American Revolution 2016
The yellowing leaves tumbled from the half-naked trees, skittering across the black asphalt as the shining car headlights gobbled up the winding road.
David Bing and his wife, Susan, were driving to a bed and breakfast located on the outskirts of New Hope, a quaint Pennsylvania town with antique stores and charming, candle lit restaurants tucked into the rolling green hills of Bucks County that looked like Ireland itself.
They were media darlings, a power press couple in Washington, D.C. three hours away if I-95 was clear. She worked as a producer for POLI-TV, a rival upstart to the iconic C-Span, tracking House legislation from birth to graduation and through the raucous committee teen years when bills were shredded and taped back together in the final moments.
She commandeered an elaborate network of spies guiding her on every move in the storied chamber, making her more knowledgeable about the goings on than some of the members themselves. And she earned her keep, her shoes clacking off the marble floors, pounding her sinewy legs, carrying a sultry, sandy voice that could coax even the Virgin Mary to confess her sins.
He served as the Washington correspondent for the New Orleans Sun, delighting in not having to chase the John McCains of the world, the tumbleweed of cameras and microphones rolling after newsmakers down the hallways. He just had to focus on Louisiana, the land of Dixie bands and spicy food and football and tall drinks called Hurricanes. Politics was a blood sport in the state and corruption an expectation branded with the tattoo that half of Louisiana was under water, the other half under indictment.
The tradition that fueled the endless flow of ink David splattered onto floppy front news pages that landed on the porches of Cajuns whose ancestors dated back centuries and were buried in stone boxes above ground to keep from being washed away in the floods.
The couple were celebrating their 7th anniversary and as they rolled under the tree branches that intertwined like clasped fingers in an arched canopy, he broke the Friday silence, interrupting the hum of the Toyota, she winning the argument of the reliable foreign car over his working class domestic union loyalty.
“Did I ever tell you about the fortune teller I covered?” he asked.
She shifted in the passenger seat warily eyeing him.
“This better not be a scary story,” she said.
“Nah,” he replied. “I wouldn’t do that to you.”
Like drawing on a cigarette, he sucked in a breath of car air that had become stale way back in Delaware.
“I was working as a reporter in New Jersey and had to write a profile every week,” he began. “The editor saw an ad in the paper for a fortune teller and thought it would be an off-beat business feature.”
He glanced down at the speedometer and peaked to the right at the GPS whose light reflected off his face and ensured they were heading in the right direction.
“I interviewed her, getting the basic information, where she grew up, how she got into the business etc.,” he said. “I stood up to leave when she stopped me.”
His tiring eyes darted over to gauge Susan’s interest and found her turned toward him, her right shoulder stretching the seat belt forward, her shiny Elvis black hair in a page boy cut framing piercing royal blue eyes gazing at him.
“’You don’t believe me’ the gypsy said,” he continued. “I didn’t know what to say and felt kind of embarrassed because I really didn’t believe she had special powers. Then she said ‘let me read your palms and I’ll prove it to you.’”
“I passed saying ‘that’s okay, you do what works for you’ but my photographer egged me on. He said ‘c’mon man, what better way to write the story than to go through the experience?’”
Susan leaned in closer, folding her arms.
“I sat down and turned my palms over and she took them into her hands,” he said. “She said ‘you were born into a big family’. Not a stretch there I thought, she had a 50 percent chance of getting that right. Then she said ‘you were born in the summer’, bingo, lucky guess again given there are only four seasons.”
“But then she spooked the hell of me when she said ‘in a previous life, you were a dog,’” he said. “I started laughing and said ‘right, a dog.’ Then she said ‘I’ll prove it to you.’ She said ‘reach back behind your left ear and you’ll feel a lump.’ And sure enough, I reached back and could feel the lump.”
He took his right hand off the wheel and raised it to his neck, pressing his two fingers to the back.
“Here, feel it,” he told his wife.
Entranced, Susan slowly extended four slender fingers behind his ear. Just as she did, he jerked his head, barking and growling like a dog and snapping at her, his incisor scraping against the thin pale web of skin under her wrist.
“You jerk!” she shrieked, slapping him on a forearm braced by his tweed sportcoat. “I believed you.”
He chuckled heartily, his body curling away from her jab, hand over his mouth.
“I can’t believe you fell for that,” he said.
They pulled into the driveway of the bed and breakfast, a wide ranch house in an empty field with flood lights bouncing off the front, making it glow from the road like a Christmas tree.
Debbie, the proprietor, seemed irritated at the couple’s 11 p.m. arrival. She was squat with closed cropped sandy hair and a low, manly voice that rumbled through explaining the rules as any good hostess would.
“Across the street is the United Church of Christ, non-denominational if you are so inclined,” she said pointing.
“The church dates back to the 18th century. Right next to it is a historic graveyard filled with Revolutionary War soldiers that’s worth a walk through during the day just to read the headstones.”
She led them through the kitchen and into the musty dining room where they would eat breakfast when they woke. She handed them keys, one for the front door, the other to their room. They thanked her before excusing themselves to attend a midnight ghost tour of the town.
“Oh, that’s a great tour,” Debbie said. “And think about a horse and carriage ride.”
David and Susan left their bags in the hallway and returned to the car, beginning the short drive to town where most of the sidewalks were clear except for an occasional couple or single strolling.
The tour started at the center of the village near the Revolutionary War monument, a gilded cannon and pile of beach ball-sized cast iron cannonballs stacked in a triangle. As midnight approached, a chill gripped the town and Susan walked back to the car to grab a cream wool sweater.
Across from the monument stood the Logan Inn, a stone building from where some of the tour takers poured out. The tour guide, a thin woman with auburn hair in a pixie cut and dangling gold earrings, gathered everybody on a narrow side street, stretching her neck over the platoon, calling them to attention.
Her right arm fell limp to the side, weighted down by a kerosene lantern that shone on an orange safety vest, the perfect docent. Her left hand, covered with a red knit glove with the fingers cut open, gripped a cup of black tea, the yellow bag tag flapping against the red cardboard cup.
“Thank you for joining our tour and we hope you have as much fun taking the trip as we do giving it,” she opened. “What a lot of people don’t know is that the New Hope area, which was then called Coryell’s Ferry, served as the temporary home of Gen. George Washington and his colonial troops prior to his famous crossing of the Delaware River. Their surprise invasion of Trenton, New Jersey and victory over the Hessians on Christmas 1776 turned the war around for us.”
David wrapped his left arm around Susan’s waist, turning his face away from the guide and pressing lips together in an impressed upside down grin.
“The building you see behind you is the Logan Inn and has been here since 1727,” she continued. “Many of the Continental Army soldiers spent their evenings drinking tankards of ale at the bar and you may want to go in and have a drink yourself once the tour ends.”
Susan cuddled with David, gripping her two arms around his sleeve, the thought of an Irish coffee warming her as she inhaled the cozy charcoal scent of wood fires snuffed out from the nearby homes.
“In addition to serving as a tavern and hotel, the inn served another critical purpose as a mortuary,” she said. “In the winter, dead soldiers couldn’t be buried in the hard ground. So they stacked them up in the basement of the inn where it was cold enough until the spring thaw when they could be taken to the church cemetery and buried in the softened earth.”
The tour guide paused to clear her throat and lifted her cup for a slight slurp.
“Some people who have visited the tavern have reported hearing marching feet or seeing the face of a soldier in the bar mirror,” she said. “And the owner has reported that the basement gets an odd chill on occasion, even in the summer.”
David rolled his eyes at Susan, signaling his doubt. The street curator summoned the crowd to follow her with a wave of her right arm and began walking up a brick sidewalk to a foot bridge that stretched over a canal. She stopped at a two story white house with a waist high gray concrete wall around it.
“This is the home of Victor Smithers, a local artist who was known to be eccentric,” she said. “In addition to being the town painter of war hero portraits, Smithers was an excellent pianist and would often play into the night.
“Because the house was fairly big for that time, Smithers rented rooms to travelers, which ended up being his downfall,” she said. “One of the travelers argued with Smithers over his late night playing and ended up bludgeoning him to death, one of the rare murders in New Hope.”
She paused and scoured the silent crowd to gauge interest.
“Now there are some people who have occupied the house since then who said they sometimes hear piano music late at night. In addition, others have reported hearing muffled moans.”
Just as she finished the story, a black cat with an arched back leaped onto the waist high wall as if on cue, jarring Susan, who stepped back and gasped.
“Oh my God!” she shrieked, gripping David’s tight.
For the next 30 minutes, the shivering huddle weaved around the narrow streets of a four square block cluster of centuries old homes and inns. The tour guide spoke of the ghostly hitchhiker with the blond hair and crystal blue eyes who was spotted in several areas of the town by two giddy teenage girls joy riding in their parent’s car.
Then there was the Van Sant House, one of the town’s original buildings raised in 1743. Baffled guests reported seeing a little girl in an immaculate white satin dress dancing around the hallway.
The group walked along the entrance to a darkened park where townsfolk told the tale of a smock spattered painter who vanished like a misty fog when approached. The guide then led them down a narrow set of stairs descending along the arched bridge and dirt landing that braced a darkened canal.
“Our final stop will be the Owens Glass Works,” she said.
She held up her lantern watching the glow shine through the darkened store, bouncing off the hanging glass lighting and mirrors inside.
“It is here that town residents have reported seeing the ghost of Benedict Arnold,” she said.
The crowd shuffled their cold feet and craned their necks to peer inside, murmuring among themselves.
“Why Benedict Arnold?” the guide asked rhetorically.
“Most people know Arnold as the most famous traitor in American history,” she continued. “But prior to that, he was a famous Revolutionary War hero. He captained the Connecticut militia at the outset of the conflict and eventually became a colonel in the patriot army.”
She paused, lifted her free arm and pulled on her tea once more to warm vocal chords that spit out the stories for years like a tape machine on a loop.
“Arnold was Washington’s favorite general,” she said. “He was intensely loyal to his commander, who once talked Arnold out of leaving the army because of his frustration for not being credited and promoted for victories that showed the patriots could win and were critical in drawing the French into the battle for victory.”
David turned to Susan and lifted his eyebrows.
“It was Washington who petitioned the Continental Congress to make Arnold a brigadier general. Two years after the defeat of the Hessian, Washington returned to the area after his bitter winter in Valley Forge and joined Arnold who supervised the region.
“Washington was most crushed by Arnold’s defection. Learning of his friend’s plans to allow the British to take West Point and win the war, Washington muttered: whom can we trust now? Some say Arnold’s troubled spirit lives hear searching for his leader.”
The guide began walking up another set of squeezed stairs back to the empty street while grabbing a painted white railing, sandwiched by a red brick wall.
“People have reported seeing a shadow walking along the canal and spotting Arnold’s reflection in the store’s glass,” she said.
“That’s it for the tour, thanks for coming out. Remember to be careful going home.”
David clutched Susan’s right hand as they strolled along the sidewalk, allowing the guide's tales tumble around their minds like clothes in a dryer. Almost unconsciously, they steered toward the Logan Inn, silently crossing the threshold into a lobby saturated with wood and white paint, an empty chest-high clerk’s desk where guests had passed through at the halfway point from Philadelphia to New York for centuries.
The tavern stood to the left, the entrance door containing a frosted glass image of an Native American splayed on the ground smoking a long pipe. They pulled on the brass handle, opening the door to be greeted by small square wooden tables with red checkered tablecloths and chairs held up by legs that seemed thin as toothpicks.
A shellacked wood bar braced the right side of the room, cut into a horseshoe.
David swept his eyes around the walls, plastered with crude paintings of colonial life, the subjects with swollen frames. The two parked on bar stools at the corner, David ordering a goblet of Cabernet. Susan ordered her Irish coffee, the thick whip cream topping it like the dome of the Capitol itself.
A musty scent laced the room as if the air had never exited over the centuries. David soaked in the history, relishing that he was standing at the same place the colonial warriors once stood. Susan snapped him out of his thoughts.
“So what do you think?” she asked.
“About what?” he said, slurping his wine.
“About the tour, silly, do you believe these places are haunted?”
“Nah,” he said. “But they make good stories. I was fascinated with the history.”
“Yeah, me too,” she said. “But it kind of gives me the creeps.”
“I keep looking in the mirror and I don’t see any Revolutionary War soldiers,” he said grinning.
As he spoke, the bar lights flickered, the portly mustachioed bartender’s eyes jutting toward the ceiling as he plunged a bar towel into a wet glass. David and Susan looked at each other then burst out laughing.
They finished their drinks and walked back into the crisp night when they came upon a tiny, lit cottage. A sandwich board sign on a darkened lawn read: “Tara the Fortune Teller. One palm, $20, two palms $25, tarot card reading $35, crystal ball $40.”
Sue pulled David to a halt, tugging on his elbow.
“Look David, it’s a fortune teller, let’s go in,” she said.
“Awe, common,” he said. “We’ve had a long day. Don’t tell me you believe in this hocus pocus?”
“Just for fun,” she said.
They ducked their heads into the dimly lit wooden structure where behind a flimsy card table covered in a black cloth sat a young woman, probably in her mid-20s with a frizzy red hairdo dressed in long flowing rainbow scarves that made her look like a sitting pile of rags.
“Welcome people, like, come on in,” she said, extending a handshake. “I’m Tara, who wants to go first?”
Susan’s eyes locked on the card table before reaching out to grab the savant’s flimsy hand.
“She’ll go first,” David said. “I think I’ll pass.”
“Wo, I feel a strong negative vibe my man, not good for the karma,” the medium said.
The fortune teller stepped across the room and plopped on a crushed velvet Morticia Adams high back wicker chair.
“What will it be sister?” she asked.
“Let me see the tarot cards,” Susan said.
Tara began shuffling the deck like a casino black jack dealer and with deft skill snapped the cards, slapping them on the table. Susan looked down at the paisley faces confused at what it all meant.
“Hmm,” the reader said. “I see.”
“What do you see?” Susan asked.
“Well according to the cards, like, you’re either going to become very rich or have a baby.”
“Awe, c’mon,” David snapped, throwing his head back. “Quite a stretch don’t you think?”
“Let me do the prognosticating Duke,” Tara shot back. “You see this card here, that’s the telling card.”
Susan folded her arms on her lap.
“How soon?” she asked.
“How soon what?” Tara replied.
“The baby, the baby, how soon will I have the baby?”
“Oh,” Tara stammered. “It’s hard to say sugar, but it’s definitely the card of fertility.”
“Thank you,” Susan said giddily.
“C’mon brother,” Tara piped up, thumping her palm impatiently on the table. “You’re next.”
“Go ahead,” Susan said.
David unfolded his crossed arms.
“Okay, what the heck?”
He pulled out the chair across from Tara. She shuffled the deck again, locking her gaze on the table under a furrowed brow.
“Now this is interesting dude,” she said. “It’s says you are going to face a momentous challenge.”
“A challenge? A work challenge?” he asked.
“Your love,” she said somberly. “Your love will be tested.”
David immediately stood up and the backs of his legs sent his chair tumbling to the floor.
“I’ve had enough of this,” he groused.
He reached into his wallet, spearing $70 in crisp bills.
“How long have you been soaking this town?” he said.
“Like, it’s a living man,” she said. “I have a little shop of spiritual knickknacks down the street and an apartment over top. Stop by tomorrow.”
David and Susan left, walking in silence back to the car.
“You do love me don’t you David?” Sue asked.
He stopped, irritated.
“Oh come on Susan,” he whined. “You’re not going to believe that hippie freak are you?”
“Well, you never know,” she said.
They drove home in silence, walking through the front door of their place that was quiet as a museum.
They tread lightly unable to stifle the creaks in the old polished two-by-fours and ascended the curved stairway and the naked dark brown steps leading to their room at the top of the shadowed landing.
They opened the thick white door with the skeleton key, flicked on a table light and threw their luggage on the white down comforter of the four post bed.
The large bedroom had a small bath and checkered black and white floor tiles, a modern shower stuffed into the corner. David flung off his work shirt, revealing a white muscle tee that covered a physique sculpted three days a week at the gym where he lifted weights and ran on the treadmill.
Susan immediately headed for the bathroom and closed the door, a sliver of light peeking out the bottom as she scrubbed her face with perfumed soft soap and a loofah pad. David jumped behind the plastic door, into the phone booth shower, the steam rising like smoke from a chimney.
He changed into his tartan flannel pajamas moving quickly to find Susan already curled in bed like a calico cat under the puffed comforter. She wore a gray Georgetown University sweatshirt and black sweat pants, Victoria Secret be damned.
He slid under the cover and reached his hand under her warming side, leaning over to nibble on the back of her neck.
“Not tonight mister,” she shot, flipping over, stabbing him with her eyes. “Not after that stunt you pulled when we were driving.”
“Awe, c’mon dear,” he said. “It was a silly little joke, be a sport.”
“Silly joke or not, I trusted you and you betrayed me and this is your penalty,” she said, turning back over. “Besides, I’m beat.”
“You’re not serious,” he said. “This is supposed to be our romantic weekend.”
“I asked you not to scare me. Maybe next time you’ll think about it.”
David froze, propped up on his left elbow, staring at the back of her head for a moment before turning over in surrender.
David slept for only a few minutes when a chill shook him. He peered over to see the moonlight spilling through a slightly opened window, the curtains gently flapping like a flag in the cool air.
He scooted out of bed and walked over ready to press the window down when he thought he heard music playing lightly outside.
Puzzled, he decided to investigate, throwing on the fluffy complimentary white terry cloth robe and sliding on his red slippers. He walked out the door, down the stairs and out the front door into the night, the flash of the house floodlights blinding him as he shielded his face and looked across the street where the sounds grew louder.
He peered left to the fence less graveyard and shuffled across the street, standing in the darkness on the dewy grass near knee-high cemetery stones and staring into the hairline of trees ahead.
Seeing nothing, he turned back toward the house unable to discern the rising clatter. He swore he heard through the whisper of the wind, the sound of fife and drums.
David staggered back to bed, sliding off his robe, pulling the comforter over his left shoulder and slipping into heavy sleep.
It seemed like he wasn’t asleep for an hour when a huge thud shook the house and jostled him and Susan awake.
What was that?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he said concerned, his legs emerging from the covers and hitting the floor. “Let me check it out.”
As he stepped toward the door, they heard crashing glass.
“Oh David!” she shrieked.
He reached for the knob and opened it, looking in the darkened hallway to see three shadows climbing the stairs with what looked like poles in their hands. Dark triangular hats covered their heads, the black painted shadows covering their faces.
“Get back!” he shouted to Susan as he slammed the door shut and slid an old silver bolt across to lock it.
The three men barreled through the door, splintering the wood, the shards spilling into brown slivers on the rug.
Three men dressed in Colonial Army uniforms, tattered navy jackets with bright red vests adorned with brass buttons wearing tree-corn hats and white straps that crossed their chests in an X, carried muskets into the room and shoved David aside.
A gaunt faced soldier ran to Susan’s side of the bed, yanking her arm, pulling her from beneath the cover as she roughly fell on all fours and David’s eyes adjusted to see what was unfolding more clearly.
The soldiers trousers sagged, loosely piling above their muddy boots as they lifted their muskets, bayonets protruding.
“Stand aside,” one of them barked, lunging his knife toward David. “We’ve come for your queen.”
“My queen?” David asked.
“We are taking her,” said another, protecting the door with his musket stretched across his chest. “She will be ours until you present his Excellency.”
“His Excellency?” David asked.
They jostled Susan to her feet, leading her toward the hallway when David stepped forward.
“Over my dead body,” he said.
“Have it your way lad,” one said in a menacing in a pirate’s growl stepping toward him.
“Dear, don’t challenge them,” Susan said. “I’ll be alright, just do what they say.”
They scurried out of the room strategically backward, their eyes warily on David. The last one crossed the threshold, his musket still pointed.
“Remember,” the soldier said. “Our leader for your highness.”
Then they were gone.
David paced the room, peering out the window to see which way the kidnappers went. His eyes widened at what he saw: whole battalions of Colonial Army soldiers marching from the graveyard onto the road toward town.
David rubbed his left hand through his hair and walked toward the door to exit, stopping to remember the words of the wacky fortune teller that he would he would be challenged, his love tested.
He realized that he needed to reach the fortune teller.
He pulled on his trousers, skipped quickly down the stairs and jumped into his car before driving slowly towards town, the marching soldiers giving way. He struggled, his eyes clouded by welling tears.
Why did he pull that prank?
His mind reached back to when he asked Susan to marry him. He had created an elaborate ruse, fibbing that they had a party to go to as he drove from an afternoon walking around the tidal basin, timing the descent of the sun before stopping at a pier near the harbor over the Potomac River, where they liked to watch the sunset over the city skyline.
She refused to get out the car, folding her arms in defiance.
“We’ll be late for the party,” she said.
“Just 10 minutes,” he pleaded, worried that his plan would be thwarted. “I promise.”
He fingered the box he kept in the car door panel with the diamond ring, the main stone braced by descending gems that lined the silver circle.
“Okay,” she groused. “But I’m not going to like it.”
She marched from the car, not waiting for him to catch up as they walked out to the desolate pier where she plopped down on a wooden bench in a huff, refusing to look at him. He slid from his seat and fell to one knee, flipping open the tiny square black box and lifting the ring towards her face.
“Will you marry me?” he asked.
Stunned, she didn’t answer, her mouth agape, the response caught in her throat. Her brief silence caused a wave of anxiety to splash over him.
“Well?” he said.
Her eyes began to redden as tears spilled onto her cheeks.
“Of course silly.”
David now made his way past the darkened, sleeping shops and restaurants to find more soldiers wandering aimlessly, this time rhythmically pouring out of the basement of the Logan Inn.
He reached Tara’s shop on Main Street to find it mostly dark except for a few small spotlights in the store’s bay window. The light bounced off samples of crystal witches and dragons that reflected rainbows of light. He lifted his head toward the pitch black sky and called up to Tara on the second floor unconvincingly.
“Tara, Tara,” he said in a half shout and half whisper.
His eyes darted, circling around the concrete pavement, searching for something to throw at the narrow upstairs window. He found a small rock, the size of a quarter, below the stone curb near the tire of a parked car. He grabbed it and heaved it skyward watching it crash through the left upstairs window, the shards of glass tumbling onto the sidewalk.
A groggy Tara lifted the shattered window frame, poking her sleepy head and pile of tousled hair out into the increasingly chilly night.
“What the hell dude?” she said. “What are you doing man? You think I’m Rapunzel?”
“I need your help,” David said, lifting his left arm stiff and pointing toward the center of town.
“What are you talking about?” she muttered, still half asleep..
“My wife, they took my wife,” he said. “The Revolutionary War soldiers.”
“I’ll be right down.”
Within a minute she was down in a pair of jeans and matching denim jacket that covered a black turtleneck framed by her messed hair hanging on her shoulders.
“What did you do?” she asked staring down the street at the scurrying mob.
“I don’t know,” he said panicked. “I heard the music in the graveyard and went over to check it out and then these three soldiers captured Susan and now the town is full of revolutionary war soldiers.”
“Man oh man, you’ve disturbed their resting place,” she said. “You did it now dude. How could one man cause such havoc?”
“You’ve got to help me get my wife back,” David said gripping her forearms.
Tara stood silent pondering the dilemma. David looked over his shoulder to see the line of endless soldiers continuing to pour out the wide open basement door of the inn.
“Hey, maybe we can find an answer over there,” he said. “Yeah, that was where they kept the dead soldiers until they could be buried in the spring thaw.”
“The what?” she asked “I guess it’s worth a shot.”
They hustled across the street and weaved through the soldiers reaching the inn’s green entrance door. David swung it open to find an empty lobby and the inn desk unoccupied, the faux gas lights lining the walls still bright while a staircase on the left led upstairs.
David yanked the door of the tavern open to find the room mostly dark, aside from a light that shone near the middle or the room. The place was empty except for a lone soldier sitting midway at the bar with a sniffer of brown brandy before him. He stared at it as if in a trance.
As they approached, they could see he wore a navy blue coat with thick gold lapels and matching tassels on patches topping his shoulders. His right sleeve was soiled with a gray dust, his elbows parked on the bar.
His brown hair was pulled back in a short pony tail that was falling apart, strands escaping the clutches of the band that held it back. He never looked up at David and Tara, concentrating on the reflection of the light atop the liquid in his glass.
“Excuse me sir,” David stammered. “We were wondering if you could help us.”
Now up close, David could see bushy black eyebrows and a granite nose curved like a hawk beak. The man's mussed and crumpled tri-corn rested flat on the bar next to his left elbow.
“Help you with what?” the man said, never turning to look at them.
David glanced at Tara with a wince of frustration.
“Well, the soldiers kidnapped my wife and we don’t know why and since you’re one of the soldiers, we were hoping you could explain,” David said.
The man snorted and smiled slightly in a mocking way picking up his drink, sipping and swallowing hard..
“You don’t’ know who I am do you?” the man asked.
David looked at Tara and shrugged..
“I’m sorry sir, we don’t” he said.
The soldier slid his stool back, stood up and bowed, tossing his right arm in the air and letting it drop regally.
“Brigadier General Benedict Arnold at your service,” he said.
“You’re Benedict Arnold?” David said giddily. “Wow, that’s incredible, it’s an honor to meet you.”
Arnold sliced him with a side glance and snicker.
“Oh is it?” he said. “An honor to meet the most famous traitor in United States history?”
David and Tara looked at each other, embarrassed for the general, not knowing how to respond.
“It’s okay,” Arnold said with a hearty chuckle. “I know my place. When we captured Ticonderoga, I showed them all that we could win this thing. Took a bullet in the thigh at Saratoga. If it had hit me in the heart, I would’ve died a legend. There would be a state or city named after me.
“But for naught,” Arnold continued, staring down into his pewter tankard. “Parents in America won’t even name their children Benedict because of me. Ever meet another Benedict?”
The remarks stymied David and Tara and an awkward silence followed as Arnold boosted himself back up on the stool, pulling it closer to the round lip of the varnished bar.
“Can you help us?” David asked.
Arnold paused before nodding towards the piece of art on the wall between the bar mirrors.
“They’re looking for him,” he said.
David and Tara turned and gazed up at the giant painted portrait of George Washington.
“Washington?” David asked.
“The greatest man we’ve ever known,” Arnold said. “He was the only one who believed in me.”
Trying not to make the general feel foolish, David gently relayed that Washington died two centuries earlier far away.
“He was buried in Mount Vernon, Virginia, sir” David said.
Arnold looked baffled, his eyes swirling as he gazed down in disbelief.
“But this is the last place I saw him,” he said. “I naturally thought he would be here.”
“And the soldiers?” David asked. “They likely believe that the general is still around too?”
“Likely,” Arnold mumbled.
Thinking of Susan, David boldly gripped the general by the elbows, shaking him with a newfound enthusiasm.
“So how can we convince them that they are making a mistake?” David said. “Can you talk to them?”
Arnold reared his head back, spitting out a hearty cackle that pierce the solitude.
“If these men even knew I was here, they’d try to kill me,” he said.
The three stood quietly for a moment, their minds racing for a solution before Tara piped up.
“I’ve got it,” she said “What about a seance? I’ve got the crystal ball.”
“A what?” David said.
“A seance,” she repeated. “If we can’t go down to Mount Vernon to get Washington maybe we can bring him here.”
David dropped his head and laughed, thinking the chances of getting his wife back growing slimmer. What had they done with her? Where were they keeping her?
“Do you know anything about conducting a seance?” David asked. “I bet your name isn’t even Tara.”
The fortune teller turned away as if slapped across the face.
“It’s Ethel,” she replied. “But who ever heard of an Ethel the fortune teller? Anyway, I’ve got some books back at my place.”
David paused, then shrugged before glancing out a side window. The streets were still teeming with soldiers wandering aimlessly.
“What have we got to lose?” he sighed.
David and Ethel began shuffling quickly out the front door of the inn with Arnold walking more slowly a few paces behind.
They walked two blocks, weaving around huddles of soldiers and reached the store, stepping into a darkened side alley where Ethel fumbled with the keys. She opened the door with a thud of her behind.
They stepped into a makeshift library that came into focus as their eyes adjusted to the darkness, all three walls braced with shelves stacked floor to ceiling.
She fingered a set of matches in a bowl next to the entrance where she threw her keys and lit a candle in a teardrop glass, the light spreading a soft glow around the room.
She held the vessel aloft like a lantern and began scanning through the book selection, the fingers of her right arm held aloft and walking along the bindings.
“Spiritualism, spiritualism,” she muttered. “Ah, here it is.”
She pulled the book from the pile and dropped to the floor, her legs bowed as she frantically flipped the pages as David looked on shaking his head.
“You mean you have to look this up?” David asked. “You’ve never done this before? What kind of fortune teller are you?”
“Cut me a break, I’m new at this,” she said, the words trailing her like smoke from a steam train.
David threw his face into his cupped palms and rubbed his eyes, groggy from the long night growing more endless. With unbreakable concentration, she speedily turned the page, finding a section on seances and the pioneer of the practice, Frank Mesmer.
“Mesmer developed a theory called animal magnetism later termed mesmerism,” she read aloud holding the book close to her face. “Mesmer believed that a mysterious fluid penetrates all bodies. The fluid allows one person to have a powerful magnetic influence over another person.”
She looked up more confused.
"Oh hell,” she said snapping the book shut. “Why don’t we just do it like they do on the TV shows.”
She grabbed her crystal ball from the floor, plunking it on the table with a thump as she told the men to unfold chairs and sit.
“Okay fellas,” she said. “Let’s clench hands and see if we can’t generate some of that so-called magnetism.”
She closed her eyes as if in a trance, chanting as she lifted the two men’s arms that sandwiched her.
“General Washington if you can hear us, please send us a sign,” she said.
David’s snicker punctured the silence, as he opened his eyes, rolling them in contempt.
“Listen,” she barked. “If you don’t believe in this stuff, it’s not going to work.”
The candlelight flickered ending the exchange.
“Hey, maybe that’s a sign,” she said.
“Oh, anything can cause that,” David smirked. “Could be just a draft from under the door.”
They clasped hands again and shut their eyes as she made a final pitch.
"General Washington, so fearless and beloved a leader, please grace us with your presence for your country needs you once more in leading your troops.”
David sagged in his chair, convinced he would never see his wife again. Arnold opened his eyes slowly, the first to see him.
“Oh my God,” he whispered.
They heard the rustling in the corner where two of the library shelves met. Standing in a full length cashmere navy blue cloak, the collar flipped up to frame his neck, stood George Washington.
“Who disturbs my rest?” he bellowed, his head held back regally looking down the roman nose.
The three nervously looked at each other, trembling like the Scarecrow, Tinman and Cowardly Lion.
“It is I general, Benedict Arnold.”
Washington stepped forward where the three could see him more clearly, his hair pulled back in a tight gray ponytail, precise circular curls hugging the sides of his head. He reached out his right hand to Arnold and smiled at his former charge who stood reverently to greet his leader.
“It is good to see you my old friend,” Washington said, taking Arnold’s hand and gripping him firmly on his right shoulder. “How can I help you?”
Arnold pushed his chair toward the general who sat down, his large frame smothering the small seat. Arnold crouched down with bent knees, explaining David’s troubles.
“That cemetery is sacrosanct land,” Washington said, turning to admonish David. “You should know better young man.”
David shifted in his chair nervously, brow beaten by the American legend and with nowhere to look, fumbled with his fingers.
“Forgive me sir, I mean Mr. President, I mean your highness,” he said.
Ethel unabashedly told Washington how all he had to do was assemble the troops, lead them back to their resting place and find Susan.
Washington nodded understandingly and stood, towering over the three like so many of the huge statues chiseled of him.
“Let us go,” he said.
They stepped out the door into the alley and even Washington was struck by the mayhem. The soldiers walked the streets aimlessly, hoisting tankards of ale, drunk as Vikings.
“Oh my,” the general said. “This is not how our troops behave.”
He sauntered into the middle of the main intersection, a street lamp shining down on him like a spotlight. Three soldiers stood on a corner in a circle hoisting their mugs, their muskets leaning against a white picket fence. The eyelids of the one who spotted him first stretched high and low as he dropped his cup in disbelief.
“His excellency,” he muttered.
Like a shepherd, Washington walked down the center of the street as soldiers fumbled with their gear before coalescing around him, forming tight lines on the asphalt awaiting his command.
“Men,” Washington barked. “Front and center.”
His voice boomed as soldiers scattered throughout the town scurried into the ranks like schoolchildren, their rifles resting on their shoulders. Washington turned and whispered to David.
“Can you tell me where I should lead them?” he asked.
“The cemetery, sir, I’ll walk with you,” David said.
Arnold sidled up to David as the three walked ahead of the following platoons. Remnant soldiers slipped out of dark alleys and side streets falling into the ranks. David, who had forgotten about Ethel in the commotion, turned back to see her watching from behind and silently mouthed the words: “thank you.”
The mass of men marched a mile through the darkness as small clouds of early morning fog hovered over patches of adjacent fields. The herd reached the towering church across from the bed and breakfast as Washington stopped, stood to the side and watched his men file past, disappearing into the darkness of the graveyard.
“Is this what you needed me to do?” Washington asked David.
“Yes sir,” David said. “Lead them back to their eternal rest.”
Arnold stood a few yards away kicking the ground nervously and hesitantly approached his commander.
“General sir,” he said. “I’ve been haunting this town for centuries waiting for your return. May I join you?”
Washington looked down at the roadside gravel, turning right to stare into the distance darkness pondering the question, the betrayal centuries ago still smarting. He turned to his former protégé, reached both arms out stiffly gripping Arnold’s shoulders, leaning into his face and looked directly into his troubled eyes.
“Sure Benedict,” he said exhaling. “All is forgiven. Despite your actions, I more than anyone know we couldn’t have done it without you.”
A slight grin creased Arnold’s face as his shoulders sagged in relief. Washington draped his right arm across Arnold’s back as the two turned to join the ranks.
David stepped into their path.
“One last thing, general,” he interrupted. “What about my wife?”
Washington pondered the question.
“Return to your sleep,” he ordered. “And when you awake, your wife will be with you.”
David clutched Washington’s left hand with both palms, shaking it vigorously.
“Thank you sir,” he said.
David trudged exhausted across the street to the bed and breakfast, fighting through the bright front lights, wrung out from the experience. He unlocked the door and marched up the stairs, his feet heavy as concrete.
He pushed open the door to the room, where the lights still shined. Not changing his clothes, he slid under the heavy comforter with a slight groan, his head finding the pillow with a muffled thud before nodding off.
The glare of the sun slashing through the half-shaded window onto the cream carpet stabbed at David's shuttered eyes in the morning, pulling him from his sleep. He turned to find Susan, her back to him, and leaped out of bed.
“He was right! The general was right!” he shrieked.
The commotion startled Susan, who opened her long shut eyes to find her husband sitting on the edge of the bed, gazing down at her intently. He gripped her face with the palms of both hands like a squeezing vice, his lips finding hers in a lingering soft kiss.
“You’re back!” he said with a mad laugh. “You’re back!”
“What are you talking about?” she said, raising up on her left elbow.
“What do you mean, what am I talking about?” he said. “You know, being kidnapped by the Revolutionary War soldiers last night.”
“The what?” she said with the confused look a puppy. “You must’ve been dreaming.”
“Oh no,” David said. “The soldiers from the graveyard took you away and they made me find General Washington before I could get you back.”
“Take it easy, take it easy,” she said. “You must’ve had a nightmare, I’ve been sleeping beside you all night.”
David looked down at the crumpled comforter as if slapped in the face, resting his forehead on his right hand.
Could it be?
“But it seemed so real,” he whispered.
“Why don’t we go downstairs for some breakfast and coffee and you’ll feel better,” she said.
They ate and Susan encouraged a drive into town to scour the antique stores. They drove along the smooth black road with the bright double yellow line down the middle and they sucked in the autumn air that rushed through the half-opened car windows.
They found a metered parking spot, the townsfolk collecting quarters even on Saturday, and found a stretch of sidewalk that summoned them to the narrow shops with the subtle sales signs, letting the staid items in the window sell themselves.
The sun splashed the pavement, first stopping to warm their faces before they combed through a cluttered, cozy bookstore where the disorganized stacks seemed to hug them, Amazon be damned. They found an adjacent vintage ice cream shop and studied the huge black slate outside with the colored chalk screaming 22 flavors.
She settled on the rum raisin, resting the side of her head onto his right shoulder covered with a caramel colored wool sweater as he pointed his finger and muttered: “Pistachio.”
They sat outside at a round table with two chairs held up by black, twisted wrought iron legs as they looked like movie stars, he licking his cone in aviator shades, she wearing white cats-eyed sunglasses that matched her vanilla dress with the fifties party skirt.
David glanced across the street, the morning peace shattered when he realized they were right across from the fortune teller's cottage. His stood as if in a trance, stepping towards the street.
“Hey, where you going?” Susan called out.
“I’ve got to see Ethel,” he replied.
He shimmied between two closely parked cars, his trousers brushing their chrome bumpers, darting into the street, a quick look both ways for passing cars that were absent as he quickened into a gallop.
The shade of the Logan Inn swallowed him when he stepped upon the square patch of green lawn and shuffled across the grass to the tiny structure’s entrance.
He braced himself against the left wall, his palms flat on the red brick as he craned his neck around the corner of the squat doorway. The fortune teller sat at the flimsy table before another entranced victim, flipping the tarot cards, slapping them down as the light from the small square window behind her cast a saintly glow atop her frizzy orange mane.
She looked up at David and winked.