Hell in Huntington by Zach Larson

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Dark waves crashed onto the beach in front of Ram, sending a spray of mist into his face and showering his bare legs with droplets of saltwater. He smelled the brine and seaweed clinging to the humidity in the air. Raising his eyes from the churning waters, he focused on the moon, nearly full in its orbit. Stars shimmered down through the clear skies. He idly checked his watch: 4:15 a.m. The clouds would come soon, veiling the sky so completely that you could barely see your hand in front of your face. What did Hades hate about the light of day? The God of the underworld should want a bit of sun and relaxation, right? Why else would he have forsaken his throne and set up shop on a California beach? Ram sighed and tore his gaze away from the blissfully clear sky as he began his plodding march toward Huntington Beach Pier.

His feet sank into the cool sand as his head swiveled from the crashing waves, across the empty beachfront, and back. A buzz rumbled softly in his pocket. After checking the beach behind him, he stopped and pulled out his phone. A new text from Jimena flashed in his notifications.

Took out three wheezers. No other sentries. Get your black butt over here! His ears barely caught the telltale death rattle over the roar of the waves. Ram spun around just as a shadowy form collided with him. The thing’s weight threw him backwards into the sand. He hit with a thump, dropping his phone. Rot and decay filled his nose as the corpse lowered its sagging face towards his neck, air rattling deep in its throat. The wheezer had been a woman once, with long red hair that now hung in clumps down her back. Her dress was stained and ripped, barely clinging to her shoulders. He reached up with his left hand and tried to grip her thin neck, but the loose skin there slipped under his fingers. Still, Ram managed to force the struggling form back long enough to draw his knife with his free hand. He watched the wheezer’s frenzied eyes roll as he stabbed through its skull into its brain.

With a grunt, he tossed the now limp form away and scrambled to his knees. He scanned the sands frantically, searching for the dark shape of his phone. His hands combed through the sand, prospecting for anything solid. A spot near one of his hands vibrated. He breathed a sigh of relief and dug his phone free. A shake cleared most of the sand from the screen, revealing another text.

Am I doing this on my own? Ram ignored the text, staring instead at the screen saver of his son’s face, bright and smiling. His breathing slowed and he resheathed his knife. Finally, he sent a short reply.

Be there in three minutes. He stood and spit on the corpse. “Zombies!” None of the damned wanted to stay where they belonged; he was going to change that.

No other undead souls troubled him on the way to the pier. He slipped into the deeper shadows between the supports that held up the deck. Enough moonlight filtered through the planks above that his eyes only needed a second to adjust.

“It’s about time,” Jimena hissed at him. Her caramel colored skin looked almost as dark as his in the gloom. Her hands rested on her hips impatiently. “Got jumped by a corpse looking at your text.”

She snorted and swept her hand behind her, indicating a mangled pile of limbs and torsos. “Took out three of them when I got down here. By. My. Self. No excuses for you.”

He smiled. “Fair enough.” She moved closer, inspecting him. “You get bit?” He shook his head. “Nah. They don’t like chocolate.” She snorted again. “Good, cause those teeth leave a nasty mark. Still got a scab on my arm from the last one.” Her fingers subconsciously brushed the back of her forearm as she spoke. “Kept the biter from my neck, though.”

Ram scanned the ground. “Did you get it?” “Yeah, C-4 is safe and sound right over by that pillar,” she said, jerking her head at a spot behind her. “What about you? Poseidon come through?”

“Guess we’ll find out soon.” He walked around her to the far pillar and knelt in the sand beside a large black duffel bag. It was already unzipped, so he flicked the flap open. He riffled through the contents, counting out the blocks of C-4 and the remote detonators. Almost everything was accounted for. Sand crunched softly as Jimena stopped beside him. “I already grabbed the firing switch if that’s what you are looking for.”

“Good,” he said, standing and pulling the shoulder strap of the bag across his chest, “no sense stalling any longer then.” He strode purposefully up to the edge of the water line. A wave broke on the sand a few feet ahead of him and spread up the bank until it licked his toes. The sensation sent a shiver up his legs.

“Ramjet.” His name tugged his gaze around to her. She walked up to stand an arm’s length away. She didn’t look at him, but her voice was serious for the first time since they’d met a few weeks ago. “I saw an article about this pier a few years back. I remembered it because the boy’s face in the picture under the title was so striking.” Ram bowed his head and clamped his eyes shut. “The kid looked so happy, so alive, but the article said he’d killed himself, that he jumped off the pier, this pier. He didn’t know how to swim.” A traitorous tear left a damp track down Ram’s right cheek. “It struck me hard cause I didn’t know how a kid like that could want to kill himself, ya know. Like, what in his life was so bad? It was just like--just like my sister. I never understood why she...”

Ram opened his eyes and looked up. Jimena had turned to him, lashes glistening with tears. “Sometimes--” His voice cracked, so he coughed and tried again. “Sometimes ain’t nothin wrong. Sometimes people just get sad and they don’t know how to stop. They can only see one way out.” The rest of his words died in his throat, and he didn’t try to force them again.

Jimena wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “I never forgot that kid’s face. I recognized it immediately when I saw your screen saver. Are you sure you can do this?”

She knew more than he expected her to, but she didn’t know, couldn’t know, that it was all Ram’s fault. No one else had ever understood why he blamed himself. “I can do this. I have to do this.”

He moved forward before she could say any more, before she could make any more memories come back. The waves crashed against his knees, soaking the bottoms of his shorts. Under the pier, where the supports took the brunt of the waves, the water wasn’t as wild as everywhere else along the beach. Hopefully that helped. He spoke the phrase aloud just as

Poseidon had told him to say it. Honestly, he still wasn’t sure if the phrase was a joke or not, but it worked all the same.

Jimena called to him over the surf. “Did you just say what I think you said?” He scowled as the water in front of him calmed and seemed to solidify. Tentatively, he placed a foot on it and stepped up. Though more solid, the path in the water before him didn’t hold his weight completely above the surface. His feet sunk down into it, like walking in mud or on a very wobbly bridge. His next step threw him off balance. He swung his arms like a windmill to regain his center of gravity. Once his body steadied, he took another step, then another. As long as he kept moving at an even pace, it wasn’t hard to keep his balance.

He sloshed through the water underneath the pier, doing his best to splash quietly. Only a few feet from the shore, the air in front of him shimmered like a heat haze. His eyes caught a green glow up near the top of the support beams. Squinting, he could just discern lines of glowing glyphs stamped into the wood of the pier. Hades’ wards were active. Could he pass through them? He didn’t stop as he drew near the nearly invisible barrier, but he did wince involuntarily as he passed through the wall of energy. Static crackled across his skin, but nothing stopped him. He threw one quick glance over his shoulder at the wards as he continued on his way along the pier.

Planks creaked above him as Hades’ attendants milled about, but he focused on simply keeping his balance. As he neared the supports underneath Ruby’s Diner, Ram happened to glance down into the dark depths. Dizziness overcame him as his heart stuttered. He imagined the weeds and debri below him, reaching up from the sandy ocean floor. Logic told him that the water here wasn’t yet hundreds of feet deep, that it was only twenty feet to the bottom, but the animal part of his brain didn’t care. He wavered in his footing and braced himself against a nearby support. If Poseidon’s power failed him now, if the blessing wore off, he would immediately plunge into the dark abyss. Closing his eyes, he brought the memory of his son’s face to his mind and forced himself to breath deep and slow. For Grayson he thought. He refused to fail his son again.

With his eyes still closed, Ram reached back and dug in the duffle for one of the soft, explosive bricks. He opened his eyes as he pulled the C-4 out and stuck in to the support beside him. It was almost unnoticeable in the gloom beneath the deck, just a slight discoloration against the wet wood. He fumbled in the bag again for a detonator and carefully inserted its wires into the soft clay. A small red light started blinking slowly when he switched it on. It was much more noticeable now, but not for long.

With a forced focus, he wobbled his way from pillar to pillar, placing each brick and receiver in a ring below the diner. He didn’t have enough C-4 for all of the supports, but that wouldn’t matter when the concussive force rolled out from the detonation points. He set the last explosive and carefully pulled out his phone.

They are set. Jimena’s reply came back immediately: Good job. Now back here. I have something I need to do. Don’t hit that switch until I give you the signal. What signal? You’ll know it when you see it. Goodbye, Jimena.

He closed the text window and took a long look at his son’s face as it peeked out from behind the apps on his phone. A tremble shook his hand, but he steadied it then slowly opened his fingers. The phone slipped out of his hand. It made a soft splash as it sank into the water. Ram took a shuddering breath and began trudging wearily out past the end of the pier.

Even from below, he recognized his bench. He couldn’t see it, but he knew exactly where it would be. The shadows of the pier pulled away from him as he shuffled out into open waters. The police had shown him where his son jumped off the pier. He could never forget the spot, never. His lip trembled, but he kept going. About fifty feet from the pier, he stopped and turned back, wobbling only a little this time.

Poseidon had told him a lot about wielding godly power and about how it would need to be manipulated to get past Hades’ wards. It was about more than just keeping Ram dry; it was about closure. At least, that was how Ram saw it. He cleared his throat. When he spoke, Poseidon’s power amplified his voice, casting it effortlessly over the empty waters.

“Hades, Lord of the Underworld. Show yourself!” A chorus of screams and bellows echoed from the deck surrounding Ruby’s Diner. Ram gulped, but kept watching. A door opened, and, a moment later, a figure appeared at the end of the walkway, very near Ram’s bench. Hades buttoned his suit coat, smoothed his hair, and leaned casually against the railing. The god could have been mistaken for a businessman if it weren’t for the gray, death-like pallor of his skin. His mouth turned up in a half smile when he saw Ram standing on the water.

“Does my brother really think he can get past my wards this way?” Hades didn’t wait for Ram to answer. “Not that a human could capture me even with a god’s blessing. You know I am the Lord of death, right? You can’t hope to escape this.”

“The Lord of the dead should take his responsibilities more seriously than this.” Ram swept his arms wide. “Hell has been loosed because of you.”

Hades chuckled, running a hand through his hair again. “They wanted a relaxing vacation. The beach really does wonders for their complexion.”

“You are going to pay.” He said the words quietly, but Hades heard them anyway. The god’s face fell into a frown as he straightened. “For what?” “For ruining my favorite ice cream shop.” Ram swallowed. Poseidon knew that even a human imbued with a god’s power would trip the wards around the pier; however, wards only detected a god’s full power. Ram hadn’t been using the full power, not yet. He looked into Hades’ eyes. “By my blackness, release the waters!”

Poseidon’s power engulfed Ram in force. Columns of water erupted into the sky around him. A series of explosions thumped in the air as the supports beneath the diner were torn apart in balls of flame. The water columns converged in front of Ram, blocking the concussive force from the C-4. Hades’ wards broke as the entire diner collapsed into the ocean. Ram heard a scream of rage as he felt Poseidon’s waters encircle Hades and drag the rogue god into the depths. Ram severed his connection with Poseidon and felt himself slip beneath the waves. He smiled, ready for what came next, but an intense pressure seized him, dragging him through the water. His face broke the surface and his feet found purchase on something solid.

A watery voice whispered in his ear, “You might want this.”

He heard a clunk and opened his eyes. He was standing at the edge of the shattered boardwalk. With a sigh, he glanced down only to find his phone laying at his feet, his son’s face smiling up at him from the lock screen.