Writer - Caleb Echterling
A black skeleton key tapped Percy’s sleeping forehead. He mumbled something from the Wookiees’ native tongue, and rolled over. The key smacked him across the face. Percy howled and grabbed the mahogany welt sprouting on his temple. A statue of a man with marble skin and a lumberjack beard sat on the edge of his bed.
“Who the hell are you?” Percy said.
“I am Hades, son of Cronus. Ruler of the Underworld.”
“Oh my god, am I dead?”
Hades slipped the key into the folds of his toga. “Thank you for the proper address, although it’s not necessary since I am not your god. No, you are not dead. I am here to return a favor from last night.”
Percy rubbed his throbbing head. “Holy crap, how many tequila shots did I have?”
“You have me confused with an omniscient god. I am not one of those. Now if you could please stay on topic, I have a very busy schedule. Do you remember stopping a bar fight?”
Fuzzy fragments congealed into something approximating a memory. Several angry bikers. A dude who looked like the gentleman on his bed, except three feet shorter and dressed like an investment banker. A tequila-fueled intervention to diffuse the situation. Percy shot up in bed.
“Those guys were going to beat the piss out of you. I saved your life.”
“Aha.” Hades rubbed his chin. “I am the immortal god of the underworld, so you actually saved the other fellows’ lives. But you did save my cover. Mauling those punks would have made future aboveground babe-cruising difficult. For that, you deserve a small favor. I will tell you this unequivocally: you will die with pants on.”
Percy squinted. “Huh. What else can you tell me about how I die?”
“Nothing. Your past service does not require repayment with any additional information.”
Percy’s head crashed into his pillow. “So you’re saying I’m invincible if I’m not wearing pants? I’m Superman, and pants are my kryptonite?”
“Pants or no pants, you are by no means invincible.”
“I’m immortal as long as I don’t wear pants?”
“You will die, no question about that. And when it happens, you will be wearing pants.”
Percy’s hands snaked beneath the covers. “Does underwear count?”
“Yes, underpants are merely a genus of the pants family.”
A crumpled ball of two-day-old boxer shorts arced across the room to add the cherry atop a sundae of soiled clothes. “I’ve got to be naked from the waist to mid-calves now?”
Hades stood up and morphed into a mongrel dog. “What am I? Your life coach? Figure it out yourself.”
Percy tightened his magenta bow tie into a tight knot. Thirty hours glued to YouTube and a mirror well-spent, he thought. He buckled the matching cummerbund. White tux-tails flapped behind him. A hairstyle that looked like it was designed by Frank Gehry poked through the door. “Are you almost ready? We’re supposed to be at the church in … ahhhh! Why aren’t you wearing pants? The pastor was very clear. No pants, no wedding.”
“You know what Hades said. If I wear pants I die.”
The architectural marvel stomped across the wood floor and wagged a finger in Percy’s face. “If you want to fit into civilized society, you have to wear pants sometimes. I agreed to spend our honeymoon at that nudist resort, so you are damn well going to wear pants at our wedding.”
“You’re putting my life in danger.”
Tears rolled down cheeks and pulled mascara trails behind them. “Percy McPolyp, we are through!” A white veil trimmed with Queen Anne’s Lace smacked Percy in the chest.
“From all of us at the Action 6 News team, good night and have bountiful weekend.” Percy held his rigid smile until the producer’s fingers counted down to zero. Percy stood up and clapped the soft tap of a bored sophomore at the end-of-the-year awards assembly. His extended arm went in search of handshakes.
“Sonofabitch,” the meteorologist said. “If this station keeps letting him deliver the news half nude, I’m suing the pants off you people for a hostile work environment.”
“I’ll save you the trouble,” Percy said. “My pants are already off. And they’re staying off. No way am I volunteering to die because of your puritan sensibilities.”
The meteorologist chucked her clicker at Percy’s swinging wang. “Don’t make me go puritan sensibilities on your naked ass.”
The producer wrapped his arms around Percy’s shoulders and bundled him into an empty office. “Listen, Percy. We’ve been more than accommodating about your … odd predilection.” The producer stared at the ceiling. “But it’s starting to cause problems.”
“The thing with Cindy? Find a new meteorologist. They’re a dime a dozen.”
“It’s not just her. I’m getting complaints from most of the crew. And the office staff. And the custodians.” Percy started to cut in. The producer waved him off. “But beyond that, it’s a real hardship when the station can’t send you out on community relations gigs. We’re the flagship sponsor of the Flag Day Flag Raising. And you can’t cover it because your dick’s flapping around like a … flag. No, a windsock. Definitely a windsock.”
“What about my reassuring baritone? My boyish yet dignified good looks? Don’t those count for anything?”
The producer sighed. “I’m sorry, Percy. Either wear pants, or we have to let you go.”
“Sir, the rules are very clear on this point. If you want to eat at the soup kitchen, you have to wear pants.”
“Why can’t you get this through your thick skull? If I wear pants, I’ll die.”
“And if I let you inside without pants, the city will shut us down. The health code is very strict about this sort of thing. If you don’t have your own pants, you can wear some from the donation box.”
A pair of midnight blue Wrangler jeans dangled before Percy’s nose. He snatched the trousers with both hands and crammed the waistline over his head. “See? I’m wearing pants. Now can I eat? I’m starving.”
An anvil the size of a commercial freezer tumbled from a second story window. The iron beast transferred its downward force onto Percy’s head, his shoulders, then the rest of his body in sequence, mimicking the lyrics to the popular song “Dem Dry Bones”. The anvil, aside from a few scratches and one large red stain that used to be Percy, looked none the worse for wear. “Dammit,” an upstairs voice bellowed, “I told you we shouldn’t put the blacksmith on the second floor.”
Caleb Echterling is performing in a one-person show that combines self-help strategies with insult comedy. He tweets funny fiction using the highly inventive handle @CalebEchterling. You can find more of his work at www.calebechterling.com.