Creative Writing Wednesday: “Songs of the Lost”

Posted: October 24, 2012 in Creative Writing Wednesday
Tags: , , ,

It’s getting to be Halloween, that time of the year when identity goes out the window, when our darkest subconscious urges come to the fore and we are released from mundane life for a while, and for one night, we revel…

Halloween is my favorite holiday, as you may have guessed.

A few weeks ago, I sent a ghost story in to a contest that Patrick Rothfuss was judging. If I’d won the contest, I would have my story read on the public radio. In Wisconsin.

Don’t question the logic of my entering. It made sense at the time.

Sadly, my story didn’t win, but I still feel like sharing it. So, here it is: “Songs of the Lost”. My flash-fiction space-opera ghost story.

~ Ian

Songs of the Lost

Ian Johnson

When I was a child, my grampa and I would sit in the fields outside our cabin and watch the rockets take off from the launchpad down in the valley. I always liked watching them, thinking about where they were going: to Alpha C, or Niobe, or Terra, or Väinämöinen, or even the Outer Worlds. I wondered what wonders they’d see, what passengers they were carrying, if they would be lost in transition between the stars, like so many other ships had been in the past.

One day, when I was eleven, my grampa asked me an unusual question.

“Can you hear them?” he said. “The ghosts?”

“What are you talking about, grampa?”

He smiled, placing his broad leathery hand on my cheek. “No, I guess you wouldn’t.  You’re young. But me…” My grampa looked off into the distance, off towards the jagged mountains red with alien vegetation. “When I was a kid, and folks first came out here, this world was already occupied. Not by people, y’hear. But by strange creatures, tall and hairy: peaceable enough, if you were on their good side.”

He paused, took a long drag on his cigarette.

“But we weren’t on their good side, boy. They took a dislike to us when we first came here. Tore through our settlements somethin’ fierce, I tell you. They had four arms, and when they grabbed hold of you, they’d rip you to little bitty pieces…”

My grampa smiled his crooked, rakish grin. “But that’s not for young ears to hear,” he said. “To make a long story short, I joined the Earthling Defense Unit. And we made sure that they wasn’t going to bother us no more. Not a single one of them still walks on this world. Not anymore.”

My grampa gestured, cigarette in hand, its burning orange tip cutting a wide arc through the air. “But even though they’re all gone, the old folks like me who remember them… when the wind is right, I can hear them, still echoing through the hills. That’s how they talked to each other, boy. They would make the most beautiful, howling music that would freeze you where you stood with fear and awe. Like wolves, only lower, and sadder.

“I know there ain’t any of them left to walk this world. But I still hear ‘em. In my gut, I can hear the music they make. When the suns go down in the east, that’s when I hear the ghosts. Calling to each other. Mourning the loss of their world.”

My grampa had a stroke and died three months later. I’d always thought that there’d been something wrong in his brain, that the songs had been his breaking-down brain imagining sounds that nobody had heard in decades.

But I’m an old man now, and the red-forested mountains have been strip-mined away to nothing. Even so, when the wind is right, just after the suns have set, I can hear them far away, howling, mourning.

And when I see a rocket lift off, a red-orange flower of fire as it flies into the black, I think of my grampa, and the times we had, in the fields outside our old cabin.

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