Oh, the sun will rise
This morning’s first rays of sunshine shone warm through the girls’ windows. Annabelle woke up with a jump, sweating and with her heart pounding hard. Last night’s dream was etched into her mind, and Simone’s voice still echoed within her.
Slowly, and with trembling steps, she rose from bed. But her legs refused to carry her, and she had to grab the low, old nightstand next to the bed to keep herself from falling. Slowly she sat down on the dirty bed again, stroking a curl of hair from her face. Her breathing was still abnormal, because the memory of the nightmare still hung over her, showing everybody how weak she was, just like the wet stripes on her cheeks.
“Simone”, she heard herself whisper, breathlessly, looking for answers. You can’t trust anyone, the darkness is coming. She would never forget. Then she couldn’t hold back her fear any longer, so she buried her face in her hands, quietly crying herself farther and farther away from sanity. She couldn’t for anything in the world understand why this was happening to her.
“Annabelle?” It was Alice’s voice that brought Annabelle back to reality. Reluctantly she rose, and changed into the dirty dress they had gotten from Mrs. Ericsson to wear when they worked. Quickly she swept the dirty cloth over her face, hoping to make the wet marks from the tears disappear, because John’s words still burned in her mind, and even though she didn’t want to believe it, she knew that tears really were a proof of weakness. And Alice couldn’t see her weak, not now. Then she pinched her cheeks hard to make them red and innocent, and she went down to the kitchen, still with Simone’s voice echoing within her.
Alice, who leaned against the brown door frame, smiled gently when Annabelle rushed past her.
“Mrs. Ericsson is already up”, she called after the girl, but she didn’t get any answer. Alice sighed, and then turned to go after Annabelle. “Ma’am wants the newspaper”, she continued, as she walked towards the kitchen, “you’ll find it on the table, Annabelle.”
Once again, Alice got no answer, but when she came into the kitchen she saw that both the newspaper and Annabelle were gone, and assumed that she had taken the news to the old lady. She shook her head a little, and couldn’t help but to smile. It was the first time that Annabelle had done as Alice had said without complaining. Alice needed to get Annabelle to trust her, now more than ever. Time was running short and Alice couldn’t wait much longer. Soon, she would have to get on with the plan no matter how much Annabelle trusted her.
Though the morning was still young, the sun shone as if it was late in the afternoon. The air outside was fresh, and Annabelle was filled with hope. This year’s spring had come just in time. Perhaps there was still a chance that Annabelle would get home again, and that the war would actually come to an end.
With a pale smile shadowing her lips, Annabelle brought out the magazine. Alice would probably get angry at her when she realized that she hadn’t given Mrs. Ericsson the newspaper, but instead taken it herself and walked out, but Annabelle had no respect towards Alice. You had to earn respect, and Alice hadn’t earned Annabelle’s. There were very few people who had done it, because to earn Annabelle’s respect was probably harder than making the sun rise in the middle of the night.
Still with the smile on her face, Annabelle opened the newspaper, and the sweet rustle of the pages made her laugh quietly. Then her mood turned completely, and she sobbed; suddenly, all hope vanished. War, she thought, it’s coming. Instead of hope, a deep concern started growing, a concern that slowly poisoned the girl’s mind, painting it black. Her heart pounded faster and faster; nothing she did could slow it down.
According to the black, hard letters, another battle had been fought, in a forest next to the old battlefield at Chancellorsville, Virginia, not far from St. Rose where the Johnson family’s estate was located. The battle was called the Battle of the Wilderness, for the forest where the battle erupted was called just that. For three days they had fought without either north or south gaining the upper hand. The battle had ended with both sides losing, because the forest had been very dense and dark, and all too many soldiers had died. Although Grant hadn’t succeeded with his plan to destroy Lee’s army, many of the Confederate soldiers were dead and wounded and fewer than ever.
Annabelle closed the newspaper with a heavy heart. The chances of her father and two brothers being alive had been drastically reduced, and the war just kept coming closer and closer. It would be here soon, she knew that, and she wasn’t ready for it.
The sound of Mrs. Ericsson’s rustling dress filled the girls with fear, but they never said anything about it. The old one had finally gotten her newspaper and herbal tea, and now it was quiet in the house again. After Annabelle finished reading the newspaper, she had sneaked in through the back door and quickly given it to Mrs. Ericsson, who’d only given her a suspicious look, before she had started reading.
Annabelle was relieved that she hadn’t demanded an apology or an explanation, because she wasn’t sure what she would’ve said. Alice hadn’t noticed anything, because Mrs. Ericsson said nothing, and Annabelle kept quiet too. Then, when Alice took care of the cleaning, Annabelle walked to her room. There, she carefully brought out her worn diary.
"Dear diary“, she began, and felt calmer at once, because the book always filled her with hope. ”I don’t know how I feel. Everything is so wrong... I can’t take it more. I must go home, because I can’t keep missing my family any longer, it hurts too much. I don’t care if I have to bring Alice home too, because all I care about is me getting home... soon. Very soon. The chaos within me, the fear that Katherine wont come running when I arrive, that Simone’s bright voice wont welcome me, that the house will be empty, it scares me. What if the war gets there before me? If they’re not there when I get back... Then the war can take me too. "
“Annabelle!” Slowly the girl opened her tired eyes. She blinked a few times before she got up and walked over to the room’s only window. Outside the sun was shining over the forest with a curious, pale glow and Annabelle shook her head before she picked up yesterday’s dress and put it on. Then she walked away, with heavy, weary step, towards the kitchen, where Alice’s voice had come from.
Alice stood by the stove, as usual, and cooked food, or whatever it was that she did. Annabelle was just about to sit down by the old table when Alice stopped her.
“You can’t rest now, Annabelle. That’s why I brought you here. You have to help Mrs. Ericsson.” She smiled slightly, as if she felt sorry for Annabelle. “You’ll find her in the old dining room.” Annabelle shrugged her shoulders in a tired gesture before she walked out of the kitchen, to the big hall at the other end of the house. It had previously served as a dining room, but for some reason it no longer did.
Ideally, she wanted to go back to the little room assigned to her and Alice, and go to sleep. She could hardly do any good, being in the mood she was. Annabelle did an abrupt stop at the kitchen door, and turned around.
“What will I do?” Alice smiled a wry, slightly sad smile.
“You’ll see, Annabelle. Go now.” And Annabelle turned and went.
Even before Annabelle reached the big, old hall she felt an unbearable stench creeping over her, and she coughed desperately to escape it.
“Mrs. Ericsson?” She said questioningly, still coughing. Soon, the sound of clattering shoes reached her ears, and before she had time to shout once more, Mrs. Ericsson stood in front of her. Her skin was still sickly pale and seemed sunken somehow, and under her pale blue eyes were dark circles. Annabelle could see that the old woman’s disease is still haunted her, and she grabbed the lady’s arm tight.
“Ma’am should’ve stayed in bed”, she said seriously, and didn’t let go of the old woman’s arm until the lady herself snatched free of it.
“I feel great, Annabelle”, she said in a condescending tone, and stroked herself on her arm, where Annabelle previously had had her hand. However, Annabelle noticed how her gaze flickered nervously at the white walls, as if she fought hard to hide her lie.
“We both know that’s not quite true, ma’am.” Annabelle didn’t give in and eventually Mrs. Ericsson lowered her gaze.
“Now, if you insist, but let me at least show you what needs to be done.” Annabelle nodded obediently, and on her lips played a satisfied smile. The girl followed the old lady into the great hall, which had at least three meters to the ceiling, and big windows that looked out onto the large, wild meadow, and the dark woods that picked up where the meadow ended.
Standing by the door frame, Annabelle was once again hit by the awful smell; this time it was so strong that she had to lean against the wall not to fall. Mrs. Ericsson didn’t notice what the girl was doing, but went into the room with her shoes echoing against the wooden floor. Quickly, Annabelle shook on her head, and went into the room with her eyes lowered. Once inside, she stood just behind Mrs. Ericsson, as if the old lady was a shield only there to protect her.
Then she opened her eyes, and immediately felt her legs buckling under her. The tormented screams and bloody coughs didn’t make things better. Annabelle swallowed, and for a second she felt better. Mrs. Ericsson threw an annoyed glance at her, and then began to speak.
“Since the Battle of the Wilderness, we’ve gotten more of them, and I can no longer take care of them by myself. As you can see, you’ll have a lot to do, so stop with your stupidities, and get started. Many of them need stitches and other things like that, so you and Alice will have to help each other. For the ones whos injuries are too much, you’ll sing, and give them each a sip of whiskey to calm them down, for it’s not necessary to waste our last medicines on them. Try your best, Annabelle. Most of them are beyond salvation, but I want you to at least try.”
Annabelle nodded vaguely, as she felt the color disappear from her face. She let her gaze fly along the soldiers ravaged bodies, before she closed her eyes, and with trembling hands stroked a curl of hair behind her ear. The smell of rotten meat made Annabelle’s thoughts clear, and she smiled faintly when she was brought back to reality.
You’ll be fine, Annabelle, she thought silently, you’ll always be fine. It’s nothing more than bones and blood.