|In Midnight Sleep
Author: Nauticalmass PM
When a soldier heads into battle, he knows what horrors could befall him. However, Jasper Whitlock could have never predicted the hell of Maria.Rated: Fiction M - English - Drama - Jasper - Chapters: 5 - Words: 12,996 - Reviews: 147 - Favs: 70 - Follows: 107 - Updated: 04-04-12 - Published: 02-13-12 - id: 7830989
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Summary: "In Midnight Sleep." When a soldier heads into battle, he knows what horrors could befall him. However, Jasper Whitlock could have never predicted the hell of Maria.
IN midnight sleep, of many a face of anguish,
Of the look at first of the mortally wounded—of that indescribable look;
Of the dead on their backs, with arms extended wide,
I dream, I dream, I dream.
Of scenes of nature, fields and mountains;
Of skies, so beauteous after a storm—and at night the moon so unearthly bright,
Shining sweetly, shining down, where we dig the trenches and gather the heaps,
I dream, I dream, I dream.
Long, long have they pass'd—faces and trenches and fields;
Where through the carnage I moved with a callous composure—or away from the fallen,
Onward I sped at the time—But now of their forms at night,
I dream, I dream, I dream.
("In Midnight Sleep," Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman)
Is this then a touch? quivering me to a new identity,
Flames and ether making a rush for my veins
("Song of Myself," Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman)
The pain was immediate and overwhelming. It wasn't just the sharp stab or burning lance I'd been told about from those who had crossed paths with an errant bullet. It was unimaginable, and my whole body felt engulfed in flames radiating outward from my neck. Perhaps neck wounds were a more excruciating way to die. We had all foolishly thought a bayonet would be the worst way to go.
I wanted to open my eyes. I wanted to assess what had happened and who had been able to approach me undetected, but my eyes wouldn't comply. Was it possible to catch alight from a single bullet? I was convinced I was literally burning. Perhaps my eyelids no longer existed, as I was surely turning to ash.
My thoughts were scattered, but I had flashes of clarity despite the searing pain and my own deafening wails. I kept seeing three pale women. Had they been killed or captured? Were we all on fire? Were they even real? Even in the midst of my torture, I felt fear at what Yankee soldiers might do to them if they were taken.
To focus on anything other than the destruction of my flesh, I tried to count my gasps and screams, waiting for their wane to herald my death. However, Death was either not the swift, beautiful angel I sought, or I was certainly burning in Hell. What of my actions could have led me there I did not know.
I saw unfocused flashes of a life—my fingers trembling as I picked long blades of grass, tufts of cotton spread over a field like snow, a familiar bar of music being hummed in my ear. They were fragments, and I could feel the emotion of each image more clearly than I could decipher the facts of them.
Hope. Wonder. Love.
Every time I would try to concentrate on the images, the flames would race even more. Each vague memory that surfaced made my heart ache and made it clear something was just out of reach.
B— Beautiful. There was something beautiful that I couldn't make out. It was shimmering on the edges of my consciousness, but the pain in my chest was too great to explore it. The familiar scenes of soft sheets, sun-warmed ground, and a letter pressed to my lips fueled the flames even higher.
Where was the sweet relief of death? Had I failed so miserably at my mission that I could not even garner that reward?
Thinking of my orders made the pain recede just enough that I could grasp my thoughts. I had been taught that when in dire situations, it was best to stick to regimented and disciplined thoughts, to focus on only the concrete facts, and from there a strategy would arise. I began thinking backward from the moment the pain started to the three women along my path, to why I was running an evacuation mission.
I focused all of my energy on replaying my conversation with the women and searching for the moment I made the error in allowing a Yankee to overtake me. Every pass through my consciousness made the memories of my mission clearer.
As my thoughts became less muddled, the pain seemed to grow even more tortuous. It seemed as if I had been dying for days, though my concept of time may have been warped. Finally, my heart began to slam against my chest, and I thought for sure Death was coming to grant me my reprieve. The rhythm thundered in my charred body until it stopped with an anti-climactic thud.
When the hammering ceased, so did my pain, except for a dull reminder in my throat. It seemed like a cruel but poetic twist of fate that the soul should carry a reminder of one's mortal downfall.
The ache was slight enough that the first moment I was able to concentrate I was slammed with a multitude of sounds. I was disoriented and confused by the maddening volume of death. Wanting to cry out, I took in a breath only to have the flames reignite in my throat. The pain was so acute that I was both shocked and disappointed at the thought that I might not be dead. It was as if there was a beast trying to claw its way out from my neck. I went to tear at my skin to help the beast escape, and before I could even open my eyes, something was thrust toward me.
My arms wrapped around something soft that my fingers seemed to slide through. I opened my mouth and it was immediately filled with warmth. Finally, I felt my first total reprieve in what seemed like forever. I was swallowing while my hands gouged and carved shapes in the softness.
I had been wrong before when I had assumed I was in some sort of hell. I greedily took the warmth in my mouth and knew I was reaping a reward. Every pull of my mouth was a step closer to bliss, but every pull also made me feel further away, as I hungered for more.
I wanted to know what was bringing me so much happiness, but whenever I would try to open my eyes or begin to surface to coherent thought, I would sense a new object of warmth pressed to me. I dropped the cooling mass to the floor and embraced a new one over and over again.
I drank until my face, my neck, and my whole body were dripping with the sweet heat flowing in my mouth. My arms and fingers played in the silky texture until I was sure I was painted in my newly beloved sweet essence. My body seemed to hum and sway with pleasure, and I couldn't tell how long the dance lasted.
When I began to feel sated, I let my arms release my prize. Nothing new was presented to me, so I slowly opened my eyes to finally see what wonder I had been gifted with.
As soon as they were open, though, I was taken aback. I was in a dark brick room strewn with body parts. There were legs and hands and feet and arms braided in stacks. Pulp and blood painted the walls, and as I looked down, I could see my skin was streaked with human matter.
I turned faster than I could comprehend, looking for what dangerous threat was lurking in the room, but I was the sole inhabitant. What could have done something so heinous? I should have been terrified, but instead, I was disappointed that some soldier hadn't been assigned to clean up the jumbled parts. The horrors of war should always be avoided; they weren't good for troop morale.
My thoughts were interrupted when I was doused with a bucket of water. The water was neither warm nor cold. In fact, its temperature had no effect on me. I wasn't as startled as I thought I should be, for I could feel something approaching even before its wet contact. I was mesmerized by the sensation of each drop coursing down my body. Looking toward the far wall, I could see glistening drops of water shining from my lashes. They were spectacular little prisms coursed with red.
I followed the red as it dripped down to my chest. I saw rivers of it running down my body and pooling on the floor. I was fascinated by the swirls of it coming off—washing off. As I watched the redness stream toward the floor and begin to sink into the cracks in the brick, my wonder turned to rage.
Blood. It was blood. I knew that now.
It belonged to me, and it was running away. Someone or something was taking it away from me and wasting it on the ungrateful and filthy floor.
In an effort to save it. I rubbed my hands up my chest, trying to stop and save the drops. I covered my hands in the watered-down substance and brought them up to my mouth, where I licked at my fingers. When I had salvaged all I could, I began lapping at my forearms, distraught at how little there was left.
Who was responsible for this?
I snapped my head up and was greeted with the sight of my tormentor—a short, muscular man in non-descript clothing but with shockingly bright red eyes. My eyes darted between him and the door I now noticed behind him. I felt a rumble build in my chest and a growl come out of my mouth as my body lowered into a crouch of its own volition.
The man's lips pulled back, and I heard his answering growl before he spoke, his soft voice at odds with his violent posture.
"Come, Mama is waiting."
Author Note: Let me know your thoughts. Reviewers get a teaser for the next chapter.
To my "Leaves of Grass" readers: Thank you for your extreme patience in waiting for me to get this next story up. This is how I imagined Jasper's life once he was taken by Maria. "In Midnight Sleep" is the portion of Jasper's tale that is entirely canon.