It was on November 24th, 2007, that I murdered my great grandfather with a knife. My great grandfather was born in 1840, my grandfather in 1880, my mother in 1930, and I in 1964. I remember mom telling me that her dad’s dad was a Union officer during the Civil War. Well, I can confirm that he was.
I was drinking heavily in the year 2007 due to being fired from my day job for drinking heavily. I passed out, I guess, sometime during the evening of November 23rd. I awoke on the cold wood floor of the dark fireplace room at one-thirty in the morning of the 24th, groggy and uncertain of my place and identity. I sat up with my head spinning, rubbed my temples, and remembered that I was late for the animals’ feeding. See, at the time, I was earning two hundred dollars a week for taking care of my neighbor’s goats, sheep, horses, cows, and dogs.
I stood, walked, drank water, and braced with both hands against the back door while I waited for the drunken vertigo to subside. It took a little time. I might have slept some more on the kitchen floor. I’m not sure.
My next memory is of stepping outside into a brisk autumn wind under a clear sky of stars and a low quarter moon in the west. The wind rattled the few dead leaves that clung to their trees and that clung to their dreams of life and sunshine. Hands in pockets, I trudged around the shimmering lake, the dead leaves bobbing and rattling on the rippling lake surface. I crunched with my boots through the mown, dead hay field. Some coyotes yipped and howled. The wind sang through the moonlit stubble, and it seemed to carry with it my old better days of laughter and love and tears. All gone.
I scraped a shovel through dirt and straw on the barn floor, shoveled shit, spread new straw, and fed and watered. The animals were acting strangely because of the howling coyotes, or so I thought. The goats and sheep were huddled tightly and silently under roof. The cows lowed and clustered. The horses trembled and the three dogs whimpered and cowered. Something wasn’t right.
“Too much whiskey,” I thought, and I trudged out into the breezy, moonlit yard to light the dung pile. I told myself that it was a skunk that I smelled, but of course it wasn’t that. It was rotting flesh and disease and unwashed human wounds. Smallpox. Concentrated urine. Diarrhea. Prison. Civil war.
You see, my great grandfather was a Union sergeant major in the medical corps during the American Civil War, and he had the displeasure of working for the last miserable year of his life in an Illinois prison for captured Confederate soldiers. Conditions in the cramped stone prison were sickening. Smallpox spread through the prison like a gas leak, poisoning prisoners and jailers alike. Wounds festered and leaked and the moans were maddening as men died by the score. My great grandfather caught the pox, sickened, went mad, and took revenge upon the few surviving prisoners in his charge. He shot seven men to death in their beds. My neighbor’s barn where I was working this night? It was on the site of the old prison.
I dropped the shovel and sighed. It was time. I turned. Seven men stood before me. Tatters for clothes, leather for skin. Skeletons, mostly, not unlike themselves as they were in life just before my great granddad murdered them. God, how they stunk. Gangrene. Rot. Diarrhea.
They stood in a phalanx. The Confederate in front looked into my eyes and told me to kill my great grandfather. He held out to me a knife.
“Slit his throat,” he said. “Slit his veins so that we can watch him die as he watched us. Refuse and you will be with us as we were, in sickness, in filth, in prison. Do it, or join us.”
I admit it. I vomited. The half-naked, half-skeletal apparitions and diarrhea stench were a little too much for me. I just wanted to feed some animals after all. The point Confederate nodded toward something behind me. I turned, knowing what I would see. Yep, great grandad. Dude was gagged and tied, standing there in his dirty Union uniform, and the son of a bitch looked just like me. That was the hell of it. Fucker looked just like me and his face was a mask of terror. He was shivering with fear and I had to kill the bastard or spend eternity in a war prison. Time to kill great granddad, I guess. I took the knife from that Confederate and walked behind my great granddad. I put my left arm around granddad’s chest and with my right hand I reached around his front and put the knife under his left ear. The knife wasn’t too terribly sharp, I guess, because it was like sawing a board. The blood was warm, almost hot. The animals were terrified. My granddad whimpered and dropped to his knees, the blood pouring onto the dirt floor. Thank God, he fell forward and died in a few seconds.
I threw the bloody knife at the feet of the head Confederate and said, “Why don’t you get the fuck out of here? Your stench makes me sick.”
“Why don’t you go home and fuck your Union pig mother in the ass,” he replied.
I had no retort for that. I wiped my sleeve across my pukey mouth, turned and left the barn, crunching through the hayfield while a Barred Owl called and a wispy cloud shrouded the moon. I got back to my back patio, stripped off my clothes, and went inside to shower off my ancestral blood. May my great grandfather and those Confederate fucks roast in hell.