Five Sentence Fiction: Reaping Rewards

In Fiction on June 29, 2012 at 7:57 am

“Honor is a figment?” Caleb spat. “Is that what you tell yourself when you dream, when you see the faces of the men and women and children you’ve slaughtered?”

Colonel Grammar paced forward, circling, his hand resting on the hilt of his saber.

“If you knew what the cotton harvest was worth last year, Lieutenant, or tobacco or sugar, or the fortune we stand to make when this war has finished, you might not speak so highly of honor, either.”

“I know what I need to know: I know you’ve been murdering southerners to win that fortune of yours; I know you’ve disguised your raping and pillaging as raids from the north, as the work of the Union; I know you’ve killed old men in their sleep and burnt babies in their cribs; and I know you took the life from my mother and father when they did nothin’ else but run; but the greatest truth I know is that you have about three minutes left on this earth before I carve that smirk from your face and cut the lies from your throat.”

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The Story So Far…Five Sentences at a Time

The fog crept across the plain, wispy and wavering like a line of ghostly scavengers stooping low to inspect the dead. Caleb felt the dew it had deposited on his eyelids – cold, liquid coins — and awoke, sorely disappointed to find that he was still alive.

He sat up and peered through the mist. A few yards distant, the white shroud was wrapping some fortunate soul in its folds, hiding from view the open eyes and slackened mouth and hollow cheeks, making dark shapes of the bodies that lay farther afield in the grassy muck.

Theirs is the glory of war, he thought bitterly as he got to his feet, and now the task is mine alone.

The battle was a blaze in his memory, a single burst of fire, all shrapnel and blood and smoke and noise. Now all was quiet, and the dead were everywhere, some stacked and gathered, others strewn lonely in the field. Somehow the silence beat a rhythm within itself, like the memory of a heart gone still, like drums only almost struck.

Grammar’s forces had moved on, north probably, toward the river and the mill and the stores beneath Pa Conner’s shop. Caleb had glimpsed the map only in passing and only in the uncertain light of the Captain’s low-burned taper, but he had a fair idea of where the men were headed.

He pushed on, down the slope of a wet ridge, feet sliding. The sun, overripe and bursting orange, was crushed against the horizon, breaking through the clouds and smoke to the west.

The town was fewer than five miles distant, easy enough to walk by nightfall, but Caleb couldn’t be sure Grammar and his men would stop for rest, or how many men Grammar had left, even. If the company was at full strength, there would be little he could do, but a dozen men — sleeping perhaps — would be quick work for his dagger.

Quick work except for one, Caleb thought, and he quickened his pace.

Andro’s Crossing they called it, one of the first dead towns, lost in a deep raid in the early fighting. It was some fifty miles south of the line, and the raid some six months past, but the town folk had never returned and Caleb didn’t blame them.

It was a broken place, hard by the river and shaded by hills, low buildings huddled on the bank as if in fear. There were no lights in the windows, now, no smoke from the chimneys and no walkers in the street, but Caleb knew Grammar and his men wouldn’t be far. Men like Grammar were drawn to desolation like blow flies, sniffing out the ruins of human life – feeding on putrefaction – and there was no question but Andro’s Crossing was a picture of desolation, all sickness and decline.

He kept to the main streets (there was no point in trying to slip through now), hearing nothing but the scrape of his boots and the rush of the river and the cry of a far-off lark. He’d been six or seven the last time he’d seen this place, waist-high on his father, and it seemed he’d seen the whole place from the ground up: wagons rolling, skirts swaying, earth and sky joined in the rise of dust. His father had bought him penny candy and root beer at the apothecary, and let him sit by and listen as the old men told their dirty stories, as long as he was good and didn’t relate the stories to his mother later on.

He stopped by the old place now, its sign swinging, half off its chain, blown in the breeze: Spirits – Tobacco – Medicines.

“You best pray for the spirits, young Mr. Williams,” he heard a voice say, “’cause as far as I seen there ain’t no medicine what can cure a man of death.”

Caleb turned to find a man watching him from the shadows. His eyes were shaded by a low-fit gray cap, his jaw cropped with stubble, his beard not yet thick enough to hide the track of bubbled skin, lumped like curdled milk, that ran down the side of his face and neck.

“Or am I to call you Lieutenant Williams?” Colonel Grammar asked, stepping into the street and the half-light of the moon. “The lowly musician turned hero of the rebel army, trading his fife and fiddle for rifle and sword — climbing the ranks on his righteous quest to bring the evil Colonel Grammar to justice.”

“Where are your men?” Caleb asked simply.

“Sleeping, God save them; dreaming of honor and glory and country, fairies and wood nymphs and sea serpents: all the figments that visit men and children alike when their minds sleep and their logic fails them.”

“Honor is a figment?” Caleb spat. “Is that what you tell yourself when you dream, when you see the faces of the men and women and children you’ve slaughtered?”

Colonel Grammar paced forward, circling, his hand resting on the hilt of his saber.

“If you knew what the cotton harvest was worth last year, Lieutenant, or tobacco or sugar, or the fortune we stand to make when this war has finished, you might not speak so highly of honor, either.”

“I know what I need to know: I know you’ve been murdering southerners to win that fortune of yours; I know you’ve disguised your raping and pillaging as raids from the north, as the work of the Union; I know you’ve killed old men in their sleep and burnt babies in their cribs; and I know you took the life from my mother and father when they did nothin’ else but run; but the greatest truth I know is that you have about three minutes left on this earth before I carve that smirk from your face and cut the lies from your throat.”

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This is my response to Lillie McFerrin’s Five Sentence Fiction prompt. This week’s prompt: FAERIES (clearly I took some liberties with the spelling). Be sure to check out all the other responses on Lillie’s blog!

As always, constructive criticism, destructive praise, and general commentary welcome below!

And if you’re really in the mood to critique, I’ve got more fiction here.

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  1. Gripping addition to the story!

  2. Wow, I love the punch at the end! Strong writing!
    I love the way your story is unfolding…

  3. Yes, the story is compelling, rich in imagery, strong…

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