Beginnings: Nathan's Story

by Wendymypooh

Alternate Universe "For the Larabees"

Second  story in the Beginnings Collection

Twelve-year-old Nathan Jackson grimaced as he stood in front of the makeshift operating table and handed surgical instruments to Dr. Elijah Sanderson, a Confederate Army surgeon as he performed his fifth amputation in the past several hours. Bile rose up in Nathan’s throat and threatened to erupt from his mouth, but he frantically choked it back. He would not do anything to embarrass Dr. Sanderson.

The elderly doctor had been kind and patient with him ever since his previous owner had given him to the man three years earlier. It had been the solitary one act of kindness his former master had done for him, over the years since he and his father and younger siblings had been sold away from his mother. Ezekiel Vander had been an especially cruel master with a violent temper, who would beat a slave for the slightest infraction, real or imagined. Nathan knew from harsh experience as one of the man’s favorite recipients of his beatings, and still bore the scars on his back from a whip on his young flesh.

Even though three years had passed since that awful, painful day, Nathan remembered it clearly in his mind. He had been sent by his master over to a neighboring plantation with a note for the owner, and was given explicit instructions to obtain a reply and return to the plantation immediately. Nathan had delivered the note as he was told, received the reply, and started back to the plantation. He was cutting across the fields towards the main house, when he had spied a rabbit that had gotten caught in a snare and stopped to free it. It had taken only a couple of minutes, but it had been enough time wasted, to thoroughly infuriate his Master.

“Please, Master Ezekiel…please don’t hurt me!” a terrified Nathan pleaded with his Master as he was stripped from the neck down and tied to the whipping tree. His whole body shook with his terror, as his cries were met with deaf ears. Through his tear heavy eyes he could see his father struggling frantically to free himself from the steel grasps of two of the white men who worked for Master Vander.

“No! Master, please, whip me! Please don’t whip my Nathan!” He heard his father shout brokenly over and over again, even as he felt the first agonizing sting of the whip against his bare flesh.

All he heard afterwards were the sounds of his own screams in his ears until he blissfully fell into darkness

When he had awakened a few days later, after having become deathly ill due to an infection caused by the whipping, it had been to find himself in a comfortable bed, warm room, and Dr. Sanderson was sitting in a chair beside the bed reading. He seemed to sense Nathan’s eyes on him, because he lowered the book and smiled at him. He had remembered thinking that Dr. Sanderson had the kindest blue eyes he had seen from a white man.

Dr. Sanderson had proceeded to tell him that he had bought him from Master Vander, and that he was safe. Nathan had only nodded and had pretended to go back to sleep. The doctor had left him alone, and Nathan had dissolved into tears. They were mixed tears of relief and sadness. Relief that he would never be under Mr. Vander’s control again, and sadness from being torn away from someone else that he loved, and who he would probably never see again. Something had told him in that brief few moments that he never had anything to fear from Dr. Sanderson.

He was right too. Dr. Sanderson not only had treated him with kindness and genuine affection, he had also taught him to read, write, do arithmetic, understand science, and groomed him to be his personal assistant. As the doctor’s personal assistant, Nathan accompanied the doctor on many of his house calls to patients’ homes. At first, Nathan had only been allowed to witness the doctor tending to minor illnesses, cuts, bruises, and the delivering of babies. Eventually he was working alongside the doctor as he removed bullets, repaired broken bones, and even tended to a man who was badly burned.

None of what he had seen previously could have prepared him for the grim reality of what he was seeing now. Gone were the comfortable beds patients laid in, clean operating tables, sterile rooms, and ample medical supplies. Here there was only a crowded tent with dozens of narrow cots filled with broken, battered men. The stench of bloody, unwashed flesh, perspiration, and human waste permeated the air and left a sickening taste on your tongue. The endless litany of agonized moans and cries assaulted one’s ears and made it hard to think.

Many of the patients’ who required amputations were blissfully unaware of what was happening to their bodies until after the operations were finished. A few, like this patient Dr. Sanderson was currently operating on, were aware of what was going on around them, and therefore felt every motion of the saw as it cut into his damaged flesh. The soldier’s screams pierced Nathan’s ears, and he tried desperately to block them out as he continued to hand Dr. Sanderson the instruments he needed to complete the operation. Thankfully the soldier passed out halfway through the operation and Nathan breathed a sigh of relief. When it was over, Nathan waited while the doctor left orders for the patient’s care to the orderly.

“Come along, Nathan. Let us sojourn to our tent to impart on a brief respite before we are needed again,” Dr. Sanderson said when he was finished speaking with the orderly.

“Yes, sir.” Nathan replied and followed Dr. Sanderson out of the hospital tent.

Nathan and Dr. Sanderson had just left the hospital tent when the encampment came under fire. They crouched down, the doctor drawing his pistol. “Stay close, Nathan.”

Nathan nodded, fear making his heart thump madly in his chest. Dr. Sanderson rose up onto his feet; keeping hunched over and began walking toward the back of the encampment where their tent was located. Nathan rose to follow him, even though his mind was screaming for him to not to move, to not make himself a target. Explosions rocked the ground as cannonballs entered the area and met their designated targets. The sounds of bullets being expelled from pistols and rifles, mixed with shouted instructions, and new screams of pain filled the air as Nathan followed the doctor.

Suddenly Nathan found himself being propelled backwards onto the ground as Dr. Sanderson shoved into him. He tried to keep from falling, but couldn’t, falling hard onto the ground and rolling a few feet away as an explosion rocked the ground where he had just been standing. His ears rang with the sound of the explosion as he rolled to a stop into a tent pole and felt the air leave him.

He drew a gasping breath a moment later, grimacing at the bruising he must have assuredly received from connecting with the post so hard. The ringing had finally stopped and his ears were filled again with the sounds of war.

“Master Sanderson?” Nathan called out, sitting up suddenly, and looked anxiously around him.

He spotted the doctor lying on the ground a short distance from him and scrambled on all fours in the dirt over to him. The doctor’s glasses had fallen off, and lay shattered next to his head. His wizened face was pale, but perspiring, his chest heaving as he couldn’t catch his breath and his wrinkled hands clutched at his shirt above his heart.

“Master Sanderson…what is it? “ Nathan asked, even as his trained young eyes were already looking over the man’s body for any signs of tears or holes or blood…but he found nothing.

“My…my h-heart.” The older man wheezed out between painful breaths. “Get…Get my medicine.”

Nathan rose to his feet and scurried in a crouched position over to the tent he shared with the doctor and dashed inside. It took a moment for him to remember where it was he had seen the doctor hide the small bottle of pills. He rushed over to the small table beside the doctor’s cot and opened the drawer, pulled out the bottle and ran back outside to the doctor.

He dropped down to his knees beside Dr. Sanderson, and felt his heart plummet to the ground. The raspy breathing had stopped, the hands had stilled, and the kind eyes that had looked upon him with genuine affection were closed.

“No!” Nathan cried out, dropping the bottle of pills and giving Dr. Sanderson’s already cooling body a violent shake, hoping that what his eyes was telling him wasn’t true.

After several moments, Nathan gave up his attempts to revive the older man and staggered to his feet, realizing for the first time that he was really free. He could not waste another second grieving over the doctor, if he expected to have any chance on slipping out of the encampment and making his way north to freedom.

He ran back into their tent and gathered his few belongings together, along with the rest of their rations and a canteen. Nathan left the tent and took off running into the woods without looking back.

3. Buck's Story