Just in time for Halloween, I give you the latest short horror story. I hope you enjoy reading it half as much as I enjoyed writing it.
“We are all captives to the darkness. It’s only when we embrace our prisons that nightmares root and evil blooms.”
The American Civil War thundered for two years before the maelstrom of Gettysburg struck. It was a sticky July day when forces from both sides assembled. Over one-hundred-thousand Union troops settled in the low ridges to the northwest of town. Commander George Meade knew there weren’t enough surgeons to care for the throngs of injured, but it wouldn’t stop him from engaging Robert E. Lee. This battle could be the turning point for both armies.
The few surgeons on staff included Cecil Gibbs. The young weatherworn man was distinctive from his colleagues with his chiffon hair, willow eyes and an ashen complexion. As a child, Cecil was bedridden from polio, and his twisted physique showed it. As hard as life had been, Cecil wouldn’t let it hold him back and dove into medicine as soon as he had the strength to walk. Still, for as determined as Cecil was, he was odd, even for surgeons’ standards.
His parents died of consumption when Cecil was just a boy. Cecil had no other family besides his neighboring aunt. The State allowed her legal guardianship of the boy, but the mile between the two estates caused her visits to be few and far between. Cecil was fortunate to get a feeding a day, and it was brief with little conversation. The decade of isolation caused the boy’s mind to warp and contort his character.
Day one of battle saw much bloodshed. A clash of calvary corps caused for thousands of wounded and dying. Cecil was overwhelmed by the number of men slopped before him. One-by-one, Cecil cauterized, stitched and carved up soldiers. His hands were stained red and his saw dulled. The shock of mens’ screams and gurgles haunted Cecil’s mind, and as the hours went on, the surgeon broke. Where cries once rang, Cecil now heard singing. Where surgeon’s tools once grated, only violins strummed. Before long Cecil was immersed in a symphony and he was the conductor.
By dusk of day two, the injured had tripled, and Cecil the surgeon was no more. His colleagues declared that Cecil had gone mad. He grinned and cackled as new meat was put before him, and began unnecessarily sawing limbs. Union command decided to remove Cecil from his surgical tent, but he disappeared before he could be arrested. It was said that Cecil was seen limping up Cemetery Ridge, a tall silhouette with its arm around Cecil’s shoulder.
On the dawn of day three, infantry holding Culp’s Hill began to bring injured men from the woods. These poor souls survived their initial wounds, mostly gunshots and artillery shrapnel, but were hastily cared for by a field surgeon that seemed to have sprouted from nowhere. While survivors initially were relieved, they were horrified when the medic bound them to a tree before sawing off limbs. The maniac didn’t stop until there was nothing left but a torso and head. Worse yet, Confederate soldiers along the battlefields were being found in the same state. Cecil was using the chaos of battle to mask his murder spree. Something had to be done.
Allan Pinkerton was the head of Union Intelligence. His spies reached across Union and Confederate lines and were spread across Gettysburg. When news of Cecil reached agents, they were ordered to remove themselves from the front lines and seek out the madman. Of the handful of agents, only one responded. Oliver Lamb joined the Union Intelligence a year into the war. He was known for his no nonsense, incorruptible attitude. Oliver dutifully removed himself from his post as a Union scout and investigated.
To say it was challenging to dodge fighting while hunting Cecil was an understatement. Nevertheless, Oliver tracked each of Cecil’s steps. Oliver found the discarded limbs Cecil had heaved into piles along hills and bushes. Oliver interviewed bystanders. Oliver even tracked Cecil’s foot trail. Only, whenever Oliver uncovered a detail, there was always proof that second culprit was at hand. A sharpshooter recalled a tall man in black with Cecil inspecting casualties along Barlow’s Knoll. A victim recollected an assistant with Cecil just outside of peripheral vision. Oliver even found a second set of large footsteps that walked along Cecil’s boot prints as he made his way to Oak Hill.
Oliver was a steadfast man however, and after hours of dodging canons and gunfire, he found Cecil along Herr Ridge. The surgeon wrang the blood from his hands along a creek. Oliver stalked closer to find Cecil’s latest work, an unconscious boy no older than sixteen butchered along a tree limb. Oliver knew he was dealing with a broken man, and would only have one shot. Oliver removed his revolver. He cleared his throat.
“Cecil,” Oliver announced, pulling back the hammer of his firearm. “It’s over.” Cecil stared at his reflection in the stream.
“Is it?” Cecil inquired.
“It is,” Oliver confirmed.
“It only made me stronger,” Cecil sighed.
“Not having a body,” Cecil confirmed. “I had polio as a boy. It empowered me as a man.”
“Are you sure about that?” Oliver asked. It was rhetorical, and Oliver didn’t wait for a response. “Come on. To your feet.”
Cecil slowly reeled around. His eyes were bloodshot with tears strumming down his cheeks. His once pale complexion was blush with scratch marks along his neck. Cecil stared down the barrel of Oliver’s gun. Oliver swallowed the lump in his throat before raising the revolver high. A man as desperate as Cecil was capable of anything.
“It’s not why I did it though,” Cecil confessed in a monotone voice.
“No?” Oliver asked while using his open hand to reach into his pack. He’d hung a pair of manacles along the side pouch, and blindly tugged at them while keeping his aim on Cecil.
“It made me do it,” Cecil said bluntly. Oliver didn’t know if he should indulge the mad man any longer, but he thought it could possibly help diffuse the situation without violence. Oliver palmed the now unsheathed manacles and hurled them at Cecil’s feet.
“It?” Oliver said as he watched the cuffs roll onto Cecile’s boots. “Who is it?”
“It doesn’t have a name,” Cecil confided. “It doesn’t talk about itself either. All it speaks about is what it wants me to do.”
“And it told you to mutilate these people?”
“Not mutilate,” Cecil argued, “cleanse.” Oliver had heard enough.
“Put on the manacles Cecil,” Oliver ordered. Cecil shook his head.
“I don’t hear it any longer though,” he moaned. “I was,” he stuttered, “I was its mother, but it dances to its own music now.” Cecil frowned while taking a step forward. Oliver noticed the saw in Cecil’s hand for the first time.
“Put on the damn restraints,” Oliver roared. “You still get a trial Cecil.” Cecil shook his head hard while hurrying forward.
“You know where to take this,” Cecil cried out, lifting the weapon above his head. “So wash me.”
Oliver fired three times. The first shot went wide, but the second bullet found its target striking Cecil in the shoulder before the third hit him in the heart. Cecil fell to the ground. Oliver paused and watched as Cecil lay motionless, his eyes staring at the sky. Oliver approached and kicked the saw from Cecil’s hand. It was done.
Oliver would petition for a nearby Union garrison to help bring back the corpse. He was commended for his diligent work, but amidst the hell, command simply wished to sweep the incident under the rug rather than give out a medal. Oliver understood, and by evening, found himself back on assignment. Luckily the battle would end after the third day. Oliver celebrated with the Union forces on their victory and followed the limping army as they advanced on General Lee’s heels.
Months later, Oliver joined General Sherman’s march south. Along the way, he received reports from other Pinkerton agents that Confederate soldiers were found mutilated along the roads. Intelligence said that a rebel soldier had a case of the rattles that caused him to break. The confederate was later found and hung. Still the horrific attacks went on, even past the war. Oliver remembered what Cecil had said after all. I was its mother, but it dances to its own music now.