The hot Kansas wind twisted around Isaiah Milton’s face. His mother named him after the sound the wind made when it came through the front door of his childhood home: Isaiah. It called again twenty years later, and he stumbled through the Kansas plains searching for it. He needed food, sleep, and shade, but he had nothing save the dusty trail under his tattered boots, and the only shade came from the scavengers flying overhead, waiting for him to fall.
Not that the vultures would have much to eat. Isaiah, who had stopped growing at twelve, looked foolish in his confederate uniform. However, the way he looked in it was the least of his worries. Without some new boots and a change of clothes, his days were numbered.
An unhappy soldier, Isaiah walked away from the battlefield with no plan for how to survive. It took some time before his troop noticed he was gone, and even though they were better off without him, Isaiah knew they would come looking. When confederates started paying soldiers to find, return, and execute deserters, poor Isaiah knew that with neither horse nor sense of direction, his case was hopeless.
He lost track of time. Had it really been a month since he walked away? Up until now, he was what they called a ‘straggler’ — someone who leaves the camp but eventually returns.
Everything changed after day thirty. You got reclassified as a deserter. He had a target on his back and a reward on his head … or was it the other way around? He had no experience or training to outrun or outfight a group of vicious and ruthless men. Men who are willing to give their lives to maintain the slavery system aren’t just dumb, he thought, they’re dangerous.
Isaiah fought through the pain of his blistered feet and looked behind to the horizon, where he saw the silhouette of horsemen dancing through the wavy summer heat. Isaiah could hear his mother calling, and he pushed on— Isaiah.
He dragged his tired feet along as fast as he could manage and sang a tune to lift his spirits and quicken his pace.
When Johnny comes marching home again,
We’ll give him a hearty welcome then.
The men will cheer, and the boys will shout …
The song died on Isaiah’s lips, and he forgot about the men tracking him when he stumbled upon a massive hole directly along his chosen route. This hole was too wide to be an empty well, but it was perfectly round and about 12 feet across. Nothing marked its location, indicated who had dug it, or hinted at what was at the bottom, if it even had a bottom. Had he traveled at night, he would have fallen in without so much as a whisper, never to be heard from again.
Standing at the edge, Isaiah couldn’t see how far it went, just more deep darkness. Nothing about it seemed to belong to this planet except a cooling breeze that escaped from its depths. Isaiah, it called, sounding more like his mother than the wind.
Curious to gauge its depth, Isaiah picked up a rock not much bigger than a pebble and tossed it down. He stood silently, waiting to hear it hit the bottom, but he never did. As he listened, his eyes moved up to the horizon where he sees a boy watching..
Isaiah was set to continue on the path — he needed a hole in the ground as much as he needed a hole in the head — when suddenly the rock he had dropped flew back out of the tunnel.
Isaiah picked up the rock, which felt bigger than the original stone. Again, he tossed it back down, this time with more force, and again he never heard the sound of it hitting bottom. A minute later, a rock flew out of the hole, this time nearly hitting Isaiah in the head.
The rock had changed. This was not the same one, he was sure of it. This one was at least twice its size. Now more curious than ever, he reached into his knapsack and found a bullet. Isaiah flung the bullet into the pit and waited.
He saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Clearly, someone was watching him. Isaiah’s eyes weren’t playing tricks on him. It was a young boy, and Isaiah lifted his arm in a lazy wave. The boy did the same. As he watched the boy, Isaiah momentarily forgot about the bullet he had dropped until it came back up. Like the rock, it came back different; it was much more substantial. This bullet wouldn’t even fit in his rifle. It looked like a mini missile.
“What in tarnation?” Isaiah mumbled to himself. He compared it to his other bullets; it was more than double the size. He quickly scrounged in his backpack, found a small piece of stale bread, and gave it to the darkness.
While waiting, he again looked for the boy, but he was gone. When the hole tossed the bread back up, it was the size of a loaf.
“Holey moly.” He took a bite of the bread.
“Isaiah Molton?” a voice from behind called out. Isaiah spun around, his mouth full of bread.
“It’s Milton,” Isaiah said to a troop of Confederate soldiers standing on foot. Their horses huddled in the distance. The men all carried guns like him, but theirs were pointing in his direction. He was still chewing on the stale bread, not wanting to spit it out.
“Milton. Molton. It matters not. You will be forgotten. We are here to bring you to justice, deserter,” their captain said.
“You mean to execute me for abandoning your stupid war,” Isaiah shot back.
“That is what I mean,” the captain agreed, as the men approached. Isaiah stepped back, his feet only inches from the dark void in the ground.
“I am unwilling to fight your stupid war, but I will fight you,” Isaiah shouted before jumping into the hole.
The men all watched as he disappeared into the darkness. They circled the pit, dumbfounded by the man’s stupidity.
“All of that work to watch the man leap into a hole,” one soldier said. “We still get paid, right?”
The captain frowned. “Let’s go.” They all turned and headed back towards their horses.
They only made it a few steps before hearing a loud thump behind them. When they spun around, they found Isaiah standing there, now nearly as wide as the hole and more than 12 feet tall. The once small figure was like a man amongst toddlers.
“You’ll remember my name now, won’t you? It’s Isaiah Milton,” Isaiah said. His deep voice surprised him.
Before the soldiers could get off a shot, Isaiah pushed the nearest man to the ground. It wasn’t a fair fight. The bullets and the men were no match. Isaiah’s whole view had changed. It was like he was standing on top of a tall ladder, looking down on playful children. The beaten, bruised men finally headed back to their horses.
“We’ll be back,” one shouted.
“I’ll be waiting,” Isaiah returned.
When it was quiet again, he turned back to the hole in the ground. If they returned with hundreds of men, he didn’t think he could fight them all; not at this size. He believed if he was 30 feet tall, however, he could end the war. Intoxicated by the power, Isaiah the giant did an improbable thing. He leaped back into the hole.
A minute went by, and Isaiah was not tossed back out. After ten minutes, when it was clear that he was stuck and not coming out, a Native American boy no older than eight approached. He wheeled a cart half full of fruits and vegetables. The boy began tossing apples, squash, and corn into the hole and waited for it to be returned, doubled in size, so he would have more food to take back to his family and tribe.
The last apple, now the size of a pumpkin, got tossed back with a bite out of it nearly as big as the apple itself. The frightened boy left the apple to rot on the ground and hurried back to his tribe. He left the giant, who was now too big to escape the underground world.
The following morning, the men of the tribe returned. They brought several mules that pulled various items they needed to cover the hole, including lumber. Carefully and expertly, they bridged the gap. Once the lumber was set, they blanketed the logs with clay, dirt, and grass, which blended in with the countryside. The hole’s location became secret again.
It took some time before the hole was forgotten. When the surrounding area was settled over the next century, a school with a playground was erected on top of the pit. The playground had swings, slides, and climbing apparatuses. It also had “talk tubes” — big pipes that let kids talk across long distances by speaking into either end of the cylinders.
One day, in a corner of the playground, a young girl played alone, ankle-deep in rubber mulch. She stood by the talk tube with no one on the other end to communicate with, but she laughed and sang anyway.
A teacher, feeling bad for the youngster, went to the other end of the tube to give her some conversation. When she neared, she could hear the girl’s song exiting the tube on her end. She sang:
When Johnny comes marching home again, Hurrah! Hurrah!
We’ll give him a hearty welcome then, Hurrah! Hurrah!
While the teacher thought the song choice was odd, when she heard the next line sung by someone with an impossibly deep voice, she freaked out.
The men will cheer, and the boys will shout.
The ladies they will all turn out
On that joyful day when Johnny comes marching home.
The teacher carried the girl away. That afternoon, Benjamin, the school’s janitor, filled the tube with concrete so no one could communicate with what lay beneath. But even now, when you stand at the Middletown Middle playground on a hot August day and feel the warm breeze whispering Isaiah in your ear, you can still hear the giant singing his favorite song.
Get ready for the Jubilee, Hurrah! Hurrah!
We’ll celebrate the victory, Hurrah! Hurrah!