The night air was still as I trudged to the car. Three history books along with three notebooks filled with loose pages of research made a heavy load. Upon opening the door my bundle fell over into the seat and the floor.
"Dammit!" My word broke the silence of the night. I picked them up and slid into the driver's seat.
"Man, I don't want to go into town." It had been a long day. Classes took their toll but it was the aftermath that was truly draining. Not only did I have to read a hundred pages of my history book but my paper was due first thing in the morning. College was so different from high school. These professors expected way too much. Again I had to miss a beer bust at the pub. It was the library or bust. I still didn't have all the material to write the paper which meant I'd be up all night writing after gathering more research. This was too much.
The old library at C of C Was a cracker box encased in concrete. It sat along the wall on the left as you approached the main building just in line with the cistern. It was two stories, two cramped stories. Upon entering stood the front desk usually manned by a student. My friend S-- was working this night. The shelves took up most of the room. They were filled to the rafters with books. The second story was simply a railed walkway along the walls with small tables positioned along the outer wall.
The person at the desk always knew someone was entering due to the squeak of the door hinges and the creak of the well worn floor boards. This building had known the feet of students prior to the Civil War. It was quiet as a tomb when everyone found a table and began their studies. The smell of old paper and leather mingled with the dust of ages. The only sounds were the shuffle of feet and the occasional cough or sneeze generated by the dust disturbed by air currents eddying upward from the door's opening.
The car cranked right away. Another "Dammit!" split the air. I'd hoped it wouldn't start giving me an excuse to stay home. I backed into the street. I heard the lonely hoot of an owl in the pine at the edge of the road. It sent shivers down my spine. I put it in first and hit the gas.
The streets were unusually empty as I drove across the Ashley River. It seemed much later than seven since there were so few cars. Very unusual, I remarked to my self.
I turned left at the College campus and parked beside the library. There weren't any students walking along the sidewalk. It was odd. Normally there were groups idling along laughing and joking amonst themselves.
'Everyone must have papers to turn in,' I thought. 'It'll be crowded in there I bet.'
I got out and leaned over to gather my books when something touched me. I thought it was M--who had planned to meet me inside. A breeze licked my face as I stood and turned to greet her. She wasn't there. My eye caught the movement of a small branch of oak tumbling along the sidewalk. A rustling above grabbed my attention. A large owl settled in the branch overhanging the campus fence. He looked at me. HOOO! he asked.
"I don't know," I said startling myself. Quickly gathering my books, I slammed the door and hurried to the front door. Pale yellow light shown through the windows above and below. On the drab pink walls danced shadows in the moonlight. Again I heard the owl, his eyes looking directly at me. That shiver returned. I shoved the door aside never so glad to see the glow of the inside of this tiny building.
My friend was at the front desk.
"Hi," I said. "Kinda creepy out there."
"Yeah, I noticed it was kinda quiet too." She had a rubber stamp in hand clapping it onto papers atop the desk.
"I'm gonna go upstairs. Will you tell M-- where I am? She was going to meet me."
"Sure." She returned to stamping papers.
Each stair had it's own creaking sound. S-- said she could tell where a person was by the sound of the boards. I nodded to the others sitting at tables as I made my way past them. An empty one sat in the corner. Most of them were occupied but the only sound was the rustle of a page being turned. I recognised a couple in the corner and nodded to them. The nod was returned.
I sat spreading my books and papers on the small table. My chair scraped the floor attracting scornful looks. I shrugged and sat. The top arch of the window was to my right. I looked into the dark of the night beyond watching the limbs sway in the breeze. I began ot wonder where M-- might be. Normally she wasn't late. It wasn't like her not to show.
I was there to study and get this paper done. Into the world of the civil war I jumped. Why I had chosen the Civil War I didn't know. Maybe because Charleston was the focal point at the beginning. I could imagine the students at this college being outraged a hundred years ago by the North's continued occupation of Fort Sumter. How dare they? We were no longer a part of their oppressive control.
"Rickey! I'm so happy to see you." She was standing on the cistern in light blue gingham, her bonnet shading rich brown eyes set on only me. She twirled her parasol.
"Miss Lillie, it's such a pleasure." I held her hand to my lips. She began to blush.
"I do declare, sir. You take liberties," she said leaving her hand in mine.
"I guess you have heard, have you not? I shall enlist."
"Oh yes! I am so proud I could just bust." Her smile radiated warmth into my heart.
"My fellow students and I will be reporting for duty this very afternoon. Those citadel boys will be manning the cannon on the battery. I do hope they will fire on the Fort soon. We must have control of all our land."
"Do you think it will mean wah?" she asked.
"No, dahlin. Those Yankees will go running back to their border as soon as we show them we mean business. They're cowards really."
"Will you come to momma's this afternoon? And wear your uniform. I do love a man in uniform."
"As soon as I have been given my commision I will certainly come by."
"You go do your duty, sir. Show those Yankees their place. I'll be on the porch. You do like a good mint julip I'm sure."
"Why yes ma'am. I've been known to throw back a few, uh, I do indeed Miss Lillie. Now if you will pardon me, I must be on my way," I said bowing to her.
"Why yes. You men must go have your little wahs. We'll be looking for you tonight, sir."
My encounter with Miss Lilie excluded all the hubbub surrounding us. Students in groups were shouting, swearing to send those Northeners back where they came from. I joined in with several good friends. Our group shouted louder and longer than any of the others. We began to march to the recruiting office.
"Here you go, son, sign on the dotted line," said the man behind the desk. I had told him what I wanted, a commision and a fine feathered hat. He had agreed to provide my sword as well just so long as I signed on the dotted line. He was all smiles and promises before I signed. But before the ink had dried he barked out, "Get these men to the baracks! Put 'em on KP!"
We were hustled along the street to a huge long building painted green and filed through. It was such a humiliating experience that I won't go into it at this time. The sergeant did tell me not to be so pissy in future.
They taught us to march, shine shoes and peel potatoes not to mention putting up a tent and building a fire. We drilled with muskets, shot targets and learned to reload in seconds. The entire time I kept yelling, "What about the wah? What about firing on Fort Sumter? What about my afternoon with Miss Lillie and my mint julip?"
"You must be dreamin' boy. Fort Sumter fell to us over a year ago."
"Huh? I only just joined up. The fighing was supposed to be over by Christmas. What's going on?"
"Well we goin' ta a place called Gettysburg so you better quit yo' complainin' and git yo' geah tagethah."
"Whoa, wait. Gettysburg? I don' wanna go to no Gettysburg. Don't you remember what happens at Gettyburg? We gonna lose."
"What you talkin' 'bout, private? Genul Lee done tole us we gonna kick them Yanks back to Washintun. You git yo stuff tagetha."
"Wait. No. Miss Lillie. What happened to Miss Lillie? I was supposed to go over to gather my favors from Miss Lillie? I ain't goin' to no Gettysburg without seein' Miss Lillie!"
"Keep it up private and you gonna see the wrong end of five riles aimed at you."
"No. No. No. Miss Lillie!" I began to scream. "MIss Lillie!"
A tap on the shoulder woke me.
"Huh? What? Miss Lillie?" I said gazing into the overhead light.
"Just who is Miss Lillie?!" asked M--.
"Oh, hi, honey. When'd you get here?"
"Don't Honey me. Who's Miss Lillie?"
"Huh? I don't know."
"You've been yelling Miss Lillie for fivce minutes while I've been trying to wake you. You better tell me now!"
"I must have been dreaming. I don't know a Miss Lillie. Honest. It was a dream."
I don't think she believed me but she sat down and spread her books. I don't think she got much studying done, either, the way she was watching me. It's like she thought I was going to join up or something. Maybe at a future date but not this night.
Needless to say, I turned my paper in late.