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Twisted Wish
By Callie Wise

Morgen wasn’t sure how she got there. A field strewn with dead and writhing bodies, smoke drifting over the landscape like an early morning fog stretched out before her. A blast of canon fire made her jump, and that’s when she felt the weight of the gun in her hand. Looking down, she recognized it immediately with its brass scope gleaming in the sunlight – a Whitworth. Katie’s rifle.

The rifle that had belonged to Katie’s father, his pride and joy given to him by a British gent after giving the Brit’s horse a particularly good shod, had been used for deer hunting in the Virginia highlands of her home but was now used for a different kind of hunting.

She sucked in a frightened breath of air and lifted the sight. Staring out through the magnified images, she located what would be her normal position across enemy lines.

“No, please God no.” Staring up at her from the back of Morgen’s own black stallion was Katie, a look of disbelief and a little fear haunting her brown eyes.

“You got that bastard in your sights, Carl?” The voice over her shoulder startled Morgen. She glanced back to see the bushy moustache of her…no, Katie’s, commanding officer curl in a disgusted snarl.

With a sick feeling churning in her gut, Morgen couldn’t fathom a way out of the situation. Katie was the best sharpshooter in her regiment, and she never turned down the chance to take out a Union invader. That’s how Katie had described them – her, being that Morgen was part of the Union cavalry – one night as they curl together under a rough wool blanket.

No matter the differences and hatreds spread by the two sides, Morgen couldn’t bring herself to harbor any ill feelings for Katie. When all of Katie’s family had been killed by Union soldiers as she hunkered down in the hidden cellar, clinging to her father’s treasured Whitworth, the young girl of only 19 had exited the cellar on a mission. She stripped the uniform from the body of the first dead Confederate soldier she came across, donned the uniform, tucked her blonde hair tightly under cap, and set off  to join the cause.

Not the slavery cause, but the freedom cause. No one in her family had ever owned a slave, and her father wouldn’t even do business with those who did, which living in their small corner of Virginia meant business was sporadic at best and times were tough.

That night under the moon and stars Morgen had looked down at Katie, still trying to understand why she defended the evil deeds of the Confederacy. Katie pulled away from the warmth of their embrace and sat up, resting on her elbow.

“Think about it, Mor. You’re in your kitchen cooking breakfast with your mom. Your dad is feeding the horses and your brothers are playing in the field out back when you hear the steady beat of hooves approaching. Not just one or two, but hundreds. After the gunshots and screams go silent, you raise the trap door to the cellar, and what do you see but grown men stepping over the bloody body of your mother as they ransack the kitchen for food. You’d fight back too. You’d fight to keep that from happening to anyone ever again because no one deserves to have their home invaded, no matter the cause.” She became more animated and emotional as she spoke, tears streaking her face, reflecting the moonlight.

Morgen wanted to speak but nothing came out. All she could do was pull the broken woman into her arms, peppering her neck and face with kisses until Katie relaxed and returned the affection. Their lovemaking had been rougher but more attentive than usual. Morgen forced to cover Katie’s mouth, for fear of their secret rendezvous being discovered, as she screamed in release.

As the first rays of light showed on the horizon, the two women dressed in their respective uniforms, helping bind the other’s breasts and tuck loose strands of hair under caps. Both had suspicions that their fellow soldiers knew of their identities, but the need for larger numbers than the enemy made silence more important than honesty. So, they kept it to themselves and neither woman minded.

Morgen tugged at Katie’s lapels, smoothing out wrinkles needlessly from sleeping on top of their clothes, and glanced up at the empty brown staring back at her.

Katie felt it too and knew what her eyes said to Morgen. She reached her hands up to grasp Morgen’s at her chest. With a weary sigh, she dropped her head to Morgen’s shoulder. “I’m just so tired. Bone weary from it all. I don’t think I can do it even one more time, stare into the face of a man, with probably a family and kids, and shoot him down. I just…”

Morgen pulled her in tighter, feeling the slightly smaller woman shaking. “We can’t go AWOL though. We’ll be hung for sure. This damned war can’t last forever. It’ll have to end soon, right? I mean, there aren’t many of us left to fight it anyway.”

Her attempt at humor wasn’t well-received. Katie pushed back but was unable to look up. “I see their faces in my dreams, Mor. Every night. Except when I’m with you. All I want is to stay in your arms and make their faces disappear.”

Morgen’s heart broke for her love. She knew it was bad, hell it was bad for all of them, but she had no idea that Katie had nightmares. The rush of anger was sudden and fierce, and Morgen shook with how much hate she felt for the whole damn mess – the war, the slaves, the lies, Lincoln and Davis, every damn thing about this goddamn war.

She pulled Katie back into her arms as the sun rose higher. She even felt hate for the sun for daring to rise and taking her Katie from her again. “I wish more than anything that I could take your place and give you rest. I wish I could pull the trigger for you so you’d never see another face in your dreams ever again, unless it’s mine. I so desperately wish I could take this burden from you.”

“I wish you could too.” Katie kissed her hard, believing in the sincerity of her love’s words. The one thing she held to be true in this whole blasted mess was their love.

Morgen remembered that last kiss and something her great-grandmother had told her once, that in her youth she had passed off as an old wives’ tale. Her great-grandmother had told her that there was a belief that came from the old country that wishes only came true if it was given in the moment of a pure and powerful emotion.”

Morgen realized that both of them had asked for this unknowingly.

“Prepare to fire on your targets,” the captain commanded to the small group of snipers.

With a deepening dread, Morgen lifted her rifle, the cross hatches settling unsteadily between Katie’s eyes. Her heart pounded in her chest as she ran through scenarios. What if she just didn’t fire the gun? Maybe she could claim it was jammed. It wasn’t unheard of. Except that it would be checked and she’d be found a liar. Perhaps she could simply miss. Except that Katie never missed.

She gripped the base tighter and pushed the butt of the rifle harder into her shoulder to stop the shaking from being obvious.

“Ready!” The captain barked.

Morgen’s hands shook harder and sweat dripped into her eyes, panic setting in.

“Aim!”

She saw Katie’s eyes shutter close, resigned to her fate. Morgen squeezed her eyes shut as well, unable to watch.

“Fire!”

“I wish…,” Morgen murmured softly before all went black.
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