My name is Robert Patterson, and I have the honor of being a 1st Lieutenant in North Carolina’s 9th Regiment of cavalry. I’m telling this story from what I fear is my deathbed, in a Union field hospital not far outside Richmond. I’m treated well enough here, but the Yankee doctor apparently doesn’t feel the need to whisper sweet nothings into my ear. Between the gunshot wound and the other thing, it’s just too much for my weakened constitution. One or the other, maybe. But not both.
Author's note: This story is not for children or the faint of heart.
I do not fear death, at least not in the way I did at the beginning of this God-forsaken War. I’ve seen too many horrible things, and some of those things were done with my very own hands. I’ve killed a dozen men or more, and have lost twice that many who were under my care. I reckon it’s my turn. But before I go to meet my maker, I must pass along a warning. There are such things as demons. I’ve seen one, and the fact that I lived to tell this tale is a miracle unto itself.
A few months ago, towards the end of October, we stopped the Yanks in their tracks as they tried to take the Boydton Plank Road. My boys fought well, and we were all still sitting horse when it was through. Jamie Cotton had a bullet in his arse, and I almost had to pull him off his horse just to get him to see the medic about it. That’s cavalry for you. Druther die than walk.
A few days later, Major Whitaker told me to take my troop on an extended patrol North, as far as the Shenandoah, and to harass the enemy as much as possible. The thinking was, if we stirred up enough trouble there and elsewhere, the Yanks would have to disperse and deal with us. And we stirred up quite a bit of trouble.
By the time the first snowflakes fell, we had damned near a whole battalion of Union troops poking behind rocks and trees looking for us. But their commander was a smart one. Instead of following us up into the mountain proper, he set up a miles-long picket line and decided to let the Winter do his work for him. At night, we could see their fires and, if the wind was right, we could even smell food cooking.
At first, we laughed in scorn at their creature comforts and unwillingness to attack. But as the days grew colder and our stomachs emptier, we knew something had to happen soon. One afternoon, Corporal Wainright spotted a wagon with a broken wheel near a creek, with only two men standing guard. It seemed like a Godsend, but the Yankees had set up an ambush for us, damn their eyes. Five men shot right out of their saddles, and two more died on our run back up the mountain.
Fearing that this time they would follow us, we pressed on and up. Pretty soon we had to dismount and walk our horses, picking our way slowly through dry creek beds and piles of scree. Every step was a hazard, and it was cold. So very cold. Taylor’s horse Mattie stumbled on a loose rock and, for a moment, it looked like they would be okay. But then they were gone, over the edge and into a deep ravine. It’s probably just as well; Taylor loved that horse, and would have been miserable without her.
By the morning of the second day after the ambush, we began to descend into a deep valley. Even though the footing was more precarious, we were shielded from the worst of the wind, so we were in considerably better spirits. And the further we descended, the warmer it got, until we were forced to shed our Winter cloaks. We should have known something was wrong, but we were exhausted, and hungry, and just glad to be out of the biting cold.
We set up camp near a creek about an hour before dusk, and three men went out to see if they could scare up some game. As the light was fading, we heard a single gunshot, followed closely by what sounded like a mountain lion screaming, only deeper. One of the hunters returned to camp that evening, but no trace of Billings and Sergeant Kemp were ever seen again. One of them may have made it out of that valley, but I doubt it.
That left eight of us, and eleven horses. That night, shortly after Wainright started his midnight to 2 a.m. guard duty, the beast came after the horses. I’d been having a strange nightmare about falling off the side of a mountain when an unholy and ear-splitting scream brought me out of my bedroll, Colt in hand. But by the time I got to where we were keeping the horses, it was already over. Three horses dead, one with his head turned around at a strange angle, and one horse injured so badly I immediately put him out of his misery. The rest of the horses had fled, or at least I thought they had. Then I noticed something that made my blood run like ice. Whatever had attacked them had dragged off a full-grown horse, and dragged it off quickly, leaving a trail of blood and broken saplings. Not even a large bear could drag off a thousand pound horse.
I found Corporal Wainright sitting with his back to a tree, as pale as a ghost, eyes focused on nothing. I squatted in front of him, spoke his name, and finally took him by the shoulders and shook him. He finally looked up at me, said “Sir…” And then he died in my arms. No visible injuries, his heart just stopped. I couldn’t understand it then, but I understand it now.
I don’t know if it was the horror of the incident, or the look on Wainright’s face as he lay there, but I’m sorry to say that my troops lost their composure. When I tried to bring them to order, they pulled their weapons on me and walked off. I stayed behind to give Wainright a Christian burial, as I knew his parents, and they would have wanted that. After throwing the last spade full of mossy soil, but before I could say any words, I heard a few gunshots and screams. Several screams.
I should have walked in a different direction, but I had to know. And it’s a sight that haunts my every waking moment. The last of my men, slaughtered like farm animals. We had ridden hundreds of miles together, cut through the Union blue like a scythe. We may have been under the command of great generals, but they followed me. And I led them to ruin.
I pulled my Colt from its holster, pulled back the hammer, and then placed the barrel against my temple. Then I saw the bloody drag marks, and started yelling. And running. I found the body a short distance away, and the fact that I couldn’t recognize the man made me even angrier. I yelled some more, and fired my pistol into the air. But the creature was nowhere in sight.
Somehow I found my way to the trail that led us into the cursed valley, and started climbing. When I reached a height where I could see over most of the treetops in the valley, the temperature had dropped considerably, which I found strangely comforting. Then I saw it, and all comfort washed away.
Standing at the bottom of the draw, staring directly at me, was a nightmare made real. The thing had two arms and two legs, but there any resemblance to a human being ended. Twice as tall as any man I’d ever seen, well over ten feet, the beast was blood-colored and sinewy; almost as if it were missing its skin. Large hands with too many fingers, each tipped with a claw that had to be four or five inches long. And it was running its thumb claws back and forth against the others, making a sound not unlike a rattlesnake. But the beast’s head was the worst. It was huge, with what appeared to be a set of horns on top, and a protruding lower jaw that threatened to engulf the rest of its face.
The creature just stared at me for several seconds, the only sounds I could hear were its clicking claws and my thudding heart. Then it crouched, showed me its horrible teeth, and bounded on all fours up the trail towards me. It was on me in mere seconds, and all I could do was raise my left arm to protect my neck. As the huge jaw closed on my arm, I heard the bones crack even before the pain set in. The sound of my Colt firing, which I don’t even remember drawing, was deafening. At first it appeared to have no effect, but then the beast started keening, almost in unison with the ringing in my ears from the gunshot. It turned away from me with a reproachful look, and then stumbled back down the trail and disappeared into the woodline.
It took me a considerable time to make it to the top of the ridge with my ruined arm, but right when I made it to the crest and started my descent down the other side, I heard one more long scream of rage and possibly pain coming from the cursed valley.
When I saw a Union patrol not far from the base of the mountain, I called out a greeting to them while waving my good arm. Unfortunately, my Colt was still grasped at the end of that good arm, so one of the more nervous troopers shot me in the upper chest, and I woke up a few days later in this here tent. Woke up without a left arm, I might add, which is fine with me because I don’t have to look at what that beast had done anymore. The Union doctor said the arm had stopped bleeding, which was good, but the flesh seemed to be decaying at an accelerated rate, which was bad, so he lopped it off. I’m pretty sure there was no fixing it, anyway, so to hell with it.
I spend my days reading my bible, in the hopes that it will make my nightmares less fretful, but so far that hasn’t worked. I’ve made a friend of sorts with this Yankee boy named Phillip, who has graciously taken up the task of writing for me, as I used to be left-handed when I had one. He’s a pretty smart fellow, and I hold he’ll be able to polish my poor grammar into something tolerable. I had him write a letter to my dear Sally which contains none of this demon talk. I’d like to see her one more time before I go, but that’s not possible. I’ve also been thinking, and trying to figure out how this beast could come to exist, and I have a theory which Phillip merely nods at: I think it may be the War that brought this demon out of Hell and into that cursed valley. It’s just too much of a coincidence that they would both be here at the same time.
If that is true, then we should avoid War at all costs. Because it’s not the generals and politicians who will be torn asunder by demons, but good boys who like to ride horses.