This week our word prompt 'Heart’. In this excerpt Clayton and Zeke share a terrifying moment that leads to some great tenderness.
A note for my readers: This is a gay romance novel, and so the romance that occurs is man on man. If this is not your cup of tea, no one will think less of you if you read no further. Also, this excerpt contains graphic imagery, so the same note applies.
As this is my NaNo work, it is quite rough. I do ask that you overlook any glaring mistakes you may find. Please do check out the other wonderful writers after you`re done reading by clicking on the Tuesday Tales link at the bottom. Thanks for stopping in!
The ground shook. It shook and I screamed. The earth blew apart. The heavy thing on me was blasted off. My face was coated with thick slime. The air reeked of death. I rolled to my side, nose leaking vomit and snot, clawing at the puddles not yet soaked into the soil of a battleground far away. Jeph and Harland, they joined together, calling from the other side of the heavenly veil for me come rescue them. Then their voices warped around the horn of an infantry charge.
I clawed at my eyes, desperate to see lest I be run over. A tree blew apart beside me. Slivers of sharp poplar hit a man walking beside me in the head. His brain began to weep from his ear. I spun and ran. I ran from the dead men and from the cannon balls. I ran from Jeph and Harland. My feet tangled as I escaped.
I fell into a burial mound. The dead pulled me into the undulating pile. Maggots rolled from eyes, ears, noses, mouths. Rebecca asked why I had let them abuse her so as she tried to embrace me. I screamed until my throat bled. I could not escape. Jeph held me down. Harland tried to kiss me. No matter what, the horns continued to blare, the cannons rumbled on without stop, the marching feet of a hundred thousand Union soldiers joined in the maddening cacophony of death, regret, self-loathing, and cowardice.
I do not know what it was that broke through the horror. Perhaps it was his voice, or the touch of his hand on my bare back. Mayhap it was the heat of his naked body next to mine. The moon was the first thing I saw when my eyes flew open. I then began to scream. Endless, screeching shrieks of ghastly terrors that bounced off the bluebonnets as I flailed against the nightmares of my perpetual yesterdays. Dog came out of the waving flowers, his ears flat to his skull. Zeke shook me soundly. I could hear him talking but I could not leave the dream behind.
There I sat, curled into a ball, my body trembling and cold, with my lover cradling me to him. How long? How long did the night terror last? Minutes? Hours? Days? Years? I dare not guess. I could not guess. It did abate though. Eventually, with his whispers in my ear and his hand resting so gently on the back of my neck, the caterwauling dwindled down to the sound of a pathetic man weeping feebly. He asked what tortures me so. He nearly begged. When I could form words, I tried to explain. He was sleeping beside me, taking me into his body. He had the right to know so he could draw back from this love affair.
“I ran from the army. I hid like - like a coward, I left my unit, my friend, my lover, and I ran. I was scared neigh unto death of the war. Of – of seeing the life leave another person I cared about,” I confessed, a light wind rolling over acres and acres of grassy pastureland. I began to shudder uncontrollably. “I saw friends with gaping holes in them. It sickened me. I couldn`t make sense of it all. The death . . . the bodies . . . sweet Baby Jesus the bodies were everywhere! You couldn`t walk without stepping on a dead man, or one who wished he was. The ground was soaked with blood . . . it bubbled up between the blades of dark green with every step. Legs, arms, guts . . . they were tossed hither and yon. Cannon balls, God bless us but the cannon balls . . .”
The flash and sounds of battle threatened to engulf me. The screams, the tinny smell of blood, the aroma of internal organs exposed to the air. The glassy eyes of a boy no older than fourteen after I had driven a bayonet into his neck . . . the blood, it pulsed out of him as his brown eyes grew dimmer and dimmer and dimmer . . . it sucked me in again. I was powerless against the dark tide.
I wished I could say I shoved the sign of empathy away, or drew back to punch Zeke when his hand lighted on my shoulder. I did neither. Something inside of me broke into a million droplets of Clayton Moore at that touch. Zeke turned me around then tugged me to his chest. I have no clue what he said as he stroked overgrown tendrils of sandy blond hair from my wet cheeks. I think he was speaking Tonkawa. I was sobbing too strongly to tell.
Soon the racking shudders went away. The deafening noise of the cannons and muskets and screams of the dying ebbed back slowly. My arms were tight around my deputy. My nose buried in his neck. I opened my eyes, saw that inflamed rope brand on his neck, and gently pressed my lips to the mark he would always carry.
“Quiet now,” he said a moment later. I shook my head yet did not move. Not that I could have if I had so desired. “I am so sorry for you - for the war, I didn`t know . . . I mean I suspected but, damn, Pan . . .”
“She died because I am a coward. What happens to Boyden is because of my cowardice.” Lord, but the words would not stop coming now. His hands moved over my back in a circular motion. Dog was nearby. I could hear his nose working the ground. The horses as well were close now. My hands rested on Zeke`s lower back. One of the horses nickered. I flinched involuntarily. Zeke drew back, cupped my face between his hands, and stared into my eyes. Probably looking away would have been smart. No one ever said I was overly intelligent.
“You got something strong inside your head,” he whispered. I cleared my throat, still shaking like the lone leaf on a wintery tree.
“They said- they say it`s soldier`s heart. I had heard the army doctors call it that,” I panted staring at the round black center of his deep brown eyes. “Soldier`s heart. Feel my heart. It is set to break out of my chest.”
Zeke did as asked. He nodded after a moment. His right hand had slid down my neck. His thumb was moving in a calming motion over my rapidly beating jugular.
“Sometimes,” I whispered wiggling in closer. Nothing but the feel of his chest to mine could ease the fibrillations of my heart it seemed. He gathered me against him. “Sometimes they say it`s nostalgia. I am not nostalgic about cannons or intestines slipping from bayonet wounds,” I snorted, trying in vain to make light of the terror draining away. A gust lifted Zeke`s hair from his back. It blew it over my face. I found great peace in the feel, texture, and smell of his hair. “I fear I have lost a part of my sanity.”
“Sanity is not what you have lost,” he told me, his voice cracking with overuse, or perhaps sentiment? “What you have lost is your faith in your own worth. Others see it. You will as well in time.”
He placed a kiss to my trembling lips then he moved away to gather our clothes. I instantly mourned the loss. After he aided me in dressing we lay back down, face to face, his arm around me. He held me thusly until the darkness of night was gone.
Copyright 2013 ©by V.L. Locey
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