Private Beauregard S. Gillette was looking forward to tonight. He could feel in his shoulder that rain was a’comin’. He licked his lips in anticipation. He liked dark and stormy nights. It felt like tonight was going to deliver. He sat in a straight back chair by an upstairs window, waiting; and remembered his death.
Beau had been dead since just before Christmas in 18 and 64 when Bill Sherman got to Savannah. Beau’s unit had been called out to defend the perimeter. He had gone along with the rest. He had died there. He was crouched next to the road, pistol in hand; a grand old house stood just the other side of the road. Some of its outbuildings were burning but the main house was intact. The first wave of Yankees had just gone through. The ground was littered with corpses but he knew there would be more. He now had enemy soldiers behind him and in front of him. He waited, and never saw it coming. There was nothing heroic or noteworthy about his death. The mini-ball struck him in the neck and went all the way through. The shock of getting hit dropped him to his butt. Less than a minute later he fell again, onto his back. Closing his eyes he felt his life ebb while his heart pumped blood onto the green grass and weeds at the verge of the road.
Next thing Beau knew he was inside the house across the road from where he had been killed. It was crowded that night, filled with lost souls, just like him. They were the spirits of men who had died fighting in the surrounding countryside. There were no uniforms. No way to tell who your enemies were. He noticed that strangely, without uniforms, they all looked alike. At that moment he realized that it hadn’t been the men he had hated – it had been the uniforms. He hung his head, lamenting that he had given his life for something as stupid as the hatred of another man’s clothes.
No one ever came back to the old house, no one living anyway. More spirits arrived with the second wave of Sherman’s men. Although the house had been lousy with ghosts when Beau arrived it seemed perfectly capable of accepting these newcomers as well. Card games broke out, someone had a mouth harp so there was music, some men just sat and cried. They swapped stories about their lives before the war. Some spoke of families, wives and children, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sweethearts. Some spoke of lands, or wealth, or jobs, or plans that would never be realized. They spoke of home and what they missed, what they would miss.
Beau tried to leave the house. He was from Savannah and he wanted to go see how the city had fared. He wanted to check on his young bride, but he couldn’t leave. None of them could. It seemed that they were imprisoned in this old antebellum manse.
He noticed, though, that some of them must have been finding their way out of the house. He became self obsessed, thinking only of himself. There was no team here, no band of brothers, it was every man for himself, but there was no animosity. They simply inhabited the same space and cared not a whit for one another. He had no way to measure time. No sundial, no watch, no calendar to be had. He figured it had been about a year when he noticed that their ranks had dwindled. Almost half of the spirits had found a way out. He began to watch and search. He wanted out. Meanwhile, their numbers continued to decrease. Today there were only two. Him, and James Wilson Scott, an old man from Pennsylvania who sported large grey mutton chops. Mr. Scott sat on the floor in a corner all day mewling. Beau ignored him most of the time.
The old house wasn’t going to last much longer, Beau knew. Storms, high water, relentless sunshine, and neglect were taking their toll on his prison. He was hoping the storm tonight would finish the old mansion off. He hoped that when the house was gone he would be free to go.
With the sunset came a breeze and clouds began to roll in from the east. Beau danced a little jig when the first drops of rain began to fall. The wind picked up and the rain began pelting. Oh, yes, indeed. It was, in fact, a dark and stormy night. He figured it was a hurricane coming in from the Atlantic. A direct hit from a hurricane should be just what they needed to take this old house down. He sat in the window and watched the storm unleash its fury. At the peak of the storm he felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Mr. Scott and he looked lucid.
“This could be the one,” Scott yelled over the wind and Beau nodded his head in agreement.
When the house went it was sudden – one minute it was there, the next it was not.