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  Table of contents Issue Seventeen THE ADVENTURE OF ARTHUR MCGUIRE


To Arissa, for the endless patience.


y Dearest Amber Lynn,

The second day of this momentous battle has ended. For a moment, I must admit to you, I was on the verge of enthrallment at the thought of the Union’s destruction on the anniversary of her birth. Twelve Yankees met their ends at my aim just this very day, nine yesterday; apparently, so a fellow soldier, Franklin, informed me, a medal may be bestowed upon my breast. What a lark we have engaged in, my sweet!

Our newest girl, Marilyn, the seamstress from Charlotte, is proving to be a wonderful talent. The men are everyday entangled in her mellifluous charm, her beauty, her grace, and her impetuousness. We are all raking in money as fast as I can count and send it back home to you. Also, the new gigolo, Samuel, the former slave deserter from Chattanooga, is also making strides in his newly chosen trade. Both he and Marilyn have slid in and out of the opposing camps with ease, stashing their daily takes, and rendezvousing with me at a deserted barn not four miles from my bed.

I am on the verge of the absolute unbearable state the longer I go without word of our children! Wish them well from their father, and pass upon their heads my kisses and my longing to see their antics soon. As for you, torchlight of mine soul, beacon upon my existence, fareth thee well in all your visions of past, future, and most importantly, the all encompassing present! Take the following as the utmost of my feelings toward thee, and I pray it will light up thine darkest moments as mine thoughts of thee achieve in this grand scheme of ours.

Bless ev’ry day mine

Heart I stumble ‘long path strayed

From thine voice, my hope.

You will be eternally rested in mine breast, my love! Hold me near so as I may find the respite and courage to make it home once again? As if you needed any more reminding from our exchanges throughout this terrestrial realm, I will be your greatest champion and most devout servant in all worlds and at all times. I love thee to the extremity of my capabilities, and you continue to remain the proudest moment of my life.


As he finished the letter to his beloved, Arthur McGuire sat upright in his black wooden chair and stretched his limbs. The aching in his muscles from two long days in trees and in the dirt in stillness, surrounded by the cacophony of battle, had wrecked its share of havoc upon him physically and mentally. His glass of bluegrass whiskey rested nearly empty; little more than a swallow left. Wrapping his fingers around it, he poured the liquor down his throat in a series of fluent, strung together poses.

This native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama found himself on a Confederate excursion into Union territory at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He was but a month shy of his thirty-first birthday, and hoped beyond the Almighty his adventure would lead him home to his wife, kids, and lucrative venture in prostitution in New Orleans before his life’s anniversary. Though born the son of a slave owner, he cared not for the cause of Confederate independence, nor Lincoln’s war of bringing dissenters back to the fold; he had often said: “Perhaps this was truly the man’s ‘act of justice!’” Truth be told, he had no qualms with the slave or former slave population; they were to him both potential customers and potential employees. Growing up on his family’s plantation brought him into contact with many examples of black culture, much to the wrath of his father. Nevertheless, by the time he reached his adolescence he was a near permanent fixture at slave quarter dances and gatherings. There he would drink and forget the confines of citizenship, and sway to the music without thought. He even found amongst the cavorting his first intimate encounters with a married slave couple; a secret he shared only with his wife.

Rebellious to the core in his fortitude, McGuire held his ground from within a muscular frame. He stood just short of six feet high, but his strong legs could match any in stride, and with little doubt best them all in his poise and stealth. Since beginning on his career as somewhat of a war profiteer—through amorous means instead of ammunition, admittedly—his dark red hair had faded to grey along his temples, but his searing green eyes penetrated every bit as sharply his surroundings as when he surged forward on the cusp of manhood. Having been away from the delicacies of the French Quarter for some time, his face had become slightly gaunt, leaving his thin beard to hang apart his cheek rather than enveloping it in a snug cushioning the way his wife and children were familiar.

His wife, Amber, was born out of wedlock in Nice, France, as the outcome of an affair between an American diplomat and an employee in the French diplomatic services. As the diplomat was on post in the city for some time, he was made aware of his future offspring while at work one day, and so decided—being a man of intense religious principles when his back was forced on the wall—to write to his wife back in the States on the issue of adopting an infant French girl. While the term of pregnancy did not offer much time for correspondence, the diplomat settled on the decision and would return home with a new child. The mother, of course, had no knowledge of her lover’s scheme, and did not find anything amiss with her situation until waking one day to discover her newest and most precious gift had vanished overnight; victim of an arranged criminality.

Once matured, Amber was enlightened on the circumstances during an eavesdropping episode between her father and uncle. The news first sent shockwaves throughout her body as she knelt in the shadows, caught in the void between the words coming upon her ears and the cacophonous thoughts forming and deforming in a tidal wave of destroyed reverence for her father. After recovering herself and spending the rest of the night in revilement at the scourge of her existence, laying down her every swing of darkened passion upon her diary pages, she vowed revenge and destruction. She burnt the evidence of her feelings in her bedroom hearth, and marched out toward the city of Charleston, South Carolina, but a mere hour’s walk.

What her intentions were exactly with this visit never left the confines of her memory, but she did chance upon a meeting which would alter the course of her life. When crossing in front of a side alley, she happened to glance to her left and see a man holding a bottle of liquor with a fire-soaked rag jammed in its neck. She walked over and inquired what the man’s purpose was, to which she received but a smile followed by the sight of the man hurtling his bottle in through an open window of the building’s ground floor. The explosion of the fireball reverberated in her eyes as they widened, and the man clasped unto her arm as they both took flight from the scene. After a dozen or so blocks had been passed at a good run through abandoned, shadow-laden alleys, the pair took their seats against a brick building to revive their breath.

Once her fears had been somewhat alleviated by the continued absence of handcuff and club-wielding police, she managed to ask him what the purpose of such vandalism could possibly be. He replied that the building had been the campaign office for the governor’s reelection effort in the city. He added his views of the challenger were to no extent differentiated. What was rebelled against was the system as a whole, he declared, not necessarily to overthrow and replace it with something new, but just for the sake of an independent act of rebellion. Assurances were made on his part regarding the absence of persons inside the building as most of the townsfolk were attending their various church services.

This very well being true, it mattered not to Amber, because she believed she had found the agent of her revenge. For the prior six years her father had left the civil service to begin his own venture into the industry of producing electrical telegraphs, with considerable success. The warehouse of his yet-to-be-shipped products was located in the state’s capital city of Columbia. This man, who introduced himself as Thomas Marlow, had quite literally sparked off her strongest desires which slashed at her soul incessantly. She told him of her new plan that very night as the two enjoyed a dinner together near the harbor.

In just over a week’s time the location had been scouted, supplies acquired, and plans finalized. Only the two of them had knowledge of what would transpire. Finally, on a cool winter’s night, the warehouse was set ablaze. The explosions gave competition to the sun in its illumination of the surrounding area, pitching debris up high in an assault upon the heavens as the vandals lie in the grass and reaped. Upon seeing the job well done, the two travelled back to her home outside Charleston, where she placed a letter in her father’s study detailing her knowledge of her origins, and her brutal feelings on his character. On her page she indirectly announced her involvement in the fire, claiming he had deceived her about her existence, and now she would raze his to the ground.

After this the two of them journeyed to the city, where they first met less than a fortnight prior, and hopped a steamer down to New Orleans. Not being as foolish as their age might give away, they decided on throwing out their previous lives and identities in exchange for something new; something which would in its entirety be their own creation. Thus the pair became Arthur and Amber Lynn McGuire. Married not out of society’s conventions or standards, but out of the pure choice of one soul with another, they began their life together outside of the law only to guide themselves by their law. From their first encounter to their last would be passed in episodes just as fiery and explosive as the vandalism which brought them together.

This story had gone through Arthur’s mind several times since his current adventure began, and as he concluded on his reminiscence of his life back home, he stood up with a smile, folded his letter, and walked out of his tent to send it with the mail courier.

The humid air met his face as his steps took him outside. He turned toward his right to move to the front of the camp where the mail tent was located. The camp consisted of three long rows of tents housing two soldiers apiece. Arthur’s fellow dweller, a young private from Virginia, was away on guard duty. Surrounding the camp was a low wooden palisade with the only opening at the front on its east flank. While not as large as some of the camps he had stayed in previously, and not as large as the one General Lee found himself in nightly at Gettysburg, it was still large enough to give an individual the feeling of anonymity.

After he dropped off his letter, he chose to slip out of the camp through a small opening in the palisade to collect the day’s take from Marilyn and Samuel at their agreed upon meeting place. The four mile journey from the camp to the abandoned barn went by lazily and filled with uneventful strides, save for the occasional deer crossing his path ahead, and the fauna’s nocturnal lyricisms. Marilyn and Samuel were awaiting him upon his approach, and met him with smiles each. The luck of the trade had been great indeed since their previous meeting a mere twenty-four hours before. Arthur thanked them both and handed over their pay before they all parted ways, agreeing to meet once again in a day’s time.

Stopping just once the camp’s palisade returned in view, Arthur stepped off his path to relieve himself. As he stood there, voices from off in the distance toward the camp began tickling his ear lobes. He knelt down as quietly as possible behind a tree and cusped the hilt of his knife in the hopes of only catching a glimpse of the travelers as they passed him by. They were five deserters from his camp, which he gathered from their conversation, with his tent mate amongst them. Once they had slipped him by, he erected himself and continued back toward camp with similar moments of dullness. He slipped back through the opening without notice, presumably as the deserters had just done, and carried himself back to his camp where he readied himself for bed.

Upon stripping down to his trousers and a semi-clean nightshirt, he crawled under the covers of the makeshift bed and lied on his back. As the whispers of dreams were beckoning upon his senses, leaving him there to the thoughts of his wife’s buxom chest, bare, nestled there beside him with the aroma of her golden hair filling his nostrils, for all the tragedy which lay around him, the world existed in peace. No more than a dozen minutes had passed from the time he lost consciousness till an uproar awoke him from his slumber. From outside his tent he could hear shouts of “Deserters!” “Traitors!” and “Kill ‘em!”

He threw on his socks and laced his boots haphazardly before walking back out into the night’s commotion. A crowd of the men had gathered not far from the camp’s entrance where the five men he had seen not half an hour prior were on their knees with their hands bound behind their backs. A stout captain walked out of his tent adjacent to the entryway, and demanded silence on the part of the soldiers. Once the rumor-flinging had dissipated, the captain lowered his voice slightly and said:

“These five men here, if ‘men’ is the accurate title, have decided to fight for the Confederacy no more!”

The crowd once again bellowed out, but this time with a distinguished message and tone of disapproval. The reactions of the deserters varied from cold, calculated, and defiant, to jittered weeping with a low hung head.

“Now as we are in the midst of such a colossal struggle here on Union soil,” the captain went on, “we cannot afford to tolerate such blatant acts of treason. Lord knows if some Yankee men had pulled these five ingrates into their custody, who knows what information they may have chosen to divulge. Therefore, with the weight of history so heavy upon the moment we find ourselves in, I cannot take any other course. The traitors shall be shot!”

Arthur did not join in the celebratory cheering and jeering at the unfortunate souls before him. For all their enthusiasm, however, once the captain demanded volunteers to conduct the shooting, an eerie silence befell the crowd. After a moment of disgust, the captain began choosing the men who would fire the fatal shots simultaneously. Arthur found himself picked fourth.

While it was true he did not have any particular attachment to these five men—some of whom may well have been paying customers—Arthur did not, however, know if they knew about his wanderings from the camp to collect the day’s take. Now with him being one of the chosen executioners, one of the condemned may decide to unleash his suspicious comings and goings. Had any of these five seen him leave or return before? How could he know without being found out? And, perhaps most disquieting, how close had he come to the Confederate soldiers who apprehended these men, placing himself in their midst, or even staying their death sentence completely?

As the captain handed each of his five appointees their rifles, Arthur walked with a rapid pulse, and a bead of sweat atop his brow. He stood in line in front of his onetime tent mate, and leveled his sights to the chest cavity. Before setting up camp at Gettysburg, they had never bunked together, or even shared a greeting. Arthur had never been presented an opportunity to become acquainted with this Virginia son—though he often chose not to become too familiar with his fellow soldiers—and now he was tasked with taking his life. For all he knew, this condemned man had been saved by one of his bullets which leveled a Union fighter to the ground. Now was not the time for reflection and asking “what ifs?” however.

The captain ordered his men to the ready, and five hammers clicked ominously along with the crowd’s rumbling; since the execution duties had been passed out, the bravado had returned to fate’s would be delegators. As the captain commanded aim, Arthur closed his left eye, and rested his finger lightly on the trigger, trying intensely not to watch his victim’s tears careen down his cheeks. Never before had he taken a life with such emotion thrust so immediately in front of him. His previous targets had no idea death was in transit, hot upon their tails. This young man, however, did know the void was fast approaching. It was a train which could not be dodged; a wave which could not be canalled; a vehement inevitability.

Finally, the captain shouted the fatal command, and five shots rang out amongst the din, bringing about silence from all observers through its crackling reverberations. The bodies fell limp upon the soil, a sight unfamiliar to no one present, but even the most battle hardened of onlookers cowed back to an uneasy peace. Now what was left was for the bodies to be removed from the camp and buried. The captain again selected men for the job; choosing the five executioners to keep watch, as well as five new men to dig one grave for them all.

The bodies were lumped ungraciously into the back of a wagon which the men filled after, bumping shoulders as the driver traversed the bumps in the road. The cart made a sharp turn to the right once outside the camp’s entrance, heading for a line of trees several hundred yards ahead. Once they reached the tree line, not two hundred feet from where the deserters had passed Arthur in his hiding place, the driver came to a stop and the diggers proceeded to unload the bodies as the guardsmen made an impromptu perimeter. Arthur pulled his hammer back as he kept his eyes alert both within the trees and back toward the valley past the camp.

If not for the lumping of dead bodies upon the ground and shovel blades thrust unto the earth, not a sound would have reached the men’s ears. Occasionally a soft, cool breeze would blow up from the valley toward them; leaving Arthur relishing the cool Pennsylvania air with deep breaths. As the grave was approaching its halfway mark, a whitetail fawn peeked out of the woods at the death spectacle. One of the guardsmen was able to spot the observer, and signaled to his fellows to remain in their positions as he pressed up against the trunk of a large, thick pine tree, leveled his rifle, and squeezed the trigger. The animal dropped instantly, dead before it reached the ground. The two nearest soldiers walked over and dragged the fallen creature over to the wagon amidst the hoots and hollers of their companions, overjoyed at the fresh meat they would soon devour.

Arthur watched as the five bodies were one by one hurled into the grave. Before each was dragged to their final resting place, he had opportunities to gaze into their cold, dead eyes. Whether they were of hues blue, green, brown, or other variations of the color palette; the eyes always shot forth a gaze of the most benign indifference. Arthur stood at his post contemplating such a stare, reflecting on the turbulence and despair which dwelt within the dead—the perfect sadness, he thought, to be rendered by force to the stance of neutrality amidst the cacophony of war. With a catch in his throat and a look away from the burial toward the stars, the bodies were thrown down and the grave half efficiently filled. The men gathered back into the wagon to venture toward the camp for the respite only sleep can offer.

Once back to camp, the men dispersed in their respective directions, and Arthur headed straight to the tent he now occupied alone. Sleep was again at the doorstep of his consciousness upon climbing into bed. The air outside had grown cool; a welcomed sensation, he thought, from the humidity of the South. As an arpeggio-picked guitar wept a particularly melancholic version of “Lorena,” sleep finally overtook him.

When Arthur awoke next, dawn was creeping upon the landscape. He dressed himself in dark clothing (he enjoyed the perk of sharpshooting, to not be compelled to wear a military uniform, as he never cared for them; not a minor reason he chose such a task for the war effort), strapped his boots, and headed out of the camp. Coming to the tree line where the bodies were laid to rest the previous night, he entered the woods and canvassed potential vantage points, made his way east as the sun cracked the horizon line, and proceeded southward toward the Union lines. A trio of blue birds flew across his path, sounding an enchanting melody to the morn’s placid features as he crossed a shallow stream. He could see a farmhouse and barn off to his left and a pasture populated by perhaps a score of quarter horses grazing on the earth.

Covering more ground, he came to a dark, thick area of trees before a clearing which held a Union camp roughly three quarters of a mile from the tree line. Judging the immensity of the foliage which he would find himself surrounded by as providing excellent cover, he threw his Whitworth rifle over his shoulder and climbed a tree several yards from the clearing break, situated himself for the spectacle of battle, and unwound the cap of his canteen.

His Whitworth gave him a maximum range of around 1,500 yards, with effectiveness at more than half that, so he decided to bide his time, watch the early stages of the battle play out, and fire upon the Yankees once they became easy targets.

As he peered out from the hiding place, he spotted an apple tree not fifty yards to his left flank. He climbed down gingerly, being careful to hush his movements in case a Union sharpshooter or messenger were to happen by, and walked over to fill his grey cap with the low hanging fruit. Once back in his tree, adjusting his converted basket into a stable position on a strong branch, he took his time with the delicate sweetness he had found; watching the morning’s clouds pass briskly above as the distant men gathered. Before taking up a second apple, a cannonade from the Yanks’ line rumbled through the trees, lifting birds from their nests in terror. Arthur listened as the whirling cannonball shrieked past him, crashing into the earth not two seconds later with a lonely, hellish crescendo.

Now the men in blue were advancing from their distant ridge. The sun danced off bayonet blades in tempo with locked steps as cannon fire from their comrades arched overhead toward the rebel lines. As Arthur was placing the half-eaten second apple back in his cap, a Confederate cannonball smashed into the midst of the approaching Yankees, sending both limbs and cries up to the sky; leaving the commander hoarse from near vain attempts at reinstating discipline among the men. Now the rebels had the distance of the line set; time was of the essence, so the Union commander ordered a charge of the couple hundred men to the heart of the Confederates.

As is the case with such haphazard charges, any sort of order and discipline were now gone. Arthur had learnt to refrain from firing until such moments occurred, lest an orderly line of men train sights on him at once, and he was further aided by the rebel soldiers firing on the approaching enemy. Arthur raised his weapon and leveled his sights, pulled the hammer back, and searched among the chaos for his target. By now nearly a quarter of the advancing Unionists had fallen. The ground at this moment appeared to Arthur as a rubbish heap for bodies both whole and disheveled alike, weapons strewn in the grass still soaked from the morning’s dew, and the groans and screams of those lucky enough to have survived the incoming projectiles. Whether or not those who managed by some miraculous turn of fate to yet cling to life were in actuality lucky or not had previously crossed the mind of the Alabaman, and it did again now.

Finding a target well within range and moving only slightly, stooping low to reload his weapon, Arthur squeezed his trigger, sending the bullet flying from out of the trees, and colliding on the mark just behind the soldier’s right ear. The Union soldier, unnamed, and doomed to such a fate forever in the eyes of his assassin, fell limp upon the grass, musket flying, and limbs sprawled out from the torso. Arthur was never one for tallying up the number of men he had killed: perhaps over the course of a day, yes; but over multiple days and campaigns the sum of the mounted toils would have been enough to overwhelm his concerns for wellbeing. While at the moment just passed, reloading for a second death blow, such thoughts were never present—indeed, they could not be if one wished to escape such a similar fate. Scores of letters had been sent to Northern parents, lovers, siblings, family, and friends all from the wrath dealt by his hand. Nameless and faceless were all those he had sent spiraling into the void; some in peace not knowing what evil had struck, others clasping at the last remnants of this world, struggling to hold off the sensations of dread they saw and feared ahead with thoughts of more placid, life-instilling days.

Having reloaded and selected another man for the abyss, Arthur raised his weapon, only to find betrayal on its way. A cannonball ripped through the trunk of his tree in a deafening strike, letting loose smoke and fragments of wood flinging past his sight as his body crashed to the ground. A few moments passed until he regained consciousness from the concussive blow. He managed to rummage through the debris on hands and knees before retrieving his rifle, and pushed himself upright with a labored groan. The cuts on his face and damaged ankle, though searing with pain, could not find time to occupy his thoughts as a dozen or so Union men were heading his way toward the tree line several hundred feet away.

Perhaps due to the effects caused by the cannon fire and his subsequent fall, the escalating din from the battlefield behind nipping at his heels, or a combination of both, Arthur hobbled as fast as his injured ankle would carry him. He came upon the stream he had crossed earlier, though at a different point, and found three blue-clad figures running towards him. Arthur raised his weapon and steadied himself, aiming at the closest soldier, no more than fifty feet away, and pulled the trigger; the bullet running the man through the neck. The two remaining men stopped in the midst of the smoke to level their muskets at Arthur, missing only as their target found shelter behind a tree. Swinging his arm around the thick trunk, Arthur leveled his pistol at one of the men, but it misfired, leaving him no time to reload his Whitworth.

Arthur threw his useless pistol to the ground and met the first soldier in the cold knee-deep stream. The latter drew a saber from its sheath, while the former countered the opening blow with the midsection of his rifle. Arthur managed to push the soldier back, and connected a staggering blow with the butt of his weapon to his enemy’s left cheek. The strike left the Union man unconscious by the time his face hit the water, but by now the final soldier was upon Arthur, whose opening slash tore the Whitworth from the sharpshooter’s hands, abandoning him to frantic evasions while he struggled to remove his dagger. Just as the blade was removed, Arthur dodged a left-to-right cut, and dragged his knife across the Yankee’s face. The stumbling soldier, howling in burning agony, dropped his sword into the water while Arthur made fast to his rear, and slit his throat.

The skirmish had ended; miraculously seeing Arthur through with neither a scratch nor bruise. He bent down to pick up the fallen soldier’s saber, not able to find use for his soaked Whitworth, and took a moment’s respite on the far side of the stream to catch his breath before continuing on.

Finally ready, he made way far from the stream, assuming soldiers would seek it out for freshwater and, with no firepower at his disposal, the odds would be skewered against him. Upon covering further ground, leaving his countenance and spirits lowering, he came to the sight of the farmhouse and barn which had appeared to him near dawn. He approached the haggard and damaged structures with caution, and when he found no bodies or souls on the outside, he decided to make for the hayloft to spend some hours in rest. He did not, however, have time to take notice of the internal state of his hope for reprieve—and since this is his story, it will not be dealt with here—for when he slid inside the cracked barn door, a Union soldier stood open mouthed not fifteen feet ahead.

The two men simply gazed at each other, not uttering a syllable. Arthur saw the man was armed both with sword and pistol, with a rifle leaned up against the opposing wall of the barn. He could not be so foolish as to make a run for it in the simple hopes neither of the man’s guns were loaded. Nor, though, could he stand the growing tension which filled the room and threatened to overtake him. He could either draw his own saber and charge the enemy, hopefully getting in a death blow before a pistol shot made its way through his flesh; or, wait there in the mounting terror, perspiration coating his features, until his opponent decided his fate for him.

Arthur was never one to abide by destiny’s edicts, and so drew and came upon the Yank swift and hard. Much to his demoralized perceptions, his enemy was skilled with his saber; successfully parrying the incoming volley, and threw Arthur into the barn wall, before grabbing his collar and knocking him unconscious with the hilt of the weapon. Arthur was sent crashing black upon the floor.

Many hours elapsed before Arthur returned to the waking world. When the time came about, the Sun’s evening rays were caressing the landscape in long, lazy strokes. He now found himself with hands bound behind him, slouched flat on his side on a cold, hard gravel floor, and surrounded by four brown bricked walls with a lone door opened before him. There were neither windows nor the most Spartan of furnishings within the small space; the fact of the wide open door provided Arthur with the only rays of light which managed any distinctions of the scene possible, and those only sparingly. As he pushed himself off the bitter earth, leaning forward with his back against the wall, the tension of horror filled to his extremities as a spigot was pumped outside.

Just a few seconds after hearing the final pump of the spigot, he heard a gushing overhead. As he glanced upward to inspect against the dark ceiling, a torrent of icy water burst forth upon his upturned face. The shock of the frigid water forced from his lungs a pale shriek, sending him crashing back to the ground. The soil only grew colder and muddy with each passing moment, so as to make his clothes a freezing, dirt-emblazoned prison. Once the falling water had ceased, a gurgling noise erupted from the ground with holes opening downward mechanically, allowing the water and some dampened soil to depart.

Arthur was engaged with hoarse gasps and panting fits when the silhouette of a man holding a lantern entered the small room and closed the door behind him. Arthur tried with every ounce of clarity he could muster, but he could not make out much detail of his surroundings from the man’s light as he moved about. Upon shutting the door, the mysterious man moved to Arthur’s right and, using his lantern to light a match, lighted another lantern hung in a corner. He proceeded in this action for all four corners of the building, and finally left the one he carried along hung by the door. The rising of light only furthered the creeping darkness of Arthur’s situation, as he now beheld the fact he was being held captive in a glass-encased cell which continued from the ground to the ceiling on all sides, save to his back, which was fortified by a brick wall.

While Arthur tried with much difficulty to subdue the incoming tides of fear which now rushed through him, the man now appeared in full detail before his eyes. He was a tall man with narrow shoulders and a neck which was disproportionately thick. Between his lips was borne a pipe of a light rosewood construction, which was buttressed by a thick mustache comprised of hairs which diverged wildly at every opportunity, abandoning even the most lax efforts at uniformity. His black hair flowed straight back down to the midpoint of his neck in a style much more neatly kempt than his facial hair. Upon the man’s face was a countenance fit for the task at hand: weathered, contorted, and complete with an amber colored glass eye which remained stuck to Arthur’s face, seeming to burn and drain the latter of all coherence and fortitude.

“So, let me guess,” the man began deeply, “I’ll reckon you hate me ‘cuz I’m a nigger lover. Do I have that about right, now?” he asked, leaning against the opposing side of the glass wall with a short smirk.

As has been pointed out, Arthur was not one to support the institution of slavery, let alone the entirety of the Confederate cause. Whether out of the terror imposed by his predicament or the fact he looked up from knees, shivering from head to toe at his menacing captor, he could not manage to utter a word in his defense. Solitude was now finding a home between his lips but, instead of a serene atmosphere, there were only the darkest of apprehensions and portending images. Such a feeling, so overwhelming in its paralyzing intoxication, was beyond any experience he had encountered so far in his wide-ranging adventures through life. Desolation caressed him soul and body.

“The spigot that I’m sure you heard runs through pipes into the building, up into the ceiling, and falls down into your cell, as it were,” the man began again. “By the way, please forgive my forgetfulness, my name is Jonathan, and we’ll be spending the night together.”

He stood back from the glass and paced from one end of the room to the other, fingers locked together behind his back, and gave Arthur short glances every few words as he spoke once more:

“This is how we will proceed,” Jonathan started with an icy composure. “The Union army is always, as I’m sure you can imagine, in need of as much information regarding Confederate movements and details, locations of supply routes, and really anything which may help bring the Union cause to victory as soon as possible. Now, I shall try and make this easier on you, as I know the terrors which uncertainty can inflict upon a person’s spirit; not knowing whether you’ll live or die; make it through another week, day, hour, minute before the enemy decides your fate is nigh. So I will simply tell you that you will die by my act, probably from the contraption you find yourself locked in presently. If you choose now to divulge any information you think I may find useful, your time on this earth will be reduced, but the suffering will not be nearly the tragedy it will be if you decide on staying your tongue. If you choose the latter path, Satan himself will be humbled when he receives you into his infernal realm, for your remaining hours will be spent in an unendurable siege, starving both body and soul of virtually all integrity. Now you know my terms and the fate I will bring you; which path shall we walk together?”

Arthur, still shaking violently, looked up at Jonathan and tried to respond, but the screeching hoarseness of his voice only allowed for barely audible, dyslexic mantras to bumble forth. Knowing the price he would pay for such a failure, Arthur welled up in tears, eyes pleading with all the veracity he could assemble, and hoped his intentions would be picked up. Even if he could somehow speak, he did not care ultimately if the South went down in defeat, or the North, or both sides destroyed each other. He would gladly reveal any damaging information if it meant it prolonged his own life, but now such a possibility was taken from him: he would die no matter what. Now a real sensation of dread was growing within him by the second: this was the first moment he had encountered head on the idea he may not be reunited with his family again. Unless some miraculous escape could be pulled off—which he was in no position to hope for—he was bound for death regardless of his choosing—or ability—to cooperate or not.

Such a blow was beyond any measure Jonathan might muster against him. He collapsed on his side and relapsed into vocal cord-straining cries. Never again would he write a letter to his beloved Amber Lynn; no sweetened poems whispered into her ear on a rooftop in the French Quarter; and, with the most deathly pangs of all, nevermore would he be blessed with his children’s laughter and embrace, smiles and songs. Arthur could now only watch as Jonathan puffed on his pipe, turned round, and shut the door behind him. Several seconds later the sound from the spigot reached Arthur’s ears, and he braced himself as much as was tenable for the pain to come.

He heard the water pouring forward above him, and struggled, hyperventilating, to his feet. Then the water hit him square on the crown of his head. Gallons upon gallons rushed from above, returning him to a sprawl on the dampening ground in panic-laden bellowing. As the water fused into the ground, the holes there closed, trapping him in a muddy tank which was filling skyward by the second. He took in a mouthful of muddy water, choking and spitting it back, and tried with all his might to push himself off the ground, finally making it to his knees again. Still the water rose, and he pushed himself to a standing position, continuing on with his hopeless guttural sobs. Once the water made its way past his waist, nearing his chest, out of desperation he began slamming his head forward into the glass, imploring for the slightest crack to inspire his hopes in a less dreadful future. There was no crack to be seen after several hard, disorienting strikes.

Finally the level reached his chin, and he had to arch his neck as far as could be managed in order to keep up his breathing. Shortly hereafter this too would betray him. He took a deep breath and submitted to the frigid depths which now controlled his entire being. There was nothing but the murky blend of the mud and water before his eyes now, and so he closed them, preferring to distance himself as much as possible from reality to his own mental fortifications. He could see his wife sitting on a bench at the front of their home, reading one of her favorite novelists as the children ran after one another, playing in the warm Louisiana sun. The thought of her having to tell them of their father’s fate crushed him. Unable to hold onto his breath any longer, he opened his mouth in a gasp.

The icy liquid rushed through his lips and down his esophagus, causing his body to wretch and jolt in maneuvers both tantric and broken. He clenched his eyes tight to the point of pain, and stretched his limbs out in any direction in the vain hope of finding some sort of solace. Suddenly a gurgling vibration made its way through the cell and past his ears. He opened his eyes again, looked down, and saw the holes on the ground open with water flowing down. If he could just hold on a little longer, he thought, perhaps this may not yet be the end. Shortly after his feet returned to the ground the water withdrew past his head, and the sounds of choking gasps and yelps filled the room. Once the water was nearly gone he collapsed into the muddy slop in exhaustion, chest beating wildly, unable to manage a coherent thought.

Not nearly enough moments passed before Jonathan made his return to the building; looking as terrifying and vehement as ever. The cycle of questioning and dousing, a torment upon the body and soul, repeated itself through three more times, until dawn was breaking on the horizon.

Instead of continuing the process, Jonathan adjourned to outside, and Arthur could hear him speaking with a man in calm tones. The seconds and minutes seemed to drift by for the sharpshooter at a painstaking rate. Images passed through his consciousness in blurred fragments; jutting incomprehensibly in pounding exhaustion. He lay on his side coughing and shaking. He was beyond any capability to form a cogent thought, let alone verbalize it in a structured sentence. Any hope of saving himself had vanished.

Finally, after much time had elapsed, Jonathan returned and dragged Arthur through a square opening in his cell facing outward towards the door. The latter was forced outside without struggle. The beams from the rising sun bore down on Arthur’s eyes, causing pain and even more disorientation. Though he could not perceive it immediately, given his state, three columns of men with arms over their shoulders stood watching Jonathan pull him into the middle of a narrow road. Arthur was planted on his knees, leaning back weakly, and shaking violently with loud, choking coughs.

“I told you I would kill you,” Jonathan said softly as he stood over Arthur. “Either you really didn’t know anything, or you’re a true benefit to the Rebel cause. Both ways and you wind up out here, though,” he continued with a shrug. “Still, gotta hand it to you for holding together like you did. But I have my orders, I’m sure you understand, so I’ll put an end to your pain. In another life, perhaps.”

Jonathan called one of the soldiers over to commandeer his rifle. Now Arthur’s vision was coming more into focus, laying bare the situation before him. There was no breeze on the limbs of the trees; no leaves waved along the air, or fell upon the earth. There was just a stillness to every feature of nature’s morning; every man’s face, even those contorted or quivering, held steady with an intolerable unease. The Sun was not yet above the tree line, and shone through only in tattered beams.

“Well,” Jonathan began, raising the rifle’s sights to Arthur’s chest cavity, “so long, dear friend.”

Arthur faced the weapon and managed to swallow after much time and difficulty. He could perceive now with clarity the impending arrival of his fate. Unable to fully construct a sentence in his mind to blurt out before his demise, his mind staggered along at each moment, drifting between thoughts of his family, Jonathan and his torture chamber, and various episodes from his life which randomly found their way back into his consciousness. Finally, the inevitable happened. The silence of the morning was at last shattered by the blast of the rife, and the smoke of the powder. The round found its home directly in the middle of Arthur’s chest cavity, splitting his heart. He came upon the earth soulless, empty, dead.


“Huh huh huh…what? I’m alive? My god! The bullet struck me right through the chest! Kuh kuh kuh kuh kuh…ugh…please, Jonathan, lift me up. How can you say I’m dead? Jonathan, please! Can’t you hear me? No don’t walk away! Kuh kuh kuh. Can’t anyone hear my pleas?

“Oh thank you, kind sirs, for releasing my bound hands. Ugh…ahhhh! Huh huh huh I can’t move a muscle, the pain is too severe! Where are you dragging me? No, why should I be buried? I’m alive! My god…can no one truly hear my voice? My cries for basic human dignity? Ugh…what a twist of fate! Once again riding in a wagon, yet this time as a cruel trick of nature, of God, of these Yankee devils! I speak, but no one hears; I try and move my limbs, but it causes me a stinging lash beyond my strength to endure.

“Ok. Try and stay calm, Arthur. Perhaps this is only a temporary state. Maybe my movement will return to me once I’ve rested awhile. I did just survive an execution, after all; one so convincing my captors think me dead! Just relax and watch the trees pass by, rest my muscles, and pray for vitality.

“Ha ha ha…my word, I cannot believe these Union fools think I’m dead, when my mind continues in its grand processes. I mean if I was dead how could I still form thoughts, structure complex ideas and sentences to do my bidding, and perceive my surroundings in their exquisite abundance? Death, the end of all perception and thought, as far as I can tell anyway, surely must arise once the blood retreats from the heart and brain. Only in the pages of an author’s flaccid, opaque-laden fantasy must such a situation as mine dwell; but in the world of living man, governed by the magnificent laws of the Universe, a hypothesis so starved and devoid of substance cannot find its home.

“Oh, Amber Lynn! Your image alone has preserved me throughout countless nights, storms, battles, and the seemingly eternal moments of loneliness I find whenever I am away. Is it but a mere coincidence that when I stray from you, our children, and our home the world finds itself coming apart at the seams? You have been my only stability in life; my singular solace; the light that warms me when a shaken countenance and soul are at risk of the most absolute and unredeemable shattering. …if I could only gaze upon your face once more, take you up in my arms to ward off the onslaught of time, and press my lips unto yours and your soft skin: neck, chest, stomach, thighs…happiness mayest thou redeem me….

“Ugh the summer sun pelts my skin! How many hours have passed since the bullet struck me? Surely it must be several; the dawn was not yet cresting, and now the fireball has risen high and sears me. What I would not give for a splash of water on my face; even a dip in the cool stream from yesterday.

“My God! Was it but a day ago when I fled the battlefield? A mere two days since I was content in the execution of my plan to extract a living through the soldiers’ unfulfilled desires? Oh what plans I laid: to turn the woes and anger of others, the volleys and blows of mighty armies, to my benefit. Now I am in a veritable set of chains, bound by shackles unperceivable and unknowable.

“‘The Archangel of Alabama?’ Oh dear, they’ve learned my identity through my battle-earned moniker. Ugh if ever I have needed the respite offered by a deity now would be the time! If these rogues abandon civility I am completely at their mercy!

“Wait! Ahhh! Lay down your hands, you putrid fiend! Kuh kuh…oh my face…kuh kuh kuh…how it stings! How cruel hath fate befallen me.

“Oh my God! Will the villainy ever cease? Ugh…kuh kuh kuh kuh…the stench is unbearable! I am a sopping mess; man after man, in rows one after the other, evacuate their bladders upon me! I feel it on my skin which I cannot move out of the trajectory; fast in my eyes which I cannot shut, and within my clothes which grow heavy and odor-laden, and worst of all I cannot escape into a dream world. This waking realm has me confined in totality; I have become nothing, a nonentity, and the terrors of monsters and ghouls are ever invading headlong toward my position.

“Oh what hell are these people? Long have I understood the world to be a grim and unsavory place, but this? Perhaps there resides within us all the villainous urge; bubbling just beneath the surface, ready to break forth upon the world in a torrential spew. Yes, I believe it to be so now. Perhaps, also, for some the urge overtakes us in life, while the others languish in its dance in death’s eternity. Is this state I now find myself in every constant moment; my succumbing, my unwinding into the depths of dementia?

“So…it appears this everlasting torture is my end. I am truly dead. Ugh it grows harder each passing moment to keep my swirling thoughts in order. Perhaps the meaning of life is merely that it is a battlefield where the solitary soldier holds off the creeping march of insanity and debauchery, swinging round the battleaxe with our imposing logic. But nay forever can our walls hold strong! Time never sought to heal the wounds; it only reopens them and lashes deeper into the flesh. Finally the day lo it must arrive when our entire being is forced into slavery. On this day which we all meet, ‘tis then we take knees and oaths in service to another. We are born and come into our freedom, defend and extend it, and then over the years we succumb to unbreakable chains.

“But I must still yet raise the question in agony—if only but to my own ears—will these pains cease, decline, even, or must they grow in their intensity by the day, the hour, truly by the second? In life, it must be said, I was threatened by these souls. But I could fight! I could dodge almost any blow, and counter, sending my adversary to this void. But wait…those five deserters…that soldier on the battlefield…all the men I’ve shot and killed in my brief career. My God I have sent them all to this! Lo thy cruel hand of fate! We are born for the purveyance of the demented arts, and killed so we may be like the sculptor’s slab of marble!

“Huh…here comes another grouping of them. Was I so like you just hours ago, fellow prisoners?

“Fine! So be it! Take my clothes, and leave my body naked and exposed to such brutal undertakings; for why should the flesh not match the condition of mind and soul? Oh what a tragedy when such is the only uniformity I can either desire or attain.

“Yes what a spectacle, Death. They humiliate my body and continue with their night’s activities. No utterance of remorse; nor a syllable or sorrow. Huh…at least I may take a brief pause of relief knowing my family will never witness my predicament. Oh my God. Will they too face a similar fate? No! No! No! No! God how my heart breaks, I cannot bear this thought! Throw at me your mightiest of ravages if it will spare them! A waking existence should be spent in the pursuit of improvement, knowledge, adventure! Nothing of the sort finds a home here! Surely the blankness I long thought death was comprised of would be preferable to this. Alas, it seems that was but a mere phantasm, as foolish and transparent as beliefs I disregarded.

“Ah! Another suitor after my attention, how grand! Bring on the demons in thy heart! Let them floweth unto the air and cascade upon me, for there is but nothing more shocking which I have not already seen transpire!

“Oh, Lord…how I was mistaken. Why do you disrobe, Yankee? No…stop! Stop! STOP! AHHHH! Such a searing pain hath never befallen me! You shall surely cleave me in two with your visceral, frantic undulations! It is more than I can bear, yet unconsciousness will not greet me with its gifts. Oh how sweet would the site of a barren, empty, cavernous existence be. Gladly would I trade this hellish condition for a joyless, pitiless, emotionless repose.

“Finally, the madman is gone. Who knew just how dark the clouds could gather over one man? So oblivious I have been all my life. Is the wisdom of all men in all ages as frayed and dim as in my own? Oh how petty the historians and philosophers have been! They claim we moderns stand upon the shoulders of giants, but we are as submerged beneath the primordial soil as the lot who came before.

“Even the passage of time has begun to withdraw from my mind’s ability to observe with clarity. The twirling and churning of faces and sights flicker before my eyes like a maelstrom. The stream of consciousness is never broken, but the long train of perceptions leads me on and on, until I have lost completely the meaning of ‘forwards’ and ‘backwards.’ From the view of my besieged capacities, ‘past,’ ‘present,’ and ‘future’ are but mere playthings, as desolate as all else. Even the torments begin to share this quality.

“More footsteps make their way to me. Wait…that’s not…yes it is! Abraham Lincoln himself! What business have you here, fiend? To see the corpse of a despised enemy? Yes? Than gaze on, Mr. President, and behold your greatest triumph to date! You and your men have bested me, it is true, but if you have taken the trouble to view me, even in my empty and corporeal form, such is the extent of my legacy. Long shall I live in death!”




F. H. Tallendro lives in Bemidji, MN, and holds a Bachelor's degree in history. This is his first published work of fiction. Since March he has been working on his first novel. He can be reached via email at fhtallendro@gmail.com or through Twitter: @tallendro

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