Young adult, paranormal/historical
The place wasn’t very large, as cemeteries go. Maybe a couple of hundred feet long and a hundred wide with some really large oak trees inside. In the increasing darkness, small white tombstones seemed to march off through the surrounding grass in perfect order.
“So, the pyramids are actually in there?” I asked as we got closer. Guess I still couldn’t accept the idea our destination was a cemetery. Up until then, I thought ghost stories in movies about such places were just silly inventions by screen writers.
“Look carefully.” Carla pointed at an angle across the cemetery.
“No way,” I whispered when I finally spied them. Near some of the taller monuments at the far end of the enclosure sat three grey, triangular shapes side-by-side. To me, they looked like they had thrust themselves up out of the ground somehow. God, it was startling to see those things truly existed, but they were a little disappointing. “They’re kind of tiny.”
“Not when you get near them,” Carla replied. “Besides, what were you expecting? Huge buildings the size of the Giza pyramids in Egypt?”
“I’m not sure what I expected, except the ones I saw right after my accident were a lot larger.
“What does it matter? Your vision or whatever you want to call it, led you right here. That’s what’s important.”
I couldn’t argue with her. She had it right.
“St. Augustine National Cemetery,” a sign said to our right on a closed metal gate. Instead of stopping, Carla led me a little farther until we stood in front of a large historical marker pointing out towards the sidewalk alongside the street.
“Lobo told me to have you check this out before we go inside.”
Now normally I don’t read historical markers. This time was different though. I really wanted to see what the one in front of me had to say. Turned out, it had a short, but interesting story to tell. Here is the exact wording:
Major Dade and his
On December 28, 1835, during the Second Seminole War,
a column of 108 U.S. Army soldiers dispatched from
Fort Brooke (Tampa) to relieve the detachment at
Fort King (Ocala) was surprised by a strong force
of Seminole Indians near Bushnell in Sumter County.
Except for three soldiers and an interpreter, the entire column
of 108 men, led by Major Francis Langhorne Dade,
perished in Battle that day.
On August 15, 1842, Dade and his command,
as well as other casualties of the war,
were re-interred here under three coquina stone pyramids
in a ceremony marking the end of the conflict.
Among those buried with Dade are
Captain George W. Gardiner, U.S. Military Academy
(U.S.M.A.) 1814, first Commandant of Cadets at
West Point, and Major David Moniac, U.S.M.A., 1822,
a Creek Indian and first Native-American graduate
of the Military Academy.
“Wow!”I said when I finished reading. “So the pyramids are tombstones for a mass grave.”
“Yup,” Carla agreed. “And the date of the battle, as you read, was December 28—one more twenty-eight for your list.”
“I noticed.” I noticed all right, but I had tried to ignore it without much success.
“That number does tend to follow you around. Lobo sure thinks it has some significance. Wonder what it is?”
“Yeah, you and me both.”
“Uh, you do realize tomorrow is the 28th of December don’t you?” she asked.
“It is?” I had to think for a few seconds, and as I did, the oddest feeling slithered through my gut. “Oh crap… you’re right. You don’t think—?”
“That something is going to happen tomorrow?”
I swear, just then the girl sounded like Lobo—as if she had read my exact thought. No matter what, she had to be at least thinking the same thing. Instead of replying to her, I shrugged. Unfortunately, Lobo’s warning about the next day being too late fit what we were saying much too nicely.
“Maybe,” she said, answering her own question, “but don’t get too wrapped up in possibilities yet. We simply don’t know enough.”
“OK,” I replied, “but it could be, right? I mean you brought up tomorrow yourself and so did Lobo.” Again, that odd sensation shot through my gut.
“True, but don’t drive yourself crazy thinking that’s the only possibility. Besides, I have another little wrinkle in all this to tell you.”
“Wrinkle?” I asked, not sure I could stand any more wrinkles in my day than I had already experienced.
“Take it easy. It’s nothing upsetting. Remember that line on the marker about an interpreter escaping the battle?”
“Yeah. What about it?” My words came out with a little more intensity than I had intended. “Sorry, guess I’m a little stressed.”
“Don’t worry about it. Understandable. I’ll quick finish my story and we’ll go see the pyramids.
“That interpreter, the one mentioned on the marker? His name was Luis Pacheco, a slave rented out to Major Dade for $25 a month by a Spanish lady who owned him. Luis was very intelligent and spoke three languages other than English—Spanish, French, and Seminole. Dade used the man as an interpreter and even a scout against the Seminoles. Luis didn’t necessarily want to do those things for Dade, but he had no choice.”
“OK, but why do I need to know this right now?” I really didn’t see the point of listening to another one of her history lectures when we needed to get back to Lobo’s before dark.
“I’m telling you this because I’m related to him, Luis Pacheco, not Major Dade.” She said those words about her long gone relative so casually. OK, the girl is brainy and loves history. That’s one thing. But for her to have someone from her family who had lived through an important historical event was really startling—especially one involved with the same pyramids we were visiting.
“You, uh, never told me that before.”
“Um, with your lack of interest in history, I thought what happened to a member of my family in the past would be boring for you.”
“No, I am interested, really. Go ahead and finish what you were going to tell me about this Pacheco guy.”
“OK, short and simple. Luis was captured by the Seminoles during the battle you read about, one of the few people to actually survive it. They didn’t kill him because he spoke their language, and they understood that as a slave, he had to carry out whatever orders the white soldiers gave him.”
By the time Carla finished talking, it fully registered on my brain that somebody had owned this Luis Pacheco guy. And rented him out like you would a piece of equipment! To the United States army! An actual relative of Carla’s? Good God! Of course, I had read about slavery and heard about it in history classes, but that was the first time it had any real meaning for me. “I can’t get over your ancestor being owned and rented out.” That’s all I could think of to say. I knew there had to be a way of saying that, but that’s all I came up with.
“Tell me about it.” The look on her face showed an intense mixture of sadness, disgust, and even anger.
Listening to Carla brought to mind a talk I once had with her grandmother. We were munching cookies in Carla’s kitchen while I waited for her to come home from school. When the conversation shifted to race relations in St. Augustine’s past, Grandma pointed out the window across Matanzas Bay. “Right out there on Vilano Beach one night back in 1964,” she said, “the Ku Klux Klan burned a huge cross as a warning to the African American community. I remember that night so clearly. You could see those flames over much of St. Augustine and nearby areas. Scared black folks around here silly. It scared a lot of whites as well, if you want to know the truth. That was back in the days of Jim Crow and the civil rights movement—dangerous times when you never knew who the Klan might come after.”
When Grandma said what she did, I looked where she had pointed and imagined I could see a giant fiery cross lighting up the city and Matanzas Bay across from the Castillo with its hatred.
“Earth to Jeff,” Carla said, snapping me away from my memory about her grandmother.
Picking up the conversation again, I said, “That’s quite a coincidence, isn’t it? I mean how I saw pyramids during my accident, and the fact that your ancestor is related to their history.”
“No kidding, but don’t ever say that to Lobo. He constantly lectures me about there being no such thing as a coincidence.” Not giving me a chance to ask her what Lobo meant by that, Carla put her bike down in front of the closed cemetery gate. In no time, she had reached down through the bars, unlatched one side of the gate somehow, and shoved it partway open. Once we both pushed our bikes inside, she said, “We’ll leave it this way since we won’t be here long.”
“You do have a talent for getting things done,” I replied, admiring her knowledge of St. Augustine and her ability to make things happen.
“Watch and learn, Golden Boy.” She said this not with a smile, but a tight little grimace instead. Carla sometimes tends to try and cover up worry with efficiency, and a not very convincing expression of cool detachment. This was one of those times.
“Yes ma’am. You’re the boss. Well, on this trip anyway.”
In reply, she just snorted.
Without talking for a little while, we walked our bikes up the wide driveway and turned left down a central sidewalk leading to the pyramids. A row of low bushes to the left and right of the walkway separated us from the rows of tombstones. On the ground between two of those bushes, a huge floodlight pointed up at large American flag barely fluttering on its pole behind us, high up in the gloom of decreasing daylight. The light breeze making the flag move brought the strong scent of freshly cut grass to us. Houses surrounded the cemetery on three sides, and I wondered what it must be like to come out of your door everyday and see gravestones.
Ahead of us about 100 feet, the sidewalk ended at a very tall monument, and behind it stood the pyramids—my pyramids, the ones I saw come out of a storm as I floated above St. Augustine. All three faced us, close together and mainly showing one flat side.
For whatever reason, seeing those things right in front of me caused my thoughts to flash back to that dark, cold fog at Lobo’s place once more. For an instant, I again held onto a ripped up tree like it was a life raft or something. I mean I could feel the moisture of my face and those weird, sticky, pine sap covered holes rubbing across my fingertips. What I could feel most of all though, was the terror of being stuck there in such a weird, unknown place without anybody else around. Not what I needed to have happen right about then.
“Sorry, what was that?” Carla had said something I didn’t catch because of my wandering mind. “My brain keeps shifting out of gear.”
“Are you OK?” she asked with an intense stare through crinkled eyes as if she might be able to see how I felt no matter how I responded. Behind Carla, on the other side of the cemetery wall, a silver colored pickup truck roared past us heading towards downtown, country music blaring from an open window.
“A lot of stuff keeps running through my head, that’s all,” I replied as honestly as I could. “It’s hard to not let it drive me crazy.”
That seemed to satisfy her, to some degree anyway, but the worried look on her face didn’t go away. “Hang in there,” she said, reaching over and squeezing my arm. Seconds later, we arrived at the tall monument in front of the pyramids where Carla proceeded to tell me how it honored all the soldiers who died in the Second Seminole War.
Interesting as that was, to her, I only had eyes for what sat behind the monument. Maybe eight feet across and five feet high, the pyramids definitely looked a lot larger than when I first saw them. In the diminishing light, it took me a few seconds to realize that the construction of each of those objects consisted of shaped pieces of coquina, held together with mortar.
Part of me couldn’t wait to get closer, but another, smaller part wanted to hold back. After my recent experiences with Lobo’s hot bayonet and coin, all from the same general period of history as the pyramids, I didn’t know if something else weird might happen. On top of that, the memory of flying above myself on the way to the cemetery still had me spooked. In the end though, curiosity won over. Carla and I left our bikes at the war monument and walked across the grass to the central pyramid. Nothing out of the ordinary occurred when we got there, so I relaxed a little and read the first few lines of the small historical maker in front of us:
These three pyramids cover vaults
containing individually unidentified remains
of 1468 soldiers of the Florida Indian Wars,
1,468 soldiers, I said to myself with a shiver. So much death.
“As the marker says,” Carla explained, “these pyramids weren’t made only for Dade’s men. After the Second Seminole War ended, the military collected the bones of soldiers who died during that entire seven-year conflict from all over the state and brought them here. Back in 1842 they had a huge ceremony with muskets firing and bugles blowing. I think it lasted an entire day.”
“Wait a minute.” With her eyes wide, she pointed at the pyramid. “The spirit Lobo says is hanging around you. I’m wondering if it could be from one of these soldiers.”
Again, I felt that odd slithering sensation in my gut, but this time it even crept up into my chest. I didn’t comment on what Carla had said one way or the other. I didn’t need to reply because she kept on talking. Besides, I didn’t want to think about what she said.
“It all fits together somehow—the pyramids, tomorrow’s date as the Dade battle’s anniversary, the bayonet, the coin, and even the connection to Luis Pacheco.”
“Now look who’s getting locked into possibilities,” I replied. Instead of trying to figure it all out, I reached down and touched the rough surface of a coquina block with my fingertips. A slight tingling prickled up through that hand and I quickly pulled it away.
“What?” Carla asked, as I straightened, rubbing my fingers and staring at the pyramid.
It’s cold out here, I told myself, ignoring Carla’s question at first. The coquina was just cold, dummy. That’s all you felt. God, you are really letting your fears take over. Wimp! “It’s nothing,” I said to her, finally deciding to overcome what had to be my imagination. To prove to myself there was nothing to be afraid of, I bent over again, and put my whole hand flat against a different piece of coquina.
As soon as I did that, a painful rippling, like a strong electric current, surged up through my arm and throughout my body. At the same time, my vision erupted in a blinding flash of white.
For a brief description of The St. Augustine Trilogy, click here.
For Sliding Beneath the Surface on Amazon.com, click here
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© 2011 by Doug Dillon. All rights reserved.