The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes
The cool brass buttons on his coat, which had been rolled into a pillow and placed under his head, pressed comfortably on the back of his neck. For that he was grateful.He could only remember bits and pieces of the accident before he drifted into a peaceful sleep. But then images of bloody battles, the smell of gunpowder, screams of the dying and cries of the living intruded jolting him awake in uncontrolled spasms. Ha lay there in a cold sweat unable to move; to escape the dreams and the loneliness.
dazed, Leonard could smell the sweat and blood of battle. It was
his blood and sweat. He could taste the
dust on his coat, collected from months of constant wear.
Leonard was afraid. He lay perfectly still in the darkness. He could not move his arms or legs to escape the pain that filled his body. But he was confident that he would eventually overcome his injuries and he tried desperately to move his fingers, arms, legs and feet checking for injuries. Nothing moved. He felt very little except the constant throbbing and nothing moved. He lay motionless in the dark; eyes closed. He was very aware of his head and neck wounds and he searched in vain for other feelings; undamaged nerves that would reveal life in the rest of his body. His chest hurt, too. Where he found no pain he was thankful but also worried. His eyes were swollen shut and he felt like a great thunder storm was approaching behind his eyes. That was the worst pain.
The darkness was peaceful. Through his fear and pain he rather welcomed the peace and quiet time for deep reflections. The throbbing soreness in his body was a reminder not make any sudden movements; a painful burden of the accident. The humid murkiness crept over him again and with it came spontaneous relief from the pain. He slept soundly.
When Leonard awoke hazy images of his life flashed across his swollen eye lids. He watched, in this semi-conscious state, as these vivid images passed. He watched as his mother sent him to school with his lunch pail, the school yard fights, Harriet on their wedding day and of his wonderful days as a seaman. He imagined he could hear the sounds of ships cannons firing mightily in sea battle as he fought privateers he smelt the acrid, spent gun powder. He could feel the salt spray as cannon shot came near his ship or when sailing through a sudden squall. It all seemed so real, so close.
A smile creased his parched lips as he fondly remembered meeting Harriet while on shore-leave in Philadelphia. It all seemed like yesterday when he awkwardly fell in love with her, proposed and when she bashfully agreed, like some school girl, to be his wife. She was the reason he gave up the sea to become a Pennsylvania farmer. She wanted a man to take care of her and raise a family. He agreed that maybe farming wouldn’t be so bad; maybe settle him down because it was something that he had often thought about when at sea. They were both happy. But that happiness was destined to last but a few years as heated war cries rose like the temperature of summer.
Then political and social tantrums boiled over into an uncontrollable war, a war that shattered the country into near fatal pieces. Friends and neighbors became enemies; families died. Neighbors disappeared. Leonard wanted to fight with his father, brother and friends and despite his mother’s pleadings, and Harriet’s protests, he marched away from the safety of his farm and love of his family into the patriotic madness that would be war.
Soon he was in battle and watched in terror as crimson stained grey and blue bodies fell, some intact, some torn apart like victims of a crazed butcher, their uniforms and remains covered with flies at days end; the ground soaked with each others blood. Leonard observed that no matter what color the uniform, the blood made them all look the same.
This war was not what he expected in spite of his years fighting raging sea battles. Ships were different. Sea water washed away the blood and bodies from ship’s decks. He laid there in the dark, almost awake, light headed, thinking about the sea battles and the deaths at sea. Nothing compared to what he had seen here. He never thought about it before but death was the same no matter where you were, what battle was being fought, what God you asked forgiveness from, or whose side you were on. The end result was the same God or no God.
Now in the distance he believed he could still hear the rumblings of cannon fire; feel the earth shake. He was becoming tired again. Having little feeling, (the painful throbbing was easing up a bit now), in much of his body made sleeping come easier. As he was drifting into a shallow sleep he thought back to the sea days with a lonely sort of sadness. He remembered how he was comforted, especially at night, listening to the ship’s rigging groan under the strain of full sails rising and falling over the large rolling ocean swells. He could almost feel the ship’s pitching and gentle rolling as he stood on deck under a star filled night, watching the phosphorous creatures behind the ship’s wake as they blended into the stars on the horizon. In and out of his dream he softly rose and fell. He could almost feel the soothing cool Caribbean breezes; smell the salty air and the stuffiness of ocean humidity around him.
The ship rolled and pitched one more time, then a tear rolled down his cheek from under his swollen eyelids with a different image; his mother’s grief when his father was killed at Shiloh and he wasn’t there to comfort her. He wondered about his brother, who enlisted after he did, and where he was and was he alive and well? News was difficult to get in these days of war. He would see him soon and they would return home from war together. His dazed smile returned and he dropped into a deeper and more peaceful slumber. He felt good. Everything was going to be good again.
He awakened to the softness of his coat and the comfort he felt in the darkness. Leonard became slightly more alert. He explored his condition further and his fingers seemed to tingle when he tried to move them. As he moved he remembered how the reigns felt tight around his hands before the accident, and he remembered the awful pain as he was dragged off the wagon and more memories of the accident returned.
The supply wagon he was driving was racing out of control, as his company was in fast retreat from the advancing enemy, when the cross tree broke sending the wagon in one direction, he and the horses in another. His hands were entangled in the reigns. He couldn’t remember everything that happened, but he did remember that some soldiers racing beside him were cutting the reigns; trying to free him from the frightened animals. He remembered that much but couldn’t think what happened next. His head and neck pain, he thought, was where the horses may have kicked him when he fell.
It seemed darker and quieter now, he wondered at the silence. If he was in a hospital there should be bedlam with screams and shouts of grief, smell of death and dying, and the praying of the ones who survived. Then he thought maybe it was night time and everyone had been sedated or passed out from exhaustion, and was comforted by the thought.
He knew the war had ended for him beause of his injury, but he needed to find out how seriously he was injured. Maybe one of the doctors was still here. He tried to call out but his mouth and throat were parched from lack of water. He tried to swallow. No spit. He bit his tongue in hopes it would draw some moisture. It didn’t. His legs were still numb, not a good sign. His arms ached terribly but he couldn’t move them. Maybe they were broken from being dragged before he was cut free from the reigns.
Despite the pain Leonard was happy to be alive. Before drifting into another deep sleep, he became aware of the humid dampness, the musty dust in the air and the heavy summer air mixed with the stench of war. The mugginess that filled his sinuses and the throbbing that hurt his eyes and head began to disappear gradually. Distant rumblings made him slightly nervous but that too, began to fade. The pain eased up and also faded. Then Leonard slipped into a deeper unconsciousness.
The far-off thunder rolled, rumbled and echoed through the corn filled valley and over the tree covered hills. With it came a gentle, cleansing summer rain, ready to wash away the blood of battle and give life to the earth. Patches of new grass and wild flowers were hastily spread over the many rows of shallow, battle-field graves.
© Richard Corwin March 2006
Gladys and Bruno
Richard Corwin with circus follies
Richard Corwin on todays gladiators
Fiction in Dreamscapes