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Joanna’s Bodies

Written By Eugenia Triantafyllou

Eugenia Triantafyllou is a Greek author and artist with a flair for dark things. Her work has been nominated for the Ignyte, Locus, Nebula, Shirley Jackson, and World Fantasy Awards. She is a graduate of Clarion West Writers Workshop. You can find her stories in Tor.com, Uncanny, Strange Horizons, Apex, and other venues. She currently lives in Athens with a boy and a dog. Find her on Twitter or Bluesky @foxesandroses, her IG @eugeniatriantafyllou, or her website https://www.eugeniatriantafyllou.com.

Publisher’s note: this is the second of four novelettes we will be publishing this year. You can read this for free on our site (via this very page you’re on) OR, if you’d prefer to grab a PDF or ePub version of this, simply enter your email below and you’ll automatically receive it. You’ll also be signed up for our weekly amazing Letters From the Psychopomp.


    THE WOMAN WHOSE BODY Joanna is renting has a nosebleed. Joanna is about to get evicted again and she’s cranky about it. She screams at Eleni in another woman’s voice.

    “Hey, this shit’s burning!”

    Eleni doesn’t reply. She has been sitting on the toilet long after she’s been done, counting supplies. Waiting for Joanna to get bored and go watch TV. There were ten rolls of toilet paper when they first set up here. Or was it twelve? Eleni swears the woman keeps everything in fucking dozens, she must have an obsession or something. Twelve tubes of mint-flavored toothpaste. Twelve red toothbrushes—two used by them. But does a toothbrush count as used by a guest if the mouth it’s been brushing is the same as the host’s? Does a new soul bring in new mouth germs?

    One toothbrush used by them. By Eleni.

    “I can’t cook like this.”

    A whiff of burned butter and flour and whatever else Joanna is incinerating out there. Hopefully not the entire place.

    “I’m coming!”

    When Eleni comes out, Joanna is already slumped on the low leather couch by the window watching Eleni’s ex-favorite movie for the billionth time. Jennifer’s Body. Two girls who are best friends: Jennifer and Needy, one of them possessed by a demon, the other one possessed by the friendship itself. Jennifer’s Body used to be their number one, but somewhere between Joanna’s first death and her first resurrection, Eleni stopped caring for it. When fantasy becomes reality it’s not as fun anymore. She prefers Jurassic Park these days—when Joanna lets her pick the movie—because there’s no way in Hell dinosaurs are making a comeback.

    Joanna is inside a short, fifty-year-old woman with unusually large hands. Joanna’s hair used to be brown and sleek down her shoulders once upon a time, but this woman’s blonde perm has a will of its own. Eleni tried to brush it into submission but the only thing she got out of it was a couple of bruises on her left arm from when Joanna got tired of the pain and pinched her.

    The place smells like a gluten crematorium. Eleni runs to the kitchen and opens the window but it does little to help. Joanna has burned the pancakes and with them the pan that’s currently swimming in soapy water. The pan that Eleni will need to find and replace with a similar one. She hates when Joanna does this. She knows the rules. She knows they are meant to protect Eleni and Joanna and the person whose body Joanna rents and she still does stuff like this. Whatever. They’ll be out of here soon.

    “I am sorry.” Joanna’s voice is barely a whisper under the sound of the jock’s screams when Megan Fox, as Jennifer, dislocates her jaw and snatches him with her shark-edged teeth. “When it starts, I can’t concentrate.”

    Joanna’s telling the truth. It’s hard for her to do anything when the body she inhabits starts breaking down. Looking at her, Eleni figures it’s not too long now. They’ve got maybe another week before she needs to evacuate. And that’s being generous. When too much time has passed—and that time is different for each person she inhabits—the body looks like a bodysuit a couple sizes too big. The flesh feels detached from the skeleton when Eleni rests a hand on Joanna, like it’s sliding off in slow motion. It’s at those times that Eleni can see the ghost of a face swimming under the flesh. Sometimes that face is slightly to the side of where the actual face is, but sometimes it’s in other places, the neck, the small of the back, the stomach. It freaks her the hell out. Eleni usually gets Joanna to leave earlier than that, leave the person in as close-to-mint condition as possible. This is what they have agreed on.

    Eleni plops on the couch and puts her arms around Joanna’s narrow shoulders. There it is: the skin doesn’t sit quite right on the bone, it’s thin and slippery, like deli meat left too long on the counter. It’s okay. It’s okay. It always feels a little weird to comfort strangers but she’s gotten better at it. This is body number ten. Joanna is wearing the woman’s work clothes, meaning a pair of jeans and a white t-shirt that has the SuperEasy green and blue logo of the supermarket she worked at.

    In the movie, Jennifer is looking at herself in the mirror. She’s just fed and she is glowing. She has a new body for a while, until the power wears off and she needs to feed again.

    If only it were that easy.

    Joanna puts her head on Eleni’s shoulder and sighs. Her sigh comes out heavy and a little wet. The woman was a smoker.

    “I am so tired all the time,” she says with that high-pitched voice that reminds Eleni of one of her aunts. One of her least favorite ones. “I don’t want to do this anymore.”

    Eleni rests her chin on the bleached blonde hair to keep her jaw, and by extension her mouth, shut. She’s tired too. So, so tired. Her breathing slows because she doesn’t want to distract Joanna from what she is about to say. I want to rest forever, Eleni imagines Joanna confessing, I want to go back to that place where I rest in between bodies and never leave again. It’s nice there. Peaceful. I am ready.

    “I need someone younger, Leni.” Joanna gently takes Eleni’s hand into hers as if to show her how old and spotty her skin looks next to Eleni’s twenty-year-old hand. One that fits their real age. On the TV, Jennifer looks like death and she is about to eat the emo boy. She won’t stop until someone stops her. “I want to have fun for once.”

    Eleni’s heart drops to her knees. She shakes her chin that still rests on Joanna’s head and makes a mess of her hair all over again. “That’s a stupid thing to ask and you know it.”

    “Why?” Joanna squeezes her hand with all the strength she’s got. The way Joanna’s skin moves against Eleni’s flesh makes her queasy.

    Joanna knows why. Eleni has explained this over and over. Middle-aged and above single women are more often independent. And that makes them safer. They live alone and can isolate themselves for a few months with little fuss. And if someone—a relative or a friend—checks in with them, they can tell them to go away and that’s that. They are good targets.

    “Let’s try. Just this once. Promise me you’ll try.” Joanna squeezes Eleni’s hand harder. Muscle and sinew and bone wobble under the surface. Her voice sounds like her real voice now that she’s angry. It has the same tremor her real voice had before they got into a big fight. Joanna shouldn’t get angry now. Not when the body is breaking down like this.

    “Stop it.” Eleni pulls her hand free and gets up. “I’ve got the next one lined up.”

    Joanna falls back on the couch which makes her moan but then she laughs in that mean way of hers. “Is it because you miss your mommy?”

    “Shut up.”

    That’s how Eleni messes it up. Again. She starts screaming in Joanna’s face. “Shut up. Shut up. Shut up.”

    Joanna smiles with the woman’s mouth but underneath the smile there’s anger, Eleni knows. Joanna’s teeth glisten, her spit is extra frothy, as if there’s too much of it. Suddenly, she starts coughing so hard she stops smiling. She leans forward and coughs some more. She spits on the floor. Her nose starts bleeding again and now she coughs an inky-dark liquid that Eleni wishes were blood.

    “It’s happen—”

    Eleni kneels in front of her. Grabs her by the shoulders to steady her and instead she feels untethered herself.

    “Jo, you have to leave. Leave now, Jo, please.”

    She shakes her head and keeps coughing. Blackmailing Eleni like she always does.

    “Fuck, Jo, you’ll kill her. Leave now!”

    Stubbornly, Joanna keeps coughing. There’s so much inky mucus in her mouth now, it oozes between her teeth like she had been chugging mouthfuls of mud. And next to her ear Eleni thinks she sees a familiar nose materializing under the skin. Like a drowning person coming up for breath before they disappear under the ripples again. Eleni shakes her.

    “Leave now! I’ll try, okay? Leave!”                                                                                

    Only then Joanna smiles. Her teeth are stained black. Her brown eyes—it’s her old eyes, the only thing she brings with her from body to body—turn pale gray as she leaves, so translucent you’d think there’s no iris. A black pinprick-sized pupil is left staring at Eleni like a mite swimming in milk. Soon she stops coughing and fighting altogether and her body goes warm. Burning with fever. The woman—her name is Maria, Eleni can finally think of her name again—slumps forward and Eleni throws her own back out trying to pull her onto the couch. She immediately checks for the woman’s pulse, and now she can breathe again because it’s there. Faint but there.

    It will take some time for her to come to herself, but she will be okay. Probably. Eleni will have to call someone, a friend or neighbor, to check on the woman eventually.

    Eleni has at best a couple of days to return the house to how she and Joanna found it, or a close approximation, and then stuff her backpack with the essentials and get the hell out of there before the woman comes to her senses and starts asking questions.

    The host—Maria—has lost her job at the supermarket and maybe burned a few bridges, but this isn’t too bad as far as possessions go, Eleni tells herself.

    “Thank you for being her host, Maria,” Eleni says and kisses the woman’s forehead like she’s read in the spellbook. “You’re now free.”

    On the TV Jennifer has found her next target. Her best friend Needy’s boyfriend.

    It isn’t hard to summon a soul. All you need is an object that’s easy to carry around—for Eleni that’s a coin—a little blood, and the right kind of words. What’s hard is having a strong enough connection with the person you are summoning. Visualizing them inside and outside as best and as accurately as possible. There must be billions or trillions of souls out there. And by out there Eleni means Hell or Heaven or wherever Joanna is vacationing when she is not here. Eleni never asked. Joanna tried to tell Eleni once but she stopped her. They both have gathered enough trauma for fifty lifetimes as it is. No need to open that can of worms. Visualizing Joanna as she was when she was alive is important, because it’s like calling her special soul-fingerprint from the other side. Eleni doesn’t even want to think what would happen if she summoned the wrong soul. Can you imagine? How embarrassing.

    Eleni blames that movie and all the witchy, edgy stuff they were into during their teen years for at least some of it. Or maybe she doesn’t really blame them. They were fun for a while. Like she and Joanna used to be fun together. They didn’t know what they were getting into by buying all those spellbooks from the flea market in Monastiraki. They didn’t know what they were getting into when they met each other in preschool either.

    The books were fun for a while. They would call each other and read out loud the passages they found the most outrageous to spook themselves before bedtime. Then the witchy thing got old and Eleni stored the books at the back of her bookshelf so her Mom wouldn’t find them, and almost completely forgot about them.

    A couple of years passed and they found new ways to dare each other. This time it was all about who was going to leave the other one behind. Eleni’s thing was drawing with permanent marker on every available surface and adopting a new wear-all-black-don’t-give-a-fuck persona. Joanna went the other way by dressing up every morning for school while carrying around her duffel bag just to be able to casually drop that oh, by the way I’m on the volleyball team, I’ve got hobbies and stuff.

    It all became a game of who was more interesting, or cute, or popular, or ultimately cruel enough to move on to new people first. And Eleni found she was losing on most of these tests, but at the end of the day they ended up together on the phone, judging the rest of the world for not being more like them while reveling in their own uniqueness.

    Then one day Eleni’s mom decided to sign her up to a cram school. Since she apparently lacked the motivation that would help her pass her college entrance exams with a good score, she needed the extra help. Cram school was a revelation. It was the first space where she had met people who didn’t know Joanna, or didn’t particularly care to listen to Eleni talk about her. A Joanna-free zone. No long phone-call conversations, no big personal secrets, no inside jokes between two people who have known each other forever, but no fights either, no jealousy, no fear.

    Everyone there seemed brand new and sparkly to Eleni and she found they could all make up new inside jokes and the world would not fucking end. To them she was artistic and chill and sometimes a dork but in a cute way, and she toned down the emo-ness to something more average without feeling like a loser. It was the first place she could finally relax, even though it wasn’t supposed to be a relaxing place. She started meeting up with her new friends after school; a part of her brain urged her to keep this a secret from Joanna. But it was all short-lived.

    Eleni’s next target is the woman who works at the coffee shop at the intersection of two of the busiest shopping streets. Her name is Elisavet—a name Eleni will try to forget once Joanna possesses the woman—and she lives alone in a house in the suburbs with a tiny garden and two cats. Divorced; her daughter studies abroad, like Eleni might have done if she had graduated from high school instead of messing up her own mother and then running away to create more mess elsewhere. Eleni petted the cats and chatted with the woman a couple of weeks ago. She passed by with her little backpack asking for directions that she didn’t need. The woman was nice and even told her where she worked. Perhaps she sensed Eleni was lacking a mother and a direction in life—not only when it came to streets—and wanted to fix her. Then one of the cats, the oldest and fattest one, came and sat in Eleni’s lap and that sealed the deal. Elisavet would be getting possessed.

    When they were ten and Eleni’s Mom was working night shift, little Eleni called Joanna in the middle of the night scared out of her mind. When she was alone at home everything seemed alive. The clothes, the lamp, that shadow in the corner. Her father had left them a long time ago so there was nobody to comfort her. Only Jo. That’s how it started, their nightly ritual; sometimes until the early hours. Much later, when they were drifting apart, it phased out to mostly on weekends. High school was becoming too demanding to keep this up or, perhaps, they were using it as an excuse to take some space from each other. Eleni still isn’t sure which one was true.

    Their ritual led to Joanna calling Eleni that night and finding out from Eleni’s mom that she wasn’t home. Which made Joanna grab her bike and go looking for Eleni. Eleni hadn’t thought to give her mom clear instructions on what to say in case Joanna called the landline looking for her.

    Eleni isn’t sure what Joanna was thinking that night. What Joanna thought she was going to do once she found all of them sitting around in the square drinking beers and talking about music and then sitting awkwardly in silence for a bit because they didn’t know each other well enough. Neither of them got to find out. Eleni thought she heard sirens somewhere not far from where they were sitting but didn’t think anything of it.

    Later, after Eleni had summoned her from un-life, Joanna said, “Dude, you should have seen my face. Pure horror show. That truck messed me up big time. My nose got knocked all the way to the back of my skull and with my mouth and eyeholes it became one huge cavern full of blood, and teeth, and bits of brain. I could barely believe that was me.”

    “Weren’t you already dead?” Eleni asked, which sounded cruel but deep down she really, really didn’t want to know.

    Joanna smiled as if she was still reading that spellbook. “I was hovering over myself for a moment. I was looking for you in the crowd. Too bad you weren’t there to see the show. Guess you were busy with your new friends.”

    It’s still very early but the store is already busy with people grabbing a coffee and a pie to go as they head off to their offices. There are four people working as far as Eleni can see. A man and three women, one of them Elisavet. The tall dude is cleaning the tables; one younger woman, the barista, her black hair up in a slick ponytail, is working the coffee machine. The third woman is cute, also very young, maybe the one closest to Eleni’s age, with short-cropped pink hair. She is on customer service alongside Elisavet, taking orders behind the counter and working the cash register.

    Eleni stands outside the store. Backpack resting against her back. She squeezes the coins in her hand as she finishes the dregs of her latte. There is a right time for these things. She always picks people who work some sort of cashier job because it is easier to give them the coins, especially the one she has marked with her blood. The ritual can work without the host-to-be touching the coin and by extension the blood, but there has to be some sort of bleeding by the summoner and in any case it’s always safer if they touch it. Blood channels magic better.

    Eleni’s solution to the whole blood-touching thing was coins. Spill a drop of blood and give it to someone. Coins are dirty as hell anyway; who would notice a slight color tinge? And who turns down money? It turns out a lot of people did. Eleni had to find out the hard way that people weren’t gullible like in the movies and if you yell Sorry, ma’am, you dropped your fifty cents, while running straight at them, arm outstretched, it’s more likely that they will back away than gratefully accept the coins. So, cashiers it is.

    When the last customer leaves and before anyone new comes in, Eleni sees her chance. The moment she sets foot in the café Elisavet seems to recognize her, and then becomes nervous for some reason. Or at least that’s what Eleni thinks when the woman’s face tightens and her eyes dart a little bit to the left to the other employee. The really young one. Shit, Eleni thinks. Was she too creepy that day? Too pushy? It doesn’t matter much though because all she needs is for the woman to touch the blood and then Eleni will get her freddo cappuccino and occupy one of the tables in the back to have full view of the woman as she summons Jo’s spirit.

    “Hey,” she says with the easiest voice she can muster.

    Elisavet, the woman, gives her a nod of recognition and a cautious smile and takes her order. There is this awkward back and forth during which Eleni tries to sound not-creepy. It seems to her that the more she tries the creepier she looks, to the point where she has an out-of-body experience of herself as movie-Jennifer when she tries to lure the boys into quiet places for a snack. Eleni counts the moments with her heartbeat until the coffee is finally ready. Before the woman delegates to someone else, Eleni opens her now super-sweaty palm and drops the coins into Elisavet’s hand.

    Then they both smile at each other and the moment is over and Eleni isn’t sure at all that the woman had been nervous or if it was a projection of her own nervousness. Eleni takes the coffee and leaves hastily for the table she has marked as hers. Now it’s time for the really hard part.

    Eleni was seventeen the first time she summoned Joanna back from the dead. It was a week after Joanna’s funeral and she was sitting cross-legged on her bed, leafing through the books they had bought together in Monastiraki. It was one of Eleni’s favorite memories of them, a day they’d both been in a good mood and holding hands and laughing, going around the stalls.

    The friends Eleni had sneaked out to meet on the day of Joanna’s accident did not talk to her after that night. They didn’t know what to say to her, Eleni figured. They didn’t want her pain. Her guilt. In an instant she stopped being the fake-emo girl and became the real thing. Nobody wanted the real thing. She had nobody and she needed Joanna again. Joanna was the person she knew the most intimately. Running to her when things got hard was like a natural instinct.

    When Eleni turned the page of one particular book, she saw the spell. There had been other spells like that in the other books but this one felt truer. Probably all that visualization stuff it went on and on about for pages. And as Eleni sat there with her red eyes and that emptiness in her heart, she could see Joanna with her mind’s eye. She could see Joanna inside and out as if she were standing right next to her, and her heart ached even more.

    Perfect skin and long brown hair that caught the light right. Generous at times, clingy—but only when it suited her—and moody. Shrieking like a banshee when she was angry or to get her way with things. Lately she was getting distant with Eleni, chatting more with others at school, calling less often at night but expecting Eleni to pick up when she did.

    Eleni pricked her finger with an enamel pin she had on her tote bag—probably not the most hygienic choice—and smeared blood on her bedroom mirror’s glass. When she was done the room looked like it belonged in a horror movie. She had no clue what she was doing and she imagined that, if this ever worked, Joanna would appear in her bedroom mirror and talk to her like a Bloody Mary. Instead, she heard a knock on the door and before she could hide the bloody mess and tell her mother to go away, her mother’s body barged into the room and fell into Eleni’s arms.

    That was Eleni’s first thought when she saw her mom. Her mother’s body. Not her mother, no. The body carried itself wrong. Like there was someone else inside her mom’s skin. Someone with a different shade of brown eyes. Someone who clenched their jaw instead of half-opening their mouth. Someone who slumped their shoulders and shrieked and shrieked like a banshee on a full moon. Mom, what’s wrong? Mom? Mom. It was more than a question. It was a hope that her Mom would confirm it was really her in there.

     But when the body stopped wailing in her arms, someone who was definitely not her Mom whispered, Why did you leave me?

    Nothing is happening. Eleni doesn’t know why nothing is happening and her mind is racing as she takes the smallest of sips from her coffee, afraid that the woman—Elisavet?—will know when she has drunk it all and will expect her to leave immediately.

    Eleni has gone through her list of things she knows about Joanna five times. She even dares to close her eyes and actually visualize Jo sitting right next to her at the coffee shop, the way they had done so many times when she was still alive. When she opens them again the woman looks unaffected, meaning she looks like herself and not like a costume someone else is wearing. As far as Eleni can tell. No clenched jaw, no coppery-brown eyes, no scouring of the room to find Eleni and then a subtle nod to show her she is in there, inside the woman. Eleni decides to think of her as the woman just in case.

    When Eleni left the previous the woman, now effectively renamed Maria, she took enough money from her to crash at a cheap hotel room for a few days. Pretty much in the same way Joanna was crashing the afterlife until it was time for her to be called back. That’s what they always do between Joanna’s bodies. Eleni pretends she talks to Joanna inside her head even when she is not here possessing anyone. In a way Eleni is permanently possessed.

    There is a very specific window in which Eleni can call Joanna back and that window is two weeks. It says so in the book. If the two weeks go by, Eleni won’t be able to call Joanna back from the dead. And although she has tried to wait the window out, she found out that she can’t. She can’t stop calling her back. The first time might have been love and loneliness and guilt, but now it’s also that promise Joanna makes her give each time, before the body she is in starts breaking down. You’ll call me back, right? is what she asks each time. The subtext is always the same: I died because of you. Because you left me. So, you have to call me back.

    These thoughts give her already rising panic a nice tinge of desperation and since she can’t hide it anymore, she gets up and paces back and forth in front of the woman, glancing at her, begging her to give her a sign that it isn’t her anymore but Joanna. The woman looks increasingly uncomfortable and then she turns around and goes somewhere in the back, the place where customers are not supposed to go, and Eleni loses sight of her. Only the barista lingers behind the counter now.

    “Is there something I can help you with?”

    Eleni jumps at the voice on her right. It’s the tall guy who has stopped mopping and looks at her with a mixture of concern and annoyance. Eleni eyes the cash register and thinks of the coin resting somewhere in there, her blood smeared all over it. There is a moment of hesitation, where she weighs her options. The man doesn’t take his gaze away from her and now the barista is getting suspicious too. Perhaps they guess her intentions—although not all of them, her mind is a dark pit of unfathomable depth. Eleni is trapped and panic is clouding her mind. She looks at the cash register, at the customers coming in again, at her coffee cup, still warm and almost full on the table.

    And then she escapes outside. She hides around the corner and inhales as if the concept of air is something she just discovered. Inhales like Joanna when she opens her old eyes in new sockets and realizes she has come back again, and again, and again. Until now, that is. Eleni counts the days. Three more days until she can’t call Joanna back anymore. Three. And then what?

    As her mind is brimming with questions, she feels the outline of someone familiar watching her. It’s Joanna in the flesh. Eleni’s mind freezes for a moment. Joanna finally did it. She made a deal with whatever entity exists on the other side. Or maybe it’s the Devil himself coming for her own soul.

    Eleni realizes she can’t breathe. She is choking back sobs as Joanna approaches, languid. Her limbs don’t seem to touch the ground for long, she is almost floating, soaring like a ghost, and now Eleni wonders how nobody else around notices. Is she already dead then? Only when Joanna comes close enough does Eleni see the things that aren’t Joanna-like. Her hair is cropped short and pink while Joanna’s was waist-long and dark brown. The woman still wears her uniform, only it’s not the woman in there, is it? It is most definitely Joanna. Coppery eyes look down at Eleni and she can’t stop staring at the person who is two persons and trying to merge the version in her mind.

    “Hey, wake up, you goof. It’s me,” Joanna says. Lips peeled back in a smile, she opens Eleni’s palm and slips in the bloody coin.

    Joanna’s new voice is deep and smooth and comforting, a voice Joanna would wish she had when she was still alive. Eleni can’t deny that this is the most alive Joanna has looked in a while. Ever since this shit-journey started, actually. She can’t find traces of that ghostly face underneath this woman’s skin, but that’s always how it is in the start. The woman’s whole frame and Joanna’s align so perfectly Eleni feels almost guilty she didn’t find her a younger body earlier. Almost.

    “Shit, Jo. How did you do it?”

    Joanna shrugs coyly. “Do what?”

    Eleni’s eye catches the tall man from the coffee shop. His eyes dart around the busy street, looking for someone. She grabs Joanna’s hand and pulls her in the opposite direction.

    “Did you grab her stuff at least?”

    “You bet.”

    Joanna pulls up the messenger bag, and shows her a laptop, a phone, and a couple of textbooks on statistics and machine learning. A student. After the first shock, Eleni feels the panic rising. Fucking great.

    “She probably still lives with her parents, Jo. Did you think of that? Where the hell are we gonna go?” Eleni wants to make a break for it and never come back. But is there any place she can go?

    “No, she doesn’t. It’s all in her phone.” Nothing can break Joanna’s calm exterior at this moment. If it’s the body or just that she doesn’t give a shit anymore, Eleni doesn’t know. Joanna dangles a key fob shaped like the head of a crying baby. “I even know where she lives.”

    What Eleni didn’t know or didn’t understand back when she first called Joanna was that spirits don’t go into inanimate objects. The same way water slides off glass but a sponge soaks it up. Living flesh absorbs a wandering spirit the same way a dish sponge absorbs water. When Eleni called Joanna’s spirit, it bounced right off the mirror smeared with her own blood and went for her mother. The only other available body in the vicinity.

    But if the water stays for too long the sponge gets moldy, slimy. It gets sick and eventually dies. Well, dish sponges don’t die, but humans do. It’s a bad metaphor but it’s the only way Eleni thinks of spirits now. A few months into the first possession, Eleni’s mother had a hemorrhagic stroke. The body lay on the bed, black tears running down her cheeks black snot from her nose, her irises glued to the ceiling, unresponsive. She was muttering something but it was too low and too unintelligible for Eleni to make out what it was. Through everything Eleni knew Joanna was still in there. It was the way she was wearing her mother. Like one of those paper masks they used for art projects in school, the skin deadly pale and fragile, ready to slip off at any minute. And somewhere under there, another face, made only of her mother’s flesh, without discernible eyes, nostrils, or teeth.

    Eleni begged Joanna to leave her mother’s body before she finished her off. She promised to call her again before the time window passed while she waited for the paramedics. That turned out to be the only way Joanna would obey her from then on. Only after she had extracted Eleni’s promise.

    After making sure Mom would probably be okay, Eleni called her aunts, packed a suitcase and some money, and disappeared, going dark to everyone she had ever known in her short life. Everyone except for Joanna. She couldn’t bear her mother’s empty stare anymore and she dreaded to find out what she remembered from the time Joanna was subletting her. Maybe all the memories come back to the women eventually. Perhaps someone will recognize her on the street one day and call the police. She would deserve it. It might even make her break her promise to Joanna and stop summoning her. Or not. Calling Joanna back is all she can do now. All the company she has.

    Knowing where the woman lives and knowing how to find the right apartment are two different things. They get the address from one of the delivery service messages. The apartment the woman rents is a condominium in one of the smaller neighborhoods in downtown Athens. Which means she might have friends and family at a walking distance, which makes Eleni very uneasy but when Joanna finds out, she replies with a Sweet!, as nonchalant about it as with everything else. Eleni guesses the apartment wouldn’t be too big; the woman is still a student after all. One bedroom, probably. They gauge the ones they think fit the description through the windows during the day and when darkness settles, they try the locks as quietly as they can, half-waiting for the moment when someone catches them trying to break into their apartment and they have to scuttle down the hall, waking up the neighbors.

    Only when the lock clicks open and they make sure there’s nobody else in any of the rooms does the air leave Eleni’s lungs full force.

    “Thank God for no roommates,” Eleni says, collapsing on the small blue couch, in the middle of the very sparsely furnished living room.

    “Thank God for Dr. Pepper.”

    Eleni hears Joanna opening a soda can in the kitchen and putting on some music she probably found in the woman’s laptop.

    “Keep it low,” Eleni says as quietly as possible. “We’re not ready to meet the neighbors now. Or ever.”

     She still prods at the events of that morning with her mind, trying to figure out what went wrong. Or which way it went wrong. Could be a number of things. A soul is like a water stream, and like a stream it needs direction. Eleni is the one doing that with her visualizing, but what if she was too tired that day? What if she was admiring the pink-haired woman more than she was focusing on Elisavet? What if, before she managed to channel the spirit into Elisavet, the other woman grabbed the coin to pay a customer, and boom, the deed was done. Was there even a single customer there while Eleni was visualizing? She doesn’t remember, but there must have been.

    What if none of the above is true and Joanna is hiding how powerful she is? What if, while Eleni was visualizing and calling her from the other side, Joanna’s soul changed direction at the last moment into someone she fancied more, pretty much the way she had done with Eleni’s own mother? If she had done it once she could do it again. How stupid of Eleni to think she had any control at all. Stupid, stupid.

    In the background Eleni hears the gentle clicking of a keyboard and then giggling. It’s coming from the kitchen.

    “Jo?”

    Eleni stalks into the dim-lit kitchen, fully covered in lime-green tiles. Joanna’s face is the most illuminated thing in the room as she types furiously on the woman’s laptop, feet resting on the kitchen table. She has already logged into a group chat. The usernames read Foxfire, Spider, HauntedTrails. Eleni doesn’t recognize any of them.

    “What the fuck, Jo? Are you talking to her friends?”

    Joanna doesn’t even turn or try to lie. “Relax, dude. I have to learn as much as I can about her. Plus, her friends are kinda cool.”

    “Why?”

    “Because,” Jo turns around this time and looks at Eleni. “I don’t plan on leaving this body any time soon.”

    Eleni’s jaw almost drops to the tiles. She knows that’s what Joanna had wanted for a long time, but she wasn’t expecting her to be so upfront and territorial about it. So calculating. It will be hell getting her out of this body in time. Her Mom’s image flashes in front of Eleni’s eyes and she thinks she can hear her own heartbeat.

    “Ah, Leni, I am sorry,” Joanna’s tone changes immediately and the woman’s deep voice becomes even deeper and silkier. She’s already using this body like a virtuoso playing a melody on the piano. “It’s just that we earned this. Both you and me. We’ve barely had a chance to enjoy life all this time.”

    Enjoying life isn’t an option when you’re already dead, Eleni wants to say. But she feels bone-tired. She isn’t sure she can fix whatever is happening here. Perhaps there are parents close by that can pop in here at any time, or someone else with a spare key. Perhaps the friends Jo is merrily talking to will see right through her—very realistic—disguise. Perhaps they’ll call from work and ask why the hell she ran away in the middle of her shift—never mind, that will definitely happen. Some of these people are bound to ask a lot of questions and they will know something is wrong. Eleni doesn’t have the power to stop any of this and she’s tired. She realizes too late she has slowly collapsed on the floor.

    “You’ve been doing so much for us. Worrying a lot. Let me take care of things this time. I promise I’ll be careful.”

    Crap, Joanna almost has her. The more Eleni looks at her, the more the woman transforms into Joanna. How Joanna used to look. How Eleni remembers her from the photos on her phone and her own subjective memory. She starts to speak but the question almost freezes in her brain.

    “What if—?”

    “If the body rejects me? I’ll leave. We can go back to little old ladies after that. Just let me have a good time.” Joanna leaves the chair and sits on the floor next to Eleni. She takes Eleni’s hand in her own, gently, like when they were younger and she was asking for a favor only Eleni could do. The woman’s face is iridescent, almost otherworldly under the lighting of the screen. Eleni can’t stop admiring her long nose and the chrome stud ring that pokes out from the right side. Joanna gives Eleni a gentle nudge on the shoulder. Everything is gentle about her. “Listen—I am sorry about the Mom thing. Dying sucks and makes me all bitchy.”

    To that Eleni doesn’t object. She’s run out of comebacks and dead-end questions. Whether she wants to admit it to herself or not this is the most peaceful moment they’ve had for a while. The moment that feels the most right. They are both at the right age and in a student’s apartment. Because they were both supposed to be young and in college. She doesn’t speak because it will break the illusion. And Eleni loves the illusion. Whatever might come next.

    Sometimes Eleni is movie-Jennifer, especially in the scene where she leaves Needy and gets into the van with the evil band. Their lives change forever after this. Although it’s not really what Jennifer wants to do. It’s not her fault. She is in shock after the bar catches fire and she follows along. Eleni, on the other hand, wanted to be with these people, her new and shiny friends—it also helped that they weren’t demon-summoning murderers like the band in the movie—and she left that night to find them at the square, guilt drilling into her like Jennifer’s teeth into boy-guts.

    Sometimes Eleni is Needy, sitting in her room at night, finding Jennifer burrowed in her bed. Jennifer, freshly fed and freshly kissed, smiles at Needy like the teenage girl she used to be and says, Best friends don’t keep secrets. This is what Joanna texted Eleni before Eleni left to meet the others. Before Joanna’s accident happened. Needy loves Jennifer and Eleni loves Joanna and feels both guilty and scared out of her mind. She wants to stay with Joanna until the end—until some kind of end—and wants to drop everything and run away every second that passes.

    Eleni is the worst parts of both of them: she is the one who gets seduced by the new people and leaves her best friend, setting off a series of events, and she is the loser who runs after the demon-girl. She doesn’t want to think how she is the one who keeps summoning Joanna from beyond the veil. No, because that would make her someone with the power to end everything at any given moment and yet she is not. That would make her one of the evil guys from the band and that’s the one thing she never wanted to become.

    Adriana’s friends are all right, nothing special. They remind Eleni of the kids at the cram school. They are all sitting around three tables made into a makeshift large one at a cheap ouzeri that attracts half the city’s student population. There’s this mixture of flirting, arguing, and drinking spread around the group that Eleni had only tasted for a very brief time but she dearly misses now. She is experiencing this scene as a stranger, an intruder. No wonder everyone has asked her if she has graduated already. She looks past her age.

    Joanna manages to flirt, argue, and drink at random intervals with most of the people surrounding her, and they all love it.

    “Seriously, computer science? Why I’d pick such a boring subject? I mean look at my hair. I should have been in art school or something.” She playfully tucks away a pink lock. The guy Joanna is talking to (Eleni guesses he is the Foxfire dude from the chat), chuckles, incredulous, but plays along.

    “…um, is everything all right up there, Adri?” He points an index finger at his own temple. “You’re the one who wouldn’t shut up about the awesome job you’d be set up with and that sweet, sweet paycheck. Remember all that?”

    Joanna nods and smiles because of course she doesn’t remember any of it. Eleni is about to tear the wax paper that covers their table to shreds.

    “I’ll look into art lessons anyway.” She leans over the table like a cat trying to stretch its torso into an inverse question mark. “I am a different person now.”

    The guy still plays it cool but in a less look-at-me way. “I bet it’s because of that new, fascinating friend of yours. I give you one month.”

    Suddenly everyone looks over to Eleni who feels like the least fascinating person around. She has already torn a piece of wax paper and is rolling it between her palms like a stress ball. How is she supposed to forget the woman is named Adriana if everyone around keeps reminding her? Joanna puts an arm around Eleni, like she would do when she wanted to claim her as her own.

    “My friend is a great artist,” Joanna announces to everyone. For a fleeting moment Eleni dimly remembers being seventeen and wanting to get into the School of Architecture. She was really good at drawing landscapes and was about to ask her Mom for extra lessons in line drawing if she could afford it. Then everything went to Hell. “But she’s not new. I’ve known her since we were kids. She’ll outlast all of you.”

    At that a short girl with long black bangs peeks out from the left.

    “What? Since when?”

    Shit, that’s it, Eleni thinks.She remembers a few of them being high school friends with the woman. This is what she was trying to avoid all along by isolating both of them but she let down her defenses for a hot moment and now they are caught. Or whatever being caught body-hopping means. Probably something like calling the woman’s parents and staging an intervention because she is acting weird. Eleni can’t stop doom-dreaming about what comes next. Joanna seems to pick up on that because she touches her arm in a way that feels something like a code. It’s not the same as when she hugged her; this is not for the others. This is a message shared between the two of them. Relax, I got this, it says.

    Within twenty minutes Joanna has convinced everyone that Eleni is her childhood friend, which is true, and that they all knew and had interacted with her at some point in the past, which is a total lie and a kind of scary achievement. Eleni gets progressively more drunk and a horrible thought rises from her gut: what if Joanna is mesmerizing them? What if she is convincing them that what she says is true, but in a supernatural way? Nothing about her is natural—except for the body she is occupying—so why not this one too? Eleni regrets not asking more questions about where Joanna goes when she is not here. It’s possible she has picked up a few tricks down there. It’s also possible that she used them on Eleni the other day.

    Eleni shivers and pulls her arm away. Joanna, thankfully, doesn’t seem to notice.

    The book has been sitting at the bottom of Eleni’s backpack for years now. She doesn’t need it—or at least she didn’t think she needed it—the ritual is etched in her mind. She goes looking for it the moment they return home. Joanna might be renting the body, but the body still gets tired and drunk and needs to sleep. Eleni watches as Joanna stumbles forward, her destination the small double bed at the end of the narrow corridor. Even though she has invited Eleni to sleep on the bed multiple times, she prefers the small blue couch. It is better for them to keep some distance, healthier. If there is anything healthy between them at this point.

    She waits until she hears the light snoring sound the woman always makes—it turns out possession cannot save you from snoring. Then she cracks the book open and tries to turn its pages. A tough job because they are both slightly sticky and hardened, like an old shoe you haven’t worn for some time. The passages are even more horrifying than she remembers. She was seventeen when she first summoned Joanna and she is almost certain that at twenty-one, if she were to start all over again, she would have not summoned her. Almost certain. Her new-adult brain feels very disturbed by the passages in the book. There are several animals and even babies involved in some rituals. Their own ritual is actually one of the more PG-13 ones. She shivers thinking that all of them might actually be real rituals like the one that brought Joanna back. But what else could they be? She wonders how her teenage-self delighted in these horrifying descriptions. And then she quickly understands: teenage Eleni—and teenage Joanna for that matter—read this book as a horror story, a dark and strange fairytale some people used to believe. They shivered imagining the darkness breathing close to them, clinging to their skin, licking their palms with its long, bloody tongue, but once morning came, they were free from the monsters. Not anymore.

    There’s nothing in the actual ritual and its preparation that will tell Eleni what she needs to know. No warning about the demons being tricksters. Perhaps those were in the beginner’s manual. Eleni tries really hard to avoid considering the implications of this. She puts the book back and slips into the kitchen to make coffee. The steady rhythm of the snoring almost lulls her to sleep but she feels too guilty and alert to let sleep take her. Over the murmur of the coffee machine Eleni tries to break down what happened earlier. Did Joanna magically convince Adriana’s friends what she said was true or did they not care enough to challenge her? And was Joanna hypnotizing Eleni to do her bidding, or was she pulling all the right strings and was Eleni—being the weak-willed creature she had always been—more than happy to release some of her burdens? It all felt too slippery and vague.

    “Did you know I can sleep and still be awake?”

    Eleni almost poured the scalding coffee on herself. Instead, it was the green tiles that got the brunt of the spill.

    “What the hell, Joanna? Don’t you ever knock?”

    “Uh, this is the kitchen?” Joanna gave her the weirdest look that Eleni had no word for. “Besides, you never demanded your mom knock before.”

    “What?”

    Joanna grabs one of the ice cream sandwiches she has filled the freezer with and sits on the same chair she did the first time they were here.

    “All I’m saying is that you are a mommy’s girl. And it’s not like she thought very highly of you. Like sometimes she was so tired of your clinginess, she was daydreaming about running away.” Joanna takes a very toothy bite of the ice cream, which makes Eleni flinch at the idea of all the chill against her teeth.

    “How would you know that?” A shiver travels down Eleni’s backbone. She feels a kinship with the ice cream sandwich. They are both unable to resist Joanna’s biting.

    “It’s a neat trick, right? Just like the one I discovered in this body. Come here, touch my pulse.” She leans forward on the chair and bends her neck to the side, as if inviting Eleni to bite her back. Vampire style.

    “Uh…”

    Joanna reaches out and grabs Eleni’s arm, pulling her down and close. Her pull is gentle but it implies far greater strength than she lets on.

    “Come on, don’t be shy. Touch here.” She puts her finger on the bluish-green vein that runs down the side of the woman’s neck, brushing against her clavicle.

    Eleni obliges her. She presses two fingers where Joanna shows her and lo and behold, the pulse is very slow, almost untraceable. The breathing too is slow and shallow and as Eleni leans a bit closer to listen better, there comes the snoring out of Joanna’s half-open lips.

    Eleni jerks back. “What the—Are you kidding me?”

    Joanna rests her finger against her lips now. “You’ll wake her.”

    “Shit, is she still in there?

    “Yes and no. Sorta. She knows I am here and she’s sad about it. So, she drifts in and out. We are all coping somehow, I guess.” Joanna smiles a conspiratorial smile that Eleni instantly hates.

     “Is this how you know about my mom?”

    Joanna’s smile turns mean now. But not openly mean. The quiet kind of mean that nobody else notices but Eleni, because they know each other so well.

    “All these women have so many thoughts, El. They get tangled in my head. I can’t help it when I rip them from their minds when I leave.” She reaches out and touches Eleni’s shoulders. “You don’t hold it against me. Do you?”

    Eleni feels the sudden urge to call her mom after four years. If her mom yells at her for leaving, if she cries and screams and renounces her, then maybe that means she is still herself. That would be the good outcome.

    “It’s like I have lived so many lives. I feel wiser now. All that wisdom can take us anywhere with this body. You saw what happened tonight.”

    “Jo.” Eleni swallows and tries really hard not to show how terrified she is of her friend. “I think you should get out of there. In fact, I think it’s time to stay on that other side.”

    Laughter bubbles and spills out of Joanna’s throat. She laughs and then keeps laughing some more. Her arms fall from Eleni’s shoulders as her whole body starts convulsing with the most hysterical laughter Eleni has seen. For a mere second—too soon in the whole process—the outline of someone’s face surfaces on Joanna’s chest. Then it disappears again.

    “Other side? There’s no other side. Don’t you get it? The other side is here. Just shittier and dim and disembodied. After the crash and the pain and the sleep, I woke up in this grey dense mass of a sea worming up my nose, ears and eyes and I kept swimming around with no end in sight, going through bodies and buildings and clouds like they were sketches a five-year-old drew. Only when you called me did I start seeing color, and followed your voice until I got to you and your mom. You were both full of the most beautiful color I’ve seen in my entire undead life. And, well, your mom was the only other person I could go into, since you were the one doing the calling.” Joanna takes a lock of Eleni’s hair in her fingers and looks at it like she is considering her body very seriously. “And I wouldn’t want to go inside the caller now, would I? I’m dead, not stupid.”

    Eleni can’t shake the faces. They always seem like they are swimming. And drowning. “How long can we keep doing this?”

    “And what? You want me to drift too? You want me to swim forever? It’s all your fault anyway, loser. After all I’ve done for you, you weren’t even there to pick up the phone.”

    As if a switch has been flicked, Joanna lets tears stream down her face. The hysterical laughter turns into hysterical crying. Eleni can’t tell the difference any more. She keeps very still, hoping that Joanna will forget about her.

    “You owe me. You’ve got to give back what you took from me.”

    Eleni already sees their future ahead. A life with no rest for her, only a few-months-long breather before the next jump, without ever seeing her mother or anyone she’s ever known before Joanna died. A life full of bodies, Joanna’s bodies, strewn behind them like empty beer cans. Some of them live, some of them don’t, depending on their stamina and Joanna’s mood. Joanna takes from them whatever she needs and they move on to the next one and then the next. But most of all a life full of faces floating inside too-thin skin, reminding both of them what comes next no matter how much they try to outrun it. Now they both know and that’s not something they can leave behind.

    “Okay,” Eleni says, resigned. She feels a million years old. She sits on the coffee-soiled tiles and opens her arms. “Come here.”

    After a moment’s hesitation Joanna dries her eyes with the heels of her palms and rests her head against Eleni’s chest. Trustingly, lovingly, they fall asleep.

    It takes a little longer this time but Joanna is getting kicked out of the woman’s body one party at a time. That’s how Eleni counts their time here: in parties she and Joanna—but mostly Joanna—attend or crash, fumbling for their keys to their apartment later and avoiding phone calls from parents who, thankfully, live in another city two hours’ drive from there. Joanna makes a half-hearted attempt at art, after buying supplies and falling behind on her college classes, but it’s Eleni who ends up using them, when Joanna parties, when she sleeps in after a hangover, and the days that she is too sick to do anything else but complain and burn breakfast all over again.

    Eleni avoids painting anything even remotely human-looking. Instead, she does landscape painting, forests, mountains, lakes, anything that’s open and brimming with color because fuck it, she knows color is not in the cards for the future. The brighter and more misplaced the color in the painting the better. She spends all her money on tubes of acrylic named crimson red, cobalt blue, and primary magenta. She is busy painting the frothy waves of the Ionian Sea in Permanent Violet Dark when Joanna wobbles into the house, propped against a friend’s shoulder, the name of whom Eleni forgets. A blonde girl, an engineering student if she remembers correctly. There’s dark red coming down Joanna’s nose; it has seeped into the blonde woman’s pristine white shirt but she doesn’t seem to notice.

    “What happened?” Eleni doesn’t need to ask but she does anyway. She is a pro at keeping up appearances.

    “I don’t know.” The blonde woman sounds frantic and lost. “She was dancing. Maybe she hit her head or something? She didn’t wanna go to the ER.”

    “It’s okay. I’ve got her now. You can go.” Eleni pats the woman on the shoulder although it doesn’t seem to comfort her in any way, then picks up Joanna’s crumbling body.

    Reluctantly, the woman releases Joanna, and after standing there for a minute she quietly closes the door and leaves. As Eleni lays Joanna on the little blue couch, the strap of her blouse falls down revealing a violet-dark sea of bruises, skin rippling like waves, and underneath not only a face but fingers, a palm, non-stop movement.

    “She’s been trying to kick me out for some time now.” Joanna’s smile is laced with weakness and nausea. “But I am headstrong too. Oops.”

    “Jo, listen to me.” Eleni cups Joanna’s head in her hands and guides it to face her. Joanna’s eyes are glassy and unfocused; they stare through instead of at her. “The party is over.” You have to let her go.”

    Joanna shakes her head and presses her lips together. Her voice becomes high-pitched, close to what her real voice used to be when she was about to cry. “I don’t want to go inside a little old lady again. I was having fun, dammit.” When she manages to focus for a moment on Eleni she says, “Promise you’ll get me another one.”

    “I promise.”

    “No, that’s too easy. You’re lying.”

    “I am not.”

    “It’s all your fault.

    “Stop. Look at me. Joanna.”

    Joanna makes another effort through all the pain, which Eleni guesses is a lot.

    “I’ve been looking around. If you leave her okay, I promise I’ll get you another one.”

    “…really?”

    “A promise is a promise. I am never breaking this one. And you’re right. It is my fault,” Eleni says and she means it. She means every single word because Joanna will know if she’s faking it.

    Even now, she can’t stop wanting to call Joanna. Breaking this promise feels wrong. Misshapen. She’s the one who started everything, Joanna is right. But not because she didn’t pick up the phone. Because she answered it every single time up until that day. That was another promise she had made without realizing it and she should have kept it. Eleni isn’t sure if she is compelled in a magical way to keep this promise to Joanna. There’s nothing in the book that says so. But she felt compelled to keep things as they were long before that, so in the end it doesn’t matter. If she is not the person who calls Joanna back, then who is she? She has always been with Joanna. That’s her one constant.

    Joanna holds her gaze like a statue. Eleni feels her heart beating under her skin the way Joanna feels the other woman’s soul. Then Joanna takes Eleni’s hand in hers, kisses it and relaxes. And Eleni can breathe again.

    “I already miss you.”

     Joanna lets go with the sweetest smile plastered on the woman’s face. The bruised body takes the shape of the couch, like an empty shirt, like a ragdoll. Her fists unclench, her fingers curl, her face takes on the sort of calm expression someone might get before sleep, and her eyes turn a green-ish grey. Eleni checks for pulse and breath. The clock resets all over again.

    “Thank you for being her host, Adriana. Be free.”

    Free. What a word.

    Eleni takes one city bus, then another, to get to the third long-distance one toward the Parnitha mountain range, north of Athens. It’s still early in the morning when the bus drops her on the side of a road snaking its way up. Backpack dangling from her shoulder, she sets off through the woods and walks until the road gives way to rocks, fir, pine, and the occasional abandoned building. She tries to fit all the beauty of the landscape in an imaginary picture she might one day paint. There are so many birds here. Eleni was never very good at telling birds apart.

    When she reaches what looks like an abandoned playground or some weird art project gone wrong, she stops and drops the backpack to the ground. She never carries much with her. Some clothes, money taken from the previous host, and the book. This time she couldn’t help but keep some of the brushes and the tubes, although she is not sure she’ll even use them again. And a packet of sunflower seeds. The place seems sufficiently abandoned and sparse. Sparse enough for her to watch for any random person approaching. For any bird. She presses the coin with the blood in her pocket. The seeds feel heavy in her other hand. Soon a bird comes by as if swimming through the air, drifting. A swallow or a swift. Eleni can’t tell. She tosses a few seeds on the ground. The bird hops closer.

    It feels easy enough.

    This is the last day to do the summoning. She wishes she had held off because she had second thoughts. That somewhere inside her she had found the thread that ties her to Joanna and torn it to shreds. But the reason was, she was building up the nerve to call her mom. Dreading what her mom knew about Joanna and her stay in her mom’s body, dreading even more what she didn’t know anymore.

    “Mom?” Eleni asked when she picked up the phone, even though she could already tell by the breathing.

    “Joanna?”

    Eleni dropped the phone as if it had transformed into a giant cockroach and immediately threw up. Because her nightmare had come true. Where her mother’s memories had been before, now there was a huge scar calling Joanna’s name. That’s when she became convinced everything was fucked beyond salvaging. She didn’t stay on the line to find out how bad.

    The bird cocks its head to the side and Eleni wonders if it can feel Joanna drifting. Waiting to take its body. Birds can’t speak. They can’t ask you to make any promises. They don’t have houses with cats or money she can steal either, but that’s birds for you.

    Eleni rubs the blood-smeared coin. Then she lifts her arm, aims somewhere to the right and tosses. The coin ricochets off a jutting stone with a clang and she loses sight of it. The bird flies away. Even a bird’s soul has value. And she has wasted enough of them.

    There’s a moment toward the end of Jennifer’s Body that Eleni hates but once loved, where Jennifer is dead and gone but Needy still carries a part of her in the form of a bite. Gifted to her by Jennifer. She wonders what kind of shape this bite would take and then she visualizes:

    Your name is Ioanna Balaska but you want people to call you Joanna because it sounds cooler.

    You eat rotisserie chicken like a fiend.

    You had a gazillion goth stickers on your desk and on your bedframe back home, even though there was a non-stop war with your mom over them.

    You don’t like vodka because it burns your throat.

    You had a crush on half the class at one point or another but you always blew them off to see me.

    You pretended you read manga but really you only liked superhero comics.

    When we were eleven you took in the kitten I rescued from under a car because I asked you to and my mom wouldn’t let me keep it. He ended up liking you more than me. More than anyone.

    Before you died you didn’t want to be friends with me anymore but you wanted to be the one to walk away. You hated that I found new friends first.

    You were afraid that you’d be left behind. So I am taking you with me.

    Eleni’s feet crunch into gravel and dirt, bracing against the impact, as the world unspools around and inside of her. She leaves her mind unlocked and Joanna rushes inside like a drowning person latching onto driftwood.

    Safe now. You’re safe. I won’t fight you, Eleni thinks. But she can’t say it anymore. She will never use her lips again, or her mouth. She already can’t see what’s out there, only a roughly-sketched outline. Her own eyes are so far away from her.

    Joanna feels sad once she realizes where she is. Abandoned, even. She picks up her backpack and heads for the road.

    Editor: E. Catherine Tobler
    Copy Editor: Vivian Shaw
    Cover Art: inkshark
    Layout and Cover Design: Christine M. Scott