This novella, the impetus for my larger work Not One Among Them Whole, received honorable mention in The Seventeenth Edition of the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror (2003). It is an intense story of the deep wounds inflicted on the surgeons at a battlefield hospital as they labor endlessly over the wounded in a time before germ theory or antisepsis. Historically accurate, it depicts a world at once stunningly realistic and horribly wrought at the hands of brother against brother.
This powerful novella is both a Tale of the Bloody Scalpel & the impetus for The Gettysburg Trilogy.
A steep descent into the madness at the mangled intersection of war and surgery.
This novella, the impetus for my larger work Not One Among Them Whole, received honorable mention in The Seventeenth Edition of the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror (2003). It is an intense story—a surgical suspense—of the deep wounds inflicted on the surgeons at a battlefield hospital as they labor endlessly over the wounded in a time before germ theory or antisepsis.
For Joshua Bay, hell is twenty-four sleepless hours, every one of them scalpel in hand, standing under a cross in a nameless church atop a dusty hill after a pointless battle. For too many good men, this is where the world ends.
The surgeons in this place work at their unpleasant task with a fever matched only by the fervor of those that have inflicted their wounds. This camp of wounded is filled with men of both sides and the surgeons use these men, Johnny Reb and Billy Yank alike, making no distinction as to the color of a man’s uniform—the life-blood being all the same. The men wait their turn with an eerie patience, as if their fate has already been decided and it is the duty of those present in this time and place to carry it out. Arms and legs are parted from each in turn and the pile of disarticulated flesh grows at a hideous pace—eight or ten feet high. The men move on and off the tables with nary a word, except for the occasional groan that can’t be suppressed. Indeed, there is little to be said at such times, each participant in the drama knows his place and the universal language of blood speaks for all.
On this sleepless morning, Joshua Bay is the embodiment of exhaustion. The blood and sinew that soil his front apron are now a full day old, and he hasn’t had so much as a latrine break in hours. The muck on the altar floor is two parts blood, one part shit from exploded bowels, and one part tobacco juice; Bay spits frequently. The mothy taste of the chewed tobacco obscures the overwhelming stench of broken bodies and rotted flesh, allowing him to keep working in this seething hell.
Except for the ever present hum of flies (they are everywhere, a constant distress), it is mostly quiet; no sounds of battle breaking the dawn stillness, only an occasional random shot. Outside the church-turned-hospital, those who have survived the night await their turn at the surgeon’s table. They are a quieter lot now, having seen the two extremities of their fate in those that have gone before them.
They will live or die—it is beyond their making now…