The thoughts, the past, the hopelessness of what had been, what is, and what will be… they settle over me like the heavy weight of the water that’s crushing in on me.
Maybe, just maybe… this is how it’s supposed to be. The drowning, while still as painful, is becoming second nature.
I have known pain my whole life and I have endured it, but I’m weary.
If there is any life to be had, would I even want it?
The pain of that thought shoots through me but I don’t even respond. I just settle into it as it ravages my mind, my heart, my soul, and my dwindling will to survive…
We had taken every precaution in our planning. Our reading time had turned into in-depth sessions where we would plot every detail. We had three days to get it all worked out, but we did, and that’s when I realized that I’d have surely died if I had tried to escape without Tina.
For all of my imposed ignorance, I had a sharp mind, but I just didn’t have the knowledge at my disposal to know what to expect. So it became a ritual, a sacred dance, where our minds would meet and effortlessly complete each other.
Tonight was the night.
During my chores that morning, I had found her packed satchel just as she’d said I would, and carried it out with her chamber pot to our tree where I hid it.
The day would go on like any other, and it did, though it was the longest day of my life. I had no packing to do, nothing and no one to say goodbye to, but I had the first real ray of hope to warm my heart.
And while I didn’t owe anyone anything, I felt like I was abandoning the same people who had cast me out to a fate worse than death, a people with whom I still felt I belonged with, but I wouldn’t, couldn’t, do anything to save them. They had to save themselves.
Just before sunset Tina would argue with her father about her impending marriage set to take place the next day, just as she had since she’d returned from school. We both knew that she had stemmed and pushed the date back as far as she could, but it was all for show really.
She’d go to bed early with a headache, sending me to my alcove in the basement for the night. But that wasn’t what would happen.
While I made my way to our tree without drawing attention, she would make her way to the barn to free the animals and light a magnificent fire. And then do the same with the stables.
The wondrous mess of loose animals and burning buildings she would create would be all the distraction we’d need to take two of the horses and escape, but we wouldn’t be escaping through the trees. Our plans were fool-proof, and only a fool would do something so obvious.
Tina, this beautiful woman who I’d come to need, would no longer be a woman. In the satchel was a pair of shears and some clothes that I had stolen while doing laundry. A well-placed hat, an altered corset, and a slave girl would round out the perfect disguise for us to take to the roads without a passing glance until we could escape on a courier boat to England.
She’d stolen the handsome sum of gold her groom had paid for her from her father, and we had laughed at the poetic irony of that act – something so small and simple just felt so good.
I smiled as I paced in front of our tree, looking anxiously across the expansive wheat grass that stretched out in front of me. The sun had disappeared roughly two hours ago, as evidenced by the slow trek of the moon across the starry sky, and I began to get worried.
There were no licking flames filling the night sky with smoke; there were no screams or panicked calls echoing in from the distance. By all rights, it was just another late, fall night on a plantation, and my heart started to pound wildly beneath my breast.
She should have been here already.
There were myriad things that could have gone wrong, but only one was sticking out in my mind: she’d abandoned me.
But it was more than that: she’d built me up, given me hope, offered me her friendship, taught me what it meant to have kindness and purpose, shown me all of the possibilities that life could offer, and then she’d pulled them away as swiftly as a rug from under my feet.
And while part of me was screaming that it couldn’t be true, not with Tina, the bigger part of me, the angry part of me, was resolute in the conclusion that it was true, just as I had feared, and just as it had been true with Mama.
I had been played a fool, but the part of me still clinging to hope hadn’t given up yet. I waited and waited, and waited… hoping and pacing and praying that she had just been deterred.
But then it occurred to me that if she had been caught, at least one of the fires would be raging out of control. The night was still and eerily dark, and that darkness swallowed up my soul.
I looked to the edge of the forest as the first few rays of fall sun started to gray the multi-colored leaves. Yes, I had been played a fool, and there was no point in trying to be smarter than I really was. I rummaged through Tina’s satchel and quickly changed into the clothes. They were small, but I was used to having things that didn’t fit.
They covered me much better than the skirt, and that was really all that I needed against the chilly fall air, more than I’d ever known, really.
I slung the hefty, coin-laden bag over my shoulder and took off across the river and into the forest beyond, determined that if I had no other option but to be a fool, I would be a spectacular one, and I would live or die trying on my own terms.
I embraced the foolishness of my actions, just as I embraced the consequences of them. For everything I lacked, strength wasn’t one of them.
I was very strong, swift, and I could keep going on next to nothing. But there was just nowhere to go. Once I was out and on my own, I was still trapped by the fact that I couldn’t be seen.
I was a woman dressed as a man. That would be reason enough for others to pause and take notice of me, but the shade of my skin, the callousness of my hands, the fact that I was barefoot… I stuck out like a sore thumb, and there was just no way to get off the continent without being seen.
So I stayed in the forest, again trapped by the bustling city life that bloomed along its edges, not even realizing that for someone so inconsequential, I was important enough to be sought out.
Not because they actually needed me or even wanted me, but because they needed the spectacle of punishing those who try to escape.
I heard the haunting call of the hounds before I saw the men approaching behind them. I had been out in the wilderness for five days, and I had kept moving, trekking the edges of this natural sanctuary and looking for a single opening through which to escape, but there just wasn’t one.
Georgia was a hub of trading, and I was right in the center of it. The city didn’t sleep, even at night, and I found myself staring out of the forest to the river beyond with tense anxiousness most of the time. But I had relented to the weary call of exhaustion, and now I had been found.
I refused to allow myself to think about Tina. She had been banished to the lowest, darkest parts of my soul. I wouldn’t speak or think her name again. She was the embodiment of cruelty and the very reason that I was about to be captured.
I turned to run, but it was too late. They had seen me and let out a joyous call as the thrill of the hunt truly began.
What more could I do but make a break for it?
I dashed out through the mess of dense foliage nearest me and made my way straight for the river. I had no idea what I was going to do when I got there, but I had to try. Foolishness was a way of life at that point.
I just couldn’t bring myself to give up, not yet. If that was all I was going to have of freedom, I wanted all I could get of it.
I scrambled through the streets of the crowded trading town, avoiding people as best I could, but there were soldiers everywhere, and it wasn’t long before they joined in on my pursuit.
But unlike them, I had nothing to lose. And unlike them, I was fast and resourceful. My life had built me that way. But they had an advantage that I hadn’t been prepared for, at least not in a practical sense.
They had muskets…
I ran with all I had left in me, a loud ringing crash of sound reverberating through my body and stealing the breath from me with jolting intensity.
I stumbled a bit and clumsily ducked into an alley to try and dodge my new pursuers. A woman screamed and I shoved her out of my way as I pushed toward the clearing at the end of this seemingly endless and frantic attempt at… something, just something worth having.
And there, just beyond the walls on either side of me, was nothing but vast sky and open expanse – a world of welcome places to escape into.
I focused on that escape with all that I had and willed myself forward on nothing more than stubborn disillusionment.
I cried out in weak triumph as I finally passed the edge of the buildings and the sky truly opened up, but my cry quickly became one of intense pain when my lungs couldn’t fill with air anymore and my head started to swim.
I had no choice but to slow to a stop and collapse onto the brick street along the dock, the horse-drawn carriages clanking to a stuttered stop as they narrowly avoided me, and the hushed tones of murmuring voices filling the dense fog that was encroaching around me.
This I had been prepared for.
I was going to die, but I had felt the wind in my hair and I had tasted the bittersweet knowledge of what it meant to belong to myself.
How quickly my young mind abandoned all pretenses and unlocked the weak chains that bound Tina up in its depths. Even as much as I hated her for what she had done, for making me feel like I was a person when everything else in my life insisted that I wasn’t, I had to thank her in this moment for releasing me, one way or another.
I gasped for breath and felt a searing pain in my chest as I was kicked roughly, an angry voice sounding very far away as it addressed me. “Stupid nigger…”
Hot tears welled up in my narrowing vision and I smiled as I took a heavy breath and the world became a dark and peaceful expanse of glorious annihilation.
I missed her then when I thought I was tasting death, and I miss her now as I start the process all over again.
That time of my life was so tumultuous and terrible, but looking back on it, reliving it with vivid clarity, makes me ache with grief.
I wouldn’t change a thing about how we met, or how she changed me, but I had abandoned her because I didn’t believe in her, and it would be years, lifetimes, before I found out just how wrong I had been.
But by that time, I had become something that I didn’t want to live with. It seemed the timing for peace just wouldn’t find me.
It hasn’t yet, it most certainly isn’t now. But then… then was when I needed it most…
I felt thick and heavy, as if all of my bones and muscle had coagulated in the thick sack of my flesh and been left to sink hard against the floor. My breaths were slow and labored, and there was a strange taste in the back of my throat, as if I’d swallowed a purse of melted coins. My eyes refused to open. It was as if they’d been sewn shut. I didn’t try to move. I just lay there, trapped and wondering what was happening.
Waking was terrifying enough, but my terror tripled when I heard Kit’s clipped tone. “Hold still.”
A blinding flash of angry pain shot through my torso and the smell of rot twitched in my nose as I cried out.
It stopped, finally, but there was no relief to be found beyond that of sharp breaths. “Mm-hmm, well, you deserve whatcha get for runnin’ like ya did…”
Why wasn’t I dead? Was there just no escaping? I wasn’t supposed to live through any of this, at least not here.
All of this was for nothing, and the clump in my throat soured as I cursed Tina’s very existence. She gave me a hope that I couldn’t afford, and I just wanted to die, but she had stolen it all away as quickly as she’d offered it.
It took a moment, but I was finally able to voice that request, in a breathless plea.
“Please, Kit…” I tried to lick my impossibly dry lips. “…please… just let me die…”
I was holding onto consciousness by little less than a thread, but I heard her reply and took it with me into the darkness that was closing in.
“Sorry, child, but the massa wants ya healthy so’s he can learn ya a lesson.”
Her words started to sink into my lethargic mind but the terror of what they truly meant only owned me for a moment before I blacked out.
I came to with a start. It was as if the fright that had started to build before I lost consciousness had taken my down time to stew and fester and rot. And when I woke, it was so far into the darkness that was becoming my soul that it had become an entirely new creature – tangible and living within me as a host until it replaced me altogether.
True to myself, true to the innate survival instinct that is encoded in all of us, I shut down.
But my darkness, it was different this time because it was complete, whole. I had nothing, not even my mind anymore, so I gave up.
I was alive so that I could be toyed with and tortured… to become a cautionary tale for all slaves that had any notions of being treated with even slight dignity. I couldn’t and wouldn’t allow it. I’d sit here and I’d die… as if I could will such a thing to happen.
I focused on my heart, telling it, demanding that it stop, that it realize how useless and fruitless the next pounding thump would be, but it just wouldn’t hear me. And it just wouldn’t obey…
I went still, determined that if I sat still long enough, eventually I would fully disappear. I had no idea how long it would take, but the smell alone might keep my tormentors at bay long enough to allow me to cease.
I rolled my head to the side, closed my eyes, and settled into the cesspool that my life had become until weariness turned it all off…
Just like then, I am using the same philosophy now. I will stay still. I will let oblivion have me, force it to take me. I will eventually desiccate to the point of extinction; I just have to be patient, and all I have is time.
The water… it doesn’t matter. The exploding ache in my chest – it doesn’t matter. Not even my thoughts matter, but I have no way to stop them as they continue to bombard me, remind me of who I am, where I’ve been, where I am, what I know, and how it’s all so hopeless.
Lying still and wishing for death only worked while I was recovering. My stubbornness when I was expected to move proved to be the first of my broken spirit to be put on display.
I was numb with cold and an ache so deeply rooted that it was almost peaceful. My body, my heart, they refused to fail, but mainly, I wasn’t dead because I still had a purpose.
I had been set in the stocks two days ago, the biting cold removing all external feeling. I was an empty husk, a puppet, to be humiliated in the worst of ways. But at least they had to carry me here. I did nothing willingly, and at least the intense cold soothed the hot sting of my most recent whipping.
I shifted to my other foot, feeling very sleepy. I knew that I was just on the brink of succumbing to exposure and my heart felt lighter at the prospect.
Death, if only they’d allow it, was knocking, and I was ready to answer that call.
James William Kennard had no intention of allowing me that peace. My eyes had just slipped shut when I felt the cumbersome shaft of wood above my head lift. I blinked a few times and saw a set of bare feet on either side of me.
Wonderful, he’d sent for me.
I lay still as the slaves lifted me by my arms and began to drag me to one of the stalls in the stables. There was a small lantern lit in the back corner and I felt a fierce chill run through my already slowing bloodstream.
This stall… I knew what was going to happen as they bound my hands in the chains above my head. I felt the need to cry out as my locked extremities were lifted tight to the ceiling, but I didn’t, choosing instead to retreat into my mind and find a place where nothing existed.
It didn’t work, not really, but I didn’t say a word and I forced myself not to care. He could have me, he had already had me, and I knew that eventually he would tire of me and hopefully, put me down like a lame horse.
I was faced towards the wall and my clothes were torn away from my body, but I could hear the door open and shut. Long minutes passed, maybe an eternity, and the warmth of the room started to prickle across my skin.
I felt as if I’d been doused in acid as my muscles and nerves started to wake. I started shivering uncontrollably and clenched my jaw so tight that I feared it would snap in two. It hurt more than I could have ever imagined, but then the pain doubled.
The first whirling strike of the whip whistled through the air, giving me just enough time to tense before it struck hard, the tail end of it catching the tender flesh of my cheek and ear and tearing pieces of them away on its retreat. I felt the slow trickle of blood roll down my neck and watched in fascination as heavy, red drops fell to the earth beneath me.
Another whistling jolt, a clanking of chains, a clenched jaw, and I let my head roll forward as empty pain tore through me again.
His voice held more chill than my frozen muscles as he spoke, “I will make you scream, nigger. One way or the other…”
The whipping continued and I sunk into myself, pretending that I wasn’t real, hoping that none of this was real.
I didn’t scream, not once. Being alive was unbearable enough, but giving pleasure to him would be too much to ask of me. That didn’t stop him from taking his pleasure anyway.
A sweaty hand reach forward from nowhere and my head was jerked up by my covered mouth. His breath was putrid and hot in my ear as he reached his other hand forward and roughly grabbed at my breast.
My nerves had no idea how to register all of the differing stimuli. Everything bled together into a tincture of blinding agony and I was trapped inside of it.
I felt hard, excited flesh slide against the skin between my legs where it pierced me, and closed my eyes, focusing on the fact that I couldn’t scream.
I couldn’t let him have that part of me, even as he took everything else.
And he did… oh, how he did…
For the next three years, that is what my life became. During that time I became pregnant twice, both times the child had been murdered within my womb.
I never cried out or spoke, not to anyone, not even to Kit as she cleaned and repaired me like common field equipment.
When the master realized that he wasn’t going to get a rise out of me, he began to bring others in on it. Several of the other slaves were forced to beat me, to rape me, sometimes solitarily, and sometimes in groups.
I had no other thoughts of escape. I had no desires or wants that were beyond me. I didn’t exist anymore; my mind didn’t exist anymore, and as such, it all became a waiting game.
At twenty-one years old, I had a long wait ahead of me for life to end, but it was the last and only thing I had to cling to – an end of any kind.
I opened my eyes only to shut them quickly as the heavily clumping boots above me sent dust falling from the rafters. Master Kennard was speaking loudly with someone, a man, but I couldn’t make out what their muffled voices were saying.
I heard a scuffle before the loud bang of a gunshot, followed by a hollow thud. I sighed wistfully, wishing I had been standing in the way of that bullet and unconsciously reached a hand up to feel at the round scar on my right shoulder.
Whatever had happened upstairs, I wasn’t the least bit fazed, not at that point in my life. I didn’t even care to rub the dirt out of my eyes as I rolled towards the wall to curl in on myself and resume waiting.
But a small object fell off of my chest and I picked it up. It was a piece of folded yellow paper.
I looked up at the rafter curiously. It must have fallen…
My hands shook as I opened it wearily, straining hard to see it in the muted glow of the lantern on the table in the middle of the room. But I recognized the smooth lines of an even smoother face and the gentle wave of hair as it swept across a delicately raised brow.
For a moment I had to think, try hard to remember who she was. Her name was… Tina, I thought. I couldn’t be sure. Had I dreamed her up? No, I knew her, but not really.
I, I… there was no ‘I’, no me. I couldn’t know her because I didn’t exist. But she was familiar in that way of remembering someone else’s memories, someone else’s thoughts, someone else’s life.
I felt my guts coil and churn, either from my latest trip to the stables or the picture, I wasn’t sure. It couldn’t be emotion, or regret, or anything substantial. I wasn’t capable of such things.
My mind was reeling over the image so intently that I hadn’t noticed the shadow that had crossed the room until it had fallen on me completely.
The drawing was snapped from my hands and I looked up to see Master Kennard staring down on the image of his daughter. He was wearing his dressing gown and it was spattered with blood.
He seemed too calm as he looked at the drawing, and for the first time in a long time, I felt the disparity of my situation. I also felt the hope that maybe this would be enough for him to kill me, despite the knowledge that I would feel any and everything he could force upon me before my death.
He crumbled the picture before grabbing me by my hair and dragging me along behind him.
“I don’t know why or how you had that drawing, nigger, but you’re going to tell me.”
It was with torturous progress that I was hauled up the stairs with him. His grip was so tight that some of my hair was ripped out by the root and blood began to matt in what was left.
The kitchen was in shambles and it only got worse as he dragged me out into the night. Slaves were scattering in panic and gunshots were breaking out in the distance. I fought his grip but I was just too weak, and he didn’t relent until he threw me into the stables.
My head was swimming and I couldn’t breathe as I rolled to a stop on the straw strewn dirt. I couldn’t go through this again, and my hope grew as I realized that I wouldn’t have to.
He moved quickly as he bound my hands behind me and situated a rope that had been dangling in front of my face around my neck, shrinking it harshly against my throat where it bit into the already bruised and angry flesh.
I gloried in the pain of it – anxious, still, and waiting for him to finish his task. I felt a thrill of greedy exaltation as he grabbed the other side of the rope and jerked hard, pulling me up to my feet until they eventually swung out against the air.
“You like to stare at my daughter, nigger?”
I sputtered involuntarily, but my soul was at peace. I would know death this day. I would be free. I would see him only in hell, and there, he would be no one’s master.
He looked into my face and spittle flew from his mouth as he spit, “You want to play, whore?”
He released the rope and I collapsed back to the ground heaving. He struck me once, twice, a third time, each sending a resounding crack throughout the room echoed by the musket shots firing in the distance.
I felt the right side of my face explode and a ringing hum settled into my ear, all sound was gone as my right eye appeared to fill up until I couldn’t see out of it.
“Where did you get that drawing?! Why did you have it?!”
He yanked me up by my hair and hit me again before slamming me into the ground. I gagged on the blood pouring past my lips and my one good eye managed to focus in on the two teeth that had been expelled with it.
He started to kick me and despite the pain, I reveled in it. My body may have been as stubborn as my mind, but even it could only endure so much, and I knew it wouldn’t be much longer.
The waiting had paid off.
I barely saw his pink, pudgy face through what clouded vision I have left, but I knew he was close as his alcohol soaked breath washed over me.
“You made Chrissy queer didn’t you, whore? You put those disgusting thoughts in her head… didn’t you?” My stomach roiled as I swallowed the bile and blood flooding my mouth. “DIDN’T YOU?!”
I still didn’t speak. What could I say? I had no idea what he was talking about. He got to his feet and pulled me up again by the rope. I looked down on him as I writhed in my levitated state.
“It’s no matter, I suppose. She’s never going to be like you. You’ll never be free, nigger. I don’t care what the Yank’s say. I owned you in life, and I’ll own you in death…”
How quickly he had stolen the triumph of this moment from me. He was right, and I hated that he was about to win. Don’t misunderstand. I wanted to die; I was more than ready, but I didn’t want to take the image of his smiling face with me. I just wanted to see him die first.
I wasn’t sure how I did it, but I managed to look him in the eyes and use the voice that I’d found those ageless years ago before I’d abandoned them to my pain and anger.
“I…” It was a gagging whisper. “…will…” I wanted to choke, but I couldn’t; the last of my life nearly lost. “…see you… in… hell…”
His lip curled into a sneer before it fell into panic and the world went dark.
My eyes snap open and the choking feeling of long stored memories collides with the harsh reality of the now. I can’t help the furious scream that’s pushed out of my anxious lungs or the violent thrashing that spills out of my soul.
I strike at my tomb with all of the strength that I have left in me, the coppery taste of my own blood coating my throat with the salty water.
It does nothing to help me, to revitalize me as only blood can, and losing more of it is only going to further desiccate me, but I don’t care.
I just want it to stop.
“FUCK!” I scream and lash out more violently and the water is wholly unaffected, just like the iron cage around me.
They mock me, all of it does, and I even mock myself as I succumb to a death that will not truly find me, no matter how I wish for it.
A heavy wave of dizziness rolled over me. I felt as if I’d been poisoned and my body was heavy with the weight of a slow and agonizing death.
My heart was beating frantically as it tried to leap from my breast and I felt hot, as if I’d been lit on fire. I licked my parched lips and groaned. My tongue felt fuzzy and sticky and my mouth was watering thickly with intense thirst.
My heart moved its pounding into my head and the throb of it was settling in deep. I lolled my head to the side and focused in on what was around me, forcing my body into the background. That’s when I heard a choking groan.
That wasn’t me.
I frowned as I tried to pry my eyelids open. The dim light stung far too sharply, as if I’d looked right into the Georgia sun, and I winced as I shut them quickly.
I gave myself a moment before the choking sound grew frantic. I tried again, and managed to open my eyes into thin slits. The world around me was bleary, as if I was viewing it through the rippling waters of a stream, but I managed to focus in on the small, dark figure a few feet in front of me. It appeared that a figure, a woman, a small woman, was holding a large man up in the air, and that just wasn’t possible.
I squinted in the muted glow of the lantern light, and couldn’t believe my eyes, even as my vision processed the clearing image.
There was indeed a woman; I was sure of it, and the man in her grasp was easily twice her size, though she held him up in the air by his throat is if he were a rag doll.
He squirmed and clawed weakly at her before she pulled him forward and seemed to tear into his throat like the master did with Christmas turkey legs. I watched in shocked disbelief as she tore his head from his very shoulders with a single quick and fluid movement and leaned her own back, hissing in… pleasure?
I didn’t believe it, I couldn’t, but the snapping, tearing sound still echoed in my ears as the gruesome scene continued. She tossed the head as casually as a small stone, and I watched as it thudded wetly against the hard dirt floor and rolled toward me.
I wanted to move back, away, but my body wouldn’t respond to those kinds of demands and panic forced my heart into a thundering gallop.
That’s when I noticed the other bodies littered around: slaves, soldiers… some whole, some in pieces.
She looked to me, this small woman… creature… and her wide grin sent a cold chill down my prickling spine. She approached me, kneeling down next to me and stroking my face as I gazed up to her with wide and terrified eyes.
Her eyes… what was wrong with her eyes?
She smiled again and her teeth were… sharp, inhuman… I cried out as intense pain went shooting through my own mouth, blood welling up and spilling out from the open cavern as I cried out.
I panted and glanced at this demon hovering over me. What was she doing to me? Had I died? Had I… was I… in hell?
I lifted a limp limb and managed to feel my gums. Thick torrents of blood flowed from what felt like bone pushing through the skin.
Her teeth… I couldn’t catch my breath, even as the pain peaked and subsided, but that wasn’t the worst of it.
Intense anguish washed over my entire body. I swear that I felt my very spine squirming and wriggling inside of me like a snake caught in a river net. I rolled to my side and curled in on myself as a hand stroked the wet, matted hair from my forehead in an almost loving manner and I cried out, in fear or pain… I had no way to know.
My back… it was as if several years of whippings were happening at once and I just couldn’t take it.
My heart lurched, and I heard a delicate voice. “Shh… it will be over soon.”
My heart stuttered and there was a silent moment of clarity that brought with it extreme gratitude.
I was dead, nearly there. I felt my heart seize up painfully, completely, and it stopped altogether.
I opened my eyes and the world around me was clear and vibrant. I felt… incredible… indestructible. My muscles felt dense but light, the pains of indignation nowhere to be found in my normally broken frame.
I must have finally died…
I looked around slightly confused and lifted my head to take in the space. The rope was still dangling from the beam in the ceiling, and the sounds of war were in full swing outside. The carnage that I remembered… I remembered… and I felt a thrill of what should have been panic run through me, but my heart wasn’t in it.
I reached quickly to my breast. My heart… there was no steady thump, no throbbing ache, just a hollow and silent void.
I considered getting to my feet so that I could run, only to find that my body had already obeyed the idle thought effortlessly. I looked down at my hands… no callouses. My arms were smooth and slightly paler than they had been. I could smell the burned wood and ash that hung in the air like a blanket, but it was the heavy aroma of something other that stole all other thoughts from me.
I shut my eyes as I pulled it in deeply, imprinting it onto my memory, though it seemed as if instinct had already programmed it for me. It smelled of death and life, of the sacred and the earth; it was all around me, but this, this was… fresh. It was sickly sweet and my body responded to it, turning to locate it with inscrutable accuracy.
There, in the corner of the stables, was master Kennard, bound, gagged, and terrified of the small woman hovering over him.
He whimpered and I could smell his fear radiating out through his sweat and blood. I couldn’t begin to understand why, but I breathed in again, letting it wash over the back of my throat before locating the trickling stain of crimson at his temple.
His smell was rich but sour and I felt my nose crinkle in distaste. Everything about this human repulsed me…
I puzzled at my choice of distinction before the woman next to him smiled coolly at me and tugged him sharply to his knees.
She cocked her head as we studied each other and our eyes locked. She had long, straight, black hair; her eyes were so blue that they looked other-worldly. Her skin glowed with life and she didn’t look a day over seventeen. Her frame was small, but I could see the strength that coiled in the petite set of her shoulders. She was wholly unassuming, almost childlike, until I tracked my eyes to the red, viscous trails running from her full lips to her collarbones and disappearing into the gore spattered over her dress from seemingly all angles.
I felt a pang of irrational heat flush out from my stomach and settle as a buzzing in my hips, and her grin widened… too wide, revealing a row of straight, white teeth, two points extended menacingly.
She easily picked master Kennard up by his collar and threw him to me. He landed in a whimpering heap at my feet and I gazed down on him for a moment, considering what was happening before looking back up to her. She moved with feline grace as she stalked forward; it was almost as if she was floating.
Her voice was warm, its timbre chilling and soothing, and the smell of her breath intoxicatingly rich as she said, “I thought you might like a gift upon waking.”
I gazed at her hard for a moment, trying to puzzle out all of the newness that I so abruptly found myself in. Who… what, was she? Why was she here? Why had she saved me? But more than that, why did I feel so different?
I felt my mouth water as I licked my lips. Why was I staring at the blood and membrane all over her and feeling compelled to rush forward and clean it off of her with my tongue?
I met her eyes again, those cool, blue eyes, and watched fascinated as the pupils spread from each center until the whole of her sockets were black. The thin flesh around her black orbs roiled, as if small worms were gathering underneath, but it was when she smiled again, that I stepped back slightly frightened.
Her teeth, her grin, she had fangs like that of an animal… a predator.
She stepped closer and reached up to touch my face as a mother would, leaving a trail of deliciously sticky blood in her wake. I felt the desire to flee in terror, but the bigger part of me couldn’t bear the thought of leaving her. Her touch was both soothing and erotic, and I felt something deep inside of me call out to her.
Somehow, this woman who I had never met before – I, I loved her, as both mother and mistress.
She smiled sweetly, the strangeness of her contorted face now putting me at ease as she ran a thumb over my bottom lip and gave me a slight taste.
The tang of spilled life touched the bristling buds of my tongue and I felt ravenous with the need to pull life from its very substance and claim it as my own.
She made a show of licking the line of her teeth and smiled, nodding at me to do the same. I did, pulling my own hand up to confirm what I’d felt with my tongue: there were two sharp points in my own line of teeth.
Not only had the missing ones grown back, but they were sharp, straight, even… all but two… And it was with frightening clarity that I realized what was happening: she was a predator and somehow, by some strange twist of fate, I was as well.
She had… made me.
She was my maker…
She seemed to know my thoughts even before I had them. She took my face in both of her hands, and I watched in silent shock as her eyes returned to normal.
The blue of them pierced through me like a spear as she gently but determinedly reaffirmed my speculation with a confident “Yes.”
I closed my eyes, some part of me not able to process all of this. I felt her lips press against my own and opened my eyes as she pulled away. She smiled again and gestured to the creature at my feet.
Yes, he was a human. I had been right in calling him that. But I no longer was… I had evolved; I had surpassed him, and now, I would own him.
I lifted him by his throat, just knowing that I could, just knowing that the strength was there. It was effortless and I felt exhilarated. He stood on wobbly legs as I released him, and I removed the gag from his mouth.
He wasted no time begging me. “Please… please, don’t kill me! Please!”
I considered him as he shook with panic and bargained for his worthless life, not because I would consider letting him keep it, but because now that I knew that I would have what I’d always wanted, I wanted to enjoy it, to make it last.
I reveled in his terror.
I reveled in the fact that there was nothing that he could do to hurt me.
I reveled in the fact that there was nothing that he could do to save himself.
He was still pleading, his desperation reinforced by fat, pathetic tears. “Please…” He shook with sobs. “I’ll do anything… give you anything…”
I couldn’t wait anymore. It was time and I needed to feel the crunching of compressed flesh in my hands, his flesh. I needed to look into his eyes as the cruel light in them was snuffed out only to reignite in my own, and I needed to know that I’d been the one to kill him.
My hand moved faster than even I could register as it grabbed the sagging flesh of his disgusting cock and began to squeeze, twist, and pull. This motion was slow – gloriously, intentionally slow. I wanted him to feel every movement as it began to burst, crackle, pop, and snap apart. His screams grew loud and Lilith held him still as I continued.
“PLEASE! I’ll–” This particular scream smoothed over my soul like a balm. “I’LL EVEN TELL YOU WHERE CHRISSY IS! PLEASE! OH, GOD… PLEASE!”
I let up a little bit and gazed into his wet, pleading face. I didn’t even recognize my own voice as I demanded. “Tell me.”
He seemed to realize that I had something that he wanted and now he felt that he could negotiate.
“N-now see here… you, you b-back off and give me your word that you’ll let me go!”
I let go of him fully, wiping my hand over his mouth and across his face before finishing on one of the cleaner parts of his dressing gown.
He’d have fallen to his knees if not for Lilith. His voice was tired as he repeated. “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you…you won’t regret it.”
I gave him a moment to collect himself before getting right into his face and demanding one last time.
“Tell me… now.”
He shrank back and I couldn’t help the tug of a grin that played at the corner of my mouth. He didn’t answer, and however much I was enjoying myself, I was tired of waiting.
My voice was low and menacing. “Where is she?”
His eyes darted around and he jumped as a gunshot sounded just outside of the stables. The smells of war and death and mayhem had intensified, and I was losing any and all patience. I wanted to go from this place and watch as it was razed to the ground.
A Confederate soldier came busting into the barn. He had only a moment… just two words, his last words… “What the…,” before Lilith had pulled his still beating heart from his chest and begun drinking from it like a sputtering chalice. A few spurts of blood squeezed out of it, and he stared in disbelief before falling to his knees and landing hard on his face.
She turned and grinned as a small spatter of blood landed thickly on her face before she held it out to me in gracious offer. I gulped.
My nose twitched and a foul odor tainted the aroma emanating from the freak heart. I turned to look down at Kennard. He was shaking as urine ran down his leg and puddled at his feet. I was disgusted with him, and entirely bored. I went to grab his manhood again and he started talking.
“S-s-she’s with DEKE.”
The last word squeaked from his throat and I stopped my momentum. “Where’s Deke?”
He stuttered, spittle flying from his mouth and collecting on his mustache. “W-well, the Wentworth plantation! You know it! Y-you… you were there! You were part of the deal!”
I glared at him and felt my blood thrill with the need to kill him right then. “Th-they’ve been giving me slaves and gold for years! I-I… I have a gambling problem! Chr-Chrissy had to go… that was the d-deal…”
I couldn’t hear anymore. Life was worth so little to him. That was a lesson that he’d taught me well, and probably one of the most important lessons I’d learned. Without another thought, I tore his member from his body, grabbing so deeply that the organs associated with it came tumbling out after.
His scream filled up the room, and my soul… well, my soul sighed in satisfaction. It was utterly delightful and Lilith started twirling around us and laughing as it echoed throughout the room.
He fell in a heap on the floor and his cries started to wear on my nerves. I took the bloodied hunk of flesh in my hand and stuffed it into his mouth to shut him up. He gagged and I could smell the vomit at the back of his throat as blood poured from the oozing chasm between his legs and onto the same floor where I had lost any sense of my human self. It was with joy and pleasure that I cut my human life entirely free. I looked to Lilith and she smiled as she stopped her dance and reached a hand out to me. I didn’t hesitate to accept it and she casually pushed the oil lantern to the floor on our way out.
She looked to me and shrugged her shoulders, saying, “Oops.”
We laughed, and the dark but tinkling sound of hers set my blood racing.
Slaves were running everywhere, some with their arms full of pilfered items, some plowing to the ground in front of us from musket wounds, and still some loyal to their taskmasters and fighting back. I watched as Lilith grabbed one by the throat as he ran by and she cocked her head at me before the black swath covered her eyes and his cries drained away like the blood she was drinking from his now torn artery.
She pulled her head back, shoving him from her as she let out a guttural moan.
I felt invigorated, almost hysterical, maybe even crazed as I grabbed one of the others that was sprinting by in much the same manner. I recognized him. He was one that had been ordered to rape me, and he’d done it with pleasure. It was instinctual and primal, the feeling of conversion to feed. All of my senses took over as I pulled his flailing body forward and tore into his neck, his pulse thudding against my teeth as I drank deeply of the hot blood.
He clawed at me, but his hands could find no real purchase, and I crushed him to me, the snap of bones and tearing flesh making me all the more hungry. His pulse weakened and his cries died away but I wanted every last drop. A hand to my shoulder stopped me.
I pulled away, tearing the thin membrane of his neck as I obeyed Lilith’s subtle command without thought. I dropped his grotesquely contorted body to the ground and looked to her, puzzled as to why she would stop me.
She grinned. “I admire your bloodlust, but we never drink all of it. It isn’t proper.” She gestured to the chaos around us. “We aren’t the savages.” I swallowed and licked my lips, smiling at her as I turned to gaze upon the inferno that had been my place of torment. I felt a dark stirring in my soul that was disconcertingly pleasing.
“Bring that back, boy!”
I turned towards the shouting to see the house some twenty yards away. A slave was running off, his arms full of clanking metal, and Kit was chasing after him. She tripped and as soon as the thought occurred to me to catch her, I had. Her wide, surprised eyes looked me over and I could smell the flush of fear flood her blood.
“I-I…,” she said.
She wanted me to release her trembling form, and so I did. I could see and smell the different emotions mingling in her blood, but it was her anger that stood out the most.
“Well, you got whatcha wanted, ain’t you? All hell’s a’breakin’ loose.” Her face was hard as she said, “Well, g’wan. This here’s my home, and I’s stayin’ put.”
I looked deep into her eyes and realized that her fear and anger weren’t really at me, or even the warzone that her home had become. She just didn’t know what to do with freedom. She’d been through too much to ever come back… just like I had. She turned and started to walk back into the house, and I felt as though I was committing an act of kindness as I put myself quickly in front of her.
She stopped and looked up at me. “What in God’s name…?”
I put my hand up to stroke her cheek and looked deeply into her eyes. The trembling stopped as she gazed at me and I murmured, “Shh… s’okay, Kit.” She swayed a little bit but my grip was firm as I brought my other hand up to the other side of her face. “I owe you this much. It’s gonna’ to be okay now.”
She nodded almost sleepily before the quick snap of her neck snuffed the light from her eyes. I laid her down gently, a bittersweet feeling pervading into the darkness that had ravaged me.
She had not truly been kind to me, but she had helped me for the wrong reasons, if nothing else. I looked into her unseeing eyes and felt a sense of pity for her, like that of putting down a favored pet that had gone rabid. I looked up to see Lilith grin at me.
Her voice was soothing as she said, “You learn quickly. I’ve chosen my progeny well.”
I puzzled over that information for a moment when a grating voice called out behind me.
“What have you done?!”
I watched as the mistress came over to Kit and looked down on her with her hands on her hips. She was angry and indignant as she looked up to me and reared back to hit me. I caught her fat fist and didn’t hesitate to bend it back and snap it an unnatural angle.
She cried out in pain and I released her so that she could pull back and double over.
She was breathing heavily. “You damn nigger…”
I grinned at her. She had made this so easy by coming out of the house.
“I was lookin’ for you…,” I say.
She started to hyperventilate as she took a step back, clutching her shattered hand to her breast and saying, “Y-you stay away from me, you hear me?! You just… stay away!”
I took a slow step forward and she started waddling in the other direction. My vision sharp in nothing but the dark light of the moon and the muted glow of random fires that had sprung up all over the plantation. She ran past the outhouse and headed straight for the Union soldiers, and I cocked my head as I considered all of the possibilities.
I caught up to her easily and she screamed as I pulled her back to the outhouse by her hair.
This struck me as… poetic.
I flung her through the door and slammed the small shack from its base where it toppled to the side. She’d stopped crying, her eyes angry and awed as she looked up at me.
I grabbed the back of her neck hard as her tremulous voice choked out, “What are you…?”
No other words were spoken as I submerged her head into the putrid hole in front of us. My eyes closed as she thrashed and gurgled violently. She choked on the reeking cesspool but I pulled her up before she was lost.
She started vomiting and clawing at me but I was just too strong for her as I replied, “I’s the damn nigger who’s gonna kill you.”
I slammed her face back into the sludge and held her under tightly, listening intently to her pounding heart as it began to slow. The satisfaction of that moment was thrilling in my veins and a strange dichotomy of both physical and carnal hunger welled up within me as her heart stuttered to a stop. I held her under even after her body had stopped moving and I felt Lilith’s hand on my shoulder. I opened my eyes and looked up to her, beyond grateful to her for what she had done to me… for me.
It was the first genuine kindness I’d ever known in my life and I just couldn’t understand.
“Why?” She cocked her head at me. “Why me,” I clarified.
She smiled and I cleaned my hand on corpse in front of me before standing to meet her gaze. She kissed me again, this time it was longer and I felt parts of me stir that I had never known could be used for pleasure. She pulled back too soon and I followed after her lips.
She chuckled as she stroked my face tenderly. “I could feel the darkness in you as I followed the army up onto this plantation.”
She put her hand over my breast. “It called out to me, and so I sought you out. When I found you, I knew.”
I furrowed my brows at her and her thumb danced across my cheek sending sparks through my nerves.
“You… your anger, your hatred…” She smiled again and I felt entranced. “I knew you would be utterly magnificent, like an angel of destruction…”
She ran her thumb over my bottom lip and I leant further into her.
Her last words were a reverent whisper. “…so dark and beautiful…”
I didn’t know what was coming over me, but I couldn’t deny the pull or the innate desire to answer. She ran her hands through my hair and I sighed into her mouth as she swirled her tongue against mine. I was running on instinct and adrenaline alone, and it told me to take her where she stood.
She pulled back, grinning coyly. “There will be time for that later…”
She ran her index finger across my lips, over my chin, and down between my breasts. “Right now, the world is at our feet…”
She gestured out into the dark around us, death, destruction, and mayhem all culminating into the most beautiful sight that I had ever seen.
She took my hand as we gazed out around us and I asked, “Where do we start?”
I could hear the smile in her voice as she replied, “First, we enjoy the feast before us, and then…”
She looked up to me and I felt a dark stirring in my soul as she said, “And then, we cut through this war and tear bodies limb from limb as we make our way to the Wentworth plantation.”
She reached up and stroked my face, and I sighed with satisfaction. “Would you like that, my dark angel?”
I smiled sardonically at her and she chuckled, a deep and frightening sound that warmed my no longer beating heart, and I watched her descend on the chaos around us before joining her.