Meredith and the Medicine

Meredith and the Medicine

 

            Meredith was never the kind of person who wanted to go out with her friends. In fact, she didn’t have many friends to begin with, but that didn’t bother her very much at all. Although she was a very pretty young woman, she never had husbands or anything close to a boyfriend. Meredith chose to keep to herself in her small, one bedroom apartment with a good book or a movie. During the day she studied as a student teacher for an elementary school class. She was never very enthused, but she did her job well and dealt with the children even though she thought they were annoying.

Friday, May 1st was nothing short of a strange day for Meredith. She had decided to notify the teacher that she would be taking her vacation the following week as she felt she had a lot of stress being put on her.

            “Does it have to be this week?!” Candice, the older teacher that Meredith worked with, was shocked. “It’s just that this week is our historical week. I was excited for you to teach the kids about their African American ancestors. Please take it another week.”

            “I’m sorry,” Meredith said, trying to sound like she needed sympathy. “It feels like if I do anymore work, my head is going to explode! I just need a little time off. I promise, everyone is going to be okay without me there.” Meredith watched Candace take a deep breath in and exhale slowly. Her shoulders and eyes drooped towards the ground as though she had just been defeated in battle.

             Meredith returned home cheerfully that afternoon, and spent the entire weekend preparing for her week of relaxation. Monday came before she knew it. She was finally ready to kick back and enjoy her time away from what she thought was a dreadful life. However, just before she began her first movie, she went into the bathroom to grab a hair tie and was surprised by what she found instead. Her floor was covered in medicine, all types of Tylenols had been scattered across the tile. It appeared as though her medicine cabinet had spilled open. With a sigh, Meredith bent down to clean up the mysterious mess. Mumbling to herself, she began to notice the slight headache she got the closer she was to the ground. Suddenly, her knees gave out and she crippled in pain. ‘Why is this happening?’ She thought to herself. It was the only thing she managed to think through all of the pain. Meredith quickly drifted into unconsciousness.

            “Get up!” Someone whispered. “What are you thinking?! You have to get up!” They continued to hiss at Meredith until she opened her eyes slightly. Cold dirt was beneath her and covered her face, her body was sore although it felt numb.

            “What?” She questioned. “Where am I?”

            “You can’t just stop when you get hurt! Get up now!”

Someone took a strong grip on her arm and yanked Meredith to her feet. It was a young woman beside her, maybe a little older than herself. She wore a long dress that looked like it had never been washed. The woman scolded Meredith for being slow and selfish, but dusted her off in a way that a mother would to her child. Speaking of children, Meredith saw two walking behind her. A boy who appeared to be about ten stared right at her. The girl, who looked about seven, stumbled to keep up with the other woman. The two children looked exhausted, and they sniffled quietly trying to hide their tears. It was clear they had been throwing fits just before Meredith arrived. Their clothes were torn and the boy looked as though he had blood on his.

It was easy to figure out that she was in the middle of the woods, in the middle of the night.

            “I want to know where I am. I’m not walking any further until you tell me where I am, and who you people are,” Meredith demanded. The children and woman looked at each other wearily.

            “Maybe she hit her head,” The young boy finally suggested in a weak voice. “Do you know my name, Mere? You have to remember my name.”

            How did he know her name? Meredith wanted to scream for help but was too stunned and scared to do anything.

            “It doesn’t matter,” The woman hissed. “Meredith, I’m Jane and these are my children. You know them, Kaitlin and Connor. Now you need to keep moving, we need your help and you know it.”

            Meredith obliged and carried on next to the woman named Jane. She said nothing for a long time until they came to a place where it was either left, or right. Meredith looked to Jane for answers, but Jane did the same to her.

            “Well?” Meredith asked.

            “Well…?” Jane said in a demanding tone. “You’re the one who said she knows the way to freedom!” She stared at Meredith in both an angry and painful way. It was as though she was begging Meredith with her eyes to know what to do. So, she took a shot. Meredith pointed left and the family continued on.

            All of the sudden, Meredith was once again at hold of the strong grip, but this time on both of her shoulders. She was whipped back behind a bush and her mouth was covered.

            “You need to stay quiet and keep still, do you understand?” The same whispered hissed in her ear once more, this time more scared than it had been before. Jane dug her nails into Meredith’s shoulder.

            Meredith couldn’t see her in the dark, but nodded anyway. Jane seemed to slip away without a sound. In a matter of seconds, leaves rustled and crumpled very close to her. It seemed to be passing right in front of the bush Meredith hid behind. When she looked up she saw two large horses with very tall white men on them. They wore police outfits and carried whips. They spoke of the problem of excess population and James Monroe. When she thought to ask for help, something inside of her seemed to have cut her vocal cords. She was paralyzed with fear.

            The men passed and several minutes went by before Jane tried to pick Meredith back up again, this time more carefully. However, there was such a pain in Meredith’s legs that she wasn’t able to stand. Perhaps she was frozen with fear.

            “What is the matter with you?!” She was scolding her once again, treating her like a child. Jane’s voice was so harsh that she coughed between words, and was barely able to catch her breath. “You could have had us killed! Think about my children! I thought you knew what you were doing!”

            “I don’t remember!” Meredith begged. “I don’t know who you are, or where I am! I don’t even know who you think I am!”

            Jane explained to Meredith that it was the year 1820. Meredith was no longer Meredith at this time, she was Mere. ‘Mere’ lived on the Fix Plantation with Jane, her children and the rest of the slaves. Jane told Meredith that they had been close friends ever since they were both bought by Mr. Fix, the plantation owner, years ago. Jane had been planning to run away for months to get her children to become free. She had watched them get beaten and scolded too many times, and had been through too much on the plantation herself. Since Mere knew the way to the city and her way with medicine, she could help Jane with her sickness and lead the way. Jane told Meredith about her disease, Whooping Cough. It was very common in this time, and was very contagious. Before their journey, Mere had promised Jane she would treat it on the way. However, Meredith couldn’t hold up that promise.

            Meredith explained to Jane that she was not the Mere that Jane thought she was. Her grandmother had told Meredith her family history, and it was clear that she was either dreaming, or traveling through time. She had replaced her ancestor, Mere, and this was not a good thing. Meredith told Jane she didn’t know the first thing about direction, let alone medicine. The two knew they were in deep trouble.

            They traveled on for hours and hours, telling each other stories of their times. Meredith told Jane of the future; although she wasn’t entirely sure Jane believed a word of it. They discussed the Missouri Compromise and future presidents. Jane told Meredith of the wealthy Fix family, and how cruel they were to Jane and her family. Her children were illiterate and could barely speak. She brought up her other two children that were sold away from her. She spoke in a way that made it sound like she was trying to jog Meredith’s memory.

            Every so often there was a scare when they would have to hide behind bushes, split up to avoid being seen or run from horses until it felt as though their legs were going to fall off. Days went by and Jane’s sickness only got worse. At one point, Jane could not stop her cough. She couldn’t breath and it even hurt Meredith to see her in such pain. Her children wept in her arms for her to feel better. Meredith couldn’t believe the time that she was now stuck in, and how fortunate she was with her life before.  Jane’s coughs and whimpers for air continued to get louder as her face got redder. Meredith had seen this happen before to Jane, and tried to hit her back to help her breath.

            All of the sudden, she heard the familiar rustling of leaves. She heard the heavy breathing of horses and loud voices of white police officers.

            “Jane! You have to be quiet!” She whispered pleadingly. She tried to cover Jane’s mouth to force her to breathe from her nose but Jane slapped her hand away. She couldn’t breath and Meredith didn’t know what to do. She heard the horses coming closer to her and the children. Their cries got louder with her mothers cough, and although the only thing Meredith wanted to do was run, she knew she couldn’t leave the children behind that her and Jane had worked so hard for to become free. It was too late.

            Guns were pointed in and in a split second the children were up on horses, hands tied and crying for help. Jane’s cough continued to get worse as they tied a rope around her neck to take her back to the plantation.

            “She needs help,” Meredith said. “Can’t you people see that?! Help her!”

            Meredith’s mistake cost her agonizing pain. A hand came down upon her face that was much harsher than a scolding whisper of a worried mother. The men yelled at her to hurry, to shut up and called her horrible names that she had never heard in her life. Meredith didn’t understand how it was this bad.

             After they were captured and brought back to the Fix plantation, they were greeted by a young white man. He quietly told the officers to leave and thanked them for bringing his slaves back, and they would be dealt with. Meredith was still in shock of everything that had happened.

            “Mister Shane,” Jane begged through coughing fits. She could barely cry, let alone barely breathe. “Please don’t hurt my children.” She repeated the same phrase over and over to the man who appeared to be the son of the plantation owner. The man stared straight into Jane’s eyes with a stern, angry look.

            “Go into the cookhouse.” He demanded, but Jane didn’t move. His eyes quickly shot to Meredith. “Now!”

            Meredith scurried away but watched over her shoulder as the man took Jane into the large house where the white family lived. It was almost as though Meredith knew some of the things her ancestor did, like she was living out her life.

            The next morning came very slowly. Meredith did not sleep and while it was still dark, was called into the house by another slave delivering a message from the same man they were returned to yesterday. Meredith was told to bring Jane’s children. When she entered the house with the young boy and girl on either side of her, the man was sitting at a table waiting for their arrival. He spoke in a very plain tone.

            “Jane is dead,” He said. As plain and as calm as he could make his voice sound, but Meredith could still hear the slight shake in his tone. “She suffocated. Her last request was that she wanted her children, and her friend, to be free.”

            Meredith nodded painfully and examined the papers he had set out in front of him. She knew better than to sit down and thought it was smart to follow the children’s lead.

            “Because you took her away from me, I will not free you.”

            The words came over Meredith harder than the hand that struck her in the woods. Those children would die here, and Meredith would never be able to go home. She would get beaten every day for trying to escape. A million horrible thoughts raced through her head. Still, she said nothing.

            “But because these are her children, and now she is gone,” Her drew in a deep breath. “I will grant them freedom. Their paperwork is already filled out and someone will be coming to get them shortly to bring them to a free house somewhere north from here.”

            She was in complete and total shock. For some reason, it was as though a weight was lifted off her shoulders. What she had been sent her to do, and what her ancestor had promised Jane, was finally fulfilled. Her children would be freed.

            “Do you understand?” The man, Shane, asked Kaitlin and Connor.

            “Yes, father.” They said at once.

            Meredith’s jaw nearly hit the floor. It was all too much for her. How were the children not free before if they belonged to him? Meredith couldn’t stand to be stuck in this time any longer. She began to cry, for the first time since she had been stuck in 1820. Her knees buckled down, and before the tears that escaped from her eyes could even fall from her face, her body was on the hard wood floor.

            She woke up on the tile, covered in tears but not a spot of dirt on her. There was no blood from where she was hit, and no evidence that she had even been gone. Only a half hour had passed, and Meredith tried to convince herself that she must have hit her head. Even though she knew better, she thought it best to let it go and to reach for the phone. Meredith contemplated calling 911 about her head, but quickly thought of something better.

            “Hello?” Candace answered in a happy voice. It was the first time Meredith was excited to hear that cheer.

            “I’m coming in to teach the kids,” She told Candace. “I was researching all afternoon. I don’t want to take my vacation this week. You’re right, our history is too important.”

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