This story is read aloud at: https://youtu.be/pN6qC-b3e9Q

Synopsis: A cryptic man tells a story to an unsuspecting group of gentlemen a few days after the Grand Railroad Celebration.

Historical relevance

“And that is how I met my wife twenty years ago,” concluded Jim to five other men in the room. They’d improvised a club where middle-aged men could get away from their wives for one evening a week. They discussed politics, the new railroad, the economy, and on this night—stories of their past. It was dark outside, but in the window a lantern and sign invited gentlemen to the meeting.

Lester was about to take a turn at a story when a knock on the door interrupted the gathering. A thin man humbly walked in. After brief introductions, Lester began his story as the men listened.  But it didn’t take long for the members to wonder about their newest recruit.

It was very noticeable that this new member was highly uncomfortable. He crossed one leg and then the other—over and over again. Lester and the other men finished their soliloquies, while he sat in the darkest corner of the room. Even though he’d been offered whiskey and a cigar, the ruddy man had declined. Perhaps he is merely shy, they thought.

When all the men had summed up their stories and events of the week, they looked to the stranger to see if he had anything to say. With trepidation he began a story.

“I fought in the Civil War and did something that has given me grief ever since,” he said. “I fought against the Yankees in the Battle of Chickamauga in Tennessee. During the rage, I came upon a Union man already down, with his pocket watch in his hand. His eyes were open, but he appeared dead to me. I took the watch and chain, as I did not have a timepiece of my own. I didn’t think anything of it. But later, when the war was over, I’d have memories of him staring at me while I was taking his watch. I should have closed his eyes prior to the theft.”

“His image came and went for a few years and then as suddenly as the visions had come—they stopped.”

“But as the twenty-fifth anniversary of that battle was arising this month, I began to see him in my dreams. I assured myself that I could ignore him and certainly time would heal this abrasion in my life—as it had before. But the apparitions began to show up in the day, too, as a shadow on the wall.  Oh—that deathly face.”

“I was unable to eat, for fear ransacked me. I became paranoid about when or where I would see his shadow next. Then, as you know, several days ago the city had the Grand Celebration for the newly completed railroad. During the parade I saw his total self in the crowd, and he stared at me. I had hoped I was mistaken, but there was no doubt about it when I saw him again at the barbecue at Miles Grove. He constantly glared at me. I did not want to miss the speech that afternoon, but I thought that maybe I should go back to my room and lay safely in my bed—I was so shaken by his relentless haunting.”

“The evening of the ball at the courthouse, I decided that within the crowd of four thousand I could remain anonymous to this ghost.

I’ve been seeing a woman who desired that I dance with her at the party. I could not let her down. If I confessed my reasons, she would surely have laughed in my face.”

“So she and I were in the courthouse dancing when I noticed him in the room, observing me intently. I began to recollect that with each of my sightings of him, he was appearing closer and closer to me, daring me to run wildly in fear with each subsequent glimpse.

At the dance we were only a few feet away from each other, and it was then that I noticed him looking at my—his—watch attached to my vest. That is when I knew he had lived and was hunting me down with revenge.”

“I gave my apologies to my lady and planned to discharge from the nearest doorway. But he was there. When I went to the other three exits of the courthouse, he was at each. It was as if he had duplicated himself three times. How can I escape? I thought.”

“I went up the stairs to hide in the courtroom. The doors were locked. I planned to proceed to the clock tower where surely his ghost would not follow. But I tripped on the stair landing and laid flat on my back.”

“Though shaken, I was in the process of getting up when he was suddenly by my side, grabbing for my watch. I pushed him away, but he yanked my chain and then punched me in the nose.”

“My next recollection was being in Doctor Smith’s infirmary. I woke up in a bed, while he was saying, ‘You’ve been asleep for three days.’”

“I only, just before coming here, stepped outside of his office and began wandering aimlessly. I am starving and distraught not knowing if I will see the monster again.”

Everyone was on the edge of his seat, sick with worry for the man.

The hairs on the back of everyone’s neck stood straight up when there was a knock at the door.

Not the Union soldier but the deputy walked in.

He made eye contact with the stranger.

“This man escaped from the jail this evening. I figured he might have accepted your sign’s invitation.”

“Back to jail you go, you rascal!” he said.

There was confusion in the room as the deputy handcuffed the man.

Upon leaving, the stranger faced the angry men and laughed.

“I made up that story when Lester was telling his.”

Ha!

“I yanked your chain!”

        

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