Authors: Lane Heymont
The FREEDMAN and the PHARAOH's STAFF
Copyright Â© 2013, by Lane Heymont.
Cover Copyright Â© 2013 by Lawrence von Knorr & Sunbury Press, Inc. Â
NOTE: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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FIRST SUNBURY PRESS EDITION
Printed in the United States of America
Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-62006-162-6
Mobipocket (Kindle) ISBN: 978-1- 62006-163-3
ePub (Nook) ISBN: 978-1-62006-164-4
Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania Â Â USA
To my grandfather Col. Irving Heymont and my mother for their never-ending support. Also, instilling in me a true sense of Jewishness and the need for utmost equality. And of course, to my niece Holly for indulging my banter about the Twilight Saga. To Prof. Alice Eaton, my African-American Lit. professor who, all those years ago, introduced me to the powerful slave narratives and the courageous Frederick Douglass.
I believe that even amid today's mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.
-Martin Luther King, from his Nobel Peace Â Prize acceptance speech
Small rib bones clattered on the wooden table, where several black and red candles burned, their flames dancing like a company of elegant danseuses. There was a sense of power in the air. The old conjure-woman felt its prick at the back of her throat as she studied the animal bones. La'Rita was a Haitian woman with a cape of dreadlocks. She would have been beautiful were it not for the boils covering her faceâand that her eyes were devoid of any color. La'Rita leaned over the table, shifting her weight in the chair. Shelves and desks filled with jars of grotesque, rotten items surrounded her. Foul-smelling roots and herbs filled some. Rancid liquids filled others to preserve the dead animals they held. Leather-bound books occupied some of the shelves, many etched with strange, archaic symbols.
“Ah, yes,” La'Rita whispered as she looked deeper into the bones. Images danced and twirled across the table, outlined by the dim candlelight. Her empty eyes poured over the phantasms, one by one. Stiff metal birds soared through the open sky, dropping massive pipes. La'Rita shuddered, feeling a sinister force was responsible for the contraptions. The form of an ancient staff passed through her vision. It held within it a great power. Metal boxes on wheels and metallic belts rolled across broken and burning landscapes, fire bursting from their elongated snouts.
Her body shook, spasms rushing up from her feet.
Apparitions whirled around La'Rita, changing, appearing, and dissipating into air. The tremors grew. La'Rita's entire body shook. She struggled stay in her chair.
A grizzled man wisped by her eyes. Then the fit ceased. He'd gone by fast enough that La'Rita hadn't a chance to notice his features. Only his dark skin. She squinted her eyes, spotting the faintest aura in the air. A man with a fine mustache. La'Rita's head throbbed as if a miner were taking a pick to it. The room shook. Was it
moving or the room?
Her gaze met the phantasmal man's. The ghostly image made La'Rita sick to her stomach. Utter evil oozed out of this simple-looking man. Too much to bear. Her eyes rolled back. Darkness descended.
“Yah have to go talk to Constable Rayford.” Keturah came up from behind Jeb. She slid her hands on his shoulders. Hands soft like satin. Each crevice soothed his worn skin. “I seen some mon wit da Ku Klux Klan dressed in them white robes tek Crispus inna jail. Fur nothing.”
Jeb tried to keep himself from scowling. Instead, staring off into his field. Tall corn stalks swayed in the summer breeze.
What that fool get himself into now? Probably got someone else killed. Worse if it's one of those damn rednecks.
The thought clenched his fists. “I'm sure it ain't for nothing. He always causes problems. Like
,” Jeb grumbled. “And he's always hanging out in them dang swamps with that conjure-woman.”
A gasp escaped Keturah. “Jebidiah Johnson! âIm me brother.”
His lips pulled back into a smirk. “He ain't my brother.” Keturah scowled behind him. Jeb didn't have to see it to know. A too familiar exchange they had on a weekly basis, if not more. He inhaled, breathing in the fresh summer afternoon. The sweet smell of freedom mingled with the tendrils of bog water.
“Y'nuh I raised dat boy muhself afta our fudda and mudda died. He more den a lilly brudder to me. He like me son.”
Gusts of wind carried Jeb's grumbles away. Rayford stepped in to help Crispus more than he should have already. He was a thief, prancing around playing activist. Jeb screwed up his face. How many times was
going to have to run to this fool's side?
“Can't. I promised Bettina she could come with me to pick some corn for dinner.” Jeb flung his hand at his daughter nearby playing with a doll. She was an eleven-year-old version of her mother. Curly hair, long face, and pointed chin. Only difference was the complexion. Bettina's light skin netted her the nickname 'Pinky' from the white children. Much to Jeb's ire.
Fire spit from Keturah's eyes as she narrowed them on Jeb. Arms folded over her chest. Forget daggers, she spit Gatling gun rounds. Cute, too, since she didn't realize she did. Hell, she probably didn't mean to
that mean when she did it.
What's the Jamaican patois for that again? A fuckery?
“That's a fuckery.”
“You got to go, Papa. And I can go with you this time!” Bettina jumped up, dancing like a will-o'-the-wisp sparking in the swamp darkness. She swung her hand around as if battling some imaginary enemy. “I'll help you break Uncle Crispus out. I'm real good at fighting, Papa.” She did another jump, dodging a sword swing.
Somehow, Jeb saw some Confederate there. His mannerisms. The way he held his sword, or rifle. The thought turned his stomach. He flashed Bettina a scowl. She stopped and sat back down to play with her doll.
is breaking Uncle Crispus out of jail. Those were just rumors to try and get him kicked out of town.” Jeb turned back to watching the field. An afternoon sun cast dull yellow light off the golden vegetables. They lit up in a sea of burning brass.
Another round of fire from Keturah, and Jeb let out a grunt. “Fine. I'm going.”
“Thank yah, love, thank yah.” Keturah gripped Jeb, kissing him. He returned the kiss. How could he not?
Then he stormed into the house, across the parlor to his desk, a table really, standing against the wall. Stolen from some dead cavalryman, the Confederate saber gleamed in the sun pouring in through the windows. It should stay mounted on the wall. Forever. A taunt to that dead racist bastard. Your great, ornate weapon? Pommel and basket hilt made of brass, grip wrapped in fine leather. Now owned by a freedman.
Jeb grabbed the saber, pulling up the scabbard, and attached it to his belt. How long had it been? Six years since the War Between the States. He hoped since the Military Reconstruction began he'd never have to lift it again. Freedmen gained the right to hold political positions. Generals were appointed to oversee the South and maintain civil rights.
Jeb mumbled. Nothing in particular, more to show Keturah how annoyed he was. How many more times would he have to go defend that deadbeat brother of hers? He gathered his frock coat. Too hot to wear it and stay uncomfortable, but it'd hide his saber. Then he slipped his Colt pistol in a trouser pocket.
Thunder boomed. Rain thudded on the roof.
uncomfortable, I guess.
Jeb barged out onto the porch, making sure to grunt when passing Keturah. He blew Bettina a kiss, and tramped off the porch into the pouring rain, under abrupt dark skies. “The last time,” he called back. Rising mud swallowed Jeb's boots with the sickening sound of wet earth as he headed toward Allenville.
Every time Crispus got himself in trouble, it sent waves of tension through Allenville. Especially now that the Ku Klux Klan and their damn Goblins were here. Reconstruction helped people of color, but turned the Klan into even more monstrous terrorists. But what the hell were they doing in Allenville? Out of all of Louisiana, a town of two thousand or so?
Something's not right.
Jeb pushed through the rain and mud as he neared Allenville. If he'd been walking during the day, he could've seen the towering plantations through the gross, slouching trees that hung in the swamps nearby. Jeb hated the South. Swore he'd never return after Union troops destroyed and liberated Ole Massa Johnson's plantation. Right then, he enlisted in the Union forces.
The glow of lanterns hung from buildings flashed on the dark horizon. Jeb stopped in his tracks, fierce rain splattering muck on his clothes. The taller buildings of Allenville loomed ahead. He had to be careful. Louisiana was infested with the Ku Klux Klan, though they rarely found their way to Allenville. A backwater white town south of Port Allen, boasting a population of two thousand, escaped the political war of Reconstruction. He'd found a boring life in Allenville filled by Keturah and Bettina's love, and working his cornfield. Until today.
Jeb pulled his frock coat close as he entered the village. Â Light poured out onto the street from the windows of brick homes. It glistened off the falling rain like a sea of rainbows. Â He followed the road toward the jail a few hundred yards ahead. Â It was a large, square building sporting barred windows. Fresh graffiti covered the walls. No doubt, the Baker boys were behind it. It took Jeb a moment to make out the words “Fuck Reconstruction” painted in black and red. He frowned when he reached the door. A number of voices and then laughter rumbled from inside.
Never a good sign hearing that much joy in a jailhouse
. Jeb knocked, the urge to keep a hand on the sabre at his belt.
Don't give them a reason.
Grunts and curses seeped through the bricks. Jeb clutched his sheathed saber tight to his waist, hoping whoever answered the door wouldn't notice. The door flung open. A round man draped in a white robe stood in the doorway, the wind tugging at his cloak. The brute looked more like an animal than a man, and his pig-like nose made it worse. A Ku Klux Klan badge, the slanted cross on a blood-red background, emblazoned