Thunder Across the Copperhead

Excerpt from Don Miller’s soon to be released, Thunder Across the Copperhead, a historical novel set against the backdrop of the Great Depression and the textile strife the depression helped to trigger.

Near Copperhead Creek, 1933

Sela Jean Morrow sat in the easy chair, wondering if this was the way the condemned felt awaiting execution.  The thought was accompanied by a shiver having nothing to do with the cold.  “Why did I allow Sarah and the Vicar to talk me into this?” 

It didn’t matter, the Vicar had pointed out. “The church could raise the missed payments, but it would only put off the inevitable.” 

Later the Bishop had resonated the same before saying, “It’s better to own part of something than all of nothing.”  What other options did she have? 

“You can turn to whoring in Elizabeth City,” Her mother’s voice echoed in her head.

Sela thought, “Or I can offer to share the marriage bed with a man I don’t know in exchange…doubt there’s much difference.”

Looking around the study she tried to get a feel for the man who resided within.  Books lined the two inner walls, more in low bookcases under the windows and behind the desk.  There were dozens of volumes.  Most had the worn look of use.  There were many subjects and Lucas Perry had them organized according to author and subject.  Histories, historical novels, mysteries, and science fiction seemed to be preferred.  An organized man…everything in its place.

Rising, she unbuttoned and removed her coat, carefully laying it on the arm of the chair.  Moving about, she noted that aside from the books, there was little in the room to give her a clue to the man’s personality.  Old photographs of his family sat on the mantle, she recognized a five or six-year-old Sarah and Lucas at ten or eleven.  A photograph from Lucas’s boot camp graduation, taken from such a distance she couldn’t tell which Marine Lucas was.  Framed discharged papers, and a shadowbox containing battle ribbons, badges, two chevrons, and three medals. 

Sela Jean paused at his desk.  A lamp and a stack of unlined letter-writing paper along with a composition notebook sat on the right, a pen and inkwell in the center and a framed, hand-colorized photograph of a pretty, young, blond nurse sat to the left along with a fuzzy, black, and white of Lucas and the unknown nurse sitting at a table, gayly smiling into each other’s eyes.  Picking it up she wondered….

“Please put that down,” Lucas’ deep baritone caused her to jump.

Glancing over her shoulder, she saw him standing inside the glass doorway.  She put the photograph down but decided she would not allow this man to intimidate her even if it was his home.

Turning toward him, she leaned against the desk before saying, “She is a beautiful woman.  You both look so happy.  Who is she?”

Lucas noted the deep, alto voice before answering, “Was, who was she?  She was the love of my life.  I’m sure Sarah told you about Jenny Malone.”

“Why would Sarah tell me about your love life?”

Hearing Archie’s Dodge crank, Sela Jean glanced out of the window.

“I told the vicar I’d take you home.  I hope that is agreeable.” Before she could answer, he continued, “Miss Morrow, I’m not a player of games.  My earlier conversation with my sister leads me to believe she is in league with the vicar and bishop and your cockamamie plan.”

“Their cockamamie plan.  Mr. Perry, I’m just trying to survive and have no plan.  And yes, it is fine.  I can always walk from here if necessary.  I’m three and a half weeks from being kicked to the ditch with no option other than joining the working girls in Elizabeth City or moving to the county home.  It may well be cockamamie, but it is all I have.” Her voice was filled with anger.

“Please sit and cool off. I’m Lucas, okay?”

“I’m Sela then.”

Moving back to the chair, she sat stiffly upright, her hands together in her lap, and fixed Lucas with her dark eyes.  Lucas found it disconcerting.  She was a most attractive woman with her coppery complexion, freckles, and upturned nose.  Her lips were full though pulled into a tight, straight line.  What was more disconcerting was the intelligence and defiance he saw in her eyes.  Suddenly the silence between them became oppressive.

As if needing a barrier, Lucas moved behind his desk and sat down, resting his elbows, and clasping his hands in front of him.

She broke the silence with a question, “You have a large library.  Have you read them all?”

Leaning back in his seat he answered, “Yes, some more than once.  I view them as windows to a world I’m not likely to visit.  The same with the Radiola.”

“Most of the men I’ve met are not readers…unfairly, the thought uneducated comes to mind.”

Nodding agreement, “I would probably qualify.”

“You don’t sound uneducated.”

“I am self-educated.  My mother instilled a love of books and words.  As I traveled with the Marine Corps, she would send me books.  Unless I was on liberty, reading and letter or journal writing were the only outlets I had other than card playing or craps, neither of which I am particularly good at.”

“What are you good at?”

“Interesting question…one I’ve not thought about.”  Sela Jean noticed he squirmed as if the question made him uncomfortable.  Finally, he relaxed and leaned back in his chair.

“I fix things.  I seem to understand the inner workings of machinery even if I’ve never seen the machine before.”

“And now it is proposed you fix me….  Would you come over and sit next to me?”  He hesitated but stood and came to the chair next to hers.

“Show me your hands.”

Again, he hesitated before asking, “Pardon?”

Smiling for the first time, she asked, “Am I speaking in tongues?  Let me see your hands.”

He held them out and she took one and then the other.  Her hands were not soft like Jenny’s but callused like his own, her nails cut short and, in some cases, broken.  Still, her touch was as soft and light as a hummingbird.

Releasing them she sat back, “My mother always said you could tell a great deal about a man by his hands.  Yours are familiar with work…but then I knew that.  They are also clean as are your fingernails.”

“What does that mean?”

She smiled and shrugged, “That you have clean hands and fingernails…hygiene is important.  You take the time to clean them.”  Her smile made him laugh.  He had a hardy laugh and it irritated her that she liked it.

Nodding toward the shadow box, she asked, “What do your medals mean?”

“That I survived, I guess.  Except for the wound and overseas chevron, I never understood why I received them, and others didn’t.”

“What are they?”

Lucas stood and took the shadow box down, wiping a bit of dust before returning to sit beside her.  He realized she could get him to talk.  He wasn’t sure if that was good or not.

Pointing, “These are service ribbons at the top, the three medals are the Navy Cross in the middle, the French Legion of Honor on the right, and the Croix de Guerre on the left.  The Wound Chevron is on the bottom left and Overseas Combat Chevron is on the right.  The lanyard is the Fourragère which was awarded by the French to the Fifth and Sixth Marines.”

“Do you miss the Corps?”

“Maybe…until I think about Jenny and Haiti.”

“Jenny and Haiti?”

Until this novel is published, Don’s two other historical fictions, South from Sutherland’s Station, and Long Ride to Paradise are available at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

The Old Man

From the historical novel Long Ride to Paradise

Spring 1934

The old man sat on the top step of the weathered porch and watched the movement of children as they played tag and other games.  His vision had deteriorated, and he squinted attempting to see. The cataracts had thickened, reducing the children to ghostly apparitions.  “Too much time spent in the blazing sun, I reckon.” He could still see their blurry forms and could discern the gayly clad little girls in their summer dresses from the little boys in their shorts and long pants.  “Thank God! My hearing is still good,” He thought

Someone wanted to take a picture with their new-fangled camera.  Something called a Brownie. He sat a bit slumped, his hands resting on his thighs.  A ninety-year-old…today, April 9, 1934. 

His once red hair though full, was now white as the cotton bolls bursting in the fall.  His beard, years ago red and sparse, had thickened like his cataracts. White and long, it spread to the middle of his chest. Tobacco juice from years smoking his cheroots, darkened the whiskers at the sides of his mouth.  

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Marion DeKalb Rodgers-My great, great grandfather

His gaze shifted to the distant horizon.  His once blazing, blue-green eyes had faded but his vision was still sharp…with the images of the past.  He smiled at his thoughts.  Sometimes he couldn’t remember what day it was, but his memories of times now past were as sharp as the old boning knife he once carried.  Again, he smiled, “Old times there are not forgotten.” He spent most of his time gazing back at the past.  Mostly he spent his time with the memory of Lucretia, now dead nearly sixty years.

He had been lucky.  He had loved three times.  Three fine women had warmed his bed and brought him comfort and joy.  Lucretia, Cassandra, and Josephine.  He had loved them with all his heart. The old man had been unlucky too, he had outlived all three along with his friends. 

He cherished the memories of them all, but Lucretia was special.  She had been his first….  He liked to see her in the emerald green ball dress their first night at Madam Shailene’s.  High waisted, it bared her shoulders and dipped low showing her décolletage.  An emerald ribbon held her mother’s cameo and brought attention to her long and slender neck.  He remembered slowly taking her out of the dress, pressing his lips to her neck…”Damn I almost felt a stirring.”

Lucretia Noel? Allen Kell’s great love

Timmy, Tyler James’ youngest sat down beside him.  A boy of six, Allen Kell recognized the youngster’s voice when he asked, “Whatcha’ thinking about Grampy?”  Timmy was John William’s youngest grandchild.  John William was not Allen Kell’s son but his nephew, Brother Arlo, and Stella’s only child and a sack of hell.  Allen Kell had sired no children but had been adopted by John William, Adeline, and his brood of ten children and at last count, fourteen grandchildren.

“Timmy, I was thinking about Grammy Lucretia.  I wish you had the chance to meet her.  She was a special woman.”

“As special as Grammy Josey?”  He asked as if he might be worried about Allen Kell’s answer.

“Oh yes, oh yes she was…and Josephine loved you very much.”

“I miss her…’specially her molasses cookies.”

“I miss her too…and her molasses cookies.”

He missed his friends too.  All were gone.  James, Sean, Arlo and Stella, Alexandre’ and Shailene. Virgil, Eamon….  All had been gone for ages it seemed.  “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” from the book Momma Edwards had taught him to read from.  He had been here too long.  It was time to move on to the great beyond.

All the grandchildren had gathered around his feet, Timmy begged, and the rest agreed, “Tell us a story Grampy.”

Well, maybe it’s not quite time to move on.  The grandchildren agreed.

Excerpt for the newly released Tales of the Drunken Irishman: Long Ride to Paradise. It may be downloaded or purchased at

First image is of Marion DeKalb Rodgers, my great, great grandfather. He came home from the Civil War and lived a life nothing like Allen Kell Edwards but was the motivation for the character nevertheless.

Second image is of a “soiled dove” from Pinterest She is not Lucretia Noel but this is fiction anyway https://www.pinterest.com/pin/262475484508164087/

Long Ride To Paradise

From The Tales of the Drunken Irishman Saloon: Long Ride to Paradise. Coming in early December, it is the second of the Drunken Irishman Trilogy.

Chapter One

September 1874

The Canal Street Custom House, New Orleans

Allen Kell Edwards had gotten himself into another fine mess.  The politics of the issue smelled like rotten fish.  Neither the Republicans nor the fusion Democrats were on the side of the angels.  There was no truth in politics in 1874.

A warm bed with a warmer body waited for him at home but home was several days’ travel at a saloon named The Drunken Irishman in Trinity, Louisiana.  “Oh, Lucretia, why didn’t you try and stop me?  Instead of stroking your sweet bottom, I’m holed up in the Canal Street Custom House with James Longstreet.” 

Theirs was a diverse group.  Longstreet, the former Confederate general, was the commander of the black militia.  Under his command was James Edwards, Allen Kell’s former slave, now, a member of the New Orleans Metropolitan Police.  They had been charged with defending the lawful Republican governor, William Pitt Kellogg, and his cabinet.  Yes, a fine mess…one he had not asked for.  He had come for a visit, but they had convinced him they needed him. 

What a fine mess!” They, along with Longstreet, the Republican governor and his cabinet, the metropolitan police superintendent and a mixed bag of police and militia were under siege in the Customs House.  

“A siege but at least nobody’s shooting right now.  Everyone seems to be waiting.”  Allen Kell stroked his chin thinking, “At least my quare feeling is quiet.”  Allen Kell seemed to have a sixth sense when it came to trouble, something he called his ‘quare’ feeling.

There had been plenty of shooting earlier in the day.  The battle had raged around Canal Street as Longstreet failed to stop the White League from receiving weapons being unloaded onto the New Orleans docks where they sat.  At his old commander’s request, Allen Kell had stood with the militia as they were attacked…and were routed.  

“I couldn’t lead a starving man to a St. Louis steak”, thought Allen Kell.  

Longstreet had been hit with a spent bullet which had done no damage before being pulled off his horse by members of the White League, some of whom he had probably commanded.   Allen Kell had fought frantically to free his former commander and managed to whisk him away to the custom house.  

The Superintendent of the Metropolitan Police, Sidney Badger was not as lucky.  He had been severely injured and there was talk he might lose his leg.

Allen Kell felt rather than saw the shadow falling across him.  Longstreet had cast a large shadow during the days of the Civil War, especially at Gettysburg and the defense of Petersburg.   “Old Pete” had changed little.  His beard was a bit grayer than at Petersburg, and with better vittles, his form had filled out.  

The fact he was working for the Republicans and was a friend of Sam Grant had made him a controversial figure in the nine years following the war.  Allen Kell had heard former Confederates calling Longstreet a scalawag…Allen guessed his present predicament made him one too.

“Sergeant Edwards, it appears you have failed to save my bacon once again,” Longstreet’s eyes twinkled as he said it.

Allen Kell thought he should stand and struggled through his tiredness to find his feet.

“Stay down boy, you don’t need to stand.”

Allen Kell settled and forced a smile, “General, I agree beings we’re holed up here with the entire Republican government,” surrounded, as they were, by the Louisiana State White Militia, waiting on the Federals to show up.  

“Sir, I’m a bit tired of fightin’ on the wrong side of history.”

“Son, you got me here and I’d say we’ll have to die to be on the right side of history.  Old Sam’ll send troops soon enough and these hoodlums ain’t nothing more than a white militia wanting to overthrow the rule of law.  Kellogg has wired Grant, appraising him of the situation.”

Life had not calmed after Allen Kell had returned home.  Political and racial strife erupted immediately as the state and parish governments moved to limit the rights of the newly freed slaves and return to pre-Civil War normalcy. 

Democrats, white and mostly Confederate veterans, clashed with Republicans, mostly black or if white, Northern carpetbaggers or Southern scalawags.  Violence seemed to crescendo before each election.  It had begun back in 1866 with a riot in New Orleans and spilled northward to include the Colfax riot last year.  Colfax was spitting distance from Allen Kell’s home, Edwards Crossroads and Trinity City.

“Riot?  James called it a massacre”, thought Allen Kell.  Fifty colored men, who surrendered to the White League, had been executed and thrown into the Red River according to James. Another hundred had been killed in the riot itself.  His friends, Alexandré and Shailene Dupreé֒ had been smart to leave for Barbados.  He wondered how they were faring under British control.

“General, how’s Badger?”  The Superintendent of the Metropolitan Police, Algernon Sidney Badger had been nearly crushed when his dead horse fell on him.

“Touch and go but I believe Superintendent Badger will recover from his physical wounds if he can recover from the shock of losing his leg…I’m not sure either of us will recover our good names.  Well, I will leave you to your ruminations.  I thank you for your efforts.”

“Wait, General.” Allen Kell stood, “General, I’d like to shake your hand if I might.  Our war was a bloody waste but if I had to serve, I’m glad I had a chance to serve under you.”  Longstreet nodded his thanks, shook Allen Kell’s hand, and saluted him.  Smartly Allen Kell returned it.   Watching Longstreet march off, it would be the last time he would speak with “Old Pete.”

When published, Long Ride to Paradise, along with Don Miller’s other books will be available at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR09QzUebNCSmqTEoOnCRjpbQ4FuMoyAcB3cBnUPsmVqQIdAV3GlPMeqhw4

Dark Tempest

Excerpt from alter ego Lena Christenson’s new romantic thriller, Dark Tempest.  All tempests are not storms.

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***

Belle was blind, trying to keep up with turns and the time between them by counting in her head.  She feared it was a failed enterprise.  It had been so easy on the television program she had seen.

They had been forced into a nondescript, white panel van before dawn broke.  “Why do all abductors use white panel vans…if I were the police, I would ban them.”  Hands ziplocked together in front, gagged and a cloth bag pulled over their heads, she had been unceremoniously dumped on her ass before having her feet roughly zip-tied by the gorilla named Teddy.

She felt changes in surfaces contacting the tires and tried not to think about what might await them at the end of their journey but couldn’t keep her fears at bay.  “Damn I lost count.”

“Could this be my last day on earth?”  Belle didn’t consider herself a religious person, a non-practicing Roman Catholic, but was spiritual, believing death was a pathway to something else.  She didn’t fear death…just dying hard.  Belle also knew that if things went from bad to worse, she would pray to Mother Mary to intercede on her behalf.  She could never understand why a loving God would allow the evil these three animals brought with them to exist.

“If they think I’m going down without a fight….” Belle considered her options…there weren’t many.  One woman with her hands tied against two armed men.  Poor odds at best but they weren’t going to get better.  “What about Phillipe’ and Erica?”  She had little hope for their help and believed the only way to save herself was to act alone if necessary…and act decisively.

The van slowed causing her to slide on the uncovered metal floor.  She noted the change in sound and heard the gravel as it was kicked up by the tires.  After a jolting ten minutes, a right turn was followed by slushing sounds of wet dirt and the bouncing associated with washboard rutted dirt roads.

She was suddenly thrown forward as the van came to a sliding stop.  A door opened and slammed; the side door rolled open.

“Be ready Belle.  You’ll never know when a chance will present itself.”

An opening presented itself almost immediately.  Violently pulled to the door, she felt her legs being released and immediately kicked out.  There was a solid jolt and the sound of someone’s breath exploding from their lungs followed by a loud splash.  Pulling the hood from her head she saw Teddy scrambling out of a blackwater canal.  Jumping down from the van she ran.  She didn’t know where she was going but there was a dirt road behind the van and that was where she was headed…until she ran headlong into the skinny man called Felix.  They went down in a tangle of arms and legs giving Teddy time to recover.

Trying to untangle herself from Felix with hands tied in front of her was a fruitless effort.  She felt wet fingers grabbing the back of her blouse and was pulled off the struggling man.

With swamp water cascading from his body, Teddy threw her on her back and straddled her.  His eyes were sharp points and the automatic in his hand huge, “You bitch I’m going to put a bullet tween your eyes just so you can see it comin’.”

Belle screamed in his face, “Well do it before your breath kills me.  Mouthwash, you freaks ever heard of it?”

Teddy slapped her hard across the mouth momentarily stunning her and bringing the coppery taste of blood.  Pulling back her feet, the attempt at kicking him was batted away as if she was a gnat.  Kneeling, Teddy grabbed the front of her blouse, ripping it to her waist.

Drawing back his fist to hit her again, Teddy felt a gun barrel behind his ear, “Get off her.  We need her.  I’m not going to tell you again.  I’ll shoot you before I have to face Moïse because you got dumped in the water and killed her.”

***

Felix thought, “Just drop the hammer and end this thing.  Call the cops, my boss, and set a trap for Moïse.  Everyone saved and Moïse in the bag…the problem was there was no phone service,” Felix had just looked.

Removing the gun Felix said, “Get off of her and let’s get them inside.”

Pointing it at Belle he added, “No more of your tomfoolery girl.  Teddy, get the other two and let’s get inside before some fool fisherman sees us.”

Teddy stood and brought his gun to bear on Felix, “If you ever point a gun at me you better pull the trigger.”  Slowly he lowered the gun, “Now get them inside and this time make sure her hands are tied behind her back.”

***

Belle saw the sun was barely above the eastern horizon.  “They had been on the road for an hour or so…maybe, who knew?”  A warped, silver-gray boardwalk connected the landing to a stilted house twenty-five to thirty yards on an island in the channel.  The house seemed to be equally ramshackle.

Pushing her between the shoulder blades Teddy snickered, “Pay attention, I’d hate for you to fall in.  Gator feedin’ time ain’t till this evenin’.”

Dark Tempest may be purchased or downloaded at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07B6BDD19

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Dark Tempest

All tempests are not caused by climate.  Belle Beaudoin’s chance encounter with a man she hasn’t seen in fourteen years leads to a passionate romance.  She and Sawyer Ramsey’s second chance at love becomes complicated and perilous due to her ex-husband’s and his replacement wife’s involvement with a Gulf shore crime lord and his menacing lieutenant.  Their budding romance may not be allowed to bloom but may instead die in the dark waters around Bayou Adelaide.  The following excerpt is from Dark Tempest.

“Virgile Lagasse dressed like a dandy from an earlier era.  A light-colored, linen, three-piece suit was worn over a frilly silk shirt.  The matching vest was embossed with scenes of antelope at play.  A dark, string, bow tie, gold studs, and cufflinks completed his outfit.  His matching gambler’s hat and cane lay on the desktop.  Virgile could have been Big Daddy Pollitt from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or Yancy Derringer of Fifty’s TV fame…except he was grossly overweight…more so than Burl Ives, the actor who played Big Daddy in the film, at his heaviest.  Three hundred and fifty pounds if an ounce, carried on a five-six frame.  He resembled a miniature Jabba the Hutt dressed for a cotillion.  Even his skin coloration was a bit green.

No one dared comment on his toad-like looks. As Big Daddy, Virgile Lagasse was one of the most powerful and feared men on the Gulf Coast …one of the most violent.  Unlike Big Daddy, he hadn’t acquired his power from the buying and selling of cotton, he had grown wealthy from the buying and selling of men’s vices.  Women and gambling were the bait, meant to capture men’s souls and he had hooked a big one, Phillipe’ Marcel Beaudoin.  All he had to do was land him and from his phone taps, it appeared Phillipe’ might jump into the boat on his own.

The Beaudoin family had been a thorn in Virgile’s side for years.  Not a big thorn but it didn’t matter.  Virgile hated any competition even if it was from an old-time moonshiner’s family.  He had purchased Phillipe’s gambling debt from the local loan shark, Fat Cherry LeBlanc.  Virgile wanted a monopoly on vice along the delta.  The weed and moonshine the Beaudoin family ran went hand in hand with gambling, women and heavier drugs.  Virgile would have the monopoly…along with the gambling debts Phillipe’ owed or Phillipe’ would have trouble walking without crutches…if at all.”

Don Miller’s nom de plume Lena Christenson creates a tale of romance and suspense with a touch of the erotic.  A second chance at love turns in to a fight for survival.  Dark Tempest may be purchased in paperback at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1081900407?ref_=pe_3052080_397514860 or downloaded at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07VL9S7CB

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A Game… Under a Psychedelic Sun in a Tangerine Sky: An Excerpt

I felt my heart rate and respiration jump.  At least I hadn’t screamed.  I need to get up…wait, “What the….”  In the morning light escaping around the pulled blinds, I saw nothing that looked familiar.  I was in a king-sized bed in what appeared to be in an old-fashioned bedroom complete with a patchwork quilt, wainscoted walls, a dry sink with pitcher and bowl.  Heavily stuffed chairs resembled prehistoric animals gazing at me from the corners.  Glancing at the other side of the bed, I saw it had not been slept in…”What the f….”

“Okay I get it, it’s a dream within a dream.  I only think I’m awake.  The scene is too real.  If this is a dream within a dream, why do I feel the urge to pee?”

As I stood over the urinal, I noticed something was wrong…well…different.  The lower body I looked at didn’t resemble mine in the least nor did the dragon I was draining.  Short, thick legs were now long and slender, bowling ball sized calves replaced with long, supple, athletic ones. The “over Sixty” paunch I worked so hard and failed to eliminate was gone, replaced by toned abs and a chest covered in dark, curly hair.

Turning on the light at the bathroom sink, the mirror reflected a face and upper body that wasn’t mine.  Looking back at me, mimicking my every move was Tom Selleck.  Not the Blue Bloods or Jesse Stone Tom Selleck, the Magnum P.I. Tom Selleck.  The shaggy dark hair and matching mustache, dimples that deepened like the Grand Canyon when I smiled Tom Selleck.  “Man, what a dream.”  Dipping my head a bit and angling it to the side, my face became the winking Tom Selleck’s.

The body didn’t feel like mine either.  I usually groaned when I got out of bed.  The body I looked at in the mirror didn’t ache at all.  Locking my knees, I bent and reached toward my toes…“Man, what a dream.”

Looking around the room, my gaze fell on the armoire that housed a television set above its pullout drawers.  A folded notecard made from expensive stock sat to one side of the TV, a remote to the other.  Picking up the notecard, I felt chills chase themselves up and down my spine, ‘Welcome to Pearly Gates Bed and Breakfast,’ was embossed in gold on the front. The inside also etched in gold, welcomed me. ‘We hope to make your transition enjoyable and stress-free.’  It was signed, Petra Saint, Proprietor.  I pondered…”I’m missing something.”

A gentle knock to my door brought me back to the here and now, where ever the here and now was.

***

Through the peephole, I saw a shapely petite woman with a clear, coffee and cream complexion and short blue-black hair.  She tapped a pen against a clipboard before placing it under her arm and straightening her clothes.  The woman had an “all business” look on her a pretty face.  A familiar silhouette stood on shapely, well-formed legs, displayed in a black leather skirt.  Black moderately heeled pumps made her calf muscles stand out.  A matching leather jacket covered a blazing white blouse with a moderate neckline covered in frills.

I recognized her.  I had watched her on TV the night before as I fell asleep, Tamron Hall on the ID Channel.  I kept the TV on to blot out the sounds buzzing in my ears…except my ears were no longer buzzing.

An excerpt from the short story


The short story A Game… Under a Psychedelic Sun in a Tangerine Sky may be downloaded at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07Q18P2NQ

Don Miller’s Author’s page may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The Old Man

The old man sat on the top step of the porch and watched the movement of children as they played tag. His vision was bad and he squinted attempting to see. Cataracts had thickened, reducing the children to ghostly apparitions. Too much time spent in the blazing sun. He could still see their blurry forms and could discern the gaily clad little girls in their summer dresses from the little boys in their shorts and long pants. Thank God! My hearing is still good.

Someone wanted to take a picture with their new-fangled camera. Something called a Brownie. He sat a bit slumped, his hands resting on his thighs. An eighty-year-old…today. His once red hair was now white as the cotton bolls bursting in the fall. His beard, years ago red and sparse had thickened like his cataracts. White and long, it spread to the middle of his vest. Tobacco juice from years of chewing stained the sides of his mouth.

His gaze shifted to the distant horizon. His once blazing, blue-green eyes had faded but his vision was still sharp…with the visions of the past. He smiled at his thoughts. He couldn’t remember what day it was, but his memories of times now past was as sharp as the old boning knife he once carried. He spent most of his time gazing back at the past. Mostly he spent his time with the memory of Lucretia, now dead nearly fifty years.

He had been lucky. He had loved three times. Three fine women had warmed his bed and brought him comfort and joy. Lucretia, Genevieve, and Josephine. He had loved them with all his heart. The old man had been unlucky too, he had outlived all three. He cherished the memories of them all, but Lucretia was special. She had been his first…. He liked to remember her in the emerald green ball dress. High waisted, it bared her shoulders and dipped low showing her décolletage. An emerald ribbon held her mother’s cameo and brought attention to her long slender neck. He remembered slowly taking her out of the dress…Damn, I almost felt something stir.

Timmy, Tyler James’s youngest, sat down beside him. A chap of six, he recognized the boy’s voice when he asked, “Whatcha’ thinking about Grampy?” He was John William’s youngest grandchild. John William was not the old man’s grandson but his grandnephew, Arlo and Stella’s boy. He had sired no children but had been adopted by John William and his brood.

“Timmy, I was thinking about Grammy Lucretia. I wish you had the chance to meet her. She was a special woman.”

“As special as Grammy Josey?” He asked as if he might be worried about my answer.

“Oh yes, oh yes she was…and Josephine loved you very much.”

“I miss her…’specially her molasses cookies.”

“I miss her too…and her molasses cookies.”
He missed his friends too. All were gone. Sean, Arlo, and Stella, Alexandre’ and Shailene, James. All had been gone for ages. “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” from the book Momma Edwards had taught him to read from. He had been here too long. It was time to move on.

“Tell me a story Grampy.”

Well, maybe it’s not quite time to move on quite yet.

Finis

I’ve always wondered about the picture I used to illustrate this fictional piece that may or may not become a novel. It is a picture of my great, great-grandfather, Marion DeKalb Rodgers, who was born in 1842. I have no idea when the picture was made…and it really doesn’t matter. It’s his tanned and weathered face, along with the squint, that captivated my thoughts. I wondered what he was thinking and what his life was like, the sights he saw. I understand he was a farmer and a carpenter. I know as a seventeen-year-old he went off with his father to fight in the Civil War and was one of the lucky ones who returned. Again, I just wonder.

Don Miller is a multi-genre, Indie author. He has just released his second work of fiction, South From Sutherland’s Station. It along with his other works may be purchased or downloaded at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM.

SOUTH FROM SUTHERLAND’S STATION

Excerpt from Don Miller’s soon to be released historical novel, South From Sutherland’s Station.

As he traveled down the Ohio to the Mississippi, the side-wheeler made stops along the way: Cincinnati, Memphis, Greenville, Vicksburg, Natchez, and finally New Orleans.  Over and over, it loaded and unloaded cargo, livestock, and people.  Vicksburg, Tennessee, and the flanking Delta, Louisiana, were the worst.  Despite having been out of the fight for nearly two years, the people who met them on the wharves still bore scars from the war.  Few young men met them, just older men, colored and white, stooped from both age and abuse.  Underweight and hollow-eyed children begged and faded Southern Belles twirled their parasols, all dreaming of a time now past.  Any joy of being near his home soil was offset by the gloom covering the landscape like the thick fogs off the river.

The easiest way home would be to disembark at Vicksburg, cross the river to Delta and then catch a stage overland the seventy miles to Edwards’ Crossroads.  Going on to New Orleans meant having to catch a riverboat traveling back up to the Red River and onto the Ouachita but his promise to Wyatt ate at him worse than a case of the quickstep.  Allen Kell knew if he did not make the trip to Wyatt’s mother and sister, his promise would continue to gnaw at him.  Maybe he could find some work to get enough money to get home.  Anytime offered work to load or unload the side-wheeler, he had volunteered.  Despite his efforts, he had less than five dollars of army script in his pocket.

Allen Kell sat on the barge and brooded.  He wanted to be happy the war was over.  Memories of the killing and disease seemed to sap his resolve.  He was empty inside, a shell.  Allen Kell knew but refused to admit, he missed the killing.  He had been most alive making the charges against Federal lines, looking down barrels of death pointed in his direction.  The vicious hand to hand fighting sent adrenaline pulsing through his body, leaving him spent and at peace when it was over.  Allen Kell’s ruminations were interrupted as the side-wheeler’s steam whistle went off.  Moments later, just around the next bend, the New Orleans’s wharves came into view.

Allen Kell agreed to trade more labor for meals, a piece of deck to sleep on and passage back to Vicksburg later in the week.  He would end up with more army script to go with what he had.  After spending part of his script on some new clothes-a union suit, one pair of tough canvas pants, two shirts, one flannel for work and a muslin to visit Wyatt’s family in-Allen Kell went to the community baths to bathe and shave.  He kept the officer’s slouch hat he had picked up off the battlefield at Gettysburg, the red Garibaldi shirt he had been issued in Baton Rouge, his braces and his boots, and trashed the rest.  When he looked at his reflection while shaving, Allen Kell was shocked at the gauntness of his face and realized he had the same hollow-eyed stare he had noticed on the faces of the people of Vicksburg.  It had been the first time he had seen his face in over a year.

South From Sutherland’s Station is a novel of the chaotic days following the Civil War and ex-Confederate soldier, Allen Kell Edwards.  It will be available for purchase in early December.  Until then you may go to Don Miller’s author’s page at http://amazon.com/author/cigarman501

 

NATE

We served over a hundred and fifty souls, the homeless and poor along with the people who ran the soup kitchen every week and their families. There were smiles, laughs, and expressions of true thankfulness. I believe the smiles made it all worthwhile. As the line trickled to a stop we joined the diners, “breaking bread” and sharing their stories and their experiences.
Aja was unusually quiet. We sat across the table from a thin black man named Nate. A Vietnam War veteran, Nate never got his life together despite the war being over for nearly forty-five years. He had been an eighteen-year-old tunnel rat and by his own admission, “hadn’t amounted to much.” After returning home, Nate had worked at low paying jobs to support his alcoholism until he “had just worn out.” Despite being surrounded by friends this Thanksgiving morning, his glances were furtive, as if someone or life might be sneaking up on him.
“Holy John,” the Methodist minister, disclosed to me Nate lived on family land in a fifty-year-old Airstream resting on flat tires and cement blocks. A cast iron stove “liberated” from someone’s trash heap and vented through a window, both warmed the old travel trailer and provided enough heat to prepare whatever food Nate had available. Like many troubled vets, he sometimes forgot to eat or chose instead to drink his way through the day.
Nate augmented his monthly social security checks with odd jobs done for understanding church members or by selling, for scrap, the aluminum cans he collected walking the country roads around the Airstream. Local folks dropped off bags of aluminum cans under a hand-painted sign whose down-pointing arrow instructed them to “drop cans here.” With no running water or indoor plumbing, he filled recycled milk jugs from a neighbor’s outdoor spigot and took his weekly shower and washed his clothes in the facilities provided in the church’s fellowship hall. Despite his plight, he seemed almost happy with his existence and was more open than many Vietnam veterans I had met.
A gaunt, mahogany face peered out from under an old Detroit Tigers’ baseball cap. Wisps of wiry, gray hair peeked out from under it. He had an ancient face, made older by his predicament. It was cut by deep crevasses that became deeper when he smiled. Nate seemed anything but sad with his self-imposed hardships. In a soft voice, he said, “I do okay. I don’t need much and since I’m drawin’ my social I live like a king.” Pausing to look back somewhere in the past he quoted, “I try to keep my heart open to dreams. As long as there’s a dream I have a life.” With our present military involvements, I wondered how many more of these damaged souls we would produce.
Nate paused, his rheumy eyes gazing intently at Aja before asking, “Little girl…somethin’ is troublin’ you?” Before she could answer he went on, “You young and beautiful. Out here on a Thanksgiving mornin’, you got to have a good heart. People gonna tell you this is the best time of your life. It ain’t. Wonder mo young folk don’t commit suicide hearing that shit. Life always gonna be hard but gets better if you let it. I didn’t and now my time be growin’ short. Nothin’ I can do about it, but you can if you wants to. ‘scuse my language but you need to take life by the balls and twist ‘em if you need to.”
Aja smiled her heart melting smile and said, “Thank you, Nate. I’ll try to remember to twist them just for you.”

This is a fictional composite of many former Vietnam Vets I have known…too many that I have known.  It is also written for Steve, my brother, and Hawk, my friend, who saw a need and acted on it.

Don Miller is a multi-genre writer who, in addition to maintaining a blog, has self-published six books.   His most recent release is the romantic adventure OLIVIA.  Don’s author’s page may be accessed at  http://amazon.com/author/cigarman501.

Thank you for stopping by.

FROM A CHILDHOOD LONG AGO

 

We camped on a low bluff overlooking the river a mile or two from our homes.  The “three amigos” were eleven or twelve and the outing was our first time camping alone.  The leashes were off.  We had been hard at work.  Our canvas-covered lean-to was in place held steady with freshly cut green saplings. Bedrolls were laid out, rocks placed in a circle for the campfire later and the wood to feed it gathered and stacked.  Our intentions were to catch fish then clean and roast them over our campfire.  Just in case we were well provisioned with Vienna sausages, Deviled Ham, and soda crackers.  Danny had snuck out a pack of his daddy’s Viceroys from its carton and Charlie a deck of his mother’s canasta cards.

We fished with our cane poles until the sun dipped behind the tall water oaks on the western side of the river before giving up our culinary ideas.  Instead, we would dine on cold Vienna’s and warm soft drinks.  As darkness fell we lit off our campfire, lit up our after-dinner Viceroys and toasted our first step toward adulthood with bottles of Orange Crush.  With the dark surrounding our campfire, our talk involved girls and the ones we would most like to sleep with as if we knew what “sleeping with a girl” entailed.  Later we would combine poker with our girl talk.

As late night turned to early morning and the full moon rose above our heads, our conversation turned to ghost stories and tales of particularly graphic murder scenes until one by one we nodded off.

I thought I was awake, opening my eyes to the shadows cast by the bright full moon now chasing the unseen sun to our west.  Swirls of fog rose from the ground and began to take on the shapes of men, clad in animal skins, with spears and warclubs facing off against each other.  Somehow, I knew I was safe, these ghostly forms were not here for me.  I began to hear their yells and the grunts of their effort, some of the yells turning into howls of pain as a spear point or clubhead found it’s mark.  The battle was close in and personal.  Blood stained both the victor and vanquished.

I turned to see if Charlie and Danny were seeing the battle and instead found myself awake and my vision blinded by the rising sun.  As quickly as the warriors had come, they had disappeared.  I never told Charlie and Danny what I had seen.  I feared their ridicule.  I did tell my Native American grandmother, someone who would never ridicule me.

I told Nannie my story and asked, “Nannie, what did it all mean?  It was so real.  I could hear their screams and smell the blood being spilled onto the ground.”

“It means nothing, yet means everything Jethro.  Your forefathers fought for control of the land and the trading routes along the river.  In some cases, they fought each other.  Deaths were violent and released great energy.  Sometimes the spirits come back attempting to find their way to the ‘light.’  You are not the first one to see the great battles but only those with the ‘sight’ can see it.  Your great, great grandfather was a great medicine man.  He controlled great magic, you may follow in his footsteps.”

Thirty years would pass before I thought about my dream and the conversation with my grandmother.  I would not think about it until Olivia began to sit at the foot of my bed.

Excerpt from the adventure romance with ghostly overtones, OLIVIA by Don Miller.  Please visit his author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM