Friday, December 30, 2022

The Deliverers 4: Chapter 1—Battle Fatigue

Boom! The sound of the cannon reverberated up and down the main street of Candlewood Corners. The onlookers removed their hands from their ears and applauded as the red coated soldiers knelt and fired their muskets at the opposing army who were clad in homespun linen and brown cloth breeches.

Eric Scott sighed as the American Revolution re-enactors played their parts. The Battle of Candlewood Corners, Connecticut was fought on October 22, 1777. It just so happened that October 22 was his birthday and every year his family went to the re-enactment as a sort of birthday/patriotic celebration.

For 14 years this was how he had spent his birthday. At first it had been fun, but ever since his father had died three years ago, it seemed boring and pointless to him. He watched as the British troops routed the colonial militia, pushing them back past Keller Tavern.

The tavern sat at the intersection of two state highways in the center of town. During the battle, the tavern had been hit by a cannonball from one of the small cannon the British had brought with them. The ball had lodged in the wall and remained there to the present day. Eric had to admit that was pretty cool—a tangible piece of history, proof that the battle had actually happened.

“Eric, let’s go up to Musket Ridge and watch the militia drill,” his mother said. Dressed in faded jeans, a brown and green sweater and Nike cross trainers, she held up a digital camera. “I want to get some pictures of the demonstration.”

A camera? How embarrassing, he thought. Why doesn’t she get a smart phone like everybody else? 

His mother claimed she could not get the hang of ‘gadgets’ like that. Frankly, he was surprised that she had made the leap from her old film camera to the digital model his Uncle Rocco had given her last Christmas. To say she was technologically challenged was a huge understatement.

“Ma, do we have to?” Eric moaned. “It’s so boring.”

“It’s history, dear,” she replied. “You’ll thank me for this one day. Besides, you know how much your father loved the battle. Remember what he used to say?”

Eric nodded. He could remember as if his father were right there with them. “This isn’t something that should be taken for granted,” he used to say. “Just think buddy, this is something that happened in our own back yard, this is your hometown’s heritage!”

Sighing once more, he jammed his hands in the pockets of his jeans and followed his mother and a stream of fellow townspeople down King’s Highway and over toward Musket Ridge. The ridge sloped up from the main road. Beyond an ancient stone wall there was an open space that was used as the parade ground. On it about 40 re-enactors in colonial garb were milling about.

They wore a mish-mash of different outfits. Some were clad in blue military uniforms with scarlet facings and turnbacks, others in rough wool coats of brown or tan. Most sported tri-corner hats and had cartridge belts slung over their shoulders. All were equipped with muskets and bayonets.

One man in blue carried a sword. Eric perked up a little when he saw him. Of all the figures of the battle, the captain of the militia had always been his favorite. For one thing, he carried a sword, which Eric had thought was cool. For another, he was the hero of the battle of Candlewood Corners. No one really knew who he was. A fire had burned town hall to the ground in 1815 and the records in which the names of the combatants were recorded were lost along with many other documents. Without any written account, his name had been lost in the mists of history, but his deeds during the battle of Candlewood Corners had been passed down from father to son ever since. He was known simply as the Captain.

In the annual re-enactment, the role of the Captain had been played every year for decades by old Richard Atwater, an attorney in town. The Atwaters had always claimed that the Captain was their direct descendant—Silas Atwater. This had come to be generally accepted by all because, even though there was no proof to the claim, there was nothing to say definitively that he was not the Captain.

Mr. Atwater had been playing the part for so long that Eric had come to visualize the Captain as an older man dressed in a blue military jacket with golden epaulettes on his shoulders a sword at his side and white breeches with black boots.

The sword was what really fired Eric’s imagination. As a child, he had been fascinated by the way Mr. Atwater had wielded it during the drilling demonstrations, pointing it to emphasize his commands. It was a genuine relic of the Revolution and had been in the Atwood family for generations. It was the basis of the family’s claim that the Captain was in fact Silas Atwater. So far, no evidence had come to light that suggested otherwise, so everyone went with it.

Eric knew from his history class that the real redcoats had been sent to confiscate stores of ammunition and supplies that were located in town. By the time they arrived, however, the majority of these had been removed. When the British had discovered this, they had set fire to some of the buildings in town.

Some of the locals had tried to stop them, and had been fired upon by the troops. Some of the colonials fired back, but most fled, raising the alarm. This was what was being re-enacted now.

The bells in the old Congregational church began to ring. This was the signal for the start of the second phase of the re-enactment. A drummer in the camp began to beat the call to arms. Lining up in ragged columns, the Captain led the militia from the parade ground, down the road and into the woods where they crouched in wait behind stone walls, trees and brush, guns at the ready. Soon a troop of redcoats marched into sight.

Ringing church bells alerted the countryside, mobilizing militia from the surrounding towns who came flooding in to defend their town. The British had taken what they could and were now heading back down King’s Highway the way they had come. Eric watched as the militia and other colonists waited for the British to march past them and then fired.

When they did, he let out a breath and realized somewhat sheepishly that he had been holding it. He had to admit that the re-enactments were kind of cool. The truth was, this reminded him of his father. While that was troubling, in a way it made it seem as if his dad was close by.

“Mom, can I see the camera? I want to take a couple of pictures.”

His mom smiled and handed him the camera. “Sure dear. When this is done, let’s go get some pizza and celebrate birthday number 14.”

“Sounds cool,” Eric said as he clicked away.

                                                                                            #  #  #

When he got home, he said goodnight to his mom and went to his room. Flopping down on the bed he stared up at the ceiling and groaned. He was full. He had definitely eaten too much pizza. The ice cream after that had not helped, but it had been good. All in all it had been a decent birthday. He just wished he had some friends to share it with.

The truth was he had friends, but they were too far away to share his celebration with him. In fact, they were a whole world away—almost as far away as his dead father, or so it seemed to him. He had met them by traveling to other worlds and together they had shared three adventures to solve problems that threatened to destroy those worlds.

After each journey, Assignments they were called, he found it more difficult to leave them. Stig was probably his best friend. He was a talking owl who had recruited him for his first Assignment where he had met a girl named Kate Endria and Hallo Tosis, a dwarf.

He sat up and reached for two items that sat on his nightstand. One was a smooth orange stone the other, a small bottle. He placed them on the bed in front of him and stared at them in silence.

Seeming to come to a decision, he picked up the bottle and removed the stopper. A bluish mist seeped out and oozed down the bottle’s side. It sparkled. Eric took a small paintbrush and dipped it in. Removing it, he held it over the orange stone. A trail of sparkling mist swirled up from the blue substance on the tip of the brush.

Just as he started to lower the brush, the stone began to glow and sparkle. Eric’s hand froze and his heart leapt. The Gatekeeper was calling him! Carefully, he wiped the paint off the brush on the rim of the bottle and re-stoppered it. Slipping off his bed, he grabbed the stone and slid the bottle into his pocket.

He crept out of his room, down the hall and out the back door. Running around to the side of his house, he picked his way down the steep, wooded slope that lined the front yard. He was forced to slow down because the footing here was treacherous—roots and loose dirt threatened to trip him as he headed down toward the stream that gurgled at the bottom.

When he reached it, he headed upstream toward his driveway and the drainpipe underneath. The Gatekeeper was the person who gave Assignments to those he felt were up to the job. When they were needed for an Assignment, the Gatekeeper called Eric and the others to the Hallway of Worlds—a long corridor filled with doors to other worlds. In order to get to the Hallway, the Gatekeeper opened up a door in the drainpipe under Eric’s driveway.

That was where Eric was headed now. As he approached the drainpipe in the fading light of the autumn evening, Eric felt a surge of emotion. He never knew what awaited him beyond the door and the uncertainty was both exciting and worrisome.

Stepping out onto a rock in the stream, he hopped from rock to rock until he stood on the lip of the pipe, the shallow water flowing over his sneakers. He squished his way inside the ribbed interior of the drainpipe until he came to the door. It was round, fitting the contour of the cylinder snugly. There was a pane of frosted glass in the upper half. Taking a deep breath, he pushed open the door and walked in.