By Don Ecker
The leaden skies were pregnant with fat, swollen rain clouds. I expected them to burst at any moment, and off
in the distance I could hear faint rolling thunder claps. I was sitting in the wagon box seat, holding reins on my
two nervous horses. We were in the cemetery next to a new open grave that was to hold the body of my
I looked to my left and there stood my oldest friend and former 1st. sergeant, Pierce Russell.
“Sir, do ya need a hand down?”
I absently rubbed the stump where my left leg had been prior to a Confederate shell blowing it off.
“Nah, Pierce. I will wait until Harry gets back with the Roman Priest.”
Willis Nugent rode up on his Bay. He climbed off his horse still holding the reins. After I was wounded, Lt. Willis
Nugent took over my company. He was steady and reliable if not dour.
Willis nodded at Pierce and then spoke, “Thomas, we could of used some of this rain in the Wilderness, eh?”
He was referring to the horror that was the battle in the Wilderness. General Grant launched attacks against
Lee in a very heavily wooded area. After a couple days of fighting terrible and horrible combat, forest fires
broke out and threatened to consume all who were there. Both we and the Rebels were forced to drop our
guns and grab our shovels.
I looked over at Willis and nodded.
“Yes, Willis, that would’ve been a real doosey. But, we had no such luck.”
Horace Salley, one of my former privates walked over to the wagon.
“Captain…sir, do you want that we should lower the coffin? Me and Jacob can take it right down.”
Jacob Schreck was another one of my men. God bless each and every one of them. We had been the 31st.
Pennsylvania Infantry, with battles at Gettysburg, the Wilderness and Spottsylvania, among others. That damn
“No Horace, not yet; I am waiting for Harry to arrive.”
“Yes, sir Captain.”
Horace walked over to Jacob. I looked back at the sky and then pulled my watch out. Opening it, I glanced at
the dial, not quite 4:00 p.m. I hoped he would arrive before sundown. Then I thought of my wife Polly. The
Lord took her from me two years ago. She caught a fever and was gone in a week. Thank the Lord she was
not here to witness this.
I saw a man riding out from the village. I couldn’t tell who it was at first, but then I recognized the horse. It
was Samuel Zimmerman. He had been in my company also, but after the war was called by the Lord and was
now a Preacher. Of course he didn’t know what to do about this, so I sent Harry Tomlinson to find me a Roman
Priest. I heard tell they had more experience dealing with things like this and I needed their help.
“Samuel, thank you for coming out.”
He nodded, and climbed down off the horse clutching his Bible. Dressed in black as he was, there was no doubt
what his trade was.
“Any word from Corporal Tomlinson yet, Captain?”
I looked at Samuel and shook my head. Funny how formal he stayed since he became a reverend. I recalled him
as a young private away from home for the first time. He learned to love that John Barleycorn back then. Time
changes one with its passage.
My leg, or perhaps I should say my stump, began throbbing again. I rubbed it absently and thought of my
daughter Betsy. Pretty, bright and cheerful, she had been Polly and my treasure. She helped me through Polly’s
death when we lost her. My God…and now this. Once again despair swept over me. I shuddered and caught
myself. I reached into my waistband and felt the Colt revolver I tucked there. The same pistol I carried through
the war, the one that saved me more than once. Touching the pistol’s butt comforted me.
“Captain! Here comes Harry over the hill!”
My eyes shot to the east and sure enough I saw Harry Tomlinson’s horse running full out with Harry hanging
on. He reached the wagon and pulled on the reins hard.
“Sorry Captain McCartney, but the Priest wasn’t there. I spoke to folks that are in his church, but he was
called away. I told them that you needed to see him and they promised to tell him when he gets back.”
“Thanks Harry. Nothing more you could do. Okay, let me get down.”
I grabbed my crutches and holding on to the side I hopped down. Jacob and Horace walked over to me. I pulled
out my watch and looked at the dial; it was almost 4:30 p.m.
“Okay boys; let’s get the coffin down next to the grave.”
Horace and Jacob began to pull it from the back of the wagon when suddenly a sharp kick struck the coffin—
from the inside.
Jacob Schreck screamed. He had been wrestling the rear of the coffin when he let go, jumping backwards. Fear
suddenly shot through all our minds and hearts. I felt myself flinch, almost unbelieving, with what I witnessed
with the thing that had been my daughter!
“Pierce, Willis, get the Springfield rifles!” I spoke to them sharply. “Pierce, fix your bayonet, Willis, you too.”
I pulled out my Colt and cocked back the hammer. Another kick and then another. Then…a voice that could
have been my Betsy, but my Betsy was dead.
“Daddy, is that you? Daddy, let me out! Why have you locked me in this box?” Cold fear grasped my heart, my
chest felt as if it was being squeezed by an impossible vice; tears began running down my cheeks. “Daddy,”
I looked to Samuel, “Samuel. No Priest so you are the closest thing to one. What should we do?”
He looked back at me with stark fear in his eyes.
“Captain, you won’t like it.”
“I won’t like it? Hell Man, what is there here to like? I didn’t like Gettysburg, I didn’t like dysentery, I hated
killing, but I dealt with it like we all did. Speak damn you!”
Samuel clutched his Bible to his chest.
“All right Captain. What ever that is, it ain’t your child. It’s evil, its foul and it came straight from Hell! Just like
a snake if its gonna bite you, you cut off its head. You gotta cut its head off, Captain!” Now he looked me
straight in my eyes. “I told you that you won’t like it.” he said, now Samuel looked down.
I looked over at Jacob and Horace.
“Did one of you bring an axe?”
Jacob Schreck, a proud man, one hell of a rifle shot and a man that had taken a bayonet wound meant for me,
“Yes, sir, I brung my axe, Captain.” He went over to his horse and pulled out a double bit axe from behind his
“Captain.” I looked over to Pierce. “Whose that?”
I saw a stranger riding up towards us, headed straight for the open grave. He stopped the horse and looked at
“Gentlemen, I’m looking for Captain McCartney.”
I stepped toward him on my crutches, “I’m Captain McCartney. Who are you?”
I uncocked my pistol and slid it back into my waistband.
“Captain, I’m Sean O’Leary. Some of Father O’Bannion’s flock told me that one of your men was looking for the
good Father. They said you had a serious problem only a Priest could help with.”
O’Leary had a thick Irish brogue. I knew the Irish in the war, tough fighters, each and everyone.
“Yes, Mr. O’Leary. We were looking for the Father.”
Another series of kicks emanated from the coffin. By now, everyone’s nerves were on edge and the flinching
was universal. O’Leary looked at the coffin with knowing in his eyes.
“Ah, I see your problem, gentlemen. I’ve had some experience with this type of thing. Was this, eh, a relative?”
I nodded at him.
“Yes, Mr. O’Leary, this was my daughter. Now, what do you mean you’ve had experience with this type of
“Captain, may I climb down?”
I nodded my assent to him. He climbed down off the horse and stepped over to the grave.
“In Europe, Captain, I’ve seen this contagion in Europe . On the continent, in Italy and Germany. Dead
returning…the dead with a terrible thirst. Do you know what I mean?”
I thought of what I caught my Betsy doing and when we tried to stop it, her tossing men aside as if they were
small children. Oh yes, I knew what he meant. Blood smeared all over her face, drinking it as if it were water. I
knew what he meant.
“Captain, the reason I am here is because of Father O’Bannion writing me and asking for my help. I believe that
what I am searching for is the same thing that did this to your daughter. This…thing, Captain, looks like a man,
but isn’t one. It is the spawn of the evil one, Captain. It came from Hell and now we must stop it. Now before
it becomes more powerful, has more eh, disciples like your daughter here. If he creates more, well it might
become impossible to stop.”
Now an incessant kicking and growling came from the box. Even Willis looked as if he had second thoughts
about remaining here.
“Mr. O’Leary, do you know how to stop this creature? How do we kill this?”
O’Leary looked us over and then his eyes settled on Pierce and Willis’s rifles and bayonets. He pulled his saddle
bags off his horse and opened them. Pulling out a wooden stake and mallet, he set them on the ground. He
reached back into the saddle bags and pulled out a flask and a huge Roman Crucifix.
“Captain, this is how you can stop the creatures. We must open the coffin and when we do you may rest
assured she will try to attack us. Your men must be ready to stop her with their bayonets. They must pin her
inside. I will pour this on her,” he held up the flask, “this is holy water blessed by the Priest. This will stop her,
then one of us must drive that wooden stake through her heart. After we do that, in order to make sure it is
dead, we must cut off her head. Can you stand to do that, Captain? No other way will stop this.”
Profound sorrow swept through my soul, but I knew this man was right. I nodded my consent.
“Then when we complete this, we must locate that which caused this horror. Rest assured that the monster is
close at hand, Captain, but first things first.”
I looked to Pierce and Willis. They both stood there silent as a rock holding their bayonet tipped rifles. My
thoughts flowed back to the war, actually to Gettysburg, our first action. I recalled the terror that flowed
through me and them as we witnessed the seemingly endless lines of rebels marching right at us. It seemed no
matter how many artillery pieces blew holes in their lines, or how many musket shots fired at them, that the reb’
s would ever stop. Just like now, this horror would go on forever and ever and the sound of Betsy’s voice from
the grave would never still its plaintive cries.
“Daddy, damn it Daddy, let me out!” she screamed, now kicking the box like a snare drum beating a tattoo.
“Pierce, Willis, get ready!”
They took an en-guard position with their rifles.
“Jacob, pry the lid off. Horace, grab the axe and get ready to stop…it… if it tries to climb out.”
I pulled my colt out, stepped close to the coffin and cocked it. O’Leary held the mallet and stake in his left
hand, while he was ready to pour the holy water on it with his right hand.
“All right, boys, lets do it!”
Jacob held a pry bar and dropped to his knees and jammed it under the lid. Prying up, suddenly it popped loose
and Betsy or what had once been Betsy tried to explode out of the box! Pierce and Willis both screamed as
they plunged their bayonets into what had once been my lovely treasure. I fired the colt into her, but it had
little effect. Horace however chopped into her head with the axe while O’Leary poured the holy water on her.
When the water touched her she screamed like all the demon’s from Hell! O’Leary jumped down on the coffin
and jamming the stake into her chest, pounded it with the mallet. What had once been Betsy finally lay still in
the coffin. I didn’t realize it at first, but tears streamed down my face and sobs broke from the bottom of my
“Now, Captain, we must remove her head. I will do it if you can’t.”
O’Leary looked at me with compassion in his eyes, and I glared back at him, hating him with every fiber in my
“She was my daughter, I will do it.” I dropped the colt into the dirt and took the axe from Horace. “Stand
back!” I ordered.
I looked at her one final time and then one handed, I chopped her head from her body.
“Close it up boys, please, just close it up.” I turned back to the wagon, sobbing. O’Leary walked over to me.
“Captain, where was your daughter when it attacked her? Do you know?” I thought about it, and then I knew.
“She told me she was going to visit her mother’s grave, out here in this cemetery.” O’Leary thought for a
“Tell me, does this grave yard have any crypts, any rich folk that might have built an elaborate vault or
something similar?” I nodded my head.
“Yes, there is an underground vault here. The Norman family vault. They were wealthy rail roaders. Mr. Baxter
Norman’s grave site is over that small knoll, down by the trees.” O’Leary nodded.
“Quickly, Captain, we must move quickly before full night! He must have taken refuge in the vault, if we move
now we can stop him!”
I quickly thought about this.
“Pierce, take my wagon back to the village and load it with lantern oil and bring a keg or two of gunpowder, big
ones, with some fuse. Here, give me your rifle!” He looked at me questioningly.
“Oil and gunpowder, Captain? How much oil?”
“As much as you can grab, now go! Don’t spare the horses either!” He jumped up and whipped them back to
“All right boys, you all get ready in case that bastard is in there. He will want to come out to see his handy
work. Let’s give him something to think about.”
O’Leary took his saddlebags to the crypt entrance. He reached in and pulled out more holy water and a big
Roman Catholic cross. He lay the cross in the entrance of the doorway and then sprinkled holy water about
and started praying. Suddenly a huge boom echoed from the tomb. He jumped back.
“Well, boys, I do believe he is in there and I don’t think he is happy!”
I checked the Springfield, checked the cap and cocked it, aiming at the interior. Willis did the same, aiming at
the doorway. Jacob stood by holding his axe. I handed my colt to Horace who stood by. No one spoke, but the
fear was palpable among all of us.
Minutes passed by and finally I spoke, directing my comments to O’Leary.
“When Pierce gets back, I figure on pouring all the oil into the crypt then fusing the gunpowder and tossing it
in. What do you think? When the powder goes off, it will collapse the crypt and the oil will burn what ever is in
there. Sound good?”
He nodded and then pulled out what looked like small bread wafers.
“Yes, let me put these over there to seal the door, it won’t be able to cross with the crucifix and Communion
Host sealing the door.” He proceeded to place the wafers around. As he walked back, I saw something move
inside the crypt. Both Willis and I fired. Two huge booms crashed into our eardrums and I saw no more
“It is inside the doorway, but I don’t think we hit it.”
I gasped out as I quickly started to reload the rifle. I saw Pierce rushing back to us in the wagon. He pulled up
and the horses looked like they were ready to collapse.
“Here, Captain, three kegs of gunpowder and two casks of lantern oil.”
He jumped down and Jacob and Horace rushed over to help.
“Okay, boys, Willis and I will cover you while you pour all the oil inside. Jacob, fuse the powder, a short burn
and tell me when it’s ready.” I hobbled over to the doorway with the cocked Springfield, Willis beside me.
Pierce and Horace wrestled the casks of oil to the door and then Pierce smashed them open with the axe. He
dumped the contents into the vault. “Careful, boys, I saw sumpin’ movin’ in there.”
“Captain McCartney, it’s ready!”
I looked over and nodded at Jacob.
“Okay, Jacob, roll the first two kegs into the vault, then get the fused keg ready. Willis, keep your eyes open.”
Jacob rolled the first keg in, then the second. We watched, but didn’t see any movement. He then walked the
last keg over to the door and I handed the rifle to O’Leary. “All right, I am gonna strike a match so you boys
get ready to high-tail it outta here. You all ready?”
I got general nods all the way around.
“Okay, boys, here we go!” I struck the match, it began burning brightly and then I touched it to the fuse. It
sputtered then began a steady burn. Willis and Pierce helped me roll it into the vault, then they both grabbed
me, catching my by surprise and ran back out of there. About twenty seconds later, there was one hell of a
bang, flames shooting out and then two more huge booms. The entire vault collapsed inwards with flames
shooting out through the debris. We watched it burn ‘til the flames went out, then we left the cemetery. On
the way out I looked to O’Leary.
“Do you think that ended it? Is it over now, Mr. O’Leary?”
He looked thoughtful.
“I don’t know, Captain. I think so. Hell, I pray so. Pray to your God, Captain. Pray that this finished it.”
I looked to the sky. I thought about what I witnessed here today and began to pray.