by Stephen Crane
(about 1800 words)
Comfortable in his old age, an army veteran regales his friends, employees and family with stories of his first days in the war. When asked whether or not he was afraid in battle, the man answers candidly that he had been, that it had been hard not to be, when it felt like the whole world was coming to pieces around him. He admits, likewise openly that during his first battle he’d run, before he finally “came into” the whole thing and doing his duty. This information shocks his young grandson, who holds him as a hero. The thought that his grandfather might have run from battle completely undoes all the valor and bravery that the boy had held in the old man, and nothing, not even talk of young horses can break the boy out of his new, sullen mood.
Later that evening, a drunk farmhand knocks over a lantern in the barn and the whole thing goes ablaze. The old man rushes to save his livestock, entering the barn again and again, despite receiving a hip shattering kick from a horse in the process. When at last he brings the final animal out he’s reminded of the colts still trapped in the blaze, and goes in for the final time. The roof collapses upon him, and the old man, with his courageous spirit, dies in the fire.
Stephen Crane was born on November 1, 1871 in Newark New Jersey. He was the final addition to the family and had thirteen elder siblings, four of which had died before he was born. He taught himself to read before he was four, and wrote his first poem at the age of eight. He excelled in his early schooling, and despite a spate of deaths in his family in his younger years, completed his first book at the age of fourteen. His talents in university were heavily in the arts and social sciences, and he did poorly in maths and hard science. He dabbled briefly in the military, but his family discouraged his enlistment, and when he transferred universities to pursue an engineering degree, he was lazy with his studies and his attendance. In the end, he quit his studies altogether and took up writing full time. While he wrote an incredible amount he was never financially successful, which prevented him from marrying. Much of Crane’s life and reputation has been tarnished by his scandal and relationships with prostitutes, though these seem to be amicable friendships and writing related research relationships rather than sexual ones. Nonetheless, his name was smeared because of them. Crane spent some time as a world-wide war correspondent, was ship wrecked on a boat bound for Cuba, and sank into debt. He died in Germany on June 5, 1900 of Tuberculosis, which from here on out I’m going to refer to as writer’s lung.