Monday, November 28, 2016
War of Conquest
July 2, 1863
It had been a day of blood and pain. When the two great armies had clashed in what would become a historical and costly battle, the ground I now stand on had been a small forest of trees and thick brush. Now that the day was over, the ground was something different - a blanket of spilt blood and shattered bodies. Many of the trees had been split in half by the cannon fire and the constant volley of muskets, making the field of battle, a cursed land of death.
At times like this, I wondered why 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. I’ve always thought that I was more like one of the large tropical snake who took its meals in one large feeding, slowly digesting it over time until it was ready for the next meal. I sustained myself in the same way, feeding in one massive meal that left me free from hunger for many weeks. It had been a little over a month since my last feeding. I still felt full, and the sight of this battlefield did nothing but sicken me. All the wives and fairy tales about vampires are just that, tales. I don’t grow fangs, and feed on people. I don’t change to a bat, wolf, or mist, or could control the weather or animals. I just healed fast, and don’t grow old unless I want to. A friend who was a scientist and doctor who knew my secret once told me I should write my story for prosperity. To catalog me as a new species of man. I’ve never had the time. Maybe someday.
It was approaching midnight. The fighting had stopped after dusk and a steady mist of rain had begun to fall. For a time, I found shelter under a tree while the rain fell upon me. I was a few hundred yards from the cannon dugout where the Union guns were busy shelling the Confederate line. The volley of shells from the guns came in five minute waves and would no doubt continue all night.
What a few days it had been. The Rebels had surprised us. No one had expected an attack yesterday. I wonder how did it happen? Earlier Union divisions had moved up from Washington and Manassas and had encamped at a town called Gettysburg. It was expected that the enemy were massed. What followed was a day of bloody carnage as each side struggled to get possession of the field. By the end of the day, it was just the beginning of hell on earth. Today was was a bleeding tug of war between one hundred and fifty thousand men. But it wasn’t over yet. There was always tomorrow.
Sitting under this tree, in the constant rain, soaked, cold and uncomfortable, I thought about home and the fire that would warm me if I were there. Though I am a vampire, I was still susceptible to the inconveniences of nature and still dreamed of the comforts of home.
Standing up, I decided to make my way to the log cabin that sat a short distance away and warm himself for a while if possible. My ankle was swollen and painful. Earlier today, I had my horse shot out from under me, injuring my leg. It seemed ironic to me as I hobbled through the rain that I should suffer such an irritation. I am immortal. I’ve seen countless moments of history made through the eyes of a man who could not die. Yet I can still be bothered with trivial injuries such as this. Though the ankle would surely heal faster then it would if I were a mortal man, the nuisance still irritated me.
Trying to ignore the discomfort, I made my way to the cabin, and entered quickly, grateful to get a break from the rains. No one paid much attention to me as I entered; the cabin had been turned into a field hospital to attend to the wounded and dying. All around me, men were lying on every available surface as busy 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 blown 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 pure despair.
Watching, I could see the fear and pain in the man’s eyes as his arm was being cut away. I had lost a limb in battle once. It was at a place called Copenhagen. A Dane had sliced through my left forearm 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 I watched on, I felt a hand tugging at my wet jacket, I looked down to see another man lying at my feet. The man’s eyes were wide with fright.“Please,” he begged. “Don’t let them take my leg.”
Looking down, I saw the shattered remains of the man’s left leg. The musket ball had taken the bone. There would be no saving it. Saying nothing, I walked away as the man continued to beg, “Please, please…”
All around me, the men lay in misery, some moaning, some screaming, some pleading, and all silently praying for mercy. Having seen enough, I stepped out of the cabin and back into the rain. My ankle wasn’t bothering me so much now.
With nowhere else to go, I returned to the tree and once again sat down to endure the rain. The shells from the guns keep blasting away at the Confederate line, adding a man made thunder to the drizzling rain. We had been hit hard today, but reinforcements had arrived that evening and tomorrow they’d push on the Rebel line and beat them back.
Sitting there, I thought about the hospital I just visited. I had seen that type of thing before on countless battlefields and would surely see it again for ages to come. Still, I wonder about the nature of my own being. As a vampire, I did not fear death or dismemberment. It gave me a sense of calmness during battle. Yet still, I felt bad for those who did not possess my gift. Sure, they were only humans, almost like grass 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 I would carry with me long after this war ended.
I almost regretted that, but war was the only thing I have ever known, the only thing I have ever been successful at. I have been with kings, dukes and generals when they set out to conquer the world. That was my 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 I were a human, living, and pass into another identity, coming up through the centuries with all the knowledge of the past lives lived, feeding when needed, and finding a war. There was always a war.
In this life, I lived in a place called Ohio. I pursued the life of a soldier. I’d chosen my 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 I passed into a new life and identity, I would be there for that war too.
As for now, I was here and I had to concentrate on this fight. It was a strange war, I have decided. I hadn’t seen one like it before. Each side was very similar to 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.
In the beginning, I had believed that this would be a short war, that each side would soon give up and loose stomach for the fight. But after a few battles, I knew this wouldn’t be true. In fact, this war would probably be one of the worst ever. I have seen the determination of the enemy and the fierceness of those on my own side. They will not give up, not until one side was totally and ruthlessly beaten. That is the only way this war will end.
Looking up, I was brought out of my thoughts by the sound of a man’s footsteps approaching. At once, I recognized the person coming toward me. Though I was a vampire, I still made friends of those mortals who showed superior qualities as to warrant my friendship. The person approaching me was such a man.
When Meade finally reached me, I could see the pain in my friend’s eyes. This day’s fighting had been tough, and it shown. Though it was a military situation, we were on personal terms and often addressed each other by casual names.
“Well, Jahn.” General Meade said. “We’ve had some hard day”
“Yep,” I replied. “We’ll whip them tomorrow though.”