Please, Say the Lord's Name in Vain

Submitted into Contest #87 in response to: Write about a mischievous pixie or trickster god.... view prompt

18 comments

Fantasy Fiction Funny

CW: A cavalier and irreverent attitude towards religion.


"In the old days, before you were a gleam several times removed in your great-great-great-great-grandfather’s eye, I was a God with a capital G--" I began, slipping into the diner booth across from an elderly looking man wearing a scruffy baseball cap.


"Excuse me, sonny boy. Who are you calling old?"


"Don't interrupt," I warned, with a sharp glare that turned him to stone. "Where was I? Right. The receiver of prayers and offerings, the envy of my brethren. On a given Tuesday, I might get as many as three quadrupeds sacrificed in my name. Sacrificial blood and offerings ran like rivers in my name. Life was good. Better than now, am I right?"


Realizing he couldn't nod, paralyzed as he was, I snapped my fingers. The geezer sputtered to life, gasping and wheezing. He gave a weak nod, eyes darting back and forth as though he was thinking of running.


"Well," I continued, with a conspiratorial wink. "I suppose you want to know the secret to immortality, right?"


"Mister," the old man pleaded, "You're the one who sat down at my booth, not the other way around!"


"Everyone does. So predictably boring, so unsatisfying, so human. But I’m not going to tell you." I smiled from ear to ear at my captive audience.


"Time passes. Irrevocably, indifferently. New idols came and went, rose and fell, until my altars had been broken or lost or put in a glass display with a plaque labelled ‘For Unknown Religious Purposes’. Instead of praying to me, the fickle mortals began to pray to their new god: Jesus Christ."


Pausing, I scanned the man's face, looking to see if that had made an effect. Usually, men his age had a somewhat stronger notion of religion than the puling infants that called themselves 'adults'. If he was affronted, he had a remarkable poker face.


"I have to admit, he's lasted a while. In fact, he’s still kicking. Scrapping and fighting even now to hold on to his place in the sun. I wonder if he knows it’s already fading; another sun setting. Change is inevitable. Again and again, you humans get bored and find someone or something new to worship. That’s how the current modern pantheon came into being: iPhones, Capitalism, Netflix, Amazon, and something called a ‘Kardashian’."


I was pleased to see the man nodding along. Here was someone who got it! Or who was terrified of me. Either option seemed acceptable. 


Flagging down the waitress, a busty, slightly overweight woman with Broadway aspirations and more dogs than she could afford, I briskly ordered my usual. Black coffee and the cheapest breakfast special. My server smacked her gum indifferently at the old man with her notepad in hand, testily waiting for him to say something.


"What about you, old man? Want anything?" I questioned. Without giving him time to response, I fired off a "suit yourself" with a shrug at the server in a what-are-you-gonna-do kind of way and waved her off.


Watching her walk off, the squalor and listless decor of the place seemed thrown into sharp relief. The diner smelled like stale grease and burnt coffee, and the red vinyl seats were stickier than a movie theatre floor. A far cry from the height of my glory.


"These days, I’m lucky if I get a wisp of a prayer from some delusional misfit who Googled me." Shaking my head sadly, I tucked into the omelet the waitress had slammed on the table in front of me. "And then -- get this -- it was only as an afterthought! Something to do between sessions of Call of Duty and Game of Thrones."


Bitterly, I stabbed a piece of toast with my knife so hard the plate underneath broke. "Who wanted to pray to a washed up trickster when you could binge an entire season of ‘This Is Us’ in a day, or fall down a TikTok rabbit hole so deep you only jerked back to horrified awareness hours later?"


Looking up, I grimaced at the man. "What are you still doing, old man? Scram."


He bolted, but not before I had plucked myself out of his memory, along with a year of his life. Just like picking a ripe blackberry. It didn't take much concentration to see his memory of me swimming around in his subconscious. A gaunt, pinstriped suited man with an uncanny smile and luminous eyes.


🌑


Times were hard and lean and mean, and so I’d had to adapt. 


Essentially, I was a conman. A grifter. It suited me. In some ways, it wasn't so different from what I'd done eons ago. My regular haunts these days were a mere handful of spots, all located on one city block. I knew them, worked them, and eked out a living. It wasn’t much, but I’d had too many friends drift into complete and utter obscurity to complain. Did you know that gods could die? Neither had I.  


My mornings began like clockwork in the mom and pop place. It had delicious eggs, which was my litmus test for whether you could trust the rest of the menu. The diner had some undeniable perks, and I'm not just talking about breakfast food. My curvy but easily hypnotized waitress would invariably "forget" to put my crumpled five in the cash register. Instead, her hand would hover to the right, dropping the note on the counter before jauntily closing the register. One surreptitious movement and the cash was back in my pocket. I’d been “paying” with that same bill here for the better part of a decade with no one the wiser. 


A well timed sneeze on my way out, and I’d have manipulated some sucker into a “Bless you”. The words hit me like knocking back a stiff drink, burning and undulating in the back of my throat. An observant passerby might see my eyes glow a peculiarly verdant green, only to shake the impression off as a trick of the light, not enough sleep, or the onset of a psychotic break. I didn’t make a habit of it erasing their memories. So what if they saw something a little peculiar? This was New York. I’m sure they’ve seen worse. It wasn’t worth it, anyway.


Calling magic forth took a little more doing than it once had. When I’d been a young god, I’d been able to conjure animals out of clay and breathe life into them. It had been effortless, hardly requiring any concentration. Now, an act of that magnitude would be impossible without killing me in the process. 


Rounding the corner while trailing my hand on the brick wall of the bank, I purposefully bump into a vapid millennial. Their eyes hardly meet mine as I apologize profusely, and I slip their wallet out of their back pocket. Easy peasy. Smiling to reassure them, I clap them on the back and watch them go on their way. I wait three steps before jogging up and presenting them with their wallet. ‘How clumsy of me,’ they’d usually begin with, or even better, ‘Thank God!’ Jackpot. The wording was ambiguous enough that I could easily scoop up the praise for myself. The rush was quite similar to ecstasy.


As an added bonus, sometimes the mortals would become so grateful they’d slide out a bill or two from their purloined wallet to press into my hands, so relieved I had returned it instead of running off with their money. 


The next stop on my agenda was my favourite place. Bells would chime above my head, and an irresistible smile would cross my face. The secondhand bookstore was always warm, and left out a candy dish that they refilled daily with top tier candies: miniature chocolate bars and tootsie rolls. None of that candy corn or lollipop garbage. I was no sucker, and the bookstore owner was no fool.


After a quick meander through the stacks chewing on a KitKat, in which I note with distaste that a new Nicholas Sparks book is on display, I transform into a cat. I stretch, then find a sunbathed spot behind the front counter to curl up on. Years ago, I’d created a sign to thumb tack above my sleeping form while taking my catnaps. “Please pray for my cat. He has diabetes. Donations also welcome.” This ruse wasn’t my best, I admit, but every little bit helps. It also didn’t hurt that when mortals saw me, quite often their response was “Oh my God, he’s so cute!” Those remarks were my bread and butter, the praise necessary to keep my essence from sputtering out like a used candle.


🌘


I woke from my nap minutes or hours later, yawning widely. My white fur stood on end, shimmering gold from the sunshine. I jump down and pad my way to the back of the store. All of the big sellers, Grisham, Patterson, King, Christie, and that lot, were at the front. Conventional books for unimaginative people. At the back though, were the books that drew in free spirits and weirdos alike: like this gem of a woman running her hands lightly over the spines of the Wicca section.


Her brown hair had been tied into a messy ponytail and covered by a rainbow bandanna. Overalls with genuine patches hand-stitched over rips were paired with a shirt that read 'On Wednesdays We Smash the Patriarchy'. The knees were dirt stained, as were her nails, which suggested she was either a gardener or she'd dug up a grave. Hopefully the latter. I was craving some excitement.


As the woman browsed, I rubbed against her leg, a purr thrumming to catch her attention. She knelt, book in hand, to pet me. I was expecting baby-talk, but she conversed in a regular, lilted tone.


"Hey Sweetpea. How's your day going so far?"


I meowed back at her. I was half tempted to reply in English, but that might be a little much.


"Good, good. Since you look like a gentleman, I'll assume you asked me how my day has been going. Not well, to be honest." The woman slumped down beside me, and I jumped lightly onto her lap. "Where are my manners? I completely forgot to introduce myself. Jean. Pleased to make your acquaintance."


Jean's gaze flitted back and forth between my face and the book in her hand. I turned to look at what she'd been browsing. The Good Spell Book: Love Charms, Magical Cures, and Other.


"I know, I know. It's a little pathetic. I've just been in a dry spell lately, pardon the pun. My last date was, oh, a year ago? Something about all of this doesn't exactly scream 'girlfriend material'," she said, gesturing at her outfit in a self deprecating way. "Couldn't tell you why."


I put my front paw on the hollow above her collarbone, and stared deeply into her eyes. She fell silent, red lips slightly open. I made a vow to her, then and there, that I would find her someone to love. Of course, it would have come out as nonsensical meows and chirps to her, but it's the thought that counts.


Giving me one last pat on the head, Jean lifted me gently and carried me up with her to the front desk. I leaped onto the counter, and watched her buy the book. Before she left, she asked Garry if they had any editions of a particularly obscure tarot card guidebook.


"Sorry ma'am, we don't. If we do get one in, I could call you. Just leave your name and number." The woman left her details, then walked out. Watching her leave, I resolved to find someone for her. Whether she liked it or not.


🌖


Biding my time, I waited until Wall Street was winding down for the day before emerging from an alleyway. A swarm of overpriced suits hit the pavement, Valentinos and Hugo Bosses and Brooks Brothers. Merging with the herd, a quick adjustment and a snap of my wrist transfigured my own vintage suit into something a little more contemporary. That's better.


Latching onto my mark, I trailed a brown haired man in his late twenties. Age appropriate, handsome, and rich? Check. So he might not be Jean's type. That was irrelevant. This budding American Psycho could have potential.


Following him into a bar, I hovered just long enough to make a mental note of his booth's location before heading to the men's room. Wouldn't want to lose him in a sea of well dressed doppelgängers.


Pushing open the bathroom stall door and latching it behind me, I closed my eyes and concentrated. It was harder to adopt a human mask than slipping into my own mortal form, but still well within my reach. Visualizing Jean's kind, understated but pretty face, I grimaced as my bone structure reknit itself into higher cheekbones and an oval jawline. My hair lengthened, falling into loose wavy ringlets. I toned down my skin tone, blending it from my bronzed complexion to a pale porcelain. Glancing down at my outfit, I chuckled. That wouldn't do at all.


Clenching my newly dainty fists, I channeled my thoughts into what I imagined my debonair young mark would want. A deep red dress, falling nearly to my knees but with a thigh-high slit and a low enough neckline to scream that I was interested, but not so low I could be confused for an escort.


Stepping out of the stall, I checked my handiwork in the mirror. Trailing a couple of fingers over my lips suggestively, I winked at the guy washing his hands to my right. His appreciatively wolfish leer told me all I needed to know. Turning with a confident bounce in my step, I realized too late that I'd forgotten to change my shoes. Shoot. There was always something. A quick adjustment and they became flats. I got the sense that Jean wasn't the type who wore heels.


Approaching the bar, I quickly got the bartender's attention and ordered two bourbons, on the rocks. Picking them up with one hand, I sauntered over to Jean's Wall Street Prince Charming and introduced myself.


"Enchanté," he said, licking his lips. Extending my free hand, he took it seamlessly in his and kissed the back of it. I sat, crossing my legs and pushing his drink towards him.


"My name is Jean," I purred, swirling the bourbon to make the ice clink against the glass. "I think you want to ask me out on a date."


"I do," Wall Street replied, his tone taking on the slow and relaxed tone of someone under deep hypnosis.


"Perfect," I smiled. "First off, what's your name, honey?"


"Jordan. Jordan Rush."


I drained my glass, leaving a lipstick mark on the rim. Examining him, I noted the bruised blue bags under his ears, cleverly hid by concealer. Vain workaholic, no doubt. His eyes were hazel, sincere enough, and his slick haircut probably cost more than Jean's rent. I was half tempted to abandon Jordan Rush, look for someone more suitable, when I spotted his cufflinks. They were strikingly juxtaposed with his whole avaricious facade: simply made, showcasing foreign maps. A miniscule dragon guarded an unexplored ocean.


I made my decision then and there. "Come to Page Turners this Friday, at 7:00 PM. I'll be waiting for you. Wear something ... casual. Keep the cufflinks though."


"Yes," Jordan agreed.


This was going to be the most fun I'd had in years, I thought mischievously, already plotting how to get Jean back to the bookstore.


March 27, 2021 01:23

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18 comments

Michael Boquet
14:45 Mar 31, 2021

I laughed out loud at "something called a Kardashian." I really like the modern voice in which your trickster speaks. I feel like it makes a lot of sense that a trickster god would adapt his language to better fool humans. The matchmaker element is a particularly clever touch too. Couple spots I noticed: "until my alters" - 'altars' "Neither had I until it happened." I think 'did' fits better than had in relation to the previous sentence. "Now, the an act of that magnitude" - delete 'the' This is such a fun story. I love all the humor an...

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Courtney C
15:15 Mar 31, 2021

Thanks Michael! I'm glad you liked the story, and found the matchmaking clever instead of cheesy lol. I was going a for a cross between Puck and Cupid. Thanks for pointing out those errors as well! I'll have to fix them

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Nina Chyll
20:00 Apr 05, 2021

I really, really liked the narrator, bless his heart. A couple of nifty ideas there, too, like stealing wallets and giving them back to get praise - so suspiciously human! I thought the modern-world references were a bit much at times, but it may be just me being worn out by being surrounded by those things in real life. In other words, I'm probably just cranky.

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Courtney C
21:29 Apr 05, 2021

Hey Nina, thanks for reading and the honest commentary! I admit, I may have been a tad overzealous with all of the allusions ... it's very possible I laid it on a little thick. I'm glad you liked the narrator though, he's pretty close to my heart

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Nina Chyll
21:32 Apr 05, 2021

I think without being obvious, he represents something we all fall prey to at times: need for praise and the overwhelming desire for occasional mischief!

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Alejandra Medina
22:41 Apr 01, 2021

Hi Courtney, Your story is playful and you definitely have a good narrator's voice. I love how this god character changes bodies throughout their different lives and I especially enjoyed the part in which they become a cat living with a witch! I was unsure about the intro to your story though. You opened with the question of immortality which seemed to come out of no where? I think that if you extend that part, it will work well because your protagonist does live several lives. However, because it only appears in the beginning, it doesn'...

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Courtney C
23:01 Apr 01, 2021

Hey Alejandra, Thanks so much for commenting and putting a lot of thought into it! It means a lot, coming from you. I loved your Revolution story. I'm glad you liked the story as a whole, and thanks for giving me some things to think about to improve on. I think you're right about the introduction - it needs something to help the flow, and to be less abrupt. As for Jesus, I think it all depends on who you ask and what theology you follow. He is part of the Holy Trinity, and though he was a man, early Christians claimed that he was God. J...

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H L Mc Quaid
15:07 Apr 01, 2021

Hi Courtney, Nicely done. When is the next chapter? How will Jean ever fall for Wall Street guy? haha. A few small things (mostly punctuation):. wondering if you'd need to add hyphens to this "several times removed" as it's a compound noun phrase that's modifying gleam (several-times-removed) You used 'they" and 'you" here, so consider using one or the other: "Who wanted to pray to a washed up trickster when they could binge an entire season of ‘This Is Us’ in a day, or fall down a TikTok rabbit hole so deep you only jerked back to horr...

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Courtney C
18:18 Apr 01, 2021

Hey Heather, thanks for doing such a thorough edit of my story! I ended up taking most of your suggestions. To be honest, when the next part comes out probably depend on what the prompts are. Hopefully I'll find something I can work with on Friday,

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Ellie Yu
17:37 Mar 31, 2021

I've read this like four times and I find myself enjoying it more every time I finish. Your voice is so clean and witty throughout the whole piece. So it flows really well. The main character never stops being entertaining, and while I liked the matchmaker section, my favorite part was reading about his hijinks in the second section. And Jean! Love her, as usual. I do have several very minor editing notes that I'll go through below. 1) At the very beginning of the story, the content warning and the start of the narration are in the same pa...

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Courtney C
17:49 Mar 31, 2021

Omg, thanks so much for this awesome comment! I really do appreciate the editing comments. Sometimes it's easy to get carried away while writing, and a fresh (unbiased) set of eyes can really help for pinpointing those errors and inconsistencies. Also, I'm glad you're happy Jean made a comeback! I just liked her character too much to leave her stranded in one story. Hopefully the story does okay. It seems like Reedsy can be a bit of a popularity contest, and then a fantastic story is stranded in the bottom of the webpage with very few like...

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Ellie Yu
18:06 Mar 31, 2021

Of course! Proofreading is a really great way for me to get out of my head, so this was a pleasure. Yeah, I'm still pretty new but I've read some breathtaking stories with basically five likes. Anyway, you're so welcome!

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Nainika Gupta
20:17 Mar 29, 2021

Ahh, Courtney, I'm in love. Good gravy, the main character is amazing :)

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Courtney C
21:28 Mar 29, 2021

Awww, thanks! I've been having a lot of fun with this one lol, so I'm glad the character paid off!

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Nainika Gupta
00:38 Mar 30, 2021

of course!! :)

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Jr Mercier
06:15 Mar 29, 2021

I would LOVE to read more. The personality of the main character is so vivid. I don't think I'd ever get bored. So so good.

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Ellie Yu
00:59 Mar 28, 2021

I know this is unfinished but I'm a big fan of the main character. He has a clear personality that's so entertaining to read. I'll definitely be back when you finish! :)

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Jacob French
02:59 Mar 27, 2021

"After a quick meander 'though' the stacks" I think you meant 'through'. "None of that candy corn or lollipop garbage" If you added 'cause I'm not a sucker' or something along those lines it would work with the whole trickster vibe. Great story so far though. Can't wait to read it when it's finished.

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