The Flight of Annabelle Jennings

Submitted into Contest #203 in response to: Start your story in the middle of the action.... view prompt

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African American Historical Fiction Thriller

This story contains sensitive content

Based on the 1866 Memphis Massacre, this story contains violence, sexual violence, and child abuse.

I saw my daddy fall to the ground, his eyes staring right at me, looking like two marbles but deep like the endless night sky. I wanted to run to him, but I was frozen in terror, breathless. Fighting filled the streets, nearly trampling me as I stood there gazing into my father’s eyes. A stray bullet bounced off the ground, grazing my calf. The sting of that hot metal slicing through my delicate skin was enough to break the trance and the sound of the chaos came to full volume.

I hurried into our home and my momma rushed me into the bedroom, hiding me under the bed. I heard a crash that made momma yelp. Dirty black boots entered the room. They rushed towards momma, clunking against the wood floor with evil intent. I could see my momma’s bare feet backing away from them as quickly as they could go, as far as they could go. I heard a slap, and it knocked her to the floor. I saw her face, the panic in her eyes, the mark on her cheek, the shh on her lips telling me to stay quiet as she tried to make it back to her feet. I covered my mouth to suppress any sound that might burst forth with my crying.

Momma was flipped over and slammed hard to the floor with a thud to her head. At the other end of the bed, I could see the man was down on his knees, pulling momma closer to him. She kicked and slapped until he punched her twice, hard, right on the side of the head, leaving her barely conscious. The man undid his pants and began to gratify himself with my momma’s limp body, tears slowly dripping from her eyes.

I wish I could say that rage propelled me to help my momma that day, but it didn’t. Instead, I swallowed down a tremendous amount of fear, crawled out from under the bed and jumped on that man’s back with all the courage I could muster. He grabbed me by the ankle and swung me into the dresser. My shoulder absorbed most of the impact, but I laid there in a daze, hurting something fierce. The man came and stood over me, a menacing presence to such a small girl, with his bushy red beard and bloodshot eyes, raising his leg like he was about to stomp a roach. Momma regained consciousness and tackled that man before he could hurt me anymore, yelling, “Run, Annie, run!”

I shook off the pain that was coursing through my body and scurried back under the bed to the wall where I found the loose board I used to sneak out at night and catch fireflies while momma and daddy were sleeping. I started for the only place I knew, Aunt Millie’s house. Aunt Millie was my momma’s sister. We spent Sunday’s at church together. Afterwards we would sew quilts and the ladies would tell me stories of the underground railroad and how they used quilts to signal safe passage. If anybody could help me, it would be Aunt Millie.

I went as fast as I could up the grassy knoll, but hearing a gunshot from my house made me stop dead in my tracks. The image of momma lying there like daddy was out front entered my mind. My lips quivered and tears continued to stream down my face. Even at seven I knew I needed to run, or my fate would be the same. I reached the old dirt road running as fast as I could, my little legs searing in pain, lungs burning. Evening was settling in. The night sky was alight with the burning of the houses, schools, and churches. Gun fire rang through the air, and men scuffled everywhere, sometimes two to three white men to every black man.

Making it to Aunt Millie’s, her house looked unscathed. I ran in without knocking, startling two officers. One had Aunt Millie in a chair at gunpoint while the other was rifling through her things. Aunt Millie sprang from her chair, pushed past the man with the gun, causing the gun to go off. She grabbed me by the wrist and led me out of the house and around back.

“Where are we going, Aunt Millie,” I asked, with fear and trembling in my voice.

“To the South Bend Church, child. Hopefully, that is far enough away from this hate and violence,” said Millie with a tinge of uncertainty.

Through the yards we went, dodging stray bullets and avoiding men tussling; past the houses of slat wood and red brick chimneys with wood stacked neatly by the doors; around crooked unpainted fences and old clothes lines draped with bedding; through crowds of women fleeing with their children, white men firing at them like a herd of deer on the first day of season. Aunt Millie’s long legs were hard to keep up with, making my little ones work twice as hard. They started to give out and I was stumbling and falling by the time the South Bend Church came into view. Aunt Millie hoisted me up and ran for both of us as quickly as she could.

The South Bend Church was a one room white church with a belltower and a cross on top. Many people were crammed into that little church, on their knees praying.

“Let us pray child. The Lord Jesus shall comfort us in our time of need,” Aunt Millie said, as she knelt down next to a woman praying through shudders and sobs. I joined her on my knees, and I could feel the presence of the Spirit wash over me as I began to think about my parents in heaven with Jesus.

There was a pastor leading us in our prayers. I remember the power of his voice, unwavering against fear or intimidation. To this day I think of him in that moment when I think of strength in the Lord. My moment of admiration did not last long, for through the window came a bottle of whiskey with a burning rag shoved down the neck of that bottle. When that bottle burst, that little wooden church went up in flames. We all got out, but people’s clothes had caught fire. Everywhere I looked people were rolling on the ground, screaming as fabric melted into their skin, their kin trying to beat out the flames. I wasn’t even spared the fires finger. As soon as I hit the warm nights air, Aunt Millie knocked me to the ground stomping on my pretty little dress. Aunt Millie fell on top of me, nearly crushing me. I didn’t understand at first, but a warm, sticky liquid poured onto my cheek and down into my mouth; the metallic taste and slimy texture causing me to gag. I panicked and fought my way free to find people who were already badly burnt being beaten with clubs and the ends of rifles, anything the rioting menace could find to inflict pain and suffering. Wiping the blood from my face, I turned and ran. I had no idea where I was going. All I knew was that bullets were kicking up dust at my bare little legs as I moved. I prayed to the Lord above that none of those bullets hit me.

The bullets stopped when I reached a marshy low-land area near the river, but I didn’t stop running. I was getting tired. I was stumbling and falling, but I was moving, splashing through the muddy bog. Someone leapt out from behind a tree and grabbed me, covering my mouth with their hand, stifling my startled shriek.

“It’s alright, little one. You’re safe. My name is Ben Roker,” the man said. I recognized him as the pastor from South Bend Church. “This is my wife, Miss Maddie.”

“Come, child, lets clean that blood off you,” Miss Maddie said sympathetically. “Where are your parents, sweetie?”

I couldn’t answer. I could hear what they were saying, I understood, but it was like listening to people talking in another room. They said they would take care of me from then on, but all I could do was stare into the dancing flames of the city on fire as I listened to the whistling of bullets and the wailing of tortured souls. I dozed off that night, watching those flames and listening to those screams.

Miss Maddie woke me up as blue and purple could be seen on the eastern horizon, providing a dim grey light that reflected off the fog and smoke. Fires still burned, people still screamed, and gunshots still rang out that morning. I rubbed my eyes and looked around. There were around ten to fifteen people there with us, hiding amongst the trees and debris that the Mississippi cast aside haphazardly. I don’t know if they all showed up overnight or if some of them were there when I got there, but it was nice to see other kids. Pastor Ben swept me up in his arms and I looked back over his shoulder at Memphis, taking one last look at the masked monster within men, making sure it was behind me, at least for the time being.

June 20, 2023 04:14

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1 comment

18:00 Jun 24, 2023

Words in a good book? Priceless! Well done!


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