“Hello,” said Zeus, smiling. “I’m god.”
The 32rd human housewife in a row frowned and slammed the door. Zeus noted the address in his address book and walked on to the next one. Twilight was falling quickly over the little Grecian village.
“I think,” said Hermes thoughtfully from behind him, “that we need to try another tactic.”
“Like what?” snapped Zeus, spinning around. “I’ve tried “I’m Zeus,” “I’m god,” “I’m the King of the gods,” and “I’m the ruler of the Olympians.” They all just slam the door! Exactly what do you suggest we try?”
“Maybe we don’t play the god card first thing off,” Hermes suggested, shrugging. He looked up and down the silent street at the lighted houses. All of which, so far, had yielded no result. Personally, Hermes considered that the problem was Zeus’ new patent salesman-like smile, peddling godliness like a smoothie machine, but he didn’t dare say it. Zeus did not take rejection well, and forty-plus minutes of solid and literal rejection from 32 Greek housewives was trying his patience and straining his already-thin temper. Zeus knocked on the next door and prepared the smile. Hermes looked at the house. “Maybe they’re too overwhelmed or something.”
“I’m god,” mentioned Zeus to human housewife number 33. She slammed the door.
“Oh, she looked real overwhelmed,” snarled Zeus to Hermes.
Hermes raised his hands defensively. “Okay, or they all don’t believe that we’re gods!” He gestured to their outfits. “I mean…you did have us dress like paupers.”
Zeus detected the slight note of rebellion in his voice. “That was back when we wanted to test their virtue and hospitality,” he hissed. “And before Hera locked us out of Olympus!”
“Well thanks to your genius plan for testing hospitality, we’re going to be stuck on this stupid planet outdoors in the rain all night!” Hermes exploded.
Something stirred inside one of the buildings. “Quiet on the street!” a muffled voice shouted from one of the houses.
“I’m god!” Zeus shouted back.
Hermes glanced up at the sky. Over the last few hours it had been gleefully covering itself with clouds, elated at the prospect of storming on the god of thunder. It was now making intimidating threats of rain. “Look, we look like paupers, so I say we just forget about testing hospitality and act like paupers to get under a roof,” said Hermes snappily.
“Don’t you snap at me!” snapped Zeus. “I’m god!”
“A fact that has done absolutely nothing for us from the second we started out on this ridiculous exhibition!” retorted Hermes. “And I’m god too!”
“You-” began Zeus but was drowned out by a loud and ominous rumble of thunder. Both gods looked up at the sky and then down at each other. Zeus made a beeline for house number 34.
“Help! It’s about to rain! Let me in! I’m god!” he hollered, pounding on the door.
“Go away!” housewife number 34 hollered back.
Far-off thunder started rolling. Hermes decided to join in the war effort. “Look, if you let us in we’ll do the pots and pans or something,” he shouted.
“No we won’t!” cried Zeus indignantly, turning from the door. “I am the god of thunder and lightning! I command you to let us in now or I will blast you to smithereens once Hera gives me my thunderbolts back!”
“Oy, you threatening us, guvnor?” questioned a dangerous gruff voice from inside the house. The door swung open to reveal a burly peasant with thick black eyebrows and a penetrating scowl. Zeus swallowed and took a step back. The thunder rumbled.
“Great,” said Hermes twenty minutes later, as they sat under a tree in the pouring rain. “Just great. Now we are not only exposed out in the rain, but exposed out in the rain tied to a tree. Bravo father Zeus. Behold my slow clap.”
“Shut up,” snapped Zeus. “Let me think of a way out of here.”
“Oh I see,” went on Hermes, hugging his shoulders in a vain attempt to cover against the rain. “You’re thinking of a way out of here. I am so relieved and confident now. Aren’t you just famous for your clever plans and subtlety.”
“You,” said Zeus over the rain, “need to be more respectful to your elders. I do declare the whole of Modern Olympian Civilization is crumbling because of kids like you.”
“Lo, Zeus has declared it and it is so,” muttered Hermes sarcastically.
Zeus huffed and looked up at the sky, which continued to pour rain. There was a flash of lightning on the distance, following by a rumble of thunder.
Zeus tried to scoot back closer to the tree. “I’ll bet that’s Ares using my bolts,” he remarked. “He’s always wanted to, and Hera probably let him have them just to spite me. Jerks.”
Hermes whistled. “Ares has the bolts of power. Olympus help us all.”
There was another silence except for the rain. It gradually got darker and darker as night fell. Now and then random strokes of lightning illuminated the yard, the rain, and the two gods tied to the tree. Frozen for a second in bright white-blue light, and then plunged back into darkness, the heavy rain falling in a constant thrum, to be poetic. Hermes could practically hear Ares, laughing hysterically as he clashed the lightning bolts together. Everyone in Olympus was probably holding their ears.
Zeus coughed awkwardly. Hermes sneezed realistically. Silence and rainfall.
Zeus decided that if ever he got out of the rain, he would change careers. No more thunder and lightning for him, no sir. Maybe he could get Demeter to switch with him. He had always wanted to do a spell involving shrubbery.
Hermes craned his neck around to Zeus’ side of the tree. “What made you think this whole 'test the mortals’ hospitality skills' thing was a good idea in the first place?” he asked. “I mean, why do we care again?”
Zeus sighed. “I don’t know, I thought…” he trailed off.
“You thought what?” Hermes prompted.
Zeus shrugged. “I thought it would be a good…father-son bonding thing.” There was a pause.
“Father-son bonding thing?” asked Hermes.
“Yes, because…well, I never really got to know you and all, and if we did a fun, hospitality-testing activity together, we might…I don’t know. It was a stupid idea.”
Hermes said nothing. The rain kept falling.
“So…what was your idea?” asked Hermes suddenly. “Your plan for getting us out of here?”
Zeus was surprised. “You…really want to hear it?” Hermes grunted noncommittally. Zeus decided to take that as a yes. He peered into the rain in the direction of the house. “First, we need to get untied.”
“Next,” continued Zeus, slightly suspicious but persevering nonetheless, “we make our way to that house and make those people-”
“House number 34,” put in Hermes.
“And make house number 34 pay for tying us up in the rain.”
“Except you don’t have your thunderbolts.”
Zeus blinked water out of his eyes. “We will make them pay without thunderbolts.”
Hermes was silent, pensively trying to figure out if there was a pun he could make out of that. It was quiet except for the sound of the pouring rain.
“So what do you think?” asked Zeus after a moment.
Hermes pushed his sopping hair out of his eyes. “I think I’m going to need to go to the bathroom pretty soon.”
“I think it’s all the rain sound. Also, I think the plan is lame. And I’ve already taken care of step one.”
Zeus strained to look around the tree. “You’re already untied? How?”
Hermes drew his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. “The whole god of mischief thing? Honestly,” he added “I don’t know why I’m still here.”
“So…you’ve just been sitting with your back against the tree this whole time?” asked Zeus.
“Yes.” There was another rainy silence.
“I guess you’ll want me to untie you next?” asked Hermes in a longsuffering voice.
“If you don’t mind,” replied Zeus stiffly.
Hermes crawled around and untied him. “Right,” said Zeus. “Now we attack the house from the back. We storm in, yell 'We’re gods,' slay them all, and spend the rest of the night in their house.”
Hermes caught him by the arm as he started for the house. “Except first,” he said, “we find a bathroom somewhere.”
Zeus kept walking ventured closer to the house. “They’ll probably have one inside.”
Hermes shrugged, and then sneezed. “Doesn’t look like that kind of house,” was all he said.
Zeus thought about the burly peasant and decided to postpone the attack. The two gods ended up hiking a good way out of the town because Hermes said he could see a house on a nearby hill that looked like “that kind of house.”
The night was silent except for the constant rainfall. As they approached the door, suddenly a tiny white demon of a goose came flapping into their faces out of the blackness, screaming shrilly. Hermes yelped and beat it away with his hands in front of his face. Zeus hollered and kicked at it, jumping back as the goose bit at his feet. It hissed frighteningly and flapped its wings, pacing back and forth, obviously determined that they would not go a step further. The gods trembled.
“Here, yo, goosie,” said Hermes quaveringly. “Have some nice, um, bark.” The goose honked derisively. Hermes zipped back behind Zeus.
“What do we do?” Zeus whispered fearfully. Hermes shrugged, whimpering. The goose cast them as evil smile, completely aware that it had them in its power. The rain continued to fall. The goose flapped its wings and hissed. The gods didn’t dare move.
They stood there like that for a good five minutes. Hermes began to pray to no one in particular that the goose would leave so that they could get inside the house so that he could use the bathroom. Zeus began to pray to Hera that she would please give him back his thunderbolts so that he could blast the goose with lightning and it would stop threatening their lives. The goose prayed to no one. The rain continued to fall.
Hermes started squirming desperately. The goose darted its beak forward threateningly and hissed. Hermes vainly tried to stop squirming.
Suddenly a creaking sound came from the back of the house, like someone was opening a door. The goose’s head shot up. Someone called something that sounded like “Henna,” and the goose whirled around and disappeared behind the house like lightning. The gods dashed across the remaining ground to the door of the cottage.
Zeus knocked hastily, preparing the salesman smile. An worn-looking old lady answered the door.
“Hello,” said Zeus. “I’m-”
“-cold” cut in Hermes. “And I have to go to the bathroom. Can we come in?”
The old lady smiled and opened the door wider. Huh, thought Zeus. Who knew? Maybe it was the hi I'm god thing.
Several minutes later, the two gods sat at the cheerful hearth of the elderly couple, who introduced themselves as Baucis and Philemon. The goose lay on the hearth, munching food. Baucis patted its head fondly as she crossed the room. It smiled evilly at Hermes and Zeus.
“So, you travelers from far away?” asked Philemon, seated on a stool across from them.
“Um,” said Hermes.
“Yes,” said Zeus. “No. Yes.”
“I see,” said Philemon, smiling pleasantly.
Zeus coughed awkwardly. Hermes studiously concentrated on his plate. Smiling at Hermes, Baucis came back to the table and refilled their cups.
Her smile vanished when she turned to take the pitcher back to the side of the cottage that constituted a kitchen. She stared at them in dread, grabbed her husband by his arm, and dragged him over to the other corner of the room, where they began whispering fervently, sometimes darting glances back over at their guests. The goose watched them with narrowed eyes.
“Oops,” whispered Zeus. “What did we do? Were you magically refilling that wine pitcher?”
“Oh shoot,” whispered Hermes.
He shrugged helplessly. “I didn’t even realize I was doing it.”
“Me neither. It was subconscious." He peeked up at the couple. "Well they seem pretty freaked out now,” Zeus whispered. “Although that old lady seems quite taken with you.”
“All women all taken with me,” smirked Hermes.
“None of those housewives seemed to be,” hissed Zeus.
“That’s because they didn’t see me. They only saw you saying 'I’m god,'” whispered Hermes.
“Oh great gods!” shouted Philemon, prostrating himself on the floor. Zeus and Hermes jumped guilty. Baucis likewise prostrated herself. The goose looked on disapprovingly.
“We pray pardon for the lack of sacrificial meal preparations,” Baucis humbly cried from the floor.
“Oh that’s…fine,” muttered Hermes, blushing.
Zeus was instantly magnanimous. “Oh, think nothing of it,” he chuckled benevolently.
“We shall sacrifice our goose,” said Philemon decisively.
“Oh,” said Hermes, seeing the thing in a new light. “That is…definitely…acceptable.”
“Well, we wouldn’t want to deprive you of the sole remaining prop of your old age or anything like that,” began Zeus gleefully. “But if you insist, sure, sacrifice away.”
Philemon awkwardly crawled away from them backwards and attempted to grab the goose. After a minute of furious scuffling, Baucis also backed away and tried to help. The goose resisted arrest in every sense of the word. It flapped, flew, squawked, hissed, bit, and smashed pottery. It crashed into the table, sending plates flying. Zeus shouted in fear and ran towards the pantry as the goose latched onto the rafters and began crowing its superiority in bloodcurdling shrieks. Baucis and Philemon vainly tried to knock it down with swipes from a broom. Hermes crawled under the table. The goose became a swirling maelstrom, bent on destruction.
“Henna,” Philemon pleaded. “Please! Give yourself up! There is no more honorable way to die!”
“Henna!” Baucis shouted sharply above the hissing and shrieking. “Stop it! You’re scaring the gods!”
The goose wove its neck like a dancing snake and hissed confrontationally.
“It’s okay,” called Zeus from behind the pantry door. “It appears to be appealing to the gods for its life. You don’t have to sacrifice it. It’s fine. No need to keep provoking the goose.”
“Oh. Are you sure?” asked Philemon, sounding slightly disappointed.
“Yup,” said Zeus. “Let the goose be. I’m tired of goose sacrifices anyway.”
Baucis sighed and straightened her apron. “As you wish, my lord.” She went over to the back door and opened it on the rain, pointing with a bony finger. “Out!”
The goose hissed. Baucis locked eyes with it. There was a momentary standoff before the goose reluctantly lowered its eyes and flew down to the door. It cast one last contemptuous glance at Hermes crouched under the table, snorted at the quivering pantry door, and sauntered out into the rainy night.
Philemon began gathering up the smashed crockery, apologizing profusely. Zeus drew himself up from behind the pantry door and tried to recover what was left of his dignity.
“Hermes?” he called, peeking under the table. “Are you dead?”
Hermes breathed out a shuddering breath. “No. But I think that’s the closest I’ve ever been.”
“Well,” said Zeus, straightening. “This has all been very wonderful, but I’m afraid we must be going-“
“We are sorry about Henna, my lord,” said Baucis earnestly, suddenly a sweet old lady again.
“You sure you don’t want us to sacrifice him?” asked Philemon hopefully. Baucis cast him a glare, and he quickly went back to picking up crockery.
“Goose attacks aside, this was still the best hospitality we’ve received since coming down to earth,” mentioned Hermes, climbing out from under the table. “And that was the reason we came down in the first place.”
Zeus was surprised. “Well…yes. Yes, it was. You’re right. Nice job staying on track.” Hermes smiled. Zeus turned to Baucis and Philemon. “It appears that you two are the only people who passed the test. So…you win. Do you want a prize or something?”
Baucis and Philemon glanced at each other. Baucis spoke for both of them. “All we’ve ever wanted is each other, my lord. I suppose my wish would be that if Philemon were to die, I would die too. Just so I wouldn’t be alone.”
Philemon nodded. “I’d want that too.”
Hermes silently thought that slightly morbid, but he said nothing.
“I’m sure we can do that for you,” said Zeus. “We’ll think of something. Maybe involving shrubbery.”
The couple bowed gratefully, and in true Grecian fashion, entreated their godly guests to stay longer. Zeus graciously declined all offers and hustled Hermes out the door.
“The rain is letting up,” he explained once they were outside the cottage and on their way. “Which means that Hera will have taken away my thunderbolts from Ares and her heart has probably relented.”
“Or,” suggested Hermes, “you just wanted to get us away from that goose.”
Zeus opened his mouth to spew fire and thunder of righteous wroth and thought better of it. There was really nothing any of the gods could do about Hermes when he had that cheeky smile. It meant he was in the mood for foolery, which was when he was at the height of his powers. From what Zeus had seen, teenagers were like that.
“Fine,” he said. “Maybe the goose had a tiny little bit to do with it.”
“A very tiny bit,” said Hermes, grinning.
They made their way down the hills back to the town. Rain dripped from the trees in the otherwise quiet night.
“What they asked for…” began Hermes hesitantly.
“It was…kind of nice.”
Zeus looked at him. “Yes, it was kind of nice. Love...is kind of nice. Did I ever tell you how I met your mother?”
“How you met her, left her, and all the other ones too,” said Hermes, but he was smiling in spite of himself.
“Now let’s go incinerate that village,” said Zeus, smiling.