Eric D. Johnson and Andy Kennedy
Eric D. Johnson holds a BS in English from Carnegie Mellon University and an MS in Technical Communication from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He relocated to Bluffton, SC in 2018 with his wife Gwen, and works for Siemens Healthineers as a Senior Technical Writer. Run to Win is Johnson’s first novel: https://www.amazon.com/Run-Win-Eric-Johnson/dp/1499021828. He appears in the anthology Journey into My Brother’s Soul. Both pieces draw from his childhood experiences in Philadelphia, PA.
Eric D. Johnson
Whispers in the Woods (an excerpt)
Josiah Hanks lived all sixteen years of his life in the oddly named village of Quibbletown where he enjoyed a life common to most eighteenth-century New Jersey farm boys. He tended livestock, chopped wood, and worked the fields. On Saturdays, he would accompany his father to the village market to trade their goods and take part in the ritual that gave Quibbletown its name. Men would meet in the village market to quarrel over which denomination most closely followed the Bible. By the mid-1770s, however, their discussions turned increasingly to current events, namely the rebellion against the British Crown.
Josiah’s father was a member of the Society of Friends, or Quakers, whose family had been forced to leave England. Josiah never understood how such quiet, humble people could be so offensive as to be driven out of any place, but here they were. To Elder Hanks the idea that men were free to meet in public and practice their religion was a freedom that came with being an American.
Despite his tendency toward Quaker rectitude, Elder Hanks—after a cup or two of hard cider—loved to provoke a good quibble. “Have ye cast eyes on this?” he asked, brandishing a copy of what was known as the Quartering Act. One of the older men stroked his beard knowingly as he gazed at the page, though in truth, he could not read. Sensing the difficulty, Hanks explained,
“It says that the British can take what they want, and we’ll like it.”
“Not of mine they won’t,” said the old man.
“Then you’ll surely be hang-ed,” warned another.
“It’s the militia for me,” offered a younger man. “I’d rather be kilt in battle than let these Lobsterbacks steal my goods.”
“It is treason thou speak,” snarled a man.
“No,” replied another while waving a pamphlet. “It is Common Sense that he speaks!”
On the ride home, Josiah asked, “Father, will the Lobsterbacks truly take off with thy lands and goods?”
Elder Hanks drove his wagon in thoughtful silence before saying, “Aye, but we canst speak of these things with mother and sister, lest we drive them to melancholy.”
They arrived home to find British and Hessian soldiers swarming their land. The sound of his mother screaming made Josiah sick with fear.
“Ah, the Lord of the Manor has returned!” said a British officer on horseback. “And he has been kind enough to supply a fancy chaise to carry our bounty.”
Josiah was yanked from the wagon by a soldier who reeked of liquor and raw onions.
“Peace,” cried Josiah’s father. “Ye may have what ye need, friends, but please leave us in peace.”
Josiah’s mother was led out of the house by a large toothless sergeant who whacked her on the backside, sending her sprawling to the ground. She crawled on all fours while the man grunted like a hog and then yelled, “Crawl, old sow, crawl.”
“You can have the old sow,” grunted another soldier who followed them out of the house while holding Josiah’s sister in a headlock. “I’ll take this young piglet and make her squeal.”
Josiah seethed with anger, but the pistol held to his head prevented him from acting. He was soon distracted by a soldier leaving the outhouse waving a pamphlet.
“Look what I’ve found in the jakes,” cried the soldier as he ran up to the officer and handed him the pamphlet. The officer smirked as he silently read the title, The Crisis.
“Whispers in the Woods” © Eric D. Johnson (2019), from Reflections
Andy Kennedy, originally from Due West, South Carolina, moved to the Lowcountry in 1985 and stayed. Kennedy holds degrees from Erskine College and the University of South Carolina. “Change Can Be Hard” is Kennedy’s first attempt at poetry. He lives on Hilton Head Island with his wife and busy children. Find Kennedy’s blog at: http://www.piecesofasouthernsoul.com
Change Can Be Hard (an excerpt)
Grandma K was my favorite.
I’d do anything she asked
But on that day she confused me
when she gave me an easy task.
She handed me a food-filled plate
Fried chicken, mac and cheese –
a Sunday lunch we’d finished late,
but her words made me freeze.
“Take this to the negra outside
sittin’ on the back steps, there.”
“Miss Elizabeth?” I asked.
“Yes, boy, that’s who. Lord I swear.”
“Now get on out there.
She needs to hurry and eat.
Now that we’ve finished our dinner,
the kitchen needs cleaning,
and the beds need their sheets.”
I backed out the screen door.
It opened with a creak.
I handed Miss Elizabeth the plate,
but her smile at me seemed weak.
“Grandma K said to give you this.”
“Oh, thank you boy,” she replied.
“I think I’ve seen this food before,
and I enjoy every side.”
I smiled at her, and she smiled back.
Then I started to walk away.
But something made me turn.
Something made me stop that day.
“Why do you always eat last?
Why don’t you sit at the table too?
Why does she call you negra?
Isn’t that word bad and mean to you?”
Her dark eyes held mine.
She gently wiped her mouth.
“Grandma K and me, we are alike.
We’re both women of the south.
“Here we were born and here we were raised,
but to you it might seem a bit strange.
Some things are hard to understand.
Some things are hard to change.
“Grandma K grew up blessed,
nice clothes and shoes and schools.
I too was blessed. More than you could know
but grade six was all I could do.
It was as far as I could go.
“Learned to read and cipher a bit.
It made me more valuable, you see.
I went to work with my Mama
and my big sister Mary.
“Maids and cooks and help we were,
while my Daddy worked fields all day,
fields my people worked since long ago
their spirits still toiling away.”
“Miss Elizabeth,” I curiously asked,
“where’s your Mama and Daddy now?”
“Oh, little man, they been gone a while.
Daddy died at forty-eight, behind a mule and plow.”
“Change Can Be Hard” © Andy Kennedy (2019), from Reflections