Authors: Vincenzo Bilof
Nightmare of the Dead
May 19th, 1863: Awaken the Killer
Falling through the deep, frigid darkness
ushing onward to a terminal light
here is awareness, and the concept of shape, form, and breath.
The woman exploded into the universe of the real. Her soul collided with her consciousness, and she simply
Her vision was flooded with light
she brought her forearm in front of her eyes to shield herself from the searing fire. She thought about pain, water
gasped for fresh, revitalizing air.
"It's about time," a man's voice spoke.
"What?" her lungs failed her; she coughed spasmodically. She leaned forward in her seat and stifled the urge to vomit the flame that tickled her throat.
, unstoppable perpetual motion urged her entire body through the spaces of light. She could feel it, though she sat in a seat. She was alive. This much she knew.
asleep for so long…" the man replied, though she couldn't hear the rest of his words over her second coughing fit. Her entire body quivered; she arched her back against the seat
opened her eyes long enough to see that she sat beside a window, and the sun-soaked world outside scrolled along her perception impossibly fast. She was momentarily jostled, and her head nearly hit the window. She could hear steel and iron grin
beneath her feet.
She was on a train, but why?
She wiped her mouth with the
of her dirtied, frayed shirt. The collar was open against her perspiration-soaked chest, highlighted by the glaring sunlight that poured through th
e window. She reached up for the curtain above and pulled it
downward to help ward off
the light. The darkness, for now, was more comfortable. She needed to collect her idealized notion of perception.
What was happening to her? She glanced at the weather-beaten youth with tanned flesh and wild, unruly blond hair atop his head. He was shirtless beneath the gray jacket that lay open, and he lay slouched against the seat beside hers. He absently rolled a pendant that hung from his neck between his fingertips. His other hand rested on the butt of a
gun slept on his thigh, while the leather thong attached its lethal presence around his shoulder.
"Remington," she named the gun. How did she know what it was? Did it belong to her? Would she know how to use it?
With sleepy, gray eyes, he looked her up and down. He seemed to wheeze, "Anyone ever tell you that you look like the outlaw? You know…Neasa Bannan? 'Scuse my language, ma'am, but she could make the Devil himself get down on his knees and pray. Don't mind me, I'm just blabberin'. Figure it's on account of this here train. Damn unstable. Never did like these rides. My pop used to always say…"
She stared at him while his mouth moved. Useless words tumbled lazily from his mouth as if he struggled against nausea. Dark shadows bordered the ridges of his slow, half-lidded eyes.
Her mouth opened. There were words she wanted to say, but she didn't know how to say them. Questions. There were answers that should have already belonged to her
ertainties that would identify her, isolate her soul and define it with purpose. She lacked them all. She opened her hands and looked at the multitude of uncountable lines that formed deep ridges within her palms.
No. She was…she was…
"…Damn nigger lovin' Yanks sent that dog Pemberton running. I got to get home and tell Pa 'bout my brother. I'll be damned if Pemberton's goin' to find me. He ain't lookin.' Call me a yella-belly if you want
but you might think different if you seen what I seen. Them Yanks got these guns that keep on firin', and they got their general with them, that alcoholic sumbitch…forget his name. Pardon my language, ma'am. I ain't much for
I s'pose, on account of it all, you know, the war. It ain't no war, though. I thought a war might be like you get these good ol' boys and the Yanks, you see, and we roll up our sleeves and decide what's what…"
The boy continued to ramble. She looked down at her hands again. She could feel every bead of sweat against her spine. The back of her neck was cold and wet. She squeezed her eyelids shut and listened to the wheels roll across the tracks. She felt incredibly alone in the midst of a vivid dream. The dream belonged to her, yet she was deeply entrenched within its symbolic miasma of terror.
She didn't know who she was.
"…I ain't no thief, mind you. This here gun belongs to you. A nice piece. It's the newest model, I reckon. My brother used to have a Colt, which reminds me of this one time where we was rustlin' up these pigs…"
There were questions she could ask, but she would reveal her weaknesses. She sought within the recesses of her mind for some semblance of identity. What did she look like? Her brown hair was shoulder-length and wavy, her body was lithe; she was tall. Her legs stretched out beneath the seat in front of her. Was the seat empty? She sat up to survey her surroundings. The car was empty save for a single man who seemed to be sleeping a few seats ahead of them. She felt compelled to interrupt the youth's long, tedious speech.
"Give me the gun if it's not yours," she stretched out her hand.
She was surprised when he lifted the leather thong over his shoulder and gently placed the gun in her
. "I ain't no thief," he repeated. "There's work to be done back home. Ain't no Yanks goin' to take our property. I'll see to it…"
"Shut up," she asserted herself. It felt right. It felt…natural. "Where's this train headed? I forgot."
He shrugged. "Ma'am, I don't rightly know. This locomotive is a hospital train, only it wasn't fully loaded when it took off. There's a supply car in the back, and a kitchen. Some wounded Yanks in the hospital car ahead. Course, I ain't 'bout to give my own life for General Pemberton and his crew. I got to get back home."
"Who else is with us? How many?"
"Well, we got the doctor sleepin' a few seats yonder, and we got wounded Yanks up front, the conductor…but I ain't rightly knowin' how many are on this here train, ma'am. It took off before they finished loading it."
"You're a Confederate deserter," she
him up and down.
I was lookin' for a way
I ain't no coward or nothin'. No Yank is goin' to call me no coward, ma'am. I done my own share of fighting on the hill 'fore they got my brother…see he got it right 'tween the eyes and…"
She shook her head and gripped the gun tightly. The weapon felt as if it belonged in her hand; it was comfortable between her fingers, but she felt incomplete. "Is there anything else? Powder and ball? Pre-loaded cylinders?"
He batted his eyelids for a moment before reaching down to his waist and unbuckling a belt from around his gray, dusty Confederate trousers. The belt hung heavily from his hand; the empty holster and a row of pre-loaded cylinders adorned the length of leather along with pouches full of powder and ball. She took it from him and buckled it around her own waist. He produced a second belt, this one complete with another Remington revolver in its holster and more loaded cylinders.
Why would she have two guns? Was she the woman he mentioned—the outlaw? Was she on the run from the law?
"What were you doing with my guns?" she leaned toward him. It was easy to assume power over him. He seemed to shrink further into his seat.
He brushed his hand through his blond hair and sat up. After clearing his throat ceremoniously, he said, "Well, uh… ma'am…"
A familiar, acrid smell rankled her nostrils. Flies buzzed aimlessly around the car. She looked over the seats at the sleeping figure, whose head bounced between shoulders while the train ambled on.
"That's one of the doctors, I reckon," the youth said. "He's been asleep since we got on, same as you."
Through her clenched jaw, she demanded, "How'd we get on this train?"
The tan youth cleared his throat. "The Yanks at the train depot weren't lookin' while I was sneaking around. This train was being loaded up, and I just figured on stowin' aboard so I could hitch a ride back home. A man come to me and
helped me on the train. Said I had to keep my eye on you 'cause you're special to him. I
but he just laughed, and he had this laugh that was like a pickaxe being scraped across a rock. I woulda done anything to stop him from laughing. He said I just had to wait for you
wake up, ma'am."
"Who was he? What'd he look like?"
He shrugged. "Got these big spectacles. It might've been the light, but I could see this… there were metal pieces on his teeth. I don't even know how the man could talk. He was taller 'n me, wasn't much older, though. Couldn't see much of him 'sides the metal on his teeth. The sun was in my eyes. Ain't more'n a couple hours ago."
"And what about him?" she waved the gun toward the other passenger. "How long has he been sleeping?"
"The whole time. Forgive my manners, ma'am, I got so much on my mind. From here to
all the fields and towns are burning, and there's blood in the dirt. Making new flowers grow, I reckon. You can smell spring and musket powder when you're out in those fields. Sometimes, when the cannon fire is far away, you can hear men screaming on the wind." He shook his head as if shaking himself awake from a recurring dream. "My name's Bill Carter. I'm from Georgia, born and raised."
She understood that she was supposed to reply with her own name. Common courtesy was denied her, however. The man with the metal teeth was somehow connected to her. She could envision that metal-clad jaw moving up and down, the glare of light upon a wide pair of spectacles hiding a pair of maniacal eyes.
The train screeched along, and for a moment, she thought she could hear the lamentations of the wounded from the car ahead of them.
"What'd you say that woman's name was?" she asked. "The outlaw."
"Why, uh, Neasa Bannan. I say
you look like her, only I ain't swearin' to it. You seem pretty handy with that hand-cannon you got there. My brother used to be good with one of those. I remember he killed a nigger once in the swamp right behind…"
She quickly placed the barrel of the gun beneath Carter's chin. "Say it again, I dare you."
His eyes darted back and forth over his sun-browned cheeks. "Ma'am?"
That word infuriated her. She didn't know why; she was just as surprised as he was by her smooth, fast movements. The word
was common enough, but its mention seemed to stoke an indignant flame to life within her belly. Why did she care so much?
The train shivered momentarily, while the sleeper in front of them swayed. A fly alighted on the back of his neck.
"What else do you know about this train?" she asked and pressed the gun against the bottom of his chin.
"It's cold, isn't it? Death is just as cold." Bravado seemed to come easily to her.
Men in the hospital car shouted and clamored. She couldn't prevent her eyebrows from furrowing as a thick, green mist floated through the cracks along the door.
She removed the gun from Carter's chin. They both rose to their feet as the mist speedily fogged their car. The shouts from the car in front of them grew louder and more desperate. Something thumped against the floor; a wild, tenacious animal seemed to be scratching against the door.
"Please! Let us out!" she could hear the muffled scream as the green mist rose through her own car.