I wake up early the next morning to birds chirping. My back hurts from being uncomfortably strained all night. Everyone is still asleep, and I’m thankful for the few minutes to regain my composure after what happened last night.
I look at Isaac, who lies next to me. His face is sticky and covered in blood from the night before. Bruises line his arms and face. He does not sleep peacefully, as wrinkles line his young forehead. I wonder what nightmares trouble him.
My blood boils when I see Harold exiting the inn. He did this to Isaac. I feel a sick pleasure when I see he has a bruise on his face too; the only punch Isaac was able to land before being beaten.
“Breakfast, ye runts! Geddup, I have till nightfall te get you to the Whitley Farm.”
The slaves in the crate stir, but Isaac doesn’t move.
“Hey, Isaac. Get up you lazy butt, dincha hear him?” I tease
“Isaac, come on! Don’t you want food?”
His eyes open wide, and I laugh.
I notice he winces painfully when he moves to get up. I worry how he will cope today.
I hear a faint rumbling, and survey the sky above. Storm clouds. Though rain may slow us down, it will help with the heat.
Another rumble, this one much quieter. I mentally slap myself--it’s just my stomach. I look up eagerly to see Harold tossing pieces of bread into the crate. The slaves claw at it like animals. It’s their first meal since yesterday morning, I think.
I curse myself for letting Abby carry all the food the day we were captured. We have no supplies and are entirely at the mercy of Harold.
He approaches us with the basket, and I look into his beady eyes eagerly.
“Well, would you look at that.” he remarks dully.
Only one loaf remains.
“We can share” I say quickly, and Isaac nods to confirm.
“But why would I want to share with you?” he sneers, and stuffs the last piece into his mouth.
I look at him in disbelief.
The stains on his shirt tell me he already ate this morning. This was to spite us.
“Let’s get a move on then!” he yells, and whips the horses to go.
“Come on Isaac. We’ll find something along the way.”
So begins another day’s walk behind the wagon.
I look up to see the woman who sang with me last night. She holds a small portion of bread in her hands, and I eye it greedily.
She tosses it onto the ground, and I pick it up eagerly.
“Thank you” I say.
She smiles sadly. I split it with Isaac and we feast on what we get.
“What’s your name?” I ask
“Ruth. And you?”
“I’m Alice.” I smile, and I nod at Isaac to join the conversation.
“Well Zac, you’re a very brave young lad. I should like to thank you for teaching him a lesson, but your fight was in vain, m’fraid.”
“Some would say” he remarks, and then we fall silent.
I wonder how he keeps himself moving at all. His pride cost him his health.
We walk for about five hours (though it feels more like ten), Isaac panting hard before we stop by a small pond for Harold to refill his water.
I long to just dive in and wash away the grime lining my skin, and the blood that stains Isaac’s face. I wince slightly every time I see it. It reminds me how weak I really am.
“You alright, Isaac?”
“About as good as I can be tied to the back of a crate with no food, water, or sleep. And beside’s the fact that I can’t feel my face or toes, I’ve never been better.”
He smirks at me. “And yourself?”
“I wouldn’t want to ruin your day with how crappy I feel right now, you know?”
We hear thunder in the distance.
“Do you think the rain will start before we’re there?” he asks.
“I hope not. The last thing I need is for-”
I feel a droplet hit my nose. Then a few more. They dance across my face, as if teasing me.
“Mud.” I finish.
Harold whips the horses to go faster, and I reluctantly pick up the pace.
The rain falls hard on us, and soon I am walking in sludge. I look to see how Isaac is doing.
Unlike me, he is re-energized. The rain is washing away his blood and dirt, and his hair is falling in loose locks down his face. His eyes are bloodshot, but not furious. They are...determined. He walks tall and proud, his scars and bruises clearly visible and only making him more fearsome.
“There it is!” yells one of the slaves.
I look to see a tall, white building approaching. It has five grand pillars supporting its two floors, and several windows. All the curtains are pulled down, I notice.
The manor house.
Sophisticated, imposing, and nothing more than a useless, grand display of wealth.
The doors are painted a dull red, and some people sit on the porch sipping wine.
I am glad to be out of the rain, but that does not make me glad to be here.
“Ah, Harold! What took you so long? ”
“Got caught up in the rain, my lady.” He goes to kiss her cheek in greeting but she holds back, only smiling tightly at him.
He awkwardly puts his hands in his pockets.
“Not very good with the ladies, are we Harry?” Isaac whispers to me, smirking.
“So where is the Master Whitley?”
“Here here, Harold.” says a man, coming from the door. “You’ll have to excuse me, I had some business upstairs. And here they are, our new guests.”
I recognize him as the businessman that bought us by the river, still donning his beaver pelt hat. He approaches us slightly, to see that we are all accounted for.
“What happened to this one?” he asks sternly, pointing at Isaac.
“Had to punish him. He tried to take my keys.” lied Harold.
“Well well, we’ll see to that, won’t we? There’ll be no misbehaving on my plantation. Mayhap your old owners were gentler, and they let you get away with these things. But let me make one thing, very clear, to you."
Isaac looks him in the eyes, challenging him threateningly.
Whitley’s voice drops dangerously low, barely a whisper. I have to strain my head to hear.
“You will never leave this plantation while I am alive. And should I die before you, which let me say with your circumstances is quite unlikely, then I will sell you to a man who makes me look like a merciful god. Are we clear?”
Isaac says nothing.
Master Whitley smiles pleasantly, and turns his back to us. “Now Harold, show them the plantation and take them to their quarters for the night. Tomorrow, you wake bright and early, ready for work.!”
Harold finally removes the chains from my ankles and wrists, and I sigh in relief. My flesh has been ground and is sore.
He lets the slaves out of the crate, and they hop out reluctantly, some even having to be dragged out.
What could be worse than being trapped in a crate for days, you may ask?
All in good time. You’ll see.
“Let’s get moving ye runts. Welcome to the Whitley Plantation.”
He walks us to the fields. I notice the slaves are still working, despite the heavy winds and rain.
“First things first. There is no such thing as too hungry. Too cold. Too hot. I don’t care if it’s bloody hailin out there and the frost’s chillin ye very core. Weather doesn’t matter- I expect me a many pounds of cotton by the end of the day. Any less then what I ask and...” Harold trailed off sickeningly.
“Right. Over there y’ell take your cotton sacks to be weighed.” He points to a small house.
“And over here are your quarters. Complementary living, won’t charge you a thing.” He laughs to himself, and I vividly imagine myself strangling him.
“Women in the quarters over there--” he points to a set of shacks directly ahead, “children by the manor house--” he points back where we came from as if we missed the giant white mansion, “and men to the right. Day’s work ends in five, so ye lucky runts start tomorrow.”
“Sleep well” he smiles, baring his crooked teeth, and walks back to the manor house whistling.
Ruth grabs my arm. “Stay with me, Alice. I dinnae want to be alone in this hellhole.”
I nod, offering a small smile. “I’ll be there in a mo. Need to speak with Isaac.”
“Take care of yourself. I’ll see you around, okay?” I say to Isaac.
“Lis. I’ll get us out of this. I’m not letting any fucker ever tell me what to do again, you hear me?”
I smile. I don’t believe him, but for the sake of his stupid teenage pride, I’ll smile.
“Get some rest. We’ll need it.” I say, hugging him and heading towards the quarters.
I enter the shack, to see a few other women already inside. Most of them are older than me, around Ruth’s age. There are around 12 pillows lying on the floor. When I say floor, I mean glorified planks of wood poorly strung together. There are leaks in the roof, and water drips into the room.
There is a small stove against one of the walls, to provide measly warmth. Most of them are huddled around it, but I notice that none of them are talking. They’re conserving energy, I guess, so I decide to just choose my corner and sleep.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
I glare at the hole in the roof.
It’s going to be a long night.