Odds and Gods
Table of Contents
Odds and Gods
Published by Hachette Digital 2009
eISBN : 978 0 7481 1384 2
This ebook produced by JOUVE, FRANCE
An imprint of
Little, Brown Book Group
100 Victoria Embankment
London EC4Y 0DY
An Hachette Livre UK Company
Dedications are traditionally used for currying favour. Accordingly:
To Chris Bell and David Barrett, for the favour And to Michelle Hodgson and Menzies Khan, for the curry
n the cloudy heights dwell the gods. They are spirits of light, deathless and ever young. They feast continually in palaces wonderful beyond description, and theirs is a happiness which mortals could never possibly attain.
Indeed. Pull the other one for a veritable feast of campanology. The true facts of the matter are as follows.
In the Sunnyvoyde Residential Home dwell the gods, the whole miserable lot of them. They are cantankerous old buggers, deathless but decidedly no longer young. They witter and bicker continuously in day rooms painted that unique shade of pale green used only in buildings set aside for the long-term storage of the sick and elderly, and they hate it like poison.
All except for Ohinohawoniponama, a vegetation spirit formerly revered by a small tribe of Trobriand Islanders. Since the entire tribe died of influenza a century ago, taking their language with them, nobody can understand a word he says; but it doesn’t seem to matter. He smiles a lot, is no trouble at all to anyone, and spends most of his time in the television room watching Australian soap operas.
‘Of course he’s happy,’ commented Marduk, over lunch in the dining room. ‘Poor bloody savage, he’s never had it so good. Probably thinks he’s died and gone to Heaven.’
Marduk had been the warrior god of the ancient Sumerians, which made him one of the oldest gods in Sunnyvoyde. He was, by his own reckoning, six thousand years old, crippled with arthritis, and (in the words of Mrs Henderson, the matron) a bit of an old crosspatch. Which is like defining death as feeling a bit under the weather, or describing the Second World War as a free and frank exchange of views.
‘Let me just stop you there, Mardie,’ interrupted Lug, shadowy and enigmatic god of the pre-Christian Celts, as he walloped the bottom of an inverted ketchup bottle. ‘
Died and gone to Heaven
. I mean, we are talking about an immortal god here, and I just wondered if you’d care to clarify . . .’
‘You know perfectly well what I mean.’
‘Ignore him, Mardie,’ said Freya, the Germanic Queen of Heaven, surreptitiously polishing her fork. ‘He’s just being insufferable.’
‘I thought I was being enigmatic and shadowy, Fre.’
‘Your tie is in the gravy.’
There had been a, let us say an
, between Freya and Lug ever since the World had been created out of the bones of Ymir the Sky-Father (or, in Lug’s case, scooped out of the churn of the stars into the butter-pat of Time; the Creation is a highly personal thing to all gods and they get very embarrassed if you ask them to talk about it). Obviously, since Freya’s people spent most of their time massacring Lug’s people and driving them into the sea, nothing could ever come of it; until now, when it was really rather too late.
‘I don’t know why they let his sort in here,’ Marduk carried on. ‘Lowers the tone, I say.’
‘His sort?’ Lug asked, ignoring the kick on his shin from the other side of the table. ‘Footnotes, please.’
‘Wogs,’ Marduk replied. ‘In my day, we’d have had his lot up the top of the ziggurat and tied to the altar in three minutes flat. Now, of course, we’ve got to have them in here with us, which I say is wrong. And they get special food.’
‘Live and let live, I say,’ mumbled Adonis, Greek god of spring and beauty, through his few remaining teeth and a mouthful of soup. As usual, nobody paid him any attention, and he continued his noisy struggle with the Spring Vegetable.
‘Special food, Mardie?’ Lug smiled at Marduk over a forkful of lemon sole.
‘It’s only the Hindu lot,’ Freya said. ‘And that’s just because they’re vegetarians.’
‘Vegetarians!’ In his prime, Marduk had feasted on the hearts and entrails of prisoners of war. Nowadays virtually everything except plain bread and butter gave him wind. ‘Stuff and nonsense. What do they want to be vegetarians for? It’s just attention-seeking, that’s all.’
‘I think it’s something to do with their religion, Mardie.’
Marduk scowled. ‘What the devil do you mean, religion? They’re supposed to be
, for crying out loud. Gods can’t have religion. Makes you go blind.’
‘Would you pass the salt, please?’ said Freya briskly.
Gods do not possess eternal youth; they grow old, just like everybody else. Only rather more slowly.
It is also a fallacy that gods are better than anybody else; quite the reverse. Since there’s absolutely nobody who dare criticise them, for fear of being blasted with thunder, they are free to behave exactly as they see fit, which is usually very badly.
It therefore follows that Sunnyvoyde is even trickier to run than the average, run-of-the-mill old folks’ home. The fact that Mrs Henderson manages it at all is little short of a miracle. That she runs it with a rod of iron only goes to show the quite devastating force of personality she has at her disposal.
For example, when Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent of the Aztecs, finally and reluctantly agreed to let his godsons book him in, he was implacably determined to have his own bathroom with hot and cold running blood, all his meals served up in jewel-encrusted skulls and his own retinue of seven thousand dog-headed fiends to devour the souls of anybody foolish enough to give him any lip. After five minutes of negotiations with Mrs Henderson, however, his demands were rapidly revised to staying in bed an extra half-hour and being allowed to substitute a fresco of souls in torment for the framed print of happy kittens above his bed. The happy kittens have, by the way, now crept back to their rightful place, and Quetzalcoatl is usually in his seat in the dining room for breakfast by 7.15.
Only one resident of Sunnyvoyde, therefore, is allowed to have his meals in his room. When asked, Mrs Henderson explains that he’s not as young as he was and it wouldn’t be fair to expect him to make the effort to come down to the dining room three times a day. Which is, indeed, part of the truth.
‘Just put it down on the table, Sandra love,’ said Osiris, ‘and pass me the remote control thing while you’re there.’
‘Huh.’ The nurse feigned irritation. ‘And what did your last servant die of?’
‘And the one before that was eaten by crocodiles.’
‘Sacred crocodiles, naturally.’
‘It’s apple crumble again today,’ said Sandra cheerfully. ‘You like apple crumble.’
Osiris sighed. ‘Sandra pet,’ he said, ‘I’m an omniscient god. Lying to me is the proverbial hiding to nothing. I can’t abide apple bloody crumble.’
‘Then turn it into something else, Mr Clever,’ Sandra replied, arranging the napkin tastefully in the shape of a pyramid. ‘Go on, say Whoosh! and turn it into chocolate mousse.’
‘I’m not allowed chocolate mousse, and well you know it.’
‘There you are, then,’ said Sandra. ‘Go on, you know you like it really.’
‘Get out,’ Osiris said, ‘before I turn
into a hedgehog.’
Sandra grinned at him and shut the door. A nice girl, that. Pretty too, if you like them a little bit on the plump side. Ah, thought the erstwhile Egyptian god of plenty, if only I was two thousand years younger.
The reason why Osiris got his meals in his room instead of having to come down and be sociable wasn’t because he was more powerful than the other gods, or more sublime, or even particularly older. It was just that he owned the place and could, if he so chose, give Mrs Henderson the sack.
Several millennia of being ritually murdered each sunset by his brother Set, torn into small pieces and reassembled in a hurry and pitch darkness by his slightly-less-than-nimble-fingered wife Lady Isis in time for his daily resurrection at dawn had left the old boy a physical wreck. Several of his component parts were palpably in the wrong place; and even now he still had nightmares about the many times Isis had finished the reassembly job, sewn him back up again and then turned to him and said, ‘Ooh, I wonder where this bit was supposed to have gone.’
His mind, however, was as sharp as ever, or so he kept telling himself; and he attributed this to the fact that it had spent so much time out of his body, while the good lady wife had been rewinding the intestines and poring over the wiring chart. Osiris was firmly of the opinion that a mind in a body is like a racehorse pulling a brewer’s dray, or a girl with three Ph.D.s becoming a housewife and dissipating her talents on ironing shirts and buying groceries. All that time and mental energy burnt up in operating limbs and keeping the senses ticking over took its toll, and eventually you were left with something barely capable of working the heart and keeping the bladder under some semblance of control.
He contemplated his lunch.
Apple crumble. You knock your pipes out for thousands of years re-enacting the primal struggle of light and darkness, and at the end of it, some chit of a girl tells you that you like apple crumble and expects you to believe it. And hot custard! If he had a shilling for every time he’d told them he couldn’t be doing with hot custard . . . well, he’d still be the richest being in the cosmos, only more so. Hot custard!
He paused, slamming the door on his train of thought.
I’m going soft in the head, he said to himself. Here I am, the embodiment of sublime wisdom, having a paddy over a bit of hot custard. This is worrying. I’ve been here too long.
Instinctively, he stretched his back and tested his legs against the floor. There was no strength left there at all, only pain. Damn.
Osiris had never been a solar deity. If there was one thing that irritated him more than hot custard, it was being confused with a glorified tram-driver who had nothing to do all day but lean on a dead man’s handle and try not to bump into too many clouds. His eldest boy, Horus, did that job (hence the name of the family firm, Osiris and Sun) and it suited him perfectly. Horus had, of course, retired long since and lived in the opposite wing of Sunnyvoyde where (as Osiris liked to think) they put the
people. They rarely met these days, although whenever they did Osiris never missed the opportunity to get up his offspring’s aquiline nose by shouting out, ‘Hello there, young ‘un,’ across a room full of people. Isis too lived a separate life in a small room in the annexe, which she had decorated with an extensive collection of photographs of the British royal family. Good riddance to them both, Osiris felt. If he hadn’t had to drag out his life surrounded by idiots, he could really have
There was a knock at the door; which meant it was Sandra back again. None of the other nurses bothered to knock.
‘A visitor for you, Ozzie,’ Sandra said.
Osiris blinked. ‘Are you sure?’ he said. ‘I don’t have many visitors. I was inoculated against them years ago.’
‘Well, you’ve got one now, isn’t that nice? It’s your godson.’
The meek shall inherit the Earth.
Eventually. When everyone else has quite finished with it, and the meek have stopped saying, ‘No, please, after you.’ Until then, the cocky little bastards shall inherit the Earth; which means that by the time the meek get their hands on it, they’ll wish the old fool had left them some money or a clock or something instead.