Excerpted from GHOST, available from Anomalous Press
This world is desert, dry dust and things that crackle and break. This world is heat that kills anything that does not adapt or stay inside. This house is a shelter, a container to be filled. This world contains desert which contains a house which contains bodies containing bodies containing organs, brains, spirits. This house is full of ghosts, but we are not contained by walls or heat or skin. I was human when a body enclosed me, and I was stuck there within it, attached to it and forced to be it. I was physical, a shelter that crackled and broke. And now I am nothing but a current of air.
Human, hello. What are you looking for? I can see it’s not me you are trying to find. When I enter your skull and fit myself between lobes I am listening intently hoping to hear it, whatever buzzes inside. I hope to catch a glimpse of what it is that you seek. What was common between us is lost now. There is no language—mutual sound— that exists between bodies and ghosts, but only rarely the fleeting sense that we’ve touched.
Human walks into the house with an ever increasing number of dogs following behind her. Dogs chew at woodwork, dig at the floor, sleep. Human and dogs look right at me, then turn and leave the room. Did they see me? I approach the face of one, graze its skin, settle on the bridge of a nose. I am unnoticed.
Unrest this is unrest this is a well of unrest. This is what exists in the negative space. After life comes an absence of life which is no definition at all. I can tell you what I am not, but there are no words for what I am. An absence of language exists in the area that is me, and yet there are words to say. Are they speaking? Do they speak? Dog stares at human stares at dog stares at ghost stares at human turns away. Each species is alone in a well of itself.
Now forest, now concrete, now we are running. There are a lot of us, this is better than few. This better than starving and hiding and not knowing. Now we call out, we find more and more of ourselves, because this makes it safer and we need to be safe, and we need to not be alone. What does it mean to walk on two legs or run? This is impossible, this is a fantastic feat. She does this, and she produces food from thin air while we’ve scavenged for rot. She reaches out to touch us and suddenly there is calm.
We recruit now, we breed for her. We grow in numbers. We run. We spread out in all directions to clear the path as she walks. We attack anything that doesn’t turn the other way. She doesn’t even know we do this for her. She walks peacefully and we try to keep it that way. She is hunting for something, and we will help her find it.
Now a trespasser, now it kicks. Now we attack. There is blood in our mouths and this could be food, but this is not food. This is an enemy and if it should be eaten she will be the one to enjoy the meal, not us. She will be pleased, we hope, but we should not get distracted. We should not let down our guard lest it get away. It yells, cries, does not understand that this is our job now. We leave the intruder in the tall grass it came out of and then run back to greet our leader as she walks.
I can live here. I can live here just fine. “If I am ever lost,” I tell the dogs, “start at the house and search in circles that widen.” This is how we try to find him. “Understand,” I say, “right.” This one dog is so funny, we laugh quite a lot, and I place my palm over its shoulders and it rests and I rest. But one night I find it crawled atop another dog, tail pushed to the side. I approach them and both snarl but will not detach. I bang some pots together and they finally run out of the house. The dog comes back eventually but I am wary of it now. I avoid it.
Everywhere it seems, under tables, in closets, at the foot of my bed, puppies are appearing from the bodies of dogs. This makes me wonder what will one day appear from my own body, or if inversely things will only disappear inside it, eventually enclosing itself, enclosing me. The latter thought is startling. There sure are a lot of them now, I think as I watch the dogs multiply. Have I only just realized it? I go to the bathroom for some towels.
Their numbers make me think, if I died would these dogs eat me? If they were starving would they attack? I am sure that they would eat me, but if I were starving perhaps I’d do the same. They came to me for food, but now in their strength they bring me so much. The carcasses cover the yard. And I am comforted when I see it, this evidence that they are as determined as I am to avoid the consequences of our hunger.
I kneel down and put my arms around one of the dogs. It licks my face. I block it with my hand and it licks my hand. I am wearing my brother’s shirt. I pull the dog’s head to my chest. “Do you smell him?” I say to the dog. “Do you know where he is?” The dog growls, backs away. The look in its eyes is one I have seen before. It’s a look that does not know me. I stare into the dog’s face and say, “Is he dead?”
When I leave I hide behind a tree until the dogs lose interest in me, move away, then I’m off. I run.
Sarah Tourjee's fiction has appeared in Conjunctions, PANK, The Collagist, Wigleaf, Everyday Genius, Anomalous Press and elsewhere. She is a recipient of the John Hawkes fiction prize and an &NOW award for innovative writing. She earned her MFA from Brown University and lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.
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