Another excerpt from my western WIP, Nobody’s Bride. I’m in revisions and will be looking for beta readers in a few weeks, so let me know in the comments if you’re interested. This is unedited, as usual, so forgive any errors:
The stench of burning railroad ties seared William Hadley’s nose and made his head throb. He should be used to the smell of destruction by now. He’d ordered the burning of strategic Union railroads himself. His men pulled up rails, heated them in bonfires, and twisted them beyond recognition. His men called the distorted rails “Old Mrs. Lincoln’s hair pins.”
He wasn’t used to it yet.
They’d arrived at Goldsborough Bridge yesterday, with orders to hold it. The railroad bridge formed a vital link in the supply chain from the port of Wilmington. His brigade’s reconnaissance had spotted the Yankee Maj. Gen. John Foster leading an expedition to the bridge. Outnumbered, they’d been overpowered quickly, losing dozens to death, injury, and capture. He and his surviving men had been forced to retreat and then watch while Union troops pulled down the bridge, tumbled the stone support columns, burned the ties, and melted the rails.
An acrid taste filled his mouth, coating his tongue. He couldn’t tell if it was from breathing the blackened air or from watching Yankees romp over the remains of the Goldsborough Bridge.
He and five or six of his men had taken shelter behind a little rise when the order came to pursue and harass Foster’s men on the way back to New Bern.
And then things had gone wrong. Awfully, utterly wrong.
He didn’t want to remember, but he didn’t have a choice. Corporal Neely’s pale, sweaty face. The atrocity below it that he tried not to see. “Please,” Neely had begged. “Please.”
William raised his Colt. The man was begging him. What else could he do?”
“Oh, God. Don’t tell my mama it happened like this. Please.”
“I won’t.” He would never tell anyone about this.
Now the boy was saying something else, but William couldn’t hear it. The sounds of battle had faded now, leaving only this moment, this boy, and what he had to do. He battled a shiver. December nights in North Carolina could be frigid. He’d better order the men to build the fires high tonight as a hedge against the cold.
His hand made a motion, such a tiny motion, really, he still found it hard to imagine it had much consequence. The roar of his revolver sounded in his ears. Too late, he made sense of what Corporal Neely had been trying to say.
“Please don’t shoot.”