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Ghosts of the Siege

by Steven Abernathy

Product Details:
  • Pub. Date: October 10, 2015
  • Publisher: Destin Arts Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 278
  • ISBN-13: 978-151776984
  • ISBN: 1517760984

  • Digital


Billy Buckland is a ghost.

The 14-year-old militiaman was killed during the Siege of Savannah in October, 1779. The boy’s body remained buried for over 200 years until part of it was uncovered and used as a decoration by an art student in Savannah, Georgia. Billy’s spirit comes back to find his bones and return them to a place where he could rest in peace. Befriended by a maintenance worker at the Savannah College of Art and Design, Billy learns about life in the 21st Century in one of America’s most intriguing cities. The unlikely team of 18th Century ghost and 21st Century plumber form a close friendship as they seek a way for Billy to find peace befitting one who fought to earn America’s freedom. 

Ghosts of the Siege is a ghost story woven within the fabric of one of the most tragic battles fought in the American Revolution.  The Siege of Savannah culminated in one of the bloodiest battles of the war, with over 800 killed or wounded.   Battle descriptions are included as accurately as possible, having been taken from eyewitness accounts and military reports.  The flow of the 1779 battle is presented as an “overlay” of the modern city of Savannah, so the reader can stand on current street corners or parks and say, “This is where_______really happened.”

If you love a good ghost story; if you love American history; if you love a tightly woven historical novel, you will love Ghosts of the Siege. For readers who have never travelled to Savannah, Georgia, America’s most haunted city, Billy Buckland and the other Ghosts of the Siege will definitely move the city to the top of your vacation destination list. 

Editorial Review

Amazon Customer Reviews


5-STARSBy KAS. I really enjoyed how the author incorporated historical events into a fiction novel. It kept my attention and I didn't want to put it down.

5 STARSBy Father Ted. "How to make History fun." This is an extremely well-written story; or rather it is a series of ghost stories interwoven with historical facts from the late 18th century. I would enjoy going back to school to learn about the American War of Independence and other significant moments in history, if it could be as well presented as this. I enjoyed the writer's style and the interplay between the ghosts and modern technology in the hands of the narrator were hugely entertaining.

4 STARS: By BT. Good Read!!! Normally not one to read a ghost story, I thought I would give this one a try. And was pleasantly surprised. The author has woven fact and fiction together in an enjoyable tale which is easy to read. The other thing I liked was the authors notes at the end where he has listed some historical facts about the siege of Savannah.

3 STARS: By KM. A ghost story for history lovers. The author uses the clever device of a ghost to tell several stories relating historical facts surrounding battles fought around Savannah, Georgia.This is not a scary, suspense-filled story, rather the author uses the ghost to bring bits of history to life. The dialogue is a bit stiff but the descriptions of historical scenes have an air of authenticity.

5 STARSBy Terry G. This a fictionally driven historical novel. The story line keeps one enthralled while giving some very interesting revolutionary war history.

4 STARSBy Komal. Just in time for Halloween! I love a good ghost story.

Meet the Writer


Name: Steven Abernathy

Official Website:


Steven Abernathy is not afraid...of anything! It's not that he owns the recipe for bravery, or that he is superhuman or supercalifragilisticexpialidocious; it is simply that his real-life experiences have conditioned him to deal with 'stuff' as it comes his way. The author quips, "I have survived an airplane crash, a heart attack, a run for U.S. Congress (in which I was defeated, thank goodness), and over 40 years of marriage to a lady who loves cats. What else could possibly be out there to frighten me?"

First published in 1975, Steven has written four novels, educational booklets, and columns for several small newspapers and blogs. "People ask me what are my qualifications as a writer or columnist. My answer is simply life experience. If I have a single qualification that sets me apart from other writers, it is that I have a wide range of experience and a pretty sound understanding of Americans from just about every walk of life. You hear people say, 'I knew from the time I was a child that I wanted to be a ______ (fill in the blank).' Not me. I've tried just about everything out there, sometimes by choice, often from necessity. Among other things, I have worked as a farm laborer, carpenter, assembly line worker, apprentice electrician, truck driver, hospital orderly, teacher (both public school and college), military officer, dentist, and author. Friends and family say I just don't know what I want to be when I grow up. I have run for Congress, crashed an airplane, survived a heart attack, written five books, and been married to the same wonderful lady for more than 40 years. I have shared a bologna sandwich with fellow cotton-pickers while taking a brief break from our $5 per day job, and I have schmoozed with Bill Clinton during more formal meals. I even had lunch one time with Connie Kresky (Playboy Playmate of the Year in 1969). She was infinitely more interesting than Bill Clinton. That's all I'm saying."

Steven and wife Michele currently live a nomadic life, splitting time between their homes in Destin, Florida and Jonesboro, Arkansas. When not writing or traveling he prefers to spend quiet time with family or sail the usually calm waters of Choctawhatchee Bay. All of his stories are fiction, but they are also a reflection of real people, real experiences, and real events to which he has been exposed during his life. One of Steven's great interests is history, and each of his books includes events that are historically factual, but at some point are 'embellished' to fit the framework of the story. "If I did my job well, the reader will never know exactly when real history becomes fiction. That is what I like the best!"


Excerpt from Book

Chapter One

I’m a pretty level-headed guy with a wife, a mortgage, and two fine kids in public school, so I’m a little ashamed to tell this story because I know you won’t believe me. Laugh if you will, call me crazy, but here goes. It’s not every day one sees a ghost but this is Savannah, Georgia after all, and such things are said to be regular occurrences here. Just never before to me.

On October ninth I was called to one of the dormitories at the Savannah College of Art and Design, or SCAD, as it is known to those who prefer not to use the more burdensome name for what is reported to be a very fine art college. SCAD students, who study painting, sculpture, clothing design and many other imaginative  endeavors, tend to exhibit great creativity in everything from their dress and hair styles to graffiti on area sidewalks and buildings to, yes, ways to disable or destroy sinks and toilets in their dormitories and classroom areas. 

I am a plumber. I have been called to SCAD on several occasions, usually to extricate a rubber snake, stuffed gorilla doll, or some similar obstruction from one of the ‘toilets of higher education,’ as I think of them. I never know what I will face on a call to SCAD, so I always enjoy the challenge of going there.  

On this particular occasion I was elbow-deep in murky rainbow-colored goop that created odd streaks and patterns as I moved my hands around trying to find the drain at the bottom of a bathtub. I had seen many odd things in the student dormitories at SCAD, but this was a new one for me.  Two students stood behind me looking over my shoulder as I stirred the soup.  

“It’s called a cloud tank,” a male voice said with obvious pride. His long hair had a streak of fire engine red that matched most of his visible piercings. “They used them a lot in the 80’s. Ever seen Ghostbusters? The NeverEnding Story?” I nodded my head absently, just trying to be agreeable. The kid said, “So you know what I’m talking about!”

I really had no idea, and am certain my face betrayed my confusion. The other student, a girl whose colorful tattoos contrasted her short, shock-white hair, said, “You put ink in water, and you film it, and it looks like clouds.” She was mumbling as she bit her fingernails down to nubs.

I smirked. “Clouds?”

The first kid smirked, too. “Really cool clouds.”

As I located the drain and attempted to extricate some of the thicker goo, the kid kept talking. He told me, no, they couldn’t have gone outside to film real clouds and, no, they couldn’t have used a computer to fake it either. He used words like “fantastic” and “authentic,” which seemed to me to contradict each other. 

The water was becoming a sickening brown, the inevitable soup of too many colors mixed together, but there were thick, solid colors floating within the muck like veins in marble. I scooped a glob of pink something from the tub and held it up for the students.  “You sure you just used ink?” I asked.

The talkative kid suddenly had somewhere to be and ducked out. The nail-biter stayed—it was her room—but I could tell she wanted to go, too. She said, “Ink… at first. It looked good, filmed well, but we wanted the clouds to look, like, heavier? So we drained the tub and tried again with paint. And again with glue. And then… liquid latex?” She was grimacing apologetically as she said it. I could tell, at least in retrospect, she realized it was a bad idea.

I really didn’t mind at all. Sure it was odd, even funny, and more than a little dumb, but it was precisely why I loved being called to SCAD. The surprise and variety of it always—or at least most often—managed to conquer the tedium of everyday plumbing calls. There seemed always to be some kind of unauthorized art installation to disassemble and remove. The graffiti was occasionally so beautiful I regretted having to wash it away. One time my services were engaged to replace an entire toilet in which a truly frightening-looking wasp was painted inside the bowl. The wasp was painted in such a realistic three-dimensional way that the formidable stinger was poised to plunge into the rump of anyone who was careless enough to perch upon that particular throne to relieve themselves. The artwork was without peer, and students came in throngs to view the masterpiece, but none would use the facility for its intended purpose. The college decided the toilet must be removed for student health reasons. Maybe it was placed into one of the many museums in Savannah. I don’t know. It was just my job to remove it and replace it with a more mundane but useful bland white porcelain bowl. The point is I never know what I will face on a call to SCAD, so I always enjoy the challenge of going there. 

The young lady watching me was about to chew her fingernails down to the bone, so when she claimed to be late for class and headed for the door I did not object. I tried to snake the drain but whatever was clogging it—latex and glue and whatever else she’d failed to mention—was too tough for the hand crank. I need the big guns, I thought; I need the motor.  

A groan of discomfort escaped as I stood from my kneeling posture, causing me to think for the hundredth time that I needed to join a gym and get some real exercise. Brown goo dripped from my hands and forearms onto the floor as I moved as quickly as possible to the bathroom sink to wash off the disgusting stuff. Awesome clouds indeed, I thought to myself as I watched the sludge slip through the sink drain followed by copious amounts of water. The only towel hung near the sink was a fancy affair embroidered with a pleasing cloud motif in pastel colors.  I supposed this young lady really liked clouds. Not wanting to destroy the piece of art, I began to dry my arms and hands on my coveralls as I trudged back to my truck to retrieve the necessary tools and parts. 

By then it was late afternoon and, with the sun low in the sky, the dormitory halls had a menacing and gloomy air. As I passed one of the rooms I noticed through its open door the silhouette of a figure sitting on one of the two narrow beds. The hallway was dark, the room even darker with no lights turned on, but something about the figure in the room registered in my mind as sinister… not quite right. I even felt a slight chill, a preamble to fear, course through my body in the brief instant it took to pass the door. “What was that?” I thought to myself, then shook my head and quickened my pace to the exit. This was SCAD, after all, and the students here were some of the most creative on earth. Some of them may actually have designed that space, that figure, to cast a frightening pall on anyone who strolled by and glanced into the room. I smiled at myself. Maybe I would, after all, have a story to tell my kids tonight. Their mother wouldn’t be happy about me regaling them with my tale about glancing at ‘the boogieman’ at SCAD, but in truth she would enjoy the story just as much as they did. 

At the truck I rummaged through the tool box until I had retrieved what I called my ‘power snake’ and the necessary attachments to clean out the tub drain. The power snake was similar to the one I had used to clean out the clogged drain of the “cloud tank.”  The idea of such a tool is to thread a narrow cable into the drain, the cable being the “snake.” On the inserted end of the cable is a bulb that, when turned in a circle, will ensnare whatever noxious material is plugging up the drain. On the other end of the snake is I a crank which, when turned by hand, will cause the cable and the bulb to spin and accomplish its mission. The snake I now held was powered by a small electric motor, and was designed to blast through even the most resistant clogs. As I took my first step toward the dormitory with my load, remembrance of the disquieting figure in the dark room caused another chill to run through me. I turned back to the truck to retrieve a candy bar from the glove box and took a large bite. It had been a long day. I had missed lunch, and probably my reaction was the result of low blood sugar. Turning back to the dorm, I took one more chocolaty bite before stuffing the remainder of the bar into one of my deep pockets and reminded myself with a chuckle to finish eating the rest of it before it melted down there and created a cloud effect of its own. 

The door to the same room was still opened, and, of course, I couldn’t resist peeking inside once more. The dark figure was still there, sitting in the same position on the same bed. I felt the same symptoms of anxiety trace through my veins, but forced myself to walk slowly in order to get a better look at this…what? The figure did not speak, but slowly raised a hand as if to wave at me. I flinched at the movement. Something about it wasn’t right, but I couldn’t wrap my mind around what that something was.  

The answer struck me as hard as a bowling ball falling out of the sky. The arm that had waved at me was transparent! I felt the chill once more, then made a snorting sound and shook my head as I tried to push that thought from my mind. It was ridiculous, but I thought through it once more. The figure was sitting on the edge of the bed. Behind the figure, from my perspective through the door, was a table and a lamp with a white lampshade. The figure, which now seemed more of an insubstantial apparition to me, had raised its arm and hand in greeting to me, but even as the arm had passed in front of the lamp, I could still see the lamp!

  I was frozen in place but continued to look into the room, hoping I would not see anything at all. The figure remained in the same position on the edge of the bed. After a few moments it raised its arm once more and motioned for me to come in. I stood still, frozen in the moment, and watched the arm closely as it passed in front of the lamp. There was no doubt. As if reading my mind, the apparition held its arm in place for several seconds, allowing me to see the white lamp shade clearly through what should have been cloth, skin, sinew, and bone. I felt a little faint, but advanced a step as the form, whatever it was, continued to motion for me to enter the room. As I moved closer it became apparent that the image was that of a boy of perhaps middle teen years. His, or its, clothing was something of a novelty but my mind, untrustworthy as I considered it to be at that time, told me this was SCAD and no style of dress should be considered outside the norm. I mentally processed the clothes as something from the American Colonial era. He wore a battered, dark blue tri-cornered hat, a dirty white shirt and light brown jacket of some kind of coarse, heavy cloth. The jacket probably would have come down to mid-thigh if he had been standing, and below that his breeches terminated just below the knee. There were what I assumed to be leggings of what I assumed to be bleached but dirty animal skin from below his knees down to his ankles, and his shoes, if they were present at all, were bound in heavy cloth strips that started at his toes and wrapped around until they reached the level of the leggings. It was a very, very accurate costume, but it only added to the boy’s mystery. I spoke quietly, almost in a whisper. “You alright? Kid? Are you waiting on someone?”

There was no response, only a sound that might have been light breathing. I switched tactics. “Hey, so, this is a pretty cool costume. It’s colonial, right? You in some kind of movie?” When I reached out to emphasize my interest and knowledge of the outfit with light tug on one of its loose tassels, something happened. I had trouble processing exactly what it was, but it was similar to the sudden alarm when a chair starts to fall out from underneath you, or the panic of dropping something fragile and fumbling to catch it.

I landed hard on my butt without ever realizing I was falling in the first place. I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, trying to figure out was just happened, when the boy spoke, still frozen in place. “I feel… incomplete.”



“You, uh, you’re hungry?” I asked. If this was a SCAD student prank, it was a world-class doozie! Whatever was going on was happening far too quickly for me to keep up with, so I played along. I pulled the half candy bar out of my pocket and held it out. “It’s got a bite or two missing, it’s, ah, maybe a little warm… but…”

Finally the figure moved. It was slow and laborious motion. The boy lifted his head as though it weighed a full ton, and considered the offer curiously before reaching an equally slow hand toward it. When he tried to grip the candy bar, that same sinking feeling hit me in the stomach. Revulsion and horror struck me solidly as the boy’s fingers passed through the bar as though it was mist. When the boy tried a second, more concerned grab, those fingers passed through my hand as well. 

I recoiled, dropping the candy and scooting backward, away from the bed, from the figure, whatever it was. I hadn’t been able to touch the boy, either. I was finally understanding why I had fallen: it was the panicked vertigo, the unreality of it all. A scream was about to escape my lips. I was about to plunge out of the darkness into my truck and away from the school forever, when I saw a similar sentiment in the boy’s quivering lip. 

The boy was holding his small hand in front of his face, but I could see straight through it. I saw fear there, in the boy’s wide, trembling eyes, and a kind of empathy began to compete with my own version of that fear. I didn’t move any closer to comfort him, but I didn’t bolt from the room, either.

The figure began to flicker like some kind of projection, like a hologram or a dream. Then it dropped its hand and recoiled as well, pushing itself across the bed and partially through the wall behind it. I noticed there was no indentation of weight on the bedsheets, no bend in the mattress. The boy pulled his knees up against himself. His back was lost to the wall; his shoulders, stomach, and legs protruded from it like a strange hunting trophy. His eyes, face, and posture were pleading.

The boy’s voice shook as he asked me, “Are… are you a ghost?”

I laughed. Despite my fear, despite the situation, despite the numbness of shock, I started laughing and couldn’t stop. When I finally settled down I could tell I had only scared the poor boy further, so I tried earnestly to compose myself. When I was calmed, it occurred to me that the sound of the boy’s voice wasn’t right. The voice didn’t seem to come through my ears, but emanated from within my skull. Placing shaking hands over my eyes and cheeks, I slowly shook my head. This couldn’t be right. It was surreal. 

“No, I’m alive. I’m real,” I finally answered the vaporous form.  “Are… um… are you a ghost?”

“No!” The boy’s answer was quick and sure, even a little angry at the insinuation.

I said, “Uh huh,” and there were a few seconds of silence between us. I asked, more to fill the space than any other reason, “Are you a student here, then?”

The boy looked around himself, taking note of the bare cinder block walls and the sparse furniture. “This structure is a school?” he asked in an incredulous tone. He flickered less; his form was becoming more solid again.


“It looks more like a cottage… or an inn.” 

Becoming a little more relaxed, I asked, “You got a name?”

The child smiled. “Of course I have a name. I am William Buckland, sir…Billy, to my friends. And you? Are you a teacher at this school?”

“No,” I answered. “I’m no professor, but I do work here often.” He held up the motorized pipe snake. “Plumbing!”

I pulled the little drill’s trigger and it momentarily revved to life. The boy pitched and fell backwards, so that the top half of him disappeared completely into the wall. His legs kicked frantically, the lights flickered and flashed like a lightning storm, and his scream echoed unnaturally throughout the interior of my head, like it was an empty metal drum. I dropped the drill, squeezed my eyes shut and covered my ears, though it did no good. It was so loud I thought every student in the dormitory must have heard it. 

When the noise passed, I opened my eyes. The boy was still just a pair of legs, but after a moment the legs shifted a little. Soon a frightened face joined them on my side of the wall, then two probing, cautious hands. The child whispered, “How can this be?” He sat up fully, then twisted around onto his knees, facing the wall. He poked the wall several times, and on each attempt his finger passed through the cement blocks like a veil.

I channeled some empathy once more. “William, I’m sorry but, I think you’re a ghost. Do you know what year it is?”

The boy was distracted, but mumbled, “Billy.”


“Everyone calls me Billy. My father is…was…William, as was my grandfather. My friends, my father, everyone except the general, always called me Billy.”

“The general?”

The boy nodded. “General Pulaski.”

I raised my eyebrows and leaned closer to the child. “The General Pulaski? General Casimir Pulaski?”

Billy spun around and, for the first time, smiled. “Yes! My leader and friend is General Casimir Pulaski. Do you know him?”

I laughed for a second. “No. I know of him, though, almost everyone around here does. General Pulaski is a real hero but… he’s dead. Has been for a long time.”

Billy dropped his head and flickered again. He adjusted his position, against sitting on the edge of the bed, and leaned forward to hide his face in his hands. He shivered, and when he finally spoke I could tell he was trying hard not to cry.

“I know,” Billy eventually said. “I saw him fall. After a more protracted pause the boy added, “I think perhaps I am dead as well. I may be a spirit…a ghost, as you said. When I first became aware of this place I was on a bridge made of brick spanning a small creek. I was confused and frightened.  From one end of the bridge I saw someone approaching, a friend who served with me in the militia whose name is,” he paused for a moment, his eyes downcast before correcting, “I mean, was, Clinton Dodge. I saw him fall only minutes before I, myself, was struck and dismembered by cannon fire.  As Clinton approached me, or his spirit, I guess, I could see his face had been disfigured by the grape shot. His left leg was gone at the knee and his right was mangled, but he did not limp or use a crutch as he approached. He seemed to float toward me, a fact which, along with his physical state, made me think he might be a spirit.” Billy was silent for a long moment before looking intently into my eyes and continuing, “Clinton was a spirit, he explained to me, and then coaxed me to remember the battle and realize the fact that I was a spirit as well.” The boy looked at me with such pitiful sadness in his eyes that I felt tears forming at the corners of my own. In a tone of complete resignation he moaned, “So it is true. I am a spirit…a ghost. It is hard to accept, but I must learn to live with the fact.” His eyes brightened as a slight smirk turned up the corners of his lips. “Now that is funny…I must learn to live with the fact that I am dead!”

The smile was short lived. Billy’s face became passive as he said, “Time means little to a spirit, so I do not know how long how long I have been present in this world…your world. I do know that I have met other spirits…Clinton, an Indian boy about my age named Kray, a little girl named Gracie, and others who have helped me learn of the spirit world I now inhabit…what I can do…” Billy paused, hanging his head in a posture of extreme sadness, “and what I cannot do.” 

He suddenly looked sullen. “I told them all just as I tell you now…I do not wish to be a spirit!” Hanging his head once more, he concluded, “But I remember the battle…I remember my death.”

There was some kind of noise in the distance, a shout and a sharp crack, but it was muffled as though it came from a television in the next room. I stood and approached the boy, but had no idea what to say. Comforting the distressed was not something with which I had much practice.

  Billy was fluctuating wildly now. His image blurred and bent, like his reception, or possibly my own, was coming in badly. As I knelt beside the boy there were more strange noises as well. A great commotion was swelling somewhere, and the ruckus somehow seemed both near and far. On one level of my perception, the noise seemed to be outside at some distance. At the same time, however, it sounded much like Billy’s speech, as if its origin might be completely within my head. The result was a slight wave of nausea similar to that I had experienced when I first met this boy, this ghost.

Billy’s image was settling into something resembling solidity, so I reflexively reached out to place one hand on his shoulder. It was meant as a gesture of kindness, but the result was one of pure shock. For a fraction of a second we actually touched. I felt the boy’s solid frame beneath my hand, then something hit me like a blast of cold water. The world around me flashed bright white—bright daylight—and the noise crescendoed to a peak. 

When my eyes adjusted to the glare, I found myself outside on a hill surrounded by thick woods. In every direction, men were yelling. They were coming out of the forest armed with rifles, marching in straight lines, wearing heavy military uniforms. 

Billy suddenly cowered at my feet and began fading in and out of vision once more. He cried, “No, not this! Not here again!” and in the blink of an eye he disappeared. I looked up from where the boy had been just in time to see the canon. It was aimed straight at me. A soldier in red uniform touched the glowing end of a long stick to the back of the cannon, causing it to roar and disappear behind a violent rush of smoke as it fired.

I doubled over, covering my face and upper body with my arms and hands, much as a boxer would protect himself from the blows of his opponent. I felt the cannonball pass through me, like a stiff breeze blowing through curtains, and then something behind me exploded. I turned to look and experienced horror at the mayhem. Some soldiers were racing toward me, toward the cannons in an earthen fort, screaming a battle cry and pointing the bayonets of their long rifles. Other men, or parts of men, were scattered on the ground, some bleeding, some screaming in pain, others…many others…obviously dead. The cannons continued to roar, the sharp crack of muskets from both sides came so frequently as to make a continuous sound, with the firing of one gun indistinguishable from the next. Fear and revulsion overwhelmed me, and I dropped to my knees as bile rose in my throat and I vomited on the ground. The charging soldiers did not seem to notice me as they ran past, and even through, my collapsed form. 

After several minutes frozen by the shock of battle, I was able to look around. In front of me, barely recognizable in the fog and black powder smoke from the guns was the earthen fort surrounded by a tangle of branches from felled trees. I could see soldiers hacking away at the limbs trying to create an avenue for others to attack the fort directly. I could also see the bodies of many soldiers hanging from the limbs in grotesque positions, obviously killed in their direct attack on the structure. 

To my left less than fifty yards away was a long trench and earthen wall that protected even more cannons and soldiers firing into the group that was charging the fort. The weapons the men carried, the way they dressed, their attack formations, everything around me was an indication of an era long gone. As my shock diminished, I realized I was witnessing a horrific battle in the American Revolution. 

Dozens of rifles suddenly erupted in fire-cracker succession. The men holding those guns were engulfed in the smoke they produced, the mist of battle. I ducked again, and ran. A part of me knew I couldn’t be harmed here—if a cannonball could pass through me, then nothing could kill me. But there was a greater instinct at hand than the confusing knowledge of my immortality.  

I tripped and fell. I expected to have muddied palms and work khakis from the trampled earth, but when I brought my hands up to my face they were clean. Men cheered and charged. The soldiers ran past me—more ran through me. I could hear them yelling, though, hear the rattle of their uniforms, the heaviness of their breath. I could smell them, could smell the gunpowder and sweat that clung to their bodies like a cloak. I thought back to my half eaten candy bar and wondered just how low a person’s blood sugar had to be in order to conjure such vivid hallucinations.

I heard the beating of hooves before I saw the beast they carried, then the smoke parted and a huge horse charged through it. The horse stopped a few yards from where I sat, and I recognized its rider from numerous paintings and portraits in equally numerous history books. The deep wave of his hairline, the small, smart mustache, the sharpness of his jaw and chin. I had obviously never met the man, but I would have known Casimir Pulaski anywhere.

“Charge!” the general commanded his cavalry, “Stop for nothing!” he screamed in English above the roar of battle in a heavy accent I assumed to be Polish. His horse bucked and whinnied and galloped again, straight into the bloody battle. I watched the man go, then stood and ran in the opposite direction. 

I ducked and hid, dashing from cover to cover, occasionally leaping over a fallen body, avoiding the fray and giving the soldiers around me a wide berth. I still didn’t completely trust or understand the situation so I was taking no chances. Through the trees I could see evidence of a camp, well away from the fighting. There was something reassuring about the tents and smoldering fires there. I imagined, quite hopefully, it would be a quiet, peaceful place to wait out the rest of this nightmare, whatever it was. A battalion was passing nearby, headed into the fight with muskets ready.

From within the group running into the fray I recognized another face. A young man—a boy, really—separated from the battalion and ran at an angle away from the file of men. I called out to him, but the boy didn’t stop. Probably he was too far to hear, and he was running into the battle. I called again, “Billy! Stop!” but the distance between us was only getting wider. Without another glance at the camp, I dismissed my fear and turned to run after him, directly into the fight.

Billy was fast, though, and I wasn’t exactly in my prime. I lost sight of the boy twice, always found him again, and always followed. Finally I caught up to him and settled into a jogging pace at his side as we approached the earthen fort. Billy was filthy; the mud made his entire outfit a uniform brown. He was panting, but there was no exhaustion in his face.

I on the other hand, was wheezing and wondering how long my heart would hold out.  “Where are we? What is this?” I asked the boy.

Billy did not answer. 

“There’s… a war. I think it’s the Revolutionary War. We have to go back, Billy.”

Billy’s eyes were closed. His lips moved a little. It looked like prayer.


The boy suddenly screamed a blood-curdling battle cry and bolted from my side, holding his musket high. I shouted his name after him but did not follow. Even if I hadn’t been out of breath, even if there had not been the sharp stab of overexertion in my side, there was still something else that stopped me. It was the mud that covered the boy, and the lack of mud covering myself. 

This was not the ghost I knew, but the boy that lived before him. And with that realization, as though the play was complete, Billy and two men on either side of him exploded into misty, bloody pulp. I called out again, fell to my knees, and covered my eyes, but the image of young man’s death was burned into my mind. It was grapeshot that killed him, an insidious munition like ball bearings fired from cannons, but often improvised with whatever damaging metal could be scavenged. Chain, silverware, buckles—it tore its targets into ribbons and left nothing behind but chunks of meat.

I was overwhelmed with rage, an all-encompassing rage that overcame my empathy, fear, and exhaustion. I grabbed a flintlock pistol from the hand of a fallen officer, stood, swiveled, and pointed it toward the cannons firing in my direction. When I pulled the trigger the weapon revved, humming gently, and the spell around me was broken.

Suddenly I was standing in the dorm room again, holding the motorized snake out like a gun as it whirred and spun. The lights were on. There was screaming all around me, but I quickly realized the shrill cries were coming from me, from Billy, who was sitting on the bed once more, and from a third voice I did not recognize. All three voices stopped at roughly the same time.

The third voice was that of a young man who was standing in the doorway. He said, “What are you doing?”

I pointed the drill at him. “Huh?”

The young man put his hands up. He was heavyset and sloppily dressed. There was a smudge of paint on his cheek. “This is my room, man. What are you doing in it?”

I looked back to the bed. Billy was gone. The battle was gone as well, but the smell of gunpowder, sweat, and blood lingered. In the distance, I thought I could still hear gunfire, too. I lowered the drill to my side and pointed with the other hand to a badge clipped to my shirt pocket. “Maintenance,” I said. “Plumbing.”

“What’s wrong with the plumbing?”

I answered firmly, “Nothing,” then after a short pause, “just a routine check.” As I pushed past the kid into the hallway I added, “Good pipes. Keep it up.”

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