Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Free Featured Fiction: "Twilight of the Gods," Chapter 3, 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 (hint, hint: great promo opportunity!)--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.

In case you missed last week's installment, you can find it here:

Chapters 1 & 2

This week, Chapter 3...


Twilight of the Gods
D.J. Gelner

Chapter Three


   For years, Zeus and Poseidon roamed the earth, raining fierce storms and cataclysms upon the unsuspecting mortals that they encountered in their path.
   They hid in the shadows and valleys of the countryside, dressed as shepherds, often too ashamed at their grotesque appearances to reveal themselves to the mortals they so wished to terrorized.
   Entire subcontinents were shaken, their sprawling buildings devastated. Vast floods washed thousands of humans along with hundreds of miles of coastline out to see. Never-before-witnessed deluges flooded countryside and destroyed bridges and dams.
   With each horrific act, Zeus and Poseidon expected the frail little mortals to finally come to their senses, reconstruct the altars, and worship at the feet of the gods once more.  
   Instead, one day, roaming the fields in their simple outfits, they stumbled upon a rather oddly-dressed fellow, clad in distressed blue pantaloons made from foreign, coarse fabric, and what appeared to be a comfortable white shirt made out of…linen? No, it couldn’t be—it was far too soft. Had these humans harnessed the ability to separate cotton seeds from the fibers?
   Curious, Zeus decided to investigate.
   “Greetings, kind human,” Zeus said.
   The man didn’t even offer a warning as he carried two heavy pails through the two brothers, brushing past the disguised gods as if they were common street urchins.
   “Hey yourself,” the man set the buckets down with a thud. He squinted at the two deities, “You two’re a few months early for Halloween.”
   The brothers eyed one another’s unwittingly antique garb and shrugged, “Hallow-what?”
   The man rolled his eyes and wiped his hands together several times, “What can I do ya’ for?”
   “You appear to be far mightier than most of your fellow—”
   Poseidon stuck a hand out in front of his brother and shook his head.
   “Apologies for my brother’s behavior—he is merely traumatized by the wrath of the gods we have recently experienced as mere mortals on this continent.”
   The man grimaced, “You talkin’ ‘bout all the earthquakes and tidal waves and stuff?”
   “Indeed,” Zeus said. He eyed his brother with an arched eyebrow.
   The man nodded, “Wasn’t much of a churchgoer myself ’til recently. Tell ya’ the truth, all of this stuff’s been making me think that maybe it is the ‘wrath of God,’ or whatever you said.”
   “What?” Zeus asked.
   “You know—the wrath of God.”
   “Which one?” Zeus queried.
   Again, Poseidon stopped his brother and shook his head.
   “Whattaya’ mean ‘which one?’ The big guy upstairs—you know, ‘God’ god.”
   “No one else?” This time Poseidon couldn’t hide his disappointment.
   “Well, I mean, you know, I found Jesus, too, if that’s what you mean. And…the, uh…third thing, too. But yeah, all’a this chaos got me going back to church, every Sunday, right as rain, hoping that somehow,” he raised his eyes skyward, “the big man up there’s listening.”
   Zeus narrowed his eyes and gritted his teeth, “I’m sure he is.”
   The man squinted right back at the deities, “You know what, stranger? I don’t like your tone. I think it’s about time for you and your weirdo brother to be movin’ along, unless you wanna get the law involved.”
   Zeus’s eyes burst with anger. He summoned his remaining strength and reached back for a thunderbolt. Poseidon lurched out to stop his brother, but it was too late.
   “We aren’t looking for trouble,” Zeus brought his hand forward. It cut through the air with a crackle of electricity as the bolt connected with its target and caused the man to seize and sizzle until the life had been drained from him.
   Poseidon put his hands on his hips, “Are you quite through?”
   “What’s one more?” Zeus shrugged.
   Exhausted and famished, they decided to return to the Pantheon to inform Artemis of the failure of her plan.
   “This is troubling,” she stroked her chin when informed of the news. “Quite odd, indeed. I must say, from our vantage point, perched atop this mighty mountain, it has been great fun to take in all of the terror you both have wrought, the screams of the mortals to imaginary beings who have no chance to aid them.”
   She frowned, “However, such fun and games hardly bring us closer to our ultimate goal. This development, though both unforeseen and not necessarily welcome, does prove that the concept is sound.”
   Zeus arched an eyebrow over narrowed eyes, “Fair daughter, how can you say such a thing?”
   She waved off her father’s question, “We have shown the capacity is there to fear the gods. Now it’s just a matter of hitting them in the right manner, with the right ‘pressure.’ Come, let us assemble the remainder of the Pantheon.”
   Though the marble of the Pantheon was still cracked and crumbled, a reminder of its former glory, the sun shone brightly across the top of Olympus, blocked only briefly by the occasional low, silver cloud.
   Artemis stood before the council of gods, the only one smiling amid the hodgepodge of immortals.
   “Mighty father and powerful uncle return with great news!” the smile leaked onto her face.
   Dionysus brightened, “Have they brought casks of fresh wine from their adventures in the Roman hinterlands?”
   She shook her head, “Though I would be equally fond of such a development as you, dear Dionysus,” she patted her portly comrade on the shoulder, which elicited a low rumble of a belch, “I have much better news. It appears that father and uncle have driven the humans to new levels of piety and worship!”
   An initial round of cheers was muted by the shrill cries of a female voice, “Why, then, fair Artemis, do we still live in rags, a collection of gods in shambles? Why does the stench of failure continue to wash over this mountaintop?”
   Artemis's eyes went wide at her stepmother's reproach, “Dear Hera, where your nostrils still recoil with the odor of despair, mine find the comforting aroma of a stiff Mediterranean breeze shifting to another direction.
   “It is true that the humans continue to worship their false gods.”
   Murmurs of dissatisfaction rippled through the Pantheon.
   “However,” Artemis raised her voice to quiet the crowd, “however my fellow deities, don’t you see the positivity in this development? The puny humans still have the capacity to worship, to increase their piety! Now, we need only convince them of the true gods from whom they should ask forgiveness, instead of these petty, minor deities they have deigned to create!”
   Aphrodite raised an eyebrow amid the ensuing chaos, “And how, noble Artemis, are we to accomplish that?”
   Artemis allowed a sly smile to creep over her face, “Why, I thought you’d never ask. Beautiful Aphrodite has made a valid point; the result of our prior exercise, though hopeful, remains,” she turned toward Zeus, who still stood dazed from years of hard work, “a failure.”
   Zeus hung his head.
   “Nonetheless, even when entire harvests fail for a season, there is something to be learned, a lesson moving forward.”
   “And what lesson is that?” Athena thundered.
   “Patience, mighty Athena,” Artemis turned to face the villages that dotted the landscape at the base of the mountain, “I perhaps underestimated the little mortals’ positively quaint devotion to science and reason. Though, true, they eventually came around to the possibility that their false idols had something to do with the disasters father and uncle so bravely rained upon them,” she stopped and nodded at each god in turn, “ultimately they were left thinking that idiotic ‘natural processes’ were to credit for such acts of gods.
   “What we need is something less of superstitious world of the natural sciences, and more something that will affect all humans, regardless of proximity to fault or coastlines. Something that will tear families apart and level father’s heel upon the shoulder of every man, woman, and child, right as they are to be sent to wretched uncle Hades in the underworld!”
   Artemis spat the words with such venom that even Athena recoiled at the invective tone. The scheming goddess of the hunt’s eyes narrowed and lit up with fierce anger before they calmed, and the serpentine smile crawled across her face once more as she sashayed with a newfound confidence over to her twin brother.
   “Of course, father and uncle are rightfully tired from their previous endeavors, so some others,” Artemis placed an arm around her twin’s shoulders, “may have to contribute this time. Dear, dear brother Apollo, you are the god of both healing and plague, are you not?”
   Apollo thought for a moment before he nodded in reply.
   “Yes, sister. What of it?”
   Artemis smirked, “You could then concoct a disease so contagious, so devastating that it could spread across the world like wildfire, leaving oceans of corpses in its wake?”
   Apollo gulped, “I, uh, well,” he looked around at the Pantheon and was shocked to find not the disapproving, confused scowls he expected, but rather eager, wide-eyed listeners, “I suppose I could do so, hypothetically.
   “Hypothetically!?” Artemis scowled, “Dear brother, father and uncle have labored for years to get the attention of those pathetic mortals below, condemning swaths at a time to death, and you have the temerity to question the need to assist further?”
   Apollo shook his head, his formerly glorious, well-proportioned nose now a sharp beak atop the valleys of sunken cheeks, “’Twas a swift death that father and uncle bore many. What you ask—thousands would suffer. Maybe millions. To engender desired result would mean agony thus far unseen on Earth!”
   “And to not do so would prolong agony on high!” Artemis shot back. “Look around you, brother! See the depths to which we have sunk. If thousands or millions of limited, inconsequential mortal lives must be forfeit to regain our former glory, then so be it. Not to mention,” she eyed the ribs jutting out of his thin frame, “you would be the one to whom they would call to, to sacrifice untold numbers of animals to your glory, and put heft back on your frame where only gristle now resides.”
   Apollo licked his lips unconsciously. Had it been so long since he enjoyed a glorious feast in his honor? He could almost smell the seared bull flesh as his teeth gnashed at imaginary, succulent meat to warm and fill his belly.
   He steeled his resolve and nodded brusquely, “Very well then, noble sister. I will roam the planet with silver bow, unleashing death and pestilence upon all those mortals who dare darken my shadow.”
   A smirk creased Artemis’s face. This was a side of her twin brother that she had rarely seen, somehow both desperate and greedy as much for recognition from the mortals as the gifts they would bestow upon him.
   Apollo’s expression brightened, “Then, once they recognize our glory once more, I shall share all of the gifts made in my honor with the rest of you, so that we may roam the Earth, making merriment and mischief once more!”
   Artemis nodded as the rest of the Pantheon struggled to muster enough enthusiasm for a hearty round of applause. Though Zeus was exhausted, he even managed tiny rumbles of thunder with each “clomp” of his hands.
   The gods disassembled with new hope that prodigal Apollo would finally bring an end to their obsolescence. Only Zeus and Poseidon remained behind, tended to by clever Artemis.
   “You see there, father and uncle? Your efforts were not in vain! As we speak, hungry Apollo descends Olympus, stomach driving his still-swift feet toward noble purpose.”
   “Yes, yes, dear Artemis…it’s just—”
   “It’s just what?” she gnashed her teeth on the reply, then realized what she had done and recomposed herself.
   “It’s just that your uncle and I are so exhausted, that—”
   Poseidon covered his mouth, “It was that last farmer you smote with lightning, isn’t it?”
   “Can I please finish?!” Zeus thundered.
   Poseidon and Artemis exchanged cautious glances.
   Zeus’s anger dissipated almost as suddenly as it had come on, “Your uncle and I are so exhausted that it will likely take us some time to recuperate. Until then, we need someone we can trust running the affairs of the Pantheon on a day-to-day basis, ensuring that the gods don’t succumb to their seemingly relentless urges to bicker and cast blame on one another for such petty slights.”
   “So you would like me to continue on as leader of Olympus until you both have recovered sufficiently?” Artemis asked.
   Poseidon chuckled, “It appears that your tongue has gone silver to match your bow!”
   Zeus nodded, “Indeed. My wife is a good woman; strong and fierce. But I worry that she might seize this opportunity to somehow banish me from Olympus mount permanently. Ah, but you—” Zeus placed a hand on Artemis’s shoulder, “You are my daughter, my own blood. You will keep an eye on Hera, along with Athena and the rest, will maintain my spot, and then, once recovered and we venture to Earth to watch as Apollo returns with strength-giving gifts, then I can resume in my position as King of the gods, with you, sharp Artemis, having first right of counsel at my side.”
   Artemis affected a worried grin, “I reluctantly accept this most gracious of honors, father, even as the humans continue to spoil the forests that I so enjoy and decimate the animals of which I am so fond.”
   “Splendid…splendid!” Zeus brightened, if only momentarily. “We shall rest, and then several years on, we shall examine Apollo’s progress. Let us see humanity deny us even as their loved ones suffer!”

* * *


Will Apollo doom humanity to endure a plague of misery? What kind of scheme is Artemis cooking up, anyway? These answers, and more, coming soon in 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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