“War is hell.” --Ulysses S. Grant
“War is fun.” –Dooley Wiggins, civil war re-enactor
Dooley liked being a civil war re-enactor. Sure, it had started out as a team building exercise for the new financial advisors at Leggit and Johns, but he had taken to it like a duckling to a pond. So every third weekend, he joined his fellow re-enactors for a campout, and every summer they spent two weeks rehearsing and then re-fighting one of the major battles of the civil war.
After twelve months and a stint as a private in the 30th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the battle of Second Manassas, Dooley felt he was getting really good at the re-enactment game.
He had good-naturedly agreed to be a casualty in his first battle, so he had “taken a hit” from a bayonet, had applied the requisite “ketchup” and had lain moaning on the battlefield to be visited by a wistful young woman in a white apron and a civil war doctor dressed in black. A couple of orderlies had loaded him on a stretcher and transported him off the battlefield to a field hospital not far away, where he had “died.” He had even played the role of one of his own pall-bearers at his funeral the next day.
Now his unit was preparing for this summer’s re-enactment of the battle of Gettysburg, and this time he would be allowed to survive. There was a lot to learn about the encampment and the terrain and the names of the various officers and recruits in his unit. He was still attached to the 30th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, still a private, but no longer a fresh recruit.
The air was crisp and new the morning after their latest campout, and he was loading his Springfield rifle and knapsack into the trunk of his Prius, when his friend Cameron, another private with the 30thh Pennsylvania Volunteers, came running up to him.
“Dooley—Dooley, quick!” He gestured.
Dooley looked up from his Blackberry. He had an appointment at four that afternoon with the Willinghams in Bryn Mawr to discuss their portfolio, and he had important paperwork to prepare beforehand.
“What?” he said, closing his trunk.
“Come on,” Cameron insisted, taking him by the arm. “You’re got to hear this.” He led Dooley down a weed-grown trail to a hollow, where a uniformed sergeant sat on a stump, whittling the peel off an apple. He was an enormous man with mutton-chop sideburns and a Union forage cap, and the apple looked like a nut in his big hands.
“Orville,” Cameron cried, “here he is. Tell him what you told me.” He nodded eagerly.
Orville leaned back, cut off a slice of the peeled apple and ate it off the blade of his knife as he regarded Dooley.
“Tell him,” Cameron said. “Tell him about Bull Run.”
Orville chewed thoughtfully. “Not much to tell. They charged. We retreated. I was in the back. There was musket fire, then a lot of yelling and running, mostly. I ran. I ran like hell.”
Dooley nodded. “We re-enacted that battle last summer,” he said.
Cameron shook his head. “No, you don’t understand, Dooley. He’s not talking about Second Manassas. He’s talking about the First.”
“The First?” The 30th Pennsylvania wasn’t in the first Battle of Bull Run. “What unit are you with?”
“The 30th Pennsylvania,” Orville replied.
“But we’ve never done that battle.”
“He’s not talking about a re-enactment, Dooley,” Cameron declared jubilantly. “He’s talking about the actual battle of Bull Run!”
Dooley blinked. He gasped as his face lost color. “You mean you time travelled?” He felt shock grip his back and rise up his spine to tickle his neck.
Orville nodded. “There’s this new outfit in Newark that just got licensed, and they’re offering a limited number of spots for re-enactors to 1860’s battlefields. Not enough to affect the battle, of course, and you can’t take any Anachronisms with you, but still it’s a great opportunity. You won’t do any actual fighting, but you get to watch. You get to be there.”
Dooley felt himself salivate. Serve in an actual battle? It was every re-enactor’s dream. “But I’ve got a four o’clock appointment in Bryn Mawr.” He couldn’t cancel—not again. He’d lose the client if he did, and that could lose him his job.
It would almost be worth it.
“There are a couple of spots that have opened up at the last minute,” Orville declared. “But we’ve got to fill both right away, or it’s no deal.”
“Don’t worry, Dooley,” Cameron told him. “It’s only an hour out, an hour on the field, and an hour back. We’ll get you back to the present by two.”
Dooley considered it. He could adapt to that timetable, tell the Willinghams he might be a little late. All the paperwork wouldn’t be done, of course, but he could still meet with the clients, get their signatures, and assure them that Leggit and Johns would look out for their best interests.
A real Civil War battle! He wanted to jump up and down and squeal like a teenage girl.
He grinned. “Count me in.” So he and Cameron ran for their cars to get ready.
By Ned Huston
* * *
The Timecraft looked like a small private jet inside with a dozen seats and a netted area for their gear—rifles, canteens, and knapsacks. All twelve passengers wore the blue uniforms of the Union Army. During the hour-long trip, Dooley read his battle guide and studied his notes. Their position was clearly marked with a red X on the field map. Their “Ushers” lectured them briefly about following orders, sticking to prescribed routes, and not leaving anything behind.
Both “Ushers” were tally burly men in period suits with dark beards and black derbies. They looked like bouncers.
“You have sixty minutes, gentlemen,” one of them announced after landfall. “Get to your coordinates and keep an eye on your pocket watch. If you’re late getting back, you’ll forfeit your deposit, and we’ll be coming after you. We’re bringing you back dead or alive. Don’t tempt us to settle for the former.”
Tracking chips had been embedded in the re-enactors’s forearms and gear, and they had been required to swallow a time-release capsule of knockout drugs to slow them if they decided to bolt and stay in the nineteenth century.
The Ushers collected their battle guides and field maps at the door. Once outside, the re-enactors were on their own. Dooley and Cameron stepped down to the dirt of July 1863. They were in a small grove near the bottom of a hill surrounded by prairie grass.
The Timecraft was covered by mirrors, but soon it began to glow and turned invisible. It hung suspended in time, connected to 1863 by only a mirrored door and an occasional high-pitched chirp.
The re-enactors dispersed for their various emplacements around the battlefield. Dooley and Cameron hugged the edge of the grove as they hiked uphill to their own position. They had to wade through tall grass and up a ravine to a knoll to reach a stone wall along the crest of Little Round Top, where they would observe but not directly take part in the fighting.
The wall was little more than a pile of stones, and the depression behind it was almost like a foxhole. There were already four men there when Dooley and Cameron arrived, but they had expected that.
“Who are you?” a man with a single arched stripe on his shoulder growled at them.
“Dooley Wiggins of the 30th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry,” he said. He hoped he looked authentic enough. He hoped they wouldn’t call him a Farb.
“You should be with your unit.”
“We got separated during the bombardment.”
He and Cameron crept up to the wall and raised their rifles.
“Keep your head down!” the Corporal growled.
Cameron froze. “This isn’t the top of the hill, Dooley. We’re too far forward. We’re not in the right place.”
Dooley peered around. “Relax,” he said. “This is exactly as described.”
“I’m telling you we’ve got the wrong coordinates.” Their Locaters were back at the Time Machine. No GPS in 1863.
“Would you relax?” Dooley said. “We’re fine.”
Then the rifle fire began, and bullets whizzed overhead.
“We’re under attack!” Cameron cried.
“No sh-t,” the Corporal declared.
The sound of yells and running men ensued, and the four Union soldiers on the knoll rose and fired their rifles. Dooley and Cameron stayed down, frozen in fear.
“Get up, you cowards,” the Corporal yelled at them.
Dooley stood, shaking, his rifle barrel extended as he had practiced a hundred times before. His bayonet was already affixed, and a man in a gray uniform was headed straight at it. He wasn’t going to be able to stop.
“Look out!” Dooley cried. But the attacker stumbled and plummeted forward right onto Dooley’s bayonet, pushing him back. Dooley froze, gripping his rifle for dear life. He watched the attacker’s smooth pale face. He was only a kid. His expression of stunned regret reminded Dooley of his little brother Nate caught skipping class. He looked up at Dooley with pleading eyes.
“Oh my god,” Dooley said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. Are you all right?”
But he knew the Confederate wasn’t all right. He had a bayonet through his gut.
The baby-faced boy opened his mouth to speak, but only blood came out. His shining eyes revealed the realization of imminent death.
“Are you all right?” Dooley cried. He repeated it several times as the boy slackened on his bayonet and slid backwards onto the stone wall.
“That’s the way to give it to those Johnny Rebs,” the Corporal asserted in an admiring voice.
Cameron was curled up behind the stone wall, crying. Dooley was frozen in place.
“Get down!” the Corporal ordered him.
A bullet whizzed by Dooley’s ear. He regarded the dying boy draped over the wall. “Medic!” he yelled. “Medic!”
“What the f—k are you doing?” the Corporal growled at him.
“Stop the battle!” Dooley cried, dropping his rifle and raising his arms. “Stop the battle! We have a man hurt over here.”
The Corporal reached up and grabbed Dooley with both hands and pulled him down behind the stone wall. He slapped Dooley across the face, but Dooley barely felt it.
“He’s hurt,” Dooley babbled. “He’s hurt bad. We’ve got to get him to a hospital. Call an ambulance.”
The Corporal slapped him again. “Where do you think you are? This ain’t Baltimore.”
Cameron jumped up and began to run—back toward the time machine. So Dooley jumped up and followed him. He heard the sound of rifle fire, but just kept running. It was all just a dream, just a CGI blur.
Something whacked him in the calf like a hammer, and he felt a hot wire poke through it. He stumbled, and he fell in the tall grass, but he got back up. And then the pain hit him like a blast furnace, turning his sight red, and he fell and blacked out.
He woke a while later on his back in a large white tent, but the canvas had yellowed with age, so the light filtering through seemed a tawny color. He was lying on a sheet on the ground, and there was a white rag tied around his calf.
I’ve been wounded.
He could see a dozen cots in the tent with conscious and unconscious men on them. One of the conscious ones moaned. A large bearded man in denim pants and rolled-up sleeves walked among them.
“Help,” Dooley said. “I need to get to a hospital.”
The large man approached him. “This is the hospital.”
Dooley cringed. Oh, crap, I’m in 1863. Nothing’s sterile.
“I need a doctor,” he moaned. He sat up and pulled the rag down far enough to get a look at his injury. It hurt like hell, and he almost passed out. There were bullet holes on either side of his calf.
Through and through. I’m going to be all right. He sighed and lay back. No need to operate. No lead ball inside him, leaching poison into his system.
“Here comes the doctor now,” the large man declared.
A thin man in a vest and bowler hat approached. He took off the hat and knelt down to take a look at Dooley’s leg. He shook his head.
“That leg’s going to have to come off.”
Dooley bolted upright. “No!”
“We’re out of laudanum,” the large man announced.
The doctor grimaced. “Then we’ll have to tie him down.”
“No!” Dooley cried. “NO!” He tried to stand, but the burley orderly pushed him down and sat on him while the doctor tied his hands.
“We’ll have to break the bone at the knee joint and saw through,” the doctor declared. “Get a leather cord for him to chew on so he doesn’t bite his tongue off.”
Dooley began to scream.
When he woke a while later, he noticed the two Ushers standing over him. “I found his rifle, canteen, and knapsack,” one of them said to the other. “Look, he’s coming around from the laudanum.”
“Get his leg, too. We can’t leave anything behind.”
Dooley sat up in panic and reached for his calf—but it wasn’t there.
One of the Ushers threw him a crutch. “This will help you get back to the ship. Sorry, but you can’t take it with you to the present.”
Dooley regarded him in horror.
“Congratulations,” the other Usher said. “You get to re-enact the role of an authentic Civil War veteran now.”