Wisps of summer breeze whistled through the tops of tall pines. A small, red dirt road, bordered on each side by high, dry grass, divided the forest in two. Fifty feet to the west of the road, a small clearing allowed the sun to penetrate to the ground and tufts of green grass carpeted the site. A lone figure stood at the center of the clearing speaking to the wind. The long white robe upon his shoulders shimmered in the morning light. A curious Blue Jay fluttered from a wooded perch and landed upon the stranger’s shoulder.
Nestled upon a thick branch high within a mighty pine on the east side of the road another man lay in wait, dressed in Berdan green and pitch black hat. His Whitfield rifle, a personal gift from the colonel, glistened in the filtered light. From a red sack he removed a handful ash and mixed it with a spatter of cool water from his canteen.
“I hate ta do this to ya, but we can’t be seen.”
He spread the milky mixture on the long barrel and it no longer sparkled in the sunlight. He watched as it dried. The cracks and furrows that formed before his eyes reminded him of the pain and death that had been a part of his life for three long years.
On each side of the road, the tall grass swayed and swooned in concert with the wafting air. A company of honey bees leapt and danced from flower to flower, intent on feeding their hive. The buzzing and hum played upon his ears, tuned sharply to every sound, and taunted him to slumber.
Between his ears, the morning’s orders rang loud and clear and shook him back to life. The information was trusted and his duty was clear. A man would soon appear and it was his job to take him out. Why that particular man he didn’t know. He tried to convince himself that he didn’t care, but he did. He always cared, but such was the life of the sharpshooter. Once a target was assigned, mind and body formed into the machine it was trained to be. He had his orders. Not a steel or wooden target, but a man. Never a deer or an elk like back home. He never bragged about the miraculous shots he took as a soldier, as some were apt to do.
The report of shod footsteps further down the road shook the tree-top shooter to life. He checked the stiff machining of his new rifle, rubbed the sight clear, and then placed the end of the long brass tube to his single, open eye. The figure of a gray-clad man appeared before him. A deep breath, then a gentle squeeze upon the trigger. The Whitworth barked its angry howl. With the familiar sickening thud, the target fell to the ground then rolled into the high grass.
His mission complete and presence announced, the sharpshooter took up his rifle. With the skill of years he descended the tree with one silent, graceful swoop. His feet upon the solid dirt and duff, he lit through the trees in a blustery dash.
The man in white linen appeared through the trees. His steps, soft and full of intent, carried him forward, yet no grass bent in his wake. He reached the side of the fallen soldier and knelt beside him. As his disfigured hand touched the red, swollen wound, the prostrate Confederate opened both eyes.
“You have done well. I have been watching, and praying. You have filled your years with hope, Matthew Wells, and your faith has held firm and true. You kept watch over the flock I gave you and your children have all come to me.”
“But what about my regiment, Lord? There are so many left to reach.”
“Ah, your heart burns brightly for their souls. Their future is no longer your concern. Your rest has come and I have sent them someone new. It is time for you to come home, my son.”
“Lord, I have waited for you for so long, but there is so much that I can do.” He began to weep.
Jesus touched the man’s face and the tears vanished from his eyes. “I too have been waiting, much longer than you. Rejoice Matthew for today you will enter into glory.”
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