January 31, 2018 at 3:45 pm #346763
My first submission here, so I want to ask you to be gentle, but I know that isn’t what I need. So please, read it and let me know what you think, the good, the bad and the ugly. But especially the bad and the ugly.
Radisson shifted uncomfortably in the rickety cot. He had been suffering from fever for days. Drifting in and out of consciousness. He remembered the battle, the satisfying crack of the Whitworth as he squeezed the trigger. Before he could tell if his shot found its target, Radisson felt searing pain shoot through his left arm. His last memory before blackness took him was blood and pain. The pain was still there, but the smell of gunpowder and blood had been replaced by something… cleaner.
Not knowing where he was, or who had found him. He bolted upright and attempted to stand. Dizziness washed over him. He reached out to steady himself, in doing so, he found himself off balance. Below the elbow of his left arm, there was nothing. Radisson let out a low sob and collapsed. He heard a flurry of movement from behind him, and in his weakened state, only had the energy to turn his head. He saw a woman rushing toward him. Her hands were soft but firm as she helped him to his feet and pushed him back onto the cot. Radisson looked up at her. He opened his mouth to speak, but all that came out was a harsh croak.
The woman looked down at him and brushed the hair from his forehead, and patted his face with a damp rag. “Poor darling,” she said. “Rest, and do not worry. You are safe.”
Radisson stared at her through bleary eyes. He struggled to make out her face, but all he caught before the blackness once again blinded him, was her bright emerald eyes. Eyes that didn’t just capture and reflect light, but seemed to radiate their own. The brightness of her eyes outshone the oil lamps he noticed hanging in a long row, stretching to the left and right at the foot of his bed.
He heard her voice as consciousness slipped away. He struggled to hold on to its comforting cadence, but soon slipped back into fevered dreams.
Radisson was cold. The fog of the night was just starting to evaporate as the sun made its appearance on the horizon. It wasn’t the first time he had run away from home to join the fighting, but it was the first time he made it this far. He could actually hear the orders being shouted from the men as they trained new recruits. His pulse quickened as he heard the crack of the rifles as the men fired. He crawled out from under the bush he had sheltered beneath. Brushing the dirt off himself, he gathered the few belongings he had brought with him into a small leather bag he had used as a pillow. Slinging the bag over his shoulder, he walked toward the sounds of the camp. He ate a handful of nuts as he walked. He smiled. This time he managed to evade the Home Guard. They managed to keep him from leaving town on his first couple attempts. He was still indignant after being turned back by a Corporal in the Confederate Army. Radisson’s cheeks still burned thinking about the condescending manner in which the man turned him away. Telling him he thought the boy too frail. He even said he doubted Radisson could lift a rifle, much less that he’d be of any use on the battlefield. Damn him, the boy thought. Damn his eyes.
Radisson was lost in his musings when his breath caught. He saw the man out of the corner of his eyes. But it was too late for him to hide.
The man shouted as he approached him, “You! Halt!”
Radisson had no intention of complying until he saw another soldier step out of the trees in front of him and level a musket in his direction.
“Jones,” the first man yelled. “Shoulder Arms! It’s just a kid.” He walked swiftly to the boy’s side and tousled his hair. “Right? You’re not a spy or an assassin… are ya’?”
Radisson pushed the man’s hand away roughly. He stood straight and craned his neck back to look the man in his eyes. “No sir, I’m here to enlist.”
Jones had approached them and looked from the boy to the older man. “Sergeant, you want me to escort the kid back to town?”
“Yeah. It shouldn’t take long to get him to Tangipahoa. Don’t dally,” the Sergeant said.
The boy stepped back and looked at the men. “Misters, I ain’t from Tangipahoa.”
The Sergeant took a good look at the boy, noting how dirty and disheveled he was. “Where are your folks?”
“Dad’s fightin’. I don’t know where. Maw died of typhoid.”
The sergeant stood and looked around, “Who ya’ staying with? And where?”
Radisson toed the dirt for a moment before answering. “I been staying with my Aunt. My mother’s sister. She lives in Baton Rouge.”
Jones let out a low whistle. “So, I guess I won’t be takin’ him home.”
The Sergeant looked at the boy for a few moment. “Well, we can see if he’s got folks in Tangipahoa, or find someone willing to take him in.”
Radisson didn’t say anything as the men led him into Camp Moore to talk with the Captain about what to do with him. Radisson had already decided it didn’t matter what the Captain had to say on the matter. He would not be staying in town, and he knew there was no way anyone would be taking him all the way back home.
Radisson was pulled back to consciousness. He heard voices. The rough, harsh speech of a military man. Forgetting himself for a moment, he lunged upward, expecting to the the concerned, fatherly face of the Captain. Instead, he saw a group of blue clad men, with their backs to him. The man doing most of the speaking stood erect, head swiveling as he surveyed the room. “… and you are certain, madam, that those eight, are all of them? You’ve had no other…”
Radisson knew a woman had cut the man off, but he couldn’t tell what she had said. Whatever it was, didn’t please the man.
To be frank, madam, if I had my druthers, we’d execute these seccesionists here and now.” He signalled to the other men that it was time to go. As they walked out the door, the man stopped to offer a warning. “If I find you have spoken anything but the truth to me, I will torch this place.”
The woman was left standing alone in the middle of the room. Her hands folded in front of her as she surveyed the few dozen cots lining the walls. Radisson lifted his head. He struggled to sit up, but the strain was too much. The blackness covered him once again, and he felt himself falling back into troubled dreams.
Radisson found himself in the Captain’s tent again. The Captain had always been kind to Radisson, and maybe that’s why the boy found himself standing there, ashamed at having broken his word to the grandfatherly gentleman.
The Captain rolled up the papers in front of him and looked up at the boy. “You said we wouldn’t be seeing you in camp anymore. I’d be more than happy to visit you in town. In fact, I relish the chance to leave this rowdy place. As I’ve said before. It’s no place for a boy.”
“Sir, I ain’t a boy, I’ve -”
The Captain cut him off. “Yes, you are a boy. Regardless, you gave me your word, and you broke it. This isn’t a game son, and I will not lose another one to this damned war.”
Radisson strode to the man’s desk. “I’m sorry I lied to you. I didn’t mean to. It’s just. I have to fight. I just know it. I know it in my bones.”
Laughing, the Captain packed and lit his pipe. He sat for a moment, stroking his white beard. The Captain studied the boy for a moment. He was a strong headed thing. It reminded the Captain of his own sons, who he hadn’t heard from since late January. The letters were still sitting on the left corner of his desk. Boys who refused to serve with their father, and instead wanted to make their own names. The captain would not allow himself to believe they had been taken or killed while defending Fort Donelson. Shaking such thoughts from his head, he stood up and walked over to the boy. He laid a hand on Radisson’s shoulder and looked him in the eyes. “Lad, what would it take to convince you this yearning you have is foolishness?”
Radisson stood there, looking into the old man’s eyes. He balled his hands into fists. “I’m as able as any man here, sir.”
“Is that so?” The Captain mused. “And if we tested you tomorrow, and you weren’t able to keep up? If you were unable to perform as well as the men…” the boy opened his mouth to speak, but the Captain continued, “If you are unable to perform as well as the other men, would you go back to Ms. Claiborne’s, and stay in Tangipahoa?”
Radisson woke in a coughing fit. The sheets he was covered with clung to him, damp with his own sweat. He struggled to sit up before he heard the familiar bustling of skirts hurrying toward him.
“You poor thing,” a woman said as she laid a hand against his forehead. She dipped a rag in a basin sitting on a table near his cot and wrung it out, blotting it against his forehead. Then she helped him to sit up just enough to drink some water and swallow some bitter pills. “Now, rest,” she said as she lay him back down. She continued dipping the rag in water, wringing it out, and dabbing his forehead until his eyes closed. She didn’t stop until his breathing slowed, and sleep once again took him.
He heard the loud report of the musket and the accompanying ringing in his ears. Most of all though, he remembered the bemused expression on the Captain’s face.
“That was… well. You made a nice shot. Let’s see if you can repeat it, lad. Only this time, see if you can hit the target a bit further downfield.”
Radisson said nothing, but readied the Whitworth for another shot, took aim, and fired. The ringing in his ear was louder this time, but the boy smiled as the target quivered. He stopped smiling when the target began wailing and fell to the ground.
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