PERSEPHONE DIGS HERSELF OUT
Persephone treads the stone passageway under the earth. The jewels in her crown, belt, and sandals light the path for her, surrounding her with a gentle white glow, like those little lights humans string on their houses at winter solstice. (She's never up there that time of year, of course, but she's seen pictures.)
The solstice was three months ago. She's done now with the winter half of the year. She's arranged and co-hosted the Underworld holiday party, supervised all the clean-up, and personally written the thank-you notes. (Honestly, did Hades ever help with those? Good thing he has broad shoulders and a world of jewels to recommend him--and the attractive habit of not talking much.)
Hours ago she locked up her winter wardrobe, kissed her husband goodbye, and set off. She passed the three-headed dog, who whined and yipped and jumped up to lay his heavy paws on her shoulders. She sent him into a stern Down-Stay, scratched all six of his ears, and moved on. She exited the hundred-foot-high gates of the Underworld, wiggled through the dense crowd of ghastly and sad and excited souls crowding for entrance, and set out on the lonely road that sloped gradually upward. A glowing soul, or a regular living cave insect, has sometimes crossed her path, but otherwise it has been nothing but her and the cool black rocks.
Now she feels grit beneath her sandals. Soon it turns to soft soil, and then squishy wet dirt. The smell of earth and mold fills her nose. Before long her foot splashes in a shallow puddle, sloshing cold water over her foot. "Crap," she mutters. She lifts her skirts out of the way and continues forward in the increasing muck, her glowing jewels reflected and twinkling in the puddles. As she advances, the walls of the cave narrow and the ceiling lowers until she has to stoop to keep from hitting her head.
Finally she finds herself at the end of the tunnel: a complete blockage in the form of a huge tangle of tree roots. They corkscrew down from above, covered with grime and dripping with chilly water.
Persephone stops with a sigh, looking up at the gnarly hunk of roots and earth. "I hate this part," she says, then takes a deep breath and ducks into the tangle.
She reaches up, fingers parting the roots to make room for her head. Taking hold of two sturdy, slimy roots, she hauls her body upward into the knot of dirt. She dislodges mud and groundwater, which splatter onto her hair and gown and face. Wincing, she mutters a lively curse Hermes once taught her (in Ancient Greek, even), and pushes her arms further upward into the wet clump. As she fights her way higher, the pressure of roots and earth squeezes her tighter. Pebbles and clods of dirt tumble down the back of her gown and lodge against her rear. Worms and insects crawl over her hands and feet. The roots score scratches in her arms and tear at the hem of her gown. Soil and dead leaves fall into her eyes and land on her lips; she grunts and spits them out, and continues to struggle up--painfully, slowly, up.
Just as she's wondering if this is finally the year some other bastard god or bitch goddess has played a mean trick on her and gotten her trapped in some endless hole, her fingers break through the surface. Through the narrow fissure, white daylight pours onto her skin. With a gust of relief, she shoves one foot against one root, her other foot against another, and stretches both arms into the free air.
Persephone hauls the rest of her body out of the earth and collapses on her back, coughing the dirt out of her lungs, and gulping down the cold fresh air. She's shivering convulsively. Beneath her crackles a crust of snow on top of a carpet of dead leaves. The sky, sensing her presence, parts its clouds and lets the sun spear a beam down onto her. The brightness and hint of warmth make her open her eyes, though she has to shield them for a moment against the glare. She casts a look around from her position on the ground. Beside her rises the massive oak whose roots she just battled. Around her is a forest of similar trees, their branches rising bare and their feet in the snow. Still, her arrival brightens the colors even as she glances about--tree buds swell and turn a deeper red, wildflower bulbs send their green spikes an inch higher, the earliest tiny leaves on a shrub unfurl in brilliant chartreuse.
She drops her hand and looks straight at the sun. "There you are. You'd better warm this place up. It's fricking freezing."
She sits up, and heaves herself to her feet, shaking dirt out of her skirts. "Ugh." She examines her clothes, arms, feet, and hair (which has completely come loose from its tidy twist and is matted with grime now). Her tongue finds a fleck of dead leaf stuck inside her lip, and she spits it out. Where her saliva lands, a clump of daffodils springs up and blooms, delighted to receive such honors.
Persephone plants her hands on her hips and addresses the sun again. "Here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to take a nice long bath in the hot springs, get a massage, and put on a clean gown. Then I'm going to come back out here and start taking care of things. You need to have all this--" She kicks at the crust of snow. "--cleared away by the time I get back. Understood?"
The clouds pull farther away from the sun, letting it shine brighter. Simultaneously, a gentle rain begins to fall, melting the patches of snow.
"That's better." Persephone turns and begins walking toward the rainbow that's appeared beyond the nearest hill. "Also, if you didn't get me a cute massage guy this time, we will have storms of trouble."
In obedience to the goddess of spring, thunder rumbles from dark clouds on the horizon, backing up her threat--but keeping its distance until she should give her orders. As she walks, violets sprout in every spot that her dirty, cold, scratched feet touch the earth.