I OPENED MY EYES and found myself in Hell.
The world roared around me in a demonic orchestra of heat and flame, smoke and ash, and the inhuman screams of the dying. The sound hammered at me, beat me down. The heat blistered my skin and burned my lungs. The smoke stung my eyes and choked me, stealing my breath.
I lay sprawled on a dirt floor, but beyond that, could make nothing more out of my surroundings. Only black smoke and orange flame. Nothing about this place stirred any memories. I didn’t know where I was or how I got there. These two points however, seemed insignificant alongside my desire to escape. But how? All I could see was fire. What would the world look like beyond the flames?
The heat continued to pummel at me like a million tiny fists. I tried to rise but couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe, there was nothing but smoke in my lungs.
That was how I died.
All that was, had ceased to be. All that had been, was nothingness.
Nothing but blackness.
I floated in the Black, the Void, and found comfort in it, a familiarity that bespoke of eternity. It was as if the Black and I were old friends. But something tugged at me, an instinct that told me that I shouldn’t stay. The Black was a rest stop, nothing more. To remain would mean an end to who I was.
An end to who I am.
Who I am.
Who am I?
I could recall nothing before the Black. Nothing but... fire?
Yes, I had been in Hell. Now I was dead.
But before Hell?
It was as if my memories were just gone.
But that couldn’t be right.
Surely I could recall my name. I reached for it, but it was like grabbing at smoke.
Why couldn’t I find my name? Everyone has a name? Did I have a name? Who am I? Without a name, did that mean I didn’t exist? Panic took hold of my heart.
I swam on, searching, desperate to find a memory, any memory to grab hold of. I found only emptiness.
Then, suddenly before me was a vast mirror. I gazed into its shimmering surface and found nothing but a blurred mist in the shape of a man that stared back at me. I screamed as the real world crashed over me in a cacophony of sounds and chaos.
I opened my eyes and I was back in Hell.
Yet, I wasn’t.
I was on my back in the dirt. The flames, the heat, the smoke, all were there, just not as intense. As my surroundings grew clearer I could hear now that the screams were those of dying horses. All around me, among the dirt, lay patches of hay.
This was not Hell.
The knowledge brought me a renewed hope and I was on my feet in an instant. I was in a horse barn, though beyond that, I was uncertain. The horses, those that were not already dead or dying, bucked and screamed in their stalls, kicking at the doors that held them in as the flames engulfed the structure around them.
I spun in a circle, looking for a way out, a break in the wall of fire, but I found nothing. I was trapped.
The smoke surrounded me, obscuring my vision. I doubled over, coughing. I was going to pass out again, leave this world once more for the Black. But then the front half of the barn collapsed before me, leaving a smoldering mound of wood with a bright hole beyond that lead to the open air.
I ran to the stalls and gave the horses their freedom. I followed, emerging into sunlight and chaos.
Most of the surrounding buildings were on fire.
Gunshots and screams were everywhere. The street teamed with men on horseback, soldiers in gray uniforms. Among them were their victims. Women, children, the elderly, the soldiers seemed not to care. They shot with callous indiscrimination, and the people fell all around.
I looked to the dead in the street and my anger rose. I went for my guns, finding them gone.
It had an act of pure instinct to go for them, and for a moment I could see myself wearing a pair of revolvers, low on each hip. But then the memory was gone, like mist on a hot day.
I struggled for more, to know more about myself. My past, my name. But I found more of the nothingness that was my memory. It was as if I had just sprung into the world from nothing.
Two of the soldiers must have noticed me standing there, alone in the street. They broke off from the main unit. Like the others, they wore the uniforms of the Confederacy.
How did I know that? How is it that I recognize the uniforms, but I can’t recall my own name?
“Look at what we have here, Bill,” one of the soldiers said. He was fat. Too fat to be on horseback. And his head was nothing but hair. “A Yankee boy.”
Yankee? I looked down at myself for the first time and saw that I was wearing Union blue. A memory slammed into my head and I nearly fell over.
A war? The war between the states. I was a soldier for the North. Why could I recall that memory, but nothing more specific?
“Shoot him, Dan,” the other said. This one was tall and lanky with a meticulously trimmed beard and mustache. “Shoot him, or I will.”
“What’s your name, boy?” the fat one said.
I didn’t answer. I couldn’t even if I’d wanted to.
“Look at his arm, Bill,” the fat one, Dan, said.
I couldn’t help but follow their eyes to my right bicep. Tied to it was a broad strip of dark green fabric.
“The Captain’s gonna want to see this one,” Bill said.
Dan pointed his rile at me and once more I was filled with an unbridled rage.
“Let’s go, Mister,” Dan said.
“Where?” I said, speaking for the first time. Even my voice was unfamiliar.
“The Captain is gonna want to ask you a few questions,” Dan said.
“Captain?” I asked.
“Quantrill,” Dan said, jerking his rifle quickly to the right, motioning for me to move.
Quantrill. Now that was a name I knew. I looked once more at the green arm band, running my hand over it. The band meant something. I could feel that it was important. But trying to get hold of the memory was like trying to catch water with a net.
“We ain’t asking you twice, Yankee,” Bill said, leaning out over his horse and spitting.
Just then a woman stumbled out of a building to our left. She jerked with surprise and fear at seeing the soldiers and took off running down the street. Her dress was in tatters and her skin was covered in ash and burns. Bill pulled a pistol and shot her down. The two shared a smile.
“These Jayhawkers die quick, wouldn’t you say, Dan?”
The two soldiers laughed.
And like that, I was on them.
One moment I was looking at the body of the woman, the next I casually stepped up to the fat man’s horse where a Navy Colt sat in a saddle holster.
“What do you—” Dan said.
I pulled the pistol from Dan’s saddle and in one smooth motion, thumbed back the hammer and fired.
The fat man fell from his horse and moved no more.
“Dan!” Bill said, taking aim.
But he too fell beneath my stolen gun.
A bugle sounded from behind and I spun. A Confederate soldier on horseback behind me blew a few quick notes on a dented bugle.
“A Yankee!” the bugler shouted. “A Green Arm!”
Until the bugle had sounded, I’d nearly forgotten that I wasn’t alone with the two dead soldiers. All around me other soldiers had turned to see what the commotion was about. But before any of them could so much as raise a gun, I ran.
I felt no shame in it. Somewhere deep down I knew that I was no coward. I knew when to fight and when to flee. And when faced with over a hundred men on horseback, flight was the sensible option.
I ducked into a building with a sign that hailed it as the Eldridge. There were more soldiers inside. They were all seated around a table, eating a lavishly presented meal with their hands like pigs in a fancy restaurant.
One of them looked up as I entered. The rest continued to indulge themselves, reaping the spoils of war. The one soldier, however, he rose with such speed that a hunk of roast beef remained, still clutched between his teeth, the juices dripping into his unkempt beard.
“Green Arm!” the soldier yelled, the beef falling from his mouth and onto his plate.
I couldn’t go back, not with what waited for me out on the street. Instead I made for the door on the other side of the room. I didn’t make it. The door banged open and more soldiers poured in. I turned to go back, it was my only option. But the soldiers at the table were up and they blocked my escape. I was trapped once again.
“Search him,” a man said, stepping into the room from behind the soldiers at the door. I recognized him. It was Captain Quantrill himself. “And find Faraday.”
Two soldiers held me tight as a third searched through my pockets.
“What’s your name, Green Arm?” Captain Quantrill said.
“I don’t know,” I said.
Quantrill just smiled.
The soldier searching me pulled a piece of paper from my breast pocket and handed it to Quantrill. The Captain unfolded the paper and smiled as he read it.
“Faraday will be most pleased to see you,” Quantrill said.
“Why?” I asked. “Who’s Faraday? What’s the paper say?”
I didn’t have to wait long for either answer. A man entered the room. Instead of a uniform he wore a black suit and tie. He was no soldier, yet he carried with him the weight of rank. Every man in the room snapped to attention, even Quantrill.
“Mr. Faraday,” Captain Quantrill said. “Thank you for coming so quickly.”
“What do we have here, Captain?” Faraday said. His voice had a slight German accent.
“A Green Arm, sir. He shot two of the men,” Quantrill said.
“Then kill him, Captain,” Faraday said in a dismissive, matter of fact tone. “Why bother me with such trivialities.”
“He had this on him,” Quantrill said, handing over the piece of paper.
I could do nothing but watch as Faraday read what was on the paper, and like Quantrill, Faraday smiled. The only difference was that when Faraday showed his teeth, I could see that the man’s upper incisors ended in sharp, needle-like points. Something stirred within me and I felt a sudden urge to leap upon the man and throttle him. I fought it down.
“Very good,” Faraday said, clutching at the paper. “Yes, Captain. You did the right thing by alerting me at once.”
“He claims to not know his name,” Quantrill said.
“Does he?” Faraday smiled.
Faraday turned from Quantrill and stepped to me.
“We’ve been looking for you for quite some time, you know,” Faraday said.
“Why?” I said. “Who am I?”
“You do not know?” Faraday said.
“No,” I said.
“I have to say I find this most displeasing,” Faraday said. “But I do admit that this act you’re doing, it makes me skeptical.”
“Act?” I said. “What act? Do I know you?” I struggled against the two soldiers who held me.
“You say you do not know who you are?” Faraday said.
“Yes,” I said.
“Do you know where you are or how you got here?”
“I don’t know what has happened to you, my old friend, but I believe you,” Faraday said, then nodded to the soldiers. “Let him go.”
The two soldiers let go of my arms and Faraday held out the paper to me.
“Perhaps this will help you to remember,” Faraday said.
I took the paper and read the words that had been written there with a steady hand.
Your name is Norman Oklahoma, the paper said.
“Well?” Faraday said. “What is your name?”
“My name,” I said, and then swallowed. “My name is Norman Oklahoma.”
“Good,” Faraday smiled again. “Now that we have that out of the way,” he turned to Quantrill. “Kill him.”
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