The Dead

Ron Burch

In the morning, someone beat on my front door with their fist. I was afraid to answer. I snuck a glance out the window and saw a government car, driven by soldiers, flanked by a few men in dark suits, the government. Men who spent their lives staring at their fingernails. More beating.  Why? I asked. There wasn’t an answer. I was afraid they’d hit me, so I quickly slipped on my jeans and went out.

In the car, I sat between the Politician, I forget his exact title, and the General. They told me that the dead have appeared around our town. These ghosts, solid in form, remained in the same places, not venturing far from them, not attempting to communicate with those still living. Every day more appeared, waiting silently in their new spots. But for what? asked the General, who leaned into me, his sidearm pressing into my hip.

They brought me to this spot in the woods south of the town. Here, the Politician said. This is where he appears.


Your son, replied the General.

This statement overrode my fear and I spoke back: My son’s dead.

I tried to stop my face from quivering while I said it, biting the inside of my lower lip.

Just wait.

What am I supposed to do?

The General shook his thick finger at me. You need to talk with him and find out what they want. They won’t talk to us.

What they want?

Yes. Why are they here now? What do they want? Tell them to go back to the other side or else.

I waited. As the sun swung around me, from the other side of the birch tree, my son appeared, at the age of his death a few years ago. A violent death outside our family control, an ongoing problem in our land. The indiscriminate mass shootings of civilians by government forces.

I wanted to reach out and touch him. He wore the same clothes, a t-shirt about skating, his shorts and tennis shoes he was killed in. He looked just like my boy before it had happened.

I fell to my knees, burying my face. It hurt. It hurt. It hurt so much.

Someone moved down beside me, near me, a warm body who whispered in my ear, Talk to him. It was the Politician. I sobbed into my hands. He whispered more urgently, What if this means something bad’s going to happen? Do you want to do that to our town? He lifted my torso up, his arms tight against my chest, holding me up since I had no will to stand.

I couldn’t even look at my son. I was afraid. I was afraid of what it would do to me.

His name was William. Will. My Will, I would say. The marriage died with him.

Talk to him, the Politician said. He walked over to the black staff car and leaned back against it, taking out a cigarette while talking with the General.

My son stared at me impassively. He didn’t smile and looked as if he’d just woke up from a long nap, his eyes unfocused, his cowlick standing up. They’d told me not to touch him. Sometimes that scared them off. My son turned away, staring at the many eyes of the tree trunk.

I noticed in the field in front of us, others standing alone, the dead. Near them were other people, perhaps old friends or lovers or family members. Some of the people were laughing in one spot. An older woman wiped away tears with her crooked fingers.

I approached my son. I don’t think he even noticed.

Will, I said. Why are you here?

My son slowly blinked.

I miss you so much. I said this over and over. My boy remained still.

Minutes passed, I don’t know how many, I was only trying to enjoy what little time I had with him.

I brought the picture out of my wallet. I didn’t know what else to do. It felt thin in my hand, but I showed it to him. It was from a couple years ago, around a camp fire, all three of us.

He took a step toward me. Then a second step. I held out my arms for him. The hell with the Politician. My son came near and then, without touching me, put his mouth next to my ear and whispered. He stepped away from me, back to the tree. I love you, I said, and he went behind the tree. I followed and he was gone.

The Politician charged over: What did he say? What?!

I stood there, thinking of what happened to my son, of what’s happened to my town, to my country.

I lie to the Politician and tell him it was nothing.

It was a hiss of air.

A high-pitch keening.

The sound of nothing.

That’s what my boy said.

I don’t believe you, he replied. I suddenly didn’t like his moustache, his face, bringing back my old anger. If I told him what my son had said, the Politician would be afraid, more afraid because these ghosts were the memories of a violent past, of murder and retribution, the mountain of bodies the Politician and his friends in the government built to get their power.

The mass shootings had never stopped, no matter how many we lost. The dead finally decided. They decided that they had to finally do something.

They are a cold reminder, the number of them growing.

From around the tree, my son appeared again. I walked to him. Behind me, the General commanded me to stop. He warned me. He screamed that there’d be severe repercussions. I reached out for Will, my arms entwining my son’s, embracing his light form, like a gust of fresh air, pulling him tight to me until we were lighter than air, together again.




Ron Burch’s fiction has been published in numerous literary journals including South Dakota Review, Fiction International, Mississippi Review, and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His novel, Bliss Inc., was published by BlazeVOX Books. He lives in Los Angeles.