This story is by C. A. Stewart and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The cemetery was always full of noise.
Some said it was because the souls of the dead had forgotten how to be quiet. Others said it was because the wind could whistle and whisper through the tall towers of tombs that had been built upon older graves. Still others posited that it was because the neighborhood hooligans hung out there.
As one of those neighborhood hooligans, I said it was actually because we were never meant to be quiet to begin with, alive or dead.
After all, in death shouldn’t there come freedom to be who we were meant to be?
I never wanted to find out that I was right but I didn’t get much of a choice in the matter. Ghosts don’t often take your opinion into account when they decide to haunt you, do they?
And I guess I was asking for it when I accepted the challenge to spend a night in the cemetery alone. My friends, Drüsont and Scora, had each done it and it was finally my turn to take the challenge or else be named a fool and a coward.
I, Lawrent “Timbre” Echan, should’ve accepted my crown of cowardice with pride. Then maybe this wouldn’t be a story about how I had to learn how to send a ghost home.
It started like any other evening in the cemetery. We hung out there because no one else would bother us, and our little band of hooligans could do crazy things like dance around (never on top of) the graves of our ancestors, with only the beat of shoes on the grass for our music and the rhythm of our souls for style. Sometimes other friends would join us, and if there were enough of us, we’d go to the not-so-secret room under the largest remaining tombstone and have a proper party. That evening though, it was just the four of us. When the sun went down, I laid out my pallet between two towers of tombs and took out a sketchbook.
Drüsont asked me if I was sure I wanted to do this.
He didn’t even know how loud the cemetery was to me; just that I’d never willingly stayed behind in it before. I had long since discovered that asking if others could hear the whispering voices, too, could only lead to trouble. The cemetery was noisy—but more in the mind than in the ears.
I should’ve told him no. Instead, determined to be the fool my family thought I was, I said yes. I was sure.
The first hour was okay. Whispers could be dismissed as wind. Wails were stray birds in the clear sky. Footsteps were figments of my overactive imagination. The fuzzy outline of a person on top of the tombs wasn’t a ghost. Nothing to worry about
But the whispers grew louder as the night grew darker. Clouds rolled in and blocked the feeble light of the stars, making it to where I couldn’t even see enough to try and sketch if I wanted to.
Soon the whispers wove their voices into a melody. Something that I couldn’t understand, but it made me shudder so much that I basically bounced off of my cushioned pallet onto the stone paving. The words made no sense, but something within me found a meaning beyond words.
A longing. A desire. A starving need.
Freedom. The whispers sang for freedom.
At that point I wanted freedom from this stupid challenge. The wind howled in my ears and snuck through every crevice of my clothes, even after I wrapped my blanket around me like a cape. I definitely didn’t hide my face in it like a scared child. Not at all.
A thud resounded next to me. If I knew how to scream, I would’ve.
The blanket became my shield between myself and whatever it was that now stood before me, wreathed in shadow even darker than the night.
A chill went through my bones, from the top of my skull all the way down my arm, like someone caressed me. It shouldn’t have been comforting.
But the song that sang for freedom also sang for safety.
So I did what I do best: I chose to do something stupid and I threw the blanket off so I could look at this ghost dead on.
Of course, you can’t see a ghost when it’s dark as silence is quiet outside.
But I figured the ghost could see me. So I asked it what it needed.
Instead of an answer it told me, showed me through its songs, about the world it had walked when it was alive. Mankind wasn’t meant to be quiet.
Next thing I knew, it was morning and I was still chatting with this ghost. Granted it couldn’t speak but it commanded the sounds of the cemetery like a voice. The dipping of notes in my mind, the winding wind, the scratching of a leaf against the paved ground, each bent its use to the ghost. A language of noise. It should’ve been foreign to me, yet I had no trouble understanding.
I did have trouble with its request that I sing a song to set it free.
And that’s how I ended up with a ghost sharing my room for a week while I did research into how to sing a ghost free. I didn’t know how to sing, no one did anymore. But I didn’t want to be haunted for the rest of my life.
It took a week.
But I found a tiny book hidden in the back room of the university library, written in a language no one knew, but the ghost helped me understand. It took the pencil from my hand and wrote letters I could read, translating an ancient script one word at a time. The title came first and a shudder went down my spine as I realized this was no normal book.
It was a book with the Song of the Dead.
Drüsont and Scora thought I was crazy on a good day. When I told them I was going to spend another night in the cemetery, they thought I had actually lost it. So I invited them to stay with me. I was glad I brought a few candles so I could see as ghosts came out from the towering tombs, as though called by the song my ghost sang. Neither Drüsont nor Scora could hear the ghosts, but they could see what my ghost did as it picked up the song book and held it out to another ghost. A ghostly choir formed.
More ghosts came forward. None were clearly defined forms, none were distinct beyond the way their shadows layered and stayed separate from each other. As some sang, others sparkled and then disappeared. Freed.
That night I heard songs I never knew I never wanted to hear. Beauty so freeing, so painful, so overwhelming that it had to be true.
The songs entered my mind, rolling around, note by note, unlocking a voice I had lost long, long ago when I was but a child. How was it possible to feel more alive, surrounded by the ghosts of the past, than I’d ever felt before?
Hours passed. I didn’t try to count how many ghosts came and were freed, only that eventually the choir dissipated and it was but a sparse gathering of souls. I thought my voice would’ve been tired out, but I was wide awake and ready to never be quiet again.
Together, my ghost and I sang the last of the other ghosts free. Then it handed me the book.
And I sang the melody with a voice that was hardly able to be.
Now I hope that when I die, someone sings the song for me.