The Last Stand

                The shot does not ring around the world. Indeed, not even the general himself hears the fateful pop. Drowned out by the fray, by the din of war, he only feels the bullet as it strikes his side, spinning him around and then down into the ford. There he lies, embraced by the river. He did not expect this, and does not have time to evince surprise.

The light dims too quickly; life does not flash before his eyes. Pain centers him in the present, forces his focus onto the bodies surrounding him. Young men moan feebly for their mothers, their fathers, their lovers or wives. Others stare blankly into the beyond that claims them, ushered into an afterlife that yet comes for him. He sees the ridge thicken with Lakota and tries to scramble to his feet, to continue his crossing, his fight, but all his strength drains into the waters.

                Custer tastes death. He chokes on clotted blood. The river, Little Big Horn, rushes by, running red.

Gagging, gasping, the general fades away.

                The Lakota cross past the dead in silence, in pursuit of survivors and other companies of men. They trod over the fallen, the young and old, the white, black and Native, in solemn observance of the evil men force themselves to do. They do not see him, nor the stars on his lapels. They do not know what ‘great’ man has passed here; they do not care.

                The world is for the living, burdened by concerns, plagued with violence. As they pass on, across the river onto grass greased by dew-like ichor, the sun continues to rise towards a sanguine dawn. Disappearing beyond a copse of ash trees, their thoughts fix on the battles ahead.

                And they know: the day’s dying has only just begun.