Alain Lapointe was pacing between exhibits in the little museum when the whitecoat and her friends arrived. The newsreel camera was following him, and he was doing precisely what he needed to do: appearing thoughtful about the things he was seeing. Given the discomfort Alex felt without even having been part of the Hubrin War, it probably wasn’t hard for him. The museum’s bespectacled curator – a young man who evidently lived in a room somewhere inside the building – was following the Prime Minister at a distance, ready to answer questions but also appearing slightly in awe of his guest.
Everyone was silent. The atmosphere was thick. But there was no more haunting.
As soon as she stepped inside, Alex felt a slight weight come off her shoulders. Even as she found herself confronted by enlarged photos of people who had been with her grandfather’s wagon train, she felt no sense of dread – no notion that someone was standing right behind her, ready with a cryptic whisper.
Perhaps that was partly helped by the fact that Stephanie was right alongside her, and was intrigued by the history she was seeing in the photos.
“Everything they salvaged from the original wagon train is in the basement here,” she reported after reading one of the displays. “I would have expected them to be in an archive someplace.”
Alex wasn’t paying close attention to her friend’s words. Documents and recovered equipment were somewhat interesting, but the photos told her more…
One in particular.
Approaching a massively-enlarged print set inside a gilded frame, the whitecoat found herself staring at her ghost. He stood right in the middle of the group photo – the sort of photograph that was common in the 1890s, where everyone posed in the most dignified possible manner. This shot included only the uniformed men from the Barnes column – not their families – and Alex’s ghost was in the middle. Standing to his left was an older, puffy-faced Sergeant, and on his right was a man in a Teutonic uniform, with a neatly-cropped beard.
“The men of Sergeant Edwin Barnes’ outfit,” Stephanie read the caption for her friend’s benefit, then followed the whitecoat’s wide-eyed gaze to the print. “One of them your ghost?”
“In the middle. The guy with my chin,” she replied, reaching out to point at the central figure. Stephanie’s eyebrow climbed and she looked back to the text accompanying the frame.
“He’s either…” she paused, trying to figure out how the names were listed “…Sergeant Kelly… unidentified German soldier… or Sergeant Edwin Barnes. Is he your grandfather?”
Alex had never seen a photograph of her grandfather – Caralynne had never possessed any, and in the years since the wagon train had been turned into a historic site, none of the family had returned to see what archivists had dug up.
But the chin…
“That’s your grandfather.”
Caralynne’s arrival was perfectly-timed, and her words were weighed down by grim remembrance. Stephanie drifted slightly to the side so the elder Lady Smith could take the spot next to her daughter, and together the pair stared at the massive image.
“I never knew there was a photograph taken of the expedition,” Caralynne continued, voice quivering more than Alex or Stephanie had ever heard. “Must have been… he must have wanted to mark it…” Her words tumbled as she frowned, then leaned towards the photo, “That man with my dad. The German. I can’t remember who he is…”
She said it as though she should have remembered – perhaps he was some expert who’d joined the wagon train for a time?
“I was very young,” the elder Lady Smith shook her head after a moment of struggling to free memories of the Count from the depths of her mind. “Whoever he was, I bet he’s the reason they took the photo.”
That was probably fair enough; Alex didn’t really care. Had she managed to correctly imagine her grandfather’s face, or was she just remembering her apparition differently now that she had a tangible anchor for her haunting? Somehow, it didn’t seem to matter. Edwin Barnes and the khaki soldiers of his brave outfit were standing before her, all square-shouldered and thoughtful as they prepared their march into the unknown.
A march that died a few dozen yards from where the whitecoat and her mother now stood. A march that created Caralynne and Alex both – as well as Lady Emily.
As mother put her arm around her daughter, and daughter did the same in return, they both forgot about publicity for a moment, and imagined all that might have happened if Karl Petersen had never found Edwin and Evangeline Barnes.
Copyright © 2015 Kenneth Tam