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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Contest Entry · #1932078
A baton is passed.
Next Generation

         Jeremy Coleman received a call from Brody Hampton, a well known historian and genealogist in Cashton. Not unusual, but the request itself was a bit out of the ordinary.

         Brody was an odd duck, but friendly enough, and with the assistance of a pint or two at Callahan’s Pub he usually came up with some really interesting stories about their residents, past and present that kept the patrons entertained for hours.

         A reporter for the Clarion, Jeremy had taken advantage of a tale or two to augment the lack of real news for Cashton, and the population embraced Brody as their resident eccentric. Even using many of his tales to entertain the readers of the city, most of them were not verifiable, being passed down from person to person over the years, and largely relegated to folklore.

         Tonight however, Brody excitedly explained to Jeremy that his research had uncovered an interesting possibility surrounding the recent death of one of their own who’d left Cashton years ago to fight in The Great War overseas. Billy Coumer had been a bagpiper, as his father was before him.

         When Great Britain sent out its appeal for soldiers to defend the world against tyranny at the end of 1914, his father was already too old to answer the call, so Billy did instead. Packing his pipes and solemnly bidding his family farewell, endured the long voyage to England, where he joined a Scottish unit as a foreign national, as America had yet to enter the conflict.

         As the war progressed, the community in Cashton watched the news carefully as it trickled into town, and although radio reception was spotty in that rural area, it was supplemented by frequent letters sent home from the five soldiers who’d left to fight. News provided by Billy demonstrated a flair for story-telling, and whenever his letters arrived, the townsfolk were alerted by the postmaster, and old man Coumer was escorted to the Pub to read it to everyone. Brody was in that crowd in those days, but an injury in his youth caused a limp that’d prevented him from joining his friend to the front.

         He still regaled the Pub population of stories about those days, but the current generation was distancing themselves from the heroic exploits of yesteryear. He still felt it his duty to remind the next generation that Cashton had produced real heroes, and that hero’s blood still pulsed through their veins.

         Jeremy was prepared for a bit of whimsy with Brody, but he’d planned ahead for the meeting, which was to take place at the Farmer’s Cemetery in Scottish Valley, a few miles from the Pub. A full moon out on that cloudless night, so visibility was not a problem, although some fog was beginning to form near the far woods surrounding the graveyard.

         Standing under the archway of the cemetery, he noted the Scottish influence on this small part of America, and read Tuathanach Cladh inscribed across it; Farmer’s Cemetery. Two generations of Scottish immigrants had already been buried there, now including the remains of four of the five who’d left America to fight in The Great War.

         Billy Coumer had been gassed, wounded and returned to England to recover in late 1917, falling in love with a British nurse. He’d survived the war, settling in Ilfracombe, a small fishing village in Devon, England, remaining to raise three children. His wife passed away from polio in 1938.

         Remaining to enjoy his grandchildren in Devon, he finally passed himself in 1940. He’d returned twice to Cashton in the United States, both trips bittersweet; once to bury his father, the other his mother. The hours spent in the Pub during these visits provided much needed variety for the residents, and he’d spent countless hours telling them of his adventures in Europe before returning to Ilfracombe.

         Alas, those times were long gone, and memories faded until the humdrum of everyday life in the rural endeavors of this rustic enclave took over lives, imaginations and energy. Brody finally received notice of the passing of Billy, reminding him of a long forgotten bit of Scottish bravado he’d left with the Bar when he returned to England the last time.

         Jeremy spotted him approaching the entrance, lantern at the ready, and a package under his free arm. Once they’d met up it became obvious that Brody had prepared himself well for the vigil; a brown paper bag with a bottle of scotch safely hidden inside, and his own kerosene lantern.

         Just before nightfall, Jeremy buckled down to finding out the reason they’d stationed themselves at the entrance to a remote cemetery, on a moonlit night, with a truckload of booze. The moon was now nearly at full zenith, and Brody pulled a scrap of paper out of his jacket pocket, removing the bottle of scotch, and taking a respectable pull on it.

         Handing the paper to Jeremy, he urged him to read it in the light of the lanterns. As Jeremy read the old script, Brody had begun walking into the cemetery, holding his lantern high in front of him, glancing left and right. What he expected to see was anyone’s guess, but he was looking for something.

         Jeremy recognized the paper as one that had remained pinned to the Pub wall for nearly twenty years, left there by Billy Coumer when he returned to England the last time. The words on it were fairly familiar, although he hadn’t read them in years.

To friends and kin of Cashton,
Although I now live far away, my heart remains with all of you.
Mind that each night of the full moon I’ll raise a pint and toast to your continued good health and good fortune.
Pray remember me as well.
A last gift to you, on the first full moon after I have breathed my last, I’ll return once more to pipe our heroes home.

Billy C.

         He couldn’t believe the old man had brought him out to the cemetery based solely on the silly note of a probably well lubricated Billy Coumer; but he could believe that he wanted some companionship over a few drinks on a lonely night.

         It could give him some additional tales to record for posterity; after all Brody was well into his seventies by now, perhaps his eighties. It was hard to tell how much longer the old man would be around.

         And, he noted for the first time that evening, it actually was the first full moon since Billy had passed away.

         For the moment he’d lost sight of Brody, but a glow deeper into the graveyard captured his attention. Moving towards it, he noticed the old man standing before a headstone, and it seemed to be casting a soft glow about the ground. A broader sweep around the cemetery revealed three other areas that cast a similar glow.

         As goose bumps crept up Jeremy’s neck, a thought began to take form. All this talk about a returning piper and local heroes had messed with his mind, and he shook his head to clear it. He pulled out a pint and uncapped it, bringing it to his lips as he watched Brody take another pull off his bottle. The fog had thickened, and Jeremy thought he could hear something pattering in the distance.

         Standing there, it seemed the pattering was getting closer as the fog rolled in. It took a few moments for the pattering to turn into the familiar cadence of drum rolls, recognizable as Scottish drums. Still, Brody stood silent, looking down at the headstone before him.

         Jeremy watched as the fog coalesced into figures, each forming in the four corners of the cemetery; each taking the shape of a Scottish drummer, and slowly marching towards them. Partly in shock, Jeremy dropped his bottle on the ground beside him, and stood transfixed as the drumming continued.

         Brody was the only one who seemed to react neutrally to this invasion, and he finally raised the hand containing his bottle of whiskey, and shouted out, “To you, Billy boy! May you and yours prosper forever!”

         The toast mentioned in the note, Jeremy realized, but also a validation that something was really happening, something that he wasn’t prepared for. As Brody concluded his toast, a very loud wail broke into the air, emanating from the forest before them. Drones, he recognized, howling their introduction to the chanter, followed by the sharp notes of All the Blue Bonnets Over the Border as a singular column of fog took shape before them.

         Broad and imposing, the figure of a bagpiper of impressive size appeared before them, and seemed to stare at Brody as the tune rang out amongst the gravestones. Finally it ended, and the figure stooped to address Brody directly, as the performance ended. “Brody,” it said, and stood to full height. “It’s time now, me lad.” The fog whirled around them both, bathed in the glow from the headstone.

         Jeremy watched as the scene played out before him. It was surreal, because he knew that this had to be a ghost, and although it ignored him, he now knew his presence here was intended. A witness, he thought.

         He watched as the ghost reached out its hand to Brody, pulling him to his feet. Leaving his bottle in the grass, Brody offered no resistance to the specter, but Jeremy heard him stutter, “I, I don’t understand.”

         “I’ve come one last time, Brody, to escort a hero home.” The ghost replied. “A man of honor always keeps his word.”

         Brody’s shaking hand dropped to point at the headstone in front of him.

         Jeremy eyes were finally drawn to the engraving on the stone, and in the eerie glow read,

Josua Hampton
Cpl. USA

         “Your brother’s already home, Brody; now it’s your turn.” The ghostly voice intoned.

         “But I’m not a hero, Billy” Brody whispered.

         “Aye, but ye are, Brody. Ye’ve kept the spirits of our roots in the minds of our chil’n, mon. How else would our memories be passed on? Ye be MY hero.” Then shouldering his pipes once again he said, “It’s time to move on, Brody. They’re all waitin’ for ye.”

         Jeremy stood, transfixed in place, as the drones groaned out, and the chanter began playing Going Home, accompanied by the drummers. Billy began to fade, along with his music, and the drummers drifted back into the woods. Brody began to fade as well as he strode towards the sounds of pipes and drums slipping off into the distance. Soon Jeremy realized that he was alone, with no evidence that anything had happened in the graveyard.

         No glowing headstones; no whiskey bottle; no lantern. Nothing but what he’d brought to the cemetery himself. Nothing to indicate that Brody ever stepped foot here with him that night. Jeremy knew what he’d seen; what he’d heard, but how was he to relate this story to Cashton in any way that wouldn’t make him look like a lunatic? It was best to go home and sleep it off.

         The next morning at the office he received word that Brody had been found dead in his small apartment by his landlord, and the Pub had already organized a wake for their favorite customer.

         This was a story that had to be told, but Jeremy sat at his typewriter that day, not daring to attend the wake. A sheet of paper was wound into the bale of his typewriter, but his fingers refused to move. How in the world could he tell this story? It had to be told, but Brody was gone now.

         He was the only one left who had witnessed this last testament to heroism, and the last one left to tell the stories.

         But that’s what this was all about, wasn’t it; a new storyteller?

H – *Anchor* (1,979 Words)

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