“Listen!” Gawain said and motioned for Valda to stop walking as he placed a finger on his lips to silence her.
She stopped and turned her head slightly, away from the howling wind. She even lifted an earmuff. After a couple of seconds, her eyes widened.
“Holy crap.” She whispered and looked at him. Gawain had his head tilted too, with his back to the blustery wind. He was looking around, but the only person in sight was Valda. They were the only two who have braved the blizzard like weather so far.
The blistering frigid air cut through them, but they did not seem to notice as they stood listening. An unseen warmth was around them and the voices, though muted at first had become louder. Was it because the voices actually were gaining volume, or was it only because Gawain and Valda had started paying attention? Either way, they were definitely louder…at least to Valda.
“What in the…?” Gawain stopped before finishing the exclamation. He was prone to almost curse and then stop himself. Still, as the exclamation was about to pass his lips, Valda watched him spin slowly in a circle. She looked around too.
The uniformed rows of white stones, etched in black with the names, branch of service, birth and death dates, stood stoically against the blowing wind and snow. Various symbols of faith were etched at the top, Crosses of various denominations, Wheel of Righteousness, Star of David, Angel Moroni, Native American Church, and so on. The symbols were endless and varied from stone to stone.
The flags, raised to their highest points, flapped furiously in the gale. Occasionally Gawain and Valda heard the clanging of metal against the flagpoles. The overcast, gray sky was filled with pregnant snow clouds, and created an ominous shield against any sunlight that may have been trying to penetrate the area.
“There is no one here, but you and me.” Gawain said after he spun back in her direction. She nodded and grabbed his arm to encourage him to keep moving in the direction of the gravesite they had come to visit.
They continued in silence, listening to the wind and the voices all around them. Neither spoke again until they reached the double-sided tombstone.
“Stand there.” She directed, encouraging him to face her and have the flags visible in the background. They tried to ignore the multitude of voices on the wind. Gawain glanced to his right and left as if he felt something.
“What is it?” Valda asked him. He shrugged and told her it was nothing, but she could see the confused look on his face. She let it go but watched him through the lens a couple of seconds more than she needed to.
With the photograph taken, she decided to take more of the area. The temperature had to be at least in the teens with the wind chill, but it still did not feel like it as they listened, and Gawain watched her take the various pictures.
The digital camera made a faint clicking noise, he knew from having heard it numerous times in the past, but today he could only hear the voices and the gusts.
Finally, Valda stopped taking the pictures and just stood there with her eyes closed. “Do you hear what they are saying?” She finally asked and looked at him.
“No. I can’t make it out.” Gawain said and continued, “There are too many of them.”
Valda strained to separate the voices and make out the words. She did think she heard a “thank you for coming,” but she was not sure. Maybe it was her imagination. There were just too many voices and too much being said to decipher the words.
Suddenly, the wind and snow stopped, and the voices came to a fevered pitch. Valda cringed at the sound and put her hands over her ears. She felt a nudge or two and looked around, but there was no one.
Before Gawain could rush to her side, the voices stopped, and all was still. They both looked around amazed and the wind and snow resumed, even harder this time. Along with it, a chill crept in and they both shivered.
Valda and Gawain stood a minute listening, but all that was in the air was the howl of the wind. Without a word, they rushed to the car. As they sat in the warmth, they looked around again. Still, there was no sign of anyone else at the Veterans Cemetery.
“Where do you think the voices were coming from and trying to tell us?” Gawain asked her as they headed out of the cemetery.
“You know what I think it was.” Valda said and he nodded. He knew she believe in ghosts or spirits or whatever you wanted to call them. “What they were saying is beyond me.” She finished answering his question.
He did not say anything on the rest of the way home. She let him think and was lost in her own thoughts of the experience. When they got inside, she rushed to her office and took out the digital card to upload the photographs. It only took a few minutes and before long he heard her calling from the next room. Her voiced raised in excitement.
“Wow!" Valda exclaimed and continued with, “Gawain, you gotta see this!”
Before she would show him the pictures, she breathlessly told him that she had thought she had heard a “thank you for coming” but at the time thought her imagination was at work. She also warned him that he was about to see something unexplainable. He nodded, used to her dramatics, and then sat down to view the pictures.
At the first one, his breath inhaled sharply. The one of him beside his parents’ headstone was unnerving. Both his parents were standing beside him, one on each side. His father had his hand on Gawain’s shoulder and was smiling at the camera. His mother was leaning into kiss Gawain’s cheek.
“What in the…” there it was again, that incomplete exclamation, and then this time Gawain finished it, “hell?!”
“I know. It is amazing. Now I know what you felt when I was taking the photograph.” Valda said and followed with, “Here look at the rest.”
In the other photos, numerous soldiers stood. Some were waving towards the camera. Some were talking, their mouths captured in mid-word. Some were saluting others. They were dressed in their period uniforms. It was as if they were having a huge celebration. A reunion, Valda thought, and they are all whole, no amputations, no scars, no wounds. They were perfect, she thought, and they seemed happy.
No words could express how Gawain felt. He was amazed, in awe, and his emotions overflowed. Tears escaped his eyes, flowing in rivulets to wet his shirt. Again, he looked at her and mouthed the word “wow.” Valda nodded and took his hand. She laid her head on his shoulder and they both studied the pictures more. She did not want to break the silence, but she had never been one to keep her thoughts to herself.
“Thanks for all you gave our country, Gawain. Thanks for being my Vet.” Without a word, he squeezed her hand and kissed her forehead.