The Lesson

“So, you must be Amery.”
The boy nodded slightly, trying to fall through the floor. He wore the cleanest jeans he had and a plain white shirt, largely at his mother’s insistence. It was his first day at the museum, after all.
“That’s me. Um, Sir?”
The older man chuckled, reaching to pat Amery on the shoulder.
“Call me Bobby, Amery. I’m going to be your training ranger until you get the ropes. Sound good?”
Amery scuffed one sneaker against the floor and shrugged.
“Sounds great…Bobby.”
It was hard to be less excited than the summer camp groups being paraded through the museum, but Amery was managing it. Bobby, though, he was entirely different. He was excited to have someone else there, someone new to share his love of this place with.
“First thing’s first, let’s get you a hat and a vest so folks know you’re one of us now.”
Bobby walked off like a man with a purpose, Amery trudging after him.

It was a few days later that Bobby called Amery to one of the back storage rooms.
“Today, you get to be my demonstration.”
Amery’s eyes went wide and he took a step back, thinking about what he’d helped show the camp groups already.
“I am definitely not okay with amputation!”
Bobby just laughed in that way he had.
“No, no. It’s a’right. Promise. We’ve got some Union uniforms in the back, but they’re not gonna fit me anymore.” He patted his gut and laughed. “You, though, you’re about the right size. Go get dressed and meet me outside. We’re leading a walking tour today.”

Amery found a uniform in his size without too much trouble and started changing, grimacing when he realized it was wool. He was going to roast alive. This was so not worth minimum wage. Shouldering the musket that had been left nearby, he opened the door again to go find Bobby.
He blinked a few times. How was he going to find Bobby when he couldn’t even find the museum? He was standing in an open field on the edge of a town. He could see the rolling hills, the farms nearby, the roads that all led to Gettysburg. His breathing started to speed up. He could hear the drums and the cannons. Then he heard it. The sound that made his blood run cold and his hair stand on end. The Rebel yell. With one look behind him, he realized they were coming right at him. Some scattered, frantic part of his mind realized what he was seeing. Screaming, Amery turned and ran as fast as he could towards where he hoped the Union lines would be.
An arm grabbed him and pulled him down into the Union position.
“What are you doing, Boy? Take your position. Where’s your cartridge box?”
He opened and closed his mouth a few times and then finally squeaked out.
“I don’t-”
The man shoved a fist full of cartridges and balls at him.
“Keep your head down and your musket loaded.”
“Um…Yes, Sir.”
The battle was like nothing Amery had ever experienced. The sound of musket balls whizzing past him, the screams, the explosions. He could barely figure out how the musket was supposed to work, but he did his best to copy the others and keep himself out of the line of fire. He didn’t want to know what would happen if he died before he was born. Everything was going to chaos around him. He could hear some of the men yelling for a retreat. Suddenly, he found himself face to face with a man in a gray uniform and the stock end of a musket slammed into his face.

Amery woke up again on the floor in the storage closet. Bobby was standing over him with a smile on his face.
“Enjoy the demonstration, Amery?”
He reached to offer Amery a hand up.
“What-what was that?”
For the first time that Bobby had seen, Amery was excited, interested. Good.
“Exactly what you think it was. Not exactly my finest hour, mind. But a good solid lesson.”
“Not exactly your…”
“I was on the other side back there. Had to, for Virginia, you understand.”
Bobby smiled slowly.
“Now then, come on, we’ve got a tour to run and folks to teach.”
And as they walked off, Robert Lee slung an arm around Amery’s shoulders and whistled an old war song never forgotten.

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Søren and Solveig

Solveig loved her brother. She loved him as the sun loves the moon, as the sea loves the shore, as the night loves the day. Even as she and Søren grew older, she loved him. Søren was tall and bold, easy with a laugh or a smile. Women chased him for his beauty as much as his skill on the sea. But Søren son of Valter loved no woman so much as he loved the sea, except perhaps Solveig.

He spent his days alone on the water, with a wool cap pull down over his ears and the open sky above him, until the day the small faering arrived bearing only a young woman and her hound. She was Torill, daughter of Amend who held land to the south, and she was as cunning as she was beautiful, as brave as she was strong, and she knew the sea and stars as old friends. It was there on the shore that Søren met Torill. No more was the sea’s own son distant, for he had found a companion of his soul in this daughter of Amend.

Together they took to the seas, adventures sought and new lands seen. And all the while, Solveig waited and wept. Her brother would take Torill to wed, of that she was sure. So Solveig made a plan.

When the sailors two returned from their voyages, Solveig waited on the shore. Jealous Søren’s sister held a basket and offered them a feast. Drawing them both, brother and foe, to her home, she gave them drink fit to slake the thirst of the greatest of mead halls. Only then did she act. While Søren slept the sleep of drink, fair Solveig told Torill that her hound bayed in the night. Bright Amend’s daughter went out, stumbling with the drink, a knife in her hand to face any who would dare venture near her ship in the dark.

Then did Solveig rouse her brother. She wove him words with her silver tongue, laced with feigned fear, of how she had seen the shadow of a man near to his ship and was sure it would be gone by dawning. Søren took up his bow and went into the night.

Torill alone was on the shore, but Søren did not see her bright gold hair or playful eyes. He did not hear her song-filled voice. He only saw a shadow bent over a ship on the shore. The arrow was loosed and it flew straight and true, finding its home buried in Torill’s breast.

Only when the sea’s lost son heard the cry did he know what Solveig’s games had wrought.

Not Today

He stood at the side of the road, a young man lost and alone. He wore a cap pulled down to shade his eyes from the westering sun, a plaid shirt that had seen better days, and a pair of pants that one could assume had probably not always been quite that dusty of a brown. The cars raced past him, his bag on his back and the sun on his face. Periodically, he would hold out his hand, thumb raised skyward, and hope. But universal as the call was, none heeded it.
The sun set and the stars filled the sky, cars becoming nothing but headlight streaks and the whoosh of their passing. With a sigh, he raised his head and watched as a pale gray sedan pulled up alongside him. It seemed to have stolen the moon’s glow in that newly fallen night. The window rolled down, and though he could not see the driver, the boy knew who stared into his soul.
“Are you ready?”
Defiant, the young man raised his chin.
“Not yet, old man, I got too much world left to see.” Then he grinned. “Too many girls to fall in love with.”
There was a sigh from within and the boy braced himself in case today was the day he was finally told No.
“Someday, for your mother’s sake, I hope you will come home, my son.”
Lightning crashed in the distance and both men looked up. Neither boy nor car cast a shadow on the ground.
“Someday, sure.” The young man adjusted his cap, taking a step back. “But not today.”
As he faded into the air, the pale gray sedan pulled away to seek him in another twilight.

Why Do the Trees Scream?

The woods were screaming again. Kara pulled her pillow over her head and tried to ignore the awful sound. She had asked once, when she was younger, why the trees screamed on some nights. Her parents had gone ashen and stiff, walking the line between alarmed and surprised.
“You heard them, Kitten?”
That had been what her father had asked.
“Don’t ever ask anyone that question, Kara. There are some things you shouldn’t learn.”
So here she was now, alone in the dark and trying to block out the screams. They didn’t change once, not in pitch or volume. Worse, her pillow did nothing to drown them out.
When the new sound came, her pillow didn’t block it either. It came as an insistent scratching, like nails on glass. Slowly, Kara sat up, letting her pillow fall to the mattress. There was a shadow at her window. At first, Kara thought it was just the street lights playing tricks, because how else could there be just a shadow-man with no man to cast it, but there he was. He held one hand up to the window, scratching his long fingers down the panes and staring in with glowing red eyes. Kara wanted to scream, wanted to run. She wanted to do anything but what her body was doing, seemingly of its own will. She slid off the bed and silently padded across the floor, past her small chair, past her toys, past the stuffed bear her father had said would keep her safe. Reaching up, she undid the latch and threw the window open. He oozed in and stood before her. Kara gazed up at this strange shadow-man who towered so far over her.
It seemed, as he lifted her into his dark embrace, that the shrieking of the trees reached a new height of volume and fury. The night echoes with it and it shook the houses all around.
Kara thought she had only blinked, but she opened her eyes to trees all around her. That was when the first wave of silence hit her like a physical thing. It was like nothingness made sound, like someone had hit mute on the world. Kara gasped and the screaming returned. Taking a step, she looked around. Her shadow-man was nowhere to be seen. But there was a creature at the edge of her vision, one that slunk away every time she turned to see it properly. All she had of it was an impression of night-black fur. And hunger.
Once again, the silence overwhelmed her senses and Kara whirled, seeing the creature close. Teeth, sharp and dripping saliva, swamped her vision just before it retreated. She tried to scream, the sound not coming until the creature was beyond the nearest trees. Now she could hear the difference, the prowling circles of silence in among the screaming trees. The girl didn’t realize there were tears on her cheeks. She didn’t realize that the silences were surrounding her. She only regretted that she had wished to know what made the trees scream.

Only Squirrels

A golden wolf stood in the grass, sides heaving as she breathed heavily. Phyllis walked slowly towards her, trying her best to move quietly as she waited for the sun to rise. The first rays of light were just hitting the young wolf now and Phyllis sighed with relief as the fur slowly faded, leaving behind a girl her own age.
“Patty?”
The young blonde turned, eyes large in her round face. There was a rip in the front of her dress from her hips all the way down to expose the slip underneath. Her cheeks were tear-streaked and her lower lip trembled even now.
“I…I don’t…I didn’t…”
The sleeves of her dress were gone, torn clean off at some point. How the majority of the dress had survived the night, no one would ever know. Phyllis stepped forward, hands shaking.
“Are you alright, Patty?”
“I’m scared.”
There was blood on her teeth, on her lips, on her hands.
“Phyllis, what happened?”
The tears were flowing again and her voice quavered as much as her hands shook.
“Did I… Did I hurt someone?”
Phyllis wrapped her arms around Patty, ignoring the blood and the dirt.
“It was only squirrels, Pat. Don’t you worry a bit.”
“Promise?”
Phyllis turned Patty away, towards her old Dodge D-5, pointedly ignoring the bloody football jersey. Patty didn’t need that. Especially not right now.
“I promise, sugar. You didn’t do a thing you gotta worry about.”

Dealing With Devils – Part 5

The moon was rising and Mattie stepped out into the backyard. The rules for the summoning ran through her mind. Never give your real name. Have gold in your pocket, just in case. Never say thank you, but be polite. She had a small box of supplies to work with, and her Granda’s knife slung to her belt. Kneeling in the grass, she started by spreading a circle of salt around herself for protection. Next came the candles. Those, she placed on small rocks to keep them above the grass. It took a few flicks of her lighter before she could light the candles. In the flickering glow, she placed a small piece of paper with hand-written words. It was meant to be Gaelic, but she’d had to write it phonetically. Probably Liam could have helped her with it, but she didn’t want him to know. Taking a deep breath, she drew the knife out of the sheath and began to speak. Her words came slowly and carefully, focusing as hard as she could on making sure she said everything correctly. Reaching the end of the first repetition of the chant, she drew the knife across her palm carefully. Just the top layer of skin, just the top layer. Don’t cut anything important. It stung and then burned, blood welling up. She set the knife aside and held her hand just outside the salt circle, making a fist and squeezing. Then she repeated her chant. The quality of the air changed. It felt thick, heavy, almost like you could lean on it and stay standing. After a long moment, she heard hoofbeats sounding across the ground. Looking up, she pulled her hand back inside the circle. The figure riding towards her was shrouded in black leather armor and astride a skeletal horse.
“Dia dhuit.”
His voice was like nails on a chalkboard and Matt wasn’t entirely sure where it was coming from at first since she couldn’t see his head. Then she realized he was carrying it tucked under his arm.
“Speak English, if you can.”
“I can. Why do you call me, woman?”
Mattie bristled at that but held herself together. Be polite. Be polite. She took a breath.
“I am told that you can find anyone, no matter where. I need you to find Captain Henry Wirz.”
She heard the door slam behind her and bit her lower lip.
“I will do this for you. Then I will be released.”
The rider started to wheel his horse and Mattie silently prayed he would be gone before Liam said anything.
“Matilda O’Halloran, what in God’s green earth are you doing?”
Her stomach dropped and the rider’s eyes locked with her’s. He knew her name now. She could hear his laughter echoing as he reared and then charged off into the night. Fear overtook her and Mattie buried her head in her hands, trying to stop the tears. She heard the knife getting jammed roughly back into its sheath but still didn’t look up.
“We need to clean your hand. Bandage it.”
Liam’s voice was distant, distracted. Matt whirled around, standing in one fluid motion. For a moment, she glared at him.
“I’ll deal with it,” Mattie growled low as she stormed back into the house.

Triangle

   It was one of those clear summer afternoons, the ones where nothing feels so good as the wind in your hair, the sand between your toes and the kiss of the saltwater against your skin. It was the kind of day where a person could get lost in it all. The kind of day that promises everything and nothing all at once.

   500,000 square miles. It seems so big when you’re out there in your boat or your plane, trying to find land against all odds. Compared to the nearly 200 million square miles of the Earth, though, it’s nothing.

   Not, of course, that any of that matters now. The sky around you isn’t clear anymore. That piercing summer sun is lost behind a bank of fog that came up out of nowhere. The instrumentation panel is going haywire, gauges and meters jumping and lights flashing. Even the compass can’t find north. The fog is gaining on you now, encircling your little plane. But there’s a chance. Before you, as the two ends of the fog bank converge, there’s a window directly in front of you. A tunnel. Hope. Surging forward, you fly as fast as your little plane can go. You can see the little sparks of electricity building up on the skin of the plane and try desperately to ignore it. Everything is fine. Everything is going to be fine. The sky is gone. All you can see now is fog.

   The memorial service was a small thing. Just some family and friends coming together to mourn another life claimed far too soon by the waters of the Triangle.