The Deity Convention
[This is an excerpt from my novel, They Who Are Having A Bad Day. This passage is abridged from most of Chapter 22.]
Date: Friday, May 12th
Slowly, majestically, the Great God Voltoon and the Monstrous Jake ascended the red-carpeted steps leading to the massive glass doors of the Great Hall. At the top of the steps, a choir of angels cleared their angelic throats. A dozen uniformed trumpeters, six of them stationed at the right of the great doors and six on the left, snapped to attention and blatted the opening notes of a fanfare.
“Care to ’splain to me again what I’m doing here?” said Jake.
“As you were declared the Messiah of the planet Tzuke by the inhabitants of said planet,” Voltoon intoned, “and thereafter deified, you have earned the right to be here.”
The trumpeters blatted again. Brightly berobed and becaped heralds pushed the great doors open and placed regal brown rubber wedgie doorstops under the great outer corner of each great door. A platoon of drummers, cymbalists, accordianists, and electric guitarists marched out, split neatly into two groups, and formed on either side next to the trumpeters. A tympanist and triangle player followed and stood at attention, one a few steps to the left and the other a few steps to the right.
“All I did,” said Jake, estimating the number of steps remaining until he reached the top, “was ask for a burger.”
“That’s usually the way it starts,” said Voltoon.
The trumpeters continued blatting. The drummers rolled, the cymbalists crashed, the accordianists polkaed, the guitarists arpeggioed, the tympanist pummeled, the triangle player tinked, and one of the heralds glanced at his watch.
“La la la,” sang the choir of angels,
The triangle player tinked again.
“Dudes,” Jake wheezed. He waved feebly at the choir of angels. The choir waved back in an angelic manner.
“I told you you should cut back on the cigars,” said Voltoon. “Only sixty more steps.”
“Kiss my messianic hinder,” said Jake. He stopped to catch his breath. “You didn’t answer my question. I didn’t ask why I’m allowed to be here. I asked why you dragged me here.” He pointed a claw at a crimson and gold banner reading WELCOME DEITIES spread across the columns of the Great Hall’s façade.
The Great God continued up the steps. “All part and parcel of your new career path,” he called over his shoulder. “You have to rub shoulders with the other gods and goddesses.” He turned back to face the panting monster. “It’s a deity thing.”
“Do I get to condemn people’s souls to eternal damnation?” Jake asked. “You’re on my short list.”
“Take a number,” said Voltoon. He turned and resumed his climb.
“So apart from my career progression,” Jake yelled at the back of the ascending Great God, “why are we here? What are you doing here? Why this convention, why now?”
Voltoon stopped. He turned around to face the monster. “I don’t know. I don’t know why I needed to come here. I don’t know why I needed you to come too. That was one of the questions I was hoping to find answers to while we were here.”
“That’s two questions,” Jake wheezed.
“Oh, shut up,” said Voltoon.
Sixty steps later, one of the heralds bowed before Jake and handed him a booklet. “Welcome to the 45th Annual Deity Convention,” the herald said. “Would you like to purchase a souvenir t-shirt?”
Jake looked at the booklet in his paws. It was a convention program.
“Available in monstrous, extra-monstrous, and extra-extra-monstrous sizes,” said the herald.
Voltoon pulled a convention booklet from the stack in the herald’s arms and flipped through the pages.
“The souvenir t-shirts,” explained the herald. He looked Jake up and down. “We might have a couple left in extra-extra-extra-monstrous size.”
Jake blinked again. “I’m just an allegorical monster,” he said. “Do you have any allegorical t-shirts?”
Voltoon rolled the booklet into a tight bundle, whacked the herald across the back of the head, dragged the limp body back through the great doors, and tossed the herald down the great steps.
“Thank you, o Great God, thank you,” sang the choir of angels,
Shiva, Destroyer of Worlds and Bringer of Death, waved at Jake from across the grand foyer. Jake waved back. He spotted Ahura Mazda and Anubis chatting in line at the snack bar and waved at them too.
Voltoon returned, still leafing through the program guide. “There’s a seminar this afternoon I want to attend,” said the Great God. “‘Monasticism versus Asceticism: Which One is for You?’ Two o’clock in the conference room.”
“Hi, Jake,” called a lilting voice from the other side of the room. Jake turned to see a fertility goddess waving at him from the event scheduling desk.
“Hi, Denise,” Jake said, waving in return. He pointed a couple of talons at her and winked.
“Oooh, here’s another one,” said Voltoon. “‘Commandments: How Many Is Enough?’ Four o’clock in the Hopewell Room.”
Jake followed a cluster of thunder gods into the main hall of the convention center. Voltoon trailed close behind the monster, his attention still focused on the schedule in the convention program. The Distelfink Room was packed. Jake had to turn sideways to fit his wings through an opening in the crowd. He heard someone call his name from nearby.
The crowd started chanting, “Mua-dude! Mua-dude! Mua-dude!”
Jake blushed in embarrassment. “Aw, c’mon,” he said. “Cut it out.”
Poseidon pointed his trident at the monster and laughed. “You’re stuck with us now, boy,” he said with a chuckle.
Zeus slapped Jake across the back. “By me,” the Greek god bellowed, “they’ll let anybody or anything in here, won’t they?”
Voltoon looked up from the program booklet. “You know these guys?” he said.
“It’s a long story,” said Jake.
The turtle inched closer to the soda cup on the floor in front of him. He stretched his neck as far up as it would go and steadied the cup with one of his front feet. He lunged for the straw and missed. He tried again, clamping his jaw on the straw. He took a long slurp.
“He actually asked you whether you were a drug-induced hallucination or a literary metaphor?” asked Loki.
The turtle released the straw, nodded, then tried to catch the straw again.
“What did you tell him?” said Marduk.
“Steinbeck,” said the turtle.
“And then he just drove off. That figures,” said Artemis. “Typical human.” She took a bite from her slice of pizza. “Oh geez, here come the Parking Gods. They always have to make a grand entrance.”
The band of trumpets blatted another fanfare, the doors of Distelfink Hall swung wide, and the overhead lights flickered. Four gods stood dramatically in the doorway as if waiting for the crowd to acknowledge their presence. Blue-gelled spotlights behind and below them silhouetted the four gods in the clouds of fog generated by dry ice carried in the hems of their capes.
“You may continue the convention,” announced Bert, God of Beltway Interchanges and Parking Garages. “We have arrived.”
The crowd stared at the Parking Gods.
“Don’t all bow down at once,” said Mall-Keezadeck, God of Orange Plastic Cones, with obvious disappointment.
“Poseurs,” muttered a woodland spirit in the back of the room. The crowd returned to their conversations.
“So did he believe you?” Loki asked.
The turtle released the soda straw and shrugged his shoulders. “Steinbeck,” he said.
“I guess you’re right,” said one of the Pleiades, “it doesn’t really matter if he believed you or not. Although I’ve heard that if no one believes in you, you cease to exist.”
“Naw, that’s not true,” muttered Odin. “Look at me. I haven’t had any real believers in years, but I’m still around.”
“No one ever believed in me,” said Clem, Assyrian God of Practical Shoes. “I’m completely fictitious. And yet, here I am.”
“Did you guys hear how Jake got his godhood?” Marduk said. He took a bite from a chile cheese dog before continuing. “The desert tribespeople on Tzuke fingered him as their messiah. At his enthronement ceremony, he legalized passive voice. Then he told them it was okay to end a sentence with a dangling participle. They made him a god on the spot.”
“Wish I would’ve thought of that,” said Odin. “He’s probably going to be the most popular deity in history now.”
“Speaking of Jake,” said Artemis, “where is the old monster now?”
“I think he’s hanging out in the restaurant with Denise,” said Loki. “Lucky basilisk.”
Ares appeared in a puff of smoke and punched Odin in the shoulder. “Ready?” said the God of War.
“Yup,” said Odin. He rustled through his shopping bag and pulled out a large white notebook binder.
“Where are you guys going?” Loki asked.
“There’s this wargame convention going on next door in the Yossarian Room,” said Odin. “Ares and me have been working on a new game design with the ghosts of Napoleon, Stonewall Jackson, and Julius Caesar. We’re going to put on a big demo game this afternoon.”
Marduk winced. “Oof. Wargamers. Rough crowd. Good luck with that.”
Voltoon found Lao Tzu, Confucius, and Buddha sharing a plate of funnel cake.
“Yo, V-Man,” said Lao Tzu. “Where’s Jake?”
Voltoon’s jaw dropped. “You guys know Jake too?”
“Yes,” said Confucius. “We just did an epiphany thing with him a couple of days ago. Dude, you gotta try this funnel cake.”
Voltoon closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. “The monster gets an epiphany,” he muttered to himself. “I get nothing. The monster gets picked up by a fertility goddess. I get an offer for funnel cake.”
“It’s really good funnel cake,” Buddha said. “Try the blueberry topping. Yum.”
“I need to lay down somewhere quiet for a while,” said Voltoon. “I’ll catch you guys later.”
“Don’t forget what the Bishop told you,” said Lao Tzu. “The powdered sugar topping is good too.”
“I’m trying to forget what everybody told me.” Voltoon turned and worked his way through the crowd towards the nearest doorway. He squeezed past a group of mother goddesses swapping creation stories. In the next room he stopped for a moment to listen to a Viking god of mischief telling a turtle a story about fighter airplanes with wings that fell off in flight. The turtle was obviously bored. Voltoon thought the turtle looked familiar.
Voltoon noticed a stage on the far side of the room. Rows of folding chairs were set up facing the stage. He sat down in the middle of one of the middle rows. Half a dozen guitarists from the band Pozer were tuning their instruments on the stage. A few feet away, Prometheus was having a heated argument with an eagle over what appeared to be a piece of meat.
Two Greek demi-gods dressed in loud purple pinstriped suits sat down next to Voltoon. He recognized them as the brothers Castor and Pollux.
“The funnel cake is really good,” Castor said.
“So I heard,” replied Voltoon. “Would you guys mind explaining to me just exactly what the perdition is going on? I mean, look at all this here. A convention hall full of deities. All the aimless wandering, all the mumbo-jumbo. Is there any point to all this?”
“You mean besides the funnel cake?” asked Pollux.
Castor took off his wide-brimmed felt hat and smacked his brother with it. “I’m sure there are lots of people who are wondering just that,” he said and put his hat back on.
“Is there any meaning at all to any of this?” Voltoon asked. “This whole place is a joke. All of it. Just look at these characters. They’re all absurd.” He pointed at one of the Parking Gods seated a few rows over, trying to chat up a goddess with snakes where her hair should have been. The snakes were trying to bite the Parking God.
“That is the point,” said Pollux. “Or at least one of them. Someone, somewhere, at some point in time, seriously believed in the Parking Gods. Someone else believed in the babe with the snakes for hair. No matter how sincerely you feel about your own faith, to a person who does not share that faith your beliefs may seem absurd.”
“I don’t know what my faith is anymore,” Voltoon said morosely. “I’ve lost track of what good is and what evil is. I don’t think there’s a point to any of this.”
“Of course there’s a point,” said Castor. He produced a cup of coffee from the inside pocket of his jacket and took a sip. “It might not have anything to do with us, though. My brother and I are only trying to get the ball rolling in the right direction.”
“Speaking of which,” said Voltoon. He turned in his seat to face the two brothers. “I heard you two clowns were running some kind of show with Agrippa. Something about an internment camp. What are you two up to?”
“Case in point,” said Pollux. He reached inside his vest pocket and pulled out a piece of apple pie on a white china plate. He dug in another pocket of his jacket, produced a fork, and took a bite of the pie. “Which is more evil, what people say or what people do?”
“Don’t dodge the question,” said Voltoon.
Castor took another sip of coffee. “Agrippa is presently at the center of our universe,” he said. “He is in a position to change things. We’re trying to guide him towards the direction he needs to go.”
“You and Jake are in on this too,” Pollux added, his mouth full of apple pie. “So is Agrippa’s young lady friend, and so is the barbarian guy.”
Voltoon stared at the two brothers. “You’re a couple of doofuses,” he said.
“Yeah,” said Pollux, “we get that a lot.”
“Doofi,” corrected Jake. He slithered into a seat behind Voltoon. Denise the fertility goddess sat down next to the monster. She unwrapped a foot-long submarine sandwich, gave half to the monster, and took a bite out of the other half.
“Dudes,” said Jake, “did you know there’s an emperors’ convention going on next door?” He took a big bite from the sandwich.
Voltoon stood up, carefully folded his chair, and hit Jake across the head with the chair.
“Hey!” protested the fertility goddess.
Location: across the hall, in the Kinderhook Room
Todd, emperor of They Who Are Having A Bad Day, had never been to a convention before. Certainly he had never seen or heard of anything like an emperors’ convention. He wandered up and down the aisles of the vendor room and carefully examined the items for sale on each table. He marveled at the display hosted by DIPCorp, makers of the Minion Dispenser. He sat in on a fascinating seminar on thwarting. He thumbed through the catalogs at the stands run by the companies that rented out bodyguard troops. A couple of infamous lackeys were sitting at a table in the foyer, signing copies of their latest grovel-and-tell autobiographies. Todd had them both autograph the bandages on his arm and shoulder.
Todd made a second trip through the vendor room. This time he stopped at a bookseller’s stand and spent a lot of time browsing the titles. He picked out three hardcover “how to” manuals for beginner galactic emperors, a make-your-own-uniforms handbook filled with full-color illustrations, an odd little booklet on the fundamentals of hand-to-hand combat using cleaning supplies, and a thick history of intergalactic strategic warfare, then shuffled over to stand in line at the cashier’s table. He glanced idly at a magazine rack on a table next to him. One cover caught his eye: a magazine featuring scantily clad young women wearing bits of old uniforms. Todd pulled out a bland-looking treatise on Spanish Civil War tactics and a booklet on Viking runes, then casually grabbed the magazine with the skimpily dressed woman on the cover.
“Oh,” rasped a voice behind him, “are you an emperor too?”
Todd tucked the magazine between the hardbound books in his arms and turned around to look at the man standing in line behind him. The man wore a heavy cloak, with only his nose, mouth and chin visible underneath his hood.
“Yes,” said Todd.
“Evil or benevolent?” asked the man. He spoke slowly and malevolently.
“Evil,” said Todd.
“Excellent,” said the robed man. He pointed a withered finger at Todd’s bandages. “Ooooh, were you in a battle?”
“Er, yes. I’m Todd, Emperor of the Bad Days.”
“Biff,” the man rasped. “Biff the Merciless.” He held out a shriveled hand for Todd to shake. “Have you been to the flea market yet?”
“No,” said Todd, “not yet. Anything good in there?” He shook Biff’s hand and was slightly disgusted at its clammy limpness.
“There’s a guy in there selling loyal henchmen at less than half-price,” said Biff the Merciless. “Another guy had planet-destroying death rays, but I think he sold everything and left at lunchtime. Oh, and you must see the guy selling his home-made ‘Find Your Arch-Nemesis’ kits.”
“Arch-nemesis?” asked Todd.
“Yes,” hissed Biff the Merciless, “you must have one. Every evil emperor must have an arch-nemesis. It’s pretty much your destiny.” Biff spent several seconds pronouncing the word “destiny.”
“Can I help who’s next?” said the cashier.
Todd stepped up to the cash register and set his books down on the table. The cashier looked through the pile and wrote the titles down on a scroll. He pulled the magazine from the pile and waved it over his head.
“Hey, Raymond,” the cashier shouted towards the back of the booth, “do we have any more copies of ‘Scantily-Clad Babes Wearing Tiny Bits of Uniforms, Volume One’?”
“No,” shouted a man in the back, “that’s our last copy there.”
“Most unfortunate,” said Biff the Merciless.
“It’s our best seller,” said the cashier. “Three hundred and sixty-two dollars and fifty-seven cents, please.”
“Did you guys hear about what happened at the deity convention next door?” asked a tall man standing in line behind Biff. He was dressed in a suit of black armor. “Some god hit a monster with a folding chair and started a huge fight.”
“I heard the god who started the fight got beat up by a fertility goddess,” Biff said slowly and malevolently.
Todd handed a credit card to the cashier. “It’s for a friend of mine,” he said, pointing at the magazine. “He asked me to pick it up for him.”
“That’s what everyone says,” replied the cashier. “Do you want a bag for these?”
“Anybody want to meet in my hotel room this evening?” asked the tall man in black armor. “We’re starting a game of Hallways and Hobgoblins at nine o’clock.”
“Count me in,” intoned Biff the Merciless. “I wish to play,” he paused menacingly, “an evil character.”
Todd shoveled his purchases into a shopping bag and headed toward the flea market.
Location: across the building in the Yossarian Room
Ares, God of War, was getting frustrated. The demonstration game wasn’t going well. Odin stood a few feet away from the table, explaining the layout of the terrain to a group of wargamers. The ghosts of Stonewall Jackson and Julius Caesar huddled at the far end of the game table, arguing with another group of players about the rules. The thousands of painted miniature soldiers scattered over the surface of the table were still in their starting positions.
“Look,” Ares addressed the players, “we wrote this game based on our collected experiences from centuries of warfare. We’ve seen thousands of battles, watched millions of warriors die glorious deaths.”
“But it isn’t realistic,” one of the wargamers complained loudly. “The artillery isn’t portrayed accurately and the heavy cavalry units are way too powerful.”
The ghost of Napoleon leaned towards Ares and whispered, “Told you.”
“Non sum qualis eram,” muttered the ghost of Julius Caesar. ["I'm not the man I used to be."]
The ghost of Stonewall Jackson banged his ethereal head slowly against a nearby doorpost.
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