Disturbing the Peace

As I plowed through the unpaved dirt road in Kentucky in my 1996 F150, I started thinking about things again. My existence is a lonely one. There are no others like me here. No one that understands me or how I see things. This might have something to do with the fact that I was born over 100 years in the future, but that’s just a wild guess. A more convincing argument to most of the people I meet here would be that my loneliness is attributed to never being around any people. I’m around Negroes plenty, but not actual “people.” I’ve gotta stop doing this “thinking” thing.

However, most don’t really know about all the time I spend with Blacks. Most don’t even notice that I exist until I’m racing through the night with five or six pieces of their property in my magical, horseless cab. I sometimes wonder how much word spreads about me…about all the property I’ve stolen and brought North without ever using a single horse, lamp, or map. I came to the familiar fork in the road and turned right. I always hated taking the long way, but I didn’t want to risk running into the patrolmen who worked for the Granger plantation. I asked the Johnson family how they were holding up in the back, and Marcus replied “Just fine, sir.”

I hated when they called me that.

“Make sure to keep it good and quiet til I tell you otherwise ya hear?”

“Oh yes sir, Mr. Clemens sir whatever you say sir!”

I felt like if maybe I talked more like people around here it would loosen things up a little. But I guess a life of being beaten and tortured for the slightest disobedience will make you think twice before you address a white man without saying “Sir.” It was only a couple more hours now.

I liked the Johnsons a lot. They were probably my favorite family I had transported thus far. Marcus was a great father to his young children. A man that even people from where I come from should emulate. Even if he is a slave. His wife Jenny is probably the only slave mother I’ve met thus far who has not been forced to lose her dignity to a white man. Something that will allow her to raise her children without having to deal with the traumas of a troubled past.

That is, other than the small trauma from the cause of those scars on her back.

As we were nearing the border of Ohio, I started thinking again. Thinking about how I hadn’t seen anyone from my real life in months. Or was this my real life now? Is it possible this entire experience was just some dream during a coma? Or was it a nightmare?

I needed to stop thinking.

I saw the markings I had left, a pair of big logs cross into an ‘X’ to the left of a large willow, right where the Ohio-Kentucky border is. I killed the headlights as we approached, even though it wouldn’t have done anything if there were people anywhere nearby. The Johnsons were dead silent. I parked the truck right under a group of low trees I always used to as cover when we had to go on foot.

“Time to unload” I told the Johnsons.

“Yes sir, just one second Mr. Clemens sir gotta wake the little ones and get them movin sir!” responded Marcus in a quiet whisper.

I was going to tell Marcus not to call me sir, but it wouldn’t matter. In a few minutes the Johnsons will be gone and I’ll never see them again. Plus, Marcus shouldn’t get used to not calling white men ‘sir.’ Free man or not, Marcus was still Black and therefore still inferior to his white counterparts. Respect for the white man is something Marcus had to have if he wanted to work and support his family.

I pulled out my small pocket flashlight as I guided the Johnsons through the woods. It had been a long time coming for them, but they were finally about to be free. The lyrics to Sam Cooke’s best song sang in my head:

It’s been loooooong, a long time comin’,

but I know-oh-oh,

A change gonna come, Oh Yes it will

I really missed music. But I didn’t have time to think. We were nearing the house and I had to check for the all clear.

“Wait here” I commanded the Johnsons.

“Yes sir, Mr. Clemens sir.”

I approached the edge of the woods and moved through the brush with minor difficulty, trying to make as little noise as possible. After a minute or so of a quiet struggle, I could see it.

The house was a quaint, typical country home. It looked like the kind of place one would just rent out during the summer months and vacation in. At least where I come from. It was a white, one story little house with a black roof and a wrap around porch. It also happened to have a large underground portion that could sleep up to 10 or 15 comfortably. Not a bad place to hide out when you’re a runaway slave. Or, by some considerations, an even worse criminal, a runaway transporter.

The blue quilt was hanging over the ledge of the porch. It was all clear. I tore quickly back through the brush and signaled for the Johnsons to follow me back. They seemed to have quite a bit of ease going from point A to point B, making me feel a little embarrassed about the struggle I had gone through. We approached the house very casually, not feeling the quite the same need for caution knowing we had an all clear. The Johnsons all had great big smiles on their faces, already feeling free just because they had made it thus far. By tomorrow they would be located to a new home, in a new city, with new work, and a new life. It made me happy, but I couldn’t quite manage to smile.

We climbed onto the porch and I used the special knock we had created to signal we were here. As the door slowly cracked, I heard quick footsteps from behind coming right at us.

“So you thought you could get away, huh?!” a large white man yelled as he brought the butt of his rife down onto the back of Marcus’s skull, while another bashed through the door and kicked Jenny in the stomach.

The force sent Jenny off the porch and to the ground while Marcus thudded to the wooden floor and showed no signs of consciousness. The safe house had been discovered and turned into a trap.

The man who came through the door swung the end of his rifle at me as I ducked down and pulled out my gun. He fell off balance after missing and a quick, solid punch to his right knee sent him to the floor.

As I popped up I heard the children crying and screaming for their parents. Marcus hadn’t moved at all. I turn around to aim at the other attacker, but he had anticipated my movement and was within inches, giving him an easy shot with his fist into my stomach. I dropped to my knees from the loss of air and the pain. Jenny was slowly gathering herself as the children screamed louder.

The large white man grabbed me by my hair and lifted me so we were eye to eye, bringing my face uncomfortably close to his.

“So you’re the one causin’ all these good, hard workin’ slaves to run off on they masters, eh?”

His breath smelled awful and his overall odor about matched it. He threw me to the dirt next to Jenny and hopped down from the porch right onto my back. I heard something snap.

“Boy, when I’m done with you and your lil nigger friends here, they’re gonna be white as you, and you’re gonna be dark as them!”

Marcus still hadn’t moved. The man stepped off of my back and layed on top of Jenny, grabbing both of her flailing arms in one massive hand and tearing her dress with the other.

“Imma enjoy you before I gotta bring ya back where ya came from. I’m sure your kids’ll like seein’ their mommy scream for help!”

He had dropped his rifle. Big mistake.

I jumped to my feet despite the serious back pain and kicked the gun away, pulling out my spare. The white man averted attention away from Jenny to me, ready to make a move. I smashed him across the face with the pistol, causes blood to spill out, splattering onto Jenny and I. He hit the ground and tried standing up, but I was done with holding back. I fired and hit him square in the chest, sending him back to the ground. I heard the man from the porch running at me, but made quick work of him with a shot right in the stomach. I would be amazed if either survived. I could care less if they did though.

I helped Jenny up, her dress almost completely torn off. She ignored the offer for my jacket as she ran to Marcus. The children’s screaming had stopped, but the both were sobbing at the sight of two dead white men and their bleeding parents. I gave Jenny my jacket and my first aid kit to assist with Marcus’s wound. With no real abilities in helping the wounded or sick, I left Jenny to care for him and went to check inside the house for more threats.

There were small amounts of blood splattered on the floor, plus one large spot of it on the rug. The main table was turned over and the entire cabinet of plates, bowls, and glass had been smashed onto the ground. However, there wasn’t a single person. Tied up, dead or alive, no one. And I know there had been at least three people manning the house tonight. Clearly they had either run away, hid, or been killed and put somewhere. I prayed the latter was not the case.

My prayers, unfortunately, were not answered.

I opened the hatch under the rug and walked down the stairs into the basement I had designed and built for the house, an architectural innovation apparently no one at this time had even thought of. I lit the torch on the wall and that’s when I saw them. Agnes, Agatha, and Jack. All right next to each other, in that order, hanging from the supports I had built with my own hands. I touched Agnes’s hand and could feel how cold she was. It had been hours since they were put there.

One by one, I removed them from their noose, laid them on the ground, and covered them from head to toe with a bed sheet. One by one, I said goodbye to them for one last time.

They seemed at peace. I envied them. And not just because they were at peace. I stared at the nooses hanging down and thought for a very long time. I thought about the number of people I had seen murdered just for helping others. I thought about the number of people I had seen beaten nearly to a bloody pulp just for trying to be free. And I thought about the number of people I had not seen in months, that I didn’t think I would ever see again at this point. I stared at those nooses and thought for a long, long time.

When I went upstairs, Jenny was holding the children and sobbing. Worse than anyone I had ever seen before. Tears poured out of her eyes. I looked at Marcus. His head was bandaged, but he lay motionless. Both eyes open. He was dead.

I started thinking even more.

“Jenny” I started “If we want to continue on we can’t stay, this whole place is totally compromised.”

She continued sobbing, almost as if she didn’t even notice me.

“I understand if you want to just quit now though. I wouldn’t be mad.”

I waited for her response, as I could see it got her attention. She looked up at me. She stared deeply into my eyes. The kind of stare where you can feel the person looking past your face and into your being. She looked into my soul.

“We’re not quitting” she said as she shifted her attention back to her dead husband. “We’ve come this far. My kids ain’t growin up slaves. Bein’ called boy and nigger and such…”

Her green eyes moved back to me as she continued “they gonna live to be free even if it kills me.”

For some reason, this was the first thing I had heard or seen in a long time being here that actually made me feel something. Even my friends hanging from those nooses hadn’t hit me. But this did. Jenny wasn’t hoping for the best and wasn’t praying for it either. She knew that she was getting freedom for her children. No matter what.

“Ok” I told her, “Let’s move on then.”

I didn’t even have to think about it.

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