Writers of the Month

Denise K. Spencer and Greg Smorol

Denise K. Spencer

2021 Denise K. Spencer
Denise K. Spencer’s writing experience includes speeches, copywriting, blogging, white papers, policy-development, columns and editorial work. She wrote for Hilton Head/Bluffton Monthly before the pandemic struck. She re-joined IWN in 2020, and two of her poems have appeared in the Local Life lifestyle magazine. Three other poems, along with a “memoir short,” are published in IWN’s “Ripples” anthology. She is currently developing a collection of poetry and micro-memoirs for publication.

Flabbergasted

by Denise K. Spencer

Who else is flabbergasted 

     at the language used today?

Crude and rude and simple,   

     and a thousand miles away

from the persnickety descriptions,

     and brilliant diatribes,

discombobulated rhetoric 

     that creatively describes

the beef-witted quockerwodgers, 

     and the pinheaded scalawags, 

nincompoops, slubberdegullions 

     and those who lollygag.

Not enough attention 

     is paid to mother tongue.

The whippersnappers’ shenanigans 

     from gobbledygook have sprung.

I’m flummoxed beyond measure 

     at the malarky that appears 

on the Twitter or the TikTok –

     it sets us back a hundred years.

The flibbertigibbets should skedaddle 

     before things get much worse, 

and a kerfuffle from codswallop 

    inspires additional verse.

You can find this poem and many others in Ripples

Greg Smorol

Gregory Smorol
Gregory Smorol received his BA from St. Lawrence University and MED in Communications from SUNY. He is published in several IWN anthologies. His novel, The Tithonian Biosphere, is available on Amazon.

Artis and Dan

by Greg Smorol

If anyone lives in high cotton, it is Harriet and Walter Buchanon. They have everything in life a person could want. They own a large plantation in Georgia located between Columbus and Atlanta. Cotton is their mainstay crop, but they keep a series of farms to supply them with meat and vegetables. Their slave labor enhances the profitability of both these endeavors. The Buchanon’s dinner table is always a picture of abundance. Their estate house is the envy of all their neighbors.

They have it all, except for one thing. Harriet is a frail woman who had a difficult birth with their only son, Artis.

Artis is small, delicately built, but possesses a sharp mind. While his intelligence makes him stand out from the crowd, his frail physique makes him an easy mark for bullies like John O’Meara. 

John is a dull boy jealous of Artis’s good grades. He takes out his resentment by physically abusing Artis. However, John is clever enough to always warn Artis, “Squeal on me, and you’ll get it twice as hard next time.” 

Driven by fear, Artis keeps the abuse to himself. However, Harriet sees through this ruse and starts looking for a solution to this problem.

It’s 1854, and besides protecting Artis, the Buchanons worry about the unrest over slavery and the threat to their lifestyle. Harriet wonders what role Artis will have to assume in the future if a civil war happens. She talks with Adam Gunther, the foreman who runs their farms. “I’m worried about Artis. He doesn’t have the skills necessary to survive in a hostile world.”

Adam replies, “Artis needs a companion. There’s a boy on the vegetable farm that has just lost his mother. His dad died a few years ago, but the boy and his mother were able to keep meeting their production quotas. Since his mother died, the boy has fallen behind. I’m going to have to replace him. He’s a strong lad and could fit the bill, but he’s feeble-minded.

Harriet, at wit’s end, says, “Bring the boy here so I can talk to him.”

The next morning Adam introduces the boy to Harriet. “Mrs. Buchanon, this is Dan. He’s as strong as an ox and does everything he’s asked to do, but he can’t speak.”

Dan listens to Adam talk about him and waits to see what Harriet says.

She approves of his neat appearance and polite demeanor. She asks him, “Can you say your name?”

Dan utters, “Duh Duh,” unable to pronounce his name. 

Seeing that the boy has no trouble understanding her even if he can’t respond, Harriet decides to take a chance.  She calls inside the house, “Artis, would you come out here for a minute?”

Artis steps out onto the porch and sees Dan as Harriet says, “Dan is going to be your companion, but you will need to find a way to communicate because he can’t talk.”

Artis knows Dan has no choice but to accommodate his mother’s wishes, yet since Dan can’t speak, he has a twinge of empathy for him. His frailty has complicated his own life. He looks into Dan’s eyes, and he sees the same longing to be accepted. Artis motions to Dan, “Come with me, I’ll show you around.”

When they are alone, Artis asks, “How old are you?”

Dan holds up ten fingers and then two more.

“You’re twelve. I’ve just turned ten.”

The two boys learn to communicate with hand signals and body language. Their determination is steadfast, and over the next few years, they become inseparable. 

With continuing problems at the public school, Harriet has Artis tutored at home. Dan is allowed to sit in the room. He is a quick learner and watches the letters being formed into words and the words formed into sentences. He practices the lessons in his mind. In a few years, he has secretly taught himself how to read and write. He shares this secret with Artis. Now, when the boys are alone, Dan can communicate with Artis on a higher level. Their friendship grows to new heights. 

Their bond has strengthened by the time the Confederate States of America is formed in 1861.  The threat of a civil war looms. Dan has grown into a broad-shouldered muscular man, but Artis is still small and delicate. Harriet feels Artis will need more than Dan to protect him and decides her son should learn how to use a weapon. Adam Gunther asks about Dan. Harriet replies, “Make sure Dan knows how to clean and load the weapons. I’ll want him to be able to assist Artis if necessary.”

Artis is given a pistol and a rifle. Adam teaches him how to aim at a target and slowly pull the trigger so as not to disturb his line of sight. They practice until Artis hits the target on every shot. Adam teaches both boys how to load and maintain the weapons. Later, when they are alone in the woods, Artis occasionally lets Dan shoot at a target.  

When Harriet sees that Artis knows how to use the rifle, she calls Artis and Dan over and announces, “Artis, I want you to head over to the woods on the west end of the cotton fields and bring back a deer for the dinner table. Dan will gut it for you.”

Harriet hands Dan a pouch and a knife in a buckskin sheath, saying, “You’ve watched while Adam has butchered livestock. Gut the deer and bring back the heart and liver in the pouch.”

Artis is excited about his first adventure in life. As they cross the fields to the woods, Artis asks, “How do you think we should go about this hunt?”

Dan pulls out a pad and writes: There are always some deer over by the creek. Let’s go there.

The two boys crouch in the brush as a buck bends down to sip water from a nearby creek. Artis aims, but he can’t bring himself to pull the trigger. He hands the rifle to Dan, who kills the stag with a single shot. When they get home, as the boys have discussed, Artis reports, “It only took one shot. I was lucky to have Dan help me hunt it down.”

It takes Artis time to adjust to killing a deer, but Dan eventually helps him work past his timidity. However, killing a deer doesn’t make a boy a man. Artis has led a sheltered life. He hasn’t done all the things a boy does as he grows to be a man. With that in mind, Dan decides to teach Artis how to catch catfish. Each boy carries a long cane pole with an equally long stretch of line with a hook and a bobber on it. As they walk, Artis sniffs the air and asks, “What died around here? That smell is awful.”

Dan holds up a pouch with rotting garbage in it and grins as Artis asks, “Is that your bait? I’ve got some worms that will work fine for me.”

Dan just nods and grins. The pond has been man-made, and the boys head up to the deep end by the dam. Dan takes half the garbage out of his bait bag and throws it in the pond. Artis recoils at the stench and baits up with a worm. In a few minutes, using garbage as bait, Dan hauls in an eight-pounder. Dan baits up again and quickly lands another. Artis pulls in his line and looks to Dan to put his bait on it, but Dan forces him to do it himself. When Artis catches his first fish, he grimaces at the slimy, barbed body and looks to Dan for help. Dan grins as Artis finds the gumption to string it up. When the boys get back to the plantation house, Artis has the cook fry up the catfish and serve some to Dan, as well. 

Harriet watches them through the window, thinking, It was a good choice picking Dan to help Artis grow strong. Dan will always be grateful and loyal to us for allowing him this opportunity.

When the South creates a voluntary army in 1861, many of the young men enlist and show off their bravado to whoever will look their way. Because of his frailty, Harriet uses family connections to get Artis a medical pass. She doesn’t want him ostracized for not enlisting.

That doesn’t make any difference to the young soldiers spoiling for a fight. Artis and Dan are passing through town when they are confronted by John O’Meara and a group of boys. John steps in front of Artis and says, “I hear mama’s boy got a pass. No real man would accept a pass. I’m going to show you how to be a man. Which eye do you want blackened first?”

Hearing that threat, Dan steps in front of Artis. John backs up but then says, “I guess Danny boy needs to learn some humility. Can’t talk, can you Danny? Then you won’t need that tongue.”

John pulls out his knife and waves it at Dan, expecting him to cower and run off. Instead, Dan pulls out his knife and squarely faces John, whose eyes widen. After a series of taunts, he and his gang retreat. Later that day, John, his father Henry, and the sheriff show up at the front door of the Buchanon’s plantation house. The sheriff addresses Walter. “I’m sorry, but Dan pulled a knife on John, and I need to arrest him.”

Walter has Artis and Dan fetched and pulls Artis aside to talk. Walter then approaches the sheriff, “You and me and John need to talk alone.” 

John fidgets nervously as Walter glares at him. “John, you need to tell the truth now. If you lie to the sheriff, you’ll be breaking the law. I understand you picked a fight with Artis, and when Dan stepped up you drew a knife on him first. That’s how everybody saw it. Is that right?”

John stammers out, “Yes, sir.”

“Okay, John, go back by your father.”

When John is out of earshot, the sheriff blurts out. “I don’t care if John started it. He’s part of the army now, and we can’t have soldiers embarrassed like this.”

Walter stares down the sheriff. “Artis isn’t as strong as the other boys. He says he needs Dan by his side. I got you elected sheriff, and I can get you unelected. Make up some story about disciplining Dan, and that’ll be enough for now.”

The Civil War becomes an even deadlier affair with The Confederacy losing over nine thousand men at the Battle of Bull Run alone. In April 1862, the South passes the Conscription Act to build up its army. Later that year, Artis’s pass is revoked as the Confederate Army grows desperate for more soldiers. Harriet agrees to not fight for a waiver if Dan is allowed to accompany Artis as his aide. 

Artis soon stands before his mother and father in a brand-new shiny uniform, a rifle in his hand, a saber on one hip, and a revolver on the other. He has been made a second lieutenant thanks to his family status.

Behind him stands Dan with a new pair of woolen trousers, a canteen, and a kit to clean and care for the weapons. 

Walter asks, “Did they say where they were sending you?”

“They’re sending me to Munfordville, Kentucky.”

Munfordville proves to be a good start for Artis and Dan. The Confederates have the edge, and Artis fights alongside his men as the battle wages. Dan alternates between reloading the rifle and the pistol as the Yankees charge. It’s plain luck that Dan holds the rifle when the Yankees break through the line and hand-to-hand combat starts. Artis would be no match for the hardened veterans storming over the wall. 

Dan drives the bayonet through several of the attackers before one sneaks up behind him. Artis is not going to let this man kill Dan. He jumps down from the wall onto the attacker’s back and thrusts his saber into his neck. Both men fall to the ground, the Yankee dead and Artis frozen in horror at having killed a human being. 

By the end of the day, the Union retreats, and the Confederates cheer their victory. But worse times are ahead. The Confederates win at Shepherdstown, fight to a draw in the Battle of Perryville, but take big losses at Fredericksburg. By the end of 1862, only the close bond between the two men allows them to keep their sanity. 

In January of 1863, Artis tells Dan, “They’re moving us to Arkansas to help defend Fort Hindman.”

When they arrive, they are put on the detail to construct a four-sided earthwork fortification near Arkansas Post, on a bluff twenty-five feet above the north side of the river. What they don’t know is that Union boats are landing troops near Notrebe’s Plantation, three miles upriver. When the Yankees attack, the Confederates at the earthworks are outnumbered. What looks like a few soldiers charging soon becomes a vast hoard. As Artis stands up to shoot, he takes a bullet in the stomach. Dan drops on his knees and opens Artis’s shirt. It’s a direct hit. There is nothing he can do to save him. 

The Union army breaches the earthworks. Dan sees a Yankee looking down at Artis.

Another soldier says, “Forget him, he’s as good as dead.” 

The man then points his rifle at Dan’s head. The other soldier says, “Leave him be.”

The next morning, the Union soldiers come back checking out the wounded and the dead. Dan is still on his knees next to Artis. He has consoled Artis through the night and now holds onto the cold stiff body. He wonders what life will be like for him without Artis. 

A soldier walks up and asks, “What’s your name?”

Dan says, “Duh … Duh ,” and then pulls out his pad and writes. My name is Dan. I need to get this body home.

The union soldier asks, “Why? You’re free now. President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January first. You can go wherever you want now.”

Dan stares at the man dumbfounded. 

Taking pity, the soldier helps Dan to his feet and leads him back to camp. He figures his commanding officer will know what to do with him. The officer looks baffled and asks, “What’s with this man? What’s his name?”

Dan has thought about his future on the walk to camp. Without Artis to watch over, he will be returned to work the fields. He’s done his job and feels he owes them nothing more.

He says, “Duh … Duh … Dan.”

You can find this story and many others in Ripples

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