On the eve of the Battle of Shiloh, Union soldier Tyler Sheridan has a premonition he is going to die. That night, he writes an epic anti-war poem called “Never-ending Night.” The next day, a cannonball explodes in front of him, but rather than walking through the gates of Heaven, Tyler steps into a modern-day Civil War reenactment. Confused by a world he can’t comprehend, Tyler has no choice but to rely on a beautiful and fascinating photojournalist for help.
As Stacy Sutton watches Tyler emerge from the rising smoke of faux cannon fire, she’s amazed by the authenticity of his uniform and demeanor—and then he claims to be from the nineteenth century, a mere delusion according to doctors. But Stacy’s not convinced Tyler is delusional and sees helping him as her second chance—an opportunity to atone for the death of her partner...and her past. As the mystery surrounding Tyler’s appearance deepens, it threatens any hope they have of a future together, and Stacy finds she must discover whether the man she loves is a traveller through time or a mad man lost in his own delusions.
The cries of the wounded woke him. He turned to his side, pulling the Union issue blanket up around his head, hoping to drown out the sounds. It was useless. Their pitiable entreaties penetrated the thin wool blanket, etching their agony on his mind and soul. The noise had tormented him throughout the night. Pleas for water. For help. Agonized cries for their mothers. Prayers to God to stop their pain. And finally, calling to their comrades, begging them to be merciful and shoot them.
That was the worst of it. Knowing the injured were fifty feet away and there was nothing he could do to help them. Moving onto the field would expose him to the Confederate sharp-shooters safely hidden behind the shelter of the trees. So he stayed, cowering in the hollow with his men, the ones who had survived the Hornet’s Nest. And that’s what it had been, a hive of buzzing, flying bullets and dying men as the Confederate army sent wave after wave—twelve full charges of soldiers—sweeping up the hill to be cut down by Union troops.
Bodies fell on top of each other until the men were slipping on blood, fighting their way through piles of fallen men...and still the Confederate generals sent them onward.
Their strategy had succeeded. Sometime near dusk, the waves of Confederate soldiers broke the ranks of the Union troops. What followed was a maelstrom of madness.
Union cavalry, infantry, and ambulances scattered, retreating pell-mell. By sheer will and heroism, his commanding officer held his regiment back from the melee. His ordered retreat from the Hornet’s Nest had been controlled and effective, fighting all the way, slowing the Confederate advance...but they were forced to leave their fallen behind.
He didn’t want to think of the ones they had left. Wrapped in his damp blanket, lying rigid on the cold ground, he scoured his memory, reliving each moment, making certain that none of the men he had left behind were still alive.
Lord! There were so many!
A myriad of faces danced across his mind…faces of the comrades who’d fallen, and faces of the Confederate men he had killed with his rifle and his bayonet, and finally, when he could not load fast enough, his saber. How many of them were lying out there now, begging for help?
Surging upwards, he flung the cloying blanket away. He looked at his men, lying in a circle around what was left of the fire. The chilling rain had doused the last embers and now only the gray ashes remained. Crawling over the man next to him, he pulled some dry twigs from beneath the shelter of the fallen log where they had put them before falling asleep. He lit a match and watched the orange flames rise, lighting the small circle of sleeping bodies. All the while, the certainty grew inside him.
He was going to die tomorrow.
It had come to him some time in the night, during one of his fitful dreams. He saw himself walking beside his men through the trees, across the clearing. He heard the explosion; felt the burning pain spread across his face. Then the suffocating blackness. He had seen his own death as clearly as he now saw the men sleeping beside him.
He squeezed his eyes. He didn’t want to die. He had his whole life ahead of him. He had hopes. Dreams. They would all end tomorrow. In his heart, he felt that certainty. It was as real and tangible as the cold piercing his body.
Lightning brightened the distant sky, and he turned to look out over the battlefield. The momentary flash of light disappeared, and thunder rumbled ominously in the distance. It came out of the darkness like the voice of God, angry and full of impending doom, momentarily silencing the voices of the wounded.
Another bolt flashed against the sky. In the silvery electric light, he saw something that chilled him to the bone. Hogs had entered the field and were gorging on the entrails of the dead.
The sight sent him lunging to his feet. Without thinking, he snatched up his rifle and fired a shot at the animals.
Around him, his men jerked awake, coming to awareness, quickly clutching their weapons in hand. But the lightning had passed. The field was dark and the ominous thunder drowned out the sound of the rooting animals.
Lowering his gun, he turned back to his men. “It’s nothing. Nothing at all.”
Grumbling with fatigue, they eased back upon their bedrolls, except for the boy next to him. He stayed on his knees, his gun clutched in his hands.
“Sir?” he murmured hesitantly. “Are they coming, sir?”
Reaching across the space, he pushed the boy down to his pallet. “It’s nothing, Danny. Go back to sleep.”
The young man settled and his youthful features eased. He released a weary sigh that sounded more like a little boy than a hardened soldier. Danny was seventeen...one year older than the man’s own brothers.
His brothers wanted to come. Only Pa’s iron will kept them home. Their heads were full of unrealistic dreams and illusions. They thought him a hero.
Fear raced through his body like a river of icy shards. Clenching his rifle, he raised his face to the midnight sky.
No God, no. Please! Don’t let them come here. Don’t ever let them be a part of this. I’ll go willingly tomorrow, if I know it will spare my brothers this horror. I’ll hand my life over. Please, don’t let them come!
Somehow, some way, he had to show them, to tell all young men that war was not the stuff of their heroic dreams. But how?
The way came to him as certainly as the premonition of his death had come. Laying his rifle aside, he reached inside his pocket and pulled out the letter. Tucked in the well-worn envelope was the stubble of a pencil he always carried. As he tugged the pages free, the sweet scent of jasmine floated up to him.
Caroline. He whispered her name out loud and a shaft of pain shot through his heart. He tried not to think of her, of their future or what she would do when he was no longer there to share it with her.
Focusing on his purpose, he spread the backs of the letters out. By the light of the flickering fire, he began to write. The words poured out of him. Like a pitcher of water, the phrases spilled onto his page, capturing his fears, his rage at what he’d seen...his pain. He wrote, even when his hand cramped and his eyes stung. He filled the paper with his heart...his soul.
He laid the pencil aside and folded the paper away. It would be found later and sent to Caroline. God would take care of the rest.
Raising his gaze, he saw the first fingers of dawn creeping across the sky.
Mine eyes have seen the glory of war, and it is death, splintered, ravaged, face down in the mud.
“Never-Ending Night” by T.R. Sheridan
The morning sun turned the skies from charcoal to pewter then streaked the horizon with pink and gold. It was time to begin. Stacy Sutton placed her Styrofoam cup of coffee on the dash and saw her fingers trembling.
This was the job she’d been doing for ten years. There was no reason to be afraid. The story wasn’t even real, for pity’s sake!
Angry with her own weakness, she grabbed the camera and lunged out of the four-wheel-drive. The cool morning air tickled her skin, making her shiver. Determined not to let anything deter her, she reached back into the car for a work vest; a made-over hunter’s vest with plenty of pouches and enough room for all her equipment. She slipped it over the long-sleeved T-shirt and settled it in place. It felt comfortable and familiar. She checked the pockets for an extra battery. As she went through the familiar steps of her profession, the nervousness eased.
This was normal. This was easy.
“Stacy Sutton?” She jumped as the voice seemed to come out of the gloomy morning air.
The man wore a blue Civil War uniform. He had gray hair and sideburns that looped up over his mouth in a bushy mustache. He extended his hand, and Stacy let the camera dangle from the strap around her neck to shake it.
“I’m Charles Kincaid, coordinator for this event.”
“Yes, of course. Professor Kincaid.”
He smiled. “Colonel Kincaid for this week.”
“I see. Well, Colonel Kincaid, thank you for allowing me to photograph your reenactment.”
“Usually, we don’t allow any modern distractions.”
The subtle pride in his voice irked Stacy. It was the wrong attitude to have about a story subject, but she couldn’t help herself. “So I’ve heard,” she murmured, her voice holding only a trace of the sarcasm she felt.
Leaning forward, he smiled. “I can’t tell you how pleased we are that a photojournalist of your caliber is here. I saw your work on Iraq. Extraordinary.”
Stacy tried not to flinch, tried to blot out the images that came into her mind every time someone mentioned the war. Fortunately for her sanity, her ploy began to work. “I’ll do my best to capture the essence of your reenactment, Colonel,” she said, feeling the pasted smile on her lips.
“I’m sure it will be wonderful. You have a fine touch, a magic eye for the scenes of battle.”
She fiddled with her camera, tried to ignore the alarm signals going off in her head.
Oblivious to her reaction, Kincaid went on. “Of course, our reenactment is by no means equal to a real battle, but we do make every effort to capture the atmosphere. Your photographs will help us to see whether or not we have succeeded.”
Numbly, Stacy nodded. Her pictures would capture the feel, but not the horrors. No civilian casualties lying dead on the roadside or starving in the streets. No smell of blood, of rotting flesh...of death. No heartbreaking screams to wake her each night…Jeff mowed in half in front of her eyes…
After two months of rest, her brother Bobby had recommended she start back to work. As the editor of their hometown paper, he’d sent her to cover this three-day reenactment of the battle of Shiloh.
Stacy had agreed, believing she was ready to return. Now she was here, in the pre-dawn hours, shivering, waiting to watch men play war. Somehow, she didn’t think this had been the right decision.
The sun peeked over a distant mountain, sending a slash of bright light across the sky.
Kincaid and Stacy looked up.
“Well,” Kincaid said in an excited whisper. “I guess it’s time to start.”
Stacy watched as he hurried across the field like a little boy playing soldier.
Obviously, he had never seen the real face of war. If he had, he could not possibly be happy about this mockery.
She wished she was curled in her bed, sleeping, without dreams, without memories. Stacy grimly forced the thoughts from her mind.
In the distance, men in Union uniforms lined up to re-create the Hornet’s Nest. Breaking into a jog, she ran to the Confederate side. Her shoulder-length hair flapped in the wind. She should have taken the time to pull it back.
As she came closer, her gaze swept the field from end to end, looking for the best picture. Her instincts, which were never wrong, told her to go straight to the front. They were like radar, sighting the best spots.
She focused on the troops, studying how they marched—imperfect and sloppy with their long rifles held in front of them. Out of breath, she halted. Slinging her camera around, she automatically brought it up.
She lowered the camera and jogged forward.
The men in the lead came to some trees.
Stacy ran forward and dropped to one knee. Her eye narrowed, automatically adjusting to the camera. She focused the lens, searched the faces. She found concentration, certainty, assurance, good solid emotions, but not the ones she was accustomed to seeing in a battlefield. None of the emotions she wanted to capture on film.
The fighting troops worked their way towards the stand of trees, and Stacy ducked beneath the tall canopy. In seconds, she had the right setting and was busy again, her camera clicking away.
The brittle pop of the gunpowder caps in the guns and the men’s shouts echoed ominously in the tall timber. It wasn’t battle, but something else.
As Stacy worked, she began to feel something real, something she could respect. The re-creation changed. She could feel its pulse, its attitude. It moved into a rhythm she recognized.
The Rebel soldiers moved out of the shadow of the trees and Stacy followed. The sound of her camera was drowned out by clashing bodies and guns.
Boom! Something exploded over the clearing.
Stacy jerked but was too well trained to lose her focus. Turning her camera, she found the source. The cannons were just inside another line of trees, and behind them were more cannons, ten at least. As Stacy adjusted the lens, the cannon fired in rapid succession.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
The air filled with smoke and hundreds of Rebel soldiers ran from the trees.
Stacy watched, heard their warrior cries and began to understand. The battle was being performed again, repeated so as not to be forgotten. She could see the solemnity on the faces of the men around her. She could almost sense the desperation the real soldiers must have felt.
This reenactment was an echo, a faint haunting, a tribute to the soldiers. Stacy wanted...needed to capture that tribute, to catch the essence with her camera.
Smoke surrounded her. Men fell everywhere, and Stacy’s camera clicked. The small round lens was her eye, her only vision of the noise and confusion. A gun exploded close to her, but she didn’t lower her camera. Wind blew cannon smoke over the field. She coughed but didn’t stop.
Ahead of her, she saw a dark figure emerging from the smoke. Blue uniform. Hatless. The breeze lifted his golden hair. He had the full sideburns so popular during the Civil War. He was tall, straight. The perfect picture of a Union officer.
Stacy could only see his profile, and she liked what she saw. Handsome face streaked with fake blood on one side.
He stumbled on the rutted ground. Caught himself.
Stacy followed him, never lowering her camera. There was something different about him...something…
firstname.lastname@example.org (Thursday, 04 April 2013) Rating: 5 In Never Ending Night, Ms Stowe has woven a complex, compelling story that grips the...
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