The food gods were called Juan and Kimberly Rodriguez. They were benevolent gods. At least Osa thought so. Osa was a mutt —a mid-sized dog, with a face like a lab and the brown and black coloring of a German shepherd. Her large feet suggested that she still had some growing to do. She had only been in the house of the gods a day and was still learning the way of things.
There were other animals in the house of the gods. Two guinea pigs called Ginger and Nutmeg, a scarlet macaw named Tango, and a tabby cat named Dutchess.
Tango explained that he was the prophet of the gods—the only animal who could speak to them in their own tongue. He relayed their messages to the other animals.
Tango told Osa all kinds of things that first day. He explained that the guinea pigs were in charge of the sacred food chants. Whenever they sang, the gods would rain vegetables upon them.
Osa liked looking at the guinea pigs; they were cute and fluffy, fat and juicy. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to lick them affectionately or eat them.
Tango explained that eating the guinea pigs would be a sin. He went on to warn her about several other sins, including overturning the sacred kitchen bin and eating from the gods’ table. Osa thought all of it sounded difficult but agreed to try her best.
The parrot then warned her very sternly never to listen to the cat. The cat was an atheist. She did not believe that Juan and Kimberly were gods. Sometimes she acted as if they existed to serve her. She committed all kinds of sins and somehow got away with it. She would even sin in the presence of the gods, looking them right in the eyes as she knocked their water glasses off the table.
Osa found all of this difficult to process. If the gods didn’t want her to turn over the sacred kitchen bin, then why did they fill it with wonderful things? Why was the cat immune to their wrath?
That very day, Osa committed dozens of transgressions. She ate a slipper, snatched a cookie from the countertop, and even overturned the forbidden bin. The god Juan caught her in the act and made her do penance in the kennel. Luckily, Juan and Kimberly were merciful and soon she was set free and allowed to sit between them as they stared into the sacred light box that evening.
Their mercy only made her love them more.
The next day was paradise. They threw sticks for her in the yard, gave her treats, and scratched the sweet spot at the base of her tail. She became their shadow, following them all through the house. She didn’t want to let them out of her sight for a minute.
Then the following day, something horrible happened. She was eating
her kibbles when she heard the door slam. Her head shot up. She looked all around the kitchen. Then galloped to the front door. She listened to Juan and Kimberly’s footsteps moving away down the walk. Her heart pounded. The gods were gone.
She let out a long and mournful howl, ate the nearest shoe, then galloped around the house in circles crying, “the gods are gone! The gods are gone! They’ve abandoned us!”
She was so anxious that she knocked over the sacred bin and ate everything inside. When she was finished, she sat in the carnage, howling: “the gods are gone!”
“Who cares?” came the voice of the cat. She was lying on her side next to her empty food dish. “They don’t care about us, why should we care about them?”
“They do care! They do!” Osa protested. “They are good gods!”
“No,” Dutchess replied. “If they were good, they would have fed me this morning. They did not.”
“Yes they did,” Osa countered. “I remember because I tried to share with you, and you scratched me.”
“Lies,” the cat answered. “I am too frail for such violence. Do you see how my ribs protrude from my withering body? They do not feed me. They never have. If they don’t come back, I won’t care. I can do just fine without their warm laps and soft caresses.” She let out a long, despondent sigh. “I’m better off alone.”
The dog was horrified. She needed advice. She galloped out of the kitchen and found the guinea pigs in their cage in the den.
“Fluffs! Fluffs!” The dog pleaded. “The gods have left, and the cat says
they’re never coming back! She says we are going to starve.”
A pink nose protruded from a wooden house in the corner. Then Ginger appeared followed by Nutmeg.
“Let us see if our sacred food chant brings them back,” Nutmeg suggested.
The guinea pigs both placed their forepaws on their food dish and lifted their heads in song. But no matter how they wheeked, the gods did not appear, and food was not added to their bowl.
“Well,” Ginger said after a moment. “The cat’s right. We are all going to starve.”
Osa went into a fit. She tore a corner of the rug to pieces and then ate a throw pillow. What did it matter if she sinned against the gods? All was lost!
Then, she remembered the parrot. He alone could understand their speech, maybe he knew something the others didn’t.
Tango stood on his perch in the dining room, looking suspiciously into the magic portal. The magic portal was an oval shaped window that dangled on the wall right next to his branch. It was framed by a cheap yellow piece of plastic. Strings, beads, and jingle bells dangled from the frame. Another bird looked out of the magic portal at Tango. The other bird was identical. He mimicked Tango’s every move. Tango turned his head sideways and regarded the duplicate with one suspicious eye.
Osa barreled into the room accidentally overshooting the perch. She stopped running all at once and skidded several paces across the wood floor.
“Tango!” the dog exclaimed.
“Have I warned you about this infidel yet?” the parrot interrupted; his
eye still set upon the bird in the magic portal.
“Tango, the gods–”
“He may look like me,” Tango interrupted. “He may speak like me, but he is a false prophet. He is full of lies and deception.”
Osa did not hesitate. She leapt up, grabbed the magic portal in her teeth and ripped it from the wall. It fell to the ground, shiny side down, and the false prophet was gone.
Tango stumbled backward in alarm, his wings extended.
“You have killed the false prophet!” Tango exclaimed. “I knew the gods brought you here for a reason!”
“But Tango, the gods are gone! The cat said they are never coming back!”
“I told you not to listen to the cat,” the bird replied. “Yes, the gods are gone, but they will return.”
“How do you know!” Osa whined.
“Because the god Kimberly gave me this message before departing.” The parrot fluffed his head up as he translated Kimberly’s words from English to Doggish. “Bye-bye, Tango. Gotta go to work.”
“What does it mean?” Osa asked.
“Work is the realm of the gods,” Tango explained. “They ascend to Work five days each week, leaving after breakfast and returning before dinner. Then for two days, they stay home. Five and two and five and two, the pattern repeats.”
“Why?” Osa asked.
“The gods’ ways are mysterious,” Tango answered.
Osa didn’t feel like that was an answer at all. Then she realized to her horror that the gods would come back and see all the sins she had committed. What would happen then? Would they want her to stay? Would they smite her? Would they send her back to Shelter? She did not want to go back to Shelter. Shelter was loud, cold, and lonely.
Maybe, if she begged their forgiveness, they would be merciful to her again. After all, despite what the cat said, they seemed like good gods.
When they returned, she was standing among the wreckage in the kitchen looking up at them with sorrowful brown eyes. She tried to wag her tail, but she could see they were upset, and her tail could only make one half-hearted thump. She spent some time doing penance in the kennel while they put things back in order. Then, to her delight, they released her.
They rubbed her ears and said nice things. She didn’t understand them, but their voices made her feel warm and happy. They let her sit between them while they stared into the sacred light box that evening.
She heard them talking to each other and wondered what they were saying. As if reading her mind, Tango flew down onto the back of the couch and said: “You have found favor with the gods. They are rewarding you for killing the false prophet by sending you to a place called Obedience School.”
Osa wagged her tail happily. She didn’t care what the cat said. She liked these gods and wanted them to stay.