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  • A Girl, a Man, a Storm, a City
  • K. Ibura (bio)

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Galactic, K. Ibura, © 2022. Paper Collage.

[End Page 60]

The trees stood silent, lining the street in stately rows. Survival was in their lineage. When the whipping winds, surging foodwaters, and battering rain had come, they had tightened their roots, clung to the dirt, and withstood their breaking stoically. They had been gravely dishonored—their majestic heights and impressive widths diminished, their boughs battered, their signs of growth erased. Now nature was parading some of its oddities before them.

A double-file line of children—heads capped with globed skull masks and bodies surrounded by swirling winds—stumbled past, following a thin man in a skeleton suit. The bedraggled trees tensed their roots, but there were no atmospheric disturbances to cause further alarm. The absence of tornado, hurricane, or windstorm confirmed, the trees rustled what leaves they had left and turned their attention skyward.

Oblivious to the awareness of trees, the children ogled the empty houses and sagging porches, fascinated by the veil of abandonment that smothered everything around them. The tallest of the children scooted close to the Bone Man.

"How come they still got houses over here?" she asked. Her voice was indignant.

"Water wasn't as bad here."

"So it ain't the whole city that collapsed?"

"Nope," the Bone Man said.

"What's that nasty line on all the houses?"

"That's the water line—how high it got."

"And that?"

The girl lifted her mask and pointed at a spray-painted circle violently scrawled across the front of a house. An "X" separated each circle into quarters. "That's how they counted us. How many they found alive, how many was dead."

Watching the hard fortress of the girl's face, the Bone Man's heart hurt. Children shouldn't have to make themselves a little more dead to survive.

"Let's have some fun," he said, suddenly veering off the sidewalk and bounding up the cracked walkway of a pale pink house.

"What are you doing?" the girl asked, rushing up behind him.

"I'm doing what the Bone Man do. Waking everybody up on Mardi Gras morning."

The girl stared at the Bone Man as he flung aside a splintered screen door and banged on it.

"Ain't nobody in there."

The Bone Man cupped his hands around his mouth. "It's Mardi Gras morning," he yelled. "You been good? If you ain't, I'm coming for you!"

When there was no reply, he slammed his hand on the door. Both he and the girl jumped as [End Page 61] the door swung open. The rank scent of mold rushed out of the house and exploded in their nostrils. As their eyes adjusted to the darkness inside, the silhouettes of objects slowly made themselves known: water-stained couch, overturned lamps, a splintered coffee table.

"Mold," the Bone Man gasped, then stepped inside, his arm pressed against his nose and mouth. He pointed to the wall. There, stretching across the ceiling, spreading along the top of the walls, was black mold flourishing in large lacy clusters.

"You see that?" the girl asked. She took a step toward a plume of smoke rising from the corner. The Bone Man jerked forward. His body contracted as he was seized by an uncontrollable cough. "You better get out of here before your throat close up," she said.

The Bone Man hesitated, then staggered out of the house.

"You might as well go 'head and get on out of here too," a gravelly voice said.

The girl jumped. The voice cackled at the sight of her fright. A clicking sound rang out, then a burst of light exploded from a lamp. In the lamp's glare, a thin woman—gaunt and sharp-eyed—reclined in an overstuffed chair. The girl eyed the woman in silence, staring at her cheeks reddened with too much blush and a short blue dress that looked brand-spanking new. The woman took a noisy suck on a pristine cigarette and exhaled another plume of smoke.

"Tell the Bone Man ain't nobody studying...

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