Saturday, November 30, 2013

Sally 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. "Sally" is one of these stories, centering on the character of Sally Andrews, and describing her journey as a young girl from the slave cabins on the Andrews plantation to her favored position within their Columbia home.

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.

Sally 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 13,600 words and the document is 45 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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They intended Sally for a house slave from the moment they brought her to their home on Elmwood Avenue, but she didn’t really learn what that meant until four years later when she was twelve years old. Before that they let her run with the other children, run until she almost thought she was one of them. It was only when Bessie died that Sally was forced to stop running. And what had seemed obvious and preordained to everyone else for the first time became an overwhelming and pressing reality for Sally.

They were the Andrews, a prosperous and fairly typical family of white landowners in Columbia, South Carolina. The patriarch, Zebulon Andrews, was a graduate of West Point and had served his country faithfully for thirty-five years before settling in to raise cotton on six hundred acres a few miles outside the capitol city. He had acquired the land early in his military career when he had married the daughter of an aristocratic politician who had twice run for governor and been twice defeated. Her name was Victoria Butterfield, and although three previous suitors had all written songs about her—one about her beauty, another about her charm, and a third, unbelievably, about her feet—none had been sufficiently eloquent enough to convince her father to release Victoria to the holy trappings of matrimony.

It was the ridiculous and self-absorbed requirement Victoria’s father had drunkenly announced would be the test of all who sought his daughter’s hand in marriage, likening it to some misunderstood traditions of old. In his more sober moments, Judge Butterfield was known to regret having made such a blusterous demand, but he never once had the humility to rescind it, and as much as he decried it, he had turned away three enviable young men whose attempts to indulge his fancy had been both creative and heartfelt. By the time Zebulon came along with his composition dedicated to Victoria’s sagacity and wisdom, therefore, most folks thought old Judge Butterfield’s strange demands on potential sons-in-law had doomed poor Victoria to life as a spinster. Either because the Judge was reluctant to have his reputation besmirched in such a fashion, or because Victoria herself had prevailed upon him to be reasonable, however, Zebulon’s creation was deemed the worthiest of the bunch and the wily old man quickly gave his blessing.

Zebulon and Victoria were married by an army chaplain and spent much of their marriage moving from place to place as Zebulon’s military responsibilities took them from post to post. They were separated for only three years, while Zebulon served with distinction in the Mexican War, leading first a company and then a regiment in two battles that had helped turn the tide for the Americans. After the war their itinerant lifestyle accelerated, the army prizing him as one of its best drill instructors and transferring him from one troublesome unit to the next, where he seemed to have a knack for improving not only conduct but also morale.

As best they could during these nomadic years, Zebulon and Victoria tried to raise a family, and were successful at bringing six children into the world, only one of which died as an infant. Of their surviving children, the four oldest were all boys—Zebulon, Marcus, Frederick, and Reuben—and the youngest was a girl, Emily. As babies and children, the boys were all healthy and strong, growing as if by divine right, but Emily and the other little girl born just before her, christened Elizabeth but not surviving beyond her third month, were sickly and weak. Victoria did not believe Emily would survive either, as she seemed incapable of taking nourishment and grew at only an imperceptible rate.

But Emily was special. Although always on the verge of death for the first two years of her life, she somehow managed to survive and grew into a happy and relatively healthy young girl. Her unusual physical characteristics, which is all Zebulon and Victoria thought they were at birth, did not fade with age. Instead they deepened and heralded the mental retardation she would struggle with throughout her development. At two she was very much still a baby, at five she was like what her brothers had been at two, and at ten she was very much like them at five. Her parents loved her no less because of these challenges, and did all they could to show Emily the same fondness and attention they had showered on their boys.

Upon Zebulon’s retirement from the army, the whole family moved to the house on Elmwood Avenue in Columbia. The farmland just outside town Zebulon had acquired when he and Victoria had been married had not been standing vacant for the thirty years that elapsed between his wedding and his retirement. It had long ago been developed into a working and fairly lucrative cotton plantation, run by overseers hired initially by Victoria’s father and returning a steady stream of profits to Zebulon’s estate. With the end of his military career, Zebulon had decided to take over the plantation himself, and have a go at being a gentleman farmer. The house on Elmwood Avenue was part of the holding. Although a smaller one stood on the plantation itself, the one in town was considered more luxurious and certainly gave the owners better visibility among the important social scene in Columbia.

Another thing that came with the property was slaves, more than two hundred of them who lived in a series of long, low buildings on the plantation itself. More poorly constructed than the stables that sheltered the horses, the ramshackle slave cabins were freezing in winter and reeking in summer, and were the only place the plantation’s slaves could think of as home. All the slaves, that is, but one.

Her name was Bessie, and she was the house slave for the overseers who lived in the house on the plantation. Her job was to cook and clean for the white men who supervised the work—taking the slaves out to the crops each morning and bringing them back to the slave cabins each night.

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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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