Saturday, October 5, 2013

Floyd by Eric Lanke

A little while ago, I made my novel, Columbia, available for download from this blog.

Columbia is the story of Theodore Lomax, a nineteen-year-old Union solider in the American Civil War, and as committed as any to the ideal of human freedom. After being assigned to the army of William Tecumseh Sherman, shortly after the general’s infamous March to the Sea, he willingly participates in the destruction of civilian property in Columbia, South Carolina, believing his acts are justified by Southern resistance to the Northern cause of emancipation. But when the destruction escalates into violence against the civilians themselves, he becomes disillusioned, and feels compelled to strike out in opposition to his own countrymen.

The novel is told from Lomax's point of view, but there are ten other supporting characters, each with a story of his or her own. "Floyd" is one of these stories, centering on the character of William Floyd, and describing his time as a Union artilleryman and the siege that hardened his heart against the Southern people.

There was a time when I thought these stories should alternate with the chapters in Columbia, presenting a richer but perhaps more tangled tapestry of the lives that painfully converge in the novel's climactic scenes. But Columbia is clearly a more coherent narrative without them. Still, they were valuable to me as an author, and I hope you find them useful and enjoyable as a reader.

Floyd by Eric Lanke - $3

Clicking the "Add to Cart" button will take you through a short payment process and provide you with a PDF download of the story that you can read on your computer or tablet, or which you can print at your convenience. The story is about 9,300 words and the document is 31 pages long. Given its theme and historical setting, the work reflects the racism of the time, and includes episodes of violence and strong language.

Want a sample? Here's are the first thousand or so words.

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Before the war, William Floyd worked in a butcher shop in Chicago. He himself was not the butcher. That distinction went to the owner of the shop, a fat Irishman named Slattery who taught Floyd everything he knew about the business. Slattery taught Floyd so much that in the last few years before the war, he seldom even visited his butcher shop, relying on Floyd to do all the work and deal directly with the suppliers and customers. Day in and day out for three years, customers could find Floyd behind Slattery’s long wooden table, wearing Slattery’s bloody apron and cutting up meat with Slattery’s long knives, and every day someone would ask Floyd if the butcher was coming in that day.

“Is the butcher coming in today?”

“If you mean Mister Slattery, no, I don’t think so.”

“Oh. Well, in that case, just give me half a roasting chicken.”

For the first month or so, that daily conversation didn’t bother Floyd. He knew the customers were used to dealing with Slattery and were probably a little surprised to see him where Slattery was supposed to be. But after a while he began to resent the question.

“Is the butcher coming in today?”

“I don’t think so. Can I help you instead?”

“Oh. Well, in that case, just give me four of the pork chops.”

It’s not like he was seeing new people every day. With few exceptions, Slattery’s business was founded upon forty or fifty extremely loyal customers who lived in the neighborhood, people who came in every day or every other day. After a year of no contact with Slattery, Floyd would have thought they would have stopped asking for him.

“Is the butcher coming in today?

“No. But I can help you with whatever you need.”

“Oh. Well, in that case, just give me two pounds of hamburger.”

It was almost as if they would have ordered something else if Slattery had been there to serve them. Floyd decided to test this theory one day during his second year of independent service.

“Is the butcher coming in today?”

“No. What can I get for you?”

“Oh. Well, in that case, just give me one of the five-pound beef roasts.”

“What would you have ordered if Mister Slattery had been here?”

“Excuse me?”

“I said, what would you have ordered if Mister Slattery had been here? You seemed to change your mind after I told you he wasn’t coming in today.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Just give me one of the five-pound beef roasts, please.”

It seemed clear to Floyd that was the wrong approach. There was evidently some kind of secret relationship between Slattery and his customers that Floyd had no business stepping on. He never dared do that again, but the question about the butcher’s whereabouts still aggravated him with its frequency. One day during his third year, Floyd decided to try something radically different.

“Is the butcher coming in today?”

“I am the butcher.”

The customer he had tried that on looked at him in silence for a few moments, and then quietly left the shop without saying another word. Floyd never saw that particular customer again, but it was also the last time anyone ever asked him if the butcher was coming in today.

Floyd was one of the first to volunteer for service after the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter. He hated the Rebels for doing that as much as any other patriotic American, but more than anything else he saw it as an opportunity to get out of Slattery’s butcher shop. As one of the first volunteers, he was allowed to choose from among the different service branches, so he and his best friend Adam McClintock enrolled themselves in the artillery together. They were quickly assigned to a unit attached to one of the newly-formed Illinois regiments and taught how to load, fire, and care for one of the thousands of cannon being forged in support of the Union war effort.

Throughout their training and the early months of the war, Floyd and McClintock were inseparable, much as they had been before the war at the tavern down the street from Slattery’s butcher shop. McClintock was a pipefitter’s assistant, but the two men had known each other since they were children attending the same grammar school together. Neither of them were educated beyond the third grade level, but that was more than most kids in their neighborhood. Following their academic careers, they were apprenticed to their respective tradesmen in order to learn something more practical than reading and writing. From the start they both did well for themselves, Floyd taking to meat cutting and McClintock taking to pipefitting as though it was second nature to them. They both earned enough money to keep roofs over their heads and food in their bellies, and they both had enough left over to spend Saturday evenings out entertaining whichever pair of ladies they were currently seeing. They spent every other night in the tavern down the street from Slattery’s butcher shop drinking beer and throwing darts. At the time of their induction into the army, both men were unmarried and thirty-two years old.

They were careful to get themselves assigned to the same gun crew, which wasn’t too hard for two men as determined as they were. Their first assignment was as part of a four-gun battery commanded by a likeable captain from Skokie. They both serviced the third gun in the battery, a twelve-pound Napoleon which the captain had named Annabel after his youngest daughter. McClintock was charged with dropping the ammunition into Annabel’s barrel and Floyd’s job was to ram it home with the plunger. These tasks, combined with others performed by four other men in Annabel’s crew, allowed her to belch forth the fire and death both Floyd and McClintock hoped to soon rain down upon the heads of unsuspecting Rebel sons of bitches.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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