June 25th 1876 - the Valley of the Little Bighorn
There was some type of summer haze ebbing and flowing and writhing like a huge, shimmering snake across the hills. Everything seemed to be floating in it, bobbing gently in the current, and it was only when they burst, painted and whooping, onto the open fields did he know if they were real or not. And when another man fell at their deadly touches, he backed up another step, pushed by an invisible bubble huddling them – the survivors of the wreckage streaked in patterns of which someone would soon get the blame – on this last rise. This last island in the sea of the land they had said would reap another victory.
He turned his head, saw the next wave crash down upon them, the bubble shrinking by another man. He emptied his gun in that direction and a warrior fell from his pony, the horse dashing up towards them, eyes wild. He watched it until it disappeared behind another low ridge, the type that were dappled across this land so many but couldn't be seen until an Indian brave leaped out from it. They had sworn they had come from the ground. He thought again of the madness of all this.
Somewhere up on top of this valley, there was a man who was meant to be here. But the madness had obviously spread like some mindless epidemic and he wasn't. So they were alone. And oh how alone they were. He thought of his home, the one homestead on the ground where he had walked for hours and not met a soul, and he had never felt so lonely as this. Not even when Father had left. Although he had tricked himself once or twice.
And now he could hear him up on the hill behind, not his Father but that same voice. He turned every now and then, when that voice faded, but he was still there, beneath the fluttering flag. And he was watching the haze too, must have also known the madness of this all as well.
He could feel the defeat aching in his chest, could taste it bitter in his mouth, but he still stood, legs braced and ready. Ready to fight. Ready to take what they poured upon them. Ready to accept whatever they took from him. Because God was coming for him that day. Coming for all of them.
He stared at the sun, momentarily blinded, and that voice dropped again. He turned and the bright spots in his eyes burst around the silhouettes, a strange glow about them. The haze was in his brain and he was weak, could feel it every time he moved, but he'd stand to the last. They all thought that, the side lost in these hills and the side that was free within them, but he wondered how many actually would. Just one, he thought, and he would stare across this land and see this insanity, silent and unspoilt.
The bubble closed again and he stepped back, his boot coming down on the leg of some fallen horse, stacked as bloated blockades, a crude and most penetrable fort. The final men crouched behind them, some still with fire in their eyes, some frozen in place reloading their guns. He knew them all, knew that every stain of blood on his dusty uniform was from a man he had shared that last ten years of his life with.
And yet he still stood. The bullets hissed about him and sometimes he thought he could feel the hot rush as they seared past his skin yet it could have just been the breeze, blowing this haze around the hill, severing their last strings to the world beyond. The flag fluttered in its grip and he saw it was also hanging by its last shreds, spattered with small, deadly holes. Was this what they were really fighting for? Or was it something else? They'd answer that after, try to grasp at straws and justify, blame, condemn. It was out of their control, their fate not in the hands of these warriors but in the stories of the man on top of the valley, the men who'd get away.
The voice had again ceased. He turned and saw the dust beginning to rise, swirling in clouds against the sky. Within the choking embrace, he staggered once but dug his boots into the hard ground. There was something in his eyes, a blue sharpness yet now it softened and he laughed, a peculiar serenity taking over his features. He smiled up at the sun, the blonde hair glowing in an untidy halo and then the second shot came. It knocked him back and the voice drifted once more into nothingness.
Across his front, the stain began to spread, red against battered buckskin and the guns dropped – one, then two – from his hands. They bounced in the grass and the young soldier didn't realise he had followed until he stared up at his commander, palms turned to the sky and eyes closed, still smiling softly, waiting.
It was merely a few seconds but they got stuck somewhere, the haze distorting even more in his brain. It clouded his vision, darkness spreading in the corners and coloured with the red from the warm flow along his forehead, but he had found a pillow in the grass and felt as peaceful as his general looked as the last shot was fired. He fell to the ground, backwards in a glorious arc against the sky and found a bed somewhere within the flowers and roots. And there he laid, as if sleeping, the red beginning to stain the matted halo around his head.
Feeling the weakness and the weariness spreading inside like the coming of the night sky across the sky, the young soldier let his head drop, accepting the last breeze across his cheeks. His eyes closed and he thought what a wonderful time it was to rest. And so, with the sun beginning to set above them, the haze too descended beyond the hills that now set them free.
Written for the 135th anniversary of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Hope you enjoyed :)