Embers flickered in the dying campfire. A crowing rooster heralded the fast-approaching dawn. The general poked a stick at the remnants of a once-hearty blaze that had warmed weary bones and sparked lively conversation only a few hours before. Soon the wind would kick up and Mother Nature would stake a claim in how the coming day would unfold.
The general was alone and he liked it that way in the hours before battle, when he could reflect on past triumphs and fixate on the next victory. But winning wasn’t a birthright. It was earned, and winning at war was a ruthless undertaking, often at great sacrifice. The men called him “Hard Ass” behind his back and he had earned the moniker.
In these quiet moments he weighed strategy and risks, mulling over the triumphs and failures of history’s greatest military minds – Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Hannibal, and Julius Caesar – but it was a mythical adventure, the Greek tale of the Trojan horse, which beguiled him, and shaped his bold belief in striking first, and doing so with an element of surprise.
The first sign of light appeared in the east and the general looked at his watch. The men, including his brothers, Thomas and Boston, would be rising soon. How proud their father would be if he could see the three of them charging into battle together, standing tall. He rose from his perch by the campfire and entered his tent.
“A pen and paper,” he said to his young steward.
“Yes sir,” the aide replied.
The general’s dogs stirred. Tuck was a light sleeper and he was first to nuzzle up next to his master. Swift, Kaiser, and Lady trailed behind, wagging their tales.
The steward lit a kerosene lamp and placed it on an empty ammo crate. The general sat down on his cot and pondered a letter his wife.
Had Libby finished re-decorating the house? She was meticulous about everything, especially curtains. She would be beaming with pride when she showed him the redecorated
parlor, his favorite room, where they entertained guests. Many a spirited game of chess with his brothers had dragged into the night in that parlor warmed by a fireplace that was immune from the ornery wind.
He wanted to tell her how sorry he was that their marriage had failed to produce any offspring. If only there had been a son. And those ugly rumors, the ones about the mistress and two illegitimate daughters. Pure fiction, hateful stories tossed about by adversaries jealous of his success. But now wasn’t the time or place. He hastily scribbled a few mundane paragraphs.
The steward poked his head in the tent. “Sir, the lieutenant reports movement three miles north.”
The general stared at his ink pen.
“Damn,” he said, “there is never enough time.”
He signed the letter, sealed it, handed it to the aide, and stepped outside.
The lieutenant approached and saluted. “Good morning General Custer,” he said.
“The General” was awarded third place in the 2016 Oklahoma Writers’ Federation Flash Fiction awards competition.