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The Dead Line- Part Two

Key and Hill circled with the two new arrivals and walked uphill.

“You can get a pretty good idea of what’s going on from up here,” called Hill. “Don’t fall behind.”

“Or what?” snapped the exhausted infantryman. “We’ve been marching for three days straight.”

“So what’s another five minutes?” called Key. “Trust me, it’ll be worth it.”

At the top of the hill, they stood with their backs to the dead line fence. They rested for a while, and the new men introduced themselves as Captain Geoffrey Baldwin and Lance Corporal Karl Kramer.

“Prussian, huh?” asked Hill.

“My father was. I’m a New Yorker.”

Hill pointed off to an encampment along the eastern side of the fence. “New Yorkers are over there. I’m sure you’ll find somebody over there who’ll help get you settled.”

Kramer shifted his weight. “I thought that’s what you were doing.”

Key shrugged. “We’re just here to help you get where you need to go. Tell the truth, it’s him we want to talk to.” He nodded over toward Baldwin, who had sunk down and put his head in his hands.

“I wouldn’t get your hopes up with that one,” whispered Kramer. “Not much of a military man there. My father would have eaten him alive.”

Hill chuckled. “Well, his boy might get his chance pretty soon. There ain’t a lot of food around here.”

Kramer shook his head. “Not much out there, either. The blockade seems to be an effective strategy. We may be out of here sooner than you think.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. We’ve got more pressing concerns. Take a look at the river.”

Hill pointed down at the small stream that flowed through camp. “The genius who designed this place thought that would be enough water for everyone.”

Kramer stared at the swampy, brown colored water. From a distance, it looked like a cotton head snake winding its way through the lean tos and tents. Its poison was visible also. He could see the men shitting and pissing into it on all banks. Hundreds of them. His gaze swept from the head of the snake, past its swollen middle, and down to the end. Rather than a taper, it ended in a burst.

“Mien Gott. There’s no drainage. How many have died?”

“Pretty much all of us who have been here for a while. If nobody comes for us soon, we’re all going to die.” Key paused. “Now look here, I’ve already decided I don’t want that. I’m looking for a way out.”

Kramer’s gaze quickly crept up the dead line fence. Hill caught his gaze, then shook his head. “That’s the dead line, son. You don’t want to climb that fence. It’s the coward’s way to go.”

“Look,” Hill stepped in and grabbed Kramer’s shoulder. “My father survived his war, and yours survived his. We can make it out of this.” He pointed over at Key. “I trust this guy. I think he can show us the way out of here.”

“You know those guys that jumped you when you came in?” asked Key. “They call themselves the “Raiders” like they’re some kinda pirates.”

“Who are they, really?” asked Kramer.

“Well, as near as we can tell, they’re mostly pirates,” stated Hill. “They’re mercenaries that were fighting for the North is the most recent story floatin’ around camp. God knows where they were from, but now that they’re together...”

“They have weapons,” Key picked up when Hill trailed off. “They’re just men with weapons. They’re not as tough as everyone thinks they are. Now that guy...”

Key’s hand pointed the length of the dead line fence. Yards away, the body of the Indian hung. Sticks ran through his flesh, and he stared ahead in a fixed intensity. Twine ran about the sticks and were lashed to the fence. His feet dangled two feet from the ground.

“...that’s a tough guy.” Key shook his head in admiration.

Kramer recoiled. “What sort of monsters would do this?”

Key and Hill shuffled a bit. Finally, Hill spoke up. “Um, that’d be us. We did it.”

Kramer stood up and began to walk away from the fence. “I’m going to find out if anyone from my regiment’s here. I’ll see you later.”

Hill yelled after him as he began to pick up his pace toward the New York camp.

“He was askin’ for it!”

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