Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Chapter Three

       The Obscene World Of Flesh.  Here reside animated things made of energy, and dirt, and water.   Combined and recombined, broken down to constituents in a self refining manner, it is a flowing to the future.  This magical mix,  powered by other dimensional forces, and possessing a passive memory helix of monstrous proportion,  allow The Creator to penetrate this  reality, which is the true purpose of the Creator.  The Creator is an Engine of Construction,  a vortex program of water and dirt, a Penetrant into the World Of Light.

       The Creator is you.

       Creation is your purpose.   It is what you do.  You are here so The Creator can be here.  It cannot be more simply defined.

      Reality being what it is, many times conflict occurs, there is an uneven melding where forces collide, death happens.  Also, things wear out.  Deadly mistakes are really just deadly moments, unavoidable, they are the point where an organism, an engine, stops creating.  There is not really an end to lifes forces though.  This is much more understandable in the other world, not such a struggle to perceive as it is here.   Pain is transient, but Identity is forever.

       The other world has its charms, no doubt, but it is not the World Of Light.  In this  physical reality everything is literally made of light, even matter is made of light.  Matter is a concentrated form of energy, a densely constructed electromagnetic energy field.  Tight Light.  High Order.  Perhaps the most finely derived coherent form of matter is light, its milieu both playground and classroom for Id Entities. Identities.

      Souls.

      One of the men in the surveyors group had been lost, as an engine he was irretrievably broken, his identity was no longer secured to physical reality because his body was no longer capable of creating moments.  He had unwittingly walked right into a hunting camp of Seminoles, all adult males, and one of them shot him in his heart without thinking.   These were not the civilized Seminoles from around Fort Brooke, oh no no no.  These were WILD Seminoles, Johnny had seen the difference very quickly,  and the other men already knew.  These wild Seminoles were hostile combatants, unashamed of using their enemies technology against them, proud of it in fact.  Defiant, and very easy to pull a trigger.  Death Wish.

      The soldier who the indians shot discharged his weapon upon being struck by the enemy ball, but shot wild.  His name was Pvt. Roger Wolfe, yet another casualty in the seemingly endless drama of violence and conquest which so far has been the human condition.  Pvt. Wolfes hunting partner was with his body now, and quick time would be made to achieve a field funeral for the fallen man.  There would be a mass grave burial for the Seminoles.

      Dead Roger Wolfes hunting partner, Pvt. Nathan Holsum, had been walking nearby but out of sight of the Seminoles when Wolfe had been shot to death.  Holsum sniped the enemy camp, knocking down one of the Seminoles, who did not get back up.  He drew fire to himself, but was able to dodge behind a large pine tree and reload.  He took another of the Seminoles with his second shot, killed him outright.  Two more soldiers,  Rifleman Charles Holloway, and Rifleman Shane Paruche, arrived and immediately began shooting into the Seminole camp.  Ben Grierson and the Captain were last, and found good solid trees to hide behind.  The shooting became calculated and deadly.  Each of the men comprising the survey crew, from the Captain down, had fired 1000's of balls just during the last few years, and every soldier made practice on a regular basis.  Lead was cheap, flint was free, and powder was made to be used before the dampness got to it.  The Seminole who unthinkingly shot Pvt. Wolfe had rained destruction down upon his own head, and the heads of his tribesmen.  The Hounds Of Hell.  Rome reborn twenty centuries old.

      The five Seminoles who had slunk by Johnny Prestwicks position at the wagons and cooks tent had been fleeing the scene, but ran into a deadly hornets nest instead.   Johnny had gotten his two, and the three men in the Captains group had come up undetected from behind,  3 Seminoles 3 Musket Balls.  The. Obscene. World. Of. Flesh-uh.  There had been a total of 11 Seminoles in the hunting party.  Their physical loss was total.

      If it had been up to the Seminoles it would have been the other way around.

      Military training and equipment are Very Serious Things in the land of the predator,  and are not to be scoffed at.  The more wealthy a nation, the greater its military.  There is no recourse but force.  It is the law of this land, and always has been.  Any propaganda to the contrary is without foundation.  Events speak louder than words, and events have been in the very least repetitive, if not redundant.  Even banal.

      It was thought by the United States military that there were less than 5000 Seminoles in the entire state of Florida, but many of those were considered hostile because massacres of European whites were known to happen with some regularity.  It was why the military was here, it was a true state of war.  Add the fact that this was the SECOND Seminole Indian War, and one may see that not only was the military established throughout all of Florida, but it now had some years of experience to draw upon, too.   According to the Second Treaty, Seminoles either had to go west, or stay on their reservation in the Everglades.  The Second Seminole Indian War was enforcement of that.   The well established military and a burgeoning industry up north allowed consolidation of the Union to proceed at a frenetic pace, and so it did. 

      The Captain said it most eloquently as the seven remaining surveyors stood around the grave of their fallen comrade: 

      "We must try our hardest to bring about about a better world, even though our mistakes sometimes lead us astray.  Action is superior to rest, in the world of Light.  There will be plenty of time for rest and darkness later."

      Without thinking Johnny said "Amen", and the rest of the men repeated it, several emphatically.  

      During the burial of the indians it was noted that at least 2 of the "Indians" were really negroes, escaped slaves.    Johnny had met negroes in his life, on occasion finding them somewhat comical in an otherwise rigid world.  They were a large part of early America whether they, or anyone else, liked it or not.  Johnny had never really been able to comprehend slavery, though it was well established in the world, and had been for thousands of years.  The slaves were coming far fast he thought.  From a stone age hunting culture to guns and industrial machines and motors in one generation.  The indians too.  The ones that lived.  Everyone was in for a short wild ride, and the best one could hope for was to prolong the ride, get the most out of their penny.  Those dead Seminoles and Negroes, their ride was over, their penny was up.  Pvt Roger Wolfes too.  


                                    ------------------------


      Camp was vacated early the next morning.  The remaining 7 men were on their way north again, though not as light hearted as they had been just the day before.   A large stone from the river was placed on the grave of Pvt. Roger Wolfe, and the Captain noted the exact location of the grave in the survey journal, for future reference, in case it became necessary to retrieve the body later.   The Seminole Indians grave had been left unmarked near a very large oak tree.

       All the men were glad to leave this place of death.  The natural beauty of the area was hidden now behind a pall of morbid haziness, created inside the mens minds, fabricated by themselves from dread and superstition, obscuring their vision from the inside out.  A dis-ease.  This pall of dread hanging over the troops would pass, but it would forever be renewed too.  Facts of life.

      Peoples memories generally sort themselves with the more pleasant to the front, and the less pleasant to the rear, a saving grace.

      About middle day the group came upon a clear spring which literally bubbled out of the earth to form a small pond below it.  The men stopped to take a rest, and to refresh the horses.    Johnny had a moment so he walked a sandy area around the edge of the pond, and he began to see flakes of stone.  He let his eyes adjust a little to the shade created by some large oaks, which grew to fantastic size near the Florida water sources.  The moss was thick in these old oaks, it looked like long grey wizards beards.  When dried this moss was a good usable commodity as cushion stuffing.

       Johnny could hear some kind of far distant but rythmic knocking noise, he wondered what it could be.  He was startled by the thought that perhaps the noises were native drums announcing the deaths of comrades....but this line of thinking was foolishness, it was not possible, and besides the knock knock knocking did not sound like drums at all, though he could not really say what it might be.   Johnny began to search the sandy area above the waters edge.  It was not long before he found another beautiful spearpoint for his collection, a collection which was growing fast and becoming almost cumbersome.   This point was pink and glass-like, about as long as his palm was wide.  He held it up to a ray of light streaming down through the oak trees.  The stone glowed translucent.  Amazing.

      Johnny had thought himself alone, and was slightly disturbed to hear a low whistle from about ten feet away, even though it was a whistle of appreciation.  He turned and looked behind himself to see Matthew Gilmour standing there, he'd been going somewhere and had walked by as Johnny held the spearpoint up to the sunlight.  Johnny felt chagrine at his secret being discovered, but immediately thought better of it.  This was The Captain, if anyone could appreciate these stone works of art for what they were it was The Captain.   The Captain waited expectantly.

      "They are weapons from a time before..."  Johnny knew it sounded funny but it was the truth.  He held the spearpoint out to Captain Gilmour, who walked forward and took  the artifact of stone with what could only be called reverence.   He observed it closely, a Hmmph here, an Ah there, as was his way, then handed it back to Johnny.   The men looked each other in the eyes and a spark of understanding  passed between them, there were no words, and there did not have to be.  The spear head spoke volumes, to people who understood certain things.  The necessity of eating.  The wild, unbridled planet, with all its beasts, and what it takes to live here.  Oh yes, volumes.

       Johnny began to tell the Captain of his discovery and exploitation of these tradeable and perhaps even saleable works of art which he had seen no where else in all his travels.  His Grandpa had taken him hunting birds out in the harvested fall fields of his home state, and there had been found arrowheads of a sort,  but crude, chunky, and made from grey and brown materials mostly.  These were still dutifully collected, because they were interesting and could be used in trade among some men.  

      "These Florida agate spearheads are the most well made and colorful types I have ever come across, " finished Johnny.

      "Well John Prestwick," said the Captain, "Thanks very much for the instruction, and perhaps I will be able to repay in kind one day soon."  The Captains eyes were already scanning the sand below their feet for shards, as Johnny had explained. 

    
A book in progress.
June-October 2013.
     

Chapter Two

Chapter 2
4500 Words

     On the morning of his departure from Fort Brooke Johnny woke well rested and clear headed.  He'd slept pretty well, surprise.  He thought it was because of the two days prior, getting ready to leave with the survey crew.  Worn out was the way he felt when he hit the sack last night, then blank until the cocks began to crow.  He did the morning routine, grabbed his shooters tools and the satchel full of spare clothes, his luggage.  He checked the lock on his trunk under the bed, blew out the oil lamp,  made his way outside.  When he left the barracks he didn't look back.

     At this time in its history Fort Brooke was nothing so much as a way station and supply depot for military surveying crews.  The surveying of this new American property, Florida, had become the order of the day, now that the Seminole menace had been quelled once again.  This was something of a joke among the volunteers,  the term "Seminole Menace".  It was spoken of with great seriousness by officers, though it was not actually backed up by anything the men could see with their own eyes.  The men thought the indians they knew were as full of menace as cow plop, and for the most part that was true.  There had been enough mayhem and belligerence to justify forts and well armed military troops though, because random massacres of white people by Florida natives had happened many times.  

     At the beginning of the Second Seminole Indian War, in 1835, some of the Seminole leadership had organized a war party, which included 3 dozen escaped slaves.   This Seminole war party ambushed a company of soldiers marching north from Fort Brooke to Fort Foster, which was also on the St Julians ne' Lord Hillsborough river, but forty miles north.  Much farther than boats could go.  There was a large slaughter because the soldiers were caught with their rifles under their winter coats;  the violence was swift and brutal.  All but three of the Fort men were killed, and one of those surviving three, a civilian worker, was a suspected infiltrator and spy for the Seminoles, who later disappeared to places unknown.

       This was a very foolish mistake by the Seminoles, but they were only doing what men everywhere have done throughout time: they resisted the conqueror, no matter how stupid that was.  This is an underlying law of the Human condition, it seems, and has not changed, ever. 

     A predictable result ensued:  the Seminoles ignited the wrath of the American Governments Legion, which needed a reason for a really decisive war against the indians anyway, because the Seminoles would not leave according to the first treaty, and they were giving sanctuary to escaped slaves.  Giving Sanctuary To Escaped Slaves.

     The history of the Seminole Indians was sketchy.   Some of the indians in Florida were the misfits and outcasts from the northern tribes, Creek, others.   So the swampy sandy land of Florida was something of a colony for indians who did not fit in anywhere else.    There were also long term "Real" Seminoles who had lived in the Everglades since time immemorial.  Now, both groups were in the way of the new owners of Florida, who wished to wring money out of the state as quickly as possible, with no worries from any troublesome natives.  This was manifest destiny to the government at least, as it has been since the Romans, and especially since the First Crusade.

     From what Johnny saw with his own eyes, The Seminole Menace was really just struggling to exist, trying hard as they could to obtain food, and liquor, not necessarily in that order.  In Johnnys experience the Florida indians were always receptive to help from anyone.   They seemed out of place, kind of like circus clowns in the white mans world.  He would get a better view of things in the coming months, of that he was sure.

     The Federal surveying crews were expected to finish their work around this part of Florida some time in 1842 or so.  Johnny hoped his appointment to the survey crew was not a permanent thing, to last the rest of his enlistment.  There was nothing to do but put in the time, and try to focus on the bright side of things, as soon as he could identify a bright side.

     He ate dry biscuits and coffee for breakfast, and the mess hall was starting to get crowded when he left.  He reported to the surveyors camp, and presented his orders to his new overseer,  Chief Surveyor Captain Matthew Gilmour, a middle-aged red headed man of great energy, who was full fleshed but not fat, well muscled one might even say, an athlete.  He was about the same height as Johnny.   After the obligatory salutes Captain Gilmour shook Johnnys hand, looked him up and down once, said "Nice Buttons", and introduced him to a few of the men whose names he would not remember until later when he got to know them.  The sky was a deep purple-blue with tints of orange and pink to the east where the sun was rising on another clear Florida day.   It was quite chilly, about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, but would warm rapidly.  There were no clouds anywhere.

    Johnny was introduced to his immediate supervisor, a Rifleman like himself named Ben Grierson.   Ben showed Johnny the duties, what was expected of him.   He was from Fort King, a Fort Johnny had heard about, but had not seen yet.

     "Oh you'll like Fort King" said instructor Ben with a wink.  He had a little more than a year to go on his enlistment.  He said he would probably re-enlist.  "Yep",  he continued, "Theres pretty women up near Fort King, the town outside the walls is a very jolly town, only there because of the Fort.  Its a good place to unwind, have a drink or three."  Another wink.  "Now look over here at this..."

     The instruction in new duties continued.  Johnny was to travel with one of the supply wagons,  basically doing what he was trained to do:  guard things and use his rifle when needed.  He would take a turn in the drivers seat every third day on the wagon itself, driving, and there were other minor chores which were important to the overall smooth running of mobile support for Survey Crews.  Things like watering the horses,  making sure there was dry wood for fires, and the like.

     "Its very easy," said  Ben Grierson, "Once you get the hang of it.  And don't worry, I wouldn't call discipline lacking, out here in the field, but it is a lot different from what you are used to here in the Fort.  We have a lot of fun, laugh a lot.  Things hardly ever get serious.  If things do get serious, its almost always because of an animal, which problems are addressed as they happen, and not too much, thankfully.  Make lots of noise as you travel, thats a good rule to follow.  Do you have any questions Johnny?"

     "How long will this trip last?"

     "Oh not too long," said Ben, "The last trip was a full year over by the big lake in the middle of the state.   Its hard to survey swampland sometimes..." Johnny must have winced, because Ben clapped him on the shoulder good naturedly, "To answer your question, once we get done down south at Big Spring, which should be in a month, I expect this lot of surveying will be wrapped up in 6 or 8 months.  Now let me show you one more thing, over here..."

     Johnny started getting used to different things.  He began to sleep well every night.

   
                                         ========================


     The farther the survey crew of the 3rd got away from Tampa, the lighter the mood became.  There was travel for one whole day, south along the edge of the bay, then a camp and a reconnaisance of 2 days, at a place where rocks jutted into the bay naturally, right out of the sand.   A fossiliferous outcropping, is what the Captain called it; hard silicified limestones and corals, some were like flint.   Punta Montfalvo, named by the Spanish, was a low bluff area surrounding this fossiliferous outcropping.  Easy access to the waterfront allowed the collecting of large oysters and clams, sea trout, redfish and more.   The Captain called it time off for having to be at the fort.  The Captain was an exceptional individual.  His ideas of surveying, and of other things, including staticity of the electrical brain and the mental sensing of things through the interaction of the brain and the static field of the Earth, even talking mind to mind across distances, seemed far ahead of their time to Johnny.  He began considering the possibilities though, a requisite action.

     Captain Gilmour said he could teach Johnny surveying if he was willing to learn.    Johnny said he was interested in learning to survey, but held himself somewhat aloof about it.  He would not get his hopes up,  and he did not wish to crab the opportunity by being too eager.  He would just pay close attention, and see what transpired.  Johnny was fairly mature for his age, and he had patience, a rare thing at any age. 

      The survey crew was about halfway between Fort Brooke, and Gadsen Point, the latter being the very southern end of a peninsula due south of Tampa which juts into the bay.  Gadsen Point was also called Big Spring, or by its Spanish name: Punta Morelle.  It had been two Colonels actually, James Gadsen and George Brooke, who had come to the area together on orders from Pensacola fourteen years ago.   The point of advantage, the Fort site, was at the mouth of the Saint Julians, though that area was inaccessible except by longboats rowed from larger ships which anchored well away.  It was either that or use the deep water at the end of the peninsula which Colonel Gadsen had set up as harbor, using the overland route to the fort, which also entailed ferrying animals, goods, and people with their belongings across the river at the very end of the 8 mile journey.   Many did the overland route to Fort Brooke anyway, following the road along the edge of the bay, because overall it was the easier traverse.

       There would be some equipment and supplies acquired at Gadsen point by the survey crew; some papers would be exchanged, mail picked up if there was any, then a short layover for a week or ten days at Big Spring to replenish for the trip north.    There was a camp there with hanging racks and a small smoke house.  Even a bath built by the spring which was ancient and probably made by the original Spanish explorers in this area.  There was a lot of wood for fuel.

     Johnny was beginning to think he had been wrong about surveying in the wild.   Fishing and hunting became the occupations, ones he did not mind at all.  He got to know the rest of the men as well, they were a total of 8 in this crew, running three wagons and six horses.  Quite a troupe.  Troop.   Johnny found some fine spearpoints during these days, they were fairly common on the sand beaches of the bay.  One had but to look.  He dutifully wrapped them in scrap cloth and secreted them in his luggage.  There was a sulphur spring at Montfalvo Point which ran into the bay, and a clear freshwater drinking stream erupted right out of white rock at their camp, it tasted delicious and it was cold.

    After Big Spring would be a trip north, a good ways north, and west, out to the big water, the Gulf itself.  Esteen-hatchee, and another Fort Brook, this time without the e, a Fort Frank Brook.  Johnny had not even heard of that Fort before.
        

                                    ==================================


       Gadsen Point was a small stockade next to a long pier.  There were many boats along the pier, and a large ship at the end of it, anchored.   Johnny did not even have to go into the stockade, he had been left with 4 of the others parked under some large oak trees off in the distance.  There was a nice sea breeze.  It was at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit, maybe 70.   The horses would be watered at Big Spring which was very near, another mile or so beyond the stockade, along the bayline.  The water there was superior.

    The Captain and 3 men took a wagon inside, then emerged an hour later carrying some boxes of equipment and supplies.  While the Captain and the others were inside the stockade, the subject of snakes came up among the group under the oak tree.  Johnny got an earful.  Apparently there were two times of year when the rattlesnakes moved in migration across the Gadsen peninsula.   Those two times were extremely dangerous to trod in the daytime, and suicide after dark.  Thankfully this was not one of those times, it was at the beginning of winter and during the early summer when the snakes moved.  This was just March 7 or 8 by Johnnys reckoning, close enough for the figuring at hand.

     The first incident with an animal, a bear, took place at Big Spring camp, about a week after the visit to the stockade at Gadsen Point.   There was a lot of competition for food around Big Spring now that men and their guns had come in and upset the balance.  The bear had been drawn to the smell of butchered meat and fish which the men were smoking for the trek northward.  The Captain walked right up to the bear, and when it reared up he shot it in the heart with a very large pistol which first fizzed, then caught, then suddenly flashed, then BANG, the bear snarling and growling the whole while and walking forward until it just fell on its face in front of The Captain, who began to skin it while it was still twitching.

     The Captain was laughing.

     Johnny had not seen this aspect of Captain Gilmour yet, though it was certainly not the last time he saw it.  Matthew Gilmour was more than exceptional.  He was truly strange.   Matthew was frightening, even.  A predator in his own right, unashamed.  Just last night, around the fire, he had said that if you learned to perceive water vapor -- and it was more than just seeing it, it was understanding it too -- if you perceived vapor, while considering its place in the entire electrical field of the planet, then one had no trouble also perceiving ghosts, they were everywhere, residual electric fields, and some did not discorporate for thousands of years, thats how powerful the generator of life is.   Then the Captain said something which rang familiar to Johnny.  He said the ghosts were there sure enough, one had but to look for them. 

     Right after the Captain shot the bear with his cannon of a flintlock pistol, then laughed, the bear was skinned dismembered and smoked along with all the deer and other things being hunted.   The electrical fields of these critters, the deer, and the bear, and all the rest, were liberated from their physical forms, from their meat.  Their link to the overmind was severed, their spirits freed, while their avatars in the physical world, their meat, became life fuel for better predators.

     "It is the way of things here", thought Johnny.  He supposed the electrical fields that Life generated were actually reflections of the alive spirits, in some ways.  Many things became more clear as time went on,  but many things also did not.  Some things, the more one thought about them, the more opaque they became.  Perhaps there was a lesson there.  When opacity reigns, it is time to pursue other thoughts, at least for awhile.   Theres always plenty to think about.

     The surveyor crew could prepare and haul only so much meat, and of course more would be gotten along the way:  It was easy time and feeding time and resting time at Big Spring.  Replenishment.  Johnny had been faithful in his practice of searching for spear heads and other tools around the spring, and he was not disappointed.  He did not find a great number, but the ones he did find exposed along the edge of the spring by rains were of an exceptional type and again, of a nearly unbelievable quality.  He found them very inspiring things.  One day he might even show the Captain.

     The group left Big Spring Camp at the very south end of the Gadsen Peninsula,  and headed almost directly north to where Floridas gulf coast line meets the mouth of the Esteen-hatchee River.    That would be the next mail stop, the next hot baths, and the last point of embarkation before the actual surveying, which was to take place east and south of Esteen-hatchee, all the way down to the Great Lake which was about halfway between Fort Brooke and Fort Foster.  The Lake Of Stone, Thonotosassa, the indians said.

     Their march began, and forage became the business of every day now: it was Johnnys main job, foraging, except when he rode in the wagon.  Then he foraged with his eyes.   The land overflowed with life of all types,  and a lot of it had never seen people before.  With his sling he could take waterfowl easily, ducks and white birds, and even turkeys, although the turkeys realized how things were fairly quickly.  They became wary fast.

     The group would be a month on the road at least,  but the days were fast and never boring.  Nights found them camped near fresh water when they could find it, and that was most nights.  They hunted for fresh meat or ate from the stores.    Caesar wrote about this situation in his book concerning the conquest of Gaul.  Feeding the soldiers, and hauling their personal luggage, were the two largest jobs of any traveling army.   The actual job of surveying would take  comparatively little time, according to the Captain;  it was the time en route, and all the support equipment and personnel which made missions difficult.  If one could fly like a bird, and take measurements from the sky with telescopes, he said, then the mission would be nothing but a trifle,  though men could not do that yet,  so they must endeavor to get about the best ways they knew how, take the necessary legal measurements, and live through it.  Any personal enrichment along the way was just icing on the sweet roll,  because it would only do you well if you survived.  Not guaranteed.  Disaster strikes in a moment.   Always plenty of deadly mistakes to go around, one must not delude ones self with twaddle and pretty stupidities.

      One of the other Rifleman, a shooter named Bill Cutler, said it was like a never ending adventure you got paid for.  He said if he was not able to work out on survey crews he was not going to stay in the service.  From the look of things, there would always be plenty of work during Bills career, if thats what he wanted, and if he lived through it all.    The Captain began having talks with Johnny, short little meetings of instruction, where points of reference on the horizon, and things like that were discussed.  Preparation.  Johhny was a quick study, and he had a good memory.  The Captain was pleased.

                                 =================================

   
     The 3rd survey crew had been almost a week getting to Big Spring, by the Gadsen Stockade, then 8 days at the spring itself getting ready for the trip north.  There was a sand road that led north from Big Spring to a number of different forts, homesteads, settlements and encampments already established in the territory of Florida, named so by Ponce de Leon because it was discovered on Palm Sunday (1512), in spanish:  Pasqua Florida.   The sand road going north was not much, really, just a trench which had been worn into the sand between various types of trees, mostly large pines which stretched skyward like huge brown columns of an almost endless ancient temple;  some parts of the sand road were worn down to the hard pan, other places not, other places seemingly bottomless dry shifting sand.  The slogging was experienced by all and loved by none, especially the horses, who staggered about occasionally, when the slogging really got to them.  Many rests were taken under these circumstances.

     Johnny saw a huge rattlesnake on the fourth day out from Big Spring.  The rattlesnake stretched almost across the entire road well ahead of the group.  It was over 6 feet long.  Johnny pointed it out to Ben Grierson who alerted the Captain.  Matthew Gilmour asked Johnny if he could shoot the snake and kill it from this location with his flintlock rifle.  Johnny said he could.  Captain Gilmour said it was not a reflection on Johnnys ability, but he would cover the snake too, in case Johnny missed.  Johnny checked his gun well, took aim, fired, quickly, like that.  The snake jumped, and began its death twistings.

      Captain Gilmour was impressed.   He and Johnny walked up to the snake in the road.  Johnny had hit it perfectly, leaving the head intact, but nearly cutting the snake in two about a foot back from its head.  If one splatters the head with the projectile the poison of the snake becomes broadcast, like a splash, and can cause secondary poisonings to livestock who tread through it, and even men, a good thing to know.  As Johnny pulled the snake off the road tail first, the Captain told him to cut off the tail and keep it for good luck.  Rifleman Prestwick thought the tail of the snake a somewhat gruesome trophy, but like the good soldier that he was, he did as he was told.  It rattled still and was composed of 13 separate segments, a large one.

      The Captain waved the rest of the group forward.   They came through a particularly dry patch of loose sand, slogging from a standstill, as it were.  While the group was making its way, Matthew Gilmour instructed Johnny in some mathematical concepts useful in surveying, and he did it by relating the concepts to the incident which just occurred.  He mentioned the line traveled by the bullet, the line which had been the snake, the point which was the intersection of the two lines, and other points involved in the incident such as the Captains point of perception and Johnnys point of perception, and all the distances in between.   Johnny paid close attention, and found it easy to remember when applied as a lesson related to an actual event.  The others made it finally, and they all moved forward together again.

      From where they stood Johnny could smell water.  He could tell the Captain did too.  There was a river up ahead, camp for the night.   The road they were traveling led to a ford across the river, and because it was the right time of year, the passage was quick and easy over a pebbly bottom.  There was less than a foot of water in the river, and it was almost perfectly clear.  The campsite under the huge ancient oaks was like being in some weird and gigantic theater, or in an underground cavern so large you cannot see the walls.  Fire was summoned and the fellows ranged out for a look around, one never knows what one might find.   The cook and his helper began a meal.  A clear artesian spring bubbled up between their camp and the river, and ran into a small basin  before draining into the river.  The horses watered there and seemed to love it. 

     Then a shot.  Not so odd, but followed by hollering and a high pitched yell a lot like a scream.  Matthew Gilmour ran like a man possessed in the direction of the noise.  Another shot.   More hollering.  The captain shouted at him enroute to stay and guard the wagons, and to take cover for Gods sake.  Yet another shot. 

     All the men out in the woods were no doubt following their ears, and that was probably a bad thing.   Though trained well, Johnny had not joined with the enemy yet; from the sounds of things that was all about to change.  He felt exhilirated, and there was an odd stirring in his gut.  Could that be Joy?  As he had been taught he kept himself small, and tried to blend in while keeping the line of sight open, and the lines of trajectory as closed as possible.  Which means get behind something so you can peer around it clearly, with the least danger to your physical body.  He kept hearing shots in the distance and once he thought he heard the captain bark an order.  Then he saw something that made the hackles on his neck rise.  There were indians out there in the woods, and they were headed this way.  He could tell by the way they walked, like smoke, confident, menacing.  They were not clowns in the forest and woods Johnny saw.  They all had rifles.  Without thinking he shot the biggest one.   The group of seminoles numbered 5 or 6, he could not tell, but one less now.  He reloaded like lightening.  The cook and his assistant were just getting into position with their rifles when a nearby shot rang out and a chunk of wood flew off the wagon, very near the cooks head.  Johnny had seen the muzzle flash from the forest and he shot his rifle and was reloading again.   He was very fast at reloading and hardly ever had a misfire, maybe one in one hundred shots.  Johnny heard his victim let out a high pitched guffaw, and the body lurched out of hiding, another dead hump on the forest floor.  Johnny felt at once elated and relieved.  Until another shot rang out and a chunk of wood from the wagon flew off right by HIS head.  He ducked and took sight again.

     His heart was beating hard.

     Then, very close, two or three more shots all at once.  Then silence.  Silence for awhile.  A mans voice shouted  from where the group of Indians had been hidden.  It was the Captain.  

     "Rifleman Prestwick, do you hear me?"

     "Yes Sir!"

     "Have you lost any men?"

     "Not that I know of sir!"

     Private Danny Smith, the cook, shouted out from where he was that he was fine and so was his assistant, Private Cecil Stren.

     The Captains voice again:

     "Very well, we have eliminated this last group of Seminoles, and we are coming out now, please cease your fire."

     The Captain and two other men walked out through the trees.

     That only made 6.

     It was then that any joy of battle ceased for Johnny.  Reality forced itself upon him and had its way with his mind and his soul.  Get used to it, because Life is full of it, these are the inevitable things that happen to men, and each are affected differently by them, each carries away a different set of baggage from happenstance such as this, and except for the very rare, let us say diabolical personality, the baggage is not nice in any way, it is burdensome and frightening.  Forever.  It is the stuff of nightmares.  It is forever.

Chapter One

Chapter One
4350 Words
25 September 2013



     The young soldier trudged through the dry shifting sand, and he wasn't happy about it.  Who could be happy about that?  He was heading east, toward the foot bridge at Tampa, Florida.  His steps were large, but they did not account for much, really.  There was no traction in the fine sand.   It gave way beneath his leather military boots as he walked, and it made him feel out of sorts, even ornery.  It was a striding, or perhaps even a slogging.   Yes, a slogging, that about described it, he thought.  Like some sort of dray animal set about its work in blind and dumb repitition, slogging through the sand.  He felt uncomfortable at this thought, so he made a conscious effort to think different things.   It worked for awhile.

     This soldiers full name was Rifleman John Daniel Prestwick.  He was Johnny to his friends, and he was 21 years old.  His build was a thin medium, height around six feet, Welsh heritage evident in black curly hair, blue eyes, and an introspective manner, almost shy.  His beard was full and trimmed short.  Johnny was stationed with a fair number of his kind, which is to say Soldier kind, at the military station in Tampa Florida.   Fort Brooke had been his home for over a year.   He had volunteered in Providence, Rhode Island, and after training near Pensacola came orders for Tampa.  He was now a Rifle Specialist and soldier in the American Army.  There were 3 full companies from the 4th Infantry here at Fort Brooke now, and various specialty units including the survey crews.  It was the height of The Second Seminole Indian War.  The year was 1838, and Fort Brooke was one of Americas largest forts.

     The Fort at Tampa was named after its founder, George Mercer Brooke, a General who was still in the Army up north somewhere.  He had begun to construct the Cantonment which bore his name in 1824, as a Colonel, achieving Generals rank before leaving in 1829.  After General Brooke had come other Commanding Officers, all good men who did as they were ordered.  The latest Officer in charge of Fort Brooke was Major William Goldsmith Belknap, a career Officer who would one day reach the rank of General if he lived long enough, but had not yet.   Johnny was slogging through the sand on orders from the office of the Major right now in fact.  A delivery of important documents to Guard Post West had been accomplished.  Errand complete, Johnny was on his way back to the Fort proper, which was still a couple miles away.

      It was Tuesday, the last Tuesday in February, a good time of year around Tampa.  The best.  After Florida summer, the coolness of winter is enjoyed by all, and even though it is called Winter, its very mild and nearly indiscernible when compared to the winters up north.  It never snows and hardly ever freezes in this part of Florida.   On most winter days one can go swimming -- the water is many times warmer than the outside air, and not unpleasurable. 

     The sun was setting on this particular day, this Tuesday of the sand slogging, and a stiff breeze off the bay made things quite chilly, about 50 degrees Fahrenheit is what it felt like.   Johnny's winter coat was heavy dark blue felt, and it had large brass buttons embossed with eagles.   The color of his coat matched his tri-cornered hat.  He halted for a moment, took his hat off, wiped his brow.  That felt good.  He pushed his hat back onto his head, then began to button the front of his coat against the chill breeze, because the wind cut right through the rough-spun hemp cloth which were his long drawers, trousers and shirt.  He noticed that one of his coat buttons was missing.  Again.  Curse it to the nether region, which is probably where it was by now anyway.  Yes straight off to button hell with it, where all lost buttons eventually end up, Johnny was sure. 

     There must be a massive pile of them, too, he thought.  He would stop by clothing supply later and get a replacement, sew it on, a future donation to button hell.  The real problem was this: technically he was out of uniform with the button missing, as his Commanding Officer,  Lieutenant Walter Reich,  had made abundantly clear more than once in the past.  Johnny thought it would be fine if Lieutenant Reich one day  found his righteous little self set before that awesome pile of lost buttons down where they were, yuh. 

     As spastic as the Lieutenant became over things having to do with missing buttons, one might assume correctly that buttons already represented some sort of extreme, even unhealthy attraction and angst to him.  Johnny did not wish hell on anyone, but he thought the Lieutenant an exceptionally well qualified candidate for the hot place, buttons or not.  You see, Johnny was in the sad predicament of knowing much more than he cared to know concerning the Lieutenants private life.   This knowledge had been gained accidentally, and no one else knew he possessed it.   The Lieutenant and his secret business associates would not suffer him to live if they became aware of his knowledge, he was sure of that.   The information had remained within, and always  would.   The best thing Johnny could do was avoid the Lieutenant whenever possible.    Avoid the Lieutenant like a sickness, yes sir, and a stunning day to you too.

      Johnny shook his head, made another attempt to clear his thoughts.

     Riflemen had two large pockets on the front of their military issue winter coats.  Johnny carried a small sheathed knife, razor sharpened, in one of his coat pockets, and in the other pocket were 4 or 5 hefty stones and his sling, made from rawhide.  He could get rabbits with the sling anytime, and fowling was productive too.  He carried a regular issue possibles bag slung over his left shoulder.  There was an eagle stamped on it, wings spread.  Inside the possibles bag was a military issue powder flask, full; some lead shot; extra lead-wrapped rifle flints which were army issue in a small wood case, and wadding.  The powder flask was embossed with an eagle too, very ornate and clear.  Below the eagle it said US.   It was brass but shined like gold.

     Johnny carried his rifle slung across his back.  It had a new leather strap just for that, and he had practiced hours with it.  He could unsling that rifle and have it at shoulder faster than most men could gain the stance.  He considered the leather strap a vast improvement, and it was.  It cost a pretty, but worth it.  4 bits, American silver, the two quarter dollars had been saved aside from his pay for two months.   The silver made Old Liam the Leathersmith happy, and its good to keep the Leathersmith happy.  The coins also had eagles on them.

     Occasionally Johnny saw a real eagle flying overhead.  It always thrilled him.   The sightings left him with a feeling of destiny, and meaning, but he did not know why.   He was impressed with the world.   He also saw many other kinds of birds, including some owls so large he would not have believed it if he had not seen them himself.  They made the scariest sounds at night,  those owls, until you got used to their noises.    There were also a lot of Maker Ben Franklins favorites, the wild turkeys, and though they certainly were wise birds, they were not wise enough to avoid hungry men.  Many of the big wise birds dressed tables regularly around Tampa Fort Brooke, and the feathers were prized for various uses.

     The foot bridge was quite an accomplishment, it consisted of large wooden logs driven into the river bed, and planked across, with a hand rail.  Johnny was approaching it now and could even see it in the distance.  On the other side of the river the wooden sidewalks began.  There was a road there too, well trod clay and oyster shell over sand.  That road worked very well for wagons and horses, except when it was raining.   There were rumors of some streets being bricked in the near future, and Johnny thought about that for a few seconds.  So many bricks, all laid end to end and side by side, forming roads.  Marvelous.   Brick roads were common up north, but still a wonder, all those bricks.  A great uniformity.

     The clay and oyster shell road ran along the river on the east side, the Fort side.   Heading south from the foot bridge would take a traveler to the Fort and the mouth of St. Julians  River where it emptied into the Bay Of The Holy Spirit, Bahia E Spiritu Santos, as the Spanish said.  Good fishing there.   Many small boats plied the waters of the river and the bay.  Newer maps called the river after Lord Hillsborough, the British curator of the territory when it was owned by the Crown, though most of Tampa called it St. Julians, San Julian, which is what the Spanish named it back in the 1500's.

     If a traveler followed the clay and shell road north from the foot bridge it went clear to Palm Corner, inland to where the river turned west sharply.   2 miles or so.  Looking that way he saw a column of smoke rising.  There was always some sort of burning going on somewhere.   Busy men.  Like ants, but better.

     Johnny was hurrying now because the sun was setting fast.  He saw Flambeau lamps being lit on cue of dusk across the river.  The Lieutenant hunting with a few other men had shot two Florida Black Bears out here last month, small, but bears none the less.  There were panthers too, big grey-brown creatures.   He had caught a glimpse of a Florida panther once while he was on guard duty.  He fired his gun into the ground near it, to scare it away, reloading quickly just in case.  The danger permeated even the daylight hours, but was much worse at night.

      The panthers were more frightening, but large cat attacks were unknown, where as bears had been known to wander even into the Fort itself, and became immediately hostile when approached.  The animals were drawn by the smells from the Fort and the small busy town that was growing around it.  Soon there would be no more bears to worry about, he was sure of that.  It was a soldiers job to make safe the land, after all.   Time is a tool.  Constant effort is repaid with constant change, which builds upon itself as time passes, like blocks in a pyramid.   Man would soon overtake this land, and all the surrounding lands.  In the meantime it was still dangerous to be on the west side of the bridge after dark.   Johnny slogged onward. 

      Sand purgatory was nearly ended for another day.  Back to civilization, and gladly.  Overall, Rifleman Prestwick was enjoying his Florida duty, but many times he looked around in search of an industrial skyline, like he remembered from his hometown, and there was none.  Not yet.  The land was almost totally flat, except for a few small hills here and there, and the scenery consisted of large oak trees with grey hanging moss, patches of various types of scrub wood, and wide expanses of open sand, many times dunes, for as far as the eye could see.  The views were different near water, but still of a type.  Wild and overgrown, or sandy.   He wondered how the survey teams could do it, out in the wilderness for months at a time, camping every night, no baths except for swimming in the springs, one must be born to that type of thing, he thought.  They could have it, and all the wild life to go along with it. 

     Then, like a large whirlpool in his mind, he remembered the woman in Jolly Corner, and he firmly pushed those memories away too.  He wished he had better control over what thoughts came into his thinking.  He diverted himself by looking down with purpose at the white sand as he neared the river by the North Bridge to Tampa.  There was still a little daylight left, and he had done well around here before.  His eyes picked out small shards, like flakes, of multi-colored stone laying against the sand.   Then:  yes!   There was another!

     A well made spear point lay on the white sand, having been weathered out of a small gully eroded by rain.  It sat up on a little pedestal where the sand below it had not eroded away.   Deposited by the indians, these incredible artifacts of a time-before were common around Tampa.  An aspiring craftsman himself, Johnny had a hard time believing that the indians he'd seen during his time at Fort Brooke were capable of making such fine, thin, glass-like weapons as he was able to collect in this part of Florida.   He'd found quite a few in his time at the Fort, and he saved them, wrapped in cloth, in a wooden cigar box.
 
     This spearhead had a reddish hue, and appeared to be made of some kind of local agate, which was it exactly.  Johnny could see light through the red stone when he held it up to the sun.  It was perfect.   Two months ago,  on an exploratory trip to a nearby spring,  he'd picked up five perfect spearheads in one day, they weathered out of the sand in places.  The weapon points were almost always accompanied by small fine flakings of glass-like local rock, and other odd worked stones which Johnny thought could be scraping tools, and sling stones.  He had tried some of these sling stones in his sling, and noticed that not too few of them whistled in flight.  That was very interesting.  They were accurate too.

     Many of the local agate spearpoints were sculptures done so meticulously it almost defied description.  Johnny had seen the local indians chipping stone, and the things they made were crude.  He himself had chipped flints for his rifle, and they were difficult enough that only one in three worked.  The beauty and sharpness of the weapon tips deposited around water in the Florida sand caused questioning and consternation among all who saw them.  A number of the artifacts were found in a damaged state,  apparently used and broken during the hunt.  To be sure, there were some crude examples of these weapon points found too, but the better spearheads were fine hand crafted works of art in every sense of the word.

     The agate that the Florida spearheads were made of derived from what would one day be called the Tampa Formation, which are huge solid heads of coral replaced with silica over 30 million years ago.  Or so.  For miles and miles and miles.  Possibly as a result of some sort of cataclysm.  A true large scale petrification resulted.  The spearpoints Johnny collected there by the St. Julians were not, in truth, made by the present day natives of Florida, so his initial conjecture would be proven.  The agate spearpoints of such fine type which are found around Tampa were created and used by the long ago ancestors of the present day natives.  Those ancient people were from a time which ranged back to the end of the last ice age, about10 thousand years or so.  As times changed from the Ice Age forward, the environment became more lush, less harsh.  Most stone weaponry actually devolved in quality as time moved forward, because game became much more plentiful and easier to acquire through less arduous means.  

    Johnny knew none of that, that was information in the future; he may have sensed it, as people do, but not overtly.  Always curious, he had a good eye, and he learned well.  He also liked to trade commercially, knew the value of different kinds of money.   It is an Abundant World.  He was thankful for his body and spirit and the time here.  All a wonderful gift from something greater than him, which he was a part of.

     He secured the red spearpoint, another gift, in his coat pocket with his knife.  If material things have spirits let them share power then, that can only be good,  he thought.   He began the final slog to the bridge.  It was near.  He walked up the slight incline of the path onto its wooden surface, where foot steps really counted, and faced the bustling town of Tampa across St. Julians River.  There were horse sounds, and music from the shanty pubs.  Raucous laughter.  More torches were being lit in houses here and there as he watched the dusk gather.   Small open fires in a few places.  A harmonica being played.

     He strode home across the bridge, his boots making hard rythm on the wood.  The river flowed dark beneath.   The last red slice of sun dropped below the horizon.
                             
                                        ============================

     Johnny stopped on the east edge of the bridge, facing Tampa.  It was almost dark.  He watched the firelit scene for a few moments, it stretched off into the distance, pinpoints of fire everywhere.  It is said that the name Tampa derives from the Indian word Tanpa, which means Fire Stick or Land of Fire Sticks.   Johnny could certainly believe that just now.  For a second he had the wild feeling he was a King, and below him lay his Kingdom of people and things.  The feeling passed quickly.   A kings life was lonely and full of threat he thought.  Better anonymity within the mass, if that was possible.  He was doing pretty good so far.  Time would ultimately tell how successful he would be in that.   Fame comes with age, so there was no avoiding it if age happened, just like there was no avoiding the one deadly mistake that everyone eventually makes.

     And everyone does make one deadly mistake in their life, of that he was sure, because his Grandpa had told him so, and his Grandpa never lied to him.  The idea, the real trick of living, was to put as much distance and time between yourself, and your deadly mistake, as possible.  It seemed easy in the saying so, but as his Grandpa told him, that was self deception, delusion.  A deadly mistake happens quickly, no one expects it, it catches them unaware, then comes Death, fast or slow, Death comes, and every single one who has succumbed would have avoided their deadly mistake, if they had seen it coming.   Simple, but full of meaning too.

     Johnny looked left, which was north, and a short distance up the road he recognized a familiar gait.  It was Lewis, one of the card players and sharp shooters who accompanied the government surveying crews.  One of the guides.  He was a white man,  of European descent, and a rough one, about 35 or 40 years old, long brown hair and long full beard, a true outdoorsman, and a good story teller.  Humorous.  Johnny waited for him at the bridge.

     "Howdy Lewis, " said Johnny, as the man walked up.

     "How are you Johnny man?" Came the reply.

     A visitor from the future would have heard what sounded like: "Hoo ear yee Johniman?"

     Sounds change, but the meanings stay pretty much the same, down through time.  The popular language around Tampa was like pidgin talk anywhere, and even more convoluted than most.  The area had been steadily inhabited by European people, a lot of Spanish but a variety, really, since the 1500's.  A mix including the indians and slaves, with all kinds of dialects, local and foreign accents, personal histories, nuances of diet, popular sports, gambling, and on and on.  The language of Tampa during the early 1800's happened on its own, it evolved and devolved daily, just like everywhere.  It was mostly employed as communication among its users, but it was also helpful in identifying outsiders.  Just like everywhere. 

     "I'm doing fine Lewis, how are you?"  Johnnys accent was from the northeast.   "Em doon fine Loos, how ahya?"

     Lewis replied in his Tampa Cajun Pidgin that he was doing O.K, except for a skin rash he had picked up in the woods during his last time out.  He thought it might be something he was allergic to.  He had gotten some ointment from the Fort medical  officer, which seemed to be taking care of the problem.  Lewis smoked a clay pipe, it was of the disposable type with a long stem, so that small end pieces could be broken off, creating a clean draw.  He offered it to Johnny, who refused with a slight gesture of the hand and a shake of his head.  Johnny didn't smoke tobacco, and did not plan on starting.  He had seen what it did to his Grandpa, who never lied, and who had stated in no uncertain terms that smoking tobacco had been his one deadly mistake, it just took a while to sink in and kill him, take his breath away.  Caught him unawares.  Slow. Deadly.  There were all kinds of deadly mistakes, not just a few.

     The two men walked south toward the Fort.  Lewis said he heard tell Johnny was up for duty with the 3rd Engineers Survey Crew, next round out.  This was news to Johnny and he felt alarmed by it.  He asked Lewis where he had heard such a thing, and Lewis replied that he'd overheard Lieutenant Reich talking to the head of the 3rd Engineers Survey crew about it.  This sent a jolt of apprehension through Johnny.  The Lieutenant himself would not be along for the tour with the 3rd, said Lewis, which was a glimmer of goodness in an otherwise unsavory situation.  Rather like a diamond in a pig pen, or a gold cufflink in a dung pile.  Johnny did not relish the idea of a trek out with the survey crews, some were gone for many months at a time. 

     As he had learned early in his military career though, it did not matter what a soldier wanted.  It was a soldiers duty to do what he was ordered to do.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Things could always be worse, he supposed, but he could not see how, right now.  With swift resignation he was already cataloging his belongings in his mind, packing them in his locker, getting ready to go.  Preparing.  It would be a good way to avoid the Lieutenant, at least.

     He thanked Lewis for the information before bidding him to fare well.  Johnny had to report to the Majors assistant concerning the delivery of papers to West Post, and then make the excursion to supply stores, next door to the laundry.   The Majors office door was closed and there was no one around.   Johnny made a log entry and left the office.   Now, to clothing stores.  It was about 3 blocks from his location which was out front of the officers quarters.  The night was full dark and moonless.  He walked huddled over, following the slatted wood sidewalks which were becoming covered in windblown sand.

     Clothing stores was a large wooden warehouse directly south of the Fort proper, near the small pier.  There were no big piers, because The Bay Of The Holy Spirit was very shallow in most places.  Tampa would never become a port unless deep channels could be dredged for large boats, and that engineering possibility was in the far future as well, at least 100 years or so.  Johnny saw a lamp on through the front window at stores, and was glad.  He went inside, procured some replacement buttons for his uniforms from the clerk on duty, Pvt. Michael Shannon, signed the receipt, and left.  Shannon had been closing for the day, Johnny felt lucky to have caught him there, or it would have been a wasted trip, with even better chance to be discovered out of uniform, missing buttons.

     The smell of the mess hall mixed with smells from the river and the bay.  It was not unpleasant.  There were soldiers about here and there, walking to and from the latrines, or on other late errands.  Johnny hurried now along the torch lit Fort Road because he was hungry.  He had the evening to sew buttons, and to put his thoughts in order about the probability of duty well outside of the Fort.  Out in the wild.   He would try to figure some ways to feel around, maybe take a walk over by the encampment of the 3rd Engineers a little later.   First, sustenance.

      The dining hall was well lit, shadows were stark, lots of military issue flambeau torches and oil lamps all around. There were wooden tables and chairs in rows.  It would seat over one hundred inside, and as many or more out of doors at the tables under the oaks.  Most of the soldiery had eaten already, Johnnys errand for the Majors office had made him late, and there were only a few other latecomers eating at the tables.   The cook waved lazily and grunted from his seat by the back door.  Johnny helped himself to a full plate of meat and vegetables.  He saw cake as well, and wondered if somehow that might be his one deadly mistake.  He liked it too much, of that he was certain.

     Then he thought about the wilds of Florida awaiting him, and the possibility of not only being without cake, but a lot more, for many months.  In spite of the cooks raised eyebrows,  Johnny had two pieces of cake after supper, and took a third with him, which was gone by time he made it back to his bunk.

     It was warm inside the bunkhouse.  Individual bunks were  partitioned along the sides with wooden walls about head high, allowing some privacy within the enlisted mens barracks.  The building which served as the enlisted mens barracks was an airy single floored structure with a center peaked metal roof.   It was raised off the ground on masonry piers about three feet.    Johnny lit the oil lamp on the dresser at his bedside with a wooden lucifer, and turned the flame up,  all the while ignoring the nightly fracas happening in the rest of the bunk house: yelling, crowd talk, another  harmonica, someone beating out a rythm on wood...the ebb and flow of soldier life.

     He looked to his bunk as he reached for his sewing kit underneath it, and immediately saw the envelope.  That was not a letter from home there.  He knew before he opened it.  Clear orders to join the 3rd Engineering Crew in two days for departure as Survey Support.  So much for preparation.

     Johnny removed his hat and coat.  He sat in the one chair by the bedside table, up close to the lamp, opened his sewing kit, and began to sew buttons where they were needed.