Ghosts Are Hungry
by Heidi Kasa
The baby, on entering the world, already trails her ghost. If it were visible to humans, the ghost would look like a dark puff of smoke leaking from the mother writhing on the bed.
Days pass in a jumble. The baby plays and smiles, content in her surroundings. Sometimes her quick eyes absorb an active image that her body cannot yet enact. Then she thrashes; she wails. She fights her grey ghost. Her parents console her, then shrug their shoulders, moving on, their own wisps floating intangibly around them.
Her desires turn fierce: a new ghost wrangles itself into her hands. It wants to be held, picked up, and carried. The ghost won’t rest in her arms; it wriggles. She can’t figure out what it wants—only that it does want a lot, everything—but she understands it needs to be fed.
Also, when she’s two, another ghost follows her. Her parents ask her to clean up, but she’d rather watch TV. This black ghost shoves her from behind. The toddler shrieks and throws more toys on the floor.
The girl turns from a toddler into a child. Her parents are irritated with her behavior, and they are critical. First, a ghost spills out of her parents’ mouths, forming a white cloud wall. The girl learns how to manifest this ghost. She’s angry she doesn’t know how to read, so she throws a book at her mother. The ghost wafts out of the girl’s head—now a foggy barrier that blocks connection.
As a teenager, she steps inside a nebulous ghost and lives there. Her place in the world is not solid; her connection here is tenuous. She struggles to fit in within her hometown, and her only answer is to try somewhere else. She becomes a traveler in mind and body. The mist of where she’d rather be is often at her heels.
Her grandfather dies when she’s a young adult. Twin ghosts arrive in a pair and leave in a pair, each holding onto one of her hands and not letting go for a long time. If only loss and grief looked like the ghosts of the dead and gone, but instead, they look like shadowy forms of herself. When she understands they are her echoes, the grip releases.
A ghost is a trail that keeps going after she’s left it. Inertia. Something invisible flowing out of bounds. A force upon a life, separating the self from others, or teaching and bringing gifts.
The rarest—and most luminous—ghost is powerful. When this ghost dawns, all her other ghosts are chased away. The girl looks human but lit from within, a shade lighter like a piece of sky from a renaissance painting. Then she’s both human and ghost in symbiosis. Though it bursts forth dramatically from her insides, the ghost blends with her fully because it’s been developing gently as the baby of her first ghost. Birthed as a haze in the air, then forming tendrils, it existed next as a glimmer in the infant’s eye. The ghost transformed into the brightness under the toddler’s new skin and into the layer of air around each limb as the child moved. The girl grows into the person she wants to be, and bits of the ghost peek out. She shares a toy; she makes gifts for others; she befriends someone, and the light rises to the surface. Her spirit fills her body over time. When she’s singing, her human-ghost body radiates outward.
An anti-ghost sometimes occupies her frame. Societal expectations had always lived in the background until now. Yet the anti-ghost makes her figure feel like a ghost: ethereal and transparent, untethered—empty. It’s unclear how or when the ghost enters, but it somehow weaves itself into the fabric of the body, floating in the cells, resting dormant until it can be activated to wreak havoc. Like the ghost zooming in her arms as a toddler, this one has an insatiable appetite, and the more she feeds it, the hungrier it becomes.
The woman remembers when she was strong from past struggles, and she longs for her hardened self. The most humanoid of her ghosts, this one is silver one moment and a storm cloud the next. Oh yeah—she forgot what it was like to go through pain. Her strength was accompanied by her weakest self. The ghost dresses in clothes the thin girl used to wear; it eats food she eats to comfort herself; it listens to music that buffets her in the wind.
When she sings, the woman activates her brightest ghost. Sometimes a small, beautiful, rainbow ghost slips out of that ghost. But when she hasn’t sung in a while, the rainbow forms itself into the shape of a knife and stabs at her stomach. She obliterates it by filling the room with her voice.
The baby is now old. She’s a woman whose silences are stronger than her words. All her reactions to the ghosts live in those silences. One day she dies, turns insubstantial, and her ghosts fade into the ether with her. If she metamorphoses into a ghost, perhaps it’s luminous, with hints of a rainbow.
Heidi Kasa writes fiction and poetry. Her work has been a finalist for a Black Lawrence Press award, shortlisted for a Fractured Lit award, and sold at City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. Kasa’s writing has appeared in The Racket, Meat for Tea, The Raw Art Review, Ab Terra, and Ruminate: The Waking, among others. Her fiction chapbook, Split is due out from Monday Night Press in June 2022. See more of her work at www.heidikasa.com. She works as an editor and lives in Austin.
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