Dark RiverA Story by Julie Dant
A short story of the cost of freedom
The beads of sweat run down the sides of his face reflecting the shine of the half moon as he runs wildly through the high grasses toward the swamp. His eyes are wide and white against his black skin and dart every few seconds back over his broad muscular shoulder.
Not yet.….can’t see them yet….no sign of a lantern…maybe they haven’t noticed his absence just yet.
He runs…..like he’s never ran before…for his very life. His heart beneath his bare chest is pounding…Pounding…POUNDING...so much so that he can feel the pulse of it surging down his arms and legs. Each beat bringing a swishing, rushing sound between his ears. He is deathly afraid that he might faint…just pass out while running. He can hear someone close to him beginning to whimper… making strange wheezing crying noises In the back of their throat. He franticly looks to both sides and back again…..no one.
Odd… he’s never heard himself cry before.
The crying stops abruptly as his keen ears pick up the far off chorusing of old Massa Gregory’s bloodhounds….all five of them. He’s never heard them bay like this. They sound like they are being hurt…shrill and sharp…yet full throated and excited. The realization that those five dogs, which he has petted and played with on the rare occasions that old Massa let his slaves have some free time away from the cotton fields, are at this moment running wildly with noses down to keep track of his scent….HIS scent….is mildly shocking. Enough to spur him to push himself even harder in his desperate flight to reach the river that runs through the swamp at the far north side of old Massa’s land. At last he reaches the relative cover of the swamp and thrashing through the wet muck he hears the river up ahead rushing fast over the rocks and slabs of bedrock that stretches across the riverbed at this point in it’s journey southward. He forgot that the river was high, due to all the recent rains.
“Don‘ matter none“ he thinks. He is a good swimmer…old Massa Gregory had insisted that he learn to swim “So’s you can mind young Massa whenever he takes a notion to go swimmin’ in the pond.”.
The baying of the bloodhounds is no longer distant. He can tell they are getting near. In his terror and his headlong flight he doesn’t realize how close he is to the river. When he sees that he has reached it’s banks, it is too late for him to slow his pace. His 6 ft. 4 inch body slides down the muddy embankment and crashes into the dark roiling waters below and sputtering and splashing, he tries to gain his footing upon the underwater bedrock, but each foothold he gains is pulled away by the now stronger than ever undercurrent. He hadn’t reckoned on the undercurrent. This is not like swimming in old Massa’s pond. This is treacherous water…. impossible to stand up in. He reaches out desperately to grab at the low hanging branches of the willows that grow along the riverside here in abundance, to steady himself, but only succeeds in losing his balance again.
The swift black water hungrily sucks him under and will not release it’s hold upon him for more than a minute.
He begins to understand that he might not resurface…that he could drown. This realization and his will to live is strong enough to help him give one mighty surge toward what he hopes is the surface, for he has totally lost all indications of which is up and which is down.. He chooses correctly for his head shoots out of the river at the exact moment the five bloodhounds reach the embankment, along with the god-awful, sadistic overseer, Strickland. Strickland holds up high a bright lantern, which shines down a circle of harsh yellow light upon the black man as he fights against the clutching fingers of the river current.
Only once is the poor desperate slave able to look up at the bank from which he had fallen. All he can see is the blinding light of the lantern but he can well hear the almost deafening bays, snarls and growls of the 5 dogs, who in their frenzy, now have a taste for blood on their dripping tongues.
He gives up then. Sacrifices himself up to the black raging river current…. . for the alternative is beyond his comprehension. He has heard the stories growing up of old Massa allowing Strickland to let the bloodhounds just tear and rip into any slave who was unlucky enough to be caught trying to escape. Stories about Strickland coming back with shredded, bloodied ’tokens’ of black bodies to show off to old Massa Gregory and even more exciting for Strickland…any unfortunate slave who happened to be within hearing and seeing distance.
And as the powerful river undercurrent sucks him down for the second and last time, he closes his eyes tightly and allows his body to be carried and twisted where the river will take him. Very soon, he sees Bessie, his Momma, from whose arms he had been forcefully and cruelly torn when he was only four. She is standing there in the light of the lantern… no!..NOT the light of the lantern, but another light….a pure and sweet, heavenly light. She is holding her arms out to him, beckoning for him to come to her.
Oh, Lord and she is smiling…. the beautiful smile he remembers. And he sees again, after seventeen long years, the love in her eyes for him…as he…at last….on this hot Mississippi delta night …gives his body completely over to the turbulent, swirling, and watery grave.
And the dark river continues it’s surgence down toward it’s far off destination, the Gulf of Mexico whereupon it empties itself; regurgitating all the contents it has torn from it’s banks and swallowed during it’s swollen passage southward to Freedom.
© 2009 Julie Dant
Added on November 17, 2009
Last Updated on November 17, 2009
AboutI've lived in Southern Indiana almost all of my life. I've written poems most of that time, but I am just beginning to share some. I don't think I am great.. I may not even be good, but it is one out.. more..
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