The first time María Luisa Ortega cursed, after stabbing herself with a pair of steel tweezers, she turned into a sea urchin. Two weeks passed before a peripatetic priest found her lying in the sand and uncursed her. It was a frequent occurrence, he explained, and for this reason he always carried a squirt bottle of holy water in his bag, to bless the poor souls he found in the shapes of dolphins, fish, lobsters, or, in less fortunate cases, mollusks.
Tookie sat on the porch of his shotgun house, watching the rain fall sideways. A lizard strolled by on the worn dirt-strip that passed for a sidewalk, easy as you please, as if there wasn’t an inch of water already collected around its paws. It noticed him and stopped.
“Hey,” it said, inclining its head to him in a neighborly fashion.
“‘Sup,” Tookie replied, jerking his chin up in return.
“You gon’ stay put?” it asked. “Storm comin’.”
“Yeah,” said Tookie. “I got food from the grocery.”
“Ain’ gon’ need no food if you drown, man.”
The lizard sat down on the sidewalk, oblivious to the driving wind, and joined Tookie in watching the rain fall. Tookie idly reflected that the lizard might be an alligator, in which case he should maybe go get his gun. He decided against it, though, because the creature had wide batlike wings and he was fairly certain gators didn’t have those. These wings were the color of rusty, jaundiced clouds, like those he’d seen approaching from the southeast just before the rain began.
Rated R: Contains Language, Violence, and Disturbing Imagery circa Hurricane Katrina.
She remembered flailing at the air, as if she could somehow sink her nails into it and cling there until help arrived. She remembered the crash and pop of the people who were landing mere seconds before her. She remembered a fleeting moment of shame when her dress blew up over her head, exposing her underwear to the crowds gathered below. She remembered the burst of shit and piss as she crashed through the awning just a split second before she hit–
The only people who find clarity in certain death are those who somehow cheat it, those who can reflect back upon the experience and use it to goad them into living a better life.
For the ghosts, there is only terror.
After her first fall, she stood by the roadkill smear that was her body, not recognizing what she was seeing at first, until two more bodies rained down from above, splattering on pavement with a crash of glass and a sickening splat.
Then she knew.
Then the North Tower collapsed.
All around her, people screamed and ran while she stood helplessly by the wreckage of her body. Debris flew through her, burying her corpse, leaving the ghost of her untouched.
Rated R for strong violence and disturbing imagery.
by Kelly Link.
Read by Eric Luke (of the Extruding America podcast).
Originally appeared in Ellen Datlow’s ghost story anthology The Dark.
Read the text here
Recently Batu had evolved past the need for more than two or three hours’ sleep, which was good in some ways and bad in others. Eric had a suspicion he might figure out how to talk to Charley if Batu were tucked away, back in the storage closet, dreaming his own sweet dreams, and not scheming schemes, doing all the flirting on Eric’s behalf, so that Eric never had to say a thing.
Eric had even rehearsed the start of a conversation. Charley would say, “Where’s Batu?” and Eric would say, “Asleep.” Or even, “Sleeping in the closet.”
Charley’s story: she worked night shifts at the animal shelter. Every night, when Charley got to work, she checked the list to see which dogs were on the schedule. She took the dogs—any that weren’t too ill, or too mean—out for one last drive around town. Then she drove them back and she put them to sleep. She did this with an injection. She sat on the floor and petted them until they weren’t breathing anymore.
When she was telling Batu this, Batu sitting far too close to her, Eric not close enough, Eric had this thought, which was what it would be like to lie down and put his head on Charley’s leg. But the longest conversation that he’d ever managed with Charley was with Charley on one side of the counter, him on the other, when he’d explained that they weren’t taking money anymore, at least not unless people wanted to give them money.
Editors’ Note: When this story was originally posted, somehow iTunes (and possibly other podcatchers) grabbed the wrong audio file. If the file you have is under 60 minutes, try re-downloading it. The correct file should be 70 minutes.