Author's Notes: This was written in response to KT's challenge to write a new story using an old Magnificent Seven episode title.
The members of Team Seven sprawled comfortably around their favorite table in the Saloon. They were toasting two of their number who were fortunate enough to be combining business with pleasure. The business involved a conference in Baltimore, Maryland. The pleasure involved the extra days that Buck and JD were granting themselves to tour the nearby Gettysburg National Military Park.
JD was the more enthusiastic of the two. It had been his idea to travel to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, once he discovered that it was only some fifty miles northwest of Baltimore. "I've been reading up on Gettysburg ever since we decided to go there. The famous Battle of Gettysburg was fought in the first three days of July in 1863. Historians consider it to be the major turning point in the Civil War. In order to make sure that the history of the place doesn't get lost, they're spending $95 million dollars on a new Museum and Visitor Center."
Ezra bristled at the sum. "I can think of a lot better use for $95 million dollars than to preserve an old field."
"Hey, I'll have you know that no federal construction, operations, or maintenance funding is required for the project. It says so right on the government's website."
Ezra waved a hand as he responded, "And we can always trust in what we read on Internet, especially when it comes to the government."
"Of course not! I'm just saying that in this case I believe what I read."
Buck spoke up, letting JD know that he wasn't the only one who'd been surfing the Internet. "I've been doing a little research of my own. The battle of Gettysburg was the bloodiest single battle of the war between the states. Some 51,000 soldiers were killed, wounded, captured, or missing. It's important to remember that those men were fighting to decide the future of the U.S. of A."
Josiah entered the conversation. "I don't think that anyone sitting at this table would disagree with the need to preserve the memories for generations to come. Ezra's right when he says that Gettysburg is basically a big field. However, it's important to look beyond that. If you really want to get the most out of your visit, you need to take a guided tour. I've been there, and the ranger who led our group made the history come alive so that I could almost see the field run red with blood and smell the odor of gunpowder and death. That was at least ten years ago, and I remember it to this day."
JD questioned Josiah further. "While you were there, did you experience anything that you couldn't really explain? Like maybe a profound sense of sadness?"
Josiah shrugged. "I suppose I might have."
JD rapped his hand against the table. "I knew it! Gettysburg is a well known hot spot for ghost sightings and poltergeist activity. There's an area at Spangler's Spring where more than a few visitors have been overcome with sadness, some to the point where they break down sobbing uncontrollably. As soon as they leave the area, the feelings go away."
Rather than either deny or admit to any otherworldly experiences, Josiah talked around the subject. "With the violent history of brother against brother, it would not be surprising to find out that there are a lot of restless spirits wandering around Gettysburg."
JD accepted Josiah's nonanswer. He turned his attention to his teammate. "Hey, Vin, you've been to Gettysburg. What about you?"
Vin deflected the inquiry by repeating it. "What about me?"
"Well, do you believe in ghosts?"
"I believe in what I can see. From what I've seen of Gettysburg, I don't ever want to go back."
Buck was intrigued by Vin's statement. "Was it that boring?"
Vin paused to consider his response. He drew patterns in the condensation on his beer bottle, not sure if he wanted to share his experience. He had been profoundly moved by his visit. No doubt Buck and JD would be similarly affected. He supposed he ought to clue them in as to what they were letting themselves in for. Decision made, Vin wrapped both hands around the cold bottle as he answered. "Not boring. Actually, it was a little too much. I got me one of them audio tapes from the Visitor's Center, so I could see what I want, when I wanted. The fella who talked on the tape, he had a way 'a paintin' a picture with his words. They got these markers set up an' you can follow along where the soldiers were runnin', fightin'. . ." he paused, then continued, "and dyin'." He stared into the depths of his beer, remembering.
His friends remained silent, recognizing what it took for Vin to reveal something so obviously personal. Accepting their silent encouragement, he shared something that he knew would feed into JD's ghost theory. "There's this pile of huge rocks they call the Devil's Den. It started out as a signal station for the Union when the battle started, but by day two of the fightin' the Rebs took it over. Their sharpshooters dug in and killed hundreds of Union soldiers before they got killed themselves. Anyway, I took a look, figuring the angles. It was a great spot, strategy-wise. They had an unobstructed view of Plum Run, the Valley of Death, and the slopes of Little Round Top. I had a camera with me, and figured I'd take me a few pictures. I reached for my camera and. . ." He hesitated, uncertain of how to explain the unexplainable. He looked off into the past, remembering. "I couldn't reach my camera. I couldn't move my arms. It's not like I was paralyzed. It was like someone had grabbed me from behind and was holding down my arms. The feeling only lasted a minute, but it was the longest damn minute of my life. Right about then I decided it was time to leave. I didn't take no pictures."
Vin gave a slight smile as he continued. "JD, you're gonna like this next part. I found out later I'm not the first person who tried to take a picture at Devil's Den and couldn't do it. Local legend has it that the ghost of one 'a them sharpshooters is responsible. Seems like there's this famous photograph of a fallen Confederate sharpshooter sprawled in the boulders of Devil's Den. Thing of it is, the guy who took the picture staged it. He found the Reb's body some thirty feet away and had his assistants haul the body over and reposition it so he could take a fancier picture."
JD's "Wow" summed up the feelings of everyone present.
Of course, that didn't stop Josiah from adding a few words of his own. He quoted, "'There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.' Considering the fact that Shakespeare's Hamlet was visited by a ghost, his words seem appropriate to the situation."
JD smiled at Buck, resuming a conversation they'd had previously. "So, Buck, about that Gettysburg Ghost Tour. . ."
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( Author's Note: If you'd like to see the staged photo Vin referred to, go to www.geocities.com/Athens/Troy/7209/gburg/ddthen.jpg)
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The day of Buck and JD's Gettysburg tour dawned bright and sunny, an inappropriately cheerful setting for the somberness of the occasion. They began their tour at the Visitor's Center. After debating their options, they settled upon a two-hour audio dramatized driving tour. From there, they set off to Cemetery Hill. They had arrived early enough that they were able to meet up with a volunteer Park Ranger for a guided tour. The forty-five minutes passed quickly as she told the story of the cemetery's history. The young woman interspersed her history with personal stories of some of the men interred at the site, bringing the history to life. Buck had begun a gentle flirtation with the tour guide, but grew silent as the history unfolded around them. Nestled within the beautifully landscaped grounds were row upon row of grave markers. One-third of the stones were simply marked "unknown." At the end of the tour, Buck commented, "Somehow, the sun don't seem quite so bright."
He and JD were quiet as Buck drove their rental car to the battlefield. Following the directions of their audio tour guide, they drove and parked where indicated, viewing the bloody battle through the filter of time. The three days of battle played out in their minds as the tour continued to the accompaniment of gunfire and cannon fire and the screaming of men in the heat of battle.
At the end of the tour, Buck commented, "I can see why Vin doesn't want to come back here."
JD nodded. "Yeah. I'm glad we came, but it's not something I'd care to repeat."
The two men visited a number of other tourist sites until their stomachs reminded them that it was time for dinner. JD had done an Internet search of the local cuisine, and shared his results with Buck. "Depending on what you're in the mood for, Gettysburg has one of everything."
Buck opined, "I don't want to go to some chain diner. I'd like a nice sit-down dinner."
JD shuffled through his list then announced, "Aha! I have it. The Farnsworth House Inn. 'Dine by candlelight in our authentically restored dining room. Decor includes photographs by famed Civil War photographer Matthew Brady. Experience a variety of period specialty fare served by period dressed servers.'"
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Both men were pleased with JD's selection. Their waitress was pleasant, efficient, and, as Buck phrased it, "Easy on the eyes." They both ordered the house specialty: game pie - Turkey, pheasant and duck in a casserole blended with mushrooms, bacon lardoons, red currant jelly, long grain & wild rice, topped with a golden egg crust.
Buck belched happily as he finished the remains of his double chocolate dessert. "So, JD, you still want to go on that Ghost Tour?"
JD patted his bulging stomach. "Oh, yeah. Give me a chance to walk off some calories."
They were quite pleased with their tour guide, a man named Mark who was dressed in period attire. Mark had a background as a National Park Service Ranger/Historian. He began his tour: "Over the years since the battle, stories of scores of sightings, stranger than reality, have emerged from the quaint houses and gentle fields in and around the town of Gettysburg. Stories of sightings of these soldiers, moving again in battle lines, across the fields where they once marched . . . and died; tales of visions through a rip in time into the horrible scene of a Civil War hospital; whispers of a look at men long dead held eternally captive by duty. These apparitions - and more - come back to remind us, in one way or another that they are not to be forgotten for what they did here. . ."
Despite the wonderful buildup, there was nary a ghost to be seen. Fortunately, their guide was a talented storyteller. With his words, he created an atmosphere that suggested a ghost might appear at any moment. He told of the Lady in White, who committed suicide over a lost love. He spoke of the soldier, Peter Carlson, who promised his mother that if he couldn't return home victorious he would not return at all. With that promise, he doomed himself to wander the earth long after his demise. Their guide stated that most of the soldiering spirits who haunt the battlefield are anonymous young men who died too soon. Not ready yet to leave this earth, they continue to wander.
Buck was well satisfied with their ghostly tour.
JD could not say the same. "Buck, we didn't even see a hint of any ghostly sounds or lights, let alone an actual ghost."
Buck sighed. "Maybe 'cause there's no such thing as ghosts."
JD raised his hands in exclamation as he spoke. "No such thing as ghosts? Do you think Vin was just making that stuff up?"
"No, Vin told you what happened. He never once mentioned the word 'ghost'."
JD was not ready to give up. "Maybe the ghosts were intimidated by all the people. If it was just you and me . . ."
"Let me guess. You want us to do our own private Ghost Walk."
JD tapped his right fist against his left palm, a smile brightening his face as he agreed. "Yes!"
Buck was not yet ready to call it a night and he found himself agreeing with his friend. "Then I guess I'd better turn this car around." He headed back to Spangler's Spring, the site in the National Military Park that seemed to have the most reported ghostly visitations.
JD voiced his breathy approval. "Oh, yeah, Spangler's Spring. If we want a chance to see the Lady in White, that's where she'll be."
Buck smiled. "Well, you know how I attract the ladies. We should probably just park and I'll offer myself as bait."
JD snorted in derision. "Right."
Buck ignored JD's sarcasm in favor of stroking his own ego. "Glad you agree." Buck rolled down the car's windows as they neared the Spring. He took his foot off of the gas pedal so that they were quietly coasting along. His voice kept to a whisper, he stated, "We better start looking now."
They'd gone less than a mile toward their destination when JD noticed something odd in the distance. He hissed, "What's that?"
Buck stared off in the indicated direction. Keeping his voice low, he stated, "Just the fog rolling in."
JD grabbed Buck's arm, ordering, "Stop the car!"
Buck quickly complied. "Can I ask why?"
"Fog's one of the things reported by eyewitnesses to sightings." JD stepped out of the car and headed toward the gathering mist.
Buck called out. "Wait a minute!"
JD stopped his forward progress. Not taking his eyes off of the fog, he asked, "Why should I?"
Buck joined him a minute later and thrust an object into his hand. "Unless you got cat's eyes, you'll need a flashlight to see in the dark."
JD spared a glance for his friend, a smile of gratitude in place. "Thanks, Buck." He walked slowly along the road, the flashlight less effective with every step taken as the fog continued to roll in.
Buck's longer strides placed him a step or two in front of JD. He stopped abruptly, his outstretched arm forcing JD to do the same. His voice reflecting his awed disbelief, he questioned, "What the hell. . .?"
Both men stared as the fog seemed to solidify in front of them. As they stared, they could make out the form of three men in Confederate uniforms. The man on the left was carrying an injured comrade over his left shoulder, while the man on the right appeared to be helping him. Their appearance became more distinct. Rather than the expected gray Confederate uniforms, these men wore the less common butternut brown. They wore pants and a jacket, and the one on the left sported a slouch hat. The injured man had no hat and a white shirt under his jacket. All wore the expected uniform accouterments. The injured man's head was covered with a large amount of blood. The limpness of his body suggested that he was dead.
Buck hurried forward to help. "Hey!" The men took no notice of him. It was then that Buck realized that he could see through them. The men continued their ghostly journey across the road, oblivious to Buck and JD's presence. As they crossed to the other side, their forms became less distinct, then suddenly disappeared between one step and the next.
JD was the first to break the heavy silence. "Oh. My. God."
Buck echoed the sentiment. "Jesus! Did you just see what I think I saw?"
JD replied, "If you just saw three men in Confederate uniforms walk across the road and disappear then you definitely saw what I saw."
Buck began to head back toward their car, keeping a wary eye on the spot where he'd last seen the men. "I think we'd better get out of here."
JD hurried past him. "I think you're right."
When Buck returned to the car he turned on the interior lights as well as the exterior lights and quickly put the car in drive. JD had rolled up the windows and locked the doors while Buck was doing so.
JD was dismayed to notice that his hands were shaking. "Damn!" He needed to keep talking, the sound of his voice adding a touch of normalcy to the temporary insanity of their situation. He asked, "Did you notice? All the while those men were walking, they never made a sound."
Buck nodded. "I know. If you had any doubts that what we saw just wasn't natural, that there's a good bit of evidence. Not to mention the fact that they never looked our way, not even once. It's as if we weren't there."
JD added, "Or they weren't."
Buck agreed. "They weren't." He turned on the radio, scanning through the stations until he found an all night talk radio station. He took comfort in the soothing tones of the announcer's voice as the man reported the day's sports scores.
JD spoke up during a commercial break. "You know the guys are never gonna believe us."
Buck agreed. "Yep. That's why we're not gonna tell 'em."
JD stared at his friend. "So, those men . . . You figure they're long dead and buried?"
"Yep. Probably in that cemetery we visited this morning. If I had to guess, I'd say none of 'em ever made it out of that field."
JD leaned his right arm against the window, using his right hand to prop up his weary head. He shared his thoughts. "You know, when you were telling me those statistics about how 51,000 soldiers were killed, wounded, or captured in a three day battle, they were pretty much just numbers. But walking that battlefield today and seeing the ghosts of those three men. . . That made it all very real to me."
"I know what you mean, kid. When you see the human face to war, and think on how it could be you or someone you know on that battlefield, it's a whole different story. One that I might tell my kids, someday. But for now? I think that tonight was something meant only for you and me."
JD nodded, shivering a little as he recalled the dark hair and youthful face of the injured soldier and reflected upon how easily he could picture himself as that fatally injured young man. And if the man carrying the wounded soldier bore more than a passing resemblance to Buck, and his companion to Chris, neither man in the car dared to breathe a word of it.