“You can call me the Goddess of money because,” Nyx announces, strolling through the daycare entrance with a small stack of envelopes in hand, “I’ve got paychecks!”
Delighted, my coworker claps and squeals before crossing the room to Nyx.
I, on the other hand, take a more listless approach. Although I have been awaiting this paycheck for weeks and am in desperate need of money, I can’t bring myself to jump for joy like jolly old Kate. There’s too much on my mind.
When I reach Nyx, my hand is dead weight as I pull the envelope with my name on it from her grasp. I’m about to turn around and resume working, tucking the check inside my bustier, when a gentle touch clasps my shoulder.
“You look dreadful, dear,” Nyx says, spinning me to face her. “You’re not still bothered by Erebus’ prank, are you?”
Absentmindedly, I reach for the hair resting on my shoulders. I should be reassured by the feel of it running through my fingers, but it never seems to make me feel any better. For awhile now, I thought it was merely the prank itself that bothered me, that I was so glued to my hair and the vanity it brings me, that even the mere thought of losing it kept me rattled.
But as the days have gone by, I realized it’s more than that.
“No,” I answer hoarsely, “I’m over his little prank.”
Nyx cocks her head and one eyebrow.
“Not exactly, anyways,” I continue, realizing she’s not going to let this go. “Not like you think.”
“Then what is it? What’s got you so…glum?”
I bite my lower lip, still circling a finger around one of my locks of hair. “I just…I thought being in the mortal world would be different.”
Nyx stares at me for a moment, calculating and concerned. Then, without warning, she waves to Kate, a silent conversation to let her know that we will be back shortly, before she takes my hand and leads me to the adjoining cafe.
Once inside, Nyx presses me into a seat at an empty table, sitting across from me before asking, “Different how?”
My mouth opens and closes. A thousand thoughts storm in my mind about how I could tell her that making a living in the mortal realm is more difficult than I’d thought. How, even though I’ve been up here for weeks, the only friend I’ve made is a spider. How my plans to corrupt the minds of children have proven absolutely futile because, as it turns out, children just might be the most resilient living creatures on the planet. How, now that I’m not trapped in the underworld, I realized I have no idea who I am anymore.
By the time I pull myself out of my thoughts, I’m just shaking my head.
Nyx reaches out to me, taking my hands into her own and forcing me to look at her. “Hey, it’s okay. We don’t have to talk about it.”
I nod, summoning the slightest smile to show my appreciation.
“You know what?” she says after a moment’s pause. “We should do something, just the two of us.”
The sudden shift in conversation throws me off guard. “Umm…we should?”
“Yes!” Nyx says more emphatically. “I just ended a centuries-long relationship. You are experiencing life of the mortals for the first time. We should do something!”
“Okay,” I chuckle. “What would two Goddesses do?”
She scrunches her nose, but then her eyes widen. “Well, it’s Halloween. Let’s go to a haunted house! It seems right up your alley.”
“A haunted house,” I say skeptically, but as I taste the words on my tongue, my excitement is already starting to build. “Full of spiderwebs and ghosts—”
“…and dark nooks and crannies, where creatures lurk to scare all of those who pass by. Come on! It’ll be so much fun!”
There’s no fighting my smile now, and it’s all the answer Nyx needs.
— — — — —
We bolt out of the strobe-lit room and away from the rabid mechanical dog that was “chasing” us. Nyx and I are clutching onto each other like we might die if we let go, entering a new pitch-black, winding hall. I’ve lost track of whether or not I’m actually scared or if it’s just more fun to pretend to be, and I think Nyx has, too.
Cold, tentacle-like appendages hang from the ceiling, sliding across our faces and through our hair despite our best efforts to dodge them. Nyx and I shriek any time we unexpectedly run into another one, and it has us gripping onto each other even tighter.
We round a corner to find another hallway, and I can just barely make out a muted green light at the end of the corridor that reads “exit”.
Just as Nyx and I breathe a sigh of relief though, a shadow beside us shifts. A creature lunges out in front of us, its claws shining in the darkness like they’re coated with blood. We scream in unison. We stumble over our feet, nearly knocking each other to the ground as the beast approaches. By now it’s easy enough to tell that it’s just a man in a costume, one of the many actors in the haunted house, but I scream again, lost in the joyous, adrenaline-fused moment.
Nyx’s laughter echoes off the walls as she pulls me up and we rush past the monster.
I don’t let go of her hand until we clear the exit.
We catch our breath a few feet from the haunted attraction, my heart still pounding in my chest. I’ve never felt so alive.
“That was amazing!” I say between breaths. “How do they manage to make it look so real without magic? They’re only mortals, after all.”
Nyx beams at me. “I told you you’d enjoy it.”
I nod, my smile widening. “Thank you for inviting me. I didn’t know—I’ve never—”
“Had fun?” she offers before I can finish. She gives me a gentle shove. “Yeah, I noticed.”
My smile starts to fade, unsure of how to respond or what she means.
Nyx pulls me in for a hug, confusing me even more. I’m not sure what to do with my arms.
She squeezes me tightly. “You’ve spent so much time in the underworld with the dead that you haven’t learned how to live. This world has so much to offer, if you’re willing to put yourself out there and do things.”
The smile inches its way back into my expression, understanding her message. All of this, all of today, all she wanted was to help me. Even though I hadn’t told her what was wrong, she still somehow knew exactly what I needed.
That’s when I realize that she must know more than I am giving her credit for. It’s like she said earlier, she was with Erebus for so long that she, too, is probably re-learning how to be herself, how to live, what she enjoys, what she wants from life.
“Thank you, Nyx,” I whisper into her hair. “Thank you for being a good friend.”When we part ways for the night, I recognize the flame she’s lit, the call to action that she’s incited: I need to find out who I am and, in order to do that, I need to start living.
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