Excerpt from Southern Devils by Brent Abell
The men assigned to patrol the camp’s southern flank smelled the stench as it wafted through the trees to assault their nostrils by the time the sun finished its retreat into the west.
“What the hell is that awful smell? Jenkins, did you break wind again you rank son a’ bitch?” asked the grizzled man on the makeshift guard tower.
Jenkins looked up and grinned, “Shit no! I thought that the smell was because you ain’t bathed in a month Justin, ‘ya old bastard!”
Behind Jenkins something rustled in the leaves. He stopped and held his breath so he could hear better. The night grew silent again. Jenkins could hear no breeze, no insects, and no other animal noises coming from the woods or from the field around them. He turned slowly so he wouldn’t make a sound. Once his head was fully turned, he saw the two red, glowing orbs in the darkness. The stink of rot blew into Jenkins’ face. He turned away and gagged, heaving his supper onto the ground. With his head turned, he didn’t see the sword blade sweep down in an arc, but felt its first bite into his skull.
Justin heard the commotion below, bolted up, and used his torch to illuminate the ground below him. He almost screamed when he saw the blade cleaved into Jenkins’ head and his body in a crumbled heap on the ground. Blood and brains were draining out on the ground around the feet of the thing standing above the fresh corpse. Squinting his eyes, Justin could make out the tattered Confederate flag on the thing’s uniform in the light of the amber fire. He grabbed his rifle and pointed it down at the soldier below him. He squeezed off one shot before a cacophony of shots rang out from the edge of the trees around his watchtower. The bullets tore right through him and he fell to the ground.
Frantically, he tried to get up, but he couldn’t feel his legs and a cold crept through his body. Hearing grunting all around him, he looked up and saw four hideous faces with blazing red eyes staring back down at him. He tried to scream, but they were on him, feeding before the sound could escape his lips.
The senior officers were still seated in Sherman’s tent when they heard the gunshots and screams from the southern watch.
“What the hell?” Sherman muttered, getting to his feet. “Send a patrol over there and report back immediately!”
“Sir, we must get you to safety.”
“I will not abandon these men to an enemy we have not yet engaged,” Sherman said as he tied his sash around his waist and picked up his saber from beside his table. “I will not cower to an unseen adversary; now let us find out what awaits us.”
It took fifteen minutes for the patrol to return. All six men had turned white as sheets and shook uncontrollably. One man stumbled off of his horse and gave a weak salute to Sherman.
“Sir, the tower was empty. The torches still burned, but there were no sentries to be found. There were piles of shredded flesh and broken bones, and the ground was covered in blood… Sir, I think that’s what was left of our men. Oh, God, whatever got to ‘em is still out there and it ain’t from our Lord. Men couldn’t have done that, Sir, no man I’ve ever seen.”
Sherman patted the man on the shoulder. “You have done well. Go now and arm yourself. We must be ready.”
The rest of the men in the camp were already rising from their tents, having heard the commotion and Sherman could hear the clanking of the rifles and bayonets as they armed themselves.
When Sherman and his advisors exited his tent, the screams broke out all over the camp.
Jay Wilburn lives with his wife and two sons in Conway, South Carolina near the Atlantic coast of the southern United States. He has a Masters Degree in education and he taught public school for sixteen years before becoming a full time writer. He is the author of many short stories including work in Best Horror of the Year volume 5, Zombies More Recent Dead, Shadows Over Mainstreet, and Truth or Dare. He is the author of the Dead Song Legend Dodecology and the music of the five song soundtrack recorded as if by the characters within the world of the novel The Sound May Suffer. He also wrote the novels Loose Ends and Time Eaters. He is one of the four authors behind the Hellmouth trilogy. He cowrote The Enemy Held Near with Armand Rosamilia. Jay Wilburn is a regular columnist with Dark Moon Digest. Follow his many dark thoughts on Twitter, Instagram, and Periscope as @AmongTheZombies, his Facebook author page, and at JayWilburn.com