“You see,” Zeus said, fixing the tie in his neatly-ironed black coat, “we need you in our staff.”
Hermes strolled past the reception desk and stared at the room lined with treadmills and strength machines. No human seemed to notice his winged shoes or the fact that he held a long staff with a silvered point.
“I thought I was being summoned here for a special assignment,” Hermes said, his eyes following an obese man miserably failing at sit-ups while bouncing off a large yoga ball.
“And you came to the right place,” Zeus said, offering him a grin worthy of a toothpaste commercial. “I know we haven’t explained to you yet the details of what we do here. I wanted you to see with your own eyes.”
Hands shoved Hermes from behind; a mob of female mortals led by Aphrodite.
“Hi Hermes!” the goddess waved, leading the imperfect mass of humans within the glass walls of the aerobics lounge. She wore yoga pants so tight they almost looked like her skin, displaying her unnatural curves.
“Aphrodite teaches the 11 o’clock aerobics class,” Zeus explained.
“Father,” Hermes said, not even slightly amused. “Why are you doing this? What happened to the good old days of epic wars among the gods? Now you tell me you operate a gym? And even worse, one for humans?”
Zeus stroked his white beard in amusement. “This is more than just a gym for mortals, as you come to understand.” Wild music began booming from the aerobics class.
Zeus stared at the mass of female mortals following the goddesses’ every move. “Aphrodite possesses the perfect body. That’s why women follow her every step.”
Aphrodite spun, bent and shook her rear. The group of women followed. Hermes turned away, feeling nauseated at the imperfect mortal rears.
“They will never have a body even remotely like Aphrodite’s,” Hermes interjected.
“That’s the point,” Zeus smiled. “They will spend hours, days, years, sculpting their bodies, not realizing mortality is simply a slop of cheap clay. That perfection they are looking for will never happen. It’s good for business. Come, let me show you around.”
Zeus placed a hand on his shoulder and walked him to a new area. A sweaty mortal, tongue dancing out of its mouth, staggered on a gigantic cartwheel as his belly flopped up and down.
“But— but that’s for hamsters!”
“Lower your voice,” Zeus whispered. “You don’t want humans to realize that.”
They passed the stretch of giant cartwheels until they reached the runners’ station. Zeus stopped. Large smelly toes, protruded from under one of the treadmills.
“Hephaestus,” Zeus announced. “We’ve got a visitor.”
The toes slipped from under the treadmill, and a gigantic form rose. Twice the size of Zeus, Hephaestus had to bend to avoid the ceiling fans.
The friendly giant met him with a smile. He hadn’t seen him in centuries! But to be fair, it wasn’t easy visiting someone living under the crater of a volcano.
“Hephaestus,” Zeus said, grimacing at the giant’s toes, “How many times will I have to tell you to wear shoes when you come to work?”
The giant ignored the comment and turned to Zeus’ companion. “Hermes, hi!”
Hermes gave him a half-wave. Ages ago, when they’d gone to a mortal bar on the whims of Dionysus, Hephaestus had tried hugging him in his drunken stupor. They barely managed to bring him back from the dead thanks to a hospital bed and a painfully pointed needle injecting ambrosia into his veins.
“Hephaestus is our repair technician,” Zeus said. “Helps us with any machine glitches.”
Clank. The sound came from the far end of the room.
“You miserable scumbag!” a rowdy voice shouted. “You’re a worm, a piece of sand that talks and is likely to die soon!” In a sleeveless shirt, the screaming god Ares, paced next to a rack of dumbbells. One massive arm pointed accusingly at an old wrinkly mortal who lay on his back, spread-eagled, hands trembling from a large weight he’d just dropped to the floor. Ares’ boot pressed against the man’s bony ribs. “Useless excuse of a mortal. Is this how you want to train at Gods’ Gym? Two hundred reps. Is that too much to ask for? Too much for your lowly kind?”
“He’s a douche,” a female voice said behind Hermes. “Works the crap out of them.” Distracted, he turned, recognizing goddess Athena. Her bored eyes protected by thick-rimmed glasses contemplated a moment the embarrassing scene. “Care for a smoke?” she said, producing one from her medical coat.
“Watch your language, Athena,” Zeus said politely.
“And how come he gets to swear like that?”
“He’s the physical trainer. It’s Ares’ favorite training method. Pushes humans to their very limits.”
“Sure. He makes a great motivational coach,” Athena said, rolling her eyes, then puffing a smoke ring.
“She’s the nutritionist?” Hermes asked. Zeus nodded.
“See you around,” Hermes said, turning to Athena. She simply dragged on her cigarette, till it all turned to a worm of charcoal, then tapped the ashes into the marble floor with her white boot.
“What a happy bunch,” Hermes said to Zeus. Was this his father’s idea of making good business? He’d never seen a sadder bunch of gods. Not since the older days when things were better and—.
“She’s the goddess of wisdom,” Zeus replied. “She naturally overthinks things.”
“And that makes her unhappy?”
Zeus shrugged. “Let’s move along.”
They entered a short corridor to the men’s locker room. A man with a drooping mustache, stood next to the sinks, glaring endlessly at his reflection.
“The mirrors,” Zeus whispered, “are magically designed to magnify human imperfections.”
The man frowned. “I’ve got a zit the size of my head!”
“Calm down, mortal friend,” Zeus said, with an overreacted smile. “This is why you’re here: to be all you can be!”
“Go see our nutritionist,” Zeus said absently, “Her rates are cheap.” The god of gods seemed distracted by the sound of awful gargling in the showers.
Zeus’ face tightened, eyes darting toward the noise. “Come with me,” he said, and Hermes for a second thought he saw dark clouds looming in the ceiling above.
“Father, is it really bad for a human to gargle in the shower?”
“That’s no human gargling. That’s Poseidon again, trying to sing.”
Zeus pulled open the shower curtain. The naked sea god held a gold trident in one hand, a bar of soap in the other, and a rubber duck float at his waist.
“Poseidon! What are you doing!” Zeus’ voice boomed.
“Always wanted to know what these human floating devices felt like,” Poseidon said. “Look, it squeaks when I try to squeeze it.”
“Stop the nonsense,” Zeus said, arms crossed. “How many times have I told you these showers are exclusively for clients?”
“You know how much I miss—,”
“Stop your ocean nostalgia, grab a towel and get back to work.”
Hermes turned toward Zeus. “What does he do here?”
“Takes care of the showers, toilets and water-related issues. Last week we had an incident with a mermaid that seduced and then bit an arm off of one of our clients. Poseidon’s supposed to take care that doesn’t happen again. But it surely will if he’s wasting business hours in the shower.”
“I miss home,” Poseidon frowned.
“You ought to be fired,” a voice hissed. With grimy hands, bald-headed Hades gripped his old broom and shook his head. “I end up doing all of Poseidon’s work, even the toilets—while he does nothing!”
“Hades,” Zeus said. “I am sure your life here is much better than in the Underworld.”
“I’d rather live a million times over in the Underworld than have to clean human crap from toilets!” Hades raged. “I expect a raise.”
“We should get going,” Zeus said, placing a hand on Hermes.
From the locker room they walked out to the gym’s cafeteria. Just a few paces away, through the glass walls, one could see the tired women still there, flailing their tired arms in imitation of Aphrodite’s restless perfection.
“You must be thirsty,” Zeus said. “Here you can see a list of our beverages.”
Hermes glared at the chart:
Orange Juice – For all ages.
Hard Protein Shake – 18 and up.
Ambrosia Shake – 120 and up.
“You get it?” Zeus roared in laughter.
“It’s a god joke I devised. The Ambrosia Shake. Only people older than 120 can drink it.”
“So…” Zeus said, expecting a reaction, “that means no human will ever get to drink it!”
Hermes shook his head. Not a soul stood in the cafeteria. “I thought Dionysus would be happy to handle this.”
“Dyonysus is a bum. He used to come in drunk and was terrible for business. I fired him. Literally,” Zeus said as glowing thunder appeared under his closed fist.
“So,” Hermes said, “the reason you brought me here is because you want me to take over Dionysus’ cafeteria job?”
“No,” Zeus said, meeting his eyes. “We are actually looking for a salesperson. Someone who can help us capture as many human clients as possible. We figured you are the perfect god for that, considering how good you are at deceit.”
“But why? Why a gym? All the gods seem so unhappy.”
“Because,” Zeus said with eyes aflame, “materialism is humanity’s new god.”