Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – Sherman’s March by Bill Chance

“If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent out Texas and live in Hell”
General Philip Henry Sheridan

Deep Ellum Brewing Company’s Lineup

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#92) Almost There! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

Sherman’s March


The bar was called “Sherman’s March” – which gave an idea of the sort of attitude the place was trying to establish in the quiet Southern college town. Sherman was, of course, the Yankee General that had come through the countryside with the new idea of total war, scorching the earth, digging up the vital railroads, melting the rails in bonfires made from the ties, and bending the softened bars around the trees to insure nobody would ever make us of the infrastructure again. He left misery, starvation and the utter destruction of a way of life. That’s who and what the bar was named after.

The clientèle wasn’t students. “Sherman’s March” and the even rougher “Jackson’s” across the street were hangouts for the locals, the townies, the young people that grew up in the town and were denied the fun and future given to the college students drawn to the town from across the nation by the warm climate, low tuition, and even lower admission standards. The college had the word “state” in it and three different directions, every one except north, in its name. Despite the modest credentials the local kids still viewed its students as privileged invaders.

The bar was within easy walking distance of his apartment and his roommate, Frank, a dedicated Architecture student had come to love the place. They never missed a visit on Tuesday nights, which was quarter longneck night. Beer was thrown out in the distinctive glass bottles, four for a dollar, which even then, when a dollar was worth a lot more than it is now, was really cheap. The place was dark, full of heavy wooden urethaned homemade rough furniture. The jukebox was filled with outlaw country music – nothing Nashville – Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, that sort of thing. There was always a bouncer at the door and it was always the same man – Woody couldn’t believe how many hours the guy worked. He was massive, tall and huge, with a constant blank look on his face. One very warm night he wore shorts to work and Woody noticed the telltale crisscross of surgical scars on both knees that indicated a football career cut short early because of injury.

The attitude in the place was always on the grim side and could go very bad very fast. Woody had never seen any black customers, but one night he wound back through the narrow space past the jukebox and pool table to use the bathroom. When he pulled the door open he saw two black guys in there wailing on each other, swinging as hard as they could in the cramped space, beating each other senseless. It looked like a bad omen, so Woody shut the door quickly, walked back through the bar and went home.

Quarter longneck nights were especially dangerous. The place would be filled with men who, like Woody and Frank, were mostly interested in a cheap drunk. It was not a time and place for intelligent conversation, but Frank, especially, had his fill of that the rest of the week, Quarter Longneck night was a welcome escape from his ambition and ability. Woody came along for the ride – and the cheap drunk.

Woody and Frank quickly developed a sense for when trouble was about to break out at Sherman’s March. The first indication was a lack of women. On some nights the bar would fill with men and without the attraction and moderating influence of at least a few females the testosterone would flow across the bar like a wave and it wouldn’t be long before the fists would fly. With no women in the place there wasn’t anything to do other than fight. Frank and Woody weren’t proud, whenever the first whiff of trouble started, they were out the door.

On that last night, though, their instincts were too slow. It was getting late and Woody had put away two dollars’ worth of beer and was hunched over the jukebox with another quarter in his hand. He couldn’t seem to make up his mind and something in the atmosphere made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. A quick survey of the place and he realized the place was packed but no women. He started to push his way back to grab Frank and get out when a blur caused him to duck and a heavy glass schooner, half-full and spewing beer as it spun, wobbled by and crashed into a table of guys in cowboy hats.

The place immediately erupted. The pool table was between Woody and the door and he knew to stay away from there – he could already see wooden pool cues swinging. He looked past the table and the bar toward the front door, trying to scout an escape route and could see the bouncer energetically grabbing anyone within reach and heaving them out the front door. They looked like rag dolls flying out. One did try and fight back – a particularly large fellow – and for a second he and the bouncer swayed back and forth before the guys feet left the ground and he was thrown. The struggle threw the bouncer off though and instead of cleanly going out the door he struck the glass window next to the frame and it quickly shattered, the guy going on out, sprawling cut up onto the sidewalk.

The sound of smashing glass and the sight of flowing blood increased the level of violent insanity within the rioting bar. An animal-like scream rose and the pool cues started swinging faster and harder, the glass pitchers, schooners, and bottles flew like missiles, and punches began falling all around. Woody knew that a bloody victim out on the sidewalk would draw the cops quickly and he decided to hunker down next to the pinball machine and try to ride everything out. He had his back to the wall, into the little corner and was begining to think he’d get out in one piece when someone tapped him on one shoulder.

Woody turned to see a rough-looking guy standing there wobbly on a pair of crutches. For a split second he thought the guy must need help and started to open his mouth to ask something when the guy hauled back and punched Woody right square in the face. The force of the impact threw Woody back completely over the pinball table until he fell off onto the concrete floor on the other side. He could feel the blood pouring from his nose.

He wobbled to his feet and started stumbling through the crowd. Woody could feel blows and pushes, but knew he had to keep moving. As he came close to the front door somebody slid sideways into him and he fell into the jagged broken glass of the shattered window. Woody felt a cold slice and a sharp shard cut his cheek. A strong hand grabbed the back of his shirt and moved him on out, onto the bloodied sidewalk.

The police were already there and a brace of ambulances were screaming in. There was a triage set up and Woody was taken quickly, in handcuffs to the city hospital where his face was sewn up in the emergency room. In the years to come, he was told that a better doctor could have minimized the scar across his face, but it was too late.

A Month of Short Stories 2014, Day 30 – A Horseman in the Sky

A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for the month. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day thirty – A Horseman in the Sky, by Ambrose Bierce

Read it online here:

A Horseman in the Sky

When I think of Ambrose Bierce, I think of carefully written, exquisitely detailed military stories – with the wild addition of fanciful magic realism. I suppose that, today, well over a century after he lived and wrote, his most well-known tale, An Occurence at Owl Street Bridge, fits that description.

He also wrote The Devil’s Dictionary – which is a little dated today – but is still valid in its bitter satire on life and its foibles.

To wit:
From The Devil’s Dictionary”

LIFE, n. A spiritual pickle preserving the body from decay. We live in daily apprehension of its loss; yet when lost it is not missed. The question, “Is life worth living?” has been much discussed; particularly by those who think it is not, many of whom have written at great length in support of their view and by careful observance of the laws of health enjoyed for long terms of years the honors of successful controversy.

“Life’s not worth living, and that’s the truth,”
Carelessly caroled the golden youth.
In manhood still he maintained that view
And held it more strongly the older he grew.
When kicked by a jackass at eighty-three,
“Go fetch me a surgeon at once!” cried he.
—Han Soper

or, from the “S”:

SAUCE, n. The one infallible sign of civilization and enlightenment. A people with no sauces has one thousand vices; a people with one sauce has only nine hundred and ninety-nine. For every sauce invented and accepted a vice is renounced and forgiven.

(this is a fact that I agree with)

There is much to say about today’s short and simple story… but I want to point out one simple aspect. The story has, among other things, a surprise or twist ending.

This sort of story is hard to pull off. A successful surprise ending really has to be no surprise at all – at least no surprise after you have read it. Though you should not be able to see it coming, after it has passed you have to realize that things could not be any other way.

Bierce does all this in today’s. Through careful manipulation of point of view, time shifting, and judicious information release by the omniscient narrator the ending is concealed until the end, yet is foreshadowed to the extent that the reader knows that no other plot direction would be possible.

That’s especially tricky because this is the most common and hoary of all twist endings, still being done to this day.

Hope I didn’t ruin it for you. It’s still a cool story.

For an instant Druse had a strange, half-defined feeling that he had slept to the end of the war and was looking upon a noble work of art reared upon that eminence to commemorate the deeds of an heroic past of which he had been an inglorious part. The feeling was dispelled by a slight movement of the group: the horse, without moving its feet, had drawn its body slightly backward from the verge; the man remained immobile as before. Broad awake and keenly alive to the significance of the situation, Druse now brought the butt of his rifle against his cheek by cautiously pushing the barrel forward through the bushes, cocked the piece, and glancing through the sights covered a vital spot of the horseman’s breast. A touch upon the trigger and all would have been well with Carter Druse. At that instant the horseman turned his head and looked in the direction of his concealed foeman–seemed to look into his very face, into his eyes, into his brave, compassionate heart.