Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Things Which Go Bump in the Night


By late afternoon the Mohicans had not returned to the fort. Lieutenant Jefferson wasn't all that worried. When night fell and another dawn had arrived, Jefferson was beginning to be concerned, but still not particularly worried.

"They may have had hunting or scouting parties out and decided to wait for them to return to camp. As you might know, many of the inhabitants of this region are reluctant to travel at night." Jefferson explained to Captain Jenkins.

"Well, you know them far better than I Leftenant, I still think it odd they didn't send word. How many men were in your war party?" Jenkins was worried. His experiences in the wilderness so far had given him good cause to be worried.

"Thirty three warriors, Captain. All stout fellows, I daresay they wouldn't be worried about the Abenaki."

That gave Jenkins pause, not worried about the Abenaki? He'd seen them in action against his own troops. He thought back to the fight in the forest, by his estimate and the accounts of his men, they had to have been facing over two hundred warriors that day. Certainly they had killed a number of them, but even if they'd only killed half of them, "only" he thought, shaking his head, that still left a hundred Abenaki warriors out there.

"By what I observed on our trek here Leftenant, there is a very large Abenaki war party out there, unless they've dispersed, I don't give your Mohicans much of a chance."

"Pshaw, Standing Wolf's warriors are more than a match for any ragtag band of Abenaki." Jefferson scoffed.

Standing Wolf might have agreed with the English lieutenant had his circumstances not been what they were. His sub-chief Screaming Bear had sent a scouting party out to ensure the surrounding area was clear of enemies, three very good men who could move like spirits through the trees. As the sun began to go down, they had not returned.

Shortly before dark, as the warriors stoked the watch fires, a hideous war cry had sounded from the forest nearby. This was followed by a heavy thump on the fringe of the camp as an object was thrown into the camp in a deerskin satchel.

One of the warriors went to retrieve the satchel.

"Hold!" Standing Wolf had commanded. He gestured at the shaman, Heron Man, to check the satchel. As soon as he did so, the shaman began a chant meant to ward off evil spirits. Standing Wolf's fears of what was in the bag were confirmed.

"It is the head of Blind Sparrow," the shaman whispered to the war chief.

Standing Wolf nodded then said to Screaming Bear, "Our scouts are in the spirit world now, the Abenaki are here."

Sleeping Panther led a party of select warriors, they had spent two days with the shaman ministering to them. Each of the fifteen warriors with him wore an amulet prepared by the shaman.

"This will protect you from the night spirits, they will think you are one of them. But do not go into the light of a campfire. If you are seen by the Mohican in the light, your protection will be no good."

Sleeping Panther, a practical man, thought it unlikely that they'd be invisible to the Mohican. But the scouting party they had ambushed had never seen them until it was far too late. The three Mohicans had died silently, cut down by war clubs and tomahawks before they could utter a sound. While he didn't lend the shaman's magic that much credence, his men apparently did.

Hook Nose had suggested cutting off the head of one of the scouts and throwing it into the Mohican camp just before last light. Sleeping Panther had thought that overly dramatic, but his warriors had proclaimed that to be a grand idea. So he had nodded, letting Hook Nose do the deed.

Seeing the Mohicans' reaction at discovering the head of one of their scouts seemed to justify Hook Nose's idea. Most of their young warriors had looked around at the surrounding forest with something like terror written on their young faces.

"Heron Man," Standing Wolf had hissed at the shaman, "do something to calm the men. You know this is not magic, it is just some Abenaki trickery."

Heron Man's eyes glittered in the firelight, he knew this moment could make or break him as a shaman. There was much prestige to be gained here. He was young and considered by some of the older men to be too inexperienced to be a shaman. Yet he had become a shaman in spite of their doubts. Now was his moment to show them to be wrong.

He reached into his medicine bag and found what he wanted, a rattle made of bone. He stood up and strode into the center of the encampment, the firelight made his shadow dance around him. He raised the rattle over his head and began to chant. Before he had gotten far into the chant, an arrow thumped into his chest. He looked down at the arrow in amazement, then he crumpled to the ground, dead.

The Mohicans looked aghast at the corpse of the shaman The man had fallen to the ground, arched his back and then had died with a rattling hiss on his lips. Then a deep and powerful voice had issued from the nearby forest...

"We, the spirits of this place, spit on your magic! Your shaman has no power here, now he lies in the dirt, dead, soon to become worm food! Soon you shall all die! Prepare yourselves!"

Twenty-two of the Mohican survived the first Abenaki attack which consisted of volleys of arrows coming from the forest, from every direction save one. Standing Wolf recognized what the Abenaki scheme was, drive the Mohicans to the only place arrows had not come from, then ambush those men.

He groaned in frustration as he saw a party of his men do exactly that, break for what seemed like a path to safety. Screaming Bear led them.

"Screaming Bear, stop! It is a ruse!" Standing Wolf called to his boyhood friend. But it was too late, those men made it into the darkness. Only to die there. Their dying screams echoed in the night.

"Sir! Men coming in!" Private Henry Copeland yelled down to Corporal Alan Barnes. While the sun hadn't come up yet, it was light enough to make out men moving in the half-light.

Barnes ordered the drummer to beat the assembly, he had noticed how nervous the officers had been at dusk. Something was amiss.

Standing Wolf was beginning to limp badly, the Abenaki arrow protruding from his thigh had moved while he had led his survivors through the forest and to the English fort. It had cut more deeply into his flesh, the blood beginning to flow anew from the tight wrapping he had placed around the injury.

"Quickly, the demons are behind us still!" One of the men urged.

Another arrow came from the darkness. Little Fish grunted and fell to the ground, the arrow had nicked his spine, crippling him. As much as Standing Wolf wanted to help the man, he knew that it would be the death of his small band.

Standing Wolf gritted his teeth, both against the pain in his wounded leg and against the screams of Little Fish as the Abenaki found the injured man and finished him.

Will Jefferson had somehow recognized his friend Standing Wolf, he realized that the man was badly injured. When he heard the screams he yelled at the men next to the gate, "Open the goddamned gate! Those are my men out there!"

"Hold there! Do NOT open that bloody gate!" Captain Samuel Jenkins immediately countermanded the order of the Guards lieutenant.

Jefferson turned and cried out, "Sir, those are my men, something is wrong for them to be out there at night!"

Then Jenkins heard what he had been waiting for. "Ramparts are manned Sir! Six men coming in! Look like the leftenant's people!" The voice of his sergeant major assured Jenkins that things were somewhat under control.

"Very well, Corporal Barnes get that gate open! Sarn't Major, you may fire upon anyone chasing those men!"

Sleeping Panther stopped the pursuit when he saw the bulk of the fort looming in the pre-dawn gloom. "We have done enough this night. The Mohican are neutralized and the soldiers are in a trap. Back to the Mohican camp, we shall take our trophies and return to my father's camp."

One man boldly moved closer to the fort and raised his bloody tomahawk on high. His war cry was cut short as a volley from the English cut him down.

"Fool!" Sleeping Panther hissed at the darkness of the forest, "A useless death."

"Just the one man Sarn't Major?" Captain Jenkins asked as the Mohican survivors were ushered into the stockade and the gate closed and barred behind them.

"There were more back in the shadows. I think that chap was showing off for his mates. One of the lads fired, without command, and the other lads followed suit. Cut that fellow down it did. I've let the lads know not to do that again." Sergeant Major Jacobs had explained, he was still perturbed at his loss of control of the men. They needed more training he realized.

"It's all right Sarn't Major. Relieve the watch on the rampart, have those men get some rest. I think we're in for a siege."

"Very good Sir."

Link to all of the Chant's fiction.


  1. Poor Molly! Just going from one doomed expedition to the next.

    Bears don't scream, thinks I. Of all the many sounds they make, that one seems an odd fit.

    Things that go bump in the night seems to have a more historical ring to it, but maybe that's just me.

    Bloody start to my day. Kinda fits my mood, as I head out to the salt mine.

    Thanks fer the adventure, Sarge!

    1. I'm sure there's a story behind Screaming Bear's name.

    2. Oh, Bears scream, trust me. Usually when someone cuts us off in traffic.

    3. I stand corrected, by a bear. How humbling!

    4. Or he's the local version of the boy who cried wolf.

      Remember the rule of callsigns. The more you hate it, and the more it's totally true, the harder it sticks!

    5. We should start calling Patrick D "Corrected By A Bear."

  2. Perhaps the whittling down of "his" Indians will temper the attitude of the Guards Leftenant....looks to be a bad ending for the fort's occupants. Is that Muse of yours Sarge holding a sickle?

    1. Jefferson's not a bad fellow, just a bit lofty in his attitude, which was typical of Guard's officers then and later.

    2. And cautious. Which, on the Frontier, was a good thing to be.

    3. Caution is a good way to stay alive.

  3. Jefferson has rather badly underestimated the forces ranged against his warriors. An unfortunate accident for someone who has actually been out in the wilderness. A rather unfortunate costly mistake, in this case.

    I forget sometimes how silent the world must have been before the European Settlers arrived: vast stretches of wilderness of just natural noises, with settlements only here or there, not everywhere.

    1. He did rather step in it. Overestimated his own force's abilities and underestimated the capabilities of his enemies. Not an uncommon error in the military.

      The "silence" of the wilderness is inspiring. Bird noises, wee beasties burrowing in the ground, the cicadas...

      Well, the cicadas aren't quiet at all are they?

    2. Cicadas. The noisy brothers of mosquitos in that they omnipresent in a lot of the world - except they do not bite.

      To those like myself that did not grow up with them, they are definitely a presence to adjust to.

    3. The background whirring and droning gets a bit nerve racking until you get "used to it."

    4. Memories from my youth...Hot, steamy, still summer days, when there were always cicadas vibrating somewhere off in the distance.

  4. So, what happened to Molly?

    1. Somebody is paying attention. That's the subject of the next episode. She's not in the fort, so where is she?

    2. Damn, I missed that one! She must not have accompanied Jefferson to the fort....but I seem to have just assumed that she had. Must be the long hot summer days dulling my whits.

      Not surprising I guess, that it was a Retired cop who picked up on that missing piece of the puzzle.

    3. Ok, a day later I have my answer! Sarge, please continue this series. My first read of the day. Much better than any of the current events (they mostly don't qualify as news) on the boobtube.

    4. Thanks!

      Yes, I agree on the current events thing.

  5. Now honestly, when one types, " The Mohicans were definitely visited by ghoulies!", one would think spellchecker would not change Mohican to Minivan.

  6. Ah, good to open The Chant and see everyone here. Yesterday was spooky, wasn't it?

    Spooky like the woods when it's disturbed, as a quiet woods with all things hunkered down is worse than a noisy woods of bumps, calls, chirps, slithers (or whatever noises worms and snakes make) and other noises.

    The stupid man fears the noisy woods. The experienced and smart man fears the quiet.

    Good story, as usual, as your talents for telling a tale have always been good but over the last few years have reached superb heights. Lex would be happy. I'm sure he's reading over your shoulder and smiling.

    1. That last paragraph brought a wee tear to the Old Sarge's eye...


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