Okay, I admit, I’m a day late for the Fourth of July. Regardless, I wanted to write a flash that would coincide with the Fourth and with the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg. The prompt that I used for my story this week was “have a Civil War soldier in your story.” Remember, too, I was limited to 500-1000 words so there will be more to come. I hope you like the guys and the story!
Friend or Foe?
Last week of June, 1863
Henry trudged down to the stream. Two empty buckets dangled from his calloused fingers. These hot, humid summer days would be the death of him. Despite the weather, chores on his farmette didn’t cease.
He crossed the last bit of farmland, taking a well-worn path through the trees to the stream. As he entered the shade, he breathed a sigh of relief. Henry dropped the buckets before he plopped on the ground. He shucked his shoes and socks then rolled up his pant legs. Sliding closer to the stream, he dangled his feet in the cool water. Ah, heaven!
Closing his eyes, Henry lay back on the cool ground, his feet lazily kicking the cool water. He crossed his arms comfortably over his stomach. A short nap was in order. Mable and Marshall, his two horses, would survive until he returned with fresh water for their trough.
Sleep had nearly overtaken him when a rustling in the bushes startled him awake. Bolting upright, Henry jumped to his feet and waited. The noise came again, louder this time. The sound had come from off to his left. Henry tried to calm his racing heart. This was his land, after all, and whoever was out there was trespassing. “Announce yourself! Who’s there?”
His surprisingly forceful command was met by silence. Henry took a couple of steps toward the shrubs that lined the stream bank. A great crash broke the stillness, followed by muffled curses. “Gosh dern rocks! What’s with all these here briars?”
Henry bit back a grin. He was all too familiar with those briar bushes. They’d gotten him before, tore up his skin pretty good. That’s why he cleared this little spot by the creek. Shaking his head, he decided to brave the underbrush and investigate the cause of the noise.
A couple of steps later, he found the source of all the racket. A Johnny Reb sprawled awkwardly among the thorns. The man looked up at Henry, his cheeks flaming red. “Please, sir, don’t shoot. These here bushes got the best of me.”
Not answering the man right away, Henry took time to size-up the soldier. While he seemed friendly enough, Henry noticed dark circles under his eyes. A line of sweat had beaded on his forehead. His ratty, hodgepodge uniform and his blood-stained trousers completed the package. “Those pricker bushes are known troublemakers.” Henry smiled, adding, “Can I help you to your feet?”
The Confederate studied Henry’s outstretched arm, apparently trying to decide if the man could be trusted. Before moving, he asked, “You, ah, aren’t going to report me, are you? To my sergeant?”
Henry thought for a minute. He’d heard rumors among the Gettysburg townsfolk that General Lee was headed north. It sure seemed those rumors were correct. Personally, Henry thought the war needed to end, sooner rather than later. Too much killing and bloodshed for him. Brother shouldn’t have to fight brother.
“Nah, I’m not going to turn you in. Here, take my hand. Let’s get you to softer ground.”
The man finally complied. Even with Henry’s help, he struggled to stand. Henry didn’t miss the grimace that etched his features when he put weight on his right leg.
“You gonna make it, soldier?” Henry inquired, his eyes glued to the particularly dark bloodstains on the man’s upper right thigh.
The man harrumphed. “Damn Yankees—no offense, mind you. One caught me pretty good at Chancellorsville.”
Henry helped carry some of the man’s weight. He draped the soldier’s right arm across his shoulders and led the man back toward his favorite spot by the stream. Damn, this man is tall and solid. His plaid shirt has to be covering pure muscle. Henry quickly focused on the terrain lest his body start responding inappropriately to the scent and closeness of the other man.
“Have a seat,” Henry directed as he assisted the man to the moss-covered ground.
The soldier scooted back so he leaned against the sturdy trunk of a towering maple tree. After taking a deep breath, the man said, “Forgive my manners.” He held out a dirty hand. “Name’s Emory Burris, 26th North Carolina.”
Henry shook Emory’s hand. He held it a shade longer than necessary, and really hoped the man didn’t notice. “Welcome to Pennsylvania and to my farm. I’m Henry Zeigler.”
A warm smile spread across the man’s weary face. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Henry.” Emory didn’t seem to mind the long handshake. He gave a final squeeze before releasing Henry’s hand. “Got to shift this leg. It’s given me nothing but problems of late. Why I fell so far behind my regiment.”
Kneeling, Henry brushed the back of his hand across Emory’s forehead. “I’m not a doctor, but you feel feverish to me.”
The man nodded. “Most likely. It’s a struggle to keep the wound clean.”
Henry rested his hand on Emory’s knee. “Let me help you.” He looked into Emory’s coffee-colored eyes, willing the man to trust him. Something about Emory reached deep into Henry’s heart. He’d known for a long time now that the ladies weren’t for him, but something about this man stirred unfamiliar desires in him. Not that he would let Emory see any of that. Surely this man had a wife waiting back in North Carolina.
Nodding solemnly, Emory said, “I would be in your debt, Henry.”
And oh how Henry liked the sound of his name coming from Emory’s full lips. Shaking his head to clear the naughty thoughts that were sure to follow, Henry stood. “Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be right back with some soap and bandages to clean and dress that wound.”
Emory shifted, apparently trying to get comfortable. “This body doesn’t have the energy to move.” With a wink, he added, “I’ll be eagerly awaiting your return.”
Somehow those simple words filled Henry with a warmth that had nothing to do with the ninety-degree temperature.
to be continued . . .
Be sure to check out flashes from these authors, too!