She was going to Hell.
Elizabeth had been to Hell before. She had been there time and time again. The first time she was there, she was known as Eurydice.
Orpheus had followed after her, begging Hades to let them leave. Hades said yes, but made Orpheus promise not to look and see if she was coming with him. They left, the long walk out ahead of them.
She didn’t make it out, though.
Orpheus had almost guided her out, almost brought her back to life, but he turned around at the last second. Eurydice faded away, finding herself back in the small tea room she had been in with Hades and Persephone when she had died. They didn’t seem surprised to see her. In fact, they sat her down again, chatting with her for the rest of the night.
It felt like that would be the end of it. It felt like Eurydice would be able to slip into the routine of the Underworld, stuck in the repetitive nature of nothing for the rest of eternity. Orpheus would join her eventually, everyone ended up in the Underworld in the end.
But she woke up.
She didn’t realize she had woken up, not really. This was a new life, a new Eurydice. Now she was known as Elaine and everything was fine. Her life, boring as it seemed, was normal. Nothing seemed to be wrong. And then she met Oscar, and all the memories came flooding back. Their marriage, her death, her time with Hades and Persephone, him coming after her, returning to Hades and Persephone, it all ran through both of their minds in an instant.
They had been reincarnated, they had found each other again. The joy that filled her heart was short lived, only a month together before she died yet again. She woke up in Hell with Hades and Persephone, who greeted her like an old friend. Oscar came for her again, she got to leave but she never made it out. Hades and Persephone greeted her again, keeping her company like they had done before.
And then she woke up again.
The first time it had happened felt like luck. It felt like the gods had taken pity on them, wanting them to get a chance to live out their love story. The second time it happened still felt hopeful, like they could get it right this time around. The third time it happened left a sinister feeling in the back of her mind. By the fourth, she felt like it was a punishment.
Her names and faces over the lifetimes all started to blur together. All she knew was that she would grow up, meet Orpheus in whatever form he was in now, and would die. He would try and fail to save her, then the cycle would begin again. Over and over and over, never ending. Or so it seemed.
This time, they were Oliver and Elizabeth. This time they met in a coffee shop in London on a rainy afternoon between classes. This time they didn’t remember their past lives until months into their friendship.
This time Oliver died.
That had never happened before, not in the centuries that they had been repeating this story for. Eurydice, no matter what form she took, was always the one to die. She was always the one who needed to be saved. Yet here she was, standing at the door to the Underworld, chasing after her friend not even of her own volition.
Hades greeted her warmly, ushering her into a room she had been in before in her times in the Underworld. It was Hades and Persephone’s tea room. The queen of the Underworld smiled as she entered, “I thought you wouldn’t be joining us this time around, so glad to see you, Eurydice.”
“It’s nice to see you as well, my queen,” Elizabeth said, bounding towards Persephone and wrapping her arms around the queen. She had missed this, being with the two of them, since her last lifetime. “I, um, I go by Elizabeth now. In this life, at least.”
“Yes, yes. Of course,” Persephone said, guiding her over to the table set up in the corner of the room, how it always was. A cup of tea already sat in front of Elizabeth’s usual spot. “How have you been, darling?”
Elizabeth sat down between Hades and his wife, relaxing for the first time in ages. “I’ve been… Alright. I’ve missed it here,” she said softly, looking at the gods happily. “And things have been very confusing this time around. I mean, this isn’t how things usually go! Usually I wouldn’t have to walk down here, and usually Oli…” She trailed off, thinking about her lost companion. “Is Oli here?”
Hades frowned at the mention of Oliver’s name. “Ah, yes. Oliver arrived in my halls this morning. I’ll be honest, Persephone and I didn’t recognize him at first. I’m not used to seeing the boy when he’s not barging in looking for you.”
“So he is here?” Elizabeth asked, turning to give Hades her full attention. “Should I not… Should I not be going to him then?”
“He’s here,” Hades said, sharing a glance with his wife. “But before we go into the whole… kerfuffle all over again, we’d like to… offer you something.”
“You never did anything wrong, Eurydice,” Hades said simply. “And I don’t mean that in a way that implies you’ve never done anything bad, but you hadn’t done anything wrong. And yet the gods decided to throw you into this little curse as well.”
Elizabeth’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean curse? I’ve been cursed this whole time? Is that why-”
Persephone placed a soothing hand on Elizabeth’s arm. She leaned into the touch, allowing Persephone to sap some of her anger. “We tried to get Zeus to stop but-”
“He’s Zeus. He doesn’t know the meaning of the word stop,” Hades grumbled, taking another sip of tea before returning his attention to Elizabeth. “As I was saying, you got roped into this little curse my brother decided to put on the boy for daring to defy the order of life and death. But we’re here to offer you an out.”
Elizabeth perked up, gaze moving frantically between the gods. “An out?”
“You survived this time,” Persephone said, running her hand up and down Elizabeth’s arm in a calming motion. “Which means you have to lead him out of here. Our offer is this: if you make the choice to turn around, to look at him instead of getting him out, we’ll free you from the cycle. You’ll get to finish living out your life and when it ends, you’ll get to come back here and stay with us.” The two gods shared a loving glance, then returned their focus to Elizabeth, that love still dancing in their eyes. Persephone reached out and held one of her hands while Hades stood by his wife, a hand on her shoulder. It was enough to snap her from her shock and send her brain spinning into motion.
Elizabeth could hardly believe it. An end to the cycle, an escape from the constant reincarnations, a way to get back to the Underworld and just remain there. To return to Hades and Persephone and not have to be whisked away the second Orpheus died. The thought of Orpheus stopped her dead in her tracks. “What will happen to Oli?”
The two gods shared a grimace. “There’s… There’s no freeing him from this curse. Outside of you guiding him out successfully, that is. The parameters are still the same, if you both make it out without you turning back, then you both are free.”
“So I can get us both out of here,” Elizabeth said confidently. “I can save both of us from the cycle.”
Persephone looked at her sadly,“The game is rigged against you, my dear. Whoever is leading will always turn back in the end, fate taking over and starting the cycle anew. Choosing to turn on him now is the only way we can set you free.”
“And he’ll just continue to be reincarnated?” The gods nodded. “I…”
Hades placed a gentle hand on her back. “You don’t have to decide right now. Just before you get to the door back to the topside. You didn’t do anything wrong, Eurydice. It’s not wrong for you to free yourself from a punishment you didn’t deserve.”
If she turned around, he would disappear.
She could guide them both out and free them both, or she could turn around and just be done with it already. She could have her life back, have her afterlife back. She could return to Hades and Persephone and have tea and not fear being torn away from them yet again.
Elizabeth sighed, willing herself to keep her eyes forward as she trudged on through the Underworld. The path was long and winding, sharp corners making it easy to trip up and accidentally see him if she wasn’t careful. Her footsteps echoed on the endless marble floor beneath them.
Why am I doing this?
All she had to do was turn around and he’d be gone. One look back and Oliver would be gone from her life forever. She couldn’t get both of them out anyway, Persephone made that clear. So why was she doing this? Why should she suffer for the man who damned her in the first place.
Because you loved him, her mind whispers in her ear. Because this is what he did for you.
“I didn’t ask him to!” she shouted, her voice echoing through the space around them. “I never asked for him to come after me. I was dead, I should’ve stayed that way. Why is it my punishment that he decided he couldn’t live without me?”
Oliver didn’t reply, not that she had expected him to. He couldn’t, not if he valued his life. And he did, she knew that. Almost as much as he valued hers.
I could turn around and this would all be over.
“I wish you hadn’t been at the register that day,” Elizabeth said, stopping in her tracks. “I wish you hadn’t asked what a Yank like me was doing at King’s College. I wish you hadn’t written your number on the cup like we were in some kind of meet-cute.
“I wish you would’ve ignored me back in 1808. I wish you would’ve skipped my house while collecting bodies during the plague. I wish you would’ve forgotten my address when I wrote it on a napkin for you in the 50s. Or forgotten my email address when we met in the 90s. Wish you would’ve gone off to war for real so many times instead of hiding away with me. Maybe then this would be easier.”
Tears were starting to pool in her eyes as she thought back to this life she had shared with him. To the hundreds of lives she shared with him. Could she really turn on him so easily? She thought of Hades and Persephone, who let her into their lives so easily every time she died. She could get back to them. Or she could keep playing this endless game with Oliver.
“Oli, I know you can’t speak to me,” Elizabeth said slowly, looking down at the marble floor that covered their path out of the Underworld. “But I think it’s time to give up the game. It’s broken, always was by design, but especially now. There’s no winning it, I know that now. I think I’ve known that for a while, if I’m being honest.”
She started to turn around, but found that she couldn’t. “I don’t want to hurt you,” she said, tears pouring down her face. “I don’t want to hurt you. Not when I loved you so many times. But I can’t do this anymore, Orpheus. I can’t.”
Elizabeth, Eurydice, looked down at her hands, steadying her breath. Finally, she turned around. Orpheus was standing behind her, tears in his eyes. He looked so lost, so scared of what was happening. “Eurydice?”
“I’m sorry, Orpheus,” she whispered out as he started to fade away. “I couldn’t do it anymore.”
The spot where Orpheus had once stood was now vacant, his soul fading from the Underworld yet again. He would live again. And again. And again.
Elizabeth composed herself. She turned and started down the path again.
She was going home.
Ilianna Gonzalez is a Classics and History student with an interest in writing fiction. For this piece she decided to combine the Orpheus and Eurydice myth with her own ideas of what the story could hold. This retelling focuses on Eurydice and the choices she can make to set herself free.