Taking a haunted stroll down memory lane, Cloud and Miranda connect the dots, narrowing their list of suspects down to two. After being attacked, hated, and criticized for his relentless pursuit of the truth, Cloud’s lost confidence in the legal system. He’s tried it their way. Now, he intends to set a trap. Either way, the Slave Quarter Killer’s gonna get what’s coming to him.
The Slave Quarters
Chapter 16 – Assemble the Pieces
By Rock Kitaro
When I was a kid I used to hate coming to the Augusta Riverwalk. It’s been over a decade since my last visit. Looking at it now, I almost want to slap myself for having taking its beauty for granted. I now possess a greater form of respect, an acknowledgment of its history, its significance. The Augusta Riverwalk is Augusta, Georgia.
The terrain of this scenic park isn’t what you’d expect from most riverwalks. It’s better. A wide red brick promenade lines the edge of the river, winding half a mile from the Museum of History to the back entrance of the convention center. It’s at the base of a forty-foot high earthen levee of stones, grass, and giant oak trees covered in Spanish moss. A steep cement stairway connects the lower level to the upper level of this natural levee, a natural levee that more or less looks like a small hill or a bluff.
Looking down from the upper level gives you a breathtaking sensation of peering over a broad canyon in which the valley is mostly filled with freshwater. South Carolina is on the other side with waterfront townhomes.
It was common to indulge in a brisk Saturday morning jog while the kids exhausted themselves on the playground. Magnificent oaks with their outstretched branches separated the tiers, providing ample shade for all her visitors. Its natural beauty stimulates the imagination. Easy to lose yourself to the idea of a simpler life, one without car problems or taxes or moving up in the corporate world. The rich fragrance of healthy vegetation fills your lungs and suddenly you feel closer to God.
Also constructed on the upper level is a famous science museum called Fort Discovery. It was mostly catered to elementary students, children, and families looking for wholesome entertainment. The massive cream-colored building took up one fifth of the riverwalk. Many of its attractions, such as a helicopter, a human gyroscope, and a moonwalk replica, were parked right outside, free for passing pedestrians to observe.
Well…this was where Fort Discovery used to be. Due to a lack of funding and a drop in her attendance rate, the museum closed a couple of years back. The building itself remains but it’s completely empty. Its outdoor attractions are gone. Feels like I’ve come back to a childhood home to find all my toys sold or repossessed. A bit disheartening.
The upper level was also home to flags and monuments of the foreign nations that had a hand in shaping Augusta since its founding in 1735. It had plaques dedicated to the Creek, Yuchi, and Shawnee tribes that occupied the land long before the British. There was an Episcopal church with a small cemetery in the back. A towering Celtic cross keeps watch over this graveyard. Furthermore, erected stones with engraved messages educated visitors about historic battles and the city’s role in the Civil War.
Yes…this is why it used to give me the creeps.
The riverwalk was haunted by the souls of the dead, a river of animosity, a park of resentment. As a child, my mother would bring me here in a failed attempt to get me play with the other kids. And while she’d eventually wander off to make conversation with some single father, I’d spend hours slumped on the steps, curled in the fetal position. I’d pour out my eyes, crying on the most beautiful of days. Parents would pass by and wonder what’s wrong. They had no idea. The tears seemed unprovoked. They’d watch as I alternate between covering my ears and eyes as if I was hiding in the midst of a massacre. Needless to say, they kept their children away from me.
Who could I talk to? Who would believe me if I told them what I saw?
I’d hear the bellows of the dead, the racist slurs of lynch mobs and desperate pleas of mercy that fell on deaf ears. I’d hear the gargling sounds of men and women choking to death as they hung from strained ropes. The crackle of old rifles and blasting cannons echoed across the park and even the haunted oaks themselves whispered to me. I always assumed the whispers came from the souls of Native Americans speaking in tribal tongues. As the branches swayed in the wind with scraping leaves, the trees would whisper, “Look! Look! Look at the boy!”
The hollow whispers would get louder and louder as if the trees themselves were expanding to lean closer until abject horror compelled me to open my eyes.
What I saw was far worse than the horrid sounds. I saw an endless procession of dead scabby Confederate soldiers, the “Clinched Rifles,” trudging four men abreast on the promenade skirting the river. I’d cringe with nausea as I saw rotting flesh drop like globs of wet clay from the men’s disgruntled faces. Sometimes whole limbs would detach like brittle twigs left littering the walkway. I was the only one who could see it. People thought I was “retarded” the way I stepped over rotting forearms and toes that curled like maggots.
Worst of all, the soldiers would moan and groan and every once in a while, I’d get locked in a trance, honing in on one of them like a jack-in-a-box about to pop. My intense focus would zero in on a single soldier. And every time I honed in on that single soul, the Confederate soldier would lash like a snapping turtle and snarl at me with the vile, twisted grimace of a monster that wanted to eat the flesh from my face.
Slaves and Native Americans hung on the oaks like ornaments. Behind the Episcopal Church, there was always an orange glow of controlled fire like the burner from a stove that served as a perimeter around the entire cemetery. The Celtic cross itself blazed bright green, ever so often, erupting like a geyser. Within its emerald flames, I’d see a mask of agony lighting up the night sky. It was the death mask of a martyr burning at the stake.
Perhaps the only tolerable presence to a precocious child, such as I, were the soft orange wisps that floated about like tiny clouds of glowing smoke. I’d hear giggles in these dull orbs of light. The words they spoke were in a language I couldn’t understand but somehow I found them benevolent. As if they understood me. And isn’t that what all children want? To be understood?