The small tape-recorder was sitting on the kitchen table when the three siblings came down for breakfast. It was a cold, November morning and the leaves, which had long ago turned amber, rust, and gold were now fluttering from their last attempts to hold onto their youth on the branches of the trees. The grounds were equally covered in the autumn hues contained in the trees. It was a clear day but the sunshine gave a false sense of heat. The stove in the kitchen was busy making oatmeal for the children, and the eldest looked curiously at the table.
Their aunt was sitting at the table and said she found the tape recorder on the floor by the cellar door and had put it on the table. She also said it was running when she picked it up. She told the three she turned it off when she put it on the table. The oldest boy, the owner of the tape recorder, hit the rewind button to move the inserted cassette tape back to the beginning of the scroll. Then the oatmeal was finished and the three voraciously emptied their bowls, as though they had not eaten for weeks.
After breakfast the three grabbed the tape recorder and ran to the front porch. They opened the door and immediately closed it. The temperature had dropped twenty five degrees overnight. It was definitely late fall in Illinois! They ran to the coat hangers and pulled off coats, hats, and mittens, put them on quickly and ran outside again, this time more prepared.
As they all sat down on the floor of the porch the middle child mentioned that their elders said the tape recorder was on when they found it. This prompted the holder of the recorder to press the “Play” button. An eerie sound came out of the recorder. It was somewhat metallic, like clinking chains or cables. That went on for a while with odd background noises that the three could not decipher. After about two minutes there was a whisper on the recording that came to the forefront of the noises. The clanking noise was still spooky and dominant, but a garbled whisper, as though someone was under water, was becoming more clear. None of the three children could figure out what the voice was saying, however.
The oldest boy decided to record a message on the cassette. He wiped the tape clean and recorded this message:
“Who are you?” “What do you want?” “Where are you?” These three questions were all he put on the tape, re-winded the tape and then asked if he could put it back where it was before. His mother gave him the OK and before bed he carefully placed it out of the way, but near the cellar door on the floor.
The next morning the three were not disappointed. The tape recorder was found, running, on the floor. They ate their Wheaties quickly and ran to their coats and outside the front door once more. The temperature cooled off even more than the previous night, losing another fifteen degrees. Winter was upon the farm house.
Today the noise that was on the recording yesterday was still there but it seemed more distant. The questions were still on the recording, and they were answered. The answers were “your father”, “I want you to do something” and “Wyoming Cemetery”. The eldest turned off the recorder very quickly. He then told the other two that their dad was buried at Wyoming Cemetery in Paw Paw, Illinois, the town he grew up in, and our grandmother, his mother, still lived in. This message was not deleted when the oldest boy asked more questions. He forwarded the tape to ensure that he was not going to delete the other message and left the tape recorder, again, by the cellar door.
In the morning the tape recorder was playing. There was odd music coming from the cassette. The same metallic clinking noise was replaced by the same metallic sounds playing a tune. It sounded like an old Petula Clark song. What an odd thing to be playing on the recording. Then the middle child, and the only girl remembered that their daddy would stop at a restaurant after work called “Subway Cafe’” and fall asleep because he was so tired. The waitresses would play “Don’t Sleep on the Subway, Darlin’” to tease him. That song was by Petula Clark. The oldest boy rubbed his chin with his index finger and his thumb. He wanted to be a grown-up so he tried to act like he thought they acted.
As the days went forward the recordings became more and more bizarre. The eerily played songs were replaced with bemoaning and wails in several of the recordings. Once in a while some information could be understood. In once such instance the recording addressed the children by name. This did not bode well for good night sleep and they were found many nights talking well into the night, speculating about the visits from beyond.
After a week of eerie recordings the tape was empty. Everything was erased off the tape as though it was a new tape. The children left for school, the recorder sitting on the tabletop. Today was Wednesday, the last day of school before Thanksgiving holiday. They were barely able to make it through the three and a half hours of school. They met up at the soda fountain on the way home and ordered hot chocolate. Two with marshmallows and one with a peppermint stick. They warmed their noses, fingers, and ears while they talked about the tape recorder.
The soda-jerk overheard their conversation and chimed in. He asked about the cemetery that the kids walked past every day down the driveway to their house. He thought that they were talking about that one. He heard that sometimes the old folks who were buried there from Civil War times would come out and walk the route to their battalion. He said that sometimes you could hear the platoon leader calling cadence, and hear the footsteps crunching in the brush. The man behind the counter told them that they were especially active in the fall and winter, because that is when the most of them were fighting the south.
With this additional information the three were even more concerned with their recorded visitor. They wondered if they would hear from the disembodied voice any more. Just to be sure that he did not miss anything, the eldest re-played the entire tape. He had the volume turned all the way up in case the sound was too quiet for regular volumes. In the middle of the second side of the tape there was an odd creaking noise. At first they thought a door opened but upon review the noise was coming from the cassette! There was something else, too! There was rhythmic guttural tones on the recording, as though someone were calling people to march! The boy turned off the recorder and they all three stopped breathing for a minute, too afraid to even look at anything else except for the tape recorder.
Then the youngest boy sneezed. That relaxed the other two and they all laughed to relieve the rest of the tension that was filling the room and stifling the kids. They replayed the recording again, listening to hear if there were any crunching footsteps, but there did not seem to be any.
The next day was Thanksgiving so the kids were all busy helping mom prepare dinner for a hungry troop of family that was coming for dinner. The pies had to be mixed, bread needed to be ripped for dressing, the rolls and the turkey and all the fixings had to be done. There was always so much baking in a country-family Thanksgiving! They all ate and tried to forget the recording they heard last. Then someone went to the cellar door to go down and get some homemade canned peaches. There was that creaking noise from the recording! The three kids turned pale when they heard the noise. They knew that it came from their house! They were not safe in their own home! After dinner they resolved to visit the neighboring cemetery to see if they could find graves that coincided with the Civil War.
The kids got up the next morning and packed some leftover turkey sandwiches on rolls and pumpkin pie. They went out the back door and across the yard to the fence that divided the house from the cemetery. It was literally their next door neighbor. The three were armed with pencil and paper, a trick they’d learned from an older family member, to rub the information off grave stones. They hit the jackpot in a quadrant very close to their house. There were about twenty plots that were old and crumbling. This was a good place to look. They found five easy to read plots, the headstones were not in granite, but were etched in high quality marble. One had the picture of a Civil War officer on it, even. They were in luck. The entire group of twenty stones had indications that they were there before 1865. The boys were excited, the girl stood back, apprehensive and sometimes afraid that she was breaking some cardinal rule of cemeteries. She kept telling the boys she had a bad feeling about being there. When the boys laughed at her for being afraid she left them there and went back across the fence. She waited on the porch for them to return, hot cocoa in one hand, and pumpkin pie in the other.
They did return shortly with the names of four of the soldiers that they could read. One said “Platoon Leader” on it. They felt that they were lucky enough to get that name. That evening the kids turned the recorder on once more and asked specifically for the man who’s gravestone said he was a platoon leader. They asked him if he was marching through their house on the way to battle. He asked if they survived and asked if they could stop walking through the house.
Then, as all the other nights, they left the tape recorder in the same place, by the cellar door. This time, however, the boy put soap on the door hinges and made sure they did not creak any more. They went to bed, the girl was unnerved from her experience of standing in the cemetery, and they all fell asleep.
About three o’clock in the morning the door to the girl’s bedroom opened with a noise. It only opened about eight inches, enough for a small person to sneak through. She thought her brothers were playing a trick on her so she shouted out. When she did not hear any response she stopped everything. She stopped moving, stopped breathing, just stopped. Then something came by her side, chilling the room around her. She heard a light tapping on her metal headboard. She was too frightened to open her eyes. She was holding her breath, and praying that the sound would stop. After about ten minutes the headboard shook a little bit. She jumped a little and squeaked out a tearful response. She was scared stiff, literally. Then the room warmed back up and there was no more motion. She was able to fitfully fall back to sleep again.
She reported her experience to her brothers the next morning. They looked at each other with surprise. Apparently she was not the only one with a visitor. The younger brother was covered up by something he could not see and the elder heard someone whisper his name into his ear. The boys said that this happened around three o’clock. Something happened at three o’clock.
They got permission to go to the town’s historical museum and see if they could find out more information. The town was small but was rich with history. An expert on the Civil War was speaking at the library. Every Saturday there was a guest who would come and talk to the kids in town, to enrich their knowledge of history. The trio loved to go and listen to them. They told such interesting stories! They felt very fortunate that this particular Saturday was graced with the expert they needed to talk to. They stayed behind after the rendition of Appomattox, Virginia to ask of the cemetery by their house. They brought their rubbings and the name of the platoon leader with them.
The historian did indeed know of the cemetery and the reputation. As, what he termed to be, a man of science, he was not likely to believe in such things as ghosts and spirits taking nightly walks, but he was good with kids and listened with great interest. His eyebrows raised when they told him the name of the platoon leader. He went to the biography section of the library and pulled out a book of Illinois soldiers that fought during the Civil War. On the fifth page was a picture of the man that was on the tombstone in the cemetery! The little girl felt something move through her and she shuddered. The three males looked at her curiously and then read more about the man.
Apparently the platoon leader sent the troops right into a trap. He did not realize that the confederate troops in Lawrence, Ks were as close as they were and they were lying in wait. The ambush killed all but three of his sixty four men. Those three were later decorated as war heroes for their bravery in the battle. Even though only three men survived, the platoon won the battle, fighting valiantly until each released their last breath. The platoon leader was one of the three survivors. He ultimately suffered so much from survivor’s guilt that he took his own life with his Army revolver. He was still buried in full-uniform, a victim of the heinous battles that took his spirit before he took his own life.
This explained a great deal to the children. Tortured souls are very often Earth-bound. He could not forgive himself for losing the platoon so he was destined, every fall and winter, to re-live the account, hoping for a different result.
That evening the kids all fell asleep quickly. There were no events overnight but the recording in the morning told a new story. There was that rhythmic guttural voice again, and footsteps. No more creaking noises but the eerie music was back. This time it was playing a marching song. The kids could not figure out what it was. Goosebumps were forming on the girl’s arms and the hair on the back of all their necks was standing on end. Then the cadence stopped and the marching and music stopped. After a seven second pause a voice, as clear as right there in the room said “I told you to get up!” The tape recorder got bumped by all three kids, and it went flying down the stairs of the cellar to the concrete floor. No more recordings.
The kids decided to write a note to the platoon leader telling him that his troops could rest in peace because the war was over and the northern states won. They told him that slavery was over and that his men could go with him to the next plane. They left the note on the headstone of the platoon leader with a rock to hold it in place. The next morning they woke up and found it on the kitchen table with two more words on it. “Carry on.”