Jim left the will on the kitchen counter and walked into the study. The odd phrasing kept running through his head: “I leave to James Paul Moore all of my estate, my possessions and the Rifle.” Jim’s great-uncle Ned had been a firearms collector and owned many rifles, from Revolutionary War muskets to an almost modern M-1. He crossed to the gun safe, consulted his notes for the combination, and opened it. Resting among the gleaming metals, camouflage plastics and burnished woods stood a tall gun case with a red silk bandana tied around it. Jim brushed his fingers down the silk, contemplating its possible purpose. It was obviously not for protection, soft and fragile as it was.
As much as they had talked about the collection, Ned had never mentioned a special rifle. Jim lifted the case out of the safe, being careful not to disturb the silk cloth. His heart quickened, curiosity telling him to hurry. He placed the case on the table, untied the cloth and opened the clasps that secured the lid. He took a deep breath to calm himself and opened the case.
Jim recognized the Rifle as a Springfield Model 1861; a Civil War rifle. He’d seen this before; he glanced over at the gun safe and saw an identical Springfield Model 1861. “So how is this one different,” he muttered. He reached down and grasped the Rifle with both hands and felt nauseous and dizzy at the same time. He swallowed hard and closed his eyes. New sounds and smells assaulted his senses, a horrendous stench and the smell of sulfur, explosions close and far, yells and screams of anger and pain.
My eyes opened to a scene I would never forget. With my back against a tree I used my ramrod to pack the bullet in the Rifle. Men in battered butternut and gray uniforms are spread throughout the tree line, taking cover, loading and firing around the trees. Mangled bodies lay in sight. I put the ramrod back under the barrel, pulled out a percussion cap, fitted it to the firing nipple and cocked the hammer. I took a deep breath, twisted around my tree and raised the Rifle to fire at the line of blue soldiers moving towards me. A searing pain slammed into my shoulder and spun me around. The Rifle flew from my hands.
Jim staggered back from the table, as a wave of nausea hit him again. “What the hell happened?” he mumbled. The Rifle remained in its case on the table and the gun safe still stood open. An envelope he hadn’t noticed before lay where it had fallen, leaning against the bottom shelf of the safe door. He jumped over, grabbed it and saw written on the front, ‘Jimmy’. He tore it open and read, “Do NOT touch the Rifle before reading my journals.”
Six thick journals sat on the top shelf in the safe; one had a red post-it note marking a page. Jim opened it to the flagged page and read the entry: “The only thing ever to come back with me is the red silk bandana. When I became Thomas on the second day of Gettysburg, his best friend Robert died in the Peach Orchard. Robert always wore the bandana, a gift from his fiancée Marianne, around his neck. When Thomas found Robert’s body, he removed the bandana and stuffed it in his pocket intending to return it to Marianne. When Thomas stacked the Rifle and I returned, I found the bandana in my pocket. I leave it tied around the Rifle’s case, to remind me of lost love and war’s tragedies.”
The point of view change works fine. In fact, I’d highlight that amazing shift in time and space in two other ways as well. I’d drop down a double/double space before it, and I’d add a double/double space after it. I’d also write that whole section in present tense, as well as the first person you’ve chosen. Your verb tenses in that paragraph are actually drifting, so fix them all in present tense. I think you’ll agree that helps to set the event off nicely.
I added more paragraph breaks, so see if you agree. I put on at the sentence beginning, “Jim’s Great-Uncle Ned…” and one at “He reached down and grasped…” and one at “The Rifle remained….” You’ll notice that each of these is a subtle shift in focus, and the paragraph break helps the reader move along with that attention shift. I’d put the word “Suddenly” before “new sounds and smells…” since this helps us get a sense of the big change starting. Try a dash rather than a comma after “assaulted his senses—“ I’d use a period instead of a semicolon after “He’d seen one before. He glanced….” The italics works fine for the letter. Bold would be too much.
It’s a misconception that punctuation is annoying and a tyranny of rules. It’s actually one of the writer’s most handy tools of communication. It’s worth using all its features to enhance what you hope to convey.
This is a well-structured story, and one that could be left as is or be the opening of many adventures both past and present that involve the Rifle. You pick!
I trust that you are ready to agree that you are indeed a writer, and that you have many stories that want to get told. They are all around and also lurking in your imagination. Let them out! –Ann