If there’s one thing that really gets under my skin it’s a whiney, petty god that sits around bitching all the time. There are enough of them already. The Philosopher Red knows this, but I come home to the Ghost Hotel last night and he’s got Pluto, the Roman god of the Underworld, and his snippy, primp of a wife Persephone, and another woman, out on the balcony chowing down on his psychedelic Black Ant Dip and sipping cocktails. They were deep in conversation when I passed them, and oblivious of me.
“My planet,” Pluto said. “How could they down-grade my planet, re-class it to dwarf status? It’s a number now – 1343…something, something, Pluto.”
“They got a lot of nerve,” Persephone added. “And now humans are sending some satellite called New Horizons to stick their noses where they don’t belong. We’ve got workers there right now, cleaning up the place…landscaping…re-paving the road to Hades…and -”
“They’re going to have a time of it,” Pluto said. “Cerberus is friendly when we get visitors, wagging his tail…but when anybody tries to leave the land of the dead, he turns as vicious as…he’ll devour them. They should have read the small print.”
“That’s all he ever talks about…him and his three-headed dog,” the female voice said. “Does he do anything when humans hold contests to name our moons? And then one of your new gods, a William Shatner, wins, naming one of our moons Vulcan, after a pet of his, Spock or something…if we needed his help naming our moons we would have asked for it.”
“I guess you have to expect that sort of thing,” The Philosopher Red said, then a sigh. “When you dwell in the dark, when you fear no mortal, when all succumb as they transform in states of agony…despair…having violated universal law. I can sympathize with Shatner’s drive to name some small part of the fearsome mystery, to go where no man has – blah, blah, blah.”
“It’s not all that bad,” Pluto replied, defensively. “The UnderWorld is not “hot as Hades” like the hell depicted by Christian tradition. It’s a pastoral landscape, I think. There are rivers – one, the River Lethe, or “Oblivion” – alongside which the most recent life can be forgotten. The Elysian Fields, or the Fields of Asphodel…who could ask for better?”
“And New Horizons…all the remodeling…” The Philosopher Red said. “I wonder if NASA knows who they’re getting into?”
“When have humans known what they’re getting into?”…a female voice said, an older-sounding voice…regal, almost. “My Pluto has had so many names…Clymenus, notorious, The Hospitable One, Plydegmon, the Receiver of Many Guests, Plouton, the Rich One, and humans were afraid to invoke his real name. Now they call his Kingdom a dwarf planet, and they -”
“I guess they’ll find out what they’ve done…down-sizing you to dwarf status,” the Philosopher Red said. “They’ll be begging for mercy at your gates. They’ll be -”
“It’s not like that,” Pluto said. “Just ask Venetia here.”
Venetia? I got up and walked to the doorway leading to the balcony. Persephone was slumped back in a chair…eyes glazed over, another victim of The Philosopher Red’s psychedelic Black Ant Dip and probably too much alcohol. An elderly woman with poor-fitting spectacles was sitting between Pluto and the Philosopher Red. She was spectral…a ghost.
“Venetia?” the Philosopher Red said, echoing my inner question.
“The wonderful Venetia,” Pluto said with a grand sweep of his open hand, indicating the woman.
“I had some respect…even then, at age eleven, I knew the weight of actions and the importance of names,” the spectral old woman said. “I lived near Oxford, England, and was eating breakfast with my grandfather in the spring of 1930 when I heard about this new planet. Astronomers were arguing over names. I suggested the name Pluto, in honor of this great man,” she said, nodding her head towards Pluto. “My grandfather had a friend, an astronomy professor who was part of the team trying to rig up a cosmic map. They took my suggestion of Pluto and adopted it unanimously…first vote…unanimously !”
“And now look at what these heathens have done,” The Philosopher Red said. “Another part of my childhood taken from me…no more nine planets…no more cute little Pluto…now just a number assigned to a so-called ice ball.” He shook his head and swirled his cocktail. “I know my faith in science is not what it used to be…if you can’t count on your favorite planet, what can you count on?”
Persephone woke out of her intoxicated funk. “And all the remodeling. Do you know what’s it’s costing us to clean the Underworld up before that imbecilic space mission gets there and starts taking pictures? Plenty, let me tell you…” She sagged back into the sagging material of her chair. “Plenteeeee…we’re here to turn Venetia loose on them again. I sense some earthly down-sizing in the futue of some of these so-called Astronomers.”
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