The Painted Desert

The members of the Sturgis Library Writers Group were tasked to write a story, poem or memoir to a photo of the Painted Desert in the Petrified Forest National Park. My story follows.

The Panted Desert in The Petrified Forest National Park. The prompt and setting for my tale. Photo taken by me in May, 2019

The Painted Desert

Even the early blush of the rising sun brought the vivid colors of the Painted Desert to life.  But it wasn’t the lightening of the sky that jolted Frankie Pollard awake.  It was the sudden sharp pain in his ribs.  Blinking the sleep from his eyes he focused on a collared lizard, staring back at him from less than a foot away.

“Was that you that bit me on the ribs?” queried Frankie.

“It was me kicking you, Frankie!” The angry voice hissing behind him also frightened the lizard.  It disappeared in a slot between two rocks.  Frankie winced and wished he could join the lizard in its hiding place.  The voice behind him continued its harangue, “What am I gonna do with you Frankie? You were supposed to be on watch!  I let you sleep first and now I catch you sleeping.  Anybody could have snuck up on us!”

Frankie stood and turned to look at the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on.  Even with her auburn hair all wild from sleeping in the car, she was lovely.  The emerald eyes he always melted into were a shade darker because of her anger, but it only made the flecks of gold surrounding her irises even more prominent. “Aww Trish, I had just nodded off as the sun was coming up, I was keeping watch.”

“Yeah, watching the backs of your eye lids.”

Patricia, or Trish, Stoddard was really worried about Frankie.  She was attracted to him by his charm, his carefree attitude, and, ok, his resemblance to Errol Flynn.  But he was proving to be too carefree and not a very deep thinker.  They had left Flagstaff with a satchel full of cash from a savings and loan, heading for a new life in Chicago, when Frankie pulled off Route 66 and stopped in front of the Painted Forest Inn.  “What are you doing?”, she demanded.

“I’m tired, all the excitement you know, this place is supposed to be nice.”

“Frankie!  We can’t stay anywhere near Flagstaff; don’t you think the cops may be looking for us?  Especially the car!  I told you to Jack a black Ford or Pontiac.  But a blue Studebaker?  Think, Frankie! Think!”

“But I like the color blue.”

“Go! Here comes the valet!”  With a spray of gravel and a cloud of dust, Frankie zoomed out of the lot.  “I’m worried now Frankie, really worried.”  

They didn’t get much further when the Studebaker sputtered to a halt.  “Yup, out of gas.”, declared Frankie.  

Trish helped him push the car to a spot not easily seen from the highway.  Disgusted to the point of being near speechless, all Trish said was, “You’ll have to walk back and get gas from the station at the Inn.  I’ll take first watch, you take the second.  We need to get on the road as early as possible.”

Seeing Frankie asleep at dawn the next morning instead keeping a lookout for intruders, mostly cops, added to Trish’s fear that they may not make it to Chicago.  But his cheerful disposition and eyes filled with love, after being kicked awake, warmed her heart.  He turned and waved an arm at the pastels of the desert.  “Look at this view Trish!  This is beautiful!  Why don’t we just build a place here.  Nobody will bother us.  It’ll be just you and me, and this lizard.”  The collared reptile had re-emerged and was watching them from his rock perch.

“We can’t Frankie, even if we wanted to, it’s a National Park..”

Trish’s words were cut off by the demands being shouted from the rocky outcrops surrounding them.  “Put up your hands!  Don’t move!  We have you covered!”  Their hands flew up.  Tears began to course down Trish’s cheeks.  

Men in police uniforms and suits, all pointing pistols at them, slowly emerged from behind the rocks and walked towards them.  One of the uniforms was leering at Trish.  “Well, we’ll.  I believe I’m gonna have to pat you down for a weapon. Heh, heh.”

“Don’t you lay a hand on her!”, Frankie snarled.  Before Trish could stop him, he laid a fist squarely on the jaw of the cop.  Two pistol shots and a scream “NO!” resounded across the desert.  The collared lizard scurried back into its hideout.

1932 Studebaker near the Painted Desert Inn. The car has a bit part in my story. Photo taken by me in May, 2019.
The Painted Desert Inn. My characters beat a hasty retreat from here in my story. Photo taken by me in May, 2019

Ernie Stricsek

Sturgis Library Writing Group

May 30, 2023

A Cabin In The Dunes

A scene from the movie “Beau Geste”, the Algerian desert is the setting for my story.

The prompt for the Sturgis Library Writing Group was “A Cabin In The Dunes”. I set my story in the Algerian desert before the start of World War I. My characters are in the French Foreign Legion.

The Cabin In The Dunes

Sergeant Dagineaux lowered his binoculars, wiped the perspiration from his brow and passed them to the man lying on the ground next to him.  

“Between those two sand dunes, Corporal Reynaud, at about one o’clock, tell me what you see.”

Reynaud peered in the direction Dagineaux had pointed to.  He pulled his head back, blinked several times, and peered through the binoculars again.  He passed them back, a puzzled look on his face.

“I see a bloody cabin, Sergeant!  It’s not a mirage, our eyes aren’t playing tricks on us.  What’s a bloody log cabin doing in the Algerian desert?”

“Well Corporal, we need to find out now, don’t we?”  

Dagineaux and Reynaud stood, unslung their rifles and cautiously approached the cabin.  As each step brought them closer, the strange building became clearer in the shimmering reflections of the sun off the sand.  It was indeed a log cabin.  Nestled as it was between the two dunes, they hadn’t seen the well and small garden flanking the cabin with the binoculars. Vegetables were growing in the garden.  Standing exposed, there was no place to hide in the desert, but they didn’t sense danger.  It was surreal, Dagineaux felt compelled to knock on the cabin door.  He and Reynaud were startled to hear a voice croak, “Come in.”  The Sergeant slowly opened the door, its hinges squeaked in protest.  An ancient looking man was seated at the head of a table.  A broad toothy grin appeared in his bearded face.  “Ahh! My relief has arrived!  Sit gentlemen, sit!  We have much to discuss, and very little time to do it in.”

Completely baffled, Dagineaux asked, “You were expecting us?”

Pointing to a thick book on the table in front of him, the old man replied, “Yes, of course, the manifest states Sergeant Claude Dagineaux and Corporal Victor Reynaud, of the French Foreign Legion, will arrive to assume my duties on the ninth of May, 1905.  That is today gentlemen.”

“But we must return to our fort in Adrar, sir.  A member, or members, of our patrol drugged the Corporal and I, then deserted. Taking six camels and all of our supplies.  We have to report this to our commander.”

“None of that is necessary now, Sergeant.  A higher power has deemed you’re needed here.  It’s all in the manifest.”

“Umm, what is it we are expected to do?” asked Reynaud.  He thought he would humor this man, who was obviously daft.

The old man stood, every joint in his body cracking with the effort.  He motioned for them to follow him to a desk in the corner of the cabin.  An even larger book sat on it.  Books of similar size were arrayed on shelves lining the wall.  Each book had what appeared to be a range of years stenciled on the spine, 1875 – 1900, and so forth, back to the 1700’s.  He opened the book on the desk to a marked page.  “From time to time, you will have visitors, seeking to go through that door,” he pointed to a padlocked door on the wall opposite the desk.  “You must ask them their name.  If it doesn’t appear in this logbook, they can’t go through that door.  Send them on their way, no matter how much they protest.”

Dagineaux and Reynaud looked at the names listed in the columns on the open page.  “Parks, Robert”, was the last name in the column.  “That’s me,” said the old man, “When I am done here, you will unlock that door and let me pass to the other side.”

“And where does that door lead?” asked Dagineaux.

Before the old man could answer, the door to the cabin swung open.  Another legionnaire stumbled in.  

“Gastineau! You bastard!” howled Reynaud, “You left us to die in the desert!”

The old man put his hand on Reynaud’s shoulder to calm him.  Gastineau had a bewildered look on his face.   “I’m sorry.  Something went terribly wrong, Berber tribesman ambushed us…,” looking at the locked door he continued, “I assume I pass through there?” He took a step towards it.

“No! You’re not in the register.  Run along now, go back the way you came.” ordered the old man.

Gastineau sobbed, dropped his head and shuffled back out the front door, closing it behind him.  “It’s as simple as that,” said the old man.  He pulled a key from his pocket and handed it to Dagineaux.  “Unlock that door please, it’s time for me to go.”  The Sergeant complied.  When the door was open, a bright, golden light bathed the room.  There was a stairway on the other side of the door.  The old man stepped into the light.  He was no longer old!  He appeared as young and robust as the two legionnaires.  “It’s the stairway to Heaven, my friends, guard it well.”  He paused for a moment and smiled, “Stairway to Heaven, I envision someone writing a song about it someday.  Goodbye my friends.”  And with that he dissolved into a cloud of golden dust, the door slammed closed.

Dagineaux reattached the padlock and turned to look at Reynaud, “Bloody h….”

“Don’t swear Sergeant!  You sure don’t want to scotch this sweet assignment.”

Ernie Stricsek

The Sturgis Library Writers Group

May 9, 2023

The Picket Line

Yankee and Rebel pickets meet on the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg, Virginia. The setting of my story.

Two summers ago I joined a fiction writing group that was designed to provide guidance and insight for writers intending on creating a novel. Over that summer I wrote six chapters of what I hope to become a historical novel set during the American Civil War. Besides needing to get back to that effort, I have written three stand alone stories using the same characters. The prompt for the Tuesday Sturgis Library Writers Group was “I Heard That…”. I went back to my historical novel characters and wrote a fourth stand alone story, which could be incorporated into the novel. I italicized and emboldened the prompt in the following story.

The Picket Line

Fredericksburg, Virginia, December 12, 1862

The waning Gibbous Moon illuminated the rutted path to the Rappahannock River crossing.  The temperature had dropped as the sun set making the path icy in spots.  Fearing his horse may slip, the rider dismounted, tied its reins to a sapling and walked the rest of the way to the river.

A voice with an Irish brogue called out of the shadows of the trail, “Halt! Who goes there!”  

“Captain James Bartlett, Corp of Engineers, and aide to General Burnside.”

The guard called for Bartlett to approach.  After exchanging salutes, Bartlett noted the brass numbers and letters on the guards’ cap, “69th New York Volunteers, cheers to the Irish Brigade!”

“Thank you, sir.  How can I be of service?”

“Can you direct me to the sergeant of the guard?”

“Follow the path to the river sir, Sergeant Quincannon’s ‘is name.”  Bartlett thanked the guard and continued towards the river.  Soon he could hear the river gurgling over the stones at the crossing.  The guards at the crossing had lit a small fire.  There were blankets tied to the tree trunks and branches to conceal its flickering flames.  Quincannon, sitting near the fire and sipping from a tin cup, stood and saluted Bartlett, then offered him a cup of tea.  Inquiring about the Captain’s visit, Bartlett answered, “I heard that men on the picket lines engage in commerce with our Rebel opponents across the river.”

Quincannon stammered, “That’s against regulations sir.”

Bartlett chuckled and said, “Don’t worry Sergeant, I know it happens.  I need to get a message to a friend on the other side. How do I arrange for that transaction?”

Quincannon hesitated a moment, leaned out from the cover of the blankets and called into the dark, “Corliss, you over there?”

A voice called back, “Howdy Quinn, what can I do fer ya’ll?”

“There’s an officer of engineers here says he needs to get a note to someone, can you help?”

“And what’s this officer of engineers have to offer us to be his messenger?”

Quincannon gave Bartlett a questioning look.  “Coffee and some brandy.”

Quincannon called back, “He’s got coffee and brandy Corliss.”

“I’ll be damned!  Send him over Quinn.”  Corliss told the other Rebels with him to not shoot.

Bartlett splashed across the cold, shallow river and walked into a circle of rather seedy looking Rebel soldiers.  Corliss stepped forward and gave a lazy salute.  Bartlett saluted back and handed over the brandy and coffee.  The circle of Rebels gasped.  Reaching into his coat pocket, Bartlett withdrew a letter and asked Corliss if he could get it to a cavalry officer named Captain Redmond Downes.  

“T’aint no cavalry here Captain”, said Corliss.

“I know there is, I saw them from the observation balloon today,” replied Bartlett.

Corliss was astounded.  “You were in that thang? I saw it today!  What’s it like to be so high up?”

“Scary as hell when it’s windy.  But you can see for miles. Please get this letter to Captain Downes,it is about a mutual friend of ours.  A young woman named Lizz.. Miss Elizabeth Haw.”

Balloons filled with hydrogen gas were used by the Union Army for aerial observation in the Virginia Theater of War until May of 1863. It was cumbersome transporting the balloons and gas generating equipage.

Corliss’ eyes narrowed, then his mouth twisted in a wry grin.  “Mutual friend, eh?  Soon to be closer to one than t’other I’m guessin’.”

“Please see that he gets it Mr. Corliss. I’d also like for him to know that I am still alive.”  

Corliss became serious again, “I am sorry Captain, I was just joshin’ with ya’all.  I’ll do my best.”

A Rebel burst through the brush startling everyone.  “Officers approaching”, he blurted out breathlessly.

Corliss turned to Bartlett, “You have to scoot sir.  I’m gonna to count to 10 and then we will fire off a volley.  Tell Quinn we’ll be shootin’ high, we’d be much obliged if ya’ll return the favor.”

Bartlett slipped, tripped and scrambled his way back to the Yankee side of the river, counting to 10 as well.  Reaching for Quincannon’s outstretched hand he told him what was about to unfold.  Sure enough, a volley rang out from the Rebel side of the river, the bullets humming through the branches high above their heads.  The Yankees aimed high and fired off a volley into the heavens over the Rebs.  A few insults were hurled back and forth.

Catching his breath, Bartlett thanked Sergeant Quincannon for his help.  Reaching into his sack, he handed the Sergeant a flask of brandy.

“Be’Jesus, you’re a saint sir.  You surely are!” Sergeant Quincannon exclaimed.

Bartlett shook the Sergeant’s hand and walked up the moonlit trail to his tethered horse.

Ernie Stricsek

Sturgis Library Writers Group, Barnstable MA

April 25, 2023


A dark cafe, the setting for my story.

The prompt for the Chatham Writers Group this week was to write a piece that includes the following words: envy, beauty, hatred, insecurity, icon, compromise, reconciliation. My brief tale follows, I emboldened the words we needed to include. Also, I am working on trying to improve my skills writing dialogue, so this story is largely a dialogue between two people in a coffee shop, an actress and an entertainment reporter.


The couple sat in a corner booth in the coffeehouse, away from the lights over the counter and entryway.  The air was rich with the fragrance of hazelnut coffee and cinnamon rolls.  The other patrons thought the woman looked familiar, but all they could really see was her back as she leaned forward to talk to her companion.  Then she would lean back and disappear into the shadow of the booth wall.  The man she was with would take a sip of his coffee, then lean towards her, a bemused expression on his face.  They were not really a couple, he was asking questions, then jotting things down in a little notebook.

“So, tell me, why were you and your sister not on speaking terms?”

“I never said we were not on speaking terms. We exchanged birthday wishes, holiday greetings, things of that sort.  We spoke.”

“Superficially though.”

“I suppose…”

“Were you envious of each other?  I don’t understand why that would be the case.  You are both confident and accomplished actors, of equal beauty.” 

“Perhaps, there was some envy…”

“But why?  You’ve each been awarded two Oscars, been nominated two other times….”

“Three Oscars.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“My sister has three Oscars, she co-wrote a screenplay and won an Oscar for that.”

“Uh, oh, I’m sorry, I had forgotten…”

“Two Tony awards, and Emmy, Golden Globe..”

“So, are you envious of her achievements then?  I mean, you have been recognized as a leading actress for several years now.  Your sister has never had a leading role.  She has primarily been cast in character actor roles, or as a supporting actress.”

“She is SO DAMN GOOD in those character actor roles.  She is a greater scene stealer than Alan Hale ever was.  He was her favorite actor!  She got such a kick out of watching him steal scenes from Errol Flynn in all those old westerns and swashbucklers.”

“You acted together in one movie.  Did her presence, her being in the same scenes make you feel insecure?”

“I suppose.  Her comedic timing is precise, she is as skilled as a neurosurgeon in those comedy roles.”

“But that was a wonderful movie, you both displayed great comedic timing, you played off each other so well.  The roles of two women who were the play-by-play and color announcers of a minor league baseball team became iconic roles. It led to a TV series and a Broadway musical.  What was the problem?”

“She stole my scenes!  I was trying to use a dry wit to describe the incentives in the game program magazine. What the fans would win if a player hit a home run in a specific inning, like a meat tray from a local deli.  Then it would be her turn to describe incentives there were if the players on the home team accomplished a certain goal… like ‘Any Royalton Yankee who pitches a no-hitter, will win a free, rebuilt fuel pump from Tarducci’s Junk Yard’. But she did it with such great flourish.  She got all the laughs!  I hated her for it.”

“Why? That seemed insignificant.  And you were both nominated for Oscars.  You were both great.”

“That was her screenplay Oscar.  Do your research.”

“Ummm… I, …”

“Never mind.  I felt she wrote the best jokes for herself.”

“So that led to the falling apart.”

“I suppose.”

“What happened next?”

“A major studio expressed an interest in reviving the characters.  The two women had become so popular, they made it to the major leagues, broadcasting Pittsburgh Pirate games.  The city and team were all in for it.”

“Then what happened?”

“Our publicists and agents met and attempt to get us together for the roles.  I was reluctant, I promised to never star in another role alongside my sister.”

“Go on.”

“A compromise was reached.  My sister wrote the entire script this time and mailed it to me.  I was blown away.  The story line kind of paralleled our lives.  The two characters had gone through a falling out over a minor slight.  They reconciled and teamed up again, even better than they were in the minor leagues.  My character had become cynical and tough with the male ball players and coach.  I have some really good lines!”

“Wow.  That is fabulous news.”

“Ahh, here comes my sister now, I’ll let her fill you in on the plot details and when filming begins.”

Ernie Stricsek

The Chatham Writers Group

April 24, 2023

Good Bye

The prompt for the Monday Chatham Writers Group was to start your story with the words “Good Bye”. My fictional piece follows.

Good Bye

“‘Good bye.’ Those were the last words she said, just good bye.” 

“Wow, with great finality it sounds.”

“I suppose.” Detective Jerry Mullins shrugged and glanced at his wristwatch.   He reflected on the past two hours.  He had entered the hospital cafeteria, his detective shield clipped to the pocket of his sports jacket.  A woman in uniform waved to him.  Next to her on the table was a cap with the familiar black and gold checkerboard pattern above the bill.  Pittsburgh PD.  He walked over to her table and introduced himself.  She had a firm handshake and said her name was Fran Parker, a Sergeant in the Oakland Precinct.  The Sergeant’s name sounded familiar to Mullins, but he couldn’t recall from where.

He noticed there were two coffee cups on the table in front of her.  She pushed one in his direction and asked him if he was working a case.  When he answered affirmatively, Sergeant Parker asked if he could tell her about it.  He looked around to make sure there wasn’t anyone who could overhear them.  The cafeteria was nearly empty save for a group of hospital staff huddled at one table too engrossed in their conversation to pay attention to anyone else.  Nonetheless, Mullins leaned in a bit closer and laid out the details of the case to Sergeant Parker.  It was a white collar crime case and it involved a childhood friend.

He told Sergeant Parker his friend had introduced him to Laura, his new girlfriend.  “She was stunning.  Now mind you, Curt’s a super guy, however he makes Steve Buscemi look handsome.   The new girlfriend seemed to really like Curt.”

“I sense a but here, Detective.”

“Oh, yeah,” said Mullins, “a couple of days ago we received a bulletin from the Cleveland PD to be on the lookout for a con artist who’s MO was to establish relationships with men in order to obtain their financial info and empty their bank accounts.  The photo that accompanied the bulletin was Curt’s new girlfriend.  Different color hair and wearing glasses, but it was definitely Laura, which apparently was one of the five names she used.”

“So did you tell Curt?” asked Sergeant Parker.

“Yes.  And, Oh God, did he fall apart.  The timing was great because he was ready to give Laura 25 grand.  Tonight as a matter of fact.  Curt told me where Laura was staying and my partner and I went to arrest her.”

“That was tonight?.  How’d it go?”

“Laura, or whatever her real is, was a great actress.  She feigned innocence, then she hugged herself as she was crying real alligator tears.  Suddenly looking up and laughing maniacally, she pointed at me, a glint of metal, then, “‘Good Bye’. Those were the last words she said, just Good Bye’.”

“Wow, with great finality it sounds.”

“Yeah, I suppose.”

 “So what’re you doing here at the hospital?” asked Sergeant Parker.

“Waiting for word on a gunshot wound victim.” Mullins took a sip from his coffee cup.  He  thought, “When did I get a refill?”  Looking at Sergeant Parker, he asked, “So, what are you doing here?”  Before she could answer, it dawned on Mullins where he had heard her name before.  “I know who you are…” his voice trailed off.

“I’m always here detective, but you have to leave now, you’re going to be alright.”

“Wait, Sergeant Parker, what did you say?”

“Glad to see you’re awake!  I said you’re going to be alright Detective Mullins.  You’re going to have a bad headache, but your going to be alright.  Who’s Sergeant Parker?”

“Who are you?” Mullins groggily asked.

“I’m Doctor Sinclair, the one who removed the small caliber bullet from your skull.  Instinctively, you put your hand up for protection.  It absorbed most of the impact otherwise we wouldn’t be talking.  Now who’s Sergeant Parker.”

“She died in the line of duty last year, but I saw her in the cafeteria.”

Doctor Sinclair nodded, “Get some rest Detective Mullins. You’re going to be alright.”

This story is loosely based on an actual incident that occurred to a friend of a friend. An attractive woman tried to bilk this guy out of thousands of dollars. Although the guy truly would make Steve Buscemi appear like Brad Pitt, he was no dope and figured out what the deal was. The woman who tried to grift him did not have an APB out on her – at the time, who knows now – and this happened over 40 years ago. Nobody was shot, there was no police involvement, the dialogue was made up. I fell back to the familiar haunts of Pittsburgh to set the background for my story.

Ernie Stricsek

The Chatham Writers Group

March 20, 2023

The Old Bethel Church

The Old Bethel AME (African-American Episcopal) Church in McClellanville, SC. A historic landmark built in 1872, The site of my story. (Photo taken by me in February, 2022).

I selected the photo of the Old Bethel AME Church as the topic for the Monday, 3/13/23, meeting of the Chatham Writers Group. I tried my hand at writing creepy, horror type stories this week (see Philadelphia Alley). I started writing my story and got carried away. I had several characters, some deaths and more gore, a couple of different locations, etc, and was approaching 2000 words on a story that was supposed to be no more than 1000 words. I eliminated characters, body count and scenes to concentrate on events at the church. At the end of my story, there will be a brief history of the Old Bethel AME Church.

The Old Bethel Church

Sheriff’s  Deputy Claire Simmons shifted uncomfortably in her chair and glanced at the business card in her hand, “Bennett Sisters Consulting”.  There was a phone number, and a satanic symbol with a red X through it. 

She made a quick inventory of the two African-American women sitting opposite her.  Identical twins, they appeared to be in their early 50’s, and were dressed almost identically with light blue denim shirts, jeans and walking shoes.  The only difference was one sister wore a navy blue bandanna around her neck and the other wore a pink one.  “And what type of, um, consultation do you provide?”, she asked.

The sister who had identified herself as Mae answered, “My sister, Lena, and I consult on matters of the occult.  We provide a cleaning service of sorts in that we remove demons, phantoms, those sorts of things.  They sometimes take over abandoned places of worship.  What’s your story Deputy Simmons?”

Choking back her emotion, the Deputy described how her Dad and his friend were walking past Old Bethel Church on their way to the pond to fish.  Her Dad suddenly stopped and started acting strange.  He was looking at the church and told his friend he needed to talk to someone, said to go on, he’d meet him at the pond.  His friend looked to where my Dad had been looking and saw the back of a man wearing overalls go into the side door of the church.  When my Daddy didn’t show up at the Pond, his friend went to look for him and found him behind the church with his throat ripped open.  

“Coroner said it was a rabid dog, but I believe the man in overalls had something to do with it.  Something ain’t right with that church.” 

“And your father’s friend didn’t tell his story to anyone else?”

“He was terrified Miss Bennett, so he only told me.  The man in the overalls didn’t appear to be real, he kind of shimmered.  My Daddy is buried in cemetery alongside the church.  When I go to visit him, the church seems to be mocking me.  I hear laughing and whistling coming from the slats on the belfry.  I told my Aunt, my Dad’s sister,  she told me about the two of you, and here we are.”

“Well, let’s go have a look see then.”, declared Lena.

“Now?” Deputy Simmons was incredulous.

“No better time than now.”  The three of them piled into the Bennett’s old Range Rover and drove off.

A pine tree lay across the dirt road that led to the Old Bethel Church.   The Range Rover clattered to stop and the three women climbed out to look at the tree.

“The pine must have fallen during the night,” said Deputy Simmons, “the road was clear when I patrolled it yesterday.”

“It knows we’re here.”, said Mae.  

The Bennett sisters opened the tailgate of the Land Rover and removed a few items.  Deputy Simmons was startled to see Mae carrying a viola case and Lena with a guitar gig bag slung over her shoulder. 

Without a word, the Bennett sisters climbed over the tree, and trudged down the dirt road.  The Deputy scampered over the downed pine and followed behind the twins.  A gentle breeze picked up, the moss draping the oaks that lined the road began to sway, seeming to beckon the three women to the church. 

The dirt road ended at a clearing.  Confronting them was the Old Bethel Church.  Deputy Simmons shivered, the air had gotten noticeably cooler.  “I feel it,” she said, “that church is looking at us.”

Not only did she feel as though the church was staring at them, she swore she could see it breathing.  The red tin roof and sides of the old building appeared expand and contract.  She sensed movement to the right of the church, shook her head and rubbed her eyes.   “Did those headstones just turn to look at us?”  Deputy Simmons inhaled deeply, she could see her father’s grave, his old fishing cap resting on it’s headstone.

“We’ll take it from here Deputy Simmons. You need to walk a ways back down the road,” ordered Mae.  

“You’re kidding!”, exclaimed the Deputy.  Mae stood holding a Super Soaker.  From her gig bag, Lena had assembled a 5 foot chrome rod with a cross on top and a spear point at the bottom.  Reaching for her pistol, Deputy Simmons said, “You’re gonna need more than a damn Super Soaker and a steel bar.  I’m going with you.”

“Suit yourself,” said Mae calmly, “You can figure out later how to explain what ya’ll will see.  And put that away, it won’t work,”  she added, pointing at the officer’s pistols. “ This Super Soaker has a mix of Holy Water and salts blessed in the Holy Land.  Lena’s rod is pure silver.  These things are demon killers.”

The side door flew open and slammed against the building, momentarily startling them. 

A figure wearing blue overalls appeared in the door.  Two bright, yellow orbs glittered in the shade cast by the wide brim hat on its head.  Waving a dismissive hand, the figure went back into the church.  The women looked at each other, then stepped through the door.  They stood for a few moments waiting for their eyes to adjust to the gloom.  Deputy Simmons thought the inside of the church had a metallic smell similar to that of a dead deer found along the side of the road.  Snapping on their on their flashlights, they circled the pews.  Lena broke away and began to move up the center aisle, holding the cross topped staff in front of her.  Mae and Deputy Simmons continued along the wall.  A shuffling noise came from behind them.  Simmons turned her beam in the direction of  of the sound.  She gasped.  The form shuffling towards them was her father, or what used to be her father.  A gaping, raw wound ran from his throat to just under his ear.  The dried blood from the wound had left a huge brown splotch on his fishing jacket.  His fishing hat, laced with lures, sat tilted on his head.

“Daddy?”, her voice choked with emotion.

“Claire! You’ve come to help me! Help me…” the apparition groaned and extended its arms.

Mae shouted, “No!”, and yanked the Deputy back.   The father/demon opened its mouth to reveal jaws lined with long piranha teeth, and began snapping at them.  Releasing a high pitched, fiendish giggle, it rapidly approached them.  The spear end of Lena’s silver staff jabbed through the front of its shirt, cutting off the laugh.  The demon looked down in surprise at the spear.  It turned a parchment brown color, broke apart and fluttered to the floor like tree leaves.  

A long howl ripped the air.  Lena aimed her flashlight toward the front of the church.  Caught in the beam of light, the yellow-eyed thing in bib overalls howled again, exposing a line of those piranha teeth..  It jumped from the pulpit and raced towards them, bounding along the backs of the pews, snarling.  Mae let loose a stream of the Holy Water concoction from her Super Soaker and stitched a line across the creature from right hip to left shoulder.  Without another sound, the thing fell apart in two pieces,  dissolving into a pile of parchment leaves as well.  Except for the sounds of their rapid breathing, the church was silent.

Two days later, Deputy Simmons and the Bennett sisters visited her father’s grave in the Old Bethel Church Cemetery.  The church was silent, the cemetery peaceful. Her father’s fishing hat rested on his headstone.  They were not certain if it was because of a sudden puff of wind, but it seemed as though the hat tipped, grateful for what they had done. 

Fishing hat on headstone in the Old Bethel AME Church cemetery. Photo taken by my wife in February 2023.

The Old Bethel AME (African-American Episcopal) Church is the first AME Church created in McClellanville. With the end of the Civil War in 1865, former slaves were now allowed to build their own places of worship and the first congregation met under an oak tree in MClellanville in 1867. The Church was constructed in 1872, damaged by a hurricane in 1916, repaired and continued to host services until 1979, when a new Church was built for the growing congregation. In 1986, the Old Bethel Church was lifted off its foundation by Hurricane Hugo and almost all of its stained glass windows were shattered. It was supposed to be converted to a community center in 2002, but for some unexplained reason, it never happened. Old Bethel Church was used as a backdrop for a 2019 min-series called “Lowcountry”, but then was vandalized. The remaining windows were boarded up and it has remained vacant.

Ernie Stricsek

Chatham Writers Group

March 13, 2023

Philadelphia Alley

Philadelphia Alley, Charleston South Carolina. The steeple of St. Philip’s Church rises above the wall to the right. The setting for my story

This week’s prompt for the Sturgis Library Writing group was to write a story/memoir/poem using the photo of the alley shown above. My tale of mayhem follows.

Philadelphia Alley

Sergeant-Major Poe stood at  the parapet of Fort Moultrie, jotting down his observations of Sullivan’s Island in a notebook.  Shortly after his arrival at the Fort, the local inhabitants told tales that the pirate, Captain Kidd, had buried a substantial treasure somewhere along its shores.  The tales had given Poe an idea for a short story and he had begun to create a plot line.  To help potential readers develop an image in their minds of the story’s setting, he wanted to provide a description of Sullivan’s Island.   Poe stopped writing for a moment and gazed off to the west across the wide expanse of Charleston Harbor at the city of Charleston itself.  In the setting sun, he could just make out the stately homes on Battery Street and the tall spire of St. Philip’s Church.  His line of concentration was interrupted by the approach of one of the post’s orderlies.   He snapped Poe a crisp salute and pulled a folded piece of paper, sealed with wax, from his leather messenger bag.  “Lieutenant Griswold’s compliments Sergeant Poe, he asked me to pass this order to you.”   Poe thanked and saluted the orderly.  Breaking the seal and folding open the note, he read that he was being ordered to Charleston the following morning to oversee the unloading of munitions from a supply ship and to ensure their delivery to Fort Moultrie.  He would be met at the docks by Monsieur Paul Douxsaint and would be a guest at his house.  Poe signed the log book acknowledging receipt of the order and proceeded to his quarters to prepare for the trip.

The unloading of the supply ship began mid-afternoon and ceased at dusk.  As Poe stepped from the gangplank on to the dock, a rather well dressed man in top hat and carrying a bejeweled cane approached and introduced himself as Monsieur Douxsaint.   Gregarious and possessing a delightful French accent, he invited the sergeant to dine with him at a private club called the Vendue.  By the time they completed their dinner, darkness had fallen and the streets were illuminated by flickering gaslights.  Walking along Queen Street on the way to the Douxsaint house they had reached the intersection of Philadelphia Alley when their conversation was cut short by a horrible scream that made the hairs on the back of their necks stand up.  It was a woman’s scream and it came from somewhere in the Alley.  As they stared into the darkness, a second scream made them jump.  Poe started to make his way into the Alley but Douxsaint grabbed his arm.  

“Sergeant Poe, please, do not enter they Alley, it is dangerous.”

“But it sounds like a woman is in trouble Monsieur, she needs our help.”

“It could be a ruse to lure us in, Sergeant Poe.  We will be discovered in the morning with our skulls bashed in, our money and valuables taken.”

Women’s screams and the hoarse shouts of men disrupted the darkness of the Alley.

Poe retrieved a pistol from his valise and drew his sword.  “Tell me what’s down this Alley, Monsieur.  Someone is in desperate need of help.”

“A few apartments, the entry to the church cemetery on the left.  The Barnwell Mortuary on the right.”

Poe disappeared into the darkness.  Douxsaint uttered a curse, and began to shout for the police.  He gave the jeweled head of his cane a twist and pulled it, extracting a short sword from its hollow body.  “Wait for me Sergeant!”  

The two of them crept slowly along Philadelphia Alley, listening.  The shrieks and shouts had stopped for the moment.   A door swing open and slammed against the wall, making them retreat a few steps.  A shaft of light from the other side of the door broke through the darkness in the Alley.  They gasped as a man staggered from the door, the handle of a knife protruding from his neck.  Falling to the ground, blood from his severed jugular sprayed the Alley.  Poe and Douxsaint ran to the fallen man, but they saw he was beyond help.  Douxsaint stood and began to shout as loudly as he could for the police, anyone, “Murder! Murder!” he yelled.

Readying his sword and pistol, Sergeant Poe went through the open door.  What he saw revolted him, his dinner gave a huge roll in his stomach.  On the floor lay the body of another man, mouth open, empty eyes facing the ceiling.  It appeared he had been stabbed in the heart.  On a table was the body of a third man, but it was clear he was being prepared for burial.  “The morgue,” thought Poe.

“Oh Mother of God!”  exclaimed Douxsaint when he came through the door.

Shouts and screams from two women came from somewhere else in the building.  They pushed through a set of doors into a wide hallway.  To their left was a staircase leading to an upper floor.  The sounds seemed to be coming from there.  Bolting up the stairs they stopped to listen.  A struggle could be heard from a balcony behind them, in the front of the building.  Racing out to the balcony, they saw a woman gripping another woman by the throat with one hand, while trying to plunge a knife into her chest with her other hand.  The second woman was using both of her hands to keep that from happening.  Poe could hear the sounds of police whistles from the street below.

“Madame, please, put down the knife,” Douxsaint said softly.

The quiet French accent had an effect on the knife wielding woman.  She looked at Poe and Douxsaint, blinked and dropped the knife.  “They killed my husband,” she sobbed, “they cut him open down in that room.” Looking at her blood stained hands and clothing, she gasped, “What have I done?”

Police officers boiled out on to the balcony.  Quickly assessing the situation they escorted the knife wielding woman away.  From the woman who had been attacked they learned the knife wielder’s husband had died of consumption the previous day.  The morticians were in the process of preparing his body for burial when the distraught wife burst in.  Seeing her dead husband displayed on the table made her go berserk.  She grabbed a dissecting knife and stabbed one of the morticians in the heart then jammed the knife into the neck of the second mortician.  Then she grabbed another dissecting knife and came after her.  Gesturing at Poe and Douxsaint, she said, “The gentlemen arrived in time to save me.” 

Before giving their version of what they witnessed to the police, the gentlemen were asked to provide their full names and occupations.

“Monsieur Paul Douxsaint, shipping merchant.”

“Edgar Allan Poe, Sergeant-Major, Company H, 3rd United States Artillery.”

The police completed their questioning and allowed Poe and Douxsaint to leave.  Sipping brandy in the parlor of his home, Douxsaint shuddered.  Looking at Sergeant Poe he said, “My dear Edgar, this has been a truly horrific night.  I don’t know if I will ever see another restful night of sleep.  God, I will forever rue the night we came upon the murders at the morgue.”

Edgar Allan Poe looked at the brandy in his glass and swirled it once.  “Murders? Rue? Morgue? Hmmm…” he thought.

A drawing of Edgar Allen Poe in his uniform at the time he was at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island. The stripes on his sleeve are not those of a Sergeant-Major, he didn’t achieve that rank until later in 1828.
The house of Paul Douxsaint on Church Street in Charleston, S.C., built in 1725, still standing today. My story ends in the parlor of this home.
Saint Phillip’s Church. Philadelphia Alley runs behind the Church, the Douxsaint home is a block away.

I took some creative license in writing this story, what is factual follows:

  1. Edgar Allan Poe was a member of Battery H, 3rd U.S. Artillery at Fort Moultrie S.C. from 1827 to 1828.  He wasn’t promoted to Sergeant-Major until after his transfer to Fort Monroe in Virginia in December, 1828.
  2. For some some reason, Poe enlisted in the army using the name Edgar A. Perry, perhaps to disguise his age?  He said he was 22, but was really 18 when he enlisted.  He resigned from the service near the end of 1828, at which time he revealed his real name and age.
  3. Poe did use the setting of Sullivan’s Island and the rumors of Captain Kidd’s treasure as the inspiration for his short story, “The Gold Bug”.
  4. St. Philip’s Church was built in 1836, 9 years after the time line of my story.
  5. Paul Douxsaint was a real person, his home still stands, two blocks from St. Philip’s Church & Philadelphia Alley.  He built his home in 1725, so he would never had met Poe.
  6. The Vendue is a boutique hotel on Queen Street in Charleston, but didn’t exist at the time my story takes place.  I thought it was a cool name to use.

Ernie Stricsek, The Sturgis Library Writers Group, March 15, 2023

The Whistleblower

Cobalt Strip – the root of all evil in my story

I am getting behind on my story posts! The prompt for the Sturgis Library Writing Group last week was to write about a piece of mail you received, in any genre. A couple of years ago, I began writing writing a series of fiction stories, based on true events, using a young reporter working for a fictitious Pittsburgh newspaper (The Manchester Press & Journal). This young reporter hopes to someday become a sports writer covering his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers. But in the mean time, because he is relatively new, he keeps getting assigned to a hodgepodge of stories. The only “sports” type story he wrote about was a pigeon race held at a place called “World of Pigeons”, located in a small town in the north central Pennsylvania coal region. My story is sprinkled with Pittsburghese, a language I became fluent in. At the end of my story, I will reveal the real events this story is based on.

The Whistleblower

Sly from the mailroom interrupted my line of concentration in crafting a brilliant story about the cow patty bingo tournament I had witnessed at the Washington County Fair.

“Yo Rookie!  Looks like yinz got a fan.  There’s a real letter, addressed to you personally, mixed in with this stack of junk mail.”

Even though I have been with the Manchester Press & Journal for almost three years now, Sly still referred to me as “Rookie”.  

“Thanks Sly.  Even junk mail is typically addressed to me, though.”  I called the mailroom guy Sly because he was anything but Sly.  He liked me calling him Sly, but he wasn’t sly enough to note it was a slight.

Stuck in the fold of an ad telling me if I could draw the pictured lumberjack I would be eligible for a scholarship to some obscure art school, was a plain white envelope.  The address was from someone named Hamilton in Strabane Township, about 20 miles SW of Pittsburgh.  It seemed to me that most people from the Strabane area called Pittsburgh “Picksburg”, and I wondered if they spelled it that way.  Seeing Pittsburgh spelled correctly on the envelope dispelled any doubts I had.

I debated opening the letter, was it hate mail?  I wasn’t in the mood for hate mail.  But my curiosity got the better of me so I slit the envelope, pulled the contents out and began to read.  Astounded by what I read, I had to read it a second time and went from astonished to mystified.  The letter was sent by a fellow named Steve Hamilton.  He said he’d met me when I wrote a story about an industrial accident that occurred in the factory he worked at.  I vaguely remembered him.  In the body of his letter, he was essentially blowing the whistle on his company, specifically on a co-worker and a few people on its management team.  He was accusing them of stealing raw material and scrap and selling it for personal gain.  He referenced an incident where 10 tons of cobalt strip shipped to a company in Ireland for conversion into industrial diamonds never arrived.  When the crates were opened, they were full of sand.  That story did jog my memory, but I didn’t realize it involved the company Steve worked for.  He said about two months after that disappearance, two managers bought up-scale homes in Canonsburg and his co-worker was tooling around in a Datsun 280Z.  He said he would like to meet to show me some Polaroid photos he took as evidence and gave me a phone number to call, and a specific time to call, which made me believe I’d be calling a pay phone.  Making the call at the requested time,  the traffic noise in the background confirmed the pay phone guess.  Steve asked if we could meet in “Picksburg” he didn’t want anyone he worked with seeing him talking to a stranger, much less a reporter.  I suggested we meet at my favorite dive bar, The Three Deuces at 222 Federal Street.  They had great kielbasa sandwiches and Wednesday was pierogi night.  I asked him if he wanted to talk to the police, I was good friends with a couple of Pittsburgh’s finest and assured Steve they would be discreet.  He hedged a bit, then agreed.  It being Monday, we would meet in two days on Pierogi Wednesday.

The Three Deuces, 222 Federal Street on Pittsburgh’s North Shore. A favorite meeting place for my characters. Sadly, the Three Deuces was torn down several years ago.

A visit to Three Deuces is an experience that ends in sensory overload.  Directions to it were easy, cross the Roberto Clemente Bridge and the bouquet of kraut and kolacz will draw you to its doors.  The air in the bar was so dense with smoke from the grill and cigarettes, it would have resisted a chain saw.  I found the bar by bumping into it and was greeted by Eddie Stanko, the owner of Three Deuces and now a good friend.  

“There’s a guy with a big rent in his head askin’ for yah.  He’s in the booth you reserved.  I don’t mean to be nebby, but will the detectives be joinin’ yinz?”

“Yes,” was all I said. 

Eddie jammed an ice cold Iron City in my hand and said, “Try not to stare at the gash in his head, it might make him self conscious.”

“Thanks, like that’s all I’m going to see now.” 

Sure enough, Steve had a big cut on his head and a black eye.  Asking if the thieves were on to him and roughed him up, he said, “Nah.  My wife and I were at dinner celebrating our anniversary.  I said I wanted a divorce and she hit me with an ash tray.”

“Nobody will ever accuse you of being a romantic Steve.  That’s for certain.”

“My crook co-worker is her brother-in-law.  She knows what he’s up to and has dished up huge quantities of grief on me for not getting involved.  It’s gotten really bad.  I am not a crook, so I wanted out.  This is my reward.” He pointed at the cut on his head.

My Pittsburgh PD friends, detectives Pat Martin and Jack Rowan, joined us.  Their eyes flew wide when they saw Steve’s horrible head wound, but they said nothing.

We listened intently to Steve’s tale.  He laid out a dozen Polaroids he secretly snapped of his co-worker sneaking Cobalt scrap out to his car.  He had another batch of photos showing the two managers overseeing the loading of coils into a curiously unmarked truck.  When asked why he didn’t go to the higher authorities within the company, Steve said he thought they may be involved as well.  His wife had let something slip about the plant manager buying a summer home in the Outer Banks.  Suspicious of everyone, he felled compelled to reach out to me.

After hearing Steve’s story, Pat & Jack sat back, deep in thought.  Jack leaned forward and said he and Pat were going to have to run this past the Chief of Police.  Federal laws were violated, this was under the purview of the FBI.  Pat looked at me and said, “We can’t say anymore, your involvement ends for now.  If a story breaks, we will do our best to make sure you get the scoop.”  Thanking Steve for his bravery and me for involving them, they disappeared into the smoke.  

Out of the fog appeared Eddie holding a tray with a plate of pierogies and two frosty Iron City beers.

The FBI did conduct an undercover operation and sure enough, the corruption not only involved the plant manager, but also the regional sales manager and group vice-president.  True to their word, Jack and Pat did pull strings for me to scoop the story and I made the short drive to the factory to interview other management and hourly personnel.

While hammering the plant controller as to how he could have missed the large quantity of unaccounted materials and revenue, a motion outside the picture window in his office made me pause my line of questioning.  It was Steve Hamilton sprinting past.  A woman was chasing after him, but her high heeled sandals hampered her pursuit.  Picking up a rock, she screamed “You bastard!” And threw the rock at Steve, catching him between the shoulder blades. Roberto Clemente would have been proud. 

The controller turned to look back at me.  His eyes were bulging and his mouth agape.  He was trying to form words.

“They’re getting a divorce,” I said.

*Notes*: this story is based on true events. Forty two years ago, a work colleague was terminated for stealing and selling cobalt scrap for personal gain. The majority of the earth’s cobalt is mined in the Republic of Congo. Civil War erupted there in 1980 and the price of cobalt skyrocketed, almost quadrupling in price. The guy I worked with tried to cash in on the boon. Although he was never caught red handed with the goods, there were strong eyewitness accounts that led to his dismissal.

The story of the guy Steve (not his real name) getting brained with an ashtray after telling his wife he wanted a divorce is true. I was the first one to see him when he arrived at work and he told me his story. A short time later I saw him sprint past my office window, his wife chasing after him pelting him with rocks. Those decorative, white landscape type. She had a good arm!

Ernie Stricsek

The Sturgis Library Writing Group

February 20, 2023

400 Years, Tracking the Pilgrims

First Landing

2020 is the 400th Anniversary of the Pilgrim’s arrival in Massachusetts. This was supposed to be a huge celebration year with lectures, re-enactments, etc. Things came to a screeching halt in March as the Coronavirus roared into the state and things were shut down. Activities did eventually resume, albeit via webinars or socially distanced get togethers with limited numbers of participants. In 1620, the destination of the Mayflower was actually the mouth of the Hudson River. Crossing the Atlantic, the Mayflower drifted to the north and the first land to be observed was the northern shore of Cape Cod. Turning south, the Mayflower encountered what would become the graveyard of many ships, the shoals of Pollack Rip just off the coast of what is now the town of Chatham. The journey to the Hudson River was abandoned and the Mayflower turned north. Rounding the tip of Cape Cod the Mayflower dropped anchor in Cape Cod Bay on November 11, 1620, off latter day Provincetown.

Barb and I attended a webinar last night about the Pilgrims first year in New England. Included in the talk was a map with a list of locations that the Pilgrims explored. Today we took advantage of a beautiful fall day to visit some of the sites. The images below are in Provincetown. In the image on the left the tall tower in the distance is the Pilgrim Monument. The Mayflower is believed to have anchored in the bay in the area just past the end of fence. The photo on the right is a small marker commemorating the arrival of the Pilgrims on November 11. The area is being renovated and we could not get closer to the monument.

Initial Shallot Excursions

The second stop on our tour of sites the Pilgrims explored was Corn Hill. Using a small skiff called a “shallot”, 16 men sailed from the Mayflower seeking likely places for food sources or inhabitants (Native Americans of the Payomet Tribe). Arriving at a stretch of beach with a high prominence behind it, the Pilgrims came ashore and began to explore. Climbing the hill they discovered several unoccupied dwellings (the Payomets were at hunting camps further south). The real find however were several bushels of ripe corn and seed corn. The Pilgrim’s food supply had gotten dangerously low, so they took the corn. They basically stole the Payomet’s food supply. Not being total spalpeens, the Pilgrims did leave a note promising to repay the “loan”. They also named the spot “Corn Hill”. The photo on the upper left below is Corn Hill today. The photo on the right is of Provincetown in the distance. The Pilgrims lit a bonfire signal so those on the Mayflower knew that all was well. The photo on the lower left is of a modern day pilgrim standing in front of the monument commemorating the campsite. The photo on the lower right is the monument.

On the First Thanksgiving, the feast being completed, the Pilgrim and Payomet menfolk were sipping brandy and smoking cigars. Payomet Chief Massasoit reluctantly brought up the subject of the corn debt with Pilgrim leader William Bradford (who would become the first Governor of Massachusetts). Bradford replied with the very first version of the reply that would pass down through the ages with some minor modifications: “Chief, the corn is in the mail”. I totally made up this last paragraph. The Pilgrims did repay the corn loan.

First Encounter

The last stop on our tour today was First Encounter Beach in Eastham. Making another excursion farther South along the Cape Cod Bay side of the Cape, the Pilgrims observed several Native Americans on the shore. As they approached the beach, the party on shore melted into the woods. A little uneasy, the Pilgrims established a rudimentary set of breastworks for protection before settling in for the night. The night would be anything but settling and restful as animal sounds and shuffling noises from the woods kept many of the Pilgrims awake. The noises were created by members of the Wampanoag Tribe preparing to confront the English settlers at first light. As dawn broke, the Pilgrim guards came scrambling back to the beach shouting “Indians! The woods are full of them”. The guards were no sooner behind their protective barrier when a shower of arrows zipped passed their heads. The Pilgrims replied with a hail of lead fired from their matchlock rifles. The noise and smoke sent the Wampanoags back into the forest. The Pilgrims broke camp quickly, piled into the shallot and sailed back to the Mayflower. The first encounter between Pilgrims and Wampanoags ended in a bloodless draw. It was not too long after this engagement that the shallot set out for one final time, heading west to their final destination in Plymouth.

The top photo below is First Encounter Beach looking north towards Provincetown. The 2nd photo is First Encounter Beach heading south to Orleans. The 3rd photo is monument commemorating the first encounter.

We are going to try and visit more sites dedicated to the Pilgrim’s Progress. I will update this story as we go along.

A Carpet Of Orange Blossoms

A ghost story….

A Carpet of Orange Blossoms 

The approaching dawn found him in his usual position, perched on a boulder next to the statue of General Warren.  He had been doing this for a number of years now.  It was his favorite time of day in his favorite season of the year.  The sun would rise behind him, over the Round Tops.  The woods and fields from Seminary Ridge to the west of Gettysburg would be the first to benefit from the light of the rising sun.  Immediately below and to his front, Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard and the Wheat Field would still be in the shadows of the Round Tops.  The early morning mist would lay heavy in the low points of the uneven ground.  Yes, he loved this time of day, the quiet before the throng of park visitors crowded the crest of Little Round Top, asking about where was it that Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine changed the course of the Battle of Gettysburg.  

Over the next half hour, the sun cleared the Round Tops and the mists gave way to a haze which indicated that this late June day was going to be a hot one.  Loud voices off to his left shook him from his reverie.  Scowling at his watch, he mumbled “‘it’s a bit early for visitors”.  Not yet ready do deal with anyone, he stood up, stretched and slid down from his perch to move into the shade behind an observation tower to see how things would play out.  The approaching group was revealed to be a Boy Scout troop supervised by several adults.  Spotting the observation tower, the young scouts shouted “look, a castle tower!  Last one to the top is a rotten egg!”  The adults managed to stop the stampede. One adult, the Scout Master, said that before going up the tower, Mr. Brampton is going to tell us what happened here.  Still unseen behind the tower, the man cringed when this Brampton fellow began to speak in a flat monotone, reading from a small booklet.  It was obvious that most of the scouts could care less about Brampton’s talk as they sprinted off to the tower before he finished.   Peeking around the side of the tower, the man noticed that there were three scouts standing next to one of the adults.  He heard one scout ask “Dad, could you tell us a little more about what happened here?”  The father replied “sure, Jeremy, if you guys are interested”, and he began to talk.  The man behind the tower was curious now, as the father spoke from memory.  The man’s interest grew exponentially as the father spoke, initially with great enthusiasm, then with obvious emotion as his voice began to tremble.  When the father finished speaking, two of the scouts thanked him and joined their friends.  The father and son remained behind, peering through their binoculars at Devil’s Den.  The man now stepped into full view and eavesdropped on the conversation between father and son.  He heard the son say, “do you see those reflections of light from around the boulders in Devil’s Den?  What are those?  There is not anybody down there!”  The father replied “Jeez Jeremy, you are right.  I don’t see anybody, just those scattered flashes of light.”  With a smile, Jeremy’s father turned to him and said “if I did not know better, I would say they seem like muzzle flashes from Rebel snipers”.  Jeremy and his Dad both shrugged, laughed, and returned to peering through their binoculars.  The man stood staring at Jeremy’s father.  There was something awfully familiar about him.  “I think I need to make my presence known”, he thought, “this is certainly very curious”.  

Approaching father and son, the man now heard the father exclaim “Look over at Seminary Ridge Jeremy!  That looks like Rebel cavalry coming out of the tree line!”  Jeremy replied “I know! The haze makes them appear almost ghostly.”  Both father and son suddenly put down their binoculars and stood blinking at the distant ridge.  They looked at each other and spoke at the same time “did they just disappear”?  Both Jeremy and his Dad jumped when the approaching man said “Perhaps”.  

Jeremy’s dad was going to upbraid the approaching stranger for scaring the hell out of them but he was unable to speak. Mouth hanging open, he was staring at a man wearing a faded blue, Civil War era uniform of a Union infantry Colonel.  The man in the uniform had also stopped and was staring at Jeremy’s Dad.  A strong vibe of recognition passed between them.  Jeremy’s Dad shook his head as though clearing it of a bad dream and spoke first: “are you a re-enactor?  Or a living history volunteer for the park?”.  The man in uniform just stared back a moment longer then slowly said “Captain Nicoll, as I live and breath”.  Confused now, Jeremy’s Dad said “What? Who? Is that your name?  I am sorry, I am flustered.  Let me start over, Hi, my name is Ed Mullins, this is my son Jeremy.  Do you work for the park?”.  The man in uniform seemed to recover as well.  He replied, “Yes, I guess you could say I am part of the park”.  Jeremy Mullins, who had stood with a bewildered expression this whole time blurted out “You are Augustus Van Horne Ellis! Colonel of the 124th New York! The Orange Blossoms!  My Dad showed me your picture!” Pointing to Devil’s Den Jeremy continued “you were killed in that triangular shaped field just over there! Dad! We are talking to a ghost!  Is this real? Am I dreaming?”.  The man in the uniform chuckled and spoke “What a bright young man you are. I am indeed Colonel Ellis. This is no dream. Sadly, mine, and the bodies of my Orange Blossom regiment carpeted that Triangular Field”.  Pointing to Jeremy’s dad the man in uniform said “And you sir, I am certain, are Isaac Nicoll, Captain of my Company G.  You may be who you say you are today, but on July 2, 1863, you were my Captain Nicoll! You witnessed what happened here.  I am damn glad you have returned to us sir!  If the two of you want to see ghosts, I invite you to join me in Devil’s Den at dusk!  Nicoll, Mullins, whatever your name sir, you will see your old friends. And. We. Will. Have. A devil of a time sir! We will indeed”!

Ernie Stricsek

Chatham Creative Writing Group