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New American Idols

Well my writing workshop has sadly ended and I will miss spending time with the others, and their writing, as well as the pressure that it created for me to actually write, which was pretty great (and effective). This was my last submission, inspired in no small manner by one of my all time favorite books, Neil Gaiman's American Gods. The story was inspired by an actual conversation I had in a coffee shop recently, though that conversation was not nearly as interesting as the one in the story.

New American Idols - K.Guyer 2012

The waiter, a heavily tattooed 20-something with an oversized nose ring and shock of dyed-black hair, gazed at his paper pad as if seeing for the first time what he had just written seconds before, 'Uh, alright, I got a coffee and a black tea. Is that all gent-?' He glanced up as he spoke, scanning the greying, older men occupying the booth, his eyes suddenly widening. 'Whoa, that is a sweet t-shirt! What is that thing on the front?'

The smaller of the two gentlemen in the booth, sporting a dark t-shirt, smiled a wide grin at his companion and turned to face the boy. His voice seemed an ill fit, too rich and strong for his aging frame. 'This is Dumuzi, the Mesopotamian god of the Underworld. Heard of him?'

'Hmm, no man, I've never heard of him before.' The waiter's glance drifted away; distracted by a ringtone having burst into a Dick Dale guitar riff a few booths distant.

The older man raised his voice slightly to lure the waiter back to the conversation. 'Yes, Dumuzi. He was a real badass, vicious lord of the underworld, and a fertility god on the side.' He sized the young man up. 'I tell you what son; this Dumuzi shirt has got me laid plenty. Here.' He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a shiny business card, handing it to the young man who had finally cut himself loose of the ringtone's spell to face the old speaker. 'There's a website on the card, go there, use the code I wrote on the back and you can get yourself one of these shirts for free, no shipping either. Trust me friend, the ladies can't get enough of it.'

'Yeah, uh, thanks guy.' He turned the card over slowly, and as the words he had been buffering finally processed into comprehension, he smiled and nodded. 'Yeah. Yeah. Fuckin-A, thanks man. I'll go get you young men your drinks. Yeah.' He meandered his way back toward the coffee bar, still fingering the card.

The old man watched him go and turned back to his companion, a huge bear of a man with a bushy mane of silver streaked red, now framing a distinct look of distaste. The large man's voice was even deeper than his friend's, hovering just north of a rumble, 'What the fuck was that Dumuzi? You giving out swag with your face plastered on it now? That's the most ridiculous, debasing thing I've ever seen from a god.'

Dumuzi leaned forward conspiratorially, grinning with his ancient, coffee stained teeth and dropping the volume. 'This is why I asked you to meet me for a drink Tyr. The mortals no longer have to worship, or really even believe in the old gods for us to exist. All it takes now for sustenance is for them to knowingly bear our likeness, like the t-shirt. I've given up on trying to get new worshippers and hired a marketing consultant.'

A microscopic twitch of the lip and Tyr cocked his head, leaning in himself. 'Wait, what?'

'I take it you haven't talked to Loki since you fell out of favor with the other Norse gods.' He glanced around as if genuinely expecting someone to be listening, looking a little disappointed to see that nobody was. 'Ever since he and your old Asgardian crew up and went Hollywood with that big Thor movie a few years back, Loki began noticing something. See, ever since that movie, his image is slapped on all kinds of shit. He's on Slurpee cups, lunch boxes, sweatshirts, comics. Mountains of branded crap. He says that it's not creating the same high as actually being worshipped does, but he says that he's got more energy flowing into him now, just from that junk, than he's seen from mortal worshippers at any time in the last, like, 900 years. So I've been testing it out myself. I hired a marketing consultant, I'm giving away shirts on my website and I've hired a college student to write me into an iPad game. Seriously. Kids love these underworld fighting games, especially if we can get the 'mature' rating. Tyr, I can already feel the incoming energy. It sounds nuts, I realize that, but this is real, this changes everything.'

The drinks arrived with the waiter's eyes more on Dumuzi's shirt than on the delivery but he managed to get the mugs and check on the table without incident. Tyr shook his wooly head as the boy retreated and locked eyes again with his companion. 'Are you telling me that we can gain enough sustenance to continue living just from the mortals having our picture printed on their things? There is no longer a need for prayer, offerings or blood sacrifices? Dumuzi, don't take my blood sacrifices.'

'So far it seems that your image has got to be on things that are important to them, things they use and ideally cherish, but, yes. How many of us old gods have withered and died in the last millennium? Well with a little creative product placement we might make it to see another 100 or even 1000 years. Humans worship their possessions now Tyr, and if those things that they love bear our likeness then those things become an idol of us and we siphon off some of that adoration. Love of idols didn't used to mean squat in the old days but today's mortals love to worship their shit. The days of prayer and blood sacrifices may be over my friend.'

Tyr drew back, looking more than a little stricken. 'No. I don't want that. I need mortals to bludgeon their enemies, then raise the bloody steel to the sky and roar my name. This is what I am, what I have always been. Anything less is, is beneath an old god.' He paused, thinking. 'Isn't it?'

'Look, I know how great that kind of devotion is Tyr, but you don't really need blood sacrifice on the field of battle just as I don't really need the blood bowls and mounds of grain. We just prefer the old ways. Those days are gone. Look, I'm not thrilled about it, I'm gonna miss the hell out of those blood bowls and charred goats. Make no mistake, this is the tofu of deity worship, but we can still live off of it. If I can remain here on Earth and retain a grasp on godhood this way, even a tenuous grasp, then I'm gonna do it. We both know that gaining new worshipers is damned near impossible anymore. People just Google our shit on the Internet, see how crazy it all looks now and then wander off to watch You-Tube videos of cats or porn. We've got to adapt or we'll die.'

Tyr drained his cup as the two men sat wordlessly studying their mugs. Minutes passed in a heavy silence. With a slow exhalation, bordering on a sigh, Tyr reached his huge, weathered hand to gently hold Dumuzi's. He turned his head slightly, averting his eyes from the other's kind, piercing, gaze. 'I don't want to die, not by fading away, forgotten, like so many of the others have. I have earned the right to fall in battle with my axe in hand and take my place in Valhalla. For so long now that dream has seemed beyond my grasp.'

Dumuzi smiled and placed his smaller, smoother hand over that of Tyr, 'I don't think that we have to die, not just yet, and not by fading into history. Take the name of my marketing guy; I know he can do something for you. You are the Norse god of war for fuck's sake. That just screams Xbox game or a line of snowboards. You hire a few good artists to put Tyr out there in the market and guys like our waiter here will be lining up to get a tattoo of you. You're gonna sell, I mean it, you are gonna sell. With a shift in strategy and a few concessions we can survive just fine in this age. Immortality doesn't have to end for us yet.'

Tyr took a first, good, hard look at the stylized artwork on his companion's shirt and with an almost imperceptible shrug and hint of a grin, threw a Visa card on the check tray. 'This round's on me.'

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