This was written as an entry in 'Supporting Indie Authors' Mythic March competition on Goodreads.
The brief was to write a tale in less than 2500 words. telling of an encounter with a creature from Greek or Roman mythology and containing the phrase 'release the...'
A Social Media ‘influencer’. Seriously?
Great-Uncle Hephaestus would pee himself laughing if he knew. But he’s not here anymore and I am which is, kind of, the point. He never really made the transition from the blacksmith’s anvil to the red-hot forge of technology. So while he is nominally regarded as its God, modern tech has far more worshippers itself than he ever did.
I pause at the doorstep. A council house in a leafy Sheffield suburb is an unlikely lair for a self-proclaimed International Conspiracy Theorist.
The doorbell has a camera below the button. I smile and press, knowing that I am being studied from inside the house. From my pillbox hat to my flat sensible shoes, I am the epitome of 1950’s Mrs. America. My white-gloved hand strays to my pearl necklace as I wait.
The speaker crackles into life and a voice asks “Who is it?”
I feign surprise, looking around for the source of the question and reply “Lara. I have an appointment with Anthony Vera.”
The door opens to reveal the owner of the voice. He is shorter than me, around five feet four, his stocky frame enveloped in a black t-shirt bearing a vaguely Masonic emblem on the chest.
“It’s pronounced ‘Verra’. Please, come in.”
He smiles, and holds out a hand. I shake it lightly and step past him across the threshold. He closes the door behind us and I remove the pin from my hat.
“Would you?” I say, offering him the hat. He takes it and stands waiting while I unbutton my coat to reveal the rest of my ensemble. Crisp white blouse tucked into a polka dot circle skirt topped off with a freshly starched apron.
I hold out my coat, waiting patiently as he looks me up and down.
“Wow.” He says, finally, “You certainly look the part.” and takes my coat. I nod and smile in thanks.
“Please. The studio is this way.” He sets off down the hall, passing a pair of open doors on the right.
The first leads to a small but tidy living room. A plain fabric suite borders a deep pile rug over polished floorboards. The space is dominated by a flat screen TV on a beechwood stand which also houses a micro stereo and games console.
The second door opens into a compact kitchen. The worktops are bare apart from kettle, microwave and toaster. From what I have seen, Mr. Vera is houseproud and meticulous. A far cry from his on-screen persona but I am satisfied that he will be sufficient for my needs.
As we pass the kitchen door, he pauses with “Can I offer you a drink?”
I decline and we continue to the room he refers to as his Studio.
Entering the room is like stepping into a different world. The décor is dark and dingy. A large desk sits in the middle of a cluttered space, flanked by a dark oak bookcase and a deep upholstered armchair. Posters obscure most of the far wall. I see the now-discredited photograph of the President’s parents, dressed as klansmen, an image of the surface of Mars, with a red circle drawn around a vaguely humanoid shape, a snapshot of a smiling young couple with what appears to be a Japanese-inspired ghost translucent in the background and a picture of a disk-like flying saucer above the words ‘I want to believe’.
On the bookcase, the St James Bible nestles uncomfortably between ‘Chariots of the Gods?’ and ‘Fire and Fury’ flanked, in their turn, by the Necronomicon and ‘Sacerdotium Umbrae Mortis’, if the gold lettering on the cracked leather spines were to be believed.
The desk is littered with the paraphernalia of .altBelievers. A crystal skull sits cheek by jowl with a jackaroo in a bell jar. A map of Atlantis lies beside blueprints of the Dallas book depository, partially covered by photographs of Marilyn Monroe. A mobile, depicting the planets of the Solar System as flat disks, rather than spheres, hangs from the ceiling above a five fingered candle in the form of a dead man’s hand.
The apparently random esotericism is revealed as a carefully constructed backdrop when it abruptly ends at an invisible line, halfway across the room.
Beyond that point, the space is filled with lighting equipment tilted towards a satin-finish cream wall, painted to reflect the illumination evenly back into the set. A professional looking video camera sits atop a sturdy tripod, aiming at the heart of unbeliever Nirvana, a boom mike bridging the space between realities.
“Welcome to my World.” He smiles, pulling up a chair for me on the opposite side of the desk. “Please, make yourself comfortable.”
Sitting forward in the armchair, he pulls a mirror from a drawer and places it on the desk in front of him. He pushes his hands up into his long greying hair and teases it out making it look more voluminous and slightly untidy. From the same drawer he extracts a pair of thick horn-rimmed glasses and sets them on the end of his nose. He ruffles up his eyebrows and, with a final satisfied glance, replaces the mirror in its drawer. He links his fingers together, rests his elbows on the desk and leans towards me.
“Do you have any questions, or are you ready to begin?” His northern accent is gone, replaced by a creditable upper-class diction with just a hint of a scottish burr. The transformation is complete and I am suitably impressed. I smile.
He misinterprets my expression and begins to make excuses “The voice? It’s something I did in my early webcasts. The Yanks love a posh British accent. They say it adds ‘gravitas’, makes the speaker sound more scholarly. It would be rather awkward dropping it now.”
“No.” I smile again. “It’s perfect. Shall we begin?”
He nods and picks up a remote control from his desk. He presses a button and a red light illuminates atop the camera, which he turns to face.
“Greetings, knowledge seekers. My name is Anthony Vera welcoming you once again to VeraCity, the home of Truth.
In a webcasting first, my guest this week claims to be a bona fide Roman deity. Fresh from her own successful twitter feed @domesticgoddess, I give you Lara.”
He pauses for effect. “Lara. You claim to be over two thousand years old. If you don’t mind me saying so, you’re wearing pretty well.”
“Thank you for the compliment, Anthony, but I am able to alter my appearance at will and this seems to be an image which is pleasing to my followers.”
I straighten my back and fold my hands neatly in my lap.
“Now, when you say followers, do you mean worshippers?”
“Oh, goodness me, no. My online activities until now have been limited to simply offering advice to mortals on coping with day to day domestic difficulties.”
“Removing awkward stains. Deodorising after pet accidents. Storing and preparing food to keep it fresh.”
“Again, forgive me. Those are hardly the sort of tasks I would expect a Goddess to concern herself with.” He smiles wryly.
“On the contrary, Anthony. These matters have always fallen within the purview of the Lares.”
“Lares Familiaris or Lares Domestici. The household deities of the Romans, and the Etruscans before them. We warded homes and families from physical and spiritual harm, kept the fires burning at night, protected livestock from disease and predation.”
“So you were responsible for security and keeping the heating on? Perhaps you should change your name to Alexa?”
He looks directly at the camera, winking at his invisible audience.
“I’m sorry, Anthony. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
There, now they are laughing with me, at him. He tenses and turns to face me.
“So you can help me remove unfortunate stains from my pants, but that hardly proves you’re a goddess.”
I smile sweetly. “Perhaps a demonstration?”
He relaxes back into his chair and spreads his arms wide in a ‘the stage is yours’ gesture.
I lean forward over the desk and blow gently across the fingers of the wax dead man’s hand. The wicks at the tips spontaneously ignite, oily smoke rising above the yellow flames. Vera stares through narrowed eyes but says nothing. I raise an eyebrow.
I smile and wrinkle my nose like a 1960’s TV witch, drawing a circle in the air with my finger. From nowhere, a breeze begins to disturb the air in the sealed room. The papers on the desk rustle and, one by one, the skull, the jackaroo and the candle rise into the air and begin to chase each other around the flat planet mobile which dances in the wind. The lights dim and the room is gripped by a sudden chill.
I allow my physical appearance to shift, blurring between leather-clad amazon warrior, vestal virgin and ember-eyed crone draped in rotting rags. Growing in stature, I tower menacingly over the desk. I throw back my head and laugh. The sound reverberates, echoing back from the pillars of a thousand ancient temples, long since crumbled to dust.
His hair whipping across his face, Vera retreats further into his wing-back chair, clutching at the arms.
“OhGod,OhGod,OhGod. NoNoNo. Please stop. Enough, please.” his upper-class accent forgotten, terror in his eyes.
I snap my fingers and the wind is gone. The levitating objects return to the surface of the desk and the lights return to their normal intensity. The flat planets on the mobile swing gently above the heads of American Mom and ashen faced webcaster.
“I told you. I’m not just a #domesticgoddess. I’m a Domestic Goddess.”
I perch primly on the edge of my chair and smooth down my apron with both hands.
He sits, unmoving. His eyes dart nervously around the room. Now when he looks at me there is new respect, even fear, in his eyes.
Then, as if he suddenly remembers where he is, he appears to regain his composure. I have to admire his self-control.
He turns to the camera.“Well, there you have it, truthseekers. Proof positive that Gods walk among us and you saw it here first in VeraCity.”
He points downwards. “Click below to subscribe to VeraCity and for links to Lara’s Twitter feed and website, where you can find videos on ‘how to invoke the Goddess’ and ‘constructing your own Lararium, or shrine’ along with Lara’s helpful domestic hints. I’ll see you next week with another exclusive expose from VeraCity, home of Truth.”
A final click on the remote control extinguishes the red light on the camera.
He exhales loudly through pursed lips, visibly deflating, and runs one hand back through his wind-blown hair. He turns to me, fearfully. “Now what?”
“Now? Nothing. I need no more from you. Except your belief in my existence.”
“No worshipping? No sacrifices?” his tone a mixture of mistrust and tentative relief.
“I survived the fall of the Roman empire, sustained by the belief of a single family. I now have over five thousand followers. That supplies me with enough mana for a permanent physical manifestation. And all I had to do was show them how to remove red wine stains. Your webcast opens up a whole new congregation. Your followers are desperate to believe. Soon they will become my followers and I can drop the #domesticgoddess persona and reveal my true self. You can be a part of it, Anthony. Release the video! Become the prophet of a new order.”
He takes a laptop from the desk drawer and busies himself. A few minutes pass and he looks up. “Now?”
I nod. At first, nothing happens. Then I begin to feel the mana building. A trickle at first, increasing in waves as his viewers watch and share. It will grow exponentially, going viral, spreading across the entire planet.
Soon, very soon, a humble Goddess of hearth and home will have enough followers to challenge the Olympians.
Look out, Jupiter. This girl is planning on cleaning house.