Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas! Las Meadows. Well, one meadow back then.
There is a story round these parts. I know it from the inside. A story of two brothers from before time. Second-generation gods. Still, big scale.
They slept between mountains with their legs in separate valleys. Before those valleys became populated and industrialized. Before humankind. Before everything.
They had many names, but for the purpose of this story, we’re gonna call them both Brother.
How to tell them apart, you ask?
I see you don’t quite understand my story yet.
That’s alright. I will tell it again.
Nighttime in Vegas.
Modern day, Nevada, the Shining City of neon and sand.
A casino, glowing, humming, buzzing. Full of strangers. Everyone is after something, but what most of them are after is money. Most of them won’t find it here tonight. Some might. They are the lucky ones.
The people working here feel like machines. They’re tired. The machines might as well feel like people with all the attention they get. Except they don’t. They are machines.
Persephone is in the middle of her second set of songs. Only about an hour to go till she’s off for the day. She works as a cabaret singer to make a living. She’s pretty decent at it. More than.
She could be a hell of a lot better if she could afford to take care of her voice. Or at least afford a night off. Her throat is dry. She needs a break.
“Grab a drink, babies. I’m parched, we’re gonna take 5.”
She winks at someone at the nearest table. She can’t even tell if it’s a man or a woman. Not that it matters. The lights are blinding. She pretends it’s drunk she feels, not dehydrated. She plays it off so well even she starts to believe it.
“But don’t any of you go anywhere! We’re gonna be here for a while. No seriously, grab your drink. Ya gonna need it.”
She needs it more than they do.
The stage manager passes her a glass of ice lemon behind the curtain. Persephone tosses it back. The cubes bump up against her teeth with a clink. She feels like she just swallowed a glacier down her throat. She wipes her mouth.
“God bless you, brother.”
Hermes gives her a salute. She drinks another glass of water and her break is over. She is a slave onto the night and most days it’s easy to forget that she was ever more than that. Was, is...once. A long time ago.
Today is not most days.
Coins disappear in slot machines, alcohol flows, life passes. Persephone lets the music keep her afloat until she’s finished for the night.
Later, she sits at the bar in her short print dress. Out of costume, she looks like a tiger but feels like a mouse. She is not yet ready to go home. There is not much there waiting for her except unpaid bills and a mountain of dirty dishes. She asks the bartender for another gin and tonic.
She barely registers him standing there. Looking. Staring. Staring at her.
And then she moves and he moves at the same time and-
That’s her entire third drink now sinking into the fabric covering this tall, brooding and handsome man’s chest. He is quite a looker. Even with the ruined shirt. And she is definitely drunk, but there is something so familiar about his stranger’s face.
She should probably apologize.
“No, it’s my fault.”
It really wasn’t, but she’s not gonna argue. Especially not when he gets her another gin. Without waiting for her to politely refuse first. Which she wouldn’t have. She may be at fault too, but dollar signs don’t grow on trees around here.
There’s barely any trees left. Nature is a concrete jungle and she is screaming under the weight of this modern prison. Trouble is, not many people can hear her pleas and those who can are screaming for help too.
“Where are you in from?”
He frowns. She does too. It’s not like it’s a hard question. Just the way two strangers sitting at a bar usually make conversation.
Bullshit. There is just something about him. His voice is like the ground under her feet. Not this ground. Like how she imagines ground is supposed to be. Natural ground.
Steady. Low. Ancient.
“You don’t look like you’re from Las Vegas.”
“Outside of. A bit south of here.”
She’s never been outside of Vegas.
Not for a while. Not since they built it. Not since Persephone helped them build it.
Not that she remembers anyway.
Take me to the rock
And if there’s any luck I want it all my own
Brick, brick brick build your box
Cause I’ve worked hard to build it to make it all my own
First there was darkness.
An empty valley in the desert. The outskirts of what would one day become the city of Las Vegas. Far, far in the future. It was only an idea yet.
Then, it was a spark.
There was no way to tell the time. There was no need for it yet. Before the invention of the dollar, time did not mean as much as it will come to one day. For now, it was just another big word with no meaning.
They were standing there together. The gods. All of them.
Generations of pioneers that came to this land in the same hopes that will fuel billions. Billions on billions in the ages to come. They came to build a home out here in the desert.
They stood there looking out over the valley. Admiring their work.
It was still early. Very early. They were hopeful. They were united. They were a family.
Creation burned. Scalding heat. The light was blinding. A city was being born out of fire and rock. Red was the first color, but not the last. Yellow, blue, green, orange. White! Anything but black. This city will shine.
And it will prosper.
Modern times, a woman in many colored fabric. She stands in front of the casino, speaks to anyone who will listen. No one does. They think she is just a beggar.
She is a beggar. Yes. She is so much more than that. They don’t remember. She doesn’t bother reminding them. She doesn’t always remember either.
None of them do.
She is there every day. An oracle to the times of old. She tells the same story. Some things change, but only the small details. For the most part, her tale is consistent. She talks about the creation of the world.
Their world. Vegas.
Persephone walks by her on her way to work every day. Sometimes she gives her a quarter. If she can spare it. Other times she doesn’t. Only shakes her head at the poor woman. Vegas is not for everyone.
But people can get stuck, and there is not much to do then. Unless there is.
She doesn’t listen. She is not ready yet.
It was a family business.
Family is funny. Sometimes it’s just not possible to work shit out.
Ever since then, she’s been stuck here. It’s not like she gets around much. Or at all. She doesn’t know where things are, outside of Vegas. She didn’t even think there was a south. To Persephone, this place feels like the edge of the world.
But it is her world. It’s all she’s ever known.
“What about you?”
What about her? She’s here. She doesn’t know why. Doesn’t question things. Why she works so much. Why she feels so empty. Why it didn’t bother her until now. Why it suddenly does.
It is pure instinct then that meeting him now is the first indication that her world may be too small if Vegas is it.
“I’ve been here a long time. Third generation.”
He narrows his eyes at that. She doesn’t understand why. She doesn’t understand a lot of things.
“Got family around?”
“Not really. Well, yes, but we don’t talk much. Last time they came around was-”
“But what are you doing here?”
She blinks. No one ever asked her that before.
“I’m - working.”
She’s surviving. She’s been abandoned. She’s lost a lot more than she knows. She doesn’t remember any of it.
“So how much is your life worth?”
He looks like he wants to say something but doesn’t. She realizes they’re only talking about money.
“With or without my house?”
“Four sixty-five an hour, plus tips.”
Not that she ever gets any. She just drank away all of this week’s worth.
He sounds sad. Persephone never thought of it that way. But it probably is. Sad.
“Really. That’s me. Just a mediocre singer with a mortgage and a car loan.”
“You’re not mediocre.”
Oh. She didn’t even notice him listening before.
“You’re welcome. And I-”
He stops suddenly. Looks like he just saw a ghost. Maybe he did.
She turns around on her barstool, but only sees Hermes. He is talking with one of the patrons. Nothing out of the ordinary.
“Nothing. It was nice talking to you, but I really should go and change this.”
He gestures at his soaked shirt. At least it was a cold drink. Persephone half thinks he owes her a thank you and a dinner on top of that gin. Or maybe that’s just her wishful thinking. He really is handsome.
She doesn’t say any of that.
“I’m staying at the La Quinta on 15.”
So maybe it wasn’t just wishful thinking.
They don’t move. She looks at him and he looks at her. It makes her feel weird. Known. Impossible. They've only just met.
“You better go change that shirt.”
That snaps them out of it. Whatever it is. Like a static over the radio. Over her mind. There is something about him that she can’t place.
“Yes. You take care.”
She gets fired five minutes after he leaves.
Some lame excuse about the economy. As if she doesn’t know how hard it is to make a living. As if she isn’t struggling like everyone else.
She is sad. She is angry. She is desperate. She is alone.
She walks up to the roof of the casino. Stares out into the desert. Into a sea of a million words of shining neon. The fragile bones of electric dinosaurs. These are the only stars the people of this city have ever known. And they are going out. One by one.
She tries to imagine a different skyline. Tries to imagine whether she would like it better than this one.
Vegas, is what she means. And she really does. Mean it.
“Fuck this place.”
It’s the first time she’s ever said those words. First time she’s ever thought them too.
Persephone imagines a light brighter than a thousand suns exploding over the horizon. Leveling the skyline. Stamping it back into the ground. Dust to dust.
She imagines Las Vegas burning.
Take me to the start
The boat, the leagues, the starboard will point me close to home
Brick brick brick in the heart
Yes yes, it will progress till the getting’s done
Before time and Las Vegas there were two brothers fighting.
This continent was their arena. One was a creator, and one was a destroyer. But as they raced from east to west, it got hard to tell which was which. Back then it didn’t matter.
Brother bolts down railroad tracks like stitches. Brother pops them like rotten teeth.
Brother blasts holes in mountain sides. Brother crushes them and the miners inside like tin cans.
Brother bends a river to feed a city. Brother makes the waters overflow.
And so it went.
That’s one version of the story anyway.
Persephone wakes up in a haze of cocktails and unemployment, and so much debt.
She gets out of bed, she looks in the mirror. Beads from last night’s cabaret are still stuck in her hair and her silver cocktail dress is draped across a chair in the corner. Her head hurts.
She goes downstairs to the fridge. She opens it, she closes it. She opens it. She takes out a beer, and it's not nearly cold enough. She drinks some of it, thinks her fridge might be broken.
Even if it is, she doesn't have the money to fix it. She wishes she still smoked.
She turns on the radio. She stares at the front door. She picks up the phone. She calls information, she asks the time, they give it to her, she hangs up. She calls again and asks about classes at a local community college. She calls again and asks about work programs.
She just wants to talk.
She calls again and asks for the number to the La Quinta Inn down on 15. She asks to please be connected to room 206. Persephone doesn’t know the name, she just knows the face. And the voice.
“Hi! This is the singer that spilled the drink down your shirt at the bar yesterday. I got laid off.”
“You’re supposed to say you’re sorry.”
“What’s your name?”
“I go by Persephone.”
“Yeah. My given name is Kore.”
A beat. She thinks she hears him breathing. It’s quiet.
“What kind of name is that?”
“It’s greek for maiden. It's what my mother chose for me, I never liked it. So I chose for myself.”
“Well, I go by Hades.”
“Yes. My given name is Aidoneus after my grandfather. Guess I chose for myself too. So, greek? Are you one of the- ?”
She is. But you don't just casually drop that you're immortal in an already strange conversation.
Especially if you have no memory of that life.
“Well, I’m sort of…”
“Falling. Like freefall. Like splat.”
“Are you okay?”
He sounds concerned. She wonders why. People don't really do that anymore.
“I’m thinking bad things about Vegas.”
“That sounds okay.”
“No, it doesn’t feel so good, this is my home. I grew up here.”
"Yes! You were listening. I didn't choose it either, but this is the only home I've ever known."
"If your family could do it, so can you. Grow old somewhere else.”
“I don’t want to grow old.”
She won't. She doesn’t know that, but he does. He laughs, and it’s not a beautiful sound, but she doesn’t mind it.
“I suppose not. So, why are you staying in a motel if you're from around and all?”
"I wouldn't say around. It's complicated."
"Always is. Hades?"
"Wanna come over?"
She really is lonely. Not just alone.
He hangs up. She stares at the phone for a while, downs the rest of her beer. She sits by the kitchen counter. She waits.
The sound of sand under tires. The sound of sand under boots. No, not boots. He is a businessman, not a cowboy. He opens the door, and she is no longer alone.
She wants to explain.
“This place feels really fucked up right now. I feel really f-”
She soon finds out he is even better with his tongue when he’s not using it for talking.
Persephone likes that.
But she also likes Las Vegas, despite everything. He does not. It is her home, but not his, she senses that. They don’t talk about it though. They don’t talk much at all.
They share a beer.
He leaves, and she starts calling around to see if anyone is hiring a cabaret singer. This is her only talent, obviously waitressing is out of the question for her. She gets lucky, Hermes hooks her up with a temporary gig at a club around the curb.
Persephone lives to fight another day, while the city buries more souls under the rubble every day. Their time will come and so will the reckoning, but she hopes she won't live to see it.
She also knows it isn't right, but nobody wants to see their city burn.
Land you hard, hey
Walk you west, ho
Look you up, higher
Look you looonger
In reality it was more like this:
The first Brother was an inventor.
He kept mostly to himself. He liked to create. Build. The valley was his favourite sandbox. He liked to make trees grow and mold rock into whatever shape he desired.
He liked the humans. Well, he liked them enough. He liked to observe how they solved their little problems. He found them funny.
By his birthright, he inherited the land from their giant beast father. He did not have a thirst for such power.
He was powerful in his own right, he just didn’t like to flaunt it. He could pull gems forth from the belly of the earth and bend the hardest metal to his liking without effort.
He could become richer than any man would ever be. All he had to do was crook his fingers. He did not care for wealth either. He only cared for a girl.
Her name was Spring. He watched her grow, and the land grew with her. He was in awe of her talent. He asked her to teach him how to talk to the earth. She asked him to marry her. He did. They were happy.
The second Brother was a conqueror.
He liked to own things. Liked to control them. He liked the power of holding another living soul in the palm of his enormous hand. He liked having the power to crush it. If he wanted.
He was jealous of his brother. Not of his skill, but of what he owned. It made him feel inferior. And he did not like that feeling.
He set records and broke them to puff himself up. Lifting hurling pushing pulling dragging pieces of world across continent as dead weights. What use is a god, after all, unless he is strong.
Such was their father's way. He had the same mentality. That the two brothers did not share.
In fact, the only thing they shared was the land itself. Until the conqueror decided that he wanted it for himself.
All of it.
Hades turns out to be rich. A banker. She won't take his money, and he won't stay in a crumbling city for her. He asks her to move away with him though. She refuses.
He says he has land, away from here. Far from all the desperate people, far from all this noise. Off the grid. She happens to like the grid.
Persephone's never taken the train to go anywhere, and definitely not that far south.
“Stay in one place for too long and you will start to slide backwards.”
That’s one philosophy. Here's another.
“I am an anchor in the desert. I am chained to this place. In 50 years this city will dry up, you will leave and everyone else will move to Phoenix and I will be stuck here, singing to the lizards, an ancient city baking in the sun. Praying for the floods to come and wash us all away.”
She doesn’t have a choice. Not yet.
He makes love to her in front of the fire, and she sees her own reflection in the flames. When she looks in his eyes, they seem to burn even brighter. He looks at her like he is waiting for something. He looks at her like it’s her choice to make.
She still won't leave Vegas and he doesn't ask her again.
He is still there most nights anyway. She doesn't know what he still even pays the motel for since he is as good as living with her. She doesn’t mind. It’s just not very practical.
These are the things they don't say.
The sun sets, the sun rises. It's too late or too early, Persephone doesn't know which. Doesn't care. It’s hot. She stands at the window, looking out at the world below.
She looks across the highway at a cheap motel called the North Star with a neon sign flashing backwards in the window. Vacancy, no vacancy. Vacancy. No vacancy.
She wonders how much time there is left.
"Isn't it even hotter where you're from? If it's south."
She's curious. She's not going so she might as well ask. It's still hard for her to imagine any place that isn't here. That isn't Vegas.
"Honestly? Still colder than it is here right now."
"Huh. Darker too, I bet."
She doesn’t know how she knows that. Only knows it’s the truth.
Hades tried to tell her about the darkness. How it makes you feel sensory deprivation. Like you're floating in nothing. How even the world stops turning in total darkness.
She can tell he misses it. She thinks she might miss it too.
He never liked these shining city lights. The harsh noise of the grinding wheels that keep the city turning. Sometimes he seems to her like something out of time. He even looks most at peace in the lull of quiet moments.
Like an oasis in the desert. She feels that way about him.
She wonders what brought him to Vegas of all places. The color black doesn’t exist here. She tries to imagine it. She can’t.
“What happens when it's dark?”
"Even a city needs to sleep."
"Not here! Lights never go out, baby."
It's her mantra. She doesn’t remember when she started saying it. Or why. Her mind is so hazy these days. Like someone pulled a veil over her eyes.
"What if one day they do?"
These are the things they do say.
She has no answer. And eventually as most things when you're immortal, it comes to pass.
The market collapses and more people lose their jobs, taking to the streets. Persephone makes a banner that says "Fuck capitalism" in red block letters, but she doesn't go down waving it like everyone else. She hangs it out of her window, she watches.
She feels like she should be down there. She feels old. She is thirty-two. She is a lot older than that. She doesn’t remember. Time passes differently in the present tense.
A young girl with black hair shouts her compliments over the noise. She likes her sign, she says. Screams, more like. The roaring street is loud in her ears like banging on a drum. Persephone shouts back and tosses the banner down to her instead.
Let the youth carry the torch, she is so tired.
Her words disappear in the sea of shades. She looks on from her balcony. It is time, it is not time. It will be soon enough. It doesn't matter if she's ready.
Change is coming and it won’t take prisoners.
Jump the shark, hey
Jump the frontier
Back to land, ho
We’ll make millions here.
The Brothers were not the only ones involved in creation. It was a family business after all. Takes generations to make something grow that stands the test of time. In their case, it took three.
And it took women. Boys cannot bend nature to their will on their own. At least not right away. It would be a dangerous world if they could.
In the beginning, they worked together. In harmony. It was the only way. There were trees and rivers and mountains and valleys. There were colors. Lush and beautiful and alive. The valley was thriving. It was a world of gods and men. Living in peace. Together.
Until the conqueror’s lust for power upended the balance. He wanted more. His hunger was insatiable. He ran everyone out of town who dared to raise their voice against him. He was mad with it.
His brother was the only one who could truly stop him. But he had no taste for destruction and civil war and his wife told him to hide.
For all their sakes.
He was loathe to leave her behind, but there was no other way. He vowed to return for her then he escaped into the earth before war could break out and they all fell victim to it.
She was not so lucky. She saw what they did to her mother. She had to cooperate. Even if it crushed her soul with every piece of the natural land that got destroyed by her hand. This was not what she had been meant to do.
But she had no choice. None of them did. And on it went, until one day the conqueror realized, “What the hell? Why don’t I get these fucking humans to do my work for me?” So he put the lust for improvement, and development, and expansion...in the hearts of humans and then he claimed his Lazy-boy throne in the sky.
And then he changed his name. To Zeus.
And then she really had no say anymore. Her mother was gone. Her husband lost under the earth. Her inheritance stolen. She had no power in these games. With or without her help, they were going to raze down everything that they had built.
Just so they could build more.
Bigger. Higher. Better.
So when they commanded her to pluck the last tree from existence, she refused. She was horrified at what she’d already done. What they’d done. Her mother was right. She should have never agreed to this. She didn’t listen.
She fell down on her knees and cried. The ground heaved with her. It was too late now, for tears. The desert swallowed them up all the same. She had no idea where all the water went. Nothing grew round here anymore.
Not even for Spring.
Nothing but sand and ruin. Nothing but the city of Vegas.
“You know Kore, very few people ever have the opportunity to be a part of something that grows so fast that you can see it, and feel it, and be afraid of it.”
Afraid. He wanted them all to be so afraid. Just so he could feel powerful.
“That’s just the thing. I am afraid. We shouldn’t be doing this.”
He succeeded. She didn’t. And she just became disposable.
“You’re right. You shouldn’t be doing this. We can take it from here.
“No, you can’t-”
They can. They did. They do.
They dispose of her. The last thing she remembers is a flash of thunder and her mother’s smile. White, not black.
The opposite of total darkness.
When she wakes up, she is a cabaret singer in modern day Las Vegas.
The city is burning.
Persephone sees her own face in the flames. But she sees other faces too. She sees her family. She starts to remember. She is angry. So angry. Maybe that’s how the fire started.
“I want to kill these people.”
She tells the oracle woman on the street. She doesn’t know why, but Persephone thinks that she might understand. Might be the only one who does.
And if not then at least she listens. That’s already more than what most people are granted.
“I want to kill them in the face!”
“They cannot be killed, baby. They are the light pulsing in every bulb in this town. They are the self-sustaining chain reaction. They’re immortal, as long as they want to be. Even if you rip their faces off.”
Yes, that is true. They’re immortal. But so is she. It all comes back to her eventually.
Persephone watches her world disappear as flames rage over the only place she’s ever called home. She would cry, but there is another world waiting for her.
She gets on a train going further south than she's ever been.
Hades is already there, waiting for her at the tracks. She doesn’t yet know why. She only knows she is grateful. He hugs her close like she knew he would. She holds on tight. Steady. He is the ground under her feet.
She feels so much. She never wants to let go.
“How much do you remember?”
Too much. Not nearly enough.
“I remember colors.”
“I remember forests, lakes, meadows. Mountains and valleys. I remember the old earth. Disappearing.”
“I remember losing my mother. She was the first of us to go.”
He takes her hand. Squeezes it.
“What’s her name?”
Persephone closes her eyes. Her vision fills with colorful fabric. She remembers a face. Golden brown skin. Kind eyes. A story of two brothers from before time. The oracle in front of a modern casino. An ancient earth goddess who refused to bend nature to the will of a tyrant.
A mother who taught her to do the same.
“Yes! You do remember.”
She does. He can see it in her eyes. He starts crying then.
“I remember, I remember, I remember.”
She tells him with words.
She tells him with touches. She tells him with her body. She doesn’t stop telling him until he can look at her again and not feel pain anymore. It takes time. She can’t imagine.
He tells her the story again. She is listening now. She knows she is because it makes her mad.
“He took everything. The land, the people. The entire family inheritance.”
He nods. She remembers now, though part of her wishes she didn’t.
“And he made the humans do his dirty work for him while the earth cried under the strain of such industrialization.”
“Exactly. And he watched all the gods who had opposed him disappear into oblivion. By his own hand.”
“So that means he-”
“He took you from me. Because like your mother, you were brave enough to stand against him."
“That was his big mistake.”
Persephone smiles. She doesn’t think it looks kind. She doesn’t think he minds at all. He smiles even wider. With teeth.
She missed him so much. She didn’t even remember him, but she still missed him.
“I’ve been looking everywhere for you, lover.”
She knows he has. She would have done the same.
She looks into his eyes. She sees in them his journey across the stars. Her lost husband. Looking for his lost wife. He scrapes the sky and scours the earth until there is nothing left of it and then he starts again. And again. And again. Every time.
Just to find her.
“You found me.”
She kisses him. She knows she will keep kissing him. She will make him forget all the times she wasn’t kissing him.
No, not forget. Not again.
They will make better memories. They will make a better world.
They will never be separated again. They will either win or die fighting his brother. Together they will conquer the conqueror.
“We will take back what is ours.”
Or they will die trying.
Let the city burn. Let it be reborn in fire so a better one can take its place.
It is time.