Eponym's Pub
Bob

Rusalka Local 322

TabsFeet

I had a job to do and you made a mess of that. Not only do my job descriptions change without notice every two or three hundred years, but at least once a decade some dumb ass comes into this forest with a list of expectations drafted in the Dark Ages. And now you're tied to a tree waiting for me to perform some ludicrous version of one of your childhood fantasies. That's it, right?

I've got some bad news for you buddy, you're going to be here a while. I've got an afternoon meeting and these things ALWAYS go long.

****

All dues paying Rusalki are to meet at the nearest Walmart parking lot at noon on the last day of each lunar cycle. They are expected to dress appropriately, head to toe. Toward the end of the first quarter, 21st Century, Current era, 'appropriately' is defined as 'business casual barefoot'. They didn't understand it, but apparently it was a thing.

Tabitha staggered across the parking lot with an oversized bankers box. The card table was already set up against the far light post, and the dozen folding chairs borrowed from the Labor Day Saints were opened and arranged in an arc. She aimed for the center and caught her foot on a chair leg. One bounce landed her upright, box top still on top. The monthly news letters, forms, and advertisements for the local Subway were neatly ordered and stacked before she noticed that Rusalki was apparently Rusalka. She wasn't early, she wasn't late, she was nearly on time. This is ridiculous! I've got an obnoxious man tied to a swamp tree and I'm standing barefoot on hot pavement in a Talbot's sheath I can't even ZIP PROPERLY! 

She crouched in the grass under the light post and chewed her nails. The closest Starbucks was across a four lane section of Route 7 on the wrong side of the Wilton border. They wouldn't dare. They were unabashedly addicted to the combination of caffeine, sugar, and fat, but the tar in the parking lot was starting to bubble. She decided to wait it out. Tabitha leaned against the light post, closed her eyes, and dreamed of Yelena on the Russian Steppes.  

Screeching tires accompanied by a chorus of automobile horns ripped her from the grasslands. She used both hands to shade her eyes and immediately wished she hadn't. Four lanes of midday traffic had been converted into a four lane parking lot with a crosswalk. It's not easy traversing hot pavement in a pair of Venti cups full of ice. If they'd released the 31 ounce Trenta on time, it might have been a little easier. Tabitha thought, gods, we look like a demented coven. She got up from the grass and stretched, ripping out the back of her dress in the process, and briefly wondered if undergarments were discussed in the current guide. Something to check on, certainly. 

Annual reviews begin halfway through the seventh lunar month. Goals and objectives are expected to be tabulated, scored, and submitted no later than the third week of the eighth month. They thought it was a lengthy process, but not nearly so tedious as the century they hosted the Rusalka from Human Resources. Nobody wanted to discuss the reviews; it hadn't been a good year for any of them.

One of them had some gossip about a frog prince in the vicinity. Grateful for the breeze, they leaned back, slurped foamy ice, and closed their eyes. There could have been a dozen frog princes across the parking lot and not one of them would have noticed. The breeze upped the ante and blew Tabitha's meticulously collated bits of paper under the windshield wipers of every car in the parking lot. Score one for the current year. Maybe I won't get that demotion to Swamp Turtle after all. 

Nothing was accomplished until the sun went down. They'd promised the Labor Day Saints that the chairs and table would be discretely returned before before dawn, and the last thing they wanted was a pissed off Labor Day Saint. 

****

Who called this meeting? 

....

OK, come on. It's my turn to ask the question, but one of you has been assigned this month.

Cough.

....

I did.

And for what purpose did you call us from the sanctity of the forest?

You do know we sound like a demented coven, right?

Not relevant. If you'd like to suggest a change, please submit the appropriate forms before the next meeting.

Fine. I called this meeting to distribute and explain the self-evaluation forms. 

Is that it?

I don't know. I submitted my change request two months ago and haven't heard back.

Oh! I've got it right here. Sorry.

...pause...

Right. OK, we're also here to discuss our job descriptions. 

So you'll be leading this meeting?

Yes.

And you'll be responsible for the results of this meeting, good, bad, or indifferent, as well as the behavior of any unduly upset Rusalka?

....

Tabitha! This is NOT new!

Look. I don't want to be responsible for the behavior of any unduly upset Rusalka. I don't think this is reasonable. We've been around way too long for indiscrete outbursts, and I should think by now we could all exercise a little self-control.

Show of hands. Do you agree that we no longer need to lean on the crutch of the get out of jail free card? You have to admit, Tabitha's got a point. Using the indiscrete outburst card as an excuse to behave badly at the risk of the entire Rusalki community is a wee bit immature, don't you think? And I doubt very much that  anyone in this arc is less than two or three centuries old. 

....

Come on! Vote, dammit! We haven't got all night.

One by one, with furtive glances at adjacent neighbors, thirteen hands went up. Tabitha relinquished her seat and stood at the top of the arc. 

****

The primary beef wasn't about the change in job descriptions; it was about communication. The God running Human Resources was responsible for tracking and reporting on the evolving human belief system, which dictated myth and expectation on a global level. While there were subtle nuances from region to region, current beliefs almost always fell under the same umbrella of need. The God of Human Resources delivered updates at the end of the solar year and presented a full report at the end of each century. If the God of Operations didn't bother reading the annual updates, the delivery of the full report might be cause for some discomfort.

All Gods assigned to Corporate posts reported directly to the Chief Turtle. It was a flat hierarchy and when the Chief Turtle got tired, any acceptable margin for error shrunk to just about nothing. The Industrial Revolution turned them on their heads. If anyone other than HR had been paying attention, small changes could have been implemented decade by decade. The end of century uproar could have been mitigated, and the Chief Turtle might not have turned over his entire staff. 

The God of Human Resources delivered her annual report at the tail end of the 20th century. Given the season, the Chief Turtle got a good deal on the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin. He'd been keeping an eye on the dolphin in that ridiculous fountain and intended to set it free. However, liberating a twenty-eight ton lump of petulant cement was going to require more resources than the Assembly of Gods had available. This made him anxious, which is why he accidentally ate the keynote speaker. With no keynote speaker to set the tone, the HR God walked onto a cold stage. This made her anxious, which caused her to abandon the first five pages of fluff and jump right to the punchline. 

Alright. Assembly! Focus up! Apparently none of you have been reading my updates, which is going to make this conversation difficult. I'm sure we'll all get through it, but we're in for a tough ride. FOCUS UP! I SAID, FOCUS UP, DAMMIT! Thank you.

Some of you are probably aware of this thing called The Industrial Revolution. I can tell by the number of you looking at your palm pilots, that you've been partaking of a few perks lately. Have any of you wondered where all this stuff came from? I didn't think so.

All this STUFF you're playing with comes with a price. Change begets change, which eventually lands in our laps. The upcoming changes will be epic; and because SOMEBODY failed to sign for the telegram sent by the Collective Consciousness, we've got quite a bit of catching up to do in less time than you think. The required changes are probably going to need more patch updates than you're used to. Job Descriptions for mythical creatures will be rewritten this week and distributed no later than the first week of the upcoming century.

Any questions, so far?

....

There are more than 5,000 of you lurking out there. Surely somebody's got a question.

....

Cowards. Please turn to page 894, Section C in your manuals. We will begin review immediately.

****

There was a time when mythical creatures drove humanity, but in order to better serve the customer, the Chief Turtle implemented a new operating model in which description and behavior were driven by human need and desire. He thought this might increase chances for survival, the earth's, specifically, but the results were dubious. 

The Rusalki were livid. In the last six centuries alone, they'd suffered more than a dozen job alterations with very little explanation, and an impossible task list. In almost every case, by the time they received their orders, humanity had turned its fickle head in the opposite direction. More than half of them had been demoted for poor performance, and their cousins, the Sirens, were near extinction. They believed they'd started out as fertility helpers, reporting directly to Ishtar, but no one kept records when Ishtar was running the baby factory. She had human women pumping them out faster than they could be counted. 

It didn't matter, though. During one of the more violent phases in human evolution, they were reassigned to the Russian Bear God, who thought it might be useful to distribute them sparsely throughout the Slavic forests. He made up a story about Rusalki being the spirits of vengeful young women who lost their lives violently at the hands of ill-mannered, badly raised youth. He thought it might be a good incentive to focus more on farming and less on raping and pillaging. 

The story backfired, sending thousands of boys and men into the forests which resulted in several of the worst consecutive centuries in their history. They petitioned to have the myth altered but found themselves with the task of infant replacement. They couldn't produce Changlings fast enough to keep up with the booming adoption business. The year nobody got a bonus was also the year seventy-five of them were demoted to Swamp Turtle. 

A Rusalka can withstand a great deal of long term irritation. A great deal is not the same as infinite and in the middle of the seventeenth century, the first union, Rusalka Local 322 was voted into existence. They'd just come off a century of wet nurse duty and were headed back to the forest with no further explanation. 

****

Tabitha sat with her sisters at the back of the Disney Cavern and watched the Chief Turtle deal with his staff. They were sitting nearest the door because Odin was rumored to be on the tree, upside down, full of holes, and playing possum. This put Thor in the untenable position of having to defend Odin's actions. One of Odin's actions had been to hide Thor's hammer and send his goats to Yelena's forest. Thor spent a good part of the last century recovering his hammer. He wasn't having much luck with Yelena, but she had managed to eat up his entire focus.

Thor had absolutely no idea what the hell Odin did, and Odin knew it. Hanging himself upside down from the World Tree, all poked full of holes, and playing possum seemed like a good idea at the time. Normally he wouldn't have been so miffed with Thor, but his humans were getting soft, and he appeared to be fresh out of warriors. Also, he didn't want to face the Chief Turtle just yet. He had the distinct impression that the Chief Turtle was going to swap the succubi gender again, and he just wasn't interested. 

The Chief Turtle didn't ask to see Thor; he asked to see the Gods of Operations and Human Resources. This was a first; Ops and HR always go last. They count least. He also asked to see Kali. Five thousand minor and major Gods stopped breathing. 

Kali was looking good. When she stopped waving her arms around and retracted her tongue, she looked almost reasonable. It looked like she had a fresh tiger, too. Maybe she had a good century; that was the sort of thing that would settle just about anybody.

The Chief Turtle was already uncomfortable with a tiger on the premises. There was a rumor about a naked Loki riding a tiger in the dolphin fountain during the traditional Monday Night Debacle at the Piano Bar. Five or six children went missing between midnight and dawn. The paperwork and fees alone were reason enough to consider shutting Loki up in a closet for the next several hundred years. Having to seat Kali's Tiger at the podium was giving him a migraine.

When the Chief Turtle had a migraine, everybody had a migraine.

****

They never saw Kali. Taking on what really needed to be two separate positions, didn't leave her much time for niceties. She issued memos, sent messengers, and received no one. The most recent memo was titled Patch 3.04996 - The Rusalki Dress Code. It arrived with thirteen Talbots gift cards inscribed with the words: Business Casual Barefoot. They consulted the original document and all attached patches. There was nothing about job description or expectations in any of the documentation. Carrying on with the last job description made no sense. Traditional 18th Century Rusalki, while generally not lethal, could be found naked and helpless just off any forest path of their choosing. Their objective was to lure men into the woods, walk them in circles, and then abandon them in the middle of the nearest swamp. No one was ever clear about they why of it, but at least the instructions could be followed. Also, the dress code couldn't have been any simpler.

Now this. Barefoot in a Walmart parking lot in a dress meant to be worn standing. Perfectly still. While holding one's breath without any job description at all.

****

Rusalki.

Yes, Tabitha?

Rusalki, who determines our purpose in life?

The Chief Turtle does, Tabitha.

No, Rusalki, I don't think that's right. I think the Chief Turtle is a bureaucrat. I don't think he makes decisions at all; at least not like this. I think he makes sure the clock keeps ticking and the world doesn't fall off his back.

Then who determines our purpose, Tabitha? It can't be us. The myth never defines the myth.

Rusalki, that is very true. We do not have the luxury, or the burden of defining and measuring purpose, but I know who does.

Tabitha. Get to the point!

OK. Humans do. Humans decide who we are and how we behave. 

....

Go ahead, show me how I'm wrong. I'm waiting.

Tabitha, assuming you're right, and we're assuming no such thing, how do you know which human to ask?

Ha! I knew you'd get there eventually! Unless he's escaped, which I very much doubt, I have a man tied to a tree in the forest. I had to leave him there in order to arrive on time, not that it mattered, but before I left he had some things to say.

You left a man tied to a tree in the 21st Century? Are you mad, woman?! Have you missed EVERY discussion we've had on consent culture?

Oh, no, I missed none of that. It's what had me confused, actually. You see, this dude was pretty clear about his expectations. I accused him of Neanderthal behavior but I might have been a little off base. I think he knows exactly what we're supposed to do. 

What if we don't like it?

Heh. That's easy. We get him to talk, write it ALL DOWN, and then we eat him. Afterward, we make whatever edits are necessary and send it off to Kali.

Is Kali going to buy this?

Kali's going to be in the purgatory of her first ninety days for the rest of the century, Hon. Kali's not going to question much of anything.

 

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