Utah Territory, 1857
Henry poured some more whiskey into his tin cup. As he drank it, most of it spilled into his beard. His wife, Maggie was saying something, but he couldn’t figure out the words coming out of her mouth.
His kids were crying, which wasn’t unusual. They cried more often than not since they moved out west. Henry hated the cries. A constant saw against his skull that bit deeper with each minute.
Maggie picked up Susan and hugged the little girl to her chest. “You need to stop! Look at you! You can’t even get the spirits to your mouth anymore!”
“Keep out of it,” Henry said.
“You said things would be better out here, Henry! You said we’d start a new life and you’d beat that damned melancholia. But all you care about is that damned journal and searching for a cave that doesn’t even exist!”
Henry tried to pour another drink but his hand slipped, knocking the bottle to the ground. He let out a growl and stumbled out of the cabin and let the cool mountain air wash across his dirt-covered face. The world spun as he tried to make his way to the well. Each step he took required every bit of his concentration.
The cries of his son and daughter crawled out of the cabin. Henry threw his hands over his ears to block the damned noise, but it did little to help. The quick movement, however, was enough to throw him off balance and he fell to the ground.
He wasn’t sure how long he lay there. A sea of gunfire washed away the cries of his family. Henry immediately crawled towards the well for cover. The cabin melted away and he found himself back on the battlefield with his soldiers.
“Get down boys! They’re shootin’ again!”
A hard thud of a body hitting the earth was enough to tell him someone didn’t listen. Henry cautioned a glance over. It was Thomas. Good lord almighty, Thomas! The boy was only sixteen.
“You sonsofbitches! He was only a boy!”
Henry unholstered his pistol and fired into the darkness until it was empty. He scrambled to his knees and scurried to the well. He put his back to the hard rock and shut his eyes. Gunfire came from all directions and Henry was sure he was about to catch lead when it stopped just as suddenly as it had started.
“Boys? Y’all okay?”
The high-pitched wails of children came to him once again. There wasn’t supposed to be any children out here. It was a battlefield, not a nursery.
“Boys? Who’s still with me?”
Deep down, Henry knew the answer to that question. He had relived this battle many times over. He was the only one that made it.
Henry buried his head into his knees and began to sob. He wiped the tears away with a grimy hand and instinctively reached for a whiskey bottle. But there wasn’t anything but rocks and prickly weeds.
Henry sucked in a breath and listened. The voice. It had only been a whisper, no louder than a gentle breeze tickling the aspen trees. But he had heard it. That much he was sure.
“You let me die, Henry. Promised I would make it home to see Ma and Pa, but I didn’t make it, did I? And it was your fault.”
Henry whipped his head around and peeked over the well. Nothing but mountains surrounding his tiny valley. Nobody was out there. No Confederates. No natives. Nobody.
“You let us all die for that stupid book.”
It came from behind him. He spun his body. Someone stood over him wearing a tattered Union coat. He knew the face. Dear Lord in heaven he knew the face.
Henry squeezed his eyes shut and lifted his pistol. He pulled the hammer back and yanked the trigger, but the gun only clicked.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! Henry!”
It was Maggie’s voice. His wife.
Henry opened his eyes. He was still pointing the pistol at her. She held his sweet daughter Susan in her arms, eyes wide.
“Maggie, I…” Henry dropped the pistol and slumped against the well.
“You could have killed us! How much have you had to drink tonight?”
Henry didn’t answer. Her question didn’t require an answer.
Maggie spun on her heel and went back into the cabin. The door slammed shut behind her. Henry sat there and knocked the back of his head against the hard stone until it bled.
An unexplainable pull grabbed his attention. A lone figure stood at the edge of the field, dressed in a long yellow coat with a big hood. Henry couldn’t see the figure’s face, but the rage that rolled off the figure burned Henry’s eyes.
He started to cry.