Aphelion Issue 244, Volume 23
October 2019
 
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The Last War Dance

by George T. Philibin


Listen, and the voice of a dead coal-miner speaks to you from across the Conemaugh River, a small quaint river that rests between Cannon Boulevard and Arrowhead Hill. His voice echoes off the concrete river walls. And it chases a cool summer breeze that cascades up the hillside and dances atop trees and shrubs until it reaches the summit, then whisks off to find another hillside or valley. New Cambria City stretches out in the valley below between other Appalachian hills that stand as centurions do.

The Conemaugh snakes through the city, a once-proud steel and mining town that has long since lost its mills and coal-mines. Coal-mine disasters often stole the headlines of the New Cambria City Tribune. And the greenery of Arrowhead Hill is interrupted where a concrete-sealed mine portal-- Mine #9 -- protrudes, with eighty-six names chiseled onto a granite slab set into its face -- the last reference to miners who died there more than a hundred years ago. To this day, no one knows how it happened. No miner inside ever came out. Only the outside crew survived as they watched in horror while smoke and soot blasted out from the mine-mouth like a cannon washing its discharge over a battlefield.

Sometimes a mist dense with shadows and silence captures the river and its banks and blankets them from view. As parades pass down Cannon Boulevard next to the river, the mist awakens and watches each passing float or band or drum and bugle corps until the last bystander is gone. The mist watches as it undulates above the water and performs for passers-by who have become accustomed to its presence, even in the hot summer sun!

Ralph Archer, a retired steel-worker and life long resident of New Cambria City, lived on Cannon Boulevard with his wife Mary. At eighty, with black hair and a physique that many sixty-year olds would envy, he walked with a spring to his gait. And Mary, still slim and trim with hair that was still mostly brown, helped out at the church whenever the Ladies' Auxiliary called.

As Ralph sat out on his front porch one evening, a car pulled up. A smartly-dressed girl with long brunette hair got out and beamed a radiant smile. She walked over to Ralph and said, "I'm Cindy Lang from WXZX-TV. Sorry to bother you, but I'm doing a follow-up story and would really appreciate anything that you can tell me about the evening the boys disappeared. As you probably heard, the police don't have any leads yet. Were the boys mischievous or did they ever get themselves into trouble that you know of?"

"Like I told the police," Ralph explained, "They just walked past that evening, the two of them-- and no, I never seen them do anything except walk on the curb a times. They just acted like the other kids around here. They were always nice to me and the Mrs., and my grandson, Shawn, used to play with them when him and his mom came for a visit. No, they were nice kids in my book.

"And like I told the police, I never seen anybody parked around the place just sitting in a car and a watchin'. Nope, I would have noticed that. And the Mrs. would have too. We don't go anywhere much anymore -- just to church and the grocery store and sometime over-town--and I'm usually outside in my garden during my days. Nope, no strangers around here."

"Thank you Mr. Archer," Cindy said. "Please take my card and call me if you remember anything else about the boys."

"Leave the card on the banister," Ralph said.

As Cindy turned to leave, Ralph remarked, "They're mining again tonight. Hear them? Hear the sounds of picks and shovels and blasting?"

Cindy turned back around. "Who is mining?" she asked.

Ralph waited until a Mack Truck has whisked past, then said, "The miners who died over there -- they're at it again. Why, they're mining tonight."

The draft from the Mack plays with Cindy's hair as she tried to hide her consternation. Old fool is hearing things -- or playing a joke, she thought, but aloud she said, "I--don't hear anything -- except the cars going by." Then she thought, Let him babble -- there might be a story here, if not more about the missing boys.

"What miners? Where do they mine?"

"They mine there across the river. Not every night, but tonight they're at it. Hear them? Hear the coal being loaded?" Ralph points to old Mine #9 on Arrowhead Hill.

As she returned to the porch she asked, "Did the boys know about the mining over there?"

"I think they did," Ralph replied. "Yes, I think they did. They often go over there. I've seen them looking around and climbing up the hillside over there with a lot of other boys. Yes, they must have heard the mining going on sometimes. They had to."

He paused, remembering. "When I was a kid we found Indian arrowheads on that hill, but most of them are picked up by now."

"Do other people who live around here hear the mining too?" Cindy asked.

"Why, yes they do. John who lives two doors down swears by it. But old Joe said that the noise is really Indians! Do you believe that? Indians!" Ralph answered, and laughed, showing teeth yellowed by age, but still strong.

"How long have you heard -- the mining?" Cindy asked.

"All my life. Everybody knows about it. At least all us old-timers. The young people have heard the stories, I'm sure, but they don't pay much attention to it. I'm sure they sometimes think we're loony! And you know -- -maybe they're right!" Ralph laughed again.

"This is very interesting," Cindy said. "I'm from California and have been with the local station for only six months. This is the first time I've heard about ghosts near the river."

"Oh -- -plenty of funny things happen over there," Ralph assured her. "Funny lights, funny sounds, shadows that flash sometimes, and strange noises like a swarm of bees flying, but we never seen them," Ralph said.

"Really -- are there more stories like that one that you know about?" Cindy asked.

"Yes, but they are nothing compared to the story about the miners killed over there," Ralph said. "A great uncle of mine died there. Never knew him. I wasn't born yet.

"Well, that is interesting," Cindy said. Not very interesting, but better than "neighbors say the boys were well-behaved"...

"It's more than a story, it's a fact! There was a mine there once," Ralph said. He was beginning to doubt Cindy's faith in the story so he added, "Just go down to the library and you can see all the pictures and articles about the mills and mines and that disaster. Just go down there."

"Thank you again, Mr. Archer for the local historical information about the mine. As you can see I have a lot to learn about this valley," Cindy said.

After she returned to her car, Ralph muttered, "Yes -- -they're mining again."

Two days later as Ralph read the morning paper, an article caught his eye, one that relieved him somewhat as he read it to his wife: "...'and the two missing boys came home. The police say they may file mischief charges in juvenile court today because the two boys will not say where they have been. The two are sticking to a story of ghosts and by-gone days...of riding in wagons and watching steam engines... and they say that an Indian helped them return.'"

"Boys make up things when they want to stay out of trouble. Why, I'll bet they took a French leave and found out that things weren't so easy on their own. Now they're tryin' to say it was something else! Their poor parents -- worrying them like that!" Mary said.

"Mary, I think you're right," Ralph said. But then he went on, "You know, I heard a story like this one before. Remember -- when was it?"

Ralph frowned, trying to pull the details out of eighty years' worth of clutter in his head. But within a second or two Mary clapped her hands and said, "Roger Miller."

Ralph grunted in agreement. "That's right, the Miller boy. My God, Mary, how do you remember those things?" He nodded to himself, remembering more now that Mary had supplied the key. "That was forty years ago when the young Miller boy and his friends ran away. Remember what he said happened to him? Why he said the same thing these kids are saying now. Something about horses and wagons and steam engines. I remember at work one day Elmer his dad telling me that Roger was a good kid and he didn't lie. Yet, for some reason he made up a wild yarn!"

"Poor Betty cried until Roger came home," Mary said. "She prayed every night at the church."

"It's probably just a coincidence them telling the same kind of story. Kids make up all kinds of things when they're in trouble!" Ralph said. He turned his attention to another article and forgot about the boys.

####

Roger Miller stopped at Gallant's Newsstand. His tall frame towered over the counter until his eyes caught the headline about the boys and he leaned closer. He read a few lines. Then he grabbed the newspaper and held it closer and scanned the article until he read "steam engines" and "wagons" and " the Indian." As his blonde hair soaked-up the crisp morning sun, his face grew pale and rigid. He lost himself in the story, all four paragraphs of it, because his mind supplied pages worth of additional details. He seemed to grow taller and taller as he re-read the story a half dozen times until a brisk "Pardon me" struck him from behind. Roger moved to the side of the newsstand but read the article one more time.

He finished the article again, then plunked down fifty-cents, folded the paper and took off down Main Street stretching his long legs almost to their limit. The rumble of a Harley caught Roger's ear. After a quick glance, he concluded that it wasn't Mike and he continued down Main.

After turning down Elm, Roger reached the Andrew Carnegie Library of New Cambria City, a large old granite structure, and walked in. He stopped in front of an old picture of town taken at about the turn of the century.

Roger had first noticed the picture titled "The Delivery Boys" when he was eighteen. Joyce, his wife now, had some research to do during her first year at Tunnelton College and Roger had escorted her to the library.

Once there, he had nothing to do. So he had started looking around trying to entertain himself. That's when he had found the picture. And that's when he had realized that it was the picture taken of him, Terry, and Mike, two day after a shadow and a flash and a whooshing sound had taken them from Arrowhead Hill and sent them somewhere -- or rather somewhen: the late 1800s in New Cambria City. He was sure about that now.

During many subsequent visits to the library, Roger had broken out in a cold sweat whenever he looked at the picture. But after about thirty years, the cold sweats had diminished to a clammy feeling of unease...

Now, as he looked into the picture, he mumbled, "Delivery Boys my ass."

He had stopped telling his parents that the boys in the old picture were Terry, Mike and himself years ago -- only a couple of years after he had noticed it himself. On that day, his father had finally agreed that one boy bore an eerie resemblance to him and the other two resembled Terry and Mike, but refused to accept it as evidence that his explanation for their disappearance was true.

"It is an amazing coincidence," Elmer Miller had said. "That picture was taken around the 1900s. You weren't there. Neither was Mike or Terry. That three boys who looked so much like you and your friends should all live in the area at the same time, and were photographed together -- it boggles the mind. But Good God, Roger it's been eight years since you three ran away. Why do you keep bringing it up and trying to convince us that -- that space aliens or ghosts or some such thing abducted you? You were a kid then. It's over -- long forgotten by me and your mom -- well your mom, well she isn't -- let it go!"

Elmer, Roger's dad, did not utter another word as he frowned and squirmed in his chair. Roger had stormed off and never tried to explain again that they didn't run away.

But the words of the child psychiatrist who had examined Roger after he returned when he was twelve rang over and over again in Elmer's ears: "They might have been abducted by a sexual pervert. Many perverts are highly intelligent and can brain-wash their victims into believing that if they tell their parents, the school, or their friends about their -- encounter, then they'll be shunned and ridiculed and called queer. Even worse, they might believe that their parents will reject them as something unworthy. Remember, they are at a very impressionable age. But in all honesty I can't say that he was abducted by a pervert. Roger doesn't exhibit those kinds of symptoms."

Elmer had never told anybody what the psychiatrist said. He had to believe that the three had simply run away, and returned when the novelty wore off and they got hungry enough. As for Roger's explanation -- even an honest boy would tell a whopper if he thought it would reduce the punishment for his misdeeds.

When Mike and Terry had approached the picture for the first time, Terry said, "So what? It's over, we were twelve at the time -- My God that is us? It's us!" Both were speechless for a week, but unlike Roger, they never mentioned the picture to anyone.

Roger mumbled "My ass!" again as he started towards the library door.

As Roger walked out, a young news-reporter passed him on her way into the library.

She smiled and said, "It's going to be a nice day for the parade."

Roger answered with a quick "Yes it is." She was pretty, and looked familiar for some reason, but he was in no mood for socializing.

Once in the library, Cindy headed for the historical archives of New Cambria City and

quickly found what she was looking for.

She viewed the articles then hit the print key. Twenty pages ejected from the printer with a flutter. She asked the librarian if she could copy some of the old pictures in a display case that depicted miners and railroad workers.

Since she was a news reporter, the librarian scanned the pictures for her and the laser printer produced copies that were clearer than the originals.

She thanked the librarian for her assistance and scurried out.

####

Roger pulled in at "Mike's Custom Autos", an old corner gas station that had long since stopped selling gas. He parked on the left. After turning off the key, he got out, looked around and then started walking into an open garage bay-door. The sounds of power tools and a grinding wheel pierced his ears, and the smells from grease, oils, gasoline and auto-body fillers saturated his nose.

Near the office, Mike's screaming into the phone could be heard outside the door, but Roger walked in anyway. The aroma of fresh coffee mingled with the garage smells.

"And that is how it is," Mike growled. "I. Do. Not. Use. Generic. Parts! And I don't give a rats ass about how big your insurance company is!" Mike slammed down the phone but he really didn't seem mad. He looked over at an obviously unprimed generic front fender and gave it the finger. Then he said, "You're not even worth one of those!"

After a slight smile and chuckle to himself, he looked over and saw Roger.

"What's up old buddy? -- You didn't wreck your Durango did ya? Want some coffee -- just made it?" Mike got up and poured two coffees then sat one in front of Roger.

"These insurance companies try to..." Mike ranted on and on about the insurance companies while Roger opened up the paper and laid it atop some gasket material on Mike's desk. Mike slowed down his raving as he watched Roger. Finally, he fell silent.

"Read this article about 'missing boys.'" Roger said.

Mike's blue eyes darted across the paper then settled on Roger's eyes. Mike knew where all this was going and he became very apprehensive. The lines in his forehead deepened into a grease-stained "V" as Roger's meaning sank in.

Mike's long brown hair was tied together in a pony tail with a thick rubber band that didn't let one hair fall forward as planted his hands on the desk and started to read.

Roger sipped coffee while Mike's eyes drilled into the article. Mike turned pale as he re-read the article again. He picked up the paper and examined every underlined phrase, then dropped the paper and locked his eyes onto Roger.

The sounds from Mike's employee grinding and sanding automotive fenders parts didn't cease, yet the office became silent to Mike and Roger as a mutual understand enveloped the both of them.

Mike was the first to break the silence. "They were there! These kids been there! Like us!" he exclaimed.

"They must have been," Roger added.

"Christ, we walked around that old town scared shitless," Mike said, his eyes focused on a muddy street bounded by wooden sidewalks instead of the Snap-On Tools calendar on the wall. "The horses and wagons -- the stares we got because of our clothes. They'd never seen zippers, or colored T-shirts worn on the outside, or fancy sneakers.. If it wasn't for that guy with the wagon -- you know, there has to be a God. There has to be! He watched out for us. He had to!"

Mike smiled, remembering how their terror had been soothed by unsolicited kindness. "That guy, Smythin or Sythen or something like that, took us in...his wife fed us and gave us a place to sleep. She ran a Christian Mission, and -- well it seemed a lot of kids back in those days didn't have families, or else they were orphaned." he said.

"Yeah, she kept saying 'It's the Christian thing to do'." Roger added. "Come to think of it, that's about all I ever remember her saying."

"Then the next morning when the photographer came to take a picture of their new store with the wagon in front, they wanted us to pose with him," Mike said.

"I guess they thought we would stay on," Roger said. "Terry always thought the same thing too. If I only could reach him. But he's been up in Canada now for what? --Ten years or more."

"That Indian knew that we were from some other time. I'll never forget him: An Indian dressed in a tan suit with feathers in his hat and holding a doctor's bag with a tomahawk attached to it! You don't forget something like that even when you're scared shitless!" Mike said.

"He came to look at that sick girl," Roger said. "I remember the lady kept saying to him, 'It's the Christian thing to do! --It's the Christian thing to do'!"

"Yeah, just like a parrot!" Mike said.

"When he finished with the girl," Roger said, "he got us outside and I remember his speech word for word.

"'You three got too close to evil spirits that live in the hill', he told us.

"'Your time is many, many summers from now. Many summers. Never be near evil spirits. Stay away. Far away. These evil spirits are from the stars beyond the sun and moon.

"'They can walk into tomorrow, or next winter, or last winter or many winters ago as they choose. And their shadow takes all who fall into its wickedness. You three fell into its shadow.

"'Their medicine is powerful, very powerful, but mine is growing stronger and one day many summers from now I will clean these evil spirits from the valley. Time is on my side for my spirit lives in the hills and valleys and forests. I will come again in your time one day and drive out evil spirits. This I promise you.'"

"Close enough," Roger said, impressed. Then he continued, "That Indian scared me silly. To this day, I shiver whenever I remember his eyes. He looked right through me when he said, 'Go back down to the river, to the same place -- -and wait for the mist!' Well, I'm glad we did!"

"Me too," Mike said. Sweat beaded on his forehead despite the cool morning air that filtered into his office. "There's something you should know," he said. His face turned pale under the grease and sunburn, and his voice trailed off. Then after a few moments passed, Mike uttered, "This is -- weird."

"Yeah," Roger said. "When I first read..."

"Not just the paper -- THIS!" Mike screamed. He reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a tomahawk and gave it to Roger.

"This showed up on my back porch last week," Mike said. "I don't know who put it there, but remember that day when it was foggy as hell? Well, that's when it showed up. I took it down to the Historical Society and as far as they can tell it's an authentic tomahawk.

Roger examined the hand axe, noting the rough-finished wood of the handle. "Not something you'd find at a cheesy souvenir stand," he said.

"Take a look at the etching on the head," Mike said.

The tomahawk had red and blue feathers attached near its head. The head and top part of the handle were held together with a very tight leather strap that held like a weld.

This tomahawk means business, Roger thought. Then he followed Mike's instructions and looked closely at the head. There were letters and numbers there...

"That's -- that's today's date!"

"Get it now Rog?" Mike said. "That tomahawk is over one hundred years old. The experts down at the Historical Society are flabbergasted. I thought I'd have to punch Bill Markham -- the director -- to get it back from him.

"Today's date on this tomahawk -- the boys in the paper -- the parade downtown -- Jesus Christ, Rog -- that Indian is coming! Remember, he said he would come one day!" Mike shouted.

"He said he'd come to drive out the evil spirits that dumped us -- and now two more kids -- back there," Roger said.

The two old friend locked their eyes together, then in youthful exhilaration, Mike screamed, "Let's get the hell down there!"

The two old buddies jumped in Roger's Durango and took off. Roger still clutching the tomahawk. Mike's employees shook their heads. They'd heard that their boss had a couple of loose bolts...

####

The clicking of Cindy's high heels announced her entering the WXZX-TV studio. She said good morning to Bill Slieman, the chief anchorman, as she approached her desk.

Slieman was going over notes from her interviews with residents on the street where the Martin boys lived. "Good morning to you, too, Cindy," he said. "Looks like the consensus opinion is that those boys are pretty normal -- aside from the time travel story, that is."

Cindy sighed and nodded. "Not much to work with there." After a moment, she said, "I have much to learn about this area. It's so interesting seeing Andrew Carnegie's name inscribed so often. And the stories about coal-miners and the steel-mills and the depression and the Indians who lived around here, and all the different ethnic cultures that merged together in this area..."

"You might be interested in Chief Morning Eagle," Bill said. "He was an Indian Chief who became a doctor. My great-grandfather knew him. The Chief is credited with saving hundreds if not thousands of lives when the influenza epidemic hit during the First World War. He had unusual methods to treat it according to the newspaper articles about him -- native herbal concoctions in addition to white medicine -- but his methods worked."

Cindy nodded again, wondering if the boys had heard of him and figured that a wise old Indian would add credibility to their story.

"He was somewhat of an enigma but well known and very well liked by the townspeople of that time," Bill continued. "From about the 1890s until 1925 he could be seen every day at his office on Park Place, and according to the old newspaper, his waiting room was always busy.

"My son is doing a school paper on him, and I dug out some old articles and clippings. You'll find the articles rather enlightening. I know I did," Bill said.

"There's an old statue of an Indian near the stadium -- is that him?" Cindy asked.

"Yes, it's him. The last Chief of the Valley Indians. He's engulfed in mystery -- -he disappeared, I believe, in 1925 at around the age of seventy-five, they say."

"Well it's time we get down there. Our mobile unit is stationed near the pass-and-review stand," Bill said.

####

Crowds of spectators formed along the parade route, under clear blue skies. It was a great day for a parade, a sunny and festive day with the sounds of Harley and muscle car exhausts reverberating off the buildings as they crept up the boulevard, their chrome reflecting sunlight as they inched forward. Behind them, antique fire trucks, red and highly polished, mixed with modern ladder-trucks and pumpers, lime-colored and just as shiny. The old and the new all revved up their sirens and clanged their bells, bringing smiles and finger-pointing by the youngsters standing near mom and dad.

Teenagers waved and yelled to the camera, and shouts of "Hi mom" mixed with "Hi dad" and "Hi, Bill" and "Tom" and "Barb" and "Jean" filled the background as Cindy slowly walked by. Young boys stuck their faces up and smiled quickly, and old timers just waved as if greeting a ship that had pulled into dock. And young mothers carrying their babies often raised them up a little, smiling and proud of their infants.

Roger and Mike squirmed their way up front just in time to see a military band stop in front of the pass-and-review stand. A command of "Right Face" shot through the air and the band smartly executed a right turn in unison to face Governor Milton who was standing at the podium.

Everybody rose and stood at attention while the band played the national anthem.

After finishing, the band came to parade-rest. Governor Milton grabbed the microphone, adjusted it, then bared his perfect teeth in a broad smile that couldn't be missed even a block away. He then started his speech.

Governor Milton turned and pointed to Mine #9 up on Arrowhead Hill. In his polished orator's voice he intoned, "In crudely-braced tunnels like #9, miners worked and sweated twelve hours a day... Some never saw daylight for years at a time ... and too many died deep within that hillside doing dangerous work that..."

"Look!" Mike said.

Roger turned. The mist along the river was becoming very dense, and it hid the river from view as it crept up the river-wall.

"I've never seen it so thick," Roger said.

Other spectators near the river also looked and pointed to the mist that drifted up the river-wall. But the mist also spread to the far bank of the river and formed a bridge between both sides.

Governor Milton, still giving his speech, stopped and looked around. He saw the mist rising; placed his hand over the microphone and said something to Mayor Tomleson.

A fireman in uniform scampered over to the handrail on the river wall and studied the mist. It looked almost like white smoke, and seemed out of place on a clear, warm day.

The fireman then turned towards Mayor Tomleson and spoke into his hand portable. "I can't explain it," came over Police Chief Hunt's portable as he stood next to Mayor Tomleson.

Other representatives on the pass-and-review stand stood up and looked at the mist that was now up to the first bar on the guardrail. The mist drifted out onto the blacktop and advanced a few feet -- but then stopped. The mist grew higher, but didn't advance anymore into the parking lot that housed the pass-and-review stand, as if held back by a glass wall.

Murmurs could be heard throughout the crowd, but an eerie silence grew as the mist grew higher and higher, seeming to absorb sound.

Councilman Bund grabbed the microphone and tried to relieve everyone's tension by announcing,"...it's nothing -- just the wind..." but he was ignored, for no wind could be felt.

Mike and Roger stepped back some more as the mist kept rising higher until it reached about fifteen feet above the blacktop. Then it stopped. The bright sun beaming its rays onto the crowd couldn't penetrate an inch into the mist.

"Get the camera on that, "Cindy ordered.

The mist now appeared as a curtain does onstage before the first act with the audience waiting. And the spectators waited with great expectation that something else would happen because the mist, it seemed, had a plan.

"This is strange," Cindy added. "Did anything like this ever happen before, Bill?"

"No, nothing like this," Slieman said, frowning. "We get floods, snowstorms, and of course, fog -- but I've never seen fog on a clear spring day that behaves like this. Look at it. It's acting like it's alive!"

"...Everybody stay calm. Don't panic, this is just a weather condition and it will not interfere with today's events. I've just been told that it is fog and nothing more..." Councilman Bund added but nobody paid him any attention. Bright warm sunshine and fog don't mix!

The mist appeared to divide itself. Like curtains being drawn back by a stagehand, the mist parted in the center, and it revealed such an unbelievable sight to the crowd and representatives on the pass-and-review stand that the only person who spoke or moved was Cindy.

"Make sure you get a wide shot of them! Then focus in closer! Get their faces! Whatever this is, I want everything on tape!" This is going to make my career, Cindy thought.

Within the mist, movement could be seen. Deep within, shadows grew larger as they neared, and the shadows started taking on form and becoming more distinct until they formed into men carrying picks and shovels. The men walked out of the mist with blackened faces and very tired eyes. One after another they exited, until eighty-six men stood just outside the mist. They wore cloth caps with what looked like tiny brass lanterns attached, and button-fronted coveralls from a century before, all black with coal dust and sweat. The men paused, blinking in the bright sunshine, their eyes darting from pavement to brightly-painted vehicle to bare-limbed women and children, seeking something, anything familiar.

The smell of carbide and sweat mixed together with a slight trace of coal dust hit Roger and Mike who stood closest to the miners.

"They're a hell of a lot calmer than we were," Roger hissed.

"Well, we were just kids," Mike whispered back.

Again Councilman Bund tried to show leadership. "We -- welcome--our guests. And -- are glad that -- someone has..."

But again the crowd paid no attention to the councilman as he blabbered on and on. Some thought that the miners were part of the program, a tribute to the men whose sweat and blood had built the town. Others prayed, or tried to back away without showing their fear.

Then Cindy exclaimed, "My God! I know some of those faces! I've seen them on those old pictures that I scanned at the library!" She passed her microphone to Bill Slieman, muttering, "Hold this, Bill -- I'm going to my car!"

Roger, standing only a few feet from the miners, asked, "Who are you guys?"

One miner with a carbide light still burning on his battered and grimy helmet said back to him, "Who are you fellas? And what happened to the town?"

Cindy came back holding the pictures. She approached the group of miners holding one picture in front of her. She stopped, but still studied the pictures for a few moments, and after she finished she asked, "Is there a John McFarlin here?"

"I be John McFarlin."

"And an Andrew Fleming?"

"Young lady, I'm Andrew Fleming."

As the crowd started to get closer, the mayor ordered the police and fireman present to stop the crowd from getting too close.

"Please stay back -- -we have a very unusual situation here..." Fire Chief Sanders said over the microphone on the pass-and-review stand."

"What the hell's going on?" Roger asked.

I don't know," Mike said, then shouted, look at the mist! Look at it!"

The face of the Indian who had saved them years ago appeared and rose up from the mist until he stood one hundred feet tall, his outstretched hands palms up, his headdress very colorful with feathers of reds, blues, and whites.

Roger frowned, remembering that only certain tribes wore headdresses like that, and was startled when the giant seemed to look directly at him -- and winked.

Morning Eagle's face, darkened and deeply lined by decades of sun and wind, still housed eyes that sparkled with joy, it seemed, eyes that saw all as they scanned and studied his once proud homeland.

The Indian's voice reverberated within the valley as he spoke his words of promise:

"The evil that came here one hundred and twenty summers ago will no longer be as they wish to be. Great spirit of Valley Tribe now powerful in me. Coal-miners forced to work under their evil eyes are free at last but will never be free from the summers and winters that have held them captive. No more shall they slave, no more will evil spirits hide and steal clear-stone that belongs to this valley and those who live here. Begone, evil ones!'

With his words finished, his hands became lighting bolts that struck deep into the hillside on the opposite side of the river. Trees fell as thunder encompassed the valley, and flashes of blues and reds and ambers intensified as Chief Morning Eagle's arms reached over across the river and penetrated the hillside. Rocks and boulders and chunks of limestone and coal and sandstone catapulted from the thunderous display of power that Chief Morning Eagles arms sent into Arrowhead Hill! The river received all, and not one rock reached back across into the crowds.

The odor of ozone washed over the crowds as Chief Morning Eagle's arm reached deeper and deeper into the hillside searching, chasing and finally capturing the evil that his heart knew was there. He yanked at something. He yanked again but this time much harder, and a circular ship, large with brilliant lights cascading around it, fought the Chief's hands like a football bobbled by the hands of an unsteady receiver. But the Chief pulled it out. And with the ship, bright quartz-like crystal that pulsed with energy also erupted out and landed on the banks and some splashed into the river. Its glimmer was like nothing never seen before by the onlookers.

"Begone, evil spirits -- begone and know that I am now stronger and you the weaker!" the Chief said.

The Chief stopped his lighting bolts, and the enormous oblong metallic craft hovered above the river unaided.

But the ship shot out a menacing ray of blood-red light at Chief Morning Eagle, and the beam sizzled as if a million steaks had found their way onto a giant grill.

The Chief absorbed the beam with his hands, smiling.

The ship tried to redirect its beam onto the crowds, but the Chief's hands attracted the beam from which ever direction the rays were sent! Again and again the ship tried its offensive weaponry but each ray landed harmlessly into Chief Morning Eagle's outstretched palms.

"I am now powerful. Leave us, evil spirits, for you are powerless against my medicine. You have spread evil amongst us but no more will evil live within this valley," Chief Morning Eagle said.

The ship continued to hover. The crowds drew back. Many were running, some spectators hid behind trees and ducked behind fire-trucks or mail-boxes or even a dumpster or two near the pass-and-review stand.

And the ship continued to hover, now emanating a menacing humming sound like transformers in the power company's substations that grew louder and louder by the second.

Chief Morning Eagle's said again, "Begone, evil ones!" And with a show of force felt more than seen by the eyewitnesses, Chief Morning Eagle swung his right arm in a huge arc, and a tomahawk as long as a fire truck materialized and sailed towards the ship, spinning with bright feathers of reds and blues. Its head reflected the sun's rays like a welding flash as it spun up and up until it struck the alien craft. A loud gong radiated from the craft as the tomahawk settled itself deep within the ship's hull.

The alien craft wobbled. Then it rose into the sky, dwindling into the distance as it fled the wrath of Morning Eagle's hand.

"Did you see that?" Mike gasped.

"This time, who didn't?" Roger said.

The miners started to cheer Chief Morning Eagle, many calling out his name, and they waved their arms in the air as the Chief turned to them and smiled.

A dim flash followed by a muffled explosion, neither bright nor loud, caught everyone's attention. They looked skyward and very high, a puff of dark smoke above the clouds told all that the alien ship would never return.

Chief Morning Eagle looked over New Cambria City and said, "Evil spirits are no more."

The mist divided itself again like a curtain, and the miners turned and started walking into it.

Cindy begged them, "Please let me interview you! Please! We must know the whole story. Please -- just one or two of you!" I can't let this get away, she thought. This is Peabody and Pulitzer material. This is a network anchor story!

A few of the miners turned and smiled, but most continued on until they became shadows growing fainter and fainter, finally the mist closed around them for the last time. Then the mist retreated down the river wall and started following the river.

Chief Morning Eagle's last words were "All is as it should be."

Chief Morning Eagle faded into the mist, and in turn, the mist shrank back and faded from view as it traveled along the ripples and rocks and banks of the Conemaugh River. In minutes, both had vanished to become part of the history that lives between the Appalachian Hills that guard New Cambria City.

"Keep the camera on the river!" Cindy yelled as the mist departed.

A paramedic grabbed the mike as shouted, "Is anybody injured?"

Everyone in the crowd seemed to take stock of their own condition, then glanced around at their neighbors. No one called for assistance.

Next, Governor Milton spoke, "Please be calm -- we have no casualties -- the National Guard has just been called in, and we are in communication with the While House as I speak..."

####

New Cambria City revitalized itself once again. Scattered along Arrowhead Hill, a newly identified crystal, brilliant in clarity and alive with energy, became a new energy source with unlimited potential. For over a hundred years the aliens had processed this crystal for their use. Now, Indian Crystal-- as it's known by the local populace -- would power space-craft and advance medicine, and bring cheap electricity to every home on earth!

Ralph Archer sat on his porch. He watched the industrial mining taking place on Arrowhead Hill for the newly discovered crystal. As he sat, he grunted, "Yes, they really are mining again tonight!"

THE END


© 2008 George T. Philibin

Bio: Mr. Philibin says: "I've been writing for about five years, and enjoy every strike on my keyboard. I'm not sure why I write -- it's fun, I'm sure about that -- and I intend to continue and learn. I work at a generating station in Western Pennsylvania, and served in Viet-Nam, attended the University of Pittsburgh for Mechanical Engineering, worked in a coal mine, a steel mill, and a dairy once. My favorite authors are Charles Dickens, Theodore Dreiser, and Kurt Vonnegut." A number of his stories have appeared in Aphelion, most recently Under New York... (December 2006/January 2007).

E-mail: George T. Philibin

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