Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sinister Fruit, Part One

“Oh Lord,” Sang a rich baritone, echoed by perhaps another dozen as the singers all hacked away at the sugarcane in unison, feet sloshing through water as they slowly made their way across the five mile stretch of Sugar Lake, better known as the Winthrope Plantation.

“Oh Lord help me now…” The man sang aloud, hacking at an unruly stalk with his machete as best he could, taking the severed stalks and placing them into a loosely woven sling, full of similar stalks. “I just need His strength Lord, to keep my back as strong this here cane now.”
We all hack a little faster as the carriage, the Master’s jet black carriage with the weird drawing on the roof, came rolling down the path.
It rolls to a stop, the lone black stallion stomping impatiently at the driver’s reigns. The driver, a hulking brute of a man that always seemed to be dressed in clothes a size too small for him, climbed down from the bollock, and moved over to the door.
“Ya’ll stop and gather round now!” The driver called his thick Russian accent and bullfrog voice echoing far and wide. We all immediately begin weaving our way through the stalks to walk up to the rise of dirt that served as a road between the Sugar Lake and the Rice Fields. The lead singer, a tall man with the body of Olympian soldier, honed from years of serving in Sugar Lake, stood in the forefront, arms crossed.
Everyone called him Billie, but nobody knew what name the White men had given him when they first had him. Whenever the Master wanted something done, they’d always call on Billie to get it done. He divided the labor between the hundred-odd slaves the plantation, sending the younger girls and older men into the two fruits fields, while he sent the men to the Rice Fields and Sugar Lake, the two most dangerous tasks due to the constant dampness of your feet, and due to snakes and leeches.
Billie paid no mind to the leeches, as he knew his blood wasn’t his anyway. And he killed the snakes just to spare his brothers and sisters in chains the pain of a venom induced death, or worse, the searing lash of the whip for failing to pull in half your weight in crops a day.
Billie just tried to make sure that he kept his friends and family safe from the Devil, their Master.
The driver stood by the opened door for a moment and, upon seeing that nobody was stepping out he stuck his head into the carriage, a brief and hushed conversation being held in the darkness of the vehicle before the driver pulled his head out again. “Billie, get in the Carriage. Got a job for you to do.”
Billie moved automatically, dropping his woven bag and gathered sugar cane at the water’s edge, along with his machete, before climbing up the dirt banks to be able to approach the carriage. The driver gave him a mocking bow before ushering him into the chill box, closing the door behind him.
Billy sat in a darkened room of black silk and lace, his mud caked feet leaving smears all over the black wooden floor. The only light within the entire carriage was from a single candle, hanging from the middle of the carriage like a miniature chandelier. The smell of the carriage was like that of a rotting beast, but Billie was used to it.
Billie was called in often.
“So Billie,” The Devil said, slinking a scant few inches closer to the light, so that the side of its face could be seen. Billie had never been able to determine his Master’s gender, due to the creatures propensity to lurking in the darkness. “I see the crops have been light so far, and with the Jubilee but a scant few weeks away!”
Its tone was that of genuine concern, though not for its crops, nor the damned Jubilee held every year this time in Virginia. He knew the Devil loathed it, just as it loathed the spirituals the slaves sang whenever it wasn’t around. The slender features of his Master were like those of a wrinkled mannequin: stiff, no emotion or feeling breaking through the icy mask it wore.
“We getting’ it in on time Master, don’t you fret none.” Billie said, bowing his head as he spoke to it. He hated when their eyes met, and he got a glimpse of the darkened orbs.
“I’m sure you will Billie, I’m sure you will.” The Devil agreed, licking its lips with a long, sinuous black tongue, like a black snake emerging from fresh snow. “I have a job for you Billie.”
Billie just looked down at his feet, knowing what this goddamned creature was going to ask him to do.
“I need you to select one of your healthier women, a virgin preferably. I need to know which one by tomorrow afternoon.” He continued, its silky voice seeming to rub at Billie’s shoulders, to ease the tension, the stress of what he was being told to do. “Do this, and there will be a month where the meals are doubled in size for everyone, and no unnecessary punishments for a week.”
It always made the offer sweet, tempting. Asking every few months or so for one person from the slaves, always with different qualities, and asking Billie to help it do what it loved to do.
“The full moon will be at its apex tomorrow night. Tell the Driver her name and number, and then tomorrow night bring her to the tree. You know which tree, don’t you Billie?”
“Yes Master.”
“Say it for me Billie,” it crooned, closing its eyes as if expecting some rare treat to come from the tired and dirtied slave.
“Devil’s Hand.” Billie grunted out, knowing what saying it would do.
His Master sucked in a shuddering breath before letting loose a long series of high-pitched giggles, a smile splitting its long face as the twin darkened orbs gazed at Billie from a mere two feet away. “Thank you Billie. Tell the rest of the slaves to go rest for the next three days. They’ll be earning it soon.”
Billie didn’t wait to be dismissed, and pushed his way from the cart, dropping to the dusty path with a cloud of dust and dirt rising up, the carriage already beginning to move, as the Driver had apparently already climbed back up onto the bollock, taking the reins in his meaty hands. The carriage door flapped awkwardly until a long ebon cane lashed out, snagging it by the handle and pulling it closed, the carriage going on its way towards the manor.
The men and women groaned, some breaking into tears, when Billie told them they had the next three days off, and to go on home and rest. As the men gathered their supplies, Billie’s eyes scanned the horizon until he found what he was looking for.
A large tree resting at the top of a low hill, with five sturdy branches forming what looked like a clawed hand to the heavens. In the brightness of the day, he could see how barren that tree was, not a leaf on it nor a blade of grass within twenty yards of it. Old rope hung from the branches, flashes of memory flooding through Billie’s mind at the sight of the strangest, most bitter fruit of the South. The fruit grew from trees watered with the blood and tears of his people, swinging softly in the wind until it decided they’d been their long enough.
. Billie was always the one sent to check on the bitter old tree, to clean it’s smooth surface once a week with foul smelling oils and soaps. He always avoided the palm, but made certain to clean every bit of the tree otherwise, even the high branches, which Billie swore were taller every week.
Billie was a good man. He’d look out for his people as a whole as best he could.
Even if it meant losing one every once in a while to his sick Master.

The following day Billie told the Driver of his selection, and began chatting to the girl in question. Her name was Carly, and she had just reached the age of fourteen last week, her short cropped hair and lean figure a result of working the orchards for the past several years.. Carly looked up to Billie with obvious lust, and so it was easy to coax her away from the communal fire the slaves gathered around every night, cooking stews and telling stories passed down from generation to generation. Right now all of the older slaves, weathered and weary, looked upon Billie with a mixture of loathing and pity, as they knew what he was doing talking to Carly, especially after his announcement of a week free of labor and double rations for everyone. Still, they remained silent; they knew it had to be this way.
What other choice did they have?
The younger slaves, like Carly, didn’t know why their elders were in such poor spirits, even when they broke out their secretly brewed ales, spreading them amongst the gathered crowd freely, as one elder would stand at a time and tell tales of unity, of pride and of diligence. Billie made certain to keep edging towards the outer reaches of the crowd, where the shadows danced devilishly upon their primitive and unkempt dwellings, a gift from their “loving” Master. Carly pf course followed him, like a bloodhound that had caught the scent if a fox, she stalked him as he walked towards one of the smaller huts he had claimed, a clay jug in his hand that gave off the sweet smell of fermented apples.

“Carly,” He said gruffly, looking over his shoulder in the near darkness at the beautiful young maiden, “Would you like to see something strange?”

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