~3000 words, approx 15 min reading time
She came to me in May.
As heavy downpours threatened an early start of summer, I found myself already inundated by the ghost of water. I felt a swaying motion as if I had spent hours playing in an invisible sea, the same feeling that had haunted me every rainy season since I was a child. My body, overwhelmed by the persistent sensation of phantom waves passing through me, did not feel like my own but theirs. Hers.
I was at the library waiting for the rainstorm to die down. The building, with its high-ceilinged rooms and inner courtyard with arches connected by wrought-iron fences, used to be a house in colonial times. In the middle of it all, a stone fountain and a jacaranda tree. Violet flowers fell on the tiered bowls of the fountain and then cascaded into the round basin. Usually, the scent of flowers and paper filled every corner.
That day, it smelled like wet soil.
I heard distant laughter, could feel the sound waves coming toward me as they traveled through raindrops. It was a silvery laugh that echoed as if it came from the bottom of the ocean.
Sitting at the edge of the fountain, she was plunging and shaking her feet into the water to create small whirlpools. Flowers from the jacaranda had settled into her drenched hair like remoras sucking the different shades of green and turquoise. Her black eyes reflected the clouds. The constant rainfall made her freckles shine. She laughed and murmured unintelligibly to herself.
“They’re from Chalchiuhtlicue’s temple,” she said in a loud voice. “The stones, I mean. Fish came along with the rain.”
By her feet, fish of different colors swam in the transparent water. They were bright as jewels over the dark stones of the fountain that had been part of a sacred place demolished by Spanish conquistadors some centuries ago.
A temple devoted to Chalchiuhtlicue’s consort, the god of rain, was still standing at the archeological ruins nearby. But not even the foundations of hers remained.
She went on saying as if reading my thoughts: “Only the woman’s abode was torn down by those fuckers. What a surprise, uh? And for what? To make ugly things like this water waster. Isn’t it bittersweet that the goddess of water was forced to leave her aqueous kisses scattered around the city?”
I wondered if that was the reason why Toluca was such a rainy place.
She remained silent for a while. I watched her from a distance, not daring to talk or move. When the rainfall eased up a little, she got up and walked towards me. Her green skirt undulated as if moved by the same invisible waves that had brought her laughter to me before.
“You’ve grown a lot,” she said while taking my hand. Her fingers felt rough and pruney, sweaty and yet firm, cold. I stood still feeling the phantom waves breaking into my soul. When I was not moving, I noticed them the most as if the water was reclaiming me for itself, forcing me to move, slowly eroding me as it had been doing for years.
She looked into my eyes for an everlasting moment. Then, she left frolicking in the puddles.
I realized I was tightly grabbing something. She had slipped a round, translucent plate into my hand. It looked like the iridescent scale of a big fish that I was not able to catch.
When I was a little girl, my parents used to take me for picnics to Xinantecatl, the extinct volcano on the outskirts of Toluca. If the weather was fine, we would go up to the crater where there are two freshwater lakes. One of them, named after the Sun, is big and irregularly shaped. The other is named after the Moon; clear and round, its surface shines like a mirror showing whimsical figures when moved by the wind.
I remember myself playing on its banks. I can also recall those times when we arrived very early in the morning. A chill gust of wind, the fog dissipating with the first rays of light, the sounds of our steps disturbing the sleepy patches of yellow grass. Everything there seemed to exist in slow-motion. I would see a couple of fishermen, immobile like rubber-booted statues emerging from the depths.
One Sunday in May, the ball I was playing with rolled into the Moon lake. I ran after it but stopped when I saw them—those eyes.
Black and round, a rainbow trout’s eyes stared at me from the water. The fish waited motionless except for its gills, which were opening and closing mesmerizingly. I heard my name coming out from a bubble that popped as soon as it touched the surface.
It was calling me.
The trout’s scales glowed with the light refracted from the midday sun, its eyes did not stop staring at me. It was calling me.
I woke up inside an ambulance. I was thirsty. My clothes were soaked, cold and clung to my shivery skin. My hands were sore as if they had been holding onto something, fighting to not drown—or to remain underwater, I am not sure. I was so thirsty. I barely heard my mother weeping in my father’s arms.
We never went back to Xinantecatl.
“Enthrall me with your alibi, again,” said Brisa. Her poker face slowly turned into a smirk.
“Because I have to know, you know? In case your psycho mom calls like the other day and goes all Scorpio on me because I wasn’t informed about a tiny detail you came up with.”
“The usual,” I said mockingly, “a family reunion. I’m here to help you take care of your five hundred noisy cousins. Kids are wild these days and I’m a nice friend to a very special little lady. Happy?”
“Okay, nice friend. Thank you for your invaluable help. Now assist me by drinking this concoction or whatever.” Brisa handed me a red plastic cup.
“What’s in this?”
“I don’t know. Aguas locas, maybe. It’s tasty. Just drink it first, ask questions later. Be a good Aquarius and come have fun with everybody. Why tell all those lies if you’re gonna stay in a corner the whole time? Drink and then come to the pool, alright? The water won’t eat you,” she said and left.
“You know I’m not an Aquarius,” I said, but she did not hear me.
Brisa’s family owned a summer house with a swimming pool in Valle de Bravo. Since we started high school, they let her invite people over once in a while as long as she maintained her good grades and we cleaned the house up after ourselves. Her parents said that they felt relieved knowing that we were in a safe place, other than who knows where, since we were going to get intoxicated anyway.
My parents, on the other hand, were overprotective. They would never let drunk kids near a pool. They would never let kids get drunk in the first place, nor even have a sip of beer. They did not let me attend parties or go out late at night. I was only allowed to go to Brisa’s since they thought we were having innocent sleepovers with popcorn and skincare. My parents loved her and I am sure that they secretly wished me to be as smart and outgoing as her.
As I did.
After Brisa left me with that drink, I decided to lie down, eyes closed, on a checkered blanket by the plum tree. I did not want to be in the water.
“I don’t swim either,” said a familiar voice from above me. “Do you mind if I squeeze in here?” The voice continued but this time in my ear, it was accompanied by a warm breath.
I opened my eyes and turned to where that voice came from. Alex, who had just sat down on the blanket by my side, was looking at me, their pink-haired head resting on their right hand, smiling.
“Seriously, I don’t swim either. Not in pools, at least. I only swim in the rain,” they said, squinting their dreamy eyes.
“So you swim in the rain. Wow!” I said incredulously.
“You know, when it’s raining and it’s so windy that it rains sideways. Sometimes you don’t even know where the water is coming from, and you try to walk but you’re actually swimming instead. And in that floating process you hear a voice that’s calling your name, but you realize it’s just the wind filling your ears with water or maybe…” Alex took the drink Brisa had left and drank it all in one gulp.
“Maybe that voice is already inside your head, maybe it’s the voice of the rain itself and it’s not calling my name. It’s your name that I hear, as if the rain is telling me to come to you.” They touched my lips with their index finger. “Or maybe I’m just a little wasted, who knows.”
“Are you high?” I laughed. “Or is this your weird way of hitting on me?” My lips burned by the recent touch of their finger. I needed to put that flame out.
That night I dreamt about a round lake. It emitted a cold, blue light like the Moon’s. Lots of trout swam and jumped above the water. It started to rain lightly.
I heard a distant melody composed of unknown sounds and voices that sang words I could not understand. The sound came closer as countless bubbles ascended to the surface creating a thick, white foam from which Chalchiuhtlicue emerged.
The goddess of water was hideous and beautiful at the same time. She rose looking magnificent, an abomination between fish and woman. Her green skirt undulated in the water where rainbow trout danced as if they were inside a kaleidoscope. Her round, black eyes stared at me as she called my name with a voice that came from the depths.
I walked to her, but as my feet touched the water, I was stopped by the sound of weeping. Then, I saw someone carrying the body of a little girl. Soaked, inert. The girl’s hand, strengthless, dropped something round and bright: one of the goddess’ scales.
“Are you listening to me? Finals are around the corner and you’re not going to survive them if you keep on being so distracted.” Brisa shook my shoulders. She looked fed up, and tried to change her expression by taking a big sip from her cup of coffee.
“I just can’t stop thinking about her,” I said, closing my book. “The green-haired girl from the library. I didn’t have the courage to talk to her.”
“Typical Pisces! Weren’t you trying to date our pink-haired classmate? I saw you both talking at last week’s pool party. What happened to them? A little too sweet a color for you?”
Alex was indeed sweet. Their lips tasted like sugarcane juice and felt so plump and refreshing against my tongue. I could have died in those lips. I did for a brief eternity, but I panicked.
I wish I could go back to that Saturday afternoon at Brisa’s garden. The air had smelled like freshly cut grass and chlorine, but it faded once I was surrounded by Alex’s scent. Some friends had just tapped a keg and asked us to join them at the pool. Alex grabbed my hand to take me there but I froze, not because I did not want to go with them—I craved to feel their skin next to mine—but because I was not able to move a muscle. My body felt as if it was not mine, as if some invisible force had rolled in to flush myself away from me, to wash my desires away, to make me thirsty for a different water. My arm went limp releasing me from Alex’s gentle grip. They asked me what was wrong, did they do or say anything to upset me? Was I feeling fine? I did not answer. Their dreamy eyes showed disappointment and eventually turned away from me. I stood there, silent, terrified. Phantom waves engulfed me all over.
A different pair of eyes, small and black, replaced theirs in my mind.
They never answered my texts.
“I didn’t want to call them back,” I lied to Brisa. “I wanted things to work with Alex, I really did. But what didn’t happen has nothing to do with that girl at the library. It’s just that I feel like I want to ask her something, but I don’t know how to do it.”
“Is that a euphemism?” Another of her smirks.
“Of course not! I have this feeling… as if we’ve known each other since forever.”
“When did you get this corny? Is the Moon already in Cancer?” Brisa asked looking at her watch. “If you want to tell her something just go and say it. What can you lose?”
I was not afraid of what I could lose but of what I could gain.
“Be a Libra! Talk to people, don’t just stare at them from a corner. That is a little creepy, you know? Now let’s talk History. Finals, remember?”
I could not focus. The library girl’s black eyes were all I could think about.
As every weekend, Brisa’s garden smelled like dewy grass. It rained overnight, but the morning sky was clear and blue. Leaves from the plum tree scattered all over the place, some of them floated on the pool’s surface like tiny fish trapped in a rippled net of light.
I sat by the edge, dipping my feet, feeling weird for being surrounded by people and not in my usual spot under the plum tree, away from the water. Maybe my parents would be proud their daughter was following Brisa’s advice. But I am sure they would be terribly disappointed anyway. Like Alex, who had been avoiding me the entire morning.
I was aware of the real water on my skin, it was gentler than those waves I felt all the time, but it was also colder, its unexpected movements almost frightening.
“Where are you now?” asked someone, her voice mixed with the burble of water.
“What?” I snapped out of my thoughts.
“Where are you now? Are you here or are you still inside our dreams?” She laughed. The water rippled around her while she swam in slow-motion near my legs.
It was her. The library girl. She wore a headband covered in amaranth seeds to keep her green hair from her face, and it floated behind her as an algae veil. Her skin looked dewy and bright as if emitting a light of its own. She floated effortlessly, the water lovingly embracing her body. The rainy day girl. Her coral lips directed words to me. The blackest-eyes girl. Her.
I was not able to talk or move. I was staring at her, mouth agape as if waiting for the rain to fall and quench my thirst.
“This is going to be weird. If you don’t talk, I mean.” She splashed some water in my face. It felt so cold, it almost burned.
“I’m sorry,” I was able to say at last.
“For what? For being in our dreams, dripping wet and looking gorgeously scared?”
“What? No!” I felt my face turning red, maybe it was the burning sensation of cold water. “I wanted to ask you something, but I don’t remember what it was.”
“I’m in those dreams too. They’re ours and only ours, after all. You can come whenever you want, but come alone.”
She laughed again. Loud. She then grabbed my feet and dragged me into the pool.
Shocked by the cold, I became disoriented. Everything was blue in all directions. I panicked and started kicking the water, not knowing what to do. Her hands grabbed mine, their hard grip brought me back. Other people were swimming around us, but I focused only on her black eyes.
A big bubble came out of her smiling face. “Ask away,” I heard as an echo, a murmur inside the pool, inside my head. I desperately wanted to breathe. I had to go back to the surface. Her arms were now around me. I swallowed water. My lungs burned. She came closer. I could not breathe. I needed to put down that fire. Her lips felt slippery cold as we both emerged. Air was not my priority anymore.
In the dream, I am walking on a long bridge surrounded by fog. Other people pass me as if they are in a hurry. Some of them hop like frogs with distorted legs.
I walk for what it seems like hours. Some people start to cry. They yell and jump off the bridge, turning into fish as they fall.
When the fog disperses, I see the river we are crossing. From its turbulent waters, it grows a huge prickly pear cactus laden with beating fruit. As I look closer, the fruit is human hearts that drip blood into the whitewater.
I hear my name. Someone is calling me from the other side of the bridge but I keep on walking.
There is no one around me anymore. No one trying to pass me. It is only me who arrives to the other side where a dark stone temple rises over the river.
Chalchiuhtlicue arrives with the same force as copious rain. Her skin covered in scales, her green skirt made out of serpents, and her hair braided with blood and amaranth seeds. She carries me gently to a turquoise pond right in the middle of her temple. She kisses me and bathes me in the cold waters.
“Where are you now?” She asks. Her rough, gill-covered hands rub me all over. “In which part of you is there sadness hidden?”
Her laughter creates rain inside the temple. Chalchiuhtlicue pulls me close to her. I get lost in the black abyss of her eyes.
Summer is ending, but the rain keeps on falling everyday. May is a distant memory now. I feel that the phantom waves are too faint to pass through me or perhaps I am already swaying along with them. I have not seen the green-haired girl again since we kissed at Brisa’s pool. I only think about her hair and her lips and her eyes.
I have been to the library every day hoping to stumble into her. Every day, I get back home defeated, soaking wet because it does not stop raining. My hand hurt from holding tight the translucent plate she gave to me that time by the fountain. I hold on tight to the only piece of her I have while something is already embracing me. Every day I wish for her to come to me again; and every night, I still have the same dreams about my childhood, about the rain and Chalchiuhtlicue.
The wind has been building up as if it is gathering strength to carry something. It is hard to tell where the rain is coming from. As the cold raindrops tap on my window, they sound like little beads from a necklace knocking against each other. Water music comes along with my name as if emerging out from the depths. I am swimming in the rain, I am going back to Xinantecatl volcano.
By the water-Moon’s shore I watch her swimming, mesmerizing me with her gills. Her black eyes—those eyes—will not stop looking at me. They will never look away.
She calls me.
Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas is a Mexican immigrant and a graduate of the Clarion West class of 2019. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Nightmare, the World Fantasy Award-winning anthology She Walks in Shadows, and elsewhere. She can be found online at nellygeraldine.com and on Twitter as @kitsune_ng.
Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas
Author of “She Calls”
What inspired you to write this story?
I wrote the first version of this story in the summer of 2011, it was one of the first times I attempted to write fiction in English and I wanted to tell a story about my own corner of the world. Every rainy season, Toluca becomes a mess, there are floods, city infrastructure fails, laundry gets soaked in the drying lines. I wondered why we let that happen every year and it occurred to me that it is because we have a weird, obsessive relationship with water. And while wondering about the that relationship started, I thought about the gods of the people who lived there before me: they were beautiful and terrifying at the same time—like that goth ex we all had and who we think about every so often…
What do you hope readers take from this story?
Dreams. The fiction I enjoy writing the most is the one that makes me feel like I am walking inside an oneiric landscape where I can get lost. I hope they dream with the loving embrace of Chalchiuhtlicue. (If you dream with her, please, let me know!)
To give other writers hope, would you mind sharing with us how many edits and/or submissions this story has been through?
As I said before, I wrote the first version of this story ten years ago, so it has overcome a series of huge transformations and has had its fair amount of rejections: over twenty if my notes serve me well. I trunked it for several years before I decided it was time for a final stroll before being sent to a farm upstate where it could play with other rejected stories. Imagine how surprised I was to see it found its forever home here at Apparition!
My message to other writers is that sometimes stories just need time for us to be ready to work on them, give them the time and love they deserve.
Recommend something to us! This could be a book, a short story, a video game, a project you’ve heard about, something you’re working on, etc. Anything that has you excited and that you want people to know about.
I’m loving the anime version of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. What a story! I swear it gets better with each episode, plus the animation is simple gorgeous. If you haven’t yet, give it a try.