Lay down your arms, give up this fight
As dawn rose the next morning, they were on their way to Atlanta. Annabelle couldn’t decide if the whole army was going there, because they were so few. She had heard that yesterday’s losses had been extremely high, so maybe this was all that was left of the army.
It was obvious that General Hood had failed dramatically, as they were now forced to retreat to Atlanta, while Sherman’s men came closer and closer. Hood had new plans, they said, and he promised that they wouldn’t have to undergo another loss. No matter what, she had a bad feeling about it.
The whole time she looked for Jack, but never saw her. As they walked she thought what possibly could have happened to her. She hadn’t died in battle, that she knew, because she met her yesterday night and her company hadn’t fought after that. The idea that she might have run away came over Annabelle too, even though it seemed rather illogical. Jack seemed to truly believe in their fight for freedom, and for her to leave the war sounded unlikely.
That she had been captured was another possibility, but that would mean that Jack either had been at the Yankees camp, or that Yankees had been at their camp, and both of those ideas seemed quite absurd, because why would Jack go to their camp? And if it had been so that Northerners had found their camp, why hadn’t they captured someone more important than a regular soldier? Like General Hood, or Cleburne, just to name a few.
She didn’t know whether it was the pain from the wound on her cheek, or the fact that she couldn’t get any clarity whatsoever in her thoughts, that made her head boil. At the same time, she couldn’t stop thinking about death. She had been so close to it, and the thought of it started to eat her from the inside. She couldn’t stop thinking about if she had bled to death on that blood-stained grass, just another fallen soldier, another forgotten face. Killian’s words from their last meeting echoed within her.
“You die a lonely soldier, and do you think anyone is going to remember your name?”
What if it had been her body that lay there, broken; what if it was her blood that had stained the grass red? She didn’t want to die, but death was so close, and now, finally, she understood Killian: she didn’t get to decide whether she died, she didn’t get to decide anything. If death wanted her, it would take her. And she would die a lonely death, too, and all that she had fought for wouldn’t mean a thing anymore. She really would be forgotten.
Suddenly she wondered if she would ever come home again.
“If you see one of them, shoot. Fast. To win this war, we must act faster and stronger than them; we must be the soldiers we were before our losses. Find the spirit you had at Fort Sumpter! But whatever you do, don’t ever be afraid.” General Hood spat tobacco on the road they stood on. “Because a true southerner feel no fear. There’s a reason that Davis let me take over, and that is because I intend to fight for what is ours! For our freedom! For the South!” He raised his right arm proudly, rifle in hand.
“For the South!” They echoed, but inside Annabelle a forbidden darkness grew. She was afraid.
They were in the middle of Atlanta, in the heart of the city, with the town’s hospital to the left. The rest of their troops were already placed along the outskirts of the city, watching the invisible wall around Atlanta so that General Hood and his captains could clarify their tactics with a few from each company. As all of her company leaders were dead and gone, it had been decided that she would go. Not even her squad leader was alive.
She took a deep breath. It wasn’t more complicated now than it had been before: find a blue soldier, aim and shoot. Never hesitate. Annabelle nodded, and without knowing how she really felt, she put her hand on her weapon and went to the position she had been assigned. Then, as the fog lay deep around her and Smith, a dark-haired sniper from E company, second battalion, she wondered what would become of her if she actually survived.
Grenades and cannonballs flew over her head. The thick smoke turned the air to a gray, gloomy fog, echoing of emptiness and loneliness. The mud, which still lay as streaks across her cheeks and chin, felt dry and stiff and made Annabelle feel uneasy.
She was just about to move to the other side of the building, when a sharp pain hit her left shoulder. The pain pushed her forward, but she didn’t fall. She resisted the urge to scream, and instead she turned around, with her right hand protectively placed over the injury. She saw him aim at her again; she heard the shot when he pulled the trigger. Quickly she closed her eyes, but only for a second, and ducked.
The bullet flew past her. Then, without wasting more time, her face was twisted in a grimace of anger as she ran straight towards him. The fear had disappeared; she was going to survive. She watched as he took aim at her yet again, but his grip on the weapon was too unstable for him to pull the trigger. He hadn’t been prepared for this; he had expected her to fall.
The next second he was met by a heavy blow by the back of her rifle, straight across his face. Hard, but not hard enough for him to fall to the ground. Annabelle didn’t hesitate for one second; she pulled out her dagger. The rifle would take too long to reload, and the pain in her shoulder was growing like a disease, feeding of her power and life. She saw him swallow, and then got a bold idea.
“Haven’t your mother told you that it’s wrong to hit girls? Or worse, shoot them?” she whispered into his ear, her voice quivering with rage. She knew that he was too weak to hurt her again. His eyes flickered, and she wondered if that was the only response he dared give her, after the dangerous words she had spoken. Then she hit him again, at the same place, and the power behind her blow caused him to double-fold in pain. She herself couldn’t feel the pain it had caused her, because the anger within her was too great.
“Come on, boy“, she hissed, and then swallowed deeply, for she could feel the blood running down her arm, fast and warm. He spat; pale, trembling, and a trickle of blood ran from his nose to the mouth.
“Kill me, then”, he murmured hoarsely, “little girl. If you dare.” Annabelle grinded her teeth at the sound of his voice, and gently touched the hilt of her dagger.
“Death is too kind”, she whispered, “but I’m willing to make an exception. See you in hell.” With a quick movement she drew the dagger across his white throat, just above the dark blue collar, before she had time to think twice about it; before the burning anger within her had cooled down.
Happiness and hope was came alive again when she saw the city hospital take form in front of her. She had first thought about going back to camp, but it was longer and she knew it wouldn’t be long until she couldn’t walk anymore.
Even before she stumbled in through the large entrance, the warm odor of death and decay began to spread around her. It was with her last strength that she pushed the door open. She tried to walk normal and fast, but it was as if the wound in her shoulder was infected by a darkness that had spread to her arms and legs.
“Mr. Cadlett!” she shouted, loud, and tried to hold back the pain that screaming inflicted upon her. She realized that he hadn’t heard her, or that he simply was too busy to listen, because she didn’t receive any response. She clenched her jaw, and furrowed her eyebrows. “Sister!” She screamed again, and walked up to the nearest nurse. “I’ve been shot in my left shoulder, and I will bleed to death if you don’t help me!” The woman shook vaguely on her head, with fear carved all over her face.
“I’m sorry, sir. We can’t treat any more soldiers, we already have too many. They die like flies, I’m afraid”, she looked around anxiously, and then leaned closer to Annabelle, “and you’re lucky enough to still be able to walk.” Annabelle took a deep, frustrated breath. Fear began to creep upon her; like a cold wind it swept through her heart and numbed her body. Was this it - was this the end?
“But I will die, I-” The woman interrupted Annabelle, and if Annabelle hadn’t felt so bad she would have screamed at her, like men did. She hadn’t even offered her whiskey.
“Run away, then. Find another house; there are many around here who care for ill and wounded soldiers. We ourselves must escape soon too, for we can’t stay here if Sherman occupies Atlanta.” Annabelle looked hesitantly at the woman, and tried to make her voice sound as hard and dark as possible.
“Are you saying that I should escape, and leave those who fight and die for our country and our freedom? Are you saying that I should betray my home? Abandon my brothers?” The woman lowered her gaze, just to look into Annabelle’s eyes the next second.
“Yes, sir, I am.” And Annabelle felt for a moment how the woman saw straight into her bared soul, and how she discovered her secret. Now it was her turn to turn down her gaze.
“Thank you”, she murmured, and began to walk away.
She thought of Killian. Of his words, of her promise. Forgive me, Killian, for never coming home again. A warm tear found its way down her dirty cheek. Pain and heat pierced through her body, as she sat leaning against an old, rough oak tree. The tree had reminded her of home, and if she was to die she wanted to do it there. She tried to take calm, soothing breaths but her body resisted; her breathing was no more than trembling, weak puffs of dirty air.
Annabelle put her right hand on her shoulder, on top of the now ripped uniform jacket. She could feel the heat pulse just below the broken, torn skin, and the warm blood painted her hand red. She could feel the hole where the bullet had pierced her skin, ripped it open.
With fingers itching of fear she stubbornly tried to dig her nails into the skin, and somehow take out the bullet, the root of her pain and impending death. The pain she felt could never be compared to anything she had previously felt, or something she would come to feel. Dirt and evil thrived in the wound, mixed with fear and sadness. I’m so sorry, but I - I can’t.
Suddenly she came to think of the soldiers, the blue ones, those she had shot and killed, and the anxiety came over her again more painful than ever before. No one deserved a life whose end consisted of blood and pain. Not even her worst enemies.
Annabelle screamed loud into the gray afternoon. If it was because of the pain, the grief or the fear she felt, she didn’t know - it just felt good to scream. No one could hear her anyway, for guns and rifles were still being fired, blood was still being spilled.
She screamed again, so loud and so long that all the air in her lungs was thrown out, without being replaced by new. Once again her fingers found their way into the wound, but without success. It hurt so much. Everything hurt, everything ached. Suddenly she seemed to hear a voice that had been erased from her mind long ago.
Was it Simone, or was she going mad? Don’t give up, Annabelle! Fight for your life! Fight for us! But she was too tired to listen.
She fell to the side; her head met the ground. It was hard and cold, but it didn’t hurt. Help me... she tried, but the words never became words but stayed in her thoughts, forever lost. Don’t leave me alone with the darkness, father...
But her father wasn’t there, and it wasn’t long before the darkness embraced her and gently rocked her to sleep.