I flopped onto the soft and sinkable bed in the room of our hotel, hastily tugging my boots off of my weary feet. Alexander handed me a can of Coke from the mini fridge, my fingertips numbing against the cold can, before adjusting the thermostat on the wall and filling the room with the low hum of the hotel’s air conditioning. He sunk with an exhausted yawn into the overstuffed armchair near the balcony doors, squeezing his eyes shut tight only to open them again almost immediately in an effort to keep himself awake.
“We’ll stay here tonight,” I yelled through to the adjoining twin \room at Phoenix and Eztil.
Her voice called back, “We might as well, we’ve paid for it.”
I pulled open our lacy drapes, that matched the bedsheets, to let some light and air into the stuffy room.
“We should take full advantage of the pool whilst we’re at it,” Alexander mumbled as he fiddled with the plastic leaves of a fake plant on the window ledge.
Phoenix poked her head round the door frame, “That’s not a bad idea,” She admitted, “Just let me grab a shower because I feel absolutely disgusting.”
“I’ll take you up on that,” I said as I shuffled across the spongy carpet, feeling its lushness between my toes and on the bottoms of my bare feet. “You don’t mind do you?” I turned to face Alexander, who looked asleep.
“No, go ahead,” He waved his hand aloofly, “I’ll jump in quickly after you.”
“Thank you,” I smiled and made my way to the bathroom.
I stood in the cramped tub and turned on the shower, reaching for the complementary body wash. The refreshing water rushed over my shoulders as I washed off all of the dirt and sweat that still clung to my skin from our day at Hierapolis. I could feel the sluice of lather sliding down my back as I rinsed the aromatic shampoo from my hair.
I clambered out of the shower with my eyes closed as they stung from accidental soapsuds that had found their way into my vision. I reached out blindly, my hands eventually landing on one of the hotel’s fresh, plush towels that was soft against my wrinkly fingertips.
I wrapped the fabric around myself and leaned over to get the hair dryer attached to the wall and dry my hair slightly so I could put it up and tie it into a bun. I stood in front of the large mirror, swiping the warm mist that had settled upon it, under the strong lighting in the bathroom. I noticed Alexander’s shaving bristles from this morning’s shave were scattered around the sink, along with a couple of rogue strands of his hair. The whir of the blow dryer’s motor blocked out all other noises from my ears as the hot air rushed through my hair.
I hung the fluffy, white towel on the rail to dry and wriggled into my swimsuit. I tied my hair up to keep it off my neck in the stifling weather and emerged from the bathroom.
“Free,” I said, carrying a tune in my voice.
Alexander, with a large amount of effort, pulled himself out of the chair. On his way passed me, he planted a kiss on my forehead before disappearing to wash himself.
As I sat down on the edge of the bed the springs of the mattress squeaked. I began to apply my coconut sun block all over my body, it smelled more like oily fruit than coconut. Sounds from outside leaked in through the cracked open window, an airplane flying overhead and birds chirping happily. I could also hear the sound of running water as Alexander turned the shower on and Phoenix and Eztil’s muffled voices of a conversation through the wall.
I began to pack, our belongings were strewn across the floor from wall to wall. I went over to the wardrobe with sliding doors and began to take clothes from the hangers and throw them into the suitcase lying open behind me. I picked up perfectly folded clothes from the drawers and laid them back into the travelling bag. I pulled the zip round passed a few snags in the fabric and stood the suitcase up on its wheels. I bent down onto one knee and checked under the bed to make sure nothing got left behind.
Alexander came out of the bathroom at this point, seeing my bottom sticking up in the air, “Well,” He mused, “That’s a view I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of.”
I stood up straight away, suddenly embarrassed. I looked at the floor, unable to meet his eyes, “That was quick,” I stammered and I quickly walked away, keeping my head down. “You ready?” I popped my head into Phoenix and Eztil’s room, she was already in her bikini.
“Almost, I’m looking for my towel,” She replied as she continued to rummage through her luggage, throwing items of clothing over her shoulder and across the floor.
“We’ll meet you at the pool?” I suggested.
“Yeah, sure.” Phoenix clearly wasn’t listening. “Oh, this is yours by the way.” She turned and flung a bottle of sun block at me.
I put down the sunscreen beside the tacky lamp on the bedside table, “See you down there,” I called to the other two as Alexander and I grabbed our beach towels and closed the hotel room door behind us.
There was one single slide in the hotel’s outdoor pool. It was bright yellow and twisted around the building twice. Consequently, the queue up the spiraling staircase was a long line of teenagers and children alike. The air was filled with the echoed hoots of people sliding down the ride at full speed.
The sun-dappled pool was full of screaming kids wearing armbands, jumping and splashing around in the sunshine. Parents yelling at them to “stop running” as they could “slip over and break their necks”.
I lay my towel and over-sized t-shirt on a free sun-bed, sliding my sandals off my feet onto the overheated walkway. “Are you getting in?” I asked Alexander as he adjusted his swimming trunks, his stomach flat and toned.
“Of course,” Alexander beamed, removing his sunglasses and placing them on my towel. “Come on,” He grabbed my hand and pulled me effortlessly over the smooth, but slippery, tiles. It was the middle of the afternoon and the white slabs had been baking in the sun all day, they were so hot they burnt the soles of my feet.
We walked passed the rows and rows of sunbathers stretched out over their towels on sun loungers. My feet splashed through the puddles of water on the blistering tiles. A man in Speedos, that were much too small for him, altered his goggles before diving into the pool and cold drops of water landed on my warm skin making it tingle.
Avoiding the big-chested ladies relaxing on their inflatable lilos, I plunged into the pool and the water rushed up my nose and the chlorine stung my eyes. The soft water was cool against my skin. I brought my arms round in a long sweep to reach the top, breaking through the surface with a spluttering gasp. I spat out the chlorinated water from my mouth and coughed to try and dislodge some of the liquid I had, unintentionally, swallowed.
Alexander laughed at me, “You’re not meant to swallow it!” He teased, his eyes red from the chlorine getting into them.
“Shut up,” I slapped at the water, sending a spray Alexander’s way. Ignoring the sour taste of sunscreen as it leaked, unwanted, into my mouth.
Alexander looked at me mischievously, “Oh, that’s the last straw. You’ve had it now.” He lunged playfully at me but I was too quick for him. I span away elegantly and began to wade through the water, kicking my feet to propel me forwards.
I took a plunging dive and hid underwater, my hair rising up from my scalp and dancing in the current. I felt like a mermaid for a split second, feeling the cold fluidity of the water all over my body before realizing I was running out of oxygen, air bubbles tickled my skin as they rushed past me. I finally gave in, the pain in my chest from not breathing became too much, and I swam my way to the surface.
I couldn’t see Alexander. I could see a few overweight, hairy men in unflattering flip-flops sat at a table under a sun umbrella and having a loud conversation whilst gulping down the local beer. I saw and heard a life guard in bright red and yellow blowing his whistle and yelling through a megaphone and a teen couple for them to “stop petting” one another.
Something grabbed my ankle and for a heart-stopping moment I thought a shark had found its way into the pool and was going to eat me. Alexander emerged from the water in front of me, “Got you,” He spluttered as he caught his breath, swooping me up into his arms and spinning me round before dropping me back into the water with a splash. I let out a small scream as the water hit my back, surprising me.
I up-righted myself, paddling with my feet to keep myself afloat. “I guess, I deserved that,” I confessed, wiping stray strands of hair back from my forehead.
I ran my hands over the plains of his skin, Alexander’s chest was hard and lean without being overdone. It felt nice under my trembling fingertips.
“They’re taking am awfully long time,” I noticed, clearing my throat and distracting myself from Alexander. “Do you think we should go and get them?”
“You can,” Alexander whistled, “I don’t want to be around Phoenix if she thinks she’s lost something. She might force us all to go back to Peru because she might have left it there.”
I smiled swimming over to a nearby ladder.
I brushed against the side of the pool and grabbed onto the handrails to boost myself up, the water dragging against me. My ears were waterlogged but I could still hear the laughter and shrieking from behind me as a group of kids dunked one another. I padded back over to our sun loungers, my feet slapping against the wet tiles and water drizzling down my shins.
I bent down to grab my clean towel and started to rub it over my tanned legs and skinny arms, drips of water from my sodden hair landing on my feet. I pulled my giant t-shirt over my drenched and scraggly bun, struggling with the friction between my soggy suit and the dry shirt as the sunblock had gone greasy and was sticky on my skin.
Alexander wrapped his dry towel around his broad, wet shoulders. “Drink?” He offered and pointed to the beer garden, his honey coloured eyes reflecting the sun as water droplets fell from his damp fringe.
“Please,” I leaned back on my sun-bed, my towel warm and fluffy against my back. I watched a mother corral her two children under a parasol to re-apply their sun cream.
He sauntered away towards the bar, his back athletically rippling as he moved. I caught sight of Phoenix and Eztil on the other side of the pool and called to them, waving them over. I shivered, my body icy as the hot sun had yet to warm my skin.
“You have already been swimming?” Eztil asked, his face somber.
“Alex is just getting us both a drink,” I told him reassuringly, “I’m sure he’d love to jump back in with you.”
“I could do with one of those,” Phoenix admitted, ruffling her hair, “A drink I mean, not a jump in the pool.”
“You are not swimming?” Eztil inquired.
Phoenix shook her head, “I’m going to work on my tan.”
Alexander arrived, a different coloured cocktail in each of his hands, “Oh, you’ve arrived. We thought you’d gotten lost.”
“Would you like to swim?” Eztil asked Alexander, his muscular legs jittering with excitement. Now that I thought of it, at no time in Eztil’s life would he have had the chance to go on a holiday, swim in a pool or go to the beach. This was the first time he could enjoy our time abroad. I almost felt sorry for him but didn’t because he was getting his chance now.
“Yeah man,” Alexander handed a frosty drink to me, its coolness was refreshing to my touch. “Of course I will.” Alexander grinned at Eztil, setting his drink down on a white plastic table beside me, and the pair ambled away eagerly together.
Phoenix settled herself on the sun lounger beside mine, “Well,” She picked up the other cocktail Alexander had left, “If he doesn’t want this, I can’t let it go to waste.”
“There’s more where that came from,” I giggled, my fingers around the Martini glass were covered in condensation.
“I love all-inclusive holidays,” She sighed happily, biting into the decorative cherry on the top of the beverage.
Eztil and Alexander were playing catch with an inflatable ball, I imagine they had borrowed off a small child. Phoenix was gazing at Eztil, her head cocked to one side and her eyes soft.
“You love him don’t you?” I lay a hand on her forearm.
She turned to me, eyes wide like a frightened rabbit, “No! Of course I don’t” She barked.
After a few moments of an awkward silence between us, I said, “He likes you too, you know?”
Her face brightened in a gentle way – not sudden like the flash of a firework, but more like an oil lamp being turned slowly up. “He does?” She chimed, uncrossing her legs.
“I think so,” I nodded, looking over at the boys. Alexander was slapping Eztil on the back and both of them were laughing. Eztil’s olive skin was darker in the continuous sunshine, the light glinting off his metal limb. His left arm looked strong with bulging muscles and the bulkiness of his thighs was strained against the fabric of his swimming trunks. The well-defined pectoral muscles of his chiseled chest were showing off a few hefty scars from his previous battles.
“I can see why you like him,” I approved, watching Alexander scrape his fingers through his golden, though knotted and wet, hair. “Isn’t it surreal?” I asked, my mind wandering else-where.
“How I could be dead soon,” I said without emotion, “How we all could be dead any second. All it takes is one Shadow attack we’re not ready for and bam, dead.”
Phoenix visibly flinched away from my words, “Don’t say things like that.”
“Why not?” “It’s true. I’m going up against Hades in Greece tomorrow.”
“Everything we’re doing, everything we’ve done – it’s all been to save you.” She snapped, slamming her cocktail down, “So shut your mouth before I shut it for you.”
I fell silent. “Sorry,” I muttered.
“It’s alright,” Phoenix stroked my hair to comfort me, “It’s just, you’re my best friend. When you talk about death like that, it upsets me. I couldn’t bear losing you.”
My eyes shone with tears but before I could say anything. Phoenix pushed me gently. “Oh stop being a wimp,” She laughed throatily as if trying not to cry, “You’ll set me off!”
We embraced and then went back to relaxing in the sunshine and drinking our cocktails. I could taste vodka in the pleasant and sweet undertones of my drink.
I wouldn’t describe it as the buzz of an insect, more like the rumble of a tractor engine. I saw a giant bug with a bright green body and radioactive orange eyes. It was the size of a baby’s fist and was humming hungrily around the ice-cream stand.
“Look,” I pointed to it, nudging Phoenix to get her attention, “That bee is nuclear.”
Phoenix lowered her sunglasses down her nose to get a better view of the insect, “Ivy, that’s disgusting. How am I meant to relax now?”
I watched as the vendor swatted at the luminous bug and it flew away, I slurped at my cocktail through the pink straw, “It’s gone, you’re okay now.”
She glowered at me, “Don’t do that to me again, you know I can’t stand bees.”
“Especially ones that have been cooked up in a scientist lab and released into the world.” I laughed as she continued to glare at me.
For a moment I could have tricked myself into thinking I was on a holiday with my friends as I soaked up the sun, ate my Turkish ice-cream and sipped on my fruity cocktail, but then the thought faded. I was on the run for my life, planning on taking on one of the most powerful beings ever to live. Hades, God of the Underworld and it still didn’t seem real to me. I could die if this went wrong, I could be killed by a Shadow at any moment. I couldn’t let myself forget that.
I woke up to the sound of running footsteps. It was me a few seconds to realize they were my footsteps, I was the one running. Running and running and running. I was running so fast away from something. I refused to look back, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other.
I was in a tunnel, a dark tunnel flooded with cobwebs and dust. There were no turns. I couldn’t take a left, or a right, it was simply a long, straight tunnel... a tunnel that seemed to have no end.
I stumbled over a rock which was jutting out of the otherwise smooth floor. My face collided with solid concrete and ground across the rough surface, scraping my skin away.
I screamed out in pain.
It was over.
I had stopped running.
I was going to die.
I flipped onto my back and submitted. I patiently waited for the evil and excruciating end.
I glanced down at my exhausted body. Thousands of big, hairy spiders were crawling all over my skin, weaving webs of intricate patterns in glistening silver. They worked quickly, spinning the threads across my torso, my arms and my legs. They had pinned me down, causing me to become paralyzed. I couldn’t move and even if I had wanted to I was unable to get to my feet and carry on running. I was frozen to the spot.
I lay there, almost oblivious to the arachnids crawling all over my bare skin, and focused on the heavy stomps which thundered along the tunnel. They echoed all around me, causing the floor to tremble.
The ground crumbled away from beneath me, and I fell downwards, spiraling and spiraling deeper and deeper into the black abyss below.
Air shot passed me rapidly, my hair flying around my head, tugging this way and then the other. I was falling to my death, closer and closer.
A voice, strong and clear, sounded in my head, “You’re mine” It said.
I closed my eyes, squeezing them shut in attempt to escape the reality that surrounded me. I was going to die.
I bolted upright and my eyes flew open wide, a thin sheen of sweat covering my skin, shining in the morning light. Just a nightmare, I told myself. It wasn’t real. I was safe. I felt my muscles loosen as the realization hit me, I slowly started to relax. You’ve had this dream before, I reminded myself. I was just replaying my worst nightmare over and over in my head.
Alexander and I were lying in bed under a thin cotton sheet. I watched as the rays of light coming through the window landed on the dust waltzing in the air, it was mesmerizing to watch. I had woken him, he rolled over sluggishly, “Ivy, are you okay?”
I didn’t say anything, I just lay back down into his thick arms. They made me feel safe, made me feel protected. He began stroking along my stomach with ease, my skin quivered happily as his index finger traced effortlessly over my hip bones. I sighed, calming myself down and rubbing the palm of my hand across his upper arms.
He leaned down and kissed my shoulder, whispering sleepily into my ear, “It’s alright, I’m here. It was just a bad dream. I love you.”
I span around, the sound of the sheet over us filled my ears like waves on a shore, to face him. He was ruggedly handsome and his eyes were the spitting image of melting honey, his skin was smooth and cleanly shaven. I ran my forefinger across his cheek bones and down the side of his face, along the line of his jaw towards his chin.
In Greek mythology humans originally existed as one gender, so one human was both male and female. Zeus felt threatened by the power of them and so, cut the humans into half, separating the male part from the female. This left every human with a painful ache of separation and the desperate longing to feel complete once more by discovering their other half. Humans were left to wonder the world alone to search for their soul mate until the end of time.
I thought, I’ve already found mine.
He watched me intently, his irises glistening wildly, his smile never leaving his face. I took his chin between my thumb and my forefinger and pulled his head towards mine, tilting my neck back so our lips met briefly, against them I whispered, “I love you too.” Before falling back into a dreamless sleep.