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art by Agata Maciagowska

The Hades Hotline

Alex Petri is a recent college graduate based in Washington, DC, an alternate reality in its own right. She studied classics and English, and now spends most of her days writing for a newspaper. This is her first published science fiction, and she hopes it won't be her last. You can find her milling about the Internet on Twitter @petridishes.
***Editor's Note: Mature Theme, Disturbing Tale***
"You have to call them today," I said. "We've waited too long. We should have done that the day she disappeared."
Karen became suddenly very busy washing the dishes.
"Karen."
"If you feel so strongly about calling, then call," Karen said. For a second I caught her reflection in the window over the sink. The angle was funny; the darkness behind the glass turned it into a streaky mirror where I could see the rectangular gleam of the lampshade and the wan oval of her face. If you forgot for a second that it was a reflection, you could half convince yourself that there was a pale glinting world on the other side of the window where a thin shadow of Karen was doing the dishes with her mouth set in a tight line. Maybe if you broke the glass you might be able to see her better. It was like being on the wrong side of an aquarium.
The whole month had been like that. The world seemed to be swimming behind thick protective glass. Most people heard your daughter was missing and then every time you tried to talk to them, they got these very funny smiles like you would put on if you sat on broken glass in the middle of dinner with the Queen. The longer you talked the worse it got. Then they bolted and you never saw them again. No, that wasn't quite fair. Maybe they'd bring you a casserole. But you had the sense that they had a meter running somewhere while they talked to you.
"You're down a tunnel again," she said.
"Sorry."
"You don't have to apologize. I was just saying." She turned from the sink. It was still like looking at a reflection of her. Maybe that was how she would look from now on, just a little too far away to touch.
I walked to the kitchen table and rubbed my thumb over Amy's plate where dust had started to gather. The house was always full of dust. But to me it seemed to collect on her plate faster than anywhere else in the house.
"Please," I said.
"I'll call tomorrow," she said.
"You said that yesterday."
"I just--I'm not ready to know."
"She might not be there," I said. "Then we could have some real hope instead of just tearing our guts out every day like this."
Karen hugged her arms around herself. I went and put my arms around her. It was like trying to hug a hologram.
"You think she might not be there?" she said.
"We'll only know if we call."
"You want to call because you think she's not there," she said. "If you thought she'd be there you wouldn't want to know."
"That's why you don't want to," I said. "Because you think she's dead."
She pulled away with a little cry. I let her go.
"At least if we called we would know," I said. "We would know. I want to know if I'm supposed to be mourning or waiting. I can't do both much longer."
"Can't you?" she said. She looked at me. Her looks were a language I was losing. This one was a whole sentence and I had no idea what it said.
I pulled my phone out of my pocket. "I'm going to call them," I said.
Karen sat down on the edge of the table, making the plate rattle. She seemed suddenly very tired. As drugs go, hope is one of the worst for the body.
I pushed the call button and put the phone on speaker.
All right, I thought. I'm calling them, and we're going to know if she's there or not. And if she's not we can keep on with this miserable business of waiting and wondering--missing girls are never missing anywhere good. They never turn out to be in convents or the circus or doing prize-winning research. But still, alive would be something. We could deal with alive.
Or if she were there already on the other side, we could deal with that. We could pay for a call. I could afford to give them that much of my soul. We could say all those meaningless sweet things you say to the dead, while she still remembered who we were, even shrunk down to the miserable dimensions of thin voices in a phone. We could use the college fund and travel to press our hands up against the glass and maybe if we were lucky get her to glance back and turn a baffled smile on us. Hell, we could make a weekend of it, ride the glass-walled bus past Helen of Troy and the dazed bearded shade that might be Shakespeare. We could let go.
The phone rang a few times. Then it started to play a menu of options. The voice reading the options was toneless and male.
"You've reached the Other Side," it said. "To inquire about recent check-ins, press one. To speak to a recent arrival, press two. To speak to an arrival within the last ten years, press three. To speak to a celebrity resident, press four. To inquire about rates, press five. For other options, stay on the line."
I looked at Karen. She wasn't looking at me. Her fingers were clenched tight around her arm. I pressed one.
A male voice answered after a few rings.
"My name is Sam Inchus," I said.
"Sir."
"I'm calling about my daughter."
Karen began sobbing quietly.
"You want to see if she's checked in?"
I looked at Karen. She didn't look at me. Her fingers were going white on her arm.
"Could I have a name?" the voice asked.
"Amy," I said. "Amy Inchus."
"Just a moment," the voice said.
Suddenly Karen reached over and lunged at the button to end the call. The phone went silent. She looked apologetically at me.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I can't I can't I can't I can't." She began crying in earnest, loud and choking and ugly like glass shattering. I held her while she did. I could feel her heartbeat warm and loud and miserable and fast. Mine matched it. We were both on the wrong side of the glass, but for a moment we were there together.
"Tomorrow," I said. "We can call tomorrow."
She sniffled and nodded. "Tomorrow."
I opened the silverware drawer and took out a clean fork and knife and placed them next to Amy's plate.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, December 17th, 2012


I was reading Ovid's Metamorphoses, and there was a passage about a river god crying because his daughter had vanished (wafted away by Zeus, as so often happens). His river god friends were all gathering around with the river god equivalent of casseroles to console him, but his lament that the worst part was that she hadn't checked into Hades and he couldn't tell what had happened to her really struck me. I wondered what it would be like to live in a world where that was possible, and this is what came out.

- Alex Petri

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