For the past few weeks, I’ve been sick: first with a cold, then with a nasty flu. During that time, it was hard to write real work…but I kept writing anyway, because that’s what I do.
I came up with the following story. Since I doubt that it’s publishable, I thought I’d post it here just for my own amusement. Consider it the raving of a fevered mind.
Zeus holds a feast, but Eris is not invited. She sneaks in anyway, and throws a golden apple into the midst of the diners.
Hermes, the fastest of the gods, snatches the apple from the air. He reads the inscription. “To the best endowed.”
Clio, Muse of History and chronicler of events on Olympus, manages a creditable “record needle scratch” sound as her quill pen jerks across the official scroll.
“Say what?” Zeus asks Hermes.
“To the best endowed,” Hermes repeats. “And she’s made a little drawing—”
“We get the picture,” Artemis interrupts.
Athena sighs. “Eris has upped her game.”
* * *
Hera says, “We all know what Eris is doing. She’s just annoyed because you wouldn’t invite her.” She glares at her husband. “And didn’t I tell you something like this would happen? But no, you thought snubbing the Goddess of Discord would be a brilliant idea!”
“She makes everyone uncomfortable,” Zeus mumbles.
“She makes you uncomfortable,” Hera says. “Because she calls you out on the rape-y shit you do.”
Ares yells, “Yo, Hermes, where you going with that apple?”
Hermes has been edging toward the exit. “I’m just, uh, going to get rid of this,” he replies. “Cuz it’s an obvious provocation, and we gods, who aren’t like totally juvenile, would never treat it seriously, right?”
“You were taking it back to your room, weren’t you?” Ares says.
“Look, it is an obvious provocation,” Artemis says, “and since we’re all grownups here (except for Aphrodite’s date), we aren’t going to start making fools of ourselves by…guys, are you even listening to me?”
“Just hypothetically,” Zeus says, stroking his chin, “how would we go about determining such a thing?”
“You could just ask Aphrodite,” Athena says. “I imagine she’s schtupped you all, so she knows the truth.”
“Yeah, right,” Aphrodite says, glancing worriedly at Hera, “I may be indiscreet, but I’m not getting in the middle of anything like this. Ladies don’t kiss and tell.”
“Ladies,” Hera says. “Darling Aphrodite, you can be so droll.”
Hephaestus says, “I never go anywhere without a tape measure.” He pulls it out and puts it on the table. The tape measure.
Demeter grimaces. “Please, no.”
“Wrong time and place completely,” Zeus agrees, “considering how much some of us have been drinking. We should name a date for an official weigh-in, so to speak. With an impartial judge.”
“Yes, that’s not going to end badly,” says Athena. “Oh, and just FYI, there’s no frickin’ way I’m going to be judge.”
“No one asked you to,” Poseidon says. “We need someone who won’t make us shrivel.”
“Next you’ll be suggesting some beautiful fourteen-year-old virgin,” Hera says in disgust. “Someone who’ll lead you to lengths unimagined, and who’ll you’ll all just love showing your—”
“Stop!” say Artemis and Hestia in unison.
“Well, there’s this girl Helen in Sparta…” Zeus says.
“Seriously?” Hera says. “Seriously?”
“Look,” Athena says, “we all know how this will play out. You men will be too afraid to compete on your actual ‘merits’, so as soon as someone gets picked to be judge, you’ll all try to bribe them with divine interventions. The winner won’t be the one with the most inches, but whoever makes the most obscenely irresponsible offer to some poor mortal who doesn’t know that gifts from the gods always blow up in your face.”
Zeus, Ares and Poseidon exchange looks. “Works for me,” Zeus says.
“Helen then?” Poseidon suggests. “Because I’m not showing my junk to a dude.”
Hera says, “For the love of—”
“Silence, wife!” Zeus bellows.
Hera glares at him. “Fine. You deserve what you’re going to get.”
Zeus, who clearly has some cognitive deficiency, as evidenced by every story ever, thinks she’s cheering him on.
* * *
Helen of Sparta is indeed beautiful: fourteen years old, except that she looks like twenty (if you know what I mean), except that she really looks fourteen (if you know what I really mean)…so yeah, basically, god-bait.
And king-bait too: her father, Tyndareus of Sparta, raffled her off by inviting a bunch of kings to ogle her, having them each pay a fortune for the chance to compete for her, and giving her away to whoever won some nude wrestling contest (or whatever), but not before making all the suitors swear they wouldn’t get mad if they lost, and wouldn’t ask for their money back, or burn down Sparta, or rape and kill Helen out of spite. (As one does, if one isn’t forced to promise otherwise. These were, after all, kings.) Helen was won by Menelaus, and the couple ascended the throne of Sparta, reigning with co-equal power.
Just kidding. Menelaus ascended the throne, Helen got locked into a backroom of the palace, and life unfolded as per paternalistic usual on the Greek peninsula.
Until the night when a succession of gods visits Helen in her room like the worst version of A Christmas Carol ever.
Zeus is the first to arrive. He intended to be third, because it’s always the third contestant who eventually wins the prize, but Zeus has jumped the gun, as is his tradition. He shows up in the form of a platypus, since it’s one of the few animals he hasn’t done yet. He has a box of chocolates clutched in his bill, which he figures is necessary, because seriously, platypus.
Helen takes the chocolates, and begins to eat them as Zeus explains the contest. She nearly chokes to death with surprise as Zeus lays out the details.
“So you’ve come here to show me…” Helen’s voice trails off as she regards the platypus with all the dubiousness a fourteen-year-old can muster. Marsupial anatomy is not her particular study, yet she makes an educated guess that platypi are not gifted to any apple-winning extent.
“No,” Zeus says. “In deference to your tender years, I will instead offer a generous inducement to name me the winner.”
“You mean you want to bribe me to cheat?”
“Look, girl, it’s either that or I show you—”
“Right,” Helen says, “bribery it is. Induce me.”
“I offer you Power,” Zeus says, occasionally referring to notes he’s written on 3×5 index cards. “Power to rule the greatest empire this world has ever known, to command wisely and well, to live a long happy life, and to be remembered as a great and beloved monarch down through the centuries.”
“Huh.” Helen contemplates the prospect. “It doesn’t matter that I’m a girl?”
“Well…” Zeus says, not making eye contact, which is quite easy when you’re a platypus, “Option #1 would be to make you not a girl.”
“You mean turn me into a man.”
“Yes. A vigorous manly man who can crush his enemies beneath his feet and forge a legacy with the strength of his mighty arm.”
“Yeah, no,” Helen says. “That not me.”
“I realized you might say that,” Zeus replies, “for am I not the wise all-father of the gods? Option #2 is trickier, and I normally like to avoid time travel, but I could swap you into a life where you’d get the empire, the happiness, etc. in a time and place where girls wearing a crown isn’t quite so beyond the pale. Tell me, what do you think of the name Victoria?”
“You’re saying you would swap me into…wait, does that mean you’d be swapping out some other girl and putting me in her place?”
“And she’d end up here as Menelaus’s wife? And spend the rest of her life as me?”
“I assume she’s a terrible person and fully deserves to have her wonderful glorious life ripped away from her so I can enjoy myself in her stead?”
Zeus shrugs. “Probably? But I can’t whether she’s really good or bad because I’m basically incapable of seeing women as sapient beings.”
“Oh-kay then,” Helen says. “Inducement noted. Thank you. When you leave, please send in the next applicant.”
She thinks, They weren’t even very good chocolates.
* * *
Next comes Poseidon, smelling of the sea: briny and slightly rotten like a haddock that’s been dead for three days. This is less of a turnoff than you might expect, because Helen is a true blue Greek girl. The low-tide aroma brings back happy memories of expeditions to the seashore before men starting lining up to kidnap her, rape her, buy her from her father, etc.
Poseidon himself is an old bearded dude encrusted with barnacles, but Helen has encountered a lot of old bearded dudes encrusted with barnacles, so Day In The Life. “Are you going to bribe me too?” she asks.
“Gladly,” says Poseidon, who’s much more at ease paying women than talking to them. “I offer you all the treasure beneath the waves! Gold and jewels from every sunken ship! The fine spermaceti oil of whales! The healthful fins of sharks!”
“That’s an old wives’ tale, you know,” Helen says.
“Okay, how about rich deposits of petroleum, more valuable than gold itself? And methane clathrates? Athena keeps going on about methane clathrates. They’re going to be very big one day. And black smokers, whatever they are. You can have those too.”
“Are they cute black smokers?” Helen asks.
“They are oily plumes of sulphuric chemicals emitted by hydrothermal vents, thereby supporting unique biological communities,” Poseidon replies, trying not to sound like he’s reading off an index card. “Conceivably, some of the tube worms are cute, when viewed from a flattering angle. Or when bejazzled.”
“Okay then,” Helen says. “That’s your offer? Cash?” She nods. “I like it. Simple. To the point.”
“Good,” Poseidon says. “Now would you like to see my—”
“That won’t be necessary,” Helen says.
“It’s really no trouble,” Poseidon says.
“Leave a photo in one of the treasure chests,” Helen tells him. “If I happen to choose you. Next!”
* * *
Next is Hermes, who slips in fast in front of Ares. Hermes doesn’t have an offer, he just wanted to be third, because everyone knows that’s best. He eats all the chocolates left by Zeus, steals some of Helen’s clothing, and zips out again without saying a word.
* * *
The last in line is Ares. There are, of course, other gods in Olympus; but Hephaestus says the whole contest is shite, Dionysus is too drunk to find Greece, let alone some girl’s place in Sparta, Apollo never competes in anything he isn’t one hundred percent guaranteed to win, and of course, nobody has bothered to tell Hades there’s a contest at all, because nobody bothered to tell Hades about the original feast, or about the twenty previous feasts that Zeus has hosted, and there’s a whole Eris-to-the-power-of-OMG situation just waiting to go off like a powder keg when Hades finds out what he’s missed, but everyone kicks that one down the road a little farther because no one has ever accused the Greek pantheon of future-oriented thinking.
Ares arrives dressed in his best bronze and leather, with his hair cut short and with numerous barracks tattoos. Helen considers it a much better look than barnacles or marsupial fur. She can’t immediately think of a look that wouldn’t be better than barnacles or marsupial fur, but kudos to Ares for not finding one.
“So,” Helen says, “is this another bribe offer?”
“Well,” Ares says, “my wife wants me to call it a present, not at bribe.”
“You have a wife?” Helen asks.
“Sort of. It’s not official, but after the whole blowup with Hephaestus catching me with Aphrodite, we all cooled down and worked out an arrangement. Because Aphrodite. So she and Hephaestus and I are kind of together now, and it’s working out okay.”
Helen remains silent for a moment, then says, “I don’t know what to do with this information.”
“Well, actually, it’s going to work out well for you. I didn’t know what to get you for a present, because Aphrodite usually handles that kind of stuff—you know, remembering birthdays, clipping the toenails on Phobos and Deimos, booking me for a checkup with Asclepius once a year—so I asked her what a girl like you might want, and she said, ‘How about helping her go off somewhere nice with a person of her own choosing?’ Not another husband, unless that’s what you and he want…not even a ‘he’ if you aren’t into guys, and nobody’s saying this is even a sexual thing, just go with a friend, have some laughs…but basically this is a Get out of Sparta free card, with a full-paid two-person vacation away from Menelaus for the rest of your life.” Ares scratched his beard. “Personally, I think it sounds kind of cheap, considering that Zeus and Poseidon must have offered you, what, a gazillion drachmas, or maybe elevation into a god yourself. But Aphrodite seemed to think…”
Helen throws her arms around Ares and hugs him. “It’s a lovely gift.”
Embarrassed, Ares says, “I could sweeten the pot by killing someone for you. Your choice of whether or not he suffers.”
“No, getting out of here is all I need,” Helen says. “Except it’ll have to be someplace Menelaus won’t find me. He’ll look high and low, I know he will.”
Ares thinks for a moment, then says, “Go to Troy. I know people there; I’ll set you up. And I’ll introduce you to a few of the guys. Who knows, maybe you’ll hit it off with someone.”
Helen hugs him again. “Thanks. I declare you the winner.”
* * *
Ten years later, in the ashes of Troy, with the Age of Heroes dead and Olympus ruptured by schisms that would lead to its irrelevance, Zeus says to Ares and Poseidon, “Okay, so we pay some poet to blame this on the women, right?”
The men nod in agreement.