The Death of Josiah Johnson
A Short Story By J. Allen Wilson
As Tessie and her children walked down the main road that led into town she began singing one of her favorite hymns and encouraged the rest of her children to join in. All did except Josiah. He feigned lip movement, but the words he was uttering beneath his breath were not the words of “the old rugged cross” but the words of his heart which were full of contempt. He looked out over the vast open fields which still had pockets of last weeks snowfall tucked away in the shadows along the fence rows. He dreamed of escaping the confines of this backward self righteous community and living life to its fullest. He had already figured life was too short as it is and once it is over, well it’s over. He totally dismissed the idea of life ever after and he even laughed a bit inwardly at the bleating sheep that held onto the idea that there was some eternal being watching over us and protecting us. It didn’t help my dad he thought; all the prayers in the world did not help my dad as he lay there month after month getting sicker and sicker until finally he could breathe no more. He even remembered praying himself to God not to take his daddy, but his dad died anyway. That was six years ago and that was when Josiah made up his mind that there was no God and that heaven was an imaginary place that people made up in their minds to explain hurtful times in life. Lagging behind the rest of his siblings Josiah stopped to examine a dead sparrow on the edge of the road. The cold of winter must have done it in he thought…if it was summer it would be teeming with…
“Josiah, leave that poor creature alone and come on” shouted his mother.
If you don’t snap it up and start acting like the smart young man you should be I will have to get Bill, I mean pastor Williams to address you on the issues of being a Godly man, now come on please”.
“I’m sorry maw, I was out of line and I know it”.
Josiah had done figured out that the best way to keep his maw of his back was to agree with her. As they came closer to the edge of town Josiah could see a large number of townsfolk gathered at the foot of the steps that led up to the church. He could hear their voices grow louder the nearer they came and he could see old four eyes, pastor Williams standing atop the step holding a piece of paper.
His mother drew her children close as she approached old Mrs. Thompson.
“What’s going on Mildred, his mother said; I mean why is everyone standing outside the church and not going in?”
“I don’t rightly know Tessie replied Mrs. Thompson, I just know that the pastor told everyone including the sinners to gather here that he had an important announcement to make.”
Just then Pastor Williams chimed in.
“Ahem, excuse me everyone; excuse me, can I have your attention please, can I have your attention? At 7:58 this morning, the Japanese Imperial navy launched an all out attack on the American forces stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It is unknown at this time the extent of the attack or if there or even causalities. Though I am not certain of the outcome, I can most assuredly say that it looks like war has come to America, may God bless us all. If you all will, please join me in prayer as we beseech our father in heaven to protect us all and give our leader guidance in this most terrible time.”
Josiah dropped his head briefly as the pastor began praying and then raised it and watched as the little sheep of the pastors flock cried out for mercy to their God.
Though saddened by the prospect of war, Josiah knew that there would be war and when he turned sixteen in a few more weeks, he was going to enlist.
During the next week as more news filtered in about the attack; men young and old clamored from local farming communities to join the service and fight for the cause. Roosevelt had officially declared war on Japan and Germany and Josiah was determined that he was indeed going to fight, even if he had to run away from home and lie about his age. In fact when his mom asked him this year what he wanted for his birthday / Christmas, he was going to say that all he wanted was her signature allowing him to enlist. Josiah knew that his mother would fight this, but he also knew that somehow she would agree.
On the morning of December the 15th much of Indiana was buried beneath a heavy snow that began the night before in heavy squalls. Josiah laid in his bed listening to the wind howl through the clapboard siding of his home all the while resisting the urge to get up and go pee. The floors were like ice and he could even see his breath against the faint light in the hallway. He listened as the wind continued to moan and then he heard his mom call out his name.
“Josiah, come down here right now please, I need your help.”
Josiah hesitated for a moment and then thrust himself from beneath the warm quilts into the icy air of his bedroom. Quickly putting on his clothes he made his way down the steps to the kitchen below only to see him mom trying to remove snow from the kitchen where the roof had given way from the weight of the heavy wet snow. No wonder it was so darn cold last night Josiah thought…might as well been sleeping outdoors.
“Here you take this pail here and start moving this stuff back out while I try and find something to cover that hole.”
Josiah moved snow for almost an hour as his mom tacked up a makeshift covering to keep out the weather.
“Maw I need to ask you something”.
“Yes son, what is it”?
“Maw, I want to enlist in the Army and go fight those Japs. Johnny Redbones dad signed for him and Billy Jacksons mom signed for him…it’s the right thing to do, its what I want to do.”
“Josiah, you know how I feel about killing, you know that I have always been against that, but if you have your heart set that strong on it, well I guess there is nothing really that I could do to stop you. Come the first of the year I will see if Pastor Williams will take us down to the station in Evansville and you can do what you think is right. Lord knows that when your paw got his heart set on something, no matter what I said I wasn’t going to change his mind. I’ll talk to the Pastor Sunday, now get busy and help me finish this up so I can get breakfast on for you kids.”
“Thanks Mama thanks.”
J. Allen Wilson © 6/2008