J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Archive for the tag “A Beckoning Hellfire”

New Cover Reveal!

I’d like to officially announce that my novel, A Beckoning Hellfire, has a new cover! This is in conjunction with my acquiring a new publisher.

It has been so much fun to reinvent my book and to breathe new life into it! A Beckoning Hellfire has been re-edited and improved. This book has received several awards and has earned many five-star reviews. It is the second book in the Renegade Series (the first is A Beautiful Glittering Lie). Stay tuned, because the third book in the series, A Rebel Among Us, will soon come out with a new cover as well.

Thanks so much for your continued support and interest in my books. I’m always fishing for reviews, so if you are interested, please let me know and I will send you a PDF!

You’ve Just Crossed Over Into the Twilight Zone

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Stranger things have happened. Coincidences, whether we admit it or not, are common occurrence, as are daja vu, although when they happen, we sometimes disregard them. I love watching old movies and late night TV. While watching an episode of the Twilight Zone the other night, I discovered something surprising.

It seems that one of the soldiers who was killed at the Battle of Little Bighorn was named David Summers. I found this freaky, since this is the name I chose for the antagonist in my Renegade series. Upon further research, I discovered that Mr. Summers of the 7th US Cavalry was from Missouri, but my main character is from Alabama. Phew!

DS

Another weird coincidence happened to me while writing A Beckoning Hellfire (soon to be re-released). I chose a character’s name, William Williams, and learned that my character and a real person had the same name, and fought for the same cause with the same Confederate cavalry unit. Strange but true!

I love researching history, because I frequently discover strange things like these. It’s fun and fascinating. Now I have a new challenge: how to incorporate my newly-acquired knowledge about David Summers into my next novel.

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/6086017/david-summers

Happy New Year!

I would like to wish you a very happy New Year! This year is especially special, because it is a new decade, and it is, once again the Roaring 20’s! I hope that this decade graces you with love, joy, prosperity and peace. I also hope this year provides you with many opportunities, blessings, and reasons to achieve your goals.

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During the past decade, I faced many blessings, some challenges, and a few heartaches. My husband was transferred several times, so we moved from Horn Lake, Mississippi to Loveland, Colorado to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and finally landed in Colorado Springs, Colorado three years ago. We bought a little fixer-upper bungalow with a gorgeous view of the Rockies and Pikes Peak. I lost my father in 2012, but we were blessed with two grandsons, the youngest of which is only four weeks old. And we met many new friends.

The past year was somewhat challenging for me. My previous publisher decided to drop my Civil War Renegade Series, so I spent months finding a new publisher. I have succeeded and look forward to re-publishing A Beautiful Glittering Lie, A Beckoning Hellfire and A Rebel Among Us with Westwood Books Publishing. It should prove to be a very exciting and lucrative partnership.

In the meantime, my nonfiction book, Horses in Gray, has been holding its own. I’m thinking of making it into an audio book. What do you think?

Horses in Gray Cover

One of my favorite authors, Claire Cook (Must Love Dogs), sent me an email with this inspiring list, so I’m passing it on to you. Thanks Claire!

 

2020 vision pic

Seven Simple Steps to Find Your 2020 Vision

SELF. You can’t have self-awareness, self-confidence, or any of those other good self words until you decide to like yourSELF, and who you really are.

SOUL SEARCHING. Sometimes it’s just getting quiet enough to figure out what you really want; often it’s digging up that buried dream you had before life got in the way.

SERENDIPITY. When you stay open to surprises, they often turn out to be even better than the things you planned. Throw your routine out the window and let spontaneity change your life.

SYNCHRONICITY. It’s like that saying about luck being the place where preparation meets opportunity. Open your eyes and ears—then catch the next wave that’s meant for you!

STRENGTH. Life is tough. Decide to be tougher. If Plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters (204 if you’re in Japan!).

SISTERHOOD. Connect, network, smile. Build a structure of support, step by step. Do something nice for someone—remember, karma is a boomerang!

SATISFACTION. Of course you can get some (no matter what the Rolling Stones said). Call it satisfaction, fulfillment, gratification, but there’s nothing like the feeling of setting a goal and achieving it. So make yours a good one!

BONUS STEP: SIMPLIFY! In the years since writing this list, I’ve discovered how truly fabulous it is to simplify. I’ve moved and downsized twice in the last decade, cleared away so much physical and mental clutter, and learned to say yes only to the things I really want to do. I’m finding the balance between writing and walking the beach every day.

BONUS 2020 VISION TIP: Pick one of the words above (or another!) and make it your theme for 2020. Print out the word in big letters and tape it to the refrigerator or your bathroom mirror. Write it in tiny letters on a small river rock or on the inside of a seashell and carry it in your pocket or purse. Scrawl it across the top of your daily journal entry or write it on each day of your calendar. Choosing a single word is such a great way to set your intention and keep your focus on it for the whole year.

 

What Led Up to Gettysburg

 

It seems incredible in this day and age to imagine what led up to the Civil War. Slavery was an issue, but an underlying issue when the war started. In 1863, abolition had become more prevalent. 
Following the Battle of Brandy Station on June 9, 1863,  J.E.B. Stuart and his Confederate cavaliers moved north into enemy territory. For nearly the entire month of June, they traveled northward, sometimes through unfamiliar territory, to screen General Lee’s troops. Their movements came to fruition in the Battle of Gettysburg, which took place July 1-3, 1863.
Here is an excerpt from my novel, A Beckoning Hellfire, which describes the Confederate cavalry’s travels and challenges.
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The horses plodded along with their eyes closed. A few of the drivers fell asleep, and their drowsy mules walked off the road into the ditch, pulling their wagons behind them. Some bucked, brayed and kicked in protest to their hunger and fatigue. Assigned soldiers rode up and down the line in the dark, looking for delays, barely coherent themselves. A few men slept while their horses jumped over fences, sending them sprawling, but even then they were too tired to awaken.
As dawn approached, General Stuart cantered alongside them, singing his battle song at the top of his lungs. His obedient soldiers, happy to see their commander alive and well, stirred themselves to sing along.
“Well, we’re the boys that rode around McClellian,
Rode around McClellian, rode around McClellian,
We’re the boys who rode around McClellian,
Bully boys, hey! Bully boys, ho!
“If you want to have a good time, jine the cavalry!
Jine the cavalry! Jine the cavalry!
If you want to catch the Devil, if you want to have fun,
If you want to smell Hell, jine the cavalry!”
The words inspired and rejuvenated the troopers. They began conversing amongst themselves in every effort to stay awake as the sky grew brighter, but the sun failed to appear, hidden behind thick clouds. The cavaliers wondered if, once again, they would be riding through a rainstorm.
“Wish there was somethin’ to eat besides dust,” Michael noted sarcastically as their mounts slowly walked along behind the wagon train.
“And I could go for a dunk in a lake right about now,” added John.
“I wouldn’t mind gittin’ me some new boots,” Custis commented. He pulled one of his feet from a stirrup and held it in the air, revealing a hole clean through the sole. “These here are plumb worn out, and I wasn’t lucky enough to snag me a pair back in Culpeper.”
“Well, if’n we’d ever git paid, I’d buy me two pairs of socks from the quartermaster, or a lucky feller who got some from home,” said Peter Smith, “make them into puppets, and send one to each of my daughters.”
David snickered at the thought of Peter drawing puppet faces on his socks.
“Seems the only one of us with any money is Summers,” Michael observed.
The men all looked over at David.
“Whatcha aim on doin’ with the grayback you won in that race?” Michael asked.
David hesitated for a moment. He realized that he was the only one in the group who’d been capable of earning rewards by racing and writing letters home, even though the practice of reciprocation had been outlawed by General Lee sometime before David’s enlistment.
“Well, I was thinkin’ of savin’ it up for college,” he casually replied.
The other troopers laughed.
David glared at them, astonished by their reaction.
“Son, you’ll be lucky if’n that gits you two cords of wood by the war’s end,” John remarked.
David frowned.
John continued, “what with the way things is goin’ with the price of things, that is. Sorry to be the one to inform you.” He smiled sympathetically.
David sighed. Even though his hope of going to school was just a pipe dream, he held onto it as tightly as he’d grasped hold of the $100 note. Now it seemed inevitable that he was destined to be a farmer all his life.

 

Another Awesome Review

Here’s another review for my novel, A Beautiful Glittering Lie, that I would like to share with you.

ABGL B.R.A.G. Medallion

(By Anonymous)

The novel is presented as a prequel to the author’s first novel, A Beckoning Hellfire. For someone who has not read it yet, it will be a very interesting story after the prequel. For someone who has read it will be still more interesting to know what lead to it all.

The style is fast paced and exciting but sometimes the descriptive paragraphs about the battle become long-winding. The characters are very well formed and come out as very real three dimensional people with a gamut of feelings and expressions. Especially likable is the chemistry between Hiram and Caroline and their unflinching trust and understanding. The plot is well knit and one incident flows into another.

A Beautiful Glittering Lie, the dream of bravery, adventure gallantry and Chivalry,  pulls David to enlist, and remains intact for him till the end when the children are waiting for Hiram to return home on Christmas.

https://www.amazon.com/Beautiful-Glittering-Lie-Novel-Renagade/dp/1544842481/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=a+beautiful+glittering+lie&qid=1558506004&s=gateway&sr=8-2

Excerpt from A Beckoning Hellfire

Today marks the 156th anniversary of the death of the great Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The general was hit by friendly fire at the Battle of Chancellorsville. His left arm was amputated and buried at the Ellwood House. Jackson was improving, but suddenly, his health took a turn for the worst. He contracted pneumonia and died on a Sunday, which he said he always wanted to do. His last words were, “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”

Here is an excerpt from my novel, A Beckoning Hellfire, describing how his soldiers reacted when they heard the news.

ABeckoningHellfire_LRG

Suddenly, a loud cry went up behind him. He hurried to camp, where chaos was everywhere. The men looked distraught, their faces wrought with anguish. He found Alfred Crawford, one of the soldiers he wrote letters for, and asked him what had happened. 

“We jist received word,” Alfred said woefully. “Stonewall Jackson died yesterday.” He wandered away. 

David stood dumbfounded for a moment. Returning to his campsite, he found John sitting under a tree, puffing on his pipe, and staring off. Michael was weeping. The death toll continued to climb, and there was no end in sight. Now the Confederacy’s beloved general, “Old Jack,” was dead, too. 

In the morning, General Lee issued General Order #61, which Lieutenant Colonel Waring read to the men during roll.  

“With deep regret, the commandin’ general announces the death of Lieutenant General T.J. Jackson,” Lieutenant Colonel Waring orated. “Let his officers and soldiers emulate his invincible determination to do everything in the defense of our loved country.”  

One of the buglers, Charles W. Peters, played “Taps.” The men stood in solemn mourning with their heads bowed and their hats held in their hands. 

Overwhelmed by the tragedy, David felt completely powerless and alone. His heart ached, and with each day, he grew more despondent and depressed. He didn’t have anyone to express his sorrow to except his horse, and Renegade could only communicate so much. One by one, he was losing everyone he loved. The romantic dream he had shared with Jake only a few weeks ago was now crumbling down around him, smothering him. It was like a smoldering fog surrounding them all and suffocating them. He longed for his family to write. The memory of their dear faces was the only thing that gave him hope. Painful, heartbreaking loss was all around, but somehow, it gave him more resolve. He knew he had to defend his homeland and family by repelling the Northern tyranny, at any expense. 

A Beckoning Hellfire Featured on Blog

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My novel, A Beckoning Hellfire, the second book in the Renegade Series, is featured on Karen’s Killer Book Bench.

Ms. Karen Docter is also an award-winning author who writes romance.

Here is the link to Karen’s blog, so please check it out:

https://wp.me/p4pimt-5mO

You can enter for a chance to win a paperback signed copy of A Beckoning Hellfire, so enter right away! Good luck!

New Review for A Beckoning Hellfire

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A new review was recently posted on Amazon for my novel, A Beckoning Hellfire. The author of the review, An Ordinary Mom, apparently didn’t see the fine print, check out the book on Amazon, or see on the cover that A Beckoning Hellfire is the second book in the Renegade Series. She posted in her review that she didn’t like the ending. But the story doesn’t end there! (Spoiler alert: the protagonist does survive and is a prominent character in the third book.) Here is the review:

December 14, 2018

I really liked the book and I did some fact checking on a couple of things. I was pleased to see that everything I looked up was accurate. However I did not like the end. You spend the entire book getting to know a young man and his struggles and then he just dies at the end? That kind of ruined things for me. Such is war I suppose.

Full Disclosure- I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thank you, An Ordinary Mom, for your review!

A Grand Review

As I stated in my previous blog post, General Lee is one of my favorite personalities of the War Between the States. In this excerpt from my novel, A Beckoning Hellfire, protagonist David Summers, age 18, meets the general for the first time, and is awestruck by his encounter. This event takes place shortly before the Battle of Brandy Station, which took place on June 9, 1863, and was the largest cavalry battle to ever take place in North America.

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Later that evening, the men were informed that another Review was to be held, because General Lee had been detained from attending the day’s events. The troopers were required to polish their tack and metal two days later for the benefit of the Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia.

On June 8, the Review was held between Culpeper and Brandy like before, but no civilians were present this time. General Hood’s infantry came to watch the military exercise. While the cavalrymen rode past to take their positions on the open field of the Auburn Estate, the suntanned foot soldiers jeered at them.

“Come down off’n that horse!” one yelled. “I can see your legs a-danglin’!”

“Come out from under that hat!” another hollered. “I can see your ears a-wigglin’!”

“They’re jist jealous of us because we git all the pretty girls’ attention!” Michael yelled over at David and flashed a grin.

The horsemen reached the open field and lined up in columns, their regimental colors rippling above them. Ordered to halt, they sat with all eyes on their commanding officer. 

General Lee rode the two-mile line at a brisk trot. He searched out saddle-sore horses and deficient carbines, mandating corrective actions as he carried out his inspection. He came to a halt in front of Renegade. 

brandy station

“Is this the little horse that won the race I heard tell about?” he asked.

Stunned that the magnificent general was speaking to him, David’s heart leaped. He found it difficult to reply, let alone comprehend that General Lee was actually addressing him. The general, dressed in flawless brass and gray, his white beard and entire appearance immaculate, gazed at him intensely. He didn’t know if he was required to salute, so he just sat there, stupefied.

“Yessir,” was all he could finally manage to say. 

General Lee nodded, glanced over Renegade once more, and spurred his gray steed away. The cavaliers surrounding David turned to gawk at him. He looked at John, who winked at him. 

“Reckon he’s got plans for you!” Michael said, grinning as he raised an eyebrow.

David wondered what those plans were, and couldn’t help cracking a smile. Although he’d given up on his fantasy of becoming a Pony Express rider, he hoped now to be chosen for some dangerous, daring mission on behalf of the Confederacy, since the adventure he and Jake had dreamed about seemed to have eluded him thus far. His utmost desire was to receive a perilous assignment, one that no one else was willing to take, because he was prepared to lay down his life for his beloved country. If that happened, there would be no doubt that he would acquire exoneration for Tom’s death. He wanted to die in honor and glory, just like his father and Jake had done. But he hoped, most of all, that he wouldn’t be sealed in an unmarked grave and forgotten.

Sitting astride Traveller, General Lee watched from the top of a hillock. General Stuart, with his usual flamboyance, wore a long, black ostrich plume in his hat, and his horse, Virginia, was adorned with a wreath of flowers around her neck. Stuart signaled; the bugles blared. Twenty-two cavalry regiments wheeled into columns of four, and three bands commenced to play “The Bonnie Blue Flag” while General Stuart led the parade of prancing horses. The cavaliers walked their mounts down the length of the field before turning into a trot. An immense cloud of dust billowed up from the ground. There was no mock charge against the guns this time, so following the reviewing maneuvers, the men were congratulated and released.

They led their horses back to camp, and celebrated the splendor of their review. The supply and baggage trains had been loaded, awaiting the cavalry’s departure across the Rappahannock with the infantry, which was now encamped on the other side of a hill. Unbeknownst to David and his fellow cavaliers, however, an ominous presence lurked in the shadows. Morning would come much sooner than expected. 

Another Christmas Story

Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. It is a joyous, sacred occasion, and has always been a special holiday for me, filled with happiness, celebration, and time to spend with family and friends. But the holiday season can be difficult for so many.

There have been many instances in our nation’s history when the holidays presented sadness and difficulty, along with the unknown perils of what the future might hold. This excerpt, from my novel, A Beckoning Hellfire, shows just one example of how a rural family from Alabama dealt with such a blow.

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But what a cruel thing is war. To separate and destroy families and friends and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world. To fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world¼My heart bleeds at the death of every one of our gallant men.

Robert E. Lee, letter to his wife, December 25, 1862

 

Chapter One

“Here it is! Come quick!”

David sauntered across the dead grass toward his little sister. Amused by the way she was jumping up and down like a nervous flea, he couldn’t help but grin. Obviously, she was too excited to care that her petticoats were showing from under the brown coat and green calico dress she wore, or that her long auburn hair had broken free from its bondage as her bonnet slid from her head and dangled down her back.

“Which one, Josie?” he asked, stifling a snicker.

She planted her feet and pointed to a small yellow pine near a cluster of sweet gum and ash trees. “Right here!” she exclaimed.

Glancing down at the sapling, he gave her a crooked smile. “Well, that’s a mighty fine tree, but ain’t it kinda scrawny?” He estimated the pine to be three feet tall at most.

Josie frowned at her older brother, who had one eyebrow cocked from under his slouch hat. His hands were tucked into his brown trousers, and his linen shirt hung loosely on his tall, lanky frame. “No,” she said, “ it’s jist right. We’ll string some corn on it, hang some nuts and berries on it, and it’ll look right smart in the corner of the front room.”

With a shrug, he said, “All right. If you reckon this is the one.”

She nodded, her bright blue eyes reflecting her elation.

David relished the moment, for he knew Christmas was her favorite holiday. He had only heightened her anticipation on the way out to the woodlot by reminding her what would happen that evening, how Santa would be stopping by later when she was sound asleep. Of course, he had no explanation as to how eight tiny reindeer could pull a sleigh all the way to Alabama. Josie promptly informed him that she wasn’t a child any longer. She was all of thirteen, and didn’t believe in those farfetched stories anymore, but he knew better. She would be lying in her bed tonight, listening and waiting.

“Well, go on now, cut it down!” Josie insisted.

He put his thumb and forefinger to his lips and gave a high, shrill whistle. Noticing how the gray sky was growing darker, he looked over at the edge of the clearing where they stood and saw the underbrush rustle. Suddenly, two hound dogs bounded out of the trees, followed by a gangly young stallion.

“Come on, Renegade. Over here,” he called out to the colt, who responded by cantering to him.

Josie giggled at the sight. “Your dumb horse thinks he’s a dog!”

“He ain’t dumb. I’ll wager he’s a lick smarter than you are, li’l sister,” David teased.

The horse blew and stomped his front hoof.

“Why, that’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard of. And not only is he dumb, he looks right silly, too. He can’t decide if he should be spotted or palomino!”

David observed his horse for a moment. Renegade’s face was piebald. His dark chestnut coat was highlighted with white spots and patches concentrating on his underbelly, and his mane and tail were light flaxen. He had white socks up to his knees. His unusual eyes were brownish green. David remembered how he had heard that a horse with strange-colored eyes like Renegade’s was considered sacred and chosen by the Cherokee Indians. Several people had noticed the strange coincidence, and his other sister, Rena, also frequently commented that he and his horse had the same colored eyes.

“I reckon he knows what he is,” David remarked. “Besides, he’s unusual, and that makes him unique.”

“Oh, he’s unique all right,” Josie said, giggling again. She pulled her hair back from her face and replaced her bonnet.

David untied a saw from a leather strap attached to Renegade’s saddle. He knelt down, quickly sawed through the little tree’s trunk, picked it up, and tied it across the saddle’s seat. His two black and tan dogs sniffed around the tree’s sawed off stump. Suddenly, they both lifted their noses into the air with their ears pricked. They bolted across the open clearing, baying at an unseen curiosity as they disappeared into the woods.

“Caleb! Si!” David hollered after the two hounds. “Well, there they go,” he observed wryly. “All right, Renegade, take it on home.” He patted his horse on the shoulder.

Renegade nickered softly, shook his head, and trotted off in the same direction as the two hounds.

Josie gasped. “Look, David! It’s startin’ to snow!” She tilted her head back and stuck out her tongue, trying to catch snowflakes on it.

He chuckled.

“Come on, you do it, too,” she coaxed him.

He obliged his little sister by imitating her.

Josie laughed, spinning around with her arms extended while snow fell silently down around them.

“Oh!” David clasped his hand to his face. “One fell in my eye!”

Josie giggled.

He couldn’t help but smile, although he was careful not to let her see, and snorted to cover up his delight. “Well, I’m right glad you think it’s so funny.” He looked at her, trying to keep a straight face. “Come on, Josie girl. We’d best be gittin’ on back.”

He allowed her to go ahead of him as they started on the bridle path that cut through the woods.

“Let’s sing Christmas carols!” she said. “That new one we heard last year. Jingle Bells!”

“You start,” he prompted.

“Dashin’ through the snow…”

He joined in. Their voices grew stronger in unison.

“In a one-horse open sleigh…”

They came to an empty field, and trudged through, stepping over mud puddles while they continued singing.

“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…”

Their house stood quaintly at the far end of the field. Smoke circled from its two chimneys, dissolving into the gray sky. The sweet smell of burning hickory reached out, inviting them closer. From a distance, the structure appeared to be two separate cabins sitting side by side, but upon closer observation, one could see that they were connected by a covered breezeway. Each section contained two rooms and a fireplace. A wide flat porch on the front of the split log building served as an entryway. The tin roof, which seemed to expel heat in the summertime, also managed to repel snow during winter months.

The cold, damp air encroached upon brother and sister. As they sang, their breath escaped, floated out across the fields, and vanished in phantom gusts.

“Oh what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh!”

On the last note, Josie’s voice jumped an octave. They laughed at their grand finale and walked around to the front of the house, where Renegade was waiting patiently for the tree to be removed from his saddle. A buckskin horse stood beside him.

“Whose horse is that?” Josie asked.

“It looks like Bud Samuels’ horse.”

David and Josie looked at each other, wide-eyed. “Pa!” they both exclaimed.

Josie sprang onto the porch, burst through the front door, and went inside while David untied the small yellow pine. He set it aside, pulled the saddle from Renegade’s back, and removed his bridle.

“Go on into the barn, Renie,” he said. “Or you’ll be one big ole snowball in a minute.”

The colt blew and trotted around the side of the house.

David carried his tack into the breezeway. He placed it on a horizontal board, which was supported by a plank on each end. Collecting the tree, he heard the sound of Bud’s voice coming from inside.

“I had some trouble gettin’ here,” Bud was saying as he entered. “But I convinced the Home Guard to follow me home so’s I could show them my furlough paper.”

David produced the tiny tree. “I know it’s small,” he said with a grin, “but Josie insisted, and…” The sight that befell him inexplicably filled him with dread. His smile faded. He looked around at the faces before him and let the tree fall onto the wooden floor. Warmth from the fireplace did nothing to relieve the chill that grasped him. “What is it?” he asked.

“Come in, darlin’, and close the door,” his mother said from her high-backed chair, which sat near the empty corner they had readied for the Christmas tree. Her brown skirt encircled her like a puddle. Her dark brown hair, streaked recently with gray, was parted in the middle and contained in a white cotton hair net. She clenched her hands in her lap, and her lips were pursed. The flickering firelight accentuated the grooves on her face, which, for some reason, David had never noticed before. After closing the door behind him, he looked at Rena, who was sitting beside the hearth. She vacantly stared back, her violet eyes welling up with tears.

“Rena?” he asked her.

She looked away and hugged Josie, who had taken the chair beside her.

David walked across the room to their neighbor, Bud.

“It’s a pleasure to see you again, Mr. Samuels,” he said, shaking the man’s hand. “How’s Pa? Is he comin’ home for Christmas, like he wrote?”

“Have a seat, David.” Bud’s eyes filled with concern. He scratched his straggly, graying beard.

Obeying the command, David slowly sank into a chair, keeping his eyes fixed on Bud’s face.

“I’m afraid I have bad news.” Bud cleared his throat, then slowly, deliberately said, “Your father’s been killed at Fredericksburg.” He looked down at the floor. “A little over a week ago. I know he was lookin’ forward to seein’ y’all. I’m…immensely sorry.”

He pulled a folded piece of yellowed paper from his coat pocket. The gray coat was torn and tattered in places, not at all like the beautiful piece of clothing that had been provided to him nearly two years earlier. His trousers and the kepi he held in his hand were weathered, too.

“Miss Carolyn, Hiram wanted me to give you this here letter…in the event of his death.” He solemnly handed her the note.

Squeezing her eyes shut, Carolyn held it to her mouth. Tears streamed down her weathered face. “Thank you, Bud,” she finally said. “You’ve been a good friend to my Hiram. I know he appreciated you dearly.”

Bud nodded. “Please let the missus or me know if there’s anything we can do,” he offered, and walked toward the door.

“I surely will.” Carolyn wearily stood, followed him to the door, and walked him out.

Bud placed his kepi on his head, untied his horse, mounted, and galloped off down the lane. The rhythm of hoof beats faded.

Turning from the doorway, Carolyn somberly gazed at her children. Her two daughters came across the room to hug her. The three of them burst into tears. Carolyn gazed at her son, who was sitting motionless across the room, his handsome young face drained of color, his hazel eyes growing a darker brown.

“David,” she said, her voice filled with the sorrow that had now overtaken the room.

He looked over at her, his face blank with grief-stricken shock.  Finding no comfort in her anguished expression, he glanced up at the ornately-carved mantle clock, the one his father had given to her as a wedding gift. It read ten minutes past five. Beside it sat a framed tintype of his father, adorned in Confederate glory, ready to march off to victory, but now he was never to return. David’s eyes wandered, and he noticed things he’d taken for granted before: the raised oval portrait of his paternal grandmother on the wall, the paintings of flowers his mother liked so well that hung on the opposite wall, the fieldstone fireplace that his father had built, and the pine furniture that had been there ever since he could remember. Somehow, all of it seemed irrelevant.

Moving numbly, he rose and walked across the room to pick up the little tree he had dropped earlier. A tiny pool of water remained where it had fallen. He carried the tree outside, leaving a trail of moisture that splattered onto the floorboards. The cold winter air, uncluttered with snow, barely whispered, its breath deathly quiet and still. Dusk was rapidly approaching.

David hurled the tree as hard as he could. It landed with a rustled thud out in the yard. Without pausing, he walked into the breezeway past his mother and sisters and grabbed a kerosene lantern. He carried it outside, lit it, and threw it at the pine. The glass shattered upon impact. Kerosene trickled out onto the tiny branches and within seconds, flames engulfed the little tree. He stoically watched tongues of fire consume the sapling. Slowly, he turned to face his mother and sisters, who were standing on the porch, watching him while they wept.

“I reckon we won’t be celebratin’ Christmas after all,” he said, his voice raspy with distress.

Impending darkness engulfed his heart. Feeling the need for solitude, he walked around the house toward the barn, vaguely hearing his mother call out to him. The sky opened, releasing icy rain. He stomped past the pigpen and the chicken coop. Upon reaching the old wooden barn, he went inside and blinked several times before his eyes adjusted to his dim surroundings. He caught glimpses of shadows dancing off the walls and up around the rafters. A pungent combination of dry, clean hay and musty wood enveloped him. The rain rattled down upon the barn’s tin roof and sounded like a thousand tiny drums. Three cows studied him with soft brown eyes. One mooed a welcome as he walked past them.

Sidestepping bales of hay stacked near the stall door, David paused to shake off cold drops of moisture that clung to his shirt and ran his hand over the top of his head, wiping the rain from his dark brown hair. A large Percheron, standing in the stall next to Renegade, gazed at David with his ears pricked.

“Hey, Joe Boy,” David said softly to the tall white gelding.

The draft horse sniffled at David’s pockets but seemed to lose interest and shuffled to the other end of his stall when David didn’t offer a treat like he usually did. Renegade looked up from his fodder and nickered softly. David walked over and gently stroked his muzzle. “I’m sorry I put you through all that trouble of bringin’ home a tree.” Anguish and anger welled up inside him. Searing-hot tears streamed down his cheeks. His hatred seethed. His grief was overwhelming, and he could hold it back no longer. Sobs escaped him. He grasped onto his horse’s mane, burying his face in Renegade’s neck. The colt stood quietly, seemingly to console him.

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