Short Story Review: “Ten Thousand Miles” by Connie Wilkins

4 of 5 stars.

The horrors of war get a fresh treatment in this tale set in a Union hospital encampment at the edge of the Louisiana swamp. A virtual limbo, the miasma-filled camp is staged for confusion as first Rebels overtake the camp and then a Union gunship takes aim amid the roiling mists and smoke.

The camp is largely manned by “African-descent” former slaves fighting for freedom. Two main characters hold down the hospital tent. Gem is an elderly African-American woman disguised as a man to help the freedom effort. It reads more queer/trans in the narrator’s use of male pronouns for male-guised Gem. Gem’s also attuned to the restless spirits awaiting reunion with the still battling living.

The narrating surgeon is a widowed white Quaker son and grandson of Quaker abolitionists that were at the forefront of the Indiana portion of the Underground Railroad. He’s also haunted by spirits in the form of his deceased wife. The camp is filled with her beloved moths of every size and color, and they serve as a constant reminder of her.

This moving tale shifts from black to white, male to female, living to dead, substantial to spiritual all amidst the roiling mists and flocking moths . . . It’s recommended.

This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Mistress” by Jennifer R. Povey

2 of 5 stars.

This tale relates a contemporary ghost story, when the narrator visits a Civil War plantation house that was burned at the end of the war. The circumstances of its burning and the fate of its final residents remain a mystery.

The narrator sees a female ghost twirling a parasol and realizing that it’s the plantation mistress. [Other site visitors have seen the same visage.] However, this encounter escalates as memories of the final days of the plantation seep into the tourist.

Race and the politics of race are brought up deliberately in the tale in the effort to show its contemporary POV But it has the effect of emphasizing its own “whitewashing” with its focus on the “mistress”, her doting “servants” [aka slaves], and her benevolent treatment of them as the murdering Union and Rebel troops flood the landscape only to meet at the plantation . . .

This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce

An Occurrence at Owl Creek BridgeAn Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This haunting, psychological bender depicts the dramatic hanging of a Rebel supporter by the Union troops. Most interestingly, the tale was written in 1890 with not even a generation lapsed since the end of the war. Wounds between North and South would still have been quite raw. Especially in this tale in which a Southern civilian is baited into doing something illegal by a Union soldier in order to drum up a hanging. And so it plays out.

But it doesn’t play out as characters nor readers would expect as minute details, sensations and thoughts flicker across the page–all from the POV of the condemned man falling . . .

I highly recommend this story. This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Spectral Drums” by Devin Poore

4 of 5 stars.

This moving short story uses metaphor to great effect in the interactions between soldiers from 2 different wars. Generations may separate them, but the understanding bridges impossible gulfs.

On the verge of WWI, the narrator [a trolley driver] notes his standard route to and through the old Civil War battlefield. His respect for the history is evident in his stopping to pick up and let off ghostly riders in blue and gray that whisper of home and family. The tourists also on the trolley gape at the spectacle but don’t move to interact. The ghosts do not communicate directly with the living.

One young man on the trolley boldly attempts to initiate conversation with the spirits, but to no luck. Later, when the trolley is down to just the driver, the young man and a handful of ghosts, the man confesses to the driver that he’s left his Indiana farm to join the war front in France. He expresses his hopes and dreams and what compelled him to leave the safety of home. A ghost replies . . .

I highly recommend this story. This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Swell of the Cicadas” by Tenea D. Johnson

4 of 5 stars.

This is a lovely little ghost story in that it’s written from the POV of a Civil War battlefield ghost. In life, the speaker was not participating in the war, but rather Cat was shot by a stray bullet while crossing the adjacent woods while on an errand for her Mistress.

The slave’s ghost was left to mingle with those of the blues and grays left on the battle field and other non-participant causalities. While the world moved on from the war, the spirits were largely trapped in their animosities for decades until peace settled across the ghostly valley. Now, all of the spirits watch crowds of tourists come to gawk at their history oblivious to the unsettled around them.

This tale stands out in the interactions of the ghost with her environment. She notice of, reaction to and interaction with the play of the forest, the dappling sunlight through the leaves overhead, the whirr of the cicadas. Things as simple as wind and rain pull and disperse the ghost as she moves through her environment:

The sky darkened as the raindrops turned fat and multiplied. Cat struggled to keep her composition as parts of her were saturated and fell to the ground, trying desperately to rejoin the whole before she moved on. She slowed and waited for herself to catch up . . . Cat could see no more. Her vision blurred and prismed as the rain became a downpour and washed her away.

The night came and, painstakingly, she reconvened. As she materialized a wet wind blew through the grove, lifting the hem of Cat’s dress. She made it across the road and to the swollen ditch. She stood in the dark, at the edge of the water, willing herself to disappear. Around her the wilderness swelled with the sound of cicadas, until she could hear nothing but their reedy eruption. . . . She fell slowly, piece by piece into the water. Where the moonlight had moments ago picked out her edges, the glow of her was gone now, and each part of the spirit and once-flesh was lost to the liquid darkness.

This tale appears in Shades of Blue & Gray: Ghosts of the Civil War edited by Steve Berman.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]