Burial Detail [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
eBook Category: Dark Fantasy
eBook Description: In the shadow of the American Civil War, a freed slave is trying to earn money by burying the dead at Cold Harbor ... and hides a secret that makes his burial detail one of the most horrible jobs of his life.
eBook Publisher: Fictionwise.com, Published: Civil War Fantastic, ed. Martin H. Greenberg, 2000
Fictionwise Release Date: May 2002
87 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats [MultiFormat - What's this?]: eReader (PDB) [24 KB]
, ePub (EPUB) [21 KB]
, Rocket/REB1100 (RB) [10 KB]
, Portable Document Format (PDF) [51 KB]
, Palm Doc (PDB) [10 KB]
, Microsoft Reader (LIT) [34 KB]
, Franklin eBookMan (FUB) [80 KB]
, hiebook (KML) [55 KB]
, Sony Reader (LRF) [36 KB]
, iSilo (PDB) [8 KB]
, Mobipocket (PRC) [11 KB]
, Kindle Compatible (MOBI) [39 KB]
, OEBFF Format (IMP) [18 KB]
Reading time: 9-13 min.
Microsoft Reader (LIT) Format: Printing DISABLED, Read-Aloud ENABLED
Portable Document Format (PDF) Format: Printing DISABLED, Read-Aloud DISABLED
All Other formats: Printing DISABLED, Read-aloud DISABLED
"In "Burial Detail," our unnamed 1st person narrator is a former slave just after the Civil War working at Cold Harbor burying the dead. It takes about half the story for the fantasy element to come in, but when it does, it hits powerfully. A simple story well told. Can't ask for more than that."--Michael H. Payne, Tangent Online (Learn more about Tangent Online, the Internet's leading SF&F short fiction review website)
A photographer's wagon sets ta the edge a this field. His horse nuzzles the dry ground while the photographer--a white man--roots in the back, pullin out stuff like a man sittin up camp. I stand in fronta my full litter and watch--anythin for a break. Behind me, Dawson says sumpin loud enough for me ta hear, but too low for me ta catch the words. I don't miss the meanin. He thinks I don't work hard enough. Maybe not. I ain't supposed ta be here. Battlegrounds is dangerous for a man like me, even battlegrounds ten months old. But I need the money and the U.S. government is payin more than I'd make anywhere else. Luce is pregnant, and times is so different now. Different than they was a month ago. If we kin get out a Virginia, we kin live a real life. A real life--that's worth touchin the souls a the dead. The white man, he gets out a the wagon, draggin a long three legged black stand. He ain't that tall, kinda skinny, with a big black beard and stringy hair. His coat's too warm for the day, even though the air's got a bite. He'll be bakin before the afternoon's out. April in Virginia's a bad mix a hot and cold; mornins like ta freeze your hands and afternoons sometimes make you sweat. I ain't got many clothes but I wear my oldest pants, a heavy shirt I kin pull off if I gotta, and a stockin cap that folds over my brow. Last night, I searched our place for gloves, but we ain't got none, or at least none Luce'll let me dirty so I got ta do this work with my bare hands. So far I ain't touched nothin but cloth. Cloth was bad enough. As I think on that, I wipe my palms on the thick cotton a my pants. Corpses ten months dead ain't quite skeletons yet. They got bits a skin hangin off the bones, and some lumpish stuff in the skull. The clothes is still on em, hangin rag-like now, with the stench a death still clingin. Mosta these white boys been layin in the Virginia sun since last June. A few been claimed by family--mostly Rebs who lived nearby--but the rest, their families been told they was lost or died "valiently" or was buried by comrades. Guess I count as a comrade, near ta a year after the fact. The white man, he got the box part on top a the stand and he's carryin a crate a plates like they weighed as much as him. He eases em down, grabs one, and the glass catches the sun. He grins at me like he spects me ta grin back. I look away. I dunno what interests a white man in a group a folk tillin this field a death. There's five a us on this patch--five live ones, that is--and maybe a two hundred dead. And those's the ones we kin count. It don't take inta consideration the ones the animals got, leavin bones scattered all over every which way. Or the ones that blowed up when they's hit by cannon, or those that was burned when the Rebs tried ta light the breastworks, tryin ta start a fire that consumed all like they done in the Wilderness. Ain't too many burned here. One a the boys who's diggin, he worked burial in the Wilderness, and he say the smell a smoke's still fresh in the air. I couldn't work there no more than I kin work here. I'm new ta this crew, so they give me the worst job. I shoulda been diggin. The land talks but it don't say as much as bodies. I picks up the litter, and drags it ta the hole Dawson's dug. A leg bone rolls off, gets buried under some dried grass. I stare for a minute. I don't wanna touch it again, but I guess I will after I deliver the litter ta Dawson. He's leanin on his shovel, starin at the molderin pile a blue cloth that I piled on the bottom a the litter. It's harder ta look at the skulls, with their empty eyes and sad little grins. The skulls, they show you youse pickin up bits a men. The cloth could be nothin more than garbage left by the retreatin army. Dawson reaches down ta help me with the litter when I get close ta the hole. This one's deep, the dirt darker below than it is up top. He's been diggin a while, but he don't got blisters like I'd get if I spent the mornin makin that hole. His hands got calluses on 'em--he used ta work the land. I worked the house until the war done started. I was younger then, wasn't quite ready ta be the butler or the reg'lar manservant, but I was trainin. The Missus, she say I had ta learn ta talk better, and I was doin that when they fought the first battle at Mannassas, north a here. The Missus, she pack up everythin, put it in storage--not that it helped when they burned the city--and she and the little ones went ta live with relatives west a here. Master died at Gettysburg--the real butler told me that when I saw him las week. I was gonna go north, but Luce stopped me. She was pregnant then too, but lost the baby when it was too late for us ta leave. Not enough food, I guess. Her body couldn't handle a baby and survivin at the same time. I tended her, doin odd jobs, sayin I was free, even though the Missus made it clear she spected all a us ta be around when she got back. Gave us a roof at least till it was burned from under us. Now we's really and truly free, have been for near two weeks, ever since Grant and Lee signed some papers in Appomattox, not too far from here. They's Union soldiers everwhere--ta keep the peace, they say, tho havin soldiers didn't help ole Mister Lincoln none. Luce been cryin bout him for more'n a week, like he was someone she knew personal. Thins's changed, and under the good's sumpin bad comin. I kin feel it. It's the way them Rebs look at us when we's walkin down the street, not carryin nothin a theirs, not sayin "yessir" and "nosir," at least when we's thinkin a it. Some habits get ground in good. I still bob my head like a good darkie most a the time, and I hates it more with each bob, like it takes a little piece a me, grinds it up, and loses it forever. The North's still the Promised Land, least ta me and Luce. We's gonna raise our kids where there's no battlefields, no burned out buildins, and no hatred in white folks eyes. So I's workin here. And now a white man thinks I'm worth photographin.