I wrote this story based on a dream I had as a kid. What happened to me in the dream (and past life) is what happened in the opening scene to this story. I’d awoken from my dream in actual pain and had rolled off my bed onto the floor, clutching my side for several moments before “coming to.” Years later, in adulthood, I’d found out that one of my other brothers had had “the same dream.”
I’d also written this story based on some Twilight Zone-like weirdness that had happened to me upon visiting Bull Run (Manassas) battlefield, in Manassas, Virginia, in 1990. I feel that I was a Zouave in The Second Battle of Bull Run.
This story was originally published in The Waking Muse #1, which has since gone defunct.
Etched in Stone
© F. P. Dorchak, 1991
Smoke drifted in patches across the battlefield, periodically exposing smashed artillery and the mutilated and destroyed remains of both blue and gray. Muted, distant groaning filtered from everywhere, seemed to rise up from the bruised and battered earth itself. The air, thick and black, still carried within it the energy of atrocities stilled only moments before.
“Helppp…meee…” A soldier. Twisted about a sweaty and bloodied head. Coughed painfully, blood issuing from parched and cracked lips…dirt and gunpowder coating the inside of his mouth. He knew the battle had only just ended, yet something remained unsettled…more…there was more to follow—
Movement. Up ahead, through the smoke. The soldier squinted, waiting. Again coughed. Slowly, shadowy figures pressed closer, the clink and clatter of weaponry cutting through the unholy execration. The soldier’s uneasiness grew.
What color were they?
Sweat—or was it blood?—stung his eyes. Squinting hurt. He couldn’t make them out. The humidity, the stink….
What color were their uniforms?
The detail continued their sweep across the field, bending over and poking at things.
The soldier couldn’t make out their color, but felt their uneasiness. Something was wrong. The moment felt…altered—
“Theyah’s anotha, sah!” one of the detail alerted.
The wounded infantryman craned his neck toward the voice—just in time to see uniformed arms raise a musket…on the end of which was a bloodied and slightly bent bayonet. The prone infantryman watched in exhausted hopelessness as the blade screamed down from the sky and slid neatly into his side—
Paul Donner awoke in excruciating pain, clutching his side, sweat soaking both pillows and sheets. He tried to get up, but instead only managed an awkward and contorted roll out of bed onto the floor. The sound—the grind—of the bayonet twisting in the dirt beneath him…twisting within him…still echoed through him. He again tried to get up, but only collapsed back to the floor, gasping for air. Abruptly, the pain subsided and Paul pushed himself up from the floor to sit against the bed, fumbling for his wound.
But, where there was pain…there was no wound.
Nothing. There was nothing.
Paul got to his knees…then his feet…then immediately began tossing about bed sheets and pillows.
Again, nothing. No dirt. No blood. No blade.
“What the hell?”
Paul staggered into the bathroom, switched on the light and stood before the mirror, eyes closed.
Relax, he mentally chanted, relax, relax, relax—it was only a dream….
Slowing his breathing and chuckling, he opened his eyes to stare into the cold, unfeeling glare of a battle-weary Confederate, upraised musket and fixed bayonet coming at him. Paul yelped as the bloodied blade lunged out from the mirror for him, and dropped to the floor. He grazed his head against the sink, but just lay there…curled up…listening to the distant notes of a bugle and clattering equipment.
He swore he inhaled the acrid odor of spent black powder….
But no more jabs…and no one came for him.
No one lunged at him from the mirror.
Cautiously, he felt his way back up the sink and looked into the mirror.
Nothing. Nothing more than a perfect reflection of the crease of the ceiling and wall above him.
Donner’s day went from rude to confusing. The more he stewed over the dream, the more obsessed he became. It had been about the Civil War, of that he was certain, but everything else was a haze. And he couldn’t shake that soldier’s image, the one lunging out at him from his mirror. There had been so much hate there…a face twisted and framed by enough scars, dirt, and rage to create nightmares for lifetimes. The soldier’s eyes had been wide and insane as if he’d been to hell and back. The eyes of one who cared little for life—his enemy’s or his own.
And there were too many questions, like which side this dream-him was on (he figured Federal, for no other reason than he was from New York). What was his rank (enlisted…maybe a corporal), and how old he was at the time of his dreamed death (early to mid-twenties)? Then he tried to actually get inside the head of the doomed soldier….
Got to be able to separate fantasy from reality.
It took some time for him to break free of the gloom, but once it began to shake loose, he gave Becky a call. Becky Decker worked for a travel agency down the street in Old Town Alexandria, the place where Paul had first met her. He’d gone in there one day to ask directions, one thing lead to another, and before he knew it, he’d asked her to dinner. That had been nearly six months ago.
Or had it, Paul suddenly wondered. Had it really been all those months ago or had I just made it all up?
“Where the hell had that come from?” he asked himself. “I’m running myself into the ground, of course I’d asked her out six months ago—how hadn’t I? She’s my girlfriend. I’m on my way over to see her. If I hadn’t met her, she wouldn’t be there, now would she?”
He left the apartment.
The day was sunny and warm, the first days of June like a breath of fresh, if not already humid air. The approaching summer was promising, and Paul looked forward to making the best of it—but he felt on a mission. Something was out there…beckoning him. All his life he’d felt he’d had a particular calling, but now he felt as if at a crossroads…as if whatever was meant for him was just around the corner. He didn’t know what this urge was…but here he was catching up to thirty and still unfulfilled. He needed to settle down and get a grip on things—but what was he supposed to do? He knew there was something important out there for him—
Or headed for him.
Donner rounded a corner and passed an angry, recessed figure in an alleyway, a figure he never noticed, but who wore a tattered uniform and finished loading a large caliber, rifled musket. The soldier forced the rammer home into its slot beneath the musket’s barrel, and, after Donner walked past, strode confidently out into the sunlight to brazenly take up position on the sidewalk behind him. The figure half-cocked the hammer, installed a new percussion cap, and leveled his weapon at Paul’s back. Pulling back the hammer the rest of the way, the soldier fired.
An ear-jarring report split the air—just as a car backfired.
Donner found himself crouched low, poised as a tiger, senses heightened—an apparently instinctive move he found quite disquieting. He straightened up, smelling black powder.
Donner regained his composure and continued on…but felt watched…he looked behind him, but saw nothing.
Once again his senses had apparently tricked him.
“It’s going to be one of those days, ain’t it.”
Musket smoke evaporated.
“Hi, honey!” Becky said, getting up and out of her chair to greet Paul as he entered the office. “You okay?” She rose up on her toes and gave Paul a quick peck on the cheek. “After your call this morning I’ve been all worried about you!” Hands on his shoulders, she slid them down over his arms, interlinking her fingers with his. “How’s your side?”
“Oh, fine. There’s hardly any pain now, and I still didn’t find any bruises, except from the fall.”
Becky examined Paul’s forehead, gently touching the wound. “My poor baby…”
“Yeah, it still hurts. Poor baby need much lovin to fix!”
“Hmm, sounds like a challenge, but I’m starved—let’s eat first, then we can talk about what it takes to fix you, later.”
“Tell me more,” Becky asked, intently focused on Paul. The server retreated, taking their menus and orders with him. Paul shifted uncomfortably in his chair, feeling unaccountably awkward in the restaurant and not knowing why. They’d been here plenty of times before—
“Well, I only remember a portion of it. There was this Civil War battlefield. I was the wounded soldier I told you about, and I guess I was only momentarily unconscious, because when I came to my wounds still bled. The fighting had only just stopped and there was this weird, ringing silence to everything…and everywhere around me men were either dead or dying.
“And the stench.
“I peered through the smoke and haze, and saw soldiers approaching, but something wasn’t right—about them or the whole feel to the dream, for that matter.
“Before I know it, I’m being gutted.”
Paul shuddered, and took a sip of water.
“This is fascinating.”
“Yeah, well, you didn’t wake up with rusty iron twisting in your kidneys—”
“Oh, Mister Drama King.” Becky swiped at him with a napkin.
“And what about that Rebel soldier in your bathroom?”
“It scared the hell out of me! I just have this terrifying nightmare, then I turn around and walk smack into this…this…”
“Yeah. I actually wet my pants—but if you tell anyone, I’ll deny it.”
Becky burst out laughing, drawing attention from surrounding tables, to which Paul turned, and said, “It’s okay, she’s only just been released!”
Becky hit him in the shoulder and squealed a high-pitched “Paul!” before continuing. “No way—you actually peed your pants?”
“And if you ever—”
“Don’t worry, I’ll only tell my mother!” she said, giggling. “Okay, okay, so you had this wild dream and saw this weirdo dream warrior—what other weirdisms have you experienced?”
“Well…nothing else—except that there was this odd smell of gun powder when a car backfired by me on the way over here. I nearly—”
“Peed your pants!”
Shaking his head, Paul buried his face into muscled and callused hands.
Donner spent the rest of his day window shopping and thinking…his final destination a stroll through what he’d come to call Cemetery Row, a gathering of a half dozen or more cemeteries with names like Bethel, Douglass, Saint Paul’s Episcopal, Christ Church, and, way in the back, Alexandria National Cemetery.
He was restless.
Something was definitely out there…waiting for him…seeking him out…he couldn’t deny it, but here he loved the quiet solitude that came from strolling the headstones and crypts, and all the tall, mature hardwoods drooping and rustling over well-kept grounds. It was the strangest feeling he’d had all day, thinking how right it felt to be among the dead and the decayed…almost a yearning….
Paul left Cemetery Row for his truck, buckled up, fired up the engine, and immediately felt light-headed. Grabbing the steering wheel, he steadied himself and squinted past the windshield. More pain hammered him…and a sudden fog came up around his truck.
Paul again smelled black powder…and that high-pitched ringing in his ears.
Tasted blood and dirt.
His heart raced, his throat constricted.
He felt as if someone or something was reaching into his very soul and trying to squeeze the life out of him—his life.
Paul stared into the fog. At first he thought it was only his imagination, but the shadowy, indistinct images coalesced. Refused to abate.
Line upon line of men were charging a hill, the fighting thick and furious.
The scene then shifted to a wooded area and he saw large numbers of Confederate cavalry charging outnumbered, but colorfully dressed Federal units. One of these scarlet-pantsed men turned to Paul.
Looked directly at him.
His damaged face quickly filled Paul’s world and from all around him came muffled whispers:
Etched in stone.
Etched in stone.
The words tore into him like hot lead. Then the giant, damaged face spoke.
“Who are ye to desert us?”
Paul snapped free of his trance, whacking his head against the headrest, and cursed.
The fog dissipated.
Wiping sweat from his forehead (he swore he felt grit beneath his fingernails), he took several moments to reorient…and had to actually curtail the sudden urge to run—to get away—away from what?
Paul stomped on the accelerator and sped away from the quiet and the dead.
He couldn’t get into his apartment fast enough. Slamming shut the door, Paul rushed to his couch and collapsed upon it.
That was too much.
It hadn’t been a dream—he’d been wide awake and conscious this time.
What the hell was going on? Those images had definitely been Civil War…and what was the big deal with it all of a sudden? He’d always been fascinated about it, sure, but what did that have to do with the price of tobacco in Richmond? Everywhere he looked these past few days he ran into one weird occurrence after another—and from that war. How could dreams…
How could dreams turn into reality?
Confused but hungry, he headed for the kitchen. Threw together some leftovers. After he sat down at the table, he stared down at a plate of
Time to eat it.
Time to find reality.
Paul reached down and picked up the fork…but it felt funny.
He speared it into his dinner…brought it up to his mouth…and saw that the utensil was no longer the four-pronged stainless-steel implement he’d taken out of the kitchen drawer, but a crude, two-pronged apparatus consisting of thick, rusted, metal wires wrapped around each other. His plate was a beat up and worn tin platter, and his apartment—
His apartment was gone.
Paul sat before a cramped, nighttime campfire, soldiers angrily staring him down and mumbling a barely audible chant. Through the firelight Paul also saw that their faces were not just angry, but weary. Saw that he wore the same Federal Zouave uniform everyone around the fire wore. The red and blue of his uniform were no longer bright, but torn and faded, splotched with
sweat stains and dirt.
“W-what’s going on, here?” he asked.
No one answered. Just glared. Paul looked about the camp. All activity had ceased upon his arrival…all attention on him…and he felt it like successive sledgehammer blows.
Who are you to desert?
Etched in stone.
Back to bone.
“What the hell is going on?”
Where had everything gone? His apartment—Becky?
The mumbling grew until a large burly sergeant with dirtied rockers astride dirtied stripes made his way to him. The sergeant, tough-looking and angry, stepped into Paul’s face, forcing him back with his mere presence. Paul smelled the chew on his breath, juices still wet on the man’s handlebar mustache. Inches from his face, the sergeant spoke.
“What makes yew so spay-shal, soldier?”
Paul saw that the man’s teeth were sporadic and rotting; winced at the repressed anger that flared from spiteful eyes…at the smell of battle still ripe upon him. This man…was his superior.
“This is all wrong….all wrong,” Paul said. “My life…I should be…here.”
The realization was like another sledgehammer blow. A double-whammy.
“I should be here!”
Paul spun around, stumbling off into the woods. The men remained, watching…just watching…
…back to bone…
…etched in stone….
Paul plunged headfirst through brush and trees, branches slapping thin, stinging welts across his body.
Events were beginning to fall into place, but he still didn’t know why or how things had gotten so bizarre. How was he supposed to belong to the past when he was alive and kicking in the present? Was everything he was living a dream?
Had he had it all backwards?
Was the past his present—the present his future?
What was real?
But he knew…knew that that sergeant was his superior…that that camp his bivouac…and these stinging welts painful.
Paul raced blindly into the dark, leaving far behind the men at the campfire, their murmurs still rattling around in his head.
He leapt over a downed tree and landed confidently on the other side, but a large branch again snapped across his face, sending him painfully to the ground. Eyes watering, he remained on the ground, dazed. He had no idea where he was, yet continued to experience the crazy déjà vu. By touch, Paul examined his face and felt the long, raised welt that had risen…felt the tackiness of the blood that flowed out from it. He allowed the pain to refocus his thoughts as he traced a finger along the welt like an old lover revisited. Gaining some resolve, he crawled back over to the felled tree and listened.
Felt the dirt between his fingers and underneath his nails.
The firmness of the tree against his back.
Heard the crackling and popping sounds that were up ahead…the smell of burning wood.
Bonfires. Muffled conversation.
What color were they?
Paul crawled toward the noise, the loose tatters of his uniform snagging on underbrush.
He ripped himself free and continued forward on belly and elbow. Found himself cradling the familiar heft of a Springfield rifle. It all felt perfect. This was where he belonged.
Shortly he came to a small rise and found more soldiers.
What color are they!
Paul watched. They were but a handful, and looked as if they were nearing completion of a task—when he suddenly lurched forward, overcome by a shortness of breath and a stab of pain that exploded from his side. Clutching at the pain he remembered the wound from his dream, and looked down.
“This can’t be—”
Paul pulled up his tunic and ran his fingers along his flesh until he fingered the sucking gash that was an open hole from the well-thought-out design of a triangular-bladed bayonet.
“Yer bout to take yer rightful place, Yankee,” came the voice from behind, and Paul jerked and grunted as the bayonet was again thrust into him, this time in a viciously twisting action….
He bled heavily as he was taken into the Confederate camp. Wave upon wave of pain engulfed him…but he didn’t die. Men lead him through rows of graves, some open, some not, but all fresh.
And still, he didn’t die.
Peering through the feverish haze he saw the bodies of the dead and dying. They looked empty…familiar….
“Ya’re a blaspheme a nature, boy, n we aim ta see what’s wrong’d put right, y’hear?”
“I-I don’t understand—”
The soldiers snickered. Again, the anger…anger not directed at the war, but at him.
“What is it—what have I done to so offend you?”
The soldiers remained silent as they continued directing him toward the end of the dug-out plots. Paul welcomed the inhalation of dirt and decay. Workers nearby put their shovels aside and scrambled up from the graves to stand beside their holes.
“There’ah,” one directed, “etched in stone, Yank-ee.”
Etched in stone
Etched in stone
Back to bone
Find yer home
The chanting filled his mind and soul.
The soldiers’ hold on him lessened and he fell forward.
Paul wanted to ignore the truth…to return home…to be rid of the fiendish nightmare that had tormented him night and day—but where was home?
What was a dream and what was reality?
A young Confederate, not sixteen years of age, bent toward him. His face was young, but his eyes bespoke of a truer age.
“This is home, sah.”
This is home, sah.
Paul rolled over, fork clutched savagely in hand.
He opened his eyes and stared at it.
It was four-pronged. Stainless steel.
He shot to his feet and flung it away, blood was on his hands and dinner was all over the floor.
Things were beginning to make sense…blackened, dark sense, perhaps, but sense nonetheless. Trembling, he rushed to the phone and dialed Becky. Her phone rang twice.
“What are you doing tomorrow?”
“Just working, why?”
“Take the day off. Cancel. Call in sick—”
“Paul…what’s the matter, are you all right?”
“No, I’m not…but tomorrow I will be. We’re taking a short trip. Somewhere that’ll end these nightmares. I’ll pick you up at seven.”
He hung up.
Paul picked Becky up at six-fifty-eight the next morning. He said nothing after she got into the truck.
“Are you going to tell me what this is all about?” she asked.
“We’re goin to Manassas.”
“That’s where the answers lie, Becky, that’s where they all lie.”
Shivers ran down her spine.
In less than an hour, the two arrived at Manassas Battlefield, Virginia. Fog hugged the ground and trees lined the road and fields like specters-in-waiting. The drive had been a silent one, the tension thick, and Becky had chosen not to say much. She figured Paul would talk soon enough for the both of them.
“Have you been here before?” she asked, sheepishly.
“Once…a long time ago. A long, long time ago.” Paul’s eyes took on a faraway glaze.
“Paul…you’re scaring me.”
“Scaring you? Yes, I suppose I am—I’m sorry, really I am, you have to believe me. Come, let’s stop here and get you a map.” They pulled into the Visitor’s Center, but found it closed.
“I didn’t think it’d be open yet,” Becky said nervously, and got out of the truck. She looked through the locked glass doors of the building, cupping her hands over her eyes against the glass.
Paul got out of the truck and went to the trash. “No matter. Here,” he said, and picked out a loose flyer from the trash. “You won’t need anything other than this. Let’s go.”
Becky and Paul drove along the deserted, winding road, Becky followed his travels on the map, and read from it as they drove. They stopped at the tiny parking lot alongside a singular stone building.
“Shall we go for a walk?” he asked.
“Sure,” Becky answered.
But the hair on the back of her neck prickled. She felt unstable and unsure. Getting out of the truck they both walked up to the stone building and immediately Paul reached out a shaky hand to touch the building, as she read from the flyer. “The brochure says this building was used as a hospital,” Becky said, “that it’s one of the oldest structures around.”
“Yep, there was a lot of dead and wounded that went through here.”
Becky looked up to him, then back to the paper. His voice was different, but he was correct. Ignoring the increased thickness to his voice, she pointed to the hill behind it. “Up there an attack had formed…”
Paul stared off in a different direction.
“Paul? Are you listening to me?”
Paul continued to stare off into the distance. Becky came up to him and poked him in the chest. “Paul, are you listening to me?”
“You know…it’s so weird coming back,” he said. “Everything feels so…not set.”
“Is this part of what’s been going on?”
“Yes. It’s very…disturbing. I feel as if I’ve been here before.”
“But you said you had.”
“I…have. But not in this lifetime.”
Becky backed away. “Paul, you’re scaring me. I don’t like this.”
“And you think I do?” he asked, wheeling around to face her. “You have no idea what hell we endured!”
There was that something different in his eyes again, something different about him. She felt like she was looking into the eyes of another…someone older…more tired. In his features were an accumulation of years that absolutely terrified her, like Time was screaming past in hyperdrive right before her eyes.
Becky smelled dirt and decay.
Felt dirty herself.
“Let’s go over there,” Paul said. “There’s a sunken, unfinished railroad and more battle lines…the Deep Cut,” he said, pointing. Becky looked down to her sheet and saw that he was again correct. They got back into the truck.
Becky said, “Here the railroad crosses, and back there—”
“Back there is where we started defending our lines,” Paul said, finishing.
“What’s this ‘we’ stuff?”
Paul turned to her.
A bugle echoed in the distance.
“You hear that?” Becky asked.
Paul intently nodded.
“Sounds like a reenactment. This doesn’t say anything about reenactments,” she said, checking the brochure. “Wanna check it out?”
“That’s what we’re here for.”
Swinging the truck back onto the main road, they dipped through the gently sloping hills and troughs of the valley. The fog refused to lift, growing worse. Paul took the truck off on a side road and brought it to a stop. He got out and Becky followed. She watched him stare out over another field, at the end of which was a tall, narrow, monument surrounded by several cannon.
“Well, this is it,” Paul said, flatly, “this is where it all ended.”
Becky looked down to her sheet of paper. “But that’s not what the brochure says—”
“I’m not talking about the brochure, Becky, I’m talking about me. Back behind those trees—they’ah,” he said, pointing, “we were set up, camped. We were a small force…barely a company…suffered heavy losses…”
Becky looked at him, her paper hanging uselessly in her grasp.
Etched in stone
Etched in stone for all time….
“…the Confederates were beatin the tar out of us. I was wounded pretty bad, as were most in my unit—”
“Stop it! Stop it right now! You’re scaring me! This is nonsense, you hear me? Nonsense! You’re here, with me…now. In the present.”
“Are you so sure?” he asked. Again he faced the fields. “I was with the 5th New York. Volunteers. Duryée’s Zouaves. You kin check it out fer yourself. I was…I don’t know…I was somehow caught up in a strange warp between life and death…I don’t really know, it’s all beyond my ken…but I remember being called into my commander’s tent that night, being asked to go on a mission. A secret scouting mission. I was to meet an agent somewhere—but I never made it. I was captured by a wandering Johnny patrol. I didn’t know they was that close, jee-zum.”
“Anyhow, I was put under guard by the Rebs until battle broke out. I managed to kill my guard—who would’ve kilt me anyhow, seein’s he wanted to fight, and had my unit got closer he wouldna wasted his time w’me. I woulda done the same…so I kilt him.
“You know, while I was thinkin bout what to do, I sees this Reb, ya know? He’s a standin there, not six feet from me reloadin his musket. He had the cartridge between his fingers, the end bitten off and the paper still tween his teeth, when I sees a hole rip right through his chest and out his back, bringin him to a complete standstill. He just stood there, like he was gonna finish loadin that musket. Then he just fell backards, real serene-like, fell back to the ground with blood gushin up from his chest. So I takes his weapon and hightailed it out of there.
“Somehow I made it back to my unit…and into battle…and I was wounded, wounded real bad—like my dream told me. We were cut down by a perfect hail of bullets. I’d never seen anything like it, rippin apart our haversacks from our bodies, burstin our canteens, and explodin our rifles to pieces as we held them…we was cut to ribbons where we stood, and all within an instant. I seen comrades struck from that murderous rain with better’n half-a-dozen rounds before hittin the ground. It was wholesale slaughter…. ”
Donner paused, eyes closed for a moment, before continuing. Becky just stood there, openmouthed and dumbfounded.
“The battle had just ended when I come to—
(what color are they?)
“and them Johnnies, they was goin through the bodies, checkin ta see if we was dead’r not, and if not, makin it so. Well, I wasn’t, and they stuck me.”
Tears erupted from Becky’s eyes like waterfalls.
“This isn’t true—you’re making it up!” Becky pleaded, “it’s some kind of cruel joke—tell me!” she cried, reaching out and shaking him. “Tell me!”
“I don’t know what happened, I really don’t. Somehow I…I must’ve been missed. Ya know, there was lots of us out there on the field that day, Death could’ve easily missed me—and I thinks that’s what’s resented by all those it got.
“They want me back, Becky.
“The dead want to set things right. There’s even a grave with ma name on it.”
“Stop it—I don’t want to hear any more!”
In the distance the bugling grew louder…came closer.
“No! I refuse to believe this!”
“Look,” Paul said, pointing out into the fields, “there they are. See’m? Comin…comin for me, honey.”
Out in the fields, Becky saw line upon line of men, some carrying the standards for their units. All around them were the sounds of gear clinking and readying, the sounds of bugles, the rustle of men trampling through woods and fields alike.
Becky looked at him, but Paul now wore the tattered and bloodstained uniform of a Duryée Zouave, the rank of corporal wrapped across his sleeves. His face was drawn and weary, his skin tracked with the spoils of battle. Becky looked to his side and gasped when she saw the small hole and blood stain that spoke of the bayonet wound she knew to be there.
“This can’t be real—can’t be!” she cried, her face red and swollen.
Paul came to her. She again smelled the black powder…the sweat and blood he wore like a badge. “Why you—why us? Can’t they take someone else?”
“They is no one else, Becky. Only me. I been tryin ta tell ye. I’m the only survivor—the only ghost left ta put ta rest. Ma stone be waitin fer me, Becky. Come.”
Paul led her toward the small cemetery that stood on a rise a short distance away. The two ignored all other plots and walked through to the one at the rear, off by itself. She shivered in his arms. A marker rested by the plot…his name freshly carved into it. Becky let out a scream, but Paul delicately silenced her, bringing her into his chest.
“This is it. Ma home. Ma restin place.”
“Please, don’t go, Paul, I love you…please….”
“I cain’t, it’s just the way it is. I have no control over’t, never did. I don’t know if I lived all I did, or just dreamt it. I know I never quite felt right in anythin I did. Maybe cause I was missed by the Reaper my livin just messed things up real bad and I’m the result. I cain’t ainswer’t.”
The advancing soldiers were now close enough to make out features. Federal and Confederate alike…side by side…they leveled their bayoneted muskets before them.
Etched in stone
Etched in stone
Take your place among the bone.
“I—I hafta go,” Paul said, suddenly doubling over in pain. Becky backed away in horror, as she saw a ghost soldier
(what color are they?)
yank his bayonet from Paul’s body. Intense rage and hatred filled the soldier’s face as he ripped free his iron spike.
“It’s…okay. They don’t unnerstand—heck, I don’t neither. It’s just ma time ta go, as it was meant to be nearly a cent’ry and a half afor. Know that I loved ya, my dear, sweet Becky. Yer the one thing I never had in my life then—”
Paul again gasped, his whole body jerking from yet another ghostly impalement, this time from a fellow Zouave. Paul keeled over onto the ground and looked up to Becky, sweat pouring from his brow. Becky knelt beside him.
“They want me to stop dallyin, ma sweet. I been away long nough and they want me back. I have ta go.”
Paul stopped enough only to cough up blood. He brought himself shakily to his feet.
“G’bye, Becky. Put a flower on ma grave fer me, would ya, darlin’? I’ll always be dreamin a ya.”
A tear fell from an eye.
Becky clawed after him, but Paul Donner, Corporal, 5th New York Volunteer Infantry, hobbled towards his grave. More ghostly soldiers appeared and disappeared…impaling him on his march toward his marker. Finally standing before his plot, Corporal Donner turned to face Becky one last time, while another soldier came before him and raised his bayoneted rifle ready to strike—but hesitated.
Rather than spear him, the ghost brought its weapon upright against his side, stood at attention, and saluted. Corporal Donner saluted back.
Etched in stone
Back with bone
Home is home
And bone is bone.
Becky looked away and wept, and when she looked back…
He was gone.
As was the rest of the war.
Becky remained where she was, map clenched tightly against her heaving chest. The fog continued to cling and the humidity rose….
* * *
The warm, early morning breeze kissed Becky’s hair as she placed daffodils on the grave, beside the remains of other flowers already there. She stepped away from the plot and looked out over the damp fields, wiping away a tear. She could hardly believe what had happened here a century and a half ago. What had happened here a week ago. But the words on the marker didn’t lie, though they could barely be made out after 130 years. She knew what they read and she wept. She knew he hadn’t been a dream.
How could he?
She was with child.
Corporal Paul Donner
5th N.Y. Volunteer Infantry
August 30, 1862
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