We weren’t aware, at first.
Rebirthing was a tricky process. I don’t remember much of it. But I remember when it happened.
I remember the moment I streaked down the sky like a shooting star, descending rain and chaos and irreversible change onto the poor soul I landed into, like a meteor colliding into earth.
Her spirit slipped out of her body easily, giving way to me, without so much as a whimper or a fight. She simply dissolved away, and for a moment I felt bad for the poor weak soul, lost to the world without any sort of acknowledgement.
She was gone before I could apologise, and then I was left with her body and a confusing assortment of memories that left me dazed and stumbling down the street in the opposite direction of a place she knew as ‘home’.
Thoughts like “Mum will be mad I got home late from basketball practice today” jumbled alongside “What am I? What world did I crash into? What was I before?”. I didn’t know who or what I was. I wanted to go home, but where was home?
The girl’s memories showed me a cozy living room with a fire and television, but something in me screamed no. I couldn’t go there.
I wandered, ghostlike, around a city I didn’t recognise despite the girl’s memories popping up with landmarks. I somehow ended up on a bus, then on a street.
The sun had been setting when I fell into the girl’s body, and now it was dark, the streets hazing up with mist and winter smoke, and the girl’s memories taught me about cold. Her memories were no way to prepare me for the experience, though.
The cold was like an ache sinking into my skin, bringing a numbness that hurt somehow. It made my body seize up stiff, my breath run short. It was a like a thousand tiny needles, sharp and stinging at first, before driving deeper and bringing that ache.
I was still in basketball shorts. I curled up under a shopfront window and trembled. I learned very quickly about the bone-deep despair that comes with icy midnight, and wondered how so many people survived such misery.
I don’t think I’d ever been mortal before.
The next morning’s sun rose on me still huddled under that shopfront. Someone had pitied me and thrown me a scarf, but it had done little to ward off the all-encompassing power and fury of that cold.
The sun brought warmth though, and my stiff limbs warmed up enough that I could keep walking.
So I walked.
I wandered aimless, with no idea of where I should go, and only where I should not – the girl’s home, the freezing street. When the sun began to slip again, I panicked, looking for somewhere I could shelter in, away from that cold.
I found a gym.
I slipped inside, willing myself invisible to the ponytailed woman behind the front desk. I slipped into the bathroom, determined to hide.
It was then that I found him.
Our eyes met, and we both understood.
“Gods,” he said, and laughed. “We’re gods. Of course.”
“Are we?” I asked, clenching and opening my fists. “I think we’re mortals now.”
“God souls reborn into mortal bodies,” he said, looking down. He snorted, prodding at wide hips, defined breasts. “They got mine very wrong.”
“You got reborn into a girl’s body,” I realised.
He snorted. “Well, it’s not a girl’s now,” he said. “She dissolved, same as your body’s soul. It’s mine now, so I suppose it’ll have to do.”
He looked in the mirror. “Looks different,” he said. “Did you notice?”
I looked in the mirror too, now; other than fleeting glances in reflective surfaces, I hadn’t seen my new body’s reflection yet. What I saw gave me a shock.
A teenage girl stared out at me. Wide, orb-like purple eyes set in a dark face, framed with black curls. It was still pulled up into a bun from basketball practice, but a night on the streets had made it disheveled, half falling out and around my face.
My ears were pointed, and when my mouth fell open in surprise I saw sharp teeth.
It wasn’t just the shock of a new body, a new face. The new face didn’t even match the girl’s memories – she’d had brown eyes and rounded ears and teeth. She’d looked human, and I looked barely that.
The bodies had changed when we’d reincarnated into them. Now, they weren’t quite human, though not quite godlike either. I understood now why my instincts had been adamant against going ‘home’. The girl’s mother would have been horrified.
My companion had pale skin and red hair, with even redder eyes. He also had sharp ears and teeth, and I realised he even had a tail emerging from the bottom of his jumper – a long curling one, like a lion’s, with a little tuft of red fur at the end.
He looked a little older, like a young woman, dressed in a grey knit jumper over track pants.
“She was going to the grocery store for milk,” he snorted. “And I’m guessing yours was at some kind of sport?”
“Basketball,” I confirmed.
He nodded, sighing. “Well, I guess we’d better figure out what to do.”
“I can’t go home,” I said. “Her mother would freak out.”
“We can’t go to mine either,” he said. “Her boyfriend would freak. We’re… kind of homeless.”
“We could hide in here,” I suggested. “I snuck past the receptionist – I think I might have invisibility.”
He nodded, humming. “Invisibility’s good,” he said. “Staying unnoticed is just what we need. But we can’t stay in here forever.”
I considered the bathroom properly for the first time. There were toilets and showers – good, considering I’d needed one yesterday before reincarnating, let alone now.
But there was nowhere to sleep. No food – my stomach rumbled. The limitations of mortal existence dawned on me. We needed food, sleep, shelter from the elements. We were so vulnerable now, and that last thought made me feel uncomfortable. Trapped.
What even had we been before?
We’d been gods, but even remembering that, I wasn’t sure what it meant, exactly.
It meant we’d had powers. It meant we’d been invulnerable, not weighed down by needs like sleep or food. We were unstoppable – I remembered that, and missed it suddenly.
But I don’t remember what our purpose had been, if we’d had any. Where we’d been before.
Meeting the other god had been a relief, had felt safe, but it hadn’t explained our situation, or what we were meant to do with it.
I remembered a flash of blood. Sacrifices. I shivered.
“We need… a hotel,” the other god said. “Or, something. Maybe we can break into someone’s house.”
“I don’t think we can do that,” I said warily. He ignored me, striding out of the relative safety of the bathroom.
We passed the receptionist, and again I summoned that weird pull of invisibility; the desire to remain unseen. The receptionist looked up, and through us. She sighed, and looked away.
“Handy trick,” my companion remarked.
We walked out onto the street, and I shivered again. The other god pulled me into a clothes store. “Put some warmer clothes on,” he urged.
I stared at him, at the cashier behind the desk, the security cameras. “Are you mad?”
“Invisibility,” he said with a grin. “Nobody can stop you.”
I tried not to think about whether or not I could fool the cameras as well. I took armfuls of clothes – long pants, a grey jumper like the other god’s, a black jacket. I crept into the changerooms and peeled off my stale, useless basketball uniform. The shoes were good – sturdy trainers. But I sighed in relief when I pulled black jeans onto my legs, the jumper and jacket over my shoulders.
I emerged, and the other god smiled when he saw me. “Now you don’t look like you’re going to freeze,” he said. “Come on. I have an idea.”
He explained that he had the same memory as I did – the flash of blood.
“I think we took human sacrifices,” he said. “We can’t kill anyone, of course. But maybe some blood will be enough to give us power. Keep us going. Get us off the streets.”
I didn’t like the sound of it, but I nodded. We didn’t have any better ideas between us.
It turned out my companion had a knack for influencing people. While I could make myself unnoticeable, he could make himself irresistible.
He charmed a young couple in a cafe, sitting with them at their table and striking up conversation. By the end they were enthralled, buying him food and coffee, gazing wide-eyed at him like he was their saviour.
He coerced them into following us into a sheltered back alley, where our teeth suddenly came in horribly useful.
“We’re not vampires,” he said when I bit into the woman’s arm. “We just need a little. We don’t want to hurt you.”
Blood filled my mouth, and images flashed behind my eyes.
We’d been entire universes. The small world we’d crashed into was barely a twinkle of a star, let alone the bodies we’d pushed souls out of.
We could swallow up entire star systems, make diamonds rain on planets, send two black holes spiralling into each other. We had immense powers of destruction and creation. We were unstoppable.
And then something had stopped us. We’d done something wrong; broken a rule.
Before I could remember, my companion was shaking me, yelling. I came to my senses to realise the woman had grown horribly pale.
“Don’t kill her!” he yelled, and I yanked my mouth away, letting her go.
His mouth was bloody too. “You saw it?”
“Yes,” I said. “What happened to us? Why are we like this?”
He snorted. “We went from celestial nightmares to shambling vagrants begging for blood. We must have Fallen.”
“Fall?” I asked. I hadn’t seen that far.
“I’m not sure exactly,” he said. “But I think we Fell. We did something terrible.”
By now, the young couple we’d accosted were sitting on the pavement, eyes still wide and fixed on us. They looked pale and close to passing out, but thankfully not close to death.
I didn’t want to kill them.
I’d devoured entire worlds, and yet the idea of accidentally killing two humans sent a vast roiling of wrongness spiralling in my stomach.
Was this a side effect of mortality?
“We need to find somewhere to stay,” the other god said. “We need… a base. To figure things out. Work out what we’re going to do, now.”
“You could stay at my place,” the man said breathlessly. His eyes were starry. “We’d love to have you.”
I glanced uneasily at my companion. I didn’t like the idea of leeching off people we’d literally just forced to give us sacrifice.
“Please,” the man said. “Let us help you.”
“We want to help you,” the woman insisted.
My companion looked uncomfortable, but he nodded. “Alright,” he said. “We don’t want to be any trouble.”
“It’s no trouble at all!” the woman said. “Stay as long as you need. We’d be happy for you to.”
With that, they led us out of the back alley. They still looked a bit weak; stumbling as if drunk, shaky and pale. But their enthusiasm was unshakeable, and they insisted their house was only a couple of blocks away.
The man told us his name was Sam. The woman’s name was Eden.
It occurred to me then that I didn’t know if I had a name. My companion never told me his, so perhaps neither of us had one.
“It’s a share house, but one of our housemates just moved out,” Eden told us. “So there’s a room free. He left a double bed, so if you don’t mind sharing…”
“We don’t mind,” I said. “A bed and a room’s perfect.”
She beamed, and there were tears in her eyes. I wondered at how powerful my companion’s charm was.
Had we just gained our first worshippers as mortals?
They led us to a little house with peeling paint and chipped windows. It was clean and cosy, with potted plants hanging from the ceiling and a cracked second hand mirror on the hallway wall.
They showed us the empty room, which was bare but decent with the double bed. There were no curtains on the window, just a few yards of spare fabric tacked onto the windowframe to act as a curtain. The carpet was a worn navy colour, the walls white but for the spots of peeling paint.
It felt perfect. It felt like home.
“Could do with some personalisation,” my companion said with a smile. I hardly knew what we could use to make the room feel like ours – I didn’t know if I would want to paint the walls blue, or hang up drawings. We had no belongings to fill it with. We barely had personalities yet, let alone paint colour preferences.
The house was old and worn and scruffy around the edges, but homey, and the other housemates were friendly – and easy for my companion to enthrall, it turned out.
“I feel weird that you keep doing that,” I said when Sam’s sister, a blonde with glasses called Lola, insisted on serving us tea and making us food.
“I feel weird about it too,” he said, chewing his lip. “But I figure it’s the best way to get ourselves stable, I think? They can’t get sick of us and kick us out, now. They’ll help us as much as they can, take care of us. We really need that right now.”
I twisted my mouth. He had a point, but it still felt wrong.
“I won’t make them do anything awful or harmful to themselves,” he promised. “Just… little things, to help us out. Food, clothes, maybe they can tell us stories.”
“Stories?” I said. “Why do you want stories?”
He frowned. “I’m not sure,” he said. “I just… I know I really want to be told stories. That was one thing we didn’t have as gods.”
He was right; of all my memories of power and destruction I could hardly comprehend now, there were no stories.
So when Lola finished cooking us food, Sam and Eden sat down and told us stories.
They looked confused when we asked, at first. They started with fairy tales, things they’d learned in childhood. Then there were books they’d read, urban mysteries they’d heard, a couple of conspiracy theories.
And something eased in me as they spoke. It was like with the blood – though this sacrifice couldn’t hurt them. I began to feel less lost, less unsure of myself and who I was.
It clicked with the Greek mythology stories. Stories of all-powerful beings, their idea of gods, though their fascination with mortals and complicated dramas were more human than we’d ever been capable of.
“We broke the rules,” I said, when the couple had finished.
“We fell in love,” he said.
Not with each other. It hadn’t been that simple. Our lovers were out there somewhere, in another part of the world that had seemed so navigably tiny before we’d Fallen. Now, we had no hope of easily finding them.
“I miss him,” he said. Such a human longing, but I felt it keenly.
Sam and Eden left the kitchen, laughing softly and bumping shoulders. I felt a deep pang in my chest. I couldn’t yet relate to their easy physical intimacy, but the desire for togetherness, for being together – I wanted it more than even when I was a god. If anything, mortality made it hurt more.
There’d been other gods, so many of us. We’d held mastery over the unimaginable, but we sacrificed it all when they told us we couldn’t hold our power as well as love at the same time.
Love was a mortal thing, like hunger, pain, cold, and the need for sleep. And when the others had found out, they’d told us we couldn’t have both.
I couldn’t yet remember why, but I felt on the edge of understanding something huge, something so much bigger than my now-mortal self, and now I knew what I needed to do.
I didn’t know what he’d be like, or what body he’d be in, but I knew I had to find him. I knew my companion felt the same way, and that our lovers were likely together in some part of the world, conspiring to find us.
We’d find each other. We’d reunite. Perhaps we’d never be gods again, but we’d be together.
Now, if I could only remember our names.