Ghost Road

There’s a story I read once in The Martian Chronicles that Ray Bradbury wrote. A short story set on Mars that deals with ghosts. The beauty of this collection of short stories is that none of them actually feed into each other, making them different than chapters in books, yet they do sort of build on each other. So, before this story happens Man from Earth has sent several groups of astronauts to Mars. In all their expeditions the men either go crazy or are murdered by the Martians. By the time the third group of explorer-astronauts arrive the Martians are extinct. I believe it was some sort of virus that wiped them out.
So, man conquers Mars, builds his own empire from the ruins of theirs. The Martians civilization centered around the beautiful flowing waters that ran through their cities. They had almost a Venetian look to them. By the time Man enters the scene the waters are dried up and gone. Mars is desolate. Soon, regular people from Earth come to settle on Mars because Earth is over-crowded and polluted.
Thus our story begins with a man driving on one of the ancient highways on Mars. He’s speeding through the desert late at night, not expecting to come across anyone else. I imagine in my mind Highway 50, which my friend Adam told me is called the Loneliest Road in America. The sort of highway you pick up phantom radio signals from 50 years ago when you’re driving in the middle of the night. I think that’s what Bradbury might have been inspired by.
So, this man driving along meets two other headlights coming toward him. Intrigued by this he pulls over and waits for them. The other pair continue toward him and as they approach he sees a vehicle completely alien to him. Out steps one of the extinct Martians. They are both confused by the sight of the other. In the distance the Man sees the ruins of a great city; the Martian sees it lit up and beautiful, waiting for his arrival and a celebration. They talk, the Man tells the Martian he must be a ghost because his kind no longer exist. The Martian tells the Man that cannot be possible, he remembers hearing ancient stories of men who came from another place.
An ordinary timeline is set on it’s ear. At the conclusion of the short story one is uncertain of who is actually the ghost. It’s one of those concepts that adds more wrinkles to your brain.
I remembered this story today as I was driving. My little sister in the passenger seat was playing DJ and she picked Dashboard Confessional’s “Hands Down” right as we started driving on Bayshore Boulevard. For almost four years I travelled down this Boulevard on an almost daily basis. This was a few years ago now, so almost every time I drive on it now I’m overcome with nostalgia. But, this time, the feeling was very much more intense. You see “Hands Down” was on one of the few CDs I had when I started driving, so it got a lot of airtime. As we rounded the curves this morning I almost caught sight of a green VW Jetta in my blind spot, windows down and sunroof open, housing a girl a few years younger, totally alive in that song. Or in front of me I could see a beat up BMW, hand out the driver’s side window bobbing in the air current with the song. I drove alongside the ghosts of myself. This girl, unsure of the next few years, but loving this drive, hugging the curves of the boulevard with her German-made, tight suspension. Did she come before me, or will she come after me? I feel like, had we three had our own roadside chat, we would dispute the timeline. I know 17 and 20 come before 23, but as I get older the things that were the truest about my 17 and 20 year old self become obvious to me as the things truest about myself now.
I feel as though I’m always writing the same story. One that leads back to where it started. But life sort of flows like that doesn’t it? It’s the sensation you get when you visit someplace totally new, that you’ve been there before; that gas station looks the same, that street corner echoes another. Pieces of the familiar spring up and surprise you, make you feel a little more secure. bring peace.

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