Your fingertips have opened up into bright, ruined tomatoes, mixed with blood, dirt and rocks. You can see the white of bone.


We search for the body of the ghost’s sister underneath what is left of the fifteen level building. It’s mid morning and the sky is black, its marine layer covered in thick fog and ash. All around us the packed city spreads open like a gate, beckoning. The world is quiet now, with everyone huddled up in their homes, under freeways, or just away. They don’t want to catch this. They want to be safe. Even the birds are gone.

The frustrated ghost signals that their sister is here somewhere amidst the rubble, plaster and bone. They say, “hurry. find. lost.”

You are wearing a gas mask. Your mouth is dry, nose packed with this familiar burial. You can still smell the lives here, the auntie boiling water for her clothes, the child playing with pieces of wood and naming them friends, the food left out for those who were supposed to return. You steer clear of the ghost, remembering the first time they went into your body and you felt the crawl, the deep wail, the fear.

The city allows your team to investigate the scene but only after they’ve assessed the damage to the buildings. They’ve marked this place Zone 11.

Kavi nudges you with her arm and you move towards a heavy piece of stone, motioning for the machinery to come gather it. When the stone lifts, the girl isn’t below but you recognize that the old dishwasher from the photo the ghost throws into your memory is. The energy from this vision boosts your adrenaline and your thermal suit notices, flashing bright red.

Sola asks if you’re okay and you nod yes, though you aren’t. This place reminds you too much of the building you were found in after you died. That building with lined walkways of discarded toys and gas masks. Your first assignment.

Your suit produces a bag, blaring “FIFTY FIVE SECONDS BEFORE PROJECTILE VOMIT.” So you run to the rubble that is not populated with your team, pull your helmet and mask off and lurch. You stare at last night’s dinner, the only one you’ve been able to eat in a week and see it boiling atop the slated cement. You throw your helmet back on and freeze the vomit with a mini extinguisher. Your team members pretend not to notice.

On the day that you died, you felt something bellow at the heap of the world and ignored it. The strawberry fields dried out long after you had started to feel alone, and the stain of it was drizzled in your memory.

In the hospital you drifted in and out of consciousness. Your supervisor came to visit you once.

Officially your heart stopped for twenty three seconds, but you know it was longer. There are whole days unaccounted for in your log. Days when you tried to get out of the building and could not. Your supervisor knows you died and she’s tasked two of the team members, Zeak and Fini, with tracking your movements. Fini tells you this one night when you’re too tired to make up something and decide to join them for drinks. For every one that you do not finish, Fini drinks three.

Now you know it isn’t safe to write down your observations, so you begin calling up notes you’d written prior, changing the dates and names, but keeping most everything else the same. You and Fini become close, as close as you can get with someone you know is paid to watch you. You haven’t quite figured out the balance of this almost trust, the worry that Fini might be playing you. That this might be a part of your supervisor’s plan.

All seven of the team members, including you, have a missing family member or friend. But you are the only one who’s lost everyone, including yourself. You decided long ago not to be devastated by these disappearances but it isn’t that easy.

One thing saves you: The possibility of actually finding someone. None of the teams have found a body. The city claims there are logical reasons why no one has been found: chemical erosion, cataclysmic trauma, bone degradation. Something feels off though, and this is why you applied for the job, even though they barely pay enough for you to make rent.

You bring a gift for each building you investigate. Cheesy grits. Hair grease. Pumpkin seeds. Leftover meals. Barrettes.

Your mother, Cora used to say that beneath old bitter earth is a crane, no matter how long it goes unseen by the sun. These buildings don’t see the sun. They barely get light. Everything is grey here or black.

Since you died, everything around you moves. On your first night alive and at home, there’s a block party. The sky is bright with fireworks and spirits, the ocean of houses wildly spurting out memories and asking everyone to remember. No one hears but you.

You can see the process of these things now, but not their order. Out at the building with the ghost and their sister, the rubble moves, trying to tell you a story. You can’t seem to focus enough to make out where she is or what happened. Someone is alive there, you know it.

On the night of the block party, you and your cat Dmitri go for a walk and a building smelling of milkweed, yarrow and thistle is thrown on the street to your right. It barely misses your head. The branches scream. Your body trembles, feeling the same shattering rush you felt when the ghost moved through you. You yell for help once. The passersby on the street don’t seem to notice.

The building vibrates and before you know it, you are on its steps bending to pick up a thin gold chain with a blue glowing stone in the middle. You are shivering but you can’t let it go. It’s here for a reason.

When you turn around, old teeth, cotton, and pieces of metal block your path. They shift, tearing open a new world, and for a moment you want to go there. Wherever there is. You want to find your family, your friends, this girl you don’t know but promised to look after. Just before the earth closes up in front of this building, you hear more then see someone or something else trying to come through.

It struggles and something tells you not to help it. The orb on your necklace grows brighter, and you start to hear insects crawling. Your skin itches. Your body is on fire. Dmitri runs away. The couple across the stream from you yells, “Damn fiends, fucking up our neighborhood.” You can’t speak. Your mouth is covered in a scorpion’s nest. You have been stung all over.

And then, just when you realize you’re about to die again, the building skips over to where you are and blows on you, its thick branches and vines are covered in sap. You know that what happens next isn’t a hug, but it feels like it. And the building smells of your mother’s hair. The scorpion’s nest and its poison are gone.

You try once to tell Fini about the orb while you’re in bed together one night. You two are in your third month of this. Not for sex. For comfort. For a close body that doesn’t expect anything. A body that is okay with just sleeping.

When you get to the part about the building being thrown in front of you, Fini’s eyes go big, and they don’t say it but you’ve already lost them. They don’t return the next week. Your communication at work is clumsy, awkward and mostly stifled.

Since you no longer have another body to nestle into when you’re afraid, the nightmares come back. The building is always there, scorpion tails wiggling at attention in your mouth, sap tearing your limbs apart, hot ash pouring down on you. Earth is a red, throbbing gap, grabbing and throwing things out of orbit, summoning you.

You always wake up right before being pulled into the mouth of the wreckage. The girl you still haven’t found is trapped inside these dreams, somewhere beneath the slow, bitter, churning earth.

Months pass and you finally visit that site again, telling the ghost about your dreams. They are still looking for their sister. You don’t know enough about ghosts and you don’t really care what this invitation means, you invite them inside your house. Eventually you learn that when they move through your body, they magnify whatever feeling you have in that moment. If you are happy, you are ecstatic. If you’re content, you’re relaxed, at leisure. If you’re sad, the biggest spike of depression throws you into an ocean where you must stay for forever.

One night, the ghost sits at the foot of your bed and you feel a bright warmth. It is time for you to go out again. Time for you to face the house, its bones, old teeth and rot. You keep your suit off this time, and instead choose a black hoodie, black sweats and black sneakers, with another zipped hoodie on top.

You and the ghost go to the center of the wreckage, where their sister disappeared and hear a hollow moan. When you search through the rubble, the ash and cement start to burn off layers of skin. You are too far into digging now to stop, though you can smell and feel the acrid stench on your lungs. Its presence on your body. Your fingers are raw now and you scream at the ghost to dig, though you know it cannot. The moans are louder here.

Before you know it, more ghosts arrive and they point at different spots on the ground. They yell, “Here, come here girl.” You keep your head down, keep digging where you are, but you don’t forget the other places. The other sites. Some 100 feet away, some thousands of miles. There are buildings like this one all over the earth. Sites that have been “contained” and then forgotten about.

Your fingertips have opened up into bright, ruined tomatoes, mixed with blood, dirt and rocks. You can see the white of bone.

An eternity in, you look out at your ruined hands and they no longer belong to you. You’re something else now. Your mouth is the size of a car, you have a thousand teeth and are snarling, blue goo shooting out of your nostrils. You roar out loud and feel it shake the earth.

The ghosts are there pointing you to turned over rocks. Your fingertips- claws- are burning. There is a terrible explosion in your body that stops the ghosts in their tracks, each of their bones bending forward and solidifying. Then comes the flesh, and magnificent Black skin.

Right before you pass out from all the digging, the ghosts have all taken their individual shapes. They are real. Actual people, with shovels and sticks, using their body weight as leverage to move the blocks of cement and continue the search.

When you wake back up, all the holes have become one, and at the center of the earth is a large, blue, terrifying house. That’s the only word you can use to describe it, though you know it’s something else. The expanse of it is more than your brain can handle, your eyes can’t see where it ends. You’re dizzy from all of the change and you think you’ll faint again.

Just as the fog cloud starts to come over your body, the not-house crawls out, up, beyond. It hovers above all of you and as it burps, rocking everything, you think “gentle”. This was its attempt at being gentle. This monstrous thing that hid in the earth to save a planet. This thing that now opens itself up to you for reunion.