by Ben Prescott
The three of us made a run for it before
the Yankee cavalry charge, and had we waited another minute I have no doubt we’d be lying in that blood-soaked field
with all those other fools. I don’t feel bad about running. Hell, I was just trying to save my own skin. I had already
served the South for over a year, and lost an ear in the process. I wasn’t leaving my life in the hands of the incompetent
any longer. We knew it’d be risky, though; they’d been sending deserters to the firing squad. But even that sorry
fate beat serving in the Rebel army any longer.
As soon as the Northern artillery began
firing we took off towards the woods. The shells were exploding all around us and for a moment I thought maybe the Lord had
it in for us, but we made it to the woods intact. Later on Earl told me he shit his pants. He never did get used to the chaos
of the war.
From the cover of the trees we watched the
slaughter. After the shelling ended the North sent in their cavalry and the men started to fall back but they ended up getting
shot in the back or sliced down by the sabers.
We turned our backs on the screams of the
dying and headed deeper into the forest.
We were so eager to get as far as possible
away from whatever remained of our old regiment that we walked all through the night. In the morning we rested and Earl started
to complain that his arm was bothering him and upon inspection it turned out there was a small piece of shrapnel lodged just
below his elbow. He must have been so scared during the shelling that he never felt it hit him. He asked if either Dickie
or I had a knife so I handed him my Jim Bowie. He took a deep breath and stuck the tip of the blade into the wound and gave
it a twist and the shrapnel popped out with a squishy sucking sound and the hole started to bleed. Earl cut a strip of cloth
off his ratty old jacket and tied it around the wound and handed me back my knife.
While we were getting ready to move out
Dickie started complaining that he needed to eat, and I noticed that my own stomach was churning restlessly. We looked around
for something to eat but found nothing, so we just marched on.
After we had gone a ways Earl started to
fall behind and said that if the pain in his arm got any worse he was going to have to stop. He rolled up his sleeve and the
wound beneath was a putrid knot of flesh, and when Earl saw that he started to retch and shake. Dickie said that if we were
back with the regiment they would take the arm, and when Earl heard that he started to panic and said that he could keep up
with us but Dickie and I both knew that wasn’t true. Earl realized that he was on the verge of being left behind so
he agreed to have one of us take the arm.
Earl lay down on the ground and bit down
on a stick. Dickie was heavier than me so he was going to hold Earl back and I was going to take the arm. I wasn’t no
surgeon but my knife was plenty sharp and I had seen more than my share of limbs hacked off.
I unsheathed the knife and knelt down next
to Earl’s quivering body. I grabbed hold of his wrist with one hand then slashed a deep cut into the underside of his
elbow. Hot blood started pouring out and Earl started thrashing madly. I slashed twice more and heard the stick cracking between
Earl’s teeth and gave the arm a yank and it came loose with a tremendous ripping noise. For a moment I stared down at
the severed arm in my grasp, then tossed it aside; it landed in the dirt a few feet away with a muted thud.
Earl had spit the stick out and was shrieking
while Dickie bound the fresh stump with strips of cloth cut from Earl’s pants, which were quickly sodden with blood.
While Earl rested Dickie and I went searching
for food, but once again came up empty handed. It seamed as if there wasn’t a single form of sustenance in that entire
One the way back we stumbled upon Earl’s
severed arm lying in the dirt. The insects had already set upon it, feasting noisily. Earl was lying cool and still in the
shade beneath a tree, and both Dickie and I had seen enough corpses to know that he was dead. We briefly discussed burying
him in a shallow grave, but neither of us had the strength. Fatigue had turned us into pale, weary rag dolls. The hunger was
the most terrible sensation in my life, as if a hole were slowly being bored through my gut.
Sheer desperation pushed us on all the way
through the night. By then I was certain that we would have made it out of the woods, but they sprawled on endlessly.
I found myself kicking over a log, then
trying to grab the insects underneath and stuff them into my mouth, but they all scuttled away and I started blubbering and
clawing at the dirt. Dickie hauled me to my feet and yelled for me to get a hold of myself but I was delirious. He started
slapping me and didn’t stop till I passed out.
When I awoke Dickie was gone. I couldn’t
think much about it, though. I knew that if I didn’t eat something soon I would be a dead man.
I found myself thinking back on Earl’s
Then I knew what had to be done if I truly
wanted to survive. I had tried grabbing them before, but they were too fast. What I needed to do was lure them close and trap
I unsheathed my knife and started sawing
the blade back and forth across the top of my only ear. After just a few seconds blood started dripping down the side of my
head and neck and the ear fell to the ground. I crouched down next to it and waited.
It didn’t take long for them to come.
As soon as they had blanketed the ear in a squirming mass I snatched the ear off the ground, shoved it into my mouth, and
began to chew voraciously. The ear itself was tough and bitter and provided no nourishment, but as the insects crunched and
popped between my teeth I began to feel revitalized like never before. As I swallowed the last wriggling remnants, tears rolled
down my cheeks and I knew that I had been
Copyright Ben Prescott 2006