Thursday, August 19, 2010

Elephant Words week #9

More flash fiction from Elephant Words. Inspired by the above image. This is another piece I would like to expand someday. Enjoy.

By Chris Beckett

Boots scrape through rough gravel as I walk across the dull gray expanse. The sound echoes softly in my ears, as if from far away, and I wonder again if I should have come here. At the edge of my vision, I spy figures moving in the ruins – the emaciated ghosts of the prisoners that were sent here to their deaths. I squint hard, looking for you both, but the images remain indistinct.

When I inquired as to a guide in the village, nobody would speak with me. I understand better now that cold response. All joy has been leeched from this place, replaced by shadows of the horror that lived here decades earlier. I try to think happy thoughts but find it difficult, able only to consider the bloody history that surrounds me. Shoulders heavy, I plod forward, determined not to give in as I have done so many times before.

The old buildings have crumbled during the intervening years, nobody to take care of them, none willing to observe the decay as it set in. They speak to me – these rotting husks – imparting the atrocities that inhabited this field, and still inhabits it today. Their sullen whispers send shivers through me as a stinging tear forms against my wishes. Clutching at the air, fists flexing without thought, I let the pain wash over me, hoping it won’t follow when I leave.

Again I ask myself, why did I travel all the way out here? What do I hope to accomplish? Am I looking for answers? I don’t know. I’ve avoided this journey for too long and whatever comes of this, it’s important that I find something to close the wounds laying on my soul.

It’s a fool's errand. There is no solace here. No retribution.

I cast my gaze around, taking everything in. Tiny islands of grass vainly spread across the hardened dirt – testaments to the hope found in all life, examples of the futility that defines this place. A pall hangs over this land, a stultifying odor more hinted at than genuine. I close my eyes and see the ashes floating across the winds, mixing with the dirt at my feet, spreading over everything like some gruesome snow flurry. It is this that I smell, that I feel coursing coldly through my veins. It is alive, and it eats at me as I try to work out the contradictions racing through my mind.

It’s years since you died – only months apart as it should have been – and only now do I find the courage to visit this place where you first met. How could you have discovered love in such an ugly place? Did you need to retreat from the horrors, to discover solace and warmth in each other’s arms? Or was it something else, something more mundane that brought you together in this hell? No matter, it happened. A miracle in a sea of filth.

Bending down, I run my fingers over the gnarled wire that seems to grow from the earth. So ruddy, I wonder if it’s rust or what’s left of the blood that flowed so readily here.

I don’t know if you can hear me, but I can feel you in this place. I wanted to tell you I’m a father. It sounds foolish when I consider it, like I’m still playing at being grown up, but it’s true. Dieter Ahrends. I can still hear his breathing in my ear as I rocked him to sleep on my shoulder last night. Every time I look at him I think of you, and I wonder, how can I expect to be a good father?

It wasn’t planned. Truth be told, I didn’t want to be a father. It scared me when Ariana told me, and I thought about leaving. I tried to explain my fears to her, but she just looked at me with those hurt eyes and crushed my heart. I couldn’t leave then.

And now.

I’m glad I stayed. Dieter is . . . amazing – so tiny and delicate, and yet so full of life. How could I not love him? But I wonder if this euphoria will last, or will genetics kick in. Because how can I hope to be a good parent when I now know who you were? It’s almost funny – me, the son of an SS-Gruppenf├╝hrer and Aufseherin, a good father.

I take a deep breath, my shoulders easing just a little. What I needed to do, I’ve done. My wife waits for me with our son. I look around once more and although the ghosts still haunt my vision, I feel relieved.

I can finally go home.

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