On Cemetery Hill

Shawn D. Brink

Behind them was Gettysburg. Before them was Cemetery Hill. It had been thirty years since blood spilled down that slope. Yet, after all that time, the bloodshed still haunted Samuel.

He alighted from the carriage and glared at the land before him. His right hand held an aged Bible while his left caressed his wife’s arm.

“I must do this alone.”

With those words, he parted from her and started up the hill. She let him go, but her tears flowed in evidence that his departure was not her desire.

As he ascended the hill, old memories resurrected within him. It had been thirty years, but he could still smell the conflicting combination of gunpowder and wildflowers. Through his eyes, the air appeared smoky. In his ears, boomed cannons that had not fired for three decades, and his skin tingled with fear just as it had in 1863.

In 1863 he’d been just one of many pawns in a game of chess. Lincoln and Davis had been the players. Thousands served as game pieces, many of those dead by game’s end.

He looked back briefly and saw his wife standing near the carriage. She looked so far away, unnaturally distant. He almost turned back. Part of him wanted to turn back, but another deeper part resisted that urge. With resolution, he turned forward and continued up the hill. He needed to do this. He had so stop the nightmares.

He ascended further and heard the screams of men. When he looked down, he saw them just as he had seen them in 1863.

Some were slithering like wounded snakes. Others were struggling in tangles of their own entrails. Still others were too near death to slither or struggle, and for a lucky few, death had already come.

Perspiration soaked Samuel’s clothes as he navigated around these apparitions. He ducked as the pale form of a horse jumped over him, ectoplasmic blood pouring from its bullet-riddled chest. With one final squeal, it collapsed and moved no more.

These were his demons. They’d tortured him for three decades, but there was one that haunted him more than all the others combined. It was for this one that he had returned.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” he quoted from memory.

The war was not his fault, nor was the draft. He’d killed out of duty, not pleasure. But this demon of all demons, this horrific manifestation that he’d come back to confront was the direct result of his actions. He’d molded it from nothing and given it life, but today, he would destroy it.

The Bible he grasped glistened from his sweat. Thirty years ago, he didn’t have that book. Thirty years ago, he had not known God.

“I will fear no evil,” he continued reciting.

Through the godlessness of war, he’d found God, or perhaps, God had found him. How such a gift was given out of the horrors of battle had always amazed him.

Ahead, through the haze, he could see the silhouette of the great elm. This was where the demon had been born. This was where it must now die.

“For thou art with me.”

Tears formed as he neared that tree. His heart pounded. His breathing quickened.

“Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”

At the base of the elm, the dreaded apparition appeared in the form of a man. He’d never learned his name. Nameless, he’d tortured Samuel for the last thirty years.

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”

Samuel looked down at him, a wounded enemy soldier. A piece of shrapnel had gutted him like a fish. He’d propped himself against the tree’s trunk, one hand trying to keep his innards from spilling, the other hand grasping for something beyond reach.

The man was reaching for Samuel’s Bible. But thirty years ago, it hadn’t been Samuel’s.

“Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over,” Samuel whispered.

His body shook as his sobs multiplied. He remembered what had happened next so many years ago. He remembered the moment that this demon came to be.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” he was now crying through the words, slurring them as if drunk.

The man coughed up a mist of ghostly blood from his bluish lips. Then he spoke words from the past. “Sir,” he said with barely a whisper. “Let me die with God’s word in my hands.”

Samuel wailed. This was the origin of his haunting. This was when it had all started.

***

Thirty years ago, he’d denied this man a dying wish. This was when he’d stolen the Bible and simply walked away, leaving the enemy soldier to die alone, utterly alone.

Now, he looked upon the Bible that had been his for three decades. Mixed with Samuel’s sweat, the Bible shimmered with the blood and tears of a dead soldier.

Samuel, over the course of decades, had come to know that God had worked this treachery for good. That stolen Bible had become his road to salvation.

Still, he’d sinned and needed to make things right. With eyes closed, he handed the Bible out towards the soldier. The book was then pulled from his hands.

“I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Was that voice his own? He couldn’t decipher.

Samuel opened his eyes. All the demons had left. Even the gun smoke and the sounds of war had evaporated. He was alone.

***

The carriage ride home was silent except for his wife’s repetitive inquiry. “Where’s your Bible Samuel? Where’s your Bible?”

“On Cemetery Hill” was previously published in the following:

2018, November

Z Publishing: AMERICA’S EMERGING WRITERS: AN ANTHOLOGY, VOL. 1

– On Cemetery Hill is included in this collection. – https://www.amazon.com/Americas-Emerging-Writers-Anthology-Fiction/dp/1729836720/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=americas+emerging+writers&qid=1593205802&s=books&sr=1-3  

 

2018, September

Z Publishing: NEBRASKA’S EMERGING WRITERS: AN ANTHOLOGY

– On Cemetery Hill is included in this collection. – https://www.amazon.com/Nebraskas-Emerging-Writers-Anthology-Publishing/dp/1727164113/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=nebraskas+emerging+writers&qid=1593205929&s=books&sr=1-2  

About the Author

Shawn D. Brink is currently building a following with four novels to his name, the latest being MY GYPSY WAR DIARY (Gabriel’s Horn Publishing). He’s also had numerous shorter works in various publications and anthologies. For a complete list of published works and/or to learn more about Shawn’s writing, please go to his website: https://shawnbrinkauthor.wordpress.com/. Shawn is represented by Liverman Literary Agency.