A bit of flash fiction, based on a true event.
The entire cornfield was gone, decimated by rifle shot and cannon. The lone Confederate soldier, gray uniform tattered and streaked with blood, stared across the ragged stumps of corn, amazed at the sight. The battle had lasted three hours, three horror-filled, bloody hours. He couldn’t remember how it ended. All he remembered was the general yelling “Fire!”
And so he had. He shouldered his rifle and shot, not even aiming. His heart was in his mouth and his stomach twisted into a knot. He reloaded, gasping, hurrying so that he could shoot again, find a Yankee to aim at, pull the trigger, take another life for the glory of the South. He ran forward, shot again, killed again, reloaded again, ran again.
The cornstalks exploded and bits of the plants flew everywhere around him like a blizzard. The air turned gray, grayer, and he lost all sense of time and space. The noise was immense – gunshots, cannon fire, explosions – it merged into the maelstrom of rifle balls and human blood. His fellow soldiers dropped around him, shattered into pieces. He saw bodies without limbs; he saw limbs without bodies. What had been handsome faces were black, bloody holes surrounded by matted, filthy hair. The gray air turned red as the bodies dissolved in front of him, bits of flesh and bone now mixing with the flying corn and fog of dirt. He couldn’t tell the difference anymore – it was all just matter, swirling around him, a tornado of death, filled with screams.
When he opened his eyes, he was alone at the edge of the naked field. Miraculously, the bodies and the blood were gone, just like the cornstalks. The sky was clear now, that bright blue of late fall afternoons, suffused with the golden light of the setting sun. He stared, incredulous.
He turned and saw her standing there, back to him, reading something. Lucinda! His Lucinda, his beautiful Lucinda! Her hair was shining like burnished gold and her head was bent, as if she were praying. She turned toward him and her face lit up with joy. She reached out to him, inviting him into her arms. He raced to her, flinging his rifle away, his only thought to get to her, to lift her into his embrace and never let her go.
“Mona! Let’s go!” Dave hollered.
“Okay, okay, I’m coming!” snapped Mona.
Mona got in the car, irritated that Dave wouldn’t let her finish reading the historic marker on the edge of the battlefield. She slid into the seat and slammed the door, just as Dave mashed down on the accelerator. She fell against the seat and grabbed her seat belt as the car swerved over the road.
She turned to complain but stopped, her eyes wide.
“Good grief! You look like you’ve seen a ghost!” she said.
“I did,” he said, voice shaky, “he – it – was flying toward you. Let’s get out of here!”
The car sped down the single-lane road through the Antietam Battlefield and back toward Sharpsburg.
The lone Confederate soldier, gray uniform tattered and streaked with blood, stared across the ragged stumps of corn, amazed at the sight.