The following was my submission to Round One of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2015. For this heat, we were broken into 48 groups of 30 writers each—a total of 1440 writers worldwide. The rules: create a short story using the prompts given your group, as well as a two-sentence synopsis. We had seven days.
Subject: A Family Reunion
Character: A Waiter
What’s the god of wine, women, and song to do when his light-in-the-sandals son aspires to be nothing more than a mere waiter? When you’re Dionysus, you gird your loins, take a swig of Mavroudi, and hope to Hades your father, Zeus, is just as understanding.
Passing the (Olympic) Torch
Dionysus dragged himself from under the comfort of the fur blankets, his head still spinning from the weekend’s debauchery, and groped his way across the myriad of Maenads until he found the edge. A misplaced hand on a cranky redhead sent him tumbling down the hill, smack-dab into the side of a large laurel tree.
“Ouch!” he cried.
“Ouch!” it cried.
Huh? What the copulatus was that? Dionysus, splayed in all his glory on a bed of club moss, cocked up and scanned the forest, but with his double-vision, couldn’t even see the trees.
“Right here, you lush,” the laurel said.
His bleary, half-lidded eyes strained to focus. “Oh, Daphne…it’s you. I’d hoped it was a tree I hadn’t met, yet. Nice running into you.” He chuckled at his drunken wit before breaking into a series of hacking coughs, then clawed up her trunk to a standing sway and promptly relieved himself. The stench of stale Merlot filled the air.
“Do you mind? It’s splashing my roots and tastes like vinegar!” Daphne barked. She was not amused.
About that time a rainbow appeared in the mist of the nearby lea and dropped off his ex, Iris, and their boy, Chadwick. Chadwick. Such a prissy name. Dion didn’t mind calling him Chad—as a matter of fact, he thought it butched him up a little—but why did the lad insist on keeping the wick part? At least I had nothing to do with naming him.
Zephyrus, Iris’s husband, made sure of that by whisking her away the minute he caught wind of their affair. It had only been this past year, at age 18, that the boy even learned of his biological father.
“Quick, Daphne…what day is it? Oh, never-mind!” Dion looked up at Apollo, who was beginning his cruise across the eastern sky, then counted his fingers with all the speed his befuddled brain could muster. “Holy Oracle of Delphi! Today’s the reunion of the gods!” It had totally slipped his mind.
Which also meant that today was the day his father, Zeus, would hear the career requests of the young adults coming of age and award them their godly assignments.
Chadwick wanted to be a waiter. A Zeus-damn waiter.
Frankly, Dion didn’t care one way or the other about Chadwick’s lifestyle. After all, he was the god of fertility and wine, as well as patron of the arts, and coupled with Iris’s reign as the goddess of rainbows, having a waiter for a son seemed only natural. However, Zeus, Chadwick’s grandfather and the King of gods, would indeed give a damn. Never a day went by that he didn’t voice his disapproval over Dion’s own cavalier escapades, as if he had any right, what with bedding Dion’s mother while married to Hera, for Petros’ sake!
But Dion could still hear him as clearly today as he’d heard at his own coming-of-age reunion: “I didn’t carry you on my thigh for nine months so you could throw it all away as the god of alcohol and screwing! What do you think life is—one big Spring Break? You’ve been hanging around your cousin, Persephone, for too long. Just because the weather is beautiful all year doesn’t mean every day is a day at the Aegean; there’s a time for work and a time for play, as the both of you will soon find out.”
In the end, despite Zeus’s caterwauling, Dion got his way and, after Zeus turned a blind eye and allowed for a few well-placed pomegranate seeds, Persephone got her winter.
Family drama was Hades; Dion dreaded the reunion.
He shooed away the Maenads and threw on a chiton, then downed a shot of vino fortis and filled his wineskin, leaving only seconds to spare as the two approached the knoll. A chaw of mint stuffed in his cheek and he was raring to go.
“Good morning, Dion. Are you ready for Chadwick’s big day?”
“Uh…good morning, Iris…um, Chad.” He tried once more to add some testosterone to the mix and dropped the last syllable.
“It’th Chad-wick.” Chadwick quickly corrected.
Skatus! Dion forgot about the lisp. “Of course, how forgetful of me…Chad-wick.” His eyes traveled from head to toe absorbing the kaleidoscope of fashion standing before him. The young god absolutely beamed. Actually, to be more precise, he sparkled. He was wearing—was that pink?—yes—a pink, short, short, mini-chiton that was so skimpy, one could guess his religions if not for the grape leaf covering his scuppernong. He completed the ensemble with orange leggings and matching crocs.
“I see you’ve been to the Agora with your mother again. Are those…sequins?” He looked like a pink disco ball.
“Yeth, father. Do you like it? I thaw it in the window of Helen of Troy’th Thecret and knew I’d jutht die if I didn’t have it!”
“You realize that’th—I mean, that’s—a women’s store, don’t you?”
“It’s pansexual, dear.” Iris jumped in to protect her boychick.
“Pansexual, whatever.” Dion popped the cork off his flask and took another swig. Screw the mint chaser; it was shaping up to be a Sisyphean day.
“I refuthe to wear labelth,” Chadwick piped, “unleth they thay Dolce and Gabbana.” He giggled like a silly school nymph at his own joke; Dion couldn’t help but snicker, too. I guess he is a bit like me, he thought, as his chest swelled a couple of inches. Perhaps it was the wine, but he was genuinely starting to have a good time, and once his old pal, Pan, and his family joined the group, there was laughter and music the rest of the trip.
When they turned the last corner of the forest, the shadow of Mount Olympus loomed high above their heads and poor Dion’s buzz dropped to an all-time low. Just the thought of his son facing Zeus made him want to toss his spanakopita, yet Chadwick appeared undaunted.
And then it happened: the moment he had been dreading. One of Pan’s kids, the eldest—also eighteen and receiving his divinity as a satyr—asked Chadwick what he wanted to be.
“The god of waiterth,” Chadwick said without hesitation.
“The god of waiters? That bites. What do you want to do that for? You’re a god; people are supposed to serve you, not the other way around!”
“Boys, let’s save this discussion for the reunion and Zeus’s ears.” The flapping of wings overhead stirred the dirt around them, giving Iris the perfect excuse for ending the conversation. “Besides, Pegasus is here with the shuttle.” She supported her son, but also felt uneasy about his decision and only wanted to fight this battle once—with Zeus—for all the gods to witness—and then be done with it.
They climbed aboard the chariot, first class, of course, where the nectar flowed like the river Styx. Dion refueled his buzz and then some, and by the time they arrived at the Pantheon, the entire gang was feeling no pain. Dion even gave Chadwick his first taste of wine, which the boy suckled down like mother’s milk, and couldn’t have been prouder—a real graft off the old vine.
Everyone was overjoyed at their arrival. The festivities had begun to wither on the vine, and when it came to parties, Dionysus and Pan were the party. Their wild, crazy, oat-sowing days were legendary, or eventually would be.
Dion was surprised by how popular and at ease Chadwick seemed. All the Hestial Virgins flocked to him.
“Hey, girl!” he yelled to a homely wood nymph he spotted across the plain.
“Chadwick, help! My outfit’s a disaster.”
“Hold the Phoenician, I’ll be there in a jiffy.” Dion watched as Chadwick flittered to her rescue, swooping down and scooping flowers along the way. In an instant, he dotted her hair with baby’s breath, pinned it back with a laurel wreath, added a daisy chain around her waist and voila! She was as pretty as a nymphomaniac. Dion had a hard time keeping his robe down.
“Goodness.” He wiped his brow and turned to Pan, who had started to bleat from the mere transformation of her. “Have the nanny watch the kids for a while and let’s eat.”
“Excellent idea!” Pan’s wife said, grabbing her husband by the elbow and pulling him toward the food pavilion.
Iris was accustomed to Dion’s lecherous appetite by now, and although she had no hold on him, they were there as a united front for their son and she preferred he feed his face rather than his head. She called out to Chadwick, “We’re getting some dinner now; can we make you a plate?”
“Do they have any thrimp?” Chadwick loved shrimp.
“I think so.” She glanced over at Poseidon, who nodded enthusiastically. He was proud of his seafood steamers and clambakes. “Yes, yes they do.”
“I’ll be right there!” He frolicked over at the speed of Hermes.
They filed alongside the vast table with Dion leading the way. Lifting lid after lid, becoming hungrier and hungrier, he grew more disgruntled the further he went. “Ambrosia, ambrosia, ambrosia…oh, for crying out loud, don’t these gods know how to make anything other than ambrosia? Oh! Now there’s a big surprise: Demeter’s moist-free green bean casserole…wouldn’t have lost any sleep without that this year…ambrosia, ambrosia, ambrosia…Iris, where the heck is the damn meat?”
But by then, she and Chadwick were busy scarfing down shrimp at the seafood buffet and didn’t hear him over the cracking of crab claws. His nose caught a whiff of Hades’ roasted boar and tracked down the scent like Cerberus. He yelled back, “Never-mind, I found it,” then dashed off to the fire pit for his share of the pig-picking.
Two hours later, the gods who weren’t asleep from Hypnos’ Kool-Aid were walking off calories on their way to the amphitheater. The commencement ceremony was about to begin.
Dion had lost Iris and Chadwick while playing whack-a-troll and darted through the crowd in a panic. He ran into Pan’s boys, who hadn’t seen them either, and the bell now tolled for the candidates to take their places.
Searching the tree line, he found Odin, all the way from Asgard, passed out in a batch of poppies with a bevy of nubile beauties. Good for him; he’d been around since Chaos; he deserved a good time. Dion admired his rough, yet warm, Nordic disposition, and although he was only a Dutch uncle, he often wished his father were more like him.
A flash of pink caught his eye. Chadwick! Yes! He was chatting up the girl beside him while his mother yanked down his chiton and wiped the glitter off his cheek. Dion saw tears in her eyes when he waved her over.
“That’s our boy,” he said, and gave her a squeeze.
The shrill of the Sirens called the assembly to order as Athena, complete with pet owl on her shoulder, tediously approached the podium to give the opening address and Zeus’s introduction. That goddess could sure milk a moment.
“Kindred gods, goddesses, demigods, satyrs, nymphs, monsters, and immortal beings one and all, welcome to the 317th Annual Family Reunion and Divination Ceremony of the Gods!” There was a smattering of polite applause. “We are so pleased you could come all this way to Mount Olympus…”
Every year she droned on and on with the same boring spiel, even the owl fell asleep. Dion and Pan knew they had at least thirty minutes of bar time before the Z-Man made his appearance, so they ducked off to guzzle a few more carafes and return before the ladies had a chance to miss them.
A goblet or three of Mavroudi had Dion dancing into the woods by the music of the lyre, enrapt in the arms of a young water nymph eager to wet his whistle. He’d forgotten all about his son’s meeting with Zeus.
“Dion!” It was Pan, scrounging through the bushes looking for him.
“I’m coming! Give me a minute.”
“Hurry up! We’re late!”
Dion came running around the shrub, untwisting his chiton and picking the briars out of his hair. Being the god of fun and fertility had its drawbacks—sometimes he simply couldn’t help himself.
It was then he knew exactly how Chadwick felt: being a waiter was who he was. Dion arrived at the amphitheater just as Chadwick took his place before Zeus.
“There you are!” Iris glowered.
The inquiry began.
“Well, aren’t you a regular bird-of-paradise?” Zeus teased. “What’s your name?”
“Chadwick.” Zeus appeared amused at first, but then his forehead crinkled and eyes narrowed. “As in my grandson Chadwick?” he boomed. “Dionysus! Get your butt down here!”
The crowd parted as Dion trudged the hillside and stood beside his son.
“Explain this, this…this pink and orange flame before me!”
Dion put his arms around Chadwick’s shoulders, took a deep breath and said, “Father, this is my son—your grandson—and he wants to be a…” Dion choked on the word. “He wants to be a…”
“I want to be a waiter,” Chadwick said.
“Yes. He wants to be a waiter.”
“He wants to be a waiter?”
“A waiter!” The Furies squawked. “Even we heard him, and we’re almost deaf.”
“I heard him; I simply didn’t know if I understood him. And why, pray tell, should I make you the god of waiters?”
“It’th not only waiterth, but all thothe who therve, who work for tipth, the underapprethiated who live hand-to-mouth, the hairdretherth, the wannabe actorth and thtarving artith who create but never make it. Pluth, I like the all-you-can-eat thrimp buffet.”
“First, someone get me a towel,” Zeus said. Hermes rushed over and wiped the spit off his face. “Second, while your appeal is noble, I can’t have the grandson of the King of the gods serving in such a menial capacity.”
Dion protested. “But father—”
“Wait! Ha! Isn’t that ironic? Wait?” He chuckled again. “Let me see what I can do, for I think there is a solution that will make us all happy. From the flamboyant looks of this fine young god, as well as his admirable desire to serve as the resplendent symbol of mankind, I will grant his request and make him the god of…”
A thunderous cloud appeared in the sky, shaking the mountain and crumbling several of Medusa’s unwitting dance partners, then shot a bolt of lightning, smiting Chadwick into nothing more than a pile of ashes.
Dion charged his father and grabbed his neck when, from the ashes, arose a bird.
It wasn’t a phoenix, though.
It was Chadwick, the world’s very first flamingo. With a flap of his bright pink wings, he lifted off the ground, looked down, then at his father and grandfather and peeped, “Oh. My. Zeus! I’m absolutely fabulous!”
Zeus had done exactly as Chadwick had asked and made him the god of…waders.
M.L. Swift is a lover of words who squanders away his afternoons arranging them into sentences which, when combined, resemble fiction. He has written articles for Writer Unboxed and The Alzheimer’s Reading Room, and as a caregiver for ten years, plans a novel on his experience. He lives in the Florida panhandle with his two dogs, Rameses and Buster, and spends his nights fighting a losing battle to reclaim his side of the bed.