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Written by Márcio Moreira

Edited by Iana A. & Jayne Oliveira

Translated by Natalle Moura

Copyedited by Maira M. Moura & Iana A.

The Law School obelisk taking root was the start. Half a dozen patients and I watched on the waiting room TV as three well-dressed students climbed the monument at the square. People were already swarming around the phenomenon. The concrete had become a tree, white lime branches sprouting from the column, offering fruits made of cement. When one of the men fell, the crowd erupted in boos—“Boooooo!” The reporter suppressed a chuckle. The Institution’s faculty had a meeting to analyze the prospect of a lawsuit for violation of the laws of nature.

“That’s rock,” the receptionist said interrupting the reporter. I thought she was referring to the obelisk, but she continued. “Rich boy smokes crack and gets crazy, then he sees plants everywhere. Just like that friend of Carlinha’s cousin... Márcio Moreira?”

“Sorry, I don’t know Carlinha,” I replied, confused.

“Doctor Cassio will see you now,” she said, finally.

I entered the office. My case wasn’t rock, but a dental abscess. That’s what the dentist said after finishing the dental suction and examining my mouth, like someone who finds out that the transmission fluid is leaking. I don’t know anything about cars.

A few days of antibiotics, one pill a day. And that’s all? No, but first we need to reduce the inflammation. Oh.

When I left the clinic, my mouth was throbbing. I got in the car I had called on the app and sank into the backseat, eyes closed. The sound of the horns annoyed me to such an extent I ignored the cause of the traffic jam: the traffic light on Raul Barbosa Avenue had stopped working as it bloomed into flowers.


In the next few days, the city turned upside down. Downtown, a pharmacy had sprung from the curb at Duque de Caxias Avenue. It was still small, but it already asked for the ID of anyone who tried to open its doors. The tractors on an Aguanambi Avenue construction site started digging armadillo burrows and defensively rolling up when working hours began. Someone filmed the statues of Iracema beach promoting a massive gathering at Messejana Lake.

Machines acted like animals, that acted like plants, that acted like a commercial enterprise. Only humans acted like themselves. That said, the consensus on the situation was that the City Hall did not take taxpayers seriously.

Meanwhile, I enjoyed the sick leave. I spent the days sleeping and the nights napping—when I could find a space to lie down. As a junior student at a Marketing School Marketing, I lived alone in a flat that, as a whole, wasn’t much bigger than a regular bathroom. An ecosystem of clothes, books, and dishes thrived on a few square meters.

My parents had visited only once, for an overnight before returning to the countryside. They barely shouted at me as I searched for the bed under the rubble. When I woke up the next day, they were already gone, I think. I couldn’t tell what the apartment biome would do to an invasive species anyway.

Before leaving, Mom had left the freezer crammed with repurposed pots of butter lined up in even rows, like the Terracotta Army, if it were made of beans. That afternoon, I chose one of the soldiers to relieve my toothache. On TV, an ex on Ex on the Beach was speaking about the magical trip to the Amazon that had inspired her to create a homeopathic açaí brand. The afternoon was buzzing lazily, so while Sônia Abrão tried to convince me to do facial harmonization, the phone chirped like a thrush. I looked at it suspiciously, waiting for three rings to make sure it wouldn’t take off.

“Don’t you reply to messages anymore?” Nina asked on the other end of the line. She was my best friend since high school.

“I went off the grid so the people at work would think I’m sick.”

“But aren’t you sick?”


Nina sighed.

“Watch the video I’ve sent you, silly.”

“Wait a sec.”

I clicked the link and streamed it to the TV.

The couple on the screen looked tired. In the background, a cramped University office could be seen, it even had a yellowed old PC occupying half a desk. A map of the city of Fortaleza took up the left side of the screen.

“We can see here that the phenomenon is concentrated in the downtown area, stronger from the beach to Aguanambi sectors,” said the man, drawing a red circle around the territory, “and becomes rarer the further away it is from the impact area.”

“But what does it mean?” Now the woman was squeezing herself to address the camera. “Why these natural anomalies, specifically in these places?”

She held up a paper, but it was impossible to read the blurry scribbles.

“This is the area where the city of Fortaleza was born. We believe that it is not by chance: according to the principles of psychogeography, the territory affects individuals emotionally and spiritually. Individuals, in turn…”

“The Portuguese thought they had founded the city after expelling the indigenous people and the Dutch,” the man interrupted, sweat dripping from his temples. The woman tried to protest, but he kept her away with his elbow. “But there was already—wait, Nara—there was already life in this place.”

“Gabriel, we agreed—”

The man rose from the chair he was in and approached the camera, taking up the entire screen.

“The phenomena are a message: the Earth wants us out of here. She is alive! Genius loci! The spirit of...”

The screen went dark.

I was silent for a few moments.

“Hello?” Said Nina on the other end of the line. “Are you there?”

“That’s crazy…” I finally articulated.

“Wild,” she replied.

“That’s a conspiracy theory, isn’t it?”

“Did your phone sing like a bird when I called?”


“And you don’t remember changing the ringtone.”

“How do you… Oh.”

I shook my head, seeking another explanation. There had to be a rational reason, like a biochemical accident or a zone’s trans-spatial vortex… Okay, I thought, I give up.

“Okay, so let’s just say it’s true. What do we do now?”

“I don’t know about you, but I’m already doing it.” A sucking sound followed by a sudden cough came from the other end of the line. “I’m going to the beach with the collective. Let’s try to communicate with Gaia.”

I heard the exhalation of smoke and could almost smell the student union room from college.

“Wanna go?”

“Next time,” I replied, still thinking about the video. “But wait. Do you believe that story? That there is, like, a spirit haunting the city?”

“Why not?” asked Nina. “You heard the guy. This entire country is an indigenous cemetery.”




If you’re afraid of ghosts, call your mommy. real men will stay and fight for what is ours!


Guys, the situation in Fortaleza is very serious!!!! Thoughts and prayers for all you guys from Pernambuco gotchu fam


this is just a tall tale. the real horror movie is how the government treats the Northeast. Let’s not fall for a smoke screen!


Ghosts are said to have unresolved businesses on Earth. So don’t wait to deal with yours! Enroll in our courses and learn how to start a business in times of spiritual crisis!


a sloth entered my house lol


The haunting theory spread like family gossip at Christmas. It was hard not to believe it. At every corner, streetlights and trees blended, lost in the dark grass that sprouted from the asphalt, as if life spilled through every crack and crevice, finding its way to the surface. No matter how much it was trimmed, it insisted on blooming.

And, as the metropolis became nature, the forest also seemed to mimic the asphalt: large, new cashew trees featured gourmet balconies, while squeakers hatched already singing like truck horns. It was as if there were two overlapping cities, one all concrete and iron, the other a green landscape as far as the eye could see.

A lot of people packed their bags and ran away in those days, but most wouldn’t budge, for wanting to witness the rest of the story, or because they had nowhere to go. My academic advisor, for example, moved out announcing that she couldn’t take this crazy botanotropolis any longer and would go to the countryside, to live closer to nature.

For my part, I received a series of audio messages from mom. It was like reading the encyclopedia from a series of fortune cookies:

“Good morning son.”

“I spoke with your father.”

“This morning.”

“What did you eat.”

And so on. In short, she wanted me to go home, the big city was no place for a sensitive boy like me, with all the violence and a drugstore tree on top of that. I tried to calm her down as best as I could: listening quietly as she complained for forty minutes, in a speech divided into smooth installments of 67 audio messages. That same night, dad called me:

“I told her to calm down, but you know your mother. Those things are bullshit. You should see it at the time of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Marcílio de Socorro planted a potato that looked like Odair José[i], it was even on television. They said it tasted like potatoes.”

I think I only understood the real proportion of the events when I received, through the college WhatsApp group, a video of Gabriel Psychogeographer (@gabrielpsico) eating tutu mineiro at the Ana Maria TV show. I realized then that nothing would ever be the same again.

Soon after the local newspaper interviewed Dona Adélia, a Tapeba tribe leader in the state. With no response from botanists and influencers, the press had finally looked for an indigenous woman. The woman, who had seen it all, did not believe in ghosts. She explained that she did believe in spirits though; yes, everything has a spirit, but the past is not something that haunts, as the Earth is not vengeful.

The next day, the front page of the newspaper announced: SPIRITS EVERYWHERE.



It was then decided that this was not a case of a regular apparition, but a frenetic possession. The official statement was that a spirit was interfering with the reclamation of the Aguanambi River, and all the benefits that came with it could only mean that there was a deal with the Wicked One. The mayor soon announced that he had sent a letter to the Vatican (later, in the face of opposition protests, he admitted that he had also sent a text message to expedite the response), while the city’s pastors organized a large musical praise and worship event at the Iracema beach section of the reclaimed land. 

The worship was successful, even though no one knew exactly how it would help with the situation.

The cardinal sent from Italy arrived without fanfare on a Thursday. Giácomo looked somewhere between 70 to 120 years old and had the quiet dignity of those who pee sitting down. He landed at the airport a day earlier than expected and stayed at the convent of the Sisters of Santa Terezinha. The next day, after Mass, he went to see the reception committee that was waiting for him at the arrivals gate.

Perché il trambusto?”[ii] He asked a young man who was waiting in the middle of the small crowd.

“Hey, fam,” he replied. People from Ceará are capable of gossiping in any language. “The Church’s exorcist is due to arrive today. Looks like he’s only second to the Pope himself.”

Giácomo regarded the spectacle from afar. He pouted at the sight of the banners and flowers that waited for him at the gate. And babies, lots of babies waiting to be kissed. That was it. Taking advantage of the fact that he had not been recognized, he turned around and walked away towards the city.

Then the plane arrived without a priest, much to everyone’s consternation.

“Where’s the Pope?”

“It’s not the Pope. It’s his cousin!”

“Someone should go search in the bathroom.”

“They’re saying he arrived yesterday!”

“Just like my grandpa, he will go out for groceries to be found at the bar.”

“We have lost the Holiest!”

Search, search, search—the priest is found two weeks later. A government employee from the Secretary of Finance spotted the little old man at the hut he had set up in Estação square, now a large garden. When the mayor himself came to meet him, Giácomo was teaching a Gregorian chant to a pair of parrots.

“Questo è Dio, mio figlio,”[iii] said the priest. And so, he kept around, turning a deaf ear to every request for exorcism and prayer, in part because he couldn’t speak Portuguese.

Later, when the mayor finally gave the order to withdraw, the advisors heard him mutter under his breath: “So many priests in the world and of course they send me a Franciscan.”


Eventually, the inevitable happened.

I ran out of butter. Which wasn’t too bad because there wasn’t any more bread in the house either. The real problem was the painkillers. It had been weeks since I’d been put on sick leave and I was beginning to suspect that the company had forgotten I worked there. So, I decided it was time to leave the house.

Deep down, I was expecting to find a war zone. Newspapers spoke of militia activity on the streets and civil disobedience. It wasn’t quite what I found, the outside seemed to me… bigger, unveiling itself before me like a horizon long forgotten in the closet. Everywhere, movement. Not the loud roar of the city in its gray traffic, but rather the vast noise of many lives breathing all at once.

In the Gentilândia neighborhood, little old ladies tended to papaya trees with the help of the nomads who used to sell costume jewelry on the sidewalk. Farther on, a gang of boys was running around with the wallet belonging to a buttoned-up old man. And everywhere, people. Dogs, chickens, and children mingled in the green yards that had grown out of parking lots and bars.

Forgetting about my shopping, I allowed myself to drift. Just to feel my legs take me across the city grounds, with no job to return to nor time that could make me late. Around me, cars were still moving with great difficulty, but they seemed superfluous. Everything else, yes, seemed to move with purpose. The whole world was alive, layers of moss over the city made each facade a new organism.

My life will change, I thought. Tomorrow I’m going to tidy up my room and look for a gym. Without fail.

I walked for a few hours. I ended up entering the CDL park, near the Dragão do Mar Cultural Center. In the world before this, it was a stinking canal with a handful of modern sculptures. Now it was a patch of jungle that didn’t seem to fit within the granite boundaries.

Slowly, I followed the trail to the red bridge that crossed the canal. I’d always wanted to know what it was like, but I was afraid of being robbed. Leaning against the railing, I saw my reflection in the running water below.

“While I was sleeping, the world changed,” I said to myself. “I think I prefer it that way.”

That’s when a person rose from the bottom of the canal, all moss and water hyacinth. I knew I should’ve left my phone at home.

“Oh… hi?” I said. Then I remembered to be polite. “Good morning!”

The creature seemed to look at me. It was hard to know. Their face looked both human and vegetable, the features changing with the movements of the leaves and frogs.

“Good morning,” they replied.

“You… speak Portuguese,” I blurted out.

“We both speak the language of water. For water runs inside you.”


We were quiet for a few moments. I considered if I could put that on my resume.

“Are you the Spirit? That is doing all this?”

The creature approached as if telling a secret, but something stopped them from getting too close.

“I am the river; I am the spirit of the river. Pajeú, they called me. The first water.”


“When the white man arrived, I was a witness. He grew watered by me, all-fruits-trees. But he fears memory, the history of water.”

I noticed their feet for the first time. A thick metal chain anchored them to the earth, embedded in the narrow ridge of the canal that ran through the square. I remembered the design on the first maps of the city, the blue thread that supplied the town fortress. I had never asked myself where the river was now, perhaps because it was always in the same place. It ran underground.

“It’s true, then… that’s the twist, just like in that Shyamalan movie. The plants came after revenge.”

I could swear that Pajeú smiled.

“The man is not against, it is because-of. I saw all the toil under the sun, nothing-fog, and hunger-for-wind[iiii]. They understand sea things at the source… there is a time to plant and a time to harvest. If you bury life, it doesn’t dry up. It springs”.

“‘Life finds a way’,” I nodded. “No, wait, everyone dies in that movie too.”

“Generation-that-goes, generation-that-comes, and the earth lasting forever. Man can suffocate…”   Pajeú extended one of their open hands. In the center of it was my tooth. The holed root held a small green shoot: “… but everything that lives will find the path of the sun.”

I held my face as if it was going to fall. Finally, I understood. I knew why all of this was happening.


But what could I do with that information? Share on social media? Send it to the city hall? To the CIA? I decided to go home and plan my next steps carefully. This was not the time to be impulsive, the fate of the city was in my hands.

I ended up falling asleep.

I woke up the next day to a knock on the door. It was Nina.

“What happened here?” she asked while entering the apartment uninvited. Her expression was somewhere between disgust and fascination.

“Toothache,” I replied. Then the memory of the night before hit me like a cup of coffee.

“Nina!” I exclaimed, holding her face. “I know what’s going on! I know why nature flipped out!”

“Then let’s go,” she replied, pulling away from me, “or we’ll miss the good part.”


“Hey, didn’t you say you knew?” Then, noticing my confusion, she continued: “Nature didn’t flip out, it just needed somewhere to escape after we covered everything with asphalt. The spirit of Pajeú told everyone.”

“They did?”

“Yeah, looks like someone overheard them talking yesterday and went to clarify the story. They know everything that goes on in the city, a real snoop.”

I sat in a chair, in disbelief.

“I can’t believe it.”

“It’s true! They said that they didn’t say anything before because no one asked?”

“I went there yesterday. I spoke to them…”

“Okay…” Nina replied skeptically. “Well, get dressed, come on.”


“We’re going to set a river free.”


Apparently, I wasn’t as special as I had thought. After the story of Pajeú circulated, the entire city deduced what I had already discovered: the phenomena started because of the reclamation work at Aguanambi Avenue. One more river would be turned into a sewer and that messed up the city’s chakras or something.

That’s why the spirits had overflowed to the surface. It wasn’t possession, it was a piping problem. The mayor refused to stop the works, claiming that he would not give in to the demands of eco-terrorists. Plus, his biggest campaign support had come from construction companies.

The population did not agree and decided to exercise their democratic rights with hammers and sledgehammers. When we reached the avenue, a crowd was already focused on destroying the huge concrete pipes intended to restrain the river’s course. Since half the city had turned into gardens and orchards, people had lost the will to work hard, which piled up the idle energy.

Nina ran ahead of me, throwing herself to the work with enthusiasm. I kicked some rocks so I wouldn’t feel left out, but what I really wanted to do was to watch the show. I had no idea what life would be like from then on. What would become of the hospitals, the banks, and the rent I hadn’t paid in the last two months. In fact, I was pretty sure that living in my apartment now constituted an environmental crime. But at that moment, none of that mattered.

Before the population could finish the work, the current of the Aguanambi dragged the last pieces of concrete. The river was free. Its waters rose to the sky and fell like rain on us, and we jumped and hugged each other on the elevated boulevard. Through the drops, we could see the silhouette of the river’s spirit, manifested in the drizzle. They stretched out wide, the size of the afternoon.

Below, a green Mini Cooper swam lazily through the water on its way to the sea.


[i] Famous Brazilian singer.

[ii] “Why all this fuss?” in Italian, which is understandable for Portuguese speakers.

[iii] “This is God, my son” in Italian, also understandable for Portuguese speakers.

[iiii] Haroldo de Campos’ poetic translation of the Qohélet directly from Hebrew (I, 14-15). The English translation is: “14. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.” and “15. That which is crooked cannot be made straight; and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.”

Márcio Moreira

Márcio Moreira is a writer of books both with and without pictures. He published comics such as Sapacoco (with Débora Santos) and Sexta-feira (with Talles Rodrigues), part of the collection Mayara e Annabelle: Hora Extra, which won the HQ Mix Award. His first novel, A Outra Máquina, was published by Dame Blanche in 2022.


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