Deeper South

Summary: Dr. Norbert Norville was a doctor during the American Civil War, and a covert supporter of the Underground Railroad before. When murderous Klansmen invade his home, he has a few secrets to even the odds.

Every Southern manor has a few bodies in the basement, although mine is more than metaphorical. I do not regret what I have done, although I sometimes wish for chances to so personally resolve my disputes. As a Republican and abolitionist, I have already accepted my life will never be without risk, though the War Between the States has ended.

My family came from old money and old blood, which we'd always remind our guests. Before Sherman's March to the Sea, our manse was as grand as our neighbors. To my shame, we owned slaves, but they were our confidantes, conductors on the Underground Railroad. Our fa├žade of slavery, of owning another human, was camouflage for our crime of ushering people north to freedom.

My father, God rest his soul, was no saint. His conversion to the abolitionist cause was not out of sympathy to the Negros, but rather, spite to our neighbors. I was never entirely sure what started it, but it was some minor land dispute, some breach of "honor," or similar poppycock. Our family fortune started with cotton, but as my father grew ever-more daring with his support of the Underground Railroad, we invested and diversified. From Northern mills to finance, our family abandoned King Cotton, and all his degenerate courtiers.

I was studying medicine when my father fully converted the tunnels beneath the manor. We filled them with secret doors and false exits, so that any unwanted interloper would not find their way in. Or, for that matter, out. I stocked it well with medical supplies and tools, so that I could treat any fugitive slaves requiring a physician's hand. I sometimes considered what harm a surgeon could do with my tools, which were not too distant from those used by butchers or carpenters. Despite this, I treated my share of patients, regardless of skin color or legality.

It was during the war my own moral sensibilities were numbed. I saw too many young men, and sometimes, young women in men's garb, die for King Cotton. I volunteered in the Confederate Army as a physician, since to do otherwise would have drawn excessive suspicion on my family and our other activities. The senseless waste of life, the screaming boys vanishing in clouds of grapeshot, hardened my hatred of the soulless men who sent them.

My mansion escaped Sherman's torch only due to the intervention of our domestic servants. They vouched for our activities, and we offered to turn our property into a field hospital for Union casualties. While Sherman was right impressed, he already had a superior location in mind. It was that action that cemented my neighbors' ire of me, during the chaotic years of Reconstruction.

While the ambitious made their way west, the vengeful dug in like biting ticks. The Klu Klux Klan, the White League, the Redshirts, and similar groups formed, eager to lash out in all directions. It was a month after I'd read of the Colfax massacre that my local enemies decided to try something similar. Freed blacks, Republicans, abolitionists, and any who did not speak in favor of the Klan had to go about their business armed, lest they end up in an early grave.

After the war, my siblings moved towards less blighted areas. I made enough from my investments to ensure a comfortable life, but I knew it was only a matter of time before my local enemies moved against me. Underneath a full moon, a half-dozen Klansmen came for me. I took my trusty revolver, my Colt Navy, and I descended into the basement. I left the door open behind me, the one that led deep into the tunnels. They charged in like rats into a trap. They never noticed the door slamming shut behind them.

I saw them from a narrow viewing slit in the wall. I fired my revolver until I was empty, filling the nearest hoodlum with lead. The lantern he held plunged to the floor, depriving the group of light. Now, those shot in the War were twice as likely to die of agonizing infection than gunshots, but I needed something faster than their well-deserved excruciating ends. They returned fire blindly in that darkened stairwell, striking nothing but the plaster and stone on the walls. They were terrified and alone, but still well armed. Thus, I could not risk a direct attack.

I knew those tunnels like the back of my hand, so the darkness was my ally. Together, we would extinguish these hooligans of the burning cross. I moved to a level above them, where I prepared my next snare. I heard them blunder through the blackened corridor, and I dropped a net onto the mass of them. They shouted and thrashed like a fisherman's jackpot, firing wildly into the walls. I pulled the net back up, seeing two still entrapped within it. The first was dead, shot in the face by his over-excited comrades. The second, though, was bloodied but still alive. With undue excitement, I dragged him into my old surgical chamber.

The surgical chamber was designed to be soundproof, as best we could. I did not always have alcohol or chloroform to anesthetize my patients, so I tried to be expedient and efficient with my surgery. This time, I took my time. I drew my osteotome, a hand-cranked chainsaw used to cut bone, and I tried to remove as much flesh as I could while keeping him alive. I ensured his screams echoed through the entire complex of tunnels.

I was not entirely heartless. I wanted to give my guests their friend back. They blundered about in my labyrinthine complex, only slowly becoming aware they were trapped within. I waited for them to wander below another hatch, and I dropped the still-living, barely recognizable body down on the Klansmen. His flayed body was illuminated in the mad strobe of gunfire that followed. It took them a moment to realize they'd killed him, though I ensured he'd been mortally injured.

It was with perverse pride I savored their terror. I knew of their lynchings, their murders, and their midnight rides. It was with a long-suppressed sadism that I watched them die like vermin in my maze. There were three left, and I was not yet done. The best was yet to come.

It was with another murder-hole in the wall that I delivered my next attack. I took my father's shotgun, with which he'd ended slave-catchers and bounty-hunters, and loaded it with broken glass and buckshot. Once they were at point blank range, I gave them both barrels. The weapon thundered like a cannon in those close quarters, deafening me. When the smoke cleared, none of them were standing. Cautiously, I watched for breathing.

Much to my surprise, one was still breathing. The broken glass was undoubtedly traveling through his bloodstream, preventing his wounds from closing. Like a thousand tiny knives, he was being ripped apart from within. I regretted that he would not survive long enough for the wounds to become infected. That would have been an agonizing death worthy of a Klansman.

Nevertheless, I have not had to use my talents in such a way since. I have cleaned up all traces of that fateful night, where the authorities on this Earth will never find them. The Klan has not tried again, since those intruders in my house were its local leaders. Part of me is content I have not sullied my hands with blood in such a way, for I can turn my hands to saving lives, rather than ending them.

Yet every desire has its evil twin. I know I am capable of great terror, great violence, and great horror. Doctors in the future will look back upon the savage medicine of this era, and rightly judge us as barbarians. I consider that perhaps such treatment need not be constrained to the medical realm. I remembered those mangled boys who had their gangrenous arms hacked off, lest the rot infest the rest of the body. Those men, I believe, were social gangrene. Alas, they are still too common.

I wonder if there is not more I can do. After all, my cellar has plenty more room.