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The Wendigo at the End of the Blue Line

You can get to the wendigo on the Blue Line; I usually catch it at Lake & Hiawatha. It’s a slow ride out past the weather-beaten grain mills with the faded murals, the trumpet vine over the fences by the new condos, the sea of white gravestones across from Terminal 2-Humphrey. The riot of green that erupts the further you get from the city, tangled emerald forests just across the highway from the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport with the big blue IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING signs.

My mom and her side of the family, the Anishinaabe side that came down to the cities from Cass Lake, say the wendigo should never have allowed the Blue Line to be built, that this was treachery beyond just being a monster. But what can you expect, times how they are? We all need to eat.

My mom and that Gaa-zagaskwaajimekaag Ojibweg side of the family haven’t talked to me since I took the job at the wendigo. When they run into me around town they look at me like they’ve seen a ghost. I’m not welcome at powwows anymore.

Like I wanted that overpriced fry bread anyway.

My family that’s out of state, the Black side, got mad excited when I started work at the wendigo. Every year they ask about the free passes plovers like me get for the amusement park. We want to come see you, Prospirity. We want to see what you do.

They do want to see me. Every month they’re not here, I get a care package with a long letter from my dad and maybe a sweater if Aunt Asha is knitting again; my cousin Mychelle gets a discount at Walgreens and so she’s always putting in little travel bottles of lotion. When I actually call them like they always say to do, it’s like the Fourth of July is happening on the other end of the line. And every summer they come to see me with their arms overflowing with gifts that keep my fridge full for weeks: peppers from my Aunt Sofie’s garden, Gramma’s walnut brownies, boxes of Connie’s Pizza because they don’t believe that even Pizza Luce stacks up.

They do come to see me.

But they also come to see the wendigo.

Every year I give the passes and wristbands to the kids who are already inside; it’s not like they can get any less eaten. Their parents’ eyes get so wide, like I’m some kind of memegwesi that’s suddenly appeared. The mandatory official plumage is as good as an invisibility cloak until someone wants something.

Every year I lie to my out-of-state family, say that I lost the passes, that I didn’t earn them this year, that the wendigo doesn’t give them out anymore. They come anyway. They tag along with me as I show them the real sights of Minneapolis-St. Paul: an August Wilson play at the Penumbra, the limestone bluffs down by the river, a blues and rock festival by the old firehouse that used to have the rainbow flag on the roof. I tell my cousins which clubs are best, even though I’ve barely gone since the last time they were here, and they pay my cover and we dance all night long.

And then, when I’ve exhausted my repertoire of hole-in-the-wall watering holes, Lebanese murals, and We are Hmong MN exhibits at the History Museum, they go to see the wendigo.

The wendigo is the Blue Line’s last stop. There’s a little stand of dead cedars and then the train pulls right into its lowest mouth, that long grey tongue spread out between stubby grey and yellow block teeth.

It’s even colder inside. Goosebumps make all my feathers fluff out; I scratch, and a couple pull loose. Shit. That’s gonna come out of my paycheck.

The chill air keeps there from being any smell but the chemical plastic of factory-fresh clothes. I nod to a fellow red plover running the floor buffing machine in front of the Haagen-Daaz, an older Somali guy with earbuds in. You’re allowed earbuds in if you work the night shift at the wendigo. I wonder sometimes how you get to work the night shift, if I should ask. The hours might go by faster if I didn’t have to watch the meals come and go, if I didn’t have to mirror back their smiles as their gazes slide right over me.

But the wendigo gets cravings at night sometimes.

When you’re in the wendigo, you can understand why people come: it’s a frosted wedding cake, a Disney castle. Ribs cracked and pulled back like the vault of a Gothic cathedral, flesh scraped from the skin until the ceiling is only ice-skin like clearest glass, letting through a light so gleaming that the glistening viscera walls and floor glow as if they are smooth-polished moonstone. Christmas lights mix with the sparking nerve strands artfully arrayed to hide the air ducts, twinkling stars casting their firefly lights and shadows over the signs for Barnes & Noble and Ragstock.

But here in the tunnels, backstage, it’s concrete and more concrete, reinforced to hold the wendigo’s weight. Gum on the floors, drains with mop water leaking into them. The smell of stomach acid and bile. The same stenciled message every thirty feet: PERSONS AND ITEMS IN VIOLATION SUBJECT TO REMOVAL.

Up ahead there’s the rumble of rolling wheels as the cleaning carts get assembled, the clatter-groan of the industrial elevator bringing a group of plovers down, the thump as another bag of garbage makes its way down one of the wendigo’s gullets—some still in their original places, others surgically relocated to better serve the food courts and cornerstone tenants.

Everyone thinks we have the biggest wendigo, but that’s not true; the one they lured down to Pennsylvania has held first place since the late nineties. But we’re the picture in your head when you think of the biggest wendigo, and so people still come, from all over the world.

I get to the meeting room just in time to see the last of the radios go. The tips of my fingers have been too numb lately to use the buttons anyway; plus, management decided recently that only blues could use their names over the radio. The rest of us get four digit identification numbers. I can never remember any of them.

Glenn’s leading the morning meeting. It’s the same thing the blue plovers have been saying at all the morning meetings: don’t talk to the press about the wendigo. If a guest brings up the protest, call a manager. I eye the box of stale pastries the Caribou staff brings down sometimes. There’s nothing left but half a cruller with a bite taken out of it, Lucky Charms sprinkled on top.

Glenn is white, about fifty, thinning black hair. His right leg drags when he walks, little ice crystals scattering along the floor where they’ll melt later and have to be mopped up. Glenn’s loyal, he’s been there since the wendigo first settled down in 1992. His right leg’s been a solid chunk of ice for at least half that long.

But he’s full-time with benefits, and his family has a nice house in Bloomington, and they get to go on vacation to Florida twice a year.

Since I didn’t get a radio, the blue plovers end up scheduling me for a morning shift at the secondary esophagus food court, the one by Lego Land. It’s a little warmer here, the air thick with the smell of the roasting meat from the Johnny Rockets, the staff there starting to carve thick hunks off the wendigo’s walls, letting the viscera kiss the pan for just a second to thaw it before they feed it through the grinder to make into patties. It makes my mouth water even though I know better. I haven’t eaten since yesterday afternoon.

Half of us walked up the steps here; the other half are still in the industrial elevator. The three of us who walked stand around not really looking at each other, except for J.C., who smiles at each of us in turn, makes a little conversation. J.C.’s this old black guy who’s been here since the beginning like Glenn. He doesn’t have a nice house in Bloomington, though.

I look out over the park, kiddie rides and a few genuine roller coasters all woven from vertebrae, one water ride slick with spinal fluid. The ride operators are putting all the equipment through its morning paces to make sure it’s operating smoothly; a line of empty ivory seats climbs a slow spiral around a backbone before plunging from the sky.

I feel a little triumph, looking out at the park. At the dozens upon dozens of skylights, high above it, where the construction workers scraped away muscle and fat until there was only the stretched-taut skin and its transparent hollow-cored hair. We did that, us humans. Took the wendigo to one place and told it hold still while we hollowed out its bones, constructed Dairy Queens in its appendix, cut and hacked and colonized every inch of its insides. We don’t sell ourselves cheap, wendigo.

But we colonize ourselves, too, erase even recent history. Forget the fields where rabbits would have been caught by ancestors’ snares—my grandfather played a baseball game here, hit a winning home run for the Twin Cities Colored Giants a year before they folded. He was Anishinaabe but too dark to play for the white teams even after desegregation started. All that’s left of any of them is a photo behind the barrier for the water ride, and a bronze home plate tucked behind a face paint stand.

A family of meals wanders by the food court, stares in blank confusion at the empty space like a pulled tooth where the McDonalds used to be.

The wendigo made the decision recently to sever its relationship with most of the fast-food restaurants. The other food court still has its Burger King, but it’s hidden like a shameful secret, tucked way back in a tiny corner behind a bamboo and gold leaf balustrade, all the old tables and chairs traded out for faux wrought iron in twisting shapes like tree branches or circulatory systems. The hallways are wallpapered in advertisements for forthcoming upscale Italian eateries with names like bottles of high-priced cologne.

See, the wendigo is looking to change its image, its diet. It wants to go upscale, four stars, no discounts. It would like to discourage… a certain kind of people. Tourists are still just fine, the wendigo has always loved foreign cuisine, but when it comes to locally sourced foods it wants to stick to white breads and dinner rolls driven in from the suburbs. Spicy food gives it heartburn. It’d get rid of the plovers if it could, too, especially the ones like me that remind it of the things it can never have again, the manoomin that will not grow in the polluted waterways that have killed the cedars around its entrance, the wild turkeys that will strut across the U of M campus like they own every stately building but will not come within a mile of its walls.

But we’re a necessary evil, there to pick the bits of its meals from between its teeth.

So it sticks to pulling out all the most obvious fast food joints, the ones with the smell of single parent families and EBT cards on them.

But the meals don’t get the message they’re not wanted. They still show up, and stare at the empty spaces where they used to be able to get food cheap after treating their kids to the spinal theme park. The wendigo doesn’t understand why they still come. The wendigo doesn’t understand their anger at being brushed aside in search of something with a fancier label. Do they think the wendigo has never known hardship?

Didn’t I come here licking my wounds, didn’t I come here bleeding and broken? Didn’t I lie down in the rising dust and the setting concrete weeping, no more to see the cold white woods, the snow on the pines and the limestone bluffs? No more to taste the blood on the snow and the flesh ripped from bones, but only the invisible bits that will never be missed?

I change with the times, whispers the wendigo in my ear. Why can’t they?

Daniela, our blue plover, finally shows up and gives us jobs. I’m on sweeping. The night plovers have gotten most things, but if you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean. When it picks up, Daniela pulls me off that and puts me on wiping. Down the row, wipe the empty table, watch someone throw away a whole slice of pizza. Down the row, wipe the empty table, watch a woman tip an entire tray of untouched tacos and fries into the soupy mess. Down the row, wipe the empty table, watch a crying child push away a hot fudge sundae, crying even harder as that sundae smears vanilla ice cream along the edge of the garbage can.

 “Mel, Prospirity,” Daniela says. “Trade off with True and Klaus.”

Bin duty’s a two-person job, one to push and hand off the plastic bags, the other to pull the straining sacks of garbage into the long gray bin. We steer it around the blocks of tables to hit every trash can, even though it’s always the same ones that are overflowing. The meals never look for a different one even if their first choice is vomiting popcorn and pizza crusts all over the floor; if they looked for a different one they might have to keep looking, and if they kept looking they might see something that wasn’t a beautiful frost-spun dream, might see something clinging to the fried cheese curds and the cotton candy they dump into the heavy-duty black bags, something flimsy and insubstantial and almost see-through, the part of them the wendigo will eat.

But they don’t look, so we have to keep moving in a rapid circle around the food court, the cart creaking with the weight of the wobbly mountain we’ve built on top of it. When I can’t see Mel anymore I give the cart a push to the right and she steers us towards the doors behind the place where the McDonalds used to be.

The door’s not locked. Free-range livestock is trendy these days.

The music coming through the walls changes every time we pass a different restaurant. The sizzle of fajita smoke mixes with the smell of burnt MSG, and the patter of accented English howcanIhelpyouwhatcanIgetyouwhatwouldyouliketoday mixes with the orders shouted back to the cooks in Spanish, Somali, Spanish, Mandarin, Spanish, Hmong.

And then we’re at the trash chutes. Mel twists the handle of the second one and bangs the cover open, grabs the nearest bag. She tosses it down the pathway and we hear a long whoosh, a slide and scrape and finally a splashing thump, as it lands in one of the gurgling stomachs.

Another, and another. Food juice drips from rips in the bag, splatters her latex gloves and the tips of her shoes. Shoes and socks have to be white. Shirts have to be white. Pants have to be white or khaki. We’re supposed to completely blend in except for our plumage. We’re supposed to look less like people than an extension of the wendigo.

Whoever came up with that dress code never worked housekeeping.

Mel heaves another bag, and Diet Pepsi drips all over her shoes, makes her look completely human.


Mel doesn’t talk much. I don’t talk much, either, but I think sometimes about talking to her. I think about why I’m here, why she might be here. That extra weight the two of us are carrying—is she carrying it, though? Or am I the only one?—being two NDNs inside the wendigo. Even though she’s Mdewakantonwan Dakota, not Anishinaabe, and he’s not her monster either.

Not that any of the meals can tell. People try to give us tips, sometimes. They hold out a dollar for you with a weird shiny light in their eyes and they thank us for being there, for making the experience so special, so real. The older ones say ‘Indian,’ the younger ones say ‘Native American.’ They try to get us to agree that Chief MadeUpTribe at their high school in FuckIfIKnowWhere was done respectfully, really, it was. They tell us things, their life stories spilling out of their mouths as that dollar hangs in the air and we’re not supposed to take tips, but fuck, a dollar is one third the ride home on the light rail. They tell us about their marriage troubles and their kids experimenting with drugs or sex and they tell us about how they feel like they’re drowning at work and how they feel that the whole world has become artificial, that there’s no place left for wonder except for here. They say, it’s just magical, this whole experience, I’ve dreamed of this my entire life and they look at me like I’m a unicorn, not a skinny ass St. Paul College student trying to keep her debt down by mopping up their shit.

Mel has it worse. Most people see my skin color and the curl of my hair and they never bother to think about how people can be more than one thing. So I mostly get people watching me out of the corner of their eyes if I wipe down a table any closer than three tables to them, like maybe I’m going to steal the change off to the side of their drinks. Or else I get white hipsters asking me why I still work here after the way security responded to the protest, or choked-up old people patting me too hard on the shoulder and telling me how much good it does them to see a young person who doesn’t bow to peer pressure, like I’m one of the “good ones” who knows her place and not just somebody who needs a job, who can’t piss it away in some big symbolic gesture. I need to eat.

So Mel gets most of the attention from the tourists, the ones who read just enough of the ‘About’ section on the wendigo’s website to find out that the Anishinaabeg knew all about him long before he was hunted down and chained in concrete. Mel had to stop wearing braids because people kept taking her picture without asking. They still come up to her and ask if she lives here.

He’s not her monster. He’s not the meals’ monster either. They can pour out all the adulation they want, offer themselves up on a platter with a parsley garnish, but he doesn’t come out of their stories and he doesn’t belong to them.

I never know what to do when they offer me tips. Sometimes I take them. Sometimes I say I can’t, corporate policy; sometimes I let them persuade me to take them anyway.

Mel just stares at them, level, her eyes cold, until they put the money back in their pocket or they lay it down on the table and scurry away, shoulders hunched like kids that know they’ve done something wrong but aren’t sure what.

Then she takes it.

I hate eating the wendigo, but I hate losing fifteen minutes of my forty-five minute lunch to make it all the way back down to the refrigerator in the basement even more, so I end up eating at Caribou nearly every day. My I.D. gets me ten percent off on the overpriced sandwich with slices of wendigo stomach lining and basil pesto on ciabatta, and the chocolate mint cooler. One of the adrenal glands lines up right over the roof of the Caribou and they squeeze it straight into the blender, dump it into a plastic cup and squirt the whipped cream on top, add sprinkles.

I bring a book on my lunch break; usually my hands aren’t so cold by then that I can’t turn the pages. A book and a black sweatshirt—you can’t eat and have visible plumage at the wendigo. The wendigo doesn’t want the meals to think about the plovers having to eat. It doesn’t want them thinking about us at all.

I’m reading Dante’s Inferno today. This is the kind of book I read on lunch break at the wendigo: Dante and Dickens and Chaucer and Wilde, Classic with a capital C, if you’re not a dead white man then don’t apply. At home the books spread out over my bed are Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson and the first three volumes of Gotham Central, but those aren’t the books I bring to the wendigo. I like the books I bring to the wendigo, but that’s not why I bring them. I bring them as a shield, as a middle finger, as a giant silent fuck you to all the meals who think they know who I am, who think they know about the choices I had to make, who think they know how I ended up here with red feathers itching out over the top of my sweatshirt. That white lady whose eyes keep lumping me in with the Somali family behind me even though I’m not wearing a hijab, that man in the military uniform who kept telling me to smile while we waited in line, the suits at the table to my right who think their conversation about why the minimum wage shouldn’t be raised is so important they have to broadcast it to everyone in the room.

The fleshy walls of the Caribou quiver almost imperceptibly, a quiet chuckle.

Not so different, then, are we, Prospirity? the wendigo whispers in my ear. So distasteful, to need people. Their money, their presence, their approval. So infuriating, to know how weak you’d be without them.

I clench my fingers around the edge of my book, read harder:

And I—my head oppressed by horror—said:

“Master, what is it that I hear? Who are

those people so defeated by their pain?”

And he said to me—

Out of the corner of my eye, though, I can still see them. So many of them that they make this large space seem like such a small space, so many of them pressing in around me, packing in more and more. Milling, mindless extras in a zombie film. Crumbs fall from their lips, liquid drips down their chins, their skin gleams with sweat and grease. Buying and eating and grabbing and grasping and wanting and needing—

If you could get rid of the worst of them, wouldn’t you?

“No,” I say, too loudly. The girl at the table next to mine looks up, as if someone has called her name.

“No,” I say, more quietly.

I would, I would, I would.

There’s a burst of static over my radio. Fuck if I understood it. A blue plover can find me if it’s something really important.

I have a radio now because I got pulled from food court duty after lunch and put on floors and railings instead. I have a cart with a mop and a bucket, a spray and some rags. It’s the same one I get for morning window duty, when hardly anyone’s at the wendigo yet and you can hear yourself think.

Not like now. I have to stop the cart and wait for a crowd of people to move because even though they have to have seen me coming from thirty feet away, nobody thought that maybe they should take a few steps to the side. Nobody except one kid.

“Hi!” he says.

“Don’t bother the workers, honey,” his mom says. She grabs at his shoulder with her sharp nails, pulls him back behind her like I’m an animal too close to the bars at the zoo. “We didn’t do that,” she adds, defensive, pointing at a dropped waffle cone, chocolate syrup oozing between the cracks in the wendigo’s flesh, this section carved into an imitation of marble tiles.

I’ve seen meals drop food straight to the ground and walk away. Someone else will take care of it, I guess they think, and if they get hungry again there’s a Cinnabon just down the hallway. At least that thing where neopagan assholes emptied the trashcans and built pyramids out of the food there stopped being trendy last summer.

Only after the arrests, though. Only after the wendigo made his displeasure known. He doesn’t have use for those kinds of offerings. Food isn’t the kind of thing he eats.

I’ve been quiet too long, not falling over myself to assure the meal that I don’t blame her, and her face changes, tightening. She whirls away, dragging the kid like a heavy shopping bag.

“Don’t know why they’re still hiring them after the protest—”

Most people at the wendigo, they act like they came out of that China Miéville book where people go around unseeing the things they aren’t supposed to see; their eyes glide over your red feathers and they edit you out of their world before their gaze has even moved past you.

But kids haven’t learned yet that you only exist when you’re needed to clean up a spill. They say hi sometimes, like you’re a person.

And their eyes light up when they see the Disney store, or the giant sculptures in Lego Land, or that first roller coaster when you come in through the east entrance to the theme park, each vertebrae like a glistening diamond with the ice slick from the heat of the rails. Their eyes get so wide, so full of a hunger that is still innocent for now.

They see beauty in everything, even the wendigo, and for a second, they make me see it too.

But then I remember what’s coming, the kind of hunger that will keep them awake at nights the way I’m kept awake at nights, my heart thudding against my ribs as the numbers in my banks account and my student loans and my credit card debts play over and over in front of my eyes and I think about the empty fridge and if I have enough change for the bus or if I’ll have to get up early to scrounge around the sidewalk for a discarded transfer. If I’ll have to call in to work and I’ll get terminated again, and I’ll have to call my dad and ask can he please send me something to cover at least one of the bills, and he’ll send it even though he can’t afford it either.

It’s coming for all those kids, the kind of hunger that will waste them down to the bone maybe even before they’re grown, little skin-stretched skeletal monsters like the pakuks in the stories my grandfather told me, haunting the hallways of the wendigo.

I take care of the waffle cone and then it’s back to the railings with the spray bottle and the rag, over the top of the railing, over the bottom, up and down the sides, over the top again.

I get pulled out of the rhythm by the sight of the security guard, white uniform, silver badge. I know some of the security guards. I don’t know this one. A new hire, maybe, after the most recent quitting-on-principles. He’s got thinning red hair and blue eyes. I can see his eyes narrowing as he comes my way.

I look back down at my rag, work it back and forth over a stubborn gummy spot on the bright steel. I try to breathe slow. I try to make my body small. The red plumage isn’t enough, anymore. They’ve all been on edge for weeks. I remember what happened to J.C. that time they thought he was mouthing off—

His boots click against the ice-cold floor, his gait slowing… and then he is past me, and I am letting out a long, long breath, and my hand is reaching out and grabbing the railing so I don’t fall.

It’s not a big deal. It’s not.

I’ve just had to be careful, since the protest.

The protest wasn’t about the wendigo. You can’t protest something that big. The wendigo fills up more than the space its body takes. It’s there in background of every conversation and hotel brochure and Wikipedia page about Minnesota. It’s how grey the sky gets in February till you believe you’ll never see blue again; it’s the sea of homeless people flooding out from Dorothy Day all the way to the Xcel Center in downtown St. Paul; it’s another news story about the police tasing a black guy in the Skyway.

The protest wasn’t about the wendigo. They only wanted to have it here because so many people come here. They only wanted everyone to see.

The protest wasn’t about the wendigo, but the wendigo has a bottom line to protect. It is a national treasure, regularly threatened by terrorists. It is—it is trying to be—upscale, upper class. It is the answer to all your wishes, and it asks so little in return.

And we all need to eat.

My hands are so prune-wrinkled and slick with sweat-ice from being inside latex gloves all day that it takes six tries before the fingerprint sensor lets me clock out. There’s grumbling from the line behind me after try number four and I have to let everyone else go before me so I technically clock out a minute late, which means a verbal warning next shift.

But I can’t think about that now, as the loading dock doors open and I walk out into the wendigo’s mouth and feel that air, cool instead of cold for the first time all day, the occasional hot breeze sifting in through the gate of teeth, melting the spirals of frost over my arms. Outside it’ll be one of those humid July nights where the heat radiates up from the sun-soaked ground. My apartment, where I left the windows locked and the fan turned off, will be an oven, and when I get home I will make myself a cup of tea and pull a wool blanket around me until I am molten.

But before that is the ride home, and here is the Blue Line pulling into the station. No change today for a ticket, but I’ve got my old Go-To Card in my wallet and with a bit of luck the metro transit cops won’t scan it to check, won’t even board the train, will decide they have better things to do.

We’re not so different, Prospirity, insists the wendigo as the light rail pulls out of his mouth, a pit spat out after the cherry has been devoured. I change with the times. You’ll change too.

And then the hunger hits, the way it always does, a sharp and stabbing pain in my heart and stomach, and I try to think of the one thing that could fill it—if I had enough money for next month’s rent and groceries, if my Visa bill was paid, if I could afford to live in a place where I didn’t have to worry about my stuff getting stolen every time I left—if I had just some certainty that this was only for a little while, that the rest of my life would unspool like a story in a book—if I just had one little luxury, a movie ticket or new earrings or a pint of fancy ice cream that wasn’t on sale—

The night outside is darkness studded with traffic lights instead of stars, white owls roosting in the branches of the dead cedars. White graves, row upon row vanishing into the horizon, the stone seeming to glow in the night. White and yellow lights of Terminal 1-Lindbergh, swallowed up by close tunnel walls.

I look out the window. It’s just a job. I have to eat.

My car of the light rail is almost entirely silent, the only sound the one-sided cell phone conversation of the woman two rows ahead of me: “No. Not the Benadryl, he’s allergic—all right. All right.”

It doesn’t sound like an emergency, or maybe she’s just too tired even if it is. I hear it in her voice, and I see it in the lines of her face, her eyebrows drawn together and two fingers rubbing at her temple in the fuzzy reflection off the window. Her face swims over trees, houses, cars. She is still wearing her uniform and name tag from Radio Shack.

It’s us, and this bleach-blonde white chick with a fold-up stroller and no kid, a Hmong guy in early twenties, a middle-aged Hispanic guy I think I’ve seen working housekeeping in the theme park, a couple of old black men in button up shirts and carefully creased pants, scuffed dress shoes. The old guys holding themselves up perfectly, carefully straight, the rest of us slumped in our seats. Not one of us sitting next to each other. The weight of the day hangs on our limbs.

All the things we cannot have—all the things—all—

(And the ache in my heart is my grandfather’s voice when he sang his favorite hymn, Pe we jewh shin; suh keen Ta ba in ga . . . )

If I only had one thing—if I only had—if I only—

And in all of us, woven through with our bone-weariness, is the hunger, gnawing and growling and twisting through our guts like a living thing. Because it is a living thing. Because it is the wendigo, who we have eaten, been eaten by.

When they see my reflection in the window rippling over the night, do they see the pieces that are gone?

I think about the station where I will get off, Lake Street/Midtown, how long I might wait for the bus. How my feet won’t hurt anymore, not like the first few days after I got hired, when I had never been on them so long before. My old iPod is in my hands, and I know I could turn it on, that no one in this bone-weary group will give me that look that says they are estimating my income and measuring it against the cost of pawn shop electronics. But I don’t turn my iPod on, and I don’t take my book out of my bag, and I think of how if my bus hasn’t arrived when I get off at the station, I may just start walking.

We’re almost at 50th and Minnehaha, just one more stop before Lake. You can leave the wendigo on the Blue Line, but only because it knows you’ll be back. It’s too convenient. It’s too big. It’s everywhere. It’s already inside you.

But before then, I’ll be home, and the heat of my apartment will swallow me up into sleep, and so what if the hunger pursues me there, if it eats me up a little at a time, if I’m burning up inside with how little I have and how much so many others do, if my heart is frozen as I check my voicemail for a call that is never going to come from my mother or anyone else on that side of the family, as I replay the cheery messages from the side of the family that will visit but will never understand. If I start awake in the middle of the night and the ceiling stares down at me in mocking white blankness and my eyes cover it with numbers, all the ones that are too small and all the ones that are too big, that are forever beyond my reach. So what?

It’s just a job.

I need to eat.

Sensitivity reading by Christian A. Coleman, Myles Wiley, Charlotte Davis, Idris Grey, and Halee Kirkwood.

About the Author

Gabriela Santiago has previously been published in Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, The Dark, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, among others. She is also the founder and curator of the science fiction cabaret Revolutionary Jetpacks, centering the futures imagined by BIPOC, queer and trans, and disabled artists. Follow her at or @LifeOnEarth89 on Twitter.