Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams





Right before I wake up from a dream of hotel sex, I hear drums. They start low, building, voices murmuring healing healing healing. I sit up in bed, pissed. I look to my altar in the corner.

“Come on!” I yell, throwing the covers back. I hear cackling.

My ancestors have been on a real asshole streak lately.

• • • •

After the tragedy I did the brown-girl-spiritual-thing, called upon my ancestors for guidance, but when my ancestors showed up, they were like me: sarcastic, shit-talking assholes. I felt seen. I was hoping for gray-braids and herbal wisdom. Strong matriarchs who would be firm with me, guiding my choices with compassion. Instead I got a crew of bad girls, loose women, pervy freaks. And the One I wanted most didn’t come. I swear I get into more shit now than before. Not that I don’t usually enjoy it, but I’d been asking for something else.

• • • •

Healing healing healing, all while I brush my teeth and make coffee. I French-press a whole extra carafe and leave it on the altar just to shut them up for a while. Most cluster there so I can have my morning shit in peace but Y-lala, this mutant-strong ancestor from way back, comes in to check on me. She hovers around the sink.

“You don’t do coffee?” I ask, shifting my feet on the pooping stool the ancestors swore I needed.

“I’m on a cleanse,” Y-lala answers, “Lean forward more, Mari.” I do and my crap slides out easily. Teaching me how to squat properly, an ancestor perk for sure.

“What’s with ‘healing’?” I push the button on the Japanese toilet seat I inherited after the tragedy and let it rinse me clean. Y-lala strains to see herself in the mirror, flexing. There were no mirrors in her day and she is impressed by her own shape.

“We heard about this healing circle some invaders are hosting, we want to go.” Y-lala tosses the ghost of her dark hair, turns and tilts a hip to examine her wide ass. I’m not convinced. My scrappy ancestors aren’t exactly a healing type crew; they’re more forties and heavy-metal parking lot than candles and chanting. The fact that Y-lala said “invaders” piques my worry. She feels it, drops her self-examination and starts blowing images through my mind. The sea boiling with now-extinct creatures, obscenely gaping mouths, inadequate, frustrating tools. She lived through some shit. I guess I can go to a healing circle.

Back at the altar I light a few candles, refill the water bowl, check the salt and offerings. My ancestors drift in and out. I don’t know where they go, but I have my suspicions. Caro, the butch conquistadora nun, has a thing for my neighbor, Tony. He manages a mixed martial arts gym. I’m pretty sure Caro haunts him.

• • • •

I first called upon my ancestors while at a mountaintop spiritual retreat. I was hurting and trying anything. The brochure for the retreat looked promising, this alleged medicine woman was running it. I should have noticed her picture was on none of the literature. I should have noted that spiritual retreats shouldn’t cost more than my monthly rent or have options for “luxury tents.” I found myself under the tutelage of a white woman who dressed in a mod-podge of regalia: Mayan woven blouse, stone Ankh, Turkish harem pants, and sandals made from recycled yoga mats. And feathers: in her hair, hanging from her ears and tattooed on her inner wrists. She called herself Sister Sage Moth. I was pretty sure there was no such thing as a Sage Moth.

I knew it was going to be a shit show when she had us sing “Colors of the Wind” during the first Wombyn’s Healing Intuitive Journey Wheel, or as we were encouraged to call it, “WHIJ-Wheel.” Sage Moth had us stand with our arms open to the heavens, eyes closed while she prayed. Then she fucking killed it dead. She prayed to all the great spirits, the old ones, to protect the military, our brave men and women protecting our freedom. I dropped my arms, I look around. Everyone else was still rapt in WHIJ-Wheel and I knew, KNEW, I was in the wrong place. I was the only brown woman. I was the youngest. I wanted to kick the dirt up and ask What about the innocent people being bombed in the name of freedom? What about the land we’re on right now? The bloodshed? The brown folk in uniform offering up their lives for a society that does shit to protect them once the uniform comes off? I opened my mouth to start—.

Shhhhhhhh, the sound of almost-a-voice rushed through me, the first whisper of what was to come.

• • • •

I look up this new healing circle while eating breakfast, (this ridic chile alchemy involving fire and a secret I can’t talk about—ancestor perk.) The healing circle will be held at some community center in the barrio, but that doesn’t mean shit these days. The barrio got trendy, a couple of my boys got barrio-fabulous and ended up in documentaries, got book deals. Their moving up/out left space open for a few curious, artsy white folk to slither in, make themselves comfortable. Pictures of our tacos began showing up on social media accounts, succulent gardens tended by generations of gossips started trending. The barrio now has bike lanes. That should tell you enough. Cops are called on backyard baptisms but the new monthly warehouse DJ can blast bullshit until dawn. I love the barrio, we have history, but I don’t trust the barrio anymore.

I sign up online then take a bath. There are a couple of hours before the healing circle and water is hella powerful. I’ll need it. I’ve learned how these things go. Whatever spark I carry attracts some energy vampires and emotional smotherfuckers. I bathe in salt, singing the water these songs Y-lala taught me. My body is ready, warm and calm, even if the rest of me is cop-behind-me nervous. I have a feeling. I drop a leather pouch of ancestral homeland dirt into my pocket. A stick of palo santo and a Bic.

The ancestor crew gathers in the kitchen as I pack a bag with snacks and my stainless water bottle. A blanket and eye mask. I feel their flutters, the way they crowd against each other. I’m constantly astonished by this rag-tag group of badasses from my lineage, what they went through. From Y-lala and her older-than-history history, to the triumphant flower maiden who hoards a secret from the rest of us. Caro, the butch conquistadora nun who took Jesus as her lover (literally, she seduced a pretty boy old-grandfather of mine named Jesús. She met him when he was a slave at the new world mission where she served). The Mexican Revolution aunts, one a sex worker who taught me some things. Betty the ’70s chola who calls everyone “this fucking scrapa.” A few faded ghosties who shimmer shy at the edges but always rally when I need my whole crew.

• • • •

First morning of the mountaintop spiritual retreat we had a morning WHIJ-Wheel, passing a rattle around, each taking turns telling “our sisters” who/what we believed in. There was a healthy serving of colorblindness from the “we are all one” crowd, and more than a few “Great Spirit” followers and plenty of Gaia/Mother Earth. A few talked about their past lives as native princesses. My impulse, as it had been my whole life, was to remember everything to tell Sía. I swallowed the shard. I was ready to stay silent. When my turn came I opened my mouth to say pass but someone invisible kicked my leg and I said “Isis.”

Oh. My. Goddess. Oh how the spiritual retreat sisters shifted! Nostrils flared, plenty of swallowing and adrenaline. I could practically feel them squeezing their collective assholes tight in fight or flight. Sage Moth nodded.

“Is Isis in your bloodline?” She asked coolly. Clever little way of asking So, where are you really from?

“Isis,” I began, as a voice not my own kicked in. I didn’t know it then but it was Betty the ‘70s Chola. “Isis is a badass in her holy temples of Carnelian. She gave birth to a bird god after banging her brother. She didn’t give a fuck. Not one. I’m all about that scrapa, that serpent lineage. Her lion-bellied sister Sekhmet shows me the way when my eyes have turned to obsidian. She is in the mouths of scarabs who eat the dead. Fucking insects. Eternal.” I shook the rattle over my head and hissed, like a fucking scarab. The women were silent.

Then one whooped, another howled and suddenly it was yippier than a Furry convention after-party. I didn’t know shit about Isis, or I thought I hadn’t. They dubbed me I-Sister then, of the WHIJ-Wheel. Sage Moth smiled a tight smile at me, and I saw her, truly. All the books surrounding her large bed, the regiment of breathing and chanting, the bad marriage, the rapey Guru. She’d traded an obsession with shoes for an affinity for crystals. And more. Sage Moth clapped her hands to quiet the off-key whooping. I passed the rattle. I was shaken.

• • • •

The drive to the barrio healing circle is a quiet one for once. I listen to a public radio call-in show about the sea lions and pelicans, how the stink of their shit is driving away tourists on the pricey coast. Owners call in irate, they want the city to pay for power cleaning the cliffs. The city spokeswoman on the show says who moved into whose world? Thank goddess for elected brown woman officials with take-no-shit responses. As I pull up to the venue, a vision blows into my mind: parapets, minarets, lava altars, combs, steeple, menhirs. I blink and the muraled façade of the building comes back into focus.

I’m surprised at the amount of brown women, over half of the attendees, which is huge, in any circle. I shouldn’t be surprised, my ancestor crew told me what’s up and I’ve had an eye out for what’s coming. The reclaiming, the taking back of names, the molting of the skins we’ve had to wear to survive. Still, I’m usually one of two, maybe three women of color. And my politics, the radical queer feminist, anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, indigenous rights path, doesn’t seem to mesh well with the eating loving praying manifesting. Not that I don’t think everyone should have something to keep them living well, but, reasons. I don’t explain the reasons to those who don’t get it, who don’t have to live in this body, this legacy. I’m no sage, moth or otherwise. Sía was kind of a sage.

Sía, my constant ache, the whole reason I went spiritual. My ancestors ignore me when I ask about her, or they disappear. They don’t comfort me when I cry. She’s too young in death to be an ancestor, I imagine. Still, my prima-hermana, my sworn and ready, my number one phone call from the time I learned to dial. There is no reaching her, though ancestors, goddesses, Mama Ayahuasca knows I’ve tried.

The brown women do the head nod and subtle cluster, exchange heys and the like. I feel a nudge or two that hit me in my life portal but shake them off. I’m not ready yet. We unfold our blankets and sit, the circle filling in as someone rings chimes. We quiet. A voice from the other room tells us to breathe with intention. My scrappy ancestors are being social, interacting with the unseen. The flower maiden is playing some hand clapping game with someone else’s ancestor or guide. She throws her head back and laughs. I close my eyes and try to concentrate on my breathing but something is itching at me, something familiar. Y-lala is singing one of her old songs, a hunting song maybe? I don’t speak her true language but I get a flash of a spear, the taste of liver, hot and metallic in my mouth. I swallow and breathe. An irregular energy pulses close that feels at once withering and as if it has tentacles. I close my eyes to focus on protecting myself. The ghosties are whispering, excited. Another chime goes off and I get a whiff of something sharp. I open my eyes and immediately want to strangle my ancestors.

Sage Moth is leading the circle.

• • • •

The mountaintop spiritual retreat ended up being, as I knew it would, a bust of epic proportions. But I got mine. Sage Moth seethed at the way the rest of the sisters grinned these I-have-a-brown-friend-at-last grins at me. We were in her imagined temple and all eyes weren’t on the altar of her. Not completely true: my eyes watched. We ate our vegetarian meals. I’d had the sisters rolling with stories of growing up on an accidentally organic egg farm. How our grandmother was courted by all these chefs for the duck and quail eggs she sold from the back door. How I’d had to translate. As ever, I was bored at the immigrant success story porn lens through which they saw me. Sage Moth managed to maneuver the conversations back to herself, telling us about her past life in Mongolia, yak milk.

The third evening of the retreat Sage Moth had us sing to the earth as we pushed wheelbarrows filled with blankets, sarongs, pillows, and feather boas down a dirt path to a clearing. She carried only a rattle. We watched as Sage Moth made a fire, pulled a small bottle of spirits from her caftan pocket and doused the wood, then lit the fire. She whooped as it caught. No one else whooped.

“Tonight, under the watchful gaze of the Old Ones, we will hatch our true selves.” She pulled a blanket from one of the wheelbarrows and began twisting it, dancing with it in her hands around the fire until she dropped to her knees and began forming a blanket nest. She danced back to the wheelbarrow, a sarong and pillow completed it. She gestured for us to do the same. I sighed, relieved it was the last night of the retreat, already planning my drive home off the mountain. I was going to stop at the casino. I pulled out a blanket and some pillows, tossed a half-assed nest together.

“Sisters!” Sage Moth rattled us to attention, “When you enter your nest you will curl your body so you fit into the egg from which you will emerge. The shell represents your fears, allow yourself to struggle as you crack your way into truth. Use your teeth on the membrane if you must. When you fight your way out, rest in your nest. Then allow your new self to sing you your truth.” She took out her phone, attached a small, expensive speaker and turned on some primordial sounding music. Gurgling and throaty flutes.

I curled into my alleged-egg. Sía would have been into it. She was the spiritual one, I was the rocker. Her body killed her. She had been swimming alone, testing out the pool at her new apartment complex. She had an asthma attack; there had been too much chlorine. I curled tighter into my egg, I’d told her I’d meet her at the pool. I’d stopped to pick up a housewarming watermelon and Tecáte. I’d screamed my throat raw, almost drowning myself as I dragged her from the water. Sía, Sía! I screamed it silently in my nest, forehead pressed into the ground. Come back.

The hand I felt on my back was hot. I flinched, thinking it was Sage Moth. I lifted my head to tell her to fuck off, but she was at the other side of the fire, scrolling through her phone. WHIJ sisters were in their eggs. I pressed my head back to the earth. I felt ridiculous. I was angry, I wanted, I wanted, I wanted something I couldn’t name. The hand was on my back again, then another, then more. A hand held my head down. I tried to protest but something took ahold of my breathing and forced my lungs to expand with breath, to hold, release, over and over until I was buzzing.

My belly button started burning bad, like when Sía pierced it when we were fourteen. We’d sent a picture to my mom. She wrote back one line: How could you desecrate the part of my body where we were connected? Sía had cheered me up by telling me my mom was wrong, that I hadn’t pierced my asshole. It made no sense, but it made me feel better. That’s how she was, the laugh to my grumble, the grace to my fumble. I curled tighter around the ache in my middle, letting the hands press me deeper. I went inward, toward the throbbing.

If you know what I know, then you know the tunnel. I went through it, sliding down the passage of blood, to the unnamable, the sacred geometry and sound, then crash landed back in the nest, my body. I jerked at the jolt of it, leg muscles spasming and cramping. I kicked out.

“Take that, shell,” a voice said.

“Oooh! A body that was built over generations, ma!” another whistled, “We’re going to make sure you enjoy that skin!”

I was on my hands and knees, head bowed, panting. The voices were coming from inside. I wasn’t even high. I’d smoked my whole load the previous two days. I looked up. The first ancestor I saw was one of the Mexican Revolutionary ancestors squatting in front of me, in dusty boots, hat and braids hanging down her back. I blinked and put my forehead back on the ground. I was not ready to come out of whatever fucked-up egg I had just hatched from. I rolled over and curled up, pressing my face into the nest pillows.

“Yes, yes. Give over to the process!” Sage Moth cried out.

“This fucking scrapa.” Another voice from inside. I groaned.

Another voice said something, sharp and low, a language I didn’t understand. Hands pressed into my lower back, thumbs massaging the muscles on either side of my spine. I let myself relax a little, I breathed in.

Y-lala, sitting in front of a fire, legs bent before her, belly full of child. She was singing. Her legs parted, she placed her hands on each side of her vulva as shapes began pouring out. Tall women, short women, women thick with child, little girls running naked. Their skin grew darker, they hardened into form for only a moment. The women kept pouring out of her, a blur of women, dancing, spinning, crying, women screaming with open, soundless mouths. I caught the shape of my eyes in some, the funny hip jut I did when drunk in others. Women whose hands were identical to mine, to Sía’s. At the end, when it was so crowded with women they had blurred into nebulae, they poured into my belly. I cried out.

It turns out I actually cried out. I came back to my nest. The eyes of all the women of the WHIJ were on me. Sage Moth was standing over me, the smoke from the fire behind her like it rose from her head. Her face was curled into a snarl of rage.

“Are you enjoying yourself, I-Sister?” She was trying to sound sarcastic. She came off petty. Then I looked down. Holy shit. My legs were wide open and I had my hands grinding hard against my vaj. Holy shit. I sat up, immediately dizzy. The energy that rushed through me pulsed out from my center. Every cell in me surged, billions unfurling.

I looked up at Sage Moth and grinned. Around me, my ancestors crossed their arms and grinned, our eyes shone with trouble.

• • • •

I dip my head as Sage Moth walks slowly to the center of the circle, holding a small pair of meditation chimes. She finds her place and closes her eyes, arms outstretched in front of her, just above eye level. The rest of us quiet and find our places. When the rustling and throat clearing stops, Sage Moth chimes once, twice, three times.

At Sage Moth’s third chime the community room explodes into ancestors. I’ve never been on a battlefield but my body recognizes it like I was born during a war. Looking around, I think maybe I was. I recognize my ghosties, relaxed into casual postures that belie the edge I feel them hovering near. Their smiles are disarming. Just outside my focus I see the room is packed to overflowing with the ancestors of the gathered. I can’t focus on all of them but see they all are women. They carry weapons, from rocks to rifles and everything in-between. And babies, there are all these babies floating up at the ceiling. I can’t look at the babies, they freak me out.

Sage Moth doesn’t seem to notice our new arrivals, big surprise. You can’t learn to be one of us, you’re born with it, or you’re not. Ancestors let me know that. Sure, everyone gets visitations and a protection crew is always at the ready, but if spirituality is a river, Sage Moth hovers at the streambeds, away from the turbulence of the flow, the rocks and falls and whirlpools. I don’t go into the depths yet but my guides have, I’m thigh deep and they show me the ways in which I can enter.

I shake my head. Sage Moth has made eye contact with me. She’s glaring. I’m just standing, staring at her, her ankles barely wet. I grin and put my hands in prayer position. Behind her, one of her ghosties comes into focus. A pioneer-looking woman, shovel in her hand. She does that fake-lunge thing at me. I don’t move.

This fucking scrapa, Betty hisses. Others agree.

An ancestor from one of the other women of color shoulders her way past her human. Old school Filipina, a Kali fighter, blades light in her hands, her gray hair tight in a bun. The pioneer-looking woman stretches her neck, ear to shoulder, ear to shoulder then grips the shovel handle in both hands, feet wide under her prairie skirt. The Kali fighter squats down, spits in her hand, touches the ground and then her forehead. The pioneer woman lunges forward, shovel swinging like a scythe. It’s over before it begins. The Kali fighter’s arm shoots forward, knife slashing at the ankle of the pioneer. The pioneer woman vanishes, poof. The gathered ghosties murmur. It wasn’t much of a fight. There are grumbles.

Sage Moth looks at every other woman in the room, one by one.

“Welcome to this healing circle, I am Sage Moth.” She goes on and on about her lineage blah blah, claiming this heritage and that. I squint at her ancestors and am completely unsurprised that there are no native princesses. There are definitely warriors though, of their time.

Sturdy white tribal women, not like modern tribal, all those bellydancers and burners, but women muscled from hard living and self-protection. One is dressed like a Roman soldier, her hair cut close with hips that certainly pushed out babies. A few more of pioneer stock and a Romani set of sisters. Badasses all around. I wouldn’t mess with any of them. Then I see something horrifying but honestly not that surprising. There are a few being held against their will. I look at them and noticed they are the women Sage Moth has claimed in her lineage. The Roman soldier is holding onto a naked brown woman who could be from anywhere, Native, Islander, Arab, Asian. As I look at the woman, kneeling on the ground she looks up, pleading.

“I’d willingly protect her. She didn’t have to catch me, steal my clothing, the prayers out of my mouth. I would have shared.” The brown ghost shakes her head. I can see the pulse of her heart, pink, through her transparent chest. I’m pissed. I hiss, a habit I’ve picked up from my rabble crew. Sage Moth flashes her eyes at me, I flash right back. Her nostrils flare, what a tell. Ancient ass tell, trying to smell my fear or adrenaline. I’m steady, rooted. I know my crew, I know what we bring. And I know there is no fucking way we are leaving this room before we free that brown ancestor and the others from their captors. My ancestors ripple in approval. They know what’s up.

Sage Moth blah the fuck blah-blahs on and on about how the world is on a precipice of great change and how we, each one gathered her, are a part of that change. I don’t disagree, we are on the precipice, little seeds cracking through the shells that have protected us for centuries. But there is also a motherfucking reckoning coming.

The gathered ancestors are passing the word, using languages and connections I can’t really understand. The living are picking up on the gathered energy. Immediately, I can separate out the allies from the rest. The allies get the same tingle the brown folk do, ready to stand in collective power. The others feel like they’re about to be attacked because of course they do.

I’m focused only on the ancestors being held captive by Sage Moth’s crew. They’ve pushed the captive ghosties to the back and formed a sort of line against the rest of us. A few herd the ancestors of the gentrifying circle members to their side. But we are glorious, fucking glorious when I see what’s happening. The ancestors are in formation.

Sage Moth feels something. She stops in the middle of telling a story about some holy man she met on a bus in Wisconsin. She stares at me. I stare back.

“Do you have something to say, Mari? I feel something pulling at me.” She cocks her head in a gesture that’s supposed to look curious, sincere. But sure as shit, it’s a battle cry. Her crew is at the ready. The pioneer woman is back, she’s traded her shovel out for a broken glass laudanum bottle.

“I have nothing to say,” I say back sweetly. I am in my all, my power, my light and purpose. I’m tired of taking shit, I’m tired of hiding and keeping safe the feelings of those who would oppress me and my people. Yes, we are all one but we chose to come into this tangle, to unravel and make sure all know safety. What Sage Moth is doing isn’t safe. She is blinded by the delusion that she is in charge. Same old story that her lineage has been telling for generations. Yes, she and hers have known oppressions, all women have, but they have memories that show their complicity in other tyrannies. The tension between Sage Moth and me is spicing the air with expectation. Her taking and keeping these ancestors as her own is some bullshit. Fuck spiritual colonialism.

“I think this is the time for a group meditation. I wasn’t going to do this until the end of this session but,” Sage Moth waves her arms. “I want to lead us in a healing meditation. Release some of the aggression in the room.” She has no idea; anger is fuel for change.

The gathered women look at each other. Something is off. They feel it. A couple of women head to the bathroom before the meditation so there is some milling about, shifting of blankets and the like.

“This is weird, right?” this woman whispers to me; one of her ancestors, Indian maybe, nods behind her. A few other of the brown women have instinctively clustered closer.

“Totally fucking weird,” I say, my eye on Sage Moth as she cleanses the air with sage smoke. This fucking scrapa hasn’t even opened any windows or asked if anyone has a scent sensitivity. Selfish, and dangerous for all that smoke to hang in the air, full of whatever it has picked up. I jump up and open a window, the woman who whispered to me goes to the front door and props it open. A couple women thank us, Sage Moth exhales heavily. The ancestors are still, gathering whatever power they take from the holy smoke, whatever channels it opens.

The women all finally settle into a loose circle. Some women are savasana’d out. I sit in a loose criss-cross, spine soft, hands on my knees. Everyone takes their preferred position. Sage Moth sits higher than us because of course she does, on a stack of pillows. She holds a drum in her hand, I see it with the ancestors’ eyes and sigh a relief. Not stolen stolen, but stolen nonetheless.

The drum begins and does what drums do. It calls, it opens. That which is eternal inside of Sage Moth is what’s beating the drum. Holy is holy. I close my eyes and allow whatever needs to be open to open. I feel calmer than I have in a long time. The ancestors surrounding mine are family, survivors of recent and late, fierce. Of course my crew is bad girls, the outliers, the wild ones. I spot a crew of serene ancestors gathered around a luminous young black woman. Like attracts like. She has the exact right crew around her, as do I. I drop into gratitude. Gods alive and dead, we have been through some shit. And we are here.

Look at you, accepting and shit. The whisper in my ear has me spinning in my mind, I lose all sense of gravity and feel like I’m in freefall. Sía’s voice. I open my eyes and look around me, I don’t see her but I hear her laugh.

“Sía?” I say it so low it sounds more like breath escaping between my teeth. Y-lala is squatting next to me, she opens her mouth and Sía’s voice comes out.

I’m always here, Mari-Banana. Stop looking so hard.

I can’t help it. A sob erupts from my throat and I’m forehead to the floor, gulping for air. The hands on my back are human and not human. They have all known loss, it is one of the infinities that weave us together. Sía, sister of my heart, keeper of secrets, and our invented languages of eyerolls, gone. I cry harder. I’m scared no one will ever love me or know me the way she did. No one can love me like her. The hands on my back are warm, empathy pouring into me, my breathing regulates, I wipe my nose on a handkerchief someone has handed me. I sit up.

Even Sage Moth has a deep look of empathy on her face. I see she doesn’t mean to be an asshole, her needs just show up that way. It doesn’t make it right but I feel a tiny bit closer to understanding.

Okay Mother Theresa, that’s cool, but you’re still going to rescue those ancestors from her grip, yeah? Sía voice has a familiar teasing in it and I am fortified. I look at Sage Moth. Caro the butch conquistadora steps in front of me and faces Sage Moth’s ancestors.

Interloper, let my people go! Caro roars and windmill kicks her way in. They are not expecting this nun in her starchy, stained habit to come barreling through them. They scatter. Then it is fucking chaos. Ancestors running at each other like some weird gladiator battle of ghosts, spiritual MMA, a full-on rumble. The pioneer woman ancestor literally uses her broken laudanum bottle to cut off the braid of a Japanese ancestor who then snatches the braid before it falls and uses it to choke out the Oregon Trail scrapa. Y-lala and some other old, olds are singing, whooping, clapping their hands. Laughing. Betty the ‘70s chola pulls, I shit you not, a razor blade from her bangs and slices at this gorgeous milkmaid. Milkmaid sidesteps the blade and slaps Betty hard across the face. Betty slaps back then grabs the woman by the bodice and rips it open. Pretty damn dramatic. All around us ancestors are fighting, using whatever tools and tricks they have kept.

I’m in a daze. The women around me are all awash in feelings they can’t explain. Collective consciousness for real as the ancestors of these bodies have at it. I see the ancestors are giddy. I don’t imagine they get to battle each other very often.

A couple of incredibly muscled Pacifica-looking ancestors I didn’t notice earlier emerge from the chaos with Sage Moth’s formerly enslaved guides. And then quiet, like a boom, descends. All the ancestors gather around the freed, all the remnant sage smoke swirls above them. Then whoosh. I blink. They’re gone. The room is clearer than it was before. I see the colors popping, the murals on the walls feel practically animated.

Sage Moth glares at me from her pillow. She feels a loss, her own ache. I grin at her, all animal. We know who won this battle. We know what’s coming.

“What do you believe in, Mary?” she asks in a honey-venom hiss, fucking up my name on purpose.

“Sacred. Indigenous. Anarchy,” I say without thinking. It slips out and the letters dance in front of me like those weird, transparent squiggly amoebae that float on the surface of my eyes in certain light. S. I. A. My grin widens as tears spill down my face, down my neck, soaking straight into the canyon of my cleavage. Sía, my Lucia. Our Sía.

Sage Moth is still on her pillow. She has an incredibly uncomfortable look on her face. Then she farts. A loud juicy one, wet sounding. A look of horror hits her face just before the stink hits the air. Sage Moth has shit herself. She mutters something under breath about release and gets up awkwardly, holding one of her meditation pillows to her ass and waddles toward the bathroom. I feel bad for her.

I exchange numbers with a few of the women who seem to know something serious went down. Maybe, maybe I’ll see what those earlier life portal nudges were about. They all have this smile on their face, they know they have touched something eternal.

• • • •

That night I make a feast. Ancestor food, tons of corn, chocolate, coffee, I even fix up a bunch of feeder grasshoppers. I set up the feast on the altar but no one comes. Not that I can see anyway. I sit in front of the altar for a long time. I think about the gifts we ask for and the ones that show up instead. A gift is offered; if it is taken, it becomes something else entirely. I hear humming from the lit candles. I’m not alone anymore, I never have been. I can’t imagine a better crew of ancestors for this walk in this skin I have chosen. I light charcoal, drop copal and a little nug on it.

I put a pic of Sía on the altar, a selfie taken days before she died. I haven’t looked at her social media. Not in the fourteen months and two weeks and three days since she left. I take a Pinkola Estés quote she posted the night before she died. I place it on the altar. It reads Without the body there would be no sensations of crossing thresholds, no sense of lifting, no sense of height, weightlessness. All that comes from the body. The body is the rocket launcher.

I sit in front of the altar until my back aches and my eyes are sandpaper dry. Being a rocket launcher for the soul is exhausting. As I go to bed I hear singing somewhere outside of my hearing. I know they’re still there. We’re still here. As I slide into sleep Sía slips into my mind and whispers There is work to do, we will support you. As I enter Dreaming they are all there waiting, raucous, celebrating with the freed souls. They tell me: welcome to the beginning.

Lizz Huerta

Lizz Huerta

Lizz Huerta is a Mexic-Rican writer. Her work has appeared in A People’s Future of the United States, The Miami Rail, The Cut, Brevity Magazine, and other journals. Her debut novel, The Lost Dreamer, will be released March 2022 by FSG for Young Readers. She was born, raised, and currently lives on Kumeyaay land, colonizer name San Diego.