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Long-time readers know I’ve always had something of a fascination with the Civil War—especially the South and Southern iconography. But I’ve also always had a fascination with the Civil Rights movement and the various acts of civil disobedience put forth by some of its most noted individuals. I’ve always wanted to explore these subjects in a way that ran just a little bit deeper than your average, run-of-the-mill, 800-word article. I wanted to explore them from a more emotional perspective, and see them from something other than a purely political point of view.
In my new novelette, “For Whom the Rebel Flag Flies,” I think I have done just that. And below, for the first time anywhere on the Internet, you can read the full first scene of this story, and see if you agree. When you’re done with this excerpt, I hope you’ll head on over to Amazon or Barnes & Noble and download the rest for your Kindle or your Nook.
Anyway, without further ado, here is the full opening scene of “For Whom the Rebel Flag Flies.”
Homer Campbell had just reached for the switch by the door when he heard it.
Homer turned around.
Eight-year-old Sheed was still tucked under his red-and-white-pinstriped blanket. Autographed posters of Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins hung above his head on the wall. They had just finished reading from a baseball encyclopedia, and the hardcover copy sat on the nightstand, right beside the red glowing numbers of a baseball-shaped alarm clock.
“Time for bed, big guy,” said Homer, reminding his son of the unwritten rule that words were not meant to be spoken at this point, after the final kiss on the forehead, after Good night. I love you.
But the boy’s mind was swirling with fantastical ideas now.
“Dad,” Sheed went on, batting his eyes, “when I play for the Phillies, will you come watch me play?”
A smile crept across Homer’s face. His hand, which he’d kept in position on the light switch, dropped down to his side.
“‘Cause I was thinking,” said Sheed, “when I get up to bat, it’ll just be me, and I might feel alone.”
A wooden stool sat to the side of the young man’s bed—the stool which Homer sat on each night to read his little spitting image to sleep. Homer forsook the stool, but knelt beside it, and ran his hand over little Sheed’s head.
“Sheed, when you play for the Phillies,” he said, “they’ll have to get an army if they want to keep me out of there.”
Sheed grinned. “But Dad, what if you have to work?”
8:35, said the baseball-shaped alarm clock.
It was getting late. And the young man was stalling.
“There isn’t a job on Earth I wouldn’t quit if that’s what it came to, big guy.”
“But what if the car is broke and you can’t get there?”
Homer planted a kiss on Sheed’s forehead—the second one of the night. “I’ll walk,” he said. “Good night, little man.”
“Good night,” said Sheed.
Homer turned out the light.
“He asleep?” asked Homer’s wife, Kiara, when Homer entered the family room a moment later. She was sitting on the couch, reading the latest People. She peered up over the top of the magazine when she asked the question.
“I think we’ve reached an agreement,” said Homer, “that he’ll attempt to work on it.” He eyed a clock on top of the TV. The time was now 8:40. “Where’d you put the box?” he asked. “I want to get this done before bed.”
“It’s in the closet,” she said with a nod to the door across the room. “You sure you want to do this?” she asked.
Homer opened the door in answer to her question. “Why?” he asked as he dropped to his knee again, this time to reach for a box behind a vacuum cleaner. “You’re not having second thoughts, are you?”
“It’s your thing, but no, that’s not what I mean,” she said.
He placed the box upon the coffee table.
“I just mean it’s dark.”
Homer smiled. He reached in his pocket for a Swiss Army knife, and cut open the long strip of tape that sealed the cardboard box. “That’s why God invented porch lights. Don’t worry. It shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes.”
Box in tow, he made for the door, which was just down the hall from the family room. He caught a quick glimpse of himself in the mirror.
I don’t care what anybody says, thought Homer. I still think I look exactly like a fatter Barack Obama.
An empty flagpole stood on the lawn, surrounded by a circle of mulch. Homer went to the pole and dropped to his knee for what he now noticed was the third time that evening. He pulled back the flaps of the cardboard box and took out a white piece of paper. He eyed it a moment. Just an invoice. He placed it on the ground beside him.
Now he reached in again and pulled out a nylon triangle neatly sealed in a sheath of clear plastic. He tore away at the plastic, then shoved it and the paper back into the box.
He untucked the flap that held the triangle together, then let it unfurl into a flag. He flapped out the flag to loosen the wrinkles, then strung it on the rope attached to the pole.
“You sure you can see?” Kiara called out.
Homer turned back.
She stood by the door.
He flashed her a thumb, then worked with the rope, and the fresh new flag ascended the pole.
Somewhere out west the sun had all but set, and only the faintest glimmers of purple filtered between the homes on the street. But purple was not the color that mattered. The colors that mattered were red, white, and blue.
“Looks good, I guess,” Kiara told Homer. She’d snuck up beside him.
He put his arm around her.
Together, they peered up at the gently flapping banner: a blue X over a bright red background.
The Confederate flag.