There’s a skeleton on the roof. Not a real one.
We found it in the biology classroom
on the first floor, while climbing
through the window. It fell off the shelf
she didn’t even flinch. Only rested it gently
on a desk then leaned down
to pick up the displaced phalanges
and metacarpals. Tiny phalanxes pinging
against the linoleum.
We named him Cal, short for Calcium,
and declared him a he,
after a long and heated debate:
We’re really naming him after big dairy?
I bet your bones
would snap like twigs. We heard footsteps
and ducked. Teresa and I took cover
under the teacher’s desk.
The others scattered throughout,
Jimmying into cupboards
and praying in dark corners. The footsteps paused
in front of the door. Teresa’s breath
smelled like sour candy. It was one
of those moments where I thought the world
but I didn’t mind. Then the footsteps left.
Teresa and I stood, the plastic
from her hands and spilling
Principal Jensen says he doesn’t need a night shift,
but I disagree. Someone’s got to keep the ghouls
from messing with things.
It’s not your job.
Well, then what is my job?
Fine do what you want,
it’s not like it’s costing us
anything. Probably better
to have you here.
I wouldn’t want them to pay me for the night shift, anyway.
Then the ghouls wouldn’t listen. Money invalidates things.
Money skews time and dream.
That’s what they say.
Dream. I haven’t dreamed
since I met them. Haven’t slept
either. Just curl on my side
breathing in lemon-scented
And I’ve been piling up my checks from the day shift in a locker
down corridor F. The one with the dinged, dark red combination lock.
7, 12, 32. Mostly I just push them through the slits.
All that money. I’m not sure
what would happen if I opened it.
I felt my ribs rattle. The curve of a hooded shoulder
Echoed through me. Cal, they said, but I’m not
calcium. I’m polyethylene. I’m resin. I’m their recycled
rubber bath toys—because of course, this school had to be
I’m not even my own.
I’ve learned enough about reactions sitting
in the back of that classroom. Enough to know
I don’t have any. No enzymes. No proteins. No air
flowing in and out. Except for that day, they stuck
balloons into my chest and pricked them—
—the holes in my skull caught the light glinting
off the lockers, but I lost it again in the rifts
around my joints: dark as ever. I saw the two of them,
spinning my bones like coins, like pennies and dimes
running between their knuckles.
Who’s got the keys?
We left the locker-lined halls for a stairwell
with concrete steps. There was no light here either,
but I glimpsed the grey before the door closed behind us
and then again when another one opened.
We stumbled onto the roof. They laid me down.
I’d never seen stars before.
Our backpacks were full of chalk
stolen from the wood sheds
behind the elementary schools.
Those buildings are all rot
anyway and the chalk
hasn’t been touched in years. Admin stifling
the creativity of the youth
—the plastic containers
are filled with spiders and ants.
We cut our hands on the sharp
corners and Teresa pulls out
a first aid kit. Dumbasses.
CVS brand hand sanitizer
stings less than the official kind.
Probably means it kills less too.
Another girl, whose name is
not important, rations out
her keychain-sized, pumpkin spice
infused Purel. I decline, that stuff gives
me hives. Teresa’s is scentless
and there’s more of it, so it stings less
until I soak my hands.
Then cover each wound
with a breathable, Spider-man
band aid. Teresa’s knelt down
next to Cal, gripping chalk. She draws him
a pillow, then a sword.
I’m not superstitious. I always thought religion was for quacks.
Then the ghouls turned the shadows into ducks and I shoved
a whole loaf of bread into the gymnasium wall.
A week’s worth of sandwiches
bought me the void
whispering in my ear. Keeping
time, like a metronome
but only sounding like a bomb.
They say the whole place
is about to give and the kids on the roof aren’t helping. The ghouls
watched them snatch the key from Jensen’s desk. I just watch
their shoes scuff the floor.
It’s like standing on bubble
gum, either the bubble pops
or something sinks and the membrane
wraps around. Engulfing.
The ghouls want
I told them to swallow her
like they did the bread—
they said that’s now how this works.
They never brought me down, and then I saw
the biggest star. The sun rising over the horizon.
They don’t talk much about stars in ninth grade biology—
rumor is that it’s just a ball of gas. But in ecol
it’s important. I know about the sun.
The source of all energy.
I thought lying there would bring me to life.
It didn’t, and I was stuck. With a flat pink sword
under my left ulna. I thought they weren’t coming back.
But they did, after the sun went down and up
three more times.
All the while I felt something growing beneath me.
Loud, filling, getting ready to burst. Cytolysis,
when osmosis gets overloaded, and the cells—POP!
Then they opened the door and stormed
out, feet pounding like a herd. The same girl
sat next to me.
All reactions require energy.
This girl is some sort of spark, breaking bonds
like phosphorus. She carries matches in her back pocket
and a deck of cards. She took my hands, then gave
me a weapon. Does she know I watched her fail
that test six months ago? From the back corner.
The stairway is covered in chalky
handprints that Teresa and I spend
an hour cleaning up. The others
left early, giggling all the way
down. The flashlights
on our phones were too bright
so we use the light from the home
screens. Three notifications
from mom, five from dad,
and my favorite podcast,
21st Century Oracle, just released
a new episode: The Underworld Wants
You! We don’t have water
or rags so we wash the concrete
walls with hand-sanitizer
and the dark-colored sweatshirts
we wore to try and blend
with the shadows.
We don’t seem to need
them now. Even Teresa’s
bright yellow converse are just
sound. The dull thump of soles.
She turns around
the bend of the stairwell
her phone lighting
up the scratches on the wall.
Then it’s dark. Then a door opens and shuts.
Teresa’s Snap Story
Close up of Cal
his hands are folded on top of his stomach
he’s wearing a West Lake Baseball sweatshirt—#23
the caption reads “he needs pants”
just a black screen, maybe a close up of someone’s sweatshirt, or t
the caption reads “ghouls don’t believe in pants, what about skirts”
hands covered in spiderman bandaids hold the plastic hand bones
chalk smeared converse can be seen below the hands
there is no caption
a photo of the stairwell, the flash on
a dozen chalky hand prints, one wrapped around the metal bannister
the photo seems washed out, the edges darker than the should be
the caption reads “assholes, it’s like they want us to get caught”
Red Combo Lock
the caption reads “7. 12. 32.”
the locker is open with envelopes piled up inside and out
the caption reads “wtf”
Black Square pt. 2
the caption reads “i should probably delete all this, the ghouls want me to”
the night sky, speckled
there is no caption
21st Century Oracle: The Underworld Wants You!!!!
Sounds of water rushing, stones hitting each other. It slowly merges with techno music. A soothing but raucous sound. At the end, someone hits a gong.
Enter the 21st century:
I met this guy while buying a train ticket in Grand Central. He offered me a bundle of envelopes.
Told me that if I took them time would stand still again. I told him I had an appointment.
Appointment: noun, an arrangement to meet someone at a particular time and place
Then he started talking to me about particles. Subatomic, anatomic. Electrons and organelles.
He was wearing a blue/red ski jacket over navy coveralls. A carabiner of keys attached to his hip.
I told him again, I have an appointment. He started shaking his head, holding the envelopes out.
7, 12, 32. There’s a school a couple stops away from here. In Westchester. About to go under.
Westchester? Those rich motherfuckers? What happened? Don McLean come rolling into town?
Did the music die again? Then the guy specified. A different kind of under. Then he got vague.
Something dark and cavernous. Something without hands. Something asking for his hands.
I wanted to tell him to take a hike but he pointed at the ceiling and I watched the constellations.
It’s like in video games, when the boat sails across the map. The pegasus rammed into Orion.
The blue folded over into something else. The guy grabbed my arm and pulled.
He pulled until we were at the tracks, shadows pooling between the grates. No rats, no nothing.
He wanted me to jump. I told him to go to hell. Sure, he said.
Years ago they wrapped me in clay.
To simulate the layers of the skin. Three types
of dermis. They stretched it too tight, and I looked
starved. Now they’re shoving a shirt over my head,
carefully pulling my arms through the sides. Polyester
Is this what it means to peak in highschool?
In a couple of months, after rain and snow, at the beginning
of spring—mold will start to grow. I’ll feel it building up
behind my eye sockets, like a tension headache. Until a hawk
flies off with my skull, and the cardinals and sparrows
pick at the smaller things.
Becoming a part of the ecosystem.
The sword at my side is no good, melting in the morning
mist. I’ll still remember the girl who gave it to me. Who took
my hands. Who brought me here. Even while soaring,
talons digging into the softened plastic. How she handled
my bones like poker chips.
I felt like a bet or a bluff. Still do sometimes.
At least the school didn’t implode. She left and the place
calmed down. Or maybe it wasn’t her leaving. I can’t
figure it out. That other kid came back alone and pressed
a bandaid into my sternum. Peeled it off their hand
and left it there.