Help me out here!
At one time, there was an Underground Railway that brought slaves from the deep south to different parts of the northern USA as well as Canada, including my home province of New Brunswick.
Imagine if you can that your son was owned by another person and could be bought and sold at anytime. A terrible thought.
I finished this short story a few weeks ago but I'm not sure if it's complete. I would like to add it to a forthcoming collection of short stories called "Boxes of Memories".
I need you to let me know what might be missing. Please leave me a comment below.
(copyright is held by the author)
May, 13, 1860
The whip snaps as it completes its arc, slashing a red bloody groove on the pale, delicate skin of the thirteen year old girl. Her upper torso is naked, the blouse torn from her thin frame. Immature breasts are scrapping against the rough bark of the hemlock tree her arms and hands are bound to as she wails and shimmers from the deadly lash. Her tormented shrieks echo through the forest. Besides the dappled sun streaming through the leaves and boughs, the only other witnesses to the punishment is the two black slaves, mother and son, tied at the base of a hardwood tree close by, near enough that the horror in their eyes can be clearly seen.
The man holding the whip is a bounty hunter. Rough skinned, cold eyes and a scarred face make him as ugly as the tightly wound leather strap he wields. Hired by the richest plantation owner in South Carolina to find his runaways, Cletus Sawyer, intends to teach the young lady that helped them a lesson. Even though she’s white like him, he doesn’t care. When he presents his prisoners, there’s an extra forty dollars from the cotton baron for dissuading future intervention by the freedom lovers of Southern New Brunswick, where the Underground Railroad he followed has lead him. From the route they took, he knew they’d be here, he’s found others crossing over the St. Croix River before.
Raising the whip to strike again, his callous heart won’t listen to the pleas from the girl, the begging to stop. His arm is poised high in the air, the leather braids flowing from the handle are stretched taut as they reach their apogee. Seconds before the fall of the whip completes its trajectory, a loud blast shatters the air. A bullet tears through the back of Sawyer’s head exiting through the left eye. The bounty hunter is dead before his foul body topples to the forest floor.
Three months earlier.
Melody is of the Kota Tribe of Gabon, Africa. Before she was abducted by slavers, her name was Akara. The man that purchased her, Cyrus B. Sheppard, when examining her at the slave market of Charleston, both she and her son in shackles, commented to his overseer that this one looked too proud, too old, guessing her to be sixteen, to be tamed. Too much work. His advisor suggested to not fret over her jutted chin and hateful glare, he would handle that but instead, to study the young woman’s hips, pendulous breasts, already a mother so young. She would have many strong babies. Both regarded her as if she were an animal, selected for stock regeneration. Deeming his investment would be returned many times over, he purchased her and her child. It was not to be. (photo credit -snipview.com)
Six months of infertility was punished by grueling field work in addition to her role of child bearing. She had been serviced by the strongest bucks on the plantation. She resisted at first, yelling and kicking. Only when the roughest, smelliest white ranch hands were made to hold her, their presence more objectionable than there purpose, did she become compliant. The couplings were timed to her monthly administrations by the Negro midwife, to no avail. In the eyes of many of her suitors she saw lust, some of them expressed pity, only a few said forgive me. The punishment for the twelfth monthly flow of blood was the sale of her son.
The overseer, a heavy browed, mean individual named Dilly Perkins, is having them transported to the Fletcher plantation ten miles southeast, she for breeding and the boy for transfer of ownership, accompanied by two white men of Sheppard’s employ, both ruffians. A mud stained field wagon drawn by two sturdy draft horses is used. Melody and Moses are chained in the back, the men sitting up front. Perkins reminds them of the load they need to pick up after.
“Sam, Joey and Billy will follow y’all shortly and meet you at Castlemoor’s General Store. They’ll be staying in town for the night, Sheppard givin’ them a few days off but they’ll give ya hand with the load of feed we ordered. Now get outta here.”
The early afternoon sun is blistering, like a hot bellied stove roaring with dry wood. The tree line they enter is the only wooded area on their route. It extends easterly for almost a mile before cotton fields dominate the view on both sides once more. Around a long bend in the road, one side has a slight rise where the trees are much taller and their shadows partially cover the dirt road. The driver pulls to the left to take advantage of the shade. It’s a movement the two men hiding behind a large boulder a hundred feet ahead of them were planning for. They’re expecting them. There is no one around as far as can be seen on the open road. They believe no one will hear the gun shots.
The man driving the wagon is a drifter, young, gnarly beard and unkempt hair. The only clean and polished item on his body is the Colt single action firearm in his holster. He’s a deadly shot with it if he has time to draw. A slug enters his chest through the side and pulverizes his heart. His companion reeks of hard liquor and wears a sweat stained hat. The second shot takes him just above the left ear and the lid spins skyward. The horses panic and bolt. The momentum throws the two dead men backwards with one of them landing directly on top of Melody. She screams.
“Whoa, whoa!” someone shouts out. The horses obey the firm command and jerk the large wagon to a stop. The momentum shifts the dead body and Melody pushes it off. Blood from his wound smears her cotton smock. Moses is under the front seat crunched against the corner. His bottom lips quivers and fright owns his eyes. They both look up from their strained position, wrists in locks, chained loosely to the sideboard. A man glares down in the wagon, the sun shines in her eyes and only the shape of his head and wild hair is visible. When he moves it in front of the sun his eyes are sad but his voice hopeful, his skin is white.
“Are you okay Ma’am?”
Melody has never been called Ma’am. She wonders who he is talking to casting her eyes about. Moses stares at the tall person, quieted by the events, knowing not to complain, not to cry, someone will hurt him.
“No, you Maam,” he says pointing at her, “are you alright?
She shakes her head, unsure how to react.
The man steps back while she sits up, pulling Moses to her side, dragging his chain closer. Pulling himself up on the ladder on the front right, he can see the shackles that redden the skin around her wrists and those of the boy. Another man approaches the wagon. His skin is black, black as raven’s feathers. Climbing up into the driver’s seat, he pushes the other body aside. Kneels over the back to stare down at the sorriest sight he never gets used to. Their eyes lock in some form of instant communication, the sameness of their skin bonds them immediately. Hope overcomes despair. He dispels any fears with a friendly nod. The white man points at the dead bodies lying in the wagon.
“Those scum must have the keys to the shackles Adisa, dig through their pockets and get these poor folk loose.”
“Will do Mistuh Jones. We needs to get this wagon gone too Mistuh Jones?”
“We will Adisa. We’ll get these folks out first.”
Melody is not sure of what is happening. With a racing heart, anticipation shines in her eyes but she’s known too much disappointment to cling to anything hopeful. She watches the black man straddle the sideboard and begin to rifle the pockets of the dead men at her feet. He smiles at her when he tells her she’ll soon be free.
“Free?” she asks. The word seems foreign.
“Yeah, we goin’ to get ya free ma’am but yous goin’ to have ta hurry.”
Finding a skeleton key in the pants pocket of the bearded man, he steps over the body and unlocks the restraints from Moses first, then Melody.
“What’s your name, missy?”
She speaks unsure and leery.
“Mine’s Melody and this here’s Moses.”
“Well ain’t he a handsome young man. Mine’s Adisa and that genl’man’s Mistuh Jones. But no time to get friendly, we need to move now missy.”
Jones urges Adisa to get the wagon moving. He will abandon it and the bodies in an empty field where it will go unnoticed for many days. Jones, Melody and Moses are heading towards the woods when around the bend come horses being ridden hard, startling them into a brisker run. The three horsemen heard the shots and figured there was trouble. Seeing the black woman and boy with a white man running towards the woods and the fleeing wagon, they know something is wrong. When the trio enters the woods, a gunshot ricochets off a boulder grazing Jones in the lower leg. He falls to the ground, rolls towards the boulder and yells to Melody.
“Go on, get to the end of the path, cross the river, it’s not deep and head across the valley towards a small thicket of trees near a dirt road and there will be someone there to get you to safety. Hurry! I’ll hold these men off.”
Melody grasps her son’s hand and runs. Jones starts to return fire. He checks to see the cloud of dust that Adisa makes with the fleeing wagon and watches one of the men veer off to pursue him. The other two have dismounted and are in a crevice at the edge of the road. Taking careful aim, Jones takes one out with a bullet to the temple. The other man is hunkered down cowardly where Jones can’t see him. A shot rings out from up the road and the third rider is thrown from his horse. Jones grins, knowing Adisa is deadly with a rifle even when firing from a moving wagon. The distraction gives the man in the ditch a brief moment to run to his horse. Jones fires after the weaving target but his shots are wide and the man is able to mount the moving horse to gallop back the way he came. Jones stands and limps deeper in the path where his horse is tethered. Both he and Adisa rode here from the field where they left Adisa’s horse so he could return to Jones’ farm. He has no time to worry about the escaped slaves.
The dogs following her scent, the men bearing guns on their horses, can be heard across the valley. The woman and child they are hunting hasten through tall grasses towards a wooded grove where her transport awaits. At least in her highest hope it awaits. Her heart pounds in her chest like the clomping of the heavy hooves that pursue her. She can feel the beating of a smaller heart, frightened, pulsing through her clenched hand as she tows her young son behind her. She thinks only of him who has been sold to another cotton farmer, a simple exchange of a life of servitude for one hundred dollars. She hates them. Fear and loathing drive her on.
It will take thirty-two days of hiding and running until they arrive in New Brunswick. When the bounty hunter shows up, Melody and Moses will have been free for sixty days.
Cletus Sawyer lies dead between the captives. Surprise is etched forever on his face, except in the hole where the left eye was, other than that he looks just as mean. The young girl moans softly, red welts on her flaxen skin are obscene. Melody and Moses tremble in their bonds, unable to see where the shot came from. A soft noise of crunching leaves betray someone’s approach. The smell of gunpowder slips by more casually. A man shadows them, stopping several feet away. A wide hat, dark clothing, dark skin hides his identity. It’s only when he speaks does Melody gasp.
“I knowed if I looked hard enough I’d find ya Melody. You won’t have ta look over yur shoulder no more. Adisa will take care of ya.”
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