A pre-civil war enslaved family on the run and the love and justice that journeys across time to be fulfilled…
By Colette R. Harrell
We’ve been here a long time, me and the other shacks. We started out long ago as log cabins. The occupants spoke prayers of hope over shallow grunts as they flexed hardened muscles to build us strong. Then after backbreaking days in the tobacco fields, they made our dirt floors and grass-mixed-mud walls. Our wooden chimneys and brick hearths were the heart of our homes. It was a one-size-fits-all room, where they nursed their aches and caressed their wounds.
It wasn’t all bad. We could sometimes smile as they made babies in a fevered pitch, good groans of satisfaction rolling through the air and out the window. Then we would rejoice, whispering up and down the quarters that it was a good night.
That’s how we used to talk to each other, back and forth through the howling of the winds or the gentle flow of a breeze. There were days we’d moan with the pain of our inhabitants, who were too tired from the grueling work to tend to our needs. Took us a while to decide what to call them . . . inhabitants, occupants, residents? We never could decide. Inconsistency was a malevolent characteristic we all endured. They never owned us. Just stayed a bit while they could. And, to be fair, they tried to keep us up. Oh, we got a hit and a lick of mud before the winter winds blew, but it was meager labor. Neglect was easy when profits were the owner’s goal, and the fields were a harsh partner.
Years later, our dilapidated wooden logs would be eaten, digested by termites with fat bellies. Laid out in a row like coffins after the war. No hero’s welcome for all we had endured. We whisper about it even now through broken windows that no longer hold our secrets. Others may think it’s the wind howling, but those are our screams, held captive for years while we watched, waited, and hungered for habitation. Hungered while generations of slaves and sharecroppers had nothing to share . . . No more to give. Watched as Big Mama, who carried large pots of water to an iron tub, whittled down to nothing but bones as she lay on my dirt floor every evening, moaning in pain . . . waiting for change.
At first, new folk moved in when others gave up. And each added their blood and mud to slather yawning cracks and holes to keep the walls standing. Our neglect could not be camouflaged, but the Missus, she’d hang little bits of cloth on the window and add dandelion flowers to a tin can, hoping to add a touch of pretty.
Just a mile away, majestically, stood the big house. Cruel in its taunting of us as it was painted and scrubbed and loved on—even by those who hated it. It defied the old man’s hands of time. Tick, tick, tick.
Every inch forward of its hand proclaimed a litany.
Poor folk got it bad. Poor folk got it bad. We chanted out of walls with exposed spaces.
We tried hard, this holding on of bones. We struggled when it rained; our roofs had few shingles, more wet than dry, more holes than substance. The hearth hungered. No remembered warmth dwelled here.
I saw the change when the doors fell, one by one. Then it was the disrespect—no knock—just folk walking inside without a “Come in and sit a spell” invite. No longer hardworking folk, slaves, sharecroppers, but now, drug-addled brains lighting up and dozing off. A few of us went up in flames while others watched and bled rusted nails.
One of us lost our balance, teetered . . . and fell over. Me and the other shacks yelled back and forth about it.
No reason to whisper now. No one to listen.
We were ready. Maybe some child could rumble through the wood and find a piece left good enough to make a kite and fly me down the street.
Three Little Steps – A Message From The Author
One muggy morning, I hit the snooze button, one time too many. As a result, I hurried to a job that had changed from remote to in-house, a job I no longer wanted to go to because I had to get dressed. Didn’t you love those Zoom calls, half-dressed, half-in pajamas? In my panic driven rush, I wasn’t looking when I tumbled down three steps. Can you believe only three steps changed the trajectory of my life? There’s symbolism in there if you take your time to find it. In the darkness of 6:30 AM, I missed three steps. Those missed steps ended up landing me in the hospital’s trauma unit by ambulance. When I heard the EMT whisper, “Her ankle’s like pulp.” I sobbed with the brutal reality of the absence of three little steps.
Three breaks in my ankle (left, right, and the back) and a month passed by, and I’m still home and mainly bed bound, but I also realized that this crisis of pain and inertia was also an opportunity. I now had more than enough time to dream something new to write. My mind went alive with thoughts that turned into plans. I did brainstorming sessions with my daughter and her boyfriend. We threw ideas on the wall and watched to see what would stick. And the book Later resulted from what was left on the wall. It was a story I had never attempted to write but had elements of all the books I love; time travel (with a twist), historical, suspenseful, and romance with a touch of angel dust.
My weeks were filled with first Occupational and Physical Therapists coming to me and then growing into me having the ability to go to rehabilitation. Oh, the freedom to move each day freely and to write at whim. The wonder of new pathways and plots dripping from my fingers. My characters, Junie and Sari, were molded enslaved as I was held captive. They were released into freedom as I sprung free from my captivity of immobility. Together we met new people and forged a new journey as I retired from my career to develop a new one. I was hooked, and I hope you will be too.