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Confederates on the Roof
Written spring 1964


Background: My high-school friend Terry Rockhold dreamed this story.  Like most dreams, it makes new combinations from mixed-up fragments: history, movies, a persistently flirtatious girl, an apathetic student body.  Terry related the dream to me, and I merely wrote it down.  (Click here for another photo.)

The roof of the high school was covered with Confederate soldiers in drab gray uniforms.  They had a Gatling gun set up directly over the main door three stories below, pointed toward the west.  Their intention was to keep this stronghold at all costs.

I strolled over to General Washington.  "It's no use keeping me a prisoner, George," I said to him.  "My troops will be here in half an hour, and you won't have a chance."

"Don't forget that we have control of the roof," Washington replied.  "We have a very good strategic position.  If your forces drive us off, they're going to lose a lot of men in doing it."

The general presented an imposing figure, with his 18th-century clothes and his powdered hair.  The rebel soldiers around him looked coarse and uneducated in comparison, but I could tell they were devoted to their leader and would fight to the death if he ordered them to.  I realized that retaking the building would be a difficult job for my troops.

A corporal jabbed me in the ribs with the rifle and said, "And when they start to attack, all we have to do is tell 'em we got Rockhold up here as a hostage.   They won't wanta get him killed off."

"Do you command that much respect from your men, Mr. Rockhold?"  Washington asked.

"Well, we'll soon find out," I answered.  "Here they come."

A battalion of soldiers clad in green khaki and carrying automatic rifles was advancing on the high school from the west.  They were coming through the streets and alleys and even across lawns, headed for the block-long street that runs in front of the school building.  The awe-inspiring thing about the sight was that the hundreds of men who were approaching were making no noise whatsoever.  The sounds were those of a normal day in the small town:  a distant dog barking, birds singing in the trees in front of the school, a car going past.

While the Confederates on the roof were watching the approaching battalion, I dived off the roof into the shrubbery thirty feet below.  As I was falling past the second-floor study hall window, I head a redhead scream; but I landed safely, and the men on the roof had no idea where I had gone.

The battle had begun.  My troops raced across the street and up the sidewalk to the front door.  The Gatling gun rattled intermittently at us; but, to our surprise, no one was at the door to drive us off.  We ran in and headed for the second floor.

I told my men to wait in the hall while I checked the rooms to see where the Confederates were hiding.  The study hall being the largest room, I elected to look there first.  A sergeant handed me a rifle.  I stealthily crept up to the study hall door, put my hand on the knob — and flung open the door!

Students were seated inside calmly doing their homework.

"You've got to get out of here!"  I shouted.  "General Washington is up on the roof, and we're going to try to drive him off.  There's going to be a big battle!"

The students looked at me blankly.

"Don't just sit there!" I cried.  "Get out, or you'll be killed!"  The students reluctantly began to gather their books together.  They all seemed irritated at this inconvenience.  All except the redhead; she was grinning at me.  I had a sinking feeling in my stomach.

"Let's check the third floor next!" I ordered.  The whole battalion trotted for the steps.  But as we started to climb them, we were met by a withering fire from Confederate soldiers stationed at the top.  Three times we charged up the stairs; three times we were driven back with heavy losses.  It appeared that Washington's men did indeed have a better position than we.

It was then that I had my great stroke of genius.  We would let Washington have the top floor and the roof; we would merely burn floors one and two out from under him!  I ran to the home economics room to get a match.

There was the redhead again.  She was still grinning at me.  I couldn't have anyone interfering with our operations, so I shot her at point-blank range.

She didn't feel a thing.  She just kept grinning.  In fact, she laughed at me.

Either my rifle was loaded with blanks or this girl couldn't be killed.  Either way, it was a ghastly situation.  I decided to humor the redhead by letting her strike the match.

The students were hurried out of the building.  The Confederates on the roof took pot shots at them with little success.  Meanwhile, the fire we had set soon was engulfing the whole building.  My troops stood on the school lawn and fired at the trapped men on the roof.  Washington fought on bravely, but there was little he could do.  Finally, he had no choice but to leap for his life.  He landed heavily on the lawn.

"Rockhold," he gasped to me, "I think I've broken my arm.  I've got four bullets in me, too, so I don't think I can last too long.  I just wanted you to know that I've never seen a more brilliant strategist.  Who would ever have thought of burning down the school?"

"A student," I answered.

The beautiful orange flames leaped higher and higher into the air, consuming our textbooks along with the last of the rebel soldiers.  It was a wonderful sight.



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