Story Every Day – Day 2

Just in time! A little alternate history for ya. I doubt I’ll ever do much with this, so here’s the whole thing. About 700 words.

Watershed

Tom crawled through grass tall enough to obscure a tall man walking, yet felt no safer for it. All around him burned the corpses of his friends and former enemies. The stench alone overwhelmed his senses, but he could nothing to block out the moans and cries of the dying.

He risked a glance upward. Smoke, dense and grey, still obscured the sky. Tom no longer heard any cannon or gunfire. The battle was over. It was over before it had begun. Yet somehow he’d emerged unscathed.

Tom kept his rifle close, though so far all the bullets of the Union and Reb armies combined hadn’t put a dent in this new enemy. Thirty feet of pure metal, walking about on two legs and spitting fire like some twisted dragon he’d seen in storybooks. But there were no knights to fight them here. A cluster of them had fallen from the sky two months ago, not far from Washington. Lee and McClellan had been engaged in heavy fighting outside the capitol when these monsters strode in and started slaughtering men on both sides of the field. Just a few had wiped out tens of thousands of lives in less than an hour. Then they turned on the cities with the same merciless intent.

Tom came across the charred corpse of Reb, his grey coat torn and muddied. This ragtag army, the last elements of the formerly warring Americas, had been on the run for a month. No resupply, no food, no rest. They’d tried skirmishing tactics, but with the invaders there was no such thing as a skirmish. They killed everything. Tom had heard of units that tried to surrender flashed dead to a man. Here, by the Mississippi, General Longstreet entrenched and let them come, hoping to buy fleeing civilians time to cross the river and escape west.

Tom crawled toward the river, no plan in mind but to survive. If he saw other survivors, he would steer clear. More people meant a bigger target. Civilians would only slow him down. The ground beneath his feet shook with each step the invaders took. The tremors grew faint, so Tom risked a crouching run to speed his escape.

He broke free of the tall grass, a few hundred feet behind the American trenches. The artillery line lay a smoking ruin. Hundreds of troops littered the ground. To the north, Tom saw several of the invaders straddling the trenches and stomping amongst the ruined support wagons. In a few minutes they’d hit the hospital, if they hadn’t already.

Tom sprinted for the river. The army’s position guarded the only shallow ford point for miles. Though still wide and fast, a body on foot could cross the river here. Several civilian caravans still waded desperately through the water. Tom saw families lashing at their animals, urging them on as their would-be defenders died. Women and children, eyes wide with terror, struggling against the current while burdened with bags and infants. The far side of the river jammed up as clusters of people climbed and hauled their animals and wagons up the steep bank. Tom stumbled to a halt at the bank and leaned on his rifle. They would never make it. In a few minutes the invaders would come crashing across the river and massacre all these people. The army had failed.

Tom realized he had company. A Union Major he didn’t recognize, his beard singed, holding only his saber. Several Confederates, two of whom appeared to be twins. As he looked over them, a few more blue coats jogged up, panting. One wore a gold cavalry pin, the others were infantry.

The Major cleared his throat and spoke with a heavy Maine accent. “It appears the line forms here now, gentlemen. Form up. If you’ve lost your weapon…” he gestured with his sword to the multitude of bodies, “…acquire yourself a new one.”

Tom crouched beside the cavalry officer and loaded his rifle. Behind them stood the Confederates. Far to the north they heard a cannon boom—perhaps another such last stand from the artillery line. Nearby, heavy metallic boots hammered the ground. The invaders approached one last time.

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