Flames flickered, then flared brightly. Within minutes, the fire erupted, lighting up the interior of the handsome plantation. The moon slipped behind a bank of black clouds as if unable to face the inevitable destruction, while the growing inferno illuminated the night with a devilish hue.
Glaughtner’s bummers had already foraged through the deserted mansion. They’d discovered foodstuffs hidden in a root cellar and heaped them into an abandoned wagon they’d found in the barn. Hams and sweet potatoes were piled high along with greens, preserves, oil paintings, and bottles of wine. He felt sure the wine wouldn’t survive the thirty-mile journey to rendezvous with the rest of General Sherman’s troops.
He watched his men cheer as the fire sizzled and popped its way into the entry hall and dining room beyond. Rippling shadows sidled over the yard. Flames blossomed, sending out torrents of heat. Glaughtner’s face flushed, but he welcomed the warmth. The night had grown increasingly frigid, a light rain only adding to their misery. He pulled the dirty greatcoat tight around him. He was lucky to have the coat. Most of his men were outfitted in rags and an odd collection of garments they’d looted along the way on their march from Savannah.
He stood mesmerized, watching the flames consume curtains and furniture, the smoke billowing through shattered windows. Something exploded inside the house, sending fragments flying in all directions. Glaughtner stepped back several paces, unwilling or unable to turn his back on the conflagration. Not yet. Not before the first flames broke through the roof of the three-storied mansion.
When it finally did the small band of men cheered even louder. Some of them singing and dancing little jigs. Bottles of wine passed from hand to hand. It didn’t take them long to break into the spoils, he thought, but they had earned their rewards.
The wind shifted direction once again. Sparks and soot and pieces of burning debris floated on the night air. The acrid stench of smoke assaulted his senses. With a loud crackle, a nearby pine tree burst into flames, adding to the unholy spectacle.
Glaughtner remained fixed on what he’d created, his eyes glowing red in the reflected light of the fire. “Oh, Lord,” he murmured to himself. “Forgive me. I do love it so.” A rush of pleasure shot tendrils of heat through his body, warming his limbs, his very loins.
“Captain, the men are going to drink themselves to sleep if we don’t move on.”
The speaker was a sergeant from Illinois.
“You’re right, Sergeant. I think we’ve done more than enough damage here,” Glaughtner said.
The sergeant nodded in agreement. “These Carolina bastards won’t forget us for a long time, that’s for sure. We left our mark on them.”
Glaughtner gazed one last time at the burning house before turning away. He wondered if he’d ever feel the same excitement after the war ended. It occurred to him that he’d made it through three years of hell, and he’d be leaving this all behind to return to a world where men would be hung for some of the things he and his troops did every day. But Uncle Billy said war is hell, and Glaughtner and his men were there to bring hell to the Rebels.
Looking at the flames lighting the night sky, he realized he’d miss the primal urges the war had dredged up from the darkest places of his soul. That thought depressed him, but the fire, the fire is forever, he told himself. Doesn’t matter if I’m in Carolina or back home in Michigan. Somehow that made him feel even warmer.
He’d forgotten about the sergeant. “Gather the men, Sergeant.” He pulled the torn fragment of the map from inside his coat and squinted at it in the flickering light.
“Where are we bound this time?”
“Just another stump in the road before we move on to Columbia.” He stabbed a finger at the map. “Allendale. That’s where we’re to meet up with the General and the rest of our boys. We’ll camp there for a few days and then move on.”
“But not before putting it to the torch. Isn’t that right, Captain?” The sergeant grinned as though he’d made a great joke and was waiting for the captain’s laughter.
Glaughtner nodded slowly, inhaling the smoke-tinged air into his lungs. “That’s what they pay us for, Sergeant. Now, let’s ride. I think Uncle Billy will be proud of our work here tonight.”
Watch for the release of BRING DOWN THE FURIES, coming soon.