Divine Misfortune – Chapter One

“Hello. My name is Anubis. I like long walks on the beach, carrying departed souls into the underworld, and the cinema of Mr. Woody Allen.”

Wincing, Teri pushed the PAUSE button. “Oh, ick.”

“What? What’s wrong with this one?” After an hour of watching Internet videos, Phil’s patience was wearing thin. It seemed no god would be good enough for his wife.

“Look at him,” she said. “He’s got a dog head.”

“Jackal,” corrected Phil. “It’s a jackal head.”

She frowned. “Eww. That’s even worse.”

“How is that worse?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. It just is. I mean, dogs are nice, at least. But jackals… who has anything nice to say about them?”

“He isn’t a jackal, honey,” he said, with an edge on the term of endearment. “He just has a jackal head.” He loved his wife dearly, but she was making this difficult. If it had been up to him, he’d just pick one. Any old low-maintenance god would’ve worked.

“But what about that cinema of Mr. Woody Allen line?”

“You like Woody Allen,” countered Phil.

“Yes, I like him. But who says cinema?”

“Now you’re just nitpicking.”

“But it’s important. The words someone chooses say a lot about them. And people who say cinema are pretentious.”

He rolled his eyes. “He’s a god. He’s allowed to be pretentious.”

“Not my god. No, thank you.”

Phil scrolled through Anubis’s profile. “He’s a pretty good find. I think we should sign up with him while we can.”

Teri looked at him coldly. She didn’t use the look a lot, but it meant there was no changing her mind. He didn’t feel like fighting about it anyway. There were plenty of other gods. Somewhere in the hundreds of listed profiles, there had to be one she couldn’t find anything wrong with.

She was right. It wasn’t a decision to be taken lightly. The string of events that had led him to peruse the digital pages of Pantheon.com, the Internet’s second-largest deity matching service, hadn’t made him forget that.

First had been the promotion. Another one passing him over. The fourth opening in as many months. Instead, that kiss-ass Bob had taken Phil’s step up the corporate ladder. Phil had been practicing his brownnosing and was damn good at it. Better than Bob. So good in fact that Phil had actually swallowed his outrage and walked up to Bob’s new corner office to congratulate his new boss.

He’d found Bob, chanting in Sumerian, hunched over a small altar.

“Hey, Phil.” Bob, his face covered in black and red paint, smiled.

“Hello, sir,” replied Phil, trying his damnedest not to sound annoyed. “Didn’t mean to interrupt. I’ll come back later.”

“Oh, please. Don’t worry about it.” He made a casual sweeping gesture at the altar. “Five minutes won’t kill the old boy.”

Phil leaned in against the doorway, perched on the edge of Bob’s corner office with its plush carpeting and obnoxiously large desk clearly made from some rare and expensive wood that Phil couldn’t recognize but still resented. He tried not to notice the lovely view of the park just below.

“Something I can do for you?” asked Bob.

“Just wanted to say congratulations. You deserve it.”

“Thanks. Honestly, I’m surprised you didn’t get it. I thought for sure that fatted calf I offered ol’ Baal here wasn’t going to be enough. What did you offer?”


“Ah, that explains it. You know, it never hurts to stain the sacrificial altar now and then. Keeps the boys upstairs happy.”

“I don’t have one.” Phil crossed his arms tight enough to cut off the circulation. “An old boy, I mean.”

“Really?” A curious expression crossed Bob’s face, as if Phil had just admitted to being a cross-dressing jewel thief clown in his spare time. “You really should get one. They’re an absolute necessity. I don’t see how anyone gets along without some upstairs help.”

That alone wasn’t enough to push Phil into the decision.

On the car ride home, distracted by his worries, he’d been in a minor fender bender. The damage wasn’t serious, just a dented bumper and an ugly scrape to his paint job. But the other driver’s car didn’t have a scratch.

The other driver pulled out a special knife and ran it across his palm, drawing some blood to offer to his god as he incanted, “Blessed be Marduk, who keeps my insurance premiums down.”

Phil arrived home. As he pulled into the driveway, the first thing he noticed (the first thing he always noticed) was his lawn. It taunted him, a symbol of his promising life, once green and flourishing, now greenish and wilted. He watered and fertilized it. Had even brought in a specialist. But it was dying, and there was no way to stop it. He took comfort in the fact that nobody else in the neighborhood could get their grass to grow either. There was something in the soil, a lingering curse laid by Coyote on this spot of land for the injustices the Native Americans had suffered at the hands of the Europeans. The natives got smallpox, and the suburbs got yellowed grass. A light punishment for stealing a continent, Phil had to admit, but still annoying.

Except his next-door neighbor Ellen had a lush green lawn today.

Phil didn’t have to guess what had happened. The four-foot-high faux granite goddess statue told him everything he needed to know.

Ellen’s car pulled into her own driveway, and she noticed Phil eyeing the lawn.

“Pretty cool, huh?”

He stifled a scream. “I thought you already had a god. That weird one. The one with the horns and the nine arms.”

“Oh, sure. That’s still working out for me, but he’s a jealous old goat,” she said. “But he doesn’t do lawns. So I just hired an outside service. They stick up the statue, offer the tribute, and my god doesn’t get jealous and smite me dead. It’s a win-win.” Ellen knelt down and ran her hand across her lawn in an almost obscene manner. “That Demeter sure knows how to handle crabgrass, doesn’t she?”

And that was that. The next day Phil went online and signed up on Pantheon.com.

Teri was against the idea at first.

“You knew I didn’t want any gods before we were married,” she said. “We had a long talk about this.”

“I know, but—”

“My grandfather was killed by a desert god, y’know,” she said. “Just for cutting his hair.”

“I know, but—”

“In the end, they always get you, Phil. They always screw you over. Read your history.”

He took her in his arms. She offered some resistance, then hugged him back.

“Honey,” she said, “I know you’re frustrated with how things have been going lately, but I don’t think you’re thinking this through.”

“I am,” he said. “I’ve thought about it a lot, and it makes sense to me.”

She pulled away from him. “We’re not doing so bad, are we?”

Phil looked at his house. It wasn’t big, but it was big enough. They had the finest furniture IKEA could supply, a television larger than would have been sane ten years ago, and enough bric-a-brac and art hanging from the walls to keep Teri happy but not appear too cluttered. Although he could’ve done without the sailboat motif. Something he’d always found odd, considering he’d never heard Teri even talk about sailing once since he’d met her.

They were paying the bills, and they weren’t that far in debt. Not more than anyone else. And he had a wife who loved him. He knew it should’ve been enough. More than enough for any man.

It wasn’t. Not when any idiot willing to throw a lamb onto a pyre was able to get ahead while they struggled to make it. Everything would be great if they could just get a little divine intervention.

She turned her back to him. “I just think it’s a bad idea, Phil. That’s all.”

“Okay, tell you what. Let’s think about it for a couple more days. Will you at least promise me that you’ll think about it?”

“If that’s what you want.”

A week passed. Phil went online and watched clips of various gods. He even considered signing up with one in secret. Teri didn’t have to know. He could always keep the altar or shrine or whatever somewhere else. Maybe at a friend’s house. Or in the toolshed. He told himself that it would be a good thing, that it would improve their life, and that if Teri wasn’t signed up, too, then it would work out great for her since she’d get all the benefits without any of the obligations.

He couldn’t do it. Not behind her back. If they were going to do it, they needed to do it together or not at all. Teri would never budge on this issue, and maybe she was right. He already had a lot of responsibilities. He didn’t need any more. Especially responsibilities that involved temperamental deities who had a tendency to smite first and never even bother asking questions later. The longer he thought about it, the more he knew it had been a bad idea and that Teri had done him a big favor by talking him out of it. That was why he loved her. She had the common sense he didn’t.

The next day, she called him at work.

“Let’s do it.”

“Do what?” he asked.

“The god thing. Let’s do it.”

It took Phil a few moments to remember the debate, so far back had he pushed it in his mind. “But I thought you said you didn’t—”

“I didn’t. Not then. But I’ve changed my mind.”

“Oh yeah? Why is that?”

“I saw a cat come back from the dead today.”

“Okay.” Phil sat back. “I like cats, too, honey, but I don’t think that qualifies as a sign.”

“Just listen. I ran over the cat.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“Let me finish,” she said. “I got out and checked on it, but it was dead. Then this little girl who was watching came over and touched it, and it was alive again. Just like that.”

He scowled. “Children shouldn’t be allowed to play with divine favor.”

“The point is that she was able to save a life. And I thought, if a little girl can save a cat, what could I do with that kind of power? And I thought maybe you were right. It’s not the gods. It’s what we choose to do with their gifts.”

“So now you want to do it? The god thing?”

“Yes,” she said. “Maybe. I don’t know. It’s not something to take lightly, and maybe I’ll change my mind later. But it can’t hurt to look, I suppose.”

Phil hesitated.

“It was your idea in the first place,” she said.

“True.” He shrugged. “I guess it can’t hurt to look.”

And now, six hours later, here they were back on Pantheon, trying to find the god for them.

They ran through dozens more. Teri found a reason to disqualify most of them, and the few she did approve of didn’t suit Phil. Choosing a god wasn’t as simple as he’d first thought. All the really useful gods were in high demand, and they knew it. And the more powerful a deity, the more demanded of his followers. You had to pass a credit check to merely look at Zeus’s profile, and Tyr demanded you cut off one of your hands as a show of devotion if you wanted full benefits. And that was if you were even accepted in the first place. Some gods wanted blood. Others wanted money. Most wanted blood and money. But there were other costs. Vows of silence, poverty, chastity, ruthlessness, and so on. There was always a price, even for the most minor and inconsequential of divine favors, and Phil and Teri found they weren’t usually willing to pay it.

He sat back and rubbed his eyes. He was about to suggest that they just abandon their quest when Teri chimed in.

“This one looks interesting. Luka, god of prosperity and good fortune.”

“He has a raccoon head,” remarked Phil. “I thought you didn’t want one with an animal head.”

“No, I didn’t want one with a jackal head. I can live with a raccoon head.”

“What’s the difference?”

“Raccoons are cute.”

“Raccoons are vermin,” he countered. “And they can carry disease.”

She glared at him, and he realized he didn’t know why he was arguing. Aside from the odd head, Luka stood tall, lean, and proud. He wore long rainbow-colored robes and had a Chinese-style hat on. Phil didn’t know the name for it, but it was one of those hats that the emperor’s advisers always wore in the kung fu movies. Luka’s hands were tucked into his loose sleeves, and he was smiling. Many of the lesser gods they’d seen today had been smiling, too. But there had been a quiet desperation hidden underneath, a neediness that Phil had found off-putting. Luka’s smile seemed genuine.

She clicked the PLAY button for his video.

“Is it on?” Luka looked over the camera. “It is? It’s on? Cool.” He smoothed his robes and adjusted his hat. “Hi, I’m Luka, god of prosperity and good fortune. I… uh… what am I supposed to say?”

Someone offscreen mumbled a reply.

“I really hate these things.” Luka frowned. “Let’s be honest here. You don’t care about what I like or don’t. You just want to know what I can give you and what I want in return. I’ve seen better days. Kind of ironic, considering I’m a god of luck.” He chuckled. “All I really need is a fresh start, and maybe that’s all you need, too. I don’t need your blood. None of that animal sacrifice nonsense. You won’t have to mutilate yourself or promise to wear your shoes backward or leave the lid off your trash can. And I’ll admit that I won’t change your life in any big way. Not my thing. I’m more of a serendipity specialist, but the world can turn on a moment, and that’s where I come in. You won’t become king of the universe or be loved by everyone or a super sex god. But if you allow me into your heart and hearth, all I ask for in return is a percentage of the good I help you attain. Say… ten percent? I could maybe go as low as eight. But that’s my bottom line.”

He bowed and stared at the camera for a few seconds.

“Is it still on? Should I say some—”

The video ended.

“I like him,” said Teri.

So did Phil. Most gods were too… godly. So full of themselves. Even the lesser ones had an aura of entitlement, as if you were lucky to have them. But this one seemed different. Luka was regal but relaxed. He seemed refreshingly down-to-earth.

They read the whole profile just to be sure what they were getting into. No blood offerings, weird rituals, or big demands. Just a standard “welcoming into the home” arrangement. They’d expected that. They’d already picked out the corner where they would stick their new idol.

“I think he’s perfect,” said Teri.

Phil was happy to discover a choice he and his wife agreed on. He was also overjoyed that it was finally done. He didn’t feel like scrolling through any more profiles. The site said that Luka was ready, and they met his minimum qualifications. Approval was just a click away.

They pricked their fingers with a needle and prepared to click on the ACCEPT button together.

She studied the blood on her fingertip. “This better not screw up my mouse.”

They clicked the button together. Teri retrieved some paper towels to wipe off the red stain. They spent a few more minutes filling out consent forms and double- and triple-clicking confirmation buttons. With the establishment of the Court of Divine Affairs, worship had become much more paperwork-intensive.

“Do we have to go pick up the idol ourselves?” she asked. “Or do they drop it off as part of the service?”

The doorbell rang.

They answered it together.

A small mound of rainbow-colored luggage occupied their porch. On top of it sat a raccoon in an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt and denim shorts. He wore sunglasses, even though it was night.

“You must be Phil and Teri, right?”

They nodded.

The raccoon hopped up, put his hands on his hips, and struck a dramatic pose. “Behold your new god. Luka, lord of prosperity and good fortune.”

He lowered his sunglasses to the end of his nose and smiled.

“Where should I put my stuff?”

(c) 2010 A. Lee Martinez