A stranger came singing his grief through the snow. He was alone in the bombed shell of the city, which had been abandoned like dozens of others. His voice wailed like the ghost of a train coming home. And with his song, the city awoke.
The dead climbed up from the ground, shivering and shouting in their new skins. Pilots crept out of wrecked bombers. Workers streamed from a shattered flourmill. Children who’d taken cover in a church pushed off the stones and ran laughing and kissing one another.
At first, they ignored the stranger who’d brought them back and ran through the city, finding clothes and making fires. After having been dead, they were hungry for life, sprinting through the cold. They fought, drank, and screwed. There was a woman with dark, laughing eyes, and the stranger stayed away from her.
“Maybe we will live forever now,” people said. “Maybe we will rebuild our city.”
“No,” said the stranger. “The land here is dead. I will take you away to start new lives in a new country.”
At that, people ran back to their old neighborhoods to salvage what they could. They dug under gardens, unscrewed pipes, sent the children under bridges and into culverts. Before the war, they’d buried their wealth. Now they dredged it back up, bringing their stained gold and silver into the light.
The stranger smiled at their riches.
“He’s not Jesus,” the older ones said, “but he’s not the Devil, either. We’ll go with him.”
The stranger led them, cold and hungry and laden with their wealth, into the wilderness. The land was strange to them, and they wondered how long they’d lain in the ground. The ice clung to their legs and backs, making them numb and tired.
After a few days, a group of them collapsed into dust and spilled their treasures over the ground. The stranger waved for the others to pick it up. He kept walking, and they knew now that they would die.
The dark-eyed woman found him, and the stranger said, “Please, leave me alone.”
“Are you only a thief?” she asked. “We’d hoped for more.”
“In every city, there is a person you are made to love. Most people never meet them, even when they go looking. So why do you keep finding me?”
She stared at him, and he stared back, something magnetic between them.
“We thought you were saving us.”
“I’m so sorry,” he said. He tried to hold her, but the woman pushed him away.
“Have our money. You can’t have me.”
A wave of people vanished into dust, their jewelry falling like chimes.
“I didn’t want to meet you again. I didn’t want this to be hard.”
“In every city, there is a heartbreak,” she said. “Take it with you when you go.”
She became dust. Alone again, he left the treasures of ghosts scattered over the snow, fleeing with only his grief song, as he had so many times before.