Ritter was staring out her kitchen window when, in the distance, she saw a body fly into the air.
The sudden movement in her line of sight broke her trance and caused her vision to re-focus on the wooden fences, tool sheds, and tree trunks outside. The body fell—the movement only visible through a slight crevice between trees in her neighbors’ backyards—and then arms were flailing upwards yet again. She sighed, realizing it was a child on a trampoline a few houses up. The Saturday morning sunshine filtered through cider-tinged leaves and twining branches, peppering her face with bursts of brightness.
“Oh to be a child again, and experience the existential bliss of bouncing into the air,” mused her left earring.
Her right earring scoffed. “Yeah, right! Do you know how many kids break their arms on trampolines each year?”
Both earrings dangled in quite the same manner, each a silver wire-wrapped spider clutching a gem, her left earring encasing a light blue opalite crystal, her right, a black obsidian rock; however, their commentary almost always contradicted the other, which was even more confusing because independently, Ritter often agreed with them both.
Remembering her glass of orange juice on the counter, Ritter took a citrus-sweet sip which cooly washed over her tongue. She looked at the glass in her hand, half-full, yet half-empty, and then looked back out the window at the child’s gangly arms flapping as his large white shirt swelled around him in pseudo-flight, peach-colored leaves falling around him.
“I used to love that moment in the air, when my body was suspended, for just a split second… Hoping that maybe, this time, I could fly…” she whispered, “But always disappointed by gravity in the end.” Both her earrings responded with a thoughtful sigh.
“But we never had a trampoline, growing up,” she added, setting down the glass again, in the same spot on the counter where its ring of condensation pooled. “So I only got to jump on a trampoline when we went to my cousins’. It was the coolest thing in the world to me, but they were always bored of it. They’d want to play cops and robbers, but I’d only want to bounce.”
“That’s humans for you,” her right earring interjected. “Absolutely the worst. Can never appreciate what they have.”
“But when’s the last time you saw your cousins?” her left earring wondered. “It’s so lovely that you have those memories.”
Ritter shrugged at both her earrings, then steadily finished drinking her glass of orange juice, decidedly done with these memories and ponderings. She set her empty glass in the sink and, with a final glance out the window at the pleasantly warm-hued world, went back to her room, on the way crossing paths with her roommate, Ashley.
“Hey,” the sloppy-bunned brunette and Ritter both exhaled before Ashley flashed a smile and ducked into their bathroom where—as soon as the door shut—the sound of streaming water ran. Ritter stepped into her own bedroom.
Ritter’s first name was also Ashley, but the name suited her roommate far better than it did Ritter. Ever since she was a young ruffian, she had felt that “Ashley” conjured impressions of long blond hair, small pink purses, and painted nails, and it wasn’t that Ritter wasn’t into those things, but she just never wanted any of that for herself. She’d much rather stare admiringly at the type of girl who truly embodied the essence of an “Ashley” than to be a girl named Ashley, and with so many other Ashleys in her kindergarten class, it made sense that Ritter adopt her last name as her primary name.
Which was a little bit ironic, because as a twenty-one-year-old, Ritter now had blond hair. She kept it cut short in a pixie cut that displayed her pierced ears and a rather sexy neck tattoo that ran up her spine, which had adequately disappointed her parents—but just mark that down as instance #384, because they had an ongoing scroll of grievances with their youngest’s life choices, including being a lesbian (which Ritter maintained wasn’t a choice), majoring in English literature, refusing to get her driver’s license, and voting Democratic.
Her earrings gave rather conflicted advice on this matter.
“Who cares what your parents think? Better to shock them now while their hearts can still take it,” her right earring would frequently grumble. “It’s your life. They need to stop trying to control your every decision; it’s suffocating, really.”
However, her left earring saw it a different way. “Now, now, it is quite troubling how they harp on you, but try to see it from their eyes. The more delicately you handle them, perhaps the more they will respect your independence.”
Instead, Ritter ghosted her parents, much like she ghosted any room in which she was present—quietly crouched on a couch cushion, hovering near the kitchen sink, roaming the four rooms of her apartment on tiptoe. Now, she flopped onto her bed, arms spread out, and stared at her ceiling. Most days, she was so used to the silence that she forgot she could speak, shout—sing, even. The quietude had become a fog in which she was lost, a thick cloud which hugged her in a strangling comfort. And even though she lived with another girl, Ashley was rarely home, even during a pandemic, and spent most of her time at what Ritter figured was her boyfriend’s place. She tried not to think about what germs Ashley may be contracting and bringing home, and merely conceded to avoid Ashley around their apartment at all costs.
The effect was stifling loneliness—but at least she had her earrings.
“I have no idea what to do with myself today,” Ritter whispered to her ceiling, but also to her earrings. Her room was still dim from her unopened blinds, and she sat up on her bed to spin the rod and summon the sunlight. Having a third-floor apartment, Ritter was eye-level with the crisping leaves outside, the tree’s branches shrouding her view from the residential street, the passers by in workout spandex and cable-knit sweaters, and the brick-built houses in her neighborhood.
“Do something impulsive,” urged her right earring. “Shake things up. Have you tried dying your hair blue yet?”
Her left earring offered, “Or you could work on some of your homework, catch up a bit on your reading?”
Ritter had grown quite used to these earrings in just a short time. Ten months ago, she’d never have thought her primary companionship would be a pair of spider earrings; then again, it was the year 2020 and much had surprised her during its elapsed ten months, such as a global pandemic outbreak which had previously only seemed possible in movies and books, and so by this point, she felt like she could normalize practically anything that had once seemed outlandish.
She hadn’t even acquired the spider earrings on purpose. In somewhat of a fateful mistake, she had been erroneously shipped the spider earrings in place of what she had actually ordered: a rose-flowered ring—which, again, hadn’t even been intended for herself. In the beginning of that summer, she had ordered the ring from an Etsy shop online for her girlfriend, and the seller had mixed up her order, sending her the spider earrings instead. By the time the seller realized her error and apologized to Ritter, sending a follow-up package with another version of the rose-flowered ring, Ritter’s girlfriend Maggie had broken up with her, explaining sheepishly that the quarantine had given her a lot of time to think, and since they could barely be together anyways, social distancing and all, they might as well take a break and contemplate what they really wanted in life. The way Mags framed it, it seemed like a mutual break-up for both their best interests, but from Ritter’s angle, it felt like she had just lost the one person who was keeping her sane in all her solitude. When the correct ring finally arrived in the mail, Ritter didn’t even open it, just tossed the parcel to her roommate Ashley and said, “Here, I won this in a giveaway but I don’t want it.”
Losing her girlfriend during Pandemic Summer had been devastating, but in the weeks that followed, Ritter realized not much of her daily life’s introverted routine was affected by this—rather than text Mags when she woke up, she checked Twitter instead, or, rather than FaceTime Mags when she was lonely, she looked up TikToks of barnyard sheepdogs prancing among their farm animal friends. She watched YouTube videos like she was studying how to be human.
Eventually, the internet became too much for her. At the same time it was a solace, it was a poison, and, fed up with “relationship goals” and still seeing Mags’ online updates depicting that her life was business as usual—no heartbreak? No remorse?—Ritter deleted seven apps and stashed her hot phone in the back of her top dresser drawer.
And then, she was completely alone.
Solitude was both gratifying and maddening. Ritter wasn’t much of a “people” person, but her time began to feel like a hungry stomach—empty, and tasting its own emptiness on her tongue every day, sometimes growling for fulfillment, other times becoming merely used to its condition. Her room was both a temple and a prison, and she found herself doing odd things for her own amusement, like crawling under her bed to imagine how a beetle feels, or standing on top of her desk while she munched on Cliff bars. One day she taped up every piece of paper she owned upon her walls because she couldn’t stand their eggshell blankness anymore, yet felt very little relief from the notebook papers, business cards, and sticky notes which now collaged only half her wall space. Out of apathy, the papers remained taped up indefinitely.
And so it was this stir crazy energy at the beginning of her junior year and first completely virtual semester of college that she finally tried on the spider earrings for the first time and heard them speak:
Black ball gown, fishnet sleeves, a crumpled witch hat from the back of her closet; Ritter had been playing dress-up in September. She eyed herself in the mirror, pleased with her dark make-up, winged to the most precise and symmetrical tips, and then realized that she needed a few pieces of jewelry to complement the look. Rifling through a cigar box filled with silver chains and an assortment of pendents, she untangled a skull necklace, and then caught a glimpse of the spider earrings. Adorning herself, she looked back in the mirror, and as she smiled satisfied with herself, she heard a voice, raspy yet soft:
“How amazing you look!”
Ritter had startled, twisting around suddenly to scan her cluttered room. She could feel the dangling spider earrings rocking from her lobes, and her skull necklace pounded against her chest as she surveyed, frozen: clothing draped over her chair and piled upon her bed, but there was no one else in the room with her.
“Even I can agree on that. It’s a fantastically edgy aesthetic,” another voice said, high and confident.
Still turning about, Ritter wondered if a video on her laptop had accidentally played, or if the TV in the living room had been left on, but as she searched about the house for the source of the voices, they continued to speak as though right over her shoulder—a sort of anxious ASMR experience—yet every time she twirled around, eager to spot the intruder, there was only empty room.
“Dear oh dear, please relax. Perhaps we should properly introduce yourself. No need to fuss about—my name is Eris,” cooed the raspy voice from her left, which sounded like it belonged to a woman who had belted a great number of soul songs.
The other voice, which was cute yet delivered an inherent sass, added from the right, “Calm down, you’ve never had a spider talk to you before?”
“Spider earring, of course, to be technical,” Eris clarified kindly. “And that’s Osiri.”
It wasn’t until a nervous fifteen minutes later that Ritter finally stood before her mirror once again, somewhat shaken yet resigning to the given fact that her spider earrings—although no part of their sterling silver flicked or budged a millimeter or contained any tiny speakers—were the voices talking to her.
“What… the heck…” Ritter said to herself, incredulous, staring into her own hazel eyes, touching the corner of her lip, wagging her tongue back and forth. “Am I awake right now? Have I finally lost it?” Suddenly she slapped herself across the face with a burning snap.
“Well apparently you have lost it, if you’re slapping yourself for no reason like that,” her right earring Osiri said, snidely.
From her left side, Eris said, “What’s your name, love? Don’t mind us, and certainly don’t hurt yourself like that. We’re just happy to finally make your acquaintance. The cigar box was far too crowded for our liking.”
In her younger days, Ritter had consumed many fantastical stories. She grew up reading books about backyard elves, wizards among humans, dragons as pets. Her heart belonged to the witches in princess stories and she’d dreamed for most her childhood to be carried away from her family by a fairy godmother, or at least the pleasure of entirely losing herself in such a story. As an adult, she had lost much of these hopes, although fantasy continued to be her favorite genre of books and movies, but she had resigned long ago that life was as plain and regular as it was on the surface. Until the earrings.
So perhaps it wasn’t entirely madness, which allowed her to accept that her spider earrings were enchanted, but the wellspring of hope which had been lost to herself, and yet also her desperate ache for companionship in any form, that led her to say,
“Well… I’m Ritter. Nice to meet you, too.”
Laying on her bed this Saturday morning, considering her options, Ritter decided to do her homework. It wasn’t something she’d normally prioritize on a Saturday morning, but the thought of being able to relax during the second half of the day appealed to her, and she did have a significant amount of reading to do.
To transform her room into “school mode,” she dug out her cold phone from her dresser and selected a classical piano playlist, cleared off her desk, and dropped some peppermint oil into her diffuser. Then she sat at her desk and opened the Norton Anthology of British Lit Volume II and flipped to an epic poem by Percy Shelley.
Immediately upon looking at the small type on the thin pages, her eyes glazed over and her right earring groaned.
“Ugh, this is so boring,” Osiri droned. “Who wants to read this!!? You should do it later!”
Eris piped up. “It’s about learning and understanding the classics! This piece of text has survived hundreds of years. Isn’t that remarkable?”
Ritter rubbed her face, massaging her temples, and sighed. “Guys, I need to concentrate,” she mumbled.
“Do it later,” Osiri sang.
“Just get it over with now,” Eris reasoned.
Ever since last month when Ritter first realized that her spider earrings spoke to her, she had adopted the habit of leaving them in almost constantly. Whereas most of her life, she rarely wore dangly earrings because she had a bothersome habit of accidentally snagging them, she had come to realize that she could only hear Eris and Osiri when they were in her ears.
When she first heard their voices, she had conducted a small amount of experiments with them to test their abilities: she couldn’t hear them if she merely held them near her face, nor could she hear them if she set them—gingerly—on top her ear. No, their hook must strictly be pierced through her lobe in order to hear their words, so, having grown fond of their banter, their great interest and perspective of her life, she quite usually kept them in. In fact, often, she would fall asleep with them whispering back-and-forth, her head carefully propped back so that she couldn’t easily roll over and bend them in her sleep. The only time she regularly removed them was during her showers and, when necessary, to focus on her homework.
“Sorry, I can’t pay attention to this if you two are chatting,” Ritter said, and began to remove her right earring.
“Oh, we can be silent, can’t we, Osiri?” Eris attempted to compromise, but Ritter was already setting Osiri on the desk and could no longer be heard.
“This is just for a bit,” Ritter said reassuringly, feeling a tad motherly, and took out Eris.
The silence without her spider earrings felt eerie. Of course, it wasn’t totally silent in her room—Moonlight Sonata played through her Bluetooth speaker beside her bed, her diffuser hummed while emitting a clouded shoot of moisture which rose and fell, dispersing, and cars whisked by outside, occasionally a dog barking or child shouting. At one point, the apartment door slammed closed with her roommate’s departure. But Ritter’s head felt strangely cold without the earrings’ constant company.
It was odd how she craved their presence, she noted, yet she couldn’t quit the craving. Although only two pieces of cold, wired jewelry, she felt a warmth upon her neck when she wore them, almost as though a lover’s mouth breathing near her ear sweet nothings, and this is when she missed Mags the most. Maybe it wasn’t even Mags she missed, but anybody. To feel the heat of someone else’s nearness. The blood pulsing beneath soft, close skin.
Eris and Osiri weren’t perfect substitutes for this, but they were something. And having gotten to know them quite well, she almost felt a thing like love or affection for them, so that as she sat there, reading that pastoral poem, she felt a nakedness upon her, an uncomfortable desolation, as though she were stranded in the middle of the ocean with nothing to clutch to, only open water, extending as far as her panicked eyes could see.
Ritter had never been the type of person to experience separation anxiety. She had her moods, of course, as all people do, but she also had lived by a certain laissez-faire mentality which allowed her to let go of things which no longer suited her, or to feel content with however events played out. This year had slowly eroded all security she once felt, and she began to loathe her own neediness for these base interactions at the same time she felt herself changing, maybe even regressing, towards this new habitual yearning for company.
Yet, she wouldn’t—couldn’t—have any company. She was a type I diabetic. If she contracted the virus which had killed over 200,000 of her fellow Americans, her chance at survival was shaky at best. And so it was ironic that her best chance at survival this year was to descend into a dark, lonely place, and wait.
As soon as Ritter finished her reading, she slipped Eris and Osiri back into her ears.
“We missed you so much!! How was your reading? Tell us everything about it!” Eris greeted, and goosebumps streaked Ritter’s arms with how close her voice felt upon her neck.
“Yes, it’s great to be back. No, really. Did anybody die in this poem you read? Any battles to the death?” Osiri inquired.
Beaming to be reunited, Ritter told them of Shelley’s verses, admitting she only understood about half of what she’d read. “Hopefully I’ll never have to read anything by him again,” Ritter muttered.
She had once asked Eris and Osiri what they felt when they were away from her, what it was like for them to be set on her end table away from her ears. It had been a late night at the time, and they had all been watching Juno together, her room completely dark except for the light from the screen, and because Ritter had seen the movie perhaps a hundred times, they were chatting among themselves casually.
While Osiri merely responded that it was horrible to be away from her, Eris explained more coherently their drab existence apart from Ritter. “It’s like, we’re still aware of things, but it’s rather cold, and kind of removed. We can still hear and think, but it’s like as soon as you put us on, some magic comes alive and a thousand sparks fly, and colors become vivid, and it’s like all the other time we spent away from your ears, we were merely in a fog.”
When Ritter became concerned that she was inadvertently harming Eris and Osiri by removing them, Eris was quick to add, “No—it doesn’t hurt. It’s just, like being in purgatory. No pain. Yet no pleasure.”
Ritter thought of that word Eris had used: magic.
“It’s probably like how Han Solo felt when he was in that slab of concrete,” Osiri said, the three of them having just watched the entirety of the Star Wars movies the week before, and Osiri had become a quick fan of the franchise.
Knowing this gave Ritter a sense of purpose in wearing the earrings, too. It’d be one thing if she was selfishly mooching off their existence for her own pathetic satisfaction, but once she knew that their relationship was quite mutual in nature, that she was actually helping them, providing enjoyment for them, that gave her even more reason to wear them every moment. The feeling of being needed sparked something in her which had recently fizzled out.
It only occasionally occurred to Ritter anymore that their relationship was completely unorthodox. How had Eris and Osiri come into existence? She had once searched for the woman who sent her the earrings, considered sending her a message asking how she had come to craft two such remarkable earrings, yet when she had attempted to revisit her Etsy page, she couldn’t find it at all, even under her “previous purchases” page. It had simply vanished, which both increased the mysterious air to their existence, yet also seemingly let Ritter off the hook—well, what could she do now? Why question fate?
And when she asked Eris and Osiri how they had come to exist, both their answers had been rather vague and abstract.
“It was just, one day, we were,” Eris responded.
“I mean, do you remember when you were born? One day, nothingness, the next day, awareness,” Osiri offered, and as Ritter couldn’t possibly fathom her own non-existence which was once so absolute, unbeknownst to the consciousness she now inhabited, Ritter had no further questions, and in fact had to spend a good portion of the rest of the day contemplating her own existence.
After watching a couple episodes of The Mandalorian as a “reward” for doing her Shelley reading, Ritter began feeling a little restless. It was Saturday mid-afternoon now and she still had more reading and homework assignments to complete, but she was in the process of nudging those responsibilities towards her tomorrow self. Today Ritter wanted to go on a bike ride.
From her window, her neighborhood portrayed October at its best. Bright blue sky, vibrant collage of foliage, blustery little breezes—Ritter wanted to see more of her college town. Because her university shifted all her classes to a virtual setting, she hadn’t spent much time outside that year. She had been a transfer student that spring semester, moving into her apartment in January, and had taken quarantine quite seriously in the past several months.
But today, she needed to get out of the house, at least this one time this fall. The quickest yet most beautiful season, autumn always briskly bloomed and receded into winter with a fell swoop. Ritter knew that if she didn’t take the time to revel it now, she may surely miss her favorite season.
As Ritter was morosely preparing to remove her spider earrings, Eris piped up, “So, Ritter, we were wondering—could we go with you?”
“On a bike ride?” Ritter asked, pausing in front of her bedroom mirror.
“We could use some fresh air too,” Osiri said. “See the sights!”
Ritter contemplated. Any time she was exercising or moving about seemed like an inopportune time to wear dangly earrings—there was a reason the WNBA didn’t wear hoop earrings on the court, and Ritter almost shuddered at the thought of how horrific of an experience that would be. However, riding a bike was a solitary activity, and if she was careful, it wouldn’t be much of a nuisance to wear the spiders on the ride. She ultimately figured this should be fine, and left them in while she changed into cargo joggers and a fresh long-sleeved shirt.
There were times when Ritter wondered if the spiders’ voices were all in her head. When they spoke to her, it sounded like a voice external to her own mind, as though they were truly vocalizing through their own nonexistent mouths. But when she recorded their conversations on her phone, sat in the living room with them when Ashley would come home unexpectedly, their voices could never be heard to the world—not on recording, not to any other human. It was occasionally troublesome to Ritter. She knew about the placebo effect, knew that maybe she only heard their voices when she was wearing them as earrings because her mind conceived that she would hear a voice. It could possibly be a game she had come up with, a selective imaginary friend tethered to an accessory, and while Ritter wondered this, she didn’t have anyone with whom she could consult without plausibly being institutionalized. She cringed reflecting on how she had once opened up to her mother in middle school about her sexuality and had consequently been sent to one intense therapy session after another, and from then on, knew better than to confide her private feelings which could be used against her to others.
So while Ritter didn’t quite know for sure whether this were all in her head, she’d much rather have Eris and Osiri in her life than not.
Unlocking the bike closet in the shed behind her apartment building, Ritter stepped inside the dim, cool, slanted building and found her bike leaning against the wall. She was wearing a medley of headgear: large sunglasses, a black cotton face mask, a matte green bike helmet strapped beneath her chin, and her dangling spider earrings. She felt like an astronaut, over-dressed and in a bubble, but there was a careful, precautious reason for each accessory, and so she wheeled her bike out of the shed looking as anonymous as she ever had.
After locking the shed behind her, she mounted her bike and kicked off, pedaling across her apartment’s gravely parking lot to the sidewalk. Once on the cement, she rode west, seated firmly on her bike seat and pedaling slowly. As she gradually accelerated, a smile crept across her mouth, warm with the pocket of her breath beneath the mask, feeling like she was beginning to float along the breeze. Cars passed by her, and she awed at the leaves raining marvelously from the canopies that extended over the road. The street was lined with houses, and even Eris and Osiri were quieted, making only amazed sighs at the manifestation of autumn.
She continued to pedal through the neighborhoods, occasionally reaching a bustling intersection and turning to hug the residential areas, being less intrigued with the shopping prospects and more interested in the quaint effect of the houses in autumn. Many of them had pumpkins carved and staggered on their front porch steps, some had giant inflatable Frankenstein’s monsters or Casper ghosts, others had lawns completely coated with fallen leaves. Eris would often comment with delight, and even Osiri enjoyed the bike ride.
At some point, Ritter began to grow exhausted, her legs wobbly, pedaling slower and slower up the inclines, panting in her mask. She turned left down another street to loop back around to her apartment, passing by a few joggers. Eris suggested that she take a break, and Ritter agreed, dismounting her bike and squatting near the raised yard of a terraced house while she collected her breaths.
“You good?” Osiri asked, and Ritter laughed at herself for being so winded. She unhooked her water bottle from the bike’s holder and chugged from it, slipping it beneath her mask.
“I’m fine,” Ritter said, exhaling, standing up, and putting the water bottle back. “But maybe I’ll just walk for the rest of the way.”
“Wait, look there!” Eris cried. “Behind this house! Do you see?”
Ritter looked about her quickly, peering up at the brown house and the large oak in their front yard. “What is it? What do you mean?” she asked.
Osiri exclaimed, “Oh, it’s a trampoline! In the back yard!”
As soon as Osiri said it, Ritter laid eyes on it: the edge of a trampoline. She stepped to her left so that she could peer at it from a wider angle across the lawn. No net, adult sized. Perhaps it was the one she had seen the kid jumping on this morning, although in her gut, she thought that they were farther away from her apartment than this and it was probably a different house.
With a snort, Osiri said, “Go jump on it.”
Ritter replied, “Ha!” She brushed her hips and shook her head. The spider earrings tilted and tickled her neck.
“Well… Actually,” Eris started, suggestively, “That might be kind of fun. In fact, it might be kind of good for you.”
“Oh, go on, Ritter. Live a little!” Osiri tempted.
Could she really do that? Ritter wondered. She never in a million years would have thought to trespass in someone else’s yard and jump on their trampoline—couldn’t she get in trouble for that?
On the other hand, she felt a growing sense of urgency that she needed to bounce on it, like an itch she hadn’t known she wanted to scratch so badly. Of course that sounded ridiculous—no one needed something like that—and yet as she considered it, it felt like perhaps this was a momentous occasion in her life. If she jumped on the trampoline, her life would go in one direction, and if she didn’t, her life would go in another. That made it sound dramatic, but it wasn’t even about the act of jumping on the trampoline necessarily, but about what that represented of herself to herself. How could she live with herself if she passed up this deviously innocent activity? There was no fence, and she had a clear path to the trampoline; no one would be harmed. She was only twenty-one years old and had hardly lived that year, had hardly left her apartment, had nearly no memories to show for herself, no lessons learned, no drunken nights or adventurous days. And here she was now, with her two earrings encouraging her to let loose for one moment and try something new, something exciting—could she live with herself tomorrow if she was too chicken to do this one thing?
It was the dilemma of a thirteen-year-old boy, she laughed in her head, and yet her heart had begun pounding quickly again. She looked both ways up and down the sidewalk, but there were no pedestrians on this street at the moment, and both Eris and Osiri whispered to her, “You can do it!” Her sunglasses began fogging and she removed them, hanging them off her bike handle, and then she suddenly clambered up the grassy slope and dashed to the stranger’s backyard.
Behind the house, there was a swingset and a yellow slide along with the trampoline, and with her heart beating at her chest, she swung one leg and then the other over the metal coils and pulled herself up onto the black netting pulled taut across the trampoline’s base.
“This is it! You’re really doing it!” Osiri cheered.
At first she faltered, losing her balance on the nodding surface, but then Ritter got her footing and stood, riding the waves of the gentle bobbing. Then, she bent her knees and pushed against it, slingshotting her into a higher bounce. A large grin broke her face, and as her force became greater and her jumps became leaps, she raised her arms above her, hopping along the trampoline.
“This is amazing! I can’t believe this is still so much fun!” Ritter laughed, her ankle giving out and bouncing to her knees, only to be launched back into the air and coming back down to the forgiving mat. Her giggles meshed with Eris and Osiri’s giggles, and she kept jumping. She closed her eyes and leaped upwards, feeling the freedom of being airborne, and even the pleasure of falling confidently toward a surface which would only lift her up again and again, every time she came down. She flew and fell until suddenly, her laughter felt very alone and very singular. Slowing, she whispered, “Eris? Osiri?”
Frantically she touched her ear lobes, and feeling only her lobes and the studs of her other piercings; Ritter panicked and looked below her. She saw nothing on the trampoline and scampered off the edge, awkwardly dismounting to the ground and feeling her legs buckle beneath her upon the unrelenting grass. Getting down to her knees, she scanned the ground, eyes darting, running her hands and shuffling the red maple, yellow-burnt oak, and pink-orange hickory leaves. She cursed.
As Ritter scoured the wet ground, her nerves panicked, Ritter did have one brilliant, immaculate thought, which ricocheted in her mind: she couldn’t hear their voices. She hadn’t heard their voices. This was different than every other time when she had removed the spider earrings and stopped hearing their voice, because those times, she had been aware that she was removing them, and so existed a sliver of a chance she was consciously silencing their voices.
But as Ritter brushed her hand and touched Osiri, laying among the leaves yet still in-slightly-bent-tact, and clutched Osiri’s mildly mangled form to her, Ritter became definitively aware that it wasn’t her own mind which controlled their voices; no, it must be magic, if their voices had vanished when they had accidentally fell from her ears. She continued to crawl until she spotted the iridescent opalite of Eris, and snatched her small spider body.
“What the hell are you doing on my lawn?” a deep voice demanded, and Ritter’s chest ached with how hard her heart leapt. She turned and saw a bearded white man in a flannel standing on the back porch by the grill, staring menacingly at Ritter. She froze, and for a second considered explaining everything, how she had just wanted a chance to relive her favorite childhood memories, and then she had lost her earrings—but then she remembered that most of her face was covered, and this man probably couldn’t tell her apart from a teenage boy, and well, before she knew it, she was running.
“Hey! I’m gonna call the cops if I ever see your face here again!” The voice shouted after her, and she cleared the lawn and reached her bike. Adrenaline was shooting throughout her veins, and she fumbled with the spider earrings, struggling to hook them through her ear lobe quickly before taking off on her bike. She knew it was a risky move—the man could chase her and, with a glance over her shoulder, she could see he was still headed her way, waddling after her in his sandals, but Ritter wanted to hear Eris and Osiri be there with her. She didn’t want to go through this exhilarating bike ride home without them.
Maybe she was crazy. It’s what many people would call her, and had called her in the past, after all. But she grinned to herself as she slipped Eris and Osiri into place and kicked back the bike stand, whipping on her sunglasses and pushing away. This life was damned weird. This year hadn’t gone a thing like she had thought it would. Eris and Osiri’s voices greeted her with the joyous enthusiasm of welcoming a long lost friend home, and as Ritter pedaled home as hard as she could, huffing into her mask, their laughter filled her head, and the autumn evening set swift and shadowed upon her golden neighborhood, and the full white moon glowed in the deepening sky.
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