“The House”

Image Elijah’s men found the door partially open, so they entered the old house.  They walked carefully, thinking someone might be at home.  When they pushed on the door, its hinges made that familiar reluctant groaning sound customary for old doors and old men, neither of which likes being forced to move.  There were four chairs in the room.  None were sitting upright.  They had all been turned over and lay at various angles and in various positions scattered across the front room as if they had been tossed aside by someone in search of something that the chairs might somehow conceal.  A picture, formerly hanging next to a window, had been ripped from its perch on the wall and cast on the floor near the fireplace where even now a gathering of ashes emitted a small amount of feeble rising smoke. 

In the next room a table, which had apparently been the modest place where the family took their meals, was turned upside down on the floor.  Dishes and utensils were scattered about as if someone had thrown them hurriedly out of their way while searching for some unknown something.  Everything was a mess, a complete disorder. 

In the bedroom, the men found the man and his wife.  They were both in the bed, still partly covered by the quilts.  The man’s upper body was lying across that of the woman’s with his back to the men.  The feather pillows were covered with the couple’s blood.  They had both been shot in the head from what appeared to be fairly close range, perhaps from the door where the men were now standing.  Some blood had dripped from the bed and made a small pool on the plank floor.  It had coagulated and darkened.  A Bluetick hound was licking at it and he now growled under his breath at the men.  They ignored him and went to tell Elijah what they had found. 

Claudie spoke.  “You might want to look in here, Cap’n  Elijah.”  Claudie held Elijah’s horse as he dismounted. 

When Elijah walked into the house, what struck him was the utter disorder and the complete randomness of it.  Most everything had been upset, but here and there, a few things had been left alone, as if they had been holy, to sanctified to touch.  A photograph on a small table had not been moved.  Elijah picked it up.  It was a man and a woman, probably in their early twenties, looking straight at the photographer with expressionless faces.  Were they trying to see into the future?  Were they afraid of what it held?  Those thoughts occurred to Elijah. 

He replaced it on the table and entered the next room.  Two tin cups were hanging undisturbed on two pegs.  Elijah reached for one of them and cradled it in his hand.  He brought it to his nose.  It had a slight smell of strong coffee.  Two people once drank steaming coffee on frosty mornings from these cups.  Where were they now and what had happened to them? 

When Elijah stepped into the next room, he knew.  He stood silently in the door for a few moments. 

Elijah spoke, “So I guess this is what people do when they have ‘rights.’  If man is made in the image of God, why is he so stupid?  Why is he thirty years old and acts like he’s four?  Do you know, Claudie?  When you figure it out, then you tell me, ‘cause I haven’t a clue why man acts the way he does.” 

“I guess someone’s rubbed that image off, Cap’n,” Claudie said. 

“Yeah,” Elijah said.  “And I know who it is.  It’s me.” 

“It’s not you.  It’s them,” Claudie said, “them that did this.”

“It’s always ‘them.’  Who is ‘them?’  I’m ‘them.’  We’re all ‘them.’  We just don’t know it.  We can’t see that.”  Elijah’s voice trailed off.  

“Get some help and bury these poor people, Claudie.  We can’t stay here.  We’ve got to leave as soon as we can,” Elijah said. 

Elijah walked out the front door of the house and got back on his horse.  He rode about fifty yards to the edge of a corn patch and sat there looking across the field that had recently been picked and waited on his men.  He thought of the corn, probably now stored safely in a crib, which would never be eaten by those who had grown it. 

“God has done His part.  He hands us life from His earth, and what do we do with it?” he thought. “We throw it back in His face and tell Him it’s not good enough, that we deserve better.  We say that to God, by the way we act. We’re all lost.  There’s no hope for any of us.  God’s just leaving us alone and letting us kill each other off.” 

In a little bit, the men rode up and they were all ready to leave.   Elijah looked at Claudie. 

“You know this whole world, and especially this Satan-sired war, is like that house back there, Claudie.  It’s all messed up with random destruction.  Sometimes, some little something is saved.  But, there seems to be no reason to what is saved and what is destroyed.  It’s like no one has any sense.  We destroy what matters and keep what doesn’t.  But, mostly, we just don’t know the difference.  We’re just stupid, and selfish, and violent and what we are left with is that house back there,” Elijah said. 

“They teach you that when you were at Harvard”? said Claudie.

“No.”  Elijah paused for a moment.   “They act like they’re real smart up there.  But they’re just as clueless as everybody else.  I figured that out myself.” 

They spurred their horses and moved out into the dirt road.  Claudie rode next Elijah, as he always did.  Their destination was the mist-covered mountains, so much mist that it reminded you of smoke.  When they got to the smokey mountains they would turn north toward Virginia.  They would spend the winter moving up through the Appalachians, gathering a few men as they went, moving on toward Maryland and then Washington and Elijah’s meeting with Lincoln.    But, none of them knew all of that yet, not even Elijah. 

 

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