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November 27, 2023
"Mes de los Muertos"

Strange Bedfellows 61

By Lydia Manx


A voice was whispering to me. I felt sleepy and disoriented. I blinked open my eyes and saw nothing. Everything was gray.

"Yes?" I said softly. I didn't know the voice.

"Watch and learn." The man said to me. I closed my eyes again and was somewhere gone.

1863 somewhere in the United States

Men from Kentucky and Tennessee are called upon to help their families. Tennessee has severed their ties with the Union while Kentucky is a border state with loyalties being torn. The generation of young are decimated slowly, painfully and utterly. All levels and social classes of men are intertwined as war and battle is likely to do. The new age of machinery in fields and factories is creating an energy that simply won't disappear. As the men are begged, borrowed and forced to march to certain mayhem if not death, a whisper of horror begins to make nightly rounds. The injured and dying are fading faster during the hours before dawn and their pale corpses are aging years past what their birth dates would allow. The ones that survive those nights never are the same again. Battle fatigue and poor nutrition is quickly given to the families as the cause of such unexplainable deaths. The few doctors that see the men are upset that bloodletting treatments aren't successful. During the 'War to preserve the Union', as it was being called by some, the doctors rely on many new methods but bloodletting, which is one of the best-known cures for illness, isn't proving helpful with the dying men. In more than one case, after having the physician visit and bleed the patients, the men would succumb to their illnesses or injuries, leastways that's what the families of the deceased were told. Coffins travel the rails during the night taking back those that can pay for the boxes. Most of the dead are simply buried where they died, with little fanfare, in too many cases.

The dying soldiers, boys and men alike, were growing more nervous as each evening approached. They'd heard all the rumors and gossip about the numerous deaths before daybreak. They were shaking in their cots, or where they were set upon the ground, and not just because of the chill in the autumn air nor just because of the poisons running rampantly through their blood. Poor cleaning methods for wounds was often coupled with filthy clothes and dirty fields where they'd laid bleeding until someone thought to collect those who weren't yet corpses. A few men remained beneath the canopy of a tattered canvas tent. Flies buzzed in the air all day to be replaced by other insects and bugs when the sun set slowly into the western sky. They shook from starvation, having not had a real meal in weeks since supplies weren't easily delivered with the different gauge rails that criss-crossed the Southern states. The soldiers were starving.

One man lying on a cot underneath the tent tried to keep calm. He had more secrets than most to keep. His brother had sworn that he'd be safe under his captain's command. And now his brother was amongst the missing or dead and his captain had fallen hours ago before his very own eyes. Eyes that had seen too much too quickly, and the captain hadn't been much older than his men, who'd blindly followed him into an uneven battle on empty stomachs.

The tent he was in didn't have any doctors or nurses, just the dead and the dying to keep him frozen in place on the hard well-used cot. He hadn't been conscious when he'd been plucked off the battlefield and abandoned with the dying in the old tent. The blood soaked clothing and his then faint breathing allowed the men to believe that he'd sustained some grievous injury. Nobody had bothered to peel back his clothes and check him for any injuries. He knew that his pulse was nearly nonexistent. The men and boys tending the carnage on the battlefield rapidly assumed that he was dead or nearly so and treated him like the others that they had tossed into carts or dragged on makeshift stretchers. Thus that was how he'd found himself dumped in the crude hospital. It was entirely due to an erroneous assessment of his health, which naturally was just upwind from the one-sided battle. There were a few tents in the field that had activity other than the moaning and silence of his, and from the scents and sounds of his tent he knew that the doctors wouldn't be showing up anytime soon. It was little more than hell's way station.

Once he determined that none of the other occupants of the tent were going to cry out if he got up, he slowly lifted himself off the smelly cot where more than a few men had bled out. The stench of decay and death was oppressive in the closed tent. The musty smell of mold and mildew warred for the limited space in the malodorous toxic smelling mixture. But for him the only thing he could smell was blood. Rich, thick and available blood that seeped out of gangrene infected limbs and tainted gut wounds. The underlying odor of emptied bowels and piss created a tang to the blood that to him was completely compelling. It would be so easy to give into his base nature but he was trying to keep above it all -- the temptation was maddening.

His brother had told him to be good and blend in with the soldiers. That had been a foolish notion, he decided in hindsight. They didn't have a choice to stay at home. Both Kentucky and Tennessee had been tugged into the war and all men over the age of twelve seemed to be expected to battle for honor and dignity no matter which side. The draft had begun, so the ages varied from town to town but if the lad was strapping and big, he was supposed to go and fight. Families between the two neighboring states were a mixture of kinfolks and relations going back generations. The lines blurred at times who was related to whom and how, but no matter, the boys and men walked or rode farm animals to the South where the 'real' fighting was happening. In the beginning, a few years before, conscriptions weren't as blatant. In the beginning, there was pride and boastful bragging of how important they were to the 'Cause'. In the beginning, swords were purchased or crafted for those with coin. In the beginning, rifles were pulled from attics and closets and polished. In the beginning, warm and vaguely military appearing clothing was crafted by grandmothers, mothers and wives all for their men. And finally in the beginning, babies were kissed and the towns emptied by the ever-marching men going South. It wasn't as romantic in the middle of the ongoing war but it was becoming more noteworthy who fought and who fled from the idea of battle. Reputations were being made and destroyed.

His brother watched the activities and paced in the main parlor of their family home.

"Charles, we have no choice," It was how he remembered the night began when Beau confronted him with his plan.

He finished licking the bite on the neck of the parlor maid. The doll-like girl fell bonelessly at his feet whimpering her delight. He liked that one best, he'd decided earlier so he'd given her a special treat of pure delight while sating his own needs. Dabbing at his lips with a linen cloth he sighed heavily.

"Beau, we always have a choice," he was pleasantly drowsy and didn't want to listen to his older brother's doom and gloom predictions. Beau was always worked up about something. It was early fall and the nights were getting longer. He didn't want to hear Beau's moaning and groaning.

"Damn it, Charles! I am serious." Beau hissed with his fangs extended.

"You are always serious," Charles prodded the slumped girl with a shiny black leather riding boot. He'd planned on riding in the night air once he finished his meal. The girl crawled up his thigh and purred, "More please, touch me more."

"Get on with yourself, my sweet. I'll see you later. So go freshen up now." Charles plucked her white fingers from his leg. She quickly latched back on, pawing at his crotch, and licking her lips she pouted, "You always say that."

The minx was insatiable. But he knew better than too feed too often from the same trough. She was bold in her desires and it made him hesitate. Beau caught his gaze and shook his head.

"Yes, but I mean it. Now run along," he pulled her up, slapped her on her round derriere and pushed her towards the closed parlor door. She shot him a dark look and reluctantly complied.

Once the heavy wooden door was shut he turned his attention back to Beau. His older brother was weary and it showed on his face. He was also irritated with Charles, a normal state of emotion for Beau wherever Charles didn't immediately agree with what he said. It never sat well with the elder sibling.

"Charles, listen to me -- people are talking. My man, Fitzhugh, came from town with some news," Beau had resumed his agitated pacing.

"You mean gossip," Charles cut in while pulling his trousers straight and smiling. Fitzhugh was a nervous little man with peculiarities. It always amazed Charles than any normal person would converse with the odd little minion. Charles figured Fitzhugh spied on the town folks and passed on the information in a favorable light as to how it was acquired. Beau didn't give the man much cash so it had to be overheard gossip, useless for the most part, but it easily fueled Beau's concerns. His brother was always finding some new fancy to worry himself into a state.

"Fitzhugh reported," Beau, continuing as though Charles hadn't interrupted him, "that the town folks are wondering why two fine, strapping lads like ourselves haven't volunteered to help in the War Effort." Charles heard the emphasis on the last two words. Beau was in a melodramatic frame of mind and he knew he'd have to quickly interject or the conversation would go on for hours, if not days.

"Fine, Beau, let's donate a few weapons, a horse or two and move on," Charles didn't plan on letting Beau ruin the rest of his evening with mindless prattle that Beau had been told by Fitzhugh.

"That won't be good enough!" Beau pounded his fist into his palm for further emphasis. "We need to pick a side and join the fray."

Sighing, Charles pointed out the obvious, "Beau, we are vampires not humans. This is not our battle."

"We have to fight!" Beau was ignoring the elephant in the room -- vampires weren't exactly joiners in anything related to humans, excepting as diners. "I think we should fight for the South. I have an acquaintance down in South Carolina who is in need of a few good men to support him. Pee Dee Sedgwick, a fine human from a good family."

Even after all the years of being a vampire Beau still traced the lineage of humans. He claimed defensively when caught by Charles that it was to keep track of the quality of the bloodlines and breeding stock but Charles suspected a deeper reason. He thought that his brother envied those who could proudly point out their ancestors on a chart or parchment with pride. When human, Beau had been excessively vain about his own lineage. Like he'd personally picked out his parents and ancestors. His brother had also embossed and lettered his full name on any and all available surfaces -- Beauregard Franklin Rutherford the Fourth. Beau wouldn't be passing down the name. As a human he'd chased plenty of girls but hadn't stopped long enough to plant his seed before he'd been turned.

He'd bemoaned that fact on more than one evening far into the night and to the cusp of dawn. There hadn't been any cousins or distant relations to continue the family name. The Rutherfords were done making their mark in humanity.

As a vampire, Charles was quite happy leaving his mark on the throats and thighs of fair maidens. Not having any human children before he'd been turned was fine by Charles, but then he was at times the only voice of reason in the home.

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-11-01
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