The door swung open with a bang. Conversation halted abruptly as everyone at the table turned their attention to a guy rushing into the meeting room.
He looked like a young entrepreneur in a casual business suit. A very popular one it would seem, as his pockets were vibrating from multiple notifications, pagers clipped to his belt beeping and pinging with varying musical tones. He was having an intense Bluetooth hands-free call while simultaneously typing a text message reply on his phone, occasionally muttering expletives under his breath in what sounded like ancient Greek. The most unusual characteristic, however, was the pair of mahogany wings fluttering at the ankles of his R.M. Williams boots.
The older man at the head of the table narrowed his eyes. “Do you mind, Hermes, we were having an important discussion here!” He chastised in annoyance.
“Also where’s our Uber Eats? We ordered a good hour ago.” A blue-faced man at the table piped up. The others nodded in agreement, murmuring about the post-meeting refreshments they were looking forward to.
Hermes’ fingers stopped as he scanned the room impatiently. He had walked in on a colourful gathering of gods and goddesses from across a plethora of cultures, locations and generations. It seemed that every continent and ethno-cultural group was represented by at least one deity. And their combined aura of majesty and authority was quite possibly enough to vapourise even the strongest of demigods, let alone mere mortals. Momentarily, he was awestruck by the diversity of backgrounds in the room.
He recognised his Greco-Roman family mostly and was superficially acquainted with the Scandinavian, Egyptian and Chinese factions. He was not too familiar with everyone else, but there would be time for introductions and icebreakers later.
“Pardon me for interrupting your meeting, Zeus, but we have a problem on our hands. Which means sorry…Vishnu? Is that your name? Yeah hi, Hermes here… So…the catering is going to be delayed, sorry.” Hermes addressed both the head of the table and the blue man.
The meeting erupted with a chattering of dissatisfied voices. Vishnu patted his stomach and frowned.
Zeus slammed his fist a few times on the table to silence the crowd. “And what problem is so significantly disrupting SUDs?” He asked condescendingly.
The woman next to Zeus buried her face in her hands. “UDS, United Deities Summit, dear.” She muttered exasperatedly. “For gods’ sake, nobody is going to take us seriously if you keep saying the acronym the other way around…”
“Hera, if you would just-“
“BY A SATYR’S SHAGGY SIDEBURNS!” The sudden outburst from Hermes startled everyone, cutting short the couple’s bickering. He was practically yelling into his Bluetooth headset, with one finger poised on the hang-up button.
“For the last time, 财神(Cái Shén), stop complaining to me about your delivery errors! I heard you the first time about your disrupted navigation system. It’s a worldwide emergency and we’re doing our best to…Okay fine, you can put in a complaint…FINE, USE YOUR DAMN RED INK TO WRITE MY NAME, I DON’T CARE! GOODBYE, 再见(ZÀI JIÀN)!”
Hermes hung up in a huff and yanked off his headset, angrily stuffing it into his pocket. He turned off every buzzing pager and phone with a vengeance. Then he realised that everyone was silently staring at him.
“Hermes…what’s going on?” Zeus quietly asked.
Hermes strode to the centre of the table where his wise sister Athena and her Egyptian counterpart Thoth sat with their laptop computers. They were the secretaries scribing meeting minutes, which were projected in real time onto a screen opposite the table. Hermes wondered if Thoth got motion sickness from the constant head movements when touch-typing with his ibis beak.
“Hey Tweety, may I?” Hermes asked, his eyes twinkling mischievously. Athena frowned in disapproval. Thoth merely rolled his eyes and winked in response before moving aside. Hermes swiftly typed some keywords and search result tabs revealed bold headlines “NASA BAFFLED BY ABNORMAL SUN COURSE”, “WESTERLY SUNRISE HERALDS APOCALYPSE IMPENDING”, “SUNRISE, SUNSET: IS CORRECTING EARTH’S ROTATION FIDDLING WITH TROUBLE”.
“This is what’s going on.”
Zeus snorted. “Ha, ‘earth’s rotation’, what mortal nonsense! Everyone knows that the sun god drives the same course every day for millennia. It’s always from the east to…” His voice trailed off as Hermes opened his celestial navigational app. The sun smiley was sliding steadily towards the right of the compass, further and further east.
“Maybe it’s a malfunctioning spare chariot,” Hera sounded a bit too high-pitched. “We had automated backup sun chariots, courtesy of Hephaestus? Didn’t we have, oh I don’t know, ten at least?”
The Jade Emperor gave a derisive snort. “All written off, remember? Shot down by that upstart 后羿 (Hòu Yì) with his bloody arrows! Now we’re left with only one in manual drive.”
“I tried to tell you sooner, Zeus, but I’ve been so bogged down by distress calls from all magical, postal and travel services. And I mean, ALL… Heck, I even got a few complaints from the Egyptian Underworld, because the dead are confused and think they’ve been buried on the “wrong West side”! I’m not even responsible for their dead!” Hermes spluttered indignantly, glaring at a moss green-skinned man with a goatee.
“No offence, Osiris, but you probably should check your calls and messages in a more timely fashion.”
Osiris sheepishly withdrew his phone from his mummy-wrap sleeve. “My apologies, Hermes, I had it on silent.”
“This is outrageous! Who’s responsible for this?” Zeus exclaimed.
All eyes turned to a middle-aged man who looked like he could have been a surfer dude in his youth, with his tanned, sunspot-freckled skin and muscular physique. He had taken a focused interest in his fingernails when Zeus’ voice boomed across the table. “Ra!”
Ra raised his hands in mock surrender. “Don’t look at me! I’m only scheduled to start in June. Check the roster, who’s on duty today?”
His pale long-bearded neighbour shuddered. “Ugh, you mean who’s to be blamed. It'll probably be that dung beetle pushing its ball of-“
“For the last time, Odin,” Ra threw him a dirty look. “Khepri is a scarab beetle. And watch your tone before I shove his ball of-“
“Guys, now’s not the time to shit-talk each other, please.” Athena chided sternly, then looked up from scrolling through a spreadsheet. “According to the roster, it’s Apollo.”
“That cannot be. He’s right there! Behind the sun.” Hermes pointed to the screen. Apollo’s cheeky double chinned selfie was chasing the sun smiley. “He should really change his display picture.”
“Who’s driving the sun then?! Zoom in!” Zeus was getting more flustered.
The smiley morphed into a canary yellow Morris Minor. The driver was sticking his head out of the window, making rude hand gestures to his chaser.
“It’s Helios.” Even Hermes was stunned.
“I thought he retired!” Hera exclaimed.
“I thought he shouldn’t be driving.” Zeus muttered under his breath. He pointed at a bespectacled man drinking from a takeaway coffee cup. “Dr Asclepius, didn’t you review Helios the other day and put him in the nursing home?”
The doctor put down his coffee cup and waited for his foggy glasses to clear before speaking. “Yes, I reviewed Helios. I did not ‘put him in a nursing home’. I simply recommended that he be transferred to an aged care facility, due to his cognitive decline. My colleague Tawaret here has kindly arranged for that.” A female hippopotamus beside him nodded in acknowledgement.
“Right so, the god’s demented.” Zeus bluntly remarked. “Didn’t you revoke his license?”
“It’s not my role to remove a patient’s license, Zeus. Besides, Helios had capacity to decide not to drive during his most recent appointment, although,” Asclepius adjusted his glasses. “given that he’s starting to wander and become itinerant, I fear his cognition is progressively worsening…or he’s delirious secondary to another cause. Either way, he’s a risk to himself. Poor guy.”
“And a risk to us and the mortals.” Zeus rubbed his temples wearily. “Can you do anything to stop him?”
Asclepius heaved a resigned sigh and stood up from his seat, mumbling something about “duty of care” and “having good rapport with the patient”. “I’m gonna need backup. Tawaret, 华佗 (Huà Tuó), can you come along?”
The hippo and a Hanfu-clad man stood to leave. “We’ll meet you there. Send us the location.” 华佗 (Huà Tuó) said, levitating himself out the door and Tawaret disintegrating before their eyes.
“Hermes, I might need a lift. Tawaret travels via the Duat and 华佗 (Huà Tuó) teleports himself by some kung fu technique.” Asclepius said after Hermes had sent the pinned destination to the other two.
Hermes noticed Asclepius’ teal scrubs had a light brown stain. He assumed it was from the coffee. “No worries Doc, I’ll bring you there.”
As they moved towards the exit, Hermes turned to address the room. “Sorry for interrupting. Please, carry on. We’ll do our best to sort this out. And Vishnu,” the blue god’s eyes met his “hang in there, you’ll get your Uber Eats.” Vishnu responded with a thumbs-up.
“I hope you don’t get air-sick, Doc.” Hermes said as he carried Asclepius piggyback. And swiftly, his R.M. Williams wings lifted them off.
Their target was a comical sight to behold even from a distance. The yellow Morris Minor was now parked haphazardly on the side of the road, half-mounted on the kerb. Apollo, sweaty in bright red custom-designed activewear and running shoes, was grabbing onto the handle on the driver’s door, ready to yank it open. Tawaret and 华佗 (Huà Tuó) were talking in earnest with Helios through the partially open window.
Hermes and Asclepius caught a whiff of soiled diapers upon landing. The physician clambered off his ride, mildly dizzy from the flight, and was greeted by a wide-eyed 华佗 (Huà Tuó) mouthing a panicked “HELP US”. Tawaret was trying her best to placate the increasingly agitated elderly driver.
“Ma’am, you do not understand, I am a law abiding citizen who has done no wrong!” Helios whined in a high reedy voice.
The smell of urine became stronger as Asclepius approached the open window. He smoothly eased himself between his colleagues and bent down to eye level with the driver.
Helios squinted in suspicion and wound down the window even further. Hermes and Apollo nearly gagged as the powerful odour of divine excrement wafted out of the vehicle. Their healer counterparts seemed unfazed though.
“Hello, Helios. I’m Dr Asclepius. You’re a long way from home, aren’t you?” Asclepius’ tone was light and conversational.
Helios had a guarded, confused look.
“You usually call me Dr Ass.”
The elderly driver gave a toothless grin before he burst out laughing, triggering a chesty coughing fit. He looked at the doctor through watering eyes. “Dr Ass hahaha ooh my sense of humour tickles me own funny bone!”
“So you remember me?”
“Nope! But since you’re such a charming boy, I’ll give it to ya. I’ll give it to ya…” Helios’ cloudy eyes stared off into the distance. It took Asclepius a few attempts before he got his patient’s attention again.
“Do you know where you are at the moment?”
“I’m…at work with Sunny Boy.” Helios patted the steering wheel.
“That’s nice. Do you know what this place is called?”
“Are you asking me for directions, lad? ’Cause I ain’t got any OH look, a bug.” A cockroach on the window distracted Helios. Tawaret looked away, fighting back tears and the bit of vomit stuck in her throat.
Asclepius turned to 华佗 (Huà Tuó). “Call for help. He can’t go home like this.” He requested in a low voice.
“Looks like it. And be prepared, he might not be cooperative.”
华佗 (Huà Tuó) nodded and quietly retreated. Hermes heard him whisper on the phone. “Triple Omega? Ambulance please…”
“Do you know where you are, Helios?” Asclepius gently repeated his question.
Helios’ milky eyes stared into Asclepius’. Then he looked at his wrinkled hands. “No, I don’t. I want to go home.” He coughed again and spat some green gunk into the cup holder.
“You haven’t been feeling well, have you?”
Helios shook his head wordlessly.
“Can you tell me what’s bothering you? Any pain?”
Helios shook his head again.
“We’re going to help you feel well again and then get you home. Does that sound alright?”
Helios nodded in agreement.
“Good man. Now come with me and Tawaret, we’re gonna help you get well and get home. And Apollo here will take care of Sunny Boy.” Apollo opened the door as the senior sun god gingerly stepped out of the car.
“Tawie!” Helios exclaimed as he caught sight of the hippo. She smiled and held out her hands. “Come now, let’s clean you up.” She spoke kindly as the ambulance parked behind them, 华佗 (Huà Tuó) giving a verbal handover to the newly arrived team.
“Well, time to turn this boy around.” Apollo finally said a little too brightly after a long silence. He opened the glove compartment, pressed a hidden button and the Morris Minor transformed into a more advanced Ferrari.
“Had Hephaestus re-jig Sunny. This is by far my favourite preset.” Apollo explained proudly.
“Erm dad, it might be better if you simply continued on towards the east.” Asclepius cautiously suggested.
Gods, I forgot they were related. Hermes thought to himself. Awkward…
“Oh? How come?” Apollo raised an eyebrow.
“It might be more disruptive and distressing to the mortals, if they saw the sun backtrack towards the west after rising from there. If you continue due east, you can always reset your route tomorrow.”
“Ah my altruistic son, always thinking about the mortals…”
“Don’t push it.” Hermes winced at Asclepius’ sudden cold tone. Clearly there were some underlying parent-child issues they should work through.
“Right, right.” Apollo brushed aside his son’s surly reply and turned to Hermes.
“I’m so sorry for the kerfuffle. Old man Helios went for a drive without my knowledge. It must’ve messed up all your celestial navigation and courier systems!”
Hermes shrugged. “I’ll make a few phone calls, send a few messages. I’m with Doc though on continuing east and restarting tomorrow. Besides, we have a deities summit meeting. I’m sure with our combined powers we can bend reality a bit, so that the mortals don’t remember too much about today’s hiccup.”
“Ditto.” Apollo said. Asclepius gave an OK sign.
The sun set in the east that evening.
The United Deities Summit participants - especially Vishnu - thoroughly enjoyed the catering provided and the subsequent after-party. Zeus was so pleased that he dispatched a “cleanup team” for Hermes to aid in damage control for the affected services.
Helios recovered from his acute delirium, thanks to the care provided by Asclepius and his team. He was discharged to live the rest of his pleasantly confused days in an aged care facility run by Tawaret or “Tawie” as he so affectionately calls her.
If you visited Helios on one of his more lucid days, he might entertain you with wild stories of a low speed car chase involving a yellow Morris Minor and a hippo, and how the “Ass of a doctor” managed to convince the driver to go home. But he would always lean back with a contented smile, close his milky eyes and end his tale with this statement:
“The sun has come home.”
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This is hilarious. Been several decades since I read Greek mythology but the memory synapses are triggering now!
What an interesting story! I loved the incorporation of all the mythical creatures and what I thought were Chinese words. Very original! Keep up the good work.
Thank you for your encouraging words! Yeah the Chinese words are the names of mythical / semi-mythical (if there is such a word) beings in ancient Chinese folklore. 财神(Cái Shén) is the god of prosperity. You see him around a lot during the Lunar New Year, distributing mandarin oranges and gold nuggets. Many historical figures in ancient China were deified by later generations as a way to preserve their legacies. An example would be 华佗 (Huà Tuó), who was a doctor during the East Han dynasty and historically known as the "Father of S...