July 1st, 1865
Thunder boomed in the distance, echoing through the house and briefly disrupting the pitter-patter of raindrops falling on the roof. The lightning had illuminated the landscape outside of Abigail Beson’s window, but the yard and fields were already drenched in darkness.
From her room on the second floor, Abby felt safe from the rain and the thunder. Judging by the sound of her father’s snores from across the hall, she guessed that her parents weren’t too worried either. She guessed that her brother Emery and his friend Glad (short for Gladstone), who were sleeping in the peaked attic above her, might not feel so assured.
Abby, Emery, Osman (their father) and Marietta (their mother) lived together in a large colonial house. Two stories tall and painted a stark white, their home had the outside appearance of a grand mansion. It was grand, when Abby’s grandfather had built it. However, the strain of the war and the absence of her older brothers had been taxing, and the house fell into disarray. The only grandeur left came from the sheer size of the place.
Abby’s room was now one of just a few that they bothered to maintain. The western wing of the house, where it got unbearably hot in the summer, had been abandoned entirely. The family lived strictly in the eastern half, which was still large enough that dust frequently gathered on the floors of the lesser used rooms.
Abby stared hopefully into the blackness, looking for the rolling ridge in the sky which divided the near-darkness of a cloudy sky from the utter blackness that was the row of trees as the edge of her family’s land. It was no use; there would be no stars tonight. She turned away from the window and laid back down in bed. She breathed out softly, and felt herself drift off to sleep as she listened to the soft rhythm of the raindrops.
Abby awoke with a start. “What was that?” she thought to herself. Remembering the thunder, she sighed and laid back down. Her heart was pounding.
The next BOOM! was accompanied by a flash of lightning. Abby gasped as she caught a glimpse of a dark shape moving slowly down the wall opposite her bed. Darkness fell again, and she held her breath, staring into the darkness where the shape had appeared.
Abby breathed in slowly. The initial shock of being jarred from sleep was fading, and her wits were returning. Silently, she slipped out from under her covers and crossed the floor of her room on bare feet. She knew where to step to avoid making the old floorboards creak. She grabbed the broom propped up behind her door and waited.
At the next BOOM! of thunder, Abby darted across the room and jabbed with the end of the broomstick as hard as she could up into the corner where the ceiling met the wall. The corner where the shifting of the house had opened up a small crack. The corner where, she expected, two fourteen year old boys were currently dangling an old sock on a string.
A smile crept to the edges of Abby’s mouth as a startled yelp confirmed her expectations. Feeling satisfied, she set the broom down and curled back up in bed. Her smile grew broader as she caught bits of accusations whispered between her brother and Glad.
“Why didn’t you tell me she had a broom!”
“I didn’t know she had it there!”
“Next time you hold the string”
Their voices faded, and Abby let herself drift off toward sleep again.
Calmer this time, Abby rolled away from the window, hoping to hide her eyes from the intense brightness of the lightning.
Something didn’t feel right. Abby turned back toward the window, her mind racing to figure out what new prank her brother had contrived.
There was no lightning. Why was there no lightning? Abby got up and walked to her window. The fog of sleep was clearing from her mind, so the next BOOM! finally registered as the firing of a rifle.
Confused, she peered out the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of the source. The rain had stopped, but the cloud cover continued to hinder any illumination from the moon.
Why would there be musket fire? Abby asked herself silently. Lee signed the surrender, when the Union was just miles from our door. At least, that’s what the last letter from Benjamin had said. That letter was two months ago. They hadn’t received any letters since. The post had been spotty throughout the war, and after the surrender it had stopped entirely.
Abby heard a pounding above her as Glad and Emery rushed down the stairs. The whole family met in the hallway outside Abby’s door. Despite the fear and confusion, Abby couldn’t help but smile when she saw Glad holding his hand to his forehead.
“The cellar, now.” whispered her father. They began to walk down the stairs, ears piqued for the sounds of more shots. As they reached the foot of the stair, Abby stole a glance out of the windows at the front of the house, but saw nothing but darkness. She turned and followed her father to the kitchen, where he was already opening the trapdoor that led into the cellar.
As they descended the stairs, Emery whispered “Apricot, you gave Glad a bump the size of a quarter. You should really apologize”. Abby chuckled “You should be apologizing for roping him into one of your boneheaded schemes.”
One by one they climbed down, breathing in the cold, musty air of the dirt floored cellar. Her father grabbed his gun from the top of the hutch before following them down and closing the door. Abby leaned against her father’s shoulder and closed her eyes again.
Abby slept very little the rest of that night, awoken frequently by the chill of the cellar, the soreness of her back, and the fear of not knowing what might be out there.
Morning showed itself as a few thin tendrils of light strewn across the dirt floor where the sun was able to piece the floorboards in the kitchen. “Stay here” said her father. He slowly climbed the ladder up the the trap door, then shoved it open. It swung open and hit the floor with a crash, but there was no response. Gun in hand, he climbed out.
Abby glanced at her mother’s face as it was briefly illuminated by the light streaming down from the kitchen. Marietta was a strong woman, but years of wondering whether her sons would make it home had taken their toll. Her cheeks were so rigid and held so solidly that Abby sometimes wondered whether she could ever smile again.
Abby barely breathed as she listened to her father’s footsteps. He walked around the kitchen, living room, and entryway, then he returned. “It looks clear.” Osman Beson, Abby’s father, had the look of a man who felt courage because he wouldn’t allow himself to feel anything else. Behind his greying beard and spectacles was a grim but determined face. Back in the Mexican-American war he’d been given the nickname ‘The Bull’. He was small and careful, but somehow the name stuck.
The rest of the family climbed up the ladder and into the kitchen. Abby blinked, and blinked again; the sunlight was so intense her eyes ached. As her eyes adjusted, she looked around the kitchen. Nothing seemed out of place. She walked to the window and looked outside. All that awaited her was the bright green of the grass outside. She turned, walked out the back door, and screamed.
A woman lay on the back porch, covered in blood. Her raspy breathing said she was alive, but she looked like she’d lost so much blood it was hard to imagine how. Struggling to keep herself from retching, Abby stepped toward her.
She was clad in a simple blue dress, with brown flat shoes on her feet. One of the sleeves of her dress was torn off, apparently to form the bandage that was wrapped around her head.
Abby stepped to the side as her mother rushed over. “Oh my gosh…” she said. “That’s Vera. That’s my sister.” Abby looked again at the woman’s blood covered face. It had been years since she’d seem Vera, but now that her mom had recognized her, the face was unmistakable. “Get her inside, and warm up some water” her mom ordered.
Chapter Two -->
Copyright 2016 Tyler Smith
Chapter Two -->
Copyright 2016 Tyler Smith