SHELLEY K. DAVENPORT
SHELLEY K. DAVENPORT
[Editor's note: The battles of Emuckfaw and Enotachopo Creek (or Enotachopco Creek) were part of Andrew Jackson's campaign in the Creek War. They took place in January 1814, approximately 20–50 mi (32–80 km) northeast of Horseshoe Bend. - Wikipedia]
Elisha Massey had never wanted to go to war. He wanted to stay home, marry Bess, grow corn and teach his eventual grandsons how to whittle. None of this seemed very likely, now that he was waist deep in the frigid waters of a slippery Alabama stream, trying to keep his shot-to-pieces cousin from drowning while the Red Sticks handily slaughtered Jackson’s army in the mist.
He gave Caleb another hitch, trying to ignore the seven arrows protruding from his cousin’s body and muttering consolations like, “Just wait ‘til we get you upon the bank there,” and “I seen worse, I seen worse.”
But they were stuck in some kind of whirlpool, where the water flowed six ways at once, and he was freezing while Caleb bled into the icy clear water and bullets and arrows whizzed overhead and why was he here and not back milking cows and kissing Bess MacDuffie on the sly?
He wedged himself against a boulder, which protected him both from missiles and from slipping downstream. He caught a breather.
Then he saw it.
The Deer Man.
The ungodly Deer Thing standing beside an old oak tree. The Thing with antlers that stood upright, wearing a tatty green cloak. It didn’t seem much interested in the battle, the cannonball that bounced by it, or in the fact that it could walk on its hind legs.
It seemed interested in Elisha.
Elisha had seen ghosts, and witches, even a devil or two—he was from Tennessee, after all. He had the second sight from his Highlander granny. His uncle got possessed on the regular. But when the Deer Thing started moving towards him, he shrieked.
The Deer Thing stopped at water’s edge. It bent to sniff the dead face of a fallen soldier. Then it huffed and spat something into its hand.
It pressed that hairy hand on the soldier’s forehead before moving on. Something round and flat glinted there amid the blood.
“Caleb!” Elisha croaked, under the cannon fire and hollering. “We need to get out! There’s an accursed type of Thing over there, and I think it sees us—”
The accursed type of Thing turned its head and regarded him with dark, bulbous eyes. Elisha vividly remembered all the deer he had killed, dressed and eaten over his twenty years of life. Sweat stung his eyes; his bladder voided hotly.
The Deer Thing trotted back and forth on the bank, looking for a way across. Elisha couldn’t see what kind of feet it had, and didn’t like to speculate. It found a ford and bobbed unnaturally from stone to stone. On a rock in midstream it encountered another fallen soldier. Again it bent, sniffed. Then coughed something shiny and round from its throat into its horrible hand, then placed it firmly on the dead forehead.
Craning his neck, Elisha saw that it was a golden coin. That made sense. Of course the sixteen-point buck wearing a cloak that walked upright on its hind hooves would spit golden coins, and not mere silver or copper. He would have to remember that detail when he told the story round the fire. Purest gold. Fine, fine gold. Spanish gold, I reckon.
Reaching the bank, and coming across a pile of fallen boys from Kentucky, the Creature halted again. Steam blew from the quivering, wet nostrils. It bent, sniffed, lapped its tongue, and then vomited a flood of coins onto the intermixed limbs and battered faces. The coins gleamed as if freshly minted. The Thing took some time sticking the coins to bloodied foreheads and then straightened and looked at Elisha again.
Elisha wasn’t a given to swearing much, his mama’d whipped it out of him, but his mouth filled with a glut of obscenities when the Thing came to stand above him.
Their eyes met.
The Thing bared its teeth.
Since he had already wet himself and cried, Elisha’s only remaining course of action on seeing that was to faint like a girl. Which is what he did.
When he woke the sun was out and the battle was over. He couldn’t work out who had won, but he saw he was lying next to Caleb, and Caleb was dead with a golden coin pasted to his blue forehead.
Elisha sat up, unsticking himself from the mud. He was soaked with stream water, aching, but alive. Amid the boot and moccasin prints round him were large cloven hoof prints, but no Deer Thing.
Elisha looked to his right fist, clamped shut. Peeling his aching fingers open he found the coin. It was stamped with a tricky knotted pattern: a snake with a ram’s head, biting its own tail. A hoop snake, he thought. Turning it over, he found a human eye roughly etched into the gold. He touched his forehead, feeling where he had clawed the coin loose. Felt the torn flesh, clotted with blood.
His coin matched Caleb’s, and probably all the other ones too, though now he looked the gold pieces began to disappear, wisping away like nightmares in the sun. Elisha’s coin did not dissolve. It remained cold and solid in his hand.
Chancing a glance across the river he found the Deer creature standing in the oaks, watching him fixedly. Ears twitched up.
On stiff elbows, Elisha crawled back to the creek. He stopped at the edge of a pool, the water calmer than the faster flow beyond. The sun dazzled on the surface, made a shivering path of gold. The deer cocked its antlered head.
Elisha raised himself to his trembling knees, braced himself with one hand on a stump, and took a breath.
“I don’t want it, you…you infernal thing! And I won’t take it!”
He threw the coin hard, saw it flutter downward, sink slowly to the sandy bottom. There it settled, rested like a bright eye, and winked out of sight. When Elisha lifted his head woods were empty again. But they wouldn’t be for long. They never were.
“Purest Spanish gold,” he muttered, climbing to his feet. Groaning, he picked up Caleb out of the mud and slung him over his shoulders.
He was going home to marry Bess.
Army and Dear Things be hanged.
Shelley K. Davenport lives and writes in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with her husband and two children, and is at work on both a flash fiction story collection and a full-length gothic novel. She has had one ghost story published by Everyday Fiction.