short story by: Ava Reiss
Erma’s Greek mythology book sat open to a page about the goddess Iris. It’d been unread for the last hour or so, despite an upcoming exam. Instead, she clutched her phone tightly, sitting in the toll booth she operated. There had been a lot on her mind the last couple of months. Finally, during that quiet night with little distractions, she couldn’t hold it in anymore.
“The Text” was sent. Erma had just come out to her best friend. There was no going back. Even if Erma recalled the message, it’d show. Shirise would undoubtedly ask about it later. More importantly, if Erma didn’t say those words, she’d implode.
She counted the minutes passing. Shirise should be wrapping up a study session. They kept tabs on each other, both being freshman at college. They went as far back as middle school.
Erma read “The Text” for the hundredth time. “Shirise. There’s a secret about me I’ve wanted to share with just you. I was born with male and female parts. My parents wanted me to have a normal life, and they opted for the safest surgery. However, recently I’ve been wondering if they’d make a mistake. Or maybe I am the way I’m supposed to be, but I… I think I’m in love with you.”
They’d talked about boys before, and skirted around girls. Shirise gave indications she might be fluid. Erma never worked up the nerve to ask.
A horn honked and Erma jumped. She quickly took the driver’s ticket and money. She counted change and raised the barrier. “Have a good night,” she spoke in a trembling voice. The woman ignored her and drove away. Too wrapped up in nerves, Erma didn’t mind the rudeness. She turned back to her phone and her heart skipped a beat. Ellipsis showed Shirise typing.
“Oh my God, oh my God!” she muttered under her breath. Cold fingers lifted her mug, and Erma sipped lukewarm coffee.
The phone sounded and Erma splashed coffee onto her sleeve in a rush to read the response. “I feel so honored you’d share this with me! Erma, you know I love you, but I’ve never thought of you that way. If you wanna talk more, I’m here.”
A pit formed in Erma’s stomach. She felt humiliated. Shirise didn’t feel the same.
Another car came through the toll. Glum, Erma did her job. It was her turn to ignore the driver as they wished her a good night. As tail lights disappeared, tightness in her gut eased. Tears threatening receded, as Erma reread the message. “At least Shirise understands,” she grinned. It was better than nothing.
“Thank you,” Erma replied. Shirise winked with an emoji.
Though disappointed, Erma started to type a longer note of appreciation. She didn’t want to lose Shirise, even if her hopes were dashed. As the ellipsis reappeared, she paused. Erma grew sick, “Did she change her mind? Does she never want to see me again?”
Shirise next words made Erma dizzy. “I don’t think my earlier text came across correctly. I’ve never thought of you romantically before, but I think I might be okay with exploring new emotions with you. Can we talk more?”
Erma quickly deleted her previous composition. “Yes!”
The rest of the night dragged on. Erma couldn’t wait for her shift to end. Shirise didn’t text back anymore, but she was a night owl. Erma knew she’d be up studying for many more hours. They lived down the hall from one another and visited often. Erma smiled to herself, wondering if she should pick up a pineapple pizza, Shirise’s favorite. “She’ll be hungry.” Erma always picked the fruit off her half and gave it to her friend. She called ahead and ordered for pick up.
Finally, quitting time came around. Barry, her replacement, ran a few minutes late. Erma brushed off his apology and hurried to her car. “What if mom and dad waited? What if I’m a guy now?” she wondered. “Would I even have been friends with Shirise? Would it be easier for her to like me that way?” Erma’s hands quivered as she picked up the pizza. She parked in the distant student lot and trekked her way back to campus.
A dance of blue and red lights sat on the street running beside their dorm. Erma normally didn’t pay any mind to police cars. There was a speed trap on the road. That night, there were more lights than usual. Erma frowned. There was an ambulance too. Not wishing for an unfortunate circumstance to spoil her mood, she took the long way around.
Sitting on their stoop, a sobbing girl sputtered to an officer. Erma recognized Hari, a girl from their floor. Erma started to turn, heading to another door. She was still in high spirits. Whatever happened, she could deal with it tomorrow.
From the corner of her eye, a familiar key chain caught her attention. Hari had two book bags. One covered in blood. The pizza hit the concrete. “Th- that’s Shirise’s backpack,” Erma stumbled forward.
“Erma!” Hari stood and the two locked arms. Hari’s nails dug into Erma’s skin. “I was holding the door open for her! The car didn’t have its lights on!”
“Where’s Shirise?” Erma’s throat tightened. Hari peered past her, towards the ambulance. Gulping, Erma spun on her heel. Vertigo threatened. “They’re taking her to the hospital, right?”
The cop was speaking. Erma felt her knees give out. She sank into the grass. “… She didn’t make it,” was all she heard.
“If I didn’t stop for pizza… I could’ve been here,” Erma muttered. Hari whined incoherently to the officer. Erma’s ears rang as she clutched her head. “No, no…”
Erma sighed, annoyed. Her thumbs twiddled, unsure what to do without her phone. Weeks passed and she’d taken leave from school. She hadn’t been sleeping. After an emotion bout where windows were broken, her parents admitted her to a sleep-study program. One that included therapy.
“As if taking away my phone’ll make me sleep,” she muttered, tossing from one side to another. Erma kicked her sheets to the foot of the bed. Taking a deep breath, she released it slowly. The soft tick of the clock was the only sound. Sometimes, it felt as if it were in her head. She sat up, debating whether to complain about the noise.
Erma froze, staring at the far wall. There was a strange shimmer. She swung her legs to the ground. Then, cautiously stepped to the abnormal sight. The walls of her room were supposed to be pale blue, not that she could tell in the dark. Besides, Erma had never noticed anything glittery about it before. The only glow came from a strip under her door. There were fluorescent lights in the hall. Not enough brightness for a mirage.
Hesitantly, she lifted fingers to touch. Erma gasped. Her hand passed through the wall! Something warm brushed her palm on the other side. Airy fingers, barely there, laced through Erma’s. She recognized the grasp. “Shirise!” she exclaimed. The familiar hand tugged, and Erma allowed it to lead her through the wall.
Bright light pierced her eyes. Erma shielded her face, taking a moment to adjust. Soft petals brushed bare legs, and her toes dug into velvety earth. When Erma finally opened her eyes, an illustrious rainbow greeted. Beneath it, with sadness dripping, Shirise waited.
Tears brimmed as a giggle burst forth. Erma raced to embrace Shirise, with words escaping. To her horror, her arms grasped air. Shirise’s image was just that.
“I’m sorry, Hermes,” Shirise spoke, her voice vibrating the air around them. “Zeus called me back.” She lifted a pitcher of dark water, shimmering like the night sky.
“Is… is that from Styx?” Erma instinctively recognized the fluid. She wondered why Shirise called her “Hermes.”
“Yes. I’m the only one who can retrieve its waters. It’s why I left the mortal realm the way I did.”
“Shirise, where are we? Why can’t I hold you?” tears cascaded down Erma’s cheeks.
A melancholy smile painted Shirise’s lips. “We’re in the messengers’ realm, Hermes. Only you and I can access it. However, in your present state, you cannot step further. Your work as a mortal is not yet complete.”
“I don’t understand. Will I ever see you again?”
“Of course. When your work is done.” Her eyes glistened, “But unfortunately, our time as Erma and Shirise has passed. It can be never be again.” She stepped forward and placed a hand to Erma’s cheek. Erma felt gentle air in its place.
“It’s not fair! Our story hasn’t started!” Erma wept.
“My dear Hermes,” Shirise whispered in her ear, “our story began before the dawn of man, and shall continue long after…” Shirise placed her lips to Erma’s. Warm breath brushed Erma in an ethereal kiss. “I just came to say farewell.”
Erma shared her dream of Shirise during her next therapy session. The doctor said it was subconscious closure. Erma shrugged. They were outdoors in the shade. A breeze stirred plants around them, and the scent of irises filled the air. Erma grew alert. They were the same flowers that brushed her legs beneath the rainbow. The large petals dipped and swirled, as if Shirise reached through from another realm in greeting.
Erma’s chest ached, but thin ray of hope emerged. “See ya later, Iris.”
~*~ The End ~*~
Author’s Commentary: I’m often fascinated by stories of immortals, and realms outside our own. One of my favorite tropes is having deities come into our world. Iris is a goddess I’m particularly fascinated with. Mostly because she acts as an intermediary between our world and dimensions beyond. I’ve written stories about her before, being a conduit between humans and immortals. Yes… I might’ve even written a vampire story involving her once… but I was incredibly young and you’ll never read it! XD (or I’ll die of embarrassment!) For this tale, I wanted to focus on her “male” counterpart, Hermes. (In research, I found Hermes is generally referred to as male.) I also wanted to break out of writing cis(gender) female leads.
I realize death and loss are returning themes in my works. I’ve had readers ask why I don’t compose lighter material. I kindly point out that love is another theme in my works. Often times, the loss is complementary to it. How do you know you love someone until you’re faced with never seeing them again?
My penchant for themes of love and loss, and immortals becoming mortals grew deep in 2014. I started to compose my Cycles of the Lights series then. The protagonists, En and Il are the primordial, all encompassing “Yin” and “Yang” of the universe. They wish to love each other and intertwine, however they cannot. Thus, they bundle up their sentience and inject into the mortal world. They become souls, loving and losing through many lives as they figure out the puzzle of of their karma.
Cycles of the Lights starts off heavily in the corporeal realm. I explore alien worlds and societies in Fall of Ima. As the series moves on and the souls evolve to higher power, the plot shifts to the ethereal realm. Iris is not in Cycles of the Lights 🙂 but I feel her influence on my writing.
To check out Fall of Ima on Amazon, please click Amazon.
This is not a sponsored post. Tune in October 15th for our next post, by Ticana Zhu.