Truth to Power

A man opened the flap to a crude tent and stuck his head out. “Rua!”

From behind a tree stepped a boy not yet seven years old, his face burning with a long fresh scar that ran from his temple to his chin. “Yes, uncle?”

“Go to the river and fill this with water!” the man shouted and tossed a copper cauldron that rolled through the grass and stopped right at the boy’s feet. The child stood staring at it.

“Go!” the uncle yelled angrily, “Your father is dead and now you must be a man!”

Rua hurriedly grabbed the bowl by the handles and dragged it backwards through the encampment. He could hear the cries of his mother as he moved off. The sound of her grieving was soon drowned out though by the wailing that issued from many of the tents he passed on his way to the river. For a year and a half, his people had pushed their way through Western Europe and now, in the north of Italy, malaria was devastating them.

As he neared the river, he noticed a group of horsemen slowly approaching from the other bank. He recognized some of them immediately; they were the King’s brothers. But the strangely-dressed ones that rode beside them filled him with wonder. The one in the white conical hat especially affected him. Their eyes met for a moment as they passed each other and Rua thought he recognized a rare look of sympathy.

It was at the end of a long hot summer, around September 16th, 452, and the man in the hat changed the course of western history, or more aptly saved it. Pope Leo, without an army, would turn back Attila the Hun at the river Mincio and secure the city of Rome.


The Day the Laugh Man Came to Town

He lost his job selling dry goods and then he lost his job in the bookstore. His dreams of becoming a doctor and a preacher weren’t working out either, but that was okay, his young fiancé loved him all the more. He went into partnership with his father but his promising start as an insurance salesman was cut short when he developed a mysteriously incurable case of laryngitis. Unable to speak above a whisper, he found work as a photographer’s assistant on Main Street in the little town of Hopkinsville, Kentucky. And in doing this, he finally was beginning to feel himself finding a place in life.

All of the strange events that had characterized his childhood seemed to be fading into the past. Edgar was becoming, at last, “normal.” He began dreaming of the simple life, and he and Gertrude discussed their plans for a quiet, happy future together.

It was at this point that a man named Hart came to town. He called himself the Laugh Man, but his specialty was as a hypnotist. While preparing for his show at the Opera House on February 12, 1901, he was told about the young man who had lost his voice. He made sure that Edgar was in the audience that night.

Before a packed house, the Laugh Man placed Edgar into a trance.

“Edgar... do you hear me? I want you to answer me in a clear voice... a confident voice... because, Edgar... your laryngitis is gone.”

“I understand,” Edgar replied strongly, without a trace of the rasp that had plagued him.

By the end of the next month, Edgar Cayce began placing himself under hypnosis. The quiet life he had dreamed of was put away forever when he fathered America’s New Age movement and became the “Sleeping Prophet.”


The Poe Toaster

Upon a clouded and moonless night, at the quiet corner of Fayette and Greene, a man impatiently walked his wife’s miniature poodle. Ladybug had scratched at the front door until she had made her point. She needed to go. But to the chagrin of the unshaven man in robe and slippers, she still hadn’t gone.

Finally she stopped at the old Gothic church and sniffed her way through the grass. She circled twice and squatted.

“Thank God,” the man muttered sleepily.

He stood there holding the leash lazily between two fingers, waiting for the little monster to finish. He closed his eyes and swayed slightly in the silence. A tug on his fingers signaled that the dog had done her business. As he remained there blinking at the plume of steam rising up from the frosty ground, he suddenly felt that he wasn’t alone.

There is a sound that a body makes when it is nearby. An intangible sound that can nevertheless still be sensed. A vibration. A humming, not unlike a television that has its volume turned all the way down. A sound of a “presence.” From the graveyard behind the church, he heard that tell-tale sound. He whirled, fully awake now. Ladybug barked.

At first, in the pitch of the night, he saw nothing. But then slowly, unmistakably, he saw a shadow rise up from a large tombstone. He could make out the shape of a man, wearing a brimmed hat and a cape. As the figure became fully erect, it turned its scarf-covered face towards him and slowly backed away into a stand of trees and then... disappeared.

Every January 19th, since this one in 1949, this mysterious figure has returned to Edgar Allan Poe’s Baltimore grave to leave behind three roses and a half-bottle of Cognac.


From Where the Sun Now Stands

Tuekakas lay by a dim fire, his eyes half-closed and staring up at the twinkling stars. He was dying and had called for his son. Heinmot Toolyalaket approached and at first said nothing as he sat down beside him. He simply stared quietly at the wrinkled face. He was thirty-one years old, but next to his father he still felt and looked the boy.

Without moving his eyes from the heavens, the old chief began to speak.

“My son... when the white men first came, our people welcomed them as our brothers... Clark and Lewis they were called. And when I became a man, I accepted their banner of stars and stripes and learned their language and religion... I even took their name when they blessed me in the water... But no more! I wished to live in peace but they are thieves with their treaties. I’ve torn their flag and burned their book....”

Heinmot Toolyalaket remembered that day sixteen years ago. He remembered his father giving him long sticks with hawk feathers attached so as to forevermore mark the boundaries of the two peoples.

“My son, soon I will go to the Great Spirit and our people will look to you to guide them... The whites will come back again... This country will hold my body... Never sell the bones of your father! Never forget these dying words!”

The whites did come back, and chased them from Oregon’s Wallowa Valley.

It wasn’t until October 5th, 1877, that the little band of 800 Nez Perce Indians, pursued for 1,700 miles by 2,000 professional soldiers, were finally trapped – just forty miles short of the Canadian border, and their freedom.

Chief Joseph, exhausted from conflict, had to choose between the reservation and death. “I will fight no more forever,” was his decision.


The Wife of the Silversmith

Juan almost dozed off several times. It was easy to do with his eyes closed on that soft warm night in Valladolid and he struggled to keep his senses. Each time he caught himself drifting away, a cold shock would bring him back. The pin he pricked against his leathery thumb helped him too. It took three hours before he was satisfied that his household was finally asleep.

Just before 2 a.m., Juan slid off his feathered bed and crept into the hallway where he silently dressed. From there, it was out the rear door of Number 13 Calle de Platerias and through the garden to a shadowy path that ran inconspicuously several blocks before entering upon the plazuela of Saint Michael. He remained hidden behind a statue for a few moments, making sure there was no one about to see him sneaking around at such an hour. Satisfied that he was alone, he then ran the short distance in the open to the covered porch at the one-time residence of Doña Leonor de Vivero.

After three soft knocks, a slide opened. Juan placed his lips to the wicket and whispered. “Cazalla.” A bolt turned and the door opened just wide enough to allow Juan entrance. The bolt sounded again behind him.

But Juan wasn’t as quiet as he thought when he whispered the password. From below the railing, concealed behind a broad-leafed bush, the wife of the silversmith heard it very clearly.

She waited a moment before gathering up the courage to find out where her oddly-behaving husband was running off to in the middle of the night.

On May 21, 1599, 200,000 people gathered in the Plaza Mayor to witness Juan Garcia and fourteen other Lutheran conspirators burn. After a long lull, the Inquisition began again in earnest.


Never Too Late For a New Vice

“Won’t you have some whiskey?” K. B. asked, pulling a bottle of Bourbon from his satchel.

“I promised my mother when I was a baby that I’d never taste liquor,” James replied with a shaky awkwardness.

Several of his friends were gathered round and they all urged him on.

“I wish you would,“ one of them added, “I think that today merits an exception... after all, even the town across the woods is pointing out the irony of your predicament. It’s named after a tavern for God’s sake...”

James threw his hands into the air, resigning himself to the persuasive force of peer pressure. He looked over at his friend Andrew, with whom he had been through much.

“Tell me, Andrew... how do I look?”

“There’s a little flush to your face,” he said, “Why don’t you take it?”

“All right...”

James stroked his thick beard for a moment and let out a deep sigh. All eyes were on him as he reached forward and took hold of the bottle that K. B. was still holding out for him. He raised it up to the late afternoon sun that was filtering through the Virginia pines and inspected its caramelized color. Before uncorking it, he hesitated and looked over at a few soldiers standing nearby.

“Go do your duty for your country,” he said in a commanding voice. He pointed with the bottle, “Back to the front.”

The soldiers, sheepishly obedient, moved out of his line of sight.

It was May 11th, 1864, and Confederate Cavalry General James “Jeb” Stuart had little more than 24 hours to live, mortally wounded by a Yankee sharpshooter at Yellow Tavern.

The aroma of the sour-mash was shrill to his virgin sense, grown accustomed only to the smell of horses and gunpowder.

“Mama, forgive me...”