The old man stared out from a roof across a sprawling city. The light faded so fast these days but he had seen so many now that it was difficult to determine one from another. They just merged one into another and another in an unending blur of monotonous boredom. He’d done everything and seen everything a man could stand and still keep his mind. Some days he felt his head would burst due to the sheer amount of memories. Some he treasured others he could do without and had wandered alone for centuries, without ageing and, at least in any physical respect, unchanged while mortal friends and lovers aged and died without him. Ever left behind, it was a constant reminder of who he had once been and what he was. He had lost more than power since people had stopped believing in him. His kingdom in the sky had faded around him and crumbled like the dust of forgotten mortal dreams. Eventually he woke up alone on the side of a mountain. He remained to remember those who had faded. They had been tethered to the earth by embellished reputations, passed into myth and legend and then forgotten in stories. Was this his penance for his centuries of hedonism? His were strong stories as only they a strong enough anchor for him to remain for so long. He used to be the King of Gods. No, bitterness would not help him now. He had become an old man and replaced by an imagined upstart before he had realised. Replaced by a mere boy thought up by petty spiteful little men to control the masses. Yahweh had turned up long before they had started to vanish and had flouted every rule that he came across, including the one about crossing faiths but had been imagined by lazy mortals who wanted just one god to pray to. Working for the approval of the capricious Gods had proven too dangerous for them. That was fine by Yahweh as he used this and became just what they imagined they wanted. He was became of them rolled into one and more. He embodied all their collected neuroses, violence, and malice magnified many times. Such was the power of belief. ‘Well,’ said Zeus, ‘he has made quite enough mess down here for now.’
Hades had done his best to comfort Lucifer and the others that had tried to oust the madman but it was hollow to them. The Underworld had been his for centuries and was more than the prison it had become. It was a place for all souls to rest not just a vile pit for tormenting those who did not fit or go along Yahweh’s believers. The believers made the god everything they imagined him to be and he turned it into a torture chamber for everyone but the most pious believers. More than that, with Zeus out of his way he had been able to oust the others with hardly any effort. ‘That was never the point of the Underworld.’
‘Talking to yourself again old man?’ The voice behind him had taken him by surprise. He jumped and spilled cold coffee down his shirt but did not turn. It was a woman’s voice. Soft and light but deepened slightly from the age and experience of centuries. He knew it was Hera before he turned to her. Her figure was still good and by mortal standards she looked no older than her mid-twenties. Her clothes were fashionable and smart but picked to make her blend in. It was office apparel; sombre but not unattractive and it surprised him a little as he remembered the woman who had before worn nothing but the most elaborate dress she could find. He schooled the sense of alarm that had taken over his face for a moment. ‘Hera.’ He wondered how she had come to know of this gathering.
‘Is that all you have to say to me after all these years?’
‘I can’t see how there should be, Lady. You and I did not part on good terms if you remember?’
‘My memory is intact you old fool. I’m fine, thanks for asking by the way.’
‘Hmm…I see you haven’t changed’ He turned back. Even an immortal life was too short to deal with one of Hera’s mood swings.
‘Zeus, you old goat! I have as much right to be here as any of the others. Why did no one come to advise me of this?’ she was visibly angry.
‘Don’t ask me….’ he started. This hadn’t surprised him. Hera had always thought the world revolved around her. To expect to be waited on even now would be as natural to her as breathing.
‘What do you mean don’t ask?’
He turned to meet her eyes again. ‘I mean I didn’t call the meeting but if you had waited for me to finish you would have found that out. Still the petulant little girl I left screaming abuse at me from the bottom of a mountain. You were a spoiled bitch then and you’re a spoiled bitch now.’
‘I didn’t come here for a fight, Hera. You were called. We tried to find you but you didn’t answer calls or emails and post came back with no longer at this address labels on it every time we thought we had you pinned down to one address. You moved every time we tried to contact you. By the way, spelling your name backwards is not exactly a stealthy move when it comes to going under-cover.’ She had purposely kept a low profile and moved on time and time again, never forming alliances, never making friends and never slipping her cover even when she had to change it. She had not even spoken to her children in all this time so suddenly coming into contact with them all again was not going to be an easy experience.
‘Letters and emails? Meaningless words. I may not be a god anymore but I am still their Queen. I didn’t want to speak to anyone. Why should I have done? I was the first to get ejected. You threw me out! ’
‘I did not throw anyone out…!’
‘What? But only….’
‘Let me finish, woman! Just once, let someone else speak. ’ He bellowed. This was one aspect of Hera he hadn’t missed. ‘It had something to do with belief. I’m not sure what yet but I mean to find out. As Yahweh got stronger, we grew weaker. You think you had it bad? I spent years up there to deal with that stupid arrogant boy on my own. He didn’t care who followed him so long as he had believers. I suppose it’s because he saw what happened to us. Men with the most twisted political agenda’s imaginable used his name to authorise their vile laws and justify their wars. The believers gave him power. There was nothing I could do without breaking the rules.’
‘Why did you not just destroy him?’ She raised an eyebrow at him. ‘You didn’t see yourself in him did you?’
‘Maybe, just a little, but the fact remains is that as belief in us faded, so we did too. I didn’t act because I could not act.’
‘So why are we still here?’ She turned away. She had come to find out what was happening to her but to be summoned like that was an insult. They knew what she was or they wouldn’t have been contacting her at that email address. It was her safety net; they tried to contact her through her own safety net. That was presumptuous on its own but to refuse to reveal their identity was dumb insolence. If she had been at her full power she would have destroyed them for the insult.
‘Let’s just wait for the others to turn up shall we?’
‘But it’s freezing up here, Zeus. Why, of all places was the meeting point here?’
‘It’s not freezing Hera, its July and the best summer there’s been here for years. It’s us; we’re fading. Our stories are being forgotten. Belief was only the first stage. Memory is not the same as belief. Belief might have the capacity to create because it comes with imagination but memory is stronger. Memory lasts longer and can be passed on as stories and preserved. The printed word has preserved us far longer than spoken. Our stories have lived on even when they were changed but even they will not live forever. That is what the meeting is for.’
‘How to get these pathetic mortals to remember that proper respect is due or some dusty old stories they have no further use for?’ Hera sneered at the idea. They had been reduced to objects of fiction.
‘Not “how”, Lady, but “if”’ He returned to staring at the horizon . His thoughts were interrupted by the noise of the roof door swinging open and then slamming hard against the wall. Through it strode another large man. He was also bearded and his fair hair was pulled tightly back out of his face. Blue eyes shone through his weather beaten face and spoke of battles and feasting.
‘Where is he?’.
‘Where is whom?’ Asked Hera.
‘Where is the knave who summoned me to this roof like a dog to his banqueting table?’ He was angry but not irrational. The man had a dignified air despite his obvious rage. He was clearly used to far more respect. Hera sympathised a little with this.
‘We don’t know. May we ask who you are?’ She replied. This was a deliberate slight. She knew very well who he was but she resented being bellowed at by a non-acquaintance no matter who they were. This man had been formidable and irrepressible in his own realm and his reputation was not limited to Europe. She had travelled for years and been on earth even longer, so knew who was who and how to avoid their attention. His rank was equal to that of Zeus and he would have easily been a threat at one time had he even gained their notice. Maybe they weren’t as all seeing as they liked to have think after all. The older ones may have welcomed them surely? Then she remembered their own rise to power against the once great and ancient Titans. She stopped herself. Old habits die hard she thought to herself. ‘I apologise. That was uncalled for. We are all out of our place here.’ She inclined her head out of respect.
‘Accepted, but I’ll not be giving my name, Madam, until I know yours.’ The request was not meant as an insult but more of a desire for proper introduction.
‘Very well. I am Areh La Reine’ She heard Zeus snorting back a laugh and raised one perfectly groomed eyebrow. ‘Have I said something amusing?’ She spoke without facing him. Ridicule was not something she had ever taken well.
“Is that the best you could come with?’ Zeus roared with laughter. ‘Ignore her; she still thinks she is a queen. Her name is Hera. I am Zeus. I have had enough of pretence, woman.’ He smiled and proffered his hand to the stranger.
Odin.’ The man beamed and took the hand of Zeus firmly with both of his own huge hands. Hera silently noted they were the worn hands of a seaman, not quite clear of how that information would be of use to her, but it was often the details that made the difference to her plans. ‘It is good to meet with you my friend. I seldom have the honour to meet men of such greatness these days.’
‘Have you any idea who called us?’ Asked Zeus.
‘I only know he wasn’t one of us. They sent a messenger with a letter but I was at sea so they left a note with the details with the dock manager and vanished.’
‘A messenger? That’s more than I got’ Hera was disgusted.
Odin found this extremely amusing ‘Of course it was! When were you ever a leader of men?’ He gave Zeus a questioning look which was answered with another that simply said ‘You have no idea.’
‘Then I am not the only one stuck in the past. Even these weak mortals are more enlightened than you two’ Hera snapped. ‘How do you know it isn’t just us few left….’ Her tirade was halted by the noise of more voices approaching from the stairs, bickering about slights and past insults. There were not just gods but heroes. Some had already died one mortal death and still bore the ghastly wounds of their battles so this second half-life on earth was no gift to them. Their time had long since passed but their private battles were still being fought. Battles that the gods had started in sport and left mankind to clear up after. Troy had been the worst. All thanks to their vanity, and promising gifts that were not theirs to give a vibrant city died. These men of old Greece were different. They were ghostly and translucent. They were fading.
‘Then it is true, we are not alone.’ whispered Hera, white faced, staring and horrified by the cleaved skull of a man in Trojan armour sharing a drink and laughing along side a Greek in a no better state than he was. Aphrodite never forgave herself for the horror that her ‘gift’ of Helen to Paris had made way for. The situation is worse than she had feared. This morning she had managed to walk through the door of her flat without opening it. Odin and Zeus regarded her in stony silence. Their personalities had once been strong enough to maintain their substance without much belief and even though they had started as abstract personifications of ideas time had given them solid forms. Passing through solid objects was stuff of ghosts, not Gods and it had frightened her enough to respond to one of those many emails that had been sent to her. Immortals did not get sick.
Over the course of the next hour others had turned up until the sheer number of people on the roof had made it a case of standing room only. The roof was high up enough not to attract attention from the street below. There was still no sign of the one who had called the meeting. It made no sense and the atmosphere had been tense. It had not only been old Gods who had come to the rooftop at sunset but known heroes, and ghosts of mythic battles as well. They came from the world over and some were even older than her. The Titans that were not still bound in tartarous . News came of ancient names who had already faded from the world when their songs and stories, so old that they had lost their meaning, were forgotten. It was both humbling and heartbreaking. Hera leant against the wall next to Zeus and stared across the landscape and, as she felt the tears slip down her cheeks, the once mighty arm of comfort enveloped her while the other hand offered a silver flask.
‘Is this poison?’
‘Its whiskey, but it’s the cheap stuff. You might wish it was poison if you don’t swallow quickly.’
She laughed. ‘What happened to us? How didn’t we see this coming?’
‘We were too busy preening our own egos to see that fickle mankind was making a choice. They saw no reason to follow Gods too busy bickering to look after them but there’s the thing isn’t it: we were the fickle.’
Hera nodded in understanding. ‘I was so attached to my authority that I did not see it slipping away from me. We played with their short little lives while we lived for so long. They waste their time on their own now. What did we teach them but to justify beliefs with violence?’
‘Other way round, Lady,’ Zeus sighed and zipped his coat up to his chin. In answer to a look of enquiry, he sighed ‘my old bones don’t warm up so quickly these days.’
‘In July?’ She raised an eyebrow.
‘I told you. We’re fading. It’s time we decide whether we hold on to eternity or let go. Ah… It sounds like our host has finally arrived.’ He nodded in the direction of the door. Ten men in black suits and dark glasses arrived and placed a make-shift podium stand and a microphone onto a stack of old pallets. They took positions at the door and fire escape of the building and one of them whispered into a radio. It took several minutes before a young man in ordinary street clothes took the podium. His face was not European but more north African. He had a slim but pleasant face and a sharp, straight nose. His eyes were almond shaped and heavy lidded and while his hair was wiry and cut very close to his scalp. His mouth was full and his perfect skin was a rich milky coffee colour.
‘You’re panting, woman. Close your mouth.’ Zeus reprimanded her.
‘Who is he?’ She whispered, still captivated by this striking young man.
‘Can’t you guess?’ He glanced in her direction. ‘That young man up there is The Great Ra’