End of days for a war hero.
Joshua’s nose twitched. The smell of charcoal and the crackling sound of wood burning brought his brain to alertness. He fumbled out of bed … why was he in bed? There was a war going on. He had to get out of this house…. Why was he in a house? There was a war going on. Joshua soon lost his way in the smoke filled air. Digging at the floorboards, trying to find something familiar, the smoke filling his lungs, he finally beseeched all things holy, “Please,God, some rain.” A thousands of red coats rained down on him.
Joshua returned the stares of the men in the tent. He wiped the sweat from his brow, wiping the spittle from his chin. He took deep breathes to let his heartbeat return to something more like normal, and let the shrillness of his scream fade from his ears. “Bad dream. Continue with what you were doing.”
The men returned their focus to the paperwork. They knew. Joshua spent many a sleepless night himself to avoid the night terrors. This was the part of war none of them talked about and rarely acknowledged. Sleep was soon becoming the enemy for all of them.
Joshua listened carefully to the strategists. He had lost several of his best officers in this battle. He did not want to know, but something was eating at them and he was the commanding officer. “Who did we lose?”
Joshua dragged his hand over his face as Mack gave him the rundown of casualties. “And that’s not all, sir, ammunition is running low.
“I need to think on this.” He pulled the tent flap back, tentatively moving out, listening for every distant sound that was out of place, nose twitching …searching for familiar smells … Ah, there it is, coffee…was that intelligent? If I can smell it, the lobsterbacks can, too. What did it matter at this point?
The dawn rose with the haze of smoke from cannon fire heavy in the air. It would be a long day. The rapid hooves pounding the ground announced the arrival of the scouts. They did not look happy. A knowing look and Joshua knew they would soon be in the thick of things.
Barney was out of ideas. In all of his years as a commanding officer, he did not have a plan. He demanded from the remaining officers, “Options.”
His men looked back and forth at each other. Mack finally stepped up, “Retreat.”
“Prepare for battle. We will hold out as long as we can. Get a runner to advise regiment.”
Joshua heard the explosion. In what seemed like slow motion, Joshua saw the musketball coming at him. He knew he moved, he had to have moved, and felt the hot ball tearing through flesh in his thigh and come to rest there. Barney looked at the bleeding gaping wound, “Joshua, you will not empty the bag now. Plenty of time for that later.” Joshua took aim at aggressor and fired. The man grabbed his right eye as he fell to the ground. “Good thing you did not eat breakfast this morning, Joshua. That be one less lobsterback to contend with.” Joshua tied off a quick knot to stem the blood, but would not leave the battlefield for medical attention.
Joshua stayed upright by sheer force of will. Commanding forces in the thick of battle briefly obscured the very real things that were happening with the loss of blood. Joshua grabbed the first soldier within earshot, “Tom, my lad, promise me you will get the men out of this godforsaken place and regroup.”
“Sir? It sounds like you are giving up.”
“Look at it, man! We are almost out of ammunitions, I can’t walk, you are not much better. Can you get the men off the field to regroup?”
“You have a field promotion to Captain. Do you duty.”
Joshua did not want to give the order, but choices had run out. “Troops! Retreat! Spike the guns and retreat! Tom, you’re in charge. Get them off the field! Go.”
The men found a ground a short distance from the battery to deposit Barney underneath a bush, then made good their retreat. One officer remained at his side, but Barney, with his guns silenced and his men retired from the battlefield, resigned himself to becoming, once again, a British prisoner of war.
It was not long before the British swarmed the American position. Barney lay prostrate and bleeding in the bushes to one side of the thoroughfare. When he was discovered, Admiral Cockburn was quickly summoned, along with Major General Ross.
Though in pain and weakened by loss of blood, Barney offered the first salvo. “Well, Admiral, you have got hold of me at last.”
“Do not let us speak on that subject, Commodore. I regret to see you in this state. I hope you are not seriously hurt.”
Ross was also respectful in his congratulations, “I am really very glad to see you, Commodore.”
Barney still had some spit and vinegar in him. “I am sorry I cannot return you the compliment, General.”
At that, Ross turned to Cockburn. “I told you it was the flotilla man.” Cockburn smiled. “Yes! You were right, though I could not believe you. They have given us the only fighting we have had.”
Joshua could not resist one more parley. “Ain’t no one going to argue with that…ain’t no one going to agree with it either.”
Barney watched a smirk spread across Cockburn’s face. “Ross, see that the Commodore is alive long enough to see our … activity in Washington.” Admiral Cockburn paced in front of Barney a few times before sitting on his haunches to be face level with Joshua, “Never underestimate me, Commodore. Silencing your wicked tongue will be my personal pleasure.”
Joshua pulled the lining off the cuff of his jacket and stuffed it in his mouth. Hell would freeze over before he allowed his captors see him cry. He would have preferred to be tied on a horse, but the Brits got too much pleasure watching him moan in the back of the wagon. Joshua could not be sure, but from the smell of things, he was convinced this wagon was once used to haul manure. They were worse than the monsters who murdered his brothers, and all the others in between, it was almost as if they bred only evil in that godforsaken place. He lost count of the friends and family and fellow brothers in arms lost to those bastards.
Holding his breath and chomping on the uniform was exhausting. He was able to sleep, albeit fitfully, for the long slow rut-riddled ride to a hilly overview of the Capital. Joshua was allowed several seconds to gain consciousness before being yanked out of the wagon and planted for the best view of Washington burning.
A tear slid down Joshua’s cheek. He choked out, “You, sir, are a horse’s arse. You will pay for this. My only regret is that I am not the one that will end your life.”
Cockburn laughed in delight. “Shut your bloody mouth.”
Joshua still had some spirit left although it was slipping fast. “Go to hell.”
Cockburn declined, “I think not.”
Joshua’s smugness was replaced with surprise. He looked down and tried to staunch the flow of blood from the gaping hole in his belly. His last sight on earth was a cloud of smoke dissipating to reveal that blasted grin sliding across Cocburn’s face. His last memory would be the smell of burning and screams of people trying to save themselves. He had to have the last word, “It’s not over….”
Joshua felt a lightness that was refreshing. He looked down upon the prone figure of the body he used on earth. "I told you, Admiral, it's not over."