Nick Nolte was The General. We were in the Confederate Army but most of us didn't want to be. It wasn't that we didn't believe in the cause; we just didn't want to die, and we were fairly sure that this was the probable outcome of this whole affair.
The General would come into our quarters every day, using the same exact path. He would march (with his entourage) flush with the far wall and down the west wall and then into the center of the room to decide who was to be sent into battle that day. All of the fresh meat was lounging around the room on their two good legs, except for me and the other three who got to sit at the one table on the only four chairs. I might have been an officer of some sort. Or maybe just an observer. I don't know.
It had gotten to the point where fresh meat was hard to find, and normal recruitment had given way to more direct methods of arming the army. Racks of new men were being carried in like so many meat coats being wheeled into the garment district up there where our enemies lived. Their wrists would be handcuffed to the rolling rack and once they were wheeled into the waiting room they were let loose so that The General could throw them into the human hopper for that day's decision.
Disgruntlement was in the air around our little card table this morning. I could see the other three fellows at the table shifting their eyes and I could hear the whispers they were speaking. One of them had a camera. One of them was writing down notes in a small pad. I realized that their plan was to sneak photos of the goings on in this room out to either the media or the enemy so that someone could publicize the apparent insanity of The General and perhaps bring an end to the caged madness of this room and, perhaps at the same time, this war as well.
The conspirators got up from their chairs and began to make their way to the outside. As far as I know, I had never seen the outside but you could tell from the light in the windows that such a place did exist. As they were halfway to the door, The General marched in with his underlings. As he took that familiar route around the far wall, I thought to myself, "You guys should hide the film and the notes you have in your hands." But they did not. The shock of their mistimed efforts threw them into confusion and The General was soon in possession of all the incriminating evidence.
Cut to a scene outside where seven or eight of my fellow soldiers have been tied to a large wooden beam hanging in a huge cypress tree which is growing in a swamp. Even though they are hanging on this beam, side by side, at approximately twenty feet above the water, alligators are in the tree with them. I recognize the main protagonists in the plot, but I'm amazed that The General has so quickly assigned guilt to this many others. I have no doubt that they were in on it, but the punishment seems downright medieval. Why not just shoot them in the head and be done with it? Is it true that The General really has gone mad with the prospect of the possibility that this war is not winnable? I watch (somehow) from twenty feet above the swamp as my former allies spend the night chained to that beam in that cypress tree. During the night, alligators gnaw at them. One black soldier has an alligator's mouth engulfing his entire head for what seems like hours, but he remains alive somehow after the reptile has had his snack.
When the sun comes up, The General orders the beam full of traitors dropped into the swamp. The beam catches on the roots of the cypress and the hapless group remains caught in the ordeal, up to their necks in the alligator-infested waters. The blood coming from the injured will draw the conclusion soon as the alligators swarm toward them. Two fellows at the far end of the beam give up all hope and stick their heads underwater to drown themselves. They succeed. Most of the rest look numb and ready for whatever might come next but with no will to further it along.
One young man near me has broken down and is begging for death but swearing he can't find the strength to bring it about. A beautiful woman in a long off-white dress wades out into the water to tell him in heartfelt reassuring tones that it will be all right; to just let go.