South and North by Stan Brin
says: we are pleased to present the first installment of Guest Historian
Stan Brin's short story "South and North" a full copy of which is available
upon request by Email. Please note
that the opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the
views of the author(s).
|Part 1: Mary's Diary
||The Year 1928
On March 21st,Mary
Stokes of Hiwassee wrote in her diary ~ My dearest reader: If you are
reading this diary, I expect that you must be my distant descendant or a
historian living in some distant age. You may be assured that if you are of
my blood, my love will be eternally upon you and yours. If you are a
scholar, you may assume that your task meets with my approval, so long as
you endeavor to sincerely place your own reader within the world in which I
As for my reason for keeping this diary, my sister
Margaret has been keeping one of her own for quite some time now, and has
urged me - incessantly - to do the same. It is a lady-like habit, she tells
me, and keeps one's mind occupied, especially when the weather is poor.
As I am sure that Margaret will provide posterity with every intimate detail
of our private lives in her own diary, I shall endeavor to eschew gossip.
Instead, I shall confine my musings to public issues that concern me.
First, I am a wife and mother of the town of Hiwassee,
which, these many years, has been the capital of the Boone County Republic.
My husband, Josiah Stokes, is a lawyer whose business is mainly the creation
of trusts, wills, and contracts, and the enforcement of same. We have four
children and are expecting another around Christmastime, God willing.
It is now 67 years since our ancestors entered this
godforsaken universe.It is now 67 years since our ancestors entered
this godforsaken universe. There were roughly nine thousand of us at the
time. Naturally, very few remember the slightest detail of the world of our
Our town and the surrounding countryside, which includes parts of Fox County
and a sliver of North Carolina, arrived here in July, 1861 within months of
Tennessee's secession the United States, and just after the First Battle of
Manassas. A troop of volunteer cavalry from our town participated in that
mêlé&e, and were thus never heard from again. All of their wives were, in
the process, rendered widows. In addition, a dozen young men from our town
had traveled north to join the Federal cause and were equally missed.
At first, no one realized that anything was seriously amiss, only that the
telegraph no longer functioned. Then trains failed to arrive from any and
all directions. At first, all of this was owed to the exigencies of the war.
Our grandparents required a week to realize that something else was terribly
wrong. The first sign was an attack on the town itself by wolves that
weighed more than a large man.
took another month to comprehend the enormity of the new situation. After a
local man appeared with fresh elephant teeth ten feet long, the city council
sent riders off to Atlanta and Memphis, but rather than the Appalachian
Mountains that should have surrounded us, they found nothing but flat,
primeval forests. The railroads ended at smooth hillsides and cliffs that
appeared to have been cut by a razor. Worse, the land outside was filled
with strange and giant creatures of a kind that none of us had ever before
seen. The descriptions of them provided in our books did not do justice to
the terrifying size of these species, nor to the ferocious beasts that ate
them. Certainly no one had ever written of bears or lions that weighed half
a ton, or of cats whose teeth resembled bayonets, or of giant honking things
that pulled down the tops of trees with their claws. Over the years, scores
of our people have fallen victim to encounters with these leviathans. As
compensation, perhaps, we have domesticated the local camels to produce wool
of astonishing quality, and we now raise colossal turkeys of an entirely new
Still, we managed to accommodate ourselves astonishingly well. We built
palisades of logs to protect our town and our fields. We manufactured items
that we formerly ordered from the North or from Europe. We adjusted our
calendar according to the new seasons.
Through succeeding generations, we managed to prevail
against this wilderness, and grew prosperous, at least by our own lights.
Most of our people were farmers before we arrived and remain so to this day.
We still grow mostly corn, fruit, and vegetables, the crops that our
forefathers once sent by rail to Atlanta, but these are now consumed
locally. Our population has nearly tripled in size, mainly due to our own
fertility, although a few migrants from elsewhere arrived at our doorsteps,
fleeing horrors not to be easily believed.
To accommodate our growing numbers, our grandparents
expanded our city and built new villages along the railroad tracks and the
Tennessee River, which is now attached to the local river system. At first,
this river appeared to be either the Missouri. For many years, we had no way
of knowing, but it now appears to be the Red River of southern Arkansas.
Although we have, by necessity, declared our own Boone County Republic, we
Hiwasseeans still fly the confederate Stars and Bars above our courthouse,
mainly out of habit. The spirit of secession no longer means anything.
"Through succeeding generations, we managed to
prevail against this wilderness, and grew prosperous, at least by our own
lights".Alas we still keep slaves, although slavery has little
economic value. The southern economy required millions of slaves to till and
harvest plantation crops, at first tobacco, then cotton. We grow only enough
of those crops to serve our own needs. Most of our farmers are small holders
who produce grains and vegetables.
My husband argues, "Of what use is a slave to a wheat farmer while his crop
is green? Is he to pull it higher with his bare hands?" Our pastor has
written that slavery serves more to degrade the owners than it does the
slaves. "While slavery forces the servant to become a beast of burden," he
writes, "it forces the master to become a beast, plain and simple". Such
sentiment has not endeared him to owners, but these families do not attend
our church. Speaking as a woman who could afford to have slaves do her
cooking and cleaning, I would not have it, not for one second, nor would my
I consider it a sign of progress that well over half of our community's
slaves and their descendants are irrevocably manumitted. However, certain
loquacious squires still stubbornly defend the institution of slavery. These
gentlemen proclaim that disorder and disaster should certainly befall us all
if all of the slaves were freed. Like many, I suspect that chaos is not
their true concern. These gentlemen, I believe, are those who buy, sell, and
keep what we have come to call politely, "ladies of the town".
During the generations that we have lived here, the racial characteristics
of these ladies have become so diluted with their owners' blood that their
descendants are by now all but indistinguishable from the rest of our
population. Yet slaves they remain, despite their fair skin and blue eyes.
That is not to say that such live poorly by any means. There are men who
prefer the company of their slave to that of their wives, and fix them up in
fine apartments, and even remember their children in their wills. (My
husband has written several such testaments for his clients, much to his
The practice is bigamy at best, and unfair to women who deserve husbands of
their own. I also suspect that it is one reason why our sex does not yet
vote in Hiwassee. Nevertheless, considerable progress against racial
prejudice has been made in recent years. Free men of color were granted the
right to vote and sit on juries thirty years ago, a result of a general
threat to leave our country if those rights were not granted. This privilege
did nothing to end bondage, however, as the most prominent of the free men
of color were hardly colored at all, and owned as many slaves as their white
And yet we have prospered. We have built new villages, erected dams and
levees, and produce many new manufactures. We have discovered iron and other
useful materials. These seemed sufficient to our needs, or so we thought.
And we have enjoyed uninterrupted peace. This land is so large, and people
so few and far apart, that war and brigandage are hardly possible. Outsiders
occasionally drop by, riding camels or paddling canoes, and telling strange
stories of faraway peoples. They trade their metals for ours, which were of
entirely different compositions. On occasion, they bring furs or camels to
sell. They are Germans, Scotsmen, and Hindoos, and men who call themselves
Romans, although that hardly seems possible. (Some of the traders bring
books on such matters as science, medicine, and the useful arts. We study
those volumes and copy them diligently, but often their information appears
contradictory or impossible to believe - men on the moon, indeed!)
Then, last spring, a nightmare arrived, with a thundering wind, and a sudden
coldness of the body. The sensations passed quickly, but the consequences
have been with us ever since. We are no longer physically isolated from the
rest of humanity, but instead possessed neighbors. These neighbors are wise
in the ways of mechanical devices, but despise us with a passion that most
of us found all but impossible to fathom.
A full copy of "South and North" is available upon
request by Email
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