Answer to the Library's Oct. 2001 story challenge to write a Young Hercules story called, Hydras, Pumpkins, and Fools, Oh My! And must include:
The phrase, "trick or treat"
A broken limb
A black cat
Character(s) in costume
Jell-O or it's Greek equivalent
The phrase, "Welcome to my nightmare"
Iolaus knew when he felt the wind shift to the north that the night would turn more miserable than it already was. That morning Cheiron had given the cadets an impromptu holiday. Jason said it had something to do with a wedding in the family. With the headmaster gone, leadership of the Academy fell to it's stern bookkeeper/instructor. A man that Iolaus knew hadn't liked him from the start. At Iolaus' insistence Hercules and Jason had agreed to spend the time hunting away from the academy.
The day was overcast but pleasant with a moderate breeze. The cool bite of autumn was in the air. Even though Iolaus had planned the trip, he knew it had been a mistake as soon as the Academy gates disappeared behind them. The hunter stopped in his tracks as the cloud of gloom spread above him. Oblivious to the omen ahead of them, his companions continued a few steps farther before turning in unison and looking expectantly at their blond friend.
"Iolaus? You coming?" Jason inquired.
"Did you see that?" Iolaus asked.
"See what?" Hercules glanced around to make sure everything appeared ok and it did.
"Up ahead, a black cat crossed our path."
"It did?" The Crown Prince of Corinth dripped with sarcasm, "I expect it had somewhere important to go. Cats have to go where the mice are, you know."
"Jason, don't you know about black cats?"
The youth ticked off the points on his fingers, "They're furry and they're black and they catch mice, on the whole pretty useful animals."
"Jason! It's bad luck if a black cat crosses your path."
"It is? Why? What did that cat ever do to you?"
"I don't know why. It just is."
"Iolaus, you're superstitious."
"Ok, that's enough. Let's just take this other path and avoid the argument," The demigod gave his two friends a well meaning shove.
"Too late, Herc. It's happened. The cat--"
"Shut up, Iolaus."
Hercules and Jason kept up conversation playing a number game while Iolaus' mood continued to grow more and more gloomy by the mile.
"Come on, Iolaus," Jason walked backwards as he teased the young hunter who had lagged behind as the rolling fields gave way to woods. "It's just an old story that got passed around and now everybody believes it, well, some people do. Iolaus look, we're still here, it's been half a day and nothing's happened to any of us--"
A mighty crack from above set Hercules flying into the young prince, sending them both to a hard landing on the ground a few feet away. The shattered limb crashed to earth exactly where Jason had been standing.
Iolaus shrugged his shoulders, "See, I told ya." He climbed over the broken limb and offered a hand to help Jason up.
"Coincidence, it was just a coincidence that's all," the prince declared.
"That's what they all say," Iolaus continued down the narrow path.
"Come on, Herc, before this doomsayer spreads his gloom any farther."
Late in the afternoon with no further incidents, Hercules and Jason had convinced themselves that it was, indeed, all a coincidence. The former thief was not so easily swayed.
"Iolaus, stop that," Jason ordered.
"Acting like there's something lurking behind every tree."
Iolaus bristled, "Maybe there is, you never know."
"Give it up, Jason." Hercules soothed, "We'll just have to wait this mood out."
The trio continued on in silence along a path they'd traveled infrequently before. It did take them toward Corinth but by an indirect, winding route.
"Hey! I don't remember there being a house back in these woods." Jason gestured to an old dilapidated structure off the path.
Hercules peered at the property, "I don't remember it either but when nature calls you use what's available." The demigod happily headed off toward the outhouse behind the main structure.
Iolaus appraised the situation, "not a good idea."
"Doomsayer," Jason accused.
Iolaus and Jason sat down under a tree when they realized that Hercules was going to be awhile. A loud moaning issued from the building. The moan became an ominous creaking.
"Herc!" Iolaus called but too late to escape the collapse of the ancient structure.
Iolaus and Jason spared each other a glance before rushing to their friend's rescue. They tossed the debris aside revealing a stunned demigod in a slightly compromising position. Iolaus helped him up.
"Next time will you listen to me?"
"It's an old building, it was going to fall down anyway. Herc was just too heavy for it. It's as simple as that,"
"This sure wasn't part of the plan," Hercules commented.
Iolaus shot Jason a look, "Hercules pick up your pants and go find a tree. We'll debate it on the road."
"I don't have to go anymore."
"A haunted outhouse? You think it was a haunted outhouse? I've heard it all now." Jason flung his arms into the air in exasperation.
"I didn't say it was haunted as such," Iolaus defended. "It's just that this time of year they say that the pits of Tartarus open up and for one day all the spirits can come out and mess with the mortals, play pranks and stuff."
"Where do you get this stuff from?"
"Jason, he gets it from people he walks around talking to," Hercules tried to sound placating.
"And maybe Ares will pop in wearing a pirate costume and say, "Trick or Treat," Jason replied.
Hercules grimaced, "I don't know about the treat but I've had the trick already."
"I tell you, weird stuff happens this time of year," Iolaus stated.
"Jason, don't, just humor him. I don't want to referee between you two anymore."
"I'm hungry," Iolaus announced.
"Well, that's normal," Jason commented.
"We haven't caught anything yet. Haven't even seen anything to catch, that's unusual," Hercules observed.
The hunter was philosophical, "We'll catch something tomorrow. We've got bread and cheese and this looks like a good place to camp."
Jason turned around in the clearing, "Yeah, it does. Ok, he's right. Let's stop."
Hercules gathered wood while Iolaus and Jason built a rock pit to shelter the fire from the stiff breeze. They worked quickly and were soon seated around a roaring fire. Bread broken and cheese consumed, the three students soon settled in for the night.
Iolaus leaned against a tree not willing to lie down and feeling more secure with the solid mass at his back. The full moon periodically darkened by heavy clouds, left the earth to languish in shadow. Iolaus didn't sleep. He resolved to watch over his friends tonight. He would help them get through this even if they wouldn't help themselves.
The wind whipped around the camp dislodging anything not tied down. It circled them incessantly. At midnight the wind turned to the north sending the hunter scrambling to get closer to the fire's warmth. He huddled into himself and tried not to jump at every crash and wail, telling himself it really was just the wind.
"Iolaus, you're just scaring yourself, go to sleep."
"Can't Herc, it's not safe. We need a watch."
Hercules sighed, "Ok, wake me when you get sleepy and I'll take over."
"So you admit something's going on?"
"No, I admit that you've been strange all day and if you don't get some sleep tonight you'll be grouchy and strange tomorrow. I don't think that's a combination that I can put up with very long. I might have to hurt you and I don't like doing that. And I'll probably have to fight Jason for the privilege. I don't like that either."
"Go to sleep, Herc."
"Herc? Hercules. Wake up."
"Over there, there's something out there."
The demigod sat up and peered blearily at a white spectral shape in the distance. "What is it?"
"I don't want to know," Iolaus replied.
Jason stood with them, woken by their movement. He pulled his dagger.
Iolaus looked at him askance, "What are you going to do with that? Ghosts are already dead."
"Who says it's a ghost?" Jason asked then shrugged and slid the knife back into it's sheath.
"Let's get closer."
"Herc! Are you crazy?" Iolaus moved to follow even as he spoke.
"I don't think it's a ghost."
The three boys moved closer, staying in cover whenever possible. The object continued luring them closer with it's billowy dance, taunting them.
As Jason stepped around a tree into the open, the apparition attacked. It flew through the air and engulfed the Crown Prince of Corinth with a sickening splat. Hercules ran to help him. Jason thrashed about not allowing his friends to get a hold on him. Finally throwing off the creature Jason fled through the woods as the apparition sailed in the opposite direction. Iolaus chased after Jason while the stunned demigod hesitated.
"Wait! I think it's....Stop, guys! Wait!" He followed after them.
Fear made them run faster. Hercules finally caught up with his companions in a cliff side cave where they had crawled into a niche off the main cavern.
"Why didn't you stop when I called?" Hercules puffed, out of breath from their late night exertion. "Herc! You saw what it did to Jason. It tried to eat him!"
"Iolaus, I think it was a sheet blowing in the wind. It blew in off someone's clothes line."
"No way, Hercules," Jason exclaimed, "Look at this sticky stuff it left all over me. How can a sheet slime me?" Jason pushed at the green blobs of gelatin.
"I don't know, maybe the sheet ran into other stuff before it ran into you. Who knows how long it's been blowing around out there. With that wind, we're probably safer in here."
Jason let out an exhausted sigh, "You know I think Iolaus is finally making us crazy, I really thought that was a--"
"Shhhh!" Hercules held up a hand for silence, "I think we've got bigger problems."
"What?" Iolaus leaned forward trying to see around his tall friend.
"A three-headed problem," Jason lamented, "You see what your craziness has gotten us into?" He smacked Iolaus on the arm.
"A hydra?" Iolaus asked wide-eyed.
Hercules stepped out of the way, so Iolaus could see the serpent for himself.
The blond sighed resigned to his fate, "Welcome to my nightmare."
"What are we going to do about it?" Jason asked.
"You're staying here. I'm going to make a dash for that niche over there and distract it while you two make a run for the entrance."
"What about you, Hercules? How will you get out?" Jason asked.
"We'll figure that out when we get that far. Here we go!" Hercules ran, leaping over boulders in the way and yelling insults at the creature. One head ducked down toward the demigod who gave it a solid smack with his fist as it came into range. The head wobbled drunkenly as it rejoined it's fellows.
In the meantime, Jason and Iolaus ran back the way they had come, pausing in the cave entrance to make sure Hercules made it to the safety of the niche. Suddenly, Jason found himself being shoved against the wall of the cave
Iolaus let him up in time to see the sticky sheet smack into the center head of the hydra. Hercules, seeing his chance, joined his friends at the entrance. They watched as the hydra writhed under the influence of the linen apparition. Obviously a sheet now that they stopped to take a second look at it. Chuckling, the trio made their way back into the dark, outside world.
The wind had once again changed direction and the warm southerly breeze returned.
Hercules set out toward the east around the woods.
"Hey, Herc, wrong way. Hunting is over here." Iolaus gestured towards the woods.
"Change of plans. Let's go surprise my mom. Her place isn't far. We can bed down in the barn until morning and be there when she gets up."
Jason slapped Iolaus on the arm, "See what you're foolishness has done? Now we're not even going hunting tomorrow. Now we'll hang out at Alcmene's and you know she's always got a list of stuff for us to fix and work to do. We'll end up working our holiday."
Iolaus smiled in the moonlight, "Yeah, but the food's fantastic. Maybe she'll make pumpkin pie. Jason, have you ever had Alcmene's pumpkin pie?"
And the moral of this story: A fool a day, keeps the hydra at bay. OR A fool in the barn is better than a sheet in the breeze.
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