A Spent Bullet
by Curt Iles copyright 2010 Creekbank Stories
To readers: This is the prologue/first chapter to my current book in progress. Scroll to bottom of blog for ways you can be a Creekbank Partner on this project.
Enjoy! Curt Iles
“I want the mistakes made down in Louisiana, not over in Europe.
If it doesn’t work, find out what we need to make it work.”
-General George C. Marshall
Chief of Staff, U.S. Army
“Monday I go to Louisiana… The old-timers say we are going to a God-awful spot complete with mud, malaria, mosquitoes, and misery.”
-Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower
August 5, 1941
Louisiana Highway 117
Kisatchie National Forest
When: Modern Day
“Baby, pull over on the side of the highway and back up, I think I saw something.” The old woman peered back into the fog-shrouded pines as her grandson eased the pickup onto the gravel shoulder.
Waiting until a loaded log truck passed by, he carefully began backing up until she said, “Yep, there they are.”
“What is it, Grandma?”
“It’s those wild horses.”
Then he saw them too—six sleek brown horses with dark manes and tails, grazing in the grass under the pines. “Where’d they come from?”
“They’re descendants of Camp Polk’s last cavalry herd from back in ’41—been roaming these woods ever since.”
The largest horse, a stallion nickered before trotting away, with the herd following it/him off into the Kisatchie woods. Like ghosts, they disappeared, leaving the young man wondering if they’d really been a mirage.
Still staring into the woods, the old woman sighed, “My soul, don’t they take me back to a time I’ll never forget.”
He would always remember the strange look in his grandmother’s eyes as she gazed off into the pines.
Part I The Battle for the Bullet
Monday, August 11, 1941
Elizabeth Reed watched the last column of horses pace by. Riding four abreast, the mounted cavalry soldiers looked sharp as row after row passed by on First Street in DeRidder, Louisiana. She smiled as her ten-year-old brother Ben said, “This is better than the fair parade.”
A long line of army trucks loaded with soldiers followed the horse column. Elizabeth saw a soldier’s arm in motion and watched an object land at her feet with a metallic clink.
She glanced down before glaring up at the laughing soldiers in the truck from which it’d been tossed. A blonde soldier leaned out of the crowded truck and shouted, “You’re beautiful. Write me.” His northern accent grated like fingernails on the slate board in her classroom.
Pointing at her feet, he yelled, “The bullet—write me.”
The truck rattled across the railroad tracks, disappearing in a cloud of dust and smoke. Elizabeth coughed and then mumbled, “Stupid Yankee.”
The exhaust from the vehicles burned her nostrils as she blurted, “That’s why we live in the country. At least, horses and mules don’t smell up the air like vehicles.”
Ben, pointing at a pile of fresh horse manure in the street, said, “It looks to me like horses cause plenty of bad smell, too.”
They both laughed as the convoy slowly snaked by. It was then that Ben saw the brass object at her feet, “What’s that, Bethie?”
“Looks like an empty cartridge with something stuck in it. One of the soldiers tossed it.”
Ben knelt to pick up the bullet but was restrained by Elizabeth. He protested, “Hey, if we—” but the long whistle of the 3:00 train from Leesville drowned out his words.
As the train’s whistle faded, the wolf whistles from the convoy’s last truck took its place, with Elizabeth being the object of this attention. She tried clamping her hands over Ben’s ears as he squirmed away, telling him through gritted teeth, “Sometimes what they say isn’t for fresh ears.”
“My ears ain’t fresh,” he said, squirming away.
“Ben Reed, you’re impossible. It’s aren’t—not ain’t.”
“Well, either way, my ears ain’t fresh.”
Before Elizabeth could box his ears for his grammar, the train whistled again and the loud shriek of brakes drowned out any chance for further conversation.
When the train stopped, she shook her head at the gawking soldiers in the remaining trucks now blocked by the train and repeated, “Stupid Yankees,” then added, “Our train’s here. Let’s go.”
“But what about the bullet?” he protested.
She started across the street, then looked back to find Ben kneeling on the sidewalk, tying his shoe. “Come on, Ben—a dollar’s waiting on a dime.” Her voice had an icy impatience in it, evidenced as she scolded, “If you’re coming to town with me, you’ve got to keep up.”
Ben scampered forward. “Bethie, are you mad at me or those soldiers?”
His question froze her. “What do you mean?”
“I just want to know if you’re mad at me.”
Her face softened. “I’m not mad at you.”
“So, it’s the soldiers?”
“I’m not mad at those soldiers, just tired of them.”
“Is it ’cause they’re men?”
“What do you mean?” Her eyes flashed. “Who’s been talking to you?”
“Well, Ma said it…” He knew he’d made a mistake. “I’m sorry, Bethie.”
“No apology needed. Let’s go.” Holding firmly to her brother’s arm, Elizabeth marched across street toward the depot, adding as they crossed, “Ben, always watch closely for those big army trucks.”
A note from Curt: If you’d like to receive upcoming chapters of A Spent Bullet, email firstname.lastname@example.org with “Send The Bullet” in the subject line. I’ll be sending chapters between now and Jan. 18.
Here’s how your help is needed:
1. “Line Editing” Look for grammar and punctuation corrections. This is not a final draft and your help is appreciated.
2. Look for “Hiccups.” A hiccup is anything that distracts a reader. Unclear dialogue, grammar, something you think wouldn’t/couldn’t happen, etc.
3. “Cuts” What passages could be cut/removed and not take away from the story? In editing, everything is improved by cutting. Your opinion is valued.
4. “Have you thought about…” Your personal opinion on the chapter: Where do you think the story is going? What character(s) interest you?
How could the story line/plot be improved, etc.
Include your suggestions and input in an email to email@example.com.
Most of all, enjoy A Spent Bullet. I’m enjoying writing it (I’ve written 60,000 words of what I expect to be a 90,000 word manuscript. Tentative release is for Fall 2010.)