The Golden Cavalry (Setting an imaginary town north of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, US; the year is 1924 A.D., but the narrator is looking back at a day in july/august of 1918 A.D.)
All my life I, like so many others, have heard pastors and holy men ramble on about how the dead leave their terrestrial bodies for the Kingdom of Heaven. And if it weren't for the strange appearance of the golden cavalry that summer, I may have believed them. Of course, being the womanly age of 16, one would think I've outgrown whimsical ghost stories and juvenile fairytales. Well, I'll tell you reader, were it not for that curious cavalry apparition, my family and I would have been in a most terrible state! But before I get into my little ghost-escapade, I reckon a-body'd need to hear a bit about me, my home, Green Steppe, and my life to that point.
I was born Epiphany of the surname Daniels, and I had lived out much of my childhood in a old, two-bedroom cottage in the nestling woods of South Dakota, just north of Sioux Falls. It's a quaint little town in the middle of nowhere, I'd always thought Pa says in years past it was once a thriving boomtown up an' staked down by coal miners and pioneers. When the mines were abandoned, so was much of the town. My kin were among the pigheaded few who stayed. When the Yellow Jack got Momma, some seven years hence, Pa moved the family store to our oak-wrought house, lettin' him be always near my brother Josh and me. The general store he owned was called Johnny D.'s, and that's my father's name as well. Mr. John Joshua Daniels the third.
When this story, my story, really begins, I was ten. The year was 1918, and it was a despicably dull dog day in the oven month of August. John Joshua Daniels the fourth, my brother Josh, that is, and I were out sittin' on the back porch of our creaking old cottage waiting for Pa to finish up at the shop so we could feed our quaking midriffs.
Most days Josh would be entertaining us both by weaving some nonsensical ghost story about Momma, or of the mad late farmer Mortimer Jacob's, but today, all was still. Even the old north wind lay listless. I took a deep breath and loosed my primly starched collar. I made this note in my to widen it a bit next time Pa could afford the thread. Josh got up an' went in the house, muttering something about selling his shoes to buy an ice cream. I don't exactly recall how I responded but I know the thought disturbed me. Selling his shoes! What foolishness! Poor Pa would have to sell the kitchen sink just to get them back!
I glanced out into the slowly fainting woods and fancied I saw a finger of gold flicker behind the trees. Mind you, it wasn't a real finger, but rather a sliver of golden light, long and thin, quite resemblin' a human finger. For half a moment, I rightly thought it weren't nothing more than a merry jest of the sun. I brought my flattened hand to my forehead and blocked out the sun's glare. Still it danced. I peered harder, and squinted.
Soon the finger began to extend into a larger body. Still, I concluded that the sun was a-play'n with my mind and so I let the thought pass. I blinked, and the moment my eyes were open again I realized that the image of a man had appeared right-smack there in front of my eyes!
He was only opaque to an extent, but his features were clear as day. And there was more- the man was sitting on something… a horse! By goodness! How had so beautiful a honey-colored stallion flashed in from oblivion? I looked up at the man's face. It was squat and round and defined by a stubby mustache and grandfatherly features. He had the presence of an old friend bearing sweets. He smiled at me and winked his eye.
I was too dumbfounded to think, but if I remember correctly, an instinctive, "hello," was all I could manage to utter.
I stared back at the horseman, wide-eyed, and somehow found myself admirin' his golden attire. I had seen an outfit like that only once before… in a museum. Pa'd said it was a Civil War officer's frock, and a high-ranking officer at that. Josh and I had gone an' nicknamed mannequin who wore the frock and metals in the museum The General.
Suddenly, the spectre moved his head t' face the settin' sun. I coulda sworn just then I'd heard a trumpet blast, but as I've said before, I was young an' I don' remember much. Anyway, the golden-hued stallion reared and whinnied and the two set off at a gallop. I cried out for Josh; they were charging my way! As The General drew near, I began to notice more and more horsemen forming behind him! Soon a whole golden cavalry appeared as if by magic and stampeded right at me! Josh came out at my cries.
"Epiphany! Epiphany! What is it?" He called. At the sound of Josh's voice, The General made a sharp right turn around the porch.
"The cavalry Josh! They came just for me! Look! There they go into the woods behind Johnny D.'s! C'mon! We have t' follow the cavalry!" I exclaimed and leapt to my feet. I didn't know why on earth I felt the need to follow that mad apparition, but I did feel the need, and I did follow them.
"Well somebody's a little bent today!" Josh said. I grabbed his arm and dragged him to the woods. In the distance, I could only make out the tiniest hint of gold before it finally vanished all together. The hoof beats were no more.
"Wait General! Wait!" I cried out, panting miserably. Exhausted and despairin', I I plopped down on this broken old log. Unfortunately, it wasn't made for little girls like me to sit on and I fell right through it!
"Epiphany!" Josh exclaimed, "D'you have any idea what you're sittin' in?"
Slightly scared, I looked down. It was a puddle of black. I screamed with frustration, rather than fear. It'd take months to get that goopy black mess out of my petticoat! Josh dropped to his knees and put his finger in the stuff. He held it to his nose. Now it was his turn to scream; his was in exuberance.
"We're rich Piph!" he exclaimed, addressing me by my pet name, "We're rich! We're rich!"
"What in the devil's garden are you sayin' Josh?" I half-asked, half-whined, wiping my blackened hands on my decidedly ruined petticoat.
"It's oil Epiphany! The puddle your sittin' in- it's oil! You right landed in oil! We're rich!"
Oil. I had found oil. I was stunned. I had been looking down deep into the ink-colored money pot when thought I saw something. Yes, reader, it was a flash of translucent gold. I stuck my hand into the black and latched onto the object before it faded away with the cavalry. Gingerly, I pulled it out. It wasn't gold at all, but it wasn't a spectre either. It was something made of fabric, old fabric, and it had something sharp sticking out of it.
"Look Josh," I said, handing the thing to him. Carefully, he scrubbed away as much of the oil as he could.
"My God Piph, it's a hat. Wow. Lord know how old this thing could be! Pa says oil can save just about anythin' till judgment day! Lookie at that! We've seen a hat like that before at the Sioux Falls museum! It's one of those Union Officer hats, I'm sure of it! He must've been mighty important. Go-lly. Do you see that medal on top? Very important like a general or something," he had said, rocking back on his heels, a picture of silent disbelief.
The year's 1924 now; six fine years since I stumbled on that oil well. I can still recall with great fondness my dear brother calling out to the sky, "We're rich Piph! We're rich," and he couldn't've been more right. That very day we went and showed Pa the well and now our little town's bustling with people from all over the country! We bought a fine new house, far better than that little old cottage, and Josh can go and have as many ice creams as his heart desires; without selling his shoes, I might add. I'll never forget The General, mostly 'cause I know deep inside that he's the real reason for my family's new-found wealth. Josh still thinks I'm a loony, but truthfully I think he's just jealous 'cause he never did get to see that golden cavalry that hot summer day way back when. But it doesn't matter what Josh says, because I know that General was real, and while I can't say I've a clue why he came back from wherever it was he'd been the last fifty-years-or-so, I'm so glad he did! Sometimes I wonder if the Good Lord sent him, or maybe Momma. Maybe the General was a real man with a puddle o' oil and nothin' to do with it… but that wouldn't explain the cavalry… Oh well. Alas I never did see my General again, but I'll always remember what he taught me. I reckon good things really do happen to those crazy enough to stick to believe what they see… or perhaps even to see what they believe… but then, what would a small town girl like me know 'bout hogwash like that?