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Land of the Free




It was an ambush! John Ware and his South Carolina militia men had successfully defeated the well-armed redcoats at the bridge. But apparently these British officers were unaware of the defeat of their comrades, and they were firing away with an intensity which indicated they thought the spoils of victory were near. Thankfully, John knew the layout of the land very well. Without a word he signaled for the others to follow him as he rushed ahead to where he knew another body of water lay and they could better fire at the British from the vantage point of the hill that lay just across the creek.

The musket balls kept whizzing past them, with John and his men turning around and firing at the lobster backs every chance they could. Those Boston men of commerce sure do despise tea, John thought to himself while rushing forward across the creek. Most of the locals in South Carolina had thought little about paying taxes on tea. As, truthfully, rum was tastier. With a cup of cider or something from the local distillery not being anything to frown upon, either. However, the noble Virginia gentry had decided that the southern colonies should join up with the hot-headed New Englanders in their quarrels with the King. And here were all of the male Wares eagerly responding to the call of their colonial militia. It had an official name, but “the Ware unit” was how everybody referred to their particular branch since John had taken over the command of the unit after his brother David was felled in battle the previous year. And now the bulk of the unit consisted of the remaining Ware brothers and their father, who wasn’t about to forego joining up in a good fight with his sons and some of their cousins.

One by one, the redcoats were screaming for their mums in gentlemanly agony as the entire unit made it across the creek and fired back at them. The day was sure to bring the Wares a second victory as long as their powder could hold out. Then, the numbness hit. John felt his eye go black, followed shortly thereafter by the onset of a horrible burning sensation. He couldn’t take the time to feel if the warm liquid that was dripping down from his eye was blood. But all of a sudden, he was unable to see. Only the other eye yielded to him any sight. It was just as well. That will be one less eye to pop out of my head for King George when I’m hung for treason, John thought to himself. Although, with all of the effort they had expended in defeating these British officers, he certainly hoped it wouldn’t come to that. Even if it was just with one eye, John held out hope that he would get to see this new liberty spread out all across the land that the Patriots were fighting for so eagerly.

***

“She’s beautiful, Pa!” and John Ware couldn’t help but smile at his son, John Ware II with a mixture of paternal pride and remembrance. For he had been a young man once and he well knew that once a lad became afflicted with thoughts of moonlight and magnolia, even the simplest maid in the countryside became a rare beauty to rival Venus, herself. However, to his son’s credit, his new bride was indeed a pretty lass.

Glancing at his son once more, John Ware tried to keep his remaining eye from sweating. For the British had not remained content after their defeat by General Washington and with the valor of the young men like his son, their new nation was able to hand the redcoats yet another resounding defeat in the War of 1812. Yes, General Andrew Jackson had done well over there in New Orleans. And now the young men were only too eager to begin settling in the new Mississippi and Alabama territories. With their fanciful notions of extending these ideas of self-government as far West as their wagons would take them, the elder John Ware knew he was going to miss his son and his new bride. But he also knew that it was folly to try and reign in the adventuresome nature of youth and he wished his son well.

***

John Ware III, or “Trey” as everybody called him, felt the hot pain searing through his leg with no intention of retreating anytime soon. If only he could get this last “e” carved, then at least they would be able to identify him by the rock he held in his hand. Although, he still had a mind to lob it at any blue-coated Yankee who dared to come near. He had never seen a place with so many rocks about. “Gettysburg” is what they said this town in Pennsylvania. And it seemed like all of the farmers in the entire state must have taken the rocks and stones they encountered when first clearing their land and piled them up over here on this hill. It was a miracle he hadn’t hit his head on one when he went down, and it dawned on him why the enslaved people wanted to be emancipated so desperately. For there was nothing he wanted more in this very moment than to be emancipated. Emancipated from this pain, from the draft, and at liberty to go back home and look out for his own family and his elderly parents. But serving one’s country was a must in his warrior bred family and here he was on the hillside hoping this rock would serve to identify him.

***

“Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.” The words from his typewriting class echoed in the mind of Manning Ware as he prepared for his last mission on board the Tobacco Queen. He did not know of a time when the men in his family hadn’t responded to their country’s call, but as he looked apprehensively out at the Tobacco Queen, he could not help but utter a prayer for mercy. She had done well by them all, thus far. But it wasn’t for naught that these airplanes were nicknamed the “flying coffins.” For the German Nazis were making these Orville and Wilbur Wright inventions seem less sturdy than the planes they had made out of paper as little kids back in grammar school. Maybe, just maybe, if they could render these Ploesti oil fields inoperable, the Allies would finally taste victory over these indefatigable Nazis. Manning glanced up at the beautiful sky above him. It was a good day for flying and a good day for being spotted by the Axis forces, as well. These European sovereigns sure did carry a family feud to the extreme, and if Providence were on his side, Manning swore to himself he would go back home and never set foot in Europe again.

***

Cathcart Ware had survived. Just how he had survived he did not know. Reason would dictate that such a feat would be a cause for celebration. But every time Cathcart thought about it he felt sick to his stomach. There had been so many good men in his unit. Good strong healthy strapping young men . . . which turned out to be the problem. For the diminutive Vietnamese had proven difficult for the Americans to spot in the Southeast Asian jungle, while the heartiness of the Americans had made them stand out to the Viet Cong like a grey cloud in an otherwise cloudless clear blue sky. Cathcart counted the days he had been back home. One, two, three, . . . and there he stopped. For he had locked himself in his room with the hopes of never coming out, and he did not know what day it was.

It was just impossible. Every time Cathcart opened his eyes, the sight of the guy going down right in front of him in that wretched jungle haunted his vision. He knew that if the guy hadn’t gone down, he would have. Yet, he failed to find any consolation in such a realization. If he could only forget.

Dare I?, he asked himself. He knew there was something the army had given them that could make him forget. A white powder of sorts. It was the only way of forgetting these things. However, Cathcart found himself afraid of its power, as well. What kind of powder was it that could make someone forget? he wondered. But the army had given it to them, so it must be alright, though Cathcart did find himself wondering if dear Uncle Sam always provided them with the right equipment. No matter. It was best to forget and Cathcart found himself feeling in the dark for the little bit of that white powder he still had left. “Just one more sniff,” he told himself, and he could be released from the confines of that Asian labyrinth.

***

Trent Ware felt the punch in his stomach. Only the warm patch of blood that followed clearly showed that it wasn’t a punch, but a stabbing. Another stabbing that is. For in this part of the camp, stabbings were anything but uncommon. He had longed to be transferred to the faith-based part of the camp, but bribery was the only way such things were accomplished in these parts, and he hadn’t come up with the bribery money in time.

At least this way, he’d get a temporary reprieve from the daily fights in the camp while he was in the sick ward. But he knew that after being caught high the other day, they’d send him right back to the rough side of the camp as quickly as they could. Trent could barely remember a day when he hadn’t been high. It was something his father had taught him to do. “The best way to forget all your troubles” he would tell him after he would take leave of his senses and whip him beyond recognition while hollering something about a jungle somewhere. Yet, every time Trent touched the stuff, he woke up in handcuffs.

“Camp.” Trent spat the word out. Who was he kidding? “Camp” was what they all called it on the inside. Because even the ones who had foregone any chance of parole didn’t want to admit where they really were. But Trent knew it was pointless to deceive himself any further. After doing time thrice, he knew what this place was. It was a prison. A literal one. And he could only long for the day when he would be liberated and truly be free.



Luisa Kay Reyes has had pieces featured in The Raven Chronicles, The Windmill, The Foliate Oak, The Eastern Iowa Review, and other literary magazines. Her essay, Thank You, is the winner of the April 2017 memoir contest of The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. And her Christmas poem was a first-place winner in the 16th Annual Stark County District Library Poetry Contest. Additionally, her essay My Border Crossing received a Pushcart Prize nomination from the Port Yonder Press. Two of her essays have been nominated for the Best of the Net anthology, with another essay featured on The Dirty Spoon radio hour.


Photo credit: Krin Van Tatenhove via Midjourney and Photoshop AI

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