‘Sides that, he didn’t have the eyes to be a murderin’ man. Back home I saw my fair share of hangins, and all them boys had one thing in common: their eyes. They could be standin’ up there scared shitless or laughin’ like some kinda goddamn maniac, but in all those eyes there was a hunger. It’s like someone gave ‘em a good taste of a steak and then took away all the cows. They’ve done somethin’ new that the rest of us jus’ don’t know about, and that hunger never leaves the eyes.
Miller boy didn’t have the eyes. Or the stomach, apparently. He was tied to the stake in the middle of the tent, and fresh bruises were soaking in a puddle of what appeared to be this mornin’s grits as he lay limp and shakin’.
I turned around to resume patrol, but found myself in the company of a fella named Hyde.
“Look at that sick sumbitch,” said Hyde as he spit Charleston Gold.
“What ‘bout him?” I asked.
“Story ‘round the camp is he killed a mama and her youngins. Blocked their door and burned their house down with ‘em inside,” said Hyde. “I don’t know why we jus’ ain’t shot him yet.”
Usually I’d rule such a story the result of too much whiskey mixed with the daily horrors of war, but it’s hard to deny a whole regiment saying they walked up on the boy in front of the ashes of the White Family farmhouse. The Harback Brothers said he came without a fuss, but they roughed him up anyway.
But the boy didn’t have the eyes. At least, not the murderin’ eyes. The wind folded the flap back and I saw the bastard lyin’ there covered in his own filth and whispering hysterically.
“If I was Sarge, we woulda cut his yella throat right there and given that mama’s spirit some justice,” whispered Hyde, with his own hunger burning bright in his one good eye.
“If you was Sarge, we might as well give Grant our swords now,” I said.
Inside the tent the boy sat up, his wrists bleeding from holding such unnatural positions. The flap closed again, and inside you could hear the boy strugglin’ against himself.
“All I know is I’m sleeping with Crenshaw’s fat ass snoring like a goddamn sawmill while this little cocksucker gets a whole tent to hisself,” said Hyde bitterly.
There was the problem. If he was so guilty, why hold up the whole march to camp here? Far as we knew, our orders were to get to Appomattox ASAP. Yet here we were for the third day in a row. Nah, somethin’ weren’t adding up with this boy. They shot John Berry on the spot when they caught him rapin’ that slave girl from the plantation back in Alabama, why would they keep a monster such as this alive? And isolated to boot.
Hyde’s voice dropped to a low whisper. “They say he’s been talkin’ nonsense about those poor youngins tryin’ to EAT ‘im. I think he’s got a devil inside his blood. You know his daddy was always-”
But Hyde never finished his gossip. All at once there was a scream and sickening crunch of bones snapping followed by an oppressive wave of silence. I made it to the flap first, my bayonet at ready. I tore open the door just in time to see the boy’s lifeless body crumpling unnaturally as his broken neck lolled between his arms and his restraints.
He had managed to hang himself. To this day, I can’t remember Hyde hollerin’. Or half the camp rushing the tent. But I’ll never forget the look in that Miller boy’s lifeless eyes. It definitely wasn’t murderin’.
It looked a lot more like terror.
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