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Drafted

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My eyes struggled to open, but they did.


I don’t know how they were opened. If I was alive, it was a miracle. If I wasn’t alive, well then...


I moved my head to the left, and instantly I knew I was alive because my neck ached badly. My tongue felt a soft spot where my two front teeth should have been. The inside of my mouth tasted like leather.

I heard moaning. Other men, moaning in the same place I was. I was in a large tent, like the generals stay in, but the top was much dirtier.

My arm ached as I reached up to feel the side of my face, which especially hurt. It was sewn shut with thick twine. I opened my mouth to see how the hasty sewing job affected it. I could only open halfway. Any farther and I would tear my face open.


...What happened to me?


PART I



The battles weren’t the worst part of being a Union soldier so far. It was the boredom that was getting to me. Sitting around camp could kill a man if he hasn’t anything to do. I haven’t even seen battle yet; we weren’t expected to, either.

My name is Jim. James Polk Saunders, actually. I was named after President Polk, who was President when I was born. My mother--Edna Henrietta Cashier, a plump woman with her hair in a bun for most of her life--raised me by herself. My father was martyred by a band of confederates when I was three years old. I’m proud to have him as my father. He was a defender of civil rights, and I’m glad to carry on his legacy.

On the 15th of June, 1863, a Union officer knocked on our door. He gave the news of a draft into the war against the south, and that’s how I got to where I am now.


There’s another story that crosses with mine. Her name is Fiona Brown, and she’s been my best friend since my mother found her amongst the urchins in Philadelphia, alone as a child. We found her mother and father, but they did not want a scrap of her. One of her ears is horribly disfigured, so much that it resembles that of a pig’s ear. Her family--including her older siblings, mother, father, and grandparents--thought her a demon and a curse to the family. My mother found her and took her in to live with us. We were ten years of age when we were brought together.

It was rather luck that Fiona came to live with us. Her parents were confederate. I myself have never met the people, but my mother said her first/last conversation with them was colorful. Fiona’s parents wouldn’t tell my mother her birthday (they said it was a cursed date) but we can understand from the way her body is so far developed that she is close to my age.

When I was eleven, I asked her to marry me. We figured that we’d be together forever, and that we might as well while we’re at it. She obliged. We haven’t done it yet, but even today, as I am seventeen years old, we haven’t broken the engagement.

The day I received word of the draft, Fiona and I took a walk together. We talked long and hard about it, and we both agreed that if I was killed in war, she would forget me and go find some other man. I wanted this for her. She was convinced that I would come back alive, but just in case...I want her to be happy.


Well, now I’m positive I’ll be killed--


--by boredom.



...Marches and drills...


...Marches and drills...



...More drills...



...More marches...


***



On the 29th of June, the fifteenth day since I was drafted, we got a delivery of supplies to our camp. We also got shoes and socks and raincoats, but the minie balls were of an interest to the other soldiers because they implied that we might be going into battle.



I became aware of the delivery when I notices several persons running past my tent. I stuck my head out, curious. My heart jumped because I thought maybe we were being invaded by confederates. I found that that was not the case. They were running towards the center of camp where sat a large cart filled to the brim with blankets, shoes, socks, and other clothes. It was a glorious sight.

As my head protruded from the tent, it was almost knocked off by a man storming past. I heard my neck crack as it was bashed in by the man’s thigh. He didn’t so much as stumble. He kept on running. Two other fellows were following him, a few feet between them. I spoke to the last man.

“Why are you running? The delivery isn’t going anywhere!”

The man spun around to face me once he passed me. He was skilled at running backwards. “Don’t be fooled! They don’t have enough to satisfy the entire battalion! They run low fairly quick!” he called back to me.

He spun around and kept running. I casually glanced the other way to see if anyone else was coming. I ducked back into the relative safety of my tent before I was trampled by the wall of union soldiers stampeding towards up-for-grabs supplies.

I didn’t want to be left with scratchy leather briefs. I ran after them, my feet sinking into the mud under my weight.


The cart was empty when I got there. Licked clean. The ravenous soldiers, drafted against their will alongside of me, had taken every last necessity from the cart leaving nothing for me. It made me mad, but I figured I got what I deserved. I hadn’t gotten my mind around the thought of being in the war quite yet.

There was a man in a blue uniform towering above everyone else. He had an assortment of pins and medals on his uniform compared to the empty canvas I wore. I inferred he was a man of authority, and that I should inquire in him about some more supplies.

I moved my way through the crowd and saw that the man was standing on a wooden crate labeled “MINIE BALL” in big block letters. He stood there, his hands behind his back, observing the pack of hungry wolves that made the 29th regiment.

“Hey!” I shouted, trying to get his attention. I got shoved aside immediately after by a man much larger than I. Regaining my balance, I looked up at him once more. “Sir!”

“You’ll call me Colonel Clarke and nothin’ else,” he said in a low booming voice. He was British, I could tell by his accent.

“Colonel Clarke?”

“What is it, boy-o?” He looked down at me.

Never mind, he was irish. Very irish. Underneath his cap was a mess of fiery red hair, and his eyes were bright green. I couldn’t get a good proper look at him when he wasn’t looking directly at me.

“Where are more supplies?!”

“That’s the competition o’ camp, boy-o. Yull’ need to get ‘ere faster next round.” He looked back up at the crowd. He beamed at them.

“Yes, but what do I do now?” I said, getting impatient.

He stared back down at me for a moment, then stepped off his pedestal. At that moment, I saw why he stood on his crate like that. He was around sixty inches, much shorter than the rest of us. Due to the crazed and authored look on his face, something told me no one would be insulting him anytime soon.

He reached up, grabbed the collar of my uniform, and led me to the outskirts of the pack. It felt demeaning to me; I was being led around on a leash by a leprechaun.

Colonel Clarke stopped me by a large tent. It towered much larger than the dog-tents given to us, the soldiers. He took off his cap and held it at his side. His full head of hair sprang up, instantly adding six inches to his stature. I wondered how long he spent combing it to be like that.

He stuck his head inside the tent, then pulled me in along with him. The inside was more glorious than it looked on the outside. There were three blue cots, all on their designated fractions of the tent. In the center as a metal pole supporting the entire structure, and next to it were orienteering tools stored atop a large map of Adams County.

In one of the corners was a changing station, which irritated me. Here were the generals and lieutenants living a life of war luxury, and I had to change in the openness of my doorless tent. Some days I would have a hard time getting my trousers on, and other solders would stick their heads in and jeer me on.

I didn’t have too much time to examine the room. He left me standing at the door flap and proceeded to dig around in an old crate stationed not far from me. Even more irritation boiled up inside me. These men have their own deliveries. Of course, they do have authority.

He tied up a parcel-like burlap sac and handed it to me. I took it feebly.

“You won’t be runnin’ ‘round tellin’ people ‘bout this, I trust?” he confirmed with me, one of his eyes growing larger than the other as he stared into my soul.

“Course not.”

“Good. We wouldn’t want tha’, now would we?”

He turned and left the tent. I stood in awe for a moment. I realized that this man, in this position of militial authority, had just given me his own supplies from his own personal stash.

I could go tell the entire camp. He may be stripped of his stature. I could go through his things and rob him of everything he has. I’m not going to, though, because this man was kind to me.


I ran after him.

“Colonel!”

He stopped. “Yes, boy-o?”

“Why me?”

“What?”

“Why are you helping me?”

He hesitated, then fully turned to me. He had something to explain.

“You came to the supply cart too late. Any other soldier would steal or cheat the other men out of the supplies they had their rights to. You didn’t. You came to me and demanded supplies you well know that you deserve. You’re an honest soldier, and the union needs more men like you.”

***



On my way back to my tent, I became more aware of the camp around me. There was a putrid stench. To me, it smelled like human. Women wear their scented waters, but to us--men--the smell of the air around us was not the most important thing to think about. There was a war to be won.

I avoided mud puddles that other men would tromp through without thinking. I’d heard stories about how gangrene covered an entire man’s body, and tortured him until his peers shot him to stop his suffering. If battle didn’t kill me, boredom would. If boredom didn’t kill me, I catch some unidentified disease and die a slow, painful death.

Getting clean water was out of the question. There was no clean water this side of Pennsylvania. It all had disease, which makes you think: Would you rather die of disease or dehydration? I personally would like to get home to Fiona and Mother just as soon as I can. If I avoid the extremities, I might live. Maybe.

Seeing the surrounding men in the camp drink the putrid water would make me nauseous, so I attempted to purify it myself.

I took a pair of old britches from my trunk. Running water through the cloth didn’t work. They made these things tough so as the outside influences of war wouldn’t nuder us. I took my knife and cut a series of small holes in the cloth, and tried running water through it again. It strained the larger impurities, but there were still small specks.

Too thirsty to think, I emptied the water into my canteen and continued on, trying different methods, many of which made the water filthier than before.


***



On the first of July, I woke up early. It’s quite difficult to oversleep in these conditions. Sitting up, vertigo killed me. I gained control of my eyes and reached under my cot. There wasn’t anything within arms length. As I laid back down, my cheek against my cot, and felt around again, lower this time. I picked up some paper, and...I grabbed ahold of the small bottle of ink. In my pocket was a fountain pen. I knew I had left it there because I rolled into it several times during the night, each time awaking with a loud, “WHOYA!” Someone nearby would curse at me in their sleep.

I dipped my pen in the ink, careful not to spill, and quickly penned my thoughts to Fiona.



July 2nd, 1863


My very dear Fiona:

Forgive me for not writing until now. I have been so distracted by the camp’s unsanitary state that it has not crossed my mind to let you know of my situation. I am well. I am not sick yet, but it is likely that I will fall ill in the next week or so. As I mentioned, the camp where our battalion is currently staying is not sanitary in the least. Gangrene and cholera are common. I can only imagine what it must be like for a battalion such as ours to face battle. Shot with a minie ball (I don’t expect you to know what that is; I didn’t know either, at first) and one will very well likely lose a limb.

Colonel Cedric Clarke presides over our battalion. He’s the man that explained to me what a minie ball is. They seem to be small bullets that, on impact--I think I’ll spare you the details. It’s a nasty little bugger, that is all you need know.

Fiona, as I look around this camp and see the horror and despair surrounding me, I must confess that I don’t expect to live to see you again. Though battalions of our size seldom see the face of war, I expect cholera will take me in the next month. My last wish is that you would know that I love you and mother dearly, and I’m inconsolable in that I will never


“...THERE’S BEEN AN ATTACK! Confederate armies have collided with our own at Gettysburg!...”

“...Quick, men! Gather your arms and align yourselves!”

I jumped at the alarmed tone. The letter was hurriedly folded twice and shoved into an eggshell envelope. I prayed to God that Fiona would never have to read it. If they found that I had been killed, they would search me for my name. They would find the letter, and hopefully it would be delivered.

My musket at hand, I departed at a run.




PART II





We marched as much as six miles before we reached any sort of battle. The situation ruminated in my head. I had been in the battalion for so long, this seemed like a dream...a nightmare, no less. I thought about my chances of survival. Would I live? Would I die? Either way, I probably would not return the same.

Our arrival was not in the middle of the battle. No doubt the front lines could see the situation. The rest of us, however, were oblivious to everything apart from the statures of those marching alongside us. There was an ominous pillar of smoke polluting the blue sky, making those around me anxiously nervous.

Up ahead I could see Colonel Clarke shouting at the front half of our battalion, blowing fiercely on his small gold whistle. I could only see him because he was mounted upon the largest of all the horses. His face was a close shade to his hair.

We stopped marching. It was a good rest, but intuition told me we would not be resting long. Our battalion disassembled and lined up along the rest of the Union army. I kneeled behind two other layers of men.

“READY...!”

The men in front prepared their muskets.

“...LEVEL!...”

They brought the guns to their shoulders.

“...FIRE!”

Down the line, there was a deafening kuh-roop! as the entire army fired. I couldn’t see how the confederates reacted; my field of vision was blocked by smoke and other soldiers.



The smoke got thicker as the battle went on. I wanted to fight, so I picked up my musket and crouch-ran behind the other men until I found an opening in the wall of soldiers. I tore open my minie balls too fast, and I wasn’t aware of how many were in that small package. The small grey bullets littered the ground. The men around me were picking them up and cramming them into their rifles.

A man in front of me reached back and scooped up a handful of my bullets.

“Hey!” I yelled over the commotion.

The man didn’t reply. He was absorbed in the battle. Before he could get the bullet down the barrel of his gun, I reached forward and hastily grabbed the bullet from his sweaty hands.

I held the bullet in front of my face. “These are mine!”

He stared at me. He was confused. His eyes were wide and his mouth was half open. A mustache sat on his upper lip like a big black caterpillar and his hair was matted down by sweat. The man’s head slightly tilted to the left.

Words formed in his mouth. He started speaking. He was speaking a language I didn’t recognize, so I couldn’t tell what he was saying. His focus had shifted fully from the battle to me.

“...Er...Sorry!” I shouted over the noise, “Go back to fighting! You can use my bullets!” I scooped up more bullets and held them out to him.

The man flinched, and his words suddenly left him. His thick eyebrows went up and his eyes lost their anger. His mouth hung open, and he sat there for a moment, teetering back and forth. His head creaked forward, his eyes rolled back into his head, and he finally collapsed into my lap.

This man had been shot and killed, and it was my fault. I had distracted him when he was trying to fight. I should have let him use my bullets...


The man’s body was heavy, but I dragged him through the crowd. Bits of his clothing would get caught if I tried to drag him over a bush, so I would often have to stop and untangle him. It amazed me that the other soldiers didn’t even notice me dragging the corpse of a fellow union soldier through the rubble. I was new, of course, so I couldn’t imaging what they had seen before I came.

There was a large stretch of field between the battle site and the hospital tents. It was purposefully set up where it was so that the nurses wouldn’t be shot from far off. I had barely started across the field when two women rushed out and took the man from me. They handled him by his arms and legs, and his head bobbed back and forth.

As I watched him carried off, one of the nurse’s hands sank into his wounded leg. She pulled it out and grasped his other leg more firmly with both hands, letting his diseased leg dangle. I could see green puss glinting on her fingers.


For a moment, I pictured myself in the man’s place. I pushed the disturbing thought from my mind.


I crawled back to the battlefield on my hands and knees, depressed. I ran into a snake once. I ignored him, so he ignored me. Maybe he knows where he is, what’s going on around him...

Maybe he’s just a stupid snake.



***




That night was sleepless. We slept behind the hospital tents in make-shift doghouses made from sheets and our own guns. A very fat, sweaty man slept adjacent from me. He would snore in his sleep, but that’s not what kept me up all night. I was waiting for the confederates to storm through the woods and ambush us. They never came.

I hadn’t a blanket. No one did. The nurses gave us sheets to keep warm, but they were cold and smeared with blood--I didn’t want one.

I laid in the grass with my hand in my pocket. I fingered the letter to Fiona, my thoughts on her the entire night.



Around 4:30am, the pounding of cannons was audible not too far off. I sat up and saw the sun peaking over the mountains in the distance. The stars were still visible in the sky.

General Meade rode through the camp on his horse, yelling, “We’ve surprised them at Culp’s Hill and we need reinforcements! Gather your necessities and meet in your companies!” He rode off into the distance back to the battle. The other soldiers started sitting up in despair, tired and hungry from fighting all day yesterday.

Colonel Clarke mounted his crate. “You’re my men, and we’ll move as a battalion!”


My company was assigned to patrol the northern tip of the battle site. This happened to be in the trees, so it was possible we’d see a battle of our own at any time.

There was a man in my company named Amos. He often slept near me, and when we couldn’t sleep we would play cards by candle light. We would talk long hours about our home lives. He had six siblings, four bothers and two sisters. He said he’s the oldest and that it’s often a burden to help take care of his family. I would tell him about Fiona and Mother.

Amos and I were drafted at the same time; that’s why we were in such similar situations. During this time as we cautiously wandered through the woods, he stood twenty feet away from me. We kept exchanging nervous glances.

There were some grey coats in the distance, but they were hard to see through the trees. Amos came over by me to see my view of them. We advanced closer to notice that they were unaware of our presence. These confederates had their own secluded camp. Two tents sat near us, and a fire with something delicious smelling loomed over it. There were three of them, all three sitting on a log, facing us. They were planning something out, but I could tell by their uniforms they were not commissioned.

The other soldiers in our company had unevenly diffused through the woods. Amos and I were the only ones within sixty feet.

Amos waited for me to begin advancing. I tiptoed through the bushes as he followed behind me. We were careful not to make a sound. When we were within earshot, we listened.

“...At noon we can move further north, but we need to be careful crossing this field or someone will see us--”

“--D’you think it’s more important to hide from the yanees or the other confederates?”

“Both, but it’s specially important that we stay away from our own. The yanks catch us, they’ll for sure shoot us only because we’re confederates. But if the army catches us, we’ll be executed for leaving the battle...”

“They’re on french leave,” I whispered to Amos, “They’re not supposed to be here.”

“...As far as General Lee’s concerned, we’ve mustered out. They won’t be lookin’ for us, but if they find us, we’re done for. The confederacy’s pretty whipped, anyway it goes.”

One of the men was not constant in the conversation, but was rather turning a leaf over in his hands. He was like a child, the way he acted.

Amos began advancing beside me. I looked back.

“What’re you doing?”

“I’m too hungry to think...” He was heading for the large black pot, cooking over the fire. We hadn’t had a decent meal for several days, and it smelled delightful, but he would be caught for sure. I tugged his sleeve.

“You’ll be caught! Get back here!” I prodded him. He just kept tiptoeing towards the fire. Once he entered the clearing, the childlike man noticed him. He didn’t give a shout, he only watched him, the way he smacked his lips, smelling the savory scent of cooking food.

Amos removed the lid from the cast iron pot and quietly set it in the leaves.

“Oh-h-h...It’s rabbit...”

At that, my own stomach gave a rumble. I buttoned up my uniform to hide it, not that it would make much of a difference. The childlike man started nudging the other greycoats.

“...Quit doing that, Muddleton!...Stop!”

As Amos took a taste of the rabbit from a wooden spoon, he swooned in delight. His swoon was too loud, I knew it as soon as it was done.

In an instant, the confederates saw him. They were about twenty feet away, by their tents. The two men stood and started running at Amos. The childlike man stayed put.

“Hey you! Stop!”

“That’s our food!”

“You’d better--!”

One of the men tripped in a rope set around the camp to stop rattlesnakes. The other grabbed his musket from the ground and pointed it at Amos. He stood, the center of attention.

“Amos,” I said to him quietly, “Run.”

“Quiet, you!” shouted the man with the gun, “I’m loaded!”

I tried to get them to calm down. “I’m sure you are, but all he wanted some of your--”

SLAM!

It was done before I could realize it. The upper half of Amos’s head had disappeared, and blood fountained everywhere. What was left of him fell limply into the fire. I grabbed his shirt and pulled him out before any damage could be done--but the damage had already been done. Amos was dead, and his blood was streaming into the dirt. The look of shock was imprinted on his face. One of his eyes was halfway torn out, and the top of his head was completely blown away.

The man dropped his musket and pulled a blunderbuss from inside his jacket. He pointed it at my face. I found my voice.

“NO!!”

Mouth wide open when he pulled the trigger, my left cheek blew out. The bullet had gone into my mouth and left through the skin of my cheek. My hands dropped Amos’s body and moved to the side of my face. I could feel the soft flap of skin dangling there, dripping blood and saliva.

Ignoring my own injuries, I still held this man’s greatest sin the fact that he had killed my friend.

“Reload! QUICK!”

“I don’t have time!”

A watery sound erupted from my mouth. I couldn’t form words because of the gaping hole in my face.

The sound I made scared me, too. I faced the man with the gun, and his face flushed pale. The two other men ran into the forest.

“MMMUUUGHH!!”

I silently sprinted after him, but my heart was filled with vengeance. The trees grew farther and farther apart until we were in a clearing. My legs carried me as fast as I could, and the confederate man ran faster. I wanted him dead, like he had done to Amos.


The man was suddenly kicked by an invisible bull. His figure spiraled into the air and landed six feet from where he started.

We were in the middle of a large stretch of land. I looked to my left, and saw 6,000 grey uniforms. I looked to my right and saw my fellow federals. In between, I could hear bullets whizzing past my face. Cannon balls flew through the air and blocked the morning sun.


The man had led me directly into the center of the battlefield.


Once the thought had registered properly in my head, I started stumbled backwards towards the tees, but--

My legs were blasted out from underneath me. I felt the minie ball hug my shin and hyperextend my leg. My neck cracked when I slammed, face-first, into the dirt.



Hope of survival lost, I closed my eyes.





Fiona. I love you.

***


***


***
PART III




My eyes struggled to open, but they did.




I don’t know how they were opened. If I was alive, it was a miracle. If I wasn’t alive, well then...



I moved my head to the left, and instantly I knew I was alive because my neck ached badly. My tongue felt a soft spot where my two front teeth should have been. The inside of my mouth tasted like leather.

I heard moaning. Other men, moaning in the same place I was. I was in a large tent, like the ones generals stay in, but the ceiling was much dirtier. I moved my head a little to the left and saw the blurry image of a nurse attending to another hurt man.

My arm ached as I reached up to feel the side of my face, which especially hurt. It was sewn shut with thick twine. I opened my mouth to see how the hasty sewing job affected it. I could only open halfway. Any farther and I would tear my face open.


...Where am I?


I used my remaining strength to sit up in place. Below me was a thin white sheet separating me from a hard wooden surface. I turned to ask the nurse something, but she was gone, and the man she was attending to was not moving. His eyes were pure white and his mouth was wide open.

There was a large stain on the other end of my table-bed-workbench. It was splattered on the white sheet like a slaughtered animal. The stain was a mahogany color, so it had been there for a while.

The first thing I noticed was the stain, the second thing I noticed was the leg.

My leg.

My only leg.

My other had been amputated. They must have chopped it off like an infected tree limb when I was out cold. I scanned the room for the other. I swung my leg around and put my weight onto it. Standing was painful, using the table to balance. A sigh expelled from my chest, much to the pain of my torso. I spat a parcel of blood into the dirt.

The infected leg was in a metal dish not far from the foot of my bed. I hopped over to it, and gagged when I saw it infested with maggots and gangrene. It was all black and yellow and diseased, a sad extension of me, forcibly taken against my will.


As I examined my hairy toes and yellow toenails, I thought about my attitude towards the war. When I had first gotten to camp, I thought for sure that it was a waste of time. I knew that I probably would never see the war and I would be doing drills and marches for the next six months.

My perspective slightly shifted when I was pitied by Colonel Clarke, and I saw the good in this war. We were doing President Lincoln’s orders. He’s a good president, and we wanted to be on his side. His desires were to stay a nation, united in all things, and we were to do everything we could to do that.

When we were brought into this Battle of Gettysburg, I never really thought about whether I would live or die. It was so quick, I really couldn’t think about it. I saw many other good men die at my feet. I was so cold the night after our first day at battle, cold and worried about my letter to Fiona, I didn’t think about it too much...and as I stood in the hospital tent I didn’t remember a terrible amount of time after the sun came up on the second day. Maybe a few cannon blasts or gunshots...

Speaking of Fiona’s letter, I stuck my hand in my front pocket and found that it had been taken. My prediction had come true; they searched me for my name and found it in the letter, which they will be delivering to Fiona.


The main problem is that I’m still alive.


The nurse walked back into the tent holding a brown bottle of liquid. She saw me standing there, practically holding my dead leg. She gasped, and ran back out through the door flap. I must be too much of a sight, with my yellow bloodshot eyes and missing teeth.

The nurse ran back into my room. She looked up at me, wincing into my hideous face.

“Come! Come!” she said in a foreign accent. She waved for me to follow her. I was much taller than her.

Before I could leave, General Meade walked into the room. He was a little roughed up, bruises on his cheeks and bags under his eyes from sleep deprivation. The pointed gray beard seemed to be less intimidating, and he seemed to have even less hair on the top of his head than before.

“Name?” he asked as he held a book of names.

“...Saws...Saunders.”

My voice cracked towards the beginning, making me say my name wrong. They were the first words I said since I was knocked out, so my voice was raspy and dry.

General Meade thumbed through a few pages.

“James?”

“...Yeah.”

He ruffled his mustache. He gave me a look.

“It says here you were killed in action.”

“I know...” I looked down as I said it.

“...How do you know?” He was curious.

“I had a letter.”

“A letter to whom?”

“A letter to my fiancee. I wrote it at camp before the battle started.”

He sighed a deep sigh. “...I hate it when this happens, because there’s always more grief than there needs to be. If today’s the fifth--”

“The fifth?” I interrupted him, “As in July fifth?”

“Yes, July fifth.”

I swayed a little where I stood. I had been out cold for two days.

“--As I was saying, today’s the fifth. The company responsible for telling your family left yesterday, so you may be able to catch them if you’re quick.”

My eyes drifted to the ground. I had just slept for three days, yet I was exhausted.

“Where should I head first?” I asked.

“The Adams County company is heading for Cumberland first...Where do you live?”

“Reading,” I said.

“Reading...” he said to himself, “...Reading...You may just be better off going straight home. When they get there, just tell them you’re alive and well, and they’ll change in in the records.”


***



The sun was rising when I left the tent. Looking at the mountains and the sunrise, I felt the odd sense that I had been here before, in a dream or something like it. I listened for cannon blasts, but I could hear only silence.


The confederate camp was grim. They weren’t nearly as far as we were when it comes to cleaning up. Their bodies, dawned in gray uniforms, were scattered across the field. Some men lay in extremely uncomfortable looking positions. In camp, there was a heap of dead horses. Their glassy eyes stared at the sky as their bodies became bloated.

The worst thing by far was the putrid stench that filled the entire camp. It made my nose twist. Some of the bodies on the field were bloated and fat while others had flattened as they released their noxious gasses.

Near the center of the camp there was a tree. It was a large, strong tree with thick limbs. One of the limbs held three men, strung up to be picked by the birds. They had burlap sacs over their heads and their hands were tied behind their backs. Each set of toes pointed together as they dangled, swaying back and forth. Two of the men were ruffled with the complexion of struggling, while the one in the middle was neat and normal. I could imagine this man did not struggle while he was being hanged, though I couldn’t imagine why.

As I turned from the camp, I realized who the men were. They were the traitors that had killed Amos, and the man in the middle was the childlike man. The two on the outside deserved it, but the middle mad was innocent. He had done no wrong. The entire time I was hunting and being hunted by the two others, he had sat there with a grin on his face, his distracted mind in some other world.


***



My legs hurt when I stumbled onto my street. At this point I couldn’t believe they made me walk the entire way. But it did’t matter anymore. It was the afternoon and the sun had a journey to go, but I would be sleeping soon.

I opened our gate and made my way onto our property. The war had made me unsightly, but Fiona would recognize me anywhere. With the windows dark I wondered if anyone was home.


The house was clean. The rug was beaten and the windows were shining. A pit formed in my stomach when I saw my letter, open on the counter. Next to it was a death certificate, bearing my name.

James Polk Saunders
Died July 3rd, 1863


It was one of the oddest sensations, staring at my own demise. The world thought I was dead. The creepy thought haunting me, I turned around and looked out the back window.

There was a young woman sitting in the back garden. She was looking down. I edged my way out the back door into the sun.


Fiona was sitting on a chair brought from the house. Her face looked towards the cabbages, but her eyes were closed. He eyebrows were firm but beautiful while her bad ear dangled gracefully by her cheek.

She reached to her face and blew her nose in a handkerchief, sniffing a few times to clear her nose. Her hand went to her chest. Her face was tearstained.


I walked up to her and put my hand on her soft shoulder. She saw my wrinkled extension to a bloody limb and hesitated before looking up.



Her big brown eyes widened even more, staring up at me. “...You’re alive...”


“Yes,” I said softly, “I’m alive.”


Fiona stood and embraced me in a hug. I stumbled when her hug set me off balance. She noticed my missing leg, and gaped at the spot it should have been.

I held out my crutch to her. She took it and threw it aside into the dirt. I held out my arm and she supported me. I knew Fiona would nurse me until I was back the way I was, or as close as we could come.


She was my crutch now.



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