People don’t pray to me too much anymore. Not like the good old days, at any rate. Mostly just the occasional dingbat or screaming loon seeking divine direction for some two-bit revenge scheme. Sometimes I provide it, sometimes I don’t. I mean, after all, I’m a god damn trickster god, dig? Unpredictability is part of my charm.
But ol’ Hermes don’t get called on too much these days. It seems the desperate are more inclined to take their business to the major players: Yahweh, Buddha, hell even Satan gets more clients than me. I just ain’t in vogue in this modern age. Maybe my asking price isn’t high enough– I’ve never been interested in collecting souls, just punch lines. I just love a good punch line. I ain’t shook about the lack of clients though, because every once in awhile I get a real gem of a gentleman caller, reeking of resentment and pettiness and malignancy, and it makes up for all the down time. Lee Harvey Oswald was one of my favorites– that was a hell of a punch line, wasn’t it? Told him I’d make his little assassination dream come true and provide a patsy to boot. I stuck to my word, didn’t I? I guess I may have interpreted the deal a little differently than he, but that ain’t my fucking problem.
There are some lesser known good ones too, some real unsung heroes of tricksterdom that I lent my services to. I remember Foster Conley and his rumblefish restitution racket. That was a real knee-slapper. You see, Foster had this wife that he couldn’t stand. She was always on his case about this or that, chiding him over house chores and salaries and keeping up with the fucking Joneses (who, incidentally, lived next door). Foster may have been able to bear all this horseshit off his old lady if it wasn’t for her god damn fish. You see, she had this expensive as hell aquarium with these prized rare fish sporting stuck up names like Goya and Francois that she coddled and cherished and it drove Foster nuts because she treated those cocksucking fish better than him.
So one day Foster comes home and before his wife can start laying into him he presents her with a neatly wrapped little box. Ribbons, fish print wrapping paper, the whole deal. She opens it up and there’s a bag with this real expensive and uncommon fish, a real cool specimen. The wife is so ecstatic with this new slick addition to her fish exhibition that she doesn’t complain to Foster about a thing the entire night. In fact, he even gets laid for the first time in a couple of years, although he wonders afterwards whether his wife is a fish too.
What the wife doesn’t figure though is that the new fish on the block is a cannibal character, and when she wakes up the next morning all her other scaly beauties are nothing more than skeletons and there’s Foster’s fish flashing this satiated smile at her through the pristine aquarium glass. But that ain’t the punch line of the joke. I mean, it would have been pretty good if it ended there, but I’m an overachiever, dig?
As you can imagine, the wife is one distraught number over this unexpected development. So what does the wife do? She chops Foster up into little pieces and feeds him to the god damn fish he got her. And–wait for it–she names the fucking thing Foster.
I tell ya, I live for this shit, man. Well, technically I’m immortal, so I live indefinitely regardless, but you catch my drift. All the waiting in my line of work can be kind of a drag though, so when I get the chance, I really try to live it up.
Anyways, I got this new cat who’s been sending me requests when he’s nice and sauced, which is pretty much on the reg. Lincoln Fairchild, the poster child of nickel and dime antagonists: self-obsessed, monomaniacal, perfect. This guy’s been chewing on indignation for a decade and he’s looking to blow some retribution bubbles, dig? Lincoln’s a small town boy, a self-professed literary giant, a big-cannibalistic-fish-in-a-small-aquarium-looking-to-get-gone. You see, Lincoln’s been working for this hack rag, The Serenity Falls Review, as Editor-in-Chief, but he can’t shake two feelings: one, that he’s far too talented to be working for such a two-bit operation and two, that he’s still bent out of shape over the fact that he had submitted his own writing to the publication ten years back and they had rejected it. Lincoln got so blue over the whole deal that he never submitted another piece of his writing to another publication, although he continued to write consistently, almost prolifically even. Admirable dedication, don’t you think?
Lincoln’s always been a dedicated cat, though, especially when it comes to his resentments. He’s one of those guys that feels perpetually slighted, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. To be fair, the other shoe usually does drop, and it just leaves Lincoln feeling even more justified for the way he feels: cheated, shortchanged, totally fucking rip offed, man. You see, Lincoln’s always been convinced that he was destined for great things, and that the only reason he hadn’t done any of those great things was bad luck and a rotten world that conspired against him. The truth of the situation never occurred to him, because it was far too obvious and far too unacceptable: Lincoln is not a great man. Lincoln is a petty, mediocre, malcontented little boy.
Those are my favorite types though. Oswald was one, so was Foster. Those are the real winners, the clients I get to have the most fun with. And it’s always fun for them too, until they get to the punch line—the punch line is all mine, dig?
So anyways, this cat’s been calling me up on the horn blitzed as a billy goat lately. He doesn’t really believe I exist even, he just thinks it’s funny, another one of those nonsensical eccentricities that makes him a more serious artist. Fucking writers man, they’re all totally off the deep end.
But just because he don’t realize there’s somebody on the other end don’t mean I ain’t gonna answer. Lincoln’s too perfect a candidate to pass up. I bet there’s a real humdinger of a zinger I can pull out of this one. A real Fosterian punch line, if you will. In fact, I think I’ll convince old Lincoln to publish all of his own work in that lowbrow penny dreadful of his and just put fake names on all of them. How’s that for poetic justice, Lincoln? The very magazine that rejected your work will be nothing but your work. Do you see the subtle irony? Can’t you taste that sweet retribution on the tip of your rancorous tongue? Yeah, dig that revenge, Lincoln.
But that ain’t the punch line. No, not by a long shot, daddy-o. I’m gonna make sure nobody finds out about your little scam, but it won’t matter much. You see, Lincoln, turns out you ain’t much of a writer after all, so after the critics pan the publication (and all of your work in the process), The Serenity Falls Review is going to go under. And, because the assumption will be that it’s due to the fact that you ain’t much of an editor either, you’re gonna be out of a gig. Oh Lincoln, you’re even better than Foster’s fish also named Foster because you cannibalize yourself! Oh, I can’t hardly wait to see what your skeleton looks like.
But tonight, you just keep on getting liquored up and keep on chewing that resentment and keep on slurring prayers you don’t even believe in at me like I’m some kind of joke. Dig this though, Lincoln: Hermes ain’t no joke. Don’t let the punch lines fool you.
Wait for it…
Lincoln had been waiting for this moment a long time. It was a coup-de-grace years in the making, a retribution dreamed of and rehearsed over and over again. It wasn’t Lincoln’s first revenge rodeo, but it would surely be his greatest.
Lincoln took another pull off his bottle, setting it down next to his computer screen, which had dozens of open windows with various poems, stories, and essays he had written over the years. He smiled to himself as he thought of the sound humiliation he was preparing to serve up the publication that had humiliated him all those years ago. Then he remembered the rejection notice he had received, and his smile quickly wilted.
Thank you for your submission of the short story “Wait For It.” Unfortunately, we have chosen not to publish it for a variety of reasons. While your writing shows promise and potential, this particular piece lacks conflict. We encourage you to make revisions addressing this problem and resubmit for future editions of Serenity Falls Review.
James Mershe, Editor-in-Chief
Lincoln took another pull off his bottle, spilling some on his keyboard and his bare chest.
Lacks conflict, does it? I hope you like my revisions then. I’ve gone to great lengths to provide conflict in abundance. You see, I love conflict. I thrive off it, even. I hope that shows through in my work. You want conflict, do you? Just wait. Wait for it…