The sign said, Abandon all yer hope, and the shack behind it said the same thing. The place was a simple timber frame with a dirt-packed floor and a plank porch. It was shaggy but sturdy, and looked abandoned, like a place of refuge rather than a home.
He heard piano music spill out the doorway,
Twas early day as poets say, just when the sun was rising,
A soldier stood on a log of wood and saw a sight surprising
but the tempo was wrong. It was rushed, more barrelhouse than sober, and Ethan could not recall hearing it played that way. It sounded almost salacious.
A sailor too in jerkin blue this strange appearance viewing
First damned his eyes in great surprise, then said “Some mischief’s brewing.”
After a hard night tracking for meat, he was still dithery about approaching. He could smell something cooking on the woodstove, though there was no wood smoke, and he couldn’t distinguish the scent. There was an undersmell of biscuits and coffee, and his belly grumbled. Whoever was inside could turn him away, or they could invite him in. There was no harm in asking.
The cannons roar from shore to shore, the small arms make a rattle
There was something wrong with the music. It was off-key and funereal. He heard the player’s enthusiasm but none of the joy. He heard a baby’s growl, and the scrape of fork-on-plate, and then a meaty burp. Growl?
Ethan knew only a few of the war songs, but his ear was unpracticed and thought this might be some local variation. There was meanness, a hauntedness, that was frightening. He walked towards the shack, and his legs felt unnaturally propelled. He intended to move on, but….
The wind shifted behind him, and it shimmered the pines. He thought he heard the crunching sound of boots on dry leaves.
He could not stop his own boots from moving forward.
Since war began I’m sure no man ere saw so strange a battle.*
*Lyrics from The Battle of the Kegs