should die on a day like today.
God made days like this for living.
Olivia Montgomery glanced
across the Civil War battlefield, empty except for shadows cast
by wind-swept clouds. The
bright sun offered hope for a warmer day, but for now, the brisk
March wind held a chill. Smoke
from campfires and the sound of waking voices from nearby woods
fueled her sense of adventure.
Joseph Underwood, all six foot
two of him, ran toward her. His clean, pressed, gray uniform showed no sign of wear, and
definitely no sign of battle.
Gold braiding around the cuffs and on the forearms of his
jacket complimented the ornate hilt of his saber.
Down the front of his jacket, a double row of brass
buttons glistened in the sun.
He slipped an arm around her
waist and pulled her to him.
“You look beautiful,” he said, giving her a quick
kiss, “but your sense of direction stinks. The battle is that-a-way.”
He pointed toward the parade ground.
stepped back. She
smiled and smoothed the bodice of her lavender costume.
“I wondered if a handsome Lieutenant was going to join
me,” she said, tucking a loose strain of long blonde hair back
into her hairdo.
lines creased the corners of his light, brown eyes. They sparkled every bit as brilliantly as his brass buttons.
Flecks of premature gray dotted sandy hair that fell in
loose curls about a boyish face.
I’d ever miss a chance to be with you.
I’d have been here sooner, but I couldn’t leave until
my relief showed up.”
had met Joseph last year while on a field trip with her American
History students to Port Hudson.
As curator of the museum, he conducted the tour and
entertained her class with stories about the siege.
A friendship developed, and they began dating.
where are you going?” he asked.
those redoubts, I can picture the skirmishes so vividly.”
and it’s secluded, too.”
He curled his mouth into a sly grin.
never give up, do you?”
it’s not in me to surrender.”
if you’re losing the war?” she said in lighthearted banter.
see about that.” His
eyes lingered on her face.
motioned to a group of women in costume at the far end of the
field. “My roommate insisted on moving closer to the action.
You know Sara, always on the prowl.”
wrong with that. I’m
just glad she finally convinced you to join the re-enactment,
which by the looks of things will be starting before long.”
A stream of Confederate soldiers
spilled onto the battlefield and mustered into formation.
Above their shoulders, bayoneted barrels of muskets rose
high into the air. A lone flag bearer, banner unfurled and waving, scurried
ahead of them, as much to keep from being trampled as to lead
the charge. Not to
be outdone, mounted officers with flowing sashes and raised
sabers flaunted their bravery in sudden charges.
Olivia winced at the shrill cries of
rebel yells. The
sounds evoked memories of the photographs in the museum--mangled
bodies strewn across the steep slopes and shallow creeks of the
“Maybe we shouldn’t glorify such
tragedy,” Olivia said. “Besides,
most of the fighting took place in the ravines, not in this open
“Then where would we seat all the
tourists? So we
fudged a little on location, it’s going to work.”
He drew his pistol, crouched and took aim at an imaginary
Although the dreadful images
lingered in her mind, Olivia found Joseph’s excitement
right. I need to get with it--get into character.
By the way, who am I?”
“Hmm, I don’t think so.
That’s a role for Sara.
I’m more of a Melanie.”
“Well, Mellie dear, don’t look
now, but the enemy just arrived.”
On the opposite end of the field,
squads of Yankees assembled, their dark blue uniforms a marked
divergence from the soft gray of the Confederates. Amid grunts, groans and shouts, they rolled cannons into
place, loaded rifles, and attached bayonets, all in preparation
for the bloody confrontation.
“Oh, Joseph, it looks so real,
like stepping back in time.”
“I told you. Teaching American History is one thing, but living it...well,
“Let’s just hope the battle
isn’t too real,” she said, recalling the gruesome stories
written by soldiers who had survived the siege.
“Blood is one thing, but I could never handle the
stench of rotting flesh under a hot June sun.”
“You do have a vivid imagination.
Aside from a little fake blood, I doubt anyone plans on
stinking up his uniform.”
Joseph laughed. “And, we don’t have to worry about a hot sun.”
“But the actual siege took place
during the summer and--”
“Look at us, Livy.
Imagine wearing these costumes in a hundred-degree heat.
So what if this is March?
We’re not changing what happened, just when.”
pleasant the weather, Olivia didn’t like the idea of altering
history. As she
watched the preparations, a lone Confederate soldier caught her
attention--a tall man who stood apart from the troops, seemingly
occupied with the contents of a shoulder bag.
As she watched him, he glanced over her shoulder.
Her gaze followed his, but she saw nothing.
When she looked back, he had fastened the flap on his bag
and was moving in her direction.
don’t have much time,” Joseph said, “so we’d better put
it in gear.”
they turned and hurried toward the path that led to Fort
jet earrings swung in rhythm with each step, as Olivia’s long
legs kept pace, and an antique locket gently bumped against her
grabbed the gold heirloom and tucked it inside her dress.
move,” Joseph said. “That’s
a beautiful piece of jewelry.
I’m sure you wouldn’t want to lose it.”
cold metal against her skin triggered memories of the day her
mother had given her the keepsake.
“No, I wouldn’t. My mother gave it to me just before
she died. She said
the locket had mystical powers; that it would bring to me my one
true love.” Olivia
hesitated. “Do you believe in magic?”
flashed a dubious expression then quickly opened his arms.
“Hey, it worked. I’m
laughed. Then in a gentle voice she said, “Sorry, Joseph, but you
know how I feel.”
you know how I relish a challenge.”
remembered the chain had tingled when it touched her skin but
chalked it up to her mother’s power of suggestion.
Now, as if to test it once again, she pressed the locket
against her chest. Nothing happened.
or no magic, I just thought the old piece of jewelry seemed
perfect for my costume.”
path to Fort Desperate rambled alongside a deep ravine where she
caught another glimpse of the tall stranger, but he quickly
vanished behind thick foliage.
Though curious why the man chose to leave his troops, she
said nothing to Joseph.
Suddenly, the path took a steep
Olivia cried out, sliding atop loose pea gravel.
Joseph grabbed her arm.
Thankful to still be upright, she
drew in a shaky breath of relief.
we should slow down.”
“Can’t afford to.
The rest of the trail shouldn’t pose any problems, but
I’ll make sure. Joseph
strode down the trail and disappeared around a sharp bend.
In the depths of the ravine, only
slivers of light pierced the dense foliage.
A patchwork of shadows camouflaged crevices sliced deep
into the slopes. Olivia
edged closer toward one of the narrow trenches. From all that she’d read, she knew these fissures had
provided a place for an ambush; for others, they had become
shallow graves. This
one harbored only tangled roots and cold, dead air.
As if in confirmation of her morbid
thoughts, a chilling gust of wind brushed against her face.
She drew the shawl closer around her shoulders and
Olivia raked her hand along the
rough bark of a majestic pine and wondered how many soldiers had
died beneath its boughs. Unsure
how long she’d been standing there musing on the past, she
automatically checked her wrist.
She chuckled. Of course, her digital watch was in the
glove compartment of Sara’s van.
“Joseph,” she called out.
He didn’t answer.
“We don’t want to miss the start.
I’m heading back,” she shouted, assuming he would
soon catch up with her.
When she reached the path that led
to the parade ground, she felt a sudden twinge against her neck.
Thinking the locket’s chain had caught on her dress,
she ran her hand under the links to free it then continued up
Atop the ravine, a cannon perched
precipitously near the edge.
Its long barrel pointed toward the river, and a white
plume of smoke billowed from its mouth.
Where had that cannon come from?
She didn’t remember seeing it on the way down.
And, if it had fired this close to her, the sound would
have been deafening.
As she moved toward the armament to
get a better look, gunfire sounded behind her.
She spun around but saw nothing.
Thinking the reenactment had begun, she scurried up the
her amazement, the cannon above began to disappear, changing
from a solid, iron mass to a quivering, black, illusion before
vanishing. Shivers raced down her spine.
are firing! Get down!" someone shouted.
Two men in Confederate uniforms charged past her and dove
from the path into the ravine.
One of the bayonets dug into the ground and twisted the
rifle from the soldier’s hands.
Then, just like the cannon, the soldiers faded away.
“That can’t be.
Joseph, where the hell are you?” she screamed.
Something hot pressed against her
the top buttons on her dress, she reached in and clutched the
locket. It radiated
heat. “Good, Lord!” she cried, snatching her hand away.
Gunfire echoed from every direction.
Wanting to escape the madness, she bolted up the steep
incline. Halfway to
the top, she froze.
The cannon had reappeared.
Its menacing barrel pointed directly at her.
A Confederate soldier stood alongside, a ramrod in his
My God, he’s going to fire it!
He never got the chance.
In the next instant, a projectile whistled overhead.
Pieces of his boyish face sprayed into the air.
His body crumpled to the ground.
Olivia’s stomach wrenched.
She slapped her hand over her mouth, yet couldn’t hold
back the nausea. With
hands braced against her knees, she bent over and heaved the
bitterness from her throat.
Afterwards, she wiped the tears from
her eyes and tried to focus.
A few feet away, a soldier stared up at her with lifeless
eyes. Blood no
longer flowed from the gaping hole in his neck.
It lay pooled on the ground around him.
Olivia grabbed a sapling and pulled
herself upright just as an artillery shell struck overhead into
an embankment. Mud,
leaves, and branches pelted her. Shell after shell rained down
in thunderous explosions. She
covered her ears to quell the deafening roar.
This is all wrong. The fighting shouldn’t be here, not in the ravines.
And why live ammunition?”
With her heart pounding in her ears, she called out
again, “Somebody, please help me!”
No one answered.
Caustic smoke filled her lungs and
burned her eyes. And
a flame flickered in that acrid veil, just above the cannon’s
It was going to blow.
Olivia tried to will her body to run, but fear locked her
muscles and she stumbled.
Then, through the eerie haze and
smoke, she saw him--the tall, broad-shouldered soldier she had
seen earlier. He
burst from the mist with outstretched arms.
He shouted, but the explosions drowned out his words.
The soldier lunged and wrapped his
arms around her just as the cannon fired.
Heat from the blast stung her face, and the percussion
tossed them like rag dolls from the path. They fell, down and down.
Sharp roots jabbed her back and briars ripped her hands
and clothing. The
back of her head slammed hard against a tree, and pieces of bark
dug into her scalp.
They tumbled over and over into what
seemed like a bottomless pit.
The soldier’s weight forced the air from her lungs.
She gasped and sucked in fine grit that covered her teeth
and tongue. The
man’s fingers, like railroad spikes, dug into her waist and
shoulder as he struggled to hold her.
His arms, like bands of steel, tightened around her,
while the hilt of his sword jammed into her stomach.
Olivia finally drew in a deep breath
of air as the slope leveled out, and their bombastic fall
subsided into a gentle roll.
Lying still in a small, shallow creek, Olivia no longer
felt a burning sensation from the locket, only the touch of
something cold against her skin.
Every part of her body ached with pain.
She lay perfectly still, afraid to move, content for the
moment to find refuge in the arms of the stranger who had risked
his life to save her.
When she finally found the strength
to lift her head from his chest, he loosened his hold on her.
Confused and frightened, she clutched the sleeves of his
“No, please, don’t leave me.”
“I won’t,” he said, gently
maneuvering her onto the ground beside him. “I’m a surgeon. I
only want to help you.”
His soft voice offered comfort, and
something about it sounded familiar.
She looked up at a beard-shadowed face framed by long,
dark hair. But it
was his eyes, brown pools swirling with compassion that
commanded her attention.
In the next instant, she blinked and
faced reality. None
of this should have happened.
“Are you insane?” she asked, not
waiting for an answer. “Now’s
not the time to play doctor.
We need to get out of here.
Who are you, really?”
She watched a bewildered look cross his face.
"Prentice Angelle, Ma’am.
I was seeing to my men, when...
He stopped and shook his head.
“How in the world did you get here?”
She winced. A
sharp pain shot through her head, and something warm oozed down
Reaching back through her tangled
hair, she fingered a gaping wound and remembered hitting the
tree. A small, hard
object protruded from the cut.
“Ouch!” she yelped as she jerked
out a piece of bark.
Blood flowed freely from the gash.
“Let me see.”
He knelt beside her and examined her injury.
“You’re going to need stitches.”
“Oh, that’s just great!
And I thought this was going to be fun.
You can bet I won’t do this again.”
He knitted his brow as if he
The back of her dress soaked up the
blood and clung to her skin.
Feeling faint, she pleaded, “Just help me up.”
took her hand and pulled her to her feet.
to maintain her balance, she swayed against him. “I don’t think I can walk.
I’m too dizzy.”
strong, muscular arm encircled her waist.
“I’ve got you.”
went wrong?” she whispered, holding on to the lapels of his
jacket. Her legs
buckled, and the rest of her muscles felt like rubber.
being here is what’s wrong.”
lifted her into his arms, everything spun around her.
“But I’m supposed to...”
Her voice trailed off. The
flashes of light dimmed, and the cannon’s roar grew softer.