#FridayFlash: No Boots No More

No Boots No More

by Tony Noland

He was fleshy but he moved like a skeleton. His bare feet should have been blue with cold or white with frostbite as he shuffled through the snow and horse manure of the street, but they weren't. They were pink and smooth, just like his face and his hands. Through his torn and stained rags, the other New York-bound people waiting for the Staten Island ferry could see that he was smooth and pink all over.

His eyes were those of a dead man.

No one came near. Everyone gave him a wide berth, even those self-satisfied, upright citizens who would have accosted any normal man simply for lacking in common social graces.

The nods and sidelong glances gave way to whispers and muttering. They knew. Just the way a bone long-ago broken will know when the storm is coming, they knew. Somehow, they knew. Like every forlorn and hopeless soul the man had come within breath of on his long walk, they knew.

The words ran though the crowd. "Andersonville." "Andersonville? Impossible!" "That's nine hundred miles from here!" "More like a thousand." "Andersonville?"

The icy wind cut across the river, bringing tears to the eyes of the passengers. They stared at him sidelong. Yes, the rags used to be blue. It was just possible to see a regimental ensign on his left shoulder: the 123rd New York Infantry.

"Sweet savior protect us - he's one of ours, come home after two years. But... if he walked all this way... I mean, my God, if the poor man was at Andersonville of all places!"

They had seen the images in the newspapers, taken with the new photogravure process. The scenes from the battlefields had been bad enough, but Andersonville! The bags of bones that had stared out from the images could move a granite statue to tears of rage and pity. Andersonville! Such a horrid pit of Confederate villainy was not to be found anywhere else on earth!

Yet this man was pink and fleshy and whole. How could this be? How? After his ordeal and his travels on foot? What was left of his uniform told the tale of his woes, but his body bore not a mark, despite the wicked conditions on the platform. How?

The bravest of the New Yorkers, a longshoreman from Red Hook, cleared his throat and made to talk to him. Before a word was spoken, the soldier turned upwards. From his dead, hollow eyes, a yellow glow shone, bathing the longshoreman's face in a golden, celestial light.

They stood undisturbed in the wintry wind, amid the first pellets of sleet. Around them, the people turned away.

The ferry came, passengers and wagons unloaded onto the Island and loaded again, bound for New York City. The ferry pulled away, none of the passengers noticing the two men standing in the sleet and freezing rain.

After a time, what was once a longshoreman dropped to the planking and shattered into dust and pebbles. The old soldier, a little pinker and a little rounder in his blue rags and tatters, stepped off the pier into the ice-strewn river.

Deep beneath the surface, his eyes glowed in the darkness as he walked the last leg of his journey homeward.

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.

28 comments:

  1. Having read Andersonville and aware of the horrors, this story does that battle justice. Great descriptions throughout -- I could see this unfortunate man dragging his way to the river. Peace...

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  2. able to comment at last! I don't recognize Andersonville, but I liked the description, especially the part about the long shore man.

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  3. I would have thought "Andersonville" entirely fictitious if not for Linda's comment. Especially the way you played it up in the dialogue-bubble paragraph, I actually snickered a little, as it sounds like an echo of the way many people babble out name tags for atrocities. I was glad he didn't get wildly harassed.

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  4. I read up about Andersonville, it sort of reminded of conditions suffered similiar to some in theWW2 german prison of war camps.

    Your story captured the painful journey of a survivor , the bit about the longshoreman was excellent!

    helen-scribbles.com

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  5. Liked the notion of a broken leg warning of a storm coming. Like a phantom amputee limb

    marc nash

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  6. I do like a bit of horror with my morning coffee. I wonder how many "legs" he went through.

    The photo is freaky, what's it from?

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  7. Striking imagery and a strong story right from the start. The quality of your writing is always evident and this is no exception. I was utterly engaged, perhaps entranced and the images and phrases poetic and extraordinary. It felt like a proper story too although short, the ending strong and complete.

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  8. Andersonville was a real place. It's been preserved as a war memorial to a Confederate atrocity, deep within Confederate territory, a couple hundred miles south of the manor.

    Great depiction of a soldier going home!

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  9. Extremely powerful and moving story.
    Well done!
    There was a trial and the doctor who was in charge in Andersonville was executed.

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  12. I'm now off to read about Andersonville. The image of this soldier is very haunting. Delicate touch, Tony.
    Adam B @revhappiness

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  13. Linda: Real horrors give way to supernatural horror... thanks, Linda!

    storytreasury: It dawned on me after writing this that without knowing what Andersonville was, this story would be even more confusing than I'd intended.

    John: Andersonville was very real, and was every bit as awful as the picture suggests.

    Helen: Yes, you have to go to Dachau or Bergen-Belsen to find comparable conditions. Thanks for reading!

    Marc: I'm glad you liked that analogy. I was thinking about old wounds, badly healed.

    mazzz_in_Leeds: There's a reason that guy could walk a thousand miles and still look pink and smooth. The photo is of one of the Union soldiers released from the Andersonville prison camp, 1865.

    alisonwells: Thank you! I'm not entirely satisfied with this piece, but I'm glad the imagery worked for you.

    FARfetched: Thanks!

    Carole Gill: I'm glad you liked it! There was a trial and the doctor who was in charge in Andersonville was executed. It's hard to imagine anyone deliberately running a place like Andersonville, but humans are strange creatures.

    afullnessinbrevity: Thanks, Adam!

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  14. I imagine anyone who survived Andersonville (or Rock Island in the North) would find their sustenance anywhere they could ... chilling and well-done.

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  15. Chilling. Amazing what can be done to get home.

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  16. Wow, that was creepy. You painted a vivid picture that not only grasped my attention, but also made me want to read up on a less well-known piece of history.

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  17. Holy Christ. That story with THAT picture. I've been doing reserach on the Holocaust for a class project and every picture made me despise those jackboots.
    But there is def. something about that man you wrote about. Something spiecial. Thanks for posting!

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  18. Great story, Tony! I loved the feel of the onlookers. You kept them controlled while at any minute I was expecting them to show their ignorance and strike out. Great emotional tension in the read. The photo is haunting, yet I like how you kept him "smooth and pink".

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  19. Janet: Thanks, Janet!

    Raven: Or to survive in the camp itself.

    Fear Not: Thank you, I'm glad you thought so!

    Michael: I tend to forget that stuff I know about isn't always common knowledge.

    cambronwriter: Thank you for reading! As is noted above, this living skeleton was one of the men at Andersonville, Georgia.

    Cynthia: I tried to balance the various points of action here. I'm glad you liked it, Cynthia!

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  20. This has peaked my interest. I will have to read about "Andersonville". The longshoreman having his life sucked out of him, added to the grimness of the piece. I wonder if he'll look human by the time he gets home?

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  21. It seems impossible for someone so thin to still be alive. Just shows you what extremes the human body can endure.

    Well written and spooky. Your #fridayflashes are always a pleasure to read.

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  22. Very evocative piece of writing here. Love that line about the broken bones feeling incoming storms.

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  23. Wow powerful piece. Great descriptions and very intrigued about Andersonville now - I'd never heard of it

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  24. Haunting...and the fact that it has its basis in reality makes this story even more haunting. Great job taking a horrid event of the past and turning it into a nice horror read. Great stuff.

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  25. I agree with Brainhaze. Great descriptions (I was a little envious as would not come up with half of this stuff). Brilliant piece of writing.

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  26. laradunning: I suspect that this soldier left his humanity far, far behind.

    Craig: Thank you!

    Icy: After you mentioned that you were working on sci-fi, I started out writing this as a Western, but it took a horror turn.

    brainhaze: I'm glad you liked it!

    Maria: I don't often do historical fiction, but if ever a place could inspire horror, Andersonville is it.

    henriettamaddox: (I was a little envious as would not come up with half of this stuff) I'm glad you liked it!

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  27. Very late reading flash this week (it's next week already) but wanted to comment. I loved this: very atmospheric. I could almost have been waiting there for the ferry with them. The yellow eyes should have been a warning to super natural goings-on. Never heard of Andersonville. I have now.

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