Chapter 26: Benji Ross
1850 – Dorchester County, Maryland, America
I’m going to make it, I’m going to make it. The hope wrapped around my brain as I ran. The sun was gettin’ brighter but the long golden rays still hadn’t come over the peak. I’m going to make it, I’m going to make it. My foot hit somethin’ soild and my body flew through the air. I landed hard, CRACK! The air was slammed out of me as I hit the ground.
“Benji?” I heard someone hiss. I looked around and saw Robert and Harry huddled together in the shadow of a big gum tree. It was then I realized what my foot had hit was Harriet. “She’s havin’ one of her spells,” Harry said in a low voice. I scrambled over to my brothers and sat close to them.
“How long we wait?” Robert asked.
“Until she wakes up,” I hissed back.
“But it’s gettin’ light.”
“Yea, I know.” The mood between us was startin’ to elevate.
“I’m scared,” Harry said.
I could see the others were asleep in the copse. We huddled there for what seemed like hours but I know was only minutes ‘cause the sky was still barely light. Like a fish bein’ takin’ from water, Harriet’s mouth opened and closed. She gulped the air and then her eyes flew open wide. In one fluid motion, a pistol came out from her coat pocket and she was wide awake. She looked around, gettin’ her bearings.
“Ya’ all made it,” she said.
“You got a gun?” I heard Harry squeak.
Harriett jumped up and tore off the road, runnin’ into the bush. “C’mon, hurry!”
It only took a half-a-heartbeat ‘fore we shook Sarah and Jane. They snapped alive in a split second, an’ we were all on the run through brush where there weren’t no trail.
Twigs snapped at our ankles and twice I almost fell since we couldn’t see the rocks at our feet. We came out the woods onto the banks of a river. Harriet just plunged in. She held the pistol over her head and kept moving until the water was up to her chin. We all knew she was the shortest except for the children. Robert kept givin’ me the side eye and then lookin’ back to Harriet.
“I can’t,” Jane squealed, “I’ll drown.” Harriet had made it past the half way point by then.
Lookin’ at the sun comin’ up I knew there was no choice. “We can’t wait,” I said and took the baby from Sarah and headed into the water. I put the babe up on my shoulders, still asleep. Sarah followed me. Robert had their oldest up on his shoulders and headed in, too.
“C’mon, you can do it,” Harry offered his hand and Jane took it. They moved into the flow together.
Once we were all on the same side, Harriet motioned for us to follow her up a path. The trail through the thick woods opened up and there were two houses standin’ facin’ each other. I could see a lantern lit in one of the front rooms. By then, the sun had half cleared the horizon.