This week’s flash challenge from terribleminds.com was to choose our story’s setting from a list of options provided by Chuck Wendig. I chose “The Bone Cathedral”.
Interestingly this story sorta fits as a Father’s Day weekend story, though I hadn’t planned it that way going in and only thought of it when I started making this post. It also works as a kind of companion piece for my favorite flash story so far: Timeless Lilac. Sort of the other side of the coin.
Read. Enjoy. Comment.
Oh, and when you’re finished feel free to poke around some of my other writings here. (Coming soon: a review of two audiobooks: Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, by Genevieve Valentine, and Redshirts, by John Scalzi)
The Lesson My Father Taught Me
I watched without speaking as my father placed the sack of Grandpa’s bones next to Grandma’s in the cart. He had treated every one of the day’s twenty sacks with respect, but I saw his fingers linger, and pull away ever so slowly from the burlap with his parents inside. We each took a handle of the pushcart and started down the dry street.
“Father,” I said as we pushed the cart past the ashes of the Turners’ home.
“Why don’t we bury them? Let’s bury them and the others and go. Let’s leave. We can go somewhere else.”
“We could, I suppose. But we won’t.”
After the Turners’ was the school. Only one wall was still standing.
“Why not? Maybe I’ll just leave.”
“You might, I suppose. But we won’t. We’ll be waiting here for you when you decide to come back.”
I let go of my handle and pointed at the school wall. “No, you won’t! You’ll be dead. You’ll all die. They aren’t going to stop. They’re going to kill us all.”
My father moved between the two handles of the cart and started pushing down the street again by himself. “They haven’t yet.”
“They could, but they won’t.”
I chased my father and grabbed him, pulling him away from the cart. I turned him around and got right in his face. “They will,” I said.
He didn’t try to go back to the cart. He didn’t pull away. He didn’t yell. “What did we do when the men of Lashika first came here?” he asked me.
“We welcomed them,” I said.
“And when they pulled down one of our houses?”
“We slept in the fields so they could pull down more without killing us.”
“And when they burned our books and school?”
“We started telling stories every night.”
“So our stories would be remembered.”
“What did they do then?”
“The killed the old people, they killed Grandma and Grandpa.” I let go of his shoulders, but he didn’t move back to the cart.
“Why?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I answered.
“They hoped we would lose the stories the old people knew. The men of Lashika don’t want to kill us. They want to destroy who we are.”
That was when he turned away from me and started pushing the cart toward the cathedral. I watched him go down the ruined street alone for a minute, maybe two, before I ran to catch up and took my handle, my half of the burden, again.
Like everything else we had, our original cathedral lay ruined, little more than a pile of rubble. It was the first building we rebuilt. We ground the bones of our dead. The bones of our grandparents and our parents. The bones of our sisters and our brothers. We ground them to fine powder and added them to the clay and sand and water. The bones of our people are in every brick of this cathedral. I never again considered leaving after that conversation with my father. He taught me, as our bone cathedral taught the men of Lashika, that though we could be killed, we would not be destroyed, and though our people might fall, they would always rise again.
Today I ask you to help me place these twenty bricks, the bones of my father, so he will always watch over us, as all those who have gone before us watch over us, in our bone cathedral.