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Wrong Celebration by Brandon Scott

For Desi, who I bet was not expecting me to take the story in this direction.

 “What kind of bat mitzvah is this?”

“What do you mean, what kind? You said you wanted a bat mitzvah, right?” Heidi said, standing next to Georgia in a dark room. “I made it for you.”

Georgia tilted back her head and spied what appeared to be a small black creature stuck to the underside of a ceiling light.

“You made me what…? What did you bring in here?”

Heidi frowned at her, and then took out a small whistle. “What do you think? It’s a “bat” mitzvah. I got you bats.”

Georgia’s stomach bottomed out, her eyes going wider and wider. “Wait, did you say—”

That was as far as she got before the whistle let out a sound she couldn’t hear, and the bats all swarmed in a dark cloud, making small clicking sounds and brushing against Georgia’s skin with their leathery wings.

Georgia let out a small, sustained whine of displeasure. She was not a fan of rodents, or bugs, or even a good chunk of the bird population, so this was hell in a flying handbasket.

But, she also could not back up easily, as the bats formed a funnel around them—actively bunching up in whatever direction they were trying to escape toward.

“Why did you think—why would you…?”

Lost in the sound went her voice, and Heidi leaned forward to say something, likely another odd interpretation of the whole matter, when a bat hit her hand and knocked to the ground the whistle. At once, she had a panicked look on her face. She dove to the ground reaching for it.

“Shit—” Heidi cried out, suddenly pulling back her hand.

Georgia’s stress level rose to a nearly lethal level when she saw that the hand that had been hit was now bleeding.

“Where the shit did you get these bats!?” Georgia cried out before she flinched from a slash across her face; little fangs like razors scraping across her cheek. “Normal bats don’t fucking do—”

One landed on her then and plunged fangs into the small of her shoulder, and her head went a little light from the loss of blood. She even wobbled.

Heidi cried out louder than Georgia had ever heard—so much so the bats darted backward slightly, expanding their tornado of death. The one on Georgia’s shoulder flew off, leaving a bloody mark on her skin.

And Heidi then ran forward and crashed Georgia backward, pushing them both out of the doorway. The bats remained in the darkness, some of their eyes red and watching.

Heidi breathed hard, and Georgia stared at, into her, feeling pissed off, and losing blood fast.

“Well…” Heidi said, her face pale, “I guess you did bleed, right? Doesn’t that make you a biological woman?”

Heidi already had a bloody hand, but, in short order, she had a bloody nose (and a black eye) as well—as the heel of a pissed-off friend’s palm can strike rather hard, especially with enough adrenaline behind it.

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Unwelcome Guest, Unwelcome Past by Nicole DragonBeck

For Jen, who brings me great books.

The door is alarmed.

Jilla could feel the waves of apprehension, and she froze, all other senses on alert. She crouched, and invoked a faint masking spell, nothing too strong in case whoever was inside could sense magic. Her little house looked normal enough, the curtains drawn, the gate closed, but the protection spells were telling a different story.

Jilla crept around the back of the house, and let herself in the kitchen door. Inside it was dim and quiet, and it took great effort to breathe slowly and evenly. A faint thump from the sitting room made her jump, and them a voice came.

“Jilla, you need to clean more frequently.”

Jilla forced back a groan. What was he doing here?”

“You can come out now.”

Jilla seriously considered sneaking back out, and moving to the next town over. She briefly considered the fact that it seemed a little extreme, then considered who was in her house. Gritting her teeth, she walked around the corner.

The man sitting on her sofa was handsome, with dark hair, and blue eyes that sparkled with subtle humor. He wore old-fashioned clothes, a grey vest over a white shirt with flared sleeves, and dark trousers. His hat was on the coffee table.

“Jilla,” he smiled. “It’s so good to see you.”

She glared at him.

“What, no hi, how have you been?” he asked, and smiled.

“I don’t care how you’ve been,” she said. “What are you doing in my house?” she frowned. “And how did you get in anyway?”

He held out his hand. In it was a tarnished bronze key.

“Why do you have a Master Key?” Jilla demanded. “And what gives you the right to use it to come in to my house without my permission?”

“You didn’t answer my letters,” he said.

“You didn’t write any letters,” Jilla said. “What did they say?”

“I said I was sorry,” he told her. “Multiple times.”

She couldn’t tell if he was being sincere or not.

“Doesn’t matter if you’re sorry or not. It doesn’t change anything.”

“Okay, so maybe being sorry doesn’t change anything, but the other thing I came to tell you will,” he said.

She froze. She didn’t know if she wanted the past to change. It wasn’t great, but at least she knew what it was, and knew how she felt about it. If it changed, then she didn’t know if she could be angry about it. She turned to face him.

“Jaz,” she began. “What happened, it should just stay in the past. Brining it up again, it will just make it worse.”

“But what if it’s already been brought up, not by me, by someone else,” he hurried to clarify. “Please, just hear me out.”

She sighed. “I’ll go make some tea.”

“Great!” Jaz sighed. “Do you have any of those orange biscuits?”

Jilla came back with a pot of tea and a plate of biscuits.

“Sorry, not the orange ones. These ones are vanilla. I like them.”

Jaz took one and ate it in two bites. “Good. I like them.”

Jilla poured tea and sat across from him. “So?”

“Right,” Jaz said, and scooted forward on the sofa, holding his hands out in preparation for animated gesturing. “Guess who showed up out of the blue about a month ago? Harry. You remember Harry?”

Jill nodded. Of course she remembered Harry. He was the one who brought back the damned thing in the first place. He was also the one who lost it, and started the whole mess rolling.

“Well, Harry told me that he’d had word of the location of it.”

“Well, why didn’t he go get it?” Jilla said.

“He did, but it wasn’t there.”

“Oh.” Jilla frowned. “Why did he come to you?”

“I don’t know. He was going to tell me, but before he could, he disappeared.” Jaz looked at her, eyebrows raised expectantly. “He disappeared! In a cloud of blue smoke!”

“Oh gods!” Jilla groaned, and buried her hand in her hands. “He gave away his soul. Why did he do that?”

“I think he needed information,” Jaz said. “That’s the most logical thing I can think of.”

“And you want to get involved again?” Jilla said. “It was a bad idea when there weren’t demons involved. Especially demons who have claim on Harry’s soul.”

“Well, I think we have some responsibility for Harry,” Jaz said, without looking at Jilla.

“Maybe you feel that way, but I don’t,” Jilla replied without hesitation. “Harry got himself into this mess, and then dug himself in even deep when he went and gave away his soul.” Jilla shook her head. Sometimes people can be so stupid! she fumed to herself. Had Harry given even half a thought to the consequences of his actions?

“But you can see where this is going?” Jaz pressed. “If a demon has his soul, and that thing has popped up again? Trouble of epic proportion is about to descend.”

“Do you really feel that much better about yourself when you propound with such ominous certainty?” Jilla asked, her eyebrow raised.

“Jilla, come on,” Jaz pleaded. “I can’t do this by myself.”

She sighed, and silently asked her tea what she should do. Harry had been a friend, at one time. So had Jaz. More than a friend, a little voice reminded her. That was a long time ago, she argued back.

“For old times sake?” Jaz tried again, almost as if he could read her mind.

She looked around her sitting room. She had built a comfortable life for herself here. It was cozy, and it had nothing in it to remind her of her unwelcome past. Nothing except Jaz, that is. And the only way to get rid of him – aside from killing him – was to help him out.

“I’ll help you find the demon with the claim to Harry’s soul,” Jilla said at last, looking up to meet Jaz’s intense gaze. “But that’s it. After that you’re on your own.”

For a second Jaz looked like he was about to argue, but then he smiled and nodded. Jilla looked away. His smile always set fluttering off in her stomach, which was very distracting.

“Let’s go. The sooner we start, the sooner we can get this over with,” Jilla said.

It took about five minutes to gather her traveling supplies, and then she was walking out the door. She paused, and then with a wave of her hand, she banished the warning spell. No sense have the whole house alert to danger when she wasn’t even here.

 

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The King’s Right-Hand Woman by JM Paquette

For Suzy–

She knelt before her king, trembling with exhaustion, yet exhilarated at the knowledge that this kind man would finally take his rightful place at the throne.

How long had she waited for this moment? How many nights had she dreamed of his return to claim his birthright? It seemed that she had thought of nothing else for so very long.

She heard the monks beginning their chant again, signalling that the moment of silence was ended, and she stood up again, back straight and proud as she stood to the right of her sovereign. She surveyed the crowd of suddenly loyal subjects, their finery glinting in the afternoon sun as they showed off their best jewels, their family crests, their wealth and comfort, especially now that this business of the true monarch was resolved.

And it was resolved. Anyone else who had the slimmest claim to the throne had been eliminated. There was no one else who could rise from the ranks to stake a claim.

As she looked around the room, she noticed how people’s gaze slid away from hers. They were afraid of her. And rightfully so. She hadn’t assured her king’s return without getting her hands dirty. Sometimes, these things had to be done.

Of course, the king knew nothing of what she had done. He would be appalled. But sometimes, a person had to be willing to soil a soul for the sake of the greater good. Sometimes, a person had to break the rules to ensure a better future for everyone. Looking around now, it seemed that the promised future had finally arrived. There would be no more threats. No more late night missions. No more coded instructions. No more secret exploits, deep intrigues, last minute reprieves.

As she considered the future, her face clouded. What was she going to do with herself now that the task was accomplished?  She looked down at her hands, calloused from close acquaintance with her weapons, her forearms strong from hours spent in physical exertion. What could she do with her skills now? It wasn’t like anyone here would need her. The people left in this room were loyal subjects, eager to please their lord, but not eager to take his place, not after what had happened to those other contenders.

She looked down at her hands again. Maybe she could take up knitting or something.

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The Hopeless Student by Dalia Lance

For Jessica Kuyper Stadler – I hope you like it.

So as they parted, their hands slipped apart and…

“Is this seriously your ending?” Allie’s tone did not seem impressed.

“It is a forbidden love story,” I began to explain, but her face was still questioning. “You know, star-crossed lovers, never really able to stay with each other because fate has torn them apart.”

She put the papers down and picked up her latte, taking a long sip. “You know this was an assignment on how females are represented in modern literature versus one hundred years ago.”

I took a deep breath. “Of course I know that.” I didn’t, really. I never paid much attention to the syllabus that the teachers handed out.

The only reason I was in college was because my parents said that I “needed an education” if I was going to succeed at all in life. I disagreed.  My goal in life was to meet a wealthy doctor, or something, and write romance novels while sitting poolside with a butler.

Allie narrowed her eyes. “Then why did you write over ten thousand words of a cheesy romance story?”

“You think it is romantic?” I asked. Her exasperated sigh told me that was not the right thing to say.

She closed her laptop and slid it into her messenger bag, slung it over her shoulder, grabbed her coffee, said, “I need to find a different roommate,” and walked away.

I watched her go for a second and then gathered up the pages.

I was so excited! She thought it was romantic.



I hit the send button on the assignment.

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Frisbee War by Désirée Matlock

For Brandon –

“My father, if you’ll believe it, was killed by a frisbee.”

“Not just any Frisbee, neither, the original. And definitely not in the way you’d think. Not conked in the brain bin or nothing.” Jack rubbed absently at his overalls, years of habit from keeping the grease at bay, while he watched my eyes. “So?”

“Sounds like it might make a good story,” I chewed my lip and considered, “but I’m not sure it’ll get you an invite.”

“Don’t you worry,  mister. I didn’t come out here to fix studio cars forever. I’ll make it a good one.”

“Great. I didn’t say so, but there’s a writer’s room job for whoever wins this. But it’s no shoo in you’ll win it.”

“Now, that’s just you haven’t heard it yet. I’ll tell you the whole yarn, mind you, then you’ll decide.”

Now, my grandfather Clyde, he was a big fan of pie. When he married Bessie, he wore out her interested in baking within the first few years, long before they got sick and tired of eachother, so Clyde would pack the whole brood, himself, grandma Bessie, the boys – who would grow up into my uncle CJ and my dad but were just squealing balls of puppy dog tails and pepper at that point – into their Woody and they’d travel everywhere that good pie was made. Now, since there weren’t no Yelp yet, nor any freeways for that matter, one depended on the authority of strangers.”

“You mean kindness of strangers?” I blurted out, interrupting without thinking, while scratching notes onto an index card.

“No sir. Kind of unkind, what he depended on was that they knew their neck of the woods well enough to firstly indicate a good pie location, and secondly, know how to get there. Don’t look at me so funny.  The authority of strangers is what y’all depend entirely  too much upon now. Even more than then. Except now they call it ‘aggregate, anonymized data’ and so people trust it, because it looks pretty. But once, it was a guy who looked a lot like me, stepping out of a small repair shop a lot like this one to pump your gas, and he was expected to be a one man Encyclopedia, Atlas and Zagat’s guide all in one. Your GoogleWikiYelpMap all rolled into one. And he did a damn fine job. He could tell you the best place in five counties to get a shoe shine, or where the closest decent hoagie was on a weekday.  It gave the corner mechanic as much clout as city councilman. It evened the field a bit. Now you’re lucky if the guy manning the pumps exists, and if he does, luckier still if he can find his own ass with two hands.

“Anyhow, I digress,” he continued, pulling a red cloth out of his pocket, wiping his lip, and putting it back. Faint smudges of grease marred his already decent five o’clock shadow, but I didn’t feel like it was right to stop Jack any more than I already had.

“So, one day, Jack and CJ get it into their heads they can get their dad to stay home for a vacation instead, and they buy a huge stack of ready-made pies, asking their dad to stay at home with them. They bring him one, all cooked up and pretty, and they all eat it together, right down to the inscription on the bottom of the time, before their dad still loads them up into the car, and makes them all go on yet another one of these little excursions. This time, one of these random mechanics somewhere in the desert leads Clyde and his kin to a little out of the way pie shop in a little one stoplight town that barely showed on the map, and Clyde was so impressed with the pies, he up and bought the place on the spot, for next to nothing. They were glad to be rid of it, seeing as no one else saw the virtue in that particular corner of nowhere.

Now, Bessie wasn’t having none of that. She left Clyde there to manage his pie shop, and went home to Galveston. Now, they might not have had much, but what they had was in Galveston, as was her family. It almost broke them up, but he stayed there almost all of that year. But, boy what a year. He bought up all the billboard space that suddenly became available alongside a new kind of road that was getting cut through that particular patch of nowhere. And so, when the freeway came through, Clyde became suddenly rich. That pie shop went from a little known nothing, to a short swoop off the road, a quick slice, and you’re back on your way to California, or Florida, or what have you.

Clyde brought his money home to Bessie and the boys, meanwhile, buying up neighboring space and turning that pie shop into a whole truck stop with curiosities, amenities, a motel and of course, pies. Clyde made himself quite the little empire in the sand.

By the time old Clyde died, that pie money had been funneled into two college degrees for my father and my uncle, nice houses all around, and steady, good lives for his boys. But, Bessie had wanted more kids, but hadn’t much of a husband left to father them. So, the boys had been her only children, grown up barely knowing their father, but spoiled and rich.  The woody had become a towncar, which had then become sleek luxury sedans.

After Clyde’s funeral, the boys, now grown with wives and kids of their own, and who had idolized Clyde as one can only manage with an absentee father, decided to take a trip out to the pie stand their father had devoted his life to. When they got there, they were both stunned to learn that he hadn’t left it to them. No part of it. Not the pie stand, not the truck stop, not the motel. Hadn’t left any of it to Bessie neither. He’d left it to the gal behind the counter who’d been baking the pies since before Clyde had walked in to try his first pie. They’d never thought to find out, but learned right then and there that her name was Sadie.

Now, on the wall of Clyde’s office, which Sadie was busy moving her things into, was a pie plate that was mounted to a board, and it said, “THIS TERRIBLE PIE INSPIRED THE TRIP THAT LED CLYDE HERE.” And on it was the pie plate from the pie the boys had made their father so many years earlier, the inscription on the bottom reading “FRISBEE’S PIES.”

A’course, CJ and Jack were both fuming, and with no outlet for their anger. Couldn’t rightly be angry with their dead father, nor with the waitress who’d worked so hard, couldn’t even be angry with each other. They stared up at the pie they’d made their father and realized that nothing else in that office could rightfully be claimed by them as theirs.  Sadie nodded and told them politely that they could keep it, and CJ impolitely told her to stuff it.

CJ stormed off, came back with a sturdy chair, and Jack climbed on it and reached to pull down the plaque commemorating their childhood failure.  At this point, as he grabbed hold of the plaque, it made him top heavy enough that the chair toppled, but he landed safely on his feet. It was a close call. CJ pulled the tin off the backboard, and they played frisbee with it in the desert beside the pie shop, between the truck stop and the hotel, and then, pressure released, they tromped home in a state.

Every year after that, on the anniversary of their father’s death, they got together for a game of frisbee. Eventually, the kids got involved, and myself and my cousins would all get together for a reunion on that date, without really knowing why, and we’d all head out to a  park somewhere outside of Galveston and we’d have us a little frisbee war. The tin got battered up something awful, so eventually plastic ones were bought, and the pie association was lost.

“Anyhow, just recently, my father died holding that tin frisbee.”

“…But, how did it kill him?”

“It got him with old age. He died clutching it because it reminded him that there was no way he and my uncle would have stayed in touch so long if they hadn’t decided to turn their dad’s shit inheritance into a game of frisbee. It kept them both alive longer, and the whole family better connected but that’s a double edged sword. What keeps you alive is also a little bit responsible when you do eventually die.”

I laughed.

“All right, fine.” I handed him a back door pass to the exclusive club. “It’s up in the hills, at that address on the back. Feel free to embellish and improve that story by another, um, hundred and thirty percent before then. Especially a few more close calls for your doomed father. Like when he fell off the chair. But more.”

“But they didn’t really happen.”

I stared incredulously, “Jack, if a good yarn ever had to try to stretch to fit the truth into it, it’d lose all shape.”

Jack looked down at his pass, rubbed it thoughtfully, getting a bit of grease on it. “See you tonight, Mister,” he turned and shuffled back into the shop to finish up his day’s work.

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Everything is Fake by Brandon Scott

Everything Is Fake by Brandon Scott

For Amanda Ryan, who probably didn’t expect this story to go the way it did.

 

They were gathered around chatting, a normal family get together, the only thing she couldn’t understand was how no one else seemed to notice that none of this was real…nothing.

Charlie Busker continued to watch as her family ate the food that was not there and moved at a table that was not there. She dropped her gaze back to the device in her lap and read the words again, staring at those damning bits of knowledge.

“You do know, right?” she eventually said, unable to stand it any longer. Eating fake chicken, by itself, was revolting to her, but they were making a mockery of themselves.

Her brother Scott cast his bespectacled gaze over to her. “What was that, sis? Something gotten into your panties again?”

Her mother clucked her tongue. “Now, now, let’s not use that at the dinner table, eh? What is it, Charlie?”

“This is not real. We’re eating at a fake dinner table,” she said. Swinging her phone upward for all to see, she presented the small black text of their foolishness. “It says right here, in the section on philosophy, that this table and this meal is likely to not exist—”

“Now, now, honey,” her father chided in-between bites of roasted pork. “We told you: no reading at the dinner table.”

“But, brain in a jar?”

Scott chuckled. “Is that what you want to eat then? Is that the meal plan?”

“No,” Charlie said, “and, Dad, I told you, there is no dinner table. There is no anything, at all. So, I am not breaking your rules.”

“Well then,” her mother said and slurped down her Ramen in thought. “That is a bit of a paradoxical reestablishment of our previously established rules governing her behavior, isn’t it?”

“Indeed,” Scott said, drawing out the word into a long sound that lost meaning halfway through. He dabbed at his mouth with a napkin before working his way through his lobster tail and butter sauce.

“Still, it is a tad rude,” the father said. “Won’t you just talk to us, instead of trying to disprove the existence of something or other—it’s unbecoming.”

Charlie said nothing in her defense. Her hands went limp at her side and stayed there. A slow vibration spread through her head, and she wondered if she had gone insane.

Then, she said the crazy conclusion, but, also, the only sane one.

“You’re not real either, are you?”

She looked down at her phone, seeing if it had any answers. She did not have a phone; she was holding a banana.

“Crap,” she said and watched her family eat their food and smile.

“Nope,” her brother said. “Nor did we ever exist. Isn’t that funny?”

To emphasize his point, he laughed, and his face flickered into a series of interlocking polygons and chaining lines of blue and red code. The effect rippled to the table before the texture’s detail came back to the whole structure.

The facial animations on her mother’s countenance failed, and her mouth flapped in a wholly unconvincing way toward Charlie. Her eyes did not sit in her skull the right way. Her audio sounded fine though.

For the first moment.

“Now, don’t listen to him, we are all perfectly—perfect-prefer—perfect…perfectly…real. Why would you ever doubt us?”

Charlie, with a jolt, got out of her chair. Her father looked at her in alarm, and his eyes stayed glued on her as he floated, slowly, and then fast, through the ceiling. The soles of his shoes lingering, flush with the architecture for a moment, before he was gone.

“Oh, we will have to go on the roof, I guess,” Scott said, and took a bite out of a turkey leg the size of his head. No marks appeared on the meat, despite gravy-stained chunks being now in his open mouth.

Charlie glanced back, only daring to not view her fake family for a moment—in case something else happened. A flood of panic went right up her spine as she discovered the door behind her also did not exist.

Her mother, with a concerned expression, got up—but only the lower half of her. Her upper body remained in the chair, floating there. No blood nor gore to this—wholly clean. But, still, Charlie moved backward into the wall like the legs planned to eat her.

“Go away!” Charlie yelled, at a loss for anything else to say.

“What are you bugging about sister?” Scott said, and his head elongated into a pointed, spear-like structure, the tip of which stretched right past the confines of the room. Off to who knows where.

He stood like he also planned to harass her, but his frame, including the entire length of his elongated head, blitzed out of reality with little fanfare. Here and gone. Scott ceased to exist.

The legs, upon Charlie trying to kick them away, fell into a pile of loose noodles—not even bending anatomically correct in their motion.

“I did not think this would happen,” were the numb words she had on the matter. “I just wanted to seem smart.”

“Yeah, well, that’s what you get for thinking for yourself,” her mom’s upper half said before blinking out as the rest of the room did. Darkness ate at the edges, until she stood in a small circle, left alone.

“Wha—why did this happen?” Charlie said, somehow her emotions cooling rapidly. “What was the purpose of this?”

A voice, coming as not a surprise to her, answered the question. “Well, did it seem real? Was the whole endeavor realistic?”

“Not at all,” she said, “it broke like a fucking house of cards.”

“But, did you think you were real, at least?”

Charlie took her chin into her hand and considered this. “I guess so, yeah, in hindsight, now that I’m thinking clearly, I did.”

“Did you hear that?” came a farther away voice. “She said it seemed real—herself seemed real. That’s got to prove something!”

The first voice increased in volume. “Charlie, thank you for your services! You changed the world.”

“Umm, you’re welcome?” she said, still emotionless.

“Yeah, this is so cool. And now…well, we can’t have you getting on the internet, so…bye.”

Charlie jolted and opened her mouth to say something else. But she did not exist anymore.

 

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Ted the Accountant by Lisa Barry

For Remi Paquette, I hope you enjoy it!

Ted, the accountant walked out on stage and looking over the assembled gods realized that this was not going to be a fun presentation.

Clearing his throat, Ted nodded at the crowd and then turned to his laptop, already connected to the big screen before them. He cleared his throat again and tried to steady his hand before turning back to the crowd.

He gave a weak smile as he fished the laser pointer from his pocket and aimed it at the pie chart on the screen.

“Thank you all for coming today,” Ted said and cringed as his voice boomed by some god’s will over the colosseum.

“I am one of the forensic accountants for Athena.” The crowd turned to look at her where she sat demurely at the end of the second row on the left. She had a small smile on her face but ignored them all.

“As I am sure you all know, most gods take a portion of the collection from the various churches dedicated to their name and use it for their whims on the various planets,” Ted continued. “Madame Athena is no stranger to these practices. Since the advent of the digital world in three of those planets, we have recently upgraded our own systems to track things this way and several gods have even taken classes in the many accounting practices so as to be as knowledgeable as any planetary creature in this nature.”

Someone laughed in the crowd and tried to cover it up with a cough but everyone turned to glare at Hermes. He scratched his eyebrow, middle finger up, his lips quirked.

Ted continued hesitantly. “It has come to the attention of Madame Athena that there are some unusual expenditures on the Earth region. Some of you haven’t dealt with Humans in half a millennium but someone of you are active and visit even now…”

“And we know who you are,” Athena’s voice blanketed the crowd. Ted cringed slightly before continuing. He pointed his laser to the screen. It reflected off a number.

“There are 30,116 visiting gods on earth at any given time…”

“Lies!” someone shouted from the back.

“Put a grape in it, Ares,” Hera shot back, “We all know our procreation is out of control there.”

Hermes choked out a laugh before the room once again gave Ted their attention.

“The problem is not so much the expenditures, odd though they are, but the issue is more with the amount of earth dollars being spent.” Ted cleared his throat again before continuing. He removed his glasses and wiped them with a handkerchief before replacing them and continuing.

“The total of all the various god collections on earth does not even cover the amount that is being spent. What that tells us is that at least one god is,” Ted stopped for a moment and looked at Athena. Her eyes narrowed. Fear rolled over him but he pushed through it. “Living on earth and either earning or stealing to create the funds.”

“How can you prove this,” shouted a deep voice. Thanatos. Ever since Hades started getting so much attention, the daemon tended to be a constant voice at any meetings with more than five gods in attendance.

“What if you live there less than six months of the earth year?” a soft, polite voice asked from seemingly everywhere. Ted thought it might be Hecate.

And he was stumped. He couldn’t recall any law against such a thing. He saw Athena change positions in her chair. Ted started to sweat again. He was supposed to be the expert. Pulled from earth almost year ago, Ted had been sent to the libraries to learn every law on finance and exchange that could be found. Every scroll unrolled, every tablet translated. He had been given the gift of all language by Athena herself and had been content until she forced him to attend the gods in this manner.

Ted gave a silent prayer but after seeing the sudden smirk on Hermes face, his backbone straightened slightly.

“If you were to refer to earth laws, specifically the rules of the Unites States of America, then a person living in one state for more than six months constitutes a homestead. However, there is no law requiring homestead for someone living there for less than six months. From all the tombs I’ve read here in the library of Asgard, I find no reference for or against living somewhere for such a time.”

Ted stared at his feet and waited. The purpose of his presentation was to weed out the gods living on earth and potentially wreaking havoc on their economy. He risked a glance at Athena who was definitely the instigator. She sat, thinking he thought.

It was Hecate who spoke again. Her voice crept in from the sides making you query if she was beside, behind or in front of you. “I have been spending much time in this place called Vegas. I like it. Reminds me of the old days.”

A chuckle from the back. Was that Odin? Ted scanned the back. Odin generally was front center but he seemed to be staying clear of these notions of Athena. Ted scrunched his brows as he guessed why. Perhaps Odin too was enjoying Vegas periodically.

“I too enjoy earth for longer duration,” a calm voice floated easily over the crowd. Several gods and goddesses turned around to stare at Lokey. “What?” His eyes shined with mischief, “It’s fun. I’m fond of the gambling, the smokey rooms, the hot girls, the thieving, the whoring…”

“Enough!” Athena’s voice echoed hushing everyone as it went before it cut off like someone had pulled the PA plug. There was an odd noise and then the end of Athena’s sigh echoed around the room.

“Ted, why don’t you go ahead and pack up. Please leave your slides as I would like to review them again. Directors of the Board, I request your presence in Valhalla for brunch and discussion on the handling of this overage we are experiencing in the mortal realm.

There was some muttering, a few boos and a cat call. Ted wondered the purpose of the cat call and then remembered present company and gave up. He packed everything up quickly and left the stage. Ten minutes later he slipped into his apartment, a small but suitable affair just off the Garden of Eden replica and near the Pool of Life. He grabbed a bag of popcorn and sunk into his favorite chair. He had survived another day. His contract would be up in one month, two weeks, three days.

Ted flipped on the TV and with a toss of popcorn into his mouth, he prepared to outsmart the contestants of Jeopardy again.

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