- Pieces of Butternut and Blue / 2by John Ciarmello
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Double conflict
Pieces of Butternut and Blue / 2 by John Ciarmello

“What’s your damn story, anyway, Hoop? What’s a man like you doin' out here fightin' in a war he has no interest fightin' in?”
Hoop lowered his gaze and released a small puff of air through a weary grin. “Truth be known, Ben. I’m indebted to this war. I’m a free man because of it, but I do have my very own interests as a colored man for fighting in it. They’re all much more personal than they are cause-driven.” 
To be continued:
Part 2
Ben spun around to the sound of musket fire.  Another shot followed, and stone fragments sprayed from the barricade behind him.
He positioned himself on his stomach and looked down the battlefield at the lingering musket smoke. “He’s just beyond those trees, Hoop." Ben loaded his musket, aimed, and a separate shot rang out beside him. He rolled and shifted his aim. "Got him!" Hoop blurted, not paying attention to the positioning of Ben’s musket.
“Dagnabit, Hoop! Now ya got me strugglin’ to remember if yur’ a Confederate–are ya? Cuz ya just killed one a yur’ own!”
“I am, but I’m struggling to forget you're a Yankee, so point your arms away from my face and stop looking at me like some bugged-eyed turtle.” 
 Hoop aimed his musket over the stone wall and peered into the woods. Our last orders were to Flank your men from the east, Ben. My men will likely advance over the top of us if we don’t get out of here.”
“Lookin’ like we got company already, Hoop.” A Confederate soldier jumped the stone wall thirty feet away. He paused and took a few steps forward. “Hoop? Hoop, is that you?”
“Well, I’ll be–Samuel?” 
“Y’are still as fit as ever, Hoop.” Samuel pushed away from their embrace and pulled a repeater pistol from his belt. “This Yank got you captive, Hoop?”
“If he had me captive, I wouldn’t be holding arms? Now, would I?”
Samuel shifted his aim to Hoop’s chest.
“Don’t make this worse than it has to be Samuel.”
“I always knew your feelings about this war weren’t as strong as mine, but the problem lies with what I’m witnessing here. You befriended a Yank, Hoop. That’s treason. He stared him in the eyes. “What do I do with that, Hoop?”
“You let it go and be on your way. There’s plenty of battles to be won out there. But I can promise you this won’t be one you’ll win.”
Samuel released a short breath and grinned. “I had you figured for many things, Hoop, but being a treasonous wretch wasn’t one of them.”
 “I’m simply asking for you to walk away. It doesn't have to be this way.”
Samuel cocked his pistol. “You know I can’t do that.”
“You might be wantin’ to listen to him, private, and stop actin’ like yur’ the biggest frog in this puddle.”
“Shut up, you pigheaded mule of a Yank! Y’all’s death would end this debacle.” He shot his pistol in Ben’s direction, and Hoop ran his bayonet into Samuel’s gut. Their eyes locked, and Samuel’s gaze stiffened as Hoop lowered his body to the ground.  “You, alright, Ben?”
“I’m alright, grazed the top of my shoulder is all. I won’t ever be able to repay ya for that, Hoop. I’m forever indebted.”
Hoop laid Samuel’s musket by his side and crossed his arms over his chest. 
“Forever doesn’t exist, Ben.” He closed Samuel’s eyes. “At least not for us.”
Ben ripped part of his undergarment and packed the graze on his shoulder. “The fightin’ is sparse now, Hoop.” Ben pointed to Wisteria vines nearer the end of the stone barricade. “That looks like good a place as any to hide from this stinkin’ war for a spell.”
Hoop removed his cartridge box sling and pushed his back against the thick braids of the vine. They exchanged occasional glances as they sat silently under the dense cover.
Hoop cleared his throat, and Ben glanced at him, not expecting his spontaneity.
“You remember me telling you about the Dawsons, Ben?”
“Ain’t theys’ the folks that took yur’ Pap in as Pastor. Then if I’m recallin’ correct, as a kiddo ya got yurself educated in old man Dawson’s library dustin’ off books. I think ya told me ya did more readin’ than ya did dustin'.”
Hoop shot him a quick grin. ”They believed in humanity, Ben. There was no north or south, white or colored. It took me to this point to realize what drives people beyond their differences is their similarities. I’m ashamed I hadn’t learned their example sooner.”
“No shame in that. Yur' lucky to have em’.”
Hoop thought for a second. “Contentious word, isn’t it, Ben?  Lucky. “Pap once said to me, ‘Joshua Johnus Hooper, I know you're a spirited child, and you can’t help your words, but whatever bad feelings you're harboring for the Dawsons, you put them away and thank your falling stars that as of late no Jonah has come our way. We’re the luckiest coloreds that ever walked on earth’s soil. You pray to God that never changes.”
Ben glanced at the battlefield. “You didn’t pray hard enough, Hoop.”
“I always figured Pap put too much into prayer until the day he disappeared without a trace.”
Ben cocked his head. “I’m not gettin’ yur’ meanin’, Hoop.” 
"Everything was hushed for a few months until a little snitch told me the Dawsons had set things in motion to place Pap with the underground. I knew at that moment what he meant by the power of prayer. I just never imagined I wouldn’t be part of it.” 
“But ya told me theys’ treated ya like family. Maybe yur’ Paps knew that stayin’ with the Dawsons was the best thing for ya.”
“Maybe so. My Pap and the Dawsons made me the man I am today, but…”
“Ya ain’t tellin’ me yur' ungrateful, are ya?” 
Hoop sighed. “Not ungrateful–betrayed and cheated by the very people I loved most in this life. Where does the blame fall, Ben?”
“I can’t fix what’s been broken in yur’ head since you were a kiddo. I can only tell ya, yur’ Pap, well, he done the right thing, and it’s apparent the Dawsons had big plans for ya.”
“I know you’re right…”
“Are ya plannin’ on goin’ back to see em? Talk it out, maybe.”
“There isn’t any need.”
“There's always a need, Hoop. What’s yur’ worry?”
 “Word got to me that they were slaughtered by a band of rogue Confederates six months ago. They looted the plantation and then burned it to the ground.”
Ben got up and faced away. “That explains plenty, Hoop. But why ain’t there more hate in yur' bones?” 
“A few definitions drive me as a man, Ben, but being sanctimonious isn’t one of them.  This is war. I can’t claim I’ve ever been self-righteous in fighting it. No man could.”
“I’m sorry for all ya been through, Hoop.”
“It’s behind me. There isn’t anything I could’ve done then and nothing I can do now.” He paused and wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand. “I could use a dip of your snuff, Ben.”
Ben nodded and fished the sac of tobacco from his pocket, filled a small space behind his lip, and tossed the sac to Hoop. 
Hoop watched curiously as Ben broke a flowered Wisteria sprig from the vine and peered again toward the boy he had laid in the clearing across the battlefield. “What’s floating around in those thoughts, Ben?”
Ben rolled his bloodied shoulder and winced. “It ain’t nothin’. I needs time to think, is all.”
 “As long as you’re thinking about the right things.”
“What’s yur’ meanin’?”
“I see desertion in your eyes.”
Ben sat up and cradled his forearms on his knees. “With all ya been through, Hoop, haven’t ya thought about it once?”
“What soldier hasn’t? I understand what you’re looking for in that flower, Ben. But its beauty can’t bring back what the ugly in this war has taken away from you.”
Ben spun the Wisteria flower between his fingers and leaned against the braided vine. “My wife used to love Wisteria. She’d say they's produce the most beautiful flowers she'd ever seen. There’s beauty in that, Hoop.”
"That flower is a mirage, Ben! When you get close to it, it disappears into the darkness of this war. The only things that thrive here are musket powder and death stench. Trying to find beauty will make you soft, and soft will get you killed!”
Ben pulled another flower from the vine.“I appreciate what yur’ sayin’, but what about hope? Ya see–it’s always been puzzlin’ to me since the start a this war how the beauty–” Ben glanced at the flower and lifted his gaze to the battlefield. “–and the ugly can coexist. Ain’t a day gone by I haven’t noticed the beauty within the ugly. I ain’t dead yet, Hoop!” 
 “Fair enough, Ben. Fair enough.” Hoop turned his head and spat. “I’m not one to pry into another man’s heartache, but the boy you killed–who was he, Ben?”
Ben paused and then thumbed over his shoulder. “Them fancy northern writers and speakers named this a civil war cuz they said it ain’t fair another should want their independence. Well, let me tell ya, Hoop, there ain’t nothin’ fair nor civil bout’ this war. And that boy layin’ over there, what’s he care bout independence, now?” Ben stood and hacked off a five-foot piece of the Wisteria vine. He rummaged through his sac and pulled out his spade.
Hoop jumped up and put a hand on Ben’s chest. “What’re you doing, Ben?”
“That boy deserves a good death, and I’m fixin’ to give him one.” He made his way onto the battlefield, his eyes fixed on where he had laid the boy’s body.
“Ben! For God’s sake, You’re not armed!”
Ben reached the boy, laid the Wisteria beside him, and began to dig. He raised his head and yelled across the battlefield. “Ain’t no need to be armed, Hoop. I ain’t fixin’ to do no more killin’.” 
A shot rang out before Hoop could load his musket and start across the battlefield. He watched as Ben straightened on his knees and fell face down. 
Hoop side-stepped onto the battlefield, his musket aimed in the direction of the shot. Movement in the shrubbery a short distance away forced him to take cover behind a boulder mid-battlefield. “Show yourself, soldier!” He yelled.
A voice returned and echoed eerily within the empty battlefield. “Are you Confederate?”
“I am! You?”
“I am! I’m coming out.”
Hoop stood and positioned his musket atop the boulder.  
“What’s your worry, comrade? Can’t you see I’m Confederate? Lower your arms.”
Hoop cocked his trigger arm and aimed. Dear God, forgive me. Lead this soldier through the gates of grace and soothe my vengeful soul. 
A reddish-orange spear of fire blazed from Hoop’s barrel, and a cloud of white encircled his head. He slowly lowered his aim and made his way to Ben. 
He tore off part of his shirt and pressed it against a gaping wound on Ben’s side. “Don’t try to move. I’m going for help as soon as I can get this bleeding under control.”
“Yur always lookin’ to control somethin’.” Ben shot him a shaky grin.
 “Are you damn daft, Yankee? What were you thinking running out here all willy-nilly?” Hoop pressed harder on the wound, and Ben winced.
“This ain’t no time to be mushin’ up to me.” He drew a few sporadic breaths. “I need ya to do somethin’ for me.
Hoop pulled Ben’s upper body onto his lap. “Don’t try to talk and keep still.” 
“Hoop. I need ya to stop tellin’ me what to do and listen.”
“Alright, alright. I’m mad as hell at you, Yank, but I’m listening.”
“Bury me with the boy, Hoop.”
 “No. I’m not going to allow you to die out here. Do you hear me? ”
Ben twisted a weak fist into Hoop’s uniform. “I ain’t askin’ yur permission to die, ya pigheaded mule of a friend! What I’m askin’ is ya bury me with the boy! Will ya do that, Hoop?”
Hoop glanced at the boy’s body a few inches away. “Why is he so important to you, Ben? Who is he?”
“He’s my son.”



Author Notes
A few spots are grammatically incorrect due to the diction and the period. Please hang in and try to push through. I hope you enjoy it! Love you all!


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