St. Teresa of Avila’s Aero

First Place Winner / 2023 Wintermute Writing Contest

If church pews lay stagnant instead of evolving into new skeletal formations depending on the crowd size then we wouldn’t be in Epicenter church. I knew many people here through my mother and so I step through the holographic display of last year’s service with the feeling of entering an entity pulsing like the inside of a sick stomach.

I thumb the console through a half-hour of Markus enjoining us with his brand of syncretism that makes the senior pastor blush. During Markus’ waffled retelling of the Book of Ruth, in which Boaz takes center-stage I wait in a chair next to his empty one until he steps off the podium. When he sits beside me I notice his large palms are on a Bible and he’s frantically whispering something that buzzes the speakers in my ear, I inch closer but the static increases. I put my hand through his face and the images shuffle until I’m entering a wall of flesh. Then the projector hisses and I’m back in the bunker, nauseous but wobbling into bed. A candle whistles through the projector fan’s breeze. The a/c protests with a gust of humid air and the night presses into me.


In my dream, a hand with a spear reached down from the heavens. First, my breasts were shelved and then my eyes. Then the spear pierced my stomach and rode through my intestines. The spearclimbed upwards pinning my lungs. It dug its tip in and twisted my heart until I felt I was on fire. After, it went up to the heavens and returned with eyes skinned from the muscle of my heart. The eyes were like that of a fly.

Next, I saw a coal mountain diffracted in seven angles. Inside a man scattered his prayers. The mountain began to exhale and instead of being crushed, the man lifted a piece of coal to his lips. The coal became a message passed on to the people outside the mountain. But the man began to burn with the coal and the mountain trembled. As he flickered and fell, so did the mountain.

Next, I saw a woman give birth below the mountain. It was twilight and the trees pressed into her. She drifted in a daze this way and the next. As the night got colder everything got bigger. A stalk of evergreens detached themselves from the earth. The woman and her child were lighter than the trees and they floated up to heaven faster than the rest.

This is the last hour of the night.

That’s why I’m going to find Markus. I log it in my console’s hours that I’m going up to the surface. Our planet will have spun itself away from the sun. In the dark, I’ll wait for him to crawl to me. Or I’ll crawl to him until the star’s heat pushes me back underground. I amp myself up for the dangerous trip outside by thinking about Markus’ sermon in the projector. Markus was the one who’d rallied survivors, preached meaning during our fatal journey, despite the mission that our parents and grandparents had embarked on ending with us. Some people called him a prophet and maybe in his insistence that the final hours of the night were the most meaningful, a time when faces could warp in the dark, when words would distend from their speakers and become charged with a radiance that could keep us living outside of our misdirection, it became true.

Aero was billed as the first interplanetary superstructure. Not an asteroid station but the first wayfaring planet which means only the most desperate and the most fervent boarded her. The underground cloisters weren’t a thing back then because the steering was still reliable which means that our forefathers didn’t expect to be pushed off course into the sun of the serpent’s planet that we were supposed to disembark on and begin evangelizing.

While the radios crackle sporadically in our bunkers, sounds soften and disappear. We worm away from the heat solo or in family units. We linger in our ventricles until the pace at which we dig deeper is outstripped by the sun’s rage or the molten engine at Aero’s core where digging deeper becomes pointless. Markus will get the broadcaster working. That’s why he’s coming to me. He’ll spin us stories about what our time in the dark means.

I cover myself with the lightsuit that refracts heat outward and then I exit the cubicle. I climb to the surface, hand by hand, the elevators long since made useless by their melting metal frames. I feel my way around cavities of hot water weeping from the surface and shedding tears across the bunker floors close to ground level.

Pushing the latch takes effort, and steam from the environment coats the suit but I keep pushing until the hatch gives. Searing heat pushes me backward even though there’s no light outside. It feels like the edges of the atmosphere are deteriorating around me but I scrape my body upwards.

I creep around in the dark, increasingly desperate to find Markus during the window in time in which I won’t dehydrate. Every few minutes I have to sit down to drink water. I trip over rocks on the ground and imagine that I smell sulfur from my prone position. There’s a dust storm wafting burnt wood ash that prickles my nostrils. I call his name and drink more water, drink more water and call his name.

Heat rolls through the suit and my impulsive thoughts are telling me to rip it off. My head throbs. My lungs are gasping for air. I can’t remember the direction that Markus was supposed to meet me from so I think I’m hallucinating when I feel a hand coming down on my shoulder.

“It’s all a test,” Markus says through gritted teeth. Then he’s dragging me back by my forearm. When we get to the cavern entrance I lay down and he roughly props me up. He opens the latch and half his body disappears. I don’t process much but the canteen at my lips and then I’m slipping down the chute, hands extended, colliding weakly with pipe rungs.


As the heat rose, so did the dream. Little white feeders drilled their teeth into my bones and made them whistle. The wind caught my voice and carried it into garden worlds, the corners of galaxies. In the tunnel of my bones, two adders were born. Their faces were like the faces of wise elders.

Next, a red-tailed hawk pillowed by a soft wind carried a message in its beak. It took its message to the emperor of heaven, beating the rat who made it across the river on a hippo’s wading back. The message was discarded by the emperor who deemed it unimportant but it floated down to a woman. In the desert, she wrote her words on papyri and placed them in a jar. Called it a thunder, called it a perfect mind.

Next, a child floated away from a woman. The mother thought they were entering heaven but it was only the blistering expanse between a thousand empty stars. The child called out to the woman, called her mother. Called the burning star her mother. Called it her mother even as time dilated and pressed apart the cord that tied her from the burning clot, the boiling blood and the shame that had been her mother. Trees whipped their branches, palm fronds fell to the ground.

Markus is fixing the broadcaster.

I stare at the concrete and his shoulder before I push myself up with my elbow. My shoulders burn and parts of my neck where my lightsuit had holes sting. When he hears my feet rustle against the cot Markus turns toward me. He holds the back of my head as water gushes down my throat. A bit leaks from the corner of my mouth. Not one to waste it Markus rubs his hand across my lower jaw, collecting liquid and bringing it to his cracked lips to moisten them. Close up, I see the enlarged pores of his face, the pits left by acne and feel disappointed in how selfishly human he is.

“Can you fix it?” I rasp. Markus stands up smiling and brings a headset over. His wide face now hosts a tangled beard that makes him look more angular. When he puts the speakers over his ears, parts of the beard are flattened furthering the effect. I think about the verse in Matthew, the command for all who have ears to hear. I’m listening. Discerning the forces outside of my control. I don’t fear them anymore even as they breach my mind and whisper to me.

The broadcast beeps. We wait several hours. Recovering from the heat, recovering feeling in our bodies before we begin. All who have ears to hear let them hear. Markus the youth pastor is gone. His voice has turned to gravel.

Markus preaches and Boaz emerges from the dust but this time I’m his audience. Ruth walks, he says. Her feet are sore, her limbs are hot but she makes it to Boaz’s threshing floor. He looks at me expecting appreciation. We can't hear any response to his message from the other ends of the broadcast. It's uncomfortably humid and I try to stifle my heavy breathing under his.


That night, I dreamed a hand emerged from the planet of the killer sun and it pointed toward me only the body I inhabited was not the one my mother gave me. It was the body of two snakes, their voices intertwined. Remember how he put himself first the snake’s hiss, drank the last of the water and left your mother to burn; trap him in the cavern. We will be with you and we are for you, the snakes promise. They undulate toward me, the hips of my mother.

When I wake up I beckon Markus toward the projector. I smile at him and he smiles back expectantly. Gently, I put the headset over his eyes and ears. I brush a clump of sweaty hair away from his brow; father becomes son. I tell him about the church I see inside. How we can enjoy the old world. His smile wrinkles the leathered crosses of skin on his face. The machinery grunts and Markus looks worried so I tell him it’s safe but I don’t tell him about the dreams I’ve been having or that they no longer involve him. He opens his eyes hopefully when the headset swallows him. He’s silencing his past self, cutting off the grueling last three years from the person he’s decided to be now. I tell him that sometimes you can’t tell what’s real anymore from what’s imagined. I tell him to strap in. Sometimes you knock something nice over if you’re not careful inside your own projections.

When he’s strapped in, I lean over and tighten the cords around his wrists. Then I pick up my pack. I pick up my broadcaster. I’ve given birth to a dream or I’m the dream given birth. What matters is that my dream can save us. Swift as sharp lightning, I barricade the chamber door with Markus inside. He’ll rise and make it out or he won’t. He tells stories. But they were old stories anyway. I have a new story.

Charissa Xin Zeigler
is a Chinese-American adoptee and an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz studying philosophy and psychology. Her work has been longlisted by Surging Tide’s 2023 Summer Writing Contest and published in Blue Marble Review and Eunoia Review. You can find her trying to get off twitter @CharissaZeigler.