Edd B. Jennings is a farmer in the mountains of Virginia and an Arctic traveler with extensive experience in Alaska and Canada. He has a novel and a series of nonfiction wilderness books with an agent.
Anna, of the Second Sight
Anna saw them walking home, the vision in her mind in vivid color. Anna could see her older brother Randall Drumcliff and Ezra McCourt, the man she loved, walking through the mountains of central Virginia. News of the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse a week old, Ezra and Randall would not arrive at Drumcliff House on the New River for another week. Yet, she watched them. For the first time in her life, her gift of the second sight seemed a gift and not a curse. These two men, boys when they left but men now, were safe and coming home, the war over.
Despite the hardships of the war years, in her twentieth spring, Anna had health and bloom. With her long red hair, glowing skin, and innate grace, she had beauty of an unnatural kind. Her beauty was of the kind that drove men mad; her beauty was another of the Drumcliff curses like the second sight that cropped up every few generations. The adulation of the passing men she so readily inspired left them disappointed and Anna alone. Her beauty was of a kind that, rather than allowing her to share the warmth she so desperately sought to give, it only served to isolate her.
She saw her short future with Ezra with heartache. Anna loved Ezra, although in many ways, he was an evil man. No law, no order ruled him, nor held his allegiance. He loved her, and he loved Randall, and nothing else. One day Anna could see, he would love his children. No young woman of twenty should see in her heart so vividly the things that Ezra had done in the war. Ezra was worse than Randall. The two had learned to love the smoke and the thunder and the clashing steel. She had the generations of the Drumcliff evil embodied in her. To mix Ezra McCourt’s blood with hers would spawn an evil the Drumcliff legacy had not known. Their union could not produce children. Yet, she saw it in Ezra’s future that he could live only for the love of his children. Without that love his own hate would destroy him. A noble future waited for him, but only without her. Those children he would love could not be hers.
She would know him on this night of his return. If it were destined for her to turn away from him in the dawn light, she would know the one night. She wore a long dress made from a heavy cream-colored tablecloth that had survived the war. Anna didn’t look like a twenty-year old girl. Her radiant skin and her hair glowed, but the eyes were of an older woman who had seen more than they should. A tall, strong girl, she appeared tiny and frail next to Ezra. She gave herself repeatedly to him in that night.
In the very late hours, her heart ached for what she had to do in the dawn light, as she lay awake next to the sleeping Ezra. In her mind in wild colors, she saw the charge into the children played out the one more time. Ezra or Randall would never speak of this to anyone. It was late in the war, the cause. Randall had lost three of his brothers. The youngest, Joshua, died in his arms as Anna had watched somehow from far away. Randall would have the memories, which would stay with him forever. Anna had the sight, as real as the day Joshua died, to play again in her mind at odd times, when she never wanted to see the scene again.
A small contingent of Union soldiers fronted the little wood where Ezra and Randall had spent the night. The Union soldiers didn’t know that Ezra and Randall were there and they could have easily slipped away, but bone weary, and soul weary, they had given themselves to a thing that was over. They made a pact between them that it was over, and with the loudest blood chilling Rebel Yell they had in their lungs to warn the Union soldiers, they rushed into the clearing and to their expected deaths. The Rebel Yell, meant to commemorate Pickett and the countless other charges, brought the expected volley of rifle fire. The shots of these green Union troops all missed. In close, the hesitant efforts of the green troops to use the heavy, bayoneted Springfield rifles to thrust and club, couldn’t match Randall and Ezra’s cool use of multiple Colt revolvers and sabers. When the smoke cleared, dead Union soldiers scattered across the Virginia dirt. Ezra and Randall stood unscathed. They looked at the men they had killed, children really. These children, if it were possible, were even more fresh-faced than they themselves had been in ’61. Ezra and Randall never spoke of what they had tried to do.
At good light, Anna told Ezra goodbye forever. The memory of Ezra’s face at that moment painted itself on her soul, and the picture of it would stay with her to the grave.
Later in the morning, Randall sought her, a little shorter than Ezra but well-over six feet, heavier, and much more physically powerful, to resist or to run, would have been futile. He enclosed her slender neck in his hands and pulled her up until only her toes touched the ground.
“Witch, I should burn you as a witch.” She hadn’t seen herself burning, but with her close relationship with Randall the vision might somehow be blocked. Many of the things she saw or didn’t see, she didn’t understand. He shoved her to the ground and turned away. Although she saw they would live in daily contact for many years on this land along the river, she saw that she had lost another brother.