It is amazing how a walk through a particular location can inspire a story. Just a few days ago, I visited Fort Pickens in Florida and was struck by this fortress. Touching the walls, I kept thinking of what must have been felt and experienced here over the years, leading to my mental wheels spinning into overdrive. This story was the result; I hope you enjoy!
The wind howled, pushing through the cracks in the masonry. It was molecular, inching its way between to the center. Sand followed the path, forming stalactites and cracking the mortar, spilling down like medieval spikes seeking a victim.
It was wet; dark. Ripples formed in small pools along the walls as the sandy slurry forced its way through.
The men listened.
Drip, drip, drip
Waves pummeled the beach, the tide bringing the ocean upon their doorstep. Each sound a distraction to the real threat. The candles flickered with each new gust and the ghosts of each battle sung in the cave of man’s destructive nature.
“Still no. It’s black as pitch tonight.”
The man grunted going back into the bowels, mechanical shudders giving license to impending damnation.
Particles of dry sand swirled like dust, following through along with its viscous counterpart, shaking loose from masonry as the ground shook.
The cannons were moved into place.
The man lifted his lantern to inspect the wall, reassuring himself it would hold. Half was darkened with mold, weathered from the beatings of time and conflict, while the other was fresh hues of a reddish concoction that gave the bricks substance.
He traced the line between them; a grey divide where life was spared and others weren’t. Whispers of the past, impressions of finality. The dampness seeped through his gloves and he pulled away as if burned. A sharp chill, like the prick of a thorn, marking him, filling him with dread.
He feared he wouldn’t survive this night.
A bugle sounded, distant yet shrill, carrying on the wind. The icy bite sunk its teeth in deep, having traveled from his finger throughout, cocooning his heart in winter’s frigid embrace.
“They’re coming! Load!”
They were set in motion, becoming part of the industrial mechanism, hoisting the munitions into the cannon and sliding it into place. The ocean battered the walls, desperately trying to get in, uncaring of man’s attempts to keep it at bay. It wouldn’t be denied.
Water, salty and coarse, rubbed across their ankles, chaffing and numbing.
The sound of death. The sand moved as if in a storm, stinging their eyes and thickening the air. The ground shook; a muffled collapse somewhere within.
More men became ghosts.
The man’s hands shook as he awaited his signal to fire.
Chunks of earth flew inward, pelting them through the opening with hardened dune. Fingers brushed him from every direction, phantoms looking for their next companion.
Men in motion around him struggled to right the cannon and tend to wounds, playing their part in a dance of fate they had no say in.
Their mouths moved but all that could be heard was the high pitched ringing of the reapers approach.
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name,” the man mouthed, imploring that his transgressions be forgiven.
A hand, hard as iron, pulled his shoulder, spinning him around.
“Fire,” the man mouthed, panic in his eyes, wild like a cornered hound.
He dropped the flare, igniting the saltpeter in a flash and an eruption like thunder, throwing them all back to the ground.
The air reeked of sulfur and a figure appeared, a featureless silhouette reaching out in the dark. The man recoiled but he couldn’t move, frozen as the hand touched his forehead, revealing for that brief moment, a human skull, mouth agape as if howling in pain, as the fire took them.
I gasped as I pulled back, dropping my hand from the weathered bricks. Silt covered my finger tips but otherwise I was whole.
“What happened to you,” my friend asked, laughing after watching me jump back as if stung.
“I… I don’t know. It was the oddest thing. I can’t explain it.”
“Yeah well, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
My eyes widened.
“Come on, the tour has moved on.”
I watched as she walked away, hearing the echoes of the past around me. Eyes moved in the shadows and fingers brushed across the fine hairs on my neck, as subtly as a breath.
“Maybe I did,” I whispered.
The walls exhaled.