Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Long Way Home

James Doty was lost, in every sense of the word.

He had been separated from the other soldiers for hours, maybe even days. Doty was no longer sure of time. The events of the battle had left him confused and disoriented. It was as if a mist had descended not only in the valley, but in his mind as well.

It had started when insurgents had started creeping back in the area, terrorizing men, women and children with their brutality, and the Governor of the province had pleaded for protection. Doty and 2500 other soldiers had been based 25 miles away. A reconnaissance party of two battalions, some 275 men, were to head north and assess the activity in the area. Two majors, Bailey and Stillman, were anxious for some combat experience and led the soldiers into the valley.

They set up camp near a small grove of trees by a creek. Somehow, one of the soldiers had managed to stash whiskey in his gear, and by supper time, several soldiers were drunk. Doty recalled his disgust with them, which was immediately replaced by alarm when three insurgents were captured by the guards. One of the drunken soldiers shot one of the captives. Apparently, another squad of insurgents had been watching from the hills, and they raced away. Several soldiers, without orders or commander, followed them and succeeded in overtaking and killing two of them. By that time, the insurgents had reached their own base and the entire band ran forward to pursue the outnumbered soldiers.

God, it had been a slaughter. Doty sat on the ground, head in his hands at the thought of it. Those hot-headed assholes who had taken off on their own never even stopped, just screamed that hundreds were following them. Doty never knew how many of them there were. In the end, most of the soldiers dashed south, led by that bastard Stillman, leaving the twelve of them to defend themselves. And of the twelve, only he remained. Doty shook his head in an effort to clear his thoughts. Through the mist, he could still see them. Ellis, whose intestines were wrapped around his neck. CPT Adams, his genitals stuffed in his mouth; horrifying enough, but his head was a good 20 feet from his body. Draper screaming in the dark until Doty heard his last gurgling, gasping breath. Walters, Milton, Parkins, Kreeps, Mendinhall, Childs, Farris and Munson, all of them with hands and feet missing, eyes gouged out, hearts torn out, the ground red and slick with their blood.

Yet it wasn’t.

The mist lifted a bit, and where Doty had seen his fellow soldiers only a moment ago, now was green hillside. It was as though he were seeing their reflection in a glass, there but not there.

Oh God, Doty thought, I have lost my mind. How could someone have come to bury them without his seeing them? He had been hidden nearby the whole time. Doty looked around, and again, it was as if two different scenes were overlapped, competing with his attention. Was he seeing open prairie, or was he seeing houses and people? I’m crazy, he thought, I’m crazy and I’m lost and dear God, please just let me wake up from this nightmare and go home.

And so Doty walked, and walked, not knowing if it was tall grass or some hard unknown surface beneath his boots. Always keeping in sight of the hill where his friends were killed, he would call out for his fellow soldiers who must surely be looking for him by now. He would think that he could see a familiar face in the passing shadows that invaded his sight more and more, but no one would stop, no one could hear him.
Doty felt suspended between two worlds-the one he knew and this shadow world where seasons changed, the prairie was replaced by homes and businesses, shades of people he could almost, but not quite touch. Once he tried knocking on a door, sure that this time someone would see him, help him. But in the end, there was no help for Doty. He returned to his vigil on the hill, waiting to be found and convinced that he had gone quite mad.

And then…she came.

There to the west, cutting through the mist of his world like a beacon, stood a house. A home filled with candlelight, the smells of cinnamon and apples. He approached the house, and there on the porch sat a woman curled in a chair, an afghan around her shoulders, book in her lap, coffee by her side. And he knew, without a doubt, that this was where he should be. No woman should be out here on her own, unprotected, when an attack might come at any time. Doty went through the door and sat down beside her.

I know why I was left behind, he told her. I am here to watch over you. A small breeze ruffled the hair on her forehead. She looked up and smiled, then went back to her book.

Sometimes the best ghost stories are the ones you can base on history. The story of the Battle of Stillman’s Run can be found here as told by the Hon. John A. Atwood in 1904.


At 10/30/2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


and it explains what I found on the proch waiting for me this morning.....


At 10/30/2007, Blogger pamibe said...

Wow; great story!


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