Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Closer Than Brothers - Chapter Four

It's NOT a romance. It's not very funny, there just wasn't much comedy to be mined for me in Andersonville Prison.
It's not even a real story
Part #4 of 13 episodes of how my heroes from Trouble in Texas met and how they became so loyal to each other.
Book #3 Stuck Together --Vince's story--releases in June 3.
Closer Than Brothers

Click to Buy
Chapter Four

Luke—The Kid

When Luke had put his name proudly on that list he hadn’t expected to watch a man hang. But things moved fast once Wirz told Dowd to form a group of lawmen.

            With rations cut off, there wasn't much choice.

A troop of armed Rebs came into the prison yard and rounded up two hundred prisoners, pointed out as part of the Raiders.

Then, being cowards who were offered immunity, the two hundred soon turned in their leaders, the worst among them Mosby Collins. Many of the men thought of the Raiders as Mosby's Raiders though there were many small groups and the main leaders were in fact these six men.

There were formalities, even a letter sent to Abraham Lincoln in Washington D.C. for his approval, which was given. Finally came the day and Major Wirz rode in with the leaders of the Raiders.

In his foreign voice, from the back of his pale horse, he declared, ""I haf had notting to do wit it. I vash my hands of everyting connected wit dem. Do wit dem as you like!

It was a speech worthy of Pontius Pilate.

The Yankees formed juries and named judges and handed out sentences.

            Murder had been done many times, or beatings so bad they led to death, and the sentence could be no less than a hanging.

Luke was with a band of men who were allowed outside, under armed guard, on the pretext of gathering firewood, but in truth to get wood to build a scaffolding for a hanging.

Only when six leaders of the different groups of Raiders were swinging from a noose did the thieves finally learn to fear the new order of things.

Jonas stood next to Luke as the last man was pushed from the scaffolding. Luke saw the cold calm in his parson friend’s eyes. “Doesn’t this make you want to cast up the contents of your belly?”

Jonas looked away from the dying man. The last one, Mosby, had been ugly to watch. His rope had broken and he’d fallen to the ground, still alive.

Mosby had screamed and begged. Cried out that he’d already been hung and God had judged that it wasn’t his day to die.

All Mosby's pleadings were ignored and he’d been strung up and hung again with a sturdier rope. Luke wasn’t about to look away and having a belly as empty as his made not vomiting easy. But it was a sickening sight.

Not an ounce of sickness showed in Jonas.

Drawing in a long, slow breath, Jonas said, “What I’ve seen in my life, what I’ve been, it’s made me a mighty hard man. A shameful man.” Jonas looked back at Mosby Collins, still thrashing, dying slow. No quick, merciful broken neck for him.

“I took to war just like I took to being an outlaw. I liked it. The first few months in the army I was a killing fool. I was hungry for it. Bloodthirsty and it had nothing to do with freeing the slaves.” Jonas licked his lips and watched too close as the hanging man’s thrashing slowed.

Then he gave his head a shake and forced his eyes down. “I changed the day I ran a man through with my bayonet.” Jonas rubbed a hand over his face. “Not the first time by any means. But right after it happened, while I still had him pinned. While I stood there watching him die, enjoying it, a cannon ball hit right behind him. It knocked us both back. His body shielded me, no doubt saved me. The force of it buried us both. He was on top of me dying. Dirt completely covered us. We were buried alive.”

Silence stretched. “That man had my bayonet through his gut and Lord only knows what injuries from the cannon blast and he was suddenly still. I figured he was finally dead, and I could get him off me and dig my way out and go on with my killing. I looked up and his eyes were focused right on me, clear and rational.

"He said, ‘I’ve got a letter to my mother in my breast pocket. If you would sent it to her, I would be most obliged, but whether you do or not, please don’t let my death weigh on you. I’m a Christian man, and I am leaving this life today to join my Heavenly Father with no regrets. In fact I count it as a blessing that I am dying and not you. It would be a hard thing for a man to meet his Maker with the last act on earth to be killing a man, no matter if he thinks his war is just. I hold no hatred for you and count no blame toward you for my death. I forgive you. It gives me joy to be able to forgive you as my dying act. A loving God will forgive you, too, if you but ask.'”

Jonas fell silence. Luke could tell by the tension that eased from the crowd that the hanging man had finally quit his struggled, but Luke didn't see it because he couldn't look away from his friend.

Jonas added, "And then he died."

Men went forward to cut down the executed Raiders, but Luke didn't go. He stood watching Jonas and saw all the terrible thirst fade away and his good friend and parson was back, calm, loving, faithful.

Jonas was able to smile again. "I lay there in that hole for the rest of the battle and the whole time I was there I prayed. I grew up knowing about God. I went to church as a child. My parents were God fearing people. But after my pa died, Ma remarried a terrible brute of a man who hurt her, hurt me. I forgot everything I'd learned and only remembered to hate. But there, buried alive, I knew what it meant to die and be reborn. I really knew what it meant that Jesus had been crucified and buried, then raised from the dead. God gave me that same chance and I took it. I fell into that hole a sinner surely bound for hell. I came out with my eyes fixed on Jesus and my feet on the narrow road to Glory. I've been preaching the Gospel ever since."

Jonas's eyes burned into Luke's, and suddenly Luke wasn't so sure about what he believed. He thought of all the wrangling he'd done with Pa. Of all the time's he'd fussed at Callie for running wild around the ranch, shooting and roping, acting as manly as any cowhand.

Luke decided then and there he'd spend a day in prayer himself. He reached out and clapped Jonas on the shoulder. "I needed to hear that story, Jonas. Thank you for tellin' it."

Nodding, Jonas said, "Hangings like this wake up parts of me I wish were gone, but I think God leaves them inside so I never forget. It's not a simple thing to walk away from all you've known, all you've been. If I know how it feels to be part of evil, maybe I can reach men who feel the same."

"Luke, we need a hand."

Turning, Luke saw they were carrying off the bodies. He'd been eager to be part of dragging the men in. He wasn't quite so eager to carry them off. He went. Jonas, Dare and Vince, too. But Luke went with a heavy heart.

As it turned out, a heavy heart, didn't stop men from wanting him and his friends dead.


The hangings were the beginning, not the end. The group of lawmen called themselves Regulators and they formed themselves into an orderly police force that in time grew to nearly twelve hundred men.

            Andersonville was still a place of filth, starvation, sickness and slow, ugly death. But the death wasn’t coming from the hands of other Yankees now.

            Except for those who thought the Regulators were traitors.

            The two hundred men who'd been arrested were given various punishments, lashings, running gauntlets, some spent time in stocks. Some were sentenced to dragging around a ball and chain for a time. Eventually all these men were turned loose in the prison population and they all bore a grudge, especially for those who had participated directly in the hanging. Luke and his friends were in hourly danger of assassination.

            They were given jobs that took them outside, mainly into the hospital but other small jobs were found, too, which only deepen the suspicion among the prisoners that they were traitors.

            The bond between the Regulators deepened and they each had many chance to protect each other. As assistant to the camp doctor, Dare came in contact with more prisoners than most of them and he seemed most likely to attract trouble.

            Luke figured he'd have made a decent enough doctor himself with a little more training and some patience on the trainer's part. Except he seemed to have a tendency to get sick himself and that was wearing him out fast.

            But spending time in the infirmary kept him handy to save Dare's life, even when it was all he could do to drag himself out of his miserable bed.
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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Closer than Brothers - Chapter Three

It's NOT a romance. It's not very funny, there just wasn't much comedy to be mined for me in Andersonville Prison.
It's not even a real story
Part #3 of 13 episodes of how my heroes from Trouble in Texas met and how they became so loyal to each other.
Book #3 Stuck Together --Vince's story--releases in June 3.
Closer Than Brothers

Chapter Three
Click to Buy
Luke—The Kid

 “He’s crossing the Dead Line.” Luke surged forward.

Dare caught him under one arm. Vince under the other.

“It’s too late,” Jonas blocked Luke, standing square in front of him, facing him, but looking over his shoulders, knowing what was coming. They were halfway across the camp. No possible way to get to the battered, staggering man in time to stop him. They couldn't even get close enough to shout a warning.

“I can get to him.” Luke desperately fought their grip. He couldn't stand to see another unarmed Union soldier shot down in cold blood.

“No you can’t.” Dare hissed in Luke’s ear. They were doing all of this quietly, not wanting to attract any unnecessary attention. Attention in here was usually bad. “He’s out of his head. He won’t hear you if you yell for him to stop. Look at him.”

The man was barely on his feet, weaving but moving forward at a determined clip. They couldn’t get to him. Maybe his knees would give out. Luke prayed something would stop the fool.

They'd all watched Wirz only an hour ago, do his usual vicious welcome when new prisoners came in. Pull his pistol and threaten to personally shoot anyone for any reason. He'd list off the rules and laugh about the Dead Line. Almost beg the newcomers to step across it and just see if they didn't earn a bullet. Wirz had a heavy foreign accent. German maybe, Luke wasn't sure, but it sounded ugly and made Luke feel like he was truly in a foreign prison.

There had never been a man who had so utterly focused Luke's hatred as Major Heinrich Wirz. And now here was this new prisoner, only just locked in Andersonville and already attacked and robbed and so badly hurt by the Raiders that he was going to cross the Dead Line and end up…dead.

“The Raiders got to him.” The bitter fury made Luke want to hunt down every man Jack of them. The Raiders had got to him, too. They’d stolen everything. The Rebs had let him keep what he’d had on him when he’d been captured save for his weapons. But the Raiders took it all but the shirt on his back. He’d fought them and they’d set in to giving him a beating. Vince had put a stop to it and, with a few friends, Luke had felt fairly safe ever since.

But even teamed up, they couldn’t stop all the beatings. It was too big a job.

The man stumbled right up to the front gate, only inches from the Dead Line.

Luke braced himself, waiting for a shot to ring out.

Dare let Luke go and turned to watch. Vince, too and made room for Jonas. The four of them stood, barely breathing. Waiting for the crack of rifle fire.

“They picked the guards for this place by seeing who enjoyed being sadistic.” Vince muttered.

“Anyone with a shred of human decency can’t stand it and asks to be transferred." Jonas crossed his arms, his jaw so tight it was a wonder he could talk. "So what you’re left with is sadists. It isn’t a plan, it just that the monsters remain.”

“There he is now.” Big John came up behind Luke. “The biggest monster of ’em all, Wirz.”

Big John said his name so it sounds like ‘worst’. It was the private joke they all told. Luke suspected if Worst heard it, they’d all be shot. He’d shot people for less.

The prisoner stopped and spoke loud and clear. Because nearly every man in Andersonville was holding his breath, waiting for Wirz to fire, they heard the man speak.

"My name is Dowd. I have just been robbed. I demand you do something about it."

Luke gasped and he heard the same sound repeated over a thousand times through the camp.

"You demand?" Wirz looked at Dowd as if the man, bleeding and stumbling was a source of entertainment. "What iz it dat makes you all such vermin, Mr. Dowd. Why are you filthy Yankees vittout honor? Why do you rob and beat each utter?"

"Are you saying," Dowd continued in outrage, "that you are powerless to keep order here?"

Wirz gasped. The question hit him right in his pride.

Luke couldn't tear his eyes away. Wirz had his gun out. Brandishing it. He pointed it in the air, the slowly brought it done and aimed it straight at Dowd's chest.

"I won't let a brave man die alone." Luke strode forward.

If his friends tried to stop him, they failed. And that's when he realized they didn't try. They were right behind him. And they weren’t the only ones

Other groups walked toward Dowd.

Luke and he friends weren't alone in banding together for protection in this purgatory.

Voices raised, crying out for justice. Shouting for an end to the Raiders cruelty. Luke looked at the large tent some of the Raiders lived in, sewn together with the stolen clothes and blankets of other prisoners. The Raiders didn't even try to hide their crimes.

A crowd grew behind Dowd as Wirz sat there on his white horse. They called him the Pale Rider, or Death on a Pale Horse, one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. A more perfect name for such a foul man had never been found.

He might gun down one man, but would he kill them all? Luke wasn't one bit sure Wirz wouldn't do just that and enjoy it.

Suddenly, Wirz looked up, swept his eyes across the shouting men, all gathered behind Dowd. "Silence!"

He spoke in his foreign voice, amused, cold as a northern gale. "Very well. Ve vill have law and order if you wish it."

He extended his gun hand and pointed it across all their chests. Luke felt that gun aim right square at him. Wirz spoke again.

"I vill giff you the authority of the law, within these valls. You may arrest. Call a jury. Punish. Yankee will punish Yankee." A harsh laugh broke from Wirz throat. "Eefen condemn men to death."

Wirz's eyes and sweeping gun went back to Dowd. "I vant a list of traitorous Yankee polizia who will turn on der fellow soldiers by first light. Your name, Mr. Dowd, to be first on dat list. To make sure dat justice is swift, no man eats until dee lawbreakers are caught."

Turning, Wirz rode out of the prison yard.

Silence reigned in the prison yard, but not inside Luke. His mind rioted. His heart pounded loud enough to deafen him. It wasn't traitorous to end thievery. It wasn't traitorous to bring order.

But no food? None at all?

Wirz might take twisted pleasure in setting Yankee against Yankee, but that was the situation already in here. He'd just given permission for it to end. There were a whole lot of men volunteering to help. As many ways as there were to die in here, it made sense to control the ways you could.

And the Raiders could be controlled. Finally. It had to be done fast. Men died from hunger everyday on the slim rations they were given now, to cut them off entirely was to condemn men to death almost hourly. They had to act fast.

For the first time since he'd been thrown in here, Luke felt like a man. In fact, considering he'd left his family ranch in Texas after a big fight with his pa; who wouldn't let Luke take charge of anything at home, didn't want Luke fighting for the North, and didn't want Luke fighting at all come to that, maybe Luke was feeling like a man for the first time in his life.

He liked it.
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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Closer Than Brothers - Chapter Two

It's NOT a romance. It's not very funny, there just wasn't much comedy to be mined for me in Andersonville Prison.
It's not even a real story
Part #2 of 13 episodes of how my heroes from Trouble in Texas met and how they became so loyal to each other.
Book #3 Stuck Together --Vince's story--releases in June 3.
Closer Than Brothers

Chapter Two
Click to Buy
Vince—The Invincible

"They didn't even swing a fist, the cowards." Luke sounded disappointed. "Twenty against five and they just turned tail and ran."

            "Save your energy, Kid." Vince said. "You'll need it in this place."

            "I've been doing a man's work since I could sit a horse, which was about the same time I could walk, so I ain't no kid."

            "I think of myself as a father figure to you," Vince smiled. Since it was pitch dark he didn’t figure Luke would care overly. Vince was standing, keeping watch. His father had taught him at a very young age not to let anyone sneak up on him. There was an ugly price to pay.

            "You're five years older than me at best, that'd make the strangest father who ever lived. You were probably still running around in diapers in Chicago when I was roping and branding cattle. They grow up fast in Texas."

            "I grew up mighty young. Trust me." Vince didn't bother telling more, but he didn't call Luke Kid again either. He'd save it for another time. "I'll stand the first watch. You all get some sleep."

            Big John rolled to his side and was snoring within minutes. A man who knew how to rest when he got a chance.

They'd gone as a group and gotten their meager possessions. Most of them had little more than a ragged blanket. They'd found a spot together and would team up to protect each other from now until they got out of this place either by the war ending or death.

            Vince felt his empty belly growl and still didn't have much doubt that he'd be taken out of this place feet first. But he was used to the idea.

            Luke was asleep next. Two Texans. They seemed to have a way of using exactly the amount of energy they needed and saving up all the rest. Wise men. They'd probably survive in here if one of the dozens of deadly diseases didn't get them.

            Dare was up, fidgeting, pacing. The man could not be still. Vince and Dare's eyes met. Jonas was quieter about it, but he didn't look ready to settle down either. They all stepped away from those snoring Texans so their wakefulness wouldn't rob their friends of sleep.

            "Why don't you two sleep?" Vince could stand for them to leave him alone, honestly. Having friends was a new experience. It took some getting used to.

            Dare shook his head. "I don't think I've ever slept much more than four hours at a stretch in my life. You two go ahead. My ma said I was the worst sleeping baby she'd ever heard tell of. I was a torment from the cradle."

            Jonas gave a dry laugh. "I'll rest in a minute. Trouble like tonight always leaves me stirred up. I need to spend some time in prayer."

            "Because you feel guilty for being trapped into a fight?" Dare asked.

            "Because I love it.” Jonas’s eye flashed blue in the moonlight and Vince was surprised by a sudden urge to step back. “I feel guilty for standing here hungry for the missed chance to hurt somebody."

            Vince gave Dare a startled look then turned back to Jonas. "Seems kind of bloodthirsty for a parson."

            "Yep, it sure enough is. And it's way too close to the surface. I am a man of peace. A man of prayer and forgiveness. I preach love. And that doesn’t stop me from wanting to grab a gun and fill every one of those worthless scum full of lead."

            Vince flinched at the venom in Jonas's voice.

            "I'm more than sure the Lord is real disappointed in me right now."

            Vince wasn't real sure how to respond to such a statement. In fact he should probably just shut up, but what he should do was often enough not what he did. "So is that hard to preach around come Sunday morning?"

            Shaking his head, staring at the ground, Jonas said, "You have no idea how hard." He looked up, rubbing the back of his neck, and said, "I rode the outlaw trail for a few years, before I bought into this war."

            Vince felt his brow arch. "You? Parson Jonas an outlaw?"

            "Yep, and I liked it. I had a powerful need to hurt my stepfather when I was too small to do it, so I found a way to hurt other people by teaming up with some wanted men and holding their horses while they robbed banks and the like. I was eager for trouble and I was good at finding it."

            "Your stepfather? Tina's father?" Dare asked.

            "Who's Tina?" Vince asked.

            Jonas looked up sharply. "She's my baby sister and she writes letters to me all the time. Dare's listened to me read a few of them. Tina thinks we share the same father, but my ma was married twice. Her pa—my stepfather—died before she was old enough to know him, thank the Good Lord."

            Looking around, Jonas said, "I need to step away from the bunch of you. Do some praying to settle myself down and remember why God's way is better than mine."

            "Don't go far," Dare said quietly.

            "Not out of hollering distance," Vince added.

            Jonas smiled and walked a dozen steps away, between men, lying side by side on the miserable ground. Not all of them slept, some moaned, too sick or hungry to sleep or be quiet. Their moaning was a mournful song that hung like a dirge over the entire camp.

            The night hours were getting on and, if Vince didn't get some sleep soon, he'd need to get through the whole day tomorrow on precious little strength and with a whole stack of new enemies. Four hours sleep wasn't enough, but for one day he could get by. He'd learned he could live through most anything in this place if he just survived one day at a time.

            Vince watched Jonas find a spot and crouch, then sit with his head bowed low. Probably too tired and hungry for kneeling.

            That left Vince with the shaggy-haired, twitching man who'd bought in right after the Kid. Vince found himself liking Dare Riker for no reason he could explain. Vince liked to be still and watch. Dare never stopped moving. Vince considered himself smooth and polished. In here that was laughable considering he wore rags and hadn't bathed, shaved or had a haircut in six months. But he'd been masquerading as a Southern gentleman when he'd been caught, so he had a decent if battered suit of clothes on and Dare looked like he had on rags when he'd been brought in the place.

            "How long have you been in here?" Vince asked.

            "It feels like it's since the first mosquito hatched. Probably two months now is all. Finding out about your trouble tonight is the first thing that's been good since I was caught."

            "Tonight was good?" Vince shook his head. "You made a lot of bad enemies tonight. From now on you're going need to be on guard every minute or you're going to find yourself with a knife shoved between your ribs."

            Dare waved off Vince's worries. "If trouble's gonna find me it'll find me. I hate sitting around in here and watching those Raiders hurt good men. I've never been at the right place at the right time to stop them, but I've never tried to be at the right place either. I've called myself a coward for it plenty of times. Tonight I got to stand up on my hind legs like a man for the first time in a long time. It felt good and if it brings danger my way, so be it. Get some sleep if you think you can trust me to stand guard. I don't blame you if you don't. A man's gotta earn trust. And it isn't always easy for a man as edgy as you to give it. I won't sleep for a while whether you're up or not, but maybe you can. You look like you're tuckered."

            "I expect I could sleep. I'm about as tired as a starving man can be."

            Silence stretched between them. Two starving men. Strong beneath the strain of hunger and filth or they'd have succumbed to the sickness that ran through the camp.

            No amount of strength could hold out forever in here. But so far, yes, they'd been strong enough to endure it.

            "I think I'll try and sleep, Dare. Thanks. I suspect our trouble's just beginning." Vince headed for his blanket.

            Dare said quietly, "Our trouble started when we got thrown in here. Tonight, maybe we took the first step to fighting against some of it."

            Vince let the dirge of men’s suffering that hung over Andersonville sing him to sleep. For six months he’d been sinking down, more certain everyday he was going to die in this purgatory.

Tonight, for the first time in a long time, he felt a spark of hope.

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Closer Than Brothers - Chapter One

It's NOT a romance. It's not very funny, there just wasn't much comedy to be mined for me in Andersonville Prison.
It's not even a real story
Part #1 of 13 episodes of how my heroes from Trouble in Texas met and how they became so loyal to each other.
Book #3 Stuck Together --Vince's story--releases in June 3.
Closer Than Brothers


Click to Buy
Chapter One

Vince—The Invincible

Burning hot. No way out. Surrounded by real bad people.

            A description of hell if Vince had ever heard of one.

            And it described Andersonville Prison pretty well.

            Vince Yates heard a soft footstep and he braced himself. He’d known this was coming from the minute he pulled those filthy Raiders off that kid.

            The kid had been greeted just like every newcomer to Andersonville, with violence. Vince knew better, but he couldn’t let that kid get beaten by a fellow Yankee.

            One of those thieves had picked himself up and backed away from Vince’s fury with a parting threat. “A man who don’t mind his own business, don’t survive.”

            “Lots of ways to die in this pit,” Vince had told the low down coyote. “Might as well die with some honor instead of live with a yellow streak down my back—like you.” Vince knew he signed his own death warrant but he couldn’t leave the kid to his fate.

            There’d been three Raiders and, with the kid's help, two against three, they drove them off. But those Raiders had friends, dozens, maybe hundreds.

            They were coming back in a pack like wolves.

            Vince was weak already. Starved down to skin and bones after six months in here.

            The footsteps came closer. Vince prayed the most heartfelt prayer of his life, and it wasn’t for help. He figured none was coming. And the prayer wasn’t to win this fight. With the exception of a few Bible stories—David and some stones—Samson and the jawbone of an ass—most of the time, when one man stood alone, that man lost.

            Nope, he just prayed that he’d meet his Savior. He wasn't even all that sorry to go. It was time to be getting out of this place and that was about the only doorway Vince could see. He put all his hope in the next life.

This one was over.

            “Yates?” A Texas twang, laced with gravel. Vince knew that voice. The Kid.

            Not a lot of Texans penned up in here. Texans fought for the Rebs.

            “I’m here.” Speaking barely above a whisper, Vince stepped out of the shadows.

            “I don’t reckon I’ll let you protect me and not return the favor. You can use someone at your back tonight.” A kid at least five years younger than Vince. He’d done well against those three men but he was losing when Vince stepped in.

            “I stepped into your trouble, and I was a fool to do it. Be smarter than me, Kid. Get out of here.”

            A dry laugh with no humor in it answered. “Won’t be the first time someone accused me of being a fool. I’ll buy in.” The boy was close enough in the starless night that Vince finally saw the black shape of him.

            “No sense both of us getting whipped, Kid.”

            “No sense.” The kid came closer. “I’ve heard my pa say I got none, so I’ll stay. Name’s Luke Stone, from Texas.”

“Texas went with the Confederacy, Kid. Didn’t anyone tell you which side to fight on?”

Luke shrugged, barely visible in the dark. “My best friend as a kid was a Negro and he and his family were fine folks who lived free. I can’t see fighting for the side that’d make 'em slaves.”

Vince needed to get this youngster out of here. Two against two dozen lost the fight. "They're just looking for me, Kid. This isn't your fight, you already took your beating."

 They'd stolen all the kid had before Vince got there so chances were they'd leave him alone. No sense the kid getting hurt again.

“I seen you fight, Yates. They’ll have to send a passel of Raiders to beat the two of us.” Stone stood with a kind of alert tension that made Vince think of a gunslinger. The kid, even if he was young, was a man when it came to facing trouble.

            “Make it three.” Another voice sounded from Vince’s right.

            “Who’s there?” Vince wheeled to face the newcomer. He saw shaggy hair so dirty Vince was just guessing when he decided the man was blond. This man as a complete stranger.

            The prison wall was nineteen feet away on Vince’s left. Right behind him was a small white fence they called the Dead Line.

            That space between the Dead Line and the outer fence was No Man’s Land. The Confederate Guards on the prison walls had instructions to shoot anyone who stepped in that space and they seemed to take a sadistic pleasure in doing it. Just as the camp commander, Wirz, took an evil pleasure in ordering it done.

            Wirtz was the man in charge of hell—to Vince’s mind that made Wirz the devil himself. But maybe this was just purgatory because Vince hoped and prayed he’d get out of here someday and everyone knew that hell had no end.

            Except Vince figured he was going to die tonight, so he needed his soul to be right with the Lord and these men were giving him no time to pray, well, he had to hope he was already in good order with the Lord, but still, he'd like one last moment to set things right.

            “I saw it, too.” The shaggy man seemed to vibrate with energy, and Vince thought the stranger might go to pacing if he had room. “I did some checking around, Yates. Twenty varmints are gathering right now to come at you. I’ll stand with you.”

            “Three against twenty.” Vince grunted. “Get out of here both of you.”

            “You sound like a man not afraid to die.” A fourth voice sounded and Vince knew this one. He was a red-headed man who’d formed a church of sorts in the belly of hell.

            Jonas Cahill.

            “I’m not afraid." Vince wanted them all gone. "In fact, after six months in this prison, it’s sounding like a good idea.”

            “You’re not going to die tonight.” A fifth voice. Deep and strong. Another stranger. When this man stepped close enough to see, Vince had his first real surge of hope. Big John they called him. Another Texan. Six foot six and two hundred and fifty pounds of solid muscle. Big John hadn’t been in here long, and he wasn’t so hungry he’d lost every extra pound and most of his strength. Vince had seen the Raiders slink back when Big John had come in. Not even in a group had they attacked him.

            “Five against twenty," Big John said with a deep laugh. No he hadn't been in long. He still knew how to laugh. "They don’t stand a chance. Not when I’m one of the five.”

            Vince laughed in response to Big John’s boast, and the sound of it was so unusual coming from him he almost didn’t recognize what it was.

            “We form a half-circle with our backs to the fence.” The Kid trying to take charge. Vince wanted to give the orders but his throat tightened. Like he might cry. A horrifying thought.

            “Everybody facing out,” the shaggy blond said, another one who thought he oughta give orders. “Name’s Dare Riker. Those traitors took the little I had when I came in here and beat me so bad I was more asleep than awake for two days. Jonas here was kneeling beside me praying when I came around. I’d like a chance to make them pay, but a man alone has no way to do that. I’d be mighty pleased to team up with you.”

“I didn’t help so you could see who you could hurt, Dare.” But for all his kindness, Vince had seen toughness in the parson. And a willingness to face evil with force as well as prayers. Jonas had the voice of a powerful, serene angel.

Vince had done some Bible reading in his day. Angels weren’t to be tangled with if it could be avoided and Jonas was such a man. Jonas turned his back to the Dead Line, facing out, watching for trouble with this fists clenched.

There were a lot of bands of men in here who backed each other in trouble. It looked like Vince had one of his own.

 “John Conroy.” The big man turned and stuck out a fist half the size of Vince’s head.

Vince shook and the strength of John’s grip put heart into Vince.

“I was a lawman in Texas, and I headed north to fight same as the kid here.”

“Luke Stone, and I ain’t no kid so stop callin' me that.”

“Once we get the south calmed down and the Union preserved,” Big John ignored the boy and went on talking. “I’m going back to Texas where I reckon I’ll be thought a traitor by most everyone. I don’t see myself ever living a quiet life, so I might as well get started facing trouble right now. It'll get me ready to go home and face more trouble in Texas when the time comes.”

The circle of men shook hands all around until another footstep broke off the introductions. This time it wasn’t friendly.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fellow Nebraska Author Janet Nitsick

Bride by Arrangement
Janet featured me on her blog so it's my turn!
Janet Syas Nitsick is the author of best of year book, Seasons of the Soul; five-star, inspiring-historical romance, Lockets and Lanterns; and newly-released anthology, Bride by Arrangement, which ranks in the top 100 in the Western Romance division. The anthology includes two novellas - one written by Ruth Ann Nordin, The Purchased Bride, and the other by Janet Syas Nitsick, She Came by Train.

Janet’s short story, “The Silver Lining,” placed 10th in the 79th Writer’s Digest Writing Competition in the mainstream/literary short story category in 2010. Read it on the Nook or Smashwords:

Janet is the daughter of late Nebraska State Sen. George Syas who served 26 years in the Unicameral, became dean of the legislature and won such awards as the Omaha Public Schools School Bell Award and has a wildlife area named after him -The George Syas Wildlife Management Area in Genoa, Neb. Janet is a former journalist and language arts teacher. She writes non-fiction and fiction, consisting of literary and general short stories and historical romance.

Web site: