The Wanderer (Historical Fiction) written by Grant Kauffman
The following was a submission in the Writer’s Weekly 24-Hour Contest.
Each writer was given one day to come up with a short story, no longer than 900 words. At noon on day one, a topic was emailed to all participants. The rules stated that the topic or prompt was to be incorporated into the story somehow. It could be changed and tweaked but the general idea of it had to be included in the story. Here is the prompt that was supplied:
She wiped her hands on her apron, peering out the window. Red and orange leaves hurried by as the cold autumn wind
battered the small cabin. The girl should have been back from the errand by now. At that moment, she saw the flying, fiery red braids. The devil’s mark on her right cheek, a constant reminder, was clearly visible, even at dusk. The girl, breathless, burst through the wooden door.
“Ma! Come quickly!!”
Here is the story I submitted.
by Grant Kauffman
Sabrina Lambert smiled for the first time in as long as she could remember. All it took was a memory, a simple recollection, and the months of emptiness seemed to dissipate, if only for a moment. They felt good, her memories, one encounter in particular, involving the only man who’d ever made her truly happy. He had touched her in ways no man ever had, deep in her soul. His mental lovemaking was more powerful than any physical pleasure she’d ever known. After the war, her heart had been ripe for the taking, and he had carried it places it had never been.
Sabrina’s husband had been lost in the fall of Richmond—a tragedy, yes—but by the time the capital was in Union hands, death had become far too familiar, grief heaped upon grief. Sabrina hardly reacted upon receiving the news of his death, and while she was deeply ashamed of her stoic response to losing a good man, she also felt a sense of relief as she knew that her heart had never been with him. Theirs was a marriage of obligation and tradition, not love.
As the months passed, there were a fair number of suitors who’d made an earnest attempt to court Sabrina. However, none had proven worthy of her time, let alone her bed. One man who pursued Sabrina relentlessly was an older Union man, Colonial Benjamin Hardy, personally assigned to help bring stability to the Richmond area. He’d made regular trips to the Lambert place, only to be cordially turned away each time. No matter how hard he tried, it seemed Sabrina hadn’t the interest nor the energy to love a man she couldn’t even like.
Unbeknownst to Hardy, Sabrina’s heart, like Richmond, was occupied. It had been stolen by a wanderer, a Confederate soldier who’d happened upon the Lambert farmhouse only two months after Richmond fell. He’d offered his calloused hands and strong back in return for a barn in which to sleep, even if only for a few days. Sabrina was immediately and uncontrollably stirred by this man.
“Now what exactly is it, kind sir, that you are proposing to do around here?” she’d asked him, hand on her hip and sparkle in her eye. Truth be known, he already had the job.
The days became months, and theirs transformed into a passionate love affair, discretely woven into the fabric of hateful times. They were not just lovers but best friends, odd partners in a life for which neither of them had asked. That was until Colonial Hardy intervened. Hardy had grown quite suspicious and jealous of the situation, so much so that he’d ordered the man’s arrest, heaping fraudulent charges upon him.
“This man is a war criminal, wanted for murder!” The charges, spoken with such vitriol by a man claiming such godliness, were ruinous and completely false. The fact that they were aimed at the most gentle man she’d ever known, the only man she’d ever truly loved, made it unbearable.
Their tearful goodbye had been torturous; his absence left her hollow and broken. For Sabrina, life was no longer worth living, the pain too great to endure. On what she had hoped would be the last night of her life, she remembered something the wanderer had shouted as he was taken away in shackles to his death. Suddenly, her life regained its purpose. Suicide represented defeat, another victory for Benjamin Hardy, and a guarantee the wanderer had died in vain. She could not bear the thought of another Southern loss. Instead, Sabrina would take her gun into town, to where Hardy engaged in his nightly revelry, and she would put a bullet not in her own head, but in his.
Nathaniel ran as fast as his little legs could carry him, his cheeks pink from the chill of the new autumn wind beating against his face. The scar, courtesy of a drunken Union soldier’s knife, a permanent reminder of the godless nature of war, seemed to glow red on the fleshy part of his right cheek. Just inside her kitchen window, Sabrina’s sister, Esther, heard the faint cry of a familiar voice approaching, her eldest son. She peered out the window and saw him running counter to the rolling stampede of red and orange leaves tumbling across their property. Esther wiped her hands on her apron and quickly made her way out the front door to meet him.
“Ma!” he yelled with all the gusto his little lungs could muster. “Ma! Come quick! They’ve taken Aunt Sabrina!”
By the time they arrived at the town square, it was too late. Esther looked on in horror as her sister lay sprawled on the ground, her white dress a mixture of blood and earth, the result of a flogging at the direction of Colonial Hardy for attempted murder the night before. Esther was powerless to stop the brutality.
For Sabrina, it was not a tragedy; in fact, she closed her eyes and prayed for death. Without true love, hers had become a life of torment, her burden too heavy. She heard her sister’s voice pleading with Hardy.
“Stop! You’ll kill her!”
As the final blow thundered down upon her, Sabrina’s smile faded. Her parting thought was of him gazing into her eyes, touching her face, kissing her lips. Sabrina’s pain was finally gone, her heart eternally linked to the wanderer.
Special thanks to Wheeler Studios for the amazing confederate soldier photo. Send Joe an email if you have some stock photo needs. Jwheeler331@gmail.com
Grant Kauffman is also the author of Project 14: The Legend of Beelzebub’s Bluff, a young adult adventure/fantasy novel and Rattlebone Tales, Volume One, a collection of short scary stories. Both books are available as ebooks and in paperback on Amazon.com.