Later, many hours after midnight, Inman looked into one of the houses scattered about the field. A light shone out from an open door at its gable end. An old woman sat inside, her hair in a wild tangle, face stricken. A lit candle stub stood beside her on a table. Corpses on her doorstep. Others inside, dead in the attitude of crawling to shelter. The woman staring crazed past the threshold, past Inman's face, as if she saw nothing. Inman walked through the house and out the back door and saw a man killing a group of badly wounded Federals by striking them in the head with a hammer. The Federals had been arranged in an order, with their heads all pointing one way, and the man moved briskly down the row, making a clear effort to let one strike apiece do. Not angry, just moving from one to one like a man with a job of work to get done. He whistled, almost under his breath, the tune of Cora Ellen. He might have been shot had one of the fine-minded officers caught him, but he was tired and wished to be shut of a few more enemies at little risk to himself. Inman would always remember that, as the man came to the end of the row, the first light of dawn came up on his face.
The blind man had sat wordless throughout Inman's tale. But when Inman was finished, the man said, You need to put that away from you.
I'd not differ with you there, Inman said.
But what Inman did not tell the blind man was that no matter how he tried, the field that night would not leave him but had instead provided him with a recurring dream, one that had visited him over and over during his time in the hospital. In the dream, the aurora blazed and the scattered bloody piecesarms, heads, legs, trunksslowly drew together and reformed themselves into monstrous bodies of mismatched parts. They limped and reeled and lunged about the dark battlefield like blind sots on their faulty legs. They jounced off one another, butting bloody cleft heads in their stupor. They waved their assorted arms in the air, and few of the hands made convincing pairs. Some spoke the names of their women. Some sang snatches of song over and over. Others stood to the side and looked off into the dark and urgently called their dogs.
Excerpted from Cold Mountain. Copyright © 1997 by Charles Frazier. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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