The Weekend Read

Oh My Gods

By Alexandra Sheppard



8th Feb 2019

Oh My Gods
Read an extract from Alexandra Sheppard’s new novel ‘Oh My Gods’…

Dear Mum,

Dad said he wanted to spend more time with me. Translation: he needed a hand selling a load of rusty antiques from his old house in Edinburgh. So, instead of spending my Sunday doing normal Sunday things (washing my hair, unpacking my boxes, freaking out about starting at a new school tomorrow), I was in a muddy field with people fifty times my age. He even had the cheek to complain that I wasn’t ready and dressed at seven a.m.! On a Sunday!

Sometimes I struggle to believe that my dad is Zeus, ruler of the gods. Because, seriously, how can someone go from striking people down with lightning bolts to getting excited about car boot sales?

I hope he doesn’t think I’ll be spending every weekend helping him shift his dusty relics. I lived with Grandma Thomas for five years, and she never once forced me to get involved with her (many) dull hobbies. I’ll never forget her knitted-finger-puppet phase – Gran couldn’t give them away. (I miss her already.)

Dad said that leaving Edinburgh and moving into our new house here in London was the perfect time for a clear-out. But he’s lived there since I was a toddler! Collecting junk the whole time, no doubt. I predict we’ll be shifting it for many more Sundays to come.

This new hobby will make it impossible to make friends at school. Who wants to befriend the girl who spends her Sundays grubbing about with rusty antiques? I certainly wouldn’t. Here’s hoping that his new job as professor of anthropology at SOAS will keep him too busy for car boot sales.

Why he doesn’t sell it online is beyond me, Mum. Maybe he’s confused by technology? It annoyed him that I was on my phone the entire drive from Grandma Thomas’s in Derby to London.

“It’s remarkable, Helen, that you haven’t looked up from your phone for longer than three minutes at a time,” he said. Then he muttered something about it being antisocial, which made absolutely no sense. What could be more social than catching up on Instagram gossip?

I hope that being the half-immortal, half-human daughter of a god gets more exciting than car boot sales in the rain. The only so-called perk of being a demigod so far is never catching a cold. What kind of superhuman power is that? Everyone else at school gets to spend a few days at home with a runny nose, but my loser self has never even pulled a sickie. You always put my robust health down to your organic natural remedies, but I don’t think lemon and manuka honey tea is that effective.

There is a chance that some godlike powers could kick in eventually. Dad said they might still appear, and I’m crossing my fingers that they do. But in the meantime, can I at least get an invisibility cape? Winged trainers? Heck, I’d even be happy with Dad doing a few neat tricks with lightning bolts from time to time.

But I suspect that won’t happen any time soon (something cool or exciting happen? To me? Get real). Since I was little, Dad has droned on about the gods being strictly forbidden from using their powers outside of Mount Olympus. But I’ve seen him use his powers to reluctantly set up the Wi-Fi router (after I begged for internet) and hold off the rain clouds at the car boot sale. And that was in the last week alone. One rule for the head of the gods, it seems.

Still, I’m clear on the rule that no mortal can know that he is a god. This is why he’s masquerading as an average (if slightly eccentric) middle-aged professor. I wonder if Aphrodite will be yawn-inducing, too?

I almost forgot to tell you, Mum! As well as moving to a new house and starting a new school, I’ll be getting to know my half-sister Aphrodite. She moved into the attic room a few days ago. I reckon Dad thinks I need a feminine presence in the house, in case I’m overcome with the urge to talk about my feelings, or tampons, or something.

Did you ever meet Aphrodite? She came to a couple of my school assemblies. I thought she was the most glamorous thing I’d ever seen (like a real-life fashion doll – the type that I begged you to buy but you never would, because they “promoted unrealistic beauty standards”).

I’ve barely seen her since we moved into this new house. She’s a make-up artist on some breakfast TV show, so she’s up very early and out most of the evening. Probably at some swanky bar surrounded by her equally swanky friends.

My fingers are tightly crossed that I’ll make friends at this new school. But I don’t have high hopes. I’ll be joining nearly halfway through a term, after all. Everyone is bound to have their friendship circle sorted already. I wish I had something to set me apart, like an interesting scar or exotic accent. When Jamie Atkins joined my old school, he showed half the year his eyelid flip trick and made new friends by the lunch break.

The fact is, I do have something that sets me apart – a family of super powerful, super beautiful beings that are Greek gods in disguise. It would make a good ice-breaker, right? It’s a shame that telling people a) is strictly forbidden and b) would make me sound like a pathological liar.

I should stop moaning. I’ll focus on the positives, like you used to. It’s not all bad. I’m excited to be back in London, even if it did mean leaving Grandma Thomas and all my friends in Derby. I know Gran loved having me around, but raising a teen involves energy she doesn’t have any more.

So far it’s good to be back, even if the area has changed loads. The Algerian butchers you liked (they always gave me cherry bubblegum, remember?) isn’t there any more. Vintage boutiques and organic grocers have replaced the greasy spoon cafes on the high street. I hope that soon I’ll be ready to walk past our old flat and see if the shrubs you planted in the front garden are still there.

It might not sound like it, but I’m making progress. At one point, anything that reminded me of you had me crying into my pillow. Now, five years later, I can think of your favourite Al Green song, or wear one of your chunky wooden bracelets, and not feel my heart break all over again.

I’ll be honest, Mum. At first, it was hard writing letters to you knowing that I’d never get a reply. It felt pointless. Now I don’t know what I’d do without these letters. I can write things to you that I can’t tell another living soul. Sometimes it’s the only thing keeping me sane.

You’re the only one I can talk to about my immortal family. Isn’t that weird? Not that I know much about them. I can literally count the facts I have about this side of my family on the one hand:

ALL I KNOW ABOUT THE GODS:

1.They live for ever. I still can’t get my head around this one.

2. They have powers, but they’re not allowed to use them on earth. Dad hasn’t told me exactly what he can do yet, but it’s got to be more exciting than household chores.

3. They can manipulate their appearance, which is why they all look like real-life Snapchat beauty filters (smooth skin, sharp cheekbones and they don’t know the meaning of a bad hair day).

And what I know about half-mortals (i.e. ME) is about the same:

1.We don’t live for ever, but Dad said we could live a longer life than most mortals “with healthy lifestyle choices.” I’d better stop skiving PE then.

2. Some of us have powers, and some of us don’t. Hercules had strength and Achilles was a badass warrior (apart from the dodgy ankle) but for me, Helen Thomas? Nada on the powers front.

3. If I had ANY control over my appearance, you can bet I would never have to pluck my eyebrows again.

I hope I get used to living here. This new house is so different compared to Grandma Thomas’s. My room is bigger, and I don’t have to share a wardrobe with Gran’s church hats. But the mouth-watering smell of fried plantain doesn’t linger in the air on Saturday mornings, and it’s so quiet. I used to get annoyed at my little cousins Shara and Chantelle following me around after school, but now I’d welcome the background noise.

Will it be like this every night? Dad is always marking essays in his office, and Aphrodite has barely talked to me since she moved in a few days ago.

I’d better go now, Mum. It’s time for me to wash my hair (and yes, I’m still using organic coconut oil on it every week).

Love for ever,

Helen xxx

 

Chapter One

I wrapped up my letter to Mum just as Aphrodite barged into my room. Not only did she waltz in without knocking (am I going to have to put up a DO NOT DISTURB sign?), she had nothing on. And I mean nothing.

She was totally naked!

Even though she was the one treating our house like a nudist beach resort, I felt mortified. My cheeks flushed, and my eyes shot to the floor – to Aphrodite’s perfect ankles.

Seeing her up close, I realized that there was no way I could introduce Aphrodite as my half-sister (clothed or not). We don’t even look like we’re from the same planet, let alone share the same parent.

We may both be tall with dark brown hair, but the similarity ends there. Hers falls in waves and mine is in tight coiled curls that defy gravity. My brown skin is closer to Mum’s than her and Dad’s olive glow. And I have freckles like someone dipped a paintbrush in coffee and splattered it over my face. Aphrodite’s face is completely smooth, like a toy doll. No moles, birthmarks or visible pores. She didn’t look real.

I couldn’t find a flaw if I tried. And boy, I tried. I glared at her feet, but there wasn’t even a crusty toenail or bit of flaky skin. Of course even her toes were perfect.

Aphrodite was stunning. And not in a “she could be a supermodel” sort of way, but in a “one flutter of her eyelashes and she can bewitch any human into adoring her” sort of way. Dad can pull off being a bumbling middle-aged man, but Aphrodite? No way can she pass as normal. How was I meant to invite new friends over when I’d turn invisible next to my Vogue cover star of a sister?

“Helen, I was unpacking and found this Turquoise Shimmer eyeshadow. Do you want it?”

The little eyeshadow palette floated in mid-air above Aphrodite’s outstretched palm. I blinked. Once, twice, three times. But my vision was fine. There really was an eyeshadow palette levitating in my bedroom.

Aphrodite noticed the shock on my face and laughed.

“You haven’t seen this little trick before? I thought even half-lifers could levitate at will,” she said.

I didn’t know what a half-lifer was, but I could tell from her crooked smile that it wasn’t a compliment. It was so annoying that she could tease me about a million things and I had nothing on her. I ignored it.

“I thought that you weren’t allowed to use your powers here?”

She shrugged. “This is no more effort than you tying your shoelaces, Helen. Are all half-mortals so easy to impress?”

Wow. Rude. But I still wanted Aphrodite to stay and talk, even if her sentences dripped with sarcasm. I was curious about her, and she had this magnetic pull. But before I asked any more questions, she had to put on some clothes.

“Did you want to borrow this?” I held up my dressing gown, throwing it in her direction.

She watched it land on the ground before stepping over it to get to the full-length mirror. My eyes stayed on her kneecaps. It wasn’t eye contact, but it was progress from her ankles.

“Helen, do you want the eyeshadow or not? The teal would work wonderfully with your brown eyes.”

Aphrodite didn’t say this to me, by the way. She conducted the conversation in front of my floor-length mirror, piling and twirling her long chocolate-brown curls around her face, trying out various updos. I was surprised she didn’t blow her reflection a kiss and a cheeky wink. She was far too absorbed in the mirror to notice me rolling my eyes.

“No thanks. I don’t bother with make-up,” I said.

That got her attention. She reacted as though I said I didn’t bother with having showers.

“You don’t? How extraordinary. You really should.”

I tried not to take it personally. After all, why should I be surprised that the goddess of beauty values appearances more than anything else?

Aphrodite, finally bored of her reflection, turned her attention to the clothes I was halfway through unpacking. She ran her fingers over my folded jeans and hoodies with disdain. Did she have to wrinkle her nose like that?

“It’s such a pity that you and I don’t have the same style, Helen. A live-in sister would come in handy for wardrobe swaps and the like.”

“Well, you’re welcome to my Air Max collection anytime,” I said.

Aphrodite snorted in response. I could tell from her manicured toenails that she wouldn’t be caught dead in trainers.

“My, how times have changed. Don’t boys these days like it when a girl makes an effort for dates?”

“I wouldn’t know.”

It’s true. I wouldn’t. I’ve never even been out on a date. And there would be no chance of anyone asking me out if they saw me with Aphrodite. I’d look like a garden gnome next to her. I made a mental note to avoid being seen with Aphrodite outside of the house.

Anyway, even if I had been on a date, in my old school that meant going for a milkshake in the shopping centre, or if he was really into you, a trip to Nando’s. My trainers would work fine there, thank you very much.

Would that be the same in my new school? What if I’m the only girl not wearing any make-up? London girls might be more like Aphrodite than I thought.

“I’ve changed my mind. I’ll take the eyeshadow,” I said.

Aphrodite handed it to me and sat on the edge of my bed. Did she want to chat with me too? I cast around for something to say. Somehow I knew that Aphrodite would jump at the chance to talk about herself.

“Dad said that you’re a make-up artist?” I asked with my eyes fixed over her left shoulder. I felt like such a prude.

“That’s the day job. If I must work, then beautifying humans seems like a natural fit. It’s what I’m best at, after all.”

How on earth would this mannequin fit in amongst normal people? “Is it hard? Pretending to be mortal?”

“Nothing about being mortal is hard, Helen. I can tone down all this if I need to.” Aphrodite pointed to her face. “When I’m among mortals I look rather ordinary,” she said, looking at me haughtily.

Ordinary like me, I guess? I smiled extra-wide to show that her snootiness didn’t bother me, and pressed on with the questions. This was my opportunity to pump her for as much information as I could get. Who knew when she’d bother to talk to me again?

“And when you’re not around mortals?”

Aphrodite’s cat eyes flicked up to meet mine. “What do you mean?”

“Well, I know that Dad can control the weather. I’ve seen him do it. What can you do?”

She leaned in close, mouth curling into a smile. “I can make any creature on this earth do what I want. And they would do it. Gladly.”

Now that sounded like a power I wanted. Imagine it! Starting at a new school would be an absolute breeze if everyone fell at my feet. I definitely wouldn’t be sitting alone at lunch.

“Anyway, Helen, that’s quite enough questions for now.” Aphrodite’s smile disappeared. “I didn’t just come down here to give you old make-up. I wanted to lay down some ground rules.”

Ah. I should have known Aphrodite had an agenda. Why else would she finally acknowledge my existence?

“As you know, I have the entire attic for storage of my things. I’m in possession of many beautiful and valuable clothes. You’re not to touch them unless I’ve given you express permission.”

So she did have clothes, then? Good to know.

I nodded. “Fine by me. Something tells me we don’t have the same style, anyway.”

Aphrodite smiled and got up. “I agree,” she said, sauntering out of the door. “Oh, and Helen? Just in case you had any ideas, I have the power to make life quite tricky for you. Look in the mirror, and you’ll see what I mean.” Her laughter floated down the stairs as she made her way up to the attic.

Why did I need to look in the mirror? Did I have something in my teeth? I turned around to face my mirror, and…

I gasped. My brown curls had disappeared. A fluorescent-green mop of hair sat on my scalp in stiff spikes. It was the sort of hair that stopped traffic.

I poked at my head to make sure. Yep, I definitely had several inches of stiff green hair attached to my scalp.

WHAT. THE. HECK?

Where was my actual hair?!

I felt sick with anger. There was no way I was setting foot out of this room, let alone starting a new school, until my hair was back to normal.

“Daaaaaaaad!” I screamed at the top of my voice. He was in my room in an instant.

“Helen, please use your indoor voice. You’re not in the playground now,” he said. Then he looked up at my hair, and his eyebrows nearly shot off his face. “I don’t think that’s, um, suitable for school, Helen.” If my hair shocked Dad, then it must have looked bad. I mean, he’s seen it all. Literally.

“Then get her,” I yelled, pointing upstairs to where Aphrodite had disappeared, “to change it back!”

“I may be able to help, darling,” Dad said. His hand reached tentatively to stroke the top of my head. “Right. It really is rather spiky—”

“Dad! Not helping!” I said through gritted teeth.

“Sorry! I’ll try to bring it back. Helen, remind me. You had curly brown hair that sort of did … this,” he said, waving his hands in an imaginary halo around my head.

He was absolutely useless. “Just get HER to fix it!”

“Aphrodite, come down here, please. You know the rules about using your powers outside of Mount Olympus,” he said. Like she had taken the last chip off my plate, and not given me the hair of a tropical bird.

“Helen was curious about my powers, so I gave her a little taste. It was a bit of fun, Father,” she said. Aphrodite clicked her fingers once again.

I rushed to the mirror and patted my head. Finally! My hair was back to normal. I breathed a deep sigh of relief. I’d never been so happy to see my ordinary frizzy curls. I even ran my fingers through it, just to make sure it was all there.

I slammed my bedroom door shut. “How is this my life?” I muttered under my breath.

Would I have to deal with this all the time? Having a super gorgeous, self-absorbed big sister was bad enough. But Aphrodite could turn me into a neon-green toilet brush with a click of her fingers!

This whole immortal-family-with-powers thing?

It wasn’t going to be an easy ride.

 

 

‘Oh My Gods’ by Alexandra Sheppard is published by Scholastic and out now