This week, let’s go for a new piece of flash fiction, written for last week’s competition at Indies Unlimited. I don’t think I’d written something from one fo their prompts for a little over a year, making 2016 one of my less productive years in terms of flash fiction. Ignoring a few pieces on this blog in 2016 and my collection published that year, of course.

Photo copyright K. S. Brooks

Photo copyright K. S. Brooks

Pilgrim’s Refuge

The pilgrims were sacred. The village had tried before to get rid of them. They came here with their foreign culture, their greed, the strange currency they paid in. They paid in music. Not the crude sounds one would expect from their barbaric kind but actual orchestral music. But music still, not something you would use for payment in any civilized society. Then again, nobody had thought them civilized at first, and science was still looking for ways to discredit their civilization’s acceptance as one.
Then, some started to stay and work the fields. They learned of money, of their value, and how we shared their greed, just directed at other things. Soon they had built their own little village around the destination of their pilgrimages, a village impenetrable to any but their kin by force and law. Yet, the pilgrimage lured tourists by the thousands, pilgrims by the hundreds of thousands, and coin by the millions. This earned them their sanctity.
Their prayer was music, and they prayed outward.
Inward, they were silent. Only their god rising from his slumber had the right to initiate new music in this sacred place.
Inward, there stood but one monolith made by men before the pupils of their god had even started to spread his word.
Here rested forevermore Barnum Quentin, the man who told the crickets how to sing.

About This Story

Originally Published at Indies Unlimited
I am terrible with image prompts, they rarely do anything for me. This is one of the reasons my flash fiction production dropped badly in 2016 when writing blog Indies Unlimited switched from written prompts with a photo to just using photographs for prompts. Most of these seemed too mundane to me, inspiring nothing.
The gift of writing a story from anything is not something I possess, as enviable as that ability is in an author.
On February 18th, 2017, one of their photos struck a cord with me nonetheless. It’s shown above the story, but just in case it didn’t load: There was a large group of young grasshoppers sitting in the grass, some of them in a line along one blade of grass. That part of the picture reminded me of an orchestra, so I came up with the grasshoppers creating actual music. Looking at the other entries of that week, I was not the only one, two others ended up working with that same idea and took it in different directions. I also changed them into crickets just because I liked that word better.
At first, I wanted to tell the story of the composer who taught the insects to make real music from their chirping. I quickly shifted focus to the composer’s memory among the crickets and how it affected his hometown. That was less of a conscious decision and more the result of my hands starting to type words into my keyboard. I call it discovery writing. Mainly because I don’t like being called a pantser.
Animals displaying unusual intelligence and a culture of their own turns out to be a recurring topic in my fiction. Other examples include octopods in Introduction (collected in How to Sing Butterflies) as well as several examples in concepts for future works ranging from rats to dinosaurs.
What’s special here is how science actively tries to ignore non-human intelligence. This is something that happens a lot in actual science, especially neuroscience and related fields of research. At least I strongly hold the opinion that science does so whenever animals show signs of anything we’d like to be reserved to humans to feel unique. Intelligence, language, all these nice things that apparently popped up out of nowhere in humans according to the relevant fields of science. Which is completely absurd and unscientific. Humans just like to feel special that much. No matter what that Darwin fellow ultimately implied about this.
Readers with a keen eye might find some parallels between the crickets and a somewhat generalized idea of foreigners and immigrants. The prayers beign music is a reference to Islam included to strengthen that connection. I tried to put in more parallels and make this more about our relationship with foreigners and especially immigrants but in the end, the scenario was just too otherworldly to work with that. But it did make for an interesting cricket cukture. Yet, I wonder if anybody will pick up the hints not reading this here addendum.
Barnum Quentin is named after P.T. Barnum even though, unlike many of Barnum’s circus attractions, the cricket orchestra is not a fraud.
Everything else about this story is, naturally, crickets.

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