- The Hidden Oracle
I almost jumped out of the sun.
My guest was dressed like a Libyan queen of old. (I should know. I dated a few of them.) Her gown swirled with red, black, and gold floral designs. Her long dark hair was crowned with a tiara that looked like a curved miniature ladder—two gold rails lined with rungs of silver. Her face was mature but stately, the way a benevolent queen should look.
So definitely not Hera, then. Besides, Hera would never smile at me so kindly. Also…this woman wore a large metal peace symbol around her neck, which did not seem like Hera’s style.
Still, I felt I should know her. Despite the elder-hippie vibe, she was so attractive that I assumed we must be related.
“Who are you?” I asked.
Her eyes flashed a dangerous shade of gold, like a feline predator’s. “Follow the voices.”
A lump swelled in my throat. I tried to think straight, but my brain felt like it had been recently run through a Vitamix. “I heard you in the woods….Were you—were you speaking a prophecy?”
“Find the gates.” She grabbed my wrist. “You’ve gotta find them first, you dig?”
The woman burst into flames. I pulled back my singed wrist and grabbed the wheel as the sun chariot plunged into a nosedive. The Maserati morphed into a school bus—a mode I only used when I had to transport a large number of people. Smoke filled the cabin.
Somewhere behind me, a nasal voice said, “By all means, find the gates.”
I glanced in the rearview mirror. Through the smoke, I saw a portly man in a mauve suit. He lounged across the backseat, where the troublemakers normally sat. Hermes was fond of that seat—but this man was not Hermes.
He had a weak jawline, an overlarge nose, and a beard that wrapped around his double chin like a helmet strap. His hair was curly and dark like mine, except not as fashionably tousled or luxuriant. His lip curled as if he smelled something unpleasant. Perhaps it was the burning seats of the bus.
“Who are you?” I yelled, desperately trying to pull the chariot out of its dive. “Why are you on my bus?”
The man smiled, which made his face even uglier. “My own forefather does not recognize me? I’m hurt!”
I tried to place him. My cursed mortal brain was too small, too inflexible. It had jettisoned four thousand years of memories like so much ballast.
“I—I don’t,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
The man laughed as flames licked at his purple sleeves. “You’re not sorry yet, but you will be. Find me the gates. Lead me to the Oracle. I’ll enjoy burning it down!”
Fire consumed me as the sun chariot careened toward the earth. I gripped the wheel and stared in horror as a massive bronze face loomed outside the windshield. It was the face of the man in purple, fashioned from an expanse of metal larger than my bus. As we hurtled toward it, the features shifted and became my own.
Then I woke, shivering and sweating.
“Easy.” Someone’s hand rested on my shoulder. “Don’t try to sit up.”
Naturally I tried to sit up.
My bedside attendant was a young man about my age—my mortal age—with shaggy blond hair and blue eyes. He wore doctor’s scrubs with an open ski jacket, the words OKEMO MOUNTAIN stitched on the pocket. His face had a skier’s tan. I felt I should know him. (I’d been having that sensation a lot since my fall from Olympus.)
I was lying in a cot in the middle of a cabin. On either side, bunk beds lined the walls. Rough cedar beams ribbed the ceiling. The white plaster walls were bare except for a few hooks for coats and weapons.
It could have been a modest abode in almost any age—ancient Athens, medieval France, the farmlands of Iowa. It smelled of clean linen and dried sage. The only decorations were some flowerpots on the windowsill, where cheerful yellow blooms were thriving despite the cold weather outside.
“Those flowers…” My voice was hoarse, as if I’d inhaled the smoke from my dream. “Those are from Delos, my sacred island.”
“Yep,” said the young man. “They only grow in and around Cabin Seven—your cabin. Do you know who I am?”
I studied his face. The calmness of his eyes, the smile resting easily on his lips, the way his hair curled around his ears…I had a vague memory of a woman, an alt-country singer named Naomi Solace, whom I’d met in Austin. I blushed thinking about her even now. To my teenaged self, our romance felt like something that I’d watched in a movie a long ago time—a movie my parents wouldn’t have allowed me to see.