This went up on the USS Rock N Roll blog today:
My friends Tim and Shad and I get together and sometimes we do timed writes: set a timer for ten minutes and just write on an agreed upon topic. This idea is simple enough, but would never have occurred to me. We took a workshop with Tami Sagher, who explained the exercise as outlined in the excellent Natalie Goldberg book Writing Down the Bones.
What follows my (now edited) short story inspired by the suggestion, “The South.”
The swamp moss hung languorously from the trees, moisture dangling in the air like ripe fruit. Little moved down by the old porch swing and the breeze did not lift the shimmer of heat.
An old man sat on a stump, eating a peach, contemplating the end of the world. While there was no outward indication this was imminent, he spent a good amount of time chewing on the prospect.
The wind picked up from the north, a meandering kind of coolness. He shifted in his seat. It reminded him of a first day at school, or a woman who did not look back after saying goodbye.
Clouds rolled over the sun, and the sky grew strangely dark for so early in the afternoon. Suddenly, from the cypress glade to his right, Carter heard movement. A branch snapped, leaves jingled. He turned gingerly, bracing, his jaw clenched. He peered into the thicket. A figure began to emerge, the silhouette of a soldier. He came into view slowly, gold epaulets, a rakish hat. He struggled to pull his ornate cutlass from the copse and a tree root snagged a black boot. Ignominiously, he dropped onto his ass with a curt “son of a bitch.” As he pulled himself together, he noticed Carter.
“I don’t suppose you find this funny?”
“Nothing funny about a general falling on his keister.” He meekly slung the peach pit.
The man grunted. “Lieutenant Colonel. Goddam A.P. Hill refuses to recognize my success with the 21st. So here I am.”
“Nothing funny bout that.”
“You’ve said a mouthful. Care to wet your whistle?”
The Lieutenant Colonel produced a silver flask. Instinctively the old man looked back up toward the farmhouse, but of course the view was obscured completely by the cypress glade. Shaking his head at his own foolishness he took a long draught, and coughed.
“All that’s left is rotgut rye, even for officers.” He took a long pull. “God damn this heat.”
Carter glanced at the soldier’s threadbare uniform. Seeing up close revealed stains, holes, patches.
“Sampson.” He offered his hand.
“Carter,” replied the old man as he took it.
“After the Wilderness, we shouldn’t even be out here anymore. But onward we go. Doggedly pursuing futility, unaware she presses on all sides.”
The old man did not reply, seeming instead to consider his foot.
“I am damn tired,” Sampson added.
Carter grunted assent.
The soldier thought for a moment. Then, “alright.”
Sampson pulled again on the flask, and picked his way back into the trees on the other side of the clearing. Carter watched him slowly blend into the thicket. The sound of his progress faded.
He listened for a while to the birds and stared at the backs of his hands.
A dog was barking.