Age Rating: 13 +
Author's Note: Written for an English assignment, about the experience of a young girl during the Civil War--one who lived in a border state.
I hope you like it!
The air is unusually silent in my small Missouri town, as though an ominous, hushing shadow looms like an invisible veil over the skies. Even the commonly bright stars are dim against a pitch black, vast stretch of darkness. No sounds are heard—not even the murmur of a faint breeze blowing through the streets or the rustle of trees in the wind.
An icy shiver dances up and down my spine, and I shudder, afraid. My eyes strain to see past the window and beyond the gloom of the night, to the houses across the street; I detect no noise, no sign of life in the abandoned dwellings.
It has been here these last few days, that stillness. The absolute quiet that surrounds our community unsettles me, and I shift uneasily on the hardwood floor. I know why that quiet is here—that abnormal, haunting haze of mortality.
The memories swiftly return, drowning and consuming my other thoughts like they so often do. No matter how many times I try, I cannot forget the ghastly event which recurs over and over like a dark and terrible dream in my mind.
I was walking back from the West Village, which lay deep in the heart of town, returning from an errand for my mother. It was a cold, bitter winter day, with bleak gray clouds and a frosty, melancholic wind that howled like a wolf to the moon. The rain fell intensely—so intensely that it was impossible to see through it. Puddles as deep and large as lakes formed continuously on the already flooded roads, reducing them to impassable muddy tracks.
Through the deafening collision of water against the ground, I heard a shrill scream pierce the air. My heart almost stopped when I heard that shriek, but it started to pound furiously soon after I came to my senses.
Instinctively I followed the cry, finding myself in my very own neighborhood. Icy tremors of terror coursed throughout my limbs, making me stumble, yet still I ran, on and on for what seemed like an eternity, searching for the source of the awful sound.
I stopped in a dead halt in front of my neighbors' home, my ribcage rattling and my hands shaking from cold and fear. While clutching my chest and panting for air, I glimpsed the blurred forms of four men in the doorway. And then—then I saw my best friend’s father, a strong supporter of the North and of antislavery, beaten to death on their porch.
I gasped in horror, unconscious of the rain soaking my hair and clothes. Two other men came, dragging the lifeless body with them as if it were a worthless possession, letting it splash in the dirty water. Blood trailed behind the body, a shining scarlet streak on the saturated earth.
All the while, my friend Sara and her family sobbed, calling out desolately to the man who once was of this world—but no longer. The proslavery settlers violently grabbed Sara, her mother, her little brother, her baby sister. They all disappeared into sheets of blinding rain, fading away like pale white phantoms into the mist.
Before I knew it, she and her family were gone. The door of her house, still slightly ajar, creaked once and then fell silent.
The scene was so terrifying, so sickening, that my eyes were forever tainted with the horrific memory. Since that day, my dreams have been perpetually overshadowed by nightmares of murderous shadows, by the mournful cries of lost souls resounding in the darkness.
When I relayed the information to my family after running obliviously through the doorway, tears streaming down my face, they appeared unconcerned—apathetic, even. My father, Robert, who will soon be going to war for the South, did not look at me when I told him this. Even my kindhearted mother, Jesslyn, and my pacifist sister of eighteen years, Yvonne, seemed nonchalant while listening to my account. I stared at them all incredulously. How could anyone not react after hearing that innocent people had been murdered simply because of their beliefs?
At that moment, I hated my family. They acted as though I was speaking nonsense; my distressed words, my shock and horror, were somehow meaningless to them. My own family—supporters of slavery and of the Confederate States of America—cared nothing if the proslavery settlers slaughtered innocent human beings for crimes not committed.
I have recognized all too late that my family will never understand. Never. They are too blind, too ignorant of the truth, of what is right. Deep within my heart, however, a secret hides. They believe in the Confederacy. But I—I truly believe in the Union. I believe that no person is a possession to be owned—that slavery is an evil humankind has inflicted upon itself. I believe that no state has the right to control its people’s destinies—that a person’s fate is only his or hers to control.
Yet my opinion does not matter. My father will still go to fight in the war, to fight for the Confederacy, even though he knows that the houses in our neighborhood sit forsaken and lonely beside the paved roads, waiting in vain for their owners to one day return.
But those innocent people will never return. All that remains of their existences are the red bloodstains on the stone pavement, which are still visible even after the rain.
I clench my fists in anger, hating the once-was, united Union, hating the North and South, hating war and life, hating the pain all mortals are forced to endure.
Gazing at the dark, cosmic sky once more, I barely blink as hot tears once again burn my eyes. In far too little time, I realize, the war in this broken country will truly begin, and with it, the cruel slaughter of human lives and a bloody cycle of death will also dawn—all in a futile attempt to heal the open wounds of an injured nation.
The cold silence surrounds me: empty, eerie, and thick with the coming of death. With a sob, I realize that there is nothing I can do to stop it.