Those of you who are familiar with my blog are used to my snarky and hopefully amusing posts, but I think I will take a break from that for this most hallowed of holidays. No worries, there’s sure to be plenty of sarcasm in the future, but how about we make this easy today. Let’s just give some free shit away, shall we? I thought you might like that. All I ask you to do is sign up for the blog and leave a comment below telling me you did it. Yep, that’s it. For those who are already following the blog, just leave a comment stating as such. When the week is over and the ghastly ghouls are walking the streets in search of candy, I will chose one lucky winner out of a hat (high tech as always) to receive my lovely Coffin Hop Grand Prize including: A signed copy of my premiere collection Ad Nauseam, a signed copy of a limited edition chapbook (ONLY 500 IN EXISTENCE) published by none other than Cemetery Dance, one copy of the Exclusive Coffin Hop Teaser for next year’s much anticipated Death By Drive-In anthology in the e-format of your choice, one sweetly spooky Halloween sock monkey, a collection of classic horror movies, and many more spectacular goodies! For the rest of you who don’t win, as There Can Only Be One, here’s a special treat, something I very rarely do… A free short story. I’m adamantly against posting free stories on blogs but what can I say, I guess I just got caught up in the spirit of my favorite holiday! So without further adieu, here for your reading entertainment, I give you RETIRED GODS. I hope you enjoy it. And don’t forget to subscribe to my blog and comment for a chance to win all the goodies. HAPPY HALLOWEEN MY FRIENDS.
The old gods were bored. They gathered in the soft sunlight that filtered through the frosted glass windows of the common room in Windy Brooks Rest Home, as they did every day. Some played cards and some watched television, while others stared off into space, lost in their own minds with little hope of return. Like any group of seniors, they spoke of the old days, reminisced about a time when the world was much younger and simpler. This was where they chose to pass the time while they waited. Endless days of waiting; for lunch, then dinner, to watch their shows, to take their meds. Mostly, they waited to die.
Zeus sat at a square table in the corner, his gnarled fingers laboring as he slowly shuffled a deck of cards. Palsy was starting to get the better of him, but as long as he could manage, there would be a game. Hera sat to his left, still beautiful to him after all these years. She smiled and nodded, occasionally reaching out to pat his hand when he spoke, showing her affection. He paid her demeanor little heed, aware that she nodded not out of agreement with anything he said, but because of dementia. Hera was forever trapped in a time before mighty Olympus had fallen, destruction brought about by the Heaven that was a promise made by the Nazarene. Sometimes Zeus envied his wife.
Poseidon sat directly to Zeus’ right, a chair pulled away from the table to accommodate his wheelchair. He sat slumped and mostly lifeless, except for his eyes. Though he had ceased speaking months before, Poseidon still watched the game, his faded blue eyes tracking their hands as the hours passed. Zeus finished his painful shuffle and laid the deck carefully on the table.
“Cut the cards, Hades.”
Hades sat directly across from Zeus, his gaze never leaving the arthritic hands as they worked the cards. He still doesn’t trust me. Zeus was amused. After all these years, he still expects me to cheat him. Hades cut the cards and the game began.
Young nurses in bright scrubs adorned with cartoon characters drifted in and out of the room, silently performing their tasks with bland expressions. Windy Brooks was not a rest home strictly for the gods, and they paid no more attention to the conversations of this particular group than any other. The young have a way of tuning out the old, dismissing all their conversation as ramblings of senility. Still, they were cared for competently.
Hades stopped arranging his hand and cocked his head to the side, his bulbous nose turned up to sniff the air.
“Do you smell that?”
“I believe Poseidon has shit himself again.” Zeus replied dryly.
“Not that.” Hades waved a hand dismissively. “The other smell. How can you not smell it? It’s death! I smell death! The old man in Room 207 has died.”
“What a bastard he was during his life. He was a thief and a cheat. How I long to collect that soul and drag it across the River Styx to serve me in the underworld!” Hades eyes were bright with wistful excitement. Deaths around the rest home were frequent, sometimes several a week, and they never failed to send Hades into a fit of longing. The knowledge that he no longer ruled the Underworld was painful.
With a triumphant cry, Aphrodite rushed the table, flinging her gown wide and gyrating like an ancient showgirl. Only Hermes took notice, reaching a gnarled hand over to squeeze her pendulous breast, earning a rebuke from Zeus.
“Hermes! Leave your sister alone. Incest has been out of fashion for centuries now.” Chided, but not ashamed, Hermes slunk off to the couch where he pouted in front of the television set. Aphrodite continued to bounce and flop her deflated boobs at the card players for a moment, and then she ran off, cackling like the toothless hag that she was. An orderly disappeared down the hall in pursuit, his gentle voice fading as he coaxed her into abandoning her naked revelry.
Zeus sighed and returned his attention to his cards. Sometimes he wondered if he and Hades were the only ones with any of their faculties. He laid a card and waited for his brother to counter. The daylight was fading and soon it would be dinnertime. He hoped they would have Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes tonight. It was his favorite.
Dionysus raised his frail voice in argument with one of the staff. She was trying to walk away, but he gripped her elbow. This altercation was another daily occurrence, one of the ways they passed the time at Windy Brooks. Dionysus wanted a bottle of wine. Dionysus always wanted wine.
“Just get me my wine!” He insisted, his face flushed with anger.
The nurse shook her head and pried at his fingers. “The doctors’ orders state that you may have one glass of wine every evening, and not until after dinner.”
“Don’t you know who I am?” The old man whined, clearly near tears.
“Of course I know who you are, Mr. Jones.” She turned on her heal and swiftly left the common room. This same scene took place every night. You could almost set your watch by it. Giving up on his wine, Dionysus turned his attention toward Zeus for yet another predictable conversation.
“Yes, Dionysus.” Zeus replied calmly.
“Why don’t we go find the Old Norse Gods? Or the Egyptians? That Ra was one powerful guy. Maybe if we all banded together, we could pool what’s left of our powers…” he trailed off as Zeus shook his head sadly.
“They’re gone, Dion. All gone.” Zeus reigned in his frustration with sheer will and not a small amount of pity. “I have told you many times. They are all dead now. There is no help for us anymore.”
Dionysus looked deflated for a moment, then his face brightened and he held up one crooked finger triumphantly, his mouth opened to speak.
“No Dion,” Zeus cut him off, “The Hindu Gods won’t help us. They are still very powerful, but we have tried contacting them. They don’t wish to trifle with relics such as us. I suppose that they too will weaken as time goes by and they become forgotten. It’s the way of the world, my son.”
Zeus patted Dionysus on the back, but he just stared out the window, his lined face stricken with misery. This also happened every evening.
The glorious days of Olympus were long gone, but the gods hadn’t gone quietly into submission. They had been vain and powerful at first, enjoying centuries of play on Earth and in the Heavens, watching and meddling in the existence of mortals at will, often ruining lives for little more than sport. So feared were they that their powers fed on the emotions of their subjects, both adoration and terror, growing stronger every time a mortal turned his gaze to Olympus in prayer. It was a good time for the old gods, and they had foolishly believed it would be such until the end of time. Many wars were fought to preserve their territory and way of life, battles often sparked by jealousy and vanity. In the end, they were defeated by something that had never occurred to them. Love.
A Jewish man from Nazareth quietly walked the lands, encouraging all the people of the Earth, both before and after his death, to abandon their old gods and embrace his own. His message was powerful. He promised love and redemption, something that people desperately wanted after dealing for so long with the fickle gods of old. Their subjects responded, pulled by the power of a compassionate God, never petty or spiteful like the ones they worshipped. No matter how hard Zeus and the others tried, however much they spread punishments to the mortals under their rule, the people slowly slipped away from them.
Other gods met their destruction by Muhammad’s message, and some were simply pushed aside in favor of science. Men would continue to kill in the name of a God, but not their names. Not anymore. They became stories, myths, and their strength slowly dwindled over the centuries, rendering them little more than mortals. With their powers went immortality and they eventually aged, becoming the shells of gods that now sat in the common room of the home, playing cards and losing their minds. The only magic they had left came from scores of middle school students who studied them briefly in class and for a moment found them cool. This was no life for a former deity.
“Zeus?” Hades soft voice intruded on his reverie, bringing him back to the present. He found his mind wandering more often lately and it scared him more than he cared to admit. Zeus could handle the infirmities of the flesh that plagued him daily, but was terrified of losing his mind. Whatever else awaited him, he wanted to meet it with his wit and intelligence intact. “ZEUS!”
Hades pointed to the right where Poseidon slumped, his head back and eyes unblinking, jaw slack. He had quit breathing again and the rest of the gods formed a semicircle of concern around their fallen comrade. All eyes fell to Zeus, pleading silently for him to fix the situation. He closed his own eyes for a moment and dug deep in his being, harnessing whatever pool of strength and power he still possessed, before he laid his hand gently on Poseidon’s unmoving chest. With a grunt of exertion, Zeus felt the hairs on his arm crackle as a subdued bolt of blue lightning passed through his hand and into the heart below it. Poseidon’s body bucked lightly and everyone gasped, watching in wide-eyed anticipation of whether or not it would work this time.
After several agonizing seconds, during which Zeus was sure he had failed to revive his brother, Poseidon drew a harsh breath and coughed, his eyes bleary and unfocused. As the fit passed, he looked around at the concerned faces that hovered around him. With a scowl, his eyes darted to Zeus, and to everyone’s amusement, his shaky hand raised and shot Zeus the world’s most pathetic bird. Zeus smiled and shuffled the cards, happy Poseidon had come back from the brink, but not certain that he would have it in him next time.
The mood in the room inevitably turned from amused to somber, as the gods considered the enormity of what would have happened if Zeus had failed. Soon the questions began.
“What’s going to happen to us?”
“Where will we go when we die?”
“What do we do?”
Questions barraged Zeus from every side. Only silently nodding Hera and the mute Poseidon refused to join in the verbal assault. They had relied on Zeus for the entirety of their long existence and still looked to him for answers to questions that both confused and terrified them. Answers he did not have. Frustrated by his impotence in the matter, Zeus threw up his hands, scattering cards about the table. His thunderous scowl, a part of his former glory, caused them all to cringe away, fearful of the mighty lightning bolt he no longer possessed. “I DON’T KNOW!”
Zeus’s shout earned him a reproachful look from a passing nurse, as he painfully gathered his deck of cards together. The other gods huddled in the corner, causing Zeus to regret his outburst. He didn’t mean to scare them, but DAMNIT! He didn’t know everything. His days of omnipotence were long gone, and he knew no better than the rest of them what fate awaited the gods on the other side of death. How could any man know such a thing? All men went to their deaths, unknowing and alone. It was the fear of all the elderly, so close to their time but unsure of the outcome. Zeus was no longer a god, just an old man, fearfully waiting for his end.
Zeus laid the deck in the middle of the table. They had time for just one more game before dinner. “Cut the cards, Hades.”
And if you’re really enjoying the Hop and want to help support the 2013 release of Death By Drive-In, featuring 22 of our very own Coffin Hoppers, visit http://www.cafepress.com/coffinhop for some cool swag with all proceeds going directly to the release of that charity anthology!