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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.

Part 6: The Challenge

Story Written by James Rada, Jr.

“The Anger of Innocence” is a six-part original serial set in the Graceham area during 1973. Serialized fiction is something that older newspapers often did as an additional way to entertain their readers. We thought it was about time for serial to make a comeback. Let us know what you think.

Thirteen-year-old Sarah Adelsberger said nothing when she arrived at her Aunt Anna’s house in Graceham on the first warm day of 1973. She should have been happy or at least in a good mood with the 68-degree temperature and sunshine. She also knew she hadn’t killed her teacher, and she wasn’t responsible for her classmate Christine Weber’s death either. It was a burden lifted from her conscience, but it had been replaced with another problem.

“What’s wrong?” Aunt Anna asked as she mixed some herbs and spices to a stew cooking on the stove. She looked like a witch at that moment.

“Nothing,” Sarah muttered.

“Sure seems like something’s wrong. You’re usually not so quiet. Are you having bad dreams?”

The dreams of Mrs. Zentz, her science teacher at Thurmont Middle School, had seemed too real when she had them. Sarah knew now that they hadn’t been her dreams at all, but projections meant to anger her.

“No, but…” Sarah looked her aunt in the eyes. “I suppose you already knew that!”

Anna Eichholtz stopped what she was doing and rinsed off her hands. “What are you talking about?” she asked as she dried her hands on a dish towel.

“I know about the dreams,” Sarah said. “I know you used me.”

Anna gave a light snort. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve never used you. I’ve tried to help you.”

Sarah jumped up from her chair. “You tried to help you! You used me to get what you wanted.”

She hadn’t wanted to say anything to her aunt, but once she started, everything started to spill out.

“What I wanted?” Her aunt smiled. It was a nasty smile Sarah had never seen on her aunt before. It scared her.

Her aunt said, “As I recall, you’re the one who killed two people.”

“No, I know that now! Stop lying!”

Sarah turned and sprinted from the house. She ran across a field to Hoovers Mill Road. Then, she kept running until she reached her house.

* * *

Sarah’s nightmares returned that night. Mrs. Zentz attacked Sarah and tried to kill her. It didn’t anger Sarah now, though. Mrs. Zentz hadn’t killed her when she had a reason to. She hadn’t even been angry with Sarah for sending the birds to attack her, or rather, thinking she had sent the birds.

“I’m not afraid,” Sarah told the dream Mrs. Zentz. “You’re not real.”

Mrs. Zentz opened her mouth and growl came out. Her teeth lengthened and sharpened. Her hair grew shaggy. Spikes poked out of her back, and her fingers lengthened into claws.

The sudden shift startled Sarah, but she quickly calmed down.

Then the dream monster attacked, and Sarah screamed.

* * *

Monica Adelsberger ran into her daughter’s bedroom, still pulling her robe on. Sarah lay on her bed thrashing and yelling in terror but still asleep.

Monica shook her daughter’s shoulder. “Sarah, wake up. You’re having a nightmare.”

Sarah didn’t wake, but she quieted down.

Monica patted Sarah’s cheek. “Wake up, honey.”

Sarah calmed somewhat at her touch. Then her eyes opened, and Monica saw her daughter’s blue eyes had turned pale, so only the pupils showed.

Monica drew back sharply. She knew what this meant. She had seen it before. Something supernatural was in control of Sarah. It wasn’t a demon or spirit; Monica had fought that type of possession before. It had to be another witch.

Sweat beaded on Sarah’s brow, and her hands clenched into fists at her sides. Monica pulled sweat-dampened hair off her daughter’s face.

“Don’t be angry, sweetheart,” she whispered into Sarah’s ear. “Don’t give into the anger. Release it. She can’t control what isn’t there.”

* * *

Barbara Zentz startled the women of her coven when she walked into the clearing. Donna Eyler even screamed as if she was seeing a ghost.

Kate Montgomery looked from Barbara to Anna Eichholtz and back. “Anna said you were dead,” Kate said.

Barbara held her hands out to her side. “As you can see, I’m not. I’ve been … indisposed for a few days, but I’m back and ready to take my place among my sisters.”

The women in the circle nodded, but Anna shook her head. “I lead the coven now.”

“But you lied to us,” Kate said. “You told us Barbara was dead.”

“A slight miscalculation.” Anna’s light-blue eyes narrowed. “One that can be corrected.”

“You aren’t more powerful than me,” Barbara said.

“I don’t have to be. I have the coven’s power.”

Barbara had hoped Anna would give up her quest for power when she saw Barbara was alive. Unlike most witches who tried to work with nature rather than force it to their bidding, Anna would not give up her power now that she controlled the power of the witches in coven. The only way for Barbara to take back leadership of coven was for Anna to give up the power or for her to die.

“A coven is not for one person to control,” Barbara said. “You lead a coven, otherwise, you are a thief not a witch.”

Anna laughed. “You sound afraid, Barbara, because I’ve done what you are afraid to do.”

“We won’t let you control us!” Barbara shouted.

“I could care less about you,” Anna said.

She waved her hand, and Barbara grabbed at her throat. She dropped to her knees trying to catch her breath.

“Do you understand now? Even if you had used your power against me, it is the power of one. I have the power of many.”

Barbara knew what was coming and managed to throw up a shield, but when Anna’s power hit, it still felt like being punched in the face. Barbara staggered back but held onto the shield.

Anna struck again, and the shield broke with ease. Ease for Anna. It hurt Barbara so much she screamed.

Some of the other witches struck at Anna with different spells, but Anna’s power included theirs. Her shields easily deflected the spells.

The fire in the center of the clearing flared, spitting out fireballs. The women ducked and rolled out of the way of the flames. Anna would have jumped out of the way, too, but her shields stopped the flames.

Then she saw Sarah shamble into the clearing.

Sarah was tired and her head ached, but she had pulled herself out of the nightmare with her mother’s help. Now she had to stop her aunt.

“It’s over, Aunt Anna,” Sarah said. “Stop this before more people get hurt.”

“Sarah, Sarah,” Anna said in a soothing voice. “I am protecting you from people who would hurt you if they had the chance.”

“I don’t know these women. They aren’t causing me pain.” Sarah rubbed her temples. “You are.”

“I can stop the pain.”

Anna lifted her hand and threw Sarah backward. Monica ran out of the woods to help Sarah.

Anna laughed. “You shouldn’t have come, Monica. This doesn’t concern you. You walked away from this life.”

“And you pulled my daughter into it!” Monica yelled.

Sarah threw her arm out, but nothing happened to Anna. Instead, a hard wind blew through the clearing, nearly extinguishing the fire. Mrs. Zentz was right. Sarah had power, but she couldn’t control it. She had never been trained.

Anna raised an arm in Sarah’s direction. Sarah wanted to create a shield to block whatever her aunt would do, but she didn’t know how. She felt her mother’s hand on her back, and Sarah felt a shield form around the two of them. Although Sarah saw nothing, the shield felt oily for a few moments. Then the feeling vanished.

Anna’s blue eyes widened. She frowned. “Poor, poor, Sarah. You must worry over whether the police will find out what you did to Christine. Did Sarah tell you she killed a girl, Monica?”

Her mother didn’t reply, or if she did, Sarah didn’t hear it. She was caught up in a vision as if she was Christine Weber collapsing beneath the weight of thousands of birds. They clawed at her and pecked at her. Sarah screamed in pain, and a bird pecked at her tongue. She saw the birds. Many of them had their eyes closed as if they didn’t want to see what they were doing. Amid the pain, she could feel a presence pressing on them from behind, forcing them to attack when they just wanted to fly away.

“No!” Sarah screamed, although she wasn’t sure whether she said it or just yelled it in the vision.

She hurt all over. Her hair. Her toenails. How could Christine have endured all this?

“Stop, please stop,” Sarah pleaded.

And the birds stopped. It was as if they were frozen in air. She wasn’t free of them, but they had stopped the attack, which is what Sarah had asked.

Was she finally controlling the birds? Did she want to control them? Mrs. Zentz had said magic shared was more powerful than forced magic like her aunt held. The birds might not be witches, but they were influenced by magic.

“Can you help me?” she asked.

The answer came from far away not from the flock of birds surrounding her. “You can make us.”

“I don’t want to do that. I want to stop the woman who is keeping you here.”

“Yes, we want to go,” the voice said. Were the birds speaking to her as one?

“Then help me stop her.”

“We are afraid.”

“I will give you the power to protect and control yourselves.” Sarah thought she could do this. Her mother’s touch had given her control, without controlling her like Aunt Anna had.

“We would be free?”

“Yes, but first she must be stopped.”

Sarah remembered her mother’s whispered voice when she had been caught in the fevered nightmare Aunt Anna had created. Release it. She can’t control what isn’t there. Sarah had released the anger then and the nightmare faded. She tried the same thing now except with the power she felt within her.

She opened her eyes and dropped to her knees suddenly weak. Anna still stood with her hand out to her sides. The other witches were on the ground. Sarah still stood, and she could feel her mother’s hand on her back, soothing her and giving her control.

“You are strong, Sarah, but control is more important. Control allows you to take the power you want,” Anna said.

“Not if I’ve already given it away,” Sarah said.

The birds flew into the clearing. Anna shifted her stance, and Sarah could tell she had gone from attacking to strengthening her shield, expecting the birds’ attack.

They didn’t attack, though. They kept their distance, flying around Anna faster and faster. They started glowing red, but that shifted to orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Sarah wasn’t sure she was actually seeing it until she heard her mother gasp.

“What’s happening?” Sarah asked.

“I don’t know,” her mother said. “It’s beautiful. They look magical.”

As the colors shifted, the birds chirped and tweeted. It should have been a deafening chaos of noise, but the sounds blended so that Sarah could imagine it as a chant.

Inside the circle, Anna screamed, but the birds weren’t close enough to harm her.

“Are we free?” the voice asked.

“I don’t control you,” Sarah said.

The birds flew off in all directions. Sarah was sure when she left the clearing most of the millions of birds that had been invading Graceham for the past few months would be gone.

Anna was gone, but the birds hadn’t been close enough to attack. Yet, they had stopped her as Sarah had asked them to do.

She saw movement where her aunt had been. It was a crow left behind. Sarah walked over to the crow as it hopped around on the ground. Its wings didn’t look injured, but it couldn’t fly. Sarah was surprised only one bird had been injured in that swirling flock.

Sarah stopped near the crow, and it looked up at her with its blue eyes.

Sarah gasped and kneeled down closer to the crow. It didn’t move away. It just stared at Sarah.

“Hello, Aunt Anna.”

Who would have thought birds had a sense of justice?

James Rada, Jr.

The 13th Annual Foothills Artist Studio Tour in Adams County, Pennsylvania, was so successful that printmaker Anne Finucane nearly ran out of the prints she was selling.

“It was an amazing day,” Finucane said. “I had to go home and print and frame until midnight to have pieces to sell today.”

It is hard work that she loves. Her father was an artist, and she has been an artist all of her life.

“I sold my first piece when I was eight, and I cried afterwards because I realized I didn’t want to sell it,” she said.

Finucane is one of 10 artists in Adams County who opened their studios for the weekend to show off their art and offer them for sale.

Jack Handshaw is a potter who uses many types of clay and firings in his work, but he is known for his hobbits. He was inspired to create them after reading J. R. R. Tolkien’s books, and he even named his Hobbit House Pottery.

Handshaw said of his designs, “I like to try to do the things no one else is doing.”

Judy Pyle makes jewelry torch firing glass to metal, as well as other types of arts involving metal.

“The first time I fired enamel on metal, the paint was black,” Pyle said. “I thought it was ruined. Then it cooled and turned into these gorgeous colors.”

Now, making jewelry this way is one of Pyle’s favorite things to do.

Finucane sees the artistic process where the journey to finished pieces create a sense of tension in the artist in the hopes of creating something wonderful.

“Each step in the process is a possibility of something going wrong,” she said.

When a mistake is made, sometimes it can be covered up. Sometimes, it ruins the piece and the artist has to start over, and sometimes it leads to something wonderfully unexpected and beautiful

Finucane likes printmaking because it’s not an art form that many artists in this area practice. So, not only does it give her work a unique look, she enjoys doing it.

“I get an adrenaline rush waiting to see how it turns out,” she said.

The many visitors who took the tour on November 23 and 24 were also appreciative. Sisters Julia and Alison Hendon were on the tour for the first time. They live in Adams County, amid all the artists. Handshaw said he noticed a lot of the visitors this year seemed to be coming from the Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, area.

“This is a good option to see local artists,” Alison Hendon said.

While some artists only displayed their arts, others, like Handshaw, took the time to show visitors how their pieces were created. He put a ball of porcelain clay on the potter’s wheel and shaped it into a hobbit.

“And another one is born,” he said, when finished the first part of the process. After the addition and cutting of some of the features, painting, and firing of the clay, the lump of clay would become a snowball-sized hobbit head.

Like many of the visitors, impressed by what they saw on the tour, the Hendons made some purchases.

“We really like to support local artists,” Julia said.

Jack Handshaw creates a hobbit on his potter’s wheel at the 13th Annual Foothills Artist Studio Tour in November.

Part 5: Taking Power

Story Written by James Rada, Jr.

“The Anger of Innocence” is a six-part original serial set in the Graceham area during 1973. Serialized fiction is something that older newspapers often did as an additional way to entertain their readers. We thought it was about time for serial to make a comeback. Let us know what you think.

The 12 women stood in the wooded clearing between Graceham and Thurmont. They all wore white cloaks with hoods that covered their heads. They talked quietly in small groups, paced, and looked at their wristwatches.

Finally, Anna Eichholtz stepped up to the small campfire burning in the center of the clearing. She slid the hood off her head.

“As I told you, Barbara isn’t coming, I will lead the coven tonight,” Anna said.

The other women stopped what they were doing and moved to stand in a circle around the fire.

“What gives you the right to lead?” Kate Montgomery asked.

Anna lifted her chin and stared at each of the other witches over the fire. “I removed Barbara, and she will not return. Now, as the most powerful among you, I claim the right to lead.”

The other women murmured. Some of them turned to walk away.

“How did you do it?” Kate asked. “You weren’t more powerful than Barbara. That is why she led this coven.”

Anna raised her hand. A small starling flew from the trees and landed in the middle of the fire. The flames ignited the bird’s feathers. It didn’t move or screech in pain. The witches gasped. The bird toppled over. It was a blackened husk.

“I brought the birds to Graceham, and they killed Barbara,” Anna said. “They will remain here to take care of anyone else who opposes me.”

The birds. Anna didn’t need to say more. Everyone knew of millions of grackles, crows, starlings, and cowbirds that had been living in Graceham for months. They were a nuisance that no one – not even this coven – had been able to drive away. Now Anna had proclaimed that she controlled them, and she did, although it wasn’t her alone.

Her niece, Sarah, might have the power, but Anna knew how to control that power and use it.

* * *

Sarah Adelsberger answered the knock at her front door. She opened it, and saw Mrs. Zentz standing there. Sarah stifled a scream. Her science teacher gave her a half grin.

“Well, that answers the question I had about whether you were involved in what happened to me,” Barbara Zentz said.

Sarah stepped back and hung her head. She expected to feel angry like she had when she had seen Mrs. Zentz for the past few months. Instead, she felt ashamed like she had after she had killed Christine Weber.

But Mrs. Zentz was alive. How could that be? Sarah had seen her disappear beneath thousands of birds Sarah sent to attack her science teacher.

“How?” Sarah asked.

“There’s so much you don’t know Sarah, and you need to know it,” Barbara Zentz said.

“I know everything I need to know! You want to kill me!” Sarah tried to stir up her old anger, but it just wasn’t there.

Sarah closed her eyes and tried to focus on needing protection. She called to the birds. They would come to protect her. They always came to her aid.

When she opened her eyes, Sarah saw only three birds had come, and they weren’t attacking Mrs. Zentz. They sat on the ground staring at Sarah. Where were the rest? Millions of birds were all over Graceham right now. You could hardly take a step without stirring up a flock and only three had answered Sarah’s call?

Sarah shook her head and said, “How did you stop them? How are you still alive? What are you?”

“May I come in? We need to talk.”

Sarah looked around for more birds. Seeing none, she stared at her teacher. Mrs. Zentz took her silence as assent and walked into the house.

“Are your parents home?” Mrs. Zentz asked.

“Not yet,” Sarah managed to say.

Mrs. Zentz nodded. “Good. This should be a private conversation. Do they know about what you can do?”

“No.”

Mrs. Zentz raised an eyebrow like she did in class when she suspected a student was lying to her. “Even your mother?”

“No. Only my aunt knows.”

Barbara walked into the living room and sat down on an armchair. Sarah stared at her. It had been three days since she had sent the birds to attack Mrs. Zentz. Sarah thought the teacher was dead, but she looked fine. She wasn’t even scratched, although thousands of birds had tried to claw and peck her to death.

“Are you a witch?” Sarah asked.

“Yes, as are you apparently.”         

“That’s what my aunt told me.”

“Your aunt? Anna Eichholtz? She told you you are a witch?”

When Sarah nodded, Barbara closed her eyes and held a hand out, palm up, toward Sarah.

“What are you doing?” Sarah asked.

Mrs. Zentz said nothing. Then she took a deep breath and opened her eyes.

“I can sense the power in you, but it’s all raw power.”

Raw power? Her aunt had never called it that. It didn’t sound good.

“You have enough power to control the flock that has been causing problems around here, but without the training, you couldn’t keep them here for all this time. You don’t have the focus to make the birds obey your will.”

“My aunt trained me,” Sarah blurted.

Mrs. Zentz pursed her lips. “Really? You tried to get the birds to attack me again at the front door, didn’t you?”

“No!” Mrs. Zentz arched an eyebrow. “Well, I tried, but it didn’t work,” Sarah corrected herself.

Barbara nodded her head slowly. “You’re being used by another person who has control, but not your power.”

Sarah shook her head. “No, it can’t be. Nobody else knows what I can do. No one was even there for what I did to you and Christine.”

“Christine? Christine Weber?” Sarah nodded. “What happened to her?” Barbara asked.

“It was like what happened to you. The birds surrounded her and she disappeared. All that was left was some blood and a piece of her book bag.”

Mrs. Zentz sighed. “Oh, Sarah, you’re being used, and you don’t even realize it. Your aunt is controlling your power. Your anger gave her a way in.”

“No, my aunt has been trying to help me. I told you she’s been training me.”

“Sarah, you think you have control of your power, but you haven’t shown the control needed to do what you think you have done. Your power is like the water in a fire hydrant and you’re the hydrant. The water will pour out of you, but it takes control – the fire hose connected to the hydrant – to direct and use all of that water. Your aunt is the fire hose.”

Sarah felt a knot in her stomach, she didn’t even realize was there, uncurl itself. “Then I didn’t kill Christine?”

Barbara shook her head. “No more than the hydrant puts out the fire. Your aunt must have used an anger you felt toward Christine to find a way into your emotions and power. That gave her control over your power. Witches sometimes control another’s power to help train them, but the trainee always knows what is happening so she feels how to control her power on her own.”

“But she’s my aunt.”

Her aunt couldn’t have used her. Aunt Anna was like an older sister. She had watched Sarah every afternoon after school since Sarah was in Thurmont Elementary School. They were so close. Sarah told her aunt her secrets, her hopes, her worries. She had told her about Christine bullying her.

“She’s also a witch with big ambitions but only moderate power,” Barbara said.

“But she hasn’t tried to control me. She has been helping me,” Sarah insisted.

Mrs. Zentz reached out and patted her arm. “I’m sorry, Sarah. Calling the birds showed a great deal of control and experience, and you don’t show that level of control. You called three birds to you, and they only sat at my feet.”

Sarah stared at her in silence and then broke into tears. “Why? Why would she do this to me? I’ve had nightmares ever since Christine died.”

Mrs. Zentz leaned over and hugged the young teen.

“It’s your power. The young had great power, but I have never seen as much raw power as you have in you. Your aunt can use that power to control our coven, and with that, she could do just about whatever she might want around here. She has tried to take control before.”

Sarah lifted her head. “What happened then?”

Barbara frowned. “Anna has only moderate power herself. I defeated her and took control of the coven when our last leader died.”

“Are you going to fight her again? Are you going to kill her?” Sarah might not like what her aunt had done to her, but she didn’t want her to die.

“I can’t defeat her when she is using your power to supplement her own. Even with the aid of the rest of the coven, I doubt it would be enough power. Even if I could, though, I wouldn’t kill Anna. It’s not my way, nor is the way of most witches. We practice a beneficial magic to heal and help others. I gain my power from the goodwill it creates. I work with nature. People want to see my spells succeed, which gives the spells more power than I have.”

“That doesn’t sound like the power my aunt talked about.”

“It isn’t. She fights against nature because she wants to control. If you swim with a river’s current, you will swim faster because the current helps you. That is what I do. Your aunt swims against the current, working harder and believing she will make the current go in the direction she wants.”

Sarah had tried swimming against the current on vacation at Ocean City. It could be hard work. She said as much to Mrs. Zentz.

The teacher nodded and stood up. “When you use the power the way your aunt does, you have control. You don’t have to share with anyone. However, if you share your power, whomever has control has her power multiplied. By leading the coven, I have control of the power of all the witches in the coven. Your aunt will seek to control the coven, because with their power and yours, she will be a match for any witch I know. She needs to be stopped.”

Blair Garrett

Capturing scenery is easy.

Today, anyone can pick up their cell phone and digitally capture a moment in time at the push of a button. Breathtaking mountaintops, nights out with friends, and everything in between lies at your fingertips. 

Capturing the emotion, vivid color, and beauty of a scene is a much more difficult task. Nobody does that better than Steve Burdette, 64, of Blue Ridge Summit, an artist and master of his craft, who effectively uses each brush stroke to convey feeling and meaning in every one of his paintings

Burdette’s artwork covers a variety of subjects, but he draws upon his inspiration of local scenery to build vivid recreations with a personal touch.

Burdette’s journey as an artist started just as he entered his teenage years, and has been going strong now for over 50 years. “I was 13 when I started my classes,” Burdette said. “The instructor said he didn’t take kids in his class. Then he looked at my work and [decided to] take me in.”

That leap into a class where a 13-year-old typically wouldn’t belong catapulted Burdette’s budding interests in art into a flourishing career; however, in order to get where he is today, he had to put in years of intense practice.

“That class turned into a 13-year apprenticeship,” Burdette said.

For years, Burdette would attend this oil painting class, learning the ins and outs of how to create oils and how to perfect a composition that he could be proud of. And even as the numbers of students in the class dwindled, Burdette’s commitment to his craft never waned.  

“It was every Tuesday night as long as I wanted to stay,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”

Despite being an oils-only class, the group did not hit the ground running with oil painting from the start.

“For the first two or three months, we just drew geometric shapes,” Burdette said. “By the end of that, there were only three of us left in the class.” Charles Jones, Burdette’s teacher and mentor, purposely made students learn to walk before they run, to weed out the students attending for fun from the students truly there to learn.

“Sure, I got bored with just drawing geometric shapes, oh my word,” Burdette recalled. “After that, it got interesting, and I loved it. I was so glad I stayed.”

The commitment to improving his work is something that has stuck with him through all avenues of drawing and painting, and the passion for perfection has made an appearance in every artwork since his early apprenticeship.  

There is a significant duality in Burdette’s painting styles, with his decades of defined and learned practices with oil painting, along with years of personal experimentation and trials with watercolors.

“I learned everything I know on watercolors from just doing my own stuff,” Burdette said. “I never took any classes or anything because oils and watercolors are completely different.”

Just as Burdette’s experiences learning how to perfect oil painting and watercolors are opposites, the two painting styles are just as converse. “With oils, you put your darker values on first because then you can work your lighter values on top,” he said. “With watercolors, it’s completely reversed.”

While Burdette did not initially build his foundation as an artist on watercolors, they have found a place on many of his canvases, and often are the method of choice on many of his commissions.

“When I got bored with oils, that’s when I picked up watercolors, which is an awesome medium,” he said. “I love it because it’s a challenge. If you mess it up, chances are, you’re going to have to throw it in the trash, because there’s almost no going back.”

The way colors can bleed poses a unique test, even for an artist of Burdette’s calibre. “You can go after a certain look, but it can have a mind of its own, which can be a neat effect but not always what you meant it to be.”

Today, Burdette sells drawings, oil paintings, watercolor paintings, pastels, acrylics, and more. Many of the commissions and sales he has made over the past 20 years have stemmed from drawing upon the rich fire history in Northern Frederick County. 

“About 18 years ago, I put out a few generic prints for fire departments, and that just exploded and went all across the country,” Burdette said. “It’s amazing, and sometimes it keeps me busier than I need to be.”

Burdette’s art for fire companies in particular has piggybacked off of his successes teaching art, owning his own studio, and many other experiences that formed the backbone for his talents over the course of his career. And though selling art is not so easy for everyone, Burdette firmly believes that it’s an industry worth not giving up on.

“Never stop, and don’t quit,” Burdette said. “The minute you quit, something great might happen.”

Come December, you can catch Burdette’s artwork at his open gallery viewing, where you can see and purchase his works. His open gallery will be held on December 14, 2019, at 15221 Wyndham Avenue in Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania.

Part 4: Vengeance

Story Written by James Rada, Jr.

“The Anger of Innocence” is a six-part original serial set in the Graceham area during 1973. Serialized fiction is something that older newspapers often did as an additional way to entertain their readers. We thought it was about time for serial to make a comeback. Let us know what you think.

Thirteen-year-old Sarah Adelsberger sat in silence beside her Aunt Anna as Anna drove her new corvette along Main Street in Thurmont. Sarah had always enjoyed driving in her aunt’s flashy cars, but not this morning.

The principal at Thurmont Middle School had suspended Sarah for three days for backtalking and being insubordinate to Mrs. Zentz, her science teacher. The principal told Sarah she needed to calm down and get her priorities straight. She also had to apologize to Mrs. Zentz when Sarah returned to school.

That would not happen, no matter how long they kept her out of school.

Aunt Anna had picked Sarah up from school because Sarah’s mother worked in Frederick and couldn’t leave early. Her parents would have plenty of time to yell at her this evening, and Sarah had no doubt she would be grounded, too.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Aunt Anna asked.

“So, if I’ve got this great power, why didn’t it protect me from getting suspended?” Sarah asked.

Her aunt had told her weeks ago that Sarah had some sort of power like a witch, but not a witch. Sarah wouldn’t have believed her except for the birds she had apparently summoned to attack Christine Weber. The birds had kept coming to Graceham even after the attack, and now the tiny town had millions of birds living in it.

“Maybe it will protect you,” Aunt Anna said.

Sarah stared out the side window at the houses whizzing by. “How? I’ve been suspended already.”

“But you aren’t in danger from it…at least not yet.”

Sarah turned to face her aunt. “So the power only protects me when I’m in danger?”

“Yes.”

“Who decides when I’m in danger? The power?”

“You do.”

“If I decided, then I wouldn’t have been suspended. Mrs. Zentz would be…”

“Would be what?”

Sarah shrugged. “Nothing.” Dead. She had been about to say, “Mrs. Zentz would be dead.” Sarah didn’t really feel that way, did she? She didn’t like Mrs. Zentz, but the teacher had done nothing so bad Sarah should want her dead. What was wrong with her to think that?

“The power is strong in our family,” Anna said. “Not everyone has it, but all those who have it are women.”

Sarah frowned. “Am I a witch?”

“Yes, I guess you could call us that, but we’re not quite witches in the way most women who practice witchcraft nowadays are.”

“Why?”

“So many of them don’t have the power. They are seeking it, but if they don’t have it, they won’t gain it. Our numbers have been growing because of the women’s liberation movement, but more of those women becoming witches are angry feminists rather than true witches.”

Sarah cocked her head to the side. “And we’re real witches.” It was a statement rather than a question.

“Yes, and if you choose, you can use your power to do good and protect yourself from those who have wronged you. Who has wronged you, Sarah? Who can you use your power against?” Anna asked.

“Does it always have to be against someone?”

Anna smiled. “Oh, yes, the only way to grow your power is to use it to dominate others.”

Sarah’s brow furrowed. That didn’t sound right.

“I’ve been dreaming about Mrs. Zentz since Christine disappeared,” Sarah said. “At first, we just argued. Now we fight in the dreams. I think she wants to kill me.”

“She’s your science teacher, isn’t she?”

Sarah nodded.

“And she’s the reason you’re suspended?”

Sarah nodded again.

“Then I think your dreams are showing you how your power can help.”

Sarah’s brow furrowed. “By getting in a fight with her?”

“Not literally showing you, but it’s showing you your power can help you like it did with Christine.”

Her aunt made the S-turn near the Moravian Church, which pushed Sarah against the door so that she was staring at the old church. She felt a wave of guilt.

“I don’t know how I did that,” Sarah said. “It scared me.”

“You thought about her. You focused on her so your power could focus on her. Then you got rid of the problem.”

Sarah’s parents grounded her for a week and gave her extra chores as punishment. They also agreed with the principal. Sarah had to apologize to Mrs. Zentz.

On the last night of her suspension, Sarah dreamed of Mrs. Zentz again. They fought, but this time, Sarah killed her. As Sarah choked Mrs. Zentz to death, Sarah felt happy, euphoric even. When she woke up, she still felt ecstatic. The feeling disappeared when her mother drove her to school, and Sarah had to apologize to Mrs. Zentz. Rather than shake the teacher’s hand, Sarah wanted to lunge at her and choke her. The feeling frightened her.

Sarah seethed throughout the day. It wasn’t right that she should have to apologize. She had already been punished.

When the school day ended, Sarah rode the school bus home. However, she didn’t get off at her stop. She continued on to Rocky Ridge, which is where Mrs. Zentz lived. Sarah had found her teacher’s address in the telephone book. Sarah walked to the side of the small rancher so that she couldn’t be seen from the driveway.

Think about her. Focus on her, Aunt Anna had said.

Mrs. Zentz got home around 4:15 p.m. Sarah watched her car turn onto the driveway. She tried to stare at Mrs. Zentz through the front window of her Volkswagen Beetle, but the sun reflected off of it.

Think. Watch. Focus.

Sarah watched the birds flying towards her from all directions – crows, blackbirds, cowbirds, starlings, grackles. They landed and moved in close together to form a wide band of feathers around Mrs. Zentz and her car.

The car door opened and Mrs. Zentz stepped out. She looked at the staring birds and then glanced around. Was she looking for more birds or someone to help her?

Unconcerned, Mrs. Zentz started to walk toward her front door. The birds parted before her, but they weren’t hopping away. They toppled over and slid out of the way without Mrs. Zentz even touching them.

More birds arrived and flew at the teacher, but they seemed to bounce off an unseen wall and fall to the ground. Another flock flew in and was rebuffed, but Sarah could see Mrs. Zentz was sweating. Whatever she was doing to keep the birds away was wearing her down.

Think. Watch. Focus.

More birds arrived and swirled around Mrs. Zentz. Then the birds flew up and joined the melee. Sarah couldn’t see the teacher any longer. Too many birds were moving too fast.

Then the birds scattered, and like Christine, Mrs. Zentz was nowhere to be seen.

Sarah came out from her hiding place and walked over to where Mrs. Zentz had been standing. She saw no blood or scraps of material, but she also saw no sign of Mrs. Zentz.

What she did see was a patch of dirt. The grass had been pulled up to expose the dirt. A set of seven symbols had been drawn in the dirt in a circle. Nothing like that had happened when the birds attacked Christine.

What did they mean? They weren’t letters. Sarah had never seen anything like them.

Something told her they were wrong. They shouldn’t be here. They hadn’t been here before Mrs. Zentz came home. Now that they were, all Sarah knew was that they shouldn’t be.

From 2009 to 2013, Joan Bittner Fry of Sabillasville composed three books of local interest. From The State Sanatorium at Sabillasville from 1908 in 2009 to Part 2 Plus in 2010 to Did You Know? in 2013, in which a wealth of information about local communities is collected. 

By gleaning photos from an extensive postcard collection, relaying stories from family and friends, and living in the area all her life, Fry offers extensive familiarity of her subjects.  

The first self-published book was dedicated to the late Clara Schumacher (1922-2019) of Thurmont, who was a patient at the sanatorium and who later became a nurse there. Clara was generous with her information and gave first-hand knowledge of The State Sanatorium, the first tuberculosis hospital in Maryland.

The second book was dedicated to the late elementary school teacher and dear friend, Naomi Waynant (1911-2012) of Sabillasville. This book continues with more information about the sanatorium and includes informational stories about local schools, businesses, churches, boarding houses and hotels, and famous and not-so-famous people and places.

The third book was dedicated to the memory of family member Bill Messner (1944-2003), a very special cousin. It contains information about historical places; i.e., Sharpsburg, Antietam, Mason-Dixon Line, C & O Canal, Camp/Fort Ritchie, The National Road (Route 40), and Western Maryland Railroad, as well as many other local places of interest.

A limited number of copies is again available for purchase. The cost is $20 each or $50 for the series of three. Copies are available from the author at jofry241@yahoo.com; E Plus Graphics and Promotions in the lobby of Jubilee Foods in Emmitsburg, where the books are being printed; or the Fort Ritchie Community Center in Cascade. 

Blair Garrett

Craftsmanship comes in many forms. One can specialize in a variety of fields, from cooking to painting to construction.

But right here in the Catoctin area lives one of the most talented craftsmen around.

Blacksmithing and metalworking extraordinaire, Robert Bittner, 27, of Sabillasville, has found his niche creating entirely unique custom cars and fueling his creative outlets with hand-crafted projects made from whatever scrap metal he can find.

After spending most of his childhood on a farm and thinking that was where his career was headed, Bittner found a new direction in quite an unusual way. “I started in high school,” Bittner said. “I didn’t want to take Spanish, so I had to take a career course. I went to CTC for welding, and I got really good at it. I went to nationals for skills USA, and I ranked really high in the nation and just kept going.”

As a kid, Bittner found drawing as a sufficient way to take ideas and create them into something physical, which may have been a precursor that lead him to where he is now.

Making it as an artist outside of a major metropolitan area is an increasingly difficult avenue for a career, therefore logically, Bittner chose something with a bit more stability, contracting with a roofing company.

Bittner worked the roofing job for a year, but quickly found out that wasn’t the path for him. He landed at a shop nearby, which changed everything for him. “After roofing, I got a job at Hauk Designs in Pennsylvania, building one-off custom jeeps,” Bittner said. “I always liked the custom side of everything, especially vehicles.”

Bittner and the team at Hauk Designs caught the eye of some reps from the History Channel with one of their vehicles at SEMA, the biggest invite-only car show in the world.

That launched the opportunity to showcase their metalworking talents to a larger audience in 2017 as they filmed the TV show Road Hauks. Each episode followed the design and fabrication process to build custom jeeps and vehicles from scratch into a photoshoot-worthy and fully operational pieces of machinery.

 The exposure for Bittner and company allowed them to take and build more cars for shows as far as Las Vegas, showing the world what they could do.

The exposure from the show even spun off into other lucrative projects. “A guy in Taiwan sent us $150,000 and said, ‘build me a jeep I can’t kill,’” Bittner said. “I built and designed a full exo-cage, fenders, bumpers, $15,000 worth of just axles.” Those are the projects an artist like Bittner thrives on. “If I could, I would do these all the time.”  

Today, Bittner has the means to take those ideas and put them into a tangible metal work of art, with an unbelievable amount of detail and uniqueness you can’t find anywhere else, and he plans on doing it just from the comfort of his home in Sabillasville under his new business Har-Valley Forge and Fab Works.

While he is commissioning personal art pieces for locals, like his popular hand-crafted metal roses, he still makes time to work on the things he loves most.

“My motorcycle I built from the ground up. It’s a Sportster that I completely customized top to bottom,” he said. Nearly the entire motorcycle is fully hand-built, aside from the Jack Daniels plate on the frame of the vehicle. There isn’t a piece exactly like it in the world.

Bittner has a promising road ahead of him, and with new projects and ideas coming to mind every day, it feels like it’s only a matter of time until we see his work on the big stage again.

Story Written by James Rada, Jr.

Part 3: Unfair Education

“The Anger of Innocence” is a six-part original serial set in the Graceham area during 1973. Serialized fiction is something that older newspapers often did as an additional way to entertain their readers. We thought it was about time for serial to make a comeback. Let us know what you think.

Sarah Adelsberger woke in the morning feeling tired rather than refreshed. She hadn’t dreamed about the birds covering Christine Weber and the teenager not being there when the birds flew off. She hadn’t even dreamed about bringing the bird with the broken neck back to life. She would have expected to have nightmares about those things because they had happened, but she had dreamed about something that hadn’t even happened.

In her nightmare, she had argued with Mrs. Zentz, her science teacher. She couldn’t remember what they argued about, only that they had been shouting back and forth. While Sarah believed Mrs. Zentz didn’t like her, the teacher had never treated Sarah as poorly as she had in the dream. The teacher made fun of Sarah’s questions and laughed at her answers. She called Sarah a “stupid, fat girl.” Sarah had also felt a lot angrier toward the teacher than she had ever felt in real life. Maybe it was because of the way the dream teacher acted, but Sarah had felt disconnected from her dream self. Although she was awake now, Sarah still seethed with anger.

She got herself ready in a fog. She dreaded going to school because she knew Christine wouldn’t be there. Christine was a popular student, and people would wonder where she was. No one except Sarah’s family would have cared if Sarah had gone missing.

At Thurmont Middle School, Sarah heard Marci Robertson say Christine was supposed to come over to her house after school, but Christine had never showed up. John Poole mentioned that Christine hadn’t seemed sick yesterday, and she was probably playing hooky.

Most kids wanted to talk about all the birds that were in the area. The thousands of blackbirds, grackles, cowbirds, and starlings had started arriving in the area yesterday, and only Sarah knew that she was the reason they had come. She didn’t know how she had called them or how to make them go away, but her aunt had explained to Sarah that she had power.

Sarah walked into her science class and felt angry at the sight of her teacher. Mrs. Zentz was a few years older than Sarah’s mother, but not as old as Mrs. Smith, Sarah’s English teacher, who looked like a dried apple. Mrs. Zentz’s straight, red hair had to be dyed, as bright as it was, and her dark, brown eyes felt like daggers when they narrowed in on you. When Mrs. Zentz smiled at Sarah, all Sarah could do was frown.

During the lesson, Sarah heard some other students murmuring. She turned around in her chair to ask what was happening, and she saw a line of blackbirds and starlings perched on the windowsill. They all faced into the classroom, and they were all staring at Mrs. Zentz.

The teacher tried to ignore them, but she kept casting glances over her shoulder toward the windows. Then she would stare at Sarah.

Sarah’s bad dreams continued, and they were wearing the young girl down. As the weeks progressed, she became sullen and depressed. She lost her appetite and started losing weight. Even the Christmas break didn’t improve her mood. She still dreamed of Mrs. Zentz, but now, they physically fought each other in Sarah’s dreams, punching, kicking, and pulling hair.

Sarah’s father wrote off her attitude as one of the unpleasant symptoms of puberty. Her mother didn’t seem as certain. She kept asking Sarah what was bothering her, but Sarah knew her mother wouldn’t understand. Only Aunt Anna knew what Sarah was going through. She gave Sarah exercises to do to control her power. Sarah did them and felt she was making progress. Then she would try to make the birds leave, but instead, more flew into Graceham.

The longer the birds stayed, the more problems they caused. Dead birds abounded. People hit them with their cars. Other birds starved because there wasn’t enough food for what was now estimated up to 10 million birds. Chirping and shrieking kept residents awake at night. The birds coated the ground with their droppings.

When Christine never returned to school, the playing hooky story changed to her running away from home. This only seemed to make her even more popular because students thought she ran away to chase her dream to be a singer in New York City.

When spring arrived, Sarah’s father often talked about the Frederick County Government’s efforts to drive the birds off. County employees tried loud noises and explosions to scare the birds away, but it didn’t work. Next, they tried thinning out the pine grove where many of the birds liked to perch, but that didn’t work either.

Sarah had come to accept the birds and didn’t mind them. If her aunt was right, they were here to help her. That thought brought her a small measure of peace of mind, before her nightmares drove it away each night.

Sarah watched the birds sitting on the windowsill outside of her science class every day. The number of birds had increased so that they were jammed wing to wing on the sill. They all still looked into the classroom, and they all still stared at Mrs. Zentz.

“The birds must want to know more about science,” Mrs. Zentz sometimes joked.

No one mentioned that hers was the only classroom where the birds gathered, and that they were only there during Sarah’s science class. Odd questions without answers no one wanted to ask.

Sarah still had no idea how to control the birds, which she didn’t mind so much now, seeing how she had forced the cowbird to break its neck against a wall in November.

“Sarah?”

Sarah’s head jerked around to face front. Mrs. Zentz had asked her a question.

“Pay attention,” the teacher said. “I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of birds these past few months.”

Although Mrs. Zentz still smiled, Sarah could tell having the birds only on her windowsill worried her. She had become short-tempered since last fall, although she still wasn’t as mean as dream Mrs. Zentz.

“I like watching the birds,” Sarah said.

“Well, you can watch them when you’re not in class. It’s not like they’re hard to find. Now please explain the process of photosynthesis to the class.”

Sarah’s anger surged. She wanted to scream and yell at the teacher. Instead, she controlled herself and said, “No.” The other students whispered, “Oooooo!”

Mrs. Zentz put her hands on her hips. “No?”

“That’s right.”

“And do you have a reason for that?”

“I don’t want to. I want to watch the birds.”

“Then perhaps you’d like to watch them while you’re in detention.”

Sarah shook her head and turned away from her teacher. “No, I’ll watch them now.”

The teacher walked over next to Sarah’s desk. “What has gotten into you, Sarah? You are being insubordinate.”

“And you’re being nasty and mean,” Sarah said without turning back.

Mrs. Zentz slapped her desk. “Enough! Take your books and go to the office. I will call down and tell them to expect you.”

Sarah stood up quickly, knocking over her desk chair. Mrs. Zentz jumped back, and Sarah smiled. She pulled her books out of her desk and stomped to the door to the class. She didn’t even bother to pick up her overturned chair.

As she left, the birds pecked hard at the windows. When one of the panes cracked, some students yelled in surprise. It lasted only a few seconds until Sarah was out of the door and walking down the hall.

Part 1: Taking Flight

“The Anger of Innocence” is a six-part original serial set in the Graceham area during 1973. Serialized fiction is something that older newspapers often did as an additional way to entertain their readers. We thought it was about time for serial to make a comeback. Let us know what you think.

Story Written by James Rada, Jr.

The blackbird fell out of the sky, diving so close to Christine Weber’s head that the blonde 13-year-old had to duck to keep the bird from tangling in her hair. She flapped her arms over her head trying to drive it off. When it didn’t land in her hair or claw at her, Christine straightened up and looked around.

The blackbird stood on the side of the road about six feet in front of her. It stared at her with unblinking dark eyes.

“Shoo!” Christine said, waving her hands toward the bird.

It didn’t fly away or even hop around. It might as well have been a statue.

She thought of swinging her book bag at the bird, but she didn’t want to anger it so that it would fly at her.

Christine walked around the blackbird giving it a wide berth. It turned to watch her as she walked.

She traveled the quarter mile between her home on Graceham Road and the bus stop twice a day during the school year. She’d seen plenty of birds during that time; crows, robins, cardinals, once even a hummingbird had zipped by her, but she had never seen a bird act as odd as this one. Occasionally, a bird would fly near her and even land on the street, but it always flew off if she got too close. She didn’t intimidate this bird at all.

She kept walking down the road. She couldn’t let a stupid bird delay her.

Christine thought about the homework she had to do tonight. Her teachers at Thurmont Middle School had no shortage of papers and projects to assign her, but she was an eighth grader. Next year, in the fall of 1974, she’d be a freshman at Catoctin High School, and she had to be ready. Tonight’s assignments would take at least an hour to do, and her mother would set her down at the kitchen table with a glass of Kool-Aid and expect her to get to work when she got home. She hoped she could finish quickly enough to have time to go over to Marci Robertson’s house and listen to the new Kool and the Gang, Bachman Turner Overdrive, and Jackson albums that Marci had gotten for her birthday. Christine especially enjoyed grooving to “Dancing Machine” by the Jackson Five.

She paused when she saw the pair of blackbirds standing on the side of the road staring at her. They stood there in the grass, not moving. Christine stopped and turned back. The bird that had dive-bombed her still stood on the edge of the road not doing anything but staring at her.

Odd.

When she turned around to start walking, a cowbird stood in front of her, so close she could have easily kicked it. She was tempted to do so, but it didn’t seem right. Like the other birds, this one didn’t hop around or peck at the ground. It just watched her. It wasn’t doing her any harm or even annoying her. It was just…weird.

She stepped around the bird and kept walking, although now she walked faster than she had been. She wanted to be inside her house. She wouldn’t have to see these odd birds there or feel their eyes upon her.

A half a dozen starlings landed on a power line that ran above the road. That was nothing unusual except that they also stared at her.

Christine shook her head. She had to be imagining this. One bird might stare at her but not every bird she saw.

She hurried down the road until she saw the flock of blackbirds, grackles, cowbirds, and starlings sitting on the road. There must have been hundreds of them. They formed a thick line, not only blocking the road, but stretching a yard or more to either side of the road.

Christine stopped. She couldn’t walk through the birds, although she might kick her way through them. She was beginning to doubt that though, as all these birds stood unmoving and staring at her. She wished for a car to drive up, so she could hitch a ride. At this point, she didn’t even care who was driving. Let the car drive right through this line of birds. They would either fly away or be flattened.

She hurried onto the field next to the road, planning to go around the line of birds, but they all turned in unison and hopped to stay in front of her. Christine ran in the other direction, thinking she could move faster than the birds and get around them. They took flight to move quickly to block her path.

Christine couldn’t be sure, but it seemed there were more birds now than before their short flight.

Then, even as she watched, a flock of birds flew in from the direction of Thurmont. They swirled around overhead and landed in a circle around the young girl. Thousands of birds formed a solid circle around her that was six-feet wide.

Christine turned looking for a way through the line. It was too broad for her to jump over. She swung her book bag at the birds. They didn’t move, and she knocked them over like bowling pins. The fallen birds flapped their wings until they could get their feet under them again.

Christine suddenly realized what made her so uneasy about the birds, in addition to their staring. The birds that had fallen over hadn’t made a sound, not when the book bag had toppled them and not when they had struggled to stand up. If Christine had been hit with a book bag, she would have yelled, and she was a lot bigger than a bird.

“Help!” she shouted, hoping someone in a nearby house would come out to help her.

Someone had to be nearby. She wasn’t so sure what anyone could do to help her. If the birds wouldn’t move for her, they wouldn’t move for anyone else. Christine would feel easier, though, if she wasn’t so badly outnumbered. Not that 5,000 birds to two people was much better than 5,000 birds against just her.

“Help! Somebody, help me!”

No one came, and no one was in sight. She was on her own.

Christine suddenly yelled and ran toward the outside of the line. She kicked at the birds and judging by the crunch she heard, she stepped on at least one of them. And still none of them made a sound.

She had only taken a few steps into the birds when they took flight and flew in a circle around her. Christine stood in the center of it all, afraid to try and push through the swirling wall of birds in front of her.

“Help!”

She doubted anyone could hear her. She could barely hear herself among the beating of wings. Christine looked up at the sky in time to see the swirling birds close the gap of sunlight.

***

Sarah Adelsberger stepped out from behind the blue spruce tree so she could see things better. The swirling flock of birds numbered at least 10,000, probably more. They spun in a tight circle as large as a house.

Even as she watched, the circle tightened and grew denser so that no flashes of daylight could be seen through the column. Then the birds shot off in all directions in a wild flurry.

Sarah walked across the field and crossed the street. She came to a stop where the column of birds had been. She saw a few spots of blood on the grass and a quarter-size piece of canvas from Christine’s book bag, but that was all.

Sarah picked up the piece of canvas and put it in her pocket. Then she looked into the sky at the birds, most of which were specks against the sky as they flew off.

Somehow, she knew they wouldn’t go too far. They had come for a purpose.

To be continued…

Old Glory

Poem by Francis Smith

Yes, Sir! I can see

Old Glory proudly perched

Upon her battered staff.

            And yes, at five a.m.;

            In the glorious light of dawn,

            Old Glory holds her own

            Above the sturdy ramparts

            Of old Baltimore’s

            Fort McHenry.

As you may know,

A famous old church tune

Kept surging in the soul

Of that wakened spirit

Of Francis Scott Key.

            As the patriotic hymn

            Kept Francis humming

            Its age-old tune,

            The dawn also broke

            In his fertile brain.

To his delight, his thoughts

Of war and peace

Burst into the solemn melody;

The words for the tune

And so was born

Our ‘Star Spangled Banner’

In “dawn’s early light.”   

Happiness

Poem by Amanda Sweeney

I know my soul,  my courage,  my life, I have tested myself to change out of the old soul,  I poisoned with tragic misery of not how I can explain from the torture I went through  with no passion,  now I seek and found my passion with my beast,  my beast helps keeps me controlled with the right soul I found with him, I begin to now find love with more than ever, the happiness finds me gratitudes I yet have not never seen all yet, but it will never end with my beast, to keep find the right and blessed eternity of great pleasures we keep in our souls make one of the soulmates we are meant to be, through pain, suffering, aches,  headaches of all kinds, love, sadness, happiness is the most of all to not complain, we just want to be the turtle doves, the angels that GOD keeps in his nature to live a full long life, to not complain at all!   

Focus

On Catoctin

Photo by Debbie Wivell

The photo shows the Roddy Road covered bridge, just north of Thurmont, off of US 15, where Roddy Creek Road meets Roddy Road at Owens Creek.

Debbie Wivell took this beautiful photo of the historic bridge on Saturday morning, June 1, 2019.

The Roddy Road Covered Bridge, built in 1856, is a small, one-lane Kingpost design wooden covered bridge. It crosses Owen’s Creek near Thurmont. It is 40 feet long, 16 feet wide, with a 12 foot-8 inch clearance.

The Roddy Road Covered Bridge is the smallest of the county’s covered bridges. There are two more covered bridges close by; the Loy’s Station Covered Bridge and the Utica Covered Bridge.

Explore the natural beauty of this park and bridge, go fishing, or relax with a picnic.