Modern Vampyre – Prologue

Contrary to popular belief, vampyres do exist. The modern interpretation, however, is so far removed from reality that one would hardly know a vampyre if it bit him to his face.
-William S. Christos

Somewhere in New England, 178X

As the rain beat down upon the roof of a horse stable with torrential might, two men looked at each other in the eyes. One was weak with a crippled leg and sallow skin. He wore an old leather hood and clothes that were worn well past their prime, yet still sufficed enough to do their job. His hands were tightly bound together with thick rope behind his back. He took long, heavy breaths that could be seen each time he exhaled. Drawing some phlegm back into his nose, he glanced down at the ground around him. Three of his fellow villagers lay dead at his feet; their warm blood soaking into the hay and dirt. With a gulp, he looked back up at the man in front of him.

“Are you going to kill me?” he asked.

The Redcoat before him pursed his lips together and paused to think for a moment. He glanced down at the bodies and then back at the man before him.

“What is your name?” the Redcoat asked.

There was a long hesitation and a trembling in the man’s jaw before he managed to compose himself and finally speak.

“Albien,” he said.

Before the war had started, Albien had been a humble farmer. He didn’t have much to his name; a small one-room house and a tiny plot of land to grow his food. Having little land was not good for a farmer. Having poor land was even worse, and his land was the poorest of the poor. Not much grew and what little did was considered of inferior quality. Oh, it was edible and nutritious, but to the eye and to the tongue, there was no delight to be found. In a general sense, there was very little flavor to the crops he grew and the majority of it was malformed. All in all, it was so unappealing that few were willing to buy his crops. This often meant selling what he could at a severely reduced rate, which afforded him very little income.

Despite his plight being the result of a poor choice of land, Albien had placed the blame solely on the British, so when the War of Independence broke out, he was quick to take up arms. In a sad twist of fate, however, this was perhaps the worst choice he could’ve made. If he had remained farming, his life would’ve likely improved as a steady supply of rations was always in need, regardless of appearance or taste. His decision to fight would, however, prove to be disastrous. Being a soldier was something he was altogether ill-equipped for. Though focused, Albien struggled through every aspect of army life.

The years of the war were hard on him and things took a turn for the worst a few months ago when he took a musket ball to the shoulder and another to the back of his leg. The one to the shoulder somehow went clean through without striking any bone. The one to the leg, on the other hand, had lodged itself in the calf muscles.

Albien was taken to a local hospital, which was little more than a large tent full of cots and curtains, where he was treated. With some remarkable luck, the doctors didn’t need to amputate. After extracting the musket-ball, the wound to the back of his leg healed surprisingly well, though it left him with a permanent limp. The shoulder wound, on the other hand, only seemed to get worse. Green pus began to ooze from the stitches while cold sweats rolled down his entire body. During this time, Albien didn’t eat. It’s not that he refused, he just didn’t have the strength to do so. As the infection from his shoulder seemed to spread and his body lacked the strength to receive nourishment, his belly began to swell and his skin began to shift to an almost pale greenish-yellow giving a ghoulish look to him.

And then, one day, the wound stopped oozing and healed, and he sat up.

Soon, he had the strength to again eat and to walk soon after that. Though the wound had healed, his complexion never changed and his belly remained bloated. While some at the hospital feared his ghoulish appearance, the staff remained ever considerate, which is why he was gracious and understanding when it came time for him to be discharged. “There is nothing more we can do, I’m afraid,” they told him. “Unfortunately, we don’t know how to fix what has happened to your body, but you are able to take care of yourself now and we need to make room for other patients. Surely you understand.” He did understand and he was grateful for all that they had done. And he returned home.

As he gimped into town with his discolored skin, bloated belly, and sunken features, few people recognized him as the man who once sold unremarkable crops and those that did let out gasps of horror. The women shooed their children into their homes while the men stared and judged. It seemed as though there was not a friendly face to show pity on an old neighbor. With a slow, yet deliberate pace, he soon made it back to the home he had left years ago to fight the British.

Albien’s home was much as he had left it, with few items except for the necessities. His crops long gone, there was nothing for him to eat, so he scrounged some coins he had hidden away in case of an emergency to purchase some bread. That would get him through the night at least. For the next few days, he got by with begging, though few would help him. Some that knew him from before the war gave him some fruit or coffee, but none would let him into their homes. The rest of the townsfolk shunned him. By the end of the week, with no money for food and so few willing to help, he was enervated and malnourished and as such, he took to the shameful tasks of survival.

Every evening after sun-fall, he would head out to the alleys with a wicker basket from home and rummage through the trash in search of food. Most of the time there was very little worth eating. On a good day, he might find a half-eaten piece of fruit or some stale bread. On a great day, maybe a bit of leftover meat. If luck was on his side, he’d catch a rat and kill it to cook and eat at home. Though he tried to be as discrete as possible, passersby would sometimes see him and turn their faces in disgust. It shamed him what he had become, but he knew he must do this to survive. Perhaps by spring, he’d be able to cultivate his crops once more and resume a more dignified life. This, however, was not meant to be.

One evening when Albien was making his rounds, he came across a body in the trash. It was naked and appeared to be male, though he couldn’t be completely sure as the genitalia was missing. Though the body seemed to have been dumped not long ago, it was quite withered in appearance, it’s flesh sunken in. He reached out with two fingers and gave it a push. The corpse’s limbs flopped over with the push fully exposing its left arm. The flesh felt dry, but not so old dry that it had been dead long. He also noted that by the way the arm flopped, rigor mortis had not yet set in. And then he noticed a peculiarity on the arm that was now exposed.

A chunk of flesh was missing from the underside of the wrist. It appeared as though it had been torn out, exposing the muscles, veins, and tendons. Splotches of desiccated blood held to the internals and edges of flesh where the tear had happened. As he leaned in for closer inspection, an ear-piercing scream broke the silence of the night.

Albien looked up to see a woman and her husband looking in his direction. He shook his head and pointed at the body saying, “No, no. This was here. I…I just found it.” As more people came to investigate the screams, he panicked and ran.

As he ran through the village, he could hear more shrieks and screams as more people came to witness the corpse he had left behind. He ran and ran as fast as he could, bounding around corners and darting through alleys, hoping to make it home unscathed when he heard another scream suddenly silenced by gunfire. This scream was different, though. It did not come from behind him where he had left the corpse, but instead from the direction he was running towards.

In an instant, Albien was frozen in his tracks, unsure of what to do. He stood still and firm like a plank, arms down to his sides, his body rigid as if it had turned to stone. He dared not even breathe. As he listened for anything at all, silence seemed to engulf the world around him. No screams. No gunshots. No footsteps. Not even the sound of the wind. It was as if the entire world stopped to prepare itself for the end of time. When it seemed like eternity had finally passed, the sky opened up and drenched the Earth in the tears of God.

The sudden downpour snapped him back to his senses. The rain was coming down so hard, that sound of it drowned out anything more than a few yards away. As a cautionary measure, he ran to a house nearby and pressed himself against the outer wall. With deliberate circumspection, he peered around the corner in the direction the gunshot rang from.

Off in the distance just on the outskirts of the village, he could see what appeared to be the body of a woman lying on the ground. He squinted a bit, attempting to get a better visual of what was happening through the rain. At first, she didn’t appear to move. She just lay there without any sign of life. He put his hand to his forehead in an attempt to shield his eyes from further rain. This allowed him to see her much more clearly. With this better view, she seemed very familiar to him.

She was young, around sixteen. Her skin was ashen and dotted with light freckles. Golden blonde hair spilled out of her cream-colored bonnet. Her dress was yellow and stained with grass in ways indicating that she had fallen somewhere nearby and either slid or rolled to her current location. Not far away was a basket with apples spilled about on the ground around it.

Oh goodness, he thought as he pulled himself back around the house. This was Harold Markinson’s daughter, Rebecca.

Albien peered back around the corner and confirmed that it was, in fact, Rebecca Markinson. She hadn’t moved in the slightest. Despite his fears, he thought it best that he should go check on her. He took a few steps out when without warning, her head turned in his direction. Stopping dead in his tracks, he looked into her eyes as she mouthed the word help. It was right then, a bayonet plunged deep into her heart and blood gurgled out from her mouth. The shock caused him to gasp loudly and at the other of the bayonet, a British soldier turned to look at him. They locked eyes and the soldier pointed at him and shouted. Albien couldn’t quite make out what the Redcoat said through the rain, but he was certain the words were Kill him!

Albien did not hesitate to see if there were more British around to follow that order; he just turned and ran with as much gusto as his crippled legs could muster up. He hadn’t crossed much distance when a musket ball cut through the air past his head and splinted the corner of a nearby house. With that, he turned into a nearby alley and began zigzagging through the streets, taking every unusual path he was able to. He wasn’t taking note of where he was heading, only that he was moving away from the British troops. If he had made note of his surroundings, he would’ve noticed that he had paused to catch his breath not far from where he initially found the naked body. However, he had not made note and had ended up a mere three houses over.

By this point in time, a sizable crowd had gathered at the scene and though many of the people were simply trying to catch a glimpse of the body, some were hunting about their surroundings for anything out of the ordinary; any sort of clue that may lead them to the murderer. Anything out of the ordinary. The crowd knew a man had been killed in a horrific and vile manner. The crowd knew that Albien was seen with the body. The crowd knew that Albien had become a scavenger and that he ran when confronted at the body. What the crowd did not know was that Redcoats were about to storm their village.

“Hey! It’s him!” a voice shouted.

Albien looked up to see a towns-person pointing in his direction. It quickly went from one towns-person to many and the many began marching to his direction. He ran, and they ran after him. Despite his crippled physique, Albien knew the streets of this town better than anyone and with a little luck, he was sure he could lose them. He wasn’t, however, sure he’d be able to return home.

Without warning, gunshots echoed in the distance and the screams of his fellow townsfolk could be heard. The Redcoats had arrived and they were offering no quarter. Albien hesitated for a moment as he considered going back to help, however, his consideration dissipated when he realized that some of the townspeople completely ignored their fellow villagers being slain to continue their hunt for him. And so he decided to run. Though at this point his ultimate goal was to escape the village lest he die by the hand of neighbor or by the hand of Redcoat, he had to make so many turns to avoid being seen that he never quite reached the outskirts.

Despite the heavy rains, Albien spent so much time running that he was becoming parched. Eventually, he had to stop and catch his breath. When a safe opportunity arose, he ducked behind a house as shots of gunfire and screams could be heard in the distance. His dry throat gasping for breath, he opened his mouth towards the sky to catch some of the rain and then slumped against the house as he reflected on his situation. He had sacrificed what little he had for his burgeoning country and now both the enemy he had fought against and his fellow countrymen were looking to kill him. He almost broke down to cry when he heard voices through the downpour.

“Come on. I think he went this way.”

Blast!, he thought. They’ve found me. And with that, he ran as best as his crippled leg could carry him. It wasn’t long before he found a small horse stable at the edge of the village. Knowing that he would be seen if he tried to leave the community with foes so close-by, it wasn’t a difficult choice to hide in one of the empty stalls and enshroud himself within the straw. Unfortunately for him, the footprints he left in the mud outside the stable led his pursuers right to him.

“Come on. Who do you think you’re fooling?” a voice asked. “Get out of there, lest we drag you out.”

Albien sat up and brushed the straw away from his face and torso. Before him stood three of his neighbors, soaking wet and with various implements to end his life. The one in front had a black mustache and held a musket with both hands at his waist. A large satchel was slung over his shoulder and lay by the opposite waist. As for the two in the back, one had a red wiry beard and carried a pitchfork. The other one was thin as a rail, clean-shaven, and carried a rope.

“Stand up.” The one in front said calm, but firm.

Albien did as he was told and most of the remaining straw slid off of his body, though some remained stuck due to his dampness. He attempted to brush it off but was interrupted by the one who told him to stand.

“Stop.”

Albien did as he was told and adjusted his posture to make himself as presentable as he could.

“You know why we’re after you, don’t you?” the man with the musket asked.

Albien gulped and nodded before speaking.

“I didn’t do it,” he said.

“Then why did you run?”

“I panicked. I was scared. There was screaming and people were looking at me awful.”

“Because you did those awful things.”

“No!”

The one with the musket curled his lip and thought for a bit before speaking.

“I’m sorry to say this,” he began before motioning to the other two to tie him up. “Under normal circumstances, we’d drag you to the courthouse to be dealt with by the law. That said, it is my regret to inform you that our current circumstances do not afford us such luxury.”

“I didn’t do it!” Albien protested.

“That may be so,” he said reaching into his satchel, “but at current, I don’t really have any choice.” His hand emerged with a small cartridge that he tore open with his teeth. “I don’t know if you’re aware, but the British have arrived and are unleashing a slaughter upon us.” Half-cocking the musket, he opened the flash pan and poured in a small bit of the cartridges black powder.

“But I fought against the British as part of the Continental Army!” Albien protested as he was being restrained with rope as another held him at bay with the pitchfork.

“And for that, we are truly grateful. That does not change the fact that you are most likely the murderer and for that, justice must be dealt.” He shut the flash pan and poured the rest of the powder down the muzzle of the musket.

“Please,” Albien pleaded.

The man inserted the musket ball into the barrel followed by the cartridge. Albien just watched as the man removed the ramrod and pushed the cartridge and musket ball in to seat the charge. After putting the ramrod back, he cocked and aimed the musket at Albien’s chest.

“For this, I am deeply sorry,” he said. “Do you have any last words before I execute sentence?”

“Oh, enough of this!” a distinct voice said from the next stall.

All four men turned to see disheveled Redcoat step out into the open. Pale skin hung on a skeletal frame with messy black hair and pronounced cheekbones. A slight red stain was visible around his mouth. His coat was opened and a torn cotton shirt revealed visible ribs. His shoulder belt was completely missing. In fact, except for his trousers, boots, coat, and shirt, he appeared to be missing every other part of his uniform. No tri-tip hat, no cartridge box or haversack or anything. Not even any weapons.

“I can’t bear to see another man go down for my crimes,” he said. “This individual you have tied up did not kill the naked man in the alley.” He paused for a moment while the others looked on somewhat perplexed at the situation unfolding before them. After an awkward silence, he said, “I did. I’m sorry. I was hungry. I haven’t had a proper meal in nearly three months. I was desperate.”

There was a long, uncomfortable silence before the one with the pitchfork twisted his face into disgust and spoke up.

“What kind of person considers another man’s penis a proper meal?” he asked.

The Redcoat was bewildered for the briefest of moments before realizing what he was talking about and gave a relaxed laugh.

“Oh, no!” he said. “No. No. No. No. Noooo. I can see why you would think that, but I assure you, I did not eat his penis.”

This time, the thin one who had brought the rope spoke. He thought for a moment to gather his words, and asked in a somewhat unsure manner, “Then……what happened to it?”

There was another uncomfortable silence in the stable. Albien had not expected to be accused of murder, yet here he was about to die at the hands of his fellow countrymen as a soldier of the people he once fought stood before them admitting the murder was his. The three accusers thought they had the murderer in their grasp, yet here was a lone Redcoat admitting the crime in a situation that would clearly get him killed. And as for the Redcoat, he was now having to explain to those who would surely kill him what happened to someone else’s penis. It was a confusing and awkward situation for all involved.

“It’s not one of my finest moments, I’ll admit,” stated the Redcoat. “The thing is, I was quite malnourished at the time of the killing and he was surprisingly strong and spry. I found him very difficult to restrain and I feared he may escape or worse, warn someone of my presence. As such, I felt it was in my best interest to disable him.” He held his tongue and then spoke his next words carefully. “I ripped his penis off to make it more difficult for him to fight back.”

The four recoiled in horror and disgust.

“I agree,” he continued. “However, this issue left me with another problem. While I had disabled the individual, he was now losing precious blood at a rapid pace. As such, I was forced to tear open his wrist with my teeth and consume as much blood as I could before he lost it all through his…..wound.” He sounded uncomfortable as he said that last part and even winced a little as he said it. “Anyhow, after I had finished eating, I needed to dispose of the husk. The first thing I did was toss his clothes into the fireplace. Then I bought the body out into the alley to hide in the rubbish. It was my hope that sanitary practices here were not any better than the part of England from which I hail and that the rats and insects would consume most of the body before it was found. It is my displeasure to say that before I could sufficiently conceal my work, I heard someone approaching and fled.”

For a few long moments, the sound of the rain seemed extra loud. The way it pounded down on the roof of the stable, the way it splashed in the puddles on the ground. Somehow, it seemed to drown out the gunshots and screams in the distance and the only thing in the world right now were these five men. All the cards and been laid out by the Redcoat and no one was quite sure what to do with the hand they had been dealt with. The sound of the proverbial table being flipped broke through that of the rain when the one with the pitchfork shouted out loud.

“You son of a bitch!” he yelled as he thrust his pitchfork into the belly of the Redcoat.

The Recoat staggered backward a few steps as a small bit of blood oozed out around the tines of the pitchfork. To the surprise of everyone, however, he seemed more annoyed than anything. He looked down at the pitchfork in his belly and frowned. With two hands, he grasped the handle and pulled it out of his body against the force of the one who had stabbed him with it. Then, with a thrust, he pushed it away, knocking the fellow to the ground.

“So,” the Redcoat said with disappointment, “this is how it is to be.”

With brutal efficiency and cat-like reflexes, the Redcoat thrust the fingers of his left hand into the stomach of the man with the gun and took his musket with the other hand. Then with the musket, he fired a musket ball into the throat of the man who had carried the pitchfork. And finally, to the man who had tied up Albien, he simply twisted the man’s head enough to snap the man’s neck.

After taking some time to survey the works of his hands, he looked up and locked eyes with Albien. Though quiet, Albien was breathing heavily through his mouth. Phlegm seemed to crawl down his sallow skin from his nostrils to his lips. The Redcoat studied him hard, as though he was trying to figure out what to make of this deformed man with a complexion he had not seen before.

“Are you some kind of ghoul?” he asked.

With a long draw, Albien pulled the phlegm back into his nose. He looked at the bodies of those around and pondered if he would be next. Swallowing the nothing in his mouth, he spoke.

“Are you going to kill me?”

The Redcoat before him pursed his lips together and paused to think for a moment. He glanced down at the bodies and then back at the man before him.

“What is your name?” the Redcoat asked.

There was a long hesitation and a trembling in the man’s jaw before he managed to compose himself and finally speak.

“Albien,” he said.

The Redcoat made an audible hmm and nodded ever so slight. He put his hand to his chin and seemed to think about something for a moment, then he sighed and walked behind Albien and removed his bonds. Albien pulled his hands to his chest and rubbed his wrists as the Redcoat walked back in front of him, but never turning to look at him. Instead, he kept his back to the recently freed man and looked out into the rain.

“You didn’t answer my question,” he said. “Are you some kind of ghoul?”

Albien removed his hood revealing a head of thick, graying hair which made his pale greenish-yellow skin somehow seem more vibrant. In all truth, Albien was not nearly as deformed as people made him out to be and his deformities, for the most part, weren’t all that uncommon. He wasn’t the only person in the village with a gimp; there were others before the war and even more after it had begun. And his hunch wasn’t a hunch at all, but merely a rounding of one side of his back from the way he carried his injured shoulder up and his head down close to it. Really, the only thing that was strikingly unusual was the color of his skin that he tried to hide by wearing a hood. But with a strange twist, the hood only seemed to accentuate all three of these things which may have created the idea of a monster in people. Yet without the hood, he seemed almost completely normal.

“I don’t believe so, no,” Albien replied.

“What are you, then?”

“Man to the best of my knowledge.”

The Redcoat thought about this before speaking. Then he turned to Albien and looked him over again. He had never seen such a person, yet aside from the color, there was nothing that couldn’t easily be explained away. Through the rain, the sounds of muskets firing the screams were becoming fewer, but they were slowly getting closer. He looked at the hood in Albien’s hands and decided that he didn’t care what he was. If Albien could help him, he would be most appreciative. Pointing at the hood, he spoke to Albien.

“May I have that?” he asked.

“Uh, sure,” Albien replied.

The Redcoat snatched up the hood and pulled it over his head. He then took his coat and shirt off and began undressing the bodies as Albien just stared and watched, unsure of what to do. He noticed that Albien was just standing there and reached out to shake his hand.

“Forgive me,” the Redcoat said. “My name is Abstinence. Abstinence Jackson.”

“Abstinence?” ask Albien as he returned the handshake.

“Yes,” replied, Abstinence. “My parents were puritans who were deadset on having a girl. Then I came along and like how stubborn puritans can be, they weren’t changing the name they had picked for anything.”

“Puritans? But wouldn’t that mean you’re…”

“Look, we can discuss my family history any other time, but right now, British soldiers are making their way through the village and if we are still here when they arrive, they will kill us both. If you help me get out of here alive, I will guarantee that the remainder of your days will better than you can currently imagine. Will you help me?”

Albien didn’t really see that he had much of an option. Help the man who helped him or die. He opted to help.

“Alright,” he said. “What do you need from me?”

“Thank you,” said Abstinence. “I can’t let the rain touch me and I can’t be seen looking like a Redcoat. Help me put on whatever will cover my skin.”

Quickly and carefully, they removed the most protective clothes they could from the bodies. Leather boots and gloves, a heavy shirt and pants. Unfortunately, these were not enough to completely protect Abstinence. Scavenging through the other stalls, however, Albien managed to find a thick horse blanket and Abstienece was quick to wrap himself in it.

The gunshots grew louder as the two looked out into the rain.

“You won’t regret this, Albien,” said Abstinence. “This I swear.”

And with that, the two ran out into the rain and headed for the forest. By the time that the British arrived at the stables, they were long gone and the rain had washed away any footsteps or mud that would point to them ever being there or where they were going. All that remained were three dead bodies and a torn British uniform.

The Civil Army

The Geek

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.

The Brains

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.

Beto nodded.

“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.

The Tracker

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?”

“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.”

The Bully

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.

“No.”

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.

DOOT!

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.