I am standing outside a large, grey tent in the early morning. It is cold and overcast and the dark clouds press down on the Earth lower than God intended. The air is damp and a light mist seems to hang in the air rather than falling to the muddy grass below my feet. I feel young, unwanted, and out of place. I am clothed in a pompous white dress that balloons at my waist and cascades to the earth. I have a parasol in my hand that rests on my shoulder, but it has not prevented me from becoming wet.
This is the dress I wore when I bid goodbye to Jackson Dereks.
The tent flap is pushed back and a dirty, middle-aged man in a Confederate uniform steps out to greet me. “Miss Sharper,” he says, taking off his hat. “The General will see you now.”
I nod my thanks and step into the tent. It is large and there are Confederate officers everywhere. As the tent flap closes behind me, the crowd parts and a path is laid before me, ending at a table, behind which sits General “Stonewall” Jackson.
My heart jumps to my throat, as I know this can mean only one thing.
Hats are taken from heads as I move between the soldiers.
“Miss Beatrice Sharper?” General Jackson asks.
“Yes, sir,” I reply, bowing politely.
Jackson has a gaunt, haunted expression. He is clearly a man of strength, a man respected by the others in this room, but the great man seems too small for his coat and his black beard and thinning hair look borrowed from a pirate of the Seven Seas instead of being home on a man who carries the weight of secession on his shoulders. His hat already removed, he reaches for it at the edge of the table, then changes his mind. On the table between us rests a map of Virginia with names like Banks, Gordon, Hatch, and Ewell scribbled on it.
The names shift and twirl, then repeat. This should not be possible, but I do not care. My only thoughts are for the words that the haunted general will speak to me. I already know what they will be, but this causes them to hit with no less force.
“I am sorry, ma’am, but your betrothed, Private Jackson Dereks, walks no more among us. I regret that he died neither in his native Mississippi nor with any Mississippi brothers alongside him.”
Being a strong-willed young lady of the South, I keep my emotions in check, though I cannot stop my body from shaking. “May I see him?” I ask, attempting to be proud.
General Jackson seems to grow more gaunt and more haunted, and though it would not be impossible, he seems to grow visibly smaller before me. When it is clear the general is lost in a turmoil of thoughts, a voice from behind me announces, “That would not be wise, Miss Sharper.”
I turn to look at the officers, but find them wearing grey robes instead of grey uniforms.
“This way, ma’am,” Stonewall says, and I turn to follow him through the back of the tent.
Outside, the storm clouds are tinted red, as if the sun above them has changed its color. The grass is no longer green but black, and the horses tied to stakes in the ground grow monstrous, their eyes matching the sun and their coats matching the grass.
I follow the general on a cobblestone path that winds to the left, up a small hill. We walk in silence.
At the top of the hill is a gate made of human bones. I should be afraid, but I know on the other side of this gate my beloved Jackson waits for me. The general opens the gate for me, and when he stands back, I see that his skin has been reduced to a thin sheet of opaque flesh. It hangs on his bones like a bed sheet, and when he points inside the gate, his finger is little more than bone.
I pass through and the world shifts again. I am no longer on a grassy hill in Virginia, but on a rocky hill beneath the earth. Before me lies an expanse of Hell. Fires burn. Screams plead. I can see men with red skin and tails standing around holes in the ground where the pain emanates.
I do not care for any of that because what stands between me and the fires is Jackson, my Jackson, the man I am arranged to marry after the war.
“Hello, Bea,” he says with his wide, crooked grin. He wears a purple dress coat and black pants. His unruly, wavy black hair has been combed to a hint of respectability, but his hair – like his spirit – is not a thing that can be tamed.
“Jackson!” I shriek and run to him.
His is taller than me, as well as older, though in both regards he betters me at perfect distances.
“There, there, my pot of blonde honey,” he comforts in familiar tongue, his strong hands on my back. “All is well. Or will be.”
I push back from him. “What do you mean?”
He cocks his head to the side and motions to the nightmare behind him. “Do you think this is Heaven?” he asks with a mischievous smile. “I am dead, my body cut to pieces and dumped in the ground in Virginia, while you have run away across the ocean. I barely recognize you.”
I look down and find myself no longer wearing my white dress, but the black and white outfit of the chambermaid I have become. “Jackson, I-”
“Hush,” he orders, his eyes sparkling purple. “You have forgotten me.”
“You have turned your back on the South!”
“But the South was wrong!”
“Then you have turned your back on me!”
“No, Jackson, I-”
“You were a stupid, silly girl and always were,” he sneers, turning away from me.
“No!” I yell. I can feel myself regressing to the girl I was instead of the woman I have become but I cannot help but run to Jackson. I grab the arm of his purple coat and spin him to me, and he kisses me deeply.
It is a kiss that consumes me, that threatens to cause my heart to burst, and when I am brought to the edge of existence, I gather all my strength and pull my head back …
… but it is not my Jackson that I see gazing down at me.
I look into the horrific face of a black goat. His horns curve and extend from the sides of his forehead. His eyes blaze purple, and plum-colored smoke wafts heavenward from their outer corners. He snarls at me, and proclaims in a deep, powerful voice, “Jackson Dereks belongs to me!”
“Give him back!” I screech.
The goat man laughs. “You are already mine, girl of flesh,” he growls, running a thin claw across my shaking cheek before knocking me to the ground.
I watch him walk to the edge of the hill and descend out of my sight. I scramble to my feet, intending to follow him right down into Hell in order to rescue Jackson, but when I reach the edge my feet refuse to take another step. It is not the sight of Hell that stops their movement, nor the turning of Hell’s demons to look in my direction.
I am driven to my knees by the chants that rain up at me, pounding me with a growing intensity.
“Kadul!” the demons yell as unseen drums pound. “Ka-dul! Ka-dul! KA-DUUUUUUL!”
Great chains are lowered into one of the pits, and when they arise, I see Jackson Dereks, his body stripped and his flesh torn from a thousand lashes, hauled high into the air.
“Stay away. Please,” he whispers, and somehow the words reach me across the great distance.
I nod and I cry, but I know I will not obey them.
That was the dream that took my rest.
I awoke, the sheets soaked with my own sweat, and washed quickly before reporting for the day’s duties. I spent the day in a daze. Jackson’s face kept coming to me on the face of every person I saw, but in my gut I felt not his arms nor his lips, but the power of Kadul. Every sound in Kraken Moor seemed to me a sign sent from the goat man to unsettle me, and I was not surprised, when the day was at its end and I returned to the basement with my night’s supper, that my thoughts sent me walking past my quarters and towards the dungeon. I past passed several cells, their doors all locked but one.
I saw this cell because my eyes were drawn there, down the corridor and to my left.
The door was open.
“Beatrice,” a hissing voice called. “Beeeeeeeaaaaaaaatrice. Come to meeeeeeee.”
I dropped my dinner, but my feet moved closer … closer … closer to the open cell.
I heard a door open behind me. “Oy. What are you doing, girl?”
I turned to look back from where I came and saw Lima, another chambermaid only a few years my senior, looking at me, her body half hidden inside of her own room.
“Are you daft?” she asked. “It’s dangerous down there. Rats. Oy, you dropped your dinner,” she said and walked towards me. “Your head must still be soft from your bump. Come on, let’s get you some more grub.”
She picked up the tray and led me away from the dungeon.
Behind me, I heard the quiet clang of a cell door shutting.