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Authors: Michael Shoulders

Crossing the Deadline

BOOK: Crossing the Deadline
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Text Copyright © 2016 Michael Shoulders

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the publisher, except in the case of brief excerpts in critical reviews and articles. All inquiries should be addressed to:

2395 South Huron Parkway, Suite 200

Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Printed and bound in the United States.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Shoulders, Michael, author.

Title: Crossing the deadline : Stephen's journey through the Civil War / by Michael Shoulders.

Description: Ann Arbor, MI : Sleeping Bear Press, 2016. | Summary: Stephen, an accomplished bugler in the town band, joins the Union effort in the Civil War and endures trial after trial, from battle to Confederate prison and the shipwreck of the steamboat
but through luck and fortitude, Stephen survives.

Identifiers: LCCN 2015033876 | ISBN 9781585369515

Subjects: LCSH: Musicians—Fiction. | Soldiers—Fiction. | CYAC: United

States—History—Civil War, 1861–1865—Fiction.

Classification: LCC PZ7.S558833 Cr 2016 | DDC [Fic]–dc23

LC record available at

Cover art:

Stars and stripes graphic ©

Soldier graphic by Felicia Macheske for Sleeping Bear Press

For Debbie Shoulders



Part One: Centerville, Indiana

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Part Two: The South

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

Part Three: Homeward Bound

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Six

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-One

Chapter Forty-Two

Chapter Forty-Three

Chapter Forty-Four

Chapter Forty-Five

Author's Note

About the Author


April 17, 1861

“You have to hurry, Stephen,” my brother, Robert, called as he swung around the fence post and into the corral. He was out of breath from running to Clem's Livery, where I was mucking stalls. “Dad's going, and it's happening soon.”

I'd been expecting that moment for days, dreading it. Dad had coughed up blood all the night before. The air in our room at the boardinghouse was filled with the stench from his soiled sheets. The doctor told us it wouldn't be long. I shouldn't have left the house when I did, but cleaning up after the horses for my uncle was better than having to watch it happen.

Robert turned and ran home, but I took time to scrub the pitchfork and hang it back next to the buckets on the wall. Scraping manure from my boots with a stick ate up a
couple more minutes. I'd never seen anybody die, and Dad did not need to be my first. For months, consumption had slowly been eating his body like a flame chewing a candle.

Telegraphs from relatives in Pennsylvania and New York had arrived, expressing regrets of his pending death as if witnessing last breaths was as sacred as attending church. “Sadly, we're unable to accept the solemn honor of accompanying James at his death,” an aunt wrote.

What honor?

On the way home, Paddy's Run, a creek just north of town, appeared on my right. It reminded me of the summer before and how we'd picnicked there every Sunday. Dad chased Mom with crawdads around trees, bushes, and into the creek. He threatened to let them pinch her. She shrieked like a train whistle, all the while knowing he'd never allow anything to harm a hair on her head. One time Dad fell asleep under a tree, and Mom offered a nickel to me or Robert, whoever came back first with a crawdad. Robert, seven years older than me, beat me and presented her with a large brown one. He pinned its tail on the ground while Mom squeezed its back between her finger and thumb. Lifting the crawdad with a firm hold, she placed its pinchers above Dad's lip until it found his nose and latched on tight as a tick.

I never heard Dad yelp so loud or Mom laugh so long.

When I arrived, the boardinghouse was quiet; a rarity since there were six rooms rented on the second floor. It was wrong, but as I closed the door I said a quick prayer asking God to have taken Dad during my walk home. I made my way past the large dining room, where we ate with strangers. Mother hated mealtime because we shared a table with renters who came and left with the wind. Most of the time we ate in silence as if everybody were wooden statues.

Mother had said many times, “Boys, one day we'll have a place of our own and a dinner table where we can talk and say anything without a care in the world.”

But consumption took every penny my parents had put aside for a home. Dad hadn't worked in months—his weight melted away. Mom worried what she would do with two boys once Dad was gone. Lines she called crow's-feet appeared at the corners of her eyes, and she'd gaze into space for the longest time, as if in a trance. But I knew she was thinking, worrying, and wondering about how she was going to get by with three mouths to feed.

I climbed the stairs, opened the door to our room, and crossed to my bed. The doctor stood nearby, looking on, and Robert leaned against the wall, arms crossed. Dad's head was
cocked back, almost facing the wall behind him, his eyes closed and mouth open wide like he were trying to catch snowflakes on his tongue. Beneath a blanket, his chest heaved and stalled for several seconds and fell back down. Over and over his body repeated the motion. Mom sat holding Dad's hand soft-like as if she had a butterfly between her palms.

Out of nowhere the smell of gardenias or honeysuckle filled the air, impossible in April, but I clearly detected a sweet scent. Dad's chest rose and fell faster and faster as the aroma grew stronger. If anybody else noticed, they didn't say. The blanket lowered, and I studied it like it were a fishing pole and we were waiting for a fish to take the bait. Then, as if somehow the doctor and the smell were tied together by an invisible thread, the aroma became overpowering and pulled the doctor nearer the bed, where he placed two fingers on Dad's wrist.

“He's gone,” he pronounced quietly. Just as fast, the sweet smell left the room, and Mom began to weep softly.

It was mid-April, and our stay was paid up for the month. If Mother had figured out what she was going to do, she hadn't shared it with anyone. Dad was always the loving husband. As if he wanted to give her one last gift, he died
with two weeks left in the month. Mother would have time to plan where the three of us would live come May.

The night of the funeral, after we went to bed, I heard Mom and Robert whispering. “I'm looking for work in the morning,” Mom said. “You'll need to go ask your uncle Clem if he'll rent his spare room to us. We have to be out of here in ten days.”

* * *

“I've moved a few things under the stairs and fit in an extra bed for the boys,” Uncle Clem said, glancing at Robert and me. “It may be a bit cramped.”

Mother looked down at the floor and said, “We'll make do, Clem. Won't we, boys?”

“We'll be fine,” Robert said, smiling.

I squeezed Mother's hand. “Yeah, don't worry about us.”

“Are you going to be able to pay every month?” Uncle Clem was more concerned with making money from the room than seeing to it that his brother's family was okay.

“Dutch posted he needed a servant to clean floors and carry coal and hot water to guest rooms,” Mother said. “He offered me the job, and I begin tomorrow.”

“You've never worked before. Can you handle it?”

“Well, there's no better time to learn,” she said.

“What's he paying?” Uncle Clem pried.

“Five dollars a month, plus meals on the days I work.”

Uncle Clem grunted in approval.

Through late spring and summer things seemed fine. Mother left home after putting breakfast on the table and stayed at Dutch's Mansion House until early evening. She came home and cooked for the four of us before dropping dog-tired into bed. But it wasn't long before Uncle Clem got an itch to get more money out of her.

“Weren't you paying twice what I charge when you were at the boardinghouse? It seems five dollars is practically giving my room away.”

“You weren't getting anything for it sitting empty,” Mother replied.

“That's not the point. It's what the room is worth that's important.”

“I also cook and clean for you, Clem. So I think what I pay is more than fair.”

Robert, with disgust wrinkled across his face, got up from the kitchen table to leave the room. My uncle raised his arm and braced himself against the doorframe, blocking
Robert's path. “Maybe the three of you'd be better off at the poorhouse, where they take in people who can't afford to live on their own.”

Mother pursed her lips and left the kitchen through the side door that led into the yard.

“Stephen, I need to talk to your brother,” Uncle Clem said. “Go down to the hardware and get a pound of nails. I need to work on the porch tomorrow afternoon.”

That night, after they thought I was sleeping, Robert told Mother how he was tired of Uncle Clem complaining about how she was not pulling her weight. “I'm the man of the house now that Dad's gone,” he whispered. “It's my responsibility to take care of you and Stephen. I don't want us living off charity.”

“It's too dangerous,” Mother pleaded.

“What skills do I have?” Robert asked. “I'm eighteen and can soldier for the Union Army. I won't gamble any pay away, so you don't have to worry about that. I promise I'll send as much home as possible.”

Mother wept, knowing his mind was made up. “I don't know if I can do it . . . worry about you every day you're gone.”

“Maw, the war's been going on for five months and won't continue much longer, maybe a couple months at most.
It will give us a chance to decide what to do. Besides, while I'm gone, you and Stephen will have a roof over your heads. Neighbors will pitch in if things get desperate,” Robert reassured her.

A week later we said good-bye to Robert at the train depot. He dug into his pocket and produced a shiny gold object. “Here, Mother, I bought you something to remember me by.” It was a neck brooch, the size of a dollar piece, with a quarter moon smiling at a sky of stars. “I want you to think of me every time you wear it.”

Mother nodded and stared at the gleaming object in her hand. She turned it over and over, crying. She glanced at Robert's face but only for a split second. Her eyes darted back to the brooch. “It's beautiful,” she whispered between quiet sobs.

Robert gently retrieved the brooch and with his right hand lifted her chin. He unclasped the pin and fastened it beneath her neck.

BOOK: Crossing the Deadline
11.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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