The Harlem River Claim
by Rafael Coira
An icy chill swept across the Harlem River, climbed the frosted banks and rattled the moonlit autumn trees. From a nearby perch an owl hooted and General Washington quivered.
The British ferries sat moored along the far banks under the watchful eye of a Hessian sentry. Washington waited for his men to sneak up on the guard and take him out so that he could advance across the river and eliminate the British transports under the cover of night. It was their last good hope.
“Sentry down,” reported the watchmen.
General Washington took the spyglass and raised it to his eye. Across the Harlem, on a steep ridge, the three rebel soldiers stood over the body of the Hessian sentry waving their arms, the signal that the ridge was clear.
“Advance,” Washington called and the company marched at once.
They treaded lightly on the frozen ground closing on the ferry line until a continental soldier ran out from the trees in front of them, waving his arms frantically.
“Go back,” he yelled. Then a single pistol shot rang through the night and the soldier’s body dropped before them.
“Take cover,” Washington ordered and the men dispersed into the forest. “Where did it come from?” he asked the captain beside him.
“I don’t know sir.”
“Take your troop to the south-”
“What is it?”
“That’s Strom Marshall, sir.”
“What of it?”
“He’s the messenger I sent to Forte Lee.”
Washington’s face went white. “Good God. They’ve got our plans.”
“Should we retreat Commander?”
“Are you sure it’s him?”
The captain faltered.
“Are you sure?” Washington pressed.
“No sir, I can’t be sure from this distance.”
“Advance,” Washington ordered and the men crept out of the forest with their muskets leveled.
They moved en masse into the clearing on the edge of the river, every man looking for the shooter in their midst.
But General Washington’s attention was drawn to where he feared the British would be. Across the river, on a high ridge, beneath the silver moonlight the enemy formed like a ghostly horde numbering in the thousands.
He turned back toward the line of withdrawal where he saw the rest of the enemy soldiers, one hundred men across, several rows deep, blocking their retreat and stretching to outflank them on all sides. Surrounded.
“Surrender or death,” an enemy voice urged and Washington knew it was William Howe, commander of the British forces.
Fight, the captain whispered in Washington’s ear and the spirit of the young soldier filled him with foolish pride.
“Death,” he called.
“So be it,” Howe responded and before Washington could form his company the battle was upon him.
A brilliant light flashed overhead and illuminated the battlefield as bright as day. The men on both sides dropped their weapons and looked to sky.
A flying silver vessel descended rapidly upon them and the men began to run in every direction. Washington froze.
The ship came down from the sky as if lowered on a string and the closer it came the larger it appeared until finally it landed silently in the clearing between the two armies.
To Washington it appeared as a warship, gunmetal cast, with portholes lining its sides. A light at its bow illuminated the ground where a ramp dropped open like a medieval drawbridge and from its mouth emerged a tall thin figure draped in brilliantly sparkling golden robes that seemed to move and sway as if with their own volition.
The figure moved ten paces from the vessel, turning its head slowly from side to side.
Washington shuddered at the inhuman motion of the creature.
Then in the middle of the battlefield, in sight of both armies, the figure pulled from its robes an amber flag and planted it into the ground.