dear survivors

BY Joshua Young

we’ve heard people talking about ghosts and how they make dead soldiers. we’re not interested in justice or the intentions of the spiritual.

we just wanted our homes to stand though this, but the shaking came and pried our walls apart, tore my roof from its place, lifted our foundation from the ground.

the fire worked its way around the house and crawled through the back half of town, sending survivors into the river to wait it out. when it got quiet at the water, the other survivors didn’t even bother to rummage through what the fire left.
two days later, there are soldiers scattered in the meadows above the city. we do not look through their belongings. the other survivors have been talking about their dreams, about a city in the west, about heading there. 


the hills are sepia in smog-light. in the valley, there are no ghosts, but the locals have claimed so for years. they say there are only shadows moving along the ground, not bodies. we witness this miracle. only days later, from the ridge, we see the source. there are feral children down there, stalking food—they’ve lived down there for years, before the wreckage, now they are free.


the ghost rebellion wasn’t organized. but it was nightly, and silent. foxes weren’t aware. we find their bodes outside, charred. we never see the murderers in action, but murder happens. locals have their stories—it’s ghosts making them pay. adults whisper to children and peer through the syrup night, “look,” they say, “can you see them in the woods? can you see them hatching plans? they’ll protect us if the soldiers come. if we sacrifice. if we take it that far.”


in the lighthouse, we’re casting shadows, all flashlights and stumble, and in the stairwell’s creak, through the blur of dirty glass, we hear it outside. not cicadas, nor the sound of what’s still banging around, settling. there are no survivors, just a couple of squirrels. 


in the pines and cedars we give chase. only one soldier left after the ghost-killings, and he’s sobbing—his gun jammed when he tried to fire on us, so he dropped it and ran—we hear him crunching and crying through the forest, and in a clearing, he spins around and shouts what do you want? we want to know why he’s setting fires. orders he says, then asks us why we killed his platoon. we tell him that we didn’t. we tell him ghosts don’t like fires. his face turns still and wind beats against his body. the weed tops slap his thighs and he collapses. the wind retreats and ghost hair floats between us and the body. we know what this means. we know there’s no need to check his pulse. 


Listen to poems from our National Poetry Month "30/30" combo issue!

Joshua Young is the author of To the Chapel of Light (Mud Luscious Press/Nephew) and When the Wolves Quit: A Play-in-Verse (Gold Wake Press). He studies poetry in the MFA program at Columbia College Chicago, where he also teaches First Year Writing and works as Poetry Programs Assistant. He lives in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago with his wife, their son, and their dog. The pieces in this issue of Ghost Ocean are part of a larger project, This is the Way to Rule. For more information about his films, writing, and other projects visit the story thief.