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written by James Rada, Jr.

A new serial fiction romance story for your enjoyment

5: Warnings

Caleb Sachs could see Emmitsburg in the distance as he drove his wagon along the dirt road. He’d spent the day making deliveries for this father to some farmers outside of town. His father offered the service, but it fell on Caleb to make the deliveries when the orders came in.

Caleb didn’t mind it so much on a day like today, warm and sunny. It was the wintry days or rainy ones that made him miserable, although he doubted much could have made him miserable today.

He was head over heels… what? In love? He wasn’t sure about that, but he definitely liked Margaret Rosensteel more than any other girl he had ever met. She understood what he was feeling, and she had had a great sense of humor. It didn’t hurt that she was also pretty.

He was so lost in his thoughts, he let the horses drive themselves back to town.

Two men on horses rode up on either side of the wagon and stopped the horses.

“What’s going on?” Caleb said. Then he recognized the two men as Margaret’s older brothers, Jack and Paul Rosensteel.

“We need to talk,” Jack said.

“Then ride along beside me. I need to get home,” Caleb replied.

The older men didn’t let go of Caleb’s horse, nor did they start walking alongside the wagon.

“People saw you and Margaret on the hill north of town yesterday,” Jack said.

Caleb shrugged. “So? We did nothing wrong. We were right out in the open where anyone could see us.”

“You need to stay away from her,” Paul said. “She has bigger plans for this life than being with a cheating shopkeeper’s son.”

Caleb wasn’t sure what angered him more: that these men had called his father a cheater or that they thought Caleb wasn’t good enough for their sister.

“I’d say that’s for Margaret and me to decide. It’s none of your business.” He picked up the reins and clucked at the horses, but the Rosensteel brothers held onto them.

“She’s our sister, so that makes it our business,” Paul told him.

“I’m not talking about this with you,” Caleb said. “Now let go of my horses.”

Jack poked Caleb in the shoulder. “We aren’t going to talk with you about it. We’re warning you. Stay away from Margaret.” He poked Caleb again, and Caleb knocked the hand aside.

“Get out of my way,” he said.

Caleb reached out to slap Paul’s horse on the rump so that Caleb could get the wagon moving. Paul grabbed his arm and yanked, pulling Caleb off the wagon. Caleb fell onto the road as Paul laughed. Caleb jumped up and pulled the bigger man off his horse.

“Not so funny now, is it?” Caleb said.

Jack rode his horse around the wagon and kicked Caleb, sending him sprawling. Then he jumped from the horse. Jack grabbed Caleb by the shirt and punched him in the stomach and the face.

“Some people just have to learn the hard way,” Jack said.

Paul jumped up and landed a few punches of his own. Caleb tried to defend himself, but these men were taller and heavier than he was. He hit back, but his punches didn’t seem to hurt them. They pounded him to the ground, and Caleb rolled under the wagon to shield himself.

The brothers mounted their horses, and Jack said, “You’ll get more of that if you don’t leave her alone.”

Then they rode off.

Caleb hoped he could sneak in the back of the store and up to his room before anyone saw him. His mother happened to be retrieving something in the back room when he came in.

“Caleb! What happened?” She rushed over to him. “Are you all right? Do you need a doctor?”

Caleb shook his head. “I’m fine, Mother. I just came out on the wrong end of a fight.”

“A fight! Why were you fighting? With whom?”

She grabbed a towel off the shelf. She pumped water into the sink, then soaked the cloth, wrung it out, and wiped at Caleb’s face.

He tried to shake off her ministrations. “It doesn’t matter. I just want to lie down for a little while.”

He could name Jack and Paul as his attackers. What good would it accomplish? They might get in trouble, but how would that make Margaret feel? Word would get out about him and Margaret, and it might damage her reputation or get her in trouble with her father.

“Who were you fighting?” his mother asked.

“It doesn’t matter. Some of the boys were roughhousing, and things just got out of hand. I landed my own punches.”

He hadn’t, but it made him sound like he was just as much to blame. His mother couldn’t get his attackers in trouble without getting him in trouble.

He walked upstairs, holding the towel to his face.

Margaret was kneading dough in the kitchen when her brothers came in. They were in a good mood, laughing and kissing their wives on the cheeks. They washed their hands in the sink and sat down at the table.

“You will not have to worry about that Jew boy distracting you from your calling anymore,” Paul said.

Jack elbowed his brother and glared at him.

Margaret paused. This did not sound good. “What are you talking about?”

Jack and Paul looked at each other.

“You might as well tell her. You let the cat out of the bag,” Jack said.

Paul grinned. “We gave Caleb Sachs a message to leave you alone. I think he understood.”

Margaret hefted the dough and considered throwing it at her brothers. “What did you do?”

Jack shrugged. “Nothing permanent.”

Margaret remembered how her brothers had handled the situation with Caleb’s friends at the dance. They were too eager to fight. She slapped the dough onto the table. Then she washed her hands and pulled off her apron.

“You’re not done yet,” her mother said.

“I need to go into town,” Margaret told her.

Paul said, “Don’t let her go, Mother.”

Margaret spun around. “If you did what I think you did, you had better hope the sheriff doesn’t come for you.”

“What are you talking about?” her mother asked.

“I think they beat Caleb up like they did to his friends at dance.”

“Oh, Margaret, they’re grown, married men. They know better than that.”

Margaret rolled her eyes. “Didn’t you hear what I said, Mother? They beat up Caleb’s friends at the dance. They like to fight.”

She hurried out of the house and nearly ran to town. Margaret found the store on West Main Street and walked through the door. She saw a middle-aged woman behind the counter. She must have been Caleb’s mother.

“Hello, I’m looking for Caleb,” Margaret said.

“He can’t see anyone right now.”

“I wanted to see if he was all right.”

“All right? What do you know about what happened to him?” Mrs. Sachs asked.

“Nothing for sure, but I think my brothers may have attacked him.”

“Who are you?”

“Margaret Rosensteel.”

Mrs. Sachs nodded. “Let me guess. You’re the girl who Caleb has been so interested in?”

“We met at the dance Friday.”

“I definitely do not agree with what your brothers did, but they were right in one respect: You and my Caleb can’t be together.”

Margaret felt her cheeks redden. “We’re not together.”

“Yet. Your brothers must see it in you. I can see it in Caleb. There’s more than a healthy interest. Look at what happened to him because of you. I’m sure you are a very nice girl, but you aren’t Jewish.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing except that your children would not be Jewish. When Caleb marries, it will be to an appropriate woman. Now I think you had better go.”

Margaret’s shoulders sagged. She had thought it was only her family that wanted to keep her and Caleb apart. Was what she and Caleb wanted so wrong?

…to be continued next month

written by James Rada, Jr.

4: Feuding

Margaret Rosensteel had been enjoying a magical evening at the town dance in Emmitsburg before everything fell apart. The decorations hung from buildings and strung over the street had been lovely. The weather was warm and pleasant. All the practicing the band had done paid off because they sounded wonderful.

She had danced, which she loved doing, but rarely got to do because her parents thought a future Daughter of Charity should be more serious. And she had met a boy. Not just any boy, either. This one liked her, not because he thought she was cute. He had loved her personality before he ever met her. He had seen her dancing and thought it suited her.

They had danced together, and after that initial uneasiness, they had felt comfortable with each other. She hadn’t restrained her enthusiasm for dancing, which had only made Caleb Sachs smile.

Then, her brothers and Caleb’s friends had gotten into an argument and spoiled the whole evening for her. Caleb had gone to see what was happening with his friends and had gotten swept up in a fight.

Wasn’t that just like boys?

Margaret and her sister Rebecca had left, and Margaret had felt like crying.

Margaret felt no better when she woke up the next morning. She poured water into her basin and washed off, making sure to remove the remains of the makeup she had worn last night. Otherwise, her parents were sure to comment on it. She dressed and went downstairs for breakfast.

Her brothers, Jack and Paul, were sitting at the table talking to her father. What were they doing here? They had their own homes and wives. They all went quiet when she came down. That wasn’t a good sign.

“So did you fight any other children last night?” Margaret said.

“They weren’t children,” Jack said.

“They were my age, and you two are both over twenty. You two looked ridiculous last night.”

“They were spiking the punch,” Paul said.

“Then you should have got their parents and made sure only the adults drank the punch. The last I saw last night was you rolling in cherry pie and yellow cake.”

Jack blushed. Paul colored, too, but he was getting angry.

“I didn’t mean for that to happen, but we didn’t start the fight,” Jack said.

“I was having a wonderful time until you two ruined it.”

“And why were you having such a wonderful time? Was it that boy you were dancing with? It was his friends that caused the problem.”

“From what I saw, Caleb tried to calm things down and you all caught him in the middle. He was acting more like an adult than either of you.”

“Well, your beau is the son of the shopkeeper that is always overcharging us,” Paul said.

Caleb was a shopkeeper’s son. Well, that was a little more she now knew about him.

“If his father overcharges you, then why do you buy from him?” she asked.

“Well, he’s the only one in town who carries some of the things we like.”

“Then how do you know he’s overcharging?”

“Because clothes shouldn’t cost what he charges.”

“I thought you said he sold things other merchants didn’t,” Margaret said. “Everyone sells clothes.”

Paul shook his head. “Sarah likes the fabrics Mrs. Sachs sells. We tried getting them other places, but no one carries them. We’d have to go to Baltimore or Frederick.” Sarah was Paul’s wife.

Samuel Rosensteel stood. “Enough of this arguing. You all are acting like you did when you were in grade school.

“Sorry, Papa,” they all murmured.

“I’ve already spoken to your brothers about their behavior last night, and I’m sure I’ll be hearing plenty more at church tomorrow. What concerns me now is this boy you were dancing with.”

“I danced with three boys, including Caleb,” Margaret said, sounding more defensive than she meant to.

“Apparently only one of them caught your attention enough that both your brothers and Rebecca remarked on it.”

Had her happiness last night been so obvious? What had she been doing that gave away her feelings?

“Let me remind you, Margaret, boys are not for you. Next year, you will become a Daughter of Charity.”

“I know, Papa, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have fun now.”

“It’s what that fun can lead to that I’m concerned about. You need to be preparing yourself for your future.”

“Why must I be reminded about my future all the time? It keeps me from enjoying my life now. I just want to be a girl for a little while longer.”

“You will be when you’re a sister.”

Margaret shook her head. “No, I’ll be a sister, and everyone will treat me differently and expect me to behave in a certain way.”

“You should be proud to be a Daughter of Charity. It’s a sacred calling.”

“But I didn’t get the calling. You did.”

She turned and ran out the back door, ignoring her father calling behind her. She ran until she reached the road, and then she walked toward Emmitsburg.

Her father was sure to scold her when she returned home. She needed to make sure she calmed down before she did, or she might get into an argument with him. She looked around and found herself where she had been dancing yesterday morning…where Caleb had first seen her.

He had watched her dance, and she hadn’t even realized it. She didn’t feel like dancing today. Such a difference in just a day. Even half a day because she had started out last night so happy.

As she crested the hill, she saw Caleb sitting on the ground and staring back into town.

“Caleb,” she said.

He turned his head. He saw her and waved. “I was hoping you might come,” he said.

She walked over and sat down next to him.

“Are you all right?”

He chuckled. “Yes. I just got knocked down. No one hit me. They were aiming at each other.”

“Two of them were my brothers.”

“Two of them were my friends.” He paused. “So, are your brothers angry?”

“Yes.”

He sighed. “My father caught me coming in last night. He wasn’t too happy I went out.”

“Why?”

“I’m Jewish. Friday night starts the Sabbath for us. It would be like you going to a dance on Sunday.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

Caleb smiled at her. “It was worth it. I got to meet you.”

Margaret sighed. “Why can’t things be simple?”

“Because we’d never learn if they were, and we would never appreciate the times things were simple.”

“That makes little sense.”

“Sure it does.” He lay on his back. “Here, lay back.”

Margaret copied him. He pointed to the sky.

“What do you see?

“Clouds.”

“I see a horse.” He pointed to one cloud. “And over there, I see a funny face.”

“Oh, you are trying to see shapes in the clouds.”

Caleb nodded. “You dance. I stare at clouds. We both have our ways of relaxing.”

“So, if I cloud-watch with you, will you dance on the hill with me without any music?”

“In a minuet.”

Margaret laughed at the pun and felt some of the tension drain out of her. She pointed at the sky.

“I see the sun.”

“That is the sun.”

Now, it was Caleb’s turn to laugh at her joke. When she lowered her hand, she found Caleb’s and held it lightly.

A serial fiction romance story for your enjoyment

written by James Rada, Jr.

3: the dance

Caleb Sachs opened the rear door to the store and stepped onto the porch. He had been careful not to make any noise coming down the stairs from the second floor where he and his family lived above the family store in Emmitsburg. He was equally careful not to make a sound shutting the door.

He hurried around the brick building to Main Street and headed for the town square. Lanterns hung from ropes strung between buildings to light up the square. Tables filled with punch, cakes, cookies, and pies lined the edge of the square. A five-piece band was set up in one corner playing “The Rare Old Mountain Dew.” Some couples danced in the streets while the rest of the townspeople milled around off to the sides. More than 800 people lived in Emmitsburg, and Caleb guessed that at least 200 of them were at the dance.

He saw Peter Wilhide and Thomas Baker sitting at one of the tables eating pie. Caleb dodged between the dancers and made his way across the square. He cut himself a slice of pie and sat down next to his friends.

“I didn’t think your parents would let you come,” Thomas said.

Caleb grinned. “I told them I was going to bed, and then I snuck past them.”

“And they won’t check on you?”

“I stuffed a pillow under my blanket. It should work if they don’t look too close,” Caleb told them. His friends laughed. “So anything interesting happen yet?”

“Not yet, but people are still showing up,” Peter said. “I brought something to make things fun, though.” He opened his jacket and Caleb saw the top of a bottle of liquor sticking over the top of the inside pocket.

“Is that for us?” Caleb asked.

“Some of it, but most of it is going to end up in one of the punch bowls.”

Caleb ate pie and looked out over the crowd. The band sounded good. He guessed the crowd was split about half and half between teenagers and adults.

“Are you going to dance tonight?” Caleb asked his friends.

“It depends on who shows up,” Peter said.

“I really want to dance with Becky Everett, but she is only interested in Luke,” Thomas said. Luke Wilhide was Peter’s older brother.

“Well, if we get too bored, we can always grab a cake and sneak away with Peter’s bottle.”

Caleb looked across the square and saw two girls come in from the west. One was blonde and slim. The other had darker hair and a fuller figure than the blonde. Caleb didn’t know them, but they were around his age, and they were attractive.

He watched them walk over to a couple they obviously knew. The man was a couple of years older than Caleb, as was the woman he was with.

Caleb stared at the blonde. She looked familiar, but he knew he didn’t know her. He would have remembered her if he had seen her at school, unless she went to the Catholic school. She might also be visiting from out of town. That still didn’t explain why he felt he knew her.

As if feeling his stare on her, the girl looked up and Caleb saw her pale blue eyes even though she was across the square. She smiled at him, which caused him to grin like a fool. Then Peter elbowed him, causing him to look away. When he looked at her again, she was talking to the older man again.

“You guys may want to sit around eating, but I came to meet girls,” Caleb said. “I’m going to dance.”

He stood up and headed across Main Street to ask the girl with the pale-blue eyes to dance. He wasn’t even halfway there before another guy came up, spoke to her briefly, and then led her into the street to dance.

Caleb stopped, his shoulders sagged, and he walked back to sit with his friends again.

“So, this is what you call dancing?” Peter asked. “I call it sitting.”

“I was going to dance, but that guy beat me to it,” Caleb said, pointing to the couple.

Peter shrugged. “There are other girls standing around. Dance with one of them.”

“You dance with them. I wanted to dance with that girl. Who is she, anyway?”

“I don’t know.”

Thomas said, “That’s Margaret. She’s nice enough, but her sister is better looking and available.”

“What? Is she courting that guy?” Caleb asked.

“No, but I heard she’s going to be a sister.”

“Oh, she’s Catholic.” No wonder Thomas knew her. His family was Catholic. He probably saw Margaret in church.

Margaret. Caleb liked the sound of the name.

He watched her dance. She spun around and laughed. He knew where he had seen her!. She was his angel!

By the time Caleb realized the song had ended, someone else had already asked Margaret to dance. He watched her move, remembering how she had looked this morning. He stood up and moved to the edge of the dancing area. He would not miss another opportunity to dance with his angel.

As he watched her, he realized she was also watching him. Even as she turned around with her dance partner, she kept bringing her eyes back to stare at him.

The song ended, and Caleb barely waited for Margaret’s partner to leave before he approached her.

He stopped in front of her and felt his mouth go dry. She stared at him with those penetrating eyes.

“Would you like to dance?” he managed.

“Yes.”

He reached out and took her hands as they moved into a quadrille. Caleb was glad he knew the dance well because he found himself having trouble concentrating.

“My name is Caleb,” he said.

“I’m Margaret.”

“I haven’t seen you around town.”

“I don’t come in all that often other than for church and school.”

“That’s a shame.”

“A shame I don’t come in or that I go to church?” She must have noticed the flustered look on his face because she added. “I’m just teasing you.”

Caleb smiled.

“Do you know you’re an angel?” he said.

Her eyes widened. “I don’t know if I’d say that.”

“I would. I saw you this morning dancing.”

Caleb felt her miss a beat. Then he saw color rise in her cheeks.

“Really?” she said. “I was just enjoying the beautiful morning. I didn’t know anyone saw me.”

Caleb nodded. “I know. That’s what made it so wonderful. You were expressing yourself. It was so free, open, natural. I saw you dancing and thought of all the wonderful things in life. It made me smile all the way to Gettysburg.”

Margaret stared directly into his eyes. “That’s very kind of you to say.”

Caleb was about to ask Margaret to sit with him at a table when he heard shouts. He looked over his shoulder and saw Peter and Thomas arguing with the older man Margaret had been speaking to earlier.

The man held Peter’s liquor bottle while Peter shouted at him and grabbed at the bottle. Caleb stopped dancing and sighed.

“You’ll have to excuse me. My friends are causing trouble.”

He hurried toward the three men.

“Give me my bottle,” Peter said.

“Guys, calm down. You’re ruining the dance,” Caleb said.

“This guy stole my bottle, Caleb,” Peter said.

“You were spiking the punch,” the man said.

“So?”

“You could get someone drunk who didn’t know it.”

Caleb stood between them with his hands on Peter’s shoulders. “It’s all right, Peter. We wanted it for ourselves, anyway.”

“Well, no one’s getting this,” the man said.

He turned the bottle over and dumped the contents on the street.

“No!” Peter lunged at the man, grabbing at the bottle. The man stepped back and pushed Peter away.

Then suddenly Thomas was swinging at the man, and Caleb was caught in the middle.

“Wait! Stop!” he shouted.

Caleb turned to hold Thomas back and the man’s fist hit him from behind. Caleb stumbled and turned. He saw Thomas’s arm shoot past him as he punched the man. Then other men were grabbing the man, Peter, Thomas, and Caleb, pulling them apart.

Caleb shook the hand off him. “I’m fine.”

“You boys need to leave,” Jack Harrison said.

Caleb was fine with that. He would much rather spend time with Margaret. He looked around to see if he could find her in the crowd. He glimpsed her leaving the dance with her sister.

He realized he hadn’t gotten her last name.

written by James Rada, Jr.

A new serial fiction romance story for your enjoyment

2: Anticipation

Margaret Rosensteel washed the dishes from her family’s dinner while she stared out the kitchen window at nothing. The next farm was over half a mile away to the west, and Emmitsburg was a mile or so to the southeast. She couldn’t see lights from either.

She scrubbed the remains of chicken and gravy from the plates and set them aside.

She remembered the young man she had watched drive past St. Joseph’s Church in town. He was her age, but she had never seen him before. Nothing surprising about that. Margaret doubted she knew everyone in town, but it probably meant the teenage boy wasn’t a Catholic. Between Mass and church socials, Margaret did know all the Catholic boys by sight. She even knew a lot of the other boys in town from her school classes. So, why hadn’t she ever noticed that boy before?

What did it matter? Why was she even thinking of him? Nothing could come of it.

Rebecca came downstairs in a blue calico dress Margaret had never seen her wear. She spun around, making the skirt flare.

“How do I look?” Rebecca asked.

“You look wonderful,” Margaret told her.

“I’ve been working on this all day. I saved for the fabric for two months, but could only buy it yesterday. I wanted to show it off tonight.”

“Tonight?”

Rebecca put her hands on her hips. “Yes. Tonight. The spring dance in town. How could you forget?”

Margaret hadn’t so much forgotten as put it out of her mind. She was going to be a Daughter of Charity, and Daughters of Charity didn’t go dancing, at least none she knew.

“Why was it so important to finish it for the dance?” Margaret asked.

“I want the boys to see me in it. Do you think they’ll like me in it?”

Margaret smiled. “Of course, they will. You look beautiful.” Her younger sister was a cute blonde with an outgoing personality. She was already catching the attention of the boys in town.

“You need to get ready now, so we can go,” Rebecca said.

Margaret shook her head. “I’m not going.”

“You have to, Margaret. You skipped the last two dances. I need someone to talk to. It’s no fun without you.”

“You’ll be too busy dancing and talking with the boys. Besides, other girls will be there.”

“Please, come. I won’t have any fun without you.”

That was a lie, but Margaret and Rebecca did have fun together. They were the middle children in the Rosensteel family, only a year apart in age. Jack and Paul were the eldest, and they were married and starting families of their own. David, Sarah, and Michael were all under 12 years old.

The problem was that Margaret would become a sister in another year. She needed to prepare herself for that. No use dancing with boys when there was no possibility of anything more. Her parents had planned her future already, more than they had any of their other children.

Rebecca took her sister by the hand and pulled her upstairs to their bedroom. She opened the armoire that both of them shared and took out Margaret’s Sunday dress and looked at it.

“Too churchy,” the younger girl said, as she tossed it on the bed.

“It’s my best dress.”

“But not one for a dance.”

Rebecca pulled out the second work dress Margaret owned and tossed it on the bed.

“Not that one either,” Rebecca said.

She pulled out the final dress. It was a light blue dress Margaret had made for Elizabeth’s wedding last year. She hadn’t found an occasion to wear it since. Her mother considered it “too casual” for church.

Rebecca shoved the dress into her sister’s arms. “There, now get dressed. You’re going to go with me, and you’re going to have a good time.”

                      ***

Caleb Sachs sat in his room above his father’s store on East Main Street. His parents had the room at the back of the building because it was quieter, but Caleb’s room looked onto the street. He didn’t mind. He could look outside and see what was happening, and tonight, a lot was happening.

People on the sidewalks headed toward the town square, where the spring dance was being held. Everyone would be there celebrating and having fun. Everyone except the Sachs family. It was Friday night, and the Sachs, being Jewish, began celebrating the Sabbath at sundown.

Weekends were never any fun for Caleb. His was the only Jewish family in Emmitsburg, so while his family observed the Sabbath on Friday night and Saturday, he was stuck at home unless his parents went to bed early, and he could sneak off to enjoy time with his friends. Then, on Sunday, when Caleb was free to do something, his friends’ parents were making his friends observe their Sabbath. With nothing to do during the weekend, it felt as long as the week to Caleb.

He walked out of his room to the parlor where his parents sat. His mother played a song he didn’t recognize, but she often composed her own music. His father sat in his armchair reading a book.

“I can hear the band warming up at the square,” Caleb said.

“Mmm-hmmm,” his father said, as he puffed on his pipe.

“I was thinking that since it’s a special occasion, I could go to the dance for a little while.”

His father removed his pipe. “Just make sure to come home at sundown.”

“But Papa, it won’t even be getting going by then. My friends might not even be there. I won’t stay out late. I promise.”

His friends were more likely to arrive early and sneak out early as well, but Caleb wouldn’t tell his father that.

“It’s Friday, Caleb. You know that.”

His mother stopped her playing and turned around on the bench. “We can take the train to Baltimore next week, Caleb. We’ll visit your grandparents.”

“That’s not the same thing, Mama. I wanted to dance.”

She frowned, wrinkling her smooth, pale skin. “With a guy? Why would you want to do that?”

“I like to dance, Mama, and since we’re the only Jewish family in town, if I’m to do that, it would have to be with a Christian girl.”

“If you want to meet a girl, I will have your grandparents find a Jewish girl for you,” his mother said.

Caleb sighed. “Mama, I don’t want to get married. I just want to go to the dance tonight.”

His mother shook her head. “No, better you stay here and not get yourself attached to someone you can’t have.”

Caleb hung his head. His mother just didn’t understand the idea of having fun. For her, it was about finding him a wife since he would soon be 17.

As Caleb walked back to his room, he thought of the one advantage of being the only Jewish family in town, he wasn’t married yet. If there had been an eligible Jewish girl in Emmitsburg or even nearby, his mother would have already paired them up and been planning the wedding.

He looked out his window and saw Peter Wilhide walking down the street. Caleb slid open his window.

“Peter!”

Peter stopped and turned around. He saw Caleb in the window and waved. “Are you coming to the dance, Caleb?”

“My parents won’t let me.”

“Won’t let you? Oh, that’s right, it’s Friday. Then maybe… later?”

Caleb grinned. “Yes, I think so.”

Peter laughed. “I’ll let the others know.”

Caleb shut the window. He glanced at the clock on his wall. The dance would be starting in half an hour. Everyone would be there by 6:30 p.m. He had that long to plan on how he would get past his parents without them knowing.

written by James Rada, Jr.

A new serial fiction romance story for your enjoyment

1: Angels

When he recalled this day, Caleb Sachs was sure he would tell people Heaven had whispered to him, and in doing so, created the blustery wind that seemed to tell him, “Look! An angel.”

No one would mistake Caleb for a visionary man. Because the Sachs were the only Jewish family in Emmitsburg, they were too far away to travel to a synagogue on Shabbat. Since his father was a shopkeeper and Saturday was the busiest day of the week, he had made allowances. His father kept the shop open on Saturday, closing mid-afternoon, and then recognizing Shabbat from mid-Saturday through Sunday.

Caleb followed his father’s rules. He didn’t work after the store closed, and he read the Torah in the evening. However, he also liked to wrestle, play cards, and race horses with his friends. Although they were still a bit young, when Matthew Hayes could sneak a bottle out of his father’s tavern, Caleb and his friends would sneak off into the woods and drink.

This day, though, Caleb was sober and serious. His father had trusted him to drive the wagon to Gettysburg and pick up an order coming in on the Harrisburg and Gettysburg Railroad. It could have shipped to Emmitsburg on the Emmitsburg Railroad, but that would have involved sending the freight to Baltimore, transferring it to the Western Maryland Railroad, and then transferring it to the Emmitsburg Railroad at Emmitsburg Junction. Not only would that have taken another two days, but it would also have cost additional freight charges. With Gettysburg only 12 miles away, it was easier to send a wagon to pick up the goods at the depot in Gettysburg.

At 16 years old, this was Caleb’s first solo trip to Gettysburg, and he meant to show his father he could be trusted to do a man’s job.

He drove north out of town along Emmitsburg Road, which would take him right into the center of Gettysburg. He crossed the wooden bridge over Flat Run. It was a little trickle of a stream that rarely needed a bridge to span it unless it had rained recently.

That was when the wind picked up as Heaven whispered to him. He started the wagon up the hill when he saw her. She stood on the crest of the hill on the west side of the road. The sun behind her silhouetted her figure as she danced around to the sound of music that only she heard. The white shawl she wore billowed out, appearing to be an angel’s wings, and locks of her blond hair flew in all directions around her head forming a halo.

She looked so beautiful, Caleb had to stop the wagon to watch her.

She was so engrossed in her silent song, she never saw him, although he was only 20 yards away. Then, either she finished what she was doing, or perhaps she heard him. She stopped and ran off in another direction.

Caleb knew he would remember her. Even though he’d not seen her face, something about the love of life she showed in those moments or the carefree spirit of her dance told him she was beautiful no matter what she looked like.

The thought of her kept a smile on his face during the 12-mile ride to Gettysburg. He grinned at the stationmaster, who must have thought Caleb was crazy. He kept smiling as he loaded the goods his father had ordered for the store into the wagon bed.

On his way back to Emmitsburg, Caleb wondered if he shouldn’t have introduced himself to the woman. It just hadn’t seemed right. He had an image of what she looked like in his mind. Perhaps he imagined her nothing like she actually looked. It didn’t matter. The face he saw in his mind belonged to the angel he had seen dancing. Whether it was reality, it was still truth.

Margaret Rosensteel entered St. Joseph’s Church through the front doors. She paused a moment to let her eyes adjust to the dimmer light as she looked into the chapel. It had been warm in the light of the bright sun, but winter still clung to the inside of the church. The stoves couldn’t generate enough heat in the large room, and too few people sat in the pews to generate enough body heat to warm the room.

The young girl genuflected and slid into a pew near the rear of the chapel. Father Harmon was already well into the Mass, and he didn’t even glance at her.

Sister Mary Agatha did, though. The Daughter of Charity sat across the aisle and three rows forward of Margaret. The sister glanced back, saw Margaret, and she smiled. Then she mouthed, “You’re late.”

Margaret raised her eyebrows and shrugged. It wasn’t the first time, and it undoubtedly wouldn’t be the last time she was late to Mass. Her mother compared her to one of the foolish virgins in the Bible who arrived too late to greet the bridegroom, and so was locked out of the home.

“But I’ll never be a bride, Mama, so what does it matter?” Margaret had answered once.

“You’ll be married to God, but I guess you’ll be late for him, too.”

“Well, he must know what he is getting into. He made me this way.”

Margaret had known she was destined to be a Daughter of Charity since she was six years old. That was the year she nearly died from scarlet fever. As she had burned up from the fever, her parents had tried to lower her temperature and prayed at her bedside.

The doctor had told her parents to prepare for the worst, but Margaret had recovered. The Rosensteels declared their daughter’s recovery to be a miracle. That is when they told Margaret she would become a Daughter of Charity when she was old enough because they had promised God they would do so if he spared her life.

Margaret had trouble concentrating on Mass this morning. It was the first sunny and warm day of the year, and she wanted to be out and about, dancing and singing in the sunlight. Instead, she was sitting inside, trying to remember her Latin, so she could understand Father Harmon.

She walked outside after Mass ended and lifted her chin toward the sun, so her face could drink in its warmth. She heard the jangle of wagon traces and looked up Emmitsburg Road. She saw a pair of horses pulling a wagon crest the hill. Different size boxes were piled on the rear, but it wasn’t the boxes Margaret noticed. It was the driver.

He was a young man about her age. He sat proudly in the seat with his shoulders thrown back and his face concentrating on his work. She had never seen him before, although she spent most of her time on the family farm rather than in town.

As he passed, he glanced at her and did a double-take. Then he smiled and lifted his hat to her. Moments later, he was past her. Margaret turned to watch him as he turned the wagon onto West Main Street.

She couldn’t get past the fact that he looked familiar. She couldn’t place his face. Some might say it was the face of an angel.

A serial fiction story for your enjoyment about the odd effects of grief.

written by James Rada, Jr.

Betty Douglas’s plan to kill Old Kiln Road was working. The tree she cut down to block the road kept cars from killing animals that the road tempted onto it. The road turned gray, and things seemed peaceful. Then a Frederick County road crew removed the tree. No accusations were made against Betty, but she was sure they thought she was responsible for blocking the road.

She had to do it because no one believed Old Kiln Road had killed her son, and Betty refused to have her revenge taken from her.

She replaced the “Slow” signs with “Detour” signs to steer people around the bad stretch of Old Kiln Road. Detour signs wouldn’t annoy drivers like the tree had, and the county road crew wouldn’t respond as quickly as it had for the tree. Still the cars came, but no animals were killed since Betty kept scaring them away from the road. She couldn’t keep her constant patrols up forever, though. She had to stop the cars.

Betty smashed dozens of her empty mason jars at either end of the road. The first few cars that ignored the detour signs were rewarded with flat tires. Traffic stopped and followed the detour.

The next morning, the road was once again a pale gray, starving for food. Betty set more food out in the fields to feed the animals. She checked on her glass traps, but they were gone, as if they had never been. Had the road swallowed them, hoping to lure traffic back onto it?

Betty went into the house and took Jack’s hunting rifle down from above the mantle. She knew how to use it because Jack had taken her deer hunting with him a few times during hunting season when he couldn’t find any friends to go with him. Betty loaded the Remington and went out to the road for her patrols.

About twenty-five yards from the road, she saw a pickup truck ignore the detour sign and head up Old Kiln Road. She raised the rifle to her shoulder, took aim, and fired just the way Jack had taught her. She shot the truck tires out, then ran off before the driver got out of the car. She walked to the other end of the road and waited. Soon enough, someone else ignored the detour sign. Betty put two holes in his radiator, stopping him from going any further.

The road went hungry another day.

The next day another pickup truck tried to ignore the detour sign and lost two tires. Old Kiln Road went hungry for a fourth day.

On the morning of the fifth day, Betty went out to the porch and wasn’t surprised to see the asphalt had dried out. It looked rough, like a patch of dried skin. Cracks ran through, making it look like a sun-baked river bed.

She patrolled the road with the rifle and was satisfied to see all the cars obeying the detour sign. However, police had barricaded the road, and officers patrolled the roads and surrounding woods. One officer questioned her, and Betty played innocent about what was going on.

How long would it be before the police opened the road? Would it be long enough for the road to be destroyed?

As the sun set that night, Betty watched the asphalt finally crumble into dust, exposing the gravel road bed. But there was something else among the gravel. Bones. Lots of them. Probably the bones of every animal that had ever been killed on that stretch of road. The small skeletons gleamed brightly in the fading light. Betty had starved the road to death and won.

How many animals had died to feed the road? How many people like her Peter had been killed?

She walked to the edge of the road and kicked at the gravel to loosen it like a hunter kicks at his fallen prey to make sure it’s dead.

“I don’t know what made you so bloodthirsty, but I hope whatever it was rots with you in hell,” Betty said.

She moved to kick it again, but as she did, Old Kiln Road decayed just a bit more. The edge of the roadway collapsed under her foot. Betty yelled as she lost her balance and fell onto the gravel. She put out her hands to break her fall, but the rifle got caught in between her and the road. It went off, and Betty shot herself in the stomach.

She fell onto the road, not dead but dying. She screamed for help, but no one was nearby to come to her aid. All the drivers were too afraid to travel this stretch of Old Kiln Road, and Jack was in Los Angeles. She was alone.

Her blood pumped through the hole in her stomach, down her side, and onto the road. As it touched the roadway, it immediately turned black restoring the asphalt. The changes spread like a ripple on water, restoring the road even as Betty lay on top of it dying.

Would the police find her body and think she was a victim of the sniper they were searching for?

Betty wasn’t going to let the road take her body. She would not be like the collie that she had seen commit suicide.

Holding one hand against the bloody hole in her stomach, Betty tried to rise up on her knees so she could crawl away. She moved one leg forward, but it was a struggle. Her leg had sunk into the asphalt, and it only pulled free with a loud sucking sound.

She grabbed with her free hand for the fence she had built alongside the road to keep the animals away. Her hand closed around one of the wooden posts, but the wooden post snapped off in her hand. She fell forward on her face and the road sucked her back a few inches.

Betty rolled onto her back and fired the rifle into the road. Again and again she fired until the rifle clicked empty. The bullets didn’t even leave a mark on the road. They simply disappeared into the soft asphalt. She beat on the road with the rifle until she was too weak to pull the rifle free from the road.

The road pulled her a few inches closer. She was now sitting in the roadway.

How do you kill something that is not alive?

Betty realized she couldn’t win, but it made her feel good to resist the evil of the road. With her remaining strength, she lunged out of the roadway so that her upper body fell onto the grass.

Let her blood nourish the ground, not the road. She wouldn’t help the road live.

Once Old Kiln Road restored itself to its original condition, Betty knew she had lost. After all her efforts, the road had finally found its meal. She felt herself pulled onto the road and sinking into the surface as if she wasn’t laying on hard asphalt but thick, black tar. She sunk a few inches into the asphalt, thinking she would stop when she touched the hard ground. But she kept sinking deeper and deeper. As the soft asphalt filled her ears, Betty tried to raise her head to keep it above the surface. She had to stop soon. This is what happened to the road kills that laid on the road for days at a time. Almost like the La Brea Tar Pits.

The road covered Betty’s face.

Jack turned onto Old Kiln Road. It had been a quiet ride home. Not unusual, but the newspaper he picked up at the airport had said there had been a sniper shooting at cars along the road. From the description given, it sounded like it had been close to his house.

As he came over the last rise before his driveway, a chipmunk ran out into the road so fast that Jack couldn’t swerve to avoid it. He hit it with his right front tire and killed it.

Stupid animal. Didn’t they know better to stay away from the road?

The End

A new serial fiction story for your enjoyment about the odd effects of grief.

written by James Rada, Jr.

2: the killing road

“Peter, you make sure you stay away from the road,” Betty Douglas told her son as they ate breakfast in their kitchen.

He spooned his Corn Pops into his mouth and talked with his mouth full. “I always stay away from the road. You told me this before when I was little,” six-year-old Peter said, slightly indignant that his mother still considered him a child.

Betty knew she had told Peter to stay away from the road many times before. It was popular Mom talk. But after seeing what she had seen the day before, Betty felt a need to repeat herself once again. She didn’t trust Old Kiln Road. Not the drivers, not the road. Something about it was wrong. She didn’t even like the name. Old Kiln. She always made sure to pronounce the N in Kiln, but too many people let it fade, so it sounded like “kill.”

Old Kill Road. It lived up to its name.

Betty spent the morning working outside. She painted large yellow signs with black lettering that read: “Slow.” When they dried, she nailed the signs on trees at each end of the dangerous stretch of road. She also put up chicken wire along the road to act as a fence to discourage animals from going onto the road. If the animals went around the fence, they would be far enough away from the dangerous portion of the road to make it to the other side.

For two days, Betty sat on the porch and watched how her precautions affected the road. She saw no road kills, and the cars drove slower as they came around the curve. The road seemed to pale from lack of food. At least Betty hoped the road paled. She imagined it becoming a light gray during the second day of its fast.

Betty sensed victory close at hand. No longer would the road lure animals to their deaths.

Then, she saw Peter’s soccer ball bounce over the backyard fence. It rolled to a stop about three feet from the road. As Betty watched, the ball started bouncing again, this time on its own. It bounced up the slight rise to the edge of the road and then across the road. Peter came running from behind the garage, following the ball. He didn’t even hesitate as he ran across the road to get the ball.

“Peter!” Betty yelled as she jumped out of the rocking chair.

Her son stopped in the middle of the road at the sound of his mother’s voice. As he turned to look at her, a sports car charged around the curve. Betty could tell by the engine noise that it was coming too fast, ignoring her signs.

Peter didn’t even have time to scream. The car hit him, and he rolled over the hood, smashing into the windshield headfirst. The car skidded to a stop. Peter’s body slid forward off the car and fell onto the road, limp as month-old celery.

Betty ran down to the road. Peter lay on the asphalt, a portion of his brain showing through his broken skull. Blood flowed from his body onto the road. The road absorbed the blood like a dry sponge absorbing water…or a thirsty beast greedily drinking greedily. Betty grabbed her son by the shoulders to lift him up, and his head rolled lifelessly backward. She knew he was dead, but just couldn’t believe it.

“Peter! Peter!”

The teenager who had driven the car was standing next to his car with his head buried in his hands as he cried. He slid down the side of the car and sobbed violently, not looking at Betty. Betty held her son in her arms, rocking back and forth, until a Thurmont ambulance finally came half an hour later when a passerby saw the accident and phoned it in.

The road turned a darker gray.

Betty sat on the front porch, rocking in her chair and watching the road. In the week since Peter had been killed, the road had fallen back into its rhythm of killing and eating.

Old Kiln Road was a deep ebony now. It was the road that had killed Peter, not the teenage driver of the car. The road had lured Peter onto it, so he could be killed. Old Kiln Road was trying to get even with Betty for depriving it of food for two days.

She heard the screen door open on her left, but she didn’t look up. She knew who it would be since only two people lived in the house anymore.

Jack set his suitcases down on the porch. “I can send someone else out to Los Angeles. It doesn’t have to be me, Bet.”

Jack worked as an auditor for a manufacturing company in Frederick. He usually had a half-hour drive to work, but occasionally, he went on long trips to the firm’s corporate offices in Los Angeles.

“I’ll be fine. Go,” she told him.

“You’re not acting fine. I’m worried about you. All you do is sit out here and look at the road where he was killed.”

Jack just didn’t understand. It wasn’t just the spot where Peter had been killed. It was where Peter had been eaten. It was the spot where many animals were eaten day after day. And no one ever noticed. No one but her.

“Please, go, Jack. I’ll be fine.”

He kissed her on the cheek. “I left all the phone numbers and places where I’ll be staying on the bulletin board. If you need me, give me a call, and I’ll come right home.”

He left, and Betty sat on the porch, only seeing him go when he crossed over her field of vision as he drove down Old Kiln Road.

Sometime later, the phone rang. The caller wouldn’t be anyone important, so she let it ring until the answering machine picked it up. What was happening out here was more important than anything anyone could say to her.

A small, gray rabbit hopped out into the middle of the road. It sniffed at the asphalt as if he were following a scent across the road. When it reached a certain point in the road, it stopped and lay on its side. A few minutes later, a car came creeping slowly over the hill. Slow enough that the rabbit could have moved in time to get out of the way, but it didn’t. It let itself be run over. It committed suicide.

That’s what she should do, Betty thought. Life wasn’t worth living anymore. Jack still had his work to keep him busy, but her work had been raising Peter, and the road had taken that from her. There was nothing left for her now. Except to destroy the road. To watch it wither away slowly and agonizingly. To let the road know the pain she felt at the loss of her son. That’s what she wanted to do.

Once she made up her mind, Betty knew exactly how she would kill the road. She took Jack’s chainsaw out of the garage and walked over the hill. Finding a medium-sized tree near the road, she sawed into it, so it toppled across the road, blocking any cars from coming over the hill. Then she walked down the hill and did the same thing to another tree, blockading the road. The next thing she did was to take one of the dessert pies from the oven and set it in the field to draw the animals away from the road.

Old Kiln Road didn’t eat that night, and in the morning, it was grayer.

COME!

Poem by Francis Smith

COME to me in the days of a summer sky,

Come to me in the scent of an autumn fire,

Come to me in the sough of the winter wind,

And in springtime, come!

        Come when blossoms deck the boughs,

        Come when sunbright warms the vales,

        Come when fledglings try their wings,

            And with children, come!

Come to me in the shining of the sun,

Come to me in the drumming of the rain,

Come to me in the sifting of the snow,

    And in fog, come!

        Come, come to me;

        Stay!

Jaden Myers’ COVID-19 Poem

The streets were empty.

Supplies became rare.

It was now among us;

There is no time to prepare.

Lives were taken

As it wanted to make us aware

Of the creature that’s lurking.

We have not a spec of time to spare.

As the creature rampages

Through the place we call home

It likes to play a game

Of who’s dying or coming home.

A new serial fiction story for your enjoyment about the odd effects of grief.

Written by James Rada, Jr.

1: ANIMAL KILLER

Her own screams woke her from her nap. That’s how it always was for Betty Douglas. Sleep was a fleeting thing, if it came at all, and it was never a peaceful affair, just something she did to pull herself through to the next day.

Yet the next day was never any better than the one before it. More of the same emptiness. More of the same fears. More of the same pain.

Betty never left her property anymore because she would have to go past the end of the driveway and that was an evil place. A place where death was stronger than life, and it hurt her to see it. It reminded her of what Old Kiln Road had done to her son…her Peter.

Can an inanimate thing kill?

She had asked herself that question 10,000 times if she had asked it once. Around the 4,000th time, Betty began to think the answer was “yes.”

Old Kiln Road was evil. It was a murderer. In particular, the stretch of road that ran in front of her home. The road ran from Roddy Road, north, with a couple of hard turns to Motters Station Road. In all, it was about 2.5 miles long, with a few dozen homes along it and a lot of open space.

For as long as Betty could remember, there had always been a lot of roadkills on Old Kiln Road. Back when Betty used to like to sit on her front porch, she saw a dead animal almost every time she walked out her front door because most of them seemed to be along the stretch of road that ran in front of her property.

Rabbits, dogs, cats, possums, raccoons, and some unidentified remains. Still, she hadn’t ever thought it was anything more than the result of a losing battle between Mother Nature and modern technology.

The only thing Betty had thought was odd was how completely the dead animals decayed. She never had to take a shovel out to the road to bury the dead animals because they always seemed to disappear after a few days.

And there was never any smell. Oh, she’d seen the birds picking over the bones, and the flies swarming over the bodies. Then one day, she would come out, and the first corpse would have vanished, a brand new animal laying splattered on the road.

In all her years of porch-sitting, Betty had never seen an animal killed, only the remains. Then one overcast day, she saw it happen. Normally, she wouldn’t have been outside on such a dreary day, but the house was stifling hot because the air-conditioning needed a shot of freon. Her husband, Jack, had called the repairman the day before, trying to get him out to the house.

So, Betty had walked out onto the porch to get away from the heat. She sat down in her favorite chair, a wooden rocker Jack had bought her when she was pregnant with Peter. As she rocked back and forth, Betty watched the sparse traffic go back and forth on Old Kiln Road, a car every 10 minutes or so, if that much.

She wasn’t the only one watching either. On the other side of the two-lane road, a beautiful collie sat in the grass, its head swinging back and forth. The dog had to be someone’s pet. Betty wondered where the dog had come from and why it just sat watching the road. It looked as if it was waiting for something.

From the south, an unseen car engine roared as the driver picked up speed on the straight stretch of road. Betty’s house was close to one end of that stretch and the only one within a quarter mile.

Peter came to the door and said, “Mom, can I have a cookie?”

Betty looked over her shoulder. Peter was standing in the doorway, smiling that innocent way he had of grinning. Betty couldn’t resist him.

 “Only two. And put the jar back when you’re done,” she said.

Peter went back inside the house, and Betty again turned her attention to the dog on the other side of the road. It was standing now and stretching as if it was preparing to cross the street.

 “Don’t come now, puppy,” Betty muttered to herself. “Can’t you hear that car coming?”

The car was maintaining a good clip, probably going about 50 miles an hour. The collie watched it come. Betty was happy that the dog wouldn’t become roadkill. It was such a pretty dog.

Right before the car passed the dog, it suddenly jumped onto the road. The collie was too close to the car for it to slow down and let it pass. It happened so quickly, Betty only had time to open her mouth to yell. The truck hit the dog, knocking it to the ground and then catching the collie under the truck tires. The car slowed, but rather than stop, it sped up to get away from the scene of the accident.

Betty’s scream died in her throat as she just stared at the corpse. The dog had committed suicide. That’s the only way she could describe it, as she gaped at the mangled, bloody corpse.

Of course, Jack hadn’t believed her. She had told him the whole story when he came home from work that night. He had just muttered, “Stupid mutt,” and went off to watch the evening news. Peter, on the other hand, had asked her if he could have a collie for a pet.

Betty knew it was more than the fact that the dog was stupid. The collie had seen the car coming, and it had jumped in front of the car. That night, Betty sat out on the porch, staring at the corpse. The first scavengers, the birds, left near sunset, leaving the disfigured corpse laying on the road. By morning, other small scavengers would have come and picked over the dead collie.

Even as Betty watched, a raccoon crossed the street and stopped to smell the corpse. While it was chewing on the dead collie’s ear, a car along the road drove by and flattened the raccoon. Betty almost screamed.

She had lived in the house for seven years without ever seeing an animal killed on the road, and now she had seen two animals killed within half a day of each other.

She shook her head back and forth. Had the collie moved? No, it was dead. She had seen it killed. But the dog’s corpse was moving. It was sinking into the road as if it was a ship sinking in the ocean. How could that be? The asphalt was a solid surface.

Why hadn’t she ever noticed this before? No one had ever mentioned something this odd to her, but who actually watched the road? Peter was always playing in the backyard, and Jack was usually away at work. But it had happened. She had seen it. When she had slowed down enough to pay attention to things, she had finally noticed what had been happening right in front of her own home.

That night, Betty dreamed of Old Kiln Road as a giant beast. The road was actually a long, black tongue, leading into the dark throat of a sleeping beast. The tunnel of trees that shaded the road at the top of the hill formed the throat. And the beast was always hungry, even in its sleep. It was like an angler fish that dangled its bait to attract food. The road was the bait that lured other animals into the maw of the beast.

Poem by Francis Smith

Emmitsburg Poet Laureate

Lonely as the cloudless deep

That yawns with breathless sleep

I gasp the night-time-air

And with scarce-muted stare

Behold the lonely-vigiled night

And watch the stars take flight

Across the azure trove

Wherein the winds have wove

A wealth of patient peace

To deck the frontispiece

Of mine own vacant state

And perhaps to animate

The stupor of my soul.

God’s Favorite Son

~ Poem by John C. Costopoulos of Waynesboro, PA

He used to think

He was God’s favorite son,

Protected by a blissful

Shelter of heavenly amber.

Favored, cultivated

To blossom into

The perfected

Flower of compassion.

To succor the poor,

The sick, and the afflicted.

Who suffer occupation

And humiliation

By the shock-troops of greed.

Now he ranges

Over naïve, sullen landscapes.

His holy armor chipped away,

The power of his weapons Dulled by the predators

Of humanity.

Now, God’s favorite son

Wanders in search

Of his father,

Slogging through the muddy

Ice of strange, wasted acreage.

So he looks for shelter,

A place to heal, to prepare

For the next campaign.

In desperate prayer

That by merely returning

To the fight

His Father will

Welcome him back home.

Back to life’s fatted calf.

James Rada, Jr.

The Catoctin Banner presents a continuation of fiction serials for your enjoyment. “Cast from the Gods” is a new, original serial set at Site R when it was under construction. Let us know what you think.

7: The Burial

Ancient Indians had killed the creature from the metal box once. The U.S. Army would have to do it this time. But had the Indians killed it centuries ago, or had it just been dormant for centuries? When the work crew digging under Raven Rock Mountain found the metal casket two days ago, nothing but bones had been inside. Now, those bones formed a living monster that had killed four soldiers, and that number might rise exponentially.

Exploding Molotov cocktails had hurt it, but it had recovered from the fire. Now, Maj. Henry Owens had no more bottles to use as bombs. Bullets slowed it down but didn’t stop it. If the creature reached the tunnel entrance and broke containment, there might be no stopping it.

The creature moved forward, swatting at the bullets as if they were annoying gnats. Owens could see the bullets tearing away bits of flesh, but most of the wounds glowed blue and healed themselves.

It would make it to the entrance.

He looked around, wondering if he could bring in more equipment to block the entrance further.

He saw the five-gallon cans of gasoline, but he had no bottles to fill with gasoline. He could use one as a bomb, but it would be too heavy to hurl accurately. The creature would have to come to the can. That wouldn’t happen. It had no reason to, especially if it saw a burning fuse on the can.

Owens ripped off his shirt and pulled his undershirt off. He twisted the shirt into a thick cord and laid it on the ground. He grabbed one of the gas cans and doused the twisted shirt in gasoline.

Owens ran to the nearest Jeep. He unscrewed the gas cap and pushed the shirt into the Jeep’s gas tank. Then he splashed the rest of the gas in the tank over the Jeep.

“Fall back!” he ordered his men.

The soldiers continued shooting as they moved backward. Owens crouched behind the Jeep. Then he stood up, waving his arms over his head.

“Over here! Come here!” Owens called.

The creature roared and headed toward him. Owens wanted to run, but he held his ground and fired his pistol at the creature. When the clip ran out, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his lighter. He flicked the flame to life as the creature drew closer.

He leaned forward and lit his shirt on fire. It flared up and quickly disappeared into the gas tank.

Owens turned and ran. He heard the creature hit the side of the Jeep with a loud thump.

“Come on, come on,” Owens muttered.

He looked over his shoulder. The creature reached down and lifted the side of the Jeep.

Then it exploded.

Owens threw himself face down on the ground. He felt the heat from the explosion. When it receded and he could hear again, he looked back. The burning creature thrashed around in pain, roaring loudly. It walked forward, but it did so slowly and without direction. It staggered and fell against a truck, catching the canvas covering the rear bed on fire. It roared once more and then fell to the ground.

Henry Owens stood up and stared at the bonfire of flesh and bones. It smelled like a giant barbeque. Then he remembered that some of the flesh burning was human, and his stomach turned.

He held his rifle at the ready, half expecting the creature to rise again.

The other soldiers moved closer. Some of them also had their rifles raised. Others just gazed at the burning creature. Owens thought they might be under whatever trance the creature used to catch his prey, but they moved no closer to the fire.

He let the fire burn itself, which took a couple of hours. He wanted to make sure as much of the creature burned as could. He wanted it to be only dust.

When all that remained was a smoking pile of debris, Owens walked around the pile. All the flesh had burned away as far as he could tell. He saw bones and metal from the Jeep. It surprised him to see all the bones intact. He would have thought the explosion would have shattered or at least broken some of them.

“This is not over yet.”

Owens turned and saw Jack Standing Bear standing with the Susquehannock elder, John Tamanend.

“You mean it’s not dead?” Owens asked.

“Perhaps dead as we know it, but can a god be killed?”

“It’s just bones.”

Standing Bear said something Owens didn’t understand to the elder, who replied in the same language.

“When you found it, it was just bones. Have you looked at the bones?” Standing Bear asked.

Owens walked over to the smoldering pile of remains. The bones were intact. It would be hard not to see that. They were white and stood out.

“The bones aren’t burned,” Owens said. “They should be as black as the rest of the debris.”

Standing Bear nodded.

“So, what do we do to stop it?”

Standing Bear shrugged. “I don’t know, but what John Tamanend’s ancestors did thousands of years ago stopped it for many lifetimes.”

Owens had the remains doused in water to cool them. Then the soldiers gathered up the bones and placed them in the casket. Owens thought about separating the bones, but he wasn’t sure if any other material would have been strong enough to hold the creature, or whether separating the bones would stop the creature or just lead to multiple creatures being created should this happen again.

While all this was being done, Owens conferred with his superiors about what had happened and what he thought needed to be next.

Two days later, officials approved an alternative plan for the chamber. Construction began four days later. The debris from excavating that chamber was dumped on top of the casket. Every other day, trucks poured cement over the debris pile.

When the new chamber was finished, the old chamber was nearly full of debris. A tunnel wall was constructed, and more backfill was added to the gaps behind the wall, sealing the casket back inside the mountain.

***

Over time, the casket and its contents were forgotten.

A buck tread its way over brush and limbs that littered the ground. It kept its head held high. It didn’t worry about predators or the fact that it was midday. It just kept moving forward.

It paused over a small hole the size of a gopher hole and lowered its head to sniff at the opening. Its head jerked up as if it sensed something. The brown fur split along the deer’s back. It slipped off the deer and seemingly fell into the hole. Then the deer glowed blue and vanished.

James Rada, Jr.

6: The Angry God

One by one, the soldiers stopped firing their rifles. They ran toward the exit from the excavated chamber beneath Raven Rock Mountain. It led to a half-mile-long tunnel that led to the surface.

When all his men were gone, Maj. Henry Owens took a hand grenade from his belt. He pulled the pin and let the handle fly. Then he lobbed the grenade, so it landed in front of the fence and monstrous creature, and he ran.

He counted as he ran, and right before the explosion, he flattened himself on the ground to avoid any shrapnel. The explosion deafened him, and he felt a pressure wave sweep over him.

He rolled over and looked back. He couldn’t see anything through all of the dust. However, he heard an angry growl and more metal snapping.

Owens pushed himself to his feet and ran for the entrance. He could see his men parking trucks and Jeeps in front of the entrance to create a barrier. Machine guns were set up facing down the tunnel.

The men shouted and pointed. Owens glanced over his shoulder and saw a boulder flying out of the darkness.

He dove to the side as a rock the size of a footlocker hit the ground. It was heavy enough that Owens felt the ground tremble.

Owens made it to the parked vehicles as the creature appeared from the shadows. The soldiers fired at the creature. It stopped moving forward and roared. The bullets could stop its advance, but they weren’t killing the thing.

As Owens made it to the other side of the barricade, a private ran up to him and saluted. “Sir, two men are at the main gate. They insist on speaking with you. One of them said he was a worker here. He says he has information about the box.”

Anyone who knew the metal casket was in the cavern must have been down there.

“I’ll meet them. I want you to call up to Ritchie and get more ammunition sent down here. Also, have them send half a dozen men with grenade launchers,” Owens told the private. Maybe the grenade launchers would be more effective at stopping whatever was trying to get out of the cavern.

The private saluted and ran off. Owens jogged down the road to the front gate, where MPs kept all of the non-military people out. He saw two Indians standing with the MPs.

“Which one of you has information you think I need?” Owens asked.

The younger of the two men raised his hand. “I’m Jack Standing Bear. I was on the crew that unearthed the metal box. I recognized the inscription on the box and went to get this man. He is John Tamanend, an elder of the Susquehannock. They are the people who used to live in this area.”

“If you saw the box, then you know it is not Indian.”

Jack nodded. “The box is not, but the inscription was.”

“What did it say?”

“It was a warning saying the demon inside had been cast from the gods, and that the Old Ones, the people who lived in this land before the Susquehannock, managed to imprison it only at great cost. It should never be opened or the demon would be released.”

Owens could see calling the creature a demon. It fit the bill.

“Well, it’s too late for that,” Owens said.

The older man spoke, and Jack translated. “He says there is a story told among his people of a god who fell to earth in a ball of fire. The god was angry and demanded the Old Ones worship him. Most did, but some did not want to worship an angry god. They didn’t and they vanished, but their numbers increased as more people resisted the angry god.”

“How did they kill it?” Owens asked, looking over his shoulder back toward the entrance to the tunnel.

Jack translated and listed to the Tamanend’s answer. “They didn’t kill the god. You can’t kill a god.”

“Then how did they get it sealed in the box?”

“The warriors who fought the angry god tried many things. Arrows and spears could not kill it, no matter how many times they hit it. Many warriors attacked with knives only to vanish. In desperation, they ambushed the angry god, throwing oil on him and setting him on fire. This worked. Then the warriors took the bones and placed them in the metal box, in which he fell from the sky. They buried him as a god should be. He was placed in a deep chasm, where he could rest peacefully and not be so angry.”

Owens rubbed his chin. The firing started again. He knew it was only holding the creature at bay, but if the Old Ones could defeat it, so could the U.S. Army. He walked to the nearest soldier.

“Go to the camp. I need flamethrowers and cans of gasoline, as much as you can get a hold of quickly. Then get back here.”

The soldier saluted and ran off. Owens turned to a corporal. “I need cans of gasoline and empty bottles. Meet me at the tunnel entrance.”

Owens returned to the tunnel entrance as the firing slacked off. Then a boulder came flying out of the tunnel entrance. Then men scattered. The creature hid in the darkness and roared.

As the corporal and privates brought the cans of gasoline to Owens, he assessed his resources. He had 30 gallons of gasoline and a dozen empty pop bottles. The gasoline might be enough, but he needed more bottles. It would be at least an hour before he could expect the Jeep back.      

He had the bottles filled with gasoline. Men tore strips from their undershirts, soaked them in gasoline, and stuffed the mouths of the bottles. He had six soldiers take a pair of bottles and wait.

When the creature pressed again for the entrance, the soldiers lit their Molotov cocktails, ran forward, and threw them at the creature. Half of the bottles missed. Of the six that did hit the creature, two hit too early. The creature knocked them away before they exploded. The four that hit the creature exploded and lit it on fire.

It roared in pain and thrashed around, rolling on the ground to put out the flames. When it finally lay still, one of the soldiers slowly approached it.

“Get back here, private. We don’t know if it’s dead yet,” Owens ordered.

The man didn’t stop. Owens pointed to another private.

“Go bring him back.”

The private ran out and started tugging on the other soldier’s arm, but he wouldn’t stop walking toward the creature. Then the creature glowed blue.

“Get away!” Owens yelled.

The second private started to turn back. He stopped as his skin split and vanished. Then both of the privates faded away.

On the ground, the creature stirred.

And Owens was out of firebombs.

The creature pushed itself to its hands and knees, lifted its head and roared. It looked barely affected by the fire. It hadn’t been large enough, plus the two soldiers had aided its recovery.

He had to do something. It couldn’t be allowed to escape the tunnel. No telling what damage it could do before they stopped it.

The Catoctin Banner presents a continuation of fiction serials for your enjoyment. “Cast from the Gods” is a new, original serial set at Site R when it was under construction. Let us know what you think.

Part 5: escape

Every soldier in the secret chamber beneath Raven Rock Mountain heard the roar from inside the metal coffin they had just sealed. It was a low, rumbling sound that rose to an anguished scream. Some soldiers covered their ears because, even deafened by the containment in the coffin, the roar was both loud and grating.

Almost unconsciously, they all stepped away from the coffin.

“What the hell was that?” Maj. Henry Owens asked to no one in particular.

Dr. Howard Buchanan shook his head. He was supposed to be the man who knew all the cultures of this region. He could speak at length about the settlers, Indians, and even proto-Indians who had lived in this area. He knew the flora and fauna. He had even studied the fossil evidence of the life that had once existed here.

“I don’t know,” the doctor said.

Something banged against the inside of the casket. A fist? A foot?

The truth was Howard had never heard of anything like this before. The men building this chamber had found the casket three days ago. At that time, it had contained only a skeleton, which had been unusual enough, seeing as how the casket had been found hundreds of feet underground, and the skeleton appeared deformed. Then the skeleton had started growing flesh and organs.

“I need to do research,” Dr. Buchanan said.

“You researched this area before we started building,” Major Owens said. “How much more can you find out? Don’t you think the world would have heard about something like that?” He stabbed a finger in the direction of the casket. “We need to know what we’re dealing with now!”

“I can’t tell you anything right now.”

Another bang from inside the casket. Whatever it was, it didn’t seem strong enough to lift the lid off. Not surprising, seeing as how it took nearly a dozen men to put it back on the casket.

“Sergeant Konrath!” Owens called. The young sergeant ran over and saluted. “I want additional security in case that… thing gets out.”

Konrath looked at the casket. “All we have is fencing.”

“Surround it with fencing and close off the top. Then surround that with razor wire. It probably won’t stop it if that thing gets out, but it will at least give us time to shoot it to hell.”

The sergeant sent three soldiers in the Jeep to the surface for supplies.

He returned and said, “My men will be back in a few minutes. Do you really think it will be needed, sir?”

As if to answer the question, the lid of the casket scraped a bit, and the soldiers brought their rifles to their shoulders.

The men returned with the chain-link fencing and razor wire. They set it up around the casket, brought the top ends together so that it resembled a see-through teepee when it was finished. They also hammered spikes into the ground to anchor the fencing. However, if the creature managed to lift the lid of the casket, the fencing wouldn’t hold it for long.

Owens left to call his commander and update him on the situation. Dr. Buchanan left with him to return to Washington to try to figure out what this creature was.

When Major Owens returned, he brought two more soldiers with Browning Automatic Rifles. The soldiers set up along one side of the casket and settled down to watch and wait.

The creature continued to growl and scream from time to time. Occasionally, it smashed at the sides, causing the soldiers to jump each time.

Additional men and equipment were placed at the entrance to the tunnel into the mountain. Major Owens wasn’t sure what would happen, but he knew whatever was in that chamber had to be contained. He had ordered a steel cage to be brought in. He would feel a lot safer once that casket was behind bars.

Around quarter after seven, the creature screamed, and the lid rattled. The soldiers tensed. The lid slid to the side until it tipped over the edge.

“It’s opened the casket!” Owens shouted.

The creature rose up from the casket. Owens knew at a glance that Dr. Buchanan wouldn’t find anything about it because no creature like this could have existed on earth without someone writing about it. It looked more like one of the monsters from the movies than a living beast.

It was at least seven feet tall with gray skin and black spots at random locations. Its head would have been too large for its body if it had been a recognizable creature. Spiky growths covered its head. It looked like a pufferfish, except it had a long snout with gills along the sides. When it opened its mouth to roar, Owens thought the teeth resembled the flat, hooked appearance of shark’s teeth.

The roar was deafening without the casket muffling the sound. It echoed off the walls of the chamber, making it sound as if the soldiers were facing an army of creatures, and one was more than enough.             

It grabbed the fence with stubby fingers tipped with long claws. The fencing rattled and moved, but stakes in the ground held… for the moment.

Owens backed away from the fencing.

“Shoot it!” Owens ordered.

Bullets ripped through the air, and the noise grew even worse, if that was possible. It was so loud that everything seemed to vibrate inside the chamber. The creature flinched as the bullets hit it, and pieces of its new flesh ripped away. But it remained standing and screaming.

Owens held up his hand, and the shooting stopped.

The creature grabbed the fence with its clawed hands. It didn’t shake it; it stood staring at the soldiers. Then it closed its eyes, breathed in deeply, and began glowing blue.

“What the…” Owens said.

He waved for the soldiers to step back. He had no idea what was happening, but he doubted he wanted to be close to it. All the soldiers moved back except for Private Bucknell, who stood staring at the creature. Then he took a step towards it.

“Private Bucknell, back away. Now!” Owens shouted.

The young man didn’t. He took a step closer.

The creature opened its eyes and focused on Bucknell.

The soldier’s back arched, and his head tilted back as if he was in pain. His body seemed to ripple beneath his uniform. Either that, or Bucknell was shaking in fear. He turned, and Owens gagged. The soldier’s face was gone. All the skin on his face had vanished, and it was raw flesh staring at him, and it all faded out of sight.

The creature inhaled deeply, and Owens saw the pits and gaps of missing flesh fill in. The blue glow faded.

The creature growled. It grabbed the fence and pulled. A link snapped and then another.

“Fire!” Owens yelled.

The rifle fire opened up again. The creature flinched under the bullets, but it continued pulling at the fence. More links snapped.

If they could put enough lead into the creature, it would have to stop again to rest and regenerate. Then what would happen? Would another soldier die? They had to get it to the point where it couldn’t regenerate.

It had grown from a skeleton, though! How much more could they do to it?

“I want a slow retreat one at a time toward the entrance. We need to shore up the barricade.”

One by one, the men stopped firing and ran toward the entrance to the tunnel, which was more than 100 yards away.

When all his men were gone, Owens took a hand grenade from his belt. He pulled the pin and let the handle fly. Then he lobbed it, so it landed in front of the fence and creature, and he ran.

He counted as he ran, and right before the explosion, he flattened himself on the ground to avoid any shrapnel.

He rolled over and looked back. He couldn’t see anything through all the dust. However, he heard an angry growl and more metal snapping.

Owens pushed himself to his feet and ran for the entrance.

PTSD is having an impact on first responders all across the United States. A new documentary is being developed to tell the story. Filmmakers, Conrad Weaver, of Emmitsburg, and Nancy Frohman are working on the documentary to shed light on this ongoing issue that has often been ignored or glossed over.

PTSD911 will be a feature-length documentary telling the stories of firefighters, paramedics, police officers, and 911 dispatchers who are struggling with the effects of years of encountering severe traumatic incidents. Suicide rates among first responder groups in the United States are much higher than the general population. In 2016, 139 firefighters died by suicide. In 2019, 228 police officers died by suicide, nearly twice the number of officers who died in the line of duty. Both firefighters and police officers are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. Many first responders self-medicate with alcohol or other self-destructive and abusive behaviors in an effort to cope with the stress and trauma they deal with daily.

Weaver says the film will help educate the general public about the stressors first responders face, “We expect them to show up when we call and take care of us when we’re at our worst. We know they are heroes, but we don’t realize that many are in trouble themselves!” Weaver hopes the film will not only raise awareness, but also inspire systemic changes in agencies that don’t have adequate support systems in place to care for members who are suffering from post-traumatic stress.

The film project has been endorsed by a number of organizations who provide help and training for first responders, including Concerns of Police Survivors, the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Blue HELP, the National Emergency Number Association, and others; a complete list can be found on the film’s website at www.ptsd911movie.com.

The filmmakers recently released a teaser trailer for PTSD911, and they have launched a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo.com (bit.ly/PTSD911) to raise funds for the production of the film. “We’ll begin working on this as soon as the funds are in place, and COVID-19 restrictions are eased, allowing us to travel more freely. We hope to have the film completed by Fall of 2021,” said Weaver.

To learn more about PTSD911, visit the website at www.ptsd911movie.com.

James Rada, Jr.

The Catoctin Banner presents a continuation of fiction serials for your enjoyment. “Cast from the Gods” is a new, original serial set at Site R when it was under construction. Let us know what you think.

Part 4: The cage

The deformed skeleton was no longer a skeleton. As unusual as that was, it was only the second thing the soldiers noticed when they entered the excavated chamber under Raven Rock Mountain. The first thing they noticed was that Pvt. Jacob Parkinson, who had been stationed in the chamber to guard the skeleton, was missing. They called out his name and searched around the piles of rock and dirt in case falling debris inside the chamber may have injured or even killed him.

The private was nowhere to be found.

“Do we have an AWOL soldier?” Maj. Henry Owens asked.

“I doubt it, sir,” Sgt. Zachary Konrath said. He was Parkinson’s squadron commander at nearby Fort Ritchie. “Private Parkinson seemed fine when he went on duty. He was a friendly soldier who was doing fine in the military. Even if he went AWOL, where did he go?”

Major Owens scowled as he looked around the dark chamber. “If I knew that, I wouldn’t be standing here.”

“No, sir, I mean we had two men stationed on either side of the entrance to this chamber and other guards regularly patrolling the fence around this site. No one saw Parkinson last night.”

“He must have snuck by you because he certainly isn’t in here.” The major waved his hands around to show he was talking about the cavern.

Konrath shook his head. “With all due respect, sir, I don’t see how. Besides the guards, the entrance was well lit. My men would have seen someone leaving.”

“It’s happened before.”

Sergeant Konrath stiffened. “Not with my men, sir.”

Since construction of the underground complex had started, curious people had managed to get onto the property. A few made it as far as the entrance to the tunnel before they were caught. It wasn’t as if those people had made it onto the property without being detected. They had been detected and caught before they breached the sensitive area. They had only gotten that far because the fencing had not been fully erected at the time.

This cavern was supposed to be an atom bomb shelter for the government should the Soviets attack. It was nowhere near complete yet, in part, because the chamber was being hollowed out of greenstone granite. Yet, a long time ago, a group of people using primitive tools apparently buried a mysterious coffin containing a deformed skeleton hundreds of feet below the ground. So far, no one could identify what sort of creature the skeleton had been when it was alive because it certainly wasn’t human. They couldn’t even identify the metal the coffin was made from, but strange things had been happening around it ever since the work crew had opened it.

“There’s something else you need to see concerning the skeleton, sir,” Sergeant Konrath said.

“I’ve seen the skins on the bones, sergeant,” Major Owens told him.

Sergeant Konrath shook his head. “No, sir, this is something we discovered this morning when Private Parkinson’s relief came in.”

They walked over to the 12-foot-long and four-foot-wide and two-foot-tall coffin. Sergeant Konrath turned on his flashlight and shone the beam inside the coffin. The creature was nearly entirely covered with either fur, skin, or feathers of other creatures or the gray, leathery skin the other skins seemed to turn into. The face was gray with a wolf-like snout. However, instead of nostrils, the snout had a set of what appeared to gills running along its sides. The head resembled a sea urchin with spines growing from the top of it instead of hair.

Major Owens leaned over. “It looks different from yesterday. There’s more flesh. It’s barely even a skeleton now. I still couldn’t tell you what it is, though.”

“Sir, it’s breathing.”

“What!”

The major leaned over the coffin, staring at the creature’s chest. As he watched, it slowly rose as the creature inhaled.

He straightened up. “Holy, Mother of God!”

“Is it alive, sir?” Konrath asked.

“How should I know? I don’t even know what it is. How long has it been doing that?”

“At least since we got here at 0700.”

Owens thought for a moment. “I’ve got to make some calls. I will send down four more men, fully armed. I want the men already here and the additional men guarding this… thing.”

The major walked back to his Jeep. He drove out of the tunnel to the site office. He ordered the additional soldiers into the tunnel and then he placed a call to Dr. Howard Buchanan, the professor who had verified the site as not being claimed as a religious site or graveyard by any Native American or pioneer group. Howard arrived two hours later, and Major Owens drove him into the tunnel.

Dr. Buchanan looked at the creature in the box and said, “Amazing.”

“Is that all you have to say?” Owens asked.

“What do you expect me to say? Somehow a skeleton is regrowing its lost organs and flesh. It’s unheard of.”

Owens sighed. He would have been a lot happier if Buchanan had been military. “I want to know: 1) What is it? 2) Is it alive? And 3) Is it dangerous? And not necessarily in that order.”

Dr. Buchanan straightened up. “I’m afraid I can’t answer any of those questions. However, one of my colleagues thought the characters etched on the coffin looked familiar. He is attempting to decipher them for me.”

“Then I need to take some precautions.” Owens looked around. “Sergeant Konrath, where are you?”

The sergeant hurried over. “Yes, sir.”

“I want you and the other men here to put that lid back on the coffin. I will send a work team down here to erect a cage around it.”

“Don’t you think that’s an overreaction?” Dr. Buchanan asked.

Owens poked the professor in the chest. “You just told me you can’t tell me what this is or even if it’s alive. Yet, I have a skeleton regrowing its body. So, no, I don’t think I’m overreacting.”

The 10 soldiers managed, with effort, to push the lid back into place. When it dropped into place on top of the coffin, the sound of metal on metal echoed back and forth in the chamber.

As the sound died off, another sound replaced it. It sounded like thunder or a deeply muffled growl.

          To be continued…

Cast From the Gods

James Rada, Jr.

The Catoctin Banner presents a continuation of fiction serials for your enjoyment. “Cast from the Gods” is a new, original serial set at Site R when it was under construction. Let us know what you think.

3: The Pieces

Bruce Nelson was more than happy to allow the so-called experts to crowd around the odd metal box Bruce’s work crew had found hundreds of feet under Raven Rock Mountain. The U.S. government had hired him to excavate a chamber under the mountain not deal with metal boxes that couldn’t be scratched and bones growing flesh.

Not just any flesh either. Patches of skin, fur, and organs from a variety of creatures covered the deformed skeleton he had found in the box. He didn’t know how it had happened. He just wished he was constructing an office building in Baltimore and not some top secret chamber in what seemed to be a haunted mountain.

More than one egghead poking and prodding the skeleton proclaimed it a hoax, but none of them could explain how the bones came to be under the mountain or how the flesh had attached itself to the bones.

The eggheads increased the number of guards at the entrance tunnel and left satisfied the foolishness would end. They thought locals had snuck into the tunnel and pulled a practical joke. Idiots! Whatever this box and skeleton might be, they weren’t a hoax. Not that it mattered to him. He just wanted to get back to work.

The next morning Bruce drove a truck through the tunnel to inspect the work site before the day’s work began. He didn’t want to look in the metal box, but he knew he had to confirm the skeleton was undisturbed. If it was some sort of Indian burial, the government would be in enough trouble for opening the box. They wanted to leave the skeleton alone until they knew one way or another what was going on.

Bruce looked in the box and shook his head. Even more fur and flesh covered the skeleton, which now resembled a decaying corpse rather than a skeleton. He leaned closer. The older flesh had changed. He remembered what it had looked like, but now it was gray and leathery and covered with short brown hair.

The site manager–a major from Fort Ritchie–threw a fit when he saw the skeleton. He chewed out the night guards who swore no one had entered the chamber.

* * *

That evening, in addition to the guards at the entrance to the mountain tunnel, Private Jacob Parkinson drew guard duty for the metal box his fellow soldiers called “the coffin.”

Jacob lived at Fort Ritchie on nearby South Mountain. He’d been working at Raven Rock since the excavation began. Like pretty much everyone else at Fort Ritchie, he had no idea what was going on under the mountain. The rumor mill said when the Russians detonated their own A-bomb a few years ago, it had spooked the top brass in the U.S. government. President Truman had ordered the construction of what would be a giant bomb shelter, but who was it for? It was out in the middle of nowhere.

In his five months on site, Jacob had never even been inside the mountain before tonight. He paced around the box, which is what the soldiers who had seen it called the coffin. The first thing he had done after coming on duty was to look inside at the deformed skeleton covered with pieces of other animals. How could he resist?

Sergeant Collins had told him to watch over the skeleton and make sure nothing happened to it, as if grave robbers looked for graves hundreds of feet underground. And who would want a patchwork skeleton like he was looking at?

Jacob circled the perimeter at the edge of the light the klieg lights cast. He picked up rocks and threw them at boulders protruding from the rubble pile. He sang to himself. This wasn’t like walking along the fence line outside of the mountain. This cavern was too quiet, and there were no stars. Just light and darkness. Outside, he could listen to the night noises when he walked. He heard nothing in this space. Nothing lived here.

It was after his dinner break that Jacob started hearing noises. Maybe it was because he was feeling full after eating the roast beef sandwich and pretzels he had packed. He wasn’t singing or throwing things. He was as quiet as the cavern, except the cavern wasn’t quiet.

He could hear small rocks being dislodged and the scrape of claws along the rocks. He unslung his rifle from his back and let it hang loose in his hands. He kept his back to the coffin and tried to hear from where the sounds were coming. Easier said than done. Everything echoed in the cavern.

Jacob faced in the direction of the cavern opening, which was the most likely direction anything would approach from.

He waited.

A copperhead crawled across the cavern floor in his direction. Where had it come from? Copperheads needed warmth to control their body temperature. Why would it crawl half a mile underground? How long had it been crawling?

The snake moved his direction. Was it seeking the warmth of his body heat? Jacob stepped to the side, shouldered his rifle and drew his pistol. He didn’t want to shoot it, but he also didn’t want it crawling around where he might not see it before it bit him.

The snake didn’t change direction. Instead, it continued in a straight line to the coffin and crawled inside.

Jacob moved up next to the box and shined his light inside. He couldn’t see the snake. Where had it gone? Where could it have gone? Jacob hadn’t seen it crawl out. He moved his flashlight to look around the outside of the coffin, but then he shifted his light back. Something was different. He stared at the skeleton and then realized what had changed. It now had a four-inch-wide strip of snake skin around its neck. What’s more, that skin seemed to float in place as if resting on something Jacob couldn’t see.  

He unslung his rifle and pressed the end of the barrel into the space between the neck bone and the snake skin. The barrel passed through air.

As Jacob stepped back, a golden retriever jumped into the coffin. Jacob yelped and stumbled backward. He hadn’t seen a dog in the tunnel. How had it gotten past the guards at the entrance?

“Get out of there, boy!” Jacob said, making a shooing motion.

The dog sat on the skeleton and whimpered. Then its skin slid off its body and onto the skeleton. The whimpers grew louder. The dog shimmered with blue light.

Jacob felt his roast beef roiling in his stomach as he looked at the skinless dog. Then pieces of the dog’s flesh slipped onto the skeleton. Before Jacob could retch, the dog disappeared.

Confusion replaced nausea. Where was the dog? What had happened to it? He shined his flashlight in the coffin, but he saw nothing of the dog except that the skeleton’s right leg was now covered in golden fur.

Jacob turned away. He grabbed for the walkie-talkie on his belt, but his hand froze before he could touch it. He turned toward the coffin and stepped into it.

No! He wanted to scream and thrash, but he couldn’t. All he could do was whimper…like the dog.

No! No! No!

He looked down at the skeleton and saw it was glowing blue so brightly that Jacob couldn’t see the bones beneath of the shape of the creature formed from the light.

His skin ripped and slipped from his body. He felt no pain. Jacob wasn’t sure what surprised him more. That or seeing his skin spread across the skeleton.

He felt tugging on his thighs and chest and saw organs and muscle fall onto the skeleton.

Jacob wanted to scream, but all he could manage was a whimper.

And then he was gone.

Maxine Troxell

Nancy Rice has been a Thurmont resident all her adult life. When not sitting at an easel or her workbench, her time is consumed by volunteering at her church, the Thurmont Senior Center, and wherever else she is asked to help.

Nancy’s interest in art began in junior high school, continuing through high school. She credits her art teacher, Arthur Gernand, for instilling in her a love of many different forms of art. However, she is a self-taught artist for the most part, using the Realism style. She also mentioned that each of her extended family, beginning on her maternal great-grandmother Guyton’s side, has an inherited talent for creating.  Every uncle, aunt, and cousin has an artistic skill of some kind.

In the 1980s, Nancy developed an interest in gourd art as a hobby. She grew and dried hard-shelled gourds, which she then cleaned and painted. She particularly liked painting birds and flowers and landscapes on them. At that time, gourds were very popular items at craft shows. She turned them into bird houses, bowls, dippers, etc. Nancy would also teach others, and was invited to conduct workshops at Frederick Homemakers Clubs, Rose Hill Manor, and other places. Nancy was also chosen to be included in a story in a national magazine Birds and Blooms. She continued doing gourd art for nearly 20 years and still is occasionally asked for a decorated gourd.

Nancy decided to try her luck at airbrushing. She enjoyed that type of painting very much and developed a skill for using an airbrush. Many local people knew about her painting ability and would ask her to do projects for them. One day, she received a call from a lady who had a “Gone With The Wind lamp.”  The top globe had accidentally been broken. The lady purchased a plain white globe and asked Nancy if she could paint it to match the bottom globe. Nancy agreed to paint it and did so by airbrushing a floral design. She was sort of surprised herself when it did indeed match. When she delivered the globe back to the lady, the lady was overcome with happiness, and tears flowed. Nancy saw that same reaction numerous times, thus knowing her clients were very satisfied.

After retiring from work 15 years ago, Nancy devoted a lot of time to improving her painting skills. “I developed a passion for acrylic painting on canvas,” said Nancy.

She soon had friends and strangers asking her to paint landscapes, dogs, cats, and portraits. A very popular item is a wooden replica she would make of one’s home from a photo. The very first one she created, a Virginia mansion, was so well liked by the family that she ended up making a total of nine for all the owner’s grandchildren. They remembered visiting their grandparents at that home as children and were elated to receive a replica. Nancy still chooses not to advertise her work. Word of mouth is best.

Nancy likes her work to reflect on special moments or memories. She shall always remember being asked to paint a childhood picture of seven siblings on a wooden bowl. They had lived in poverty, and the only other picture the mother had of her young children was from a newspaper article. This painted bowl was to be a special Mother’s Day gift for the elderly mom; one can imagine the joy it brought to her, not to mention how it warmed Nancy’s heart as well.

Frequently, Nancy will create her own gifts to give people for special occasions. Once, she painted a large portrait of a young couple and gave it to them as a wedding gift. 

Then, there are the dogs. She has painted so many. One client, in particular, wanted a large painting of their four beagles in a group setting, using four individual photos. I am sure it still hangs in a special place in their home.

Her canvas can also be wood, sawblades, slate, etc. Nancy is proud to have her artwork spread over many states and countries, from Thurmont to California to Norfolk, England. She said it has been a privilege making so many folks smile.

Two years ago, she accepted the biggest challenge yet. Nancy was asked to illustrate a coloring book—22 pages. Her uncle, Ernest Rice, had written a song and wanted to create a coloring book. Each page would contain a line from the song, and she was to draw an illustration to go along with the words. Hesitantly, she said yes. Well, she did get it completed and how special it is. Some pages have pictures drawn of her grandchildren, her dog, her husband, her uncles, and her aunts. The books were printed and sold, with all proceeds going to non-profit use. Her time and talent was donated—her way of giving back.  A limited supply of these coloring books are still available. Anyone interested can purchase one from Nancy at 301-271-4637.

Nancy sees no end in sight for doing what she loves—making friends and strangers happy.

Nancy Rice creates a wooden replica of the home pictured in the photo.


Nancy Rice does a large painting for a client of their four beagles in a group setting, using four individual photos.

James Rada, Jr.

2: The skeleton

“An ill wind blows no good.”

That old saying rang in Bruce Nelson’s head when he and the men of his work crew opened the large metal box they had unearthed digging into Raven Rock Mountain on a government project. The wind that had burst outward when the seal on the box lid broke had chilled him to his core.

Bruce hesitated to look inside the box. It suddenly seemed ominous or at least worrisome to him. He wasn’t sure he wanted to see what could generate such a wind.

Bruce switched on his flashlight and shone it inside the metal box. Bones gleamed under the light.

It was a skeleton. So the box was a coffin. That had been his first thought when he found it, but it hadn’t been the right size for a coffin or made from the right material. For that matter, being located hundreds of feet underground wasn’t the right place for a coffin.

Yet, he was staring at bones. At least he thought they were bones. As Bruce moved the flashlight beam up and down along the bones, he realized this was no typical skeleton.

“Is it a time capsule?” Harv Worthington asked from behind him.

“I hope it’s a treasure,” Joe Jeffries countered.

Without taking his eyes off the skeleton, Bruce said, “It’s bones.”

“Bones? No, that means we’ll be delayed while the eggheads come in here to study them,” Harv said.

Bruce turned off the flashlight. “Help me pull the lid all the way off. There’s something wrong with these bones.”

The half dozen men on the crew struggled to lift the lid. It felt like it weighed more than lead. The effort left them all sweating and breathing hard.

“Careful,” Bruce cautioned. “If we damage this, the higher-ups will have our heads.”

He thought it was more likely the lid would damage one of his work crew by smashing a finger or dropping on someone’s foot.

With the lid off, more light from the klieg lights could shine in the box. The skeleton was at least seven-feet tall. The arms were long, reaching down to the knees, which were reversed like many birds. The chest was broad, nearly as wide as the four-foot-wide coffin. The skull had a pronounced jaw filled with jagged teeth that seemed longer than they should be. It wasn’t smooth along the top either. It had a series of small, horn-like growths all over the skull.

“What the hell is that?” Patrick O’Hearn said.

Bruce shook his head. “It’s not human.”

“You think?” Joe said. “Nothing human or animal has ever looked like that.”

“Something did. There’s its skeleton,” Harv said, stabbing his finger toward the skeleton.

Bruce rubbed his face. He would definitely have to call this in.

He kept trying to imagine what a creature with this skeleton would look like. It would be something out of a horror movie like Boris Karloff in Frankenstein. He could almost understand why someone would want to bury it deep in the ground, even if he couldn’t figure out how it was done.

“It has to be a fake like something for Halloween,” Patrick said. “It doesn’t even have skin.”

Bruce stared at the skeleton again. Patrick was right. When Bruce was younger, he had worked at a cemetery helping dig the graves. One summer, the maintenance crew had needed to exhume a body for a police investigation. When the casket had been opened, teenage Bruce had seen the body. It had been desiccated with some spots where he could see bone, but there had been flesh and clothing. This skeleton had none of that. It was just bones that were clean and white as if they had never held flesh.

He shined the flashlight in the box. He saw nothing indicating anything but bones had ever been inside.

Fake or not, this was above his pay grade.

Bruce told his men to take lunch, even though it was only 10 a.m. Then he went to the construction office at the entrance to the mountain to make a call.

The small caravan of cars arrived around noon. One held a general and colonel. Bruce’s  supervisor, Paul McNeill, was in the second car, and Dr. Howard Buchanan was in the third.

As the men climbed out of their cars, Paul hurried over to Bruce.

“Are you sure about this?” Paul asked.

Bruce nodded. “I wasn’t the only one who saw the box or the bones. Who would have buried something so deep?”

“I don’t really care. My butt is not on the line over the who. We just need to make sure whatever you found is not damaged.”

Bruce looked over at Dr. Buchanan. The man was middle-aged with a receding hairline. He had the look of a former military man, and Bruce would have bet he was also a vet of the war. He was also the person in trouble over all this because he had verified the site as not being claimed as a religious site or graveyard by any Native American or pioneer group.

“I don’t think what we found is something anyone can blame the doc for,” Bruce said.

Paul rolled his eyes. “It’s the government. They’ll want to blame someone, especially if the news gets out we unearthed some Indian’s great-great-great-grandpa.”

“That’s what I mean,” Bruce said. “It’s not Indian. I don’t even think it’s human.”

The military men and Dr. Buchanan stopped talking and walked over to Bruce. He loaded them into a truck and drove to the rubble pile in the cavern. He walked them over to the box and shined his flashlight on the skeleton.

The colonel laughed. When everyone looked at him, he said, “Well, it’s obviously a hoax.”

“I thought that at first, too,” Bruce said. “But then I thought about the box. I’m not sure what that metal is, but it wasn’t scratched even with tons of rubble falling on it. It’s also so heavy it would have taken a heavy-duty truck to bring it here, and that would have been noticed.”

Dr. Buchanan reached into the box and ran his hand along a bone. “They feel real enough, although they look bleached rather than aged.”

He walked around the box, stopping only when he saw the scratching on the box.

“Not that I know every language, but I don’t recognize these characters, although my gut says it is a language of some sort.”

“We had an Indian on our crew. When he saw those scratches, he just turned around and left,” Bruce said.

Dr. Buchanan stood up. “I want to get some photos of those marks. Then I’ll get the members of the language department at the university to look at them. Maybe one of them will recognize the language.”

“What about the bones?” The general asked.

“Leave them alone for now until we know if a group will claim them. We have already disturbed them enough.”

Bruce was happy enough to leave the bones alone for now, but he doubted any group would want to claim them.

 Bruce drove onto the job site the next day, hoping that he could get back to work. The best outcome would be that the higher-ups determined the skeleton was a fake. Then it could be thrown in the trash and work could resume.

He drove down the long tunnel and parked his truck. He made sure the windows were rolled up. This was to make sure no dust and dirt got inside the truck, although it always seemed to find a way in.

No one else was at the site yet. He walked over to the box carrying his morning coffee in a Thermos. He took a swig of coffee to help clear his head, and he looked in the box.

He spit out his coffee and dropped the Thermos.

The skeleton was still in the box, but now it had flesh on it, at least on some of it.

“This is not good,” Bruce muttered to himself. “This is not good.”

Bruce grabbed his flashlight and shined the beam on the skeleton. The left foot now was covered across the top with gray fur. A red muscle had attached itself to the knee and upper right thigh. Leathery skin covered a hip and some new tissue beneath it. Black fur with white stripes covered part of the chest. More leathery skin covered the skull, which made the bone protuberances look even more like horns. A strip of scales ran along one arm.

Bruce started to turn away, but he stopped and stared at the new additions to the skeleton. He recognized the fur. It came from a skunk and a gray squirrel, and the white-striped fur was skunk. The scales appeared to have come from a snake. He couldn’t place the leathery skin, although it might have been from a bat. Where the skin and tissue touched, it seemed fused together.

Bruce took his pocketknife from his pocket and used it to move the skins. Not only were they connected to each other, but they were also connected to the skeleton.

He spun away and ran back to his truck. To be continued next month

In Spring
Have you ever
had the time?
taken the time?
found the time?
to look, to see, to watch
the greening of the hills,
the dales, the vales,
the just plain
ups and downs
of rolling hills
and open fields,
of soaring movements
that touch the sky
and tickle
low flying clouds?
Well, do
look, see, watch
the greening of the spring.
Just a peek will do
and I promise you
a great reward;
thanks to Our Lord!
-Francis

By Jack Lynch

Stuck in the stream banks
along Buffalo Creek
in the 1980’s
they crushed cars flat
and piled them beside the water

covered a field
in rusty wafers of vaguely familiar vehicles
then later the state made them come out
and they hauled them away
in a clean water effort

but some were sunk down in the bank
and are still there today
chrome shining,
grills like gaping mouths of fish out of water
headlights that seem to wink at you

who’s grinning grill of a Chevy is this
sticking out from the creek bank?
who’s Olds love machine with the big back seat?
what fit in this little Honda
now compressed down to a flat pancake
we hope you got out in time
before the weight of the world
said a violent goodbye to your ride

what proud big fin fender hopes
what blazing chrome cowboy dreams
reside in this auto graveyard
of the retired Detroit machines
these are our exposed sins
waiting for an archeologist’s hand
to come and try to understand
our culture of use, then waste
will they stroke their chin and absolve us?

By Ida Belle Everett

August 5, 1922

It was nearly two hundred years ago
from Switzerland’s valleys begirt with snow
to Maryland came the Harbaugh clan
to till the soil and homes to plan.

The plucky men and stalwart boys
     felled mighty oaks with a crashing noise.

They hewed the timbers for houses and barns
    and quarried stones for chimneys warm.

The children carried buckets of stones
    till they groaned at night with aching bones.

The women toiled till set of sun
     in harvest fields to get work done
    ere the Blue Ridge winter should set in
    every animal housed and filled each bin.
They put up pickles and dried sweet corn
while the children scurried off each morn
with pails for berries that grew wild
and nodded at each happy child.

The strawberry, huckle, and the black
for jam and wine, and ‘serves.  Flack
the time to tell in words that please
how everybody worked like bees
to cook a feast ere butchering time
arrived, to kill the hogs so prime.
And see whose hog had fattened best
whose scale dropped lower than the rest.
The cows soon calved, and the horses foaled
while the cackling hens their story told.

The knitting needles at night ne’er stopped
though in glowing embers the chestnuts popped
while the family munched on apples red
and cider quaffed ere they went to bed.
The good wife skimmed all her churn could hold
to turn out butter like shining gold.

In the springhouse cool, where a sparkling stream
filled a big ice pond for ducks to dream
the silent moonlit hours away
or quack and splash the livelong day.
They raised the flax and spun the thread
for household linen and every bed.
The sheep throve well on the mountain side
to furnish wool for groom and bride.

Then it was spun into good strong yarn
for mitts and stockings bright and warm.
And fuller every hope chest grew
with homespun counterpane, red and blue.
A log cabin quilt, and a braided rug
with new rag carpet looked quite snug.
The geese soon furnished a feather bed
with downy pillows for each head.
Before you knew it, the young folks wed
and started in life a new homestead.
The mothers baked good pies and bread
in old Dutch ovens glowing red
for quilting party and husking bee
which brought the neighbors in merry glee.
While every lad and blushing miss
kept a sly lookout for stolen kiss.

Oh the good old days of the simple life
when a man rode a horse to church with his wife
when a suit of jeans and a big straw hat
meant a stomach filled and a purse that’s fat.
When the plump bare feet of lad and lass
were kissed by clover and dewy grass.
When a sweetheart, riding behind her beau
was a queen enthroned in calico.
They paid as they went; so the good name grew
to stand for honor and virtue true.
Each farm blossomed full in fruit and tree
to furnish sweets for the honey bee
till its fame soon spread to the world outside
and the railroad came with rapid stride.

James Rada, Jr.

The Catoctin Banner presents a continuation of fiction serials for your enjoyment. “Cast from the Gods” is a new, original serial set at Site R when it was under construction. Let us know what you think.

1: The Box

James Rada, Jr.

The Catoctin Banner presents a continuation of fiction serials for your enjoyment. “Cast from the Gods” is a new, original serial set at Site R when it was under construction. Let us know what you think.

1: The Box

Nearly every morning in 1951, the sound of thunder—but no storm—woke anyone who tried to sleep late near Raven Rock Mountain. At first, the phenomena created curiosity until people realized that their newest neighbor—the federal government—was building under the mountain, something top secret.
    No one was quite sure what it was, but the government had taken over four properties in Adams County, Pennsylvania, along the Mason-Dixon Line that amounted to 280 acres, including Raven Rock Mountain. Blasting into the mountain had started in January.
    Occasionally, a few people gathered near the gate on Harbaugh Valley Road to watch the empty dump trucks enter the newly created hole in the side of the mountain and then leave heaping with debris.
    “I tell you they’re mining,” Rob Fairbanks said, as he watched a truck roll through the gate and onto the road.
    “Mining what?” Don Parker asked. “There’s no metals or minerals worth mining in there. Rock, yep, but they could get rock from a quarry. They’re building something in there.”
    So, the debate went with one side saying the government found something to mine, and the other side saying the government was building a secret installation. Occasionally, someone threw out an odd theory. The government was searching for something buried in the mountain. They were building a back way into Shangri-La, the President’s hideaway a few miles away on Catoctin Mountain.
    Whatever was happening, the trucks kept entering empty and leaving full.
    A siren sounded, and a few minutes later, the debaters heard the thunder without rain. The mountain seemed to shake, but it could have just been the ground beneath their feet, trembling. No tell-tale dust cloud rose into the air to tell you where the explosion occurred, and the mountain muffled much of the explosive sounds.
    Bruce Nelson waited along with the rest of his work crew outside of the entrance into the mountain. Powerful fans vented the cavern slowly forming beneath the mountain of dust-sized debris.
    He waited 10 minutes and walked into the cavern with his flashlight to check if the air was clear. It was hard enough keeping the area properly ventilated. He didn’t need his men inhaling dirt floating in the air. He was the foreman on this project, so it was his call whether it was safe to re-enter the cavern.
    No dirt and debris danced in the air reflected by his flashlight beam. He waved his crew in. Backhoes, bulldozers, and dump trucks disappeared into the ground. The backhoes were a new technology that certainly improved the speed of the job. The metal arms could reach into the debris and lift out large boulders that just a few years ago would have needed to be broken up.
    What had been a solid mountain only a few months ago was slowly being hollowed out by the federal government. Each day, the cavern grew larger, as different work crews excavated toward the center of the mountain and hundreds of feet belowground.
    Bruce wasn’t entirely sure why he was being tasked to build this cavern, but the pay was good.
    He watched a backhoe remove a ton of newly created debris and drop it into the back of a dump truck. When the truck was full, Bruce waved at the driver to head out and dump his load. He walked over to look at the pile of rock and dirt to see whether anything still needed to be broken down to smaller rocks. The next truck backed into the spot vacated by the first truck.
    Klieg lights shone on the pile so that the backhoe operators could see what they were doing. The pile of rock was at least 15 feet high inside a cavern that was 40 feet tall and growing.
    Bruce tread carefully. He didn’t want to twist an ankle or start a rock slide. A boulder caught his attention, and he knelt down beside it. It looked like the point of a three-sided pyramid. The edges were sharp and the sides smooth, unlike any other piece of rock in this cavern.
    He grabbed it in his gloved hand and tried to tug it loose. It didn’t give. He brushed away some of the surrounding debris and saw that the sides continued to grow wider. The smoothness also continued. How could a rock shear so cleanly on three sides?
    Bruce leaned closer to the rock. Something about it was odd. He took his canteen from his belt and splashed some water on one side. The dust washed away, and the boulder gleamed. It was metal. Then it dawned on Bruce what he was seeing.
    He stood up. “I need the rock breakers over here!” he called.
    Half a dozen men walked over, carrying shovels and picks. Bruce pointed to the exposed metal.
    “I need you to free this metal box,” Bruce said.
    “How did a metal box get in here?” Harv Worthington asked.
    “What’s in it?” Joe Jeffries added.
    No one asked the question bothering Bruce. What sort of metal could withstand having all that debris fall on it and still appear smooth and unflawed? It had no pitting or scratches.
    Bruce stepped back and let his crew get to work. It took them about an hour to uncover the box. Even uncovered, it was too heavy for 10 men to lift. It was roughly 12 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 2 feet tall. The measurements were the only thing rough about it. It was smooth all over, except for some odd characters on the side of the box.
    He had men bring in buckets of water to rinse off the box. With the dirt gone, Bruce could see a thin seam that ran around all four sides, a few inches from the top, although he couldn’t see hinges or a lock.
    Bruce pointed to the markings on the top. They were a series of straight lines, wavy lines, and dots. If not for the wavy lines, he would have thought it was Morse Code, which he had learned in the Army during the war.
    “Anybody know what these are?” he asked.
    “Hieroglyphics?” Joe suggested.
    “They use pictures,” Bruce said.
    “They aren’t letters,” Patrick O’Hearn said.
    “I know that.”
    Patrick shook his head. “No, I mean letters like the Chinese use.”
    Jack Standing Bear bent over and ran his fingers across the characters. His brow furrowed, and he jumped back.
    “Recognize them?” Bruce asked.
    The Cherokee shook his head. Then he turned and walked away.
    Bruce didn’t believe him, but he couldn’t do anything about it. He turned back to the box. “It looks like it has a lid. Help me pry it off,” he said to no one in particular.
    He took a pick from Harv and used the blade as a lever. He tried to wedge it into the seam, but he couldn’t get it to hold. After the third try, Bruce threw the pick down in frustration.
    “What do you think’s inside?” Harv asked.
    “What else? Treasure,” Peter Montgomery replied.
    “We’re not going to know until we get that lid off,” Bruce told them.
    He walked over to the backhoe operator, talked to him for a minute, and walked back to the waiting crew.
    “Step back,” Bruce said. “I’m going to have the backhoe open it.”
    The backhoe arm first tried breaking through the top of the box, but nothing happened. The arm didn’t even scratch the surface. Then it lifted the edge of the box and dropped it, hoping to jar the lid loose. Again, nothing happened. Finally, the backhoe turned the box on its side and hit the lid repeatedly.
    The seam widened.
    The backhoe tipped the box back. Then it scraped along the side of the box, trying to catch the seam. Bruce had his men wedge their picks and shovels into the seam, trying to widen it.
    With a whoosh, a hard wind blew out from the box, carrying with it a foul smell. The men staggered back under the force of the wind.
    “What was that?” someone shouted.
    Bruce approached the box slowly. The lid had come loose and lay slightly askew. He tried to push it aside, but it was too heavy.
    “Help me with this,” he called.
    The crew of men grabbed the edges of the box, and together they managed to open the box enough so they could see inside.
    Bruce pulled a flashlight from his belt and turned it on so that he could clearly see what was in the box.
    He wished he hadn’t.

Pent-up within the bounds

Of my humanity,

My relentless spirit, ever straining upward,

Thrills to harmony

Melodious in the music of a song

New lisped into a prayer,

Ever-rising, ever-failing

In its flight to the Supreme Reality.

But in that love-wrought paeon,

‘Compassed by my mortal bonds,

Eternal realms I still explore

And know not satisfaction.

Then one solitary hope,

Breathed in time’s faint ecstasy,

Longing for divine fulfillment,

To the overwhelming grace of God

Intends. And yet

In earthly guise

I may not yet approach

Such wond’rous plenitude

Nor fully grasp beatitude!

Still longing for the joys above,

To petty woes I yield;

And in this weakening

A paradox takes life.

For, pinioned to this world’s rancor

Like fledglings boasting strength of wing,

My charmed soul sallies forth

In spams oft-times o’er

To fall again

In dust —

Bathed in humble blood-stains

Red with injured pride.

Poem by Francis Smith

Emmitsburg Poet Laureate

Westwood Books Publishing announced the availability of a book by Catoctin-area resident and author Patricia Owens for her book, Where’s Michael’s Brother: The American Family Under Attack.

Where’s Michael’s Brother: The American Family Under Attack is the story about the author’s journey in challenging both state and federal laws regarding the removal and later adoption of children by non-biological family, even when the biological family is ready and willing to raise these children. The author notes how these newly adopted families are compensated financially until these children reach adulthood and sometimes beyond.

Owens experienced this within her own family. She saw firsthand when the brother to the grandchild she was raising was removed by the child welfare system and hidden from the family, who was willing to adopt the child. Watching the situation unfold empowered her to action.

“I saw an injustice, and I worked to right the wrong,” explains Owens. “I was successful not only in changing Maryland state law but also instrumental in making sure federal law was passed to stop this practice. The new law now mandates that all states must notify and give preference to the biological family before adopting children out to strangers. The book is about my journey to make that change happen.”

Where’s Michael’s Brother: The American Family Under Attack is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.