Mark of the Shadow Part 22: The Day
We were lined up. Seemed kind of stupid. Our supplies back behind the line. Then the line broke. Me and four others, including my bearded friend were assigned to protect one o’ them huge guns. A Cannon. Cannon itself was operated by three large individuals who were responsible for carting, and shooting the thing. Course if one of them died, we were expected to take over.
The scene was set; north versus south, union versus confederation. Don’t they mean the same thing? Sorta wished I was fighting shadows. Least then it would be good versus evil. I wasn’t sure those things applied here, now, in Georgia.
The landscape was a rolling forest. The sun was high. The occasional patch of grass, open from vegetation, scattered the countryside. Didn’t get a real good lay of the land. Upon setting out with our cannon, the battle broke out. I’d begun to think of the bastard that had caught me two nights before as The Beard. He was still watching me. I knew I couldn’t run without him picking me off, if someone else didn’t first. That meant I had to take my chances in this fight.
Guns, cannons, screams, it all sort of flows together in the thick of it. Really I couldn’t tell you what happened in that battle. But I do know that it’s where my Daddy died.
“Alright, our scouts tell us the Union is marching down right this way. And when they do, we’ll be ready for them,” came our General. He was a tall man, thin and hard. Looked like a piece of bark. “Lady Maldone here,” he gestured to a woman with a dark brown braid, the rest of her face in shadow from the brimmed hat she wore. “Will be joining us.”
A chorus of laughter from the troops. I didn’t laugh. Her eyes scanning the crowd met mine for a moment. The look lingered longer than was comfortable. She knew something I didn’t.
“She’s a bounty hunter. One of the best, and she loves the South. She’s offering her services free of charge.” She was thin, but looked tense and powerful under her dreadful boyish clothes. I imagined that’s how I looked back at the cabin.
“I’d like some other services from her!” came a call from the mass of troops in which I stood. Lady Maldone pulled a pistol smoothly from her side holster and shot the hat off of the man who’d just spoken. Point taken.
The General laughed this time while the troops were silent. “Please treat the lady with respect so that she will do the same to you.”
Lunch. Rations. That meant dried bread, water and some grains to chew on. Not exactly what you want to remember as your last meal. And that’s what it would be for many of these boys. Maybe me.
I sat on the grass, my head down. No need to make any more friends or enemies. The time for that had passed.
The grains swished around in my mouth. A slave to my tongue, my mind. Then I bit down, crunch and the grains were crushed. How little we think about the things we crush. I suppose it makes it easier to live.
Lost in my thoughts I didn’t notice Maldone sit next to me. She handed me a piece of cheese. I took it warily. Why was she being nice? I took a bite and closed my eyes; cream, luscious cream. I couldn’t help shoving the entire piece into my mouth. When I opened my eyes Maldone was looking at me. So were many, though I gathered that they were looking at her, not me. I could see her face now. It was scarred on the left side, a dark red mark but she was pretty.
I looked at her quizzically.
“Thought you should have something better than stale bread before you go into battle.” She spoke softly, sweetly almost.
“Why.” It sounded dumb, but it was all I could think of.
She stood up looking to the distance and walked away. She didn’t look back.
The cannon fired once. They hadn’t warned me. Ringing in my ears, like nothing I’d ever felt. My head felt light, like I’d been holding my breath too long. Then nothing. I could hear nothing. Looking around I saw carnage. One of the men with me, I didn’t know his name, was lying against a tree, his hands covered in blood. But not his, another man was lying on top of him spewing blood from his mouth and nose. I fell and dropped my gun. My hands were on my ears in an instant. The world was so, different so unsettling without sound. You don’t realize what a comfort it is until it’s gone. It’s gone…
A hand pulled me up. It was Lady Maldone. She was speaking, but I just shook my head. The rest of my body shook as I looked around at the world I wanted to leave behind. I noticed that from my troop only 3 of us were left. Me, The Beard, and a third man who I didn’t remember. She put my gun in my hand and pointed. I followed her hand.
A group, maybe 10 men total rushing through the woods towards our position. The Beard was down on the ground re-loading his gun. I realized I hadn’t fired a single shot. But how long had it been? A few minutes? An hour?
I turned my gun on the group and fired. One man fell, but the group surged forward. I was surprised. I looked down at my gun. I hadn’t thought I would hit anyone. I took a step backwards and tripped on a vine. I tumbled backwards looking up seeing Maldone firing with her twin pistols. She was fast. I crawled back up the hill. Survival instincts were kicking in. If I didn’t want to die I’d have to keep fighting. I knew there was no other way.
Then I saw him. Running from tree to tree trying to find a good vantage spot. A union soldier. It was Daddy. I’d know him anywhere. He’d acquired a limp but it was definitely him. Lady Maldone saw him and was moving towards him. I screamed. This couldn’t be happening, this was all a dream.
I jumped up dropping my gun, and ran at her screaming. My leg got caught on something and I fell face first into the underbrush. I looked back, it was The Beard. He had a strange look in his eye as he yanked me backwards.
“The hell are you doing, you piece of shit!” he growled.
I skided across the ground pain pouring into my body. He was over me now readying a strike. I flipped around so I was on my back and kicked him in the face before he could move. He let go of my ankle; then I saw him spit blood. He lunged at me, and I rolled over. He it hit the ground hard, and I took the opportunity to hit him with my fist as hard as I could. No holding back this time, not an ounce.
I missed. Hit a tree. The knuckles on my right hand broke, freeing rivers of blood and a scream I didn’t know I had in me. The pain faded, it hardly seemed to matter any more. The Beard threw his body at me, and we struggled together on the ground tearing, bitting, kicking, slashing. Finally I was able to throw him off of me.
My body overloaded with adrenaline as I stood up. My calf was tore up and down on my left leg, I didn’t see it – didn’t need to, and I imagine my face looked like it had been to a butcher with a dull knife. I stumbled towards Maldone, but then I saw. It was too late. She had Daddy at gun-point. I yelled, or tried to. She pulled the trigger and it was over.
The adrenaline was failing. Pure rage boiled within me now and I used it as fuel to rush Maldone who stood triumphant over my fathers corpse. She seemed surprised to see me, but not at my reaction. She moved out of the way easily as I blew past her, only able to stop my rampage by falling on my hands and knees. Blood, my blood, Tommy’s blood on my hands, face and legs. My breathing was erratic but strong. I lifted my body with my arms and looked at Maldone. She looked at me with a strange expression on her face. Like she was sorry. Whatever was going on in her head ended with one thought. She raised her right hand with it’s six shooter and pulled the trigger.