[Fiction] Coming Soon Gabriel travels back in time to the mind of Rourke O’Donnel, a discharged Union soldier who lost his arm at the battle of Rappahanock Station. Gabriel is from a future where the south won the Second Civil War, Lincoln was never shot, and the “Great War” that started in the early 1900’s is still raging 60 years later, having spread across the entire globe. His mission is to kill Lincoln and change his own history.
A retelling of the actual events behind the death of Abraham Lincoln.
November 7th, 1863
Silence filled the crisp, twilight air after the cannons ceased firing. Their chest thumping, thunderous blasts had pummeled the confederate position, and now the union troops waited in quiet anticipation, with only an occasional cough, clink or whisper to disturb the stillness. Using both hands to clutch his rifle, Corporal Rourke O'Donnal gazed at the United States flag fluttering in a slight November breeze, and he thought grimly, making it home would be mighty fine.
Waiting for a conflict to start can make one a deep thinker, he reasoned. The War of the Rebellion had run too long now. The Rebels needed to be stopped, and he hoped President Lincoln had a plan. Then he shook his head, glancing left and right and figuring most everybody on the line felt the same.
Smoke still lingered from the cannon's eruptions, clinging to the ground between the two positions. It burned the nose, yet Rourke didn't mind. He preferred the cannons worked from afar, less for the infantry to deal with.
It was easy enough to see: Rappahannock Station lay pummeled. The rebel batteries were too small, their reach was shorter than what the Union army had brought to field.
“That'll flatten the road,” muttered Cameron, standing to Rourke's right, “if it were me you're askin.”
They had served together for over two years in Lincoln's Federal Army and Rourke had learned that his friend ran his mouth before things started. It was his way to settle shaky nerves.
Cameron spit, then nodded towards an officer on a horse reviewing the soldiers, and whispered, “I'm thinkin' Stowe knows we slipped them gardener snakes in his bed and he's bang on upset, acting the maggot and putting us on the front.”
“Garter,” Rourke said, a little frustration edging into his hissed response. “It's a Garter snake, not Gardener!” This was an ongoing debate between the two, since they found the nest near camp.
Cameron's eyes flattened, “You keep saying that, but I know what a garter is, and it's for ladies . . . lingering . . .” He paused, and this is where he always got caught up, because he didn't actually know what a garter was used for, just that it was something to with . . . ladies fancy, lingering . . . clothing, or something. But he did know with a certainty it was not a snake, so as Lieutenant Stowe approached he quickly responded with a tone of confidence, “The snakes, they come from the garden, so they are gardener snakes.”
Rourke said nothing in reply, although his lips quirked upward slightly.
As the Lieutenant passed on his horse, Cameron tapped the brim of his union soldier’s hat while smiling like they was best of friends. Lieutenant Stowe glared at him for a moment, then continued down the line, the horse's hooves clomping in the damp soil.
After he was away Cameron whispered, “No . . . it might be he isn't sure the snakes were us, but his boots are on our back as is. He's missing the thanks for lads such as us, helping a soft man like himself get more comfortable with the land. A few gardener snakes never hurt a soul.” He made sure to emphasize gardener.
The tension was getting to Rourke, so he ignored Cameron, instead fidgeting with his rifle while the golden sunlight faded, his grim smile waning as fear wove its way through his heart. After thinking on it, he decided to keep a close watch for Lieutenant Stowe when the battle engaged. You never knew where a bullet would come from and he'd heard stories of officers 'resolving problems' during the conflict. The snake prank may have seemed like a fun idea at the time, but thinking about it now, perhaps it wasn't the best choice.
Even considering that, he hoped all would go well tonight. It seemed like the brass hats had come up with a good enough battle plan for once. They hoped the Rebels would make for an easier fight after a day of the cannons pounding them. The plan was to come at them in the night, when things were winding down.
Cameron, meanwhile, forced his own smile, and Rourke felt a pang of sadness as he remembered when it was more genuine. His lanky friend had spun a convincing argument nearly two years ago: by joining the Federal Army together they could watch each other's back. They were only sixteen at the time, but nobody paid too much attention to ages. They would be a pair of invincible Irish lads from New York.
His little sister, Rianne, had also promised herself to Cameron. Rourke had no other family besides her, and just by thinking of her a recurring twinge of darkness crept into his thoughts: the factories had been brutal to his family. But he would do anything for his sister, let alone for his friend Cameron—he had become like a brother.
“Agh, damn the waiting,” whispered Cameron. “Rourke, that look is in your eye. We're most ways through our time, and this will be a fine and easy battle . . . Think on something else. How about this brain tickler to mind your thoughts: What hangs at a man's thigh and wants to poke the hole its often poked before?”
Rourke tried to smile as an answer came to mind, but he just couldn't make it genuine. The dark thoughts stuck with him—he felt it was not fair. They said it was consumption that took their mother, and there was nothing he could do to help her. But he knew it was because of the factory.
Rianne handled their mother's death worse than he, refusing to talk to anyone for weeks. Instead she just went through the motions of the day, her face lost in a blank countenance. She smiled a lot before mother died, but after, it appeared less. He had to work to get her to smile, and then when it did come, it was fleeting, like a butterfly gracing a flower: beautiful in its careful movement, but quick to fly away if startled.
Glancing at Cameron he saw the concern in his eyes, and was glad. He would be good for her. Rourke forced himself to break from his thoughts and think on the riddle, his lips moving only slightly as he whispered, “hangs at a man's thigh . . . right, thats it, you're a dog, I daren't speak what leaps to mind.”
Cameron smiled innocently, “and that is?”
Rourke shook his head, unable to be drawn into the jest, but glad for his company. Life changed for the better when Cameron's family moved into the same tenement. Rianne took a fancy to him and even her smiles returned.
That smile could melt the most hardened man, he thought softly, while feeling a bit of pride for his sister. He liked to think of her as a butterfly.
It seemed the sun set more slowly this evening, as if it too was reluctant to proceed with the night's affair. He took a deep breath to clear his thoughts. Cameron was right, he needed to get his head on straight. The battle was nearly on.
Then he remembered the factory foreman walking between the rows of workers at their machines, his hard gaze watching for anybody slacking while he shook the ring of keys at his hip, and the answer came to him. He whispered a little smugly, “A key.”
Cameron furrowed his brow, “Hey! you're some yoke, drawin' me on like that. You heard it already?”
Rourke smiled, this time for real, “Nah, it just took some thinking, you should try it.”
But before Cameron could respond, a bugle sounded, breaking the evening quiet, and shouts erupted from the army around him as they charged forward. His pulse quickened as he joined the rush forward, focusing his fury and fear into a howling cry that came forth from the troops like one voice.
The whip-crack of bullets filled air once silent as they rushed the confederate redoubt, Lieutenant Stowe hollering behind their ranks while waving a sword from his horse. They broke into the Rebel position to find it a chaos of shouts, crackling gunfire, and screams, all underlain by the fallow, sweaty, stench of tight quarters. Many soldiers were engaged in nothing better than hand-to-hand brawling. He pulled his bayonet from a Rebel soldier's side, just as Cameron shoved him from behind.
Rourke lost his balance and stumbled, turning to Cameron.
They locked eyes.
He could barely recall the pain from the bullet that shattered his arm, and had no memory of the second one that grazed his head, knocking him out.
Rourke's thoughts were confused as he woke from a chloroform induced delirium while looking up at the surgeon casually wiping blood from his spectacles.
The surgeon reached down and Rourke felt nothing as the man lifted his arm, then carried it away. A moment later he felt a dull throb where his arm should be, deadened by the medicine, and his lip quivered as he faded back into an induced slumber.
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