War Fiction Mimickry
By: Date: July 26, 2020 Categories: Short Stories Tags: , , , ,

April 6, 2019

April 2nd, 1850

I told Thomas not to go back out. I told him it was too late, too dark, and too cold to go back out. You can hear the coyotes from inside the living room, their thin little howls splitting the glass panes. But he didn’t listen to me. He brushed off my warnings with a haphazard wave of his hands and a grunt.

I cannot argue with the incensed. I could not reason with him on the trail, nor could I reason with him where we settled. He has only become worse and more frantic. Like he brushed off my warnings, he brushed me off too, brushing my hands off his arms and shouldering his rifle to head out the front door.

I won’t stop thinking that I warned him. It’s what I clung to when I heard the gunshot and the shift from howling to sharp barks. Only sharp sounds come through the glass. You can hear the piercing of the teeth, but you’ll never catch the thud of a fall.

We wouldn’t find Thomas until the spring. That’s a fact we all had to learn at some point. Even when you are told by another older family, you must learn it for yourself. The McDaniels learned it last winter, all huddled around their stove with frostbite creeping across their faces and spreading under their gloves. They lost little Annie from that very same bite, but at least they didn’t have to look for her.

Thomas had helped Mr. McDaniel dig that grave. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell,” he told him. It was from Matthew he said. The boy would hardly speak in anything but scripture even then.

He came back from the war like that. Before he rode out to Texas he was a practicing boy of course. Very polite, always talking to our preacher after service and asking him for advice, even for the most menial tasks. I miss that boy. The boy I got back was somehow changed.  He spoke only of what he had seen in terms of divine justice and the will of God. We were thrilled at first, such a devout young man was a point of pride. But it became… strange. An impure infatuation with what was meant to be a beacon and a guide.

When he helped Mr. McDaniel it took all of his skinny weight to break the frozen ground. But Annie was small and they did not think they’d need to dig that deep. Mr. McDaniel was too stricken with grief to implore Thomas to do it properly, spewing gospel as he was. He invoked the Spirit but did nothing in terms of the body.

They should have dug deeper. They should have done it properly. Every time their dog runs into our yard I worry the bone in its mouth is hers, not some abandoned deer’s.

They should’ve dug her up when they buried Charlie that March. There’s something wrong about that little girl being buried all on her lonesome. The dead need company. That’s why we keep them all together. No point in making the Shepherd’s job harder. Lone sheep get left behind for the sake of the herd. I only hope she doesn’t get lonely left here.

We’re burying Thomas today, surely the cause of my recollection. I always thought he’d be buried in Texas. That war claimed too many boys, not just those in uniform. I was sure I’d be getting his body back in a flag, not gnawed on my coyotes and his fingers frozen off.

It was my husband and Father Hyacinth that finally found him. He got a lot farther than it sounded like. He was laying a little way into the treeline up by Dover Hill. His rifle was still loaded. He never fired that night. I remember hearing that shot. I remember the ricochet.

The service was small. The neighbors came. Just those on either side. No one said much. Who would? Father Hyacinth kept it short and to the point. He didn’t quote a lot of scripture like at a normal service. Though I suppose he wouldn’t have for Thomas. He mostly just talked about our family and the harsh winter the town had just suffered.

Sarah told us she was sorry for our loss and that she would pray for us. Pray for us, she said, not for Thomas. His soul was on its own, it seemed. Even Father Hyacinth wouldn’t bear it. Nor would Sarah. He could make his plea to Saint Peter alone.

No one was willing to bring Thomas into their prayers. No one wanted the association I expect. Love thy neighbor stops counting the second your neighbor actually needs help. Piety is one thing. His level of devotion, his, they used the word fanaticism, was unnerving. It was something, they said, that war taught you.  You don’t want the responsibility of your actions.  You want to keep following orders.  

Even I, his own mother pushed him away. I stopped listening. I feared for my soul more than his. You’re meant to reject the Devil after all, not draw him to your chest while he shakes and screams.

I know there are some churches, out in the southeast, that really want you to feel the Holy Ghost, who want you to shout and stomp when you feel it move you. I overheard Father Hyacinth and Father Nolan discussing them while Sarah and I were chatting after church months ago.

“Not right,” they said. “A welcome mat for the Devil.”

I can’t help but wonder if that’s what Thomas laid out. If that’s what he brought back with him to lay at our door.


Process Paper

First of all, this idea came to me in a dream. I woke up the day I started writing this thinking that I needed to ask my pioneer husband to buy more gunpowder before we crossed into Nevada. I could not get my new pioneer family out of my head, so I decided to make it work for this assignment. The Mexican-American War seemed a perfect backdrop for this story, especially with all the “aftermath” type stories we have been reading. The idea of a young man coming back changed from a war is not a new idea, but I liked the eerie religious Americana vibes I could work in.  I really wanted to set my story after a war rather than before or during. Mrs. Dalloway and Snow Hunters were my main inspirations. I really liked and focused on the temporal imperfections of Mrs. Dalloway and I wanted to bring that into my narrative. It added a lilting quality to the narrative. It let you drift from moment to moment and gave the narrator complete control over what events were to be focused on.

There is also, in both Mrs. Dalloway and Snow Hunters, a sense of quiet importance. Small actions and little details pop up for the reader’s consideration. You are able to sift through them and draw conclusions about the characters. They reference other characters swiftly. Their histories are expanded upon through recounted experiences rather than exposition. I tried to work this into my piece, dropping the names of neighbors and telling stories to flesh out who they are and their relationships to the speaker. I also wanted to spread enough unexplained detail through the narrative without fully explaining their implications, creating a sense of character privacy like in Snow Hunters. The backdrop of westward expansion seemed perfect for that.  Stories of the trail west are at once deeply communal and deeply private. A journal would reveal the inner thoughts of a character without shedding too much light on her family or neighbors.  Motivations remain unknown and the experience of the lonesome west would remain.  The Mexican-American War is one that scarred Mexico deeply, but had little impact on the American psyche, save for those that fought in it, a perfect foundation for a character with privacy.

Passages for the response paper:

Mrs. Dalloway

  • Page 80
    • This passage references characters other than the current protagonist like Clarissa, Major Orde, and Daisy only in passing.  It discusses past events such as the letter he is recalling and how he was seeking to stop Clarissa from marrying.  All of this is told as if the audience should either be aware of these topics or at least be able to keep up with them in real time.  The passage also ends with … “Give him one kiss– Here he was at the crossing”, a clear example of Woolf playing with how much time an action takes. 

Snow Hunters:

  • There were also wives who came for dresses, women who, upon meeting Yohan for the first time, said, —Oh my, where did you find him? And they flirted with him and asked if he could measure them, lifting their arms and tilting their waists. He blushed as Kiyoshi translated for him and laughed, lighting the women’s cigarettes. They liked him even more because Yohan did not answer them when they asked about his crooked nose and the thin scar across the bridge. (Pages 24-25 on my Kindle version)
    • This is a scene where Yoon gives us a scenario where we would expect an elaboration on our protagonist’s thoughts, but we get nothing more than him blushing.  Yohans’s inner life is entirely his own.  We do not know how he feels about these women.  We do not know the lasting impact they have on him.  We only see the scene and Yohan’s blush.

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