September Stories (9/13)

So continues my September Stories project! If you missed any of them, go here for a running list at the bottom.

9-13

A Sheep in a Union Uniform
By Danielle Davis

Below him, the war raged on.

A voice behind him, gravelly with the fatigue of all war-weary soldiers, spoke up. “Hey man, want a smoke?”

Jeremy looked toward the sound of the voice and frowned. “Sir, I think you misunderstand the point of this endeavor.”

The man seated on the ground shrugged. He tucked the cigarette back into the inside pocket of his shirt and took a drag on the lit one in his hand. He sat with his elbows propped on folded knees clad in red, baggy trousers. Peeking from below the leg hems were bright chartreuse socks. His jacket, regulation grey, was folded neatly to one side of him. On top of it sat a black fez hat. “Just trying to be friendly. Just because we’re fighting on opposite sides doesn’t mean we can’t be nice to each other.”

“There is no nice in war!” Jeremy gave an indignant tug to the hem of his jacket. He couldn’t believe that some people didn’t take this more seriously. If you were going to do it, he thought, you might as well do it right. It was something his father had drilled into him young.

The seated man smirked and eyed Jeremy’s uniform. “Nice. You, ah, make that one yourself or did you buy it online? I heard Amazon’s got some great prices for this stuff.”

A flush blossomed across Jeremy’s cheeks. “Buy it? On Amazon?” His voice dripped with disdain. “Have you no respect for the uniform, soldier?” His own uniform matched the traditional U.S. Army soldier: blue jacket, trousers, and kepi hat. “I am no mere volunteer. I am a decorated member of our great country’s Army, and I stand for all that it–”

The other man laughed and waved at him. “All right, all right. I get it. Pop a squat with me for a bit, woncha? I’m losing track of who’s who down there.”

Jeremy closed his mouth and glared down at the sloppy man before him. “What’s your name, soldier?”

“Otis. Otis B. Fuddrucker.”

Jeremy snickered. “You’re kidding, right?”

Otis sat up a little straighter and frowned at him. “Of course not. Why, what’s yours?”

“Jeremy.” Then, remembering himself, he straightened his back and saluted. “Corporal Jeremy P. Addler, officer of the U.S. Army.” It was the rank his cousin had given him, even though this was technically his first reenactment. Though members of the reenactment troupe usually earned their rankings by how long they’d been a part of the group, Jeremy’s cousin had pulled a few strings. To make Jeremy’s first experience a good one, he’d said.

Otis rolled his eyes. “Yeah, ok.” He motioned with his cigarette at the group fighting at the bottom of the hill. The meadow stretched out below them—aside from the southern edge, where a plain wood-rail fence edged the border of the national park, it might have been some southern acreage taken over by Union and Confederate forces.

“Which group is it on the right, then?” The cigarette bobbed toward the right side of the fighting mass of men below.

“Gods, man, don’t you even recognize your own people?” Jeremy wasn’t sure why he was continuing to stand there and waste time with someone who obviously wasn’t passionate about what he did.

“Oh, is that the greys?” Otis leaned slightly forward and squinted. “Ah yeah. Groovy. I should’ve known it was them since they’re winning.”

“No they aren’t!” Jeremy pointed at a few of the Union leaders. “See how we’re flanking you to the right? That move is textbook. We’ve totally got you from both sides. This is exactly how the Confederate traitors lost.”

Otis shook his head. “You’ve got that wrong. First, this is the Battle of Bull Run, which was an overwhelming Confederate victory. Second, see how our scouts are stalking your outliers?” He pointed along a ridge toward a cluster of trees.

Jeremy squinted where he pointed. “You’re making that up. There’s nobody there.”

“There are! They wouldn’t be good scouts if you could see them.”

“You’re lying.”

“I would figure a stitch counter like yourself would have better eyes,” Otis drawled. “But aside from that, which war did you think this was again? Apparently one in which you thought the Union soldiers won?”

“Well, sure. I mean, of course I knew…” Jeremy frowned. “At least, that’s what my commanding officer said on the drive over. He told me we were on the winning side…”

Otis nodded sagely. “Ah, see? Gotta do your homework, Corporal.”

A purple flush worked its way up Jeremy’s neck to color his cheeks with splotchy patches. How dare this sloppy man address him like he was giving friendly advice? He was the one dressed for battle, not this polyester soldier! He knew more about the Civil War than this hobo ever would!

“Don’t talk down to me like you have any idea of what I know! I have studied this war extensively! I know all the strategies of each war, when they were fought, and who the major officers were in each one!” Though he stood as tall as he could, his voice wobbled with frustration. Had he missed something? The smirk on Otis’s face suggested he had.

“How long have you been doing this, son?” For a brief moment, Jeremy wondered if Otis somehow knew this was his first time on the field.

“Look here, Mr. Fuddpucker–”

“Fuddrucker. Fuddpucker’s is a restaurant.”

I know what I said!” Jeremy took a deep breath. “I don’t appreciate your condescending tone and I am certainly not your ‘son’. I am a Corporal in the U.S. Army, and if you cannot handle yourself appropriately, I’ll…I’ll…”

“Be forced to take me hostage?” Otis suggested.

“Perhaps,” Jeremy replied with an arced eyebrow. “So I’ll thank you to keep a civil tongue, Mr. Fuddpucker–”

“That’s not my name.”

“–if you want to keep relaxing on your keister here on this hill while good men die down there.”

Jeremy turned, as if to leave, then saw that Otis was rising to his feet with a resigned sigh.

“Fine, if you’re going to be like that.” Otis brushed the grass off the seat of his pants, then dropped his cigarette butt and ground it out beneath his shoe. Then, grunting, Otis bent and plucked up his fez hat and jacket. He also picked up a scabbard that had been hidden in the grass underneath the jacket.

Jeremy watched as Otis held the scabbard between his knees while he worked his way into the Confederate jacket. He noticed the three stars at the uniform’s collar and struggled to remember what rank that was supposed to signify. Then his eyes caught the flash of gold on the jacket sleeve and his stomach twisted. An ornate design of braided cord, triple-banded to display a Colonel’s rank.

His mouth sagged slightly as he tried to control his shock. This man, a Colonel? This slovenly, terrible excuse for a soldier?

In a flash, Otis whipped his sword out of the scabbard still clenched between his knees and pointed it at Jeremy. This close, he saw it wasn’t a sword at all—it was an officer’s saber, with a delicate twist of wire bands serving as the grip guard.

“Consider yourself captured, Corporal. My commanding officer may negotiate a release with your ranking officer, but I doubt he’d be interested. You’re not much of an officer, and I don’t imagine you’re a very useful bargaining chip. If he doesn’t want you back, you’ll be executed at dawn.”

Jeremy gazed into Otis’s calm eyes and frowned. “Uh, that’s not…nobody told me anything about being executed,” he stammered. It seemed odd for Otis to step into the role of a proper soldier now. And yet…

He didn’t like the look of calm determination in Otis’s gaze. It certainly held a strength that hadn’t been there earlier.

“I don’t think that’s really necessary, Mr.–”

Colonel Fuddrucker, you peon!” The command in his voice made Jeremy jump. “And I suggest you shut your mouth. I don’t take orders from prisoners.”

“Look, I think we got off on the wrong foot,” Jeremy began. He stepped forward with a smile, hoping his voice sounded more confident than he felt. In actuality, he was seriously wondering if he was going to vomit. This had gotten startlingly serious fast.

The saber in Otis’s hand flashed and Jeremy felt a hot line of pain across his cheek. When he drew his trembling fingers away, they were red with blood. He clapped his hand to the wound and gazed at Otis in shock.

“Are you out of your mind?” he shrieked. “This isn’t part of the…” The saber twitched in warning. His voice died immediately.

“Get marching, prisoner,” Colonel Fuddrucker said. “It’s going to be a long night for you.”

Jeremy turned and put his hands behind his head. He hadn’t been ordered to, but it seemed like the right thing to do. “This was my first day here,” he whimpered.

“Better hope it’s not your last,” Colonel Fuddrucker whispered close to his ear, then laughed. “Now move those legs, son.” The saber pressed against the small of Jeremy’s back.

As they moved down the hill toward the fighting group of men, Jeremy heard the man behind him chuckle again, as if remembering something nostalgic. “God, I love these things.”

Total Writing Time: 1 hr., 20 min.

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