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Vision of War

I don’t do battlefields.  Oh, it’s not because I am against history.  Nope, the truth is I’m psychic and I find battlefields…overwhelming is the best word I can come up with.   The fact of the matter is, I don’t deal at all well with being psychic, having been raised in a family of scientists and “seeing is believing” kind of people.  I was the only one on either side of my family who had any sort of ESP, and it made things rather difficult growing up.  For instance, when my high school class took a trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, I fainted as soon as I stepped out of the bus, overhelmed by the smells and sounds of the Civil War battle which I saw raging before my eyes.  It was freaky.  And embarassing.  Pretty much the story of my life.  Anyway, after that, I decided to avoid battlefields.  
      But when I moved to Virginia with my new husband a few years later, I knew it was going to be hard to avoid battlefields.  My new husband was a history buff – which made it all the more likely that I was going to be dragged off to one or more places that I’d find psychically uncomfortable. 
      Fortunately, my husband – unlike my family – was a firm believer in psychic phenomenon.  He’d better be.  His mother was a white witch.  She and I had bonded right from the start, and it was thanks to her that I was gradually coming to accept my psychic birthright at last. 
      When my husband suggested a day trip to Fredericksburg, I put him off until I had a chance to call my Mama-in-law.  She suggested that I give it a try.  I was much older now than I had been when I visited Gettysburg, and I’d spent nearly a year practicing some of the techniques she’d taught me for channeling and controlling my psychic abilities.  This would be a good test for me. 
      So we went to Fredericksburg on a sunny weekend in September.  Fredericksburg was the scene of three major Civil War battles, but we decided to visit just one that day, since this was my very first “battlefield recovery trip” – as my husband dubbed our excursion.  We chose the Battle of Fredericksburg as the location of choice, and my husband was careful to park our car under the shade of a big tree near the bookstore – just in case I needed to retreat there while he toured the battlefield and cemetery. 
      As soon as I stepped out of the car, I smelled gunpowder and sweat and just a hint of blood in the air.  I took a deep breath and began a meditation ritual that Sylvia had taught me.  The ritual calmed my nerves and my husband kept his hand in mine to keep me grounded in the present as we strolled to the visitor center.  We saw a film about the battle first, to refresh our memories about the history of this place.   Then we set off into the warm sunshine to look at the recreation of the old stone wall beside the sunken road where Lee’s army had successfully repulsed the Union forces on a foggy December day so long ago. 
      As we approached the stone wall, I shivered.  The air around me felt cold and clammy, as if a fog had descended upon me.  I clutched my husband’s hand and blinked, trying to see the sunlight through the mist gathering around my eyes. 
     Breathe, I reminded myself.  Breathe. 
      I could hear canon firing from somewhere above me, and the sharp smell of gunfire was in my nostrils.  I stopped for a moment, and my husband stopped with me.  I felt his hand in mine, but couldn’t see him anymore.  For a moment, I felt the same panic that had overwhelmed me at Gettysburg.  But my Mama-in-law had told me to relax and go with it, and so I took in another deep breath and looked around me.  And saw…
     I saw a wide field covered with men’s bodies where a moment before had been houses and trees.  I saw a line of men in blue staggering futilely forward under heavy gunfire, barely able to get off a shot against the Confederates lined against them.  Blood and smoke were everywhere.  I gasped – and the scene disappeared. 
     I blinked in the sudden warmth and sunshine, and found my husband watching me quizzically.  “Okay?” he asked me.  I nodded, speechless, and allowed him to lead me along the paved walkway to the first of the printed signs explaining the battle. 
     We meandered slowly along the sunken lane, which was fairly silent – psychically speaking – except for a Southern man’s voice ordering the men to “fire”.  Then we paused for a moment beside a white house next to the stone wall, looking in the windows to see one of the interior walls that still contained bullet holes from the battle.  Suddenly, the shimmering rose up around me again.  I took a deep breathe…
      …And was suddenly conscious of a quaking fear deep in my gut, of a fierce resolution to do my duty, not matter what.   I looked up and saw a wide expanse of field in front of me.  I was pushing my way resolutely forward, holding my gun before me.  I’d spent my bullet uselessly a moment before, and was trying to keep abreast of my comrade in arms while I fumbled to reload.  Several hundred yards in front of me was a low stone wall, lined with a seemingly endless supply of blazing Confederate guns.  Union soldiers – my brothers in arms – were falling all around me as bullets whizzed past us.  The smells of smoke and swampland and gunpowder filled my nostrils, and my ears rang from the terrible blast of the canon on the heights. 
       Then a horrible pain wrenched through my gut and I fell into the clammy damp grass of the field, the world turning misty and dark.  Through the bitter pain, I heard gun fire and heard the bitter cries of the dying men around me.  But I couldn’t move, couldn’t have helped them since I couldn’t even help myself. 
      A long while later, the gunfire ceased except for an occasional blast.  I was swimming along on a sea of pain, conscious of nothing save a terrible thirst.  I heard my own voice babbling aloud, begging for water.  It did not sound like me at all.  Then I felt gentle hands lifting my head, and the lip of a canteen was against my parched lips.  Cool water poured into my mouth and I swallowed gratefully.  I forced my eyes open, and glanced up into the fa
ce of a young man in Confederate gray.  “Thank you,” I whispered hoarsely. 
     And I was back in the present, leaning with my head against the glass of the white house.  My husband was rubbing my back, his face creased with concern. 
      “Honey,” he said, shaking my shoulder gently.  “I asked if you wanted to go back to the car.” 
       I straightened up and looked at him, still dazed from the sharp memories I had seen from the past.  But after taking a moment to reground myself, I noticed that the faint sounds of battle had faded from the edges of my hearing and that the air had stopped shimmering.  I sighed deeply.  “I think it’s over,” I said tentatively, running a quick internal assessment of my “spooky” senses.  Nothing.  Everything felt normal. 
       “Okay,” he said after studying me for a long moment.  “Ready to go on?”
      I nodded.  
      We headed down the path toward a statue lying a few yards from the house.  My steps slowed as we approached, for I recognized the man holding the wounded soldier.  I’d just seen him in my vision from the past.  I hurried closer, my pulses racing madly, and read his name:  “Richard Rowland Kirkland.”  The carved writing on the monument continued: “At the risk of his life, the American soldier of sublime compassion brought water to his wounded foes at Fredericksburg.  The fighting men on both sides of the line called him the Angel of Marye’s Heights.”
     In that moment, I realized that physically and emotionally, I needed a break. 
     “Honey, I’d like to go back to the car,” I said. 
      My husband took one look at my tear-stained face and agreed.  He put the top of the convertible down, tucked me into the front seat with a blanket and a thermos of tea we’d prepared at my Mama-in-law’s suggestion, and then went to tour the rest of the battlefield while I rested and ruminated on my experiences.  
     I’d done pretty good, I decided.  And I had a young soldier to look up in the history books when I got home.  Not bad for my first time out. 
      With a sigh of relief, I snuggled under the cover and closed my eyes to take a nap.           

(Story contributed by a Virginia resident, name withheld by request.)

S.E. Schlosser

S.E. Schlosser

S.E. Schlosser is the author of the Spooky Series published by Globe Pequot Press. She has been telling stories since she was a child, when games of “let’s pretend” quickly built themselves into full-length tales acted out with friends. A graduate of both Houghton College and the Institute of Children’s Literature, Sandy received her MLS from Rutgers University while working as a full-time music teacher and a freelance author.