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River
November 22nd, 2011, 07:48 PM
I want to share an excerpt of the first story I ever wrote and how that came about.
Some friends were sitting around discussing a certain book and I said I believed I could write. One friend said, “Well do it then.” And the challenge was on.

I chose the Civil war for the setting to the story.

I sat down that day and wrote this piece in about four hours. I had never in my life written anything longer than a letter to my girl friend ( Now my wife), I failed English in high school and was set back two years, I dropped out of school because of it. I later got my G.E.D in the Army.

Since I wrote this story I have since written 23 other short stories. I fell in love with the tightly bound format that short stories must contain and chose to keep writing in that format.
To those who aspire to write fiction, you can do it, it is simple, just tell the story.
The story is not very impressive, but the very first story always has a place in your heart.

The Biscuit Run



On that bright summer Arkansas morning in 1862, sixteen-year-old Jacob Banning walked out onto the porch, pulling on his suspenders. He looked down the dusty road toward the barn at old Fred, one of the two plough mules the family owned. He watched as Fred scratched the underside of his jaw on the rail fence. Old Fred shook his head and went back to looking for corn that wasn’t there.

I swear, that mule checks his feed trough as if he thinks it will grow corn. The only food Fred liked more than corn was apples.

The early morning sun was warm on Jacob’s shoulders as he stood there, sleepily thinking about the new ground he had started putting the turning plough to yesterday. He thought of the time the land had lain dormant. Seven years was almost half his life; he was expecting a good crop of corn off that land. He looked at his hands, which had become strong from hard work. Yes, he looked forward to breaking and planting that field.

Jacob had grown tall. He had soft brown eyes, a kindly look about him, and he favored his mother. His shock of blonde hair was in striking contrast to his tanned face.

He thought about going through the kitchen and trying to snag a biscuit. Jacob had made many biscuit runs, and he was tempted now, to have a run at that kitchen. The middle bedroom of the house connected with the kitchen, which extended all the way across the back of the house. This meant you had to go through a bedroom to get from the living room to the kitchen. The kitchen had a back door, so if he was fast enough he could run all the way through the house and out the kitchen door, snagging a biscuit on the way, while dodging his mother’s long-handled cooking spoon. However, the thought of that spoon cracking atop his head cured him of such delusions. It took a certain amount of luck, and he didn’t feel up to the run. Besides, patience got the better of his stomach, and so he set himself to wait.

His mother frowned on anybody getting a biscuit before she called. He smiled as he remembered the runs he had made at that kitchen and come away victorious with a hot biscuit. He and his mother had played the game since he was six years old. She never failed to give him a withering look as she called him to breakfast, but he had caught her smiling more than once as he made it through the back door. Jacob could see the sparkle in his mother’s eyes, and it always made him feel good. Her put-on frown couldn’t mask the love for him that shone in her face.

Jacob’s mother was a kind and soft-spoken woman. She had taught him out of the Good Book since he was knee-high to a bantam rooster. Her voice often sounded to him like angels calling. Two years ago his family had hooked the team to the wagon and went over to the Low Gap Church revival. Low Gap Church sat right in the saddle that gave Low Gap Mountain its name. It was a plain one-room building that had been constructed right by the side of the road, up against a stand of big pine and oak timber. Jacob had never understood the reason for it being built there, but it had been, and the people had decided to hold revival there that summer.

It was there he had accepted the Lord, and he had been baptized that night in a neighbor’s cow pond. He was fourteen at the time, and it had changed him somehow. Since then, he had gone to church whenever he could. The nearest church was ten miles away, over at a place called “the Colony.” He never did know why they called it that, as there was no colony there. It was just a church and a graveyard.

He knew his mother always prayed for him, because he could hear her. The only time his mother ever raised her voice was when she prayed. The past year he had taken to kneeling beside her during prayers. When his mother prayed, it would make the hair on the back of his neck stand up and send shivers up and down his spine, and the longer she prayed the louder she got. The Holy Spirit was so pervasive you had to either pray yourself or get clean away -- one or the other!

Jacob had heard her praying clear down to the barn a time or two after Pap cut out for Tennessee to join the Confederates. He remembered how his mother had clung to Pap as his Pap looked at him and said, “Boy, you got to take care of yore ma.” Then he just got on his horse and rode off, and nobody had heard from him since. There had been word that some from a Tennessee company had been captured and taken north by rail. Some had died of wounds they received in a skirmish. They didn’t know if Pap was in either group, but Jacob knew Pap would have written by now if he could, so it didn’t look good.

Jacob would be the third generation of Bannings to make a living from this land. The Banning farm sat on three hundred acres of rich mountain land, and they owned the whole mountain. There were miles of forest between the nearest small town, Morgantown, and the mountain. The Morgantown Road was the only way back in to their land.

Not many folks made the 15-mile trip from town, so his eyes widened a bit as he noticed horses with riders coming around the bend in the road. When you looked down and saw folks on the road, you knew it had to be “comp’ny comin’.”

That’s what met his eyes on that early summer morning. He counted five horses, with riders, making their way up the road. He stood there as the men pulled the horses up to the front of the house. He could tell they were Confederate soldiers, although they wore only scraps of southern uniforms. The rest of their clothing was homespun. The men stopped their horses about five feet from the porch and eyed Jacob, as Jacob eyed them.

“Howdy,” Jacob spoke, and two of them nodded their heads.

They sure are a rough looking bunch, Jacob thought. The men all had rifles. They just sat saddle and looked around at the house and yard. The chickens paid no mind as they scratched and clucked in their never-ending search for whatever they were looking for. You couldn’t ever rightly tell what a chicken was looking for.

One of the men was real big, and Jacob thought he might be the leader. He had a full beard, wore a southern uniform coat, a Rebel cap, and homespun breeches. A long, wicked-looking knife in a leather sheath hung from his belt. He had ice-blue eyes that he laid on Jacob in a cold stare. His manner made Jacob’s skin crawl.

“You got anything to eat, boy?” He shifted in his saddle.

Then his mother walked out from the living room. Since the kitchen was in back of the house, Jacob knew she hadn’t heard them ride up. She tiredly wiped her worn hands on her apron and spoke in her soft voice, “You men are welcome to breakfast with us; we got biscuits and bacon if you want to get down and come in.”

His mother reached up to brush a wisp of hair back. Her hair was graying, and her beauty long since sacrificed to hard work on the farm. There were crow’s feet around her once-pretty eyes.

The big man with the skinning knife said, “No, we ain’t got time. We’re headed fer Pea Ridge. If you could just give us some of them biscuits and bacon, we’ll be on our way.”

Jacob’s mother turned and headed back through the house, toward the kitchen, as the men sat silently on their horses. After a few minutes, she came back through the door and handed them the pan of fluffy biscuits and some thick bacon. The men sat on their horses and wolfed it down.

One of the men said, “Boy, they is a fight brewin’ up at Pea Ridge, and we could use some hep if you kin shoot a squirrel gun.” Jacob knew Pea Ridge was some 50 to 60 miles or so to the northeast of their farm, which meant the men planned to drop off the backside of the mountain and ford the Little Red River there.

They didn’t get much news of the war, although a few months back six Kansas raiders had appeared over at the little settlement of Morgantown. They had tried their hand at shooting and pillaging, and been hanged for their trouble. People around here didn’t take too kindly to being shot at. All the same, the local men got their names before they hanged them. Then they carved the names of the raiders on some flat rocks, and gave them a Christian burial in the local cemetery at the foot of Morgantown Hill. The story went that one of the men could barely give his name, and had watered his pants when he seen his name being carved on that rock as he stood shaking and waiting to die.

Jacob stood there, thinking about the killing. As the men finished their biscuits, the big man said, “Boy, yer comin’ along with us, so you git that mule.” His mother looked horrified as every one of those men turned hard and mean-looking right before their eyes. One of the men turned his horse and cantered down toward the barn, and the others got antsy and started fidgeting with their long rifles.

Out of the corner of his eye, Jacob saw a rifle barrel slowly raised until it pointed toward him, and he knew he was in trouble. He prayed silently that his brother Ben and sister Rose, who were only eight and five, wouldn’t wake up and come to see what the racket was all about.

He saw his mother sidling toward the door. The big man saw it too, and he said in a gravelly voice, “Mum, you just stay away from that squirrel gun. We ain’t taken to killin’ women yit, but we jest might.” His eyes were hard as flint.

“Ma, don’t do it; they mean it!” Jacob said to his mother, and his mother stopped.

Then the man who had gone to the barn rode up with Fred in tow. He had found Jacob’s old saddle in the dog run. Old Fred didn’t look none too happy, and Jacob thought, I can’t rightly say as I blame him. He knew with a sinking feeling that they aimed to take him, willing or not.

“Git on thet mule, boy!” the big man scowled, swinging his rifle barrel toward Jacob. The barrel of that 50-caliber looked big as a horseshoe to Jacob as he stared down it.

He turned to his mother and said he would go with them. He was afraid for them all. He saw the tears forming in his mother’s eyes as he put his foot in the stirrup and climbed on his mule.

One of the men dismounted and stepped through the door into the house. He came out with Jacob’s squirrel gun, and remounted his horse. He turned his horse east toward Sugar Loaf Mountain, and the others fell in.

Another man picked up old Fred’s reins and started leading the mule with Jacob on it. This man was short and squat, and wore an old floppy hat. His teeth were tobacco-stained, and he had a scar over his left temple, which made his bushy black eyebrow droop. He leered at Jacob and jerked on old Fred’s reins. Fred was not used to that kind of treatment, and he jumped.

A few minutes later, they rounded the last bend as they followed the old wagon track toward the Little Red. Jacob’s heart sank as he watched his home disappear behind a stand of trees. That’s when he started praying as he had never prayed before, and he wished he had prayed harder with his mother.

He wondered if maybe the Lord was mad at him for cussing at the mules the day before. The turning plough had hit a rock, and the plough handle had almost broken his rib. He had regretted cussing after and had asked forgiveness for his slip, even though his rib still hurt like the dickens. He thought about it a little while and decided that weren’t serious enough to bring this kind of trouble down on them.

The old wagon track led down through what was known to Jacob as Baily Hollow. The Little Red River snaked through the hills of that part of Arkansas like a blue serpent through the emerald-green forests.

Jacob came out of his reverie and realized the seriousness of his plight. He began trying to think about how he might free himself. He figured the man would hand off old Fred’s reins to him after awhile. He knew nobody would want to drag around a mule all day, and sure enough the man tossed him the reins about fifteen minutes later and told him to behave himself. He thought briefly about making a run for it, but he knew old Fred could never outrun the horses, so he gave up on that idea.

A few hours later, they were nearing the wagon ford on the Little Red River. They crossed over and headed toward the foot of Sugar Loaf Mountain. He knew they would circle the mountain and keep heading northeast from there.

He continued to pray after they forded the river. He felt like his only hope was to sneak out of camp that night, but as soon as they made camp, they tied his hands behind him with rein leather, and then tied him to a tree.

He was miserable with worry all that night. They threw old Fred’s saddle blanket over him, and he drew comfort from the mule’s familiar smell. He finally slept during the late-night hours and awoke at dawn to the sounds of the men stirring around camp.

He earnestly prayed again for his deliverance, and for the safety of his mother, brother, and sister. He asked the Lord to comfort them. He prayed for Pap, too, but with uncertainty as to whether his father was still living or not. He found himself praying with earnestness that he didn’t know he had, and he felt sure the Father had heard his prayer.

They untied him and fed him some foul-tasting meat and a hard tack biscuit, but he was so hungry he felt like he could eat the south end of old Fred going north. Moreover, that was one tough mule.

Tears welled up Jacob’s eyes as he sat there and ate. He thought about the farm and that newly turned field and his family, but he knew better than to show emotion around these hard men. He rubbed his eyes as if he was sleepy and brushed the tears away. He got up and stretched as if he had not a care in the world, but all the time he was thinking, furiously trying to figure a way out.

They had camped about ten miles north of the Little Red, and they didn’t seem in too much of a hurry. But Jacob knew they were just saving their horses. He knew by the talk that they wanted to get to Pea Ridge as quickly as possible. He had overheard them say the Yanks were heading towards Pea Ridge, and he knew there was going to be a fight.

As he rode, he thought desperately of getting away from these men; he wanted no part of killing. After he had accepted the Lord, he had started having twinges of guilt even when he shot a squirrel or a rabbit, though he only did it because the family had to eat.

Later that day a possum crossed in front of them, and the big man pinned it with his big skinning knife. They each had a piece of meat while the horses rested. Jacob was grateful to get his portion of the possum and another hard tack biscuit. He prayed silently and asked the Lord to bless the possum and hard tack. He offered up another prayer for his mother, brother Ben, and little sister Rose, and it made him miss them all over again.

His younger brother always wanted to follow him around, whether it was working, fishing, or hunting. It made no difference to Ben. He would follow the plough in his bare feet as Jacob turned the rich dark soil. He drank water when Jacob drank water, and was careful to see that he drank an equal amount. He looked up to Jacob for his approval about everything. His little sister Rose would run to the barn to meet him when he came in from the fields, her yellow hair flying in the wind. Jacob worried for them, and his heart ached at the turn of events.

As they rode on toward Pea Ridge, he remembered the scripture he had read of the Lord’s love and care. The promise brought comfort to his worried soul, and the words kept coming to him: “Fear not, for I am with thee.”

As the days passed, the men became more watchful than ever as they neared Pea Ridge. “You better start keeping a watch out, boy,” the big man said. “Them Yanks’ll shoot your tail off.”

One of the other men laughed softly, but you could tell he didn’t find the idea of getting hit by a minié ball tantalizing. They rode slower and grew even more watchful, stopping to listen every so often. They stopped at a creek to fill their canteens, and one of the men tossed one to Jacob. He drank deeply of the clear water as he sweated in the heat that clamped the Arkansas forest in an iron grip.

They shuffled along a couple more hours, and suddenly the big man yanked on his horse’s reins and held up his hand. They sat there real quiet and listened. After a minute, the big man motioned them to get down and lead the horses into the trees. Finally, Jacob caught a faint tinkling sound approaching them from directly in front. The big man whispered to one of the men, and the man slipped away up the trail toward the sound.

A little bit later, he and another man appeared through the trees. The new man introduced himself as Zack Jenkins. Jenkins looked to be around thirty years old, with a scruffy beard and a flop hat, southern uniform pants, and worn out shoes on his feet. He led the men another two hundred yards toward the creek, to where a rag-tag group of about twenty men waited.

There was a captain and a sergeant, and they were the only men wearing what would pass for a full uniform. The captain explained that they were setting up an ambush along the edge of Little Sugar Creek. He quietly ordered them to hide themselves the best they could, and to remain quiet until he gave the order to fire.

The creek was just ahead of them. Jacob quietly prayed, but his nerves were on edge as he lay behind a log. His squirrel gun was primed and loaded. They lay there in the heat for quite some time before they heard the rattling of a troop of soldiers coming toward them.

When the approaching soldiers were immediately in front of them, the captain gave the order to “Fire!” Pandemonium broke loose as a volley of shots rang out on each side of him. Jacob couldn’t see much through the trees except an occasional flash of color. Smoke from the black powder soon filled the air, and he strained to see what was coming at him. He did his best to stay low as bullets came whizzing through the trees. The noise of the gunfire was deafening. He heard a horse scream pitifully as it took the full blast of a cannon.

Suddenly, through the haze of smoke, he saw a blue uniform stand up. Jacob pulled the trigger, and the uniform fell. Then a cannonball shot split a tall sapling in half next to him and the top half of the tree fell on him. The men started yelling and running forward toward the creek. A man yanked the brush off Jacob, yelling, “Charge, boy!” and ran forward toward the creek.

Jacob had never known such terror, but he managed to follow. They splashed across Little Sugar Creek. It seemed to Jacob that there were men running everywhere, firing their rifles at the fading blue uniforms as the northern soldiers retreated.

Jacob tripped on a tree root and fell headlong next to a big tree. He lay there panting, trying to get his breath in the stifling heat. The fetid, smoky air burned his lungs. He heard a pitiful-sounding moan just the other side of some thick brush. He crawled through the brush toward the sound, and saw a blue uniform lying on the ground.

He crawled closer and saw the contorted face of a young man about his age. The boy had cornhusk hair and blue eyes set in a cherubic face. The boy’s deep blue eyes looked around wildly as he clutched tightly at his chest. Blood ran through his quivering fingers, and Jacob realized that this had to be the uniform that he’d hit with his rifle ball. Jacob had spent many days bee-lining in the woods at home, his eyes trained to pick out and mark every tree in his path, and he knew this was the spot where the blue uniform had been standing when he’d fired.

The boy looked at Jacob with terrified eyes as Jacob gently unbuttoned the boy’s tunic. He carefully moved the boy’s hand so he could see the wound. He had been hit just under his heart, and Jacob could see air bubbles in the blood as the boy fought to breathe. Terror and remorse gripped Jacob as he looked at the boy’s white face, and his own face went pale.

The boy kept muttering, “I don’t wanna die! Please God. I don’t wanna die!”

The boy’s breathing became shallow as he lay there moaning. Finally, he lost consciousness. Jacob looked at the boy’s bloody tear-stained face; he wasn’t moving. He listened for breath sounds and felt for a pulse. There was nothing, and Jacob realized the boy was dead.