I laid in my bed and watched the lightning flash on the far hillsides. The distant rumblings of thunder echoed in the valleys and sometimes gave a slight rattle to the windows. I knew the storm was coming closer, and I felt safe and warm in my little cottage. I just pulled the bed sheet up closer to my chin and watched the bright blue show. I like to leave the windows open during an approaching storm. The Southern heat and humidity builds up inside the house until it becomes unbearable and the cool winds of the thunderstorm are a welcomed relief.
The storm was moving down the Appalachians from North Carolina, and was growing in size and intensity. These storms were almost a daily, or nightly occurrence. I kept a close eye on the branches of the walnut tree outside my bedroom window. The air was still and humid. I could see clouds of steam hovering over the back pasture and settling on the creek. It was miserable out there. I wished that the storm would hurry up and get here.
Then I saw it happen. The leaves of the walnut tree began to twitch, and the branches began to sway ever so slightly. I could feel the light breeze as it penetrated the window screen and blew over my bed. I pushed off the sheet, and let the wispy fingers of the cool air brush against my sweaty body. Relief at last. I just closed my eyes and enjoyed the sensations it brought. The flashes of blue light were becoming brighter, and the sharpness of the thunder was taking on a crackling cadence. I pulled myself off of the bed and stepped out onto the front porch. A light rain was falling, and the chartreuse and blue flickers of the fireflies close to the ground told me that heavy rain was on the way. The cold chill of the first downdraft sent a chill down my back as it howled through the trees.
The lightning was getting much closer now. I went back into my house and began the ritual of disconnecting my electronics and appliances to protect them in the case of a lightning strike. I often thought about how much technology has changed over the last 150 years, and how a storm can return us back to that technology poor era, at least for a little while. I began to wonder about the civil war soldiers stuck for weeks on end in these summer storms and winter cold, and how death may have been a welcomed thought in a time of peril and discomfort.
The wind began to moan painfully, as if someone were out in the field suffering and crying out in anguish. The bright blue light flickered relentlessly as the thunder crackled through the trees. Then suddenly, in an ear splitting boom, the power was out. It was nearly pitch black. I felt my way into the kitchen and over to the broom closet and felt around for a kerosene lamp. I carried it over to the table and searched through the darkness for some matches. I was able to light it. The warm yellow glow filled the kitchen area with light. As I turned to sit down at the table, I looked out at the bright blue flash.
Did I see something? The light flashed again. What I saw was a lone figure walking across the back field. The lightning flashed again. The figure was walking in a Southerly direction toward the house. I grabbed the lantern and headed out of the front door, across the field toward the figure. The rain was beating hard against my body, and I could not find him. In the wind I could hear him call out, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying. The lightning flashed again, and I saw him. I couldn’t believe what I thought I saw. The man was about thirty yards from me. He was dirty, tired and hungry looking. I wasn’t sure of what he was wearing, it was too far fetched. The lightning flashed again. I could see him plainly now. He was only about 25 yards away. He was dressed as a confederate soldier. He held onto his gun by the barrel dragging the stock on the ground. He was muttering something.
“Home.” He said. “I’ve got to go home.” He kept walking in a straight line with a fixed gaze on some distant object. “Chickamauga.” He went on. “We all died at Chickamauga.” He was right in front of me now. His voice was amplified by the intensity of the wind, and although he was right there, I could only see him when the lightning flashed. My lantern was useless. His voice just carried on the wind. The harder the wind blew, the louder he got. The lightning flashed again. Behind him, I could see countless men just like him walking toward me.
“I have to go.” He said. “I have to go home.” As he walked away, I reached for him, but I could not grasp him. I reached for his gun, and he just let it fall in the grass showing no emotion or concern. Lightning kept flashing with ever increasing intensity, and these men, each one of them soldiers, filed past me, each muttering the names of battle sites. I could hear them in the wind even when I could not see them. The men were countless, and they just kept coming. Their muttering was becoming deafening: “Antietem, Kennesaw Mountain, Altoona Pass…” The names and men kept coming.
I looked to the south to see where they were going. Some disappeared into the mist, while others disappeared into the side of the barn or the front of the house. Others just faded into the woods. I saw the lights in the house flicker before staying on, and I walked back home. As the storm passed, the intensity of the lightning diminished, and so did the number of soldiers that were passing through, until there were no more. I sat on the porch steps and stared out into the misty darkness until I drifted off to sleep.
I was awakened by the crowing of the rooster just as the sun was beginning to rise. The soft blue twilight of the early morning hours showed the signs of the heavy storm that had hit just hours before. The corn was blown over, limbs were down everywhere, and the creek was up and muddy. My mind flashed back to the events that took place within the storm, and I walked out to the back pasture and stood in the wet grass, facing North. The grass was wet and clean, laying over in places, and standing tall in other spots.
“It must’ve been a dream”. I said to myself. I turned around to walk back to the house, then I saw it.
There, in the grass, lay a rifle.
I Can Hear Their Moans
I can hear their moans
Every time the wind howls,
For the suffering they have long endured.
I can hear the cannons and guns they fired
Every time the thunder claps.
Like a distant battle growing ever closer.
And when the lightning flashes
I can see their lost souls wandering on the fields
Still trying to get home.
They just want to get home,
To lay down
And finally rest.
©2004/2010 by Del Banks