I shake on the spot, my lower lip trembling. The voice is familiar, but I can’t place it.
“Who are you?” I ask.
“You mean you don’t recognize me?”
* * *
Slowly, I turn to face the voice. Upon recognition, my eyes open wide and I clasp my hand over my mouth.
“It can’t be you...no...I don’t understand...” I trail off helplessly.
“Thought you could escape me, did you? No...I’ll never forget. You ruined my job. You...embarassed me in front of the whole plantation. And you thought I’d never get my revenge. But there’s a law since. ” He laughs grimly, pausing for effect.
“And I can take you back.”
Greasy black locks with chubby, short posture. The man who haunts my nightmares is back.
Frederick found me.
He grabs my wrist and drags me towards the manor house.
I try and yell, but he quickly muffles me until I quiet down. My blood is boiling, and I’m panicking now. My eyes dart left and right, but I know there’s nowhere to run. How did he find me all the way in Kentucky, three years later?
“How did you track me?” I hiss.
“Didn’t your dear mum teach you to keep yer friends close, and yer enemies closer?”
He doesn’t elaborate. What does he mean? I haven’t told anyone about--.
I pause to gather my thoughts. Well, almost anyone. I told Ava about me being from Jackson Plantation. About me and Isaac getting away. I trusted her. We spent weeks together in the manor house...she...was a frail, old lady. I didn’t think...
My suspicions are confirmed when I gaze upon her, sitting on the porch steps with a glazed look in her eye.
“You told him...you told him where I was. You tricked me into meeting you alone tonight...you...”
She responds solemnly. “There’s a saying in this plantation--money is the best currency.”
I frown. “You sold me out for money? What the hell do you need that for?”
“I have kids you know. They can...they can buy their freedom now.” Her face is unreadable.
I remember the advice John Parker gave me, years ago...
“Walk lightly, carry little, and don’t talk to anyone, not even fellow blacks, about who you are, and where you’ve come from. Remember the Fugitive Act. People will do anything to earn a pretty penny around here.”
Ava turns to him. “Now, the money, Frederick.”
He pauses to consider her words. “I wouldn’t be so sure about that. I mean...you are only a slave. And I’m not buying her from you. She is technically mine.” He sighs. “I’ve changed my mind.”
“WE HAD A DEAL, YOU MANGY CUR!” she growls and lunges at him. He grabs her by the wrist and pulls her frail body easily to the ground.
“I lied,” he states, dragging me to the steps of the manor house. A man stops him from entering.
“Frederick of Jackson Plantation, here on business from Mister Jackson ’imself.” He pulls out a letter from his pocket, and hands it to him.
“Just a moment,” says the guard, and he disappears into the house. We wait on the porch, Frederick looking at me with a gleam in his eye. I notice a deep scar on his cheek, from where I slashed him three years ago.
“Miss me?” he asks jovially.
I spit on his shoes, earning me a harsh tug at my wrist.
Massa Whitley and the guard return, moments later. My master looks groggy and tired, entirely displeased to be awoken at this hour.
“Yes?” he asks distastefully.
“The name’s Frederick. I’ve come on business of the Jackson Plantation. We received word you were holding one of our slaves ’ere. And well, we’d like her back.”
“And from whom did you receive word?” Whitley spits.
Frederick points to Ava, who’s still shivering on the ground.
“I’ll deal with you later for this, you ignorant bitch.”
Dick clears his throat. “The slave, sir?”
Whitley’s eyes fall upon me, as if recalling who I am.
“Yes, we want her back.”
“Oh? Well you can’t have her back. I bought her fairly, three years ago. She isn’t yours.”
Ironic as this is, I’m silently praying that Whitley wins this fight. I can’t be split from Isaac...and Jarrah. Not now.
“I have a letter from Jackson ‘imself, if ye don’t believe me, claimin’ ownership an all. Also, accordin to tha Fugitive Slave A--”
Whitley grabs the letter from Frederick.
“So it seems. Unfortunately for you, however”--Whitley rips it into shreds in front of our eyes--“Mister Jackson can take it up with me in court, then.”
Frederick looks utterly outraged. His buggy eyes seem even bigger, and his cheeks are burning red. “HOW DARE YOU--WHY I--”
“Goodnight, Frederick.” He turns to his guard. “Winston, will you see this man out, please? And deal with this troublesome old lady.”
“And you, girl. Back to your quarters. Morning comes early in the summer, you know.”
I hear Ava being dragged off somewhere, probably to be punished from causing the trouble.
Her defiant screams fill the night, and I feel a grim satisfaction.
* * *
I walk back to my quarters glumly, turning back to face the manor house. I scan its windows, looking for one room in particular--when I see a curtain open. Jarrah stares back at me, alarm written across his face. He closes it after a moment, and I’m left to wonder if I’m all alone in this mess.
I find my feet instead carrying me to Isaac’s quarters. Just as I’m about to enter, I realize--what if I don’t tell him? What if nothing comes out of it..and...he just gets worried? He is troubled enough.
Instead I change direction to the stream. I need quiet.
I face my reflection in the water, and I hate what looks back at me. I’m a mess.
Tears fall freely down my cheek, and I’m red and puffy. All my shut up memories have come flooding back. I don’t want to go back there. I don’t want to ever go back to Mississippi. It’s a step farther from Canada. People risked their lives for me-- they can’t take me.
“What a sight you are, love.”
I freeze when I hear the voice. It sounds like...it couldn’t be.
But I know I’m right. I turn and face him. His hair is messy as always, falling in a slight fringe over his left eye. His smile is lopsided and playful, and he’s muscular. His eyes twinkle brighter than the stars he looks upon.
“You’re not really...?”
Sorry, let me clarify.
My dead brother.
“Hello, Alice” he smiles oddly, “my, how you’ve grown.”
“Don’t get all pleasant with me. How are you here?”
“I don’t know, myself” he shrugs.
“Why are you here, then?” I snap.
“I don’t know that, either. I guess you just needed me.”
I close my eyes and try to shake the image away.
“You aren’t real. Go away,” I shake, tears streaming down my face. “And I definitely don’t need you. ”
What a liar I am.
“Huh. Well, I just thought you’d be happier to see me.”
The voice is lower, and comes from behind me.
I open my eyes again--and it’s not Archie, but Jarrah.
“Jar--” I begin to yell. He quickly muffles me, placing his hand over my mouth.
“Shhh” he hisses, “do you want me to get caught?”
When I calm down, he slowly lets me go.
“You idiot!” I hiss, “why would you scare me like that?”
“Me? Jesus, I heard talking downstairs and I went to see what it was. What are you doing out here all alone this late?” he frowns.
I glare at him, my head pounding. Everything is a blur.
“So...what happened?” he asks.
He searches my face, looking for an answer.
“You were crying,” he says obviously. “Alice, what’s wrong? What happened with my dad? Talk to me.”
Well, I just found out there’s going to be a court battle deciding if I stay here or go back to Jackson Plantation. AND I just saw the ghost of my dead brother, which I definitely don’t think is normal.
I’m going crazy, Jarrah.
What does he want me to say?
“Nothing is wrong. I’m fucking fantastic” I push past him, heading back to the quarters.
“Wait!” he calls.
I make it a few steps before his long strides catch up to mine. He grabs my wrist and spins me on my heel. I face him bitterly, my brows furrowed and my nose scrunched. I try to look unintimidated, but I’m short for my age and he towers over me. He searches my eyes for a few moments, before I defiantly pull away.
“Leave me alone. It’s not your job to care of me. I take care of myself just fine.”
“Fine! Go get yourself caught for all I care.” he spits.
* * *
He doesn’t chase me this time, and I’m glad for it.
I run as far as I can before I reach the boundary. I break down in tears moments later, falling onto my knees. Everything is falling apart around me. I’m stuck.
I don’t get it. I just want to get out of here. Even though I’m outside, I feel like I’m suffocating. Like there’s no air. The fences are slowly closing in on me.
I let out a scream of frustration.
* * *