Fourteen-year-old Patrick ran through the woods as fast as he could, fearing the repercussions should he stop. Dry leaves crunched under his heavy, yet nimble steps as he hurried along. His backpack swung uncomfortably to the left and to the right from his shoulders as the books inside slammed around from the rapid movements. The neck of a Saxophone stuck out through a gap in the backpack’s zipper. Taking a brief moment to look behind himself as he ran, Patrick did not see the sudden steep decline in the landscape and ran right over the edge.
If Patrick had been lucky, he would’ve tumbled down the hill, maybe suffering some scrapes and bruises. Unfortunately, Patrick had not been lucky, at least not the good kind of lucky. The neck of his protruding Saxophone caught a stray tree branch and swung him out over the hill instead of down it. The musical instrument held firm in Patrick’s backpack and the sudden force of a teenage boy caused the branch to break with a loud crack that echoed a great distance. As previously stated, if Patrick had been lucky, he would have simply tumbled down the hill suffering nothing more than some scrapes and bruises. Instead, Patrick found himself going a distance through the air, the hill getting farther and farther away. Then, almost as quickly as he distanced from the decline, it rapidly grew closer.
About halfway down the slope, Patrick landed with his left arm between a rock and his chest. He then bounced back up into the air, rolling as he did, and landed on his back. The books in his backpack knocked the wind out of him. The neck of the Saxophone connected with the back of his head, dazing him before he could realize he had no breath. And the branch caught in the neck of the Saxophone shot up, ripping the flesh of his right earlobe and puncturing his right armpit. Patrick tumbled the rest of the way down, his body settling in a bed of dead leaves and sticks.
It was a few moments before Patrick regained his senses. He was lying on his back with blood trickling down his face. He started to lift himself up when he felt the piece of branch stuck in his armpit resist. Patrick attempted to reach for it with his left arm, only for it to flop over onto his chest in excruciating pain. His forearm was broken.
Lying on his back, Patrick tried to slide himself off of the branch by pushing his body upwards with his feet, but this was to no avail. The branch was still caught in the Saxophone neck which was still secured in his backpack and his backpack was looped perfectly over his shoulders. He couldn’t pull his left arm out because it was broken and he couldn’t pull his right arm out because a branch was impaled into its pit. Feeling helpless, he started to cry, but he soon heard voices in the distance that made him choke back his tears and stifle his whimpers.
“Hey, Patrick!” It was the voice of Thommy, one of the three boys that had been chasing him. “We know you’re out here! You better keep running if you know what’s good for you!”
Thommy, Beto, and Rourke were classmates of Patrick’s, and not of the friendly sort.
Thommy and his lackeys, Beto and Rourke, marched through the forest looking for Patrick. They didn’t really have a plan on what they would do when the found him, but more than likely it would’ve been to push him around and break his Saxophone. They liked to act tough, but none of them had ever done any real harm to anyone. A broken window here. A bloody lip there. But nothing that would ever cause lasting damage. Just a couple of young teenagers trying to put on a show. For what reason, no one was sure, and neither were they. These three were driven by their insecurities more than anything.
“Patrick!” Thommy shouted. “You can’t hide forever! We will find you!”
Beto followed up Thommy’s calls by cupping his hands around his mouth and howling four or five times. Rourke laughed devilishly and smacked old dead trees with heavy sticks sending frightening cracks of sound through the woods.
Thommy grinned and looked around.
“Look!” Thommy said as he pointed to a path of disturbed leaves and twigs.
The three of them nodded and followed the path. Patrick had made no effort to hide his tracks as it was very clear which way he went. They followed the path until it came to a very steep slope. The boys peered over and saw nothing to indicate that Patrick had gone down the slope. No disturbed grass or leaves. The path just ended.
“Do you think he went down there?” Rourke asked.
“He must’ve,” Thommy replied. “There’s no other way he could’ve gone.”
Beto looked skeptical.
“Nuh-uh,” Beto muttered. “The ground going down this slope is undisturbed. There’s no way he went down. If he had, the grass would be matted or there would be fresh dirt or broken plants, but look, there’s none of that. He must have gone back the way he came.”
“Bullshit,” Thommy said as he cocked his head. “If he’d come back, we’d’ve seen him. No. He went down this hill.”
Beto stammered a bit.
“What if he walked around us, all quiet like and we didn’t know?”
“That geek?! Sneak?” Thommy couldn’t believe his ears. “No. It didn’t happen. He went down that slope and we’re going after him.”
Beto shook his head and took a step backward.
“I ain’t going,” he said.
Thommy was shocked. Beto had never told him no before.
“And just why not?” asked Thommy.
“I just ain’t and that’s all you need to know, alright.”
“No, that’s not alright. You better have a darn good reason for not going or I’m gonna push you down that hill myself.”
Beto stared at Thommy long and hard. Thommy had never done more than slap someone across the face, but there was a strange look in his eyes tonight. Something wild. Did he dare call Thommy’s bluff and risk a wrath he had never seen before, or did he fess up and tell him the truth? In the end. He decided to tell the truth. Thommy had always been a good friend to him; they were like brothers. He glanced over at Rourke who couldn’t seem to believe his eyes. Finally, he spoke.
“The Civil Army is down there.”
Rourke’s eyes widened with excitement.
“Oh shit!” he exclaimed. “That’s where it happened?”
Beto nodded. Thommy was visibly confused.
“That’s where what happened? What is the Civil Army?”
“Back during the Civil War, there was a group of musicians in these parts,” Beto explained. “They didn’t care much about the color of skin or even the war itself. They just liked to make music together. As the war continued on and weariness set in amongst the people, the music group somehow got it in their heads that the best way for everyone to get along was to unite them with music. To unite them in music, they figured they needed to show everyone that they were all brothers and sisters. To show everyone they were all brothers and sisters, they made Union and Confederate uniforms to wear while they played. The thought was, if the people saw Union soldiers and Confederate soldiers playing together, they’d realize how silly the war was and put an end to it. They called their troupe The Civil Army.”
“That’s really stupid,” Thommy interjected.
“Nobody ever accused them of sound decision making,” Beto responded. “Anyway, one evening after a show they went out to the woods below where they had set up camp for the night. The sun was setting and they still had their mock uniforms on when some Union soldiers showed up. Not sure what was going on, they approached slowly. At the same time, a group of Confederate soldiers showed up coming out of the other direction. The Confederates saw the Union soldiers approaching the camp and thinking the musicians dressed as Confederates were captives, they decided to act quickly. They drew their guns and shot the musicians dressed as Union soldiers dead.
“The musicians dressed as Confederates jumped to their feet in a panic. The actual Union soldiers had not yet seen the approaching Confederates. What they did see was what appeared to be a bunch of Union soldiers get shot and what appeared to be a bunch of Confederate soldiers stand up. Thinking the Confederates had just murdered Union soldiers in cold blood, the Union fired upon the remaining musicians, killing them all. The real Confederates had reloaded by this point and used the opportunity to kill the Union forces.”
“What happened to the Confederate soldiers?” Thommy asked.
“No one knows,” said Rourke.
“Apparently,” he said, “their fate was not tied to the legend. Anyway, as the story goes, The Civil Army now roams the area below where they died looking for musicians to add to their group.”
“So what?” Thommy asked. “We’re not musicians. What do we care about the ghosts of The Civil Army?”
“They also say that they look to seek vengeance on those who would harm their kind,” Rourke added.
A hushed calm overcame the trio and the only sounds that could be heard were that of leaves rustling in the howl of the wind as it picked up. Beto just lowered his head as Rourke looked down over the slope. Rourke shook his head slightly. Thommy just stared at them both for a few moments before finally breaking the silence.
“You two are both stupid! Get your butts down there and find that nerd or I’ll make you both lick my feet.”
Beto and Rourke glanced over at Thommy’s shoes. They’d seen the things Thommy had walked through and though he’d never done more than push either one of them around, this was not a risk either of them was willing to take. Somehow, taking their chances with an undead army seemed to have more desirable odds.
Rourke tested the slope. It was steep, but holding his arms out, he was able to maintain balance. He slid a bit on his feet here and there, but for the most part, he was able to take careful steps down the side. It was slow going, but eventually, he made it down to the rock Patrick impacted upon during his fall. The moss on the rock was peeled up on part of it from the impact of Patrick’s landing. Not far beyond the rock, Rourke could see distress in the rest of the slope from where Patrick had tumbled. Leaves and dirt were kicked up, broken twigs and branches lay about, and in some parts from where he could see, Rourke thought he saw spots of blood. He looked back up to the top of the slope towards Thommy and Beto.
“You see him?” Thommy shouted.
“No,” Rourke shouted back, “but he went this way.”
“Alright!” replied Thommy as he and Beto quickly shuffled down the hill. “Let’s go get him!”
Rourke looked worried as he stood by the rock until they caught up to him.
“It’s bad,” he said. “Really bad.”
Thommy and Beto looked around for a moment and then back at Rourke who continued.
“Patrick didn’t come down this hill. At least not completely.”
“What are you talking about?” Thommy demanded.
“Look,” Rourke said pointing at the moss-covered rock. “There was no indication that he even came down here until I came to this rock.”
“So, that means that in all likelihood, he didn’t walk down here. Look at how the moss on top is peeled towards the bottom of the slope. That implies that something hit from above going in that direction.”
Thommy appeared skeptical.
“He leaped,” Rourke said flatly, “or something. Either way, he didn’t come down on foot and he certainly didn’t come down the way he had hoped. Look at the broken sticks and tussled dirt and leaves. He rolled down the rest of the way.”
“So let’s go after him,” Thommy pushed.
“He’s hurt,” protested Rourke as he pointed down the trail of broken twigs and tussled leaves. “Look! There are little spots of blood littered about. He’s not just scraped; he’s really injured.”
“Good,” grunted Thommy. “He’ll be easier to smack him around.”
“Are you listening to anything?” asked Beto. “If he’s as injured as Rourke believes, we have to find him and get him to a hospital, not add to his injuries.”
Rourke gulped and shook his head.
“What about The Civil Army?” he asked.
Beto hesitated. He had for a moment forgotten about the legend of The Civil Army.
“Well, uh….” Beto began. “Well, we can’t just leave him there to die if he really is hurt. Umm…..damn. I hate to say this, but we gotta go after him. We gotta.”
Thommy shook his head in disgust and stepped ahead of them before pausing to turn around.
“When did you two become such a couple of caring pusses?” he asked. “You’re going to get your butts down there and we’re going to find that little geek and give him what for. If you don’t, I’ll give you the business.”
The three goons soon made their way to the bottom of the slope where the found a Patrick sized patch of broken sticks and leaves. Large splotches of blood made their mark on the debris where he had been lying not long earlier. Rourke crouched down and got in close to carefully examined the scene. He found a small tuft of hair, threads from ripped clothing, and a reed from a saxophone. He glanced up at Beto, and then to Thommy.
“He was here,” he said.
“Alright,” said Thommy. “Which way did he go?”
Rourke stood up and took a hard look all around. A chill ran through his spine. He didn’t like what he saw.
“Which way did he go?” demanded Thommy.
After taking a heavy gulp, Rourke finally said, “He didn’t.”
Thommy got right in his face.
“What do you mean, ‘he didn’t’?”
“Just what I said,” Rourke proclaimed. “He didn’t. He didn’t go anywhere.”
“Bullshit!” shouted Thommy. “You said he was here. Now he’s not, which means he must have gone somewhere. Now you tell me which way he went.”
“You aren’t listening to me, Thommy. He’s not here, but he didn’t go anywhere. There is not a shred of evidence that he ever left this spot. Not one loose thread. Not one scrap of clothing. Not one drop of blood. No disturbed foliage and no freshly broken sticks. All the evidence says he stayed in this spot. If he had gotten up and left, there would be some indication that he had done so, but there isn’t. He landed here and then…” Rourke waved his hands above his head. “And then I dunno, but he didn’t go anywhere.”
Thommy spit on the ground in disgust.
“Some tracker you are.”
Beto and Rourke followed Thommy through the woods, no idea of what direction they were actually going. Rourke did his best to leave markers indicating which way they came from; snapping branches and moving rocks when he could. If they were in a particularly difficult area to mark, Beto would try to stall Thommy long enough for Rourke to make an effective marker. It was difficult, however. At this point they had been walking for at least an hour as Thommy seemed totally blinded to their predicament, focused only on finding Patrick, becoming angrier with every moment.
“PATRICK!” Thommy yelled at the top of his lungs. “WHEN I FIND YOU, I’M GONNA BEAT SO MUCH SNOT OUT OF YOU THAT YOU WON’T NEED TO COLD MEDICINE FOR TWO YEARS!”
Rourke paused when he heard this and looked at Beto confused. Beto just shook his head and mouthed the word no. Rourke nodded. What started as some harmless shoving and teasing had morphed into something different. Rourke wasn’t sure at this point if he was on a rescue mission or a mission to inflict more pain. Thommy was a jerk, but he was crossing a line that Rourke and Beto just didn’t want to cross.
“Come on, you losers,” Thommy said as he trudged forward. “Stop holding me back.”
Beto mumbled something under his breath.
“You got somethin’ to say to me?” asked Thommy, not looking back.
“I said, you’re getting us lost,” Beto replied. “There is no way he went this way.”
Thommy stopped and inhaled deeply through his nose.
“Yes he did,” stated Thommy. “I can feel it. Now get in line.”
Rourke and Beto glared at each other. They knew they weren’t going to find Patrick out this way, but Thommy was so blinded by his need to bully that he couldn’t see what was right in front of his eyes. The let him continue to walk forward while they stood their ground. Beto spoke.
Thommy stopped in his tracks and without looking back asked, “What did you just say to me?”
“I said, no. We’re going back. You’re not being sensible, Thommy. We have a much better chance of finding Patrick if we return to where he fell.”
Thommy bent down and picked up a large branch.
“You’re coming with me and you’re going to help.”
“You’re not thinking clearly, man,” Rourke said. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but you’ve totally lost sight of the game. We’re going back whether you want to or not. I suggest you come with us.”
And with that, Beto and Rourke turned and began their trek back the way they came, following the markers that Rourke had made. Thommy turned and raised the branch above his head, but for some reason could not follow or say a thing. He just watched as they disappeared into the woods and lowered his arm, dropping the branch after a moment. When they were completely out of sight, he seemed to snap back to his task at hand.
“Losers,” he muttered under his breath.
Thommy continued his march through the woods, shouting for Patrick with threats of bodily harm, but his calls were never answered by anyone except for the birds fluttering out of trees when he startled them with his bellows. The sun was beginning to set and Thommy didn’t have a flashlight. It did not matter though, as Thommy seemed oblivious to everything around him. Single focused, he continued on deeper and deeper into the woods, shouting threats all the way.
The Civil Army
It was now dark. The only light that remained visible was that of the moon which escaped through the branches above. Thommy could barely see anything, but that didn’t seem to slow him down. In fact, it seemed to make him more persistent. His pace had hastened and there was a loud snap every time he stepped on an old stick.
The trees in this area of the woods were mostly dead. Very few leaves littered the ground. Instead, it was mostly lined with dead twigs and branches. Any branches that stuck out from the trees in Thommy’s path were easily snapped off by a push of the hand. Every crack and snap echoed through the woods. The fact that there was no other sound other than that of which Thommy made should’ve unsettled him, however, he had only one thing on his mind and nothing else would be able to distract him.
Without warning, a loud DOOT echoed through the dead woods. Thommy’s ears perked up and he looked around. A mischievous grin crept across his face.
“Patrick,” he yelled. “Is that you? Come on out and let’s have some fun.”
If Thommy had even the slightest knowledge of music, he would have known that the instrument that Patrick carries and plays in the school band is called a saxophone. If Thommy had subjected himself to more than artists such as Van Halen and Bon Jovi, he would have also known what a saxophone sounds like. Suffice to say, Thommy was mostly illiterate when it came to the arts, even when it came to the few arts he did enjoy. He could tell you that Van Halen was a band, but if you were to say to him that Van Halen was also the name of their guitarist, he’d likely call you a liar and an idiot and then punch you in the gut for being so stupid. All of this is to say that Thommy did not hear a saxophone in the woods and if he had known that what he heard was, in fact, a trumpet, he would’ve realized that whoever was playing it was not Patrick.
Thommy’s further movements were slow and deliberate in an effort to minimize the noise he made so that he could focus on the direction of where the sounds came. It was difficult as all of the brush below his feet were dead and offering no resistance to his steps. Each leaf made a soft, yet satisfying crunch. Every loose twig snapped loudly and echoed off the trees scattered about.
With a dart, Thommy snapped his gaze ahead and slightly to his right where there was something of a clearing. Few dead trees remained standing in this area and the ground was covered with the dried remains of those that had fallen many years before. His eyes scanned the desecrated landscape with slow and careful observance, making sure to take in everything, looking for what may be out of place.
At the farthest point away, Thommy noticed what appeared to be the beginnings of a footpath and emanating from this path was a faint orange glow. He watched it for a little while to see if anything would happen. At first, he thought nothing was happening, but then he realized that the glow was dimming as if the source was walking away. Gotcha, he thought and with haste made his way to the path.
As he approached, he could hear what sounded like more instruments. Not just the DOOT of the trumpet, but also drums and flutes among others that he did not recognize. Thommy’s pace slowed down as the many instruments confused him. Here he thought he had just been chasing Patrick, yet this sounded like a third of the school band. Was this why Patrick came this way? Was it a secret place that his band-mates hung out to get away? Thommy smiled to himself, thinking he had hit the nerd jackpot. Unfortunately for him, he was not thinking about the noise he made. Thommy stepped on and broke a large stick which made a loud crack that echoed through the woods. Off in the distance just before disappearing completely out of view, the light stopped moving. Thommy smiled.
“Come on out, you dorks!” he shouted. “I’ve got wedgies for each and every one of you!”
After a pause, the light began moving closer. Thommy smiled at first, smug in his certainty that he has stumbled across a nerd coven. But then the smile began to fade as he noticed that not only was the light returning at a pace much quicker than it had been moving away, but the music was considerably more energetic, more upbeat. He gulped slightly while trying to act tough, mostly for himself more than anything. The music grew louder and the light grew brighter. Soon it was close enough that Thommy could hear the sound of feet crunching the brush underneath.
He shook his head and arms, preparing himself for confrontation. This was it. The nerds were about to step out and Thommy was going to be ready for them.
And they did.
And he wasn’t.
Thommy stumbled back in fear and fell on his bottom as a skeletal army of Union and Confederate soldiers emerged from the footpath playing an assortment of instruments. It wasn’t entirely just Civil War uniforms either. One wore an early 20th-century tuxedo and played the violin. Neither were all were skeletons. One wearing army fatigues and playing an acoustic guitar still had much of its flesh and small patches of hair remaining, though it was visibly rotting away. However, there was one in the very front that shook Thommy to his core.
Marching towards him with more energy and vigor than the rest was Patrick, playing away on his saxophone. Blood oozed out of his right armpit where a broken piece of branch protruded from. From his left arm, a snapped ulna bone had ripped through his coat. And yet Patrick played and marched forward with unnatural dynamism. The movements were jerky and yet precise.
Thommy begged Patrick to stop, gasping as he did so. Unfortunately for Thommy, Patrick could not stop; he could only play. Perhaps in another life, Patrick would’ve been able to forgive Thommy for all of the torment he had put him through. But that other life had ended and Patrick was part of the Civil Army now and he could not forgive, even if he had wanted to.
Thommy screamed in terror and was then all at once silent.