Calcination By Mike Hodges
Thick ash fell from the heavens to cover our cities, and we were not afraid. We gathered the
first dusting from where it drifted on the windshields of our cars and the shadows where our
eyes had been and carried it into our plastic homes in cupped hands while flakes fell like tears
from our fleshless fingers.
We heaped it on our kitchen tables and straightened it with cleavers into neat lines that we
inhaled in great gasps of desperation and faithful ecstasy. It fell through our jaws, filling us
with joy and the faint desire to see the sun again, and we coughed out thick liquid from our
exposed marrow while we ran back outside to roll naked in the withered grass and stroke at
our empty sockets.
More ash fell on us as we rolled. Where it met our sweat and phlegm, it solidified into coatings
of stone that cracked and shattered as our joints twisted in what had once been our children’s
playgrounds. They left us long ago, but we never missed them in our endless mornings of
sunless darkness and slow-dancing to the music that shook through our floorboards; bone is a
better conductor than any traitorous flesh could ever dream.
The ash rose to our thighs, and we waded through it like the tide or our memories. Some of us
lay down in the gathering banks, and whirlpools of flakes in the thickening air traced dances
above their graves.
The gods told us that this day would come; their voices were whispers that floated into our
city with the bitter scent of unripe cranberries and the crashing warmth of an upturned
crucible. The grass, still green then, rustled with the sound of cocoons crushing themselves
into nothingness before the ants could reach them, and we let the long, unvoiced sigh of it
crawl up our legs, across our spines, into our ears while we stood with our eyelids pinned open
like butterflies, watching the sun slowly fade away.
When we heard their wordless covenant, we bathed in fire to strip away the skin that crisped
with a reminder of what we had once been; we blistered away our weakness to make ourselves
beautiful, and screamed for hours until our nerves disappeared in the forges we made of our
homes. We took gravel to our muscles, grinding the useless fibers into dust between fingers
slick with blood and the gods’ promises. We unraveled the thin tapestries of arteries that
pulsed and swelled every time our hearts twitched with shocked mortality. We pulled veins
out one at a time and pinned them to our walls; they fluttered like prayer flags until the air
died around them.
The ash rose to our hips, then our bellies, and our cars became islands that we stumbled onto
as we crossed the endless sea of thin flakes that had been our city.
When we grew tired, we retreated into our doorways and let the ash make us into silhouettes
we could not see against the thin walls that had sheltered us when we still had need.
In our shadows, dark forms between the smooth walls and the still softness of settling ash,
we ourselves set like silver, and our lungless voices whispered thanks to the gods for their