In a flash the man unzipped and pulled out his cock. He hadn’t seen Adrian quietly cross the road over the bridge behind him. As curious as shocked, Adrian saw its wrinkled pallor, like a huge maggot. Then the man pissed, just let it go straight at a homeless man on the pavement. Adrian started to run. The homeless man brought his face right up to the pissing man’s midriff. For a moment, Adrian thought he would bite his penis, but he just swilled his face in the urine, moving it from side to side, with a huge grin splitting his bearded face like a moon shining through a wood.
‘What the hell!’ shouted Adrian. The pissing man fled, leaving a trail of wet splashes painting the pavement. ‘I’m so sorry, are you okay?’ The homeless man looked up, golden drops were caught in his beard, fell from his lank, curled hair.
‘I am anointed!’ He threw his arms wide, ‘I am anointed for my task dear brother! All other Gods rise in my presence!’
A smeared sleeping bag fell away, and Adrian saw that the man was wearing what looked like a wedding dress. He could just make out the flowery white embroidery blossoming alongside some very significant soiling. The homeless man’s arms were still outstretched and the cloth under his armpits was split, revealing tufts of wiry hair. As shock wore away, Adrian was hit by the most intense wave of stale air, like a punch to the nose. He took a step back.
‘Do you not recognise your brother Zeus, Poseidon?’
Zeus stood and the wedding dress’s seams looked to be struggling to contain the god’s robust musculature. He must be over 1.9m, thought Adrian. Zeus pointed to the darkly sluggish river, below the highway bridge behind him.
‘You will be pleased to know that I am the first god to swim across this sea, from one kingdom to another and when I arose, I received the help of many stewards.’
Adrian felt his mind weighing up helping Zeus against getting back to the reality of his day’s many, less divine, pressures. ‘Here take this.’ He pressed a twenty-dollar bill into a deeply dissected palm, turned and started to walk briskly to the office he was visiting.
‘Poseidon, come back!’ shouted Zeus, ‘I don’t need this, but I do need your help to plan a feat greater than The Battle of The Titans!’
He can certainly carry his voice, thought Adrian. For a split second he wondered if Zeus had once been an opera singer. Over his shoulder he saw him standing on the bridge parapet, pointing his right arm to the sky, as if desperately trying to fire a starting pistol. The crumpled bill spun on the wind of a passing van and landed on the highway.
A huge splash resonated, ‘Poseidon!’
Adrian turned and Zeus was gone, replaced by the sound of frantic paddling. He started to run as hard as he could, over the piss-stains, down the steps to the canalised river below. Zeus had reached the brickwork at the edge. His huge hands were grappling for a hold and despite his huge size, he was struggling and spluttering in the water. Adrian got on his knees, embraced Zeus and started to pull him out, but he slipped back, submerging under the dark water. ‘For Christ sakes, give him a break!’ said Adrian aloud. Zeus somehow re-emerged, hands aloft, as if being ejected. He made a wind-milling reach for the side again and Adrian grabbed him under the armpits of his wedding dress and pulled hard. A combination of this and Zeus’s kicking, eventually had Zeus on his side, on the towpath. His soaked lace looking like the scales of some giant fish that had just been landed as Zeus gasped for air.
Zeus rolled, went on his knees and then lurched upright. His arms wide open again, ‘I knew that, by again swimming this sea that I once used to attempt to flood mankind, I would gain your help, Poseidon!’ Adrian’s shoulder bag had fallen onto the towpath, spilling the contents. Zeus pointed to a small plastic folk, ‘I see your trident has shrunk.’
Adrian looked at the black river, how it seems to flow like liquid smoke. What the hell do they put in there? He thought about the chlorinated comparison of his daily swim at the local baths. How had he managed to become so involved here? This would teach him for his curiousity, his caring nature. Look what happens when you try to be The Good Samaritan: you get covered in grimy water! He looked at himself, dripping onto the path, noticed the less than savoury patches of slime on his jacket and shirt. He looked at his watch (running late now) and then at Zeus. He’ll make it, he’ll be fine, he thought and turned and jogged away to avoid any more mishaps.
Behind him he could hear Zeus calling, ‘Poseidon, I still need you, we have work to do.’
Adrian found the new office. Inside, the receptionist took one look at Adrian, ‘has there been an accident?’ He was nervously turning a pen in his fingers. The receptionist was incredibly well manicured. ‘I’m so sorry, can I help?’ His face read, get this grimy, smell away from dripping on my plush carpet.
In his mind, Adrian named him Virgil for some reason, as he explained his own appearance, ‘The funny thing is that he was incredibly tall and muscular; he had the right beard and a prominent nose.’
Virgil gave one of those short hysterical laughs that spell, it’s time to move on. Without any hint of empathy, he continued, ‘Well, so do you. One of our cleaners went to school with the tramp. Apparently, he was always a bit on the edge, thought he was Julius Caesar last year.’
Next day, as he disembarked from the train, Adrian wondered if he would see Zeus again. On leaving the station, he felt somewhere between apprehension and intrigue. As he joined the road outside, his mental juggling came down on the side of a straightforward day, avoiding any grime.
‘Poseidon, it’s you! I saw you from above!’ said Zeus in that operatic hollering. A lady nearby turned her head. Zeus placed an arm around Adrian’s shoulders and led him back from the pavement to a side-street, over-shadowed by a large glass-fronted building. Adrian felt the urge to run but didn’t. ‘I need your help, Poseidon. As king of all Gods, I need you.’
Zeus led Adrian to a backdoor lobby, recessed from the road, where he had established a filthy outdoor bedroom. A dirty orange sleeping bag was unrolled on top of piles of wonky newspapers and old clothing that looked singed. More filth, thought Adrian.
‘There is a major catastrophe in the sky. The humans have sent so many clouds of noxious air into my Kingdom that a giant hole has opened to the outer darkness of Hades. I seek redemption for my flood and protection of my own Kingdom.’ By now Zeus was clutching his hand with his fist as if they were arm-wrestling or making a pact. ‘If I can fly close enough, I can send a lightning bolt into the hole to block it with a mighty aurora from my thunderbolt. But, Poseidon, I will need protection from being so close to Hades. I need silver foil to wrap myself. Lots of it.’
Adrian was now really regretting being led astray but his hand was locked. ‘I need silver foil protection. I’ve seen your office bring out huge boxes. Please, Poseidon, please! Bring me a box or two to this, my sleeping quarters, so that I can save my sky.’
All day Adrian found his mind drifting back to Zeus. The man certainly had the stature of a God and his brow and nose reminded Adrian of a statue he had once seen in a museum. Poor homeless man, thought Adrian. He had read how the great majority of those sleeping rough had mental health problems. He felt a huge wave of sympathy and then gratitude for his own comfortable life. Then remembered that he had given his word. What if he broke that? Zeus would feel let down by yet another passer-by. Devastated even. Zeus had seemed so trusting and sincere. He might throw himself back in the water and drown this time and that would be Adrian’s fault. What difference was it to Adrian to supply what Zeus wanted so badly?
He would probably use it to insulate himself at night to protect himself from the penetrating cold of the sidewalk below. Perhaps this was what he really wanted anyway?
Adrian went downstairs and checked that Virgil had left the building. He took the lift to the third-floor canteen area and wandering over to the recycling centre. There were two huge upright boxes of silver foil right by the door. Suddenly the door opened, and the security guard stood there.
‘I’m just finishing the day with a good deed. Taking these outside,’ said Adrian.
Adrian dragged the boxes along the pavement from the office. They were light but the noise sounded like he was being accompanied by thousands of sleigh bells. He moved quickly away from the office. The boxes kept catching on the pavement, threatening to tip, but he discovered that the best method was to keep up momentum until he finally arrived at the meeting point with huge relief.
The old newspapers appeared strewn, spreading out from Zeus’s bedroom towards the road edge where they were turning to papier-Mache. The orange sleeping bag was unzipped and Adrian could see the inside lining had red patches – blood? And then he noticed a rectangle of cardboard, rather like a hitchhiker’s sign to attract a lift. On it, in a skewed scrawl was written ‘Poseidon’ in large lettering with some smaller text below. Adrian picked it up and read, ‘My dear brother, I have been assaulted last night by emissaries of Cronos and my mission is imperilled. I have been rescued by the physicians in their chariot and taken to an infirmary. One of them has promised to leave this message for you to read. Please do not surrender, I have the strength of six oxen, and I will return at any moment.’
Adrian felt a wave of repulsion. He had read stories in the media about gangs beating up homeless people. How could anyone do this to a fellow human? He would wait for Zeus for a while. Then he felt a wave of stupidity. How had he managed to follow Zeus here? He looked ridiculous standing there with the two huge boxes of foil. He looked around and noticed a couple of people and an overhead camera. He thought about the area as a potential crime scene, dumped the boxes in Zeus’s bedroom and briskly walked on.
Next day, when Adrian awoke, his bedroom seemed brighter than usual. He opened the curtains to a brilliant sunrise. No, this wasn’t coming from the east: a brilliant aurora was centred in the north sky. Still groggy, Adrian thought of the northern lights and how he was seeing one of nature’s great spectacles, far further south than usual. But then, as he continued to awaken, he noticed an intensity unmatched from any photograph he had seen and remembered that this was early morning and not even the right time of year for The Lights. And then a lightning bolt cracked, right in the centre of the aurora, spilt like a web and deepened the colours. And then another. And then another.
Paul Green is a career nature conservationist, naturalist and environmental manager, working in NW England, UK. He is inspired by the relationship between people and the natural environment. He has published papers and reports on biodiversity topics and poetry, most recently in The Curlew and Tears in the Fence.