An Excerpt from My Second Novel
Subject to Editing
I was killed yesterday. It was the fourth time in four days that such a circumstance has been forced upon me. My death, or rather the death of the body in which I resided yesterday, the body of Reginald J. Smith of the 2nd Massachusetts Regiment, remains as a clear and horrifying event in my mind. One does not forget one’s own entrails escaping through a massive, jagged hole in the abdomen, the rope-like tubes of tissue, bloody and slippery with whatever fluids reside within the body, slipping through shaking fingers as they escape the prison of the flesh. I prayed for death. I begged for death. And death came.
Regarding my death the day before last, I have no memory of the event. Death must have come quickly for me on that particular day. My brain, or at least the one that is currently functional, allowing my hand to dip this feathered quill in ink and scribble these words on rag paper, has a distinct record of the man I was the day before last. His name, Thomas Robert Evans, is burned into my memory as if it were my own, which it was in actuality for nearly a day. Mr. Evans was a native of Danville, Illinois. He was a chaplain, a gentleman, and a captain attached to the 125th Illinois Regiment, which had been engaged in demonstrations before the Rebel forces at Rocky Faced Ridge in the Confederate State of Georgia on the ninth of May, 1864. This date is significant to my story, and I’ll explain why that is in a little while, but first I should give you, the reader, some instruction on my background so that you might better understand my plight.
The name given to me at birth was Ezekiel Zachariah Webster. Everybody I’ve ever known, excepting my mother, has called me “EZ.” My mother referred to me by my Christian name, Ezekiel, although such information matters little, as my mother was taken by the milk sickness back in the summer of ’47, just after my fifth rotation around the sun. My father, a farmer by trade, turned to the bottle and the whip for comfort, using the former on himself and the latter on his only child on a mostly daily basis.
I never once attended school. Our farm, located on fourteen acres of hard land in Knox County, Indiana, had been left to my father by his father, a relentless, fervent Baptist who claimed that we were somehow descended from Winthrop Sargent, the very man who had founded Knox County and had named the place after General Henry Knox, the famed artillerist from the Revolution. I never saw proof of any such relation. Not that I could have read any documentation attesting to this matter, anyway. You see, until I first inhabited a skin other than the one in which I was born, I was completely illiterate.
I won’t go into the difficulties of my home life at this time. I’ll just state that few things ever came easily. By the time I was 19 years old I was more than ready for a change of pace and a change of scenery and when the opportunity to sign a muster came along I jumped at the chance. Generally being one to avoid confrontation, I left home without informing my father of my intentions.This is hardly the behavior one might expect from a boy with an aversion to conflict, trading the plow for the bayonet, but the Rebels with their cannon and muskets alarmed me on a much smaller scale than a drunkard armed with leather. I left one morning before the rooster announced the dawn, signing up for a three-year enlistment with Company G of the 14th Indiana Infantry Regiment at Terre Haute, on the seventh of June, 1861.
Soldiering came easily compared to plowing a stubborn piece of land and going home every night to a violent, headstrong father. Drilling and parading around in a smart blue suit, shooting at hay bales, and eating chow that rivaled any meal ever made back home solidified my decision to sign up as a damn good one. That’s not to say that I was a great soldier. I was an average shot at best, and I found marching in step to be a difficult chore, not unlike the steps of a schottische, the moves of which I’ve never experienced first-hand, but are somehow freshly engrained in my memory from the life of Thomas Evans.
A shame and a waste, the loss of Captain Evans, who had so very many reasons to survive this war, among them his beautiful wife and nine children. A man of genuine piety and altruism, he had more to offer this world than most I’ve possessed, his faith and munificence indicative of his place among the saints. It is truly distressing that he’s already taken his place there.
Possessed. I sincerely doubt that your eyes moved over that word without hesitation. Yes, I used the word that is usually reserved for Satan or his demons seizing the flesh of the human form, occupying such for their own motivations. I don’t claim to be the devil or any of his servants. Until recently, I would have thought possession of any form by another form to be the contrivance of an overeager imagination. I’ve proven myself wrong, even if it is an accidental act. I may have no control over these leaps of existence, but they’re as legitimate and as palpable as your very own heartbeat. It is only a matter of time before the body I currently occupy dies, and I wake up in the form of another, only to repeat the ambulation again the next time death comes calling.
Sorcery, devilry, black magic, witchcraft! Whatever label you might wish to put upon the necromancy that is behind my condition shall be considered a plausible theory. I find myself dwelling upon those historical events occurring in Massachusetts in the 1690s, where the towns of Ipswich, Andover, and Salem experienced a mass hysteria, hanging nearly a score of their kinfolk for their bonds with the black art. Should I be able to control my state, perhaps choosing when to leave one host for another, or maybe deciding to remain rather than migrate, then I would have little choice but to admit being guilty of associating with the infernal practice. Should these leaps of flesh and blood continue into infinity, perhaps I shall one day be able to steer their courses. But it is not I who has the authority, the mastery. I am but the quarry.
I mentioned yesterday’s date – the ninth of May, 1864 – as being important to my story. It is such only in the sense that time is no longer a factor in my own existence. Today is not the tenth of May, 1864, but rather, the first of September, 1862, and I am a private soldier named Jeremiah Watson in General Stevens’ III Corps, which will halt the advance of Stonewall Jackson’s Corp later today in the Battle of Chantilly, at the cost of General Stevens’ life. No, I do not claim to be able to predict future events. I have been to Chantilly before, you see. I have died here before.
I know what you’re thinking. How absurd it is that my soul could leave one body for another, jumping not only through space but also through time, occupying the body of another. You’re not wrong. It is completely absurd. I wouldn’t have believed you if you had spun me such a tall tale, either. In fact, you should be able to disprove my story simply by discussing my telling of it in written form. This very page making the leap from host to host is as impossible as the soul doing such. I’m afraid I cannot combat this argument, as I have not the ample ammunition.
This book, leather-bound and appearing worn, is actually quite the opposite. Its contents, primarily rag paper, are discovered each morning to be in the finest condition possible, whatever events or efforts from the day before having no bearing on its maintenance. I would assume that the book made its debut on the day of my first manifestation in the body of another, but I have no recollection of seeing it, as I was a bit out of sorts that day. I guess you could say that I wasn’t myself. I have no memory of my first transition to another being. I don’t remember dying, or being killed, or even having been in such a position to be killed on the night before my first wandering. I simply woke up inside another person, frightened and confused, sure that I was not awake or if I was awake, certainly feverish from some ailment my profession and proximity to others caused in me. As for these pages, well, it took several sightings of the book over several lifetimes, if you will, for me to make the connection. At first, I thought its appearance to be a coincidence, thinking it awfully peculiar that two soldiers from two different theatres of war might have the same leather-bound journal. Upon inspection, I found it to be void of entries, again over several lifetimes, and I began to understand that there may be something expected of me.
I rebelled. Thinking that this book might be the very reason for my leaping from one body to the next, I destroyed it. Then I destroyed it again and again and again. Each time, I’d wake in the body of another to find it with me, always in the same pristine condition, the only object which belonged to both me and the next person in succession.
I must take my leave, now. Right on cue, the bugle is sounding, calling me to duty and my meeting with the angel of death. I shall see you tomorrow.