Currently viewing the tag: "Graceham"

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?

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?”


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.”

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?”


“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.”


“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.

The Anger of Innocence

Story Written by James Rada, Jr.

Part 2: The Power

“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’s hand trembled as the 14-year-old reached for the bottle of Coca-Cola on her aunt’s kitchen table. She grasped the glass bottle with both hands and gulped down most of the soda until she thought a giant belch would explode from her throat.

Had she really seen thousands of birds attack another student from Thurmont Middle School? If not, then what had happened to Christine Weber? The birds had surrounded and covered her, and when they had left, Christine had vanished.

Sarah shivered and then smiled. It might be a terrifying image to recall, but Christine, her school tormentor, was gone.

A macaw landed on the table in front of Sarah. She jumped. It was just Francis, her Aunt Anna’s pet bird. Unlike any pet bird Sarah had ever seen, Francis wasn’t kept in a cage. He was allowed to fly around the house wherever he wanted. Amazingly, he always seemed to do his business in a sink or toilet. Aunt Anna insisted the bird wasn’t trained, but birds didn’t do that on their own, did they?

“Sarah, what’s wrong?”

Her aunt had stood up from the table to get herself a piece of apple pie. Now she stared at Sarah from the counter.

“I saw something today…I think it was horrible, but I’m not sure,” Sarah said.

“Tell me.”

So Sarah explained how she had followed Christine home after school to confront her and end Christine’s bullying. Sarah had been standing behind a tree, working up her courage to confront Christine, when the birds had attacked, and Christine had vanished.

“Marvelous,” Aunt Anna said when Sarah finished.

“Marvelous? Didn’t you listen? Christine vanished!”

Aunt Anna nodded. “I heard you. It was your power protecting you.”

Sarah shook her head. “My power? What power? What are you talking about?”

Aunt Anna pulled a chair near Sarah. She sat down across from her niece and held her hands. Anna Whitcomb was only 10 years older than Sarah, so they were more like friends than aunt and niece.

“I’ve been telling you that you have power. It runs in our family. If you have it, it makes itself known during puberty,” Anna said.

Sarah’s brow furrowed. This is what her aunt had been talking to her about since the school year had started? Sarah had just thought her aunt was a women’s libber, talking about the power of women in the 1970s.

But, this…this was unreal. Yet, Sarah had seen it happen.

“Christine was a bully,” her aunt said. “You told me so yourself.”

Sarah nodded slowly. “Christine had been picking on me again in school, calling me a cow.”

Sarah was pudgy, while Christine had hit puberty early and wore make-up so she looked like a high school prom queen. People said Sarah, her aunt, and Sarah’s mother all looked like sisters. Sarah only hoped that in 10 years she would look like her aunt with her shapely figure.

“Your power acted to protect you from Christine,” Anna said.

“But what about Christine?” Sarah asked. “All I found was a little bit of blood and a piece of her book bag.”

Sarah pulled the piece of blue canvas out of her pocket. She held it up for her aunt to see.

Anna smiled and nodded. “In that moment, you must have hated Christine for what she did to you, and your power worked through the familiars to take care of it for you.”

“My familiars?”

“Your spirit animal. Familiars can use our power to aid us when we need it. In our family, birds are often our familiars.”

Sarah glanced at Francis, who was still sitting on the table seemingly following the conversation. He even nodded when Sarah looked at him.

“But how?” Sarah asked.

Anna stroked Sarah’s hair. Their hair was the same color, but Sarah thought hers was stringy compared with her aunt’s lustrous, raven-black hair. “That doesn’t matter. All you need to know is that judging by the number of birds that responded to your need, you are very powerful, and that power will take care of any problems that threaten you.”

Sarah knew her aunt meant to comfort her, but the comment scared her.

When Sarah’s mother picked her up after she finished work, Sarah said nothing about what had happened to Christine. Aunt Anna had warned her that people who didn’t understand the power would not believe her or even fear her.

At the dinner table with her parents, Sarah stared out the window at the birds eating from one of the feeders that her mom maintained in the backyard.

“It’s late in the season for so many birds to be around,” her mother said when she noticed Sarah staring out the window.

“Is it?” Sarah said, barely paying attention to what her mother was saying.

“It’s November,” her mother said. “Most of them should have flown south to warmer places.”

“Why not all of them?”

“I guess they have a reason to stay. They’re lovely, aren’t they? I love to watch them fly. They are so free when they are in the air, gliding along on nothing but an air current.” Her mother sighed as she turned to watch three starlings hopping around on a bird feeder.

Later, after Sarah finished washing the dinner dishes, she put on a jacket and walked into the backyard to get closer to the birds.

She comes.

Sarah looked around but saw no one. “Who’s there?”

Will you make us act?

She realized the voice was in her head, but it wasn’t her voice. Then she saw a cowbird sitting at her feet. She held out her hand to the bird, and it flew up and landed on her palm. Sarah leaned closer and stared at the bird.

What would you force us to do this time?

“Is that your voice I’m hearing?”

Let us leave.

“Us? What? The birds?”

You are bad.

Sarah frowned. “What are you talking about?”

You force us.

“I don’t force you to do anything.”

You made us take the other one.

The other one must have meant Christine. She was the only one the birds had taken.

“I didn’t make you take her. The power did.” Sarah realized that she was arguing with a bird, but she couldn’t help it. She felt a surge of anger come from nowhere.

You are bad.

“Then go!” Sarah yelled. “If you want to leave so much. Go!”

The cowbird flew off of her hand, its wings flapping furiously. Sarah thought it would fly away, but it flew full force into the side of the house. She heard a sickening thud, and then the bird fell to the ground.

The anger vanished.

Sarah ran over and scooped up the bird in her hands. It didn’t move. She stroked its head gently.

“Don’t be dead. Don’t be dead.”

The bird’s head turned at an awkward angle. Its wings flapped, and suddenly it was standing in her hand.

“Are you all right?” she asked.

The bird stared at her, and Sarah realized that instead of black, the bird’s eyes were a smoky white.

Fly now.

Sarah heard the voice, but it wasn’t the same as the voice she had heard earlier. This one was deeper and sounded scratchy.

“It that you?” she asked.


The bird flew off.

Had she brought the bird back to life? What was happening to her?

by Priscilla Rall

Sniper Wings Seiss

The Seiss family had settled in the Frederick area in the mid-1700s. Born in 1925 in Graceham, Sterling Seiss was a descendant of these first settlers. The family home, where he now lives, was built in 1825, near what is thought to be an ancient Native American trail. Sterling found many arrowheads in the fields by the house. The original stone spring house near the old home still stands. Sterling had six brothers and six sisters, and he remembers that his grandmother kept butter and milk cool in the spring house. When the kids were sent to get milk from there, they were allowed to bring up one bottle of homemade root beer that was also stored there.

Sterling’s father worked as a barn builder for Ralph Miller, and also farmed. The children were kept busy with daily chores. Sterling gathered kindling and eggs, while his older brother filled the wood box. The other boys cared for the horses, Prince and Bob, as his father never owned a tractor. For Christmas, the Seiss children got hard candy, oranges, and sometimes a new pair of socks. They enjoyed the many church festivals nearby. Family was everything to the Seisses. Their cousin, Russell, had lost his mother at an early age and he often stayed with the Sterling family; it was not unusual for the children to stay with aunts and uncles or grandparents for a time.

Sterling left school after seventh grade and worked for a time at the Gem Laundry in Frederick, helping to pick up and then deliver the cleaned clothes. At this time, he lived with his brother in Frederick and earned $6.00 a week. When the laundry closed, he rode his bicycle back to Thurmont, where his parents were living. At that time, Thurmont was quite a hopping town, with a movie theater that charged 17 cents a ticket. Even Graceham had a store, a warehouse, a post office, and, of course, the Moravian Church.

However, as the Depression loomed over the country, it affected the Seiss Famly. They lost all of their savings when the Central Trust bank folded and, consequently, lost their farm. Sterling’s father took any job he could find, and they moved from one rented farm to another. Sterling remembers hobos who rode the rails and would split wood for a meal. At one point, Sterling worked for John Zimmer on his nearby farm. He also helped deliver milk on a horse-drawn wagon.

When he turned 18, although he could have asked for a farming deferment, he decided to join the Army. He was inducted in January 1944, and after training, he shipped out to New Guinea. There, with Company F in the 34th Infantry, they searched for any Japanese still remaining in a “mopping up” operation. They were warned to beware of snakes and “head hunters.” Sterling recalls thinking “that doesn’t sound very good to me!” Thankfully, they found no enemy soldiers, snakes, or head hunters. Then they sailed off for the Philippine Islands, landing in Leyte, where again they were in a “mopping up” operation.

On December 11, 1944, as the company was digging in for the night, Pvt. Seiss felt a stinging sensation in his left shoulder. When his buddy called for a medic, the captain quickly came; stripping off Seiss’ jacket, he found a bullet hole through his shoulder and a burn mark made by the enemy sniper’s bullet across his back. He was ordered to report to the field hospital, but he had no idea where it was! Just then, a young Philippino boy spoke up, “Me know.” So, Sterling left his company and reported to the field hospital, where the doctor told him that he was going back to the states. The doctor told Sterling how lucky he was—an inch lower or an inch higher and he would be dead. After his recovery in Georgia and then at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, he was discharged in May 1946, with a Good Conduct Medal and Purple Heart.

Sterling had always loved working with animals, so it is no surprise that for the rest of his life he was involved in farming. He had a brief first marriage that produced a son. He then married the love of his life, Mary Jean Harbaugh, in 1952. Together, they had three children, and farmed, raising heifers and pigs. Finally, in 1972, he was able to buy the home place where he lives to this day.

In the 1980s, I was one of many who bought piggies from Sterling, and I remember seeing him in his red pickup filled with crates of outdated milk he got from local dairies to feed his hogs. Sterling Seiss is one of the dwindling number of the “Greatest Generation,” to whom our country owes a great debt.

This quiet hero survived a Japanese sniper to return to his beloved Frederick County, where he lives out the last of his life in anonymity, few realizing the sacrifices he made in WWII.

Eric Smothers thanks Sterling Seiss for his many years of commitment and service to Graceham Volunteer Fire Company, during the company’s annual banquet held on April 27, 2019.

Joan Bittner Fry

The railroad through Sabillasville has always been a part of my life.  In the ‘40s and ‘50s, we would pick up Uncle Ned at the state sanatorium station, where he would visit our family from Baltimore. I recall a time when the train was stopped at Manahan’s Store. We were on our way home from school. The engineer said we could get on and see inside.  I was the only kid who wouldn’t get on. It was so big!

The Western Maryland Railroad had been transforming Western Maryland since the 1830s. The Baltimore and Ohio connected Frederick City and points west to Baltimore, creating tremendous economic opportunity; but the area north of Frederick City had to wait over forty years to connect with the railroad. The challenges of building in mountainous areas slowed progress.

On May 17, 1862, the builders of the Western Maryland Railroad caused “quite a stir” in Graceham by laying track near the outskirts of town, but the Civil War slowed all progress. It was not until later in the decade that the railroad pushed into Graceham. Not until 1871 did the railroad finally arrive in Mechanicstown (now Thurmont) and press through the rest of Frederick County. Its arrival brought monumental changes to Mechanicstown, according to the local newspaper:

“The sound of steam whistle twice a day in the suburbs of our hitherto quiet little town has awakened everything up to newness of life and a spirit of ‘go-aheadativeness’ which is quite refreshing.  We begin to put on city airs and learn city fashions; Baltimore is brought close to our doors and oysters and cav-back (canvasback) ducks and fresh fish can be produced and eaten daily as at one of the largest restaurants in the Monumental City (Baltimore).”

After its expansion to Mechanicstown, railroad workers began laying tracks westward to Sabillasville. The brand new Mechanicstown newspaper, The Catoctin Clarion, predicted that the new railroad would “whistle the inhabitants of Sabillasville from the Rip Van Winkle sleep into a new and creative existence.” Once completed, the railroad took a leisurely semi-circular route around Sabillasville, a ride that quickly became known as “Horseshoe Curve.”

The entire Horseshoe Curve could be seen from many vantage points around Sabillasville, especially the State Sanatorium TB Hospital. My siblings and neighbors crossed the tracks of Horseshoe Curve every day to and from the former Sabillasville Elementary School. The road is now the treacherous Fort Ritchie Road from Sabillasville to Route 491.  My biggest fear in those days was a train being parked on the track getting water from the tank. I can still remember those huge wheels as we crawled beneath or between the cars to get to the other side. A first grader’s legs are pretty short. I guess my brother Jim’s legs were even shorter than mine.

The Western Maryland main line pushed west across South Mountain from Union Bridge, and by August 28, 1871, it had reached Sabillasville. At Blue Ridge Summit, engineers encountered very hard rock and found it necessary to run the line into Pennsylvania. Rather than go through the time-consuming process of getting the Pennsylvania Legislature to grant a charter, the company purchased the land and laid the tracks on its own property. This amounted to several hundred yards of line at the station at Blue Ridge Summit and again at Pen Mar at the highway bridge.

In the spring of 1871, a strike by workers, demanding $1.75 per day and a ten-hour day, temporarily halted plans to extend the railroad to Smithsburg; but, soon, labor and management settled the strike and the new railroad was pressing onward toward Hagerstown. It reached Hagerstown in August of 1872.

On March 24, 1874, John Mifflin Hood became president of Western Maryland Railroad, a position he held until he resigned on February 27, 1902. When Hood became president, the railroad had but 90 miles of track, a basically muddy roadbed, worn-out rusting rail, and 12 mechanically exhausted locomotives that were inadequate for freight and passenger trade. During Hood’s presidency, the Western Maryland track grew to 270 miles of steel track. From Baltimore, the Pen Mar Express train left Hillen Station at 9:15 a.m. and reached Pen Mar Park before noon, with the trip returning at 9:15 p.m. It was said that the passengers would cheer when they reached the curve. After circling Sabillasville, the railroad briefly went into Pennsylvania at the top of the grade at Blue Ridge Summit.

Passenger stations along the line were also telegraph offices that provided communication over wires owned and maintained by the railroad. My late neighbor, Charles E. Shields, was a telegraph operator at Blue Ridge Summit.

The first Blue Ridge Station was built in 1871. From 1872 to 1957, passenger service was provided to Blue Ridge Summit. The second station was built in 1891. Later, a train shed was constructed at Blue Ridge Summit, along the station side of the track, to protect boarding and alighting passengers from the weather. Pen Mar Station had a similar shed.

In 1958, the railroad presented the deed to this station and one and one-half acres of land to Mrs. Robert Hearne, president of the board of directors of the library at that time, with the following statement:

“In the tradition of the good neighbor, the Western Maryland family deeds to all the families of Blue Ridge Summit this familiar community meeting place to be used as a free public library, thus continuing in a cultural sense, the close relationship between the railroad and the people.” This quaint library serves two states: Maryland and Pennsylvania; and four counties: Frederick and Washington in Maryland and Adams and Franklin in Pennsylvania.

Water service for steam locomotives was a very important requirement, particularly on a mountain railroad. There were water tanks at Thurmont, one on the Horseshoe Curve above Sabillasville, and two at Highfield. Most small stations had local boarding houses available at the time.


Boarding Houses at Sabillasville

Horse Shoe Bend — Mrs. W. Frank Birely (25 guests); Williar House — Mrs. Charles Williar (15 guests); Curve House — Mrs. S. W. Harbaugh (15 guests); Meadow Brook — Mrs. Linnie Crist (20 guests); Silver Springs Farm — Mrs. Wm. H. Naylor   (35 guests); Fair View Farm — Mrs. Samuel West             (30 guests); Mountain View Cottage — R. A. Harbaugh (not given); *Harbaugh Cottage —       Thos. H. Harbaugh (not given); Anders House — Mrs. Maud Anders (not given); The Eyler Cottage — Mrs. Bertha Eyler (not given). *The author now owns this house.

Boarding house rates were from $1.00 to $2.00 per day and $5.00 to $6.00 or $10.00 per week. The charge for children and servants was $3.00 to $5.00.

Throughout the country, as was the case on Catoctin Mountain, the railroad reached and transformed formerly remote areas. In northern Frederick and Washington Counties, the railroad opened tourism to the mountain area and revived agriculture and industry in the region. During the summer on Sundays and holidays, crowds jammed Hillen Station in Baltimore and spilled into the street, with lines sometimes stretching several blocks. City people were headed for vacation resorts at Braddock Heights, Pen Mar, Blue Ridge Summit, and other locations, which were built and prospered because of rail transportation.

Unfortunately, all of this cost money, and by May 1902, the railroad owed over $9,000,000 to the City of Baltimore. After Hood resigned, the city sold its interest in the Western Maryland Railroad to the Fuller Syndicate.


The WMRR Now

Since 2007, the Maryland Midland (MMID) Railroad in Union Bridge, Maryland, has been owned by Genesee & Wyoming Industries, a U.S.-based corporation that owns multiple railroad shortlines in the United States and Australia. The railroad is shaped like a giant cross, with the east-west lines longer than the north-south lines. The western end of the cross, the former Western Maryland main line, goes to the CSX interchange at Highfield. The train sometimes runs twenty to thirty cars, with as many as four locomotives often leading.

This view of Horseshoe Curve at Sabillasville is from a period image (c. late 1800s), according to WMRR Historical Society in Union Bridge. It is not a postcard but an early sketch issued in a small booklet entitled “Western Maryland R. R. Scenery,” measuring 3 x 5 inches.

by Theresa Dardanell

Graceham Volunteer Fire Company — An All-Volunteer Company

100% Volunteer Fire & EMS Corporation
Pictured from left are William Morgan, Amy Morgan, William Ott, Timothy Lott, Kenneth Simmers, Sterling Seiss, Michelle Powell, Louis Powell Jr, Brian Boller; (standing on 184) Julie Durgan and James Kilby.

Fighting Fires is their job, but preventing fires is their passion. The members of the Graceham Volunteer Fire Company (VFC #18) take every opportunity to educate the community about fire safety and fire prevention. Each year during Fire Prevention Week, they visit the students at Thurmont Primary School and distribute fire safety information packets. The children get to see and touch the firefighters’ gear so that they learn not to be afraid if they are ever involved in an emergency situation. To make it fun, the firefighters have a race to see who can be the first to put on their gear. Company members also distribute fire prevention literature for adults at many locations and events. During the fall, they set up a table at the Lawyer’s Farm corn maze. Graceham Moravian Church is another location where the members distribute information. In 1994, Kathleen Grady, one of the members, was named Miss Frederick County Fire Prevention Queen, and was later selected as Maryland State Fire Prevention Queen First Runner Up.

Although Graceham VFC #18 was actually incorporated in 1960, the original fire company joined the Frederick County Firemen’s Association in 1936. The station, still in its current location on Graceham Road, was built in 1963, and serves an area that includes Graceham, Creagerstown, and Thurmont Primary School.

The original building had two bays, but renovations added an additional bay. A 100-gallon hand-pulled Ajax tank was one of the first pieces of equipment used by the original fire company. Today, the company has several vehicles: Engine 183 with a 1000-gallon tank, Engine Tanker 184 with an 1800-gallon tank, and a brush truck. They also have two vehicles to provide EMS service.

The most impressive fact is that the department has paid off the mortgage on the station and does not currently owe any money for the apparatus. This is due to the hard work and dedication of the members, as well as the tremendous support from the community. However, the twenty-six-year-old pumper will need to be replaced in the near future. Fundraising is critical. The 25 Club, raffles, and turkey shoots provide the funds needed for new equipment and expenses. The 25 Club is held twice a year and gives the community an enjoyable event, as well as an opportunity to support the department. It includes a dinner and a chance to win cash prizes. Gun raffles are held twice a year and turkey shoots are monthly events. Event dates and times can be found on the Facebook page for Graceham VFC #18.

The department has responded to many different fires and emergency situations over the years. One incident recalled by the members was the 1991 Loys Station Bridge fire. A car on the bridge was set on fire, and Graceham VFC #18 was one of the many departments that responded to the call. The bridge was unfortunately destroyed but was later rebuilt.

The membership of the department includes Administrative Officers: Louis Powell, Jr.—President; William Morgan—Vice President; Hilary Blake—Secretary and Fire Prevention Chairperson; Julie Durgan—Assistant Secretary; Sterling Seiss—Treasurer; Brian Boller—Assistant Treasurer. Operational Officers are: James Kilby—Chief; Louis Powell, Jr.—Assistant Chief; Valaria Kilby—Captain. Board of Directors members are: Hilary Blake, Brian Boller, Kenny “Doc” Simmers Sr., Eugene “Sonny” Grimes, Sterling Seiss, and Amanda “Katie” Miller. Other members include fundraising staff, kitchen committee, and junior members.

More volunteers are always needed and welcome. Assistant Chief Louis Powell would be happy to talk with anyone who is interested in joining the group. If you are interested, you can contact him at

A fire above Thurmont between Route 550 and Kelbaugh Road consumed seven acres on Sunday, November 21, 2016. The fire started around 2:00 p.m., was contained by 5:00 p.m., and fully extinguished by 8:00 p.m. It was started by downed power lines.

Ironically a new fire broke out around 1:00 a.m. the following morning near the same area. It is believed that the second fire started when a spark from the first fire was carried by the wind to the new location.

Initially, Thurmont’s Guardian Hose Company responded to the second fire, and by 7:30 a.m. fifty to seventy-five fire fighters were involved. Responders from Thurmont, Graceham, Emmitsburg, Rocky Ridge, Wolfsville, Smithsburg, Leitersburg, Frederick City, Camp David, Lewistown, Greenmount, Middletown, Blue Ridge Summit, Raven Rock, and more reported to help. Route 550 was closed to traffic during these fires.

Graceham Fire Company’s Assistant Chief, Louie Powell, was in command at the base of the mountain on Route 550 where water, gas, food, and holding tanks were set up. A canteen truck was brought in from Independence Fire Company to feed the responders.

Powell explained that to pump water up the mountain to fight the fire, a fire truck from Rocky Ridge had a 5” supply line pumping from the holding tanks to an engine from Vigilant Hose Company, and then that engine pumped through to another engine, and so on, to reach the fire higher up the mountain. He said, “It’s a neat operation.”

Neither of these fires resulted in a threat to human life, nor was there damage to homes or buildings. The second fire consumed approximately ten more acres of forest before being fully extinguished sometime in the afternoon on Monday.

Thanks to the many residents who provided assistance to the firefighters by opening access routes, allowing access to your property, and allowing the use of your private ponds for water. Good job to everyone who pulled together to successfully beat these fires!


Photo of fire by Donna Sweeney,


photo of basecamp by Deb Spalding