Short Story Review: “The Swell of the Cicadas” by Tenea D. Johnson

4 of 5 stars.

This is a lovely little ghost story in that it’s written from the POV of a Civil War battlefield ghost. In life, the speaker was not participating in the war, but rather Cat was shot by a stray bullet while crossing the adjacent woods while on an errand for her Mistress.

The slave’s ghost was left to mingle with those of the blues and grays left on the battle field and other non-participant causalities. While the world moved on from the war, the spirits were largely trapped in their animosities for decades until peace settled across the ghostly valley. Now, all of the spirits watch crowds of tourists come to gawk at their history oblivious to the unsettled around them.

This tale stands out in the interactions of the ghost with her environment. She notice of, reaction to and interaction with the play of the forest, the dappling sunlight through the leaves overhead, the whirr of the cicadas. Things as simple as wind and rain pull and disperse the ghost as she moves through her environment:

The sky darkened as the raindrops turned fat and multiplied. Cat struggled to keep her composition as parts of her were saturated and fell to the ground, trying desperately to rejoin the whole before she moved on. She slowed and waited for herself to catch up . . . Cat could see no more. Her vision blurred and prismed as the rain became a downpour and washed her away.

The night came and, painstakingly, she reconvened. As she materialized a wet wind blew through the grove, lifting the hem of Cat’s dress. She made it across the road and to the swollen ditch. She stood in the dark, at the edge of the water, willing herself to disappear. Around her the wilderness swelled with the sound of cicadas, until she could hear nothing but their reedy eruption. . . . She fell slowly, piece by piece into the water. Where the moonlight had moments ago picked out her edges, the glow of her was gone now, and each part of the spirit and once-flesh was lost to the liquid darkness.

This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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