April 6, 1862
The vampire was so full he thought he might vomit. It had been a day of blood. When the two great armies had clashed in what would become a disorganized and costly battle, the ground he now stood on had been a meandering forest of bare trees and thick brush. Now that the day was over, the ground was something different - a virtual blanket of spilt blood and shattered bodies. Many of the smaller trees had been split in half by the cannon fire and the constant volley of musket balls, rendering the field of battle into a cursed land of death.
At times like these, the vampire wondered why the providences of nature had seen fit to allow the vampire to exist in the image of mortal humans. Despite their physical appearances, the vampire shared little similarities with the common man. He’d always thought that he was more at kin with an Amazonian snake who took its meals in one large feed, slowly digesting it over time until it was ready for the next feast. The vampire sustained itself in the same way, feeding in one massive meal that left him free from hunger for many days. It had been nearly a month since his last feed. He still felt full, and the sight of this battlefield did nothing but nauseate him.
It was approaching midnight. The fighting had stopped after dusk and a steady torrent of rain had begun to fall.
For a time, he’d found shelter under a tree while the rain fell upon him in unmerciful droves. He was a few hundred yards from the riverbank where the Union gunboats were busy shelling the Confederate line. The volley of shells from the gunboats came in fifteen-minute waves and would no doubt continue all night.
What a day it had been. The Rebels had surprised them, the vampire admitted. No one had expected an attack this day. How, he wondered, did it happen?
In late March, five Union divisions had moved down the Tennessee River and had encamped off its banks at a place called Pittsburgh Landing. From there, they were to push on to Corinth, Mississippi about twenty miles south and take control of the Confederate railroad lines. It was expected that the enemy were massed at Corinth, but on the second of April, the Confederate commander, Albert Sydney Johnston, left Corinth in force to attack the Union army at its encampment. The surprise attack began on the morning of the sixth. What followed was a day of bloody carnage as each side struggled to get possession of the field. By the end of the day, the Union line had been pushed back nearly to the river. But it wasn’t over yet, the vampire knew. There was always tomorrow.
Sitting at the tree, the constant rain soaking and uncomfortable, he thought about home and the fire that would warm him if he were there. Though he was a vampire, he was still susceptible to the discomforts of nature and still dreamed of the creature comforts of home.
Standing up, he decided to make his way to the log cabin that sat a short distance away and warm himself for a while. His ankle was swollen and painful. Two days earlier, he’d fallen off of his horse, injuring his leg. It seemed ironic to him as he hobbled through the rain that he should suffer such an irritation. He was immortal. He’d seen countless moments of history made through the eyes of a man who could not die. Yet he could still be bothered with trivial injuries such as this. Though the ankle would surely heal faster then it would if he were a mortal man, the nuisance still irritated him.
Trying to ignore the discomfort, he made his way to the cabin, and entered quickly, grateful to get a break from the constant rains.
No one paid much attention to him as he entered; the cabin had been turned into a field hospital to attend to the wounded and dying. All around him, men were lying on every available surface as busy army surgeons worked desperately to save whoever they could.
On a nearby table, two surgeons were going to work on a hysterical man whose left arm was clearly blasted to shreds and needed to be removed. They’d tied a tourniquet around the bicep and placed a stick in his mouth. The two men then held the injured one down as the surgeon began to saw through the bloody stump. The man’s howls of pain and agony were almost like a form of musical despair.
Watching, the vampire could see the fear in the man’s eyes as his arm was being cut away. He had lost a limb in battle once. It was at a place called Agincourt. A Frenchman had sliced through his right arm with a broadsword. It had grown back a few days later. But for this man, lying on a table of his own blood, there would be no other arm to replace the one he’d lost.
As he watched on, he felt a hand tugging at his wet jacket, and looked down to see another man lying at his feet on a dirty cot. The man’s eyes were wide with fright.
“Please,” he begged. “Don’t let them take my leg.”
Looking down, the vampire saw the shattered remains of the man’s left leg. The musket ball had taken the bone clean apart. There would be no saving it. Saying nothing, the vampire walked away as the man continued to beg, “Please, please…”
Looking around, he saw a man he recognized. The head surgeon, Jarred Cline, was busy administering either and checking bandages.
“Mr. Cline,” he called.
The surgeon saw him and came quickly over.
“How are things, Mr. Cline?”
The man seemed exasperated and worn out. Like a butcher, he wore an apron that was smeared with blood. He had the look of a man fighting back tears.
“They keep coming in, sir,” the surgeon reported. “We can hardly keep up. We keep getting reports that there are wounded on the field. They’ll freeze to death in the rain, but we have are hands full here, don’t we?”
The vampire wanted to say something, but he couldn’t think of anything and simply patted the man on the shoulder and turned away.
All around him, the men lay in misery, some moaning, some screaming, some pleading, and all silently praying for mercy.
Having seen enough, the vampire stepped out of the cabin and back into the rain. His ankle wasn’t bothering him so much now.
With nowhere else to go, he returned to his tree and once again sat down to endure the rain. The shells from the gunboats keep blasting away at the Confederate line, adding a manmade thunder to the rain. They’d been hit hard today, but reinforcements had arrived that evening and tomorrow they’d push on through the Rebel line and beat them back.
Sitting there, the vampire thought about the hospital he’d just visited. He’d seen that type of thing before on countless battlefields and would surely see it again for ages to come. Still, he wondered about the nature of his own being. As a vampire, he did not fear death or dismemberment. It gave him a sense of calmness during battle. Yet still, he felt bad for those who did not possess his gift. Sure, they were only humans, mere cattle that live and die in no more then a blink of an eye it seemed. But they were his men, and it was their horror that would carry with him long after this war ended.
The vampire almost regretted that, but war was the only thing he’d ever known, the only thing he’d ever been successful at. He had been with Alexander the Great when he set out to conquer the world; he had been with the Turkish army when Constantinople fell; he had been with Napoleon at Waterloo and countless other campaigns. That was his right as a vampire, to forge new lives, to see the endless sweep of history through the eyes of a soldier. Each life was lived as if he were a human, being born, living, and dying, only to pass on his seed and be reborn again into another identity, coming up through the centuries with all the knowledge of the past lives lived, feeding when needed, and finding a war. Always there was a war.
In this life, he’d been born in a place called Ohio. He’d pursued the life of a soldier. He’d chosen this side, though one would have been just the same as another. In the end, the same result would be. Men would die, time would pass, and a new war would be fought. And when he passed into a new life, he would be there for that war too.
As for now, he was here and he had to concentrate on this fight. It was a strange war, he’d decided. He hadn’t seen one like it before. Each side was very similar from the other. They shared the same history, the same lands; they were the same people, but they had different ideas of what this land should be.
Before this battle, the vampire had believed that this would be a short war, that each side would soon give up and loose stomach for the fight. But after this battle, he knew this wouldn’t be true. In fact, this war would probably be one of the worst ever. Thanks to this battle, he’d seen the determination of the enemy and the fierceness of those on his own side. They would not give up, not until one side was totally and ruthlessly conquered. That is the only way this war will end.
Looking up, the vampire was brought out of his thoughts by the sound of a man’s footsteps approaching. At once, he recognized the person coming toward him. Though he was a vampire, he still made occasion to befriend those mortals who showed superior qualities as to warrant his friendship. The person approaching him was just such a man.
When Sherman finally reached him, the vampire could see the pain in his friend’s eyes. This day’s fighting had been tough, and it shown.
Though it was a military situation, the vampire and the man were on personal terms and often addressed each other by casual name.
“Well, Grant.” Sherman said. “We’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?”
“Yep,” the vampire replied. “We’ll whip them tomorrow though.”
George Ebey is the author of Broken Clock; Dimensions: Tales of Suspense; The Red Bag and Widowfield. He is a graduate of The University of Akron with a bachelor's degree in History, as well as from Kent State University with a bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a minor in writing. George is a contributing editor to the International Thriller Writer's webzine, the Big Thrill. He lives with his wife in Northeast Ohio.
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