Church and Ellen’s trail – A short story

He sat quietly in the room and let his eyes acclimate to the darkness which would have been all encompassing with the exception of the light that crept in around the window shade

He leaned back in the chair which seemed to grip him in a bear hug of sorts and he sighed heavily.

He was trapped, in the confines of his thoughts.

His life had been a long journey, one that wasn’t finished yet, but one he was resolved to have end on his terms. He knew that he couldn’t bend events to his will, but he was compelled to at least have a say in it.

The howling of the wind outside was a minor distraction, as it incessantly played the jumbled chords of wind chimes without pause.

Ignoring the cracking of the bones in his long frame, he stood up to make sure that the window was secure, as he peered out the window he could slightly make out his reflection in the glass, while the moonlight illuminated his face.

His regal bearing belied his origins as a slave, although he was born into the confines of the peculiar institution, being a slave in title and in the physical sense was where it ended. He was a proud man, whose mind always told another story.


He never doubted his humanity or his manhood, he was unflinching in that respect – accordingly it was how he carried himself became an infectious reality that could not be denied by anyone that came into his orbit, white man or otherwise.

Huntsville Gazette (Alabama), Page 3, September 6, 1884.

He harbored no reservations when he joined the Union Army during the American Civil War, the stories of what the Confederates would do to Black troops, if captured, deterred many from joining the Army, but this “threat” filled him with a sense of righteous determination.

The idea of not striking a blow for his own freedom was a prospect more fightening than anything that could be conceived by a rebel and join he did, mustering himself and some other men from his small town into the Union Army, in one of the most unforgiving states of the waning Confederacy, his birth state of Alabama.

He had never been more certain of anything in his life – except for that adoration he harbored for his beloved wife Ellen, a love that culminated in their marriage at the house of her then – master at the beginning of the war. Now, he was an old man and the reflection in the glass told him no lies.
He was ill, reaching the end of his journey it seemed, but he needed to be sure that she would be taken care of and his pension from the Army would see to that.

Being lost in his thoughts always provided respite from his ails, but just that quickly he was pulled back into reality of his predicament.

The violent coughs that shook his body, that left him gasping for air always lead to him doubling over in violent spasms. As of late these coughs seemed to come with an increasing ferociousness that left him exhausted, but this time was different.

All of a sudden he felt a fog and lightheadedness enveloping him and with that his knees started to buckle. He reached out for something, anything to stop him from falling, but the darkened room and his spinning head combined to thwart his efforts.

Seconds before the fall – out of the darkness were the sturdy hands of his beloved around his waist, guiding him to the softer confines of the bed. His sense of weariness was tinged with relief and he smiled – seeing the candlelight bathe her face in its light was an analgesic of sorts.

His eyes heavy, his chest throbbing with a dull pain made opting for the beckoning of slumber an easy call.

“Church are you….?” She whispered softly…

Her query was cut short by his fitful snoring, sliding the pillow under his head, she sat by his side on edge of the bed opting to watch him sleep.

As the slumber lifted in the morning, he tried to sit up in the bed only to be forced back by Ellen as she thrust a hot beverage inches away from his nose.

“Drink this”, she commanded.

He compiled, but resisted the urge to ask what it was. He took a sip, grimaced and manufactured a forced smile.

Their eyes locked and spoke volumes without saying anything, he opened his mouth to speak, breaking their psychic connection and she froze, waiting for his words to meet her ears.

After a long pause, he muttered.

“Ellen, I saw him again…”

Her eyes widened and she leaned in, forgetting to breathe for a moment.

“Again?” she queried.

These dreams of her husband seemed to come with an eerie consistency – always in concert with a coughing fit, followed by his going into a deep sleep.

“What… What happened this time?” she asked.

“I…. Talked… We talked to him. He was walking down by the creek, he looked lost and sad.”

“We?” she interjected.

“Yah, it was me and you”, he said before taking a large gulp from the glass and placing it on the bedside table.

He hesitated mentioning this because his dreams upset her and he had always endeavored to carry the burdens of worry for the both of them, they hadn’t left each others side for nearly 40 years – with the exception of his service in the Union Army and even then, he incessantly wrote letters home to allay her concerns.

“Church Tipton, you drink that tea and hush your foolishness, I can’t be be bothered with your ghosts and goblins talk right now,” she stammered.

It was the contention of Ellen that the person in the dream was an angel of death trying to lure him away and she was not resigned to parting with her husband, not yet.

But – it was his contention that this person, this figure meant him no harm, he wasn’t an angel or a spirit, but there was a kinship, an element of love that drew them to each other and try as he might, he couldn’t explain it.

Her eyes flashed with an indignation that would have burned through anyone else, but he sprung up from the bed, wrapped her in his arms and broke the impasse by extracting her laughter, a glorious sound that filled him with joy.

“I’m sorry darling, the morning is young, lets go for our walk”, he bellowed.

“Yes, the air will do your lungs some good”, she opined.

And with that they headed out the door, to take their walk, a ritual as old as their love.

However, he had an ulterior motive for their walk this morning, the shadowy figure in last night’s dream was walking on their trail and something in the back of his mind wanted to see if, this was more than just a dream…

My 3rd Great Grandparents circa 1880’s

Church and Ellen Tipton aren’t figments of my imagination, they were live breathing people, who happen to be my 3rd Great Grandparents. I never had the privilege of meeting them in the conventional sense as my Grandpa Church passed in 1908 and my Grandma Ellen in 1920.

I started my genealogy research a couple years ago and right before I was resigned to throw up my hands in digust, I had a dream about 2 people that I encountered on a trail in a State Park that I frequent.

We exchanged words…

I ignored them, but they were insistent in telling me to find their children, I woke up discombobulated and a couple days later, I came across this picture and recognized them as the couple I saw in my dream.

This account, this piece of historical fiction, is my attempt to give voice to the shoulders I stand on.

This is part of a larger work dedicated to my family, the children of those who refused to die.
Copyright © 2017 ShunPwrites. All Rights Reserved


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