Rain pounded against the windshield of Mira’s red Ford Escort making it impossible for her to see the road. She’d gotten her license a week prior and was still nervous about driving, so it was stupid for her to be doing so on a rainy night; she knew that much. She’d left home to grab a doughnut, the idea of confection covering sticky, raspberry gel overwhelmed her until she had no other choice but to drive a few minutes downtown and grab one. And it was right as she was putting the piece of glazed goodness to her chapped lips, her right foot came down hard on the brake and she jerked the wheel nearly causing her sixteenth birthday gift to swerve into a rusty pick-up parallel parked against the curb.
The dark figure stood motionless, but not Mira. There was no way she’d let the irresponsible loser who’d not only caused her a world of panic, but was, in her mind, the soul reason maroon-colored gel stained her light-blue, silk blouse. After all, it fit her well, hugging her curves with precision, melting into her olive completion.
The door slammed behind her as she yelled through the rain. “Are you insane?” The figure didn’t respond and she huffed. “What do you think you’re doing out here? It’s late,” she lectured to the unresponsive person. “You’re in all black! How was I supposed to see you?”
“Then give me a ride home,” he stated in a matter-of-fact tone. She realized it was a he when he’d pulled his black hood back to reveal thick hair that seemed dark, although Mira wasn’t sure because it was soaked by the rain.
She shivered, trying to ignore his handsome features. “No, I don’t know you.”
Not a second passed before his warm hand grabbed her own chilled wet hand and she didn’t have a chance to protest the interlocking of their fingers. He was already pulling her across the street and into a coffee shop that dared stay open at eight o’ clock on a rainy Monday evening.
“My car,” she asserted, shocked by the forward gesture.
“No one will care. They can drive around,” he argued as his salt-gray eyes burned into hers. They were fire. She should be freaked,Mira had never felt the type of passion-driven heat radiating from anyone like she had with this stranger.
Sparks danced inside the silver and she had to divert her coffee-brown eyes to the cashier, who waited with growing impatience for their order. “I’ll take hot tea, please,” Mira requested and pulled a few dollars from her pocket.
“I don’t want anything,” the stranger added and handed the cashier money before Mira was able.
Once she had the tea, she followed him to a corner table after taking a nervous glance out the window to ensure her new car was still where she’d left it. The guy’s hair was drying, it was sandy brown with flashes of blond. Certainly, more interesting than her straight, monotonous black hair. Noticing this caused her to push her locks behind her back.
“Forgive me, name’s Saros,” he introduced himself immediately offering his hand to Mira.
She held hers out to shake, but jumped when he took it to his lips and the burning returned to the bottom of her stomach causing her insides to unthread as it twisted through her body. “I- I’m—”
“Amiralina. I know.” His chilling eyes glistened brighter than they had earlier.
“No, just Mira,” she corrected. “It’s not short for anything.” Coffeeton, Kansas was a small community that prided itself on a specific level of intimacy among the residents. Logic insisted she should be one-hundred-percent positive she’d never met Saros. Intuition told her otherwise.
“It used to be,” he responded with near incoherence.
“What?” If she’d elaborated she might’ve asked something like ‘what the crap am I doing here?’ or ‘what is this inexplicable roller-coaster feeling I’m experiencing?’ Such was not the case, rather, ‘what?’ was all she managed amid the confusion and abruptness with which the meeting occurred.
“Lifetimes ago and through several lives you were Amiralina,” his voice was saturated with indifference as though everyday he walked into the middle of streets and avoided getting ran over by a hair just to drag the driver into a coffee shop and ramble about past lives.
Incredulous, Mira decided leaving would be the only way to salvage a final thread of common sense. She stood to go.
“Wait.” she paused. “Come sit next to me for a moment.” Again with those danged eyes. She shook her head, but they lured her to them and the worse part was she didn’t know why. She did as he requested.
Saros scooted toward her and reached into his pocket. Her first thought was of him pulling a knife or a gun and her skin crawled. It was neither. The click of a pen caused her to jump once again and when she saw the object, she exhaled the deep breath she’d been holding.
He took the writing utensil to the right side of her cheek that faced him. “What are you doing!” It was a question that her intonated squeaks made sound like a demand.
“Hold still,” he whispered, still not answering her as the cool tip reached the side of her face.
She’d wanted a doughnut. One stupid, raspberry filled doughnut and there she was, sitting in a coffee shop on a rainy evening with a strange guy who’d begun drawing on her cheek. It’d gone too far. She pulled her face from the pen, but as she did, he asserted, “It is you.”
“I have to go,” she tried to get up, but his stare wouldn’t let her. He was somehow holding her down.
“Hear me out,” he insisted, as though she had a choice. Physically, she couldn’t leave if she wanted. He dabbed a napkin into her tea, ruining it before she could take a sip and used the liquid to wash the marks off her face. “I’d know it was you if I could connect your freckles into a daisy.”
“Oh my God!” she nearly screamed. “Someone help me!” she yelled louder.
“It’s no use. I told them not to react. I knew you’d freak out,” he grinned. “You do every time. If you were older, you’d remember,” he sighed. “You’ll recall everything soon enough.”
“How are you keeping me here? Why are they doing what you want them to do?” She asked gesturing to the two workers who’d busied themselves cleaning dirty coffee mugs and taking apart a tea machine.
“I must be brief in my explanation. You are a Cryptonataur, you know the code we need to get into the gated wasteland to procure the Zirconia of Ashzar. We must obtain this piece tonight; I couldn’t wait any longer. We must get this and take it to Cassiel the Blessed or Ashzaria will be destroyed,” his voice was monotone and something familiar struck Mira. She couldn’t place it, but she knew he was telling the truth.
She considered her life. How, maybe he’d let her leave if she refused to go and if he did, she’d drive home, where she’d be alone. She’d go to bed, where she’d have dreams that she couldn’t recall, leaving her confused and exhausted, and she’d wake up the next morning and drive to school, where she’d hear, ‘Mira… do you even look in a Mir-ah?’ Followed by pelts of laughter that struck her harder than a dodgeball in PE class.
In her mind, she wondered what she really had to lose by agreeing to help. “What can I do?” Her near black eyes widened until Saros could make out individual granules within.
“Do any numbers stick out to you?” Saros asked in haste, hesitant to waste even an ounce of time. “I mean, have any certain numbers ever been in the forefront of your mind?”
Although being near the hunky Saros and his sand hair distracted her, she could recall specific numbers. For example, four— the number of times she’d been tripped by a football player or his screwy girlfriend walking through the cafeteria, or zero— the number of boyfriends she’d had, one— the time she’d scored a ‘B’ on a test, and nine— the age when she first realized that even though she’d grown up wealthy, having everything she could ever want, her parents were never around. But these numbers amounted to more than the aforementioned incidents that could’ve easily counted as coincidences four-zero-one-nine was the combination to a jewelry box her dad had sent during his months away in England. Four-zero-one-nine was also her locker number. Four-zero-one-nine was her bus number. “Four, zero, one, and nine,” she recited like a catechism.
“We must go. You must take me to the gated wasteland,” Saros insisted, wasting no time before allowing her to get up.
“How do I do that?” She questioned as they, once again, found themselves soaked by unforgiving drops of water as they hurried to her car.
“You’ll remember soon, Love,” he assured her.
Love, it sent fire pulsing through her, incinerating her heart only to rebuild it into a stronger organ. The word coated her mind, amplifying it. She made a meek attempt to shake it off in order to focus on the task at hand. “Where are we going?”
“Turn left at the end of the block,” he directed as he took her free hand in his and caused her body to jolt slightly. “You’re beginning to remember. This is the reason we must save Ashzaria. It is where our souls have met and will meet for eternity.”
Nothing made sense, but she continued to drive. “Daisies are my favorite flower,” she admitted not understanding what made her say that.
“I know. You tell me every time. Next, you’re going to say in the summer you sit among fields of them, unwilling to pick even one because you don’t want their lives to end. You simply enjoy being with them,” he finished. “Okay, at the next street turn right and follow the highway out of town. When you come to a dead end, take a left.”
She did as he requested. The road was familiar and it only led to one specific place, but she knew he wouldn’t be taking her there to procure the rare Zirconia. There’d be no way. She took the left at the dead end and soon came upon a gate. “This is the city dump!” she screeched. “It stinks! Why would anyone be dumb enough to put the Zirconia in there, disgusting!” she complained.
“The gated wasteland. You must type in the code so we can enter and secure the metal before it falls into the hands of the Miners,” Saros insisted, turning to her with pleading eyes.
Mira sighed and they both got out of the car, leaving it, once again, to the mercy of anyone who might happen by. “The Miners?”
“Yes, they are a cursed group. The Empress of Ashzaria banned their souls from the tranquil dimension almost two millennia ago after they tried to upset the Oracle of Hereclies,” he whispered through the darkness.
“What would’ve happened?” Mira wondered.
“Oh, I wish you’d remember.” Saros’s eyes were concerned, but he continued, “The Oracle of Hereclies is what brings our souls back to Ashzaria. It acts as a gateway. When good souls pass out of these bodies, they travel from this dimension to Ashzaria where they live with their mates until it is time to move on to the next life. Some souls must wait for their mate and this takes time. After a while they grow depressed and that mourning leads to anger. Such was the case for the Miners. They grew impatient waiting and because of their bitterness, they want to destroy the Oracle, making it impossible for souls to reenter. They want others to feel their pain,” he explained as they reached the locked gate.
With the keypad acting as the only barrier separating the two from the Zirconia, Mira entered the numbers with unparalleled swiftness. The keypad dinged and they stood back as the gates opened. As they did this, a bright light shone in their faces. Mira knew immediately it was officer Dinkman.
“You two kids need to get back home. This ain’t one’a them makeout places ya’ll go to,” he demanded.
Mira glanced behind her and surveyed the area. Where was his patrol car? How was he in the middle of nowhere with nothing? It made no sense. “Uh, Mr. Dinkman?” the flashlight made seeing his face impossible, but as he panned the area, she could tell his eyes were coal black. Goosebumps tiptoed up her arm.
Saros turned and must have noticed what she did. Without hesitation, he pushed her out of the way as dark smoke darted to where she had been standing. Saros looked at the robotic officer and with one glance, he caused him to melt. Mira watched in horror as he was reduced to nothing but a uniform and accessories.
“W-what was that?” she stuttered.
“The dark smoked would’ve killed you on contact. It’s the Miner’s strongest weapon against us. I liquefied him. He’s gone now, Love,” Saros held his head in pride as his strong arms wrapped around Mira’s slender body, acting as a shield against what she’d witnessed. “We better hurry.”
They entered the dump and Mira regretted the bite of doughnut she’d taken as it soured on her stomach against a moistened smell of rot meets poop meets skunk that tinged her nostrils. “God, it reeks,” she moaned, immediately regretting speaking as it forced her to take in a quick breath.
Saros made a wise decision and didn’t respond. Rather, he held his breath as long as possible as he searched for what they needed. He surveyed the area, allowing his instinct to guide him around the junkyard to a cardboard box of trash. He opened it and filtered the contents. Then, grinning, he turned to Mira. “Got it!” he shouted.
“That’s a toaster. It’s not magical,” came her simple, irritated response.
“The metal on the side is Zirconia of Ashzar,” he told her. “Let’s get it to Cassiel before it’s too late.”
Mira’s nose had started to become odor blind so she asked, “Where will we find Cassiel the Blessed?”
“In the neighboring town of Creighton,” Saros answered, tossing the toaster in the back of the car and getting in the passenger seat. Mira started the engine and without warning Saros took her hand in his, again. His action caused Mira to unravel. He said she’d remember; oh, how she wanted to.
They drove fifteen minutes to Creighton and he led her to a rickety pub that made the news weekly, not for its fine selection of beers and imported wine, but rather for nightly brawls, a few of which ended in death.
“I-I don’t know about going in here. They might not even let us in,” Mira protested, fearing the danger and wondering why someone ‘blessed’ would frequent a bar. “What if she’s not here tonight? What if she doesn’t go here?”
Saros grabbed the toaster and the two of them entered the musty pub. As soon as the door opened, they were bombarded by the bitter odor of cigarette smoke that played within an onslaught of shouts and yells. The patrons were so engrossed in games of pool and pitchers of beer they took no notice of the two kids who’d came into the establishment.
“Cassiel?” Saros asked, seeming sure but unsure at the same time.
The bartender removed the cigarette from her mouth, exhaling smoke in the faces of the teens. “Yeah, what the hell’dya want?” She sneered. “I got customers to serve.” She placed the end of the cigarette into her mouth.
“We have the Zirconia,” Saros explained over the music and shouts.
“Oh,” she paused, the claim catching her attention as much as the toaster in Saros’s hand. “I see… meet me out back, kiddos.” Her attitude had changed and her lips curled into a slight smile as she made her way from behind the bar.
Saros and Mira turned to leave also, but Mira whispered. “I don’t trust her.”
Saros turned to Mira, amid the fog of cancer inducing smog, he sat the toaster down long enough to wrap his arms around her. He stared with intensity and fireflies danced through Mira’s soul as her lips met his soft warm ones. Their kiss was eternity and that, she remembered. “She’s the Blessed one. She can take this Zirconia to the Empress. It’s the only way to protect the Oracle.”
Mira nodded, still entranced from the kiss, as was Saros. He picked up the toaster and she followed him out the door. The rain had stopped and humidity laced its way around the croaks of frogs and cadence of crickets. Mira still didn’t feel right about the clandestine meeting. A voice resounded in her head, you can also deliver the Zirconia. It was soft and familiar, but how was she to deliver the piece?
The back of the bar was surrounded by grass nearly as tall as the teenagers themselves. They were relieved to find Cassiel waiting for them. She chuckled as Saros and Mira stood in front of her with the toaster. “Fools!” she sneered.
Taken aback, Saros responded, “You’re Cassiel the Blessed. You must save our dimension and ensure the souls can make their way back once again.”
She laughed louder until it turned into a screech. “My soulmate waited centuries for me to exist. He gave up and turned into a Miner. I’ve joined them because I couldn’t continue to exist without him,” she sneered.
Before either could react, filthy bar patrons emerged from behind the lanky weeds, their eyes dark and lifeless. Mira grabbed the toaster, clutching it tightly and Saros didn’t have time to push her out of the way before a thick cloud of smoke snaked around her, vanishing her from his view. “No!” he screamed.
He pushed with all his energy, which mostly came from a mix of adrenaline and teenage testosterone. He was able to do something he’d never done before— he melted Cassiel and all the Miners at once and after doing so, he stood back from the black cloud and waited for it to settle.
If Cassiel was killed, who’d take her place as the Blessed One? How would the Zirconia make it back to Ashzaria to protect the Oracle? His face grew hot and his eyes burned. He’d lose Mira in that life, and he’d lose her forever. Rage enveloped him and cut through his soul; suddenly he empathized with the Miners. Mira would cease to exist.
Or would she?
The smoke cleared after about an hour. Mira wasn’t on the grass. Did she dodge the fumes? Impossible, but the Zirconia had vanished as well. And then a thought occurred to Saros; perhaps as Cassiel melted, her essence transferred to Mira. Perhaps Mira delivered the Zirconia to the Empress and saved the dimension after all. Perhaps she’d wait for him wearing her jelly-stained silk shirt.
He stared into clouds that parted enough to allow the moon to shine brightly where Mira should’ve been. Saros looked to the ground one last time and plucked a single daisy that rested on still wet grass. The sweet smell coiled around a soft voice that whispered to him, I remember now. I’ll see you soon.