To The Lonely Seas And The Sky -- Part 7b
To reiterate--this story is completely fictional. None of the characters in this tale really existed. However, their stories closely mirror the lives of real people who lived during the Civil War. The Battle at Gettysburg, fought July 1-3, 1863, was one of unprecedented carnage. Having visited Gettysburg myself, I will try to do its grim memory justice for those soldiers who died there and for the men and women who tended them.
Within the house, Carina had found a horde of medical attendants and three surgeons, all of them operating in the same cramped confines. Ellie met three women and several men who cared for patients on the first floor. The surgeons worked in the rooms upstairs.
Overwhelmed at the sheer number of injured, the nurses and attendants welcomed the extra help. Their wan faces and flat tones betrayed the toll of war on those who had not seen the battle itself, but were left to handle the aftermath. Drained from little to no sleep, poor nutrition and staggering numbers of injured men who desperately needed round-the-clock treatment, they moved like ghosts amongst innumerable patients, as transient as the very souls of their maimed charges. More men died in an hour than what could be treated in a day, one of the women explained to Carina as she showed them around the first floor.
Ellie stood by her mother's side, nearly eclipsed in her skirts, as a older, gray-haired woman plainly explained their routine and the conditions of their work. She couldn't believe the conditions of the men around her, men of all ages, soaked in blood and in all states of undress. Glanced between them, terrified by their injuries--injuries she could not have dreamt of in the worst of her nightmares.
Ellie looked up at the crumbling ceiling of the house and around at the bullet-scarred walls, the punctured, stained furniture and the sticky red hardwood floors and carpets. It was hardly a mansion, but it had been a well-kept home before the war, she realized. I wonder if the owners know that their house is full of bleeding, dying soldiers... she pondered, immediately questioning what place such a pointless thought had in the face of suffering and imminent death.
All at once, Ellie realized as she gazed out the back door across a field of blue and gray uniforms that her father might lay among them. Father--tall, strong, gentle Father--among the dying? No, Ellie insisted, unable to tolerate such a thought. Father cannot be out there. We are here to tend to these men. Father's regiment had moved on. The gray-haired woman said so when Mama asked about the First Maryland.
The conversation was coming to an end. Ellie felt her mother moving. She moved automatically with her, the two of them crossing the room and walking out the back door and onto porch. The smell was even worse outside, Ellie realized, coughing to keep herself from acting on her nausea.
Carina handed Ellie a canteen, pointing to the men who lay strewn across the porch. "You will give them water, Ellie, yes? Visit them each and talk with them if they wish, but make sure they get water." Carina disappeared back inside the house.
Ellie stood petrified, alone with the canteen and a porch full of dying men.
Ellie tried to escape the sight, looking up from the porch to the fields behind the house, but beyond lay more bodies--in some places, stacked four men deep. She quickly realized that her safest bet was to concentrate on that porch.
She gazed across the men, trying to choose whom to visit first. She slipped as she took her first step toward one man who seemed to be sitting very quietly on the steps. Catching her balance, Ellie looked down only to realize that the floor of the porch was slippery with fresh blood. Her lower lip trembling, Ellie walked to the man who sat sleeping on the steps, putting a hand on his shoulder.
"Sir," Ellie whispered, tapping him again with a trembling hand. "Sir?"
The man's body fell back, revealing blood-encrusted eyes, forever open in the frozen terror of death, staring hollowly back at her. Blood had dried around his mouth and nose and in streaks down his neck.
Ellie jumped back, too terrified to scream. She struggled to maintain her balance, determined not to fall in the blood. She clutched the canteen to her chest and stood perfectly still, panting in the middle of the porch. She could feel her fear rising into panic, sobs forming in her chest and her eyes stinging as she looked into the gaze of the dead soldier.
"Miss..."Last edit by AN Admin Team on Feb 20, '17
From 'The Great White North'; Joined Mar '10; Posts: 2,233; Likes: 7,047.Oct 25, '13Appreciate the comment, cardiacfreak. I'm very seriously considering publishing. I'd like to get closer to the end before I really move on it, but it's not an impossibility.