Thursday, January 14, 2010

Blood Red Clay

The heat soaked into his bones and then seeped out his skin in fat droplets as he hauled the feed in, bag by bag the loathesome load. He paused to remove his hat and wipe his forehead with his kerchief, and he saw a rider on the horizon. The horse seemed driven, his purpose fuled by an anxious master. He stopped and dropped his hand to his wagon's gate, waiting for the trouble he saw riding with the horseman. The stranger pulled up, sharp on his reins and met McDonald with coldness in his eyes. Dan met the stranger's gaze, "Can I help you?," he asked in his courteous storekeep's tone, the one that let brusque customers know he was unfazed.
"You Dan McDonald?"
"Yeah, that's me. I keep this store and this is my farm back behind. What do you want with me?"
"They told me you was a fool," the rider sneered, "but I didn't know you was so fool to speak to me so careless."
"And who might you be?"
"I'm a Campbell, and that's all you need know. Yours and mine been fightin' all the way back to the homeland. You best show me some respect, boy."
"I'm no boy. This is my place your standin' on, so I think you ought show me respect." Dan's voice tightened as he felt the old swells of anger rising in him. "I don't take kindly to strangers comin' on my place and pickin' a fight with me!" He knew he was yelling and couldn't stop it. He felt the brawls of his youth rising up in him and urging him on.
"I ain't pickin'!" In one swift lift of his leg, Campbell had dismounted and stepped up to Dan. He thought to step back, but too late, and he felt lightening stinging through his chest, like when it strikes you in a wet field. He stared into Campbell's cold grey eyes, so close and locked into his for a moment. Dan felt the blade as it was jerked from his stomach, felt the tearing of skin and muscle as blood roared in his ears. He staggered and felt the land tip sideways. He was on the ground when he woke again, red clay was in his nostrils and he saw across the flatness of the ground, hooves far off, hitting the ground in a rapid cadence, beating out a retreat. Then the screams assaulted his ears.
"Murder! MURDERER! O my God, O Jesus help us, Dan's been killed! That man is a murderer!" Mary Blanche's shrieks reached a dangerously high pitch. He looked up to see his Blanche, her blue sleeves flapping from the second-story window as she proclaimed to anyone who would listen that he was dying.
Death felt slow. There were many people about, he felt arms grabbing him and hauling him onto something wooden. Customers and neighbors were putting him on a door they'd scrounged, taken off its hinges to bear his body. He passed out again.
Blanche wept as the men awkwardly scooped up Dan's intestines and laid them on his body. They loaded the door into the back of his wagon and made the harsh trip from North Carrolton to the hospital in Greenwood. It was all jumbled in Dan's mind, the passage to a clean-sheeted hospital bed; there had been dreams more vivid than any he could remember. He saw Blanche floating above him in white, holding a baby and crying, the baby she'd lost to tuberculosis in her first marriage. He dreamed with a terrible sense of loss of the babies he would not give her, the family he would not raise, the land he would not cultivate.
The surgeon and his nurses cut Dan's clothes from his body and placed them in a box. They gently raised his intestines and bathed them clean, tucking them back in the gaping hole that was his abdomen. The doctor stitched up Dan's wounds as he slept, giving him back his dreams. Blanche took the box of bloody clothes and placed it in their attic; they were the best evidence she had against the man who had surely murdered her husband. She had fitful dreams at night about revenge, but the box lay dormant, and three months later Dan came home. The authorities never found Campbell.
As he stocked his store and harvested his crops, as he bedded his wife and raised his children, he would think of Campbell's reasoning, "Yours and mine have always been fightin'." He would shrug his shoulders and think with a sad Irish sigh that it was as good a reason as any other.


  1. Daniel Bradford McDonald was my paternal great-grandfather. This story is true insofar as the details which have been handed down to me orally are true. I have, of course, embellished details and imagined Dan's thoughts. This story is part of an ongoing project; my attempt at capturing the oral history of my father's childhood and family history. I began this project in high school for my Creative Writing class, and to this day it haunts me, and I feel I must do my best to finish it.
    Dan's story is particularly fascinating and I'd like to really do it justice, but at this point I know I've done more "telling" than "showing." Dan was, by all accounts, a strong blue-eyed "Scot-Irish" man who had a temper and this wasn't the last time he would have a knife pulled on him or "exchange words" with another man. The amusing thing about this episode is that the old MacDonald-Campbell feud is an actual historically documented conflict, but it is a conflict between Scottish clans, and there is no real proof that Dan was descended from the "Mac"Donalds. Our name has been "Mc"Donald as far back as we can trace, and though there is some talk that we are from Inverness, Scotland, McDonald is an Irish name. Nevertheless, this Campbell decided to seek out Dan and continue an age-old feud, apparently for the hell of it.
    Please feel free to I've said, it's a work-in-progress and I'd love help with editing.

  2. I'm very unhappy with the way my blog messes up my paragraphs when I post my writing. If you want to give me a tutorial on how to fix this problem, be my guest. I suck at anything computer-related.

  3. Please keep the sentence:
    "Death felt slow."
    I know its a random thing to like best but I really do.
    SO interesting-especially with knowing its true!

  4. When you solve the paragraphing, let me know. I hate it too. I just double space between, but often it makes a horrible gaping space between the paragraphs.

    You might tighten up the sentence structure a little. You have a lot of subj/verb/complement sentences. You might change some to start with participial phrases. I really like the last paragraph: I like the parallel structure. You definitely should write the family stories. What a treasure that would be, and you would write them so well!

  5. Thanks for the suggestions, Debbie. I just came back to this story and re-read it on the blog for the first time and all I can say is "UGHHHH! It's terrible!" I've got a lot of work to do on it, but I'm glad I got the story down, so it's there even if I never make anything better of it.

  6. It's isn't terrible, and I don't think you have a lot to do on it. I think as you continue to write and settle on the voice you want for the family stories, it'll come quite naturally. It'd be kind of fun to be in a writing circle, but I don't know if I'm that brave yet or not. And you're right; you want to get those stories down so they aren't lost.

  7. love it Kim! Seems like I can't hear you very much in it though. Sounds a little like it's forced. Still nice to have it written down and love the "blood roared in his ears".