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Horror Fiction – Cannon forged of Chains

31 October, 2018

Athens, State of Georgia
12 November, 1891

Dear Hannah,

It is done, I will be on the next train back to you. I cannot say I will be sad to be leaving the South, it is not welcoming to a man of my temperaments.

When last I wrote, our local agent, Jon Butler, and I were close on the heels of an artefact tied to the men behind the Order of the White Sword. Using the cache of letters of one Augustus Bartholomew as a guide to trace what had become of the ingots of tainted iron, iron rendered from the chains of slaves, but not any slave chains -as if slave chains are not evil enough- but the chains used to transport escaped slaves back for execution. Anything made from the iron would be at best cursed and at worst, a weapon for evil.

The war was a chaotic time, so much of the paperwork and records of the period were lost. This made tracking the iron into difficult task if not impossible. Records in Atlanta where useless but they set us onto a collection of papers in Athens at the University of Georgia library. There a scrap of information indicated that the iron had been shipped to Athens for use by John Gilleland, to cast a double-barreled cannon. Nothing in our research showed that Gilleland, who designed the cannon, knew the source of the metal used but someone was working with or for the Dark insured that it was the iron used.

Double Barreled CannonThe cannon and reports on it were not difficult to find. It was our good luck that the cannon was still here in Athens. Silver powder applied surreptitiously to the cannon tarnished instantly. It was truly cursed, the souls of the murdered slaves were still bound into the metal shown by the black green of the silver. Mr. Butler believed that is why the cannon failed so spectacularly when it was tested, the angry spirits would not let it be turned against those that were trying to free them. But someone knew what had been created. Why they did not finish binding the spirits to the cannon, indeed, even who was behind it, we could not discover. Mr. Butler believed he was a Confederate officer who was called away and killed before he could complete the magic. It seemed plausible but I doubt we will never know.

Acquiring the cannon proved much easier than what came next, we simply hitched two horses to the carriage and rode off with it under cover of night. Who would expect a cannon to be stolen after all. We had prepared a location outside of town. There we placed the cannon inside of a warded circle and that was within a circle of salt for additional protection. Mr. Butler was quite nervous, while he was part of the Society and had studied the rituals, this would be his first time directly dealing with the Dark.

I let him take the lead in the ritual, as Mr. Butler was the child of freed slaves I hoped the trapped souls would have more sympathy for him if something went wrong. Such precaution proved well founded. The early stages of the ritual, the prayers for the dead, the summoning of protection, all followed form. Mr. Butler was a good student with a strong voice. The problems began when the freeing of the souls began.

The first came free easily enough, the first we saw of it was a ghostly hand emerging from the right barrel and then slowly, the spectral form of a young woman, her wrists and ankles cut from shackles pulled herself free. She looked around in wonder and then ascended in a flash of golden light. Mr. Butler almost faltered in his chant and I could see the tears steaming down his face.

The second and third soul, both of young men, ascended without issue though the second one seemed anxious. Then, then it went wrong, crawling out from right barrel came a crazed looking man in a Confederate uniform that seemed charred at the edges. Mr. Butler paused, I grabbed his shoulder, “Keep chanting.” The bound soldier struck at a hand emerging from the other barrel and then charged at us. Salt scattered and the ward flared but both held. He hammered at the magic, causing sounds beyond hearing to claw at our ears. Behind him, the souls crept out of both barrels clustering around the cannon afraid of this enraged spirit of the sort of man that terrified them in life.

His rage at us manifested in a red sword which left bleeding cuts in the air and the wards were in danger of failing. It was time to act, I drew a silver sword from my case and stepped forward. I saluted him and said a prayer. For a moment, his attention was on the sword and I stepped forward and lunged, runniung him through. The silver of the blade tarnishing black as it slide into the spirit. He seemed to fold around it, grasping feebly at the metal. With a flash of pure light the other spirits ascended. But the soldier was still there, still trapped. The diminished spirit staggered back to the cannon and crawled back inside, mouthing curses as it did so.

I dropped the sword and Mr. Butler fell to his knees, exhausted. We painted the cannon with symbol in oil and buried it as best we could. The last spirit would not leave and would be a continuing threat. We did not have the ability to destroy the cannon or the spirit and could only hope that it would not be found again.

We left each other’s company at the train station. His home was here in Georgia and I did not envy him it but I gave him my thanks.

With luck, this letter should not arrive much before I.

Sincerely,


This is the full story, an edited version cut down to 750 words was submitted for a horror fiction contest some years ago to a local alt weekly (where it was not used).  It centers around the double barreled cannon on display here in Athens, GA, which did in fact go missing in 1891 and was not recovered until ten years later.  It is my Halloween gift to you.

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