Thanks to the Union, everything remained in ruins; even Nashville had become a perilous battlefield. At that point, every Confederate made themselves well-aware of the government's intentions: to rid the land of its once ever-present greatness. First they would start with the nature—then they would withdraw its people's freedom.
Musty scents of gunpowder and burning grass filled the air—making it hard for John to breathe properly in his adrenalized state. Coughing, the confederate soldier realized, There's no way I'm gonna be able to keep this up.
He had to fall back. With his doom approaching closer and closer, his ears ringing with the sound of exploding gunpowder, he backed away from the approaching Union heathens. Knowing he had no other choice, he backpedaled into the forest dense. Once there, he allowed the trees' stocky bodies to shield him from the incoming bullets.
With barely enough time to breathe, he wiped his brow and couched down beneath a boulder. Hoping for some assistance, he took a look to his right—noticing as his best friend came sprinting into the forest. "Anderson!" John exclaimed, his voice hoarse from the battle.
"Oh, howdy John," Anderson replied, resting the back of his head on a layer of sap-covered bark. His hat sticky with the tree's fluids, he continued, "I cain't believe this war—kin you?"
Unable to respond with mere words, vigorously shook his head. At the same time, he held his rifle close to his chest. Should any Union soldier come back to attack him, he would keep his weapon ready—prepared to blast apart the enemies' faces into a million pieces.
"This is just horrible," Anderson muttered, already forgetting about the surrounding violence. "What did we as southerners ever do to deserve this? We as slave-owners? I thought the Union was on our side—but here we have President Lincoln attacking his home state!"
"There must be a reason why Gen'ral Lee refused Lincoln's offer, then," John sneered.
As both Confederate soldiers continued hiding behind the trees, the horrid sound of death and fighting seemed to slowly diminish. It was as if an invisible force had come to blot out their ears' functionality.
His eyes shining with the reflectivity of his worries, Anderson huffed, "They're treatin' us like animals, John. Them Negroes—they're our slaves; we should be allowed to do whatever we darn-well please with them!" In the midst of his fury, his face flushed a light pink. At the same time, his voice suddenly rose—but John did nothing to stop the noises coming from his friend's mouth. "I work on a tobaccer farm, for cryin' out loud! And we treat our slaves like family. Are you sayin' I don't deserve to have them with me? Are you sayin'—?"
Catching John completely off-guard, a nearby Union soldier fired a bullet directly at his best friend's head. Such a horrible sight—such a dreadful notion—caused him to temporarily freeze where he was. His heart leaping into his throat, his blood frozen with the tension, John exclaimed, "Anderson!"
Ignoring the futility of his efforts, he rushed up to his injured friend. No! he silently cried, tears nearly welling from his supposedly dry eyes. It was before receiving any chance of aiding his best friend, when John witnessed a Union soldier popping out from the trees.
Deviously searching around for its prey, the soldier pointed its gaze this way and that—eager to find something to chew on and spit out. Licking its lips, the Union soldier easily caught sight of the fear-stricken Confederate.
Breaking himself out of his frozen state, John took a firm hold of his gun and faced the soldier straight in the eye. Even as the remnants of his best friend's broken brain dripped into the grass and dirt below, he found himself with enough strength to shout, "Get yer Union hindquarters away from him!"
As he uttered those words, he started poking and jabbing at the enemy. Distracted from the happenings around him, John found himself powerless against a sneaking, approaching ambush.
The handle of his gun ready, a sneaking, furtive soldier from behind took a swing back—and then a swing forward. The resulting sway knocked John out cold.
It all seemed to come to him without warning. Who's the Union scum that hit me? he wondered, feeling a great pain ebbing from the back of his head. When I find him, I'll make sure Gen'ral Lee licks him good!
Letting out a moan, John picked himself up on his feet. His head spinning and throbbing, he thought, What happened? Did I fall asleep and the Union completely missed me? It was wishful thinking, but far from the case.
Opening his eyes, John suddenly realized he now stood in a different place entirely. This ain't Kentucky, he realized, sweat dripping down his face. There's certainly no Nashville around here. The taste of burning gunpowder no longer resonated in the air—and the sound of death had died along with it.
Without any idea of what to do, the confused Confederate started shouting, "Hello? Is anybody there?" But—to his much undeserved surprise—nobody replied. The only response he received was that of his own echo.
Was this what a world after war looked like—what a world without war looked like? Was this what happened after everybody finished fighting—after everybody completed their duty? A nagging force seemed to screech at him, This is what you are fighting for? You disgust me!
Confused as to where this voice came from, John screeched back, "Leave me alone!" To his confusion, not a single living, breathing soul stood amongst the shadowy landscape before him. With this being the case, he was left to wonder, Where is everybody?
Just when it seemed like all hope of returning back home had been lost, a slender, hooded figure appeared before John's eyes. Such a creature emerged from the darkness and mist—catching him completely by surprise. Shadowy from head to toe and menacing just to look at, the creature towered over the broken soldier—making John feel like a miniscule little ant.
A gulp sliding down his throat, John wondered, What're you gonna do to me? In his head he felt confident in his abilities, but his outer self stood frozen before this beast.
I will not do anything to you, a whispery voice responded.
Those words were enough to make him flinch. Everything he had learned as a child—everything he had regarded as common sense—stood before this creature's challenge. Y-you can read my mind? John wondered, struggling to look up into whatever remained of this creature's eyes.
Yes, the giant figure hissed, his patience already growing thin. Before John could ask what was going on, the creature continued, And you are fighting for a lost cause!
Baffled by such a heinous statement, John regained some of his bravery when he asked, A lost cause, huh? Since when is fighting for the right to freedom a lost cause? Did the Founding Fathers die for a lost cause? What the Union's doing is just wrong!
Barely even heeding the soldier's words, this slender creature explained, I am going to send you to the most advanced society of all time. While there, I hope you learn just what it takes to thrive in this world.
Raising an eyebrow, John wondered, Advanced society? What good will come outta that?
Quiet! the slender creature snapped. Your accent is giving me a horrible headache! Letting out a snort, it continued, They were right about you humans; you truly don't ever think about how the other side feels. You're so self-absorbed that you never stop and think about just how you've affected other people.
And without further ado, the slender man let out a snarl and faded into the black mist—the likes of which stung the soldier's eyes. Barely able to see past his own nose, John started rubbing his eyes and waving the dust away.
In the midst of his agony, he suddenly realized, Wait a minute—where's my gun? Every Confederate soldier knew he couldn't go anywhere without some kind of weaponry! Without a rifle by his side, John was more defenseless than a rat in a cage. To add to his helplessness, he scurried around and about on the floor—just like the vulnerable rodent dwelling within him.
Blinded by the dust, he didn't see a brick wall heading his way. "Ow!" he screamed, now on his hands and knees. Twice in a day had he been hit on his head; that was two times too many!
After spending what felt like ten minutes searching for his weapon, he finally decided, "That's it; it's gone!"
"And just who're you talking to?" a grouchy voice responded, as though trying to fight back a cough.
Caught off-guard once again, John wondered, "Who said that?" It wasn't the slim figure he had witnessed earlier—that was for sure—but who else existed within this world of dark, hazy dust?
"Over here," the same voice replied.
Letting his ears carry him to the source of this voice, John rubbed his eyes once again and looked up—noticing as a skinny, hairy man sitting upon a green metal box. John blinked once—just to make sure this person wasn't an illusion—and asked, "Who're you?"
In response to such a silly question, the man cackled, "Who am I? Who am I? I'm your best friend!" Another cackle escaped from his mouth before it became a pool of vodka.
John scratched his head and raised an eyebrow. This fella doesn't look like he's been to school in—well—ever. Such an idea forced a laugh out of him. But still—he looks like he's been here longer than me.
Keeping the thought in mind, he took a look up and down and all around. This isn't the dark place I was in just now, he noticed, feeling as if a heavy weight had been lifted from his heart. But this doesn't look like Kentucky, either!
Instead of trees and gunpowder, John found himself surrounded by concrete and buildings. He and the strange vodka-guzzling man lingered within an alley in the middle of a rather chilly morning. His skin covered in goosebumps, he listened as sounds of honking and roaring called to him from the outer reaches of the alley. What is that? he wondered, pulling himself off his feet.
Witnessing as John pursued toward the edge of the alley, the strange man pulled the glass bottle away from his lips when he suggested, "I wouldn't go there, if I were you." But by then, John had escaped earshot of those words—completely oblivious to the crazy man.
Upon pulling out of the alley, John immediately took a look up. "Wow," he gasped, his eyes glued to what looked like a train track. "Is that—above me?" To his amazement, the track floated at least ten meters off the ground—casting its shadow over anything and everything sitting underneath. It was while walking forward when he continued staring up at the railroad.
To feed his curiosity, he continued looking around and about in this strange place. With a look to his right, he witnessed a small stand—the likes of which seemed to sell food. With a look to his left, he witnessed a woman coming out of a store with a cluster of box-shaped bags. Such sights were almost enough to make John's jaw drop.
Is this everyday life for these people? John thought. Because if it is, I don't think I ever want to go back home! With his best friend dead and his livelihood torn apart by the Union, why would he go back?
As he walked forward—practically paralyzed by the sights before him—John's ears rang with the horrible sound of honking. Feeling as if his ears were about to start bleeding, he wondered, Where's that coming from?
The question ringing loudly within his head, he turned toward the source of the noise—witnessing as a large, metal beast started heading his way. Speedy like a bullet, the creature came closer and closer—ready to plow anything in its path. Without any time to react, John accepted his inevitable fate.
"Don't worry, now," murmured a feminine voice. "You're safe."
Letting out a moan, John wondered, "Wh-what happened?" It was while letting those words fly from his lips when he felt a freezing-cold bag press up against his forehead. Resistant to the notion of pain, he opened his eyes.
Her eyes the same shade of color as the Union soldiers' uniforms, a young woman stood over the fallen soldier, holding an ice-pack atop John's head as he lie down on a bed. "It's okay," she said, sparing him no time to speak. "Nobody can hurt you now."
Already growing impatient with this girl, John picked himself up off his back and asked again, "What happened?"
Shocked by his sudden display of anxiety, the girl replied, "Oh—well, you got hit by a car a few hours ago, so I brought you in here and fixed you up a bit." She paused before explaining with a smile, "I'm Ashley."
"Pleasure to meet ya," the soldier grunted. "My name's is John C. Reneau."
Letting out a small giggle, Ashley replied, "Pleasure to meet you, too!" Another pause filled the air before the sound of beeping vibrated within her ears. "Oh! Your soup is done! I'll be right back. And in the meantime—" Letting the sentence's end sit on the tip of her tongue, she picked up a brick-like device—the likes of which she used to activate a light-up box at the edge of the room.
What did she just do? wondered John, staring over at the box.
It was while pondering those thoughts when Ashley set the brick on John's lap. "—enjoy!" And with that, she let him be.
Baffled by what had just happened, John looked up at the box Ashley had just turned on. What's that supposed to be? he wondered, peering closer and closer at the box's moving images. I've never seen anything like it! I—
As if by magic, it suddenly hit him. That—that monster man! he realized, his mind blown. He said he was going to send me to the most advanced society of all time. In this world where boxes of light ignited remotely and metal machines ran over the careless, John just had to think, This place must be pretty advanced, after all!
Compared to the beds of his time, the one beneath him proved incredibly cozy and snug as its blankets wrapped around his legs and feet. I better be careful, though, he thought, a bead of sweat rolling down his head. I don't wanna get any bedbugs tonight!
A smile crossed his face as he stared over at the colorful light-filled box. Part of him wanted to figure out why and how anything—especially a little cube—could hold enough power to show him moving images. However, the majority of John's thoughts told him to calm down and relax. He had been through so much with the war; relaxing now wouldn't have done him any harm. I deserve this, he told himself, his smile growing even stronger.
Knowing he had worked himself to the bone within the past few days, he decided to listen in on what the light box was saying. Plastered unto its screen was what looked like a sunset with the word Today printed beneath it. At the same time, John heard as the box cried, "Breaking news!"
Those words made him flinch. Breaking news? he wondered, scratching his chin. Is this supposed to be this society's version of the newspaper? Such a thought made him chuckle. Nothing will ever replace the newspaper! The thought was absurd; nobody could live without a daily dose of the paper.
As such thoughts flew through his mind, John listened as the magical box continued speaking to him. The box talked and John listened; it was the perfect bondage between man and machine. However, the box never seemed to respond to his calls. Regardless of such, he ended up practically falling in love with the device.
That was until he witnessed the most devastating sight ever to be seen by Confederate eyes. Standing in the box—talking to him and many others—was a black man: a slave!
Upon catching sight of this person's skin, John immediately expected to see a chain wrapping around the Negro's wrist—and a slave owner attached to said chain. He expected to see a whip in a nearby white man's hand; somebody had to take precautions! What if the Negro escaped? People should felt worried at such a realization—but that was not the case at all.
Sweat rolled down the Confederate soldier's brow when he thought, Why are they treating that Negro like a somebody? He wiped his forehead with the back of his sleeve. Why is it dressed up a suit—like the rest of the white men in the box? Was this true or was it some horrible nightmare?
In the midst of John's agony, Ashley came walking into the room, cradling a bowl of soup within her hand. "Here you go!" she exclaimed, careful not to let its contents pour out. "It's pretty hot, so you may wanna give it some time to cool down."
"What is this?" John screamed, as if out of nowhere. Pulling his eyes away from the light-up machine, he wondered, "Why are they letting that person on the talking box?"
Wrinkling her nose, Ashley turned her gaze over to the screen. Pointing to the Negro in question, she asked, "You mean that person? That's Al Roker!" At that moment, she started giggling. "And did you seriously call it a talking box?"
"Yeah!" retorted John. "I call it a TB."
Despite her polite instincts, Ashley rolled her blue eyes. "It's called a TV. Haven't you ever seen one?"
Drawn to a pause, the soldier—feeling as the bowl of soup practically singed his hands—shook his head.
Touching a finger to her lip, Ashley responded, "Well, that's a bit weird. I thought by this day in age, everybody would have known what a TV is." She paused and looked over at the so-called TV. "Oh hey!" she exclaimed. "The president's making an announcement. I gotta see this!"
President? wondered John. You mean Lincoln? That scumbag?
In the midst of his resentful thoughts, John stared over at the light-up box once again, putting a spoon of soup in his mouth. It was hot and nearly burned his tongue, but the sheer taste of it sent him on a trip to paradise. The very taste of the soup made him wonder, Why haven't I tasted anything like this before?
With a spoon in his mouth and a blanket over his feet, he watched as the pictures on the color-box started changing once again. Said pictures switched from those of a white man talking to that of a black man walking up to a podium. Just that was enough to make him lose all sanity.
"What is that?" he snapped, pointing toward the TV.
Ashley could only snort in response. How could he not know who the person on the screen was? Well, he doesn't know what a TV is, she realized, already aware of John's ignorance. I guess it's normal that he wouldn't know the president.
After clearing her throat, she explained, "That's President Obama."
"The president?" John asked. "You're saying that that Negro on the screen is the president?"
Those words were enough to draw the young woman's blood to a boil. Confused by his antics, Ashley replied, "Y-yes—he's the president of the United States!"
Completely forgetting about the soup in his lap, John pulled himself out of his blankets. The resulting sudden movement caused the contents in his bowl to spill all over Ashley's bed—making her jaw drop in astonishment and infuriation.
"Hey!" she shouted. "You just got soup all over my bed!"
"I don't care!" John retorted. "I ain't gonna clean that bed up s'long as there's a Negro as president! Negroes are supposed to work for us—make our cotton, mine precious metals, and everythin' else like that."
At that moment, Ashley turned red in the face. Anger welling up in her like steam, she screamed, "What? Are you serious?"
"Yes, I'm serious!" The Confederate walked up to the TV screen. "There's no way I's gonna—"
Before John could finish his sentence, Ashley—not caring how her parents would feel—slammed the empty bowl against her guest's head. It was after doing so when she watched him plummet to the ground. "You racist jerk."
The sound of ringing filled the air. "A'right, a'right!" a deep voice shouted into the air. "Everybody wake on up!"
A moan escaping from his maw, John flinched. Realizing as he currently rested within an itchy bed, he raised his head off a fluffy pillow and scanned his surroundings. "Wh-what?" he wondered, confusion taking over his mind once again. "Where am I?"
"Oh, you're in Camp Nelson!" the same voice replied.
Turning his head toward the source of the voice, John witnessed yet another black man standing before him. Such a sight made him want to growl like an angry dog, but instead he felt complied to ask, "Camp Nelson? What's that?"
"Well," the Negro began, pulling John off the bed. "Here we train black men and house black women."
"But I'm not black!" John protested. "Why am I here?"
"From what I heard, you got knocked out by the Union soldiers. They were gonna put ya'll in prison, but they didn't has enough room yet. So they's put you here." And with that, the Negro walked away and let the wounded soldier be.
"Unbelievable," John muttered. "Just unbelievable." His head throbbing like that of a heavy drinker's, he resisted the horrible urge to collapse back into his bed.
Was that all just a dream? John wondered, unsure how to comprehend everything he had just gone through. Or was it true? Is the future society going to be one ruled by Negroes?
He—like any other man on Earth—was not subject to change. After so many years of crawling his way up—so many years of society herself crawling her way up—how could he fare without the novelty of slaves? He didn't know whether or not to allow the Union to take over his family, his whole way of life, his culture.
Even with his problems in mind, John couldn't help but wonder, Maybe the Negroes have it harder. Even with the great stretches of white society—the great achievements his people had strived for—he couldn't help but think, We're just letting them do all our work for us. We're moving backwards in the cycle of life.
These thoughts heaved a sigh from the wounded soldier. I guess that's why these Union soldiers are fighting for the Negroes. We've moved backwards—and they're just trying to shift us forward.
Nobody in the Confederacy—it seemed—wanted anything to do with the idea of letting the slaves go free. What made John different? Why was John—of all Confederates—chosen to gaze into the future while everybody else died for a lost cause? In the end, the only conclusion he could seem to make was, Only time will tell.