A new episode of The Retribution Serial appears below after The Ghost of the King of Prussia Mine.
The Ghost of the King of Prussia Mine
by Bryan Grafton
“Yep, there used to be a coal mine back there on my property. You boys have seen the filled in shaft holes in the ground and slag piles when you’ve been mushrooming back there. There also use to be a road back to it from where you cross the Coal Creek bridge. It went about a mile back to the mine. ‘Course the road isn’t there any more either just like the mine. Only the name The King of Prussia Mine remains.”
Two ten year old neighbor boys sat there enthralled, dying to hear about the ghost of The King of Prussia Mine as they impatiently waited for Mr. Bailey to continue. The Bailey family had been one of the first settlers in Rural Township, Rock Island County and Mr. Bailey knew all the local lore and owned the land where the mine was located.
“It was called the King of Prussia Mine—Prussia is part of Germany today—because the king of Prussia bought all of section one Rural Township way back in the 1860’s and started mining coal shortly thereafter.”
“Well, the story goes that one day one of his descendants, who then owned the land, came over from the old country to check out his holdings. Baron Von Lehrer was his name. This was back in ’15 and WWI was going on over in Europe and there was strong anti-German sentiment something fierce in this country at that time.”
“There was this miner, a Belgian named Camiel Dhooge, who had relatives over in Belgium. The Germans had committed atrocities there when they invaded Belgium you know.”
“So the Baron goes to view the mine wearing his fancy Prussian military uniform and one of those German helmets with a spike on top. Camiel gets him off by himself and they get into an argument and fight breaks out. Next thing you know is that the German is dead, a hole in his head. Camiel had driven his pick axe right through that hard helmet and into his brain. Claimed it was self defense as the Baron was trying to butt him in the belly with his helmet. His attorney got the jury packed with Belgians from Moline and East Moline and got him off. But the Baron’s ghost came back looking for revenge right after the trial.”
“My father bought the land then from the Baron’s estate. He closed the mine, used the mining grounds as pasture land for his stock cow herd and farmed the rest of the section.”
One of the ten year old boys then excitedly interrupted Mr.Bailey. “Is that when the ghost of the Baron tried to kill you and your friend?”
“Yep. We were about your age back then.”
“What happened?” came the prompt that Mr. Bailey was waiting for.
“Well, one day my best friend, Bill Schroeder, dared me to go looking for the Baron at night with him to see if all those rumors we had heard were true or not. Bill claimed that the ghost wouldn’t harm him, a fellow German, and me because I wasn’t a Belgian. So we go to walking around back there one night and Bill keeps hollering out in German, ‘Woher sind sie?’ His father had taught him a little German. That means, where are you in German. Well sure enough we hear some noise off in the dark crashing through the brush and coming toward us. To the day he died Bill swore that he heard the ghost answer, ‘Ich bin hier Wilhelm.’ That means I am here Bill.”
“I heard a lot of noise, snorting sounds, and some stomping but I didn’t hear any German words. The sounds got closer and it sounded like something big. Well we panicked and took off running and screaming and ran right into one of those big old deep holes. We fell about six feet to the bottom; then the bottom gave way and we fell some more. We thought we were sliding down an old coal mine shaft right into the bowels of Hell itself, but we only dropped about another four or five feet.”
“After we brushed the debris off, we peered up. There ten feet above, against the moonless, starless, pitch black night was the Baron’s ghost bobbing up and down. We both had an ‘accident’ if you know what I mean. We took to praying and our prayers must have been answered because it finally went away. Yet we were trapped as the sides were too steep for us to crawl out.”
“Well after a couple of hours we heard some barking dogs getting closer. Bill believed that the Baron was sicking the hounds of Hell on us. Probably big fanged humongous German shepherds, he ventured. Pretty soon they were right above us, barking and howling their lungs out. I recognized them from their howling. So I hollered at them, Baron, Dhooge stop it! My father had a sick sense of humor when he it came to naming his dogs. We were saved. Hallelujah! My father had scent the dogs out to find us.
Next, flash lights blinded our eyes as our fathers cussed us out, then pulled us out, drug us home, and tanned our hides but good that night. I guess in a sense Herr Baron Von Lehrer had his revenge and taught us a lesson that we richly deserved.”
“Is that really a true story?” questioned the other boy in disbelief.
“Well it’s truly a story that’s for sure,” answered Mr. Bailey, hoping to keep the legend alive and thinking that there’s no sense in telling the boy that the ghost they saw that night was really the white face of his father’s Hereford bull against the pitch black sky. It wouldn’t truly be a story then would it. It would be fact.
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Author’s recent stories have appeared in Romance Magazine, The Fable Online, Frontier Tales, The Zodiac Review and The Fear of Monkeys.
A Serial in Eight Parts
retribution: deserved punishment for evil done.
Links to previous episodes 1 2
Retribution Episode 3
Eight o’clock the next morning found us parking at the foot of the trail that led up the west end of the mountain. Donning our small backpacks and canteens, we started up the trail, Levi as usual in the lead setting a fast clip, skipping lightly over the rocks in the rough parts. An hour later, we were four miles and a thousand feet up the mountain. We stopped on a smooth rock for a small break and a drink of water. Sitting on the rock, we looked up at the slope on the other side of the small stream bed, quietly enjoying the solitude. We had never talked much when we were in the mountains and had always been comfortable with the long silences.
“Did you ever climb up there?” asked Levi, indicating the top of the ridge opposite our position. A steep walled canyon to our right separated the top of that ridge from the main part of the mountain. I knew the other side of the ridge was a five hundred foot sheer cliff face, it being visible from the highway that went around the north side of the mountain.
“Always meant to but just never got around to it.” There was a short silence. “Why not.”
“Start the ball, Tector,” he returned as we spoke lines from one of our favorite movies, something we often did while in college.
With that, we picked our way through the brush to the other side of the stream bed and started up the steep slope. Climbing without benefit of trails was always our favorite.
The slope was steep, but the climbing was easy, with no great obstacles. Two hours later we were sitting, panting, on the small flat top, three thousand feet higher than where we had parked our car. We sat looking north across the desert.
The silence was still easy between us. It was like the old days in college. We shared a canteen and some trail mix which I had made up the night before at the local market. There were white clouds scattered in the sky to the north and the light breeze felt good as we sat in the sun leaning against a large boulder.
“Did you know my mom died last year?” he asked after a while.
“God, I’m sorry, Levi. I hadn’t heard.”
“She had a heart attack. Just keeled over one day in the market… A good way to go I guess.”
There was more silence as we both remembered the nice lady who had often fixed us a meal when we showed up late at night, hungry and broke. I had often stopped in to say hi when I was in town, but I came home so seldom lately. Actually, I was almost completely out of touch with the town where I grew up. I didn’t correspond with anyone and, even when I did come back for a visit, spent most of my time out in the desert and mountains.
“Allens came back to town a couple months ago,” he said.
To be continued