“The Ancient Greeks believed that after death, all souls, whether good or bad, would descend to the Underworld, the kingdom of Hades, deep in the Earth, and dwell there for eternity,” Bailey read aloud, his eyes flying across the page.
“The underworld was guarded from the living world by Cerberus, an enormous, vicious, three-headed dog with a dragon for a tail and snake heads lining his back.” Bailey shivered at the image that popped into his mind, imagining how Hercules would feel when he saw the beast for the first time, knowing he had to subdue the animal with nothing but his bare hands.
“It was Hercules’s final task, his final labor to perform, and it would be the most difficult quest of all. Hercules knew that once he descended into the underworld, facing monsters and ghosts, wrestling demons and mythical creatures of every kind along his way, he might never be able to return to the land of the living.
“But death did not frighten him. Hercules had faced death many times, and longed for the day when he too would be delivered from his endless servitude. So Hercules went, secretly hoping to see in the Kingdom of Hades, the souls of loved ones he had lost and now paid penance for.”
1: Super Star or a Super Hero
First Day of School–September, 2001
The school gymnasium was so loud that Fern had to lean down next to Bailey's ear and shout to be heard. Bailey was more than capable of maneuvering his wheelchair through the teeming student body, but Fern pushed him so they could more easily stay together.
“Do you see Rita?” she yelled, eyes roving. Rita knew they had to sit on the bottom bleacher in order for Bailey to sit near them. Bailey pointed, and Fern followed his finger to where Rita was waving frantically, making her br**sts bounce and her fluffy blonde hair swing wildly around her shoulders. They made their way to her, and Fern let Bailey take over control of his chair as she scrambled up to the second row, sitting just behind Rita so Bailey could position his chair at the end of the bench.
Fern hated pep rallies. She was small and tended to get bumped and squished no matter where she sat, and she had little interest in cheering and stomping her feet. She sighed, settling in for the half hour of screaming, loud music, and football players working themselves up into a frenzy.
“Please rise for the National Anthem,” a voice boomed, and the mic shrieked in protest, causing people to wince and cover their ears, but effectively quieting the gymnasium.
“We have a special treat today, girls and boys.” Connor O'Toole, also known as Beans, was holding the mic with a wicked grin on his face. Beans was always up to something, and he instantly had everyone's attention. He was part Irish, part Hispanic, and his up-turned nose, sparkling hazel eyes, and devilish grin were at odds with his smoky coloring. And he was a talker; it was obvious that he relished his time at the microphone.
“Your friend and mine, Ambrose Young, has lost a bet. He said if we won our first game, he would sing the National Anthem at this pep assembly. “ Gasps were heard, and the volume in the bleachers rose immediately.
“But we didn't just win our first game, we won our second game too!” The audience roared and stomped their feet. “So, being a man of his word, here is Ambrose Young, singing the National Anthem,” Beans said and waved the mic toward his friend.
Beans was small. Though he was a senior, he was one of the smaller players on the team and was more suited to wrestling than football. Ambrose was also a senior. But he wasn't small. He towered above Beans--one of his biceps was almost as big around as Beans's head--and he looked like one of those guys on the cover of a romance novel. Even his name sounded like a character from a steamy read. And Fern would know. She'd read thousands of them. Alpha males, tight abs, smoldering looks, happily-ever-afters. But no one had ever really compared to Ambrose Young. Not in fiction or in real life.
To Fern, Ambrose Young was absolutely beautiful, a Greek God among mortals, the stuff of fairy tales and movie screens. Unlike the other boys, he wore his dark hair in waves that brushed his shoulders, occasionally sweeping it back so it wouldn't fall into his heavily-lashed brown eyes. The squared-off edge of his sculpted jaw kept him from being too pretty, that and the fact he was six foot three in his socks, weighed a strapping 215 pounds by the age of eighteen, and had a body corded with muscle from his shoulders to his well-shaped calves.
Rumor was that Ambrose's mother, Lily Grafton, had tangled with an Italian underwear model in New York City during her quest to find fame. She became quickly untangled when he discovered she was carrying his child. Jilted and pregnant, she limped home and was swept up in the comforting arms of her old friend, Elliott Young, who gladly married her and welcomed her baby boy six months later. The town paid special attention to the handsome baby boy as he grew, especially when diminutive, blond, Elliott Young ended up having a brawny son with dark hair and eyes and a build worthy of, well, an underwear model. Fourteen years later, when Lily left Elliott Young and moved to New York, no one was surprised that Lily was going back to find Ambrose's real father. The surprise came when fourteen-year-old Ambrose remained in Hannah Lake with Elliott.
By that time, Ambrose was already a fixture in the small town, and people speculated that was the reason he stayed. He could throw a javelin like a mythical warrior and barrel through opponents on the football field like they were made of paper. He pitched his little league team to a district championship and could slam dunk a basketball by the time he was fifteen. All of these things were notable, but in Hannah Lake, Pennsylvania, where the town closed their businesses for local duels and followed the state rankings like winning lottery numbers, where wrestling was an obsession that rivaled football in Texas, it was Ambrose Young's ability on the mat that made him a celebrity.