Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Free Featured Fiction: "Twilight of the Gods, Chapter 4," by D.J. Gelner

Every Wednesday, the Hunt to Read Blog showcases short fiction from our member writers. No one else has submitted to date. No problem--we don't take it personally! If you do want to be featured in Free Featured Fiction, check out the guidelines here.

So our Co-Founder, D.J.,
will continue to serialize his latest novelette, Twilight of the Gods on here over the next couple of weeks, until we start to get some submissions. You can check out the rest of D.J.'s books on his Hunt to Read Profile.

Previous Installments of
Twilight of the Gods:

Chapters 1 & 2

Chapter 3

This week, Chapter 4...

Twilight of the Gods
Chapter 4

Like Zeus and Poseidon before him, Apollo roamed the countryside, searching for vulnerable targets.

Unlike his father and uncle, who had the luxury of singling out fault-lines and sea swells to incite broad-based suffering, Apollo was forced to take aim at individuals who might spread the plague he had developed to the ends of the Earth.

He scoured the back roads of all seven continents, searching for traveling merchants who might more easily carry the awful scourge to the cities of the world. Apollo was most troubled by what he saw; instead of the richly-attired merchants of many years ago, all he found now was shabbily-attired riff-raff meandering from town-to-town.

Has life on this planet grown so difficult for both god and man alike? he thought.

Still, he would take aim and turn his head as he pelted these pitiable mortals with arrows, though even after many years, the plague refused to take hold among the larger populations.

Frustrated, Apollo thought there had to be a better solution. He plumbed the depths of his own mind, trying to come up with more inspired strategies to cause the disease to tear through the puny humans as poverty and disinterest had spread through his own kind.

That’s it! He thought. Much like the gods, collections of humans in larger numbers are more likely to spread whatever afflicts them! The god knew where he must go: the largest city in all of the land, the center of the mighty empire that once caused its own enemies to tremble before it.

He followed the ancient roads, notable for their Olympian levels of decay, through the European countryside until he arrived at his destination:

Rome.

Apollo ignored the gawks and whispers as he marched confidently through the streets, his resolve blanketing the misery he felt at sending so many of these mortals to his uncle, Hades, so prematurely. He unsheathed arrow-after-arrow, launching them into men, women, and children alike, who, at the lack of pain upon entry thought the whole enterprise to be but a joke, and laughed and smiled as they showered Apollo with paper currency in appreciation for the "trick."

Eventually, he arrived at an ornate, marble fountain. Apollo would have been happy to concede that the intricacy and detail of the carvings on its face were rivaled only by those statues on Olympus proper, but to do so would have been to give into false pride; it had been many years since the sculptures on Olympus had gleamed so brightly, had sparkled in the sunlight, perhaps more than anything years since they had been so whole and beautiful, unmarred by cracks and fissures.

As Apollo launched another arrow into the gathered masses, and another eruption of bills fell around him, the god paused to examine some of the colorful currency.

As he did so, a large, well-muscled man dressed in Legionnaire garb pushed through all of the oddly-dressed tourists in their cotton shirts and blue pants to point a plastic sword in the god’s face.

“What are you doing?” the man asked in Italian.

Apollo chuckled, “Ah, constable. Perhaps you are the person I seek.” He licked his lips at the number of individuals a Roman soldier must come into contact with each day.

“This is my spot—you’re horning in on my territory!”

Your territory?”

The mortal approached the god and looked around before he whispered, “Look my friend, I know it’s not a bad little racket we have going on here. Tourists pay us good money just to stand here and take pictures with them. But, I mean, you’re doing it all wrong. That costume—how shabby! And the arrow trick? I’ve seen that done before. I—”

Apollo needed no further prodding. At close range, he unsheathed another arrow, threaded the bowstring, and launched it directly into the faux Legionnaire.

The man flinched, then paused to survey his midsection.
     No wound, no blood.

Yet…Apollo thought.

The crowd threw more colorful paper at the two men as the Legionnaire winked at the god and stumbled and staggered, doubled-over as if he had felt the full force of the projectile.

“Felled…by mighty Apollo…my death shall not be in vain!” He crumpled to the pavement.

The assembled crowd showered the two men with applause and more cash as the Legionnaire rose from the ground. Apollo’s jaw dropped as the man dared to grab the god’s hand and bowed toward the fawning masses.

“Take a bow, buddy,” the Legionnaire forced through gritted teeth.

Normally Apollo would have revealed himself then and there. But there was something about the crowd, something about the adoration of these mortals that he hadn’t felt in such a long time that he was compelled to follow the infected mortal’s instructions, and bow before the people in front of him.

More bills followed. The Legionnaire began scooping up the errant pieces of paper, and after raising an eyebrow for a moment, Apollo followed suit.

“Hey…my best day ever already!” the formerly surly man smiled, “You know, we could develop quite the routine, you and I, my friend.”

“Ah…indeed,” Apollo thought. His stomach knotted up at the realization that he had already infected the bravado-filled, kind stranger. “Pray tell, good mortal—why are we collecting these pieces of paper again?”

The Legionnaire smiled, “Haha—I like you! You’re funny. Come on, I’ll buy us lunch.”

Buy? Lunch?

“Yeah, yeah, yeah—no problem, no problem. The least I could do is get you some food.”

At the mere mention of the world, Apollo’s stomach rumbled uncontrollably.

“So, we can exchange these piece of colored paper—” he let a couple flutter out of his hand as if to underscore his point, “—for food? Boar and the like?”

The Legionnaire smiled as he bent down to collect the bills that had fallen from his new friend’s hand, “Sure, we can get you some pork. Come on—I’m starving.”

That afternoon, Apollo enjoyed a feast unlike he had for centuries: breads slathered with butter teased his nose with their freshly-baked aroma, followed by a fresh, crisp salad and a pasta dish with a delectable red sauce. The main course was indeed pork, shaved thin and marbled with fat, drenched in olive oil. All of this was washed down with pungent red wine, the likes of which even Dionysus himself would have been envious.

After the meal was finished, Apollo reclined in his seat. He rubbed his stomach, which had gone empty so long that it now distended to digest all of the wondrous treats with which he had filled it.

“More!” Apollo demanded.

“Whoa, hey, buddy, I know we had a good day and everything, but cool it—my girl wants a new—”

Apollo slammed a fistful of bills on the table.

“Okay, if you’re buying, I guess…”

The men went through another round of the feast, then, realizing he had no more money, Apollo forced his new companion back near the fountain to obtain more currency.

He shot the unsuspecting Legionnaire with arrows dozens of times in the ensuing weeks, even as the sickness began to ravage the man’s body and those of the passersby who frequented their little performance. Apollo was obsessed; he craved the bills that fluttered toward him because that money meant food, delicious sustenance that he had gone far too long without.

As Apollo continued to shake Rome and its visitors bare of cash, the plague finally took hold, as spectators of his little play took pictures with the Legionnaire after each performance, and spread the disease to their friends, co-workers, and loved ones.

What started as a curious outbreak in Rome eventually spread, first throughout Europe, then North America, then South America and Asia. Eventually, the entire world was engulfed in the awful illness; festering, dark sores covered its victims’ bodies, a sure sign of impending death to those around them.

Doctors were appalled; this virus was unlike any other they had previously seen. For years, they toiled to come up with a cure, even as the death toll mounted and the cold smell of sickness oozed from the sewers and alleys of every major city on earth.

Quarantines soon turned these once vibrant urban centers into veritable ghost towns. The only glimmer of activity within each one were the various churches, temples, and mosques that took in the ill and dying, and tried to ease their suffering over their final few days.

All the while, greedy Apollo continued to ply his newfound trade. The Legionnaire was one of the first to die; eventually, as the plague spread, the crowds became less and less, until no one bothered to visit the fountain at all, the air in the nearby square bathed in the stench of foul death.

The hunger resurged in Apollo’s belly, made all the more awful by the recent taste of satiety.

“Mortals come back!” he screamed through the empty streets. He no longer cared whether his fellow gods would receive the worship, adulation, and delicious sacrifices any longer; if they wanted to, they were free to join in on his play-acting scheme, and share in the profits provided by these giddy mortals.

For now, though, business was awful. He cursed the other gods and their selfishness, oblivious to his own.

Wait a minute…I am a god! And now back to full strength, no less… Apollo thought. He grasped an arrow out of his sheath and snapped his fingers twice. Immediately, the pale silver sheen on it glowed and snapped with a muted hum of activity. He loaded it onto the string and aimed high in the air, with a fatigued yawn to punctuate the ease with which he drew back the projectile.

Apollo released the arrow. It arched high into the air, well above the clouds before it burst with a brilliant flash and a rumble. Raindrops fell from the heavens, and blanketed the streets with sheets of life-giving water, laced with the antidote to the plague.

The god casually collected a discarded cup from the curb and held it upward to collect as much rainwater as it could hold. Once full, he eyed a tyvek-suited relief worker and approached her with a broad smile.

“My dear mortal woman, though I would be happy to bed you—”

The god didn’t see the woman’s raised eyebrows and narrowed eyes through her oxygen mask.

“—I have news of more pressing import. In this cup is the elixir that will end the horrible plague that I ha—have seen wreak havoc on your fine populace.”

“Really?” her eyes narrowed even more under the faceplate of the mask, to the point that they were nearly shut.

To Apollo, her skepticism was little more than a bothersome inconvenience. He spotted a ghastly wretch in an alleyway, covered in black pustules, barely clinging to life. The god marched over to the man and raised the mortal’s head, dragging the man’s wasted body half off the ground.

Apollo brought the cup to the mortal’s lips and forced him to choke down the cool, sweet liquid inside.

Released from the god’s grip, the sick man flopped back to the ground. He lay there for several moments, the woman in the biohazard suit’s skepticism weighing down the raindrops, pulling them in great sheets toward the ground.

Suddenly, the dark boils began to bubble and sizzle as the man’s eyes shot open and his body seized to life. He shook and trembled as the white foam vanished from the sores, leaving new, flawless skin in their place.

“My God,” the woman remarked. She turned to the god, “Where did you find this?”

“No matter. Just make sure you get it to your alchemists or whatever brand of heretics concern themselves with chemicals so that they may replicate it on a large scale. And be sure to tell them to catch the show by the fountain over there, daily.”

The woman nodded. She carefully cradled the elixir in the crux of her elbow as she trotted off to parts unknown.
* * *
Though Apollo may have ended the plague that he started, what does it mean for the other gods? Will they be so charmed that Apollo ended their chance at being revered once more so abruptly? Does clever Artemis have another plan up her sleeve to regain favor with the mortals? Tune in next week for the next installment of Twilight of the Gods!

Like what you read? Check out D.J.'s books on Hunt to Read:

Rogue
Thoughts? Questions? Leave them in the comments.

Happy Hunting!

D.J. Gelner is the Co-Founder and CEO of Hunt to Read. Contact him directly at djgelner@hunttoread.com.


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