Clifford simak — way station
The noise was ended now. The smoke drifted like thin, gray wisps of fog above the tortured earth and the shattered fences and the peach trees that had been whittled into toothpicks by the cannon fire. For a moment silence, if not peace, fell upon those few square miles of ground where just a while before men had screamed and torn at one an-other in the frenzy of old hate and had contended in an ancient striving and then had fallen apart, exhausted.
For endless time, it seemed, there had been belching thunder rolling from horizon to horizon and the gouted earth that had spouted in the sky and the screams of horses and the hoarse bellowing of men; the whistling of metal and the thud when the whistle ended; the flash of searing fire and the brightness of the steel; the bravery of the colors snapping in the battle wind.
Then it all had ended and there was a silence.
But silence was an alien note that held no right upon this field or day, and it was broken by the whimper and the pain, the cry for water, and the prayer for deaththe crying and the calling and the whimpering that would go on for hours beneath the summer sun. Later the huddled shapes would grow quiet and still and there would be an odor that would sicken all who passed, and the graves would be shallow graves.
There was wheat that never would be harvested, trees that would not bloom when spring came round again, and on the slope of land that ran up to the ridge the words un-spoken and the deeds undone and the sodden bundles that cried aloud the emptiness and the waste of death.
There were proud names that were the prouder now, but now no more than names to echo down the agesthe Iron Brigade, the 5th New Hampshire, the 1st Minnesota, the 2nd Massachusetts, the 16th Maine.
And there was Enoch Wallace.
He still held the shattered musket and there were blisters on his hands. His face was smudged with powder. His shoes were caked with dust and blood.
He was still alive.
Dr. Erwin Hardwicke rolled the pencil back and forth between his palms, an irritating business. He eyed the man across the desk from him with some calculation.
“What I can't figure out,” said Hardwicke, “is why you should come to us.”
“Well, you're the National Academy and I thought …”
“And you're Intelligence.”
“Look, Doctor, if it suits you better, let's call this visit unofficial. Pretend I'm a puzzled citizen who dropped in to see if you could help.”
“It's not that I wouldn't like to help, but I don't see how I can. The whole thing is so hazy and so hypothetical.”
“Damn it, man,” Claude Lewis said, “you can't deny the proof-the little that I have.”
“All right, then,” said Hardwicke, “let's start over once again and take it piece by piece. You say you have this man …”
“His name,” said Lewis, “is Enoch Wallace. Chronologically, he is one hundred and twenty-four years old. He was born on a farm a few miles from the town of Millville in Wisconsin, April 22, 1840, and he is the only child of Jedediah and Amanda Wallace. He enlisted among the first of them when Abe Lincoln called for volunteers. He was with the Iron Brigade, which was virtually wiped out at Gettysburg in 1863. But Wallace somehow managed to get transferred to another fighting outfit and fought down across Virginia under Grant. He was in on the end of it at Appomattox …
“You've run a check on him.”
“I've looked up his records. The record of enlistment at the State Capitol in Madison.