This story is by Cassandra Lane and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
The cookie tasted stale.
It wasn’t. I’d watched Kate, the owner of BAKED IN SYDNEY, pull the crumbly, golden goodness from the oven barely ten minutes ago. It was fresh.
Still. It tasted stale. I tossed the doughy disappointment into the paper bag to languish against its still-warm, half-eaten siblings. How could fresh cookies taste bad? And who craved steak first thing in the morning?
My phone vibrated.
I checked the time and punched out a response with my thumbs.
I have three minutes. You can literally see me from your window. P.S. I finished my PhD last night! P.P.S. I think I’m dying.
Three dots tap-danced on my screen. Then:
Two minutes. P.S. Congrats! What was it on again? P.P.S. You look pretty alive to me. P.P.P.S. We’re all dying.
I squinted over at the brick building across the street. A cheery figure waved at me through a window on the second floor.
HA! You think I’m pretty. P.S. The Greek Gods. Remember? I taught you that ‘know thyself’ actually meant ‘know your place, mortal loser’.
Oh yeah. One minute left.
I turned back to The Crown Jewels Jeweler, unwilling to let the not-stale-but-still-crappy cookies ruin the moment. Today was a good day. Sure, right now I was Tara Pearce, lowly – and almost late – executive assistant, but soon? Hello, Tara Pearce, historian and mythologist.
A pale face appeared in the display window, leaning down to grab a set of diamond earrings. I nodded approvingly. The movement caught her attention and I grinned at her.
Something white and shiny and piercing flashed in the glass reflection. I blinked. Peered closer. Blinked again. Was that …
I squeezed my eyes closed. Opened them wide. Tentatively lifted my top lip.
It was still there. They were still there. And they were accompanied by -Cautiously, carefully, I ran a hand over the top of my head, feeling for …
Oh my god. I had actually lost it. All those late nights in front of the computer, the daily six shot coffee, the cereal for dinner, the constant soul-crushing stress …
Maybe I had a rare brain disease that led to hallucinations and – I met my yellow eyes in the reflection – sudden eye colour changes and – I pulled my lip up again – sudden tooth growth …
I spun, grabbing a ruddy-cheeked girl by the arm.
“Hey,” I said. My voice was high. Whiney.
The girl raised an eyebrow. “Hey?”
“Do I have, I mean … my ears. Do they look normal to you? And my teeth. Are they … like, not, scary?”
The girl’s other eyebrow rose.
“You look fine. A little scary, but that’s more the wild-eyed, weird questions thing.”
I thanked her and turned back to my reflection. A man appeared next to me.
He was tall and smug and good-looking and nodding at me.
Fact: Handsome men didn’t just appear – and nod at you – outside jewelry shops. That wasn’t a thing.
I poked him in the arm to make sure he was real. He grabbed my finger and shook it.
“The name’s Hermes. I’d say it’s nice to meet you, but honestly, I’ve got better places to be and less toothy things to do.”
My brain fried, sunny-side up. Hermes. As in the Greek God? One of the mythical Greek Gods I’d spent the last eight years studying?
Ah. Now I got it.
“This is a joke, right? Did Sam put you up to this?” My eyes scanned the window across the street.
It was empty.
“Look. Love. I’ve got a date with a forest nymph. So can we skip past the whole disbelief, shock, anger, bargaining stages and shoot straight to acceptance?”
Hermes took my silence as agreement.
“Here’s the deal: You’ve pissed off Daddy. Your whole, ‘How to anger the Greek Gods’ thing?”
I nodded vaguely. My PhD paper wasn’t really titled that. It was an analysis of the ancient historical beliefs around how and why a mortal could supposedly aggravate an immortal god and how they linked to modern perceptions of socially-acceptable behaviour and –
“It reads like a bloody instruction manual for mortals. ‘How to shit the Gods in 140 characters or less’. Not cool. So Zeus has sentenced you to nine years in wolf form. Don’t worry –“ Hermes said, noticing my distress. “- nobody but you will know. It’s more of an inner punishment thing.”
Hermes winked at me. He had dimples. They were adorable and annoying.
I was, still, speechless. Hermes was, still, talking.
“If you consume human flesh in the next nine years, you’ll transform into a wolf forever.”
I blanched. Human flesh? How was that even a risk?
Hermes chucked my chin. “You’ve got this, T-Dog. Maybe it’ll even be a good thing. What do I know? Mortals these days. With your Snapchat filters and your Starbucks. You can probably make a reality TV show out of this.”
He grabbed the paper bag out of my hand. For a moment I considered snatching it back and using it to capture the exhalations of my rising panic.
“Oh yeah,” he said, lifting a cookie out of the bag. “Expect your diet to change too. These aren’t going to hit the spot for you anymore. You should visit your local butcher. See if that doesn’t tickle your wee wolfy pickle.”
And just like that something inside of me splintered and snapped. The invisible ears, the extra snappy teeth, the excess body hair, the idea that the mythical gods were real, hey, all of that I could handle. But no cookies? For nine years?
“Maybe you want to spread the word too,” Hermes words were muffled by half-masticated cookie as he passed me a card. “If any other eager beavers want to write about the Gods … they should focus on pleasing them not pissing them off.”
LIFE’S A B*TCH … AND NOW YOU ARE ONE!
Get over it or call 1800-I’VE-BEEN-CURSED.