She set the fresh bandages and two basins of water down on the table next to the man’s bed, then drew back the thin curtain that ran around it.
He twisted his head toward the sound and gargled roughly, in a vain attempt to say something.
“Sshhh,” she said. “Don’t talk. I’m just here to change your bandages.”
Under his dressings, she knew the man was a horror show of blackened flesh and open wounds. The fire on the Sultana had seared all the hair off if his head and upper body. Then the icy waters of the Mississippi had gone to work freezing the flesh on his extremities. His prognosis was not good.
She placed a fresh roll of bandages into one of the basins to soak, and began to unwrap his blood stained ones.
Suddenly, his hand was on her arm, necrotic fingers holding her tight.
“The shining…we could see the lights of Memphis…shining, dancing over the water.” He croaked to her, tears welling up in his eyes.
“So close. They seemed so close. Tried to swim. Couldn’t…couldn’t reach the shining.
His grip loosened, his hand slipping from her arm.
Another victim of the Sultana.
146 years ago this week, the SS Sultana’s boilers exploded a few miles north of Memphis on the Mississippi. Nearly two thousand men, mostly Union soldiers returning home from Confederate POW camps, were on board when the disaster struck. Those that weren’t killed outright by the blast, had to make a choice between a raging inferno or the near-frozen currents of the Mississippi River. Barely 700 of the two thousand survived, and many of those succumbed to their injuries while recovering in Memphis. To date, the Sultana stands as the worst maritime disaster in US history.