A Stranger’s Death

My father woke me by kicking my door open. The wood planks reverberated but held together through the recoil.

“Can’t you ever get up with the sun, boy?” he asked, not intending on getting an answer, so I didn’t give one. “Can’t you hear the gunfire? There’s a battle going on over beyond the ridge. Let’s go before it ends, and bring some food with you.”

I slowly rolled over and sat up. I could faintly hear the gunfire he mentioned and adrenaline chased the sleep from my limbs. I pulled on my trousers and boots and wrapped what was left of last night’s deer meat in a cloth and shoved it in a bag before taking off through the door.

I heard a faint pop as I headed toward the ridge to the west. Before too long, I could hear the rat-tat-ratat of drummers. I crested the hill and before me, below on the green field, stood two masses of men. Two large colors of blue and grey at each end and a murky blend forming in the middle. A mixture of blue and gray and red and purple. The battle was maybe a quarter-mile away. Shouting could be heard as officers gave orders and men died.

Some of the neighbors had come by to watch too. Strangers also, who brought chairs and even a small table. The women wore dresses and brought parasols for shade even though the sun was barely up. I made my way to my father. He never took his eyes off the battle below. He took a swig from his bottle. He never went anywhere without it. I sat on the dry grass and began eating. He knelt down and grabbed a few pieces himself. Everyone else kept to themselves except for the strangers who mingled and ate and drank and laughed. I imagined this is what they did in their expensive city homes. Their manners were dead giveaways. The battle seemed to be just a side attraction. They focused mainly on themselves and each other. My father and I said nothing. We sat and ate our meager meal. He drank and watched. Every so often I would hear him mutter “Yankee bastard” under his breath.

He always talked about how everything got split. How things that were simple turned into a right and wrong. How nobody could force us to change our lifestyles just because they wanted to live their own certain way. He always talked about how in a few years I’d be old enough to fight. How he’d walk me into town to sign up. He never talked about fighting himself unless it was in the bar.

I never said a word. I just watched. Wishing I had an eyepiece like the rich folk a ways down so I could see better. There was one lying on the table and I thought, for a moment, of snatching it. They probably wouldn’t even notice. Instead I strained my eyes to see the men below. Killing. Being killed. A coldness ran through me and I wanted to leave when I heard glass shatter and a short scream. What followed was laughter.

“It must have been a stray bullet from down there,” someone said.

“We’ll have to go down afterward to get a few souvenirs,” said another.

I watched the men die while the strangers waited simply to steal from the them. To take what they could afford from those who gave everything. A hatred grew in me, but there was no place to put it so I swallowed it. It made me cold even in the humid air and the morning sun. If I joined the army to fight, I’d never have a chance to fight these strangers. Not the ones who watched. Only other strangers like those below. Of which I would become one, and be left to rot in the midday sun. Lost in a sea of blood.

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