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Writing prompt #196

2nd Person - "Just say it," you silently reminded yourself. You knew you'd regret it if you didn't.

STOP     by clcronan 2020

“STOP!” You heard yourself shout the command. You had told yourself you needed to shout the command. You even picked up the butchering knife from the chopping stump to arm yourself against its aftershocks.

He stopped. He turned to you so slowly that every one in the yard could feel death close in on that spit of dry land between the two of you. He had such an evil smirk on his face that it confirmed he was the devils son.

You held your ground, as well as you held his gaze. Your jaw was clenched with the determination of one who had no doubt, no cowardice. The obedient mouse you had always been could be counted as your first kill. She was killed off so fast that it gave you a fearlessness to face whatever this split second decision would bring. And if it meant your death, you’d be sure it meant his too.

Then he laughed. It was bravado and you could see he knew he was surrounded. His folk had been whispering about ‘fear of revolt’ for years. But that notion was a much bigger cause than you had taken on. Sparing your 9 year old daughter from his vile, horrid, perverse clutches was your sole purpose now.

He knew he held the arm of his own flesh and blood, and that made it yet another act against God. Why God had not smote him years ago you could not say, but you were an instrument of God now, you were sure.

Your daughter knew not to cry. She hadn’t cried since she was a suckling. She knew this master was about to change her in a bad way. She had seen the other girls return with no life left in their eyes. She saw life in your eyes. Life she’d never seen anywhere before. She waited.

The folks in the yard had motioned to the folks in the field to come in, and be real quiet about it. He felt the change in numbers and let his eyes travel slowly across the gathering. He regretted being unarmed. He’d just assume shoot you dead where you stood, and he’d threaten to shoot anyone who stepped forward to fetch you, and he’d drag the raggedy tramp in his clutches into the horse barn to finish what he’d started. 

But your icy stare let him know this time was different, and how it all ended would affect everything on this plantation.

You let your eyes drift down to his putrid erection. If you had been a marksman you would have chanced making the perfect throw with that rusty old blade and watch it slice that son of a bitch clean in half. But Baby-girl was too close to chance anything. 

“Don’t be jealous, you dirty half-wit,” he said with a voice that curled in the air like the stench from the outhouse. “There’s plenty of this to go around,” and he pulled on himself like he was a prize bull.

With a calm that only comes to God’s children, you answered, “There’s plenty of this too.” And you tipped the knife just enough to get the sun to glint off it, as if it were glad to be of service. There was a slight rustling from where the lookers-on stood. You and he both knew what it meant, and found no cause to break eye-contact. Together, the gathered moved forward one step. You gave a barely discernible nod, and they moved forward one more.

He spoke with false bravado, “Not one more step, or each one of you will take the whip in turns!” A crack in his voice betrayed his fear, and that caused the small army of defenders to take another step.

The rustling sounds had been the sounds of them gathering whatever could be used as a weapon. This spontaneous brigade fell in line with the bold and daring crusader they saw before them. Without words they pledged their lives. You felt it happen. You signaled to Baby-girl to come over to you. 

She twisted her arm to break his grip, but it proved too strong, so she bit him, kicked him, and whirled like a cyclone to break free. She created a blur as she ran with all the strength fear can spawn, to join her mother and her own kind. He swore as he grabbed first at his hand, than at his shin, then at the girl, and then at his bad turn of luck.

You stepped toward him, and the ranks closed in behind you, as if this call-to-arms had been foretold to them. When you spoke, it was with the same heavenly calm as before. “I think you know you won’t be returnin’ to the big house tonight. And for sho’ you know ain’t nobody up there gonna come lookin’ for ya. So before I throw this knife clean through you, why don’t you just drop to your knees.” 

Stunned and scared beyond function, he didn’t make any move, he didn’t make any sound. A few of the field hands behind you stepped forward with ropes, and a very knowing old woman stepped up with a rag to stuff deep into his mouth. His eyes never got their focus back, and he put up no resistance as he was drug off into the nearest cabin. He was fastened between two ratty, smelly, bug infested sleeping pads. He couldn’t holler or stand or unfasten the shackles that had been retrieved from the horse barn and locked on to his ankles just a little to tightly.

You took stock of how many folks here had put themselves into a life-or-death situation, and how many of those were feeble, and how much food was on hand, and how much each could be expected to carry and run at the same time. You kept your calm and gave instruction without explanation, and your directions were followed without hesitation. Within a time that seemed both fleeting short and excruciatingly long, the army was ready to travel.

The last thing you grabbed was the most important. The quilt. The quilt had grown threadbare over the 4 generations which it had comforted, but it would at last serve the purpose of its creation. That quilt was said to hold all the clues to find your way to the Underground Railroad. As you stuffed it into a potato sack, you broke the motley group into smaller groups. That, you explained, was for travelin’ with less notice, and for protection against all getting caught together.

“We need to scatter like the dust in the wind and be as invisible as ghosts, and move faster than we ever thought we could. We’ve got ‘bout 6 hours of dark. Walk in the streams whenever you can because it’ll help keep the dogs off any scent. Eat spare when you need to eat, and separate when you tuck under somethin’ to sleep. I will never forget any of you, or what you did here tonight. God bless you all.”

There was a fair amount of muffled whispering as each group got themselves organized, better to chance that here that out on the trails. With teary eyes and heavy hearts everybody waved and nodded to each other as they drifted off into the unknown.

“We were only one fourth of that plantations slave holdings. They’d divided us up years ago when our numbers got high so that we’d never know just how many we numbered. The chatter up at the house was filtered out to us by the house slaves, so we had a rough idea. We knew their biggest fear was us organizing against them. My soul about ripped in half knowing how those left behind would be made to suffer on account of us.” You would have freed the entire plantation if only you knew how.

All you had to send them was prayers. Prayers to them, and all those in chains, and all those out runnin’, that God would not forsake them. And you needed to start your journey. Legend said it would be 20 rough miles a day. Legend said it could take two months to get to safety. With the odds so sorely stacked against you, you knew most of the souls that set out tonight, feeling hopeful, would not make it. 

You had to begin. You had to believe. You had to make the impossible happen. Baby-girl needed to know freedom. And you’d stop at nothing to make that happen.

Happen it did. Back in 1860 you achieved what so many thousands upon thousands had dreamed of, and had died for. We, your collected descendants, gather here today, 100 years later, to tell you we know your story. To give our thanks for 3 and 4 generations of men and women who share your warrior blood. Who are not afraid to put our lives on the line in the name of freedom, using your story as inspiration. 

The quilt that nurtured your dream, and lead you through that valley of darkness and fear and near starvation, is our most prized heirloom. It’s tatters are framed in gold, and your named emblazoned below it, and your story tucked safely into a pocket on the back, to be read aloud every year to the family as it grows.

You faced down the very real ugly reality in hopes of finding a very real beautiful dream. We are, all of us, grateful for the seeds you planted so that this glorious family tree could grow so strong. We nurture it in your name. You will never be forgotten.

June 25, 2020 23:51

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1 comment

Rodrigo Juatco
03:10 Jul 02, 2020

Your symbolism of 'the quilt' really resonated with me. It said it all:the courage, the struggle, the heritage. Nice story. Well written.


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