“Let them talk.” Catherine waved me off. “Let them all think I’m an ageless witch or a demon temptress. It doesn’t matter. I won’t leave. It’s not right for me to give up this land, not with Elise still here.”
“You will take care of her, won’t you?” I asked.
“I always have.”
I left Catherine in charge of you, once again. Maybe I should’ve stayed on with her, kept the land for you. But I don’t think I stood a chance of surviving in that house, surrounded by all those memories. I had to leave it all behind, if I wanted to stay with Ezra.
I still don’t know what I’ll do without you. But I will go on.
All my love, always and forever,
June 20, 1864
It was Ezra’s idea to join this war, but I don’t disagree with the decision. He thought it would do me well to fight for something instead of sitting sullenly in the apartment. He was an avid supporter of the cause before convincing me to fight with him, and he would’ve taken to arms even if you were still with us.
Most of the soldiers here are fighting over land, even the ones on the Union side, but Ezra’s always been an abolitionist at heart. He spent almost a century as a slave, and though he speaks very little of it, I know it haunts him still.
He does an amazing job of rallying the troops. In the mornings, when we rise for battle, he gives elegant speeches about the evils of other men and what we must do to defend good. They fight valiantly for him, and we’ve done well because of it.
So much of our work takes place during the day, and that has been a struggle for Ezra and me. Eating is also difficult, at least when we’re not among the enemy. The time spent in the sunlight requires us to eat more to stay in control of ourselves. Ezra has been alternating between several of the nurses that are caring for the injured soldiers, but he doesn’t want to weaken them too much.
I prefer waiting until we find Confederate soldiers. Sometimes, that means I will travel at night alone, away from our base, until I come upon someone that I don’t mind gravely weakening. I don’t kill them – not unless we are doing battle, and then I only use my gun. Drinking blood until death has never sat well with me, and it reminds me too much of the time spent in Ireland.
The one good thing about the war is that we are all alone here. Every man here – boy, really, since most are hardly more than children – has left his family, his wife at home. For most, this is the first time they’ve spent away from their home.
When I am with them, I can pretend that you too are left at home, waiting by the window for my return. We can commiserate about our homesickness, and I feel something close to human. Something closer than I have since you were alive.
Last night, as I tried to settle in my blankets to sleep, Ezra came in. He was fresh from eating, full of life, and he lay down in his bed near me. The camp had gone silent, but sleep never comes easy for me at night.
“I heard you talking to the soldiers,” Ezra said, his voice low so anyone nearby wouldn’t be able to hear. I had my back to him, and I didn’t respond. “You were speaking of Elise.”
“Am I not allowed to?” I asked, tensing already.
“You talk of her as if she is alive,” Ezra said, avoiding answering my question.
“I speak of her however I would like.” I pulled the blanket up more around me, even though it was warm inside the tent. “She is my wife. It is my right.”
“I’m not arguing that.” He paused, exhaling deeply. “I am only worried for you.”
“How is that anything to worry about?” I asked. “We are in the middle of the war, but words I choose to use to describe my wife are your concern?”
“This war is temporary,” Ezra said. “We are not.”
“Just because we are still here doesn’t mean we always will be,” I reminded him.
“Peter.” The blankets rustled next to me, so I knew that Ezra had sat up. “I don’t want you to get caught up in the stories you tell the other soldiers.”
“I know the difference between fact and fiction,” I snapped.
“Do you?” Ezra asked, his words gentle. “You still write to her at least once a week.”
I’d been trying to keep these letters secret from him, but Ezra sees everything. He has a way of knowing things I haven’t even uttered. Sometimes, when I’m thinking of you, he looks at me, and there’s something in his eyes, and he knows I’m thinking of you.
“What would you have me do?” I asked as I sat up. I tried to keep my voice low so others wouldn’t hear, but my irritation made it hard for me to keep quiet. “Would have me pretend she never existed?”
“Of course not.” Ezra looked appalled in the darkness of our tent. “I’m not asking you to forget her. But she’s been gone for over a year, Peter, and you still talk to her. I here you whispering her name all the time.”
“So what?” I asked, but my cheeks reddened with shame. “What if I talk to Elise? What if I pretend that she’s still here? What does it matter?”
“You have to heal. You have to get past this,” Ezra said. “I lost my wife and children a long time ago, and I know how terrible this pain is. You should mourn the ones you love, remember them, but move on with your life.”
“What life?” I hissed. “I’m the undead.” I sighed and shook my head. “I am only here for you, Ezra. I am alive because you want me to be. If I must live in my delusions to stay here, then so be it. Do not ask anymore of me. I cannot give it.”