The Drummer's Sun
Dedicated to Mrs. Rice, the best band director.
And for putting up with the hyper drumline.
The cold rain splashed lightly on my face, little more than a light drizzle. But I welcomed the wetness to my hot cheeks, strained with fever. I shut my eyes, trying to ignore the pain racing up from my leg. I wish I could shut my ears as easily, hearing men cry out in the night in pain from wounds far worse than mine, and for water.
I heard a cart's squeaky wheels splashing in the mud, and gruff voices mumbling to each other. I opened my eyes and raised myself on one elbow, eager to see if my brother returned to get me. I couldn't see their faces as they stopped nearby and dragged more men off the cart, fetched from the battlefield. When no familiar voice called out to me, I flopped back down with a squelch on the mud, and immediately wished I hadn't.
"Over here," I heard someone order, and set a body beside mine. I could only see the rough outline of a far too-small body for a man. They left the boy lying next to me, and I could hear the raspy breathing emanating from his throat.
"Do you…have any water?" His voice confirmed my suspicions, a boy like me, probably no older than eleven or twelve.
"No," I admitted, my canteen emptied hours prior.
I could hear him cough and spit. "It hurts…" he hissed. I had to agree, every slight movement that even budged my leg sent pain racing down my spine.
"What's the matter?" I asked, hoping to distract both myself and him from the pain.
"I wasn't even supposed to be here," he mumbled, talking more to himself than me. "Mother told me not to go…but Pa said everyone had to do their part…and they needed me here…" he coughed, a deep grating from his chest. I found some relief and comfort that I wasn't the only boy out here when he belonged at home. "What's your name?"
"Trenton Williams Jr," I replied. "What's yours?"
"James Halloway." He coughed again, and I could hear the gurgle in his lungs over the soft slush of the rain. "They say I won't see sunrise…"
"Of course you will," I reassured him, while a doubt at my own words filled me.
"I want to go home," he mumbled. "We had the best fried chicken and fresh pastries…"
My stomach rumbled at the mention of food. "I miss my mother," I admitted. "She always smelled of fresh baked bread."
"I miss my mother too," he agreed. "This dumb war…at first I was sure about what I was fighting for…now I just want it over…"
I agreed. The South shouldn't have seceded in the first place. Now they threw in all this junk about slaves to cover it politically. I couldn't say with certainty which side I wanted to be on anymore…for the South trying to escape the embargos and restrictions of the North, or for the North who wanted to keep the states together.
I heard James cough again, and he spat. I could almost hear how much it hurt. I reached for my canteen, and told James, "I'll be right back."
His hand grabbed desperately at me, grabbing my blue uniform jacket. "Where are you going?"
"To get water. Hang on."
He held on for a moment longer, then released. Trying to ignore the pain coming from my leg, I pulled myself forward with my arms and elbows and leaving my legs to lag behind, searching for a puddle deep enough for the rainwater to fill my canteen.
After several painful minutes, I finally found one and dunked my canteen in. I drank my fill, then refilled and capped it. I dragged myself back to where James lay, having to rest every few inches I gained.
"James?" I called out. A moment of silence passed, and I called louder, "James!"
"Here, Trenton…" came the tired reply. I maneuvered myself towards the source around the other bodies, some still breathing and some cold to brush against, until I found Trent again.
His hands were shaking so badly that I had to help him uncap the canteen and tip it toward his cracked lips. He choked on the water at first, but greedily drank. After draining half of it, he pushed the metal container away and I twisted the lid back on it.
The rest of the night we murmured to each other, fondly remembering home and how much we missed our families, admiringly of our companies, and proudly of commanders. I didn't recognize his nor did he mine, but I knew little outside of my own company. Every so often I would reach out and feel the coarse weave of his uniform, and he mine. Reassurance for our minds that someone lay beside us and neither of us hallucinated the other.
At some point the rain stopped, and we passed the canteen back and forth a few times. James coughed all night, and I knew blood stained the mud about him. He said he had been near a cannonball when it landed, and something hurt awful inside. I told him of getting shot and falling, breaking my leg in the process right where the bullet had clipped the bone.
I glanced up at James' voice, and smiled as the first rays peeked over the land. They revealed the many bodies of soldiers lying there, waiting for help or death, whichever came first.
"See James? You made it. You'll be fine. Right?"
No answer returned, and I looked at my overnight friend, his face still and blood spattered. His eyes remained open as he looked at the sun. I stared at his dirty, mud and blood stained gray uniform.
I had lain beside a Confederate all night, talked to him and comforted him. But I felt no anger, only remorse and sadness at losing a friend as soon as I met him. I reached out and shut his eyes. Then I stared at the sun as it slowly crawled up. About an hour after it's first appearance, I heard another wagon and a voice call out, "Trent!" I looked towards the source, and smiled wearily at my brother as he leapt from the wagon with a large branch to brace my leg.
"Hey Trent," he greeted easily, crouching beside me. "Sorry about taking so long."
"Hello," I mumbled back. He glanced at the body lying beside me.
"Hey, those shoes look your size. Want me to get them?" he asked carelessly.
"No," I responded firmly. "Leave him be."
My brother looked perplexed, then shrugged as he started to bind my leg. "Looks like you're going home, little buddy. Tell mother and father hello for me."
I winced at the pain, and dully nodded. He and another soldier loaded into the cart with other wounded, but I kept my eyes on the sun.