Welcome back to another story! The store is a little bit different from other ones, because it's formatted similar to an essay with some creative overlay thrown in. The reason has to do with the story's prompt.
This story was written as a final exam for an English class on Greek mythology. This story was also written back in 2013, but I found it as I was going through some old documents and decided to put us here. The prompt for the exam was that students produce something creative using the material learned in the class (e.g. a story, a bunch of pictures, a video, or even a presentation). However, within the creation, the story was expected to contain as many facts as possible, to prove that students understood what they learned within the class. Ideally, the exam also had to expand on what was learned in the class, since the material was a basic overview of Greek mythology. Exams could focus on whatever they wanted, as long as the original content was something learned in the classroom.
Since writing and research was what I liked to do and what I considered my forte, I decided to write a research project with a story woven in. The result was the story here. It's hard knowing that this story had some pretty stringent word and page limits, so some areas have less description than what is normally seen. Other than that, see the author's notes for details, and enjoy!
Recounting the Times
I glanced around as I carefully weaved myself into a crowd of people. They seemed not to notice my twisted feet, the tapping of my cane against the ground, or even the limp that had earned me my mother's rejection. Were they truly that self-absorbed? Then again, maybe such occurrences were considered normal in this new world. I had heard from the rest of the gods that people like me in this new place were treated better. Many more of them inhabited it, to the point where they had created their own pantheon of sorts. They called an advocacy movement, but I didn't take time to understand the inner workings. Just the idea of rejections not happening was pleasing, but I still longed for the old world.
This was world where the Greek gods had followers, instead of being reduced to bedtime tales ("myths" they called them). Right now, this crowd was blissfully unaware that they were in the presence of Hephaestus, god of fire and the forge. With my skills, I had dragged myself back to Mount Olympus after the fall, trapped my angry mother Hera, and earned my place on Mount Olympus with the help of Dionysus. I then went on to craft armor and weapons for many a hero, and found my beautiful (yet unfaithful) wife Aphrodite.
And these people would never know any of this. They had chosen to leave us behind.
I heard it first. It was a low humming sound, like a thousand bees. It only grew more high-pitched as time went on. What kind of object make can make that sound? Nothing out of my hands, that was for sure.
I had barely time to react to the source of the sound blasting down the busy streets. It moved at a speed so rapid that I could only see a trio of wheels, a streak of red, and a piece of unidentified machinery being held on the back. This time, the crowd surely stared as they scurried to get out of the way. A rider must have been controlling the beast, but I couldn't make out any distinct features. As the crowd started to recover, I thought of only one thing that could go so fast so easily.
Apollo's Chariot. But what was it doing here?
It wasn't long before I found the chariot. It had gone ghostly quiet beside a table in some sort of festival ground. I had never seen a festival like this, with people lined up and getting strange food from others, but apparently it must've been popular. The crowd from before had swarmed into the entrance like Io's flies, and were constantly trying to get ahead of each other. The chariot rider was nowhere to be found. As stealthily as I could, I crept closer, running my hands against the sleek red metal and mysterious black bars. The thing could not have been taller than me, and yet it was trying to rival Apollo for possession of the sun. What use would a mortal have for mimicking him?
"Oh look, another one."
The voice jolted me out of my analysis as I realize that it belonged to the chariot rider (a woman, unbelievably). Yet, there was no chariot now. She seemed to have donned a piece of bizarre battle armor. A powerful blue force field surrounded her, made by the same mysterious bars and metal as the chariot. Instead of three wheels, it had four, and they wasted no time traversing the battlefield. Draped on the side of the strange armor were black bags, filled to the brim with even more bags. She charged forward without wasting a second. The message was clear.
She had fought for what she wanted and won. And now she was coming for me.
But just as that thought I would face certain doom, an enormous smile spread across her lips. Her eyes glimmered with recognition, and the moving armor slowly came to a halt.
The joyful look in her eyes met my shocked ones as she boldly led the conversation.
"You are Hephaestus, right? The god of fire and the forge, and most importantly, my patron god."
It was when I looked at her twisted, limping, and dragging legs that everything came together.
The chariot and the moving armor were devices to make her walk (she called them "walkers" and "scooters") She had read when she was very young, and knew the details of the many tales. The similarities between us physically was what led to her declaring me her patron. Also, I not been completely forgotten. There were many scholars who studied people like her, and I was a symbol of their field. It was the last thing I wanted be to be remembered for, but some memory is better than nothing at all.
It was then that the rider asked her first question.
Why was it that when the other gods were symbols of physical perfection, that the men of my time still chose to worship me?
At first, I wasn't sure what to tell her. No one had ever quite gotten an answer. It was one of those happenings that was simply accepted as is it was. But there were some theories. Many mortals in my time believed that disabled people had magical powers, and saw me as a magician rather than a cripple. Others thought I was a fire demon. Still many others prayed because they too were crippled, and I was their representative. There were many more disabled people than one could count, and they needed all the prayers they could find.
I should have expected her to have more questions, but I was not expecting her to ask them when she did. The rider asked with a completely unfazed look on her face, how disabled people were treated in my time. At first I avoided the question. She reminded me so much Claudius, a man I had met who once called me Vulcan. His family and courts scorned him for his disability, but he overcame all odds and became a Roman Emperor. His disorder involved difficulty walking, speaking, and trouble with twitching and drooling. Claudius earned the love of the military and many of this people. He also was a brilliant scholar, writing many books. Surprisingly, the rider told me she already knew of Claudius, and also told me his condition was cerebral palsy. She already knew of him because she had the condition, and reiterated her question about the general treatment.
I no choice but to tell her "not well".
Once again, there was no distress, as if she expected it to happen. I found it odd that she would ask the answer to a question she already knew, but continued.
The people of my time had no fancy medicine (the rider called it "science"), so they could only rely on the gods. Therefore, disabilities were seen as the work of the gods. Some disabilities, such as epilepsy, or even considered sacred. The shaking and foaming (once again, the rider gave me another name, seizure) were seen as communication with the gods. Unfortunately, most disabled were not as lucky. A healthy child was seen as the gods' blessing, while a disabled child, the gods' punishment or displeasure. In fact, the languages of my time did not even have a word for disabled people, instead using the same set of words that people would use to describe mythical monsters.
Unfortunately, the rider's next question went even more into a tragic history. What did families when have they found out they had a disabled child? The answer that was most of them are simply abandoned or killed. I expected her to be in shock, but her knowledge prevailed again. She knew that most of the ancient cultures were based on warriors, then a child that could not fight no place there. They would simply use up money and other resources. Still, she bade me continue. There was still information she wanted to know. How were things like for individual situations?
Though all cities did not offer disabled many chances, none were tougher than the kingdom of Sparta. The difference between Sparta and other cities was that instead of being the property of the parents, children were the property of the state. As a result, not disposing of a disabled child was illegal. Immediately after birth, the child would be given a health assessment by the village elders. If the child was in the least bit disabled, fathers would be ordered to leave their child to the die. Other places were not as merciless. Rome allowed families of disabled children to still claim the monetary benefits of having a child. Athens had a system for disabled children (the rider said the word was "welfare").
Clearly, the rider argued, some disabled people had to survive infancy, or otherwise there would be no records about them at all. I carefully explained to her that those that did survive were often the entertainment the higher class. This finally seem to elicit a reaction, as she threw up her hands exclaiming how horrible and barbaric such treatment was. Disabled people clearly were not animals, she exclaimed passionately. This was the moment I had been hoping to avoid, because I desperately did not want to upset one of the few believers the Greek gods had left. However, after her slight outburst, the rider wanted to know what type of entertainment.
The most common disabled entertainers were the little people (in her world, dwarfs). They were collected and exhibited in freak shows. Another type of disabled person, the hunchback, also served this purpose. Some of them were singers, dancers, and even jugglers. One market that was also particularly valuable was disabled slaves.
At this, the rider's eyes went wide. Would not disabled slaves be useless and reviled, since they were made to work? Many of them were, but other times they were highly prized. Just as entertainers were sought after, disabled slaves could be a status symbol. It was the idea of collecting humans that worked to disabled slaves' advantage. Families looking to buy disabled slaves often had to pay much more for them than their able-bodied counterparts. Disabled slaves, I told her were a symbol of good luck in some families. She rolled her eyes, wondering how lucky one could get if one is forced to work for the rest of their life. I gently reminded her that the definition of lucky for the people of my time was probably different than her definition, and that simply living was considered lucky. Unfortunately, even the luckiest slaves still had to pay their dues, like sexual favors between slave and master. At that point, the rider requested to stop the conversation about slaves there. I immediately obliged, not wanting to have another close call.
I looked back at the table the rider was sitting at. It was filled with food scraps that were immediately dumped in a nearby trashcan. With a heavy heart, I realized our fulfilling conversation was coming to an end. My disappointment must've been evident, because the rider assured me nothing that happened here would be forgotten. When I asked her what she meant by that, she replied that she was also a scholar (which would explain her inquisitive nature). Her next step would be to publish what happened. I protested. If she was the publisher, would she take all the credit? She replied that she would make sure to publish it from my perspective, so that I could be as realistic as possible. Thanking me again for the conversation, she put away the armor, mounted her chariot, and sped off into the distance. As I watched her leave, I couldn't help but smile. For the rider, this conversation may have been something purely informative. But for me, this conversation took me back to the old world I had missed. Even though it was going to come out as a report, it had been worth recounting the times.
-The origin and legend of Hephaestus was what was taught in the Greek mythology class mentioned above, and thus was used as part of the prompt. I did make one small change for this story, however. It is not known if there was a patron god for disabled people overall, other than those that were crippled praying to Hephaestus. However, considering Hephaestus is one of the few disabled gods in any ancient mythology, him being a patron for them, even into modern times, didn't seem too far-fetched.
And that led me into the other inspirations for this story.
-Since I am physically disabled myself, I was always intrigued by the tale of Hephaestus. When I heard it again in class, I started to wonder how disabled people were treated in the era of the ancient Greeks. Then I began to wonder how it compared to the modern world, and what would happen if the two worlds somehow collided. I started doing research on some of my questions, and the end result was the story. The questions that the woman asks Hephaestus are questions that I wanted to answer during my research, and the replies that Hephaestus gives are from the information found.
-Hephaestus's reaction to seeing modern adaptive technology and what he compares it to is based on my own interpretations. Since there's no way of knowing how ancient Greeks would've reacted to the modern world, I chose to just base Hephaestus's reactions on what he might've considered familiar. So I chose to sprinkle mythology in the story, such as Apollo's chariot and Io's flies. This is also why Hephaestus believes that the walker is a suit of armor, and that the woman is heading into battle.
-So cerebral palsy is the physical disability I have in real life, with it behaving exactly the same as it does in the story. The walker and the scooter are also objects that I use in real life, looking and work in the exact same way they do in this story. The one exception is that the walker has never been on the back of the scooter, even though I sometimes have the two of them with me and switch off depending on where I am. In real life, another person has to hold the walker and walk with me while I use the scooter. However, adding other person just to do that would be clumsy and necessary for the story, so I just chose to create something that could carry the walker. It is worth noting that I've been wanting to get something that would hold the walker on a scooter, but currently no such object exists. There is a chance something could exist in the future, though.
-Claudius is a real-life Roman Emperor that is known for the exact same things that he is in this story. The story of Claudius was another one that intrigued me, especially since he is one of the first recorded cases of cerebral palsy (even though the disability wasn't called that at the time). Therefore, even though the story features ancient Greek mythology, I decided it was still important to include Claudius. Since this story takes place in the modern era, Hephaestus would probably know about the ancient Romans anyway. The reason being that the Romans adapted the Greek mythology for their own use, but the original gods were still worshiped and respected. However, the gods were given different names, which is why Hephaestus states that Claudius called him Vulcan.
-This story was quite a bit different in its original incarnation. Originally, it was going to be more like a traditional story, with descriptions of background items. For example, the festival that Hephaestus is that was originally going to be described as a state fair, and the woman that he talked to would have had a full description. The story would've us been told through a lot of dialogue, instead of the woman just listening to the information and having reactions based on what she did and did not know. However, I chose not to do things like this for a number of reasons. One was the stringent word count mentioned, and I realized that my typical descriptions would not work with it. These description would also take away from the research that the story was supposed to be based around, because said research would lose its focus. So I ended up going with the format I have here. However, I may do a traditional story involving Greek mythology and the modern world someday. It may not be a redone version of the story, though.