“Who are you?” I ask frantically, “what are you doing?”
One of the men comes closer, and pulls down the bandana concealing his face.
“Rescuing you, of course” winks Jarrah.
THIS CHAPTER IS FROM JARRAH’S POV. JUST TO AVOID CONFUSION, REMEMBER THAT :)
“By attacking my driver? What’s the point? How are we gonna get out of the plantation anyway? There’s guards at the main gate” says Alice frantically.
“Permit papers, of course” I respond obviously. I mean, she’s cute and all but she can be kind of thick sometimes.
I pull out the slip my dad wrote and read it to her.
I, John Whitley, hereby begrudgingly give permission for this young Negro woman to exit the estate upon court orders from Arthur Jackson’s bastard of an attorney.
Alice quirks an eyebrow at me.
“Well, it says most of that,” I laugh.
“Alright, Isaac. Toss me the key from the driver’s belt,” I say, and he does so.
I unlock the crate she’s in, and Alice is about to get out when I hold her back.
“Stay inside,” I say.
“What are you doing?” she hisses.
“Saving your ass. Isaac, get in the cage.”
“What? I’m not getting in that jail cell,” he spits, “who do you think you are, your father? Alice, get out. He’s just--”
“I am nothing like my father,” I interrupt angrily.
“Listen, we have to get past the main gate. And we can’t do that unless I dress up like the driver, and you two are the slaves I’m ‘taking’ to Mississippi alright? So get in.”
“The court order calls for a young Negro woman,” Isaac points out.
I look Isaac up and down. “I don’t see the problem” I say cheekily. Alice stifles a laugh, and a sense of pride rushes through my body at amusing her. It always does.
Isaac glares at me, and my smile immediately falls.
“Jarrah, we have two minutes before someone passes by and sees the cart’s stopped. You and me both know I can’t get in that cage.”
I ruffle my hair nervously, finally acknowledging his point.
“Go without me” Isaac says, “I’ll hold off anyone who comes this way.”
“No” I protest instantly, “shut up with that kind of talk. I promised to get you both out and I am, alright? Now. Isaac. It’s about a minute’s drive to the main gate. Can you hang on at the bottom of the cart that long? They shouldn’t see you like that.”
There’s a flaw in that plan, and we all know it. The guards check under the carts for security measures. There’s a reason my dad’s plantation has an impeccable reputation. No one escapes without outside help. I’m just hoping Isaac’ll take the risk.
He looks at Alice for confirmation before crawling under the cart, and she nods with a comforting smile.
There it was--that look in her eye. It’s different, how she feels about him. I know it. Sometimes, I wonder if she’ll ever--
I shake my head to clear my thoughts and focus on getting her out safely.
We’re from two different worlds. Even if I escape with her, how am I supposed to tell her that I’ll never be allowed back home? That I’ll never see anyone from my family again, because I’ll be a wanted criminal?
She’d never let me help her if she knew.
Why am I doing it? Cause I’m crazy about her and I hate myself for it. But what I hate more is looking out that window and watching her work every morning. Waking up and hearing the lashes, always wondering if they’re directed at her, if she’s being punished for bringing in a pound less of cotton than she ought to, or just entertaining the overseer’s sadistic fancy. It’s a fear I haven’t been able to shake since the day I met her. But worst of all--knowing that if I don’t do something, she might be in chains the rest of her life. She’s strong and fierce, and she doesn’t deserve any of what fate’s given to her. It’s a sick business my dad’s in, and I’d rather lose my entire family than be a part of it.
Focus Jarrah, focus.
Isaac crawls under the cart, and grabs on to the wooden planks. Once he’s securely hanging on, I make my way to the driver we tied up. I grab the cap from his head, and put it on to be more convincing. I take his whip and pocket it uncomfortably. I don’t like carrying weapons, especially whips.
I sit at the driver’s seat, and grab the reins for the horses. I beckon them forward as gently as I can, my hands tingling at the ropes I’m holding. It feels strange sitting in a slave cart, and holding this power. I don’t like it.
We approach the main gate, where two guards stand. It’s locked, I notice nervously.
“Halt! What’s your business?” they ask.
“Here to return this young Negro woman to her plantation in Mississippi upon court orders.
“Papers?” they ask.
I fumble with the permission slip in my pocket, before shakily handing it to them.
The guard with the paper squints at me suspiciously. “Say, you look awfully young to be a cart driver.”
I pull my cap lower down my head, hoping they don’t recognize me as my dad’s son. My palms are sweaty, but I try and keep my calm.
“Just needed the money,” I grunt, hoping I’m convincing.
“Don’t we all,” he mutters. I chuckle, trying to lighten his mood.
The guard moves to inspect the cage. He eyes Alice, and asks, “Sure you’ve got the right nigger?”
I come to stand beside him, my heart beating so fast I’m worried it’ll rip out of my chest. “Of course,” I say nervously, “why wouldn’t I?”
“Well I’d hardly call her a woman, now would I? Just look at her,” he laughs loudly.
I chuckle with him halfheartedly, Alice’s eyes shooting daggers at me.
The guard gets on his knees to check under the wagon for slaves hanging on. Slaves like Isaac. Frantically, I look at Alice, both of us thinking of a distraction. They can’t see him, not now, on the brink of freedom.
Alice spits at the guard’s shoes angrily. “You’re right, I think you look more like a woman.”
The guard immediately gets up and sticks his hands through the cage, grabbing her wrist. “Oi, nigger! Watch where ya drool yer filth!” he yells. Alice glares back at him defiantly, tugging her wrist away.
The guard comes closer to me and says, “best keep her in check, ye know? Yer young and you dinnae know much, so I’ll let ye in on something.” He grabs the whip from my pocket, and thrusts it into my hands.
“Use it if ye have to. Or even if ye don’t. It’s all the same to these animals, I suppose,” he says.
My blood boils and my fists are clenched, but I smile back at him pleasantly. Because Alice just saved Isaac.
“Well, all seems to be in order.” He beckons to the other guard to unlock the gate.
I retreat to my seat, sweat beads forming on my forehead. I nod to the guard as a greeting, and make my way forward. I can see freedom now, behind the tall, imposing bars of steel, and I’m excited. Really, I’ve been in one huge cage my whole life. These fences, this entire plantation, wasn’t just to keep the slaves in, it was to keep me from going out.
Today, I’m not the only one that’s freed.
“Stop!” says the other guard, and I swear under my breath.
“Yes?” I ask coldly.
“Say, wasn’t it Eric who came in from Mississippi? What’s happened to him?”
“Well, he’s asked me to replace him. Got a fever is all,” I lie.
The other guard frowns at me, coming closer and taking off my cap. “Why, you aren’t a bloody slave driver. This is John’s boy, this is!” I jump out of the cart, and sprint to the guard to stop him from closing the gate. My fist connects with his jaw, hard, and the guard stumbles backward. My blood is boiling. They aren’t taking this away from us, not now.
“Why you little--” I move to the side, waiting for the first guard to attack. The other guard runs over, but I watch him tumble to the ground, surprised to see Isaac roll out from under the wagon and tackle him.
Good, I think. One less person to worry about.
The guard advances again, and I block his next punch with my arm, but he thrusts with so much force that I stumble backward and trip. I roll out of his reach, getting to my feet quickly. Memories of my time in the army come flooding back to me. Keep your arms up, put an obstacle between you and your opponent. Bend your knees. This man may be heavier, but you’re quicker and lighter. Use your size to your advantage.
“Come on!” yells Alice, and a course of adrenaline rushes through me.
The guard charges at me, and this time I’m not quick enough. He turns and kicks my stomach, hard. I take his proximity to my advantage, landing a punch right in his throat. He is nearly winded, and lets out a loud cry of pain.
Follow the flow of your opponent, don’t attack, instead defend and wait for an open moment and strike. The guard swings another punch, which misses me by a hair, leaving him weak and exposed for only a second. I take the opportunity to swing at the man’s gut, but he intercepts it, instead grabbing my wrist and pinning me to the ground. He punches my face, hard. Instant, searing pain courses through my veins, and I struggle helplessly trying to get out of reach. He hits my nose next, and blood runs down my face. My vision goes fuzzy for a moment. He kicks my side, so I roll over onto my stomach, letting out a bloody cough. I’m about to retaliate when the guard pulls out a Colt Revolver from his pocket, aiming it toward my head. My whole body instantly freezes, as if a single movement will make him pull the trigger.
“Stop! Both of you!” the guard yells angrily. I turn my head slightly to see Isaac holding the other guard in a headlock, with a knife pressed closely to the guard’s gut.
I don’t know where he got the blade.
Isaac, upon seeing me on the ground, swears.
“Let him go,” says the guard.
Isaac frowns, “you first.”
“You are in no bargaining position, nigger,” the guard warns.
“Am I not? I’m just a slave, sure. But that there is your master’s son. I’d let us go if I were you. Drop the gun.”
The guard fires a shot in the air, defiantly proving he means business.
I hear Alice yelling faintly in the background, but I find myself unable to see her. I struggle to open my eyes, to make sure she’s okay. My edges are blurring, and the voices getting fainter.
I watch as Isaac pockets the blade, and pulls out the other guard’s Colt from his pocket.
“You shoot, I shoot. And your boss ain’t gonna be too pleased if his only heir’s dead. Drop your gun.”
Reluctantly, the guard drops the Colt Retriever and steps away from me. I watch Isaac release the man from his headlock, and run towards me, gun still pointed at the guards. Hastily, I pick up the other Colt incase they get any ideas. Isaac drags me to the wagon, putting me on the driver’s seat securely and instructing me to aim the gun while he takes the reins.
I watch as the guard runs to the gate and tolls the alarm, signalling an escape.
I’ve heard this sound, and I know what follows next. Isaac whips the horses at full speed, trying to distance us as much as we can from our pursuers and get us out of sight and distance from guns. We flee into the forest, the bumpy road slowing us down, trying to stop us from leaving.
I groan at the bumping, my head throbbing painfully.
“Jar, you alright? Jarrah, talk to me! JARRAH!”
The last thing I hear is the barking of dogs.
* * *