Día de Muertos is a time for remembering our lost loved ones, so today I'm bringing you two Worlds of Possibility pieces that go with that theme. "How to Be a Ghost" is a story from the February 2023 issue of Worlds of Possibility. The featured title card art for it is taken from the February 2023 covert art by Lesia Korol. "Tithe" is a poem from the October 2023 issue.
You can listen to me narrate these as a podcast on Spreaker, and you can also read the full text of each below.
Content note: "How To Be a Ghost" involves the loss of a loved one, traumatic injury leading to death, and mentions of hospitals and intensive care units. "Tithe" is about the ghost of a child, and refers to the death of a child and to parents grieving.Listen to "Dia de Muertos Special featuring Annika Barranti Klein and Héctor González" on Spreaker.
How to Be a Ghost
by Annika Barranti Klein
Most days I don’t miss having a body. I miss specific things, sure. The sublime pain of stepping into a hot bath, easing myself in slowly. The little surprise of biting into a sun ripe cherry tomato, the way the skin would burst on my tongue and the juice run down my chin … that was nice. When I miss those aspects of having a body enough that I can almost feel the ache of its absence, I float into a television and let the electrical synapses pop around me. It isn’t the same as feeling, but some days it’s enough.
They say you haunt the place you die, but there was nothing special about it, so I mostly just float around from place to place, adrift through spaces meant for the living, unmoored from my body.
I like the fortune teller’s shop on Sixth Street. I guess most fortune tellers are grifters, and maybe she is, too, but it seems to me that she is just very good at telling people what they want to hear. Everyone leaves the shop feeling better, and isn’t that the point?
The shop has velvet curtains over the windows and beaded curtains in place of interior doors. There are candles and little bowls of buttons and pins. Sometimes when there are no customers, I hear the fortune teller whispering spells and arranging her findings, so perhaps they are magical. Or maybe any object is magical if you treat it like it is.
She keeps romance and mystery novels in a cabinet with a false back. I am not sure what hides inside the cabinet. I suppose I could check, but what is the fun in that?
The woman comes in once a week, on Sunday evening. I like her. I followed her here in the first place, and I like it here, so I like her. The woman’s daughter is dead, and the woman is convinced that the fortune teller will make contact with her in the beyond and reunite them.
The fortune teller doesn’t know how to do that.
To be fair, I don’t know how to do that, either, and I am literally a ghost.
But I want to help, so I try to figure out how. I follow the woman after she visits the fortune teller. She stops at the falafel stand and gets a falafel sandwich, feta fries, and an iced tea. She sits at one of the weirdly tall tables and drinks the tea. Then she eats about half the sandwich, but she doesn’t touch the fries. They look so delicious. Not being able to eat is probably the primary downside of being bodiless. She throws her trash away and gives the fries to an unhoused person outside. I try to look away, but that’s difficult when you technically don’t have any eyes.
Then the woman goes to the park by the river and sits on a bench. She sits there for a long time. Eventually she goes home and goes to sleep.
The next day she dresses for work. She walks from her apartment to the flower shop on the corner, where she gets a huge bouquet. She brings it to St. Jude’s. I don’t want to go inside, but I stay with her.
Inside I see everything at once, the living and the dead, and both are relentless. There is a reason I don’t haunt this place.
She gives the flowers to the ICU nurses and then goes to the park again. After a while I go back to her apartment to wait. The tomatoes on the fire escape have shriveled up. She comes home in the evening, looking tired. She makes herself a meal in the microwave. It does not look delicious. At least she is eating.
The week is a blur. She doesn't go to the hospital again, but keeps up the routine of dressing for work and sitting in the park. After a while, I start to remember. This is where I got hurt. Someone found me on this bench and brought me to St. Jude's. I wish I knew who it was that found me. It can’t be easy to rescue someone and have her die anyway.
On Saturday, she doesn’t go anywhere. She just lies on her daughter’s bed all day. I decide to see if I can go into a living body the way I can go into a television. I can. It’s warm in here. Her heart beats faster when I get inside. I concentrate very hard on slowing it down to normal. Eventually it works and she seems content.
On Sunday she goes back to the fortune teller. I slink along behind her and slide into a bowl of buttons. The woman nearly weeps as she says she thought she felt her daughter. I knock over the buttons. I don’t mean to, I just do. It gives me an idea.
I go into the fortune teller’s body. It occurs to me that this is a real grey area when it comes to consent. I push the thought aside and focus on the air in her lungs.
“I’m okay, mom.” I get the words out through the fortune teller. My mom starts to cry. The fortune teller starts to cry. I can’t cry because I don’t have any tear ducts. I flee the fortune teller and curl up inside my mom’s heart again. We go home.
About the Author
Annika Barranti Klein lives in Los Angeles in a tiny apartment full of books and people. Her poetry has been in Fireside and Kaleidotrope, and her short fiction has been or is forthcoming in Asimov’s, Weird Horror, The Future Fire, Mermaids Monthly, and Fusion Fragment. She is a member of SFWA, a former roller derby referee, and an erstwhile knitter. She is usually working on a novel. Find her online at AnnikaObscura.com
About the Artist
Lesia Korol is a Ukrainian artist whose work previously appeared in the August 2022 issue of Worlds of Possibility. She creates digital art in a traditional Ukrainian style.
Lesia says, “Despite the constant rocket attacks and blackouts, the Ukrainian people continue to live and work for their future. Thank you for your support, it's incredibly important to us.”
If you can donate to help Ukraine, Lesia suggests sending money to The Prytula Foundation.
by Héctor González
I just caught our 8-year old sitting on a chair on our porch.
I felt a faint breeze. The door was open. He was sitting there,
Staring and smiling at the pounding rain outside.
So now I am too.
Chores can wait.
Work can wait.
Life can wait.
I am watching the rain with my dear boy.
He died on this day, 7 years ago.
He sits, mulling the rain, silently.
[I missed his smile]
I sit next to him, doing nothing.
I have never asked anything. I just accept this.
As always, after a few minutes, he touches my hand.
It isn’t cold.
It is relieving.
Slowly, my heart feels lighter. My years feel younger. My eyes shine brighter.
I’ve stayed at this old house, just for this.
He feeds off my grief.
My tears flow freely. My eyes are closed while I weep and weep and weep.
And as every year, I just feel a light kiss on my forehead.
I wipe my tears and the rain is still going.
I am alone on my front porch, happily grieving and smiling.
About the Author
Héctor González (they/them) is a queer nonbinary Mexican speculative writer living in Austin, TX. They regularly explore the messy Venn diagram of emotions with other things, like immigration policy, gender norms, food, and whatnot. Their first comic, Florescent, part of the Chispa Comics universe, will be released in February but can be pre-ordered through your local comic shop. You can find them on Instagram as @mexicanity, cooking up a storm and talking again about feelings.