I love Omnibus. I mean, these huge literature textbooks my mom discovered a year ago when I came back from private school after a semester. Just as a sidenote, I absolutely loved the Literature sessions in English class at the school, and Paideia (which is Greek for “the study of society”–or in other words, the study of such subjects, rhetoric, theology, philosophy, which makes a well-rounded classical student). I loved the Latin class, because it introduced me to this much beloved dead language which entrances me, and comes to me when I’m reading. (And I love the idea that if I ever got thrown back into ancient times I could converse with an Ancient Romans–I LOVE LOVE studying ancient Rome, some of it).
Back to Omnibus. The creative writing assignments always exhilarate me. For this particular assignment from this past Spring semester, my sister and I were assigned to write our own journal entries from the POV of a soldier during the War Between the States. I forgot the exact guidelines, but here it is for now!
Every moment of the advance, every scream of a cannon overhead, every burst of musketry—evoked a new memory, a new image. Those images rendered themselves with the preciseness of a master artisan, gloriously depicted and I couldn’t put them out of mind. The faces! O, the faces of my comrades, soot-marked and pale or sallow-skinned, all of them faced towards me intently. They watched me for each signal and gesture. I might have been a hunted animal, they the prey. They depended on me for their triumph, their lives. So I inhaled, and did not look at them. I forced myself into a solitary world, a universe where I alone existed and moved. No one else checked my motions. Only I judged myself by myself, and my fear of other men did not possess me.
There, far ahead, I could make out the stirrings of the opposite side, coming upon us from a stone barrage on the field rise.
I started, for they rose out of the misting grounds like strange inhabitants of the earth who had not been buried very long. Their faces stood out to me, white and yellow dots of flame with dull navy caps hiding their expressions. I put my hand upon the pistol at my side, and I heard the imitating rustle around me. There! I had just signaled a battle. I nearly guffawed, wildly and stupidly. What would my father say to this, back at home with his bristling brows and thin mouth? He would never believe it of me. I am his youngest, his coolest son, not at all the war horse of my brothers’ ilk, but the mild-mannered pasture nag who dislikes activity. Nor was I the plow house, which was my laborious mother. And now I believed that I had become a god, Zeus with his lightning bolts, who signaled the thunderous roars to begin.
I cursed softly, which always puts Ma out of countenance. “Here comes Hell,” I heard a boy hiss close by.
“The Yankees are bound for that place,” came another fellow’s voice. I dared to look around at them, and noted their nervous movements, their meaningless gestures which they could not help. I stared at my own hands, and found them clenching the butt of my pistol. No one fired yet. We waited, waited, as those heavy-footed Yankees remained in a frozen line behind their wall. My own line paused, and gazed out across the narrowed width of field at our targets.
The kid who foresaw Hell’s coming suddenly raised his musket. He pointed it with a jeer at the starred and striped banner over the blue caps.
“Not yet!” I snapped quietly.
His grin froze, and he reluctantly lowered his gun.
When? When? But there came a messanger from the general, who informed me to wait for a follow-up division. Why? We were here, so plain in view. Those behind the barrage would not wait.
I, supposed to Zeus, became a dethroned monarch, who lost command. I could not shout out at the dull-blue idiots over yonder to wait till I signaled the thunder and fire.
They did it themselves, they fired into us.
Men around me crumpled, and a shard singed my epaulet.
The skin burned beneath. It seared as if scalding tongs pinched the skin beneath the cloth.
Suddenly I stopped being the indolent field-nag. I became a bull, abandoned to rage, to animal wrath. I stepped forward and the men behind me surged, and we spilled forward in a single tide, a grey tide like the ocean caught beneath a silver moon.
We went ahead in bounds and strides and sprints, no careful tread demeaning the ground we walked. O, caution drowned beneath us, beneath our pressing vehemence. We came athem, those nameless, faceless dull-blue caps beneath their flamboyant banner. I raised my pistol and shot till it fired no more. And then I knelt, one knee catching a piece of shrapnel. This made it awkward to hold the kneeling position, but I didn’t care. In heaven’s name I say that I didn’t care. It drove me on again with the suffusion across my eyes like a scarlet film and through it I watched the navy caps blurr and discolor, and some of them disappeared before my sight. I shot at each cap and hoped the bullets would pierce the cloth and the bone beneath. Better them than I, for I had a purpose. I write it here, for it is truer than ever, as I am able to pen it. I do admit it, I will admit it in the face of my father and brothers, though I will have nothing to say. They will see it for themselves—they will see how the plow-horse has one leg less than before, and he is all the better for it. He learned to defend, to run, to survive, and destruct anyone who would make a poor beast like myself its prey.