April 26th 1777
Patterson, New York
The abrupt banging upon the front door made Sybil jump. She had heard the hoof beats and shouting from a distance and hoped that the frantic rider was not heading toward her home. Being the daughter of a Colonel that worked under General George Washington, Sybil had no doubt the ruckus was to warn her father. Colonel Henry Ludington was leader and founder of the 7th Duchess County militia and he was responsible for over four hundred soldiers. The Ludingtons were also farmers and owned a mill. General Washington had allowed the Colonel and his men to return home and invest some time in planting the spring crops.
Sybil had just tucked in the youngest bunch of her eleven siblings. A few others were still below, helping her mother Abigail clean up for the evening and listening to their father tell stories by the fireside. She would have to fetch them next. It was a struggle to get them to sleep on any given night, but with the powerful rain and wind lashing against the windows, they were scared to close their eyes. Sybil also had to make sure they were bundled up so as not to catch a cold. Their two-story home was sturdy and warm enough. Her father didn't deny his large family any comforts, but they still lived a humble life. Sybil admonished her brothers and sisters to stay in their rooms, while she hurried to the landing to see what the commotion was. She remained on the top of the stairs and peeked down. When her father spoke business, he didn't appreciate an audience.
Colonel Ludington rushed to open the door; he was always on guard at all hours of the day and night ever since the Revolutionary war began two years earlier. Sybil watched curiously as a drenched young man staggered inside, nearly collapsing into her father's arms. He looked to be about her age of sixteen. Sybil's mother rose from her spot by the fireplace and gasped in alarm.
"Henry! Who is it? He looks sickly."
"It's a messenger boy, Abby. Set up a chair for him by the fire and bring some tea… and hot water for his feet, make haste!"
Abigail and her daughter Rebecca rushed to the pantry to prepare it. The messenger removed his coat and hat and wrung his hands by the warmth of the flame. It took him a moment to find his voice, but then he finally blurted out his disturbing news.
"The…the British are burning…" He started to choke.
Colonel Ludington grasped his shoulders. "Tell me, boy! What's burning?" He brushed a hand across the boy's forehead. He was certainly burning with fever. "Besides your skin."
"The British soldiers have taken over Danbury, Connecticut, sir! General Tryon and nearly two thousand men have come into the vicinity from the Long Island Sound and…"
Rebecca was so frightened she dropped a dish. "Father! They'll kill us all! Danbury is only twenty-five miles away from here."
"Hush, child, you'll frighten the others. It will be all right…here, let's pick up this glass before someone gets hurt." Abigail consoled her and knelt down to retrieve it.
The soldier looked at her wearily, then rested his gaze on the swirling embers, his eyes filled with tears.
"They landed in Fairfield with six warships some time in the early afternoon. They were looking for Continental army supplies."
"And they may just get them, I had told General Washington the supplies were poorly guarded. What else happened, boy?"
The messenger gripped his teacup and sipped it to soothe his nerves. "The British were marking up the property and homes of the British loyalists to protect them…but the rest are in danger! It's been chaos since this afternoon, sir! They've taken the whole storage of foodstuffs, and drank up the grog and rum! They're now they are burning down the entire settlement!"
Colonel Ludington stood up promptly and rammed his fist against the table.
"This is an outrage! Crazed drunken fools! How that man Tryon was made governor of New York is…ack! Never mind that! I must organize my militia…"
"Henry! Four hundred soldiers! They are scattered across miles! There may not be time to assemble them!" Abigail bemoaned. "It's so dangerous!"
"Abby, I have to try!"
The Colonel gazed at the young man worriedly. There was no way he was going to make the forty-mile ride in this storm. His condition was too weakened with exhaustion and the onset of a severe cold. He went to retrieve his overcoat and hat.
Sybil watched the exchange with a palpitating heart and a deep resolve. She ran down the stairs, her dark blonde hair spilled out of the messy braid her younger sister Anna had designed earlier. She tugged on her father's arm.
"Father! I can do it! I know this area very well and can make the warning."
"Absolutely not! It's past nine already and the woods are too dangerous."
"Father, please! You have no one else to make the call out in this vicinity. Just draw me up a map of the fastest route." Sybil insisted.
Abigail ran up to her husband distressed. "Do not listen to her, Henry! She means well, but you cannot possibly…"
Colonel Ludington gazed at his daughter with swelling pride. She had certainly come of age since he saw her last and was always eager to take on any task. Life in the colonies was hard, but Sybil and her mother were strong women that managed home and hearth very fine. She stared at him with a determination burning in her soulful green eyes; extinguishing whatever fears he had about the journey. Sybil was an accomplished rider and had her own horse named Star. He was just one-years old, but as swift as any other.
"I know it's dangerous, but please father…if nobody does this, people could die!"
The Colonel nodded firmly and rushed to get a quill and parchment.
June 5th, 1777
A sharp whistle pierced the air and two figures careened into a soft plot of grassland. Phineas Bogg rolled over after a moment's rest and his dark boot struck a small, wooden tombstone. He glanced around swiftly and his blue eyes grew larger. He gulped and pulled at his young partner's collar, dragging him to his feet.
"Uhh, let's get off here, Jeff, this is a…a graveyard." He stammered.
Jeffrey Jones leaped up and ran off the grass onto a nearby dirt road. He peered closely at the land; the entire field was littered with headstones and haphazardly dug plots. It seemed to stretch out for acres, taking the place of an abandoned cornfield. There wasn't even a gate surrounding it. Something about it didn't feel right. Phineas approached him slowly, taking a deep breath and wrinkling his nose. The air smelled rank, with a hint of burnt timbers and ashes. He sniffed again; hoping that the further odor he distinguished wasn't charred flesh. Phineas soon got a queer feeling about the environs and the hairs upon his arms stood on end. All life had ceased to thrive in this area and it wasn't just because they had landed in a massive graveyard. The befuddled look on Jeffrey's face told him he wasn't alone in his assumptions.
"Bogg, look at the headstones. The ones that are marked all have the same date of death, April 27th 1777…some are the day before and some are a few days after. That's so weird. This is like the Twilight Zone."
"I don't know where that country is, but it's certainly a dead zone." Phineas shrugged.
A chill crept up Jeffrey's spine and he drew closer to Phineas and clutched his sleeve. The older Voyager put a protective arm around him and they moved away from the grave site. Phineas strained to hear for any clopping of hooves or the sounds of human chatter. He heard neither. It was time to find out the inevitable. Phineas opened his omni and the red light beeped, it was a strident noise compared to the deathlike tranquility of the area. He peered closely at the settings.
"Well, we're in North America, more to the East, The map is showing New York, but…I don't think this is it. How's your geography, kid?"
Jeffrey took the omni from Phineas and pointed out the globe. "More like Connecticut, it doesn't feel like New York, but they are very close to each other…and it is the 18th Century. The colonies were just coming up."
"Yeah, the land would be sparsely populated…but something tells me this graveyard shouldn't be here. Let's keep walking, maybe we'll find a town or at least one person to give us answers."
The Voyagers continued their trek up the dirt road until they came to a scorched, white sign lying in the center. Phineas knelt down and wiped some of the ash off.
"Welcome to Danbury, Connecticut. Some welcome, huh?"
"I don't get it, I've visited Connecticut in my time and I've never heard of an event like this."
Phineas put his hands upon his knees and glanced up at Jeffrey. "Well kid, that's why we got the red light."
Phineas stood up tall and glanced ahead. The singed odor was stronger here and the pale grass showed evidence of having been burned. He put his hands on his hips with a wry smile.
"Something tells me Danbury is a ghost town now…but, why aren't the survivors rebuilding?"
"Bogg, look again, I don't think there's anyone left to rebuild."
Jeffrey had that peculiar expression in his brow that told Phineas he was lost in historical thought. Any moment the boy would somehow put the clues together and tell him what went wrong– at least he hoped. Either way, they were bound to meet up with somebody. Hundreds of people just don't drop dead within days of each other for no reason. Phineas wondered if a sudden plague had struck. He remembered the horrifying scene when he had come to Jamestown, Virginia during the 'starving time.' Over five hundred settlers died of starvation and a mysterious disease, but Phineas discovered the truth even before he read the guidebook. Most of the settlers had somehow been poisoned with arsenic and not long after the rats that infested the colony brought upon the plague. He shuddered, trying to dispel the gruesome images from his mind. That voyage was not long before he had met Jeffrey and he was grateful that the boy wasn't there to witness the calamity.
Jeffrey paced around, he scratched his curls and then his eyes glowed in recognition and he raised his finger.
"I know! The British soldiers torched Danbury in a raid in 1777, but I don't remember reading about them killing anybody…at least not all these poor people. A small American regiment stopped the raid."
"That's good, Jeff. Do you know how the regiment stopped them? Was there a warning?" Phineas grew excited. "Like…like Paul Revere, maybe?"
Jeffrey nodded fast. "Yeah…that sounds familiar…maybe he…"
"No, not Paul Revere, Sybil Ludington, poor, young, Sybil."
An elderly, parched voice cut through the conversation and Jeffrey nearly jumped out of his skins. He immediately hid behind Phineas. An old man hobbled closer, leaning upon a twisted, cherrywood cane. Misery was ingrained in his face and his dark eyes were downcast. He wore ragged, loose clothing. His dingy tights hung low and bunched up around his buckled shoes. He was covered with bits of grass and dust and nursing a wound upon his right arm. If Jeffrey didn't know any better, he would have thought the man crawled right out from the grave.
"The warning never came through, the regiment was too late to get itself together and the British soldiers wound up killing nearly the whole lot of them, not to mention their families. It was a brutal, senseless slaughter. They had gotten what they wanted, but became greedy and drunk. The battle raged for days afterward."
Phineas approached the old man and held out his hand. The old man shook it; his grip was calloused and tight.
"It appears that way, Mr...?"
"Sorry to frighten you. My name is Clifton. I was living here with my son and his family when it happened. I had three grandchildren. I was just visiting their graves. All of them are dead from the fire. It ate up the entire house in minutes. Those dirty British heathens! I'll never regret leaving that bedeviled country as long as I live." He said tearfully. "A parent should never, ever, have to bury a child. It's almost against the laws of nature in my book."
Phineas slumped his shoulders and tilted his head wearily. He and Clifton started walking into the town and Jeffrey quickly followed.
"I'm very sorry, Clifton. This…this never should have happened. You mentioned a name of a girl…who was she?"
"Sybil was the eldest daughter of Colonel Henry Ludington. She was a bright, pretty young thing and came from a very large family of twelve. Her father was head of the militia that tried to fight these British pigs."
"Was she supposed to give the warning?" Jeffrey piped up, getting over his irrational fears.
They all stopped before a desolate home, it was burned to the ground. All that was left standing was the partial remains of a windmill squeaking in the stiff breeze.
"This was our place. My son and I built it together many years ago."
"I'm sure it was…majestic." Phineas offered, trying to find the right words. He didn't know what he could say to quell the man's grief.
Clifton faced them. "Sybil was sent out from her home in the late evening, around nine-thirty or ten-o'clock I'd say. The messenger they had was too weak to travel anymore. He had just made it long enough to warn Colonel Ludington, but now all his soldiers had to be told. They were home for a while by command of General Washington."
Jeffrey wondered if the future founding father was somehow caught in the raid.
"Was Washington here when it happened?"
"No…the General was up in Peekskill. This was Ludington's territory. His soldiers lived within forty or so miles from one another, a very, very long stretch for such a young girl to ride. Not to mention it was raining fierce that night! She was supposed to knock on as many doors as possible and tell them. I know she had reached a few. The Ludingtons lived twenty-five miles from here, in Kent, New York, but you could still see the flames. I really don't know what became of General Washington, some say he was killed the week after the fires, there hasn't been word since...but I honestly wasn't paying much attention." He sighed. Clifton was too bereaved to worry about the war and politics.
"Oh, no! This is terrible! It's all wrong!" Jeffrey groaned.
The history of America as he knew it had come to a standstill once again. He glanced up at Phineas and had an idea that the Voyager, while concerned about George Washington, was more worried about Sybil's whereabouts. Phineas Bogg was a fierce protector of damsels in distress.
Clifton scratched his head and banged his cane against the grass. "I don't know what could have happened to Sybil! There are many dangers out there. After General Washington heard the news, he had search parties sent out to look for her, but she vanished without a trace."
Phineas' heart sank for Sybil. The poor girl must have somehow gotten off track and lost, and was most likely killed before she could send out all the warnings. There was no sense to look for her now. Jeffrey noticed Clifton was shaking and he calmly went next to him and held his arm.
"My friend is right. This never should have happened and it never will…we'll…we'll find Sybil."
"Oh my lad, you mean it never will again. Maybe you'll find Sybil's…remains. You cannot change what's come to pass." Clifton replied choked up.
Jeffrey was about to rebut him, but Phineas shook his head and tapped the omni.
"Come on, Jeff…there's nothing more to see here. We need to…get back to…um, Clifton, before we go, what was the date that this happened?"
"The Brits stormed into town around 4pm on April 26th this year."
"What about Sybil, what time did she…well, when do you think she was lost?"
"It's hard to tell, son. It could have been anywhere between eleven onward. She must have been a number of miles from home by then…I'd say deep into the woods."
Clifton raised his head toward the empty shell of his home. "Something tells me the town may have been lost either way. Timber and brick are one thing, they can be restored…but all those lives…if only the soldiers knew…if only…"
He let out a sob and crouched over, falling onto his knees. He covered over his face with his hands. The Voyagers glanced sadly at one another. Phineas wanted to console him, but Jeffrey held him back. He truly understood the man's grief, but he also knew that in this instance it was in his and Phineas' power to change the course of time and the tragic events. Jeffrey adjusted the dials on the omni.
"Remember, Bogg…we can fix this. We should leave now."
Phineas sniffled and clutched Jeffrey's hand. "You're right. Sybil needs our help…Washington…" He cast a mournful glance at the graves. "They all do."