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"Morning Too Soon"

 by Wayne Faust  

© 2008 by Wayne Faust
All rights reserved
 

 




 March 5, 1836
 San Antonio de la Rocha, Texas

 

“In the spring of the year, when kings go off to war...” pronounced Crockett as he waved his hands in the air like a preacher.

“What’s that, Davy?” asked Travis, who stood beside him on the wall.

“Just a quote from the Bible. Second Samuel, I think.”

“Oh. I thought it was more of that Tennessee balderdash you’re always spoutin’.” Both men chuckled. Their mood had lifted a little, and the spirit of impending doom that had hovered over the fort for the past several days seemed to have eased, at least for now.

Travis could see what had inspired Crockett to start quoting the Bible. The scene below them was magnificent. The sun was going down behind the broad expanse of Santa Anna’s army, camped out on the plain and in the distant trees across the river. Wood smoke from a thousand Mexican cooking fires drifted into the sky, coloring the sunset a hundred shades of red and purple. Over the bitter gunpowder smell of musket fire and artillery, a gentle breeze brought a hint of the first bluebonnets of spring.

Crockett looked away as the sun dipped below the horizon. He began to clean his rifle for what seemed like the hundredth time.

The two men had found a place on the wall away from the others where they could talk freely. Travis was the commanding officer, but he had been confiding in Crockett ever since the famous man had rode up to the fort thirteen days before - and especially since Jim Bowie had gone down with pneumonia.

“So, what do ya’ think, Davy?” asked Travis. “They comin’ soon?”

Crockett set down his rifle and stood with his arms folded across the front of his buckskin vest, looking out over the plain. His smile disappeared. “They’ll come, alright. They ain’t marched here all the way from Mexico City in winter for a picnic. Maybe they’re waitin’ for a few more troops.”

Travis spat on the ground. “It ain’t like they don’t have enough already. How many do you think there are? A couple thousand?”

“Something like that.”

“And we got two hundred.”

“Yep.”

Crockett had a talent for influencing men. He had known it since he was a boy. So it had seemed natural that, late in his long and impressive life, he had come to this place. His career in Congress was over and there just weren’t many more challenges out there for him. When some fliers had circulated around Tennessee requesting volunteers to help the Texicans in their fight against Mexico, Crockett had headed south the next day. But he had never imagined it would be like this - holed up in a god-forsaken mission, surrounded and outgunned. But there was still a chance. With Davy Crockett there was always a gambler’s chance. And his job was to lead. And now he sensed that Travis’ confidence was slipping away like whiskey draining out of a bottle.

Crockett patted Travis on the back. “We’re gonna be fine, Will. We’ve had thirteen days to get ready. This old fort was a strong defensive position to start with and we made it stronger. They can only bring so many soldiers at once without piling up against each other. Besides, each one of us is equal to ten of them Mexicans.”
Travis’ sun-bronzed face brightened into a slight smile. “Much obliged, Davy,” he said. “I know we can do it. I just needed to be reminded I guess.”
They stood together for a few more moments until Travis strolled off to make a twilight tour of the defenses.

Crockett stood alone with his thoughts and rolled a smoke. He had to admit he had some serious doubts of his own. Did they really have a chance? Probably not.

They had all committed to stay and defend the fort, to try and hold off the Mexicans as long as they could. When Houston sent word that he wasn’t coming, all of them knew it was probably suicide to stay. But knowing something in your head and knowing it in your heart were two separate things. No one could really imagine themselves dying, shot full of holes, bleeding their life away into the dust. That was something that was just too hard to contemplate.

Crockett chided himself for thinking like that. He needed to cheer himself up, just like he had cheered up Travis. He thought on what he knew of history. How many times before a battle had some haggard army with a Chinaman’s chance to come out on top won anyhow? He’d experienced that himself during his Indian fighting days. Why should this be any different? He had been born lucky. His old confidence welled up as he turned away from the wall.

But later that night, just after midnight as Crockett spread out his pallet on the floor of the chapel, he wasn’t so confident any more. When he was sure the men around him were asleep he got on his knees and prayed. He prayed for a long time, asking for courage and strength. He prayed hard enough to cause his guts to ache. He asked that somehow he might get an inkling of what was going to happen. He had gone into so many battles in his life without the slightest idea of how it was going to come out. Surely, just this once, it would be nice to know a little bit more.
 

****
 

“Some hero,” said Howard Arnold sarcastically as he and Winfield Crockett watched the view screen. “The guy’s down on his knees like a little kid.”

“So?” said Crockett. “What’s wrong with that? What would you do if you were in his shoes?”

“Not that.”

Crockett took a swig of Newcastle. “You know what happens next. The guy becomes a hero - brave and strong to the end, just like the books used to say before guys like you rewrote them all. Why can’t you admit you were wrong? Is it too hard for you to believe a white man could have been a hero?”

“Now you’re sounding like one of those nuts from The Daughters Of Texas,” muttered Arnold.

“My mother happens to be in that organization,” said Crockett.

“Figures.”

Howard Arnold and Winfield Crockett were famous around the world for their arguments. As the two most senior faculty members of the History Department at The University of Texas, and as two of the foremost Texas scholars in the world, they were forever on opposite sides of every issue - Arnold as Revisionist, Crockett as Traditionalist. Their entertaining discussions on the talk show circuit were legendary, but thanks to the discovery of Remote Viewing their arguments should have been settled. That had been the dream of all historians when it first became possible to tap into the Timeline and view any given historical event, over and over, from any angle. And in fact the technology had cleared up a lot of misconceptions - things like who was or wasn’t on the grassy knoll in Dallas in 1963 for instance. But people like Arnold and Crockett still argued about what it all meant.

“I have to admit that I’m still amazed we can do this,” said Crockett. “You’d think the people there would see a camera or something.”

Arnold nodded his head and chuckled. It was hard for all of them to realize how far science had progressed since simple things like cameras.

“So you said you had a reason for asking me up here tonight to watch this again,” said Crockett. “What’s up?”

“I’ve got a proposition. I’m willing to admit that Davy Crockett and all those other guys showed some courage at The Alamo. And of course I was wrong about some of the things I wrote about in my first book, at least about the parts where they all begged for their lives in front of Santa Anna. We now know that never happened. It was just faulty speculation on my part.”

Crockett’s eyes got wide. “Are you going to actually apologize?”

“I’m not finished yet.”

“Oh.”

“All right,” continued Arnold. “Yes they all were brave. But heroes, that’s a very strong word. And I’m willing to bet it doesn’t apply here. I think those men never really thought that they were going to die. That makes their bravery a lot more understandable. They were so indoctrinated in the superiority of white men that it was completely foreign to them that an army made up of Mexicans could ever defeat them. I think that if they had actually known for sure that they were going to die you would have seen a very different outcome. Maybe that begging I described in my book would have come true.”

“That’s ridiculous,” snorted Crockett. “You just can’t admit you’re wrong, can you? Besides, how could we ever know for sure about something like that?”

“We know for sure about a lot of things we never knew about before. And now there’s a way we can know for sure about this.”

Crockett stared. “How?”

“Remote Projection.”

“You’re kidding.”

Remote Projection was the next logical step in the technology that had led to Remote Viewing. Researchers had learned how to project an image into the past, right onto the scene being Remote Viewed. It would appear to the people there like a ghostly apparition, floating in the air. It had been tried several times, and indeed, the people in the past who saw the images had been convinced they were seeing ghosts. There were even theories that every reported ghost sighting in history was actually just a Remote Projection from the future. That didn’t make the paranormal boys happy. And as always with time travel paradoxes like that, thinking about the whole idea could turn your brain to mush.

“I’m entirely serious,” continued Arnold. “And we’re going to use this.” He waved a tan-colored pamphlet in front of Crockett’s nose.

Crockett grabbed the pamphlet away and examined it. It was one of those pamphlets they give out to tourists at The Alamo in downtown San Antonio. It had lots of names and facts.

“You’re going to Remote Project this back to The Alamo,” said Crockett.

“That’s the plan,” answered Arnold. “And I’m going to make sure it hangs up there right in front of old Davy Crockett’s nose. We’ll see how much of a hero he is after that.”

“But that’s unethical. Maybe even illegal,” said Crockett.

“I got approval from the Department. They even arranged to get the projecting device for me. Evidently they’re thinking about how much money a book about this would bring to the University. And how much prestige.”

“But what if it changes history? Aren’t they afraid of that? Something like this is bound to.”

“The theory that led to Remote Viewing says that it’s actually impossible to damage the Timeline. The laws of physics simply won’t allow it. Most of those who study these things are pretty sure about that. So if Davy Crockett turns out to be a coward and runs away, he’ll get killed riding out of the fort. Or maybe he’ll drop dead of a heart attack the next day. Or maybe he’ll just disappear or something. That’s part of the reason they approved this. They want to find out which it will be. And I’ll get to prove my point. And, since Davy Crockett was one of your ancestors, I think it’s poetic justice that you get to sit here and watch your hero come apart at the seams.”

Crockett bit his lip and then took a sip of ale. He forced a smile and said, “Fine, I’m not worried.” But he felt a like a gambler holding kings when there was a good chance the other guy had aces.
 

****

 


Davy Crockett took a deep, shaky breath of night air and looked out over the wall towards the Mexican camp. It was getting close to dawn. He had a lump the size of Texas in his throat and his knees shook so bad that he had to lean against the wall for support.

If only he had slept through the night. But he hadn’t. He had woken up about an hour ago and had been unable to get back to sleep. He had wandered out of the chapel, intending to take some air. That’s when he saw the vision.

Before falling asleep he had prayed to know what was going to happen in the coming battle. What had possessed him to be so stupid? Because he had received his answer. And now he was more afraid than he had ever been in his life.

What kind of vision was it? Nothing like the ones he had read about in the Bible. No hosts of angels. No heavenly trumpets. Just two ghostly, tan-colored pages fluttering in front of his eyes as he stood by the wall. He tried to touch them but his hand went right through. The images seemed to glow from within so Davy had been able to read the words.

The first one read:

The Daughters of the Republic of Texas present:

The Story Of the Alamo

Thirteen fateful days in 1836

Below the heading was a drawing of the entrance to the Alamo’s chapel, the place where he and the others had been sleeping.

The words went on to describe a battle that was fought at The Alamo on March 6, 1836 - and since it was long after midnight, that was today. It said that the battle began just after sunrise when the Mexican artillery opened up on the fort, and was over half an hour later, after every defender had been slaughtered.

It was disturbing enough for Crockett to read something like that. But the second image was worse. It read:

In memory of those who died fighting for freedom at the Alamo

There was a long list of names - maybe two hundred in all, in very small print. Crockett didn’t want to read those names. Every bone in his body wanted him to turn away. But he couldn’t stop himself.

Abamillo, Juan - Texas

Allen, Robert - Virginia

Andross, Miles DeForrest - Vermont

Crockett knew those names and he knew those men. His eyes drifted down to the names that started with ‘C.’

Courtman, Henry - Germany

Crawford, Lemuel - South Carolina

Crockett, David - Tennessee

It felt to Crockett like he had been stabbed in the chest. What was this? What else could it be but a terrible answer to prayer?

He read through the rest of the names. They were all there - Travis, Bowie, all of them, including some names he didn’t recognize. It was like seeing two hundred tombstones all in a row, with your own slab right there in the middle.

After the apparition had flickered out and disappeared, Crockett had been too stunned to move. He leaned against the wall and gasped for air. Could it have been his imagination, a product of too little sleep? The Mexicans had been firing artillery blasts all night long lately to keep the defenders from sleeping. And it had worked mostly. But the vision hadn’t felt like a sleep-deprived nightmare. And now Crockett was alone in the quiet fort with that terrible vision still running through his head.

Crockett looked up. The fort was quiet. For the first time in a long time. Just after midnight the Mexicans had stopped shelling. Crockett could reason out the answer to that one. They were resting up. Or maybe they were lulling the defenders to sleep so they’d have surprise on their side. Either way, it seemed to bear out what the ghostly papers had said. The Mexicans were coming.

But Crockett had been given the knowledge ahead of time. There was only one good reason that would have happened. The answer to his prayer had been given so he could act.

Run.

Sneak out under cover of dark.

Because Davy Crockett surely didn’t want to die.

With images in his mind of Mexican bullets tearing through his body like sharp teeth, Crockett’s feet began to move. He found himself heading down off the wall and into the courtyard. The front gate was about forty yards away.

A voice startled him and pulled him up short.

“Hi Davy. Can’t sleep?”

Crockett spun around. Travis was standing there in the pre-dawn gloom, still dressed in his nightshirt.

No words came out of Crockett’s mouth as he tried to answer, only a wheezing mumble.

Travis stared at Crockett. He saw the sweat on his forehead. Crockett’s body was shaking as if from a fever. Travis looked towards the front gate, the one that Crockett had been heading for.

“You’re thinkin’ of leaving,” said Travis. It was a statement, not a question.

All Crockett could do was nod slowly.

“But why?” asked Travis. “I thought we all agreed to stay. And you were the first one to step across that line.”

“But that was before,” Crockett managed to stammer.

“Before what?” asked Travis.

What was Crockett to say? How could he tell Travis about his vision? Would he even believe something crazy like that?

“I want to ask you something,” said Crockett softly. “What if you knew before a battle that you were going to die? No ifs ands or buts about it.”

“What are you gettin’ at, Davy?” asked Travis.

“Just stay with me on this. What if somehow, some way, you knew ahead of time how a battle was going to come out. And you were going to be killed. Would you stay around
anyhow?”

Travis rubbed his chin.”Well, that would depend on what I was fighting for, I guess. Why?”

Crockett looked Travis in the eye. “What if I told you that I know we are all going to be killed - every last one of us. Less than an hour from now.”

“That’s crazy.”

“Have I ever been crazy before? Drunk maybe, but not crazy. And I’m sober as can be right now.”

Travis swallowed hard. Crockett was deadly serious and it was giving him the creeps.

“I saw a vision,” said Crockett.

“In a dream?”

“No. I was wide awake. Maybe as awake as I’ve ever been.”

“And you saw us all dying.”

“Yep. Every last one of us.”

Travis looked down and scraped his boot against the rocky soil. Then he looked into the dark sky and took a deep breath. “So?” he finally said.

“What do you mean?”

“So what if it is true? We all agreed to stay, knowing it would probably mean death. We all figured it’s worth it. We’re pinning down the Mexicans just by being here. It’s giving Houston time to gather an army. And you said yourself in one of them flowery speeches of yours that some things are worth dyin’ for.”

“But you haven’t seen what I saw,” said Crockett, his voice breaking.

Travis stood ramrod straight. “Maybe not,” he said. “But I do know one thing. If what you say is true, then those Mexicans are coming soon and I ain’t leavin.’ Them other boys ain’t leavin’ either. Now I think it’s time I head up to the wall to get ready.”

Crockett swallowed hard. “I got to think on this.”

Travis reached out and put his hand on Crockett’s shoulder. “Davy, you been a hero to me ever since you came to this fort. And you brought me out of the depths this past evening when I was feelin’ real bad. Now it’s my turn to do the same for you. Don’t run out. Not now. You’ll never be able to live with yourself.”

Travis turned slowly and headed for the wall. He looked back over his shoulder and said, “See you up there, Davy.”

Crockett stood for a long time, looking towards the front gate and the lightening sky. There was still time to get away, although not much time, because he could hear the sound of Mexican artillery opening up in the distance.

Davy Crockett took a deep breath of the last cool air of night and made up his mind. His pulse slowed like it always did when he came to a decision. The hardest part was not knowing what you were going to do. Once you knew, well, then the rest was easy.

But there was no time for Crockett to savor the moment because dawn was breaking and morning was coming too soon.

 

****

 

Arnold and Crockett watched the battle unfold on the Remote Viewing screen. Travis fell early, a bullet through his chest and then a bayonet to make sure he was dead. And right next to him, Davy Crockett fell shortly after, shot through the head. His coonskin cap lay next to his body in the dirt.

All the rest of the defenders were soon lying dead, although some men in the hallway put up a fierce battle for about twenty minutes. When the Mexican guns fell silent there wasn’t much else to watch, except the distasteful looting of the bodies.

Mason Arnold reached up and shut off the screen. Winfield Crockett finally allowed himself to breathe. They each took a long sip of ale.

“Well, it’s clear to me what happened,” said Arnold finally. “The Timeline wouldn’t let Crockett run. He had to stay. It would have changed history if he had run. It doesn’t make him a hero when some law of physics makes his decision for him.”

“Nice try,” said Crockett, who finished off his ale and headed out the door.

Arnold sat alone in his chair for a long time, shaking his head and muttering. Why did things like this always happen to him? All his life he had been living with the insecurity of knowing that one of his ancestors was Benedict Arnold. And now he had been shown up by his most hated rival whose own ancestor had a history that simply refused to be revised. It was almost too much to take.

“Damn that William Travis,” he said as he stood slowly and left the room.


 

END

 

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