Friday, June 16, 2006


He sat by the fire early that morning, the very last of his coffee heating on a rock in the middle of it, legs crossed and bent awkwardly pulling his right foot around to look at the steel shank poking through the dry cracked leather sole of his worn out boot. Good boots, but four years of war had taken their toll. Thank God he was a horse soldier. He cringed to think of the poor bastards who had walked the length and breadth of this horrendous conflict with bad boots and bare feet. Cavalry had distinct advantages, and he was suddenly aware of how lucky he had been to get a horse and that neither of them had been seriously wounded or killed.

It was almost over now. Everyone knew it. Foot soldiers were deserting by the hundreds, and the officers weren’t trying all that hard to stop them anymore. This new nation he had come to support was going to die in infancy. Somewhere just to the north Bobbie Lee was being chased down by that devil Grant and somewhere south past Raleigh Uncle Joe was trying hard to get by Sherman to join the two southern armies.

After a breakfast that was less than filling, his troop mounted up to finish their scouting mission. The weather was warm and humid in the pines of southern Virginia in early April. Thankful for the shade but at the same time cussing the trees that blocked the breeze they rode forward right into the ambush.

Suddenly surrounded by shouting men in blue uniforms he was knocked from his horse by the butt of a hard swung rifle. Rolling behind a big oak tree he yanked his pistol and looked for a familiar grey uniform among the flash of the rifles and the smoke that was quickly becoming oppressive. On one knee he checked the Remington’s percussion caps and then himself to make sure all was in working order. He felt no pain now, but knew all too well the hidden pains that showed up after a fight.

Crouching, he ran forward until he was on a small rise with a clear field of fire and a small pine thicket behind him. A soldier in blue erupted from across the clearing running hard. The Remington came up with practiced ease and with a thundering boom the union soldier’s upper body reversed direction. For a split second it looked as though he were running up an invisible hill, then he fell and lay still. A second soldier appeared and knelt to aim his rifle. Again the smoke and fire from the pistol dropped him cleanly. Three more times the gun rumbled and three more men ended their time on Earth.

He turned to duck into the thicket to reload when a blue clad man pushed his way out of it. The yank was still tangled up so he leveled the pistol with its single remaining shot. The triple click of the hammer seemed louder than normal; he squeezed the trigger and was greeted by a loud pop. “Damn, misfire” was all he had time to think before he saw the barrel of the .58 caliber Springfield swing his way. A muffled boom followed by the whuffeling sound of a badly cast bullet off to his left let him know he had a second chance.

The two men stared at each other briefly before the union man pulled his bayonet from his belt. As he reversed his pistol in his hand he noticed the man’s round features and wire rimed glasses, and then he was in a fight for his life. He felt the triangular blade snag in the material of his coat as he brought down the butt of the pistol down on the man’s shoulders. The contact knocked the gun from his hand, so he grappled for the weapon the other man held.

The bayonet pierced his side and he yelped like wounded dog. Twisting his body away he felt the stinging pull of the blade as it was ripped from his opponent’s fist. The man in blue charged as he fell backwards pulling the bayonet free from below his ribcage. He reversed it and braced it against his chest just as the other man leapt on him. As the man was impaled on his own weapon he spit blood in a wide spray and collapsed.

Pulling himself free of the dead man he tried to check his wound, but to his unfocused eyes he couldn’t tell who’s blood was whose. Giving up he leaned against a tree and closed his eyes and breathed in the harsh smell of burnt powder and death.

Two days later he came awake to the sting of carbolic on a fresh wound. The doctor was amazed they had found him. His horse had been standing over him waiting to be fed, and that’s how the stragglers from Appomattox had spotted him.

Lee had surrendered. The Yanks were granting amnesty to all who swore allegiance to the United States.

To Hell with that, home is just a hundred or so miles east-southeast of here just inside the next state.

When he got home he asked his neighbors about her. Gone she was, a year and more. Word had come that he’d been killed in the valley and she’d married a grocer from across the county line. “Just as well,” he thought, “dead is exactly what the man who left her is.”

The days rolled by, and slowly turned into months. He managed to get in a late garden, and kill a couple small deer to hold starvation off for the winter. There was no end to the folks that would stand him a drink to hear a war story or two, but his oldest friends, the ones who were still alive anyway, never looked at him the same as they once did. Evenings he would sit and sip whiskey, puff on a cigar or his pipe, and stare into God’s eye as it fell past the horizon.

Spring came, as it does every year, and his horse balked at the plow harness it hadn’t seen for almost five years. He, himself, realized that a view of the world from the top of a horse was much better than the view from behind one. Lincoln was long dead by now and Johnson was showing himself to be too malleable to the more harsh factions in Washington.

His fields had started to grow up with weeds. No one had seen him for a week or more. His neighbors went by, and his house lay empty, save the furniture. The stable was silent, and the hoof prints trailed west.

There are a lot of comments I would like to make about this piece of work, but a writing instructor I once had told me, "If you don't point out your own shortcomings, a lot of people will never notice them." Suffice it to say, this was written in a relatively short period of time, and I never have been one to over edit (or even somewhat edit) my work. It's nothing like anything that has ever appeared on this blog and I don't know if I'll do it again. It is an original work, and a condensed beginning of a much longer story I have floating around in my head.

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At June 16, 2006 10:53 PM, Blogger Walrilla said...

Very good story, k-nine.


At June 16, 2006 11:23 PM, Blogger Elisson said...

K-Nine, you have you some writing chops, yes you do.

No screaming hordes of chipmunks, but a good solid piece of fiction. I liked it. Thanks for putting it up.

At June 17, 2006 8:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

... excellent, man.... write more.....


At June 22, 2006 1:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes I feel a lot like that.


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