“Desertion” By Lee Horton

The date is September 17th 1862. The place is Antietam, a living hell for two ideologies to fight in. Union soldiers struggle to cross Burnside Bridge as confederate sharpshooters pick them off from the next hill. Behind the sharpshooters are their friends and brothers lying in helpless positions in Bloody lane. Less than a mile away the once peaceful cornfield has been turned into an open graveyard. The bridge is the union’s final attack. The blue, clear water of Antietam creek is turning red. At the end of the bridge is twenty three year old Paul Richardson.

The adventure and glory he signed up for five months earlier is over. Now death and fear is an everyday occurrence. The sight of blood, death, and disease doesn’t affect him anymore. His personal ambition is that of a Spartan. No fear, no surrender, and no mercy. He runs up to the bridge and through dead and wounded soldiers. His gun is loaded and he’s carrying it with both hands. Smoke fills the area around him, and chokes him and his comrades. The sound of gunshots and screaming is constant. As he gets within eight feet of the end of the bridge, the man in front of him is shot. He’s shot in the chest, he screams, clutches his chest, and falls to the wooden floor of the bridge. Paul is left in the open.

He raises his gun and fires. A sharpshooter grabs his arm and drops his gun. Bullets fly past Paul’s head and hit other soldiers behind him. He throws himself to the ground and reloads. He gets up and aims. A bullet hits the floor two feet to his right. Small pieces of wood fly out in every direction. Paul fires. The bullet flies out of the smoke, through the air, and into a tree branch, causing it to explode into thousands of pieces. As he gets ready to reload, Paul feels a sharp pain in his leg. He staggers around the bridge and falls to his knees. He still attempts to load his gun. Then he’s thrown onto his back. The same sharp pain is in his chest. He still holds his gun in his hand. He’s three feet from the edge of the bridge. More soldiers rush to the bridge. He grabs the side of the bridge and attempts to pull himself up. He falls almost instantly, with his left arm six inches from the edge. He drops his gun into the water and crawls to the edge. He grabs the stone railing and pulls himself up. He falls into the cold water and sinks to the bottom. He feels weak. The pain in his chest and leg are gone. Water fills his eyes and everything becomes a blur. He loses consciousness.

When he woke up everything was quiet. He was at the bottom of the creek. The water didn’t bother his eyes and he couldn’t feel his wounds. For a minute he lay there without feeling. It was surreal. The area was very peaceful, and the water was clean. He sat up in a panic, frantically looking for his gun, he found nothing. There was a whole in his pants where his knee had been shot. A hole of equal size was in his shirt. He stood up and swam to the surface.

As he crawled onto the shore he noticed how clean the area was. There was no smoke in the air, and there were no corpses. He stood up to see that two people were on the bridge. A man with black hair, and a woman with brown hair. Their clothes were clean and plain. Paul ran up to them,

“Hi, I’m lost, have you seen any union regiments?” he asked. The couple kept talking, as if Paul hadn’t said anything.

“Hey! Listen to me!” Paul yelled. No response. He tapped them on the shoulder. No response. “The hell with you!” he yelled walking the opposite direction. He walked around the hill that once had sharpshooters, and into bloody lane.

It was empty. Nobody except one person looking at his phone. Paul walked over to him.

“Hi I need help, have you seen any union regiments?” The man didn’t respond. “What are you holding?” Paul asked. The man kept looking at his phone. Paul walked out of bloody lane furious. He walked down the empty road. Cars passed by, leaving Paul confused. He walked through the empty, hot road to the visitors’ center.

The building perplexed Paul who walked in. On the wall were drawings of the battle and photos of the aftermath. Paul walked up to one of the photos. The gritty black and white photo showed wounded soldiers being carried in wagons. Paul stared intently at the photo. The man who was being lifted up by his arms and legs was Paul’s friend, John Daniels.

He jumped back in horror. He looked around to see that nobody acknowledged him. He ran up to a man at the front desk.

“What’s today’s date?” he asked frantically. The man didn’t look up or say anything. “Say something!” Paul screamed at the top of his lungs. The man said nothing. Paul stared at the calendar behind him. It read September 2017.

Paul’s body shook with terror and confusion. He ran to a man walking in.

“HELP! SAY SOMETHING! DON’T JUST STAND THERE!” He screamed falling to his knees. The man walked into the movie theatre. Paul ran out of the visitors’ center and down the road. He ran past people, the cornfield, and cars. After about three minutes he reached the graveyard.

He walked through the sea of white headstones, sometimes stopping to look at them to see if he could recognize anyone, he couldn’t. Then he came across a certain tombstone. It read,

Paul Jack Richardson

April 6th 1839-September 17th 1862

A brave soldier who promised his mother he’d be home at the end of the war.”

Paul fell to his knees in horror. He stared at the name. He shook violently. He remembered the date of his last battle, September 17th 1862.

“This has to be a dream,” he told himself.

“It isn’t,” a voice behind him replied.

Paul turned around. There was a man around his age with black hair. He had a tattered gray uniform with a hole in the left arm part of his shirt.

“You can hear me!” Paul exclaimed, “You can see me! You know I’m here! Who are you!?”

“The confederate sharpshooter you shot,” the man added coldly. Paul remembered the man who clutched his arm and screamed when he fired his gun. “You’re not going back,” he said calmly. Paul got up. He realized that he didn’t pass out in the creek, he died in the creek.

“You want to kill me don’t you,” Paul said, half hoping to wake up in a hospital.

“I don’t care, I’ve killed many other people, besides I can’t kill you if I tried,” the confederate said.

“You people make me sick,” Paul replied walking away.

He walked to Burnside Bridge and sat by the creek. Watching other soldiers fight each other, he heard the sound of gunshots. This was no different to him than being a living soldier.

 

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