You may think that the days when you could meet the gods on the road are gone. I’m here to tell you they’re not. Pan is only as far away as the next bar, for one thing.

Got a light? Thanks. Okay, so.

Best place to meet any of ‘em is in a nightclub. You’ve already seen ‘em, you just don’t know it. Aphrodite, she’s that utterly luminous girl at the far end of the bar whose number your friend never succeeded in getting; Zeus is the guy who snuck up behind and grabbed you by the, um, chest. It took an awful lot of people to pry him loose, didn’t it? And you’re still not sure that you actually wanted their help, are you?

Never forget that they are gods. Mortals meeting with that which is vaster and wilder than themselves should count themselves lucky to get out alive.

For example. I dated Apollo once. Two years of finding broken lyre strings by feel, meaning when I stepped on their sharp ends on the bedroom floor. I wouldn’t part with a single shining midnight, but I wouldn’t go back either. Broke up with him, actually. No, I did. He struck me blind for a year; not an easy divinity to dump, believe me. Very glad it was only a year. And that there were no kids.

Don’t try to get them to use birth control, they’re hopeless in that department. Like I said, wilder. Like mountains, trouble, the flask someone passes you at the bonfire. And forget about fidelity. It’s a word clearly invented after their time, know what I mean?

And yet I’m still addicted. The one I have always wanted to meet is Shiva, actually. Saw him at a show. Talk about limitless potential…for the girl, I mean. I’d be okay with explaining to my kid why their skin is blue, wouldn’t you?

“As you know, professor,” said the earnest young man, “an Embry-dissipative microsingularity striking the earth would be drawn irresistably to its core, where it would cause a cataclysmic gravitational distortion, drawing all matter down into it until the earth collapsed in on itself like a rotten grapefruit.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” I said. “I study acoustics.”
“Professor,” he said, leaning in, whispering urgently, the mothy smell of his ill-fitting suit coat forcing me to fight a sneeze. “Please don’t ask me how I know about your top-secret government work, but understand that I have information of the greatest importance for you. A microsingularity is bearing down on Earth at this very moment, and the vector and velocity information I have for you–”
Top-secret government work? This fellow was a nut case!
“Just a minute,” I said, picking up the phone. I dialed security. “Hi, I have a special package for you to pick up on the second floor,” I said.
“Dr. Womack, is that you?” said Rob the security guard over the phone. “You’re saying there’s some kind of problem? What’s wrong?”
“Absolutely, and you have a nice day, too,” I said, smiling and nodding at the young man. I hung up, hoping Rob had gotten the idea.
The young man held out a thumb drive. “These are the coordinates–” he broke off as he heard the noise of feet pounding on the stairs down the hall. A moment later, Rob and the red-haired bodybuilder type, what’s-his-name, burst in and grabbed the young man by the arms.
“Stop!” he cried. “You’re making a terrible mistake! Please, professor, please!
They dragged him away.
About ten minutes later, Dr. Fennelgrüb walked in with a latte and a chocolate pastry.
“You’re in my office again, Womack!” he bellowed, pastry crumbs flying from his lips. “So help me God, the next time you blunder in here, I’ll kick your ass!”
I looked around, and of course he was right: wrong office again. My mind had been on the impact of air currents on sound conductance in low-heat environments, and I just hadn’t noticed. I meekly scraped together my papers and left. On the way out, I wondered if Fennelgrüb needed to be told the young man’s news, but then I was struck with an idea about heat differentials that completely put the matter out of my mind.

Five bottles on a shelf, they sang songs to me on a cold winter’s night: songs of lips against snow, of roots, of tusks and of gold and of all that piled in the room, spoils of my father’s travels. They always found a way into his pockets, those oddments.
And I, their un-bottled sister, was their ear.
And I, their ten-fingered sister, stood on tiptoes in the kitchen to take dried peach slices from the wooden boxes, to take cardamom and cloves from the dispenser. I stood in front of the shelves and dropped my fruits and spices into the bottles.
They murmured thanks, every one.
Eyes and mouths and four finned limbs grew from them in haphazard ways, puzzle ways, and I watched them as if they would move just-so in their bottles and make a neat pattern.
“Have you seen fish in the water?” one whispered — or was it two? I couldn’t follow all their mouths.
I tilted my head to the right, looking at the dried blowfish behind one of the bottles.
They swam around it in the toilet bowl, pressing their lips to it — like fingers, I thought, to learn how it felt — and they swam down when I flushed, down through the pipes that curled like my hair, down to the underground rivers.
I’d stolen my father’s oddments before. If he noticed, it was only to see an empty space on his shelf for another travel-token, another spade-shaped coin or intricately carved statue of a mermaid.
A week after I emptied the five bottles, he filled them with shells and sand from a black beach in the Aegean.
And I, growing older, saw the five un-bottled boys on warm nights when I walked alone by the river.

Karl pulled one drawer clean out. Bolts, a small screwdriver, wing nuts that should have been in the wing nut drawer, a ball bearing, and some tacks left over from paneling the den hit the floor. The ball bearing rolled under Madge’s Pinto. Something flashed from the empty slot where the drawer had been.

Karl set the drawer on the floor and bent down, hands on thighs, to peer into the hole. He moved a little to one side and again saw a flash. Could it be a broken piece of mirror? He reached in. His hand touched a cold smooth plane. Aha, he thought: it’s a mirror or piece of glass. Before he even finished the thought, he began to feel quite peculiar. His skin buzzed like the time he stuck his finger in the electrical outlet, then he was falling fast and headfirst, but after a moment of panic (during which he shut his eyes) he seemed to be at rest, on his feet, and unharmed. He opened his eyes.

Something stood or crouched in front of him. Its face reminded him of a fish, although the texture of its skin said lobster, and tufts of tendrils around its mouth called to mind a sea anemone. The body gave a similarly chimeric impression; it had elements of arthropod, mammal, and reptile, although in places the shapes and textures were more reminiscent of the inorganic. Karl laughed weakly.

“This sculpture is the most far out I’ve ever seen!” he said, looking around for the artist.

The thing spoke, its voice a bubbling hiss. Karl screamed and turned to run, only to discover another of the creatures right behind him. It seized his arms and, after a while, he stopped screaming.

“You are most honored,” it burbled. “You are the human chosen to rule the earthly portion of the coming Eternal Empire. All others of your ilk will serve as your abject slaves. Rejoice!”

“Rule? Me? Empire?” Patiently it was explained again. And again. It finally sank in. He wiped drool off his chin. Then he pumped his fist in the air.

“Yes! Karl Johnson will rule the WOOOORLD!!”

“Excuse me, Karl Johnson? Karl Johnson?” The thing let go of his arms.

“That’s my name, don’t wear it out. Let’s see…Emperor Karl Johnson? No. Potentate Karl … what?”

“Sorry, we were looking for Carl Sandstroem.”

“Oh, uh, his house is the white one on the corner.”


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