“Straining to see through the yawning darkness of the abyss between Tartarus and Hades all the way to the distant ring of erupting volcanoes that sends up plumes of black-and-orange smoke and hurtling white-hot cinders into the air and smoldering lava down into the miasmic valleys below, I struggle to my feet and stumble to the edge of the summit to look for an escape route, but every path off the mountain is cut off by the firestorm. Far above, lightning fulgurates across the dome of the Underworld and a few last volcanic stones fall on the juddering ground. I am tempted to flee but steel myself. If I retreat, I run the risk of suffering the whips of the Furies in the Treacherous Abyss below. If I charge down the far side of the mountain, I am in danger of being crushed by the Cyclopes, prison guards of Tartarus. But if I stay, I would be pummeled by volcanic stones, smothered by the poisonous gases.
“Three ghastly choices, three exhilarating chances.
“Suddenly, the volcanoes are snuffed out as when our sentinels take their rounds at dawn and extinguish the cresset torches on the battlements. I gasp in terror and edge away from the precipice until I back into my boulder, where I take a moment to steady myself. There flared in my mind is a clarion-clear image of my Merope in her crimson-colored robe luring me to our sighing bed. I can smell her perfumed hair, sense her feathered fingertips on mine, feel the crush of her soft breasts on my chest. The hints of her presence are enough to bring on a calm that settles over me as my heart remembers what my soul didn’t, the cool breeze of love. If I could foster memories, feel riots of emotion, clouds of calm, and the balm of love, I can’t be dead. I could not have withered into a shade. Something indeterminate is left in me that is still alive, not dormant, not moribund. A faint spark. An underglow of awareness. A flicker of force.
“Something vital worth clinging to — my love, my life.
“I remember, I feel, I dream, I suffer, I hope.”