Hercules was playing poker with Zeus and Jupiter. Still. The only thing that changed was the type of poker. Dealer could call the game. Hercules swore that Jupiter and Zeus were making up a lot of their choices. But it didn’t matter. Hercules was still winning, having never revealed a bluff or a good hand – any hand, when the two gods folded (they often tended to act as a pair). Never brag to a god!
He didn’t think it was possible to tire of winning. No, it was the playing that grew weary. Surely, it was time to quit. “Can we please quit playing?” begged Hercules.
“We’ve only been playing for about an eon,” Jupiter snapped.
“That’s hardly a blink in time,” echoed Zeus.
But Hercules was half human. Time was different for him.
“When we figure out how you’re cheating us,” snapped Jupiter.
“You’ll pay for the way you have played,” said Zeus, finishing his sentence.
For just a fraction of a second, it occurred to Hercules that he could extricate himself from this game, if only he could bring himself to…
“Lose – never!” shouted Hercules.
That got him another eon. He’d won so many chips of fate that he needed a separate cloud just to store them. Cumulonimbus. Even if he decided to start losing, it would take a long time to unload that lot. There seemed to be no way out. He twisted quickly in his chair, shuddering at the thought.
“Ouch!” Hercules cried, somewhat to his surprise. His back hurt. A lot.
“Quit crying and deal the cards,” thundered Jupiter.
“No babies allowed,” cracked Zeus, feeling just a little irked that Jupiter hadn’t cracked so that he could thunder (that’s the way lightning works).
Over the next few hundred years the pain in Hercules back got worse and worse. His arm went numb. He couldn’t deal.
“I’m not faking, I am half human. You both should know that.”
Jupiter and Zeus literally put their heads together. “All right,” they said in Unison. “We’ll take a break so that you can visit Earth and see a chiropractor. After you’re healed, it’s straight back here and to the card table. We’re not through with you.” Then their heads separated.
Hercules got up and tried to slyly wander toward his winnings.
“Nope, absolutely not,” Jupiter said.
“You can’t take any of your winnings, not a single chip,” said Zeus. “Not until we’re done playing.” Hercules knew that could be nearly forever.
But Hercules already had a chip of Fate hidden in his drawers, placed there centuries ago for just this type of occasion.
Within what seemed, relatively speaking, like the blink of an eye, Hercules was face down on a chiropractor’s table wearing only a well placed towel.
“I can feel where the pain is centered,” she said with the voice of an angel. She moved her hands expertly along the bones and muscles of his low back.
“I don’t want you to crack my back,” Hercules protested.
“We stopped doing that centuries ago.” She had some sort of metallic wand. Hercules had no idea what it did – he hadn’t had time to keep up on the affairs of humans.
“I see the problem,” she said. “Too much time.” There was a bright flash of light, then a surge of ticklish energy in his back. The pain was gone. Hercules sat up on the table, amazed. The towel slid to the floor. The chiropractor didn’t even seem to notice.
“I’ve removed all that excess time,” she explained. “Your back was constipated with time.” Hercules wasn’t in love with the metaphor, but did feel much relieved.
“How much do I owe you?”
“You’ve already paid,” she replied, showing him the blue chip of fate that he brought with him to Earth. How did she… What did she…
“How did you do it?” asked Hercules, as he put on human clothing. He wasn’t quite sure what he was asking. The chiropractor gave Hercules a moment to fasten his pants before answering. The clothes were a perfect fit.
“I changed your fate by removing the weight that had settled into your back. That’s all I know. The machine does the rest.” She paused. “Technology… By the gods, we don’t know how it works ourselves anymore.” She left the room.
Hercules wondered if he wanted to return to the card game or make a break for it, hideout on Earth. Then he realized the decision had already been made for him. He could feel it in his body: 100% human – the god in him extracted with time. What a chiropractic twist of fate, no going back now.
He didn’t miss the tedium of those forgotten gods, but he did miss the idea of immortality (sometimes the abstract notion is better than the reality). Now his greatest quest lay before him: to live a good and meaningful life. No doubt, the dead god in him felt he would fail.