Mom and dad, did you search for me?
Annabelle traveled until dawn came upon her and sleep slowly embraced her. There were moments when she couldn’t understand what she had done, why she had left everything behind. She didn’t even know the way, or where she was going. All she knew was that she was going south, towards Atlanta. It must have been so, because she could have sworn that they never passed Atlanta when they traveled to Mrs. Ericsson that cold winter day which seemed ages ago, and a soft voice reminded her quietly that the little farm she spent so many days on lay deep in the dark forests of Virginia.
Suddenly she came to think of her family, and the fact that she had left them too. Annabelle’s broken heart made itself remembered once again, and as she was trying to stop the tears from rising, her mind brought her back in time, to a time when the war still was nothing more than empty words. Rumors that she never really believed would come true.
She remembered her mother’s sweet face, her fair hair and brown eyes. Her two older brothers, only children, running around in the garden, playing, still too young to be worried by the seriousness of the world. Simone, whose smile always made Annabelle forget her problems. Then she remembered Katherine; her soft laugh, her smile, her scent, her eyes. She remembered the songs she used to sing to her, as she rocked her to sleep.
Then she remembered Rebecka, the older sister whose eyes always told her the truth, and the smile that had brought so many of the village’s young men to their knees. Silently she wondered how Rebecka’s life was like now, and if she was happy with James. Annabelle herself was happy for the sake of her sister, who even in the darkest moments managed to find hope and love. Rebecka deserved to be happy.
At last her father came to her, as one of the most beautiful memories. She remembered all the kind words he had given to her, and how safe his arms once had felt. She mourned him deeply, and wondered for a second if the darkness within her ever would let the light in again, and if her broken soul ever would be mended.
Not for a moment did she think of John.
She traveled for several days without really stopping, before she arrived to Atlanta. The city was in panic, and Annabelle heard from afar how grenades exploded in the sky. She screamed on the inside, but kept her outside quiet and cool. She got of the horse and patted it gently before she put all her hair up and placed the gray cap over it. Then she started walking towards the city.
She had to admit that she was slightly surprised, for the war hadn’t burned down the city, at least not yet. Everywhere she saw people, mostly women and children, running up the streets so that sand whirled and obscured her vision. She wondered if she had missed anything, because everything seemed normal - well, apart from the terrified people. Perhaps it’s the rifles and the cannons, she thought to herself, that tricks them into believing that the war is coming for them? She took a deep breath and decided to, quite simply, ask.
Annabelle walked up to a woman who was busy trying to calm down a little girl. She watched how the woman violently wiped the tears from the baby’s red cheeks.
“You have nothing to cry about, not yet!” the woman yelled sternly, making the baby burst into tears yet again, her raw screams echoing against the sky.
“Excuse me”, Annabelle interrupted them, and suddenly they both looked at her; the girl in uniform, who with her hair hidden looked more like a lost, young boy.
“Yes?” the woman hissed, and let her gaze travel along Annabelle’s body. Then her face softened.
“Oh, I was just wondering...” Annabelle couldn’t find the words she was looking for.
“About the war? Oh, Sherman will occupy Atlanta any day now, but he would have done it long ago if we hadn’t had our brave boys to protect us”, the woman said, and tried to smile. “Mr. Cadlett says Sherman sent groups of his army both south and west of Atlanta, apparently to try and cut off our connections with Macon”, she continued. Annabelle nodded slowly. The woman raised thoughtfully on her eyebrows.
“Oh, Mr. Cadlett is a doctor here, the only one left, but also the one who informs us about the war. Without him I don’t know what we would have done!” She tried yet again to smile, and then looked down at the child, who was now standing with her small arms around the woman’s leg.
“Thank you”, Annabelle said, and smiled warmly at both of them. Then she turned around and began to walk; she should find this Mr. Cadlett as soon as possible, for it seemed like he was the one who knew what she wanted to know.
“Excuse me”, she heard the woman’s voice behind her, and Annabelle turned around. Before she could answer, sthe woman continued: “Excuse me, but may I ask for your name?” Annabelle turned her gaze down and stared at the street, but then quickly turned her head up again. Think, Annabelle, think!
“It’s Johnson, ma’am. My name is Killian Johnson.”
It was still during the middle of the day when Annabelle found Mr. Cadlett. It was at the city hospital, and she was not sure if she should disturb him, for there were more sick and injured people at that hospital than Annabelle had ever seen before. Everywhere lay soldiers, covered in their own blood and dirt, screaming, and the stench of rotten meat made Annabelle want to throw up. The decision to quickly get this over with and get out of there, made her walk up to the man she understood had to be Mr. Cadlett.
His hair had once been as bright as her mother’s, but nowadays it was adorned with streaks of silver, and his face was becoming wrinkled with age. Shadows lay under his green eyes, and his tousled mustache began to resemble a very short and strange beard. Annabelle reminded herself to turn her face slightly downwards, so that the cap’s shadow would hide her female features, before she said his name out loud.
“Yes?” he muttered, stressed, and turned to Annabelle. When he saw her he snorted and shook loosely on his head. “What is it now? If you by some reason don’t see it, I’m quite busy and have no time to chat.” Annabelle swallowed, and bit her lips hard.
“I’m looking for the army”, she said, as proud and strong as she could, but didn’t dare raise her eyes and look at the doctor.
“Well, obviously”, he said, and snorted again. “Sorry, but I don’t support soldiers who once left the army. If you are so keen to get back in there, you’ll find the way yourself.” He shook his head and added mumbling: “one can never know of Union spies.” Annabelle, frustrated and much less patient, raised her right hand to her forehead in salute, just like her father had done when he first left for the war.
“My name is Killian Johnson and I swear that my only desire is to serve the country that is mine and the army I rightfully belong in.” Mr. Cadlett shook, bored, on his shoulders, and then turned to start walking. But then, suddenly, he stopped himself and once again turned to Annabelle.
“Just outside Atlanta there’s a place called Bald Hill. Located in Fulton County. The Yankees have kept the hill for two days already, as they try to occupy Atlanta. General John Bell Hood is on his way there, along with the Army of Tennessee”, he raised his right eyebrow and took a long, deep breath, “so if you plan to catch up with them, you better hurry up.”
She could hear the war even before she arrived. Gun smoke painted sky dirty gray, and the smell of fire and anger filled her lungs. Bald Hill was a light piece of land, ironically, with a large meadow whose edges were marked with huge trees. It kind of reminded her of the meadow that spread out behind Mrs. Ericsson’s house.
When the first, blurry, southern soldiers started taking form in front of her, she pulled her cap down a bit, and then began to run towards them. No one had described the sight that would meet her.
The dead’s outstretched legs and arms. Horses, their stomachs ripped open, steaming. The dreadful smell of rotten flesh and death. The soldiers’ faces, smeared with blood and mud. Dirt, everywhere. She prayed to God that the officers wouldn’t send her away or ask her to take care of the injured. She wanted to be in the front, and she wanted to fight.
She did however see the irony of it all, when she walked along the path towards the war that had raged in America for the last three years. She, a girl against slavery, would fight against those who had the same opinion as her. She would go to battle, even though war was the worst thing she knew. She would kill, and she claimed to be a good person. She would kill those who shared her belief; she would kill her people.
But at the same time she couldn’t help where she had been raised, and what part of the country she truly belonged in. And she couldn’t forget that the yankees had shattered her family; killed her father, Killian and most certainly her brothers too. She wanted revenge, and revenge she would get.
“Private Killian Johnson, sir.” Annabelle nodded and held out her hand to take the rifle, but the captain in front of her still held on to it tightly. He eyed her suspiciously, just as Mr. Cadlett had done. Annabelle knew she had to convince him somehow, and again opened her mouth to speak, trying to persuade him of who she was, or rather who Killian Johnson was. However, he managed to open his mouth before her.
“Damn it, here”, he swore, and handed her the rifle. “You belong in Cleburne’s division.” Their place wasn’t safe anymore; Annabelle was sure of it when she yet again heard a large cannon get lit on fire and fired away, only to be followed by another. The captain had to go back to the battlefield again; they were screaming for him, just as the war was screaming for her. Annabelle closed her mouth and nodded vaguely, before she took the weapon from him. It was heavy, but Annabelle clenched her jaws and put it under one arm, like she had seen the other soldiers do.
“You know how to handle it, right?” the man said then, as he coughed. She was sure that she heard him mumble how weak she looked. Annabelle cleared her throat.
“I’ll be fine.” He raised doubtfully on his eyebrows, and took a step closer to her, taking the rifle in his hands.
“Here”, he said, clearly irritated, “is how you hold a repeating rifle. And this”, he quickly moved the weapon so it leaned against his right shoulder, while he held his hand on the trigger and the other resting beneath, supporting, “is how you aim.” Then he took the rifle in one hand again, and gave to Annabelle. “You know how to shoot, I hope”, he murmured, spat on the ground and turned around to walk away.
Annabelle bit her lip, looked around and took a deep breath. She had done it. She was here. Then she looked down at the weapon in her hand, which weighed heavily, and patted gently with her hand on the dark wood. She was here.
They are dead, was the first thing that came to Annabelle’s mind when she placed herself lying side by side with the other southern soldiers whose hands firmly held on to different kinds of rifles. There they were hidden from their enemy, behind the wild grass a few feet away from the real battlefield, next to the artillery and its big cannons. She lay still; paralyzed by the sight of the fallen soldiers.
Suddenly she got angry with herself, because she who had already seen death so many times shouldn’t be afraid, not anymore. She took a new grip of her weapon, and did what she was told to do. The weight of the rifle in her arms couldn’t compare to the heaviness in her heart when she first pressed down the trigger. A loud noise told her that a shot had been fired, and she reloaded the repeating rifle quickly, and then moved the weapon back to its place.
Her hands trembled, because this was something completely new to her and she still had a hard time understanding any of it. Lots of gray and blue shades flickered in front of her eyes; made it difficult to focus, caused her to become dizzy. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and then opened her eyes again. Quickly she put the gun on the ground, aimed for blue, and fired. Then she recharged, and fired again.
Annabelle didn’t notice how things around her changed, as she lay there. She continued to reload and shoot, again and again. After a while, the rifle wasn’t that heavy anymore. She continued to fire the weapon until darkness fell over them and hid them all in a thick, black color. That’s when she stopped.
That night she was visited by those who had died, both northern and southern soldiers. Death stole the sleep from her eyes, and poisoned her mind with one of the worst feelings ever known to man.