Thursday, June 24, 2021

short story : Apollo's Phaeton

Apollo's Phaeton, by Marie Lamb

 It was the oddest job request I ever had.  It was literally 'out of this world' and right into the next one.  The little silver car didn't seem like much, so I signed off on the contract to take it to Mount Olympus, Georgia, and deliver it to a man named Apollo Zeiss.  I got in, turned the key, and at first thought there must be something wrong with the transmission.  The vehicle glided smoothly through all gears entirely by iteself, and with a strong odor of honey in the air.  Then the little car put itself in reverse and I was no longer in control of my limbs.  I imagined my name burning away from the contract in the back of my mind - all evidence of my existence being destroyed by some supernatural force.


I knew this area quite well, but, after a while I had lost track of the twists and the runs, the hills and the little dirt roads winding over creeks and through fields I had never laid eyes on before.


I was already quite worried by this time, but no moreso than when the little car began to climb a hill that seemed to go to nowhere - and kept climbing, until I could have sworn it had no tires on the ground and it was simply pedaling through the clouds on a full tank of ambrosia.  And that , my friend, is when the lightning began to strike.  Inside, the well-upholstered coupe sedan I was insulated, but the flashes of light cracked everywhere, pink and purple arcs that then became blindingly white.  It left little red streaks in my vision that faded to green slowly.  Then the clouds began to converge around me, like vaporous horses pulling along a chariot toward its awaiting master.

The car came to an uncertain footing at the edge of a white sand beach that spread out for miles.  I had been at least half the country away from the nearest ocean - so I immediately began to crane my neck through the windshield trying to see any landmarks, houses or other roads.  There were none.  White sand stretched out unblemished in either direction.  Then, the door of the car opened up with a shot and I could feel the tendrils of the air itself form tiny whirlwinds about my arms and legs.  I was fully and completely jerked outwards and held down into the fine sugar sand.

 

I got up spitting, only to see a flashy young man in a white suit and bright gold lame tennis shoes stroking the side of the car with obvious affection.  I've seen men fawn over numerous things, including vintage machines worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.  If I had not just been taken for a completely inexplicable ride in said car, I would have wondered even more what a mid-2000s sedan could do to evoke such tenderness.  In fact, most people would have called the car a dog, but I knew for a fact that it was quite the opposite.  I could swear, having had that trip, that if a car could arch its back and purr like a cat, this one definitely did.


The man dropped his shades for a moment and peered down at my kicking body.  None of my extremities were entirely cooperative yet.  He stooped down to get a closer look at me and cocked his head.  He laughed a strangely musical noise at me and then thwacked me with his finger and thumb right between the eyes.  The world looked very bright for a moment and I felt like there was a fish inside my brain gasping for air, flopping uncontrollably, and then disappearing.  


"Miss Madison, I presume?" he said with a voice that could cure all ills.  'Ye..e...s..sss', I stammered in return.  He reached a hand down and now carefully took me by the hand and pulled me to my feet.  "I am so happy you could take the position and bring my transportation with you.  It has been a LONG time since he had a good run through the countryside.  And if you knew how long it took to find him and then get him to agree to a new form in the first place... Well, what he lacks in pizzazz he has always made up for with enthusiasm."  He was, of course, talking about the car.


"What WAS that?  What IS that?  Who are YOU and..."  Although I wasn't sure what I wanted to hear for answers... I saw his joy turn to slight annoyance and stopped in my tracks.  The distant summer horizons were turning a little dark, and the air had a crackle about it that I did not want anyone, or anything, to elaborate upon further.  He had dropped my hand and was beginning to heap the sand from the beach up in great net-like swathes around the little car.  I had no idea how he was doing this with just his hands, but any questions would have fallen more productively upon a brick wall at that point.  "Are you Apollo Zeiss?"  I asked, pulling the crinkled contract out of my pocket.  "Miss Madison.  You know I am.", he said, and removed his shoes, one by one.

I was still staring with  what must have been a fly-catching expression as he set one shoe on the back of each side of the little sedan's trunk and then gave it a huge slap on the trunk.  The car reared up on it's hind wheels and shot off into the sky before I could barely blink.  What in the world, or at least this place, was going on?

"Well, now we have to figure out what to do with YOU, Miss Madison.  I have to admit, most of the contracted help don't actually make it much past the first few miles.  They err.. disintegrate."  He said this last bit while staring at some bit of sand caught up under his fingernails, but then immediately flashed a huge blinding smile back at me.  "But NOT YOU, my dear girl.  I think he likes you."  I felt taken aback, horrified and a bit relieved all at once.  I took a step back from this avant-garde Greek God and looked soulfully up and down the desolate but stunning beach.  "So, I lived.  Is that a good thing?  Do I get to go home?"  

Apollo looked me in the eyes with a slow smolder and said 'You could.. perhaps.. I could pluck this memory out of your mind and send you back with a nice bankroll.  But, then you'd right back to where you were, running 'important' things around the country back and forth, back and forth... is that what you want?  Or are you interested in things of a less.. mundane.. nature?  It isn't every  day I find a mortal brain that can withstand electrically conducive embrosia AND form a complete sentence afterwards."  He raised two very shaped and sculpted eyebrows at me from beneath his shades, struck a pose against a car that was no longer there, and waited for my response.  My eyes drifted down, uncontrollably, to his bare feet that did not actually sink into the soft white sand.

I had to admit, the offer was out of this world.  And, so was he.  Could it hurt to try at least one more job?  Mr. Apollo Zeiss held out my contract, smoothed and only still slightly singed at the edges.  He handed me an expensive Italian pen.  "Sign on Miss Madison, and we'll get you your wings."  I set the tip of the pen to the paper and a silver ink came out nearly of it's own accord and signed my name.  "Welcome my dear... let's go meet the Family.  But first, these CLOTHES...'

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