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African American Christian Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Ablaze with infernal fire, the moon wept molten tears onto the sleeping landscape. Mr. Dalton limped into the sitting room. Alice, his wife, paralyzed from succulent lamb, turnips, and biscuits, stirred in her seat and turned toward the window, away from the darts ready to launch. He slammed his hat down and took out his meerschaum pipe, hoping to drown out the distant sound of singing and clapping from the slave quarters.

"They're at it again with their 'church,'" he sputtered, pacing the wooden floor with creaks now singing in the background. Alice shifted again in her seat, pursed her lips tight, and turned the page of her family Bible. A jolt of courage engulfed her.

"It's good for them, especially Mushee," she said gently. "It gives them hope."

Mr. Dalton scoffed, but Alice's words lingered in his mind as he gazed across the field, where the faint outline of Isaiah, an old slave, could be seen sitting on a stump, speaking passionately to a small crowd. Mushee was at his side along with his children, urging them to clap and dance. 

"Ever since you let them have this time, there hasn't been any trouble." She smoothed out the pages of the aging book and kept herself from humming. Only she and God understood her hum.

"Yes, so it seems. Mushee hasn't needed any handling in a while. It was about time he forgot about that gal and started to work like he used to." he stammered through his hacking cough. 

Booker, the youngest of Mushee's sons, seemed to lose control of his feet and started dancing around the group. All of the slaves jumped up and joined him. It had been so long since they'd seen any joy in those feet. Cortania, his mother, died a few weeks after childbirth along with his sister Ally.

Although Isaiah saw only shadows, he felt the spirit like thunder in his belly. He let out a startling cry, "No matter the hell here on this earth, our lives is worth something on the other side; heaven is waiting." This sent the crowd into another fit of felicity. At that moment, Mr. Dalton missed a step in his haste to corral the excitement and slid down the last three steps of the back porch. An unnatural silence fell on the air.

"Done made me break my neck. Enough of it! Get out o' here! Night's done, and so is all of you's." his arms were waving wildly.

Mushee lifted Isaiah and guided him to his cabin. 

"Why can't this God help us now 'Saiah?" He muttered as he opened the door and stepped over the rustling bodies underneath the rags on the floor. He guided the old man to the corner of the dimly lit cabin, stirred the fire, and thrust more wood into the flames that beckoned the rage from his soul. 

"God is helping us, Mushee." He attempted to adjust his sleeping space. Time itself seemed to fray at the edges, the rags whispering tales of lives worn thin. The groans of the wind could not drown out the loud holler that escaped Isaiah's mouth as he tried to find comfort on the dirt floor.

"If he did, we would be livin' like Mr. Dalton." Eyes raised beneath the rags, but Isaiah remained quiet. Mushee effortlessly jumped to the spaces in between the bodies and left. 

Even though the reddish sun rose over the whole of the plantation, it only brought happiness to the few who understood the difference between pleasure and pain, for the slaves only experienced devastation. The doors opened, and people poured out of their cabins. The eldest to the youngest wore bags and carried baskets for the hoard of cotton waiting just beyond the road. It was unusual to see Mr. Dalton near the fields, but this morning, he stood like a king taking stock of his kingdom. 

"Mushee! Get over here! Don't let me say it no more!" Mushee ran toward the big house, but the pieces of his right shoe fell off of part of the foot it covered. He left it and reported as requested. The last whoopin' changed him, not only physically but his mind was different. He remembered hovering over his body, hearing the flesh ripped from his body. Mushee never wanted to experience that again, no matter what it took.

"Yessir?"

"I'mma need you to go into town with me 'cause I've got some heavy liftin' to do." He wiped the droplets of juice from his mustache. "Saiah's comin' 'cause the last time I left him here when I left, he started that damn meeting. And I don't have the patience for it today. Better take the broken body with me than to leave him here breakin' er'body else." 

"Yessir."

"Meet me out front, and I ain't lookin' for no slowin' round. Ya hear?" Before Mushee could respond, he turned on his heels like a general giving orders and vanished.

"Yessir."

When they got into town, Reverend Bells walked out of the Feed Store and smiled. 

"Isaiah, I have been hearing great things about your commitment to the Lord. You have a mighty reward waiting for you in the kingdom." Mushee dropped the bags like he wanted to break the wagon. 

"Oh, sir. I ain't lookin' for no reward, just the peace that passeth all understanding." The little old man looked like a child with Mushee towering over him. "But I do has a question."

"Go 'head."

"You know, I won't be here long."

"None of us will in times like these. With stirring all around, and fathers against sons, and sons against fathers, God is going to take us up in the rapture. It might be sooner than we think." Isaiah jumped slightly as the Reverend placed his hand on his shoulder. Mushee continued to work while Mr. Dalton entertained himself with a young lady from the tavern; although his eyes glanced their way, he kept his attention on the woman. 

"No, sir. I won't be here on this earth long. I know my time's gonna come sooner rather than later."

"Ah, I see. Isaiah, we all will travel to the land. It is nothing to think about now. For some, it will be together, and for others, we will make the journey alone, but we will all get there." Reverend Bells clapped his hands and kicked up dirt as he stopped his foot full of joy.

"I think I wanna go to church. I want to be in there with all God's children." His eyes attempted to focus as the dirt and sun mixed to form a brownish cloud between him and the Reverend. Mushee chuntered but held his tongue. He had experienced the wrath of Mr. Dalton for talking about things that he ought not to think about. When Cortania died, he wanted to know why good doctors weren't called when she couldn't move after the baby. He paid for his. . .

Mr. Dalton's hard hand and hearty laugh interrupted Mushee's thoughts. "Reverend, these boys have a lot of words for you. They aren't being bothersome, are they?"

"Oh no. Nothin' bout the Lord could ever disturb me. Nathan, I've seen Alice and the girls pretty regular, but I've missed you for a while." Mr. Dalton's eyes shot toward Mushee, and he dropped his head. Isaiah sensed the tension, sharp as if it were a razor parting the fabric of the moment.

"These here boys have enough hootin' and holler in' for me. You and Alice keep encouraging this foolery. You know can't none of them get into heaven any how." Mushee stumbled and dropped the bag in the dirt.

"We are not the judges, Nathan."

"You keep giving them these ideas, Bernard, and it makes problems for us businessmen." He looked over at Mushee and gave a sly grin. "That one there believes he has the right to question me." Mr. Dalton climbed back into the wagon. "We got to head back."

Isaiah's words plagued Reverend Bells and filled him with dread. He had heard how all people went to church together in Philadelphia. Of course, these were freedmen, but he pondered their relation with Isaiah, Mushee, and the others. If the slaves found a few moments of peace when worshipping the Lord, did it really matter if they couldn't meet with God on the other side?

Back at the plantation, Isaiah observed a change in Mushee's demeanor, particularly in his interactions with Benjamin. Mushee, known for his sternness, had briefly softened after learning about God. But now, the lines of his scowl had etched deeper into his face as if years of weariness had settled upon him in just a few days.

Although Mushee didn't refrain from attending the church meeting, Isaiah felt the dirge in Mushee's heart. Isaiah grunted and sought the voice he'd lost long years ago. "There is a promise, and on the other side, we shall have peace. We shall be made whole. No man can take away what God gives." The chorus of bodies swayed and swooned. It was as if they'd already received the promise.

Mushee could no longer bear it. We live in pain and will die in pain. Their heaven belongs to them and the dirt to us." He beat his chest while some of the spirit-filled audience froze, eyes solemn. Others wailed and shouted no.

Mr. Dalton stormed out and threw his glass in the direction of the slaves, barely missing one of the ladies, who was still jumping and singing in a guttural voice, words only she understood.

"No more of this!" No more meetings. Ya'll ain't going to heaven no how. You are Ham's people. Slaves won't inherit the kingdom.

Mushee erupted, "Who wants a God who leaves us here? Your God could never be my God." people scattered and scurried to their cabins. Two old women hurried Isaiah along the best they could.

"Evans! Evans! Get ready for a hi-ho night," shouted Mr. Dalton, his voice laced with a bitter edge. "You all run about, yet clamor for a meeting? Al'right, we'll have our own kind of meeting tonight." At that moment, Mushee stood tall, his demeanor embodying a defiance that seemed to challenge Mr. Dalton's authority as if claiming a kingdom that had never truly been Dalton's to own.

Meanwhile, at the church, the turmoil that had begun in hushed whispers now erupted into outright chaos, sending a cacophony of voices throughout the town.

"Where would they sit? Outside! There is no place for that here, Reverend." One of the men shouted, with the others nodding in the background.

"We should have never listened to you when you talked about letting them have meetings. Mine have started asking for more time during the week to worship God like we do. Have you ever heard of such?" Some of the men looked stunned. The musty building shook with fury.

Evans and his team didn't have a problem fighting Mushee like usual. They shoved and pushed, but he stood like a mountain. Alice pleaded with Mr. Dalton to let everyone go to sleep. She knew the drink might have made Nathan more prone than normal to this.

"Not tonight, Alice. No more with Mushee. These ideas of God have taken him out of his place, and it's time he's reminded." Spit showered her face.

"He's gonna learn." Alice followed Mr. Dalton out back to the whipping tree.

"All ya'll get out here." Evans belted. It was a meeting no one wanted to attend.

Even in all of the commotion, the words of Isaiah settled on Mushee's ears," Pharoh's army drowned in the Red Sea. That was the God of slaves. That's my God." Mushee's eyes closed tighter with each strike, but he never spoke. The women whimpered because they knew their job would be difficult to nurse him back this time. The last time, Mushee could not move for about a month.

Suddenly, a horn sounded. Evans's whip stilled in the sky. The men in the church gripped their ears, and a large drum sounded. Mr. Dalton screamed for Evans to continue. In a moment, the slaves vanished. They appeared in the sky singing a beautiful song, words that every ear could hear. They had joined the angelic chorus.

In the wake of the miraculous disappearance, the plantation, once a place of unyielding toil and sorrow, lay eerily silent. The fields, now devoid of the hands that had tended them, stretched out like a testament to the inexplicable event.

Mr. Dalton, his face a mask of confusion and fear, stood frozen, staring at the spot where Mushee had last been. The whip still hung in Evans's limp hand, its purpose lost. Alice, tears streaming down her face, looked up to the sky, searching for an answer, a sign, anything that could make sense of what had just happened.

In the town, the church was in disarray. The leaders, who had been so vehement in their opposition, now grappled with the undeniable proof of a power far greater than their own prejudices. The sounds of the horn and drum still echoed in their ears, a haunting reminder of their pride.

Reverend Bells, shaken to his core, knelt amidst the chaos, a prayer forming on his lips. He had witnessed the divine vindication of those he had fought for, a vindication that transcended earthly understanding.

The story of the plantation's rapture spread far and wide, becoming a legend whispered in awe and wonder. It spoke of a night when the heavens themselves had reached down to claim the souls of the oppressed, leaving behind a world forced to confront its own inhumanity.

Mr. Dalton, now a broken man, wandered through his empty plantation, haunted by the memories of those he had once claimed as his property. Alice, forever changed by the events of that night, dedicated herself to spreading the tale, ensuring that the legacy of Isaiah, Mushee, and the others would never be forgotten.

And in the hearts of those who heard the story, a seed was planted – a seed of hope, a belief in a higher justice, and a newfound understanding of the inherent dignity and worth of every human soul.

January 12, 2024 22:41

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