My name is John Marcom, and I have completely lost my mind.
I don’t mean to have lost my mind, it wasn’t as if I went on a trip and left it someplace, but at twenty two years old, the only rational explanation I have for what’s going on is that my mind must be gone. After all, not everybody suddenly travels through time and gets shot, do they?
I guess I should start at the beginning, since I’ve always heard that is the best place to start almost any kind of story. Maybe along the way I can find the shreds of my sanity that have melted away, and if I’m very lucky, maybe my mind will come back.
My name is John Marcom, I’m twenty –two years old, my parents own a funeral home and I am their only child. I represent a major casket manufacturing firm as a Sales Consultant. That is a fancy way of saying I drive around and sell my brand of caskets to funeral homes across the country, or at least I try to. Growing up in the ‘Death care Industry’ has given me a slight edge and I’m pretty good at what I do. I have been employed by Danville Casket Corporation for two years, and last year I earned the regional sales bonus coveted by all Sales Consultants. We also sell urns and cremation accessories. “Need a necklace to put your Granny’s ashes in? We are your cremation jewelry experts. “
I’m not normal by societal standards but people in my field consider me normal and competent. I’m tall, athletic, and generally considered good looking. I inherited my mother’s hazel eyes and my father’s wavy, light blonde, hair. I dress nice and often get the attentions of stewardesses and waitresses, though right now I’m still single, much to the disappointment of my parents, who can’t wait to have little John-lings cavorting around the halls of the funeral home.
Other than my parent’s spooky profession, and my well paying, but socially repugnant career path, I consider myself normal and sane. I rent an apartment in a nice neighborhood, I drive a newer model car, and on my days off I work out and watch movies. I keep in touch with friends from school on social networks, and I don’t time travel or get shot at. Except for today, today I traveled back to the Civil War and got a Mimi ball in the shoulder.
I was lying on my own brown, plush, microfiber sofa, watching a football game my own TV and generally minding my own business. It wasn’t as if I climbed into a blue box with a Timelord or anything, I stood up, took three steps in the direction of my kitchen, on my way to get a beer , felt suddenly dizzy and the next thing I know I’m sitting in a shallowly dug trench behind a log.
I realized I must have fallen asleep on the couch so I willed myself awake, with no result. The guy next to me in the trench looked barely old enough to hold a gun and smelled like a mixture of gun powder and rank body odor. He held his rifle over the earthen edge of the breastworks and fired a shot that cracked my ear drums. The smell of powder was around me and a faint smoke hung over our meager cover. The person, or persons he had fired at were obliged to return fire, and I heard the projectiles launched from their guns whiz over us. A sudden burning pain shot through my shoulder and I felt as if the world was shattering in red pieces. I heard my voice scream and the boy solider next to me hollered something I couldn’t quite make out. I dropped to my knees and vomited into the thick, wet dirt, which was splashed with red flecks of my blood. Overhead I heard shouts and yells and the smell of gunpowder was choking my lungs. A man dressed in dirty gray leaned over me and stuck his filthy finger into my wound. The world heaved again and I faintly smelled tobacco. Overhead I heard someone yell “ Ye’ll be alright, son, the ball done passed clean through, quit getting yer vittles all over the ground and put a few balls in them damn blue scoundrels, that’ll cure ya right up, boy. “ I felt a rifle pushed into my hands and the grey tobacco giant was gone, wading his way through the trench to infect someone else’s wounds, no doubt. The boy next to me, who had summoned the man I’d decided to call “the infector”, pressed a flask to my lips. The substance I swallowed from that flask must have been half cousin to the embalming fluid that my folks used to prepare bodies, because it seared its way down my throat, making a fire path to my guts. I momentarily forgot the searing pain in my arm in favor of the searing pain now running rampant in my guts, at least until I felt him splash a little of the same into my slightly charred, gaping wound. This caused my eyes to water and I’m certain I wept great tears of pain while trying to assure myself that at least no germs could possibly survive whatever satanic mixture dwelled in that boy’s flask. He stuffed the offending mixture, flask and all into the front of his tattered coat and started to reload his rifle. I stared down at my own shaking hands and wondered what kind of hell I’d stumbled into.
The wooden stock of a seemingly ancient gun was grasped in my good hand. It looked like something the pilgrims would use to shoot turkey for the first thanksgiving, and not like a weapon with which I could actually defend myself. My fingers were brown and callused, almost as filthy as The Infector’s, with nails chewed to the quick and black dirt under what remained of the nail beds. The bullets kept cracking from all directions, sounding like someone playing with a bull-whip. I stayed hunkered down next to my pile of vomit, which I slowly realized smelled better than my motley brown and gray wool clothes. The boy had shot and reloaded his gun again. I felt him take my old musket from my shaking grasp and watched him load the thing. In my haze I thought “That’ll never shoot, it’s a damned antique!” The boy looked up at me and I realized that I must have said my hazy opinion out loud. “It was good enough for your people in 1812, it’ll be good enough to kill some of these damn yanks, Johnny, now quit acting like we’ve never been shot at before and help me hold these lines, you don’t want to disappoint the folks back home.” He snapped at me as he pressed my now loaded rifle back into my hands. I glanced around and counted at least twelve men in the ditch near us and more in another ditch several paces off, all dressed in varying shades of browns, grays and stolen union blues.
I raised the rifle with my good arm and aimed over the log in the general direction of the incoming rounds. I didn’t intend to actually kill anyone, but I figured that I better shoot at something before my young friend decided I needed more Satan juice poured into my wound as motivation. I still felt sick, but shock or the whiskey was dulling the original pain, though the smell of sick and unwashed bodies was fast competing for the attention of my heaving insides. I closed my eyes and pulled the trigger on the old gun, half expecting it to do nothing, and half expecting it to blow up my other shoulder. It did neither and instead issued a vaguely familiar sounding crack, and some of the gunpowder smoke. I settled down against the earthen wall of our defenses and watched some of the other men around me load and fire guns in varying shades of repair. The firing in our area from the offending Yankees was letting up and the boy informed me that “We’d licked e’m now.” I dug through my pockets, hoping for some clue as to what this nightmare might actually be about. I found a dinged up gold watch, a tiny framed picture of an attractive looking woman, some letters addressed to Johnny Dawson in a pleasantly sloping female handwriting, along with a small snuffbox containing wisps of foul looking tobacco clinging to its tiny insides. I offered it to the boy who gratefully scraped up what was left of the tobacco and shoved the whole wad into his mouth with relish. I pocketed the empty box and watched him. The shooting had died down, with only an occasional crack coming out of the air to my fair right, and a better dressed, but crazed looking man on horseback rushing to and from different positions on the field. The boy settled against the earth next to me and threw a wad of dirt over the vomit I’d left earlier. “Well, Johnny, guess when those bastards are done dying over there we’ll prolly get our orders to move forward and join the rest of Lee’s army. That’ll be right good too, I can’t stand all this being strung out and never knowing what the devil is going on. “ I nodded in what I hoped was a convincing manner. My shoulder felt stiff and painful and I began to wonder if on the way to my fridge , in my nice, modern home, I had hit my head or something, because, try as I might, I couldn’t seem to wake up from this foul smelling, painful nightmare.
The boy’s name was Daniel, I found out later, when the Infector came back by to check on things around dusk. The infector’s name was Joe, and he, Daniel, and I were part of the army of the Confederate States. I listened through half closed eyes as they talked about getting new orders and hopes that those damn yanks would be beat for good soon, because Joe had gotten a letter from home and his wife couldn’t manage the planting by herself, and their daughter Katie was sick with some kind of fever. Daniel ‘s mother hadn’t written a thing and since his Pa was in the army too, he hoped she was managing things okay by herself , but he was awful worried about things at home. Daniel turned to me “You had any letters from Sue lately? I know you were mighty hopeful that she’d marry you when this damn war is over, but if it keeps up I’d worry about her finding other beaux.” He teased. I wasn’t sure who Sue was, much less if I’d heard from her, but I figured that the picture and letters must be from this strange lady that I apparently was courting. “Danny, you know mail isn’t good out here, besides, I’m not that easy to replace, I’m sure she’ll be waiting with bated breath for me to come home.” Daniel laughed and handed me a piece of stale hard cracker that he’d already half chewed on “You better eat this, you always talk like a fool before you fill your belly, Johnny.” I nodded what I hoped was a polite thanks and pretended to nibble at a section of the rock hard cracker. Someone had started a fire nearby and the sounds of making camp could be heard along with the smell of wood smoke and something vaguely resembling burned bread. I closed my eyes and prayed to anyone who might be listening that I wake up at home, in my warm bed and not still in this unholy place.
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My name is John Marcom, and I have completely lost my mind.