Seth and Eli had no choice. They waited until nightfall to make their break.
It was a waxing moon and they felt exposed under its bright light, but if they stayed where they were the Yankees would eventually find them. The union army under McClellan had split the Confederate forces in half that hot afternoon in July, seizing a decisive victory by capturing or killing half of Lt. Col. John Pegam’s men, and routing the rest.
Seth and Eli were among the many Confederates who were escaping to nearby Beverly, and on over to the Shawnee Trail. They were separated from their unit in the chaos of retreat. Seth was wounded. A Yankee mini ball hit him just below his right knee, shattering the bone. It was bound up hastily by Eli who helped him walk by supporting his wounded side with one brawny arm. Seth was weak from loss of blood and they were hiding in a thicket near a farmhouse.
They would have to cross an open field to reach the forest that led to Beverly where the Confederate forces were fleeing. Eli looked up at the sky and cursed the bright moon.
“Time to go Seth. We’ve got to find a place to hide before the sun comes up and McClellan’s boys catch us.”
The two men awkwardly walked towards the tree line. Seth had his loaded rifle in his free hand. It seemed like forever before they entered the forest. They pressed on for two hours before Seth had to rest. Eli scouted around and found a small cave. He helped Seth inside. It was barely big enough for both men and smelled like bear. Eli sat up with his back against the rear, and rifle across his lap. It left enough room for Seth to lay down. He was in obvious pain, but didn’t complain.
They were best friends and were raised in the same small town in Virginia. As boys they hunted together and spent lazy days fishing. That all changed when the war started. They signed up to defend their home and state like the rest of the boys in their community. It was a year since the War of the States broke out and both young men had seen their share of fighting in numerous skirmishes, leading up to the Battle of Rich Mountain.
Eli was starting to fall asleep when he heard a strange noise and simultaneously smelled something rank. Like a skunk. He leaned over to the narrow opening where he’d pulled some bushes in after entering the cave. He peered through the brush and saw something that scared the hell out of him! It was at least eight-feet tall, and looked like a giant hairy man. It was standing mere feet away from their hiding place and sniffing the night air like a great hound.
The moon was bright enough to slash through the forest canopy exposing the creatures face. It was the stuff nightmares are made from. It’s head looked too small for its huge body. Protruding fangs and lifeless eyes, like a sharks, stared into the night. It’s grunts sounded similar to a boar.
Eli was afraid to move a muscle, and hoped Seth wouldn’t wake up and start moaning. He saw the thing bend over something and gradually became aware that it was a body. A flash of blue uniform under the moon’s unforgiving gaze, told him it was a Yank. Streams of light filtered through the trees around the creature as it bent over and casually tore off the mans arm and started chewing on it!
Nothing in Eli’s life prepared him for the horror he was witnessing. He saw men die on both sides off the battlefield, but their violent deaths paled beside the nightmare unfolding in front of him. The thing had plucked the other arm out like a chicken wing and tossed the bones of the other in his direction. Eli flinched. He forced himself to remain calm. Wild things could sense fear. He learned that as a boy growing up in the hill country. The man-thing tossed the other arm bone aside and bent over the body again, coming up with a trail of intestines in it’s large mouth.
At that moment Seth woke up, and groaned out loud!
Eli quickly put a hand over his mouth and prayed it didn’t hear him. Seth’s eyes opened in surprise and Eli put a finger to his lips. The grunting outside stopped. He could barely make out the beast’s movement. It was amazingly stealthy for something so large. The creature suddenly hunched down and looked in the opposite direction in time to see a Confederate soldier with fixed bayonet charge it!
There was a terrible roar of rage when the bayonet pierced the beast’s breast, but it didn’t go down. Still standing, it slowly pulled the bayonet out, to the soldiers horror. It grabbed the rifle and threw it down while reaching out with his other massive arm for the terrified soldier.
Eli was already moving and scurried out of the cave and took aim at the beast’s back and fired! It kept plunging forward and grabbed the soldier with a scream of anger and tore his head off with it’s bare hands! Turning, it saw Eli standing 20-feet away and roared with increased rage. Eli barely had time to fix his bayonet on his rifle when it charged. Bracing himself, he thrust his rifle forward and stabbed the creature’s bloody breast before it knocked him over!
The force of it’s charge sent him backwards several feet and he tumbled roughly on the forest floor. As he scrambled to his feet he saw Seth crawling out of the cave. He calmly leveled his .36 caliber Navy revolver and fired six shots at the beast. It turned away from Eli and turned on Seth. Eli screamed “No!” and pulled his hunting knife out and started to take a step when more gunfire broke out!
Three Union soldiers appeared and were firing volleys at the beast! It let out a terrible scream of agony and finally lumbered away in the opposite direction. They could hear it smashing its way through the deep forest for minutes afterward.
Eli looked over at the Union soldiers, who lowered their rifles, and cracked a wry smile, “I never thought I’d be so damn glad to see some damn Yankees!” he said, as he held his arms up in surrender.
As It Stands, you never know when you and an enemy might end up on the same side one day.