Tantalus Looks for Work (1 of 1)

A handful of dust fell from his hand.
“This is a season of metal,” he said.

Tantalus walks into Burger Land. He knocks on Sharon’s door. At her signal, he enters. He says, “I would like to apply for a job here.”

“Do you have fast food experience, Mr. . . .”


“Mr. Tantalus?”

“No.” He shakes his head.

Sharon looks around in her desk. She passes him a form. She says, “Fill this out, and we’ll check your references, and then you can come in again.”

Tantalus begins to fill out the form.

“It’s a funny name,” Sharon says. “It’s like that guy, what’s his name—”


“Yeah. The guy who stood in a land of plenty, but had nothing to eat or drink.”

“Yes,” Tantalus says. “That was me.”

Sharon laughs nervously.

“It was everything that Burger Land is not,” Tantalus says. “This is a land where food and water flow freely.”

He passes the form across the desk. He looks apologetic.

“But I don’t have any references,” Tantalus says.

“That was really you? I mean, in Hell?”

“I cooked my son and served him to the gods,” Tantalus says, “so I spent roughly three thousand years starving in the Underworld. Now my sentence is up and I would like to become a productive member of society.”

Sharon’s face has gone curiously blank. There is a silence. Then she stands up. She indicates the door with a nod. “Not in Burger Land,” she says.

So he goes out.

Tantalus applies for work as a secretary.

“Can you take dictation?” asks Mr. Swenson.

“I cannot,” says Tantalus, “but I know the secret of the gods.”

“Right!” says Mr. Swenson. “Right! You’re that guy.”

Mr. Swenson leans in. He winks conspiratorially. “How did you get out?”

“A boy named Martin was leaving,” Tantalus says. “And he looked at me. And he reached out to me. And a handful of dust fell from his hand.”

“Was it important dust?”

“‘This is a season of metal,’ he said.”

Mr. Swenson grins. “You know,” he says, “there are a lot of old myths running around these days. You might not want to pull pranks like this, or someone might think you’re actually the real thing.”

“The real thing?”

“Well, Tantalus is kind of a distinctive name, you know? And it’s got this huge burden of guilt on it.”

“I have a huge burden of guilt,” Tantalus agrees.

“Get lost,” Mr. Swenson grins. He gestures towards the door. “But thanks for bringing a little humor to my day.”

Tantalus wanders out, and it’s the most beautiful city street he’s ever seen, because the cars that zip past don’t pull away when he reaches for them, and the trash bins he rummages in are full of food even when he touches them, and he can drink from the drinking fountains and quench his thirst. And the sidewalk is nearly always white, and not the color of dust; and the asphalt is nearly always black, except for the yellow and white in the middle, and not the color of dust; and the wind has been a bright and happy caress ever since it changed in April.

“I love this,” he says.

He is in one of the richest countries in the world, and he is terribly thin. He is mostly water, and he is very thirsty. There is usually a few days’ growth of beard on his face. His suit smells of Goodwill.

“I love this,” he says. “But starving to death would be a terrible irony.”

So he walks across the bridge, out across the sea of chaos, and to the door of a tower, and he knocks, and he says, “I’d like to apply for a job.”

“You can’t use the name Tantalus,” Mr. Schiff tells him. “No one would ever be able to suspend their disbelief.”

“It’s all right,” Tantalus says. “I’ll use the stage name Saul.”

16 thoughts on “Tantalus Looks for Work (1 of 1)

  1. !

    (I’m wondering about that (1 of 1), though. Martin left the Underworld in what was presumably 1995. It’s now 2004 in the story, maybe later. What has Tantalus been doing for nine years?)

  2. The entries with Arabic numerals don’t necessarily go in chronological order, it seems. They’re only “present” relative to the entries with Roman numerals.

  3. Okay, I’ve just done what I should have thought to do initially: check to see if there’s a player in the legends named Saul.

    Which of course there is. And there are certain…recurring themes in the legends with Saul in them.

    Those interested should check out:
    Downhill, Uphill, Hereabouts
    The Sea is not Kind
    Brick Road
    Standing and Watching
    The Puppy is Sad

    I wonder if this post came about as a result of my question about the players in the legend? If so, then I’m chuffed.

  4. The really interesting thing….

    According to the apocryphal story of the Harrowing of Hell, during the three days between the Passion and the Resurrection, Christ descended into Hell and brought salvation to the virtuous pagans (basically, everyone mentioned favorably in the Old Testament).

    To whom did Martin bring salvation in the Underworld? Tantalus. (Possibly others, too, but definitely Tantalus.)

    What does that mean? I really have no idea. But the parallel is clearly significant.

  5. This is a story, rather than a history. According to the patterns we’ve seen before, this means it is happening “now.”

    Saul has appeared in legends before. This appears to demonstrate, like a few other things, that the legends are in no particular chronological order relative to the progress of in-continuity linear time.

    And yes, he tends to be in hell an awful lot in the legends he acts in.


  6. Hrm.

    On April 25 2004, Sebastian asks the monster what Martin said to him.

    “A handful of dust fell from his hand,” the monster answers. “‘This is a season of metal,’ he said.”

    Martin’s time in the Underworld may have just ended, chronologically.

  7. I couldn’t remember the significance of the season of metal. So I looked it up. Now you don’t have to!

    From Hopping Vampire Explains the Five-Element Cycle (Dubbed):

    METAL is the element of autumn. It is the season of sorrow. Even the leaves shed blood in honor of their fallen comrades.

    From Transformation (1 of 1):

    “What’s it actually mean?” Jane says.

    “It’s the season of gathering,” Martin says. He goes over to a cot in the corner of the room, reaches under it, and pulls out a handful of dust bunnies and lint. Martin does not vacuum this room very often, and the last time he exposed the Roomba to the vapors of chaos, it developed sentience and an End of Everything Button. “In the spring, you see, it’s all right to be choosy. To say, ‘I’ll keep this dust bunny, but not that one. I like fruit, but I don’t like squash.’ But when the months pass and the year grows older, it’s important to collect everything you can. To look for the good and the salvageable in everything. To have hope for things, even if it costs you.”

    Also, the Kali Yuga, which is referenced in An Answer to Emptiness (II/II), is an age of iron.

  8. Hopping Vampire lost his head in Hopping Vampire Explains the Five-Element Cycle (Dubbed). I don’t know whether he appears again after that.

    The Harrowing of Hell appears explicitly, by the way, in
    Saul. I think that Jesus appearing to Saul (who we now know is Tantalus’ stage name) during the Harrowing of Hell in a legend confirms that Martin, who actually freed Tantalus, is a Christ figure. I wouldn’t have thought that Tantalus qualified as a virtuous pagan but the Jesus in the legend does say that “Doctrine allows for this possibility”. In the history rather the legend, freeing him is part of looking for the good and the salvageable in people, and having hope.

    The handful of dust is Jane’s previously created brothers, evidently: “I thought they were people,” Martin says. “I thought they were my predecessors. But when I touched them, it turned out that all they were was dust.”

  9. It’s odd that Martin released Tantalus in the same way he persuaded the monster to join the hero in The Chorus of Definition (1 of 1). I think this may be some way in which he releases the someone from bonds (of suffering?) – Tantalus from the underworld, and the monster from Amiel’s promise.

    As for the other members of the cast, I suspect we must have seen most of them already under other names. I’ve wondered if Ink Catherly was Mei Ming, based purely on her name.

    Mr Schiff puzzles me. He is an old god, since her recognizes Parvati’s offering in An Answer to Emptiness (II/II). He is a cthonic god: he’s a geology teacher. And he’s in the habit of falling. Is he Hades?

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