Saros sat next to the barrier of tall grass as the sun rose and contemplated his options. Surely someone would look for Mira when she didn’t come home or show up at school. He could call the police, but wondered if they’d buy the heroic tale of how she sacrificed her human life to deliver the Zirconia to Ashzaria. The seventies are over, he reminded himself as he recalled living as an elderly man amid the hype of magic brownies and Woodstock.
He released a deep breath. There’d have to be no trace of her. His only option was to melt her car, and that is exactly what he’d done before beginning the fifteen-mile journey back to Coffeeton. He was hesitant to return, knowing that the sight of the city limit sign would trigger memories of her, thoughts he wasn’t prepared to handle. Nonetheless, he started down the trail of rocks and fresh mud that hadn’t completely dried from the rain. The rain where she nearly ran him down in the road. The rain where she screamed at him as her hair dripped down her shoulders. The rain that crept between their locked fingers.
He scolded himself, he should be used to losing her by now. After all, for the eight hundred and twenty-five centuries they’d spent together and all the lifetimes they shared, she passed away young in every single one. Saros, on the other hand, would live a full life regardless of the macrocosm. In his millennia of experience, he couldn’t figure out why that was the case.
He didn’t walk far down the road before a mud-covered pickup, the color of which was impossible to make out, slowed. The driver rolled the window down and yelled at him, “Ya better jest jump on in here! I can’t stop’er or she’ll die on me again!”
He thought he’d prefer to walk, but his feet were sore, so he did as he was told. He grabbed the handle and popped the door open, jumping in fast as the driver hit the gas nearly causing his leg to drag along the gravel.
She nudged him and onion-sweat odor pulled through his nose making him fight the urge to gag, the rolled-up windows didn’t help. “Name’s Berry-Jo,” she said, struggling to speak with the wad of tobacco in her mouth.
“Saros,” he introduced hoping to put a moratorium on the conversation.
“Whachya got there?” she motioned to the still vibrant daisy Saros continued to held in his weary hand.
“A daisy,” he stated simply.
“Best be rollin’ the window down ‘n throwin’ it out. I’m allergic t’em,” she advised.
“Thanks for the warning, but I’m hanging on to this daisy.” He knew it was rude, but a normal flower would’ve started to wilt having gone for such a length with no water. Mira’s daisy looked fresh-picked. Instead of listening to Berry, he focused on the wooden fence as it seemed to move with the old truck.
His attention was quickly jolted by a resounding noise, followed by grainy, black goo running down the dashboard and threatening to land on his dark jeans. “Well, bless me t’ heaven,” declared Berry. “Told ya I had the allergies. Now my dadgum t’baccers evr’ where.”
A bad situation growing more uncomfortable, Saros looked over to the country girl and asked, “Could you drop me off here?” He nodded to a humble community park with little more than a picnic table, a few swings, and a slide garnished with infant oak trees.
“Aight, guess it’d be for the best, huh? But I can’t stop, so I’ll slow down and ya jump when I do. Ya hear?”
Saros nodded and thanked her for the ride. He hesitated until the rusty beast was as slow as its driver could get it and jumped out nearly twisting an ankle as he did. He grunted, but caught himself and waved goodbye one last time. He waited for her to pass and crossed the street, taking a seat on the top of a rickety picnic table, he leaned his feet on the bench.
If Ashzaria survived, he thought of the daisy in his hands— Ashzaria did survive and he would see Mira again. Of course, she wouldn’t be Mira, she’d be the soul in its purest form. Ashzaria was a holding plane, a purgatory. Souls would wait to live lives in one of the myriad planes of existence.
No soul outside of Ashzaria would remember Saros, but in Ashzaria he was a legend. Aside from the Empress, he was the oldest soul who hadn’t crossed into either Nuumyaj or Paraíso. To cross into either of the final realms, a soul relied on the accumulation or deficit of ethereal energy.
As a soul manifested, the ethereal energy was neither positive or negative. When the soul began experiencing lives, it’d be faced with choices and could either decide to lead a virtuous existence or an evil one. That choice influenced the gain or deficit of ethereal energy. Once the soul filled with the energy, it went to Paraíso to lead a tranquil existence for eternity. However, if the soul continued making poor and malicious decisions, it’d end up tortured forever in Nuumyaj.
Saros waited in Ashzaria at length for a mate. He watched the others come and go, living existence after existence, happy. He’d traveled through realms and lived as everything from a plant, to a sea creature. He’d been a king, a celebrity, a servant. But he was lonely in each life until he reunited with Amiralina in Ashzaria.
For a long time, many believed the Empress was Saros’ mate, but because she was the Empress and not technically a soul, they couldn’t be together. They grew close, but knew they weren’t mates. As his energy reached near full, she urged him to move on, fearing he’d grow bitter at not having a mate and join the small but growing revolt of the Miners.
The Miners became infamous for traveling through planes, in search of the coveted Zirconia of Ashzar, and were thusly called ‘Miners’. They knew it was the only element that could upset the Oracle. The Empress was able to ban them, but this came with a price. It allowed them to move around the various planes and an ability to recall their past lives. It was an unexpected consequence. It also enabled them to use their ethereal energy to create an inky smoke which could kill souls and strip them of their vitality, sending them permanently to Nuumyaj.
Saros refused to go to Paraíso without a mate and pledged he would not become bitter. He’d kept his oath to the Empress and mastered the ability to gain ethereal energy until it was nearly full, then live a negative existence to cause a depletion. His soul was old and wise and he began remembering his lives after centuries of existence. He’d also learned how to use his energy to influence younger souls that existed on the same plane. He had to take caution, though, because use of the energy threatened to cause a deficit and he’d end up in Nuumyaj.
“‘Scuse me.” A thin finger poked his back. “‘Scuse me. I sit here. You should move.” Her eyes were green, her hair blonde with red streaks, and her outfit quirky. She wore shorts, black ankle-boots accessorized with netted stockings, and finished the outfit off with a band shirt and braided pig-tails.
“Okay,” he shrugged, fighting the girl was not something he wanted to do. He’d simply come to think about Mira. To miss her and sulk at another failed existence.
“You’re not from around here, huh?” She tilted her head so that she was looking at him sideways.
“No.” Saros began to push himself off the table.
“What’s wrong?” she studied him again. He realized she was a very young soul. “Your face cries ‘funeral’, but your clothes scream ‘local pub’.” She blinked her sparkling, wide eyes.
Saros loved the innocence of young souls. He wondered if she’d found her mate yet, but knew that asking would be a certain ticket to the loony-bin. He’d lived in many before and they weren’t his first choice. “I’m good, really,” he assured her.
“Hmm,” she wasn’t buying it. “Did you hear about Mira’s disappearance? Where do you think she went?”
“No,” he blinked and gulped. “I hadn’t heard of it. When did it happen?”
“Last night.” She paused. “Small town, word travels fast. Anyhow, she was my best friend,” she revealed. “Me and her, the dynamic duo, the crazy drama nerds… ta-daaaaaa,” she sang holding out jazz hands and shaking them. She stopped and shuffled a pebble around with her strappy boot. “I bet she took off.”
Saros looked at her with disbelief. He liked learning about Mira’s life before he’d come along. “Why would she do that?”
“Why not? Seriously, not even lyin’,” she took out a piece of gum, opened the metallic wrapper, shoved it in her mouth, and tossed the trash on the ground. “Her parents were the worst. Rich, always going everywhere. I don’t think she even knew them, I mean, she literally had the crappiest life ever. So, I bet she started driving and just kept going.”
Saros bent down, plucked the litter from the grass, and walked it to the trashcan.
“Hey.” The girl shielded her eyes from the sun. “Nice flower,” she nodded to the daisy and continued chewing the gum.
“Thanks,” Saros replied. Whoever she was, the girl’s unwavering energy exhausted him and he wanted to leave.
“Can I have it?” She jumped off the table.
“No,” he said simply.
“Why?” She wasn’t shy at all.
“Because it’s my daisy and I intend to hold on to it for a while,” he answered, grasping the flower tighter. Saros resisted draining his ethereal energy further by influencing the girl to go away. Instead, he turned to leave.
“Is it for your girlfriend?” He paused and spun around. Pain, sparked by her words, surged through him, along with the mourning and wallowing in sorrow.
He walked toward the doe-eyed freckles until he came close enough to whisper to her. “Amiralina is more than my girlfriend. She’s my soulmate for all of existence, but each time we move on to a plane outside of Ashzaria, I lose her shortly after finding her. This time, we were trying to secure the Zirconia for the Empress of Ashzaria.” He couldn’t believe he’d told her, but also considered that anything he said would pale in comparison to her eccentric ensemble.
She stood for a lengthy moment in silence. The only motion being her idly chewing the gum. Saros prepared himself for only the worst responses. She opened her mouth. “Woah, are you in theatre too? That was dark, cynical… you should keep a notebook and write this stuff down.” She’d complimented him. He thought she would call 911, but instead she thought Saros was as odd as she. “Well, uh— it’s getting dark. See ya around?”
Finally, she was going away. Saros nodded, glad to be left to himself. He watched to make sure she had left and when he didn’t see her anymore he took the flower to his nose and embraced the sweet smell. “Talk to me, Mira.”
He waited, and he waited for nothing. The daisy wouldn’t talk to him. Irritated, he tossed it to the ground and watched it lay among the short grass. The next day, some boy would happen by and pick it up and give it to a girl he liked. Or, city park services would decide to mow the grass and cut it to a million pieces. Either way, it wouldn’t change the fact— Mira was gone and in her place, was that daisy.
She’d sent it to him. Why else would a daisy be in the middle of a field of weeds? Feeling guilty, he grabbed it from the ground. As he did, he sensed something in it. “As long as you don’t wilt, I’ll keep you with me.”
He stood to go, unsure of where he’d end up. He had no home to return to having grown up in foster care. His ‘family’ kicked him to the curb the minute he turned eighteen because they knew they’d receive no more money for him. He’d rationed his energy though his life and when he was ‘out of the system’ he’d nearly gone into a deficit using it to locate Mira.
He traveled the states carefully, working hard to sense where she might be. He began on the East Coast and was feeling defeated by the time he reached the Midwest, until he happened upon the small county of Arma that bordered Missouri and Kansas. Once there, he’d felt her. She was nearby. Finally, on that rainy weekday night, she came racing downtown in her candy red car. Saros stepped into the road, unwilling to lose her.
The question plagued his existence, why did things always happen like they did? Why did she always die? Was there such a thing as ‘star-crossed’ souls?
The sky was dark when he reached a local motel. The vacancy sign flickered and buzzed as he neared it and he noticed the rust and chipped paint on the building. It was one of those places where you could hear the neighbors flush the toilet. Nonetheless, it’d be a quiet spot where he could sort his feelings and maybe get a little sleep.
Moments later, Saros lay against the concrete pillow as he struggled to get comfortable in the stale room. The air-conditioner blew remnants of cigarette smoke and he turned it down. He thought of Mira and her jelly-stained shirt, or how hesitant she was to meet Cassiel, or how stupid he was to ignore her intuition. Perhaps she’d be alive.
He wondered about the daisy as he placed it on the chipped end-table like a funeral. His answers would only come from one source, a group that survived in the shadows of moss and rocks sprinkled among the woods. Knowing the risk, his last thought before entering a deep sleep was in the form of a vow to seek a deadly wisdom from the Forrest Walkers.