The First Shot

Posted: Monday, January 26, 2009, 9:53 am

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(Length: 8 min, 29 sec)

Presenting the winners of the 2008 Worthington Libraries Teen Poetry and Short Story Competition. Rachael Kneice, the first place (tie) winner for middle school short story, reads "The First Shot."

Samuel Charles Dickenson was lying in his bed one night in April, listening to his parents. They were below him in the main room, talking about the war.

"I don't see why you want to fight," his mother was saying. "You're a simple shop owner, who's just trying to earn his keep!"

"But my dear, we need to fight for our freedom! If I wasn't a store keeper, believe me, I would be out there fighting!! I'm glad that I can at least do what I can here by supporting the Patriots," his father replied.

Samuel lay there in his bed for a while, listening. His mother didn't care much for freedom. She was fine being a citizen of King George III of England. But his father was a true patriot. He was right; if he didn't have to take care of the store, he probably would be out fighting the Redcoats. Samuel believed as his father did. How he wished he could go and fight! They had a gun for the family, and he could join the army! But nobody would let him go. After all, they said, he was only thirteen, and that was too young to go prancing off into battle. Most people didn't think he even understood much about what was going on. But he did. The Americans wanted freedom from England, but the king wouldn't let them. Talk of war was in the air.

The next morning, as Samuel was climbing down the ladder leading to his loft, where he slept, he saw his father busy. Mr. Dickenson was walking about, getting the store ready for the normal business in their hometown of Lexington. After sweeping the hard, board floor, Samuel headed outside to see if anything of interest was happening. As he walked along the street, he happened to spot an old newspaper. The heading read: "The British; friend or foe?" And it had yesterday's date on it, April 17, 1775. Samuel didn't think the British were friends at all. They imposed taxes on the colonies, and the colonists didn't have a say in the matter. The British went to Boston, and made the colonists give them food and shelter. It wasn't fair. The dirty Lobsterbacks could just get on a ship and sail to the end of the earth!

Two weeks before, they had gotten a message about the British wanting the supplies of ammunition in Lexington and Concord. So the Colonists went and hid all the ammunition. That way, when the soldiers came; they wouldn't be able to find it anywhere.

Samuel passed by a tall brick house. Hiding in it, supposedly unknown to everyone, were Sam Adams and John Hancock. But of course, almost everybody in town knew they were in there. Who wouldn't know, with Mr. Adams shouting up a storm every time something went wrong?

As he walked home to the shop, he watched a dog following a young boy. The dog would stop to sniff at something interesting, but the boy would give a sharp whistle. The dog would then give a happy bark, and run after the boy. Samuel watched them until they were out of sight.

"There you are, Samuel!" his mother cried out when she saw him. "Where in the world have you been? You were needed in here!"

"I'm sorry Mother; I just went for a walk. What did you want?"

"I need you to go and chop some more wood for the fire."

Groaning inwardly at the irksome chore, Samuel headed outside. As he chopped, he tried whistling something to make the work go faster. But it was no help. He went about the shop for the rest of the day, doing his normal chores. Towards the end of the day, though, he was grateful for the wood he chopped. The fire was starting to burn low, and the April weather was still cold. He went over to the newly cut wood in the wood pile and piled it high on the fire.

Mrs. Dickenson got up from her rocker and set the Benjamin, the baby, in his cradle. He started to cry, and she wrapped him tightly in some blankets.

"Samuel, you'd best be getting off to bed now," his father told him. "There's plenty of work to do tomorrow."

Grumbling, but also yawning, Samuel complied, and climbed the wooden ladder up into the loft. But in the night, he was awakened by people talking. Down below, he could hear his father moving about, and people outside. Curious, he hurriedly got dressed and climbed down the ladder. He watched his father grab the gun and head outside. Mrs. Dickenson was cradling Benjamin in her arms.

"Samuel! Go back to your bed right now!" she exclaimed.

"But, mother, I want to know what's happening. Why is everybody outside?" he asked. Then he heard it. Far off in the distance, bells were starting to ring. He heard them sending out a warning with their ringing. He could just faintly hear in the distance, a man shouting out: "The British are coming! Wake up everybody, and show yourselves!"

The British were finally coming to Lexington to get the supplies they wanted! Samuel slowly climbed up his ladder. Once he reached the top, though, he peered down. He watched his mother moving hastily about, gathering supplies. She walked away into a separate room. Now was his chance.

Quickly, he slipped down the ladder and ran outside. Samuel looked off into the distance. He could see a small cloud of dust rising. The British! How he wished he could fight them. He saw men and older boys rushing to the center green. One man was loading his musket as he ran. Suddenly, he stopped. The man was desperately trying to fix something. With a grunt of exasperation, the man tossed down the musket and started running again.

Samuel, being curious, walked over and picked up the musket. It was a beauty. Just a plain wood stock, but nevertheless, it was a weapon. He saw the problem. The bullet was stuck. If the man had tried to shoot it, the gun might have backfired. With a shrug, Samuel hoisted it over his shoulder and walked on. Even though it wouldn't shoot, it made him feel confident.

He glanced to the south again. The dust rising in the air was closer now. He could almost see the individual soldiers. Over on the green, he saw all the men lining up. Samuel crept closer, and then crouched behind a low rising wall. He wanted to watch the battle. He noticed a few other boys he knew creeping silently up to watch.

All of a sudden, the sun rose in the distance. The British were clearly seen, just crossing over the bridge that led into town!

"Company, halt!" came the cry from the officer in charge.

Samuel stared in awe at the soldiers. They were dressed from head to toe in military clothing. Every single one of them stood straight and tall. Not a button was unbuttoned, and not a musket was even a bit dirty. They all stood in straight lines, looking straight ahead.

Samuel shook himself out of his daze. He watched the man in charge of the small colonial force, Captain John Parker.

"Stand your ground; don't fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here," he told the men.

Then the officer of the British rode forward on his horse. "Disperse you rebels; throw down your arms and disperse!" he cried.

Both the captains told their men not to fire. Samuel watched the two armies. Nothing was happening. Why didn't they do something?! He couldn't believe that they all would just stand there staring, as if they were daring the other to move! In frustration, he jammed the butt of the musket he was carrying into the ground. Samuel wasn't totally sure what happened next; but apparently, the bullet had somehow dislodged itself, and got into the proper position. The gun fired.

Pandemonium broke loose. As soon as each side heard the shot, they started firing. Samuel instinctively ducked behind the wall. He couldn't believe it. He had actually started the fighting? No, it couldn't have happened. Someone else must have shot. But when he looked at the barrel of the musket, smoke was faintly rising from it. Samuel took off. He ran back toward the house. He couldn't take it any longer. There were too many people shouting, and there were shots ringing all around. He tossed the gun behind him, and ran toward his house. As he was running, he glanced back over his shoulder and saw a British soldier fall to the ground.

He burst into his house, not seeming to notice that tears were silently coming down his cheeks. His mother glanced at him in surprise from her chair where she was huddled. But he ignored her and climbed up his ladder. If she knew better, she wouldn't ask what happened. Once he reached the top of the ladder he flung himself onto his bed and lay there, just thinking about what had happened. If he listened, he could still faintly hear shots being fired.

War didn't seem so victorious any more. There was no glory in it. Just men shooting at each other to stand up for what they believed in. He supposed that was an important reason, but it wasn't good enough for him. He didn't want to have anything to do with fighting. Maybe someday he would change his mind, but not today. His one hope was that his father would be all right. How many would die today, just because they wanted freedom? Samuel decided one thing then and there. The price of freedom was not cheap.

Rachael Kneice
1st Place (tie), Middle School Short Story
2008 Worthington Libraries Teen Poetry and Short Story Competition

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