Suicide no. 54: The Last Signal
–by Derek Alan Wilkinson
The black smoke of their campfires bellowed against a sky that beckoned an oncoming storm, that was destined to put out those flames, some several miles away.
“Not yet.” The pastor warned, his voice tightly wound into a whisper, yet his warning stern. The timing had to be right, else the Redcoats who garrisoned our town into their meager excuse for a fort would oust our allies—their enemies and conquest.
The British knew that the enemy slept on the horizon, their scouts having spotted soldiers marching days ago. They employed us to the burying of their cannons among branches and twigs to disguise their artillery, and forced us to pile up mounds of stones with which their troops could easily hide behind to shield themselves from the oncoming musket rounds. “Your fealty to the king,” they told us. Their warnings, of course, fell on our deaf ears.
We’d had it with the commandeering of our homes to garrison their soldiers.
My own father’s caravan was stripped of its wheels—his not the only one—with which the Redcoats had strategically positioned to harbor supplies. These would also hide some of their best of marksmen, who would spy the fields through small peepholes.
The pastor pulled me aside, as the British colonels issued commands to their rank and file, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
To which I responded, “The colonels have stolen our horses, defiled our church, and some have bedded our wives.”
“Yes. Your Helen has not caught herself in their ravages, has she?”
“No, not my wife—not that they haven’t tried.”
“Good.” The pastor sighed, “But you know what will likely happen if you side with us?”
“Yes. Helen and daughters will be safer.”
“Perhaps” warned the pastor.
“Yes. Do you know what the worst of it is?”
“That they look to make us God-fearing folk appear as heathens by not swearing our allegiance to a king whose behavior is a mockery of God?”
“No.” I told the pastor, “The bastard who is quartered in my home has drank all of my rum!”
He laughed. After some time of silent watching, drumbeats echoed in the distance.
“Alright. May God save you, my son.”
Many of the townsfolk had come to the church to pray on that day. The British quartered there were unaware of their true intentions, though—their carefully guarded wagons and cannons hidden under the brush were doused in oil—ready to be set aflame.
“You, sir! Halt!” A musket round rang out, and one of the townsfolk caught a round in the shoulder. The others surrounding the church who knew about our plan continued to throw their torches on the piles of brush, as the Redcoats scurried around, trying to stop our men from igniting their wagons and cannon covers, wasting more and more rounds on our own people—who were ready to pay with their lives for the treacheries they’d endured.
“Now!” Yelled the pastor, as I darted behind the door and into the staircase leading into the church’s steeple. I barred the door shut behind me. As hard as I could, I yanked on the long piece of rope that sounded the bell above—signaling the Continental soldiers to attack.
Clang, clang, clang. The bell rang out, and shortly after, a banging on the door:
“Stop this immediately!” The Redcoats warned, and still the bell rang.
After a few minutes, I heard the inevitable screaming of dying soldiers amongst the gunpowder explosions that marked the oncoming battle. Most of the shots came from further away—these were the assaults of Washington’s troops.
We were winning.
Cong, cong, cong. The old, used-up bell had cracked, but its signal was still clear.
“This is your last chance!” Yelled one of the scared Redcoats outside.
And with that—not wanting to give them the satisfaction of killing me themselves, I pulled out my dagger, and thrust it into my chest as deeply as I could.