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In the Midst of the Storm

I can kind of see it in slow motion. I saw the face, the hands holding the gun. Saw surprise in those familiar eyes. Regret, remorse, pain. It’s too late, though.
It’s as if the breath has been sucked out of me. I gasp, closing my eyes and fall to the ground. The motion around me blurs. The people, the noises, all come together in a big, blurry, painful vision. I accidentally move an inch. Suddenly I find myself rolling down the steep slope. I gasp out in pain. Thoughts race through my head. Two years ago I would never have thought this would be my end. I never thought I would die like this. I slip into half-consciousness, seeing black, and my mind goes back to the past. The painful past.

Pa rushed home from the general store with a crisp white paper in his hand. That was the day he was torn from us. The day he decided to answer the South’s call for soldiers. And then he was gone.
At first, Pa sent letters.

I see myself going out to the postman, I can see myself, but I am just an observer. I am not really me, but a wraith floating above, no one below seeing me. It seems like forever ago.
Next, the postman skips our house. No mail. Again, and again, and again…

Nothing. No word for 6 months. It’s been a year since he left.
The world seems smaller without him. I don’t know what’s going to happen. To him. To us. Some say that the North’s just doing their duty, stopping slavery. But why did this have to affect us? We don’t even know anyone with slaves, let alone have ‘em ourselves! We don’t want the slavery, but it doesn’t concern us; we are not fighting for slavery, but for our homes and our loyalty to the South. Folks say this is “The War of Northern Aggression” but I don’t care. All I want is to have my pa back—for good.

We seem to take for granted the things we love the most.

I can’t breath for the pain in my arm. My back. Everywhere! I can’t even think straight. I can see everything, sliding together in my mind…

I’m standing in the open door of the cottage. The village is silent and dark. It’s a heavy, airless darkness though, unlike the clear crisp night of a year ago. I sigh. Would the war never end? I want Pa to come back. I need our family together!
I walk through the streets crying inside. I feel as though my heart had cracked like pottery. “When will this cruel war be over?” I whisper.
I look up at the sky. The stars shone so brightly. Maybe Pa was looking at the same stars.
Maybe.
Maybe he was....no.
I made myself believe that Pa would come back.

It was too late, that. Too late.
A single tear drips out of my eye…

That morning, fateful morning, I saw my older brother who’s fifteen, Thomas, sneaking out of the village. I didn’t know what he was doing, so I followed him. Turns out, he was going to the woods. I followed him into the darkest parts, kind of apprehensive. I didn’t know what he was doing.
He went all the way through the dark woods and came out in a bright clearing. I squinted, because it was so unlike the forest. I hid behind a log and watched.
Thomas stood in the middle of the clearing, like he was waiting for someone. Suddenly, a movement at the other end of the clearing caught my eye. A teenage boy hobbled out. He was on crutches and only had one leg. The empty pant was tied up to not drag the ground. He had a drum around his neck and a couple drum-sticks peeking out of his pocket.
If that wasn’t enough, he was wearing a blue soldier’s uniform. Blue! I knew what that meant. Trouble—Yankee trouble.
I must have gasped or something, because Thomas turned around. For a second, his eyes met mine, and I knew he’d seen me. But he turned back, because the other boy was talking.
“Good. You’re here already.” He said.
Thomas nodded. “I had chores to do, so I had to sneak away. I don’t have much time.”
“That’s okay. It’ll only take a minute. Do you have everything?”
“Yes. Do you?”
“Yeah. Come on.” The other boy took off his blue felt cap and gave it to Thomas. I hadn’t seen it before, but now I noticed that Thomas had a knapsack. He opened it and pulled out a pair of trousers and a shirt. He handed them to the other boy.
The boy went to the woods where he came from and disappeared. A minute later, he came out wearing Thomas’s clothes. He handed Thomas his uniform, boots, drum, and sticks. He kept the crutches. Thomas shoved everything in his knapsack, taking out one last parcel. It was some food and a canteen. The boy eagerly took it.
“Thank you.” He said.
Thomas grinned at him. “No. Thank you for everything.”
The boy laughed, though it was not a very nice laugh. “Who would want to? You’ll regret it soon enough.”
Thomas shook his head. “It’s what I want to do. It’s what I must do.”

I couldn’t see the truth, the terrible truth, right in front of my face. No, I could see it, but I refused to listen to the voice. The voice in the back of my mind saying, “He’s gone and done it. He’s deserted everything you care about. He’s becoming a Yankee soldier. And there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”
I wouldn’t listen.

I take a shuddering breath, trying to clear the muddle from my head. I can’t lift the fog. It’s threatening to overwhelm me. I fight the unconsciousness that’s coming, fight it…
Shot. Shot from a Yankee bullet. A bullet shot by my brother.
Is this what it is like to die?
I have never seen anybody die before. I have always imagined it as calm and peaceful. Have I tried to finish papa’s work in vain? I might never know. With a groan, I fade into unconsciousness, giving up the fight.

Thomas turns, his voice shuddering. A single tear courses down his cheek. He speaks with his jaw clenched. “You. have. no. idea, Lissy. You don’t know anything about what is happening! What, are you just content to sit here, while people are dying? Dying? And not just soldiers, but humans, Lissy, humans. It makes no difference whether they’re black or white! They. are. human.”
His voice raises.
“They are human just like you! You aren’t any better than them just because you’re white.”
I am crying too. “I don’t think I’m any better than anyone! I don’t think I’m any better! I just want papa back, and since he’s not coming back, I have to finish what he began. This isn’t an issue of slavery, or prejudice, or anything. It’s an issue of loyalty to those you love.”
And now I’m screaming.
“And loyalty, Thomas, is something you would never be able to understand!”
I run out, sobbing. I won’t come back.

I groan, feeling my muscles harden, and stiffen. I am in continuous pain. I’m bleeding.

I’m a few people away from the front of the line. I stretch to see the booth over all the tall men’s heads. I had cut my hair off this morning and I have it in my traveling case. I took some boys clothes from the cottage, after I snuck back last night. I surveyed myself in the mirror. I was too pretty to be a boy. My features were too small- my nose, and mouth. I could pass though. Enough.
Finally, I reach the front of the line. My hands are clammy and I’m breathing fast.
“Name and age, mister?” The recruiter asks.
I deepen my voice, and say, “Benjamin Lands, age 16.” That was a lie. I could never pass for three years older than I was. This would never work.
He looks up at me and frowns. “Sure don’t look sixteen, but we could do with some more people for the artillery. Go round back so we can check you over.”
I stiffen. Uh-oh. Not a physical.
When I get back there, I am relieved. All I had to do was be measured and weighed, like a Christmas turkey. Whew…

My right arm is numb, and I can’t see straight. I’m still bloody, and thirsty. And it’s getting dark…

I get ready to light the fuse on the musket. Then I see the gun pointing at me. I see the face behind it. Thomas. Please, no!
It’s too late, and I feel nothing but warm blood gushing down my arm. I see remorse, sorrow, and failure in his eyes. I fall. Still I’m falling, falling, falling…

When I awoke, I was still lying there on the wet grass. I felt weak. I had lost a lot of blood and was in great pain. It felt as if the place right below my right shoulder was on fire. The past two years came flooding back. My argument with Thomas, my joining of the army, my first battle, up until right now, lying on the dew soaked grass, dying. My family would never know. Thomas would go on, forget us, forget me, forget that he had fired that fatal shot.
Or maybe not. Not if I could help it. I would get well, and go find him. I would be labeled a deserter, but my hair had grown longer, and I could definitely change to look like a girl. No one would notice. I would find Thomas. I vowed to not stop until we had reconciled and until our family was together again.
It was dark, and the battle seemed to be over. I couldn’t move because I was so faint. I cried out feebly. “Help! Please help!”
There was no answer, and I waited. Finally, I saw a lantern, and a face came into view. The Yankee held a canteen to my lips, and I drank, feeling stronger. He smiled, and said, “Hold on, little one. Let me go get help.” The lantern bobbed away, and I was confident that I would live.
I was thankful for that kindness. The small act of kindness from an enemy. Maybe, just maybe, I could learn to forgive those who took everything…

I had been carried from the battlefield into the Yankee camp. In the morning, a doctor came and bandaged my wound.
“You’ve lost a lot of blood, but the bullet went straight through your arm. It will have to heal, but I won’t have to do anything but bandage it and clean it.”
I was thankful for that. But there was a bigger task in store.
Forgiveness.
Finding my brother.
I could not come to terms with the fact that the Yankees were the ones to rescue me. Were they not all bad? Were they, in fact, good? Maybe I had been wrong. Maybe they were right? I needed to think, to find the answers.

I knew that although the storm had passed, clouds still covered the sun.
But maybe there was hope: hope for the sun to shine once more.



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