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Authors: Chris Shanley-Dillman

Echoes of Dark and Light

BOOK: Echoes of Dark and Light
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For my three favorite people: my mom, my dad, and my husband, David.

The predawn darkness surrounded the us, creeping into every crevice, until I almost felt smothered. I forced soiled air into my lungs, heavy with the odors of unwashed soldiers, gunpowder and decay, and tried to silently repositioned my cramping muscles. Anxiety ate at my nerves as the minutes dragged far beyond the scheduled strike time; something had gone wrong. Disembodied voices, scratchy with fatigue and trepidation, began murmuring through the shadows around me.

“It should have blown by now.”

“The fuse is a dud.”

“Someone should check it out.”

“No, give it more time.”

“I knew this wouldn’t work.”

“Look, Lieutenant Colonel Pleasants is sending in two guys to check out the problem!”

Within a few moments, the two soldiers scurried back out of the mine as fast as they could run. They’d relit the burned-out fuse. A moment passed with held breath…silence…

Then the sleeping ridgeline exploded in a blinding, deafening roar.

Rocks, dust, debris, soldiers blasted into the night sky.

Complete confusion.

Soldiers scattering. Soldiers buried. Soldiers burning. Soldiers dead. Alive.

Forces trapped in trenches with no ladders.

Mass congestion in the sixty by thirty foot crater.

Rebels firing cannons and rifles into the sea of blue uniforms.

Shouting, screaming, silent cries.

My body reacted automatically while my brain froze in horror. We charged into the crater, rifles raised and loaded.

“Bobbi!”

The faint call of my name whispered through the pine trees, and I turned around in a mixture of curiosity and annoyance. I’d purposely left home before daybreak in hopes of avoiding nosy neighbors. I’d thoroughly thought out every detail and possible consequence that might result from my actions, and no matter what happened, I would follow through and succeed. My plan was relatively simple: sneak aboard the first train leaving Marquette, Michigan, head south until I encountered the action exploding between the North and the South, join up with one of the Union armies, and then find my older brother, Robert … all while convincing the world that I was a boy.

I expected to find Robert and get us both back home to the Upper Peninsula by next spring at the latest, and I didn’t want to waste a moment getting started. I didn’t have time to chat with folks asking after Gran and my younger brother, or listen to those offering condolences for poor dead Robert, the war hero. Especially since I knew with all of my heart and soul that Robert still lived and breathed, somewhere. Not that I had any evidence to back that up. In fact, all I did have was the letter stating that Robert Rivers of the Union Sharpshooters, Company 17, had been reported missing in action from the Battle of Gettysburg and presumed dead. Okay, so he might be missing, but no way was he dead. Robert and I had a special connection; we could almost read each other’s thoughts, could feel what the other felt. I would know if his heart had stopped beating. So I intended to find him and bring him home. If most folks knew my plan, they would just shake their heads in pity at the poor little girl so lost without her big brother. That’s why most folk didn’t know, just Gran, my little brother, and my good friend Emma. And on the off chance that my gut had misled me for the first time in my seventeen years and Robert really did lay dead somewhere… well, I had to know the truth, and if possible, I would bring his body home.

As I waited, peering into the pre-dawn shadows for who had called my name, I pulled my coat closed against the chilly, end of September wind gusts. Heavy frost blanketed Gran’s front yard, along with all other uncovered surfaces surrounding Marquette, causing my footsteps to crunch loudly in the sleeping village. Winter would settle in soon, bringing gusting winds, bitter below zero temperatures, foot after foot of falling snow, and the slow steady freezing over of the massive Lake Superior. It seemed an unlikely event, the freezing of such a large and alive body of water, and Lake Superior herself seemed to protest the very idea, crashing with energetic force against the shoreline two hundred yards to the north of where I stood.

A heavily cloaked figure emerged from the dark forest, sitting astride a trotting black horse. The clip clop of the horse’s hooves against the frozen ground echoed in the empty roadway, and almost seemed to continue in a ghost-like echo as she pulled to a halt in front of me. Her hooded face, reddened from the cold, eased into a big smile.

“Emma! What are you doing here?”

Taking hold of the wiry black mane, Emma swung her skirted leg over the bare back of the horse and slid to the ground. Her small frame disappeared behind the horse, but she quickly reappeared, holding the reins loosely in her hand. She paused to catch her breath, her exhales mixing with those of the horse, visible clouds of condensation in the frosty air.

“I couldn’t let you go without saying goodbye,” Emma said, grinning up at me.

Shaking my head, I couldn’t help but smile in return. “You didn’t have to.”

“Yes, I did. Bobbi, you are my dearest friend in the whole world, and are about to embark on an almost impossible mission—”

“Impossible?” A spark of anger bristled the hairs on the back of my neck.

“I said, almost impossible,” she quickly injected. “If anyone can actually pull off this ingenious scheme, it’s you.”

The anger slipped away with my heavy sigh; I couldn’t stay mad at her. Still, I maintained the scowl on my face just to tease her. “What do you mean by scheme? I prefer to think of this as a well thought out plan.”

“You are going to travel hundreds of miles, deep into the depths of a deadly war, all the while lying to everyone you meet, including deceiving the entire Union Army. That sounds like a scheme to me. I seriously don’t know how you’re going to do it, convincing everyone that you’re a boy.” She tucked her soft black hair behind her ear, her eyes dark with worry. “If you get caught, you’ll be in a heap of trouble.”

I shrugged and continued walking. “That part of the plan isn’t going to be the problem. I’ve practically been a boy in every way except the actual parts for years. As long as nobody catches me with my pants down, my secret is safe.”

Emma smiled absently at my attempted humor as she dragged her feet over the frozen ruts. The reins trailed loosely in her fingertips, the horse following closely behind her. I had only met her last May, and in the short time I’d known her, I’d come to realize what a good friend I’d found in Emma Truckey, and how lucky I was to know the entire Truckey family. Well, except Emma’s pa, whom I hadn’t met yet. He captained an infantry for the Union Army. As a general rule, I rarely let people into my heart; I just didn’t trust them. But despite my best intentions in keeping Emma at arm’s length, she had wiggled under my defenses and quickly became my dearest friend.

“Bobbi, I’m worried sick about you. Okay, sure, you probably will pull it off, pretending to be a boy. Though there is a lot more to being a boy than shooting a gun and wearing trousers. But you’ll deal with that as you work through your plan; your lanky height and lack of curves are a definite help, though I hope nobody looks too closely at your thickly-lashed blue eyes. But what I’m really worried about is where you’re heading. Goodness, Bobbi, you’re going to war! People will be shooting at you, trying to kill you…”

All humor drained from my body as I took in her words. Emma had a good point. War meant death. Our country’s war had already taken thousands of lives since starting in 1861, not even counting the lives of the Negroes caught up involuntarily in the unforgivable act of slavery. Now, in September of 1863, the end of the war continued to evade everyone’s eyes. My plan would put me right in the middle of the action, right in the middle of battle.

“Bobbi?”

Emma’s quiet voice dragged me back to my friend. “Yeah?”

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

I turned toward her, giving her my full attention. “I have to find my brother, alive or dead. Preferably the former.”

BOOK: Echoes of Dark and Light
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