Into the Wheatfield

Into the Wheatfield

A Story by Colton Warr
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A soldier, husband, father, and friend caught in the gore at Gettysburg.

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“Into the Wheatfield”

A Story by Colton Warr


“Ye advocates of war, come here and look, and answer what compensation is there for this carnival of death.” Philadelphia Public Ledger, July 15 1863.


The constant call of cannon fire echoed throughout a hot, humid summer day. Salty sweat swam down the brow of 24 year old Corporal William Paxton. As he went to wipe it with his blue sleeve, he noticed that he had spaced out again, thinking of his wife and child back home. He quickly snapped out of it, and continued listening to his commanding officer, who was barking orders at him and the rest of his brigade.

 “The grey backs are moving in on our entire position here, boys, they want to see if we mean to stand our ground. Ready your weapons, check your ammunition, and send up what I hope not to be your last prayer. Hold fast boys, steady aim and steady hearts.” As he finished, he turned to the oncoming sea of grey that was moving against them.

“Another cheery speech, no?” It was Corporal John Borough who asked the question, Williams’ greatest friend.

“It was alright, wasn’t top rail though. He’s done better,” William replied with a grin. They both started to march forward along with the rest of the brigade.

“Well, I guess this is it then,” John said to William.

“What time would you say it is?” William responded, ignoring the rather cynical comment.

“My stomach says supper time,” John replied.

“As does mine,” William concurred.

William and John were in the front line of the brigade, as they were some of the more sure shooters among the men. William could see the endless Confederate wall that stood before them. There was no talking now, no more quirks, no more jokes, no more reminiscing.

“This is it, boys!” the commander yelled.

“Take aim!” he ordered. William checked his rifle one last time, and took aim toward the grey. They were close, but he had been closer. Still, he could almost make out individual markings and accessories on their uniforms.

William pulled back the hammer, and rested his pointer finger on the trigger, “Fire!”

 The entire brigade released a volley that smashed into the Confederate lines. William hit his mark. The confederates returned with a volley of their own, rapidly ripping right through the Union ranks. He could hear the whipping whisper of bullets whizzing by his head. The man to the right of William was hit. John remained unharmed to his left. As William was in the middle of reloading he looked up and saw an image that had once haunted his very dreams.

“They’re charging us, fix bayonets!” the commander ordered.

William reached down and grabbed his bayonet. He set the butt of his rifle down on the ground so he could attach it to the barrel. As he placed the bayonet at the tip, he dropped it. His hand was shaking vigorously. He reached down and picked it up. As he started again, he struggled. John interrupted, grabbing the bayonet and placing it on the barrel for him.

“D****t man!” he exclaimed. “Steady, remember your family. Remember Elizabeth, remember Sam.”

John continued. William thought of them, he could see a vision of his wife Elizabeth outside in the yard playing with their son Sam and their dog Chance. It fueled him, it gave him focus…it gave him meaning.

“Give em’ hell boys, charge!” the commander shouted.

With that command, they charged. William was running so fast he felt as if he was flying. His rifle pointed directly at his enemy, who was charging back. He picked out a man rushing directly towards him, as if he had picked William out as well; two men who knew nothing of each other’s lives, nothing of each other’s beliefs, racing towards each other with ravenous hatred, enough to kill. The two tidal waves of grey and blue crashed together with collateral damages. The man William was charging attempted to spear his chest. William managed to block it; however, he did not manage to stop running. The two men collided and William was sent twisting and tumbling to the ground. He quickly collected himself, and turned to face his opponent, only to find that John had stabbed him through the heart.

William then noticed a Confederate soldier charging John, and immediately intercepted, piercing his bayonet into his stomach and pushing him back several feet before the body slid off of the blade. He then turned to a charging Rebel, and waved his bayonet as if it was a stick with a flame at the end, slicing through the soldier’s chest. Just as he could reset himself, an enemy bayonet sliced through William’s leg. He turned and waved his bayonet at the enemy soldier, but he was met with a confederate bayonet. The two hit rifles and pulled each other in close. William fired the first punch hitting directly into his enemy’s face. The Rebel responded in turn, causing William to stumble back. This allowed the Confederate soldier to swing and slice a deep cut through William’s back. As William turned to him, he noticed he was charging, bayonet leading the way. William dodged the bayonet, but couldn’t dodge the man’s body. As they collided they both slammed into the ground. William then took advantage of this opportunity and got atop his enemy and began leveling the man’s face with haymaker after haymaker. The soldier’s face went from a pale white to a riveting red as blood began to consume his face. All of a sudden William felt a blade stick through his shoulder. The force behind the blade was enough to drive him off of his enemy and into the ground. His attacker retracted the bayonet from William’s shoulder and cocked back for another stabbing, this time it would surely be fatal.

Interrupting William’s fate was once again John, who tackled the enemy soldier to the ground. As William rose up, he unsheathed his pistol, and took aim at the nearest grey uniform, pulled back the hammer, and fired. He then repeated the process two more times. As he did, he tried to stand but only was able to get on one knee. Then it happened. A rogue bullet from a grey ghost slammed into William’s rib cage, causing him to crumble and cringe. He tried to rise up and continue firing, but couldn’t. Blood was rushing rapidly from his body. His vision began to blur. He took in his surroundings, noticing the onslaught that was now The Wheatfield. He saw men dying in ways he couldn’t even imagine. So much hate, so much brutal death.

His mind and heart escaped, the soldiers around him turned into trees and a house, his house. He saw his sweet Elizabeth. Her hair was shining as if a perfect complement to the summer sun. She looked at him and smiled. He felt something embrace his leg, catching him off guard. He looked down to see something he would never get tired of seeing, his son, Sam, holding on to his daddy’s leg.

Sam looked up at him with his big blue eyes and with a smile spoke, “Daddy!”

William could feel his heart melt. He heard a single bark. “Chance!” he said.

He looked up and saw his dog of seven years on the front porch of their house. He couldn’t help but smile. Everything was exactly how it was supposed to be. The smile slowly slipped away.

“William, honey you can’t leave us again,” Elizabeth said as she started towards him with an accelerated pace. “You promised you were done after six months. You can’t leave us again. I need you…we need you.”

William began to panic; he had been here once before, not but several months ago. “No.” he said faintly.

“You need to come home,” Elizabeth said as she was but ten feet from him.

“I will,” he responded.

“Daddy, when are you coming home?” Sam asked.

A single tear fell from William’s eye. “Soon, I promise I’ll be home soon,” he said as he looked from Sam to Elizabeth. “Just don’t give up on me.”

 As Elizabeth was but a breath away she turned to William’s left and let out a scream. The vision vanished as fast as it appeared. William turned to look at what she saw, and was greeted by the wooden butt of a Confederate’s rifle. Everything went black.

William found himself in the middle of a field, the sun sinking away in the distance. It wasn’t just any field, it was his field. He was standing in his own front lawn. He could see his house. Was he home? He began to walk toward his house excitedly. He couldn’t tell if he was dreaming or not. He thought if perhaps he saw his family it would provide him with some insight. As he arrived at the house he noticed that there was a distinct sound missing from this picture. One that had been there for years, his dog, Chance, usually greeted him, or anyone for that matter, with a barrage of barks. There were no barks. He could see light coming from the inside and heard the faint sound of voices. Maybe Chance was just inside and hadn’t noticed William. He continued up the stairs that lead to his front porch. He immediately noticed that the two old rocking chairs that he built with his own two hands had been replaced with what appeared to be brand new ones. He also noticed the addition of a table in between the two chairs. His curiosity had been aroused. He opened the front door to see the same old hallway he always saw, but the pictures on the wall had all changed. He continued to hear voices. He could make out Elizabeth and Sam, whose voices appeared to have changed. As he continued walking forward he saw the dinner table, but not their dinner table. Why was there all of this new furniture? He saw Elizabeth sitting at the end of the table smiling at someone sitting next to her. It was Sam. He was taller than William remembered, although he had been gone for some time. Still no Chance. All of the sudden something caught their attention coming from the kitchen. William looked on with an intense hesitation. A man emerged from the kitchen holding what appeared to be a freshly baked ham. He sat it down in the middle of the table and began cutting it. William’s heart dropped to his stomach. He felt sick. He was watching his family eat with another man. After cutting a few slices, the man put two of them on Elizabeth’s plate.

She replied “Thank you, Sweetie.”

William’s heart dropped again, as if it could go any further. William began to lose feeling in his legs. He began to fall, but reached out with his hand and caught himself. The terrible scene was slowly bringing him to his knees. He was in disbelief. The man then took two smaller slices and placed them onto Sam’s plate.

Sam responded, “Thank you, Dad.”

There it was. William dropped to one knee. It was as if everything he saw was a blistering bullet, breaking him down to nothing. Tears began to accumulate in his eyes. What was he seeing? What is this? He had lost his family. He wanted to speak, he wanted to say something…but he couldn’t.

William opened his eyes only to see darkness. He was breathing heavily, and fast. A faint glow from the moon, shed a simple light on the field he lay in. It was only a nightmare. Or was it? He hadn’t been home in months, how would he know what was going on? William began to look around, and noticed that he was lying in the very wheat field he had fought in earlier today. Something quickly caught his attention. He heard moaning in the distance, followed by a faint scream. He wasn’t alone in this field. He needed to see exactly where he was, he needed to move. As he went to get up, a simmering sting of pain shot through his back, shoulder and rib cage, almost as if he had forgotten he was injured. He let out of scream of agony, and laid his head back down on the ground.

“Willy!” he heard as he clinched in pain. “Willy, is that you?” the voice was close. It sounded like John.

“Johnny? That you? Where are you, John?” he called back. He stopped to listen.

“Willy…I’m hurt Willy, and in a bad way.” He heard John call out in return. William quickly tried to move again but couldn’t.

“Willy…you still there?” John called again.

“Yeah I’m still here, buddy. Listen, I’m coming over there to you, what do you say?”

William called out. “Bring some water.” He heard John respond.

“I will, I have some left in my canteen. Alright listen John, I need you to keep talking to me while I make my way over there so I know what direction to crawl, I can’t see a damn thing. Can you do that for me, buddy?” he asked.

“Hurry Will!” John replied.

William had to move fast, John could be in an even worse state than him. He placed his right hand and forearm firmly on the ground in preparation to push off with his good side to roll on his stomach and crawl. He motivated himself.

“Alright, one…two…three!” He pushed off of the ground and painfully rolled himself onto his stomach.

“Ahhh….D****t!” he expressed in a low tone, almost as if the pain was too much for him to yell.

He had never felt so much pain before in his life. The roll exposed another injury that he forgot about, his leg. He was in worse shape than he thought. He could hear John talking still. With one good leg, and one good arm thanks to the shoulder injury, he started to crawl in the direction of John’s voice. He pushed and pulled his way through what seemed to be endless rows of wheat.

“I’m on my way, Johnny, you hang in there!” he called out.

He could still hear him talking; however, he could also hear the moans and cries of other soldiers scarcely sprinkled about. Agony acted as a fog, hauntingly hovering above the field. William painfully trekked on, crawling his way through wheat and dirt. As he reached out like he had so many times before, he grasped something that was far from the usual feeling. He pulled himself closer only to discover that he was pulling something closer to him - a hand. He quickly noticed what he had, and let go. He crawled closer only to reveal that the hand was not the only thing there. William saw an entire body of a dead Confederate soldier.

“Jesus Christ,” he said under his breath.

He had never been this close to a dead soldier before, nor a dead anything for that matter. The smell was terrible. As William moved to crawl around the body, he noticed that there was another body lying very close to the first. He didn’t know how much time he had, all he could focus on was John yelling, “Will hurry!” So he began to crawl right over top of the body. It gave William an eerie feeling. It was incredibly painful for him to crawl over the body, forcing his leg into an awkward position. As he moved over the chest of the body his canteen got caught on an exposed necklace hanging around the dead soldier’s neck. William began to tug and pull at it until finally he ripped the necklace off of the neck of the dead soldier. In doing so, William revealed the main purpose of the necklace was a portrait holder. He opened it, and exposed a picture of the dead soldier’s family, a wife and a little boy. William thought of his family, and how he needed to survive this. He needed to see them again. He looked at the dead soldier’s face, and although pale and clammy now, he could see a once existent warmth of love and compassion for his family. War changes men. William set the picture on the chest of the dead soldier, and continued to crawl over the body. With one final push and a scream, he was over the body and in the clear.

“You still coming Willy?” he could hear John saying. His voice sounded much closer now. William was exhausted and the pain wasn’t going anywhere.

“I’m almost there John, stay with me, alright,” he answered in return. His mind still dwelled on his family. He called out once more.

“Just don’t give up on me.” With that he continued to press on. John’s voice sounded close but faint. As if he was losing steam.

“Keep talking Johnny,” William called out.

“I-I,” he could hear John struggle.

 “John, keep talking I’m close.” He stopped to listen. He could hear John struggle to speak.

“I-I think I’m dying, Will.” He heard John faintly struggle.

“No, hey, listen, I’m almost there, buddy, just keep talking and I’ll be there soon. I can help you, just keep talking.” William frantically responded as he tried to crawl faster and faster. After about thirty seconds, he paused to listen. Nothing.

 “John!” he called out. No response.

He attempted to peer through the wheat grass; the moon had poked through the passing clouds and provided just enough light to reveal a body.

“John!” William called out again as he started frantically towards the body. As he pushed aside the wheat to receive a full portrait of the body, the moon illuminated it enough to reveal that it was John. He pulled himself closer.

“John! I’m here, John. Listen, wake up.” He began to lightly smack his face as if to awaken him from a sleep.

“John, I’m here, it’s William.” Still no response. No movement.

“John!” William yelled. His voice filled with anger, fear, sadness and confusion.

“John!” he yelled a second time as if another attempt to awaken him. He was shaking. Tears began to stream down his face. He was staring at his greatest friend’s face, as if awaiting a miraculous revival.

Finally, he said, “I brought you water….like you asked.” He dropped his head to the ground as tears began to severely speed out from his eyes.

“You can’t leave me alone out here.”

As the night slowly passed, William remained aside the dead body of John Borough. William had rolled over onto his back.

“Do you remember what you told me on my wedding day?” William asked, with a smile on his face to an obvious no reply.

“You said, don’t ever think that my sister doesn’t love you. Because I’ve never seen anyone love someone like she loves you.” He paused as he stared up at the night sky. Seconds passed.

“I’ve done her wrong, John.” he said as if bracing for a response. He began shaking his head.

“I promised her a life so much better than the one she has now. We’re struggling to make ends meet. I promised her a life of no worries and no regrets…and sometimes I get the feeling that that’s all I have given her.” He paused again.

“I said we would get a big house with a pond so I could take her fishing, and raise our family right. I dream of that every night, John. I wanted to buy her all of these nice dresses like the ones all of her friends wear, you know? Instead…well, instead I was just trying to keep some food on the table.” He turned to look at John’s face. He then returned his glance to the sky.

“I keep telling her things are going to get better, but they never do. I-I…I just feel like I’ve been a terrible husband to your sister.” The tears started again.

“Things got so bad…” he swallowed hard, “that I volunteered to serve another tour just to get away from the house for a little bit.” He began to cry.

“I don’t deserve her but I love her so much.” He turned and looked at John’s belt which was still holding a pistol. He reached down and grabbed it from the sheath.

“She told me when you enlisted, that I need to make sure that you make it back home safe and sound…” he couldn’t finish the sentence, he just started shaking his head.

“Sometimes I just want to give up.” He pulled back the hammer of John’s pistol and brought the barrel of the gun up to his head.

“Forgive me God…” As he was about to squeeze the trigger he heard a voice.

“Will.” It was a woman’s voice.

He saw what appeared to be a light coming from his right. He turned to look.

“Will, it’s time to come home.”

It was Elizabeth, walking towards him with a stretched out hand.

“Elizabeth,” he spoke in disbelief. He could also see a soldier walking towards him, crouched beside Elizabeth.

“Soldier, it’s time to go home,” the soldier said to William. As they both arrived where William was the light began to be unbearable, almost blinding William.

“Elizabeth,” he softly spoke as the light of the vision consumed him.

“Will, Sweetie, wake up. You must’ve fallen asleep out here all by yourself.”

William opened his eyes to be greeted by the sight of the most beautiful women he would ever see.

“Elizabeth,” he said to her.

Elizabeth moved to sit across his lap. William noticed he was sitting in the rocking chair he had built on the front porch of a larger and much grander house.

“Were you dreaming?” Elizabeth asked with a smile on her face.

“It was more like a nightmare,” William replied.

“About what?” Elizabeth asked.

“Doesn’t matter, everything is as it should be now that I have you,” he responded.

Elizabeth smiled even more following the comment. William noticed that she was wearing a very elegant dress, accented by a spectacular golden necklace.

“What is it?” Elizabeth asked.

“You look beautiful,” William responded.

Her smile could not be any bigger, she pulled him in for a kiss. The kiss was cut short, however, by Sam and Chance running out from the front door and down the stairs into the vastness that was their yard towards a pond that comfortably rested not too far from the house. Elizabeth and William both laughed.

“Mom, come here!” Sam yelled excitedly.

Elizabeth looked back at William, “I love you,” she said.

“I love you too,” he replied back.

Elizabeth rose up from his lap and went to accompany Sam and Chance by the pond. William watched as Elizabeth went down to watch Sam try and catch his first fish on his own while Chance lay next to the excited boy. He couldn’t help but smile and laugh. This was perfect; this was the way everything should be.

He couldn’t help but think to himself, “This must be what heaven looks like.”

A cool summer’s breeze blew through and swirled its way through their porch, knocking a newspaper off of the table that sat next to his rocking chair. He reached down to pick it up and place it back where it belonged. As he was collecting the various pages, he caught a glimpse of a page with a list of names of fallen soldiers over the past few months. It gave names, rank, a little background and cause of death.

As he skimmed over the page he heard, “Dad, I got one!” from his boy. He looked up and saw that Sam was indeed battling a fish.

He smiled. “I’ll be right there,” he replied.

He looked back down at the page as he stood up.

“Hurry up Dad, I almost got him!”

He stopped reading and sat the paper down and headed to the pond. The only thing he really remembered from the paper is that some soldier committed suicide in a Wheatfield at the Battle of Gettysburg. He had more important matters to attend to now, though. He could read it after he watched his son catch his first fish. As he walked to the pond the newspaper he left behind sat on the table next to his rocking chair. The wind playfully teased with it, slowly and slightly moving it. Another big gust blew through and yet again swirled through the front porch, but this time, captured in its whirlwind was the newspaper and all of its truth, being carelessly carried away, and forever foolishly forgotten.                                  

© 2014 Colton Warr


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Reviews

Once again, a wonderful write. Great characters. Very well done.

Posted 4 Years Ago


Colton Warr

4 Years Ago

Thank you very much, my friend! I'm happy you enjoyed the story and its characters! Thank you for st.. read more
Couldn't stop reading. An excellent story so full of emotion. Very well done.

Posted 4 Years Ago


Colton Warr

4 Years Ago

Thank you very much! I'm happy you enjoyed the story! I appreciate your kind words! You are too swee.. read more
This is a great story. Your description of the battlefield and the wounded men was excellent, and your dialogue realistic. But you had William go home three times, and that's too many. It made things confusing. The ending is fine. William found his paradise. But it could have been found by a less complicated route.

I always enjoy reading about the Civil war, and I really enjoyed reading this.

Posted 4 Years Ago


Colton Warr

4 Years Ago

Thank you so much, Marie! I'm glad you enjoyed this story! The American Civil War is my favorite are.. read more
[send message][befriend] Subscribe
MJ
I hope you know how beautiful this is.

Posted 4 Years Ago


Colton Warr

4 Years Ago

Thank you very much, MJ! You are too kind! I appreciate the positive words! I'm so happy you liked t.. read more
MJ

4 Years Ago

Looking forward to more :)
I like that you make us think the reenactment is real. I'm torn about the last line. I like the meaning of it (that he is remembering the violence and forgetting the truth), and I usually like alliteration but perhaps two sets of three is too much?
Thinking back to the beginning there are hints that this is a reenactment. Cool :)

Well done.

Posted 4 Years Ago


Colton Warr

4 Years Ago

Thank you very much! Yeah I have been on the fence about that line every since I penned it, actually.. read more
I feel like this definitely captures the essence of war and violence. An amazing piece really. I wrote a poem on the same subject and it would mean a lot if you could go review it :) A really well penned piece here though hun.

Posted 4 Years Ago


Colton Warr

4 Years Ago

Thank you very much!! I appreciate you giving this a read and commenting! I'm glad you enjoyed this... read more
Wow, a compelling and engaging story that has so many threads--the horrors of war, the love of family, the hope of an afterlife. And it's vividly descriptive and expertly worded. Well done and so deserving of the contest win. I'm very happy to have read this.

Posted 4 Years Ago


Colton Warr

4 Years Ago

Thank you so much for the kind words Jennie! I appreciate you stopping by and giving this a read and.. read more
Jennie Baron

4 Years Ago

My pleasure and you're very welcome.
Congratulations on this story's win in the Need Reviews? I contest! It was well earned!

-Mila

Posted 4 Years Ago


Colton Warr

4 Years Ago

Thank you so much Mila!! I am honored! That's awesome, thanks for choosing this story!
A very human story...thoughtful and drawing.

Posted 5 Years Ago


Colton Warr

5 Years Ago

Thank you very much for reading through this and commenting. I was not only trying to capture the hu.. read more
A story that I put together some time ago, share your thoughts, I would love to hear some feedback! Thanks guys.

Posted 5 Years Ago



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Added on September 29, 2014
Last Updated on September 29, 2014
Tags: War, History, Battle, Friend, Love

Author

Colton Warr
Colton Warr

Richmond, VA



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