A short story from the Gods Inc. Universe
With a trembling hand, Lika traced the letters engraved in the door: “BACCH’S”. At long last, he had arrived.
His birth, his sickness, his pain, the tortuous treatment, the ostracism from his peers, all had conspired to bring him here. To amass the necessary funds for the astronomical teleportation fee, he had spent ten horrible years of arduous toil punctuated by the sporadic kicks of elephants in the granite quarries of Siruvalai.
Two hours earlier, he had finally set foot in the wondrous city that was Atlantis. He hadn’t taken the time to admire its marvels. He had gone directly to his seedy hotel to change into his best suit, also seedy, before running here.
He pushed the door. The low-ceilinged room was jam-packed, hazy with smoke, the noise deafening. He made his way to the bar, where he found a free stool. He sat down and looked around. He was miffed that this legendary establishment, of which he had heard so many tales, looked like any other.
Not that he had frequented such places often, but apart from the maelstrom of colors created by the enameled brick walls, the shimmering fabrics and the miniature altars disseminated all around, the rest seemed ordinary. Small tables, wobbly chairs, and an elongated bar that protruded from the back and divided the space in two. Inside the gleaming wood fortress, good-looking girls were busily serving drinks under the watchful eyes of Bacchus; around its periphery, clients were getting steadily drunker.
At least they were peculiar. One wore a plumed helmet and brandished a huge hammer at regular intervals. Another was relaxing, floating a meter above the counter. In front of Lika, a monstrous woman (it was hard to be sure, what with the elephant skin and the tortoise-like face, but the enormous breasts trying to escape the décolleté were a clue) winked at him sexily. He ordered a whisky to regain his composure.
He drank and saw her through the bottom of the glass. Her blue skin, her six arms, her golden ornaments and her nudity defied the thickness of the crystal. His country’s statues hadn’t lied. He had found his patron, the goddess that had presided over his birth, Kali.
He took a last sip of courage and got up. A few feet from her, the alcohol evaporated and he lost his resolve. Two clients were playing a game of dice at a table beside him. He dropped into the third chair and asked if he could join the game.
“We’ve already started this one,” answered the kindly old man. “But you can play the next round.”
His thick beard, as white as the aureole of his hair, didn’t hide his smile. Only the fact that he was wearing a long white nightgown, adorned with what seemed to be small pink flowers, suggested that he wasn’t your run-of-the-mill patriarch.
His opponent was weirder. His skin was red, bright enough to compete with a wedding sari. A thin goatee elongated his chin. His black hair, greased back, revealed two small horns growing on his forehead, and the furry end of his tail would smooth it back from time to time. His clothing was just as incongruous: his tight shirt was covered in purple sequins and his assorted pants seemed to be made out of cellophane (luckily opaque). A long cape, black as night, completed the ensemble.
Lika thought he had heard about these two immortals, but to avoid any faux pas, he tried to start a round of introductions: “My name is Lika.”
“We know,” replied the red one without reciprocating.
He threw a six, a three and a five.
“What are the rules?” asked Lika.
“You must throw triples,” explained the Old Man. “The highest one wins, but the other has another throw to nullify or beat it.”
He threw two threes and a two. The other one threw two fours and a five.
Blue hands laid themselves on Lika’s shoulders. He turned slowly, dumbstruck. Kali, radiant with beauty, had approached him from behind. To give himself time to regain the use of his speech, he handed her a pen and a pad in that universal gesture of submission meaning: “Give me your autograph, PLEASE.”
Keeping one hand on his shoulder, Kali smiled, took the pad and signed. He read what she had written under her signature: “Be careful, these two have taken you in charge.”
Confused, he looked back at her. She sighed.
“If you had come to me first,” she said in a gentle voice, “I could have helped you. But you sat with them, and now they are playing for your soul. If the old man wins, your suffering will be… shortened, and you will go to heaven. If the other one wins, you will be cured and live for a long time, but there will be a price…”
She left him in suspense, returning to her table at the back of the room.
The old man threw two fives and a six.
The other one, predictably, threw a triple six. Lika felt a surge of joy.
“Hou! I won!” exclaimed the red being, jumping out of his chair. “I won! Gna-gnan!”
He pulled out his tongue, which stopped one centimeter away from the old man’s nose.
Lika felt a shiver run down his spine.
The red being started to gyrate in a bizarre dance: he slid while going backwards; he made his tail spin with one hand while grabbing his crotch with the other. And finally, he squeaked a little cry and lifted his hand, now covered by a sparkling white glove, high up in the air. The old man shrugged.
“I still have a turn left, stupid.”
The other froze for a moment, then exhaled loudly.
“Crap!” he said, sitting back down.
The old man plunged his blue eyes into Lika’s, right down to the soul. The moment stretched into an eternity.
He threw three eights.