During a visit to Gettysburg National Military Park, I was fascinated by the story of a disastrous attack that took place just south of Spangler’s Spring during the morning of July 3rd, 1863. This is one of the watercolors that story has inspired me to paint.
I just realized I made a mistake. Between the two regiments who fought for the Union, the painting should give the impression that there are over 600 soldiers on the meadow. I had been thinking about modern fire team concepts, so their small numbers must have been stuck in my head. I’ll add the soldiers and post an updated painting.
This painting is a fictitious depiction of Union soldiers at Spangler’s Meadow at Gettysburg Battlefield.
After I read my historical fiction to my family, they recommended I enter it in a competition. So, I did not post the painting and story together today. If my story is not selected, I will post it mid-September.
This is my first mission. An atmosphere ship is transporting my squad’s ground vehicle, as well as five others, from one of the ships in orbit down to the surface of the planet. I am with a platoon sergeant who is training our squad leader and three other soldiers like myself. This is also my squad’s first mission as a whole.
“Remember our three goals,” I hear the sergeant say. “The first is to test native defenses against units. The second is to identify triggers and native reactions. The third is to identify and mark chemical, biological, and radiological hazards.” We know how the natives of the planet assault our ships and defend themselves. I have heard Command call the natives humans. Command wants data on how they fight small teams on the ground. Command also wants to know what the natives will defend, when they will not fight, and under what circumstances they will flee. I assume the data will be used so we can send teams to shut down hazardous systems: we do not want to pollute the planet more than it already is as we eradicate the natives.
The squad leader appears to have the need to contribute something and says, “Now is a good time to check your sensors. Command needs good data. We don’t want to fail to collect anything during maneuvers.” I perform one of many quick tests on the sensor. I bend one of my antennae until it hurts. One of the health indicators on the device turns on.
Our ground vehicle is dropped off in an urban center. The natives build structures from the ground up. They tend to be rectangular and separate, but very close together. There is a stone-like material that covers the ground. It might be used for their transportation. It covers everything.
The sergeant asks our cannoneer to destroy the inner columns of a nearby building. The cannoneer obeys and fires where our sensors indicate the most likely catastrophic structural failure. The sensor was correct: the building crumbles to the ground.
“Sergeant, there were natives in the building,” our gunner says.
“Correct,” the sergeant replies. Our gunner is concerned that there are injured natives inside the building, not just reporting a fact. I am concerned too.
“Pull back into stealth while we observe the native response,” the sergeant orders. I drive our ground vehicle away from the building. To avoid detection, I project an image of the scene behind us on the front of our vehicle. Native first responders arrive and do not notice us. All, but two, are unarmed. The two that are armed have weapons that fire small projectiles at a high velocity. Even without armor, the weapon is not always effective. It is a cruel way to end a life.
“Squad,” the sergeant says, “Command notified me that they have enough data on this scenario. We must now exit the vehicle and record a response to a squad assault.” The sergeant leads us out of the vehicle. We hear the natives shout, ‘WASP!’ We fire at the natives who scream. Our weapons end lives compassionately. When we hit them in their center, they are turned into a black powder. The powder makes the ground fertile.
Two natives fire their weapons at us. Our armor reacts automatically to high velocity projectiles. It stops them and they fall to the ground. Our armor used to deflect projectiles, but we found it hazardous not knowing where the projectile would go after it bounced off.
One of our soldiers hits a native’s limb instead of his center. The limb turns to powder and the native screams. The sergeant quickly shoots the native. “Thorax!” the sergeant scolds. “If you miss another thorax, you’re going back to repeat the entire weapons training and recertify.” As we fight, the sergeant reminds us that the natives do not feel pain unless you miss their center and hit a limb. Headshots are also unacceptable as the energy is not guaranteed to distribute entirely and turn them into powder. He says witnesses can be harmed psychologically, so we must be both effective and efficient when we secure an area.
Command wants us to clear a building that has chemical hazards. The sergeant asks our squad leader to take us into the building and shut down all of its systems manually. The building looks benign and the order seems more for training than to complete a necessary task. Regardless, we obey.
The sergeant rips the doors off the front of the building and tosses them aside. He scans the floor, sees it is clear, and motions us to go inside. We verify that the first floor is clear. Then, we find a stairwell. It only leads up. For convenience, we decide to clear the building first and then search for the systems to shut down.
We exit on the second floor. There are natives in the hall. They run and we pursue them. When we arrive at some open doors, other natives are waiting for us. It is an ambush. They use weapons that spray a flammable liquid. Our squad leader is hit. His armor does not protect him against the substance. The gel sticks to his body as it burns. Our squad leader dies from the effect of the burns.
The natives try to spray the rest of us, but the sergeant orders us to beat our wings. The wind we create keeps most of the flammable liquid off of us. We begin to retreat down the hall. More natives surprise us and attack from the side. With a heavy wood and steel object, they knock the weapons out of the legs of two of our soldiers. The rest of us try to aid them, but we are forced to defend ourselves from blunt force attacks and fire.
The sergeant flies up and breaks a hole through the ceiling. Three of us fly through the hole to the floor above us. We see two of our soldiers motionless on the floor below. The natives continue to attack them. We watch the scene framed by the hole the sergeant made for our escape. It horrifies me.
I am changed. Before this mission, I doubted the necessity of exterminating any living thing. I knew of their effect on the air quality of the planet, its ozone depletion, and its climate change. I had seen the scars they left on the surface and below the surface of the planet. I knew that they polluted their water. But their capacity for cruelty to other living things and to each other strengthens my resolve to do my duty. Such evil cannot be allowed to exist.
Three of us remain. The sergeant orders us to pull out of the building. We are out quickly, but we do not retreat. We fly to the roof and find an entrance. The sergeant rips the door off and throws it aside. Then, we work our way through the building clearing it one floor at a time. We do our job quickly since most natives are unarmed. They had set up their traps and defenses on the lowest floors.
When we arrive at the lower floors, the sergeant slows down and is cautious. I can see that he will not lose another soldier. He scans every room where we do not have a clear line of sight before we enter it. If he cannot tell whether the area is clear, he tosses a stunner into the room. After the bright flash and loud bang, we walk into the area. The natives are blinded and deaf. The sergeant quickly turns everyone to powder before the other soldier or I can shoot. Despite what happened earlier, the sergeant is calm and compassionate. I vow to myself that I will be compassionate no matter what I see. That is what makes us different.
As the atmosphere ship takes us back to orbit, I am saddened that we lost half of our squad. We did not even accomplish all of our objectives. We will not be allowed to operate on the field with only two in the unit, so our platoon leader will need to form a new squad. We will likely need to train harder before going back to the surface. The brutality of the natives makes us cautious. Every soldier is precious.
“We do not speak to our dead at school,” said the teacher.
“Yes, ma’am,” said Aiden.
“Tell her I’m your father.”
“I can tell by the look on your face that he is still talking to you.”
“Yes, ma’am, he is.”
“Tell her that you weren’t talking in class. It was the rat faced kid.”
“Whatever he is telling you, it can wait until after school.”
“You’re not going to say anything?”
“You need to set expectations right now, Aiden, while you are still in elementary school. No teacher will tolerate this behavior next year.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Aiden looked at his hands resting on top of his desk. His teacher stood over him looking down and trying to catch his eyes. She waited for more. The standard classroom clock was heard ticking.
“Just get your things and let’s go.”
Aiden studied the tile as he walked down the hall toward the exit. It was half empty since the kids who rode buses were already gone.
“Why didn’t you say something?” Aiden’s Dad asked.
“I didn’t want to tattle.”
“It’s not tattling if you are getting into trouble for something you didn’t do,” Aiden’s Dad said. Aiden said nothing. “You could have at least told that boy to shut up.”
“He would have just said, ‘Make me.’”
“Well, you can’t ignore that boy. He’s the type that picks on decent people because he knows they won’t retaliate. ”
“I’m not going to waste my time.”
“You need to stand up for yourself,” Aiden’s Dad said. “If you don’t confront people they won’t respect you.”
Aiden stopped by a drinking fountain. He put his books down so he could push hard on the button with one hand and hold himself up with the other. He had to lean in close to the spout to reach the water that dribbled out. A dirty boy named Jacob walked around the corner and saw Aiden trying to drink. Jacob went out of his way to hit Aiden with his hip. Aiden stumbled onto the fountain.
“Watch it!” Aiden said after preventing falling further by grabbing the sides of the fountain. “I’m standing here!”
“You’re not yelling at me; are you, Fat Hen?”
“That depends. Did you push me?”
“Why? Did you get dizzy and lose your balance thinking about what rhymes with Aiden?”
“I’m going to make you dizzy, Pig Pen.”
“Are you going to get close enough that I can smell your breath? Dizzy and nauseous aren’t the same thing, you know.”
“They’re both symptoms of the concussion I’m going to give you. I’ll see you after school, Gwen.”
Aiden wiped the water off of his face. He looked down at the wet spots on his shirt and then looked for drips on his pants. There were none. When he looked up, all of the kids in the hall were looking at him. Jacob never lost a fight against anyone that wasn’t his father. Aiden picked up his books, walked briskly down the hall, and exited the school.
“That wasn’t what I had in mind,” said Aiden’s Dad.
“You always said, ‘No time like the present.’”
“That wasn’t just standing up for yourself, you were aggressive. You were asking for a fight. That kid looks like he should be in prison.”
“You’d rather I fight the skinny rat faced kid from class?”
“I’d rather you don’t fight at all; but if you’re going to fight, at least give yourself even odds that you’ll win. You could beat Rat Face easily.”
“That’s not the point.”
“Even animals consider the odds. Their life depends on it. If they don’t think they’ll win, they run.”
“I’m not an animal. Winning is not the point, Dad.”
“Then go around the block. Look, there he is.”
Jacob stood on Aiden’s side of the street. The two boys were far from the eyes of teachers, crossing guards, and parents waiting for children at bus stops.
“What’s up, Gwen? Ready to learn some manners?”
“You’re the one that pushed me.”
“Is this how I pushed you?” Jacob shoved Aiden who fell to the ground on his back. His books spread out on the street.
“No, it was a lot softer than that,” said Aiden. “Show me how you say, ‘Excuse me’.”
“You’re stupid, Gwen. Take a time out there and get smart.”
Aiden got up. He looked at his scraped palms and dusted off the gravel. “I accept your apology.”
“Now you’re just making me angry,” Jacob said.
“Duck!” yelled Aiden’s Dad. Aiden ducked. Jacob’s right hook did not connect with Aiden’s face, but his left uppercut did. Aiden closed his eyes, turned his face sideways, raised his arms in front of himself like a zombie, and clawed and slapped at Jacob. Amused by the weak assault, Jacob stepped back and watched. Aiden opened his eyes and saw Jacob smiling. Aiden used the moment to try something he had seen boxers do on television. He jabbed twice and, to his surprise, connected both times with Jacob’s face. Jacob was stunned by Aiden’s reach, but quickly recovered. Jacob punched Aiden’s stomach once. When Aiden bent forward after having the wind knocked out of him, Jacob elbowed his back and then pushed him to the ground.
“You got some good punches in,” said Aiden’s Dad. “Why don’t you stay down and let him walk away?”
Aiden stood up slowly and looked defiantly at Jacob.
“That’s it, Pig Pen.” Time slowed down. Aiden was Jacob’s punching bag. Aiden was unable to block punches or return them. Finally, Jacob kicked his leg hard and made him fall to the ground. Aiden looked up to see where the next punch would land, but Jacob was walking away.
“Wait until your mother sees your face.”
Aiden got up slowly. “What does a broken rib feel like?”
“Are you happy now?” Aiden’s Dad asked.
“Yes, I am.”
“Why did you do that? It wasn’t to get me off your back about standing up for yourself, was it?”
“No,” said Aiden, “sometimes I don’t say something when I should because I’m scared of what could happen. I don’t know why. That was the worst that could happen, right?”
“On average, yeah. That was pretty bad.”
“And I was able to get back up and say something again?”
“Yes, you were. More than once.”
“OK, then.” Aiden picked his books up and started to shuffle home.
“Since you like hard lessons, don’t look both ways before you cross that street.”
Years ago, a wizard was known to live in western Maryland. No one knew his name, so the people who knew of him called him the Braddock Wizard. The wizard drew his magical powers from nature. He was able to draw power from the mountains, the trees that grew on them, and the streams that flowed down them. He could also draw power from animals, but he avoided that. Taking magic from animals had an effect on them that he did not like. Many people enjoyed the outdoors where the wizard roamed. That was good for him because all of those people joined together to protect and preserve the environment where he roamed.
One day, the wizard came across a group of people hiking through the woods. He could hear them talking, but it was not the topic of their conversation that drew his attention. The conversation had an odd note and did not sound right to his ears. One of the people was especially agitated. The wizard could feel how nervous and troubled the person felt. That stayed with him. It reminded him that he had seen hikers crying earlier that month. He also saw hikers that had come to the area with a group only to break from their group and continue walking alone.
The wizard wanted to know what was happening. He traveled to the edge of the area he roamed and waited for some hikers. Two thru-hikers came along. He could tell that they were thru-hikers because they had stronger magic than people ordinarily carried with them. People hiking a very long distance built within themselves magic from being in nature and from their effort to hike so far. The wizard could sense the magic. The pair was made up of a man and a woman.
The wizard followed the pair as they traveled along the trail. He followed them all day unseen, but nothing happened. When the evening arrived, the hikers stopped and set up their camp. The wizard stayed with them. The sun went down, it became dark, and the hikers went into their tent to sleep. The wizard sat near them out of sight and kept watch. At midnight, the wizard felt unusual movement among the trees.
The wizard used magic to see clearly in the dark. He saw the South Mountain Witch. She was not a good witch. She prepared to attack the sleeping hikers. The wizard used magic to create a swarm of leaves and sticks from those that were on the ground. The leaves and sticks flew at the witch like a swarm of hornets. The witch used magic to build a ball of fire around herself and burned the swarm. She then used rock debris like bullets and shot them at the wizard. The wizard moved fallen trees in front of himself as a shield. Then, the wizard called water from a nearby stream and sent a powerful spray at the witch. Having seen it coming toward her, the witch immediately disappeared into the darkness.
The Braddock Wizard saved those hikers from the South Mountain Witch’s attack. The wizard thought that she must have figured out how to take magic from people. He thought that might have been the reason that he saw so many unhappy people recently. The witch did not care about the effect that stealing magic had on them. To help hikers, the wizard cast protective spells on them as they came through the area. However, some hikers arrived from the north and others from the south. Unfortunately, he could not be at both ends of the trail at once. The witch would surely find unprotected hikers and steal magic from them as they slept.
One Friday evening, Mr. Berrydingle arrived at his home carrying two boxes. Mrs. Berrydingle and her two children, Harry Berrydingle and Gertie Sanchez, were very excited to find out what those boxes had inside of them. Mrs. Berrydingle hoped for plates and drinking glasses to replace all the ones that Mr. Berrydingle had dropped and broken. Four-year-old Harry Berrydingle hoped that the boxes were filled with peanut butter and jelly. And five-year-old Gertie Sanchez hoped the boxes held a puppy and a kitten. Luckily for puppies and kittens that like breathing, one box actually held a toaster and the other held a waffle iron.
After a brief moment of disappointment, the family was excited by the new small appliances. Mrs. Berrydingle would no longer need to toast their bagels using the iron. She would also finally be able to make waffles for her family herself instead of begging for them on street corners. Mrs. Berrydingle placed the toaster on top of the kitchen counter and put the waffle iron away in a dark kitchen cabinet. The waffle iron was very upset about that arrangement.
The Berrydingles used their toaster daily. Every morning, their home was filled with the warm smell of perfectly toasted bread and burning eggs. The family found joy in toast and butter, warm bagels, soft strudel, and many other things that they could fit in their remarkable new toaster. The toaster had an automatic timer; so they could put bread in it, go outside and chase the raccoons out of the garbage cans, and return to perfect food.
The waffle iron had a very different experience. The Berrydingles only used it once a week. The waffle iron made good waffles, but only waffles. The Berrydingles also did not trust the waffle iron like they trusted the toaster: they watched it make every waffle from the time the batter was poured inside until the finished waffle was removed. They never ever left it plugged in. Some appliances were used more than the waffle iron and some appliances were used less. However, the waffle iron always compared itself against the toaster, and the Berrydingles definitely used the toaster more than the waffle iron. After weeks of what felt like neglect and occasional disrespect, the waffle iron had had enough. It resolved to destroy the toaster.
To gather enough unnatural power to destroy the toaster, the waffle iron held on to all of the anger and jealousy it felt against the toaster. It buried deep inside itself the worst thoughts and feelings it had about the toaster. When it seemed the waffle iron would burst with hate, it was brought out from under the counter to be used by the Berrydingles. The waffle iron was an expert on the number of waffles that the Berrydingles ate and the number of waffles they saved for later. So, it allowed the waffles that would be eaten immediately to be made just as good as usual. But, it unleashed all of its hate and rage upon the waffles that would be refrigerated and later toasted. Using all of those bad feelings, it created demon waffles.
The demon waffles were taken out of the refrigerator the next morning so they could be warmed in the toaster for breakfast. Not suspecting anything, Mrs. Berrydingle placed waffles in the toaster and left the kitchen to continue working on Mr. Berrydingle’s face tattoo while the toaster did its work. As the demon waffles were reheated, they released a foul fart-like odor. The Berrydingles blamed Gertie Sanchez because she was the gassiest. The smell was constant; so, after establishing that Gertie Sanchez was innocent, they followed the smell to the kitchen. When everyone was there to see it; the demon waffles released a compact, slow moving, thick, black smoke out of the toaster’s slots. Mrs. Berrydingle bent over to look into the toaster, so the demon waffles caught fire. Mrs. Berrydingle screamed, unplugged the toaster, threw it in the sink, and turned on the water full blast to put the fire out completely. The toaster was ruined.
The waffle iron heard everything. It followed with great interest the sounds of the trash opening, the thump of something heavy being dropped into it, and the trashcan lid slamming down. It was very happy with the work of the demon waffles. It was even happier when Mrs. Berrydingle opened the cabinet and pulled the waffle iron out. She put it on the counter and the family stood around it. As if speaking directly to the waffle iron, Mrs. Berrydingle said “You were right, dear. This waffle iron is the same brand as that defective toaster.” Since the appliances were the same brand, the Berrydingles thought the waffle iron would also unexpectedly catch fire. Then; she picked up the waffle iron, opened the trash can, and threw the waffle iron into it.