written by lauren d. h. miertschin

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Can It Be Any More Difficult? (Damn It!)

So, I love fiction.  But life takes over.  Over and over and over again.

I used to read four plus novels a month.  Now, I read a novel when I assign one to a student (by the way, the last was "A Day No Pigs Will Die" -- and I cried twice, BEAUTIFUL, SIMPLY BEAUTIFUL.)  Anyway, I read fiction when I can (which is so, so rare), but I have only been paid for writing  non-fiction.  I have NEVER received a cent for fiction.  And so I weep  . . .

Not really.  Not at the moment anyway. (But soon I'm sure I may).

Answer me this, the anonymous reader out there -- keep on writing eventhough there no chance a single soul will ever read it?  Or write for the cash?  I am in so much need of  cash right now!  A dozen plus non-fiction articles paid for doesn't pay much.  But at least it's pay.  What's a gal to do????? 

Weep herself to sleep.  That's what a gal's to do.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Well, I've got another First Line Fiction, non-placing story to post.  Pressed for time, I wrote it in about 2 days.  Perhaps I'd stand a better chance if I took more time.  Let's just call this an excercise in quick writing.  : )

The first line supplied came from Stephen King:  "Almost everyone thought the man and the boy were father and son."

I don't know what made me think up the story.  I just let my fingers write it.  You might also wonder what my fascination is with Annabel if you have read through this blog.  I'll leave that for another post.


Almost everyone thought the man and the boy were father and son. They were often seen together back in Monroe City. But that was before the war. Even today, one would have thought the older was caring for the younger, like a father for his son. They in fact, came in on the same horse as they followed along the Mississippi. The man had been seen wiping the boy’s bloody face with a rag dipped into the river. But the man, he wore a union cap, blue uniform. The boy, his hands were bound with a rope, his hair long and knotted, beard overgrown and unseemly, his gray uniform tattered.

The horse halted approximately fifty feet of the outpost. Customers’ shoulders relaxed. A drunkard downed his shot of whiskey. The other man drinking at the outpost handed a coin to the other for losing a bet. The bet: Who’d next come up the trail – Union or Confederate?

The man who everyone thought was the boy’s father promptly pushed the boy off the horse. He landed on the wet dirt with a thud and rolled over onto his back. The boy’s bulging eyes looked up at the Union soldier.

“John!” The boy spit out a bloody tooth before continuing. “You ain’t gonna leave me here. Not without tellin’ me. How is Annabel?”

“Shut your mouth,” John said as he brushed the dirt from his coat. “The only reason you’re still breathin’, Wesley, is cuz I gone and promised your Pa.” The Union soldier looked down at Wesley and commenced to dismount. He gave the boy, whom he had known since he was a baby, a swift kick in the side, and walked toward the outpost.

“You’re a damn bastard Sir!” Wesley rolled over onto his side. “Damn Yankee,” he sighed before closing his eyes. He appeared nearly dead lying there in the dirt, his face sunken in, his body “all bones.”

“What can I get you Mister?” The owner of the outpost was a widow, her husband shot to death when a group of Confederates made their way along the river a year earlier. He lost his life for refusing to pledge allegiance to their cause.

“I’ll have what they’re having.”

She poured him a glass and busied herself. “Mister,” the woman said as she wiped out a shot glass with the apron tied around her waist. “I think your prisoner’s gettin’ away.”

John peered up from his whiskey. “I’ll be damned!” He chuckled as he watched Wesley stagger off into the brush. After tossing a silver piece onto the woman’s tray, John took the last swig of his whisky and casually walked off to his horse, stopping once to spit shine his boot.

The two drunkards snickered when John mounted. “Think he’ll catchim,” one said to the other.

“No doubt,” the other answered. “No doubt.”

The widow lifted her skirt and removed a pistol tucked into her garter. She secured it into her waistline with one hand and with the other, poured her customer another drink.

John rode off into the wetlands, finding little difficulty following the foot length mounds of mud left by the boy’s boots.

“Wesley,” John hollered. “No use runnin’.” And he kept on after those tracks, delving deeper into the forest, so close to the Mississippi now, he could smell it. It smelled like swimming in the summertime. It smelled like rowing Annabel across for an island picnic. It smelled like . . . yesterday.

John reached the gigantic river that meanders through these states and caught sight of Wesley running upstream, his hands no longer bound. “What the heck that kid doing? Thinks he can run home?”

Gentle green waters lapped the level shore. The sun began its descent behind a horizon hidden by oaks. Though he couldn’t see him anymore, John could hear Wesley’s feet fleeing in the distance. He dismounted momentarily to cut the entangled vine around his horse’s back thigh. A wood pecker tap, tap, tapped directly above.

“Better save your energy son!” John mounted again and made his way at a leisurely pace. The river’s bank gradually increased its steepness. The sky glowed pinkish-orange. Several minutes passed without hearing the boy when John came upon a Confederate coat caught on a branch. An envelope had fallen from the pocket onto the bank.

Bringing his horse to a halt, John dropped to the ground. “Not so,” he whispered as he scooped up the letter. He recognized his daughter’s handwriting instantly. Fumbling through the coat he found two more letters, both from Annabel, and shoved them into his pocket.

John yanked the boy’s the coat from the limb. He yelled out something unrecognizable and flung it into the river. Those letters remained hidden in his pocket for a good half mile however, his horse galloping at a slant. Reaching into his pocket he felt for them, just to make sure the letters were real. “How dare she?” he grunted. “The whore.”

He recalled holding his only baby girl for the first time. “Baby – hell, she’s no baby. Practically a woman now. But why Annabel?” he cried. “Why?” Remembering the letters Annabel’s mother wrote him before their marriage, he finally pulled his daughter’s letters from his coat. A tear dropped from his eye wishing his wife had not died before seeing their daughter grown. He wiped that tear and in the dim sun setting light he read.

My dearest Wesley,

Too many moons have come and gone since our lips last parted. I pray daily to the Lord for your safe return. I stopped in to see your Ma, and she is holding up heroically. She treats me like her own and is the only one I have been able to confide our secret. Your Pa, on the other hand, I’m afraid to say, does not wish to talk of you in my presence. I can see in his eyes though, his deep love for you remains.

Misty gave birth to a litter last week. Your Ma gave me the pick, an adorable white pup that sleeps by my side nightly. She will be a wonderful companion to our child, Wesley. My prayer is that you will return to greet our baby into this world.

My continual prayers are with you, my love. Please return to us safely.


John crumbled the letter and held it in his fist for the next quarter mile. “I will kill you son,” he grumbled. “I can see your tracks. You don’t think I can’t catch a rat!”

The wind blew a cold breeze as the sky turned magenta-blue. A flock of ducks took off from the great waters, headed for the island a half mile across the river. His coat buttoned closed, John moved onward. Tears streamed down his cheeks. His baby girl would soon cradle a baby of her own. His grandchild.

Not too far away, the father of that child not yet born, staggered forward, practically within grasp of the man he feared. And then night fell, suddenly, a waning moon low on the horizon.

Both men wept that night. Tears only for Annabel.

John woke before dawn. The letter still crumbled in his fist, he kicked wet dirt over the campsite fire that he let burn all night. With aching limbs he mounted his horse. And he rode.

He didn’t even realize when he stumbled upon the boy’s camp. He didn’t smell the smoldering fire, didn’t see the sleeping lad next to the embers. What brought John to his senses was the rustling noise of Wesley scrambling to his feet and stumbling upstream.

John put his hand on his pistol. The river lapped at his horse’s legs as the wind picked up. John could hear summertime, childhood splashes along the river’s edge.

With bloodshot eyes, Wesley peered back at his captor.

John raised his pistol a mere yard from the prisoner. He noticed a gash in the lad’s left arm, dried blood soaked into the standard issue Confederate shirt. A flock of birds rustled the leaves in the trees over on the island. Then the smell of yesterday overcame John as Wesley dove into the river. John aimed for his head, his finger flush against the trigger. He never planned to tell anyone that he lowered his pistol. Only Wesley would know.

Standing there on the bank of the Mississippi, he watched Wesley swim the great river, his daughter’s letter still held within his fist. And then the sun finally peaked above the horizon -- a new day, not yesterday, but at least a day that would not bring grief to his precious child.

(c) Lauren D. H. Miertschin