A middle-aged god in winged loafers, who preferred to be known as Hermes as opposed to any of his later names, muttered to himself as he finally reached the bottom of the stair.
He was on his way to a little-traveled nook on the 64th sub-basement of Olympus. Even he, messenger of the Gods, hadn’t been to the floor since before Cleopatra was born.
However, the gods on high (specifically, his know-it-all older sister, Athena, who was currently stepping in while their father was…inconvenienced with personal issues) had finally realized that something was very wrong in the mortal world, and it was beginning to effect the godly realm. The human governments were working like thousand-year-old clockwork in desperate need of an oil can. That was to say, they weren’t working much at all, and their ineptitude was bleeding over.
It had been apparent even as far back as 1776, but during that time, most of the Gods had been on a well-deserved sabbatical (which was a kind way to say that the major gods were very, very busy trying to scrape up a handful of followers to keep their godly posteriors corporeal and maintain Mt. Olympus).
They expected the minor gods to just go about their normal work and get on with it. It wasn’t like they had much choice. A small god’s power was tied to their area of godhood after all. If they didn’t tend and expand their influence, they’d eventually slip into a torpor and fade away.
Looking down at the governing bodies of nearly every nation on Earth, it was apparent: nothing was getting done.
So, Hermes took it upon himself (well, with orders from Athena, because he’d been stupid enough to bring the matter up in the first place), to trudge down a million flights of steps (physics on Olympus didn’t quite merge with the so-called laws that the humans kept trying to bind them with), dodge a hungry chimera, and check in on the small god of bureaucracy.
Hermes couldn’t even remember when the pantheon had picked the guy up. It had to have been during the heyday of Rome, when every toilet in the city had its own minor god or goddess. Olympus had been bustling with a whole city of deities, major and minor, all trying to acclimate to one another with varying degrees of success.
He allowed himself a small smile for those bygone days when the wine (and sometimes godly ichor) flowed and all roads seemed to lead to Olympus.
He finally reached his destination. A narrow wooden door with frosted glass and a distinct air of neglect.
He walked in. The scent of burned coffee permeated the tiny cramped office. Towers of files reached up, and up, and up…so high that even he couldn’t see the top.
A brass plaque on the desk read:
God of Bureaucracy
A grey feathered harpy with a beehive hairdo emerged from the stacks, bloody Greek sword in one hand, and a cup of the awful sludgy coffee he’d smelled in the other.
She snarled, “What are you doing here, godling?”
Hermes frowned. “I’m looking for…” He checked the plaque once more, just to be sure. “Bob.”
The harpy smirked and took a long drink of the coffee. “Took you gods long enough to figure it out.”
“Figure what out?”
She walked behind Bob’s desk and Hermes saw that she’d made a nest of what looked like human bones and the paperwork the office was supposed to be pushing through.
“I’m Bob’s receptionist.” She settled into the nest and picked up a fresh, dripping femur that still had a Nike shoe attached.
Hermes had visited all kinds of gods in his days as messenger, so he was able to keep a straight face. “Charmed. Now what is the issue with Bob?”
The harpy chuckled. Hermes noted warily that she hadn’t given her name…and that was never a good sign. It often implied that the immortal you were dealing with had plans to invite you to dinner, and not in a fun way.
“Bob retired. He said no one ever read the memos he sent up to Olympus anyway, and he was right. Took off for some island in the Caribbean.”
She scratched her nose with a large, wicked-looking talon, upsetting the dyed-blond bouffant hair whipped around her hideous face like an ice cream cone. “Getting deaf in your old age godling?”
“God don’t just retire. We lose followers and fade, or we continue. It’s the way things are.”
The harpy pulled out the sword and started picking pink bits of brain out of her talons. “Doesn’t need followers, does he? He’s got them. In every government, school, and home owner’s association in the world. All of those poor peons, offering up a daily sacrifice of burned coffee and half-eaten donuts. Bob doesn’t need to be here at Olympus. The less he does, the more his power grows.”
“So, he retired.”
She gave him a man-eating smile. “Yep. And left me here to…handle complaints.”
Hermes started backing toward the door. God or not, harpies were vicious, and though he’d survived the dearth of worshipers much better than some of the Olympians (text messages were like pure ambrosia) he didn’t want to chance a confrontation if he didn’t have to.
“Where do you think you are going, godling?”
“Just going to find your boss and drag him down to Hades for a heart to heart with the Furies.”
The harpy screeched, brandishing the sword she’d been using as a nail file and coming at him in a cloud of feathers and aquanet hairspray.
Hermes ducked, pulled out his trusty caduceus, and wacked her on the head until she stopped squawking.
Hermes squinted in the bright Caribbean light a few days later, a beautiful woman sitting beside him with grey eyes and a wicked-looking scythe.
“Thanks for coming with me Athena.”
She flashed him a grin. “What are big sisters for except to help you steal forbidden weapons from Dad’s stash and help you hunt down your enemies?”
Hermes eyed Kronos’ scythe with no small amount of uneasiness. There was a reason Zeus had locked the thrice-damned thing away, but in between them, it hadn’t been too much of a challenge to release it, and it was one of the few weapons that could actually kill a god. Their father would have surely objected to them ‘borrowing’ it; unfortunately, the father of the gods had been struck with some kind of divine venereal disease for the past five hundred years and was rarely in a position to notice anything more than his collection of sores, pustules, and rashes.
On the beach sat a fat little god in an expanded lawn chair, surrounded by lovely human women and a couple of nereids, drinks in hand.
“Looks more like Dionysus than a god of bureaucracy.”
“He’s been out of the game for a couple hundred years.”
“Let’s get him.”
It went badly, as things tended to do around his older, somewhat more violent sister, at least for the other side.
Bob, though somewhat corpulent and very, very short, was flush from the unintended worship of millions of bureaucrats across the world.
However, Athena was hell on wheels when it came to warfare and had a steady, enthusiastic bunch of humans constantly feeding her with their devotion to Etsy.
Bob, who seemed to recognize that the jig was up, tried to crush them with piles of outdated IRS forms. Athena incinerated them and the entire beach full of humans to run screaming. Hermes rolled his eyes at both of their antics and waved a hand. All of the videos the humans tried to take blanked.
It wouldn’t do to truly alert the humans that the gods were real.
The stench of burned coffee was worse as they approached the bloody little god.
Athena hauled him up by one hand. “You abandoned your post!”
Bob looked mutinous, but he simply shrugged. “And it took everyone four hundred years to notice. It’s not like anyone likes bureaucracy. I don’t even like it, and I’m in charge of it.”
“Did it ever occur to you that if you hated that much, you should just change it?”
His lips formed a mean little smile. “Why should I do that? It’s kept me fat and full of power for the last two thousand years while most of your pantheon has waned down to the point where they need adult diapers.”
Hermes winced at the squishing sound as Athena beheaded the little god in one strong swipe. His sister wasn’t one to take insults to her family (or herself) lying down.
Bob had obviously been an idiot.
Athena picked up his head and spun it into a shield to match the one she had on her wall with Medusa’s head and gave him a grin that reminded him of when they were both young.
“Well, at least we won’t have to file any paperwork about this whole mess, since there isn’t anyone to process it.”
Hermes thought about the piles of files in the office. “I think we’ll need to assign some poor soul the work Bob was avoiding.”
“Well, Hades does have all those ex-IRS agents stuck in Tartarus.”
Across the world, legislative bodies that had been in gridlock for more years than anyone cared to remember suddenly found that they were able to pass laws and do business in the same way that every other bleeding entity on the plant was able to.
And for those that were a bit slow on the uptick, Athena kept the scythe.
About Vanessa Wells
Vanessa Wells lives with her family deep in an enchanted forest (in Texas). Her hobbies include writing, drinking tea and coffee, reading, writing some more, and cooking. She battles daily infestations of plot bunnies…and dust bunnies, but that’s another matter entirely.
Vanessa is the author of the Seventeen Stones Trilogy and the Topeka, TX Chronicles, and the AREA 52 short story series. She is also the editor of the anthologies Spirit and Trick or Treat, and a contributor to Adventure of Creation and Ye Olde Magick Shoppe.
She is currently editing an new anthology called Grumpy Old Gods with Juneta Key and working on the next story in the AREA 52 series, Gamma.
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