Monday, September 22, 2008

Jacob's Meadow

The other day I was so inspired by a magnificent sunrise that I had to create a story that would compliment it. If you are aware of how incredible West Texas Sunrises can be, then you might understand just how extra-ordinary this particular sunrise was. Well, in a flash, I imagined a story that was too grand to tell in a short story format, and I don't have time to make an entire novel. So, I wrote a short, short story that might encapsulate what I envisioned. I love struggles within story lines, and this story is nothing but struggle. However, I think you will appreciate this snapshot of a bigger picture....
Jacob’s Meadow
In the still, dark moments of dawn, a man wearily emerged from the heavy forest canopy and provocatively scanned the meadow that lay before him. Heavy with exhaustion, he forced his feet to move, advancing into the grass that grew along the edge of the tree line. Once fully within the meadow, his fingers stroked the heads of the grass which grew knee deep the entire length of the long, gentle slope before him. As he gazed the horizon for the signs of life, others began to stumble from the tree line and formed an awkward line alongside him.

“This is it,” he said with satisfaction.

“We made it.” Janet looked at him with pride while a slow smile transformed her face. “We made it!”

“This is it?” Tito asked, anticipating the answer.

Jacob nodded. “Yes. We make our stand here.” His finger caressed the grass a moment longer as his eyes continued to roam the opposite side of the meadow. “Today we stop running.” He paused a moment for effect. “Wait for it.” His eyes were now on the eastern horizon.

His entourage, too cautious to jump to conclusions, held their peace. This was not their first day on the run. They had been badgered and harassed for more than a week, now, and when the needed hope the most, they were afraid to believe. In silence they regarded each other in the dim light of morning, barely able to make out the silhouette of the men and women on their sides. Only when the sun’s light began to reflect on the cloud cover in the east did they begin to smile in unison.

Jacob inhaled deeply. “There. We made it through the night. The morning sun is breaking through the clouds.”

Tyler sourly remarked, “Red sky in morning, sailors take warning.”

Jacob nodded. “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight,” he finished the age old wisdom. “Look how gorgeous those colors are this morning. Have you ever seen such brilliance in the clouds before?”

Janet stood close to him. “It’s beautiful. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sunrise before this moment.”

“I wonder,” Jacob mused. “What is the name of this meadow?”

“Maybe it’s unknown,” Tyler remarked. “Doesn’t look name worthy to me.”

Jacob never lifted his eyes from the crimson sunrise. “Neither was Waterloo. Nor was the high grass meadow along the San Jacinto River. This is where we change the course of the future. History will record this unnamed meadow as the single most important piece of real estate in this war.”

As he spoke, the people drew near him, revitalized by his confident words. They were hard pressed and desperate for relief. Drawing from his fascination with the early struggles of pioneering America, he poured his heart before them.

“When we were first attacked, fear was our primary focus. We stared in shock as our homes and towns were destroyed, burned beyond recognition. The great cities still smolder in ruins—but we stand strong.” He turned his eyes from the sunrise and turned to face his followers. “Fear was our companion in those days—all of us desperate to live, desperate to preserve our lives and our children. Now we are through running.” He lifted his hands in defiance. “Now we fight back!”

The men and women surrounding him burst into cheer as they clapped and yelled in approval of Jacob’s proclamation.

“Before, you were afraid to engage the enemy, but now we seek him out. We are too weary to cater to fear. Our situation is too desperate to regard our terror. We will now turn our dread into rage, and we will stand and fight.”

“Just as fear had overwhelmed you so few days ago, hope has revived you as we reach for our destiny. We will now meet our enemy on the battlefield, and we will rally to freedom—or we will perish. The enemy must be driven from our soil or desolation will be our companion. We shall never surrender or retreat. It ends here!” Applause forced him to stop speaking. “I don’t know about you, but I am determined to sustain myself until the end, or I will die like a soldier who never forgets about his honor and his country. Now who is with me?”

He was drowned in a chorus of shouting and whistling. These people were ready to meet their fate.

“Now take your rest. We have come far and we have farther to go. Prepare yourself for battle by lying in this tall grass for a moment of peace. I will meet with my war council and we will determine our course of action.”

A man wearing a hip length leather coat and a felt hat with a large rip through the brim approached Jacob from the cover of the trees and silently nodded to him. Together, the men turned and retreated to the woods.

“Did you find them?” Jacob asked.

He nodded. “Right where we hoped they would be. They are just beyond this meadow in the trees on the opposite side.”

“How did they look, Peary?”

Peary frowned. “As good as I’ve ever seen them. I don’t think anything ever sets them back.” He leaned against a tree, adjusting the pistol on his belt to a more comfortable position. “Man, I’m tired.”

Jacob nodded. “Me too. We can’t take any more. It has to end here or it’s all over.”

“Yup.” He spat. “I was able to burn that one bridge behind us. We are trapped between the enemy and the river, which is swollen and overflowing.”

Jacob smiled. “We have no choice. We aren’t trapped; we just don’t have many options.”

Peary leaned forward and cleared a spot on the ground. “Alright. This meadow runs at least two miles long, and it’s about a half-mile wide. The deepest portion is about a quarter of a mile down to the right.” As he spoke, a branch traced in the dirt drawing his words. “They are concentrated just on the opposite side from us. They have at least 500 soldiers along this creek, which provides a modest covering, but nothing significant. Another 300 to 400 are in the tree line just out of sight. They will have to leave the trees in order to attack, or they will have to build a defense where they stand. Now, off to the extreme left, is a reserve of 500 soldiers. It would take them all of an hour to get into position to either attack or re-enforce, provided they stay where they were when I saw them.”

“Is that the group we encountered last night?”

“Yup.” He spat again. “They have to be as worn out as we are. In fact, they marched further than we did, ‘cause they crossed the meadow sometime around three or four this morning.”

“So, they were just ahead of us?”

“Yup. Most likely, they intend to box us into these woods. They probably figure on us being trapped against the open meadow, where they can flank us from the tree line, forcing us into the open.” He stopped talking, his report complete.

Jacob thought a moment before looking up. “Jimmy?” In a flash, a young man was at his side. “Gather the council and have them meet me here.”

A few minutes later, Jacob and Peary were surrounded by the cadre of officers who would put feet to the war. After Peary repeated his observations to the group, Jacob stood and dusted himself off. “Now, I think Peary is right on when he says they intend to press us into the meadow where we have little cover. What they least expect we will do. We will take the battle to them. For the first time ever, we will attack.” As he spoke, his eyes scanned their faces for clues to what they were thinking. The prospect of an attack was overwhelming in that they had little experience conducting such a maneuver. They were always ducking for cover and running for their lives. This would be their first unified assault, and they were cautiously optimistic.

“I ordered Peary to burn the bridge behind us. We have no where to run.” He allowed that to sink in before continuing. “So, here’s my plan. I want Captain Conn to weave his way with the cavalry around the edge of the meadow and wait at the far end of the narrowest edge, right here.” He marked the spot by pressing a branch into the dirt and leaving it. “How many do you have left?”

Conn ground his teeth in thought. “My count this morning showed I had 61 cavalry. I lost another 10 last night.”

Jacob nodded. “That will be enough.” He turned to Janet. “How about you? What was your last count?”

She glared, causing her daring brown eyes to catch a reflection in the fire just beyond them. “According to my officers, we have just over 500 people left. That doesn’t include any children under the age of 12. Everyone else is numbered in the army.”

“That will be enough.” He smiled warmly. “Janet, I want you to form up the Regulars along our far left line. I personally will lead the 2nd Volunteers in the center. Sam, you take what’s left of the 1st and 3rd Volunteers on my right wing. I will start the advance in a wedge formation, where it appears we are simply trying to cross the meadow. Then, when we are two thirds of the way across, I want Janet and Sam to advance so quickly that you almost overtake us. Once we actually engage the enemy, I want Conn’s Cavalry to break through the opposite trees and flank them from the extreme right. Their reserves are out of the picture right now because it will take them an hour to get into position. I plan to be victorious before they can get on line. Any questions?”

His officers considered the plan for a moment. Finally, Tyler asked. “What do we do about prisoners?”

Peary spat. “There won’t be any prisoners. They aren’t that kind of enemy. They will fight to the end. You better tell your people to kill them all.”

Jacob ran his fingers through his hair. “If they surrender, we will grant them their lives. If they run, we will chase them. If we corner them, we will bayonet them if we’ve run out of ammunition. Most of all, we will annihilate the enemy. Our oppression ends now or we will die with our teeth barred.”

A man stepped from the woods and beckoned to Peary, who obliged him. In a moment he returned with a smug smile. “They aren’t expecting anything. My latest scout to return says they are laid up in the trees waiting for night so they can attack us, just like before.”

“Anything else?”

He spat again. “Yup. They’re drinking and sleeping. They haven’t a clue that we’re going to take the war to them.”

Jacob’s smile brightened his face. “Why should they? We’ve never been able to take a stand because we’re always running away. This time it will be different. We will meet them in the field of battle and we will be remembered.”

They dismissed the council and formed their lines at exactly 11:00. Jacob took a moment to walk among the ranks for the entire length of his battered army. Where he once saw desperation, he now saw determination. They had been harassed by the enemy so long that they were no longer afraid of him. They desperately wanted relief, and they were willing to fight to receive it. He turned to address the soldiers one final time.

“We stand united against our enemy. We will now march against him to victory or death. If death is our lot, then we embrace it with courage. If victory be our destiny, then we will live as free men and women once again. Either way, we will be free from oppression within the hour. The enemy is slothful, sleeping and drinking, waiting until nightfall to attack us and destroy us. We will take advantage of that weakness and kill them all. The bridge behind us has burned, so we have no where to run but forward. That also means the enemy can’t retreat either. It ends here. It ends now.

“Sons and daughters of freedom, who will follow me to victory? Who will stand with me as I drink from the stream that awaits us on the other side? We will advance silently until you hear my battle cry, which is, ‘remember America!’

I call on you in the name of liberty, of patriotism, and of everything dear to the American character to join me in battle. On the behalf of a bleeding people, who will follow me?”

With a silent dignity, they stepped out in pursuit of their destiny, their weapons prepped for war, their hearts set on victory.


Gwen Stewart said...

Hi Travis,

You write with authority and a hint of poetry. I like it! And I love your 'voice' in your biography. I've never 'met' you but I'm telling you that I heard your voice when I read. Weird, but true. :) I heard it with what us Michiganders would call a "Southern accent", while you would probably call my voice just a "twang" (and you'd be right. Funny but true story: trying to get first graders the other day to tell me how many syllables in the word 'nine' and 'line' for music notes...they said three. Niii-iiii-iiine. HA! Only in Michigan).

It was lovely meeting you. Best wishes for your writing!

Alison Bryant said...

The premise of this one is a little chilling, yet stirring. Too bad that you say you don't have time to make it longer. There are so many unanswered questions!

(big change of subject) I can't resist: are Janet and Tito's last names Jackson?

Travis said...

Sigh. I never made the connection with the Jacksons. If I ever develop that story, I can assure you one of their names will change.

I, too, have many unanswered questions about this story. I have envisioned many different enemies for them to face. Maybe this is a Sci-fi story and they are fighting aliens, or perhaps a 4400 type of story. Maybe this is a post-World War III scenario where the government is non-existent and these people are having to rebuild. Maybe it's a civil war situation. I'm not certain. I really struggled over whether or not to post it. Mostly because I know my readers don't typically follow war stories. However, I do have another love story ready to post. It will be a three parter--it's a little longer than my short-short stories.

Thank you for visiting. You caught me on a strange series of posts. Normally, all I do is short stories. Thank you for your kind words.

Gwen Stewart said...


Sorry to infiltrate your post again, but I wanted to tell you how much your kind words on my writing over on my blog meant to me. I needed that kindness so much the other day. Like Mark Twain stated, I will live on your compliment for months.

Thank you for the boost of encouragement. I am going to visit your webpage to see where else I can hear more of your authoritative writer's voice.

God bless you.