"It's a good thing you came today."
"Why's that? Closed tomorrow?" Brian said.
"Closed for good. Consort takes over on Monday. The park will be closed."
"I thought this was a Federal Park?" Gene said.
"Was. Sold to Consort. Most of the smaller parks are being sold off."
"Why haven't I heard of this?" Brian said.
"Most people don't like the idea of selling off the parks. It isn't talked about. Great source of revenue for the big boys down in Washington. There are land use laws that allow them to do anything they want with federal property. They just don't talk about it."
"When will it reopen?" Brian said.
"Oh! It won't reopen. They will excavate starting Monday."
"Excavate what?" Gene asked.
"Whatever they can find. You know what Civil War Relics are bringing. They've paid a million dollars for 500 acres. Just a few major finds will make them twice that. Don't remove anything. It all belongs to Consort now. They're pretty hard nose about not letting anyone remove relics."
"Sold the park. That's bogus," Gene said. "How can they get away with that?"
"It's part of the program. They run short of money. They make a little. We close at 5:30. They'll be chaining the gates today. Don't stay too long."
"How far back can we drive?"
"Far as the road goes. There are a couple of dirt drives they've put in during the week. I'd stay off them. I don't know if the rains haven't made it too soft to drive on. I have no idea where they go. They'll probably go back quite a ways. Gave them access to some of the isolated areas they wanted to see. Get a good look, it'll all be developed this time next year. Big dogs will be taking vacation here. The government will have a few houses up above the battle field where they're putting in the back nine of the golf course."
"Well, thanks. We'll be back by five."
"Make sure, now. They'll chain these gates at 5:30. You best get clear of it by 5:00. Don't want to have to go looking for you."
Gene and Brian decided to drive back to the end of the paved road. At the top of the parking lot was one of the dirt roads the park ranger told them about.
"You want to drive back there. I bet most people have never explored that part of the park," Gene said, as they sat staring at the freshly plowed dirt.
"We could. Maybe until it starts to look soft. I don't want to get stuck. He warned us not to drive on them," Brian said, curiosity rising in his voice.
"Bet there's some neat stuff back there. We might find something.
The car climbed the curb and ran over the short strip of lawn before driving onto the red dirt. It cut straight into the woods and was about ten feet wide. It was flat and went back as far as the eye could see. Brian kept his speed down as they looked from side to side to see if there was anything worthy of an investigation. The trees were plentiful and taller as they drove. The men that cut the road had not disturbed the underbrush at all.
There was only the sound of the tires crunching the dirt for more than ten minutes as they drove on. Gene studied the grounds to the right as Brian checked to the left.
"You think we should turn around?" Brian said.
"No. Let's go a little further. We'll find a place where we can turn around without going off the road. I don't think I want to get stuck out here. We've come quite a ways."
"How far do you think it goes?"
"Who knows. He said five hundred acres. How far is that?"
"I don't know. An acre isn't that big. Maybe a mile or two. Could be more. We've had to come a few miles."
"We've been further than a couple of miles. We can turn around the next place we find. Wait a minute."
"What?" Brian said.
"Stop. I saw something moving back there. Might be a deer. Hold up. Back up a few feet. Okay! Right here."
Brian brought the car to a stop. They both stared off into the thicket. Gene was certain he saw movement past the gray dark and dank forest. He stepped from the car watching carefully for any sign of movement.
"There, Bry. Look there. See it?"
"Watch my finger. There."
"Yeah. So what. It's a deer or something."
"There. There. Another one. See it."
"No big deal, Gene. Deer are still allowed. It ain't a golf course yet."
"Too big. I'd say four or five foot along that tree line. Too big for a deer. I'm going to take a look see. Come on."
Brian watched Gene walk past the edge of the woods stepping up and over some brush.
"Jesus," he said, following him going round in a circle when his pants snagged on bushes.
Gene moved through the underbrush for a ways before stepping up on higher ground where the rows of trees were further apart and the brush disappeared leaving him standing on a thick carpet of pine needles and bark. There wasn't a sound when he walked, and he watched where he'd last seen the movement. There was almost a mist on the floor of the forest. He let his eyes sweep the horizon giving them time to adjust to the dim light.
"There Brian. Hurry up," he said, taking off running.
"Jesus, Gene, What are you looking for. Give me a break. I'm not chasing you through the woods."
"Come on, Bry."
Gene ran fast through the trees. He saw the movement several more times. It was only a shadow; there; gone. As he passed over a small rise he bumped into a tree that bent awkwardly into the path he took. Gene didn't know how he'd managed to run into a tree. As he twisted to absorb the force of the collision, he stepped to one side. It was obviously a mistake. He found himself airborne and ended up flat on his back looking up twenty feet from where he fell. He tried to get up, but gave up the idea when he discovered his difficulty in breathing. A sharp pain ran from his ankle up through his leg.
"Happy now," Brian said, looking down the hill at his friend. "Come on. Let's get out of here. We can go to the petting zoo if you want to see a deer that bad."
"Wasn't a deer. I told you. I think I sprained my ankle. You'll have to help me back."
"Great, Gene. Just great. You wanted to come check out the battlefield. That's fine. I'm as curious as the rest. What the hell are we doing chasing deer around the woods? It doesn't make sense. What am I doing chasing you around the woods."
"I don't know, but look up there where I fell down the hill. When you slid down you uncovered something buried in the dirt."
Brian stood beside his friend and watched his finger pointing at something on the hill..
"What is it? I don't see anything."
"It's shinny. See it. Right above me. We must of knocked the dirt off it. Looks like glass."
"Oh yeah! a piece of glass. Probably a coke bottle someone threw down."
"Check it out while I try to get up," Gene said.
"It's buried, Gene. Looks like binoculars. Yeah! It is. Pearl all over this sucker. Looks like pearl. Like shell or something. Never seen glasses like this. I bet their worth something. We could sneak them out. Look at them."
"They broke?" Gene said, pushing himself up to rest on his elbows while he watched Brian.
"Not from what I can tell. Look fine. Just buried in this muck. Rain must have washed the dirt off them. Someone must have dropped them down off that hill.
"My ankle hurts. I don't know I can make it back up the hill. I hope it's only a sprain."
"Here. These should make you feel better. Look at those suckers. We need to wipe them off good and see what we have here," Brian said scampering down the hillside.
"My grandma had a small pair like that. Called them opera glasses. About a quarter that size. They were from the nineteenth century," Gene said.
"Wow! You think they are really from the Civil War?"
"Could be. Use your shirt and wipe off the lenses. Let's walk down through this gully here. I can't climb that hill right now. Damn mud," Gene said, shaking the caked mud off his sneakers.
"We'd do better walking back toward the car. I don't want to get lost back here."
"No. I want to see what's back here. We'll just go a little way."
The crevice they found themselves in ran along twisting and turning every few feet. It closed in on the boys with large tree roots jutting out from the hillside. The trees were more plentiful and the light faded more as the creek bed seemed to be thirty feet deep or possibly more in places.
"Stop, Bry. Wait up. My ankles killing me."
"You need help, Gene?"
"No! I need to rest it a minute."
"We're going away from the car and the road. I think we should go back now. The trees are so thick back here we can't see anything anyway. Not down in this damn hole."
"Let's go a little ways further. I don't want to go all the way back in this ditch. We're bound to find a place to climb out. We've walked a long ways from where I fell into this thing."
"Just a little further, but I've got a bad feeling about this thing. The way it is closing in on us. I don't like it," Brian said, looking up at the steep sides of the rut in the ground.
"Jesus, Bry, you ever going to get over claustrophobia? You get nervous getting a shirt out of your closet."
"Shut up, asshole. I'm not nervous. I just don't like it. Can't see anything. We're going away from the car."
"Right! You're sweating like a pig. How do you think this got here. I've never seen anything like it?"
"Water washed it out. Creek bed," Gene said.
"It's the rainy season. It's been raining two weeks off and on. Where's the water? It should be full."
"You think they dug it?"
"Soldiers. So they could move without being seen? Like in Nam. All those tunnels under everything."
"Nah! You're imagination is running away with you. It's just a stream gone bad during years of storms. Probably been redirected up above where we dropped into it."
"Yeah! I guess. It just seems awful steep."
"Right, Bry. Up ahead. There's more light. We're coming to the end of it. The walls aren't as steep."
At a turn in the crevice the hillside sloped off in a way that gave the boys the ability to climb out. Gene watched his footing as he used a few tree roots to make it easier to pull himself up out of the creek bed. As he moved up past the top he stopped, staring off into the trees.
"Come on, Gene. I don't want to be balancing myself here on this hill all day. Move it. Move. Let me up out of here. Now. I'm not playing here."
"Shh! Shut up."
"What's wrong now Gene? Move it on up."
"Shush. Keep it down. There's someone moving up here."
"Let me see. You idiot. No one is back here. We're a mile off the damn road," Brian said, as he moved up beside his friend.
"Look. Over there. Near that clump of pine trees. See it?"
"You're crazy as a loon. There's nothing to see, Gene. Another deer maybe. Where. Show me."
"Right there," Gene pointed. "Fifty sixty yards."
"Damn you. I don't see anything. What is it?"
"Give me those glasses, Bry."
Gene wiggled up on his belly until he could brace himself with his elbows at the top. Brian looked off to where he was looking but still saw nothing but shadows. Gene moved the binoculars across the horizon in slow motion. Using his fingers, he wiped the lenses a couple of times. He rolled over on his back sliding until his head down below the ridge. Brian looked down at him seeing the look of surprise on his face.
"What is it, Gene?"
"What's going on?"
"There's someone there. He's got a rifle. I don't think he is alone."
"Where?" Brian said, peaking back up over the edge of the hill.
"Ten o'clock. He's moving in those trees. He seems to be using them to keep out of view. Keep down. I don't like this. I'm not too comfortable with guys roaming around with guns."
"You think he knows we are here, Gene?"
"I don't know. As loud as we've been I can't see how he doesn't know we are here. He didn't look this way. Maybe he's tracking a deer or something. I don't know. I just don't like the idea of us being out here with someone shooting a gun off. It's a good way to get hurt."
"Let's yell at him so he knows?" Brian said. "We'll walk back up top."
"Let's don't. I don't like this at all. I'm starting to get a fumy feeling down inside. Feels like trouble to me. We need to go back up the creek bed and get out of here. We'll be safe as long as we stay in here. We can go back the way we came. I don't want to run into no one with a gun. No sense taking chances. No telling who that might be. Awful funny they'd be out here with guns on the day the park was closing."
"No way. You go back up that thing, not me. No way. I'll walk up top. You crawl in the mud. Let's just wait until he's gone why don't we? I'm not going back down that dark hole in the ground. Those walls might come down on us."
"Okay. Suit yourself. You get gut shot, don't talk to me about it. Someone's out there."
"Give me the glasses," Brian said. "I'm not scared."
Brian looked carefully using the glasses to sweep the horizon taking care to examine the direction where Gene said he saw the movement. There was nothing but the darkness that was closing in with the thickening clouds and the late afternoon skies.
"Nothing, Gene. Nothing's there. Let's get out of here. We'll walk back up top. You are pulling my leg. I know your strange sense of humor. There's no one there is there?"
"Let's just go back where we came from. Neither one of us needs to worry. I don't care if you believe me or not. I'm not walking out there with them having guns.
"What? I'm getting clear of this hole."
The shot echoed through the trees as Brian started to pull himself up out of the ditch. He wasn't sure if it was a single shot or more. The woods were alive with the noise as he slid down beside Gene keeping his back against the dirt.
"We've got to get back to the other side," Gene yelled pushing himself up running back up the creek bed in the direction they'd come.
"What's wrong with you. We'll just wait a minute. That idiot will be gone. What's your freaking hurry? It was your idea to come down here. He's playing with us. The shot was up in the treetops. Probably shoot squirrels or something."
"Don't try to hold here. Let's get back to our own side."
As Brian closed his eyes not wanting to think about the steep walls of the creek bed, another shot whizzed through the branches of the trees directly overhead. Another shot followed a few seconds later, and then there was the unmistakable sound of a volley. Brian pressed himself harder against the dirt wall. He looked up to see if anyone was visible or to hear anyone moving nearby. The sounds of Gene had disappeared. Brian looked at where he had gone out of sight.
"Hey up there. There's people over here. Quit shooting this way," Brian yelled, but there was nothing but silence.
* * * * * * * * *
After a couple of minutes, Brian caught up with Gene standing in the middle of the creek bed with his hands on his knees.
"What's going on Gene. Who are they?"
"I don't know, Bry. I don't know."
"Maybe they are acting out a battle. You know. Like those reactor guys."
"I don't think so, Bry."
"You don't know. Maybe that's what they are doing."
"I don't think so, Bry. I've got an awful feeling down inside of me. I feel just awful. I don't want to die in this ditch. We got to get out of here."
"Why couldn't it be like that?"
"I don't know, Bry. I know it is nothing like that."
"Why? Quit it, Gene. You're scaring me."
"I'm scared, Bry. This isn't right. There's something wrong here. We've got to get out of here. We've got to go back up that creek bed. It's the only way we're going to get out. That's what I do know."
As Gene spoke another volley rang out just above them. He took off running. Brian once more questioned what they were running from. He'd yet to see anyone, but the rifle shots were real enough. As he started to follow Gene another volley sounded just above his heads. Brian pressed his body into the mud. It grew silent. There was not a sound in the forest. The distant gunfire could no longer be heard, but more importantly, the fire next to him had passed.
He moved cautiously up beside the trunk of a tree to see who was firing the guns. He couldn't see anything but the weeds growing through the top roots of the tree. Brian used his hand to press them down slowly and quietly. He saw no one. He looked down the way Gene ran. It was quiet. He slid down to stand in the bottom of the crevice, listening for a return of the gunfire.
"Daniel ... ."
Brian was sure he heard it. It repeated itself the same word in a low weak voice. Brian moved closely along the muddy slope. After a few more steps he heard, "Daniel, I've been hit. I'm hurt. Bad, Daniel."
Gene was lying with his hands over his chest. Except for his lips, there was no movement at all, "Daniel ... Daniel."
"Cut it out, Gene. I don't know how you did that, but I'm not amused. Get the hell up. We're getting out of here. I've had enough of your games."
"Daniel, don't tell Molly I run. Don't tell her I died a coward, Daniel. Please."
"What are you talking about. Get up, Gene. Quit this shit."
"Don't tell Becca either. You got to keep it secret. She'll tell Molly for sure. Don't tell on me."
"Gene, what are you talking about. Get the hell up. Gene ... Gene."
Brian knelt beside his friend. He shook him, but there was no response. He slapped his face without getting a response. Feeling the artery in his neck, he stood stunned. There was no heartbeat. There were no breaths. He looked for any sign of bullet a bullet hitting him, something to explain what was going on. There wasn't a mark he could find past the bruise on Gene's ankle. He started to run until he got back to the car, and he sped down the dirt road finding a place to turn around, and then speeding back to the entrance and the attendant.
"My friend. Somethings happened to my friend."
"What?" the man said, leaning on the counter to look at him impassively.
"I don't know. There was gunfire. We ran. He's dead."
"Someone shot your friend? I didn't hear no shots."
"No. I don't know. I didn't see a bullet hole."
"Look kid, I don't know what you are pulling here. I didn't hear any shots, and it is about time you and your friend got out of here. We'll be closing in a few hours. Just go on home."
"My friend is out there. He's dead. Call the cops. Call 911. They might still be out there."
"Who? What did they look like?"
"I don't know. I didn't see anyone. He saw them."
"And heard shots? Those hills behind the park make it impossible to fire guns without me hearing it. I didn't hear it. Maybe I could not hear one shot, but more an that. I'd hear. Get out ah here. I ain't biting on this one."
"Call the cops. Now," Brian said, grabbing the attendant's shirt.
"What did you find?"
"Nothing. If there's a body out there, we'll have to send out a search team. He showed me to a place where he said there was a creek bed, or crevice like a trench, only there isn't anything like that there where he took me."
"No trenches. It was a running battle lasted three days. No trenches. No time. They came in here from different sides of the valley. Met in the middle, and that's where the battle was fought."
"Look kid. Why not change your story. We send search teams out there and this is some kind of a prank, I'll fry your ass."
"It's no joke. There was one thing strange, though. I forgot until just now. He kept calling me Daniel. My name is Brian. He kept calling me Daniel."
"This gets stranger and stranger. You going to give it up kid. Jokes over."
"The spirits are talking."
"Who the hell are you?" The cop said, turning to look at the man in the doorway.
"Chief pain in the butt," The attendant said. "He's a seer. Said we were going to screw with the spirits when we sold this place to be developed.
"You've released the spirits by digging up the earth. You've cut scars into her heart. She is giving up those that can not rest."
"Who the hell are you?"
"Standing Cloud. My American name is Kenneth Longwell. I'm a shaman to my people. I have seen the spirits. You've angered them by disturbing their bones. They walk with you now."
"Shaman? You some kind of a quack?"
"Big medicine for his people," the attendant said, "He's been coming up here since Consort bought the place. Said the spirits told him to stop them from developing the grounds. His people have a graveyard in here some place. Only they know where that is."
"Look fellow, You have anything to do with this crap? You two better come clean. I've got more important things to do. You have me call search and rescue, and it is your ass, not mine."
"Call them," Brian said.
"Okay, kid. Your ass. That boy ain't out there. I know it."
"He kept calling me Daniel like he really believe that's who I was," Brian said to no one. "It's the only thing I believe about the entire mess. He seemed to think I was this Daniel guy."
"He was seeing someone he knew."
"Who was?" Brian said.
"He was seeing someone other than you. Someone he knew from the battle."
"I know all of Gene's friends. No Daniels. I'd know."
"He was seeing someone that was here with him. His spirit belongs here. I will see if we can find this Daniel."
"You can do that? You some kind of witch doctor?"
"PhD, Archeology actually. They have books in the library in the back. Tells you who fought here. Who died here. We can check for Daniels."
"Good luck. Fifteen thousand men fought here. Good luck. Library is through that door."
"What about guys that died? If someone related to Gene or me died here, wouldn't that be easier to find."
"Not if you are Daniel to him. He might be someone else. This Gene didn't die here. Whomever was calling you Daniel did," Kenneth said, holding the door open for Brian.
For hours they poured over the books checking for anyone with the names Daniel, Gene, Brian, and with their last names, Hancock and Benson. After dark the rescue teams came in having had no luck. They took Gene's jacket from the car, and called for the dogs to arrive in the morning. Brian and Kenneth went through each book and each picture of each company that fought on the battlefield.
Brian fell asleep long after midnight, but Kenneth kept turning the pages until early the following morning when he found what they were looking for.
"Brian. Look here. Look at this."
Brian wiped the sleep out of his eye as Kenneth placed a book down in front of him.
"He was seeing Daniel Small. Look at that face. Could be you in three or four more years. I bet this guy knew your boy. That's who he saw. You guys were here at the battle. Coming back here after they cut into the earth, that's disturbed the spirits."
"Wait a minute. Gene's my age. He's here now. He came here with me. Something happened to him out there. He's still out there. I just couldn't find that creek bed or whatever it was."
"The earth was giving up the spirits. I told you. Your friend got mixed up with whomever it was that was seeing Daniel Small one hundred and fifty years ago."
"Get real. You better quit drinking whatever it is you are drinking," Brian said.
Kenneth showed the picture to the attendant and the cop the next morning. They weren't impressed. They took Brian with them when they took the dogs out to do the searching. Holding Gene's jacket up for them to smell, they took off through the woods, barking. They spent most of the day there, not barking. They did not find Gene's body. Brian was exhausted by late afternoon when the cop started grilling him again. The dogs stood outside under the window showing more interest than they had all day. One broke free from the handler howling and running with his nose against the ground. He had the scent at last. They were on the trail. The other dogs followed the first howling and barking.
As everyone followed the dogs, it led directly into the Confederate graveyard. As they came to where the dogs had stopped, they were sniffing around a grave marked with the name Cpl. Ezra Stevens. The grave was undisturbed since it was opened to put in the body of the corporal.
"What's wrong with your dogs?" the cop said.
"Nothing wrong with them. What's wrong with this graveyard?"
"Nothing wrong with the graveyard. Your dogs are a bit daft."
For several minutes they moved the dogs out of the graveyard. Each time there was a respectful distance, the lead hound fought to go back to the grave. They once more gave the jacket to the dogs letting them loose. They went directly to the same grave. All afternoon they had wandered aimlessly through the woods where Gene disappeared.
"This has gone too far. I have to get into that grave," the cop said.
"Get into the grave. Give me a break. You can see it hasn't been touched since it was put here."
"Yeah! I can see it. I'm on a missing person case. Those dogs say that person is in the ground right here. I don't know how. Maybe Cochise over there knows more than I thought. I don't know the reason, but I know the procedure. We're going to dig this guy up."
The lights were brought in from one of the sheds. The backhoe came from the equipment that Consort was bringing in for excavation. It was dark by the time they were down far enough to dig by hand.
"Got a body here," one of the diggers finally said.
"Body? You might have some bones. You got no body," the attendant said.
"I said I got a body," the voice growled as the man leaned to brush the dirt off the face of the corpse.
Brian looked into the grave absolutely horrified.
"Well, kid," the cop said.
"Jesus. How is this?" the cop said, looking at the attendant, Gene, Brian and Kenneth ...
"Don't look at me. It's not my graveyard. I just work here."
"You have disturbed the spirits. It doesn't have to make sense. They get their revenge in their own way. The white man isn't smart enough to respect them. It doesn't make any sense because you don't see the truth. You best leave this ground alone. I think a message has been sent to you. If you build on this ground, no one will have a peaceful house. That is what I know."
"I don't want to hear no crap from you, Cochise. I got a body here. We'll get to the bottom of it. You and your spirits might best take a hike."
"Not a mark on him, boss. Just like the kid said, bruise on his ankle. Sure couldn't have killed him."
"Blood poisoning maybe," the cop said.
"Too quick. He was walking talking running around one minute and dropped dead the next. Heart. Blood clot, maybe. That's not the trouble."
"What do you mean?" the cop said looking at the man in the grave.
"I mean how the hell did he get in here. It hasn't been touched. This dirt hasn't been turned. How'd he get down here? I ain't never seen nothing like this."
Brian was questioned on and off for two days. Gene's death left the families in shock. Upon questioning his mother he found out her great great grandfather was named Daniel Small. Asking more questions, they concluded Ezra Stevens was the great great grandfather of Gene's mother. Ezra was killed in the battle. Daniel returned home to tell his wife Rebecca and Ezra's wife Molly that he had died a hero. Brian kept the secret his friend asked him to keep. He let Ezra Stevens stay a hero, but he always felt he'd somehow failed his own friend. There was no way he could sleep soundly or feel safe after Gene was found. He did become somewhat more at ease when he found out that Daniel Small lived to be eighty-eight years old.
Later on, while doing further excavating in the grave, they found that the bones there belonged to someone other than Ezra Stevens. Stevens was a small man, and the bones buried there belonged to a man close to six foot. While Gene's body was moved to the family plot, there was a question among members of the family about leaving Gene in the grave where he was found. No such question was raised at the park where the cemetery was located. The rules didn't allow any such consideration for burial. Only if the bones of the real Ezra Stevens were found could there be another burial in the grave. The headstone stayed in place.
No one was sure that Gene's body shouldn't be returned to where it was found. There was little or no discussion about how he got there in the first place, or how he died. There wasn't a mark on him.
Kenneth knew but wouldn't talk about it. The event was crazy enough without him sounding crazy when he explained the events that took place that day.
The gates to the park were closed and they remain that way to this day.
The excavating equipment was removed and the planned development never materialized.
On the anniversary of the closing of the park each year, Kenneth stands on the outside of the chain and he waits. Some say he is waiting for Gene to come walking out of the park. Some say he's waiting to follow Gene, and he can't shake the idea that some quirk, some anomaly, saved him.
He stood for a long time looking at Gene's name on the grave dug during the civil war. The part of the story he told no one was that he returned after things cooled down.
Kenneth walked the rows of graves, looking at each name. A third of the way through the graveyard, he found what he was looking for.
He stood looking at a grave with his name on it.
The name wasn't spelled the way his family spelled it now. It was spelled the way his ancestors spelled it in the old country and how his family spelled it when they migrated to America in 1860.
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