. She snapped around. “Are you coming? I have a first aid kit over here but we’re probably going to have to call Costas and leave early.”
I sighed and reluctantly followed.
She didn’t say another thing to me after that. She led me over to our stuff, got her first aid kit and did what she could for my hand. She cleaned it and then wrapped it, making sure that it was tight enough to keep the blood from flowing. After that, she took out her sat phone and called Costas. As punishment for not listening to her, she took my PSP, not that I could play it with one hand anyway. Instead, I sat in one of the chairs and stared out at the water, waiting for Costas to come back. About an hour later, the little fishing boat finally arrived. I helped what I could loading our stuff inside then got in myself.
Costas and my mother traded words in Greek, making arrangements to come back here tomorrow. Me I continued to stare at the island. For a second I thought I saw a glint of blue but it disappeared just as quickly.
“Hey kiddo, how ya feeling?”
I opened my eyes, blinking to clear away the blurriness of just waking up. At first, I only saw a shape sitting next to my side but slowly that fuzzy shape started to form into a person. A familiar person. First, her long dark hair came into view, then her smiling face and finally the rest of her. My heart skipped a beat. It was Donna, my mother’s TA. While she wasn’t working at the museum, Mom taught a few graduate courses at Northwestern. Most of her museum pay was done through grants, so the teaching job brought in some much needed cash for the two of us. Donna was my Mom’s right hand. She often didn’t go anywhere without her. But yesterday she had to stay behind to deal with some research. Yesterday... was it even a new day?
Donna smiled. “I heard you had a busy day?”
I smiled and nodded then looked down at my hand. It was wrapped properly. I looked around the room; it was white and sterile. I could smell floor cleaner somewhere and there was a big window behind Donna shining a lot of light into the room. I was clearly in a doctor’s office. But as to how I got here, I was drawing a blank. I remember getting attacked by the peacock, Mom being nasty about it and then helping Costas load the boat. I also remember getting on the boat too but much after that was fuzzy. I think I might have passed out at some point on our way back to the mainland.
“I’m doing better I think” I said, my words still slurred by whatever drug cocktail they gave me for my pain.
Donna smiled then ruffled my hair. “You had your Mom worried there, kiddo.”
Yeah, like that would ever happen. I blushed a little when she touched my head, turning away so she wouldn’t notice. In case you haven’t noticed, I have the biggest crush on Donna imaginable. I held out hope that she might feel the same about me too. We were only a few years apart---ok she was twenty-four---but it was still possible, right? Before becoming Mom’s TA, she was one of my mother’s top students. Even before she started going on expeditions with us, I used to see her buzzing around my mother. Mom had that affect on a lot of her students, especially the female ones. They hung on her every word like she was some kind of religious zealot. I think a lot of young, impressionable women liked to hear that men aren’t always better than women.
Donna was different though. She didn’t seem like all the other “groupies” my mother seemed to gather. I think my mother noticed that too. After her course of studies was over with, my mother asked Donna to be her TA. I think it had something to do with her academic record, which at a 4.0 made Donna something special indeed. It definitely made her special to me. I liked smart girls even if most of them wouldn’t give me the time of day. I’m no moron but I can’t remember the last time I had an A in anything. I was a straight B student who, --- according to my mother---could excel at anything if I would put my mind to it. The way I figure it my mind is already full. Besides, I get a better education with her than anything they’d teach me in boring public school.
“Are you going to the island with us this time?”
My heart was beating faster. Please say yes. It was so hot there she was bound to wear a bikini. I would give anything to see Donna traipsing around in a bikini even if it was just the top and a pair of shorts. Unfortunately, for me, she frowned.
“Afraid not kiddo. Your Mom has me doing more research.”
Damn it. I wasn’t about to give up. “Can’t someone from the local university here do that?”
She smiled. “Your mother doesn’t trust anyone else.”
That was a fact. My mother was extremely passionate about what she was doing but unfortunately for her no one else was. She was given a grant finally but she really impressed the hell out the Wayne Foundation to get it---yeah that Wayne. The boss man himself wasn’t there but she was so charming that she probably could have charmed Wayne too. Not that she needed to. Mom had a steady boyfriend but the two of them weren’t all that serious. Jason was cool though. I’ll talk more about him later though. Anyway, as far as other academics in the field, mom didn’t trust them. Especially students. She said if she didn’t teach them then she didn’t know them. So when it came to research---research she was too busy to do herself---she left it all to Donna.
“I can talk her into it if you really want to come,” I said, a little more excitedly than I would have wanted.
Can you say desperate?
She smiled. “That’s sweet kiddo” She ruffled my hair again. “But I hear there’s a vicious peacock on the island.”
We had a laugh. Then she wanted to know everything that happened, apparently my mother seemed a bit too distracted to tell her the story. So I told her the whole thing. I’ve known Donna for about a year now and the two of us get along really well. As much as I have a crush on her, she’s more like a big sister than anything else. I think she sees me as a little brother too. That’s why she calls me kiddo all the time. How do I know---because she told me once? Well not about the kiddo thing but about me being like a little brother to her. So when the two of us talked it was like two siblings instead of something more. After I was done sharing my disastrous adventure, she filled me in on the boredom of library research. That was one of the things that she and I had in common. We both detested hanging out in moldy old libraries doing research. But she seemed to think it was a part of the whole assistant thing. Besides, she wanted to make a good impression on my mother. I offered to put in a good word but she wouldn’t allow it. That’s Donna for you; she likes to get by on her own merits. I respect her for that.
After our talk---twenty minutes later---the doctor came into the room. I didn’t catch his name, like it mattered much anyway. He read my chart, checked my vitals and told me I was all set. It turns out that I passed out on the boat---like I thought---Costas carried me to the nearest clinic. How embarrassing is that, after all I am a sixteen-year-old boy. After the doctor stitched up my hand---ten stitches by the way---they gave me something to help me with the pain and I spent the night. I wonder how much that set mom back. She hated it when something unforeseen showed up to screw with her plans. Now that I had a clean bill of health, I was ready to go.
Mom was in the hall waiting, reading a magazine. She looked out of place in the plastic back chair and unconcerned for my well-being. She wasn’t a cold person, just one who was easily annoyed by things. I mentioned that my grandparents raised me but I think I might need to elaborate a bit. You see it wasn’t that they raised me it was almost like I was a second child. My mother was in her sophomore year of college when she got pregnant---it was unexpected and unplanned---suffice to say my grandparents talked her out of an abortion. Thank the Gods for that one. It wasn’t that Mom didn’t want to be a mother but she had her whole life ahead of her to get married and have kids one day. So after I was born, Mom hit the gym to get back her girly figure and two months later, went right back to school.
Growing up, my grandparents were like my parents. My mom was around but she was busy. First with college---which I don’t really remember much---then with Grad School. I vaguely remember going to her graduation for that. Then Mom went to get her PhD. My early childhood memories of my mother were of her always on the go, barely around to even kiss me on the forehead. But as I got older, she started to come around more. I think my mother liked the idea of me starting to be to do things on my own. Some call it Hands Off Parenting. My Mom called it being too busy. So when she started taking her trips, my grandfather forced her to bring me along. Eventually her love for me---or lack thereof---grew into a mild affection. I’m not sure if she ever truly loved me but it was enough.
When I walked out of the room, she looked up from the chair. “Are you all done now?”
I nodded. “I have a prescription I need filled.”
I handed her the slip of paper as she stood up, dropping the magazine on the chair. We didn’t say anything else to one another. From the clinic, we went to a local apothecary. Mom had my script filled then the two of us went straight to the docks. Costas was waiting for us. He asked me if I was all right, I showed him my wrapped hand and filled him in on the juicy details. Mom seemed disinterested.
It was a quiet two-hour ride out to the little island.
It was hot again.
That was the first thing I noticed when I stepped off the boat. The other thing I noticed was how large the island was today. Yesterday it seemed so small but today it looked larger. I think maybe it was because yesterday when we arrived the thing was shrouded in fog. Now the fog was gone and everything looked so much different. The local fishermen actually called the island Paradeisénio Nisá, which in English actually means “Paradise Island” which I thought, was pretty damn funny considering all of them were afraid to set foot on it. Yesterday morning I asked Costas why they called it a paradise if they were afraid to step foot on it and he said it was one of the few islands out there that had such lush vegetation. The island was found back in the 1600s by explorers, but ever since then it’s been seen as a bad place to go for men. No one really knows why other than the fact that men go there and either come back in hysterics or don’ t come back at all.
According to him, I was the first man to step foot on that island in over a hundred years. If you believe that kind of thing. So here, I was for the second day in a row, stepping foot on Paradise Island, forbidden to men on pain of death.
“Hand me that bag.”
I reached into the boat and got the backpack my mother asked for. It was her workbag, the one that she kept all her tools in. Costas helped me unload the rest of the stuff, staying in the boat the entire time. I think he thought the deadly island was going to turn his body to stone if he stepped foot on it. It took us about ten minutes to completely unload the boat then he set off. My mother didn’t tell him a time to pick us up though. But I could see by our things---which doubled in size since yesterday---that we might actually be spending the night.
“We’re staying then?”
She nodded. “We only have a few more days left of this trip; I want to make the most of it.” She pointed to the pile. “So why don’t you start pitching the tents and I’ll see what I can do about wrangling up some wood for a fire.”
I nodded. As much as my mother thought camping was a guy thing, she’d been on several trips with her father when she was younger. Back when she was a girl and didn’t know any better apparently. So while she wandered off to look for some good wood, I started on the tents. It was kinda difficult to do it with one hand but I managed. I put up her tent first and then started on mine, making sure they were far enough apart so I didn’t have to be too close to her. My mother snored and in a place like this with no one else around I was bound to hear it real well. Halfway through erecting my tent, my stomach started to hurt and I had to quit. I’d been having stomach problems on and off for the past few days, ever since we started poking around on Crete. I thought it was something bad I’d eaten but now I was pretty sure I was coming down with a stomach bug.
I waited for the pain to pass then continued with the tent. I got it up ten minutes later just in time to help my mother with the wood and building a decent campfire. My grandfather taught me as well as her. It didn’t take the two of us long. It helped that she wasn’t talking to me too. I think she was still kinda pissed about yesterday. But she couldn’t have expected me to sit on the damn beach all day while she played in the sand. Even with the PSP---which she still refused to give me---I would have gotten bored out of my mind. But I don’t think she sees that. All she sees is herself, having a good time and doesn’t really care about my own suffering.
“Are we done?” She nodded.
I poked the burning embers a bit then went over to my lawn chair. Today I brought a book, it wasn’t the same thing as a game but at least it’d keep me from boring myself to death. It was some mass market paperback I picked up in Athens, the latest Stephen King. I wasn’t really interested in it but it was something to do while I wasted away. The fact that it was in Greek didn’t faze me in the least. So I kicked back and started to read. Soon I lost myself in the narrative, consumed by King’s pop culture references and fast prose. After an hour, I was nearly two thirds of my way through. Which amazed the hell out of me considering the book was really boring.
My mother sighed. I looked up from my book. She was sitting in the sand, a look of defeat on her face. She wiped her sweaty brow, spreading sand across her forehead. She took off her gloves and set down her little trowel.
“I think I might have to go to the far side of the island” I nodded. “Can I trust you to sit here and not get into too much trouble?”
I glanced at the jungle then at my hand. “I’m not going in there any time soon.”
My mother gathered her things; it didn’t take her very long. Then she got up, slinging her pack on her shoulder. But before doing so, she took out my PSP reluctantly. She held it out to me. “I’m giving this back to you but only because I can’t stand watching you read that trash.”
I hastily took the offered handheld. “You’re a life saver, Mom”
She grumbled. “I should be back by nightfall.”
I nodded, clicking on the game. She was gone after that, didn’t even bother to say good-bye. Me, I was too absorbed in the game to really notice. Because I didn’t really save it yesterday I had to start the whole section over again but that was ok because I’d already played through the game two times before. I only had a handful of games, most of them pretty similar to God of War. There was just something about hacking and slashing my way through hordes of enemies that gave me a thrill. One time after one of mother’s classes,---while I was outside waiting for her---Donna caught me playing and told me she had a thing for games just like the ones I played. That kinda floored me, her being a girly girl and all. Then she ruined it and said that it was empowering to bash senseless men into the ground. As cute as she was there was no way I’d ever want to date a feminist chick---I get too much of that with Mom.
I lost track of time. Sometimes that happens. Before I knew it, my neck was getting stiff and my fingers all cramped up from mashing buttons. My body finally forced me to stop. When I saved the game and set it aside, I looked at my watch and groaned. Three hours had passed since I started playing. I hated it when I lost track of that much time. I groaned then stretched as I climbed out of the chair. I bumbled over to the cooler, flipped the lid and grabbed a coke. Caffeinated drinks were another one of my mother’s pet peeves. She hated the idea of me putting that much caffeine into my system all the time. I tried to quit drinking it once but I didn’t last the day. You wouldn’t think it was so damn addicting but it is a drug.
I popped the tab on the can and wandered back over to my chair. As I sat down, I heard it again. It was the loud meowing sound. I stopped midway, my butt hanging over the chair. A shiver went up my spine. It was that damn peacock again. I shook my head, trying to ignore it. I sat in the chair and looked around for my book but it was gone. I cursed, wondering if my mother took it without me noticing. I looked around the chair just to be sure I didn’t put it underneath or something. But it wasn’t there. I set the coke can in the sand and cursed. You’ve gotta be kidding me. I got out of the chair and wandered over to her tent---I vaguely saw her going that way before she left.
I unzipped the door and peered inside. My mother’s duffel was in there as well as her sleeping bag. But I couldn’t see my book anywhere. I sighed; she wasn’t that malicious anyway. She didn’t believe in censorship though she did bitch about female authors being given the short end of the stick on things. I closed up her tent and checked mine but the only thing in there was my backpack and my own sleeping bag. I cursed, closing it up and looking around. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough so I wandered back to my chair. As I got closer, I heard the peacock call again. I snapped to the jungle and that’s when I saw it: there was a trail of paper leading from my chair to the edge of the tree line. I cursed. You’ve got to be kidding me.
I ran to the closest one and snatched it up. Sure enough, I was right; it was a page from my book. Son of a bitch. I ran to the next one then the next. I continued collecting pages until I was at the edge of the jungle. The book was over seven hundred pages long, so there was bound to be a lot more scattered about with a real good chance of them being inside. I peered through the foliage and sure enough, there was a paper trail leading deeper into the dark green abyss. I bit my lip. One part of me wanted to turn back and just forget the damn thing---it was a boring book anyway. But another part of me wanted to know how the stupid thing was smart enough to grab my book and tear out the pages like that. For I was clearly dealing with a super intelligent beast here.
I bit my lip, still debating what to do. It didn’t take me long to decide. Clutching the pages I already gathered, I ran back to my tent to get my pack. Once I had it securely on my shoulder, I snuck into Mom’s tent. I noticed when I looked before that she left the machete. I snatched it up and then made my way back to the jungle. This time I was going to be a little more prepared for what lie ahead. I took a couple good swings, cutting a clear path through the foliage. Then I took out my flashlight and followed the page trail. With the light in one hand and knife in the other, I felt like Indiana Jones or something.
I followed the trail for a while, wondering how some stupid bird could have pulled something like this off. Strangely enough, all I found were the pages, there weren’t even footprints. At least not, bird ones. I finally came upon a pair of familiar looking prints. I didn’t have to place my foot alongside one to compare because I knew they were mine. Unless there was some other sixteen year old guy with size ten feet traipsing around in here which was highly unlikely. The paper trail meandered further into the jungle, following along the same trail that I went yesterday. That sent a shivering chill up my spine. Did this bird know that those were my footprints?
I continued to follow the trail, making sure to keep my eyes and ears open. But it was hard to concentrate on anyone thing. The only noise was the buzzing of the insects all around me, and the sweltering heat was driving me nuts. On top of that there was that eerie chill running down my back for the creepiness of this whole thing and the pain in my gut. My stomach virus was acting up again. It annoyed me that they didn’t give something for it at the clinic then again they probably didn’t know about it. I told my Mom about it but she didn’t seem to think it was anything too serious. That ticked me off. Every time I got sick, my grandmother doted on me like I was six years old.
I didn’t pick up anymore pages, there were too many to do it anyway. I’d have been here all night picking the damn things up. Instead, I followed them and my previous footprints, finally coming to the spot of my fateful encounter yesterday. I stopped and shined the light about. It was here that the stupid bird viciously attacked me. I shined my light on the tree root I fell over to get away from it. Then I shined the light all around me, wondering if it was lying in wait to ambush me. Actually, I hadn’t seen nor heard the damn thing in some time now. But maybe that was all a part of its plan. Maybe it’s testing me. I know that sounds crazy but how else can you describe something like this.
Maybe I’m just imagining all this deviousness too. After all, it’s just a bird. A smart one, yes, but there’s no way he’s setting up an ambush. I laughed off the thought and took one very cautious step further, one-step further than I’d ever gone before. I sighed with relief, confident that there was going to be no attack. After that, I took a couple more steps then continued further into the dense foliage. As I walked, the vegetation around me started to grow thicker and I had to resort to using the machete again. At first it was only a little but soon I was using it every chance I got. I stopped paying attention to the trail of pages and more on the thick growth all around me. I’d swing, cut and step then repeat. I kept doing this over and over, wondering if I was ever going to stop.
Then it happened. I came upon a strange looking tree. It was covered completely in vines, most of which were hanging over the path I wanted to take. I swung at the tree trunk, hoping to cut them away at the source but something happened. Instead of the blade slicing away greenery, it hit something solid with a reverberating clang. The blade snapped back a bit, startling the hell out of me. I dropped the machete, my arm throbbing from the recoil.
I cursed, rubbing my arm then bent to pick up the blade. It was stuck straight up in the ground where I dragged it. I grabbed the handle and gave it a good tug. As soon as I did so, I got my first real look at the tree trunk the blade bounced off of. What I saw made me gasp. I dropped the knife again and reached out for the trunk, brushing my fingertips along the bark. But it wasn’t bark; it was stone. No better than stone, it was marble. I started pulling away at the vines, some of them breaking away easily in my hands. It wasn’t a bit of marble; it was a lot of it. I stopped tugging at the vines and shined my light up and down the length of the “tree”. I know knew it wasn’t a tree at all, more like a column. From the looks of it an extremely tall column. I shined my light up; it had to go ten or fifteen feet up at least. I cursed. This couldn’t be happening but I knew what I was seeing. I quickly snapped my light to the other side of the path I tried to make. There was another trunk there, about the same size and width of the hidden column. I tore away some of the vines there as well and sure enough it was a second column.
I dropped the light, stunned at what I’d just found.
It was crazy but there was no denying it. I think I just found a lost Greek structure, possibly something of really great importance. The worst part of it was my mother was right all along and now I knew there was going to be no living with her after this. I couldn’t think about that now, I needed to see if I was right before I jumped to any more conclusions. I started hacking away more vines and overgrowth bushes, hoping to find more columns.
There was more than two.
After finding the first two columns, I continued hacking myself a path only to find several more columns. They were lined in a row, in identical pairs, one on each side. What’s more the further I walked the more there were and there was something else. I noticed there was something off with the ground too. So after about ten or fifteen feet I stopped to take a look. I rapped my knuckles on it and sure enough, it didn’t feel like any ground I’d ever walked ob before. So I concentrated on one part of it and tore away the covering grass and dirt. Underneath was a rounded stone, like a cobble. Further investigating found more, lots more. The implication floored me.
Not only were there columns but there appeared to be a road as well. An ancient road that I was currently walking on.
After walking along the road for a few more feet, I stopped and shrugged off my pack. Mom and I each had a pair of long range radios in case something bad happened when she went off by herself. They were top of the line, one of the only few pieces of tech---besides the sat phone---that she always carried with her. I set my pack before me and rifled inside, finding my little radio and whipping it out. I thumbed through to the proper channel, knowing that my mother kept her’s clipped to her belt and on all the time.
I paged her. “Mom, are you there?”
I could barely keep the excitement out of my voice.
A few seconds later, her voice came back. “I’m kinda busy, Charlie, is it important?”
“Out of curiosity what were you expecting to find here?”
I heard her sigh. “I don’t have time for this.”
I groaned. Typical Mom. “Humor me.”
She sighed again. “Maybe some pot shards, possibly some sort of written language, maybe some arrowheads buried in the sand.”
I bit my lip. “What about marble columns and cobble streets.”
“Yeah, sure, but the odds of finding something like that are astronomical.”
I laughed. “What if there was a dense jungle that was covering it so no onee saw it?”
There was a momentary pause. “Charlie, where are you?”
“I think I might have found your lost city of the Amazons?”
Right before clicking off my mother told me to stay put and not to touch a thing.
Yeah like was ever going to happen. I found this place, I had first dibs. Besides as soon as she got here she’d send me back to camp after scolding me for disobeying her again then I’d never get a chance to go poking around here again. So instead of sitting tight, I continued along the hidden road, discovering more and more as I went along. It wasn’t just columns anymore. There were statues too, all the same size and all made of bronze. Well at least they were at one time, now they were greened with age and covered in jungle growth. I did notice one interesting theme about all of the statues though; all of them were naked women holding weapons. There was one holding a spear high above her head and another one with sword and shield. One of the coolest one was actually of two figures, a woman spearing a man in the chest as he lie at her feet. That one was pretty wicked.
What amazed me most as I shined my light and hacked more vegetation away was how perfectly preserved these statues were. It was like walking into a time capsule. Each one of them looked brand new, save for a little wear and tear from the jungle. I don’t think there was a single one of them that looked too badly damaged, except one that looked like it’d been toppled over. Maybe that stupid peacock did that.
I continued to hack my way along until suddenly the place opened up. What was once close quarters spilled away. I hacked at a wall of veg in front of me and was surprised when I took it all down in one swing. When it was gone, I was looking at a large clearing, larger than anything I thought was possible on an island of this size. What was more was how much stuff was actually in the clearing. I could see the cobble road a lot more clearly now as it wound its way around the center of the clearing in a circle, in the center of which was a fountain. I shined my light at that, amazed at how much of the fountain’s structure was still there. In fact, my light actually glinted off something there. There’s no way it could be water? Too shocked to think about it, I sent my light around the rest of the area. There were more bronze statues turned green but these ones were not warriors, they were women in togas. At first, they meant little to me until I noticed one had an owl on her shoulder and another was holding a bow. I smacked my head and my mouth dropped open. These weren’t any insignificant statues; they were representations of the Goddesses. The one with the owl was Athena and the one with the bow was Artemis. I shined my light on the other statues too, there had to be twelve of them at least. I only didn’t recognize one or two.
Strangely the only one absent was Hera. But it didn’t take me long to find her.
I shined my light away from the fountain and onto the focal point of the whole clearing. It was a temple and I’m not talking about temple ruins either. I’m talking about full-fledged temple, big and glorious. It took up most of the clearing actually. On either side of it there were branching paths though so possibly more places to explore. But I was more interested in the temple itself at the moment. It looked like a Mini-Parthenon but I’m sure that wasn’t the best description seeing as the Parthenon was meant to worship Athena. There was no doubt who this temple was for. It was plain as day what with the two bronze peacock statues on either side of the stone steps like two silent guardians protecting their Mistress’s sacred sanctum.
I took a deep breath and slowly walked toward it. I followed the winding path around the fountain then walked right up to the base of the steps. As I got close to the two aged bronze peacocks, I gulped. They were gigantic, bigger than those lions at the New York Library that’s for sure. I tried not to look at them as I slowly walked up the steps, half expecting them to crumble at my feet but they didn’t. Instead, they were remarkably solid as I walked up them. I counted as I went, there were only six. When I got to the top, I walked like a boy possessed. I passed by two of the largest, thickest columns I’d ever seen into the biggest space I’d ever imagined. It was ginormous, the focal point being the largest statue I’d ever seen.
It was definitely Hera. I’d seen this particular statue over and over again in books and sometimes in museums. But never so large and never in what looked like solid gold. It was a standing form of the Goddess, draped in a toga with a diadem on her head and two things in her hands. There was a scepter in one hand and in the other was a pomegranate. Sometimes she’s depicted with a libation bowl as well. But I’d never seen a statue this big before and never this close. I wanted to walk over and touch it but feared I’d get struck down by the Gods. So instead, I stood there and stared for the longest time, shining my light on her beautiful bronze face.
Finally, I tore myself away and shined the light around the rest of the room. There were more statues, most of them of warrior women again. I didn’t know any of them but one did catch my eye. I would have almost missed it if not for a glint of light. I snapped the light back and the glowing glint from earlier turned out to be something around the statue’s waist. Curious I delved up enough courage to take a closer look. It was strange that I missed the statue before but it was out of the way. It was different than the others too---besides Hera---it was the only one in the room that wasn’t a fierce warrior.
I finally approached it, stopping in front to admire it.
It was a queenly, regal woman, standing erect and at attention. There was something very kind and welcoming about her face. It was familiar too, like out of a dream. I should have known this woman but for some reason her name escaped me. I couldn’t help but stare at her though because she was so beautiful. A part of me wanted to reach up and kiss her lips but I fought that urge. Instead, my attention was drawn to her waist and the thing that caught my attention earlier. It was a belt, thick like a corset and wide. It looked like one of those wrestling belts those jackasses won on WWE. But this one actually looked to be made of real gold.
Something came over me then. I’m not sure what or why but I had to touch it. My hand seemed to have a mind of its own as I reached out for it. The tips of my fingers just brushed it when I was overwhelmed with a fit of dizziness. I stumbled backwards, dropping my light and staggering. I staggered until my back rested on the base of the Hera statue. I fought to stay conscious but in the end, my dizziness won the fight and I passed out.
Did anyone get the number of that truck…?
I opened my eyes and the first thing I noticed was how bright it was. The second thing was that my head---which should have been throbbing–wasn’t even slightly sore. I blinked my eyes, looking around. Everything was white, so white it hurt my eyes. I shielded them and got a better look at my surroundings. Ok, where the hell was I? The last thing I remembered was touching that gold belt on that statue and then feeling real dizzy. I guess I passed out. I’m not sure I liked that. I already had enough problems, now I had to add lightweight to that. I groaned, if they knew that at school there would be even more reason to ridicule me.
I pushed myself to my feet, trying to see if I could figure out where I might be. But like before, all I saw was white. I’m not sure how long it took me to realize that I wasn’t conscious. I know there are some people who dream and know they’re dreaming but I was never one of them. In fact, I had a hard time remembering my dreams at all. I always thought it was kinda freaky but at least I wasn’t one of those kids that woke up drenched in sweat with night terrors. Not that I didn’t have nightmares---I’m sure I did---I just didn’t remember any of them.
I waved my hand in front of my face. It moved in this slow, sweeping arch as if I was underwater. I laughed; the sound came out slow and echoed all around me. What the hell was this freaky place? I took a step forward, my leg acted like it weighed a hundred pounds but I didn’t feel any heavier. In fact, I felt lighter than before. How weird is that? I took another step and another. Soon I was walking around, trying to see if there was anything except the white. I kept walking and walking, wondering if this was normal for a dream. I’m not sure how long I walked, but finally I stopped to get my bearings. It was really strange because this place didn’t feel as if it had an end. Not only that, there didn’t seem to be any restraint to it either. There were no walls or a ceiling that I see. I reached my arms out on either side and all I touched was air. Looking down I saw nothing but white. I knew I had to be walking on something but when I reached down to touch the floor my hand only found air.
Ok, that was freaky.
I continued to walk. I’m not sure why I was walking but I couldn’t figure out anything else to do. I used to like walking before I got too lazy to do so. My grandfather got me hooked on it. He used to wake up at the crack of dawn and walk two miles every day, starting from our front door then around the development, to a local park and back. I’m not sure when I started going with him but once I started I couldn’t stop. It was kinda invigorating. After walking for a few months, I started jogging the path and then after a month of that, I ran it. My grandfather could never keep up after that but he didn’t mind. I think he was glad I was showing some initiative. All of that changed after he died. I couldn’t bring myself to do anything that the two of us did together. So I sorta collapsed into myself and became a shut in. I can’t even remember the last time I walked anywhere.
Finally, walking proved futile. There was no end to this place so walking was pointless. So I finally just stopped and sat down. I wanted to lean back too---relax a bit---but I was afraid I’d end up falling. So instead, I closed my eyes and stay there. I’m not sure how most dreams worked but I figured if I could fall asleep here maybe, I’d wake up back in the real world. At least that was the plan. But closing my eyes here made me real wary of something. I’m not sure what but it felt as if I was being watched. That thought sent a shiver up my spine and I opened my eyes again.
“You shouldn’t be here,” said an angry voice behind me.
I snapped around, the voice startling the hell out me. Standing behind me, dressed in a flowing white toga, was a woman. She was gorgeous too. She had long flowing black hair, piercing green eyes and the classic features of a Greek. But the most striking thing about her was how tall she was. I scrambled to my feet and realized this woman towered over me. She had to be at least six five which was insane. She could easily go pro in basketball. I opened my mouth to say something but as soon as I did nothing came out. I grabbed my throat and tried again but still there was nothing.
She smirked. “No man shall speak in my presence”
I let go of my throat and frowned. Who the hell was she who could do this?
“My name is of no concern to you, young man” She glided over to me or at least that’s what it looked like. I couldn’t see her feet because her toga covered them. “But if you need to address me as anything you may think of me as Mother.”
I frowned. She smirked. She waved her hand and I knew that I could speak again. “I don’t understand.”
“You’re not meant to understand. You are meant to sit at my feet and bask in my glory.”
There was something about her tone. Something about the way she spoke to me that made me think I wasn’t in the presence of a normal human. I gave her a really good once over. She looked like a human being but there was something about the way she stood that told me different. There was something else too, something I didn’t notice before. It was a peacock feather. It was sticking in her hair just behind her left ear. I didn’t notice it before because she startled me so much but now looking at the feather I think I had a pretty good idea of who I was sitting in front of. Oh my God?
She smiled. “Goddess actually.”
“You’re…” I tried to say her name but for some reason it wouldn’t come out.
She smiled again. “You may only speak my name when I give you permission to do so Charlie Sandsmark.”
I nodded. A real life Goddess. It was definitely the freakish dream I’d ever had. That I know of anyway. I needed to wake up; this was too crazy. I closed my eyes again and tried to will myself to wake up. I kept them closed for about a minute or two then snapped them open. The Goddess---I couldn’t even think her name---was still standing there.
“I should punish you for that insult alone.”
I nodded. “I’m sorry…this is hard to fathom.”
“I have that effect on men. When I first appeared before Jason all those years ago, he found it hard to fathom as well. But I assure you that I am real and that this is no dream.”
I nodded. “Why me?”
“You have been chosen,” she said, clearly reading my thoughts. “Any other man would have been punished for stepping foot on sacred Amazon soil. But you Charlie Sandsmark, son of Helena, have been chosen for a great rite.”
I shook my head. “I’m a nobody, surely there are others?”
“You can not refuse this obligation. It has been foretold long before your birth. You are our champion; you are the One Amongst Man who will Feel the Power of Amazon.”
Me, the Power of Amazon? She was crazy.
She got a stern look on her face. “You’re trying my patience with your insults.”
I shook my head. “You’re wrong. This is wrong. Find someone else.”
She reached for me but I moved away. I got to my feet. No, this was crazy. I pushed away from her. This was a dream---no a nightmare. I wasn’t worthy of anything. I didn’t want to be worthy; I wanted to be me. The Goddess reached for me but I jumped from her touch. Then I turned and ran. I ran as hard and as fast I could. I’m not sure if she was following or not. Truth be told she could probably step right in front of me. She was a Goddess after all. But when I caught a glance back, she was gone. I smirked. Maybe I’d imagined her. This was a dream after all---no matter what she said.
I continued to run, then the ground disappeared underneath me and I fell.
I heard her voice. “YOU CAN NOT RUN FROM THIS!”
Then there was only darkness.
When I woke up, my head was throbbing. I was panting like crazy, my heart thumping in my chest. I sat up and looked around, confused at my surroundings at first. I half expected to see myself surrounded by white again. Instead, it was all stone and green. I blinked a few times, trying to figure out where I was exactly. Then the situation came back to me. I was in a temple devoted to Hera and I touched a statue. Then I---I groaned---passed out. I pushed myself to my feet, rubbing the back of my head. Not only did I pass out---again---I hit my head too. I stumbled on my feet a bit, using Hera’s humongous statue to steady myself before I took stock of my surroundings again.
The other statue---the one with the golden belt---was still in front of me. I didn’t dare go near it. But there was something different about it now, something less mysterious about it. I looked around for my flashlight and found it lying a few feet away. I walked over, snatched it up and clicked it on. I shined the light, moving it from the top of the statue to the bottom and back again. Nothing immediate stood out until I made a second pass. The belt was gone. What the hell? I stepped closer, looking at her waist where it was before. How in the hell? I reluctantly reached out and touched the statue. I half expected to get dizzy again but nothing happen.
I laughed. Maybe I imagined the whole thing.
I stared at the statue for a few more minutes, trying to wonder if the golden belt was there at all. As I continued to stare, I heard the raspy feedback of my radio. I snapped around, noticing my pack was lying a few feet away. Funny, I don’t remember taking it off. I shook my head and walked over, zipping it open and rummaging inside. I found the radio and took it.
“Hello” I asked, clicking it.
“Damn it Charlie, I’ve been trying to get you for the last ten minutes” snapped my mother, annoyed as usual.
I rolled my eyes. “I hit my head.”
She ignored me. “I need you to come and meet me; I have no idea where this city of yours is.”
I sighed. I was about to tell her what I found but the hell with it. I told her I’d be right there and clicked off. I grabbed my pack, slung it on my shoulder and slowly walked out of the temple. I shined the light in front of me as I retraced my steps through the city, amazed at all the wonders that I discovered. Maybe now, my mother would be proud of me but I had a feeling she’d find some way to take credit. Not that it mattered; no one would believe me anyways. As I walked, looking at the bronze Goddesses as I passed by them my dream came back to me. Was that supposed to be her? I know it was just a dream and I’m pretty certain it was influenced by this discovery but was that really her. I’ve seen countless pictures---artist renderings of course---but none of them depicted her in that fashion. The woman in my dream was without a doubt one of the most gorgeous women I’d ever seen but nowhere had I seen Hera as a raven haired beauty.
Hera. I finally got to say her name. Well think it anyway.
I followed the path back the way I came, taking note of the columns on either side of me. It didn’t take me long to get back to where I hacked my way through the wall of vegetation. After a few more minutes, I came upon the spot where I stopped picking up book pages. About ten minutes after that, I saw a second flashlight beam. My mother was standing confused, shining her light here and there. I waved my light in the air, getting her attention. She was wearing her usual: t-shirt and khaki shorts. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, her glasses were on the top of her head and her huge pack was on her back. She looked so out of place standing there, like a lost college professor and not a veteran field archaeologist.
When she saw me approach, there was a look of frustration on her face. Couldn’t she ever be happy about anything I do?
“You didn’t give me much to go on,” she snapped as she walked over.
I shrugged. “It’s kinda hard to give directions when everything looks the same.”
She didn’t respond instead she glared. “Where’s this lost city of yours?”
I didn’t respond; it was futile to argue with her. My mother was the kind of woman who always thought she was right. Even if I happened to win an argument and prove her wrong, she somehow twisted it to make it sound like she was right all along. I hated people like that. I often wondered why my grandparents had forced her to keep me. I know it’s a horrible thing to think about but after all my mother was not a person who should have children. The first half of my life she ignored me and now she drags me along because she feels obligated to do so. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a guy or if I remind her of Dad or if she just plain hates people less informed than her. I try my hardest to make her proud of me but everything I do is just one big disappoint to her.
Nobody’s perfect. Definitely not her.
I led her back the way I came, shining my light along the path to show her our progress. She only paid half attention; I think she thought I was leading her on some wild goose chase. But when I got to the first column, her whole demeanor changed. There was excitement on her face and a smile. I smiled too; it was contagious. Besides, I couldn’t remember the last time I saw her smile. I stepped back, allowing her get a full view. She brushed me aside as she went to look at the column. When she got to the nick I left with the machete, she gave me a stern look. But it disappeared just as quickly as she pulled out an LED pocket light and continued to look at the rest of the column. I think I expected some kind of praise for doing a good job but I kinda knew I wasn’t going to get any. Typical Mom. I walked over to a nearby tree and sat, resting my back against it. While she looked at the stupid column, I opened my pack and rummaged around inside. My stomach grumbled. Inside I knew I had a couple of granola bars.
I rummaged about, not really looking. They were somewhere near the bottom I think. As I dug, my fingers brushed up against something cold and metal. That gave me pause. I looked down; half expecting to see something I forgot was in there. But what I saw made my eyes bulge out of my head. It was the belt---the golden one from the statue. My heart starting pounding in my chest. I pulled my hand away quickly, afraid that touching it might make me dizzy again. How in the hell did that get in there? There was no way I got have taken it off the statue, it looked to have been a part of it. I stared at the pack, the top of the belt clearly visible as I looked inside. My pounding heart slowed a bit and my hands stopped shaking so much.
I looked at my mom, wondering if she noticed but she was engrossed in her stupid column. I groaned and went back into the pack. I tried to ignore the belt as I gently pushed it aside and found my two granola bars. I took them out, unwrapped one and stuffed the wrapped into my pocket. My mother would have had a fit if she saw me drop it. I’m supposed to leave places---especially dig sites---in the same condition I found them. Which made no sense considering they were digging in them, destroying what was already there? Anyway littering was a big no no. Not that I’d ever do something like that.
I ate my granola bar in piece as my mother mumbled to herself. I decided to leave the second one for later. I rummaged around in my pack again and found my PSP. I was glad that I stuck it in there before I left camp. I turned it on and started to play, getting lost in the brutal world of Kratos. I’m not sure how long I played for but Mom was still looking at the columns. She moved away from the first one and was now looking at a few more. I think she was trying to see how alike they really were or some such nonsense. I continued to play my game, conquering one section and moving onto the next. But as I played along---oblivious to my surroundings---I couldn’t help but notice that Kratos’ fighting style didn’t exactly fit with that of the Ancient Greeks.
I stopped playing, not bothering to save the game. My heart wasn’t in it anyway. I got to my feet, sticking the PSP back into my pack and zipping it shut. My mother was still looking at the columns. She looked so happy laying on the ground, shining her light over inch by precious inch of it I didn’t have the heart to interrupt her. So instead, I stepped around her and walked down the path, heading back toward the city. I got only about ten feet when she called to me.
“Where are you going?”
“To walk around, I only got to look in the temple before.”
“Temple?” My mother dropped her light. “What temple?”
After the big reveal about the temple, my Mom completely ignored me. She was like a kid in a candy store when I led her into the city proper. Her columns were nothing compared to everything else. She spent hours looking at the statues, whipping out her notebook and jotting things down. Then she spent more time in the temple, looking at the statues in there. The first time she saw the statue of Hera I think she squealed. She was a completely different person, a person I could actually maybe get along with. Unfortunately she acted as if I wasn’t even there. So I acted like she wasn’t there either. I left her in the temple and explored the rest of the city.
I went left first, finding myself in another clearing. But unlike the first that was mainly filled up with the temple complex. This one had what I can only describe as a training field of some sorts. There were places where a track might have been and another place that looked like an archery range. As I walked the perimeter, I actually found some arrowheads. I pocketed a couple actually---there were like fifty of them. From there I found this little building that I could only describe as an armory. Inside, there were rusty bronze swords and spearheads. Hanging from what might have been a wall were bronze shields. I spent a lot of time in this place, thinking about my grandfather and wondering how much he would have loved to see this place.
After that, I headed back out into what I was calling the temple clearing then went right. This area had little houses, probably where the girls lived. There was a fire pit in the center, the houses centered around it. Dotted about the houses were marble benches and hanging flowerpots. What amazed me the most was how intact everything looked. It was as if someone threw a cloak over this place, protecting it from time.
Unfortunately, my mother shattered most of that. She called and told me to head back to the beach. She wanted me to pack up our tents and transport them into the jungle. Apparently, she wanted to stay close to her discovery. Yes, her discovery, she made that pretty clear when she was talking to me. She wouldn’t even acknowledge that I had anything to do with it. So I begrudgingly left the Amazon city and walked all the way back to the beach. Let me tell you how much it sucks to be screwed out of your own discovery. I broke down the tents and gathered up the tent but I wasn’t happy about it. It took me nearly an hour to carry everything---by myself---from the beach to the city. But strangely enough, I wasn’t winded at all. In fact, it didn’t even seem to bother me.
It took me another hour to set everything up. My mother wanted me to pitch the camp inside the temple but some part of me felt that was wrong. Sacrilegious somehow. So instead, I pitched it in the housing complex. I had my tent as close to the biggest house I could find there. By the time I was done pitching the tents, the sun was starting to dip below the horizon. So I grabbed my flashlight and went to rouse Mom from her work. I found her in the far corner of the temple, reading by lantern light. There was a section of the temple---the only section apparently---with some writing on it. Mom was scribbling furiously in her notebook, jotting down the Ancient Greek. I looked at the wall. I knew Greek like the back of my hand; it was practically a second language. But I’d never been a fan of the ancient stuff. Every time I tried to read, it looked like gibberish to me. But as I stared at the wall now the words seemed to dissolve away and in their place was English. I blinked my eyes thinking maybe it was sleep catching up with me but when I looked again I saw the same.
Somehow, I could now read Ancient Greek.
I’m not sure if that freaked me out as much as I thought it might. I kept my discovery to myself though because I was confident that Mom wouldn’t believe me anyway. After trying unsuccessfully to talk Mom into finishing up, I decided to retire back to my tent. I spent the night trying to piece together my book. My game seemed boring for some reason so after leaving the temple I went and rounded up all the other missing pages of the novel I could. I was still missing quite a few but thankfully they were from parts that I’d already read. So after assembling the book, I read until hunger forced me to look for some food. Thankfully, I still had the other granola bar---it wasn’t much but it was better than nothing. I ate that, drank from another coke then read until I couldn’t read anymore.
When I drifted off, I had another dream. I found myself standing on a hilltop, a huge boulder in front of me. I heard a booming voice around me, telling me that “If you do not wish to accept your destiny you shall be punished. For only a man must face the labors that a woman could surely overcome.” I didn’t give a damn what that voice---I’m sure it was the Goddess---said, there was no way I was going to do anything that she asked. Besides Jason, she didn’t have a very good track record with heroes. Not that I thought of myself as one.
In the morning, I woke up stiff and sore. My arms throbbed and my back felt like someone had been sitting on me all night. But all of that was crushed by the smell wafting into my tent. I opened my eyes, slipping out of the sleeping bag. I usually slept in a t-shirt and boxers but last night I fell asleep in my jeans. I pulled on my sneakers and slipped out of tent. I was shocked to see Donna sitting around the campfire, clad in a bikini top and jean cutoffs. Her hair was pulled high on top of her head in a tight ponytail and when she turned around her breasts bounced. My heart skipped a beat and there was a stirring in my loins. I blushed, turning away.
“Hey kiddo” she said, bending over the fire. She turned around, holding a plate. “I made some breakfast.”
My mouth watered. Besides the granola bars, I hadn’t eaten anything since dinner night before last. I scrambled out of the tent, glad my feet were covered because the vegetation was hot on my hands. I pushed to my feet and stumbled over. I sat on one of marble benches, taking the plate she offered. She fixed herself a plate then sat next to me. For a few moments, the two of us ate in silence then I remembered my manners.
“Thanks” I said, “Mom doesn’t cook breakfast much…ummm, ever actually.”
She smiled, brushed a lock of hair form my face. “It’s the least I could do, I mean look at this place.”
I nodded. “Did Mom call you?”
She nodded while she chewed. “Phoned me last night. I tried to get your boat guy to bring me over but he wouldn’t do it until this morning.” She took another piece of bacon and chewed noisily. She didn’t speak again until she swallowed. ‘I arrived about an hour ago.” She waved her hand around. “This place is awesome.”
I smiled. It was interesting how much she and my mother were so much alike and so different. Donna was passionate about this stuff too but a lot more laid back. She loved it as much as Mom but she didn’t love it enough to ignore everything else in her. Donna knew how to have a life too. I heard her talk with mom every once and a while about her girlfriend---yeah, that crushed me. The two of them were really close and the girl---I don’t know her name---respected Donna enough to allow her to go gallivanting around the globe with us.
“Have you had a chance to look at the city yet?” I asked, crunching on a piece of bacon.
She shook her head. “Your Mom met me on the beach then led me here. She wanted me to get her notes in order but to tell you the truth I can’t heads or tails of it.”
I nodded. I knew what she meant. Back home she had a room in the apartment where we lived---we moved out of grandma’s house a few weeks before this trip---that she called her study. It was scattered with books and papers. I once tried to organize things for her but I think I made more of a mess than it was before. But thankfully, she never noticed. She did ask me about it but I shrugged it off and disappeared into my room. She didn’t like me in her study. She said there were grown up things in there, things I wouldn’t understand. I hated that she still thought I was too young to understand her work. I mean she went out of her way to make sure I knew all these languages but yet she wouldn’t let me help her with anything that she did.
“Let me help,” I said, finishing off my bacon.
“Its all yours.”
After breakfast, I followed Donna to Mom’s tent where there was a scattering of papers all over the place. I sifted through a pile, trying to figure out what they were all about. Chief among them were translations that Mom did on the wall writings. I skimmed over her work and noticed a great deal of glitches. I scanned through her other pages too---they were translations as well–and all of them were wrong. I shook my head. Mom usually prided herself on her Ancient Greek; it amazed me at how poorly she translated all of this.
“I think these are all wrong,” I said, passing a page or two to Donna.
Donna squinted at the page in her hand. “What are you talking about sweetie?”
“The translations” I said, annoyed that she didn’t notice too.
Donna was quiet for a few moments. Then she spoke. “There’s nothing wrong with this.”
I turned around, looking at the page then groaned. I quickly pointed out all the errors. Donna stood there, quiet for a few minutes. I’m not sure if she was shocked that I pointed out something she didn’t notice or…
“Umm, how do you know all that?”
I shrugged. I just did, don’t ask me how. But I tried to explain it to her anyway. Then I did the unthinkable, I told her about what happened in the temple yesterday. She listened intently. When I was done, she asked to see the belt. So I shrugged again, leaving my mother’s tent in the disarray we found it in. I walked her back to my tent and led her inside. My sleeping bag was still lying half open; the remains of my book and the PSP were lying next to it. There was even the empty pop can and granola wrapper from last night. What was missing was my backpack. I looked around but knowing there wasn’t a lot places for something like to hide in here, I tried to retrace my steps in my head. The only thing I could up with was leaving it on the beach. I cursed, remembering what happened. I set it down, half expecting to bring it with me on my final run.
Instead, I stuffed my flashlight and PSP into the front of my hoodie. Then I busied myself with finding the book pages. It took me all night to do that. Well most of the night. I was so busy piecing the pages back together that I completely forgot about going to get my pack. Son of a bitch.
“I left it on the beach” I said, groaning.
“Its ok, kiddo, you can show me later.”
I looked at my watch. “That’s ok, It won’t take me long to get it.” She smiled, nodding. “I’ll go and get it and meet you in front of the temple.”
We left the tent together. I didn’t wait for her to say bye as I took off. I was invigorated this morning, the pain in my back and arms long gone. I ran like I hadn’t run in years. It felt pretty good; I didn’t even break a sweat. Not even the heat seemed to be bothering me. What was even stranger than all of this was how quickly I got back to the beach. One minute I felt like I was standing in the camp and the next I was bursting out of jungle into the white sand.
I skidded to a haul, not even panting. I squinted in the sun. My pack was lying right where I thought it might be. I shook my head, cursing my stupidity. Mom should have seen it this morning but of course, she wouldn’t have brought it. I bet she thought she was teaching me a lesson. Sometimes I began to wonder why Mom even bothered to bring me on her journeys at all.
I started walking at a brisk pace over to my pack. I reached for it but stopped a few inches from picking it up. There was a loud noise moving toward the island. I grabbed one of the straps, hefting the pack and looked out into the water. At first, the speedboat was far off but it kept getting closer and closer. It wasn’t the first boat I’d seen pass by here. But most of the others were bigger and always much further off. This one was one of those cigar boats and it wasn’t getting farther away. It was getting closer, too close for comfort. I didn’t like that at all. What else didn’t I like? Seeing Costas sitting on the bench, two guys on the other side of him. Both of them were large, with bare arms. There were two other guys as well, one behind the wheel and one sitting next to him. My heart skipped a beat when I saw that guy because resting across his lap was a machine gun.
I took a deep breath. The boat roared up onto the beach, the sitting guy and I locked eyes. I think he was as shocked to see me, as I was him. He jumped to his feet and raised his gun, pointing it at me. He shouted something at the pilot in Greek then turned his attention to me.
My heart skipped another beat as he leveled his gun with my chest.
Hera give me strength.
He fired. I think my entire short life flashed before my eyes. In that moment I realized that my life leading up to this point was pretty damn worthless. I guess it didn’t pay to be a slacker. I closed my eyes, waiting to feel the sharp pain as the bullets tore into my flesh. Ok, I think it’s a sharp pain but I wouldn’t know because I’ve never been shot before. But the pain never came. What the hell? I opened my eye a peek and was shocked at what I saw. The bullets were hovering in mid-air about five feet away from me. I stumbled back, shocked and surprised. The goons were half way out of the boat now, all of them frozen in place. The guy who fired the gun was standing there, an angry and amused look on his frozen face. What the hell was going on?
“Did you honestly think that I’d let them end your pathetic life so quickly” said a familiar voice from behind me.
I snapped around. Hera was sitting in a beach chair, a peacock acting as a table, a martini was resting on its head. She was dressed in a white bikini, her legs crossed at her ankles. She looked very relaxed lying there, basking in the sun. I paused for a second after giving her a once over. Wait, did I just think of her as Hera. Yes, I did and before I did too. Where did that come from anyway? Never in my life had I ever prayed to Hera before. Usually when a normal person is about to die they pray to God. I shook my head, that was hardly the problem right now. Hera wasn’t supposed to be real; she was supposed to be a myth. I mean I know she appeared in my dream but that was a dream.
She groaned, grabbing her martini and taking a sip. “I told you before, you weren’t dreaming.”
I nodded numbly. She set the martini back on the peacock’s head. The bird didn’t move a muscle; it was like it was frozen in place too.
I finally found my voice. “What is this?”
She smirked. “Destiny.”
“I don’t believe in destiny.”
It was the truth. I didn’t. There was no way that there was some force out there controlling everyone’s actions. It was too bizarre to even comprehend. I guess that’s why I didn’t believe in God much either. I found it hard to believe that there was some All-Powerful supernatural being out there who created the whole of mankind. It was the craziest thing in the world like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I would have said the same thing about the Greek Gods but here one was, sitting in front of me in a bikini.
“Are you quite done now?” I nodded. “Good because your thoughts are unbecoming of you. If you were any other mortal, I would have struck you down for such things. But you’re important to me and I’ll let it slide for now.”
“Important?” I stuttered those last words.
Then I remembered more of my “dream”. I was Chosen; I was her champion. As flattered as I was---only slightly---I couldn’t help but think what that would entail. I knew my Greek myths; I knew what happened to the champions of the Greek Gods. Things didn’t end so well for them. So being a champion might not be a good thing. I can also remember that I turned her down earlier, that I ran away from her. I mean who wouldn’t right. But seeing her here now---praying to her earlier---it all seemed kinda silly to deny her.
She smiled. “That’s why I have come. I have answered your prayers. I’d like to see men’s God do that.”
She snorted and got to her feet, rising much taller than her small chair should have contained. She did that floating glide thing, moving in a blink of an eye. One minute she was over there and next she was standing next to me. She placed her hands on my shoulders. Her hands were huge now, like the size of large plates---bad analogy, I’m sorry. She gently stroked my cheek with a finger then just as gently turned me around. Instead of the bullets, there was a tall gilded mirror. I gasped at its appearance. But then again She was a Goddess; She could make things appear like that without a problem.
“What do you see?” she asked, making sure I was standing directly in front of the mirror.
I looked at my reflection. “Me” I said, stating the obvious.
She laughed. “No, you see a boy. You see the life you lead now, the life that is a shadow of who you really are.”
I was confused. What was she talking about? “I don’t understand.”
“What if I told you that you’re meant for greater and better things?”
“Much better things”
In the mirror, the gold belt appeared in my hands. I suddenly felt it in my real hands too. I looked down and was shocked to see it there. Just as I had when I saw it in my pack. Realization dawned on me: She was the one who put it there. Hera’s reflection behind me nodded. The belt was surprisingly heavy, heavier than I would have expected it to be. I hefted it in my hands. I was no longer overwhelmed with dizziness. I felt different holding it, powerful holding it. Instead of dizziness, the belt filled me with a strength that I never knew I possessed.
“The Girdle of Hippolyta” said Hera, soothingly. “Forged in the fires of Hephaestus, given to the Queen of the Amazons by me long ago. Upon her death, her body was cast in bronze, frozen for all time for her daughters to look upon and bask in her greatness. The girdle was placed on her body, to be a token of her great power, ever a sign that she was worthy of the Gods. It has sat all these long years, waiting, waiting for the proper one to come and claim it as their own.” She ran her fingers through my hair, the tips gently stroking my scalp. “Waiting for you.”
I was stunned. “Me?”
Hera smiled. “I knew as soon as you stepped foot on my island that there was something special about you. I have been waiting a long time for one such as yourself to come along, one with the power and the strength, one with the passion to help revitalize the Amazons once again.”
“You are that person” she stroked my cheek again. “You are that One. It is your destiny, your birthright. Put on the girdle, accept you fate.”
My hands trembled. Fear and excitement coursed through my body. The belt didn’t feel as heavy as it had before. I looked down at it, the gold gleaming in the light. This was the Girdle of Hippolyta, the very same one that Hercules was sent to recover. This was an item at one time thought to have not existed, something made up by Greek historians to tell good stories. Like most of the myths, I suppose. But here it was---in my hands---itching to be worn. But there was a small part of me that was afraid of what might happen, afraid of what I might become. The Champion of Hera, what did that entail exactly?
“I can’t make the decision for you” she said, “The choice must be yours.”
“Can I take it off?”
“Only in death” she said, not even bothering to sugar coat things. “The Girdle bonds with its wearer.”
I nodded. “Then Hercules never…”
Hera scoffed. “He wishes. He brought the little trollop some golden belt he got from a market,” She laughed. “Don’t believe everything that men write. They lie to pad their own egos.”
She sounded like my mother. But then again Hera was the first feminist.
“What will happen if I put it on?”
“Only Fate can answer that.”
Fate, that’s all I needed. But who could it hurt. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and slowly moved it toward my waist. The belt did the rest. I’m not sure what happened exactly. But there was this intense rush of energy through my body. I threw my head back and screamed. At first, it was the voice of a man, deep and loud. Soon it turned feminine and shrill, ear shattering in fact. I fell to the ground, my hands and bare legs sinking into the hot sand. Bare legs? I opened my eyes, feeling a tumble of hair fall around my face. I looked at it, shocked at what I was seeing. Long hair, longer than any hair I’ve ever had and blonde, so blonde it looked like spun gold.
I looked at my hands, they were thin and feminine. I lifted one up, noticing how soft my skin was and how hairless my arm appeared to be. There was something else, too. There were these strange golden bracelets on my arms, covering most of my wrist. I touched one, feeling a strange warmth coming from it. I got the same warmth when I touched the Girdle, too. I pushed myself to my feet, feeling things shift and move. When I stood up fully, the full effect of what happened became apparent when I looked in the mirror. There was a girl standing there, a beautiful blond girl. No, not just beautiful, she was gorgeous. Like a super model with flawless skin and dazzling blue eyes. She was tall too, at least six foot or more and wearing the skimpiest white dress. At least I think it was a dress, it was light and airy, leaving little to the imagination.
I reached up and touched my face. The girl reflected in the mirror touched her. Holy Hera---did I just think that---she was me?
“As beautiful as Aphrodite” said the Goddess as she stood behind me, placing her hands on my shoulders. “As I knew you would be.”
I was stunned. For a long time I stared at the girl I’d become…this semi-Goddess. I stuck out my tongue, wiggled my nose, opened and shut my eyes. But there was no denying it. She was me and I was hot. Ok, not exactly what I wanted to think but it was true. I turned a little, taking a look at my body in profile. I should have been totally freaked out by all of this but for some reason I was actually at peace. That should have freaked me out too but it didn’t. Why wasn’t I freaked out?
“You are as you should be, my Daughter.”
“I don’t understand,” I said, gasping at the sound of my new voice. Even that was perfect.
“The Girdle has seen who you really are on the inside and brought her to the forefront. Never again will you be burdened by the male form. You were an Amazon by Blood and now by Body.”
I nodded numbly. “What happens now?”
“Now” she said, the mirror disappeared and the frozen scene from earlier appeared, the bullets still frozen five feet away. “You punish the infidels who dare to set foot on the soil of the Amazons.”
A fury burned inside of me, a fury that I didn’t even know I could muster. Looking at them---at those Men---angered the hell out of me. I wanted to pound the snot out of them for defiling our sacred shores like this---our shores. Was I one of them now?
“My Lady” I said, inwardly groaning. “What if I need your guidance again?”
She smiled sadly. “I can no longer interfere. It is against the rules for Us to have contact with our Champions after giving them their Cause. But no this, I have Agents of this World, followers who have spent their whole lives worshiping me. When you need them, they will appear.”
“How will I know them?”
She smiled. “You are Amazon. They will know you.”
With that, she slowly faded from view. As soon as she was gone, the world unfroze and the bullets continued to come right for my head.
Shit. I threw up my arms and something miraculous happened.
My arms instinctively went up to protect my face. Yeah, I know, blocking face with arms not a good thing. But something happened. Something unbelievable. I heard them, the bullets as they pinged off the bracelets. I opened my eyes; the noise of the world came roaring back to me. I was dazed and confused. And cold, God was I cold. There was a morning breeze whipping through the air, chilling my bare legs, flapping the end of my tiny white dress. White dress, bare legs? I looked down quickly. What the hell happened to my jeans and t-shirt? Hell what happened to my sneakers. They were gone, replaced by these gold sandals that wrapped up my ankles.
How messed up is that.
But at the moment, I had more important things to worry about. There were several thugs on my beach. Yeah, my beach. Suddenly I felt very possessive of the beach and the island. My island, Themiscyra. The Home of the Amazons, the sacred place where no man was supposed to set foot. The four fools standing in front of me were invaders on our sacred soil and they needed to be punished. Don’t ask me where all this righteous hate was coming from. It was like my mind---my thoughts–were being fueled by some kind of Amazonian hard wiring. All I knew was that these men were infidels and as such, they should be punished for their crimes.
And punished they would be.
The situation finally got back to the four of them.
The one with the machine gun was standing there, staring at me with a shocked look on his face. I suppose it’s not every day that a little male punk turns into a tall strapping female supermodel who happens to deflect your bullets. Yeah, I’m still trying to get my mind around the bullet deflecting thing too. He rose the gun, pointed it at me but I think he second guessed what he was about to do because he lowered it a few seconds later. His friends---including that traitorous bastard Costas---all stared in shock at me. Hey, it’s not every day that someone spontaneously changes gender, it would shock me too. Hell, it was shocking me but I was a little too preoccupied to think about that at the moment.
“You boys have one chance,” I said, trying to sound both confident and bad ass. “Get back in your boat and get the hell out of here”
Their shock finally faded to be replaced by laughter. I think they thought solidarity and strength in numbers. There were four of them and they all appeared to be armed---the others had weapons that I didn’t notice before. They continued laughing, probably thinking that the bullet deflection thing was a fluke. I was kinda hoping that it wasn’t. Finally, the guy with the machine gun stopped laughing. When he spoke, it was in Greek but somehow my brain processed it as English. How freaky is that?
“I don’t know what kind of freak you are,” he said, raising the gun again. “But there’s no way you can get lucky a second time.”
I flinched as he fired. I knew he was going to do it again---it was inevitable---but it still scared the hell out of me. But I think that fear turned into adrenaline or something. As soon as the bullets reached me, it was like I had lightning fast reflexes or something. It’s the only way I can describe what I did. Before---like him---I thought the bullet-deflecting thing was a fluke. Somehow, as soon as the bullets reached me, my body took over. It was amazing. I deflected every single one with my bracelets, shocked and amazed as each one bounced off as I effortlessly moved my wrists to block them. It was the coolest damn thing in the world.
The four of them gasped, probably feeling about the same as I was right now.
The gunman recovered quickly though. He raised his gun, preparing to fire another burst. Me, I was getting kinda pissed. Couldn’t this jackass take a hint? Just as he was about to fire, I decided enough was enough and took the fight to him. I ran---faster than I’ve ever run before---I got to him in a matter of seconds. I grabbed a hold of the red-hot barrel, it burned my hand but I was fueled by anger so I barely noticed it. I snatched the gun from his hands and in a feat of incredible strength, I snapped it in half. As stunned as both of us were, I was hardly down. I tossed the useless gun fragments over my shoulder, grabbed the front of the bastard’s shirt and lifted him a good two feet off the ground.
"I think you and I got off on the wrong foot here.”
He nodded vigorously, the crotch of his pants becoming damp. I crinkled my nose in disgust and prepared to heave him into his buddies. But at that particular moment one of them decided to be a hero. He came at me with a baseball bat, swung it pretty hard into the back of my head. It hurt like a bitch. I stumbled, seeing stars. So ok, I was really strong but I wasn’t indestructible, good to know. I wavered on my feet, nearly dropping the jackass in my hands. But I recovered quickly. I snapped the bastard in my hand around, using him as my own “bat” as I slammed him into his brave friend. Both of them went down in a tangled heap. You’d think that would stop the others from trying to interfere but these guys were bred to be stupid or something. The other two came at me, one of them had a knife, the other was unarmed.
The unarmed man came first. He came from behind too, jumping on my back. He was a big guy, huge and muscular. I think he thought his sheer bulk would bring me down. My new body was tall and lean, muscled like a track runner or a swimmer. I’m not sure which because I hadn’t really had a lot of time to look myself over. But I think this guy thought he could drive me to the ground and pound on me. It was a good plan and probably would have worked in a normal situation and with a normal girl. Girl, I never thought I’d refer to myself as one of those. But yeah, I wasn’t a normal girl.
He wrapped his arms around my upper body, pinning my own arms to my sides. I think he was trying to hold me so his friend could stab me in the chest. The only problem was that I wasn’t about to be a good girl and be stabbed. I forced out with my arms, a little too strong for my own good I think. I threw the bastard off my back at the same time as his friend lunged. I spun away from the stabbing knife, grabbed his wrist and snapped his hand up. There was a snap of bone and his knife dropped to the sand. I brought my elbow down on the back of his neck, driving him to the ground.
He didn’t get back up. I snapped around to his fellows. The gunman and the amateur batter were still in a tangle trying to untangle themselves. The other guy was lying a few feet away but slowly pushed back up. He shook himself off, shedding a fine covering of white sand. There was a trickle of blood running from his nose. He cracked his knuckles and glared at me.
“I’m not sure what kind of freak you are,” he said, spitting a red blood like substance from his mouth. “But I’m going to end you.”
Really, how fricken clichéd was that? He charged me like a bull. I stood my ground, placing my feet far enough apart to make a move if I had to. He came at me with his head down, trying to head butt me I think. He got within only a few feet before I stopped him. It happened so quick. I grabbed him underneath the shoulders, lifted him straight up and threw him over my back. I think we were both pretty surprised. He had to weigh close to three hundred pounds and I was lucky if I weighed one twenty now. He went clear over my head, landing about ten feet behind me. I snapped around, not waiting for him to get up and try again. I was already tired messing with these jackasses. It was bad enough that they had the gall to invade my island but when I asked them to leave, they grew hostile.
I marched over to him as he writhed on the ground, groaning from the pain. Apparently, I hurt him this time. Good, I wasn’t prepared to keep knocking these bastards down every time they got up. I stood over him, watching him as he rolled about, flopping like a fish out of water.
“Are you done now?”
He didn’t say anything. But his fallen friends did.
“You freak,” shouted a voice, one that I recognized as the gunman’s.
Great, round two.
“Clearly you guys don’t know when to quit,” I said, turning to watch the gunman help his buddy up off the ground.
“You should listen to him,” I snapped around to Costas, who’d spoken from the boat. He lowered his head. “I mean her, you should listen to her.”
They didn’t. The gunman had the bat now. He charged me, swinging. You’d think these guys would learn that they were beat. He came swinging pretty hard. But to me it was like he was moving in slow motion. He swung for my side. I snapped up and grabbed the end of the bat, yanking it from his grasp. I spun it around and smacked him upside the head with it. He went spinning away. He actually twirled in the air before he hit the ground. He didn’t get up from the ground. I don’t think I killed him but he wouldn’t be shooting a gun for a while.
The last man standing didn’t attempt to make a move. I think realization was finally setting in. He smiled at me, taking a few steps back. “It wasn’t our idea,” he stammered then stabbed a finger in Costas’ direction. “It was his.”
I turned my attention back to Costas. I had a pretty good idea he was the ringleader behind all of this. After all, he was the only one who knew we were on this island. He was also the only other person who knew that we’d found something of some significance here. I’m sure he probably overheard Mom telling Donna when she called. It was a shame really because Costas seemed like a pretty good guy. He had some great big fish stories he’d been sharing with me over the last few days. I thought he was my friend and he reminded me so much of my grandfather that it hurt. It hurt even more so knowing a guy like that could ever betray us like that.
I walked over to the boat, leaving the other guy to stew in his own juices---he pissed himself too. Costas freaked when he saw me walking over. He ran to the wheel and tried to start the engine. He got it going just as I got to the boat. The speedboat was made of fiberglass, it was long and sleek. Its nose was sticking pretty far out into the beach. I took a deep breath, asked for Hera to give me more strength---must be ingrained in me somehow---and slammed both my fists as hard as I could into the bow. The boat shock from the impact. Then the whole bow collapsed in on itself, crumbled and ruined. There was no way anyone in their right mind would think about taking it onto the water. Even if they did, they wouldn’t get very far with it.
Costas stumbled away from the wheel and pulled a small pistol out of his belt. He pointed at me and fired. I deflected the bullet with one wrist; it bounced harmlessly off my bracelet. He fired again and I easily deflected it. He fumbled for a third shot as I jumped up onto the boat, it shock when I landed. He tried to take that third shot but I snatched the gun out of his hand. He stared in wide-eyed horror as I crumbled it in my hand like a pop can. Yeah, I’m that strong now, who knew. He fell backwards onto the bench I saw him on earlier, wetting himself too. What was it with pirates and peeing themselves? He then fell to the deck on his knees in front of me, crying for forgiveness.
Costas was a little man, barely five foot. Seeing him on the ground groveling to me was pretty pathetic. I reached down and grabbed the back of his shirt, lifting him off the ground. He wiggled and kicked. I think he thought I was going to kick his ass and a part of me wanted too. Instead, I carried him with me as I jumped off the boat. The other guy---the one that was still standing---moved away as I approached, carrying Costas like a bad kid in need of a spanking. I tossed the fisherman on the ground with his three unconscious friends. He whimpered and tried to scurry away but I quickly stepped around him, blocking his exit. There was nowhere to go after all except into the jungle and I didn’t want him anywhere near my mother and Donna.
Now that the fighting was over, I could take a deep breath. Not that I was holding it in or anything. But I was so pumped up earlier that I didn’t really have the time to do anything else. But that I was finally standing still, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do more: scream or cry. It not every day that a guy turns into a girl in a blink of an eye like that. Hell I was a tall, legged supermodel in a tiny dress that left little to the imagination. Don’t even get me started about the things on my chest. I was afraid to look and or touch them even. The closest I ever got to a pair of boobs was looking at Donna’s from afar. Now I had my very own pair. I bit my lip, trying to keep myself from crying.
“He didn’t say anything about there being a Meta here.”
I snapped up when one of them talked. It wasn’t Costas because he was still whimpering to himself. It was the other guy. He was now sitting with his back to a tree, trying his hardest not to look at me. Neither one of them were a threat anymore. I just wasn’t ready to think about what to do with them. I’d definitely have to call the authorities but first I’d have to explain things to Mom and Donna. I groaned as that realization dawned on me. That’s going to be an interesting conversation. First, I wanted to know what the other guy was talking about. What the hell was a Meta?
“What’s a Meta?”
The guy looked like I’d boiled his eyeballs or something. “You’re kidding right? What have you been living under a rock or something?”
I nodded. Pretty much. Mom and I weren’t really up on the current events. We didn’t have a TV at home and Mom didn’t believe in the newspaper---don’t get me started on the reasons. At school, not too many people talked to me. I had only a core group of friends, Connor being my best one. But all he liked to talk about was football. So if these Meta things were a big deal, I wouldn’t know a damn thing about them.
He opened his mouth, about to give me the rundown when a snap sounded behind us. Ok, more off to the side. I snapped around, half expecting to see one of the jackasses up and ready for another go at it. Instead, I saw Donna. She was standing there holding a really big stick and a look on her face that was a combination of shock and pure terror. She looked from me to the guys on the ground then over at the boat and then finally back at me. She trembled a bit, dropping the stick.
“Who the hell are you?”
“Charlie? You’re Charlie?”
I nodded. I couldn’t say anymore for fear of bursting into tears. The two of us were away from the goons now, standing at the other end of the beach. I wasn’t afraid they’d run away because frankly they had nowhere to go. So after initially finding me standing over them, Donna immediately launched into twenty questions. By the way, I was dressed and the way I was standing, I think she thought I was an Amazon come to life. You have to laugh because she was half-right. So after fielding some stupid questions, I told her who I was. I think she was in shock first, wouldn’t you be? But after the third or fourth time explaining, I think she finally got it.
“I don’t know what happened!”
Finally, it happened. I’d been trying to avoid it for the last ten minutes or so but finally the dam broke. Tears started streaming down my cheeks. My body felt numb as I fell against a nearby tree and slid down the trunk. Donna was there in a heartbeat, putting her arm around me. She let me rest my head on her shoulder as I cried. It was too much to deal with all at once. Earlier adrenaline was fueling me, helping me avoid what had happened. Now that things were at a standstill there was no way to avoid the truth. I was a girl now. I’m not sure how it happened or why but I was a girl and there was no way to go back. I tried too. The whole time I was talking to Donna, I fidgeted with the gold bracelets---wrist cuffs. ---trying to get them off. I mean it didn’t take a genius to figure out what happened to the gold belt. But no matter how much I tugged on them, they wouldn’t budge.
“We’ll figure this out,” said Donna, moving some hair from my face. “It’s not the end of the world, kiddo, just a little bump.”
That riled me and not in a good way. My anger flared, I couldn’t help it. “A little bump!”
I snapped up to my feet, causing her to stumble a bit. I turned around and punched the tree with all my might. There was a loud snap, the trunk gave way under my blow and the tree came crashing down. It fell into the other trees around it---causing a domino effect---taking five or six trees down around it before stopping. Me, my hand throbbed a bit but other than that, I was all right. Donna sat there with her mouth wide open, unsure of what to say. I was unsure too. It’s not every day that a guy turns into a girl and can level half a forest with a single punch. There was something wrong with me, something inhuman.
“How is that a little bump?”
Donna got to her feet, staring at the wake of destruction one punch left. She looked a little nervous. Then she took a breath. “Ok, so it’s a big bump but it’s not the end of the world.”
I scoffed. “You just said that.”
She smiled. “Well, it’s the truth. You and I can figure this out, ok.”
“What about Mom?”
Neither one of us said anything because neither one of us had an answer. It was easy telling Donna about all of this because I trusted her. Like I said before, I didn’t have a lot of friends except Connor, so besides Connor, Donna was my only other confidant. My grandfather used to listen to my problems too but with him gone, I didn’t really have a lot of people to talk too. There was Grandma but she always only told me “everything works out.” It’s sound advice but it’s all she ever says. My grandfather always used to have a crazy anecdote or some story to help me out. He used to share some stories about my mother as examples. Donna was similar in that she tried to put herself in my shoes and tell me how she’d handle a situation. But the real question was; did I trust my mother not to freak out?
“Your mom will understand.”
I scoffed again. “This is my mother we’re talking about.”
“You don’t give her enough credit.”
“And you idol worship her too much.”
I hated myself after saying that. It was mean and cold hearted but it was the truth. As much as I loved Donna---and I did---, she put too much stock in my mother. She followed her around like a groupie, fetching her coffee, carrying her bag, snapping to attention whenever my mother asked. I know it was her job to be my mother’s assistant but Donna took it one step too far. When we were out in the field, she even cooked all the meals for us. Why, because my mother was too busy working to do it herself. According to Donna, my mother was always too busy working. A week before we left for Greece, there was a big award ceremony for the end of the semester. I mentioned before that I was a B student, except in history. At history, I excelled. At the end of the semester, our school gives out awards to all the students who are at the top of their class. It’s not really a big deal---it’s just a slip of paper and fifty dollar gift certificate to the mall---but it’s a ceremony that parents and family are supposed to attend. My grandmother was there of course but was my mother? Nope, she sent Donna. Not that I wasn’t happy to have Donna there but it wasn’t the first time my Mom did this. A month before that, she actually sent Donna to her own birthday party to get her presents for her. I mean who does that.
Donna looked like I slapped her in the face. It was a low blow. I bit my lip. “Shit” I said, I rarely ever swear aloud. “I’m sorry, Donna. I’m a little off kilter at the moment. I didn’t mean it.”
She nodded then smiled weakly. “Its ok, kiddo.”
But it wasn’t ok, not in the least. I walked over and gave her a hug. It was kinda strange hugging her now. For one thing, Donna used to be a couple of inches taller than me. Being a guy and only being five six was always a problem for me. You can imagine I was the butt of a lot of short jokes. Donna was about five eight and often wore heels---well not in the field of course. Now as I hugged her, the difference in our size was very apparent. I towered over her. I had to be at least six three now, which was insane. I knew I was taller before but now hugging her put things in real perspective. Whatever the hell happened to me changed me into a completely different person.
After our hug, the two of us tried to figure out the best way to tell Mom. But no matter how much we strategized, we came up with the same theory: just be as blunt as possible. Like ripping a band-aid off. So we both took a deep breath and left our little corner of the beach. Donna walked next to me at first but quickly fell behind. Not only was I taller but apparently my long legs made my strides really hard to match. I tried to slow down for her but it was no use. Even walking slow, I out walked her. I think I might have mentioned being a little out of shape before but now it was crazy how fit I was. I had yet to look at anything but my arms and legs but I was certain the rest of my body looked as lean. I mentioned I had a runner’s physique before but I could easily pass for a WNBA player---except with supermodel good looks.
We got back to the spot where I had left the goons. In our absence, per my orders--- they were too afraid not to follow them---Costas and his friend had tied up the others. The three unconscious jackasses were still very much out cold. They were now all on their stomachs, their hands tied behind their backs. Not too far away from the pile of assorted weapons, they’d brought with them. None of them were very effective anymore, except maybe the knife.
I looked at Costas, trying my best to be as stern as I could. “You two stay right there and no funny business.”
Costas nodded numbly, making sure not to look me directly in the eye. I wasn’t sure what to do with the goons actually. There was a sat phone on the boat---Costas’ I think---but I wasn’t ready to call the authorities just yet. To tell you the truth, I’m not really sure how to explain to them what I did to those bastards. I still didn’t have a straight answer on this whole Meta thing–whatever that was. I forgot to ask Donna about it too. She was a lot more news savvy than either me or Mom. But given the circumstances, I suppose the Meta thing could wait for now. I cast a nasty glance at Costas’ friend for good measure then Donna and I walked into the jungle.
Mom was in the temple.
Donna went in first, walking slowly so as not to draw attention. Me, I kinda lingered back. I couldn’t help but take a look around though. When Donna came this morning---wow, was it only this morning---she brought a lot of stuff from the local university with her. Most of it was tools but now there was a little card table set up in one corner, several artifact bins next to that and lights, lots of lights. They were the kind that you see used on movie sets, set up on tri-pods with really bright burning bulbs. Last year I actually touched one by mistake, burned the hell out of my hand. I ended up having to go to the emergency room and everything. The only thing Mom was upset about was losing a day’s work. We were in Calcutta then, trying to see if some ruin there led us to here.
With the lights---situated throughout the temple---everything looked so much different. For the first time I was able to really get a good look at the frieze at the top of the temple. It was an intricately carved scene, wrapping around the whole of ceiling. It told the story of the Amazons as far as I could tell. It looked like a true account too, not some watered down version they might tell in a high school mythology class---not that I took one of those. A lot of the vegetation that had grown into the temple was now removed too; I think Donna did it with the machete at some point. I saw the knife in question resting against one of the pillars, its blade tinged green with all the cutting.
I looked from the frieze to the focal point of the room. The giant statue of Hera was overbearing. It looked down at you just like a Goddess should. Yesterday when I looked up at it, I was kinda freaked out but today I felt solace looking at her. I know it sounds strange, seeing as she was responsible for my newest predicament about a part of me wanted to bow down on a knee and praise her. I wonder if that had anything to do with the fact that I was now her Champion. It was very possible that she somehow hardwired my brain into being loyal to her. I tried not to think about it because it made me angry and this was the last place I needed to lose my temper in.
I finally looked over in Mom’s direction. She was at the same wall, still scribbling away. There weren’t a lot of walls in here actually; most of these temples didn’t really have them. But this one particular corner had two walls; I think it was where they wrote down their history. I’d seen something like this before, don’t ask me where though. Mom was using her penlight again, Donna was clearly talking to her but I’m not sure if she was paying attention or not. I felt bad about Donna telling my Mom what was what but I knew there would be no way that she’d believe I was her son. So I lingered back, leaning against a column as they talked. It didn’t take all that long but for some reason Mom looked disinterested. Donna talked---I could hear her---but Mom continued to work. Of course she worked, that’s all she did was work. After about ten minutes, I got fed up. I should have done this myself anyway. My anger sparked, I stepped away from the column and stormed across the temple, I actually made a sound as I walked.
“Mom” I said, stomping over.
“Not now Charlie, I’m busy.”
That pissed me off even more. The bitch---I know that was harsh but her attitude was pissing me off. She didn’t even look away from the wall when I called to her. She didn’t even notice I had a different voice.
“Mom” I said again a little more forcefully. “Turn around and look at me.”
I’m not sure if it was my tone or the fact that I was telling her to do something. But my mother turned around, ready to yell. But as soon as she did, the color drained from her face. I put my hands on my hips, smirking. She didn’t say anything for the longest time. She continued to stare. I’m not sure if was in shock or awe or even. Finally, she set down her penlight, got up from the ground and walked slowly over. She circled around me a few times, eying me up and down. Then she spoke and when she did, it shocked me:
My anger boiled over. “That’s it!”
I expected her to be cold; she wouldn’t be Mom if she were anything different. But I didn’t expect her to not care. Well, that’s not true. That’s the first time she ever said I was interesting. It’s not what I wanted to hear but it was the best compliment she’d ever given me. To tell you the truth I thought she might be a little ecstatic. It’s no secret that my mother was the biggest feminist I knew---hell I’ve made mention of it once or twice. So I kinda always thought she was so nasty to me because I was born male. I’m not saying I want to be a girl---far from it---but I always thought that if my mother had had a daughter she would have been much happier. The first thing I thought when I looked in Hera’s mirror–after the shock of course---was maybe Fate has finally gotten it right. Now maybe my mother and I can have a real relationship.
But apparently, I was wrong. My mother didn’t even seem to notice my anger. Instead, she continued to walk around me. At one point, she actually reached over and grabbed a bit of my dress, running the fabric between her thumb and index finger. But she didn’t say anymore. I was too furious to say anything myself so Donna became the explainer. She told my mother everything I told her. I’m not sure if my Mom believed her or not. Instead, she just nodded her head a lot. When Donna was finished, my mother seemed to have a twinkle in her eye. But it disappeared appeared quickly.
“The Girdle” she asked her voice soft and barely audible. “Can I see it?”
I sighed. “I don’t know what happened to it. I put it on and it disappeared.”
I couldn’t tell her what I thought. In truth, I was pretty certain it had somehow transformed into the bracelets on my wrists. But I didn’t tell her that. I wasn’t ready to share that much with her. But that didn’t stop her from asking about it anyway. She had a lot of questions and I did my best to answer them. In fact, I did better than that. I led her over to the statue that I originally saw the belt on. I think it was the first time she’d seen it because her face lit up. She ran back over to the wall, grabbed her stuff and went over to the statue.
“You saw this before” she asked, flustered. “And you didn’t tell me?”
“You wouldn’t have listened.”
She ignored me. Instead, she went over to the statue and touched its waist. I flinched. She was after all touching the bronzed body of my Queen. Yeah, my brain isn’t hardwired at all. I inwardly groaned, not sure, how I was going to handle all this devotion stuff. First to Hera and now to Hippolyta too. Suddenly I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder and turned to see Donna standing there. She was holding my mother’s sat phone. I smiled at her then looked back over to Mom. We told her about the tomb raiders, how Costas betrayed us but she didn’t seem too fazed by it. Instead, she told Donna to contact the authorities.
“Did you call?” I asked; Donna nodded.
“C’mon, let’s get you out of that dress” She shuddered. “You’ve gotta be a little drafty in that thing. I might have some stuff that’ll fit.”
I nodded, blushing a bit. I tugged on the end of the flimsy thing---it barely covered my bare butt. I let Donna lead me out of the temple. I stopped at the entrance, turning to look back at my mother and sighed. For a moment there, I thought the two of us were going to share something. But just like typical mom, she completely ignored me for her work.
I shook my head and walked out of the temple.
“I’m so jealous right about now.”
We were in her tent, Donna was trying not to look but it was kind of hard not to. After leaving the temple, she told me how long it would take the authorities to get here and said we had some time to make me look halfway decent. What did that mean exactly? She practically dragged me to her tent---which was actually a lot bigger and roomier than the one person ones that Mom and I used. There was so much room in fact that I could almost stand up which was amazing. I once complained to my mother about Donna’s tent being so much bigger than mine and Donna fired back that she was a girl and needed more room for her things. Back then I had no idea what she was talking about but now as I looked around I could see why the space was so important to her.
It was amazing how much crap she had. Instead of a sleeping bag she had an air mattress, instead of the little battery powered fans mom and I had, she had a portable air conditioner. Her tent had two rooms, one of which had a little table where her laptop was set up. Somehow, she got internet service out here as well as cell service. I’m not sure how she managed; maybe it was because her father was loaded. I think I might have neglected to mention that before. Donna’s father---Edward Troy---was a huge Art Financier from New York. He treated his daughter like a princess, anything she wanted he got for her. But Donna was far from spoiled. Though she may have been a Daddy’s Girl, she got everything else by working for it. Like the TA position with my mother and a spot on this trip. Originally, it was going to be a couple of Grad students but Donna fought to get it. My mother rewarded her for her tenacity. The Grad students got left back at home, kinda bummed that their Greek vacation got cancelled.
What does any of this have to do with her being jealous of me? Absolutely nothing. The reason for her jealousy had everything to do with the two huge fleshy globes hanging off my chest. Ok, not really that huge but bigger than hers apparently. As soon as we got to the tent, the first thing she made me do was drop the dress, which I can tell you was extremely embarrassing. Donna looked a little longer than I would have liked; then after snapping out of the trance, she went rummaging through her duffel looking for something for me to put on.
I was modestly trying to cover both my chest and my nether regions at the same time. There was no way I was ever going to get used to this girl thing.
“I’m sorry that I don’t have any bras that’ll fit,” she said, pulling out some clothes. “But yours are bigger than mine.”
I blushed. “Just as long as they’re covered.”
She passed a black tank top and a pair of jean cutoffs into my hands. The underwear I was wearing belonged to me. Thankfully, I only wore boxers to bed, the rest of the time it was briefs. I stopped by my tent for a split second before she completely dragged me here. Apparently, girls don’t wear each other’s underwear. Don’t ask me why. I quickly pulled the tank top over my head, getting it all tangled with my hair and having a hell of a time getting it over my boobs. When it was finally on, I realized how tight it was. The shorts were tight too. I could barely zip them shut but I managed.
“I’m sorry about the fit,” said Donna as she came behind me, taking my hair into her hands. “We’ll go shopping as soon as we get back to the mainland.”
I groaned. “I can hardly wait.”
She didn’t respond. Instead she took my long hair---it went almost to my butt---and pulled it into a ponytail. She used a couple of rubber bands to tie it in place. I didn’t care what she used as long as it was off my back and neck. Long hair was a pain in the ass, especially in all this heat. I wonder if I could get it all chopped off. I think I could work that look---maybe shave it to my scalp like Demi Moore in that Navy Seal movie. But I knew what I looked like now and there was no way I could pull off the butch look. I had to face facts, I was a knock out and the hair unfortunately matched the way I looked.
“I think our feet are the same size though” she said as she finished with my hair and went over to her duffel again, taking out a pair of sandals. “Thank God for that.”
She handed me the shoes and I slipped them on my feet. Even my feet felt and looked bigger. I was small everything as a guy and now I was oversized. Ok, that was pushing it a bit but I was definitely bigger than before. It felt strange being this tall too; everything was out of proportion for me now. Crawling into my tent for instance was definitely a new experience. Before the one person tent was just right for my size, now I hardly fit in there. I’m not sure what I was going to have to do if I had to sleep in there one more night.
After getting dressed, Donna and I left the tent. According to her calculations, the authorities should be here anytime. So the two of us walked back toward the beach. This time I managed to walk a little slower so she could keep up with me but it was pretty hard. It was definitely going to be hard to get used to all these changes. I wasn’t a fan of change. When I graduated from fifth grade and moved up from elementary school to middle school, it took me a while to adjust. Thankfully, my grandfather was there to tell me that things were going to be different, better in fact. He told me that now that I was in a higher school, I was older and was expected to take on more responsibilities. Which didn’t sound very good to an eleven year old until he explained that people would start treating me better, too.
He probably would have said the same thing to me when I went from middle school to high school, if he’d been around that is. I wonder what he’d say to me now. What could someone say that wouldn’t freak me out?
We got back to beach to see Costas and his friend smoking a pair of cigarettes. The two of them looked nothing like two bastards who had tried to kill us only an hour or so ago. When they saw us approach, the color drained from their faces. I’m not sure if they were really afraid of Donna but the sight of me I think reminded them of their wet crotches. As soon as I got within five feet or so, they snubbed out their cigarettes. I had to smile at that. I didn’t mind smoking but it was rude for them to defile my beach like that. I groaned, there I go again. If I ever talked to Hera again, she and I were going to have words about this whole Amazon mentality; it was driving me insane.
We stood around and waited. It didn’t take long. I’m not really up to date on authority structure in this part of the world; you need my mother to know all that. All I know is that several boats arrived, each filled with men in black jump suits. I think they might have been the Greek Navy but as far as I could tell, they could have been the police too. They stormed the beach though, wielding machine guns. They moved like a uniformed military group. They secured the beach first, circled the destroyed boat then moved onto to us. I think there was a bit of confusion on their part because guns were pointing everywhere, including at us.
Costas and his friend threw their hands up in the air; Donna did too. I crossed my arms, standing my ground. I wasn’t going to let these jackasses intimidate me. One of them---with a thin mustache and black beret---came forward; he was clearly in charge.
“Cooperate, Miss, and this will go a lot smoother,” he said in accented English.
I fired back in Greek. “Those are the guys you want. I should know; I mopped the floor with them.”
The men around me chuckled. The leader raised one of his eyebrows. He looked at the three unconscious men tied up on the ground and then at me. He chuckled a bit too. The laughing pissed me off. I’m not sure but I think this Amazon wiring made me quick to anger. One minute I was standing there and the next I moved. It was faster than the closer guy could react. I grabbed the end of his gun, bent the barrel upwards and tore it from his grasp. I held the useless weapon in one hand as I grabbed the front of his uniform, lifting him off the ground. His comrades reacted instantly, snapping their weapons around to face me. I could see the look of fear in their eyes, their hands trembling. Their boss even looked scared, even more so when he saw the gold bracelets on my wrists.
His eyes widened a bit. Was that recognition maybe?
“Lower your weapons,” he snapped.
“Charlie” I heard Donna’s voice.
I turned my head to her and saw the fear written all over her face. Like I said before, I reacted before I thought. It had to be some new conditioning. Apparently the new me didn’t like it when people pointed guns at me. Maybe it’s some kind of defense mechanism. I groaned, lowering the soldier to the ground. I let go of his uniform, then smiled sheepishly as I straightened out the ruffles for him. His face was pale but he nodded slightly. Then I handed back his gun, trying to look as guilty as possible. He nodded as he took it with shaking hands.
“We apologize for the misunderstand, miss” said their boss, his voice had a shaking fear to it. “We have a procedure to follow.”
I nodded. “Just as long as there’s no more guns pointed in my face I think we’ll be ok.”
He nodded vigorously. I felt a hand slip into mine, wrapping tight around my fingers. I didn’t have to look to know it was Donna. She gave it a reassuring squeeze. I think she figured out that my reaction earlier was something I didn’t consciously do. She wiped my cheek, getting the tear that I didn’t even know was there. I wanted to cry some more but that wouldn’t have solved anything. Instead, I explained things to the Boss soldier. His name turned out to be Captain Andreas, which strangely enough actually means “manly.” I had to smile at that. Captain Manly---snicker---listened as I told him about the tomb raiders and how I apprehended them.
He seemed particularly interested in my superhuman feats. Like before, his eyes wandered to my wrists. I looked too, knowing this time that he recognized them. He caught me looking and quickly pretended he was looking elsewhere. But there was no doubt about it, he knew about my bracelets.
I didn’t get a chance to ask him though. After questioning me some, he assisted his men with the goons. He oversaw as they lifted the unconscious ones off the ground and carried them to the boats. Medics checked out all three, one of them--- the guy who I threw over my shoulder--- had to be carried off on a stretcher. I should have felt bad for that but I didn’t. After handcuffing Costas and his friend, I watched, as they were loaded onto a boat too. Costas looked directly at me, his eyes trying to seek forgiveness. I turned my head away; there would be none of that from me.
Andreas came back over at that. “The two of you will need to accompany us back to the main land; we need to get your statements.”
Donna snapped into scholar mode. “We can’t leave here, there’s precious work to be done. Now more than ever.”
Andreas took on a serious tone. “This island and all its contents are property of the Grecian government. Your being here is in violation of Greek law, this is a protected wildlife habitat.”
“Wildlife?” Donna scoffed “there’s only bugs on here.”
I scoffed. And a really nasty peacock. Who I haven’t seen nor heard from in a while. I wonder if the bastard drowned. Hey, a guy---err---girl can dream, right?
“I’m sorry Miss Troy but we have protocol to follow.”
Donna sighed. “I understand. But what about the professor, she’s not going to be too happy.”
“Professor?” asked Andreas, surprise in his voice. “There’s another person here?”
I nodded. “My mother, Dr. Helena Sandsmark, she’s in the jungle at the ruins.”
“Ruins? What ruins?”
Before I could say anything further, Andreas made a motion toward the jungle. Three of his men ran off before I could react. I suppose I could have run off after them and intercepted them, but I’d already caused enough trouble. Besides, I wasn’t really in the mood to create an international incident. So I let the men go. But if they so much as hurt a hair on my mother’s head there was going to be hell to pay. I don’t like my mother all that much but I’ll be damned if I was going to let some Greek ass manhandle her. I proved my point by crossing my arms and glaring at Andreas some. He paled again, looking like he wanted to run back to the boats and scream for his Mommy. I wanted him to be scared. I’d decided that I wasn’t going to like him ever since his men pointed guns at the two of us, too. But I didn’t want to alienate him too much because I needed to know what he knew. It was too much of a coincidence for him to show up here and know something about the metal ware I was currently in possession of.
“Get your hands off of me,” shouted a familiar voice from behind us.
I turned around and saw two of Andreas' men carrying Mom out of the jungle; the third was carrying her bag and some of her research. Mom was struggling and kicking. Me, my anger flared. I moved fast, too fast for any of them to see coming. I barreled at the man carrying the stuff first, catching him by surprise. I disarmed him and threw him to the ground. Then I snapped around, grabbing one of the guys holding my mother while kicking the other. Both of them let go of her pretty quick. The one I kicked went flying about ten feet into the air before landing several feet away in the sand, dazed but unharmed. The one I grabbed I was currently holding off the ground by his throat.
My mother looked at me and I think for the first time she smiled. It didn’t last very long.
Then she spoke, with her usual tone. “Put him down, Charlie.”
I reluctantly did so. Captain Andreas walked over quickly, looking grim and scared. He looked at the man I just dropped then at me and finally at my mother.
Recognition flashed between the two of them.
Andreas spoke first: “Dr. Sandsmark, I see you’re causing trouble again.”
“Captain Andreas, I see you’re still an ass as usual.”
The Captain smirked. “What did I tell you about poking around in places you don’t belong? Last time I gave you a warning, this time I’m afraid I’m going to have to take you into custody.”
My mother scoffed, holding out her arms, wrists facing up. Me, I pushed her arms down and stepped in between the two of them. I didn’t care what the history here was; there was no way he was laying a finger on her. “If you go anywhere near her, I’ll make you eat those damn cuffs.”
“Miss Sandsmark, you may be strong and fast but my men will fire if they have to.”
“You have no idea what I’m capable of.”
He smiled a bit but there was something else there too, pride maybe?
“That may be the case but do you really want your mother and friend to be hurt in the crossfire?”
He had a point. I looked over at Donna; one of Andreas’ men had her arms pulled behind her back, the cuffs already on them. I growled at that but Andreas had me beat. Even if I managed to take out most of his men, it would have been very easy for him to do something bad to either Mom or Donna. As strong as I appeared to be now there was no way I could handle all this, not alone anyway. I sighed in defeat and nodded my head. I stepped aside and Andreas cuffed my mother. She looked at me and I think for the first time she might have been a little proud. I smiled at her but her proud expression quickly disappeared like her smile earlier.
I wasn’t finished though. Not by a long shot. I glared at Andreas, now I definitely didn’t like this man. “If you hurt her, I’ll kill you.”
“You have my word that she will be treated with the respect someone of her caliber deserves.”
I nodded. “I’m watching you.”
His mouth twitched in fear. I smirked then Andreas led my mother off toward the boats. I followed close behind. Before getting on the boat, I turned back and looked at the island with longing. I hated to leave it because I was certain there were other things here that I needed to know, important things. I sighed. But given the choice between it and my mother, I chose her.
It took about an hour and a half to get from the island back to mainland Greece. The boat we were on put into port in a small fishing village. It was this very same village where we’d been getting on Costas’ boat for the last two days. There was a small crowd gathered when we docked. I think anytime more than one boat like ours left, people usually gathered to see what they brought back. Costas and his goons were the first ones off. There was a van waiting for the conscious ones---two of the ones I beat the crap out of must have awakened on the ride back. The last beaten one was still on the stretcher; they carried him to a waiting ambulance.
We didn’t leave our boat until the others were off. There was a van waiting for us, too. Andreas and his men made a spectacle out of things, too. My mother was kinda a local celebrity around here. Last year the two of us came through here but we never found anything. My mother had been really discouraged but she didn’t let it get her down. She might have been cold to me but to everyone else---locals mainly---she was the greatest. To help her get over her frustration, she actually donated some of her grant money to help rebuild a church that had fallen on hard times. So when the three of us arrived here this year, the villages came in force to greet us.
Now however there was a lot of hissing and booing. Thankfully, not directed at us. I don’t think Andreas was well liked by the people around here. There was an old woman with a vegetable cart who actually threw a head of lettuce at him and a group of kids started throwing pebbles at his men. Me, I did everything I could to hold back the laughter. I suppose someone should have warned him about how much Mom was well loved around here. Suffice to say as soon as they started throwing things; the three of us were rushed into the van. We were shoved into the back with a pair of Andreas’ men while the Captain himself got into the front. The van was a little smaller on the inside than I would have liked. The cramped quarters might have been ideal for the old me but the new me was just too tall for it. My long legs were practically in my throat and I had to slouch forward to sit properly. It was not a very comfortable ride. Not only that, the five of us were crammed in there like sardines, stuffed on two small rows of seats. Mom and one of the soldiers were behind us while another sat in between Donna and I. We weren’t allowed to talk which made the ride all that more uncomfortable. I tried to bide my time by looking out the window but after leaving the little village, heading up hill, there was nothing but tall grass and rocks.
The worst part: we ended up on the road for almost three hours.
By the time we got to our destination it was late afternoon. When the van stopped and we were ushered outside, I debated what I needed to do more, stretch my legs or pee. While the latter was more urgent, I didn’t really want to think about it yet. So I stretched and got a look at our surroundings now. We were in another city, much bigger than the village we came from. The buildings around us were older---probably a couple hundred years or so---made of limestone. We were in a narrow street, the buildings so close that the lane was only big enough for one car to go through at a time. Out of the three of us, I was the only one not handcuffed.
“We go this way, Miss Sandsmark,” said Andreas as he got out of the van.
He pointed ahead. I followed his arm and saw a more modern looking building. It was painted gray, made of cement. It looked out of place with its satellite dish on top and tall radio antenna. There was a sign on the building that said Bureau of Antiquities. I sighed, finally realizing why these guys were so mad before. I knew they said the island was some kind of nature preserve but clearly, that was a lie. They just wanted us off island for some reason. I don’t think it had anything to do with local superstition either. Clearly, these guys knew there was something there and they didn’t want us poking our noses in it.
Andreas made sure that I led the way, keeping a close eye on me as he did so. I think he thought I’d make a run for it. As we walked, his hand was on the butt of his pistol the whole time. Not that it would do him much good if I decided to fight back. I’m not sure how I knew but I was pretty confident that I could snap his neck faster than he could draw that thing. Not that I would but the thought had crossed my mind. There were fewer soldiers now, which meant less resistance. I could take them all out easily now but I didn’t see any reason to. Partially because of what my mother told Donna and me on the ride over from the island. Apparently, she forged the permits to get on the island in the first place. She actually went to the Antiquities Bureau beforehand to ask for permission but they refused. So she got a local who owed her a favor and he forged some documents for her.
So before I thought Andreas was arresting her without any cause but now I knew better. I loved my mother but she did some stupid things and for what, so she could go poking around in some place she was illegally trespassing on. My mother had a way with people---she was a smooth talker---but I knew for a fact that there was no way she’d be able to talk herself out of this one. She was going to see some jail time, hell we might all see some. That’s what worried me the most. I wasn’t exactly legal anymore. Sure Charles Stephanos Sandsmark was but not whoever I was now. I had no documentation that proved my new self existed. Even if Mom found some way to talk them out of pressing charges, the authorities were still going to detain me for being in the country illegally.
When we got inside the building, the first thing I was greeted with was a blast of cold air. It had to be close to a hundred degrees outside but in here, it felt like sixty. I could hear the hum of an air conditioner. It was the greatest thing in the world. The next thing I noticed was the smell. The linoleum floors were recently washed, the walls given a fresh coat of paint. Not that it was a good one, lime green was never a color anyone should paint with. There was a small reception area right in front, a pretty Greek girl in a tight blouse manning the phones. When she saw me walk in her eyes went as big as saucers. It was pretty much the same reaction I got from the villagers in the fishing village too. It wasn’t very often that a six foot three blonde walked around places like this, at least not without a photographer following her snapping pictures.
The girl eyed me up and down. There was something in her look. I didn’t recognize it at first but slowly I realized it was jealousy. I think before I walked into the room she was the prettiest one here and my presence made her pale in comparison. There were a couple of guys in the room and as soon as their eyes fell on me it was like the whole world stopped spinning so they all could take a good look. I couldn’t help but blush, especially when I turned my head and caught my reflection in the large glass window to my left. I was surprised at what I saw. I saw myself when I first transformed---in Hera’ mirror---but now and then were two different times. The girl looking back at me now looked completely different. With her hair pulled back, she looked much more sophisticated. The tight black tank top hugged my body a little more than I would have liked and the shorts showed off curves that I didn’t know I had. If I were to guess I’d say I was at least one forty but I don’t think there was much fat on my bones. I reached up and touched my face gently. That was me. I smiled slightly. For the first time, I could look in the mirror and not see a loser.
Andreas annoyingly put his hand on my forearm. I think he realized his mistake and pulled it away quickly. “C’mon, Princess you can look at yourself in the mirror later.”
He gently led me through the lobby and over to a door that he pushed open for me. It opened to a hallway. I was led down first; Donna and my Mom were behind me. While they were led into rooms adjacent to one another, I was led to one further down the hall. So clearly, they were going to separate us and try to see if our stories were straight. The room I was led into was small, with a table and two hardback chairs. Andreas pointed to one seat while he took the other. Clearly, he was going to be doing my interrogation.
Sitting on the table was a folder and next to it was a pack that I recognized as my own. They must have gotten it from my tent. I sat down without saying a thing as Andreas sat and opened the folder. He read for a few seconds while I busied myself with trying to come up with a believable story. There was no way this guy was going to believe that I was a boy before who was given a magic girdle that changed me into a girl. I wracked my brain, trying to come up with something that sounded at least halfway sane.
Andreas cleared his throat and set a small tape recorder on the desk. “Please state your name for the record?”
I cleared my throat. “Charlie Sandsmark.”
He didn’t look surprised. “Is that your full name? “
I bit my lip. There was no use avoiding it. I shook my head. “My full name is Charles Stephanos Sandsmark.”
Andreas didn’t look shocked that I gave him a boy’s name. In fact, he nodded. “Tell me Miss Sandsmark, how long have you and your mother been coming to this country?”
So I told him. Many of his questions were about my mother and I and our adventures. He seemed particularly interested in the time we spent on Crete recently. It seemed that in his folder he had a record of Mom’s most recent exploits. Before here it was Africa and before that, it was India. Mom spent a lot of time in both places looking for evidence that eventually led the two of us to Crete. We left home at the end of December this year---a day after school got out for Winter Recess---and flew out here nonstop. Donna joined us a few days later. Andreas apparently knew all this. Before going to Crete, we spent about a week in Athens looking through the libraries there, local ones and the one at the university. Andreas knew all that too. It almost sounded like the guy had been spying on us, which was kinda crazy.
After about an hour of his pointless questions, he asked one that I didn’t expect. “And can you tell me please, where is the Girdle of Hippolyta?”
I felt like someone sucked me in the gut. What the hell? How did he know that? “I don’t know what you’re talking about?”
He smiled. “After my men put you and your elders onto the boats, I circled back into the jungle. I went to the Temple of Hera, went right up to the statue of the Sacred Queen and what I saw shocked the hell out of me.” He sighed, running his fingers through his slick black hair. “The treasure that my people have been protecting for centuries, gone from its resting place.”
Guarding for centuries? I bit my lip. “I don’t…”
He cut me off. “We know Dr. Sandsmark doesn’t have a daughter. We also know that up until this morning, her son, Charlie, was on the island with her.” He pushed some pictures across the table, pictures of me and Mom together. They were candid, taken from a distance.
I groaned. He was spying on us. “What the hell is this?” I felt my anger rising.
“As I said my people have been protecting that island for longer than there have been stories to tell about it. Those men in the boat---the ones led by Mr. Costas---they weren’t supposed to harm you, just merely scare you off.”
I jumped to my feet, anger flooding to the forefront. “You son of a bitch. You sent them didn’t you?” He nodded. “That bastard shot at me, did you know that?”
Andreas face paled. “That was most unfortunate. Mr. Costas is the only member of our organization; the others were hired hands. As I said before, they were only meant to scare you away. Clearly Mr. Costas hired the wrong sort.”
I slammed my fists angrily on the table. It was metal so it didn’t buckle under the pressure but I left two fist imprints on it. I calmed down a little but only a little. I was still fuming mad at this bastard. He’d been spying on us then sent killers to try to stop us. Of course, he sugarcoated it, but it was pretty plan that he or whoever he represented hadn’t wanted us off the island. What he didn’t count on was me kicking the shit out of his goons. I could read it clearly on his face, now he was just trying to save his own ass.
I glared at him. “You have no idea who or what you’re messing with here.”
He smiled. “I know very well what is going on.” He grinned, “Now I’ll ask you only one more time, where is the Girdle.”
I lunged for him but before I grab him by the throat, there was a light knock on the door. Before Andreas could say come in however, the door opened. I dropped back down into my seat; I didn’t need witnesses seeing me strangle this bastard to death. I turned instead to see the man who walked into the room. As soon as I saw him, I could tell he wasn’t Greek. For starters, his hair was so blonde it looked white. He had a sharp face, cobalt colored eyes and a rough look to him. He was gray suit with a skinny tie and walked with a rigid military stride. He was definitely American and he was definitely higher up on the food chain than little Captain Andreas.
Andreas’ face paled. He knew it too.
“Captain Andreas” said the man in a cool, calm voice. “What are you doing to this young woman alone in this room?”
The Captain chewed on his lip. “I was…I was…questioning her about the men we brought in.”
The man nodded. “Looks like things were getting out of hand in here.” He looked at the table, at the place where I smashed it with my fists. “I think it might be in all our interests if I take over from here.”
“I…but…” Andreas sputtered as he got to his feet.
The man gave him a cold, hard look. Andreas nodded his head slightly and went for the door. He shot me a look that said, “This wasn’t over” then disappeared. The American walked over and gently sat in Andreas’ vacant chair, sliding it up comfortable so he was sitting right against the table. He put a folder of his own down on the desk and then looked at me, smiling slightly.
“Hello Miss Sandsmark, my name is Special Agent King Faraday” His smile got bigger. “You and I need to talk I think.”
Though he didn’t look it, Agent Faraday was smooth. When he talked, the words seemed to roll off his lips and swirl around the room. I leaned forward a bit, listening, entranced by that voice. I know I’ve heard the term “hanging on his every word” but I never thought I’d be one to do it. Listening to this man speak made my heart flutter. Not that I’m saying I’m attracted to him---I’ve only been a girl for less than twenty four hours---but there was just something about the way he spoke that made me want to believe every word he said. I believed it too, all his words.
As soon as he introduced himself, he started talking about the reason he was there.
“I work for Homeland Security,” he said, tapping the folder. “We don’t generally handle foreign situations but yours is a special circumstance. You see the world isn’t what it used to be. Well not since the Metas started cropping up all over the place.”
I nodded. Even though I had no idea what he was talking about. I forgot to ask Donna. But he talked on anyway, giving me a rundown on some of the incidents that had caught the governments’ attention. I continued to nod, getting caught up in that velvety voice of his. If angels could speak, I wonder if they’d all sound like King Faraday.
“We call her American Dream,” he was saying, unfortunately I missed most of what came before, because I’d been busy daydreaming.
I smiled and nodded, trying to pretend I was paying attention. “What does this have to do with me?”
“Like I was saying, things have changed” He tapped the folder again. “I’m the guy assigned to make sure some things don’t interfere with the way things have been done in the past.”
“Is that why you’re here?”
He nodded. “You’re definitely not very low key, that’s for sure,” He said, finally opening the folder.
I looked at what was inside. It was photos, pictures of the goons that I mangled on the island. More importantly, it was pictures of their bruises. Some of them looked pretty bad. The color drained from my face. Where in the hell did he get these? That was only a few hours ago.
He smiled and spoke as if reading my mind. “Since Day One we’ve been monitoring world communication. Our outpost nearby picked up the chatter from the boats bringing you in. Luckily for you I was in the area investigating an incident in Africa. I figured the fools here didn’t know what they had and I was right. They weren’t planning to let you go you know. They were going to detain you a few days under some visa fiasco and then when that was over with they were going to try to put you in lock=down somewhere.”
Lock down? I scoffed. “Like that would have held me.”
He nodded. “You’re something special Miss Sandsmark, something different than the others. American Dream has the talent and the skill but you’ve got raw power. I haven’t even seen you in action but just by looking at the aftermath, I can tell that the others don’t even compare. At this very moment you might be the most powerful Metahuman in the whole world.”
He went on to tell me exactly how much he thought of me. His words were very flattering, but I was finally starting to see through his charming act. He might have had an angel voice but it was silver-tongued too. As much as he was here to help me, he was hoping I’d help him, too. He was a Patriot; probably ex-military by the way, he walked into the room. He clearly had some pull too because he got Andreas out of the room really quickly. But he wasn’t here for my well being, he was here as a Recruiter. He wanted me; the government wanted me, no doubt. I hadn’t even been a super girl for twenty-four hours and the vultures were already starting to descend.
Fortunately for me, I wasn’t buying any of it.
“So what you’re saying is that I don’t want anything from you except a way out of here.” I smiled. Maybe I could use this to my advantage., I finally said, smiling sweetly. “Is it that my country needs me?”
He didn’t deny it. He didn’t confirm it either. “We can get to the details later.” He closed his folder and looked at his watch. “Right now I need to get you and your mother and Miss Troy out of this country immediately.”
“Is something bad going to happen?”
As soon as the words left my mouth, all the lights went off. Agent Faraday cursed. There was a flash of light as a beam cut through the room. This guy brought a flashlight, was he expecting trouble? Instead of saying anything, he rushed over to the door and tried the lock. He cursed. Apparently Andreas locked the door on the way out.
“They’ve made their move already,” he said, reaching into the inside of his coat, pulling something out.
“Who” I asked, watching as he tried to pick the lock I think.
“Andreas’ people, whoever he works for.”
I nodded, only understanding about half of what was going on. I watched him fiddle with the lock trying to get it open but he was having trouble. I groaned and decided to assist. I walked over, grabbed the knob and tore the whole door off its hinges. The look on Faraday’s face was priceless. But it didn’t last long. He put away his lock pick and took out a gun. He stepped into the corridor, shining the light in both directions. I stepped around him. There was a time to be stealthy and a time to be direct; this was the direct time. He didn’t argue as I took charge, walking briskly down the hall to where I saw them put my mother and Donna.
Some place else in the building I heard a woman scream and then a burst of automatic fire. I cursed and moved faster. Faraday was right behind me, moving faster to keep up. I reached the first door and stopped. There was a commotion in the hall behind me. I spun around just in time to see a gunman run into the hallway. He raised his gun to fire but Faraday dropped him with a clean shot to the head. I think I was in good hands as long as he was at my back. So I turned back to the door and tore it off its hinges too.
The room was similar to the one I was in. Faraday shined his light into the room and I saw Donna sitting at the table there, looking scared. Relief washed over her face when she saw me.
Then she looked worriedly over at Faraday. “Who’s he? What’s going on here?”
“Later, we have to get Mom and get the hell out of here.”
“C’mon Miss Troy” said Faraday, beckoning Donna out of the room.
He introduced himself as we moved down the hall, handing her the flashlight. He gave her a short rundown of things. Me, I only half listened again. I got to the room where they were keeping Mom and like with Donna’s room, I tore the door free. Donna shined the light into the room, Mom was sitting at the table too but she wasn’t alone. There was a soldier there with her, one of Andreas' men. He reached for his gun when he saw me but I was on him a lot faster than he could react. I grabbed him and pushed at the same time, sending him flying across the room into the far wall. He slumped to the floor and didn’t get back up. Mom looked from him to me and back to him. She didn’t say much as she ran over to the corner and grabbed her bag. Most of its contents were scattered about and she was furiously stuffing them inside.
“Just don’t stand there, help me,” she said, annoyed.
Donna rushed into the room and helped. I groaned.
“We don’t have time for this. There’s people with guns trying to kill us.”
“I’m not leaving my work behind,” said my mother as she and Donna put the rest of it into her pack.
“Are we done now?”
The two of them left the room. My mother looked at Faraday suspiciously. He was a man after all but more than that, it was clear that he was government too.
“Faraday” I said, looking around.
Two more men burst into the hallway but they weren’t taking any chances. Faraday snapped around to fire but I got there first. I pushed all three of them into Mom’s room and spun on the gunmen. The bullets flew through the air at rapid speed, whole bursts of them. I was surprised at how quickly I was able to deflect them. But no matter how fast I was there were a few slips. One of them got past and burned past my cheek. It stung like a bitch. Not only that but my arms were killing me after moving that fast. Luckily, for me, the two guys emptied their magazines. I took that opportunity to charge them. Neither of them stood a chance. One of them tried to pull a pistol but I grabbed his arm and broke his wrist. He screamed out in pain and I threw him down the hall, his scream echoed into the darkness. The other tried to run back out of the hall, back the way he came where the light still was on. But I caught him by his shoulder. I pulled him back, slamming him into the far wall. He dropped to the ground. I grabbed their guns and smashed them over a knee.
“It’s clear” I said loudly enough for the others to hear.
Faraday came out of the room first, rubbing his shoulder. Mom and Donna followed. The three of them walked slowly down the hall, Donna was shining the light at my handiwork.
“I was right,” said Faraday when they got to me. “You really are the most powerful.”
I ignored him. Instead, I stuck my head out into the main room. It was the reception area that Andreas led me through only a few hours before. Now it was a bloody massacre. Everyone there was dead, the pretty girl from earlier was on the floor in a pool of her own blood. I felt a pang of sadness for her. I tried not to think too much about it though. We still weren’t out of the woods yet. I checked to make sure we were alone. The area was clear for now but who knew how many more there were. After all, Andreas was nowhere in sight.
Faraday came behind me. “My car should be out front. With any luck we won’t run into any resistance on the way to the airport.”
“Airport?” said my mother from behind us. “We can’t go to the airport. I need to head back to the island; I need to secure the site.”
I snapped around to face her. “You’re kidding, right. People are trying to kill us and all you’re worried about is the stupid island.”
“It’s important to me.”
I’d had enough. “MORE IMPORTANT THAN ME? MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR OWN LIFE?”
She didn’t say anything. For a moment, the place was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. My mother was at a loss as to what to say. Me I was furious. I’m not sure if it was just that I was angry at her stupidity or at the men who were trying to kill us. Hell, I think I was angry at the whole day in general. I’m not sure if she noticed or not but I was having a really bad one. She finally opened her mouth to say something but I held up my hand to cut her off. I didn’t want to hear anymore of her crap, I was sick and tired of it. As soon as we got out of this damn country, I was done with her and all her crap.
“Charlie…I…” she started to say but the sound of screeching tires cut her off.
Son of a bitch, there were more of them.
“Where did you say your car was?” I asked as headlights shone through the windows.
“Out front” said Faraday, groaning.
I looked around, hoping there was another way out. If there was, I couldn’t see any. But that wasn’t going to stop me. I stalked through the room, throwing aside desks and chairs, trying to avoid bodies. I walked to the far wall and took a deep breath. Hera give me strength, that seemed to work the last time, right? I slammed both my fists into the wall. The first time the concrete cracked and caved a bit. But when I did it again, I smashed right through. Night had fallen and the stars were out. It was a bit nippy out there but I had achieved my goal, now we had an alternative escape route.
I turned to face them. “Back door, move!”
They ran forward, Faraday in the lead. Once the three of them were through, I followed. There was a Hummer parked out back. Faraday ran forward, saying it wouldn’t take him long to hotwire it. Me, I made sure my mother and Donna got inside. Then I walked to the side of the building and looked around. There were several beams bopping in the light coming toward us. I cursed; these bastards weren’t going to give up without a fight. Well neither was I. I charged them as fast as I could. I couldn’t really see where I was going but I barreled right into them. I’m not sure how many there were but I trampled at least three. Then I smashed a couple more into the side of the building. The rest scattered. There were some screams, a few curses and a lot of running in the other direction.
Behind me, Faraday achieved his goal.
“Charlie, come on” I heard Donna shout.
I turned and shouted back. “Make your way to the road, I’ll hold them off and catch up.”
I heard the vehicle roar to life and a few moments later it roared past me. As it did I saw my mother’s face in the window, there was a look of dread on her face? Was that for me? I shook it off; I’d worry about her sudden concern for my safety later. Right now, I had some bastards to slow down. I continued to follow the side of the building to the front. When I got to the corner, I looked around and saw two Hummers there. There were a few soldiers standing around it but Andreas was nowhere in sight. I wonder if the coward turned tail and ran. It made sense given the circumstance. He probably left his men behind to do all the dirty work. The guys outside didn’t seem to be a threat though, they were smoking cigarettes and laughing. I think they still thought we were inside, probably dead. I turned away from the corner and toward a little side alley. I ran over, slipping down it and away. Luckily for us, the buildings were so close together so it’d make a chase near impossible through these narrow streets. This was the way I think Faraday went. I ran as hard and as fast as I could, trying to catch up.
After several winding alleys and narrow spaces, I finally made it out into what might be considered the main street. I sighed when I saw the Hummer ahead; I recognized it because of the license plate. But I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw what was ahead. It was a roadblock, two guys with machine guns and another Hummer. Apparently, Andreas wasn’t taking any chances of us getting away. It looked like the only way in and out of the city, too, which meant it was either that way or no way. This guy was starting to get on my nerves.
I think Faraday was going to try to find another route because he backed up. I shook my head, seeing what he couldn’t. They were going to block him in; I heard another vehicle roaring toward them. I snapped around and saw a black SUV, a guy hanging out the front with a gun. They were going to ram them. I ran to intercept, throwing myself in-between. I placed my feet far enough apart and put my hands out. The SUV slammed into me. It hurt like hell. The impact was so strong that it tore the sandals from my feet. I skidded back several feet, bumping into the side of the Hummer, cracking the window my mother looked out of earlier.
Inside I heard Donna scream.
The SUV tried to back up but I grabbed the grill. There was a squeal of tires and smoke as the rubber burned. I got a good grip; I wasn’t going to let them go without a fight. I held on firm with both hands. The guy from before came back out the window, pointing the gun at me. With my hands, holding the truck there was no way I could block it. A shot rang out from behind me and the guy dropped from the truck, a bullet hole in his head. I smirked then finally found some traction. I used the Hummer as a brace and shoved the SUV with all my might. The backward momentum sent it careening into a wall, smashing right into an empty market there.
I dropped to my knees panting; I could feel the burn in my sides. So now, I knew my limits. I’d have to remember that the next time I tried to stop a car with my bare hands.
My mother’s door opened. “Charles Stephanos Sandsmark, get in this vehicle right now.”
I shook my head and got to my feet. “In a minute, I need to take care of the road block first.”
I leaned against the Hummer to catch my breath then I turned to the guys in front of us. They went pale at the sight of me. I think seeing me push the car across the street was enough to make them soil themselves. I took a step forward and they retreated into their Hummer. A few seconds later, the wheels squealed and they took off. I laughed; maybe I didn’t have to take care of them after all.
“Now get inside,” demanded my mother.
I didn’t argue. I walked over and climbed in through her door, she slid over to make room. Faraday took off, driving at well over the speed limit. He looked in the rearview mirror at me and laughed. “You truly are wonderful.”
I scoffed but didn’t have anything to say. Instead, I flopped over, laying my head in someone’s lap, I think it might have been my mother’s. I saw her briefly looking down at me before exhaustion took me and I fell asleep
To Be Continued