[from my forthcoming novel — hope you enjoy – L]
The sounds of gunfire still rang in his ears. He heard the shouts of the men on the battlefield, smelled the rolling smoke and the stench of burned flesh. Someone nearby was crying out in pain, but it was unclear who. He shook his head, trying to clear it, while his own faraway voice contributed to the noises all around. Then a hand touched his shoulder and his eyes finally flew open–
“Hush, you’re safe now,” the woman said as she gently wiped the sweat from his brow. “Looks like you were having some awful kind of a dream there. It’s good you’re finally awake.”
The soldier’s expression went from terrified to merely confused in half a minute. He slowly pulled his widened eyes away from her face and began to look around, first down at his own body and then at his surroundings. He was lying on a cot inside a large tent. On either side, others lay sleeping in similar cots, some moaning in pain. His gaze slowly returned to meet his caretaker’s as she patiently waited for him to find his bearings. His throat began to work and his lips parted as he struggled in vain to find his voice.
She smiled benignly and held a finger to her own lips. She shook her head. “No, don’t try to speak. Not yet. You’ve been through a lot, and you need your rest.” She glanced over at the chart next to the soldier’s bedside. “Henry?” Gratitude washed over the soldier’s face. He nodded twice, still in military style even though he was injured and bedridden. Still smiling, the woman took his hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Henry. I’m Elizabeth.”
– – – – –
Others came and went in a flurry of activity. Henry came to realize that they were not far from the battlefield of Carthage; the sounds of gunfire echoed vaguely in the distance. Other injured soldiers–bedridden as he was–struggled to comprehend what had happened to them. Some were new to the war, others more seasoned. After a while, their cries all sounded the same.
Days passed as in a fog. Henry slept much of the time, awakening only slightly when a nurse would come by to change the dressing on his wounds and check for infection. It was in this half-conscious state that he came to learn of his worst fear realized, that his commanding officer had perished in the battle. Despite all of his best efforts to secure the fort and move the company forward, he had failed.
The cacophony around him settled into a sort of dull ambient roar–perhaps he had a fever after all. How else could he explain the strange sights and sounds his mind would conjure in his fitful slumber? A man who could fly like an angel, leaving a trail of fire in his wake…the sounds of screaming and the rumble of distant thunder…these were the things that haunted his sleep, the things that pushed him into the mornings gasping for breath and drenched in sweat.