Kurt Kennedy started the Fiction Writing program with an idea in progress: a historical fiction novel about the embalmer on Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession. Over the years, it’s been cool to watch the project progress, and I’m pleased to share a chunk of it, set in 1862, on my blog.
For my interview with Kurt, click here.
Kurt Kennedy has thought about Laying Lincoln Down since 2004. The project has taken him from Virginia to Springfield, and many other places and states of mind along the way. Many teachers, friends, librarians, and Department of Transportation employees have been invaluable in its progression, as well. An excerpt is featured in Hair Trigger 34 (2012) and the “1861” installment of the graphic version is forthcoming from Wicker Park Press.
In the early evening of May 30, a few miles from Richmond northeast of the Chickahominy River, Harry and Johnny sat on a raised line of grass watching the Union soldiers engage in a match of baseball as the sky was tingeing orange. Thirty yards away the shirt rock cracked off the bat one of the men had carved. The man covering the third bag and the one serving as the stopgap between him and the second bag converged on the tumbling makeshift ball. The players erupted in “ahs” of enthused disappointment and cheers as the batsman tagged the first bag not a second before the stopgap’s throw slapped into the first bagman’s rawhide mitt. Johnny stood and clapped with vigor. Harry smiled and slapped his knee in false frustration. They agreed to cheer for opposing squads at the last match and were keeping it up.
“Yeah, whoop it up, Johnny. Nobody’s scored yet.”
The hubbub from the play died down but the first bagman was standing near the pitcher’s mound, flailing his arms, and shouting.
“Hell with that. The hell with that, he’s out.”
“Horse shit. I’m safe.” He pointed at the bag beneath his shoes.
The bagman moved toward him.
“You’re out.” He got so close to the runner Harry and Johnny couldn’t tell if their chests were touching. “I felt it when you tagged, and it was after I caught the ball.” He held his mitt out to the side and pointed into it.
“The hell it was.” The runner shoved the bagman.
As he tumbled back, each man’s teammates started running forward from the field and from the batters’ bench. The bagman balanced and tried to charge but was snatched from under the arms by the pitcher. The charging bag runner threw a punch that caught the pitcher’s cheek as he turned the bagman away. The fielders and the batsmen converged around the scuffle. It became a melee.
Three horses emerged on the mini grass ridge next to Harry and Johnny. Johnny turned to his side to see and Harry looked above his shoulder. General McClellan sat on the central, white horse. He was a stone gentleman with his dark parted hair, large moustache, and smooth, stern face. The golden fringe on the waist rope he wore to indicate his status draped over his thigh. He studied the action on the field and uniformed aides waited eagerly atop their darker horses for him to speak.
One by one, the squabbling soldiers began taking notice of the General on the little ridge. They unwrapped themselves from each other and stared silently up at him. One man saluted and the rest followed.
“Shall I go find out what this is all about, sir?” one of the aides asked.
McClellan continued to peer without answering.
The stopgap man took several steps across the pitcher’s mound while the others gazed with confused eyes, remaining frozen in salute.
“General, sir.” He raised his salute again and awaited reply.
“Yes?” McClellan answered loudly but calmly.
“General, sir, with your permission, we would like to have the boy bat next.” He lowered his salute and pointed at Johnny.
Johnny twisted to McClellan above him on the horse, then back to the stopgap on the field, then he noticed there were no other boys on the small ridge, then he fixed back on the General, who stared down at him.
“Well, would you like to play, boy?”
After a moment Johnny began to indistinctly shake his head “yes,” then more emphatically.
“Very well.” McClellan looked out again at the field. He raised his hand beside his head, gave a single, mild flick of his wrist, then maneuvered his horse around and descended back down the rear side of the little ridge, toward the tents of camp, followed by his two men.
Harry and Johnny watched him then turned to each other.
“Well, go on if you want to,” Harry said to break several moments of silent staring.
Johnny grinned and trudged down the small ridge onto the field. The men resumed their positions, as well as the runner on the first bag. One soldier grabbed a bat from beneath the bench and gave it to Johnny, pointing over to where home bag was with the catcher behind it. As he stepped to the batter’s box, he looked over at the ridge and waved to Harry with his right hand; his left held the bat on his shoulder like a rifle. Harry smiled and waved back.