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The Boy

(You may recall me sharing this short story back in October, but I wanted to share it again for Memorial Day and update it with a picture of the Confederate grave that I visited today.) Last fall I was inspired to write a short story based on a true event that happened in my NY hometown during the Civil War. A train of Confederate prisoners of war came through en route to a POW camp and left a dead Confederate behind. The townsfolk debated over what to do with the boy. The men didn't want anything to do with him while the women thought that the boy should be buried in their cemetery. Unknown Confederate soldier buried not far from me .... hmmm, this is prime writing material! Who was this boy? Where was he from? Who did he love?

So without further ado, my little story about a Confederate soldier boy.

The Boy
by Emily Ann Putzke

The Tennessee boy sat on the floor of the train car, his back leaning against the rough wooden interior. The stale air reeked of urine and sweaty wool, undertoned with the nauseating sweet scent of gangrene and disease. He lifted his face to a knot in the wood, squinting to see the world outside the crowded hell he inhabited. Trees whipped past, mere blurs of brown and green. It made him dizzy. He reclined his head against the wall once more and took deep, painful breaths.The boy longed to stretch his cramped legs, but prisoners of war were packed around him, leaving no room for the boy to do anything but hug his bony kneecaps to his chest. He no longer fit in the trousers his Ma had made him. He swam in the fabric, and the hem now reached the middle of his shins. His white cotton shirt hung off his limbs. His boots were worn through. A young fair haired soldier standing to his left began singing a camp song, slow and mournful.

“From the bright sunny south to the war, I was sent, e'er the days of my boyhood, I scarcely had spent. From it's cool shady forests and deep flowing streams, Ever fond in my mem'ry and sweet in my dreams.”

“Ain’t we goin’ through enough torture without you singing atop of that?” Someone’s yell cut through the melancholy tune. The voice was bitter.

“Let’em sing,” a bearded soldier beside the singer urged. “He’s just homesick.”

“Oh, my dear little sister, I still see her tears. When I had to leave home in our tender years—”

“Stop it! Someone gag that bastard!” the man screamed.

A scuffle began, and the singer disappeared into the men, getting pummeled by the bitter soldier. The boy leaned his head into his knees, shutting his ears to the misery. A cold sweat slathered his youthful face, and his body trembled and convulsed with fever. He was going to die. He knew he was going to die. The question was—when? The noise gradually settled down and the boy heard someone sobbing. He wondered if it was the bitter man or the singer. He glanced up at the soldiers around him. They were stoic, staring at the walls as if in another world. What were they thinking of, the boy wondered. Home? The future? The past?

“Got typhus, don’t you?”

The boy searched for the voice. It came from the bearded man. His cap was tugged over his eyes.

“I reckon. I feel … I feel sick as a dog.”

“How old are you, boy?”

It took the boy a moment to reply. His head swam. “Seventeen.”

“Lordy,” the bearded man shook his head in sorrow, “So young. So much life yet to live.”

Tears tore at the boy’s throat. So much life to live. He was already mourning a future he would never have. “I’m saying goodbye,” he said, closing his eyes to the spinning room. “In my heart, I’m saying goodbye.”

“To whom, boy?”

Pain racked his throat and seared his chest. “Ma, Pa … my sisters, Violet and Annalee. My girl … her name is Belle … I never told her how much I love her.” He raked shaky fingers through his lice infested hair. “Ma cried when … when I left her. I’m just a boy, she said. Maybe she was right.”

“You are just a boy.”

The boy rested the side of his face against his knees. “I fought for my country … I did what I thought was right … my moral duty.”

The bearded soldier pushed his way past two arguing soldiers to get closer, and managed to knee down beside the boy. “Your parents must be right proud of you.”

The boy stared through a blurry haze. The bearded man became two men, then merged into one fuzzy image. “I hope so.” His voice was raspy. Death-like.

“Look, boy, you gotta lay down. You’re white as a ghost. Boys, move over. This child is dying.”

The bearded soldier shoved his elbows at the men crowding around them. They inched back, mumbling in irritation as the bearded soldier helped lay the boy in a fetal position. “We’re all gonna die,” one disgruntled soldier said between gritted teeth. “Why does that runt get special treatment?”

“Scrape up some humanity from that soul of yours and move out of the way,” the bearded man ordered.

With his ear pressed against the wooden floorboards, the boy could hear the train screech against the tracks. The car rumbled and jolted the boy’s head, sending him spiraling deeper into the whirling dark abyss that was rapidly devouring his young life. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want … He leadeth me beside still waters … He restores my soul …” the boy breathed the words to a prayer. He could feel his throat constricting, grower tighter and tighter. The bearded soldier placed a hand tentatively on the young boy’s arm as he began to violently toss and turn. The boy’s chest heaved. His cornflower blue eyes turned wild. “Mama!” he screamed. “Mama, please ... please help me!” He turned to the soldier, gripping his arm savagely. “I don’t want to die …”

The boy went slowly, his limbs relaxing, his hand falling from the soldier’s arm. His vivid blue eyes, a moment ago so wild with fever, were now empty and dull as his soul escaped from his lifeless body.  The bearded soldier sat with the dead boy, feeling an ache that was foreign to him. He had witnessed death after death in the battle fields, seen his comrades fall in the struggle, but this felt different. He had looked into the eyes of a mere child as his life drained from his body.

A boy.

The train screeched against the tracks in a violent protest as it jolted to a complete stop, sending the men falling all over each other. The boy began to roll around.

“We gotta get him outta here!” the bitter man said. “One less body. Guard!”

The door cracked open from the outside landing where a federal soldier stood, his musket ready. “What is it?”

“Why are we stopping?” the bitter man asked.

“For fuel. Sit back and get comfortable. We have a long ride still ahead of us, Reb.” The federal soldier began to close the door when the bitter man plunged forward.

“Wait! We got a corpse in here.”

The federal soldier eye him suspiciously, his mustache twitching. “Where?”

The man pointed to the corner where the boy’s body lay. The federal soldier pushed his way through the group, two more soldiers following suit. They picked up the boy by the arms and legs, stumbling to the caboose and off the train. A crowd of townsfolk had gathered at the site of the POW train, curious to get a glimpse of a Reb, or perhaps mock them to their faces if they had the chance.

“We have a dead Reb here,” the federal soldier said as they set the boy beside the tracks. “Do with him as you like.”
“Let’em rot there,” a farmer said, swatting his hand as if the boy were an annoying gnat. “Let’em rot.”


Widow Hudson pushed through the surly men as they cursed the young boy who lay on the earth before their feet. Her breath caught in her throat when she realized how young the boy was. His face was smooth, his full lips were parted and his golden hair was tousled about his head as if he were just a child sleeping.

“You mock humanity.” Widow Hudson turned to glare at the men. “You mock God.”

“Excuse me, ma’am?” The farmer stepped forward, his arms folded.

“You toss out insults at this dead boy, condemn his soul to fiery gehenna, decide among yourselves to let him rot where he lies instead of giving him a decent, honorable burial. You mock goodness and decency.”

The farmer gritted his jaw. “Boys like him killed my three sons and left my youngest one maimed for life. He’s our enemy. Our enemy, you hear me, woman?”

“I hear you loud and clear, sir, and I don’t agree. I lost my husband and son in this war. I have every right to be as bitter as you. But I’m not.”

“Then you’re batty!” The farmer turned to leave, but Widow Hudson placed a hand on his arm to stop him.

“Aren’t you curious to know why I’m not bitter, sir?”

The farmer turned, shrugging his shoulders. “Not particularly, ma’am.”

“Well, I’ll tell you anyway.” Widow Hudson kneeled beside the boy in her black mourning gown, ignoring the dirt and filth around her. She placed a hand on the boy’s soft head of hair and stroked it gently. “My boy fell in Virginia. They couldn’t send me his body. I can only pray to God that someone buried my boy properly … honorably. Perhaps a Southern woman had pity, knowing that he was someone’s son. Well, this boy in front of me is someone’s son … someone’s brother, grandson, nephew, friend. His family is mourning him as much as I mourn my own husband and son. The least we can do is bury him … this child. We have no war with him. He is no different than our own sons who marched off to defend their family and their homes. Do not take your anger out on him unless you would have the same anger thrown upon your loved ones who died on the battlefields. Have some humanity. Have some respect.”

A hush fell over the men and women gathered. The only sound was the trainload of prisoners rattling away, leaving behind the dead boy to be debated over.

“She’s right,” one woman offered, stepping forward to stand beside Widow Hudson. “You can all see for yourself that he’s just a child far from home, fighting for what he thought was right.”

“Yes,” another woman said. “We must bury him in our cemetery. It’s the decent thing to do.”

The men shifted, mumbling among themselves. “I won’t stand by and see this traitor honored like some war hero. Never!” The farmer stormed off in a cloud of dust.

The men followed him, equally embittered. “That boy’s our enemy. He’s a traitor. You would dishonor our own boys in that way?”

Widow Hudson watched with horror as they walked away, leaving her and two other women with the boy. “I’m afraid I have underestimated their decency and humanity.”

“We’re with you,” one woman said. “We’ll help you bury him. We’ll get a coffin.”

Widow Hudson nodded, hot tears trailing down her cheeks. She placed a hand on the boy’s cold face. “I wonder what his name was.”



Ain't We Got Fun's First Birthday

 "Bess and Gi were delightful; their natural, easy banter with each other leads you to think that Chapman and Putzke really are sisters!" — Mary

One year ago today Emily Chapman I published AIN'T WE GOT FUN, a novella set during the Great Depression about two completely different sisters, Bess and Gi Rowland. Emily Chapman's character (Bess) is the responsible younger sister who writes about life on the family farm in Kansas and a certain neighbor boy named Tom. My character, Gi, takes off for NYC to make a living, drinks too much coffee, and tries to avoid a certain young journalist. (Anne and Gilbert moment. You're perfect for each other, Gi!!) 

To celebrate our book birthday, the ebook is on sale for $0.99 until June 1st! Go grab a copy! 

Every morning, every evening
Ain't we got fun?
Not much money, oh, but honey
Ain't we got fun?


Happy Birthday, Sophie Scholl

In honor of Sophie Scholl's birthday, I'm sharing an excerpt from Resist. Sophie has just arrived in Munich to study at the university. It's her 21st birthday and her older brother, Hans, has invited his friends over to meet his sister and celebrate what would be her last birthday.

I stood beside a teetering tower of my medical texts, watching as Sophie gazed up at the French Impressionist paintings pinned all over my walls. It wasn’t so unlike my bedroom at home. I was always a great adorer of books, and yet, I let them lie where they might. I was certainly not a great adorer of bookshelves and didn’t pretend to be.
“I’m so eager to meet your friends. I feel like I already know them from all your letters.” Sophie sat on the edge of my bed, the only clear seating in my apartment. I was attempting to clear off my chairs, but it wasn’t an easy feat. I picked up a stack of thick tomes and peered around for a place to set them. Finding none, I set them back down with a heavy sigh.
My friends would just have to stand.
“I’m sure they feel the same way. I’ve told them all about you.” I drummed my fingers on the book covers thoughtfully, wondering how much space was in my closet. I dismissed the thought. There were more books in there.
“Only good things I hope?”
I gave her a mischievous grin. Before Sophie could question me, a rapping sounded at the door. “Come in, Alex.”
Alex entered, nearly bumping his head on the door frame. I was still preoccupied with finding seating space, so I made a half-hearted introduction while lifting my blankets to peer under my bed. Suitcases, shoes, a bit of dust—no space whatsoever.  
“Sophie, this is my friend from the university, Alexander Schmorell. Alex, this is my little sister, Sophie.”
Sophie stood up, extending a hand shyly. She was withdrawn and contemplative before knowing a person, but once you had her friendship, she was lively and cheerful. “I’m pleased to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you that I rather feel like we’re old friends.”
“Exactly my feelings. Hans can go on for ages discussing his family back in Ulm. Let’s see if I can get the Scholl siblings straight.” He scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Inge, Hans, Elizabeth, Sophie, and … Werner.” He glanced from Sophie to me. “Did I get everyone in the correct order?”
“I’m impressed,” Sophie grinned.
“Heaven be praised, is that cake?” Alex hurried over to the desk where I was now unpacking the dense cake onto a pile of papers. Mother would have a fit if she knew her cake was being placed on a pile of school assignments.
“What would a birthday party be without cake and wine?” Sophie raised a brow.
“It’d be duller than Mein Kampf.” I handed Sophie a knife. “Would you slice it? I’m not confident when it comes to culinary matters, unfortunately.”
“What on earth do you mean? Don’t you remember that time you baked a cake for mother’s birthday?”
“Hans baked?” Alex’s mouth dropped open. “Any more secret talents you haven’t shared with your friends, Hans?”
“Yes, I baked a cake. Inge and Elizabeth refused to help me. I suppose they wished to see me left to my own devices.”
“So I helped him,” Sophie said. “But the trouble is, I’m not very good in the kitchen now, let alone when I was twelve.”
“Well? How did it turn out?”
I exchanged a glance with Sophie, and we both grinned. “We had to leave the windows open for two days to allow ventilation throughout our house,” I said. “I burned it beyond the scope of imagination.”
“But don’t worry,” Sophie said. “Mother knows how to bake divine cakes.” She sunk the blade into the white cake, setting a large slice onto a plate.
“Ah! I heartily approve of the way your sister slices cake.” Alex cheered as Sophie handed him the plate.
Another knock sounded at the door, bringing in Christl. He was smoking a pipe and donning a cap which he promptly took off upon entering the room.
“Christl, good to see you.” I slapped my friend’s shoulder. “Sophie, this is Christoph Probst. How are your boys, Christl?”
“Good as gold. Well, except for Vincent. He’s teething unfortunately. Cries a fit,” Christl spoke between the pipe clenched in his teeth. His blue eyes fell on Sophie. “Pleased to meet you, Sophie. My! You two are the spitting image of each other. Remarkable.”
“Oh, poor girl,” I teased. “I’m sorry, Sophie.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Christl. May I call you Christl?” Sophie gave me a shove in response to my jesting.
“Of course. No one has called me Christoph since my mother did when I was a child. Say ‘Christoph,’ and I’ll be under the impression that I’m to whitewash the house as punishment for something.”
“There’s no fear of whitewashing anything, Christl. Care for a slice of cake?”
“Sounds splendid.”
Sophie set a generous slice on a plate for him. His eyes widened, and he gazed at her in awe. “Is there a war going on? I can hardly tell from such delicacies.”
“Our mother is an angel. I don’t know how she manages to save enough rations.” I glanced at my watch impatiently. “If Willi is any later, he won’t get a slice of cake. Three-fourths of it have already vanished before our very eyes. Ah, is that him at the door now?”
Willi strolled in, his round face ruddy from the brisk evening. He wasn’t nearly as outgoing as Alex or as laidback as Christl. He was quiet, with pensive eyes. “Willi Graf, it’s about time you arrived. Sophie’s birthday cake is all but gone.” I pointed to what was left of the cake.
Willi nodded toward Sophie. “Happy birthday, Miss Scholl.”
“Oh, I’m Sophie. Please call me Sophie. We’re all good friends here, and I certainly don’t intend to call you Mr. Graf.”
Willi grinned. “Sophie, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“How about a game?” Alex asked after he had finished off his cake. He took a long sip of water, wiping his mouth with the back of his sleeve. “We each provide a bit of poetry, and the rest of us must guess who authored it.”
“All right. Who’ll go first?” I turned toward my sister. “Sophie?”
“This is hardly fair. Hans is so well versed in all the great poets I adore. He’ll win on the spot.”
“I don’t mind,” I shrugged.
“Oh, come. Surely there must be a poem even Hans Scholl can’t place,” Alex reclined in a chair he had cleared off, a pipe wedged in the corner of his mouth.
Sophie was silent for a long moment, strumming her fingers along the desk. “All right. I have one. ‘A single fir-tree, lonely, on a northern mountain height, sleeps in a white blanket, draped in snow and ice. His dreams are of a palm-tree, who, far in eastern lands, weeps, all alone and silent, among the burning sands.’”
I was about to blurt out the poet, but stopped myself. I really ought to let everyone ponder it a moment and not spoil the fun. Willi’s head was bent. Alex peered up at the ceiling. Christl was leaning forward in his seat, and I was grinning like a school boy who just got away with inflicting an antic upon my teacher.
“Heinrich Heine, naturally.” I finally let my words break the silence.
“Oh, Hans!” Sophie thrust a book at me, and I dodged it with a gale of laughter.
“Now, may I present one, or are you all angry with me?” I peered around for an answer.
“Go on,” Christl waved a hand at me.
I opened my wallet and pulled out a typewritten page. “This one will surely baffle you. Are you all ready?”
Four heads nodded. I cleared my throat. “‘From his dark den there comes a robber to waylay us; He wants to snatch our purses, but finds a better booty; a quarrel over nothing, confused and ignorant rant, a nation's banner torn, a people dull and stupid. Wherever he goes he finds the times are lean and empty, so he can step forth brazenly and play the role of prophet. He boldly plants his foot on the rubbish heap around him and hisses his venal message to an astonished world. Cloaked in deceit and malice, that wraps him like a cloud, he stands before the people, the mightiest in the land. The hands of many helpers of low and high degree, espying their advantage, bring service to his will. They carry forth his message as formerly the angels had done with the five loaves. It rattles on and on! Where once but one man lied, today they come by thousands; and roaring like the storm, his gold draws interest now. It grows to a great harvest, the social order overthrown, the masses live in infamy and laugh at every scurvy deed. It turns out to be true, what first was fabrication: the good have disappeared, the bad come out in crowds! When one day this trouble will melt like winter’s ice, the people will recall it like the very Plague itself. They’ll raise an effigy of straw; let children on the hearth burn joy from out of sorrow, and light from ancient woe.’”
The room was cast in a spell from the heady words, and no one broke the silence for a long moment.
“That was brilliant.” Christl leaned back with a sigh. “I’m sure I don’t know who penned it.”
Alex slapped his knee. “Let us mimeograph this splendid piece of literature and drop it all over Germany from the sky.”
“We’ll naturally dedicate it to our great F├╝hrer,” Willi gleamed.
The room erupted in light-hearted laughter until I finally held a finger to my lips to silence them. “There are other people living in this building, you know.”
“You wrote it, I’ll wager,” Alex pointed a finger at me. “It sounds like something you’d write.”
“No, I didn’t. It was penned in 1878 by Gottfried Keller. It’s terribly ironic that the verses don’t have anything to do with Germany. They are about a conflict in Switzerland.”
“They suit the current situation of the Fatherland perfectly,” Christl said. “Amazing.”
“Well,” Alex stood up, stretching his arms over his head. “This has been fun, but shouldn't we stroll outdoors now? We could chill the wine in the English Garden. What do you all say to that?”
The outdoors constantly beckoned me, and I could only resist its plea for so long. Sophie must have felt the same way, for she jumped up enthusiastically, a broad smile on her face. “Yes, let’s. Hans, bring your guitar, won’t you?”’
“All right, though it’s been ages since I’ve played.” I snatched my instrument from where it lay in the corner of my room, dusted it off then followed the party outside. The cool spring evening was exhilarating. The full moon battled with the clouds, struggling to bring its light to the world below.
“Do you approve of Hans’ choice of friends?” Alex turned to Sophie, as we strolled down the damp road. Flower petals stuck to the brick, and the air smelled musky.   
“He couldn’t find nicer anywhere in the world.”
“Hans, I dearly like your sister.” Alex’s voice was light, as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
But I knew better. We all had cares—an extremely perilous one in particular.
We arrived at the English Garden, and I tied a thick string around the bottle of wine, gently placing it in the brisk water of the Isar river. I sank onto the damp grass and ran my fingers along the guitar strings. “It’s your birthday, Sophie. What shall we sing?”
“How about … Die Gedanken Sind Frei.
“Excellent choice,” Christl leaned his back against a tree. “Go on, Hans. Serenade us.”
I began to play, the music drifting into the night air where it mingled with the cosmos.

Die Gedanken Sind Frei, my thoughts freely flower,
Die Gedanken Sind Frei, my thoughts give me power,
No scholar can map them, no hunter can trap them,
No man can deny, Die Gedanken Sind Frei.

Find out what happens next:


What I Learned From Self-Publishing

When I decided to self-publish Resist, I thought I knew what I was doing. I mean, I'd already self-published two other books.

Cue Katherine Plummer singing, "I have no clue what I'm doing!"

Once I was knee deep in the self-publishing process, I ran into the same problems that I obviously didn't learn from when publishing my other books. I was a bit frazzled (understatement of the year) in February, the month of Resist's release. My mother in her innate wisdom suggested I write down what I learned in a blog post for two reasons. 

1. To help others not to make the same mistakes I did. 

2. So I won't make the same mistakes I did. 

So mother, I'm taking your advice.