Saturday, April 22, 2006

For What?

I wake up to a gray dawn. Everything here is gray, the wood on the barn, fence, house, the ground, and the sky. Even the dust kicked up by wagons on the main road, which coats the leaves on the woods and hangs thick in the still air is gray. There’s thunder in the distance, or is that artillery? I am never sure. There is no life on this farm, so I suppose it isn’t really a farm after all. The animals were taken for provender by one army or the other, the crops trampled and scorched. No use plowing because they’ll be back – this war will never end it seems. All I would turn up with the plow would be bleached bones, and besides I have nothing left to pull the plow with. Why do I stay here? I ask myself that every day, but in truth there is no where else to go.

I had left once for a time and served a bit with those boys, off to someone else’s farms and woods. Hell, everyone joined up, would have been cowardly not to march off down the dusty main street bound for god knows where to fight for… for what? I was never too sure. My absence from the family farm was cut short when in the midst of a small skirmish which will never be mentioned again, a speck of dust on the page of a history book; I felt the red hot burning of a lead ball in my leg. I fell and dragged myself into a ditch. I lay there forever waiting for help. Then there was more pain, no anesthetic as the doc dug through the caked blood and into the hole to retrieve the metal that had invaded my flesh. I was lucky - I survived the hell that was that field hospital. The wound was serious enough that was I dismissed from further service and I headed home – to what?

My brother, how I miss him, he joined up before me, being older and all. I never fought beside him but we fought over some of the same ground, hunkered down behind the same rocks as bullets buzzed like angry bees all around us. He just came home not long ago in fact. I like to visit him from time to time up there though those woods up yonder. I like to shoulder the old flintlock that has been passed down from one to the next and head off into those woods in hopes of brining home a squirrel or two. Even they are nothing but flesh and bone, various armies having scraped every morsel of food from the ground. It is still peaceful to just sit on the old log and watch for them though. This spot is the same one my brother and I used to set up an ambush for the kids from the neighboring farm we played at war, a stick for a rifle and soldiering seemed to be such an adventure.

My brother had a good head for tactics so our ambushes rarely failed. He probably knew he was in trouble as soon as the officer positioned his squad. He is next to me now as I sit here still and quiet so as not to spook any squirrels. He is much more patient than I as we wait for a potential dinner to come along.

I can still taste the dust kicked up by the heavy wagons. I can’t hear them though because the thick leaves muffle any sounds. It as if I were deaf – no sounds at all, no birds, no animals as though the earth was taking a pause. The air is still the dust hangs before me, covering the leaves. Those leaves are showing silver undersides, so there must be a storm on the way and so that was thunder after all.

An hour or so I can stand it no longer and bid my brother adieu. My leg is stiff from sitting too long, the musket gone unused. The newer rifles have left this old gun behind, firing a bullet rather than buck and ball, rifling in the barrel to keep the bullet’s flight straight and true; much more lethal. It was one of those new bullets, Minie balls they call ‘em, which brought my brother down.

He fell near by, down by the trickle of water that poses for a creek in these parts. I went down after both sides had moved off leaving their dead to the crows, and by chance came upon his body. He looked at peace, not like some others that had died slowly and painfully as they soaked the ground with their blood, their faces twisted permanently in the agonies that tore at them with sharp bloody claws.

It took me the better part of the day to drag his body up into these very woods, to our spot. I spent the night with him, as close to a funeral as he’ll have. Built a small fire and just sat and thought of the times we ran through the fields barefoot, the hidings we got for spending more time finding ways to get out of our chores than doing them. So sad really, he might be the only friend I have really ever had. I buried him right here, right next to the old log. Some of the old gray wood from the fence marks the spot – carved his name and the date on it. No one said any words; we didn’t think much about gods and such, especially after we saw how they neglect their children.

Well brother, I am off, back to the cabin before the rain starts. I can sit and look for new holes in the roof when the water finds its way through the dry cracked shingles. You rest easy and I’ll be back, save me some of them squirrels now, you hear??

9 Comments:

At 7:29 PM, Blogger Xanadu said...

Great story! Conjures up some real images too. Sure this wasn't a previous life you spent somewhere? ;-)

 
At 3:58 AM, Blogger nanuk said...

I agree with Xanadu. Excellent writing!

 
At 1:21 PM, Blogger Tea and Books, etc said...

Incredibly powerful, PK.

 
At 6:00 PM, Blogger The Phosgene Kid said...

Thanks for the comments, I appreciate it!

 
At 10:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 4:59 AM, Blogger mummified said...

Amazing writing PK. How do you get the time - what with all that drawing on the walls with crayons...
:-)

 
At 4:56 PM, Blogger SC said...

Great piece PK. I was confused at first, knowing your military background - wasn't sure if it was fact or fiction!

Very evocative stuff, lovely imagery. I can imagine you weaving this kind of material into one of your real-life boyhood tales to great effect.

 
At 10:13 PM, Blogger The Phosgene Kid said...

Thanks Seb!

 
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