“We'll give you such a pinch.”



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 Post subject: December War Story - Piney Woods
PostPosted: Mon Dec 01, 2008 8:24 pm 
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Still Not a Dalmatian in a Beret

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When I came to the battle was over. Silence, unreal and welcome, surrounded me. The men I had been fighting beside when the ball had tossed us into the air were scattered around me like so much confetti. I could only assume I survived because Flynn was between me and the impact. Of Flynn now, I saw no sign. Then, it occurred to me that I, too, might be dead and that is why everything was so silent and surreal. The pain in my left arm disabused me of that notion rather quickly, however. A jagged piece of wood protruded from my upper arm and my wrist seemed to be either dislocated or broken. I hoped for the former, as the latter was a good way to get an amputation. My head also throbbed in an alarming way. A ginger probing with my right hand came back with more splinters of wood and a fair quantity of blood. I was hurt, but seemed to be mobile.
I then probed my memory. The last thing I clearly remembered was the sun overhead and the battle engaging. Then my memory failed to be linear. There were flashes of noise and light. The yelling of men enraged turning to screams of the wounded. Horses rushing through knots of men with steel whistling. A distant drum beat. A flash of light that sent me off my feet and then nothing.
I looked skyward. The sun was just short of setting. Or was it rising? I had lost my bearings! This could be disastrous. I had no idea which way to head to rejoin my regiment. I sat for a moment and almost laughed at my stupidity. All I had to do was wait a few minutes and the sun would make clear its path. Suddenly I was incredibly hungry. Primally hungry, as though I had never eaten. Why?
My addled senses focused. I smelt bread. Fresh bread. Here amongst the carnage. I had not had bread, fresh or otherwise, in weeks. Months, even. I staggered to my feet and tried to isolate the direction of the smell. It seemed to surround me, but finally the wind shifted and it was clear. I headed towards the nearby piney woods. The brambles were thick and nearly impenetrable, but my hunger drove me, followed closely by curiosity. The staff of life. Here amongst so much death. There was no path that I could see, but the smell wafted and I followed as best as I could. I still did not know if the sun was rising or setting, I realized, as it was always dusk under the trees. And if the sun was setting, it would soon be darker than pitch. The foolishness of my impulsive thrust through the brambles made me move faster towards my elusive goal. A clearing opened before me. A small, neat cabin, a tiny vegetable plot, a cow staked out in a patch of closely cropped grass. Chickens scurried away as I approached.
How could this be? The armies were like locusts consuming all before them. Those chickens and that cow should have been eaten by one side or the other months ago and long since digested and returned to the earth. And what of the wheat to make that bread? Crops had been long untended as the able men went to fight alongside or against their brothers and cousins.
The clearing was large enough so I could see that the sun was indeed rising and that I had lost at least half a day while unconscious on the battlefield. Why I had not been taken with the other wounded, either by my side or the other, was beyond me. Perhaps in a hasty retreat, I was just left behind. It had certainly happened before. There had been several times when lost and wounded men had joined our regiment rather than continue to search for their own. Most had eventually reconnected with their compatriots. One or two had just faded back into the woods once they had been fed and doctored.
I hallooed the cabin. At first there was no response, and then the door slowly swung ajar.
“Name yourself!” called a voice and I had the distinct impression that the voice belonged to someone of great age.
“I am Private Bellefont of the 23rd. I am in need of food, clean water and bandages.”
“The 23rd? 23rd what?”
“Regiment, sir.”
“I see.”
I had the distinct impression that he did not see.
“May I approach, sir?”
“Surely you can. You say you need food? Well, you are welcome to join me for a meal. And I do have some water, if you need to wash. I do imagine the rain last night must have washed you fairly clean, if you were out in it.”
I thought this odd, as it had not rained in days. All was dry and I was sure I would have been soaked if it had indeed rained overnight. Perhaps the sound of distant artillery had been mistaken for thunder, I decided.
I carefully approached the cabin, still not sure that there might not be a rifle aimed at me from some hidden place. The interior was dark and I realized that all the windows were covered by heavy burlap sacks. No lamps were lit, despite the gloom. The only light came from a fire in the fireplace in the corner. This was also the source of the wonderful smell of bread, now augmented by the savory aroma of stew - perhaps chicken.
As my eyes adjusted to the darkness I saw that I was mistaken. My benefactor was not a man, but a woman of advanced years. Her dress was out of fashion by many years, not that that was important here in the piney woods, but it was clean, as was her spare little cabin.
“I apologize, ma’am, for calling you “sir” earlier. I hope I did not cause offense.”
“Oh, lordy, son, I have been called many worse things than that. You were polite and that is what matters here in the woods.” She bent to the fire and I caught a glimpse of the side of her face. The eye that faced me was completely milky white. As she turned her head in my direction, I saw that the other eye, too, was blind.
“Son, I can smell blood on you. Have you been slaughtering? A deer perhaps? For I surely would like a piece of venison, if you have it.”
“No, ma’am, I’m afraid that I have been hurt. I could use what ever doctor supplies you might have. I can’t pay, but I can help you out about the place.”
“Lordy, why didn’t you say so! How bad are you hurt?”
“I have a wound in my arm. That is the worst of it, I think. A splinter of wood needs to be removed and it needs a bandage.”
“Oh, I can do better than that! I have feverfew and poppy and comfrey. We will get you fixed up.”
She brought a small iron bound chest out from under her bed. She placed it on the table and opened it. Within was all manner of salves and ointments and tinctures. Perhaps this is how she survived out here. If she was the doctoring woman, grateful people would bring her what she needed and help her out.
“Let me feel your wound. This will hurt, but don’t you move or it will be the worse for you!” Her surprisingly strong left hand clamped around my arm and held it firm while the fingers of her right hand delicately ran over the splinter. Before I had a chance to wince, her fingers had grasped it and yanked it out. I nearly fainted from the sudden sharp pain, but her left hand did not lessen its grip and held me firm and upright. Once again her fingers gently ran over the wound. Another yank and another splinter came free. Smaller than the first, but sufficiently jagged that the pain took my breathe away. She tucked them away in a piece of calico before I had a chance to look at them.
Water was boiling over the fire and she ladled some into a basin and added a sprinkle of fragrant herbs over the top. She let it steep for a moment while getting my coat and shirt off. Blood had dried and stuck the fabric firmly to my skin, so the process, while she was as gentle as she could be, was very uncomfortable. By now the water had cooled a bit. She bathed my wound quite thoroughly and then applied salve and bandaged it tight. Then she probed my wrist and decided it was not broken. Before I could protest she grasped my hand in both of hers and gave it a jerk that almost sent me to the floor. I saw stars for a few seconds and then she had the wrist bound tight as well.
“Where else are you wounded? I still smell blood.”
“My face. I think I got hit in the face.”
“Ah, yes you did. Here, lie down on the table and let’s see what we can do.”
Once again her fingers danced over my wounds and the sharp pains of splinters being removed continued for a while until she was satisfied that she had gotten them all. A new batch of herb laden water was brewed while she probed my scalp for any more foreign objects. Finally my face, too was clean and salve applied.
“How can I thank you? This is far better doctoring than I am used to.”
“I do need some wood chopped. That would be a help to me. That is if you can wield an ax one handed. Your arm most likely will be too sore to do much with for awhile. Let’s get some food into you, first.”
My hunger returned with a roar at those words.
“Ma’am. may I help you? I can serve if you like?”
“Son, I know what is what and it will be faster if I just do it myself. Here is your bowl. Mind, it is hot.”
And so it was. And the bread was better than I could have imagined. Accompanied by fresh butter from the cow, it was better food than I had had in longer than I could remember. I am afraid that I ate faster than was polite and ate more of the stew than should have been my share, but the flavors and hospitality were beyond compare and I forgot myself.
The old woman talked of the weather and the garden and of foxes that took a chicken the night before and of all manner of things save the one I most wanted to know. How did she come to be alone here. How did she survive, blind and alone and in the middle of the conflict between brothers? Somehow I was loathe to ask. It was almost as though the world beyond her piney woods did not exist. Of how I sustained my injuries, she did not ask.


To be continued below.

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Last edited by Tuna on Tue Dec 02, 2008 12:21 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: December War Story - Piney Woods
PostPosted: Mon Dec 01, 2008 11:52 pm 
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Still Not a Dalmatian in a Beret

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It's too long, isn't it. Should I break it into chapters?

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 Post subject: December War Story - Piney Woods
PostPosted: Tue Dec 02, 2008 12:14 am 
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Very evocative and gripping.

Perhaps just a tad too long. The narrative might be served better with a break somewhere in the middle.

I love the tone of the piece, and the dialogue feels quite natural.

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 Post subject: December War Story - Piney Woods
PostPosted: Tue Dec 02, 2008 12:19 am 
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Still Not a Dalmatian in a Beret

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It is funny, but this one got almost no rewriting. The first one got pared down, but this one needed room, somehow.

I will edit in a chapter break.

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 Post subject: December War Story - Piney Woods
PostPosted: Tue Dec 02, 2008 12:22 am 
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Still Not a Dalmatian in a Beret

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Chapter last.

After we ate, I was tired enough to lie my head down right there at the table and sleep, but I took my obligation seriously and so took down her ax to sharpen before attempting to chop the wood. The blade had been sorely used and was nicked and rusted, but with a bit of elbow grease and a whet stone, I was able to bring it back to some sort of function.
The logs to be split were piled next to the chicken coop. The wood was seasoned and easy to split, even with one hand. It took me longer than it ordinarily would, of course. This sun was far below the trees and dusk was settling into the quiet spots. Out of the corner of my eye I caught movement. The old woman was digging in a corner of the clearing. To my surprise, I realized that it was a small graveyard. A family plot.
I went towards her and caught a glimpse of calico just before she dropped it into the small hole. The ground was smoothed by the time I got to her side.
“Ah, boy, since you are here, walk me back to the house. It is always easier to orient myself from the doorway to get out here, but a bit harder to get back. Is the sun setting? It feels like it’s setting. You must be hungry after chopping all that wood. There will be some stew and bread left.”
I took her elbow and lightly guided her back through the flurry of chickens to the cabin. There was indeed some stew left, not as much as there should have been. I now regretted a bit my greed at lunch. If anything the leftover stew was better than ever. And it was gone after one bowl apiece. A couple of withered apples came out of hiding and that and the last of the bread was a fine dessert.
“Sit here and let me check those bandages.”
I sat as her nimble fingers untied the bandages and checked for swelling and the heat that would mean infection. Once again she washed the wounds with herb tinctures and applied her salves. Finally she rebound the wounds in clean bandages and set about washing the old bandages in boiling water. I had never seen a blind woman so adept at her work. She didn’t even have the scorches on her apron that a sighted woman would, just as a matter of course. I was beginning to understand how she could be out here by herself, although surely she must have some assistance for supplies and such. There was no way she grew the wheat for her bread or the corn for her chickens.
“Ma’am, if I may ask, how do you come to be out here by yourself?”
“I am not alone. I have family. They just aren’t living here anymore. Husband died three... no four years ago, now. Sons went off to find their own way. Some of the family is in that plot over there. They keep me company in ways you cannot imagine.”
As these words left her lips the door flew open and who should walk in but Flynn!
I leaped up and enclosed him in a bear hug, a bit gingerly since my arm still pained. “Flynn! You dog, where were you!”
“Bellefont! Ah, you have a scratch or two, I see! And I see you have met my mother!”
“Your mother! I never imagined. She has shown me more hospitality and doctorin’ than I could ever have hoped for. It was the smell of her bread that led me here.”
“Oh, her bread! I always knew I could follow that smell home. Mother, I’m home. To stay. This war is over for me.”
At these words my blood chilled a bit. Flynn deserting? But, his mother did need him. His place was here now. I would not tell or deny him that.
The old woman was weeping quietly, but smiling. “That I am glad of. Are you hungry?”
“No, ma’am, I am not. I am footsore, though. I feel as though I have hiked across the world.”
“Then sit! Tell me of the world!”
Flynn sat and regaled us with tales, some that I knew and some I had not heard before. Some were so outlandish as to be fiction, but all were entertaining.
Finally the fire burned low and I carefully banked it before curling up in my bedroll on the hearth. Flynn went up to the loft and his mother made her way to her carefully made bed in the corner after replacing her medicine box under it. Quiet snores filled the air after not too long and I, too, went to visit Morpheus.
The banging of the front door in the wind awakened me as a frigid wind blew in, sweeping leaves before it. I was cold! The fire had completely died down and gone out. I silently berated myself for carelessness as I sifted through the cold ashes looking for a live ember. None could be found. I hated to awaken the kind woman from her slumber, but I saw no way around it as I could find no tinder or flint.
To my surprise, her bed was empty. Leaves had blown onto it. It looked for all the world to have been empty forever. I called to Flynn and got no reply. Checking the loft I found it completely barren and the floor covered with a thick dust. Then I realized how silent it was.
Stepping outside into the morning sun I saw no chickens, no cow, no small patch of vegetables. The wood I had chopped was neatly stacked, the ax shiny and sharp from my whetting, but of life there was no other sign. Then I remembered the family plot. Yes, there was a small patch of disturbed soil. I carefully dug into it and about six inches down I found the scrap of calico I had seen being buried the previous day. I sat on the cold ground and unfolded it. There in the cloth was the splinters that the kind woman had removed from my arm and face. A cold chill unrelated to the wind went through me. Not splinters of wood. It was bone. I carefully replaced the splinters in the cloth and reburied it exactly as I had found it.
I could now see that the cabin was in sore repair and seemed to be on the verge of collapse. I went in and collected my bedroll and pack. As a last thought I looked under the bed. Yes, the box of medicines was still there. Somehow I did not think the owner would mind if I took them with me. They may yet be some use for those bandages if ought else.
I took my leave then. A distant rumble rolled through the clearing. I would head towards the sound. Surely I would find either my regiment or some other.
And I was sure than no one would believe how Flynn had returned home.

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 Post subject: December War Story - Piney Woods
PostPosted: Wed Dec 03, 2008 11:31 am 
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War AND ghost story. Two for the price of one!

The period quality of the dialog is a bit uneven. But the detail pulls the reader in well. And you managed a real surprise with what's normally a pretty predictable type of "surprise" ending. That's quite an achievement.

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 Post subject: December War Story - Piney Woods
PostPosted: Wed Dec 03, 2008 12:22 pm 
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Still Not a Dalmatian in a Beret

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I had no idea it was going to be a ghost story when I started. That was a surprise. I was imagining a pocket untouched by conflict and it kind of evolved.
Dialogue is tough. And this was pretty much flow of consciousness writing, and so would probably benefit from some rewriting. But, I was basically taking dictation from the characters. If that makes any sense.
I am glad the ending was a surprise! I wasn't sure if it would be as I am too close to it.
Thanks!

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 Post subject: December War Story - Piney Woods
PostPosted: Wed Dec 03, 2008 1:41 pm 
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You're a very good writer, Tuna.


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 Post subject: December War Story - Piney Woods
PostPosted: Wed Dec 03, 2008 2:45 pm 
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Tuna wrote:
I had no idea it was going to be a ghost story when I started. That was a surprise. I was imagining a pocket untouched by conflict and it kind of evolved.
Dialogue is tough. And this was pretty much flow of consciousness writing, and so would probably benefit from some rewriting. But, I was basically taking dictation from the characters. If that makes any sense.
I am glad the ending was a surprise! I wasn't sure if it would be as I am too close to it.
Thanks!


I guess surprising yourself is a good way to surprise the reader.

"Taking dictation from the characters" makes a lot of sense. I know what you're talking about there. That's part of what makes period dialog a challenge. It's like getting to "know" someone from a period when speech and attitudes were very different, and learning to listen to them. I've done a LOT of reading of both fiction and first-hand writing from earlier historical periods, and it's still a challenge.

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These three remain--faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.


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 Post subject: December War Story - Piney Woods
PostPosted: Wed Dec 03, 2008 3:19 pm 
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Still Not a Dalmatian in a Beret

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Eric W.H. Taft wrote:
You're a very good writer, Tuna.

Wow. Thanks! That means a lot to me.

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 Post subject: December War Story - Piney Woods
PostPosted: Wed Dec 03, 2008 6:17 pm 
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Tuna wrote:
Eric W.H. Taft wrote:
You're a very good writer, Tuna.

Wow. Thanks! That means a lot to me.


A compliment from Eric about writing is high praise, all right! Some of the highest you can get on this board.

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Love never fails. Where there are prophecies, they will cease. Where there is speech, it will end. Where there is knowledge, it will pass.
These three remain--faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.


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