Nelson Lowhim: Journal of the Dead
Southern Legitimacy Statement: Writer and veteran. Born in Africa, currently live in Washington State. Oh, it doesn’t really end there, but that should be good for now. Since some people tend to ask: yes I served in the US Army. I like to think that my writing has been influenced by… no, no, I won’t go there. I read and I write. What else to say? Enjoy.
Journal of the Dead
About ten years ago I served Empire. During a neighborhood cordon-search I settled inside an abandoned house with the rest of my squad mates as we slowly came to terms with yet another tedious mission. After the sun burned the arced tops of palm trees, we started exploring the building.
Now bombed out and abandoned, it must have been quite the villa in its day. But at the time, it was nothing more than a dried husk. Sad, that. Sad the complete disdain power from the barrel of a gun can have for other quieter, more lasting forms of power. Even so—and I speak of the melancholy I had then, thinking of what our Army had wrought—one, and more so I, can understand how people do look to that power of the barrel as its application is immediate, firm, and it deals more directly with organic reality, or displaces it quicker (as the holed cement walls with steel rebar guts spilling out, crying for help, could attest to in that villa, as could the stream of blood and screams on the streets earlier that month) and ends perceived iniquities even quicker (when applied for ourselves).
Back then, these thoughts hadn’t fully coagulated. Instead a low-grade sadness hit me. I looked through desks crumpled and pages strewn. Many with accompanying letter heads from the previous regime. It was all Arabic—then a completely alien script to me, as it was and is to most of the Army—so I nonchalantly flipped through business letters and charts.
It was then that I came across a journal and flipped it open to find English written on its innards. I felt a chill when I opened it, and as I recognized its language, the weight of what I was doing, who I was, became more than apparent.
I considered leaving the journal there. I held the rough leathered cover in my hand, contemplating, before I stuffed it into my pocket and took it away with me.
I didn’t look at the thing until just a few weeks ago. And as I went through this journal of an upper-class businessman in Iraq, I was sure that I was reading the ravings of a madman, a genius, and a fool.
The journal of “Name unknown” (that’s the actual name) starts sometime in the 70s, when, the author claims, ghosts started to appear in Baghdad, a hereto secular city strictly for people and animals they could make use of.
The ghosts, though they initially surprised and scared, in spite of their small-fly size, were soon the toast of the town, showering those who would host them with riches.
The author did not like these jinn and warned others to stay away from them (initially secular as well, he used certain Quran quotes against the jinn to confirm his doubts), but he changed his mind after he saw how rich people became. He was soon hosting as many ghosts as anyone, even though he still did not trust them. This journal served as a sort of study of them (the businessman was a failed scientist, mind you).
The first few entries were his boasts about the material wealth coming his way from these ghosts. But he was not sure what it is they wanted, and so one senses that he was already sniffing for changing winds, skittish from the recent coups, which had already torn through his homeland—he knew to keep quiet. And so he acquiesced and drove in a specific track: the ghosts, the silence and, of course, that wealth.
When the ghosts asked for nothing else in return, his curiosity grew. When he raised questions to his father and wife, they told him not to be silly, to reap what his decision had sown and take what the ghosts gave, for it was thus willed. But the question he asked his journal was “whose will?”. This led him to try to talk to the ghosts, but none answered.
It was around the time of the Iran-Iraq war that the author’s entries grew more erratic. As he doubted and cursed the ghosts, they fled from his house. And all the accompanying material wealth disappeared from his household.
At this point his family intervened—traitors, devils, he called them—and said that not only was his attitude unfounded, it was ungrateful, it was that of a donkey’s. He reluctantly went to the ghosts in his neighbor’s yard and begged forgiveness. To this, the ghosts silently listened, for they liked nothing more than to be worshipped.
And soon they were back in his house. The author kept talking, to tease a conversation out of them. That he finally succeeded did not surprise me. It was a testament to the vigor of his spirit and curiosity. He was soon raving in his journal, for the ghosts and what they wanted, what they believed, were certainly a harbinger of the end of times.
I didn’t quite understand what he was saying, but it seems that after the ghosts had talked to him, he erupted, and again his family had to quiet him down. For, according to them, even if what he said about the ghosts was right, it didn’t matter, since all he had to do was worship them, keep his complaints down, and life would be grand.
And though he tried, his written word the only avenue of release, one could tell he wasn’t going to last.
The ghosts finally told him their story: they were creatures from deep under the ground and they had come up periodically in the past, though no human record of them exists. They believed that humans were their creation. And it was written in their Book that all gods were eventually killed by that which they made. Thus, they came up to keep an eye on their humans, to crush them, if need be. He repeated the story to his family. They didn’t reply and are then referred to as traitors.
The rest of his journal were cries for help as a plague and a psychosis grips his nation’s leader and everyone around. The author believed that the ghosts were doing this, that they had infected all minds, everything material. Soon the journal just became a list of deaths. The next 100 pages are obituaries, devolving into a list of names with dates.
It ends right after the invasion, the author now wondering why the ghosts were everywhere, eating even the very cement beneath their feet. “The night’s threads are eating the edge of the sky, hungry, ravenous, but with this night there will be no rest and no silence. The ghosts are hungry and waiting to devour us all.”
Haunting words, these, and as I now hold the book, thousands of miles away from its origin and feel sick to my stomach, I remember the villa and I remember what power can do. But that’s merely the power of humans. What happens when other powers are awoken by our claim to deity? What happens when the minds around us are infected, the disease spreading through relationships? For now the ground underneath my feet is crumbling, and I sense the flutter of ghosts in the air. Have I gone mad?