The first day boiled in madness. Pain beyond anything Ethan had ever experienced drilled through him in shrieking flashes. He could not hold to a thought for more than a moment before the demands of his shattered body distracted and overwhelmed him. Like an ant on an anvil, he felt trapped in a vast place where any second a hammer blow would loom and crush. And after a blow, he struggled to reorient himself, only to be hammered again.
Then he experienced a sudden respite as if the blacksmith had gone to lunch. The pain rolled back to tolerable levels and, through a soupy sluggishness, Ethan was able to survey the messy room in which he found himself. Weighed down under a huge featherbed of blue muslin, he felt clammy sweat all over his body.
A wide, grizzled face with a flat, florid nose suddenly appeared and hung over him like a furry moon. Droopy brown eyes peered out from under gray eyebrows so large that, up close, they looked like the wings of mourning doves. “Here, Billy, take more of this. Doc Robert said it would help.” A huge pewter cooking spoon thrust into Ethan’s mouth. Like a baby bird, some reflex opened his mouth and he swallowed a thick substance that was both bitter and sweet. Exhausted from the effort of lifting his head, Ethan fell back into the damp pillow and tried to remember who this old buzzard was. But his mind blanked except for a few nightmare images of lying in a cold field and then being bounced in the back of a wagon until he lost consciousness.
“How does it feel, Son?”
“How’d this happen? Who shot you?”
“You was shot in the front. You didn’t see who did it?”
“I can’t remember.”
“Some damn deserter most likely.”
The pain trickled away. Ethan asked, “What is that stuff?”
“Laudanum. Doc Robert says it’s the only thing can help you. Need more?”
“Doc says give you what you need ‘till you do some healin’.”
Laudanum. Ethan knew the opiate would be addictive. He had never used drugs and he felt instinctively uncomfortable with taking this medication. However, an hour later the anvil began ringing again, first faintly in the distance, then closer until the vibrations made his teeth ache. As his body began to vibrate, Ethan said, “I need more.”
Calvin Anspach eagerly obliged. Anything to stop the screams.