[This short story is was inspired by the Shackleton’s Scotch Challenge over at Chuck Wendig’s Blog. The challenge was to write a story inspired by the discovery of a case of scotch left behind by Ernest Shackleton on his ill-fated South Pole Expedition. The story I was inspired to write does not directly involve either Shackleton or scotch, but rather it plays on the theme of things left behind. I hope that you enjoy it.]
Dad said they had to cut the tree down. It was old and dead, and it might fall on the house the next time a hurricane came through.
Zachary didn’t much like the idea. The tree had been there his whole life. The idea that they could just cut it down, end its legacy with a few swipes of a chainsaw felt…wrong somehow. But he didn’t have much say-so in the matter.
So Dad got out the chainsaw and started cutting, while Zachary stood back and watched. The base of the tree was thick and hard, and Dad cut for a long time making the notch in the front bigger a little at a time. Then the chainsaw made a screeching noise, and Dad yanked it back.
There was something there in the place where he had been cutting. Just a sliver of it was showing, but Zachary reached in his hand to touch it. It felt smooth and warm under his fingers.
Dad said it must have been something that had gotten stuck in the trunk a long time ago. He didn’t sound happy.
He cut around the thing as best he could and when the tree finally fell with a snapping crackling roar they saw what the thing was. It was a stone saucer, about as big around as a dinner plate and as thick as a dictionary, and it was carved all over with tiny swirling lines that crossed and converged in strange patterns.
Zachary asked what the thing was.
Dad said he didn’t know.
Zachary touched it again, and it still felt warm. Alive.
He asked if he could keep it.
Dad said yes.
So Zachary took it inside to his room.
That night, after they had finished cutting up the tree and hauling away most of the branches, he went to his room and looked at the thing again. He kept running his fingers over those twisting lines, trying to find the meaning there. Dad had said the thing had been inside the tree for a long time, maybe hundreds of years. For a while Zachary tried to think about how long that was. But after a while he got bored with the thing, so he put it on his shelf, and went to bed.
And when he slept he dreamed of strange things, of another world with skies of orange and red, and alien beings that looked like praying mantises as large as men. The mantis men were sending out stone saucers just like the one he and Dad had found by the thousands. In the dream Zachary watched as the stone saucers flew up into the red sky and disappeared. But then something happened. There was a roar and a crash, and the sky split open with light, and the world of red and yellow disappeared into fire.
He woke up and looked over at the stone saucer sitting on the shelf. It was still dark out, and the clock by his bed read 3:17, but he wasn’t sleepy.
He turned on the lamp and got the stone saucer. He set it next to him on the bed, and ran his fingers over the grooves again. The details of the dream stayed in his mind, sharp and crisp like a photograph.
It was just a dream. He kept telling myself that. But it was more than a dream. It felt…important. It felt real. But if it was real, what did it mean?
The mantis men had sent the stone saucers out for a reason. They had known their world was going to die, and they had known that they would die with it.
In the movies flying saucers had lasers and ray beams and they killed people. But the stone saucer didn’t seem like a weapon. It seemed more like…like a memento. A messenger with the memories of a dying world.
It made him think of the time Mom had come to get him from school early. Her eyes were all red, and she told him Grandpa Jonah had died. He had cried pretty hard because Grandpa Jonah was pretty much the best grandpa ever.
He went to the funeral, and he remembered looking around the big room at all the people who were there. He asked his Dad who they were, and Dad said they were all people who knew Grandpa Jonah.
He’d sat and thought about that for a while. Grandpa Jonah was gone, but all these people who knew him were here together in the same place. They all remembered something about him. And maybe that meant that all those little pieces of Grandpa Jonah were alive somehow. As long as people remembered.
And now a whole world was dead. Maybe it had been dead for a long time. But before it died, the mantis men sent out the stone saucers.
And the saucers were seeds; the seeds of a memory.
Maybe there were other saucers on other worlds, their memories infecting other minds. Or maybe this one was the only one that ever found a home.
But maybe one was enough. Maybe as long as someone remembered the mantis men, maybe a small part of them would live on.
He sat and thought about that for a long time. And when the clock read 5:13 and the first blush of dawn shone through his window he put the stone saucer back on the shelf and turned off the light. He crawled back under the covers, closed his eyes, and went to sleep.
He dreamed of the dead.