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The Picnic
by Mark Bell
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Since gods are eternal beings, they never really die. But, where do they go when they have no temple? No official worship? There are shelters in this world for homeless people. What if there was a shelter for homeless gods?


Hermes walked carefully down the hallway. The scaffolding outside the kitchen looked very unsteady. It always did. It was always there, too, waiting for someone to do more repair work. And, that didn’t happen often. No one got much in offerings any more.

Light flashed under the kitchen door. He felt, then heard, the rumble of thunder. Hermes shuddered. Zeus was cooking. Hermes couldn’t imagine anything worse. Nothing ever came out intact, just black and crisp. He quickly, and carefully, stepped around the scaffolding.

He grinned, remembering his latest prank. Mithra had been so proud to finally get horses for his chariot again. So, Hermes snuck into the run down excuse for a stable, and partially disassembled Mithra’s chariot traces. The Persian came out for a ride, whipped at the horses to go, and got dragged a good distance through the dust before he let go of the reigns. Hermes chuckled, imagining more pranks, and new victims.

The scrabble of claws and the flap of wings came from behind him. Instinctively, Hermes ducked. A bird whizzed past his ear, disappearing around the corner. He hugged the wall. A large dog raced past his legs, in hot pursuit of the bird. The scaffolding rattled. Hermes eyed it uneasily, pushing himself away from the wall.

“Why would anyone want to be an animal,” he asked himself, thankful no one was there to listen.

“Well, hazards hazard of living here,” he consoled himself ruefully. One had to tolerate whoever was there.

He continued down the corridor, into the main hall. He shook his head sadly. The molding was gouged and worn. The plaster walls were pock-marked with holes and splotched with several different layers and arrangements of old paint and wallpaper. The ceiling was cracked. Several boards on the staircase were broken through. The double doors at the front were hanging loose. He hated having to live here.

He paused just outside the community room. Thor was sitting at a table talking with a cow. Apollo looked on with amusement. The cow shook his head and walked away, Apollo soon followed. Thor stared moodily at the table top. A huddle of North Americans was over in the corner.

But, there were no Romans, Hermes thought happily. He had his own reasons for not liking the Romans, or the Persians. But, the Scandanavians he could handle. Other than being a bit too fatalistic and somber for his liking, they were good company.

Hermes stepped into the room. Stars exploded in his head. Feathers drifted in front of his eyes. Shaking his head to clear it, he realized he was lying on the floor. He blinked, and found himself staring into the jaws of a very large, ferocious dog. He looked left. A bird sat on the floor looking back at him.

“Why don’t you watch where you’re going,” the bird said shakily, in a very annoyed tone.

“Me,” Hermes retorted shakily. “Me?” He shook his head again, watching the bird change into a beautiful woman.

“You’re the one who ran into me, you inconsiderate animorph!” Hermes wiggled his jaw and his teeth. Then he checked the side of his head for bumps.

“Well,” Isis snapped back, “you’re still supposed to watch where you’re going.”
The beautiful Egyptian looked disdainfully at the Greek.

“If you think for one minute,” he began fiercely, “that you can…”

“Enough,” Thor thundered.

He slammed his hand down on the table and stood up. Another split spread across the table top.

“I have had enough!”

“What’s wrong, Thor,” Isis said coolly. “Can’t find a good battle these days?”

Thor gave her a withering look.

“You take things far too seriously,” the dog said cheerily, slowly transforming into a tall, muscular, bronze skinned man. He stood looking from one to the other, a slight smile on his face.

“Set,” Thor growled, pointing at the man-turned-dog. “You had best be careful, or I’ll pick the bone you get to chew on next.”

Hermes was getting worried. True, Thor was a warrior. But, he was usually easy going. Hermes had never seen him pick a fight. Well...not like this, anyway.

Set smiled confidently, and turned towards the hallway. Hermes wasn’t exactly sure, but he thought the Egyptian was laughing. He tried to keep his gaze focused on the Norwegian. Hermes wasn’t sure what he could do if things blew up, but he was going to try and do something.

“Thor, my Norwegian friend,” Set said quietly as he followed Isis up the stairs. “I would be more careful who I pick my battles with if I were you.”

The Egyptians disappeared from view before Thor could reply.
The tension slowly dissipated from the room. The North Americans turned back to whatever conversation they had been having.

Hermes stepped up to the table and sat across from Thor.

“What’s going on, Thor,” he asked carefully. “I haven’t ever seen you like this before.”

Thor just stared moodily at the table, and grunted.

“How about we get out of here this afternoon,” the Greek suggested hopefully.

Another grunt.

“Zeus is cooking.” Hermes tried to say it gently,

Thor’s head snapped up. His brow wrinkled. Hermes thought the giant was about to turn green.

“Not that,” the Scandanavian begged, shaking his head. “Anything but that.”

“So we do lunch?”

Thor brooded for a moment.

“Where should we go,” he asked finally.

“You pick,” Hermes offered grandly.

“I think I need to see the fjords again,” Thor said wistfully. “Perhaps it has been too long.”

“The fjords it is,” Hermes slapped the table. “Let’s go.”

“Wait a minute,” Thor hesitated, standing slowly. “What are we doing for food?”

“My friend,” Hermes replied craftily, "You leave that to me."

Hermes grinned slyly and slipped his arm around the Norwegians midriff, his head barely reaching the giant’s bicep. Cautiously, he guided his large friend around the table.

“Just give me directions on where to meet you,” Hermes added cheerfully as they stepped out the door.

The tourists filed into the amphitheater. It was noon. The Mediterranean sun cast few shadows. Fortunately, the sea breeze kept the day from being too hot.

“Note the columns here,” the tour guide intoned. “While similar to those found in the other temple, see how the frieze on the column tops depict scenes regarding the winged messenger, Hermes. Craftsmen of old dedicated themselves to each temple so that the atmosphere would be surrounded by the particular god’s presence.”

The tourists weaved and bumped their way to the altar. The guide enjoyed watching them try to see the depictions on the columns and still avoid running into each other or falling down the stone steps.
Reaching the front of the temple, he turned to face them.

“Now, This is what a normal offering to the god Hermes would look like,” the guide went on smoothly. “Some food, some wine and oil, perhaps some coins. The coins would be especially true of dear Hermes--the winged messenger—whose temple we are in. He was the patron god of commerce, and communications. And he was well thought of by thieves and robbers." The guide paused for effect.

“Hermes was such a silver-tongued devil,” he grinned.

The crowd chuckled, as he expected.

Tourists were all the same, the guide thought sadly. They were boringly predictable. But, they kept his bills paid.

“And now if you will follow me,” the guide announced, waving his flock back towards the top of the amphitheater. “We have a light lunch and a cool drink awaiting us outside.”

Hermes watched cautiously from behind a small column. The last tourist moved out of the structure. In an instant, Mercury whisked to the altar, gathered up everything into a cloth bag, and was back in his hiding place. A moment later, the tour guide re-appeared. The man gasped and dashed to the altar.

“No! No,” the man cried. “Three times! I’m ruined! I’m fired! What am I gonna do!”

Hermes looked with regret at the guide. Such a nice man, he thought. Such a shame his career was ruined. But, you shouldn’t say such things about a god. Even if it is true.
He threw the bag over his shoulder and sped on his way.

The horses were grazing a short distance away. Thor sat on the back of his chariot and look at the waters below. The icy air seemed to freeze Hermes’s lungs with every breath. Strangely, it felt good.

“Why do you like such cold places,” Hermes asked.

“Don’t blame me for the cold,’ Thor retorted, with a slight smile. “It’s not my fault you like to wander around naked, or dressed in a sheet.”

“You’re lucky you like Greek food,” Hermes teased him back.

Together they took out the food and began to pick out their favorites. And, while the wine was not plentiful, it was a good vintage. They ate in silence for a while. Hermes gained some shelter from the wind inside the chariot.

“So what happened this morning,” he asked his friend.

Thor sighed. “I’m tired of those two chasing each other around. I'm sick of cleaning up after those two. Whenever he is about to catch her, she starts leaving droppings on everything in the room.”

Hermes laughed. “Yeah,” he said after a moment. “But you have to admit, they do add little life to the place. Remember the day she whizzed through that Chinese party with him racing along behind her?”

Despite himself, Thor began to laugh, too. The laugh was short, and the smile fleeting.

“I miss the old days,” Thor said sadly. The mirth draining away to leave him brooding once again.

“I was great,” he went on wistfully. “I had temples from the Artic Circle to Constantinople. I was feared. My followers left carnage in their wake as they fought across Europe.”

“Hey,” Hermes tried to cheer him back up, “at least there's something. The North Americans are still using…”

“It’s not the same,” Thor thundered back.

“I know that,” Hermes shot back at him. “But at least it’s something. At least in your case the Viking legends are coming back into vogue.”

“You can say that,” Thor brooded again. “You still have a temple, with a pretense of an offering. And Disney thinks you Greeks are amusing, and make a fortune with it. What do I get? A few poetry readings and a documentary.”

The giant shook his head. Hermes sat silently. The two of them stared off to the horizon. Thick black clouds were beginning to billow and lower over the sea.

“We better go,” Thor commented. “You clean up and I’ll get the horses.”

Hermes quickly gathered the scraps and flasks into the bag. While he listened to Thor hitching his team of black horses. I wonder where he keeps them, Hermes thought. They always looked so healthy and strong.

Suddenly, the Norwegian giant leapt over the front of the chariot. Hermes jumped as Thor’s boots slammed into the chariot floor. The horses lurched forward. Hermes tumbled to the ground, landing in an undignified heap. He stood up and brushed himself off.

“What the…”

He ducked his head just in time to avoid Thor’s hammer whooshing towards his head. Straightening up, Thor’s boot slammed into Hermes’s chest. Hermes felt the air empty from his chest as he flew backwards. He also felt hands rip the winged sandals from his feet. Then he heard the snort of horses, and the thunder of departing hooves.

“Remember Mithra,” Thor laughed as he disappeared over the horizon.

Hermes’s mirth of the morning was shattered by the cold wind.

“Vikings and their trade alliances,” he moaned.

He shook his head and began to walk. For a moment he thought he heard thunderous laughter in the distance.

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