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Repentance

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Sitting on his porch in his rocking chair, shotgun in hand, Jim knew they were coming. He knew they were coming because they had come before, those with the white robes and the torches and the giant crosses. They had come and lit his lawn, given him back a lacerated son and two tons of fear. The son was dead, mercifully so, but the fear was very much alive.

Jim usually treated himself about this time with some restless sleep in the form of raw Vodka, but this night called for him to remain vigilant, knowing that any second he would hear the hateful voices of God’s militia bellowing pompously from the valley.

Jim watched the sky, the pitch-black that drew him out instead of camouflaging him. The clouds passed the sky – this was the only picture show he could actually afford, and he made the best of it with his imagination and his right hand. He couldn’t afford any lubricant, either, as far as that goes.

He could read, but he chose not to most times. What was the point of it? There was nothing much good to read other than the newspaper, and he had gossip to pay that through. And when he did read his mind would go on its own anyway, playing back memories in front of his face. Terrible memories. Memories of being back on the plantation, memories of being freed but not being free. Memories of his sister being raped, memories of his father running his hand through a saw by accident. And finally, the memory of his son being murdered, because he wanted to marry a white woman. Both the father and the son and the holy ghost between them, knew that this was a bad idea from the start, but the father guessed his son only desired to be a bleeding-heart romantic.

Now the father was red anger. He wasn’t angry. He was anger, anger personified and he wanted to put a bullet into someone’s head, even should he face a thousand in his own. His finger was practically on the trigger, the bullets were loaded and he knew that something was going to happen. He was itching everywhere to have it done, like a child on Christmas Eve night. He blinked once, and he heard the wind through the trees around his farm. He blinked twice, and he noticed that he had stopped rocking. He blinked three, four, five times…

The man with the deep valleys underneath his eyes stood at the edge of Jim’s farm the night he was on guard. He saw Jim, but Jim didn’t see him, because he did not want to be seen. This is often how the silent man got around. Seeing Jim, he concentrated his undivided attention on him and envisioned him as a glass being filled with water. When the silent man was satisfied, seeing his own blue energy inside of Jim at full capacity, he whispered a single word so that it lingered into the night for no one, save himself, to hear:

“Sleep.”

Harry had come up with the idea in the middle of the night, brooding on how he had had his slave stolen from him by those Yankees yokels with their fancy uniforms and proclamations. For years this had haunted him like a ghost, having lost his property eventually from the lack of funds to keep it standing tall, of course with the lack of slave labor.

He had felt sympathy for others who this had happened to only earlier, and Harry only prayed to the Good Lord that it would never happen to him. He had had three kids and five mouths to feed including his own. He had had to make a living, and he didn’t exactly want to give up the privilege of living large off the meat of the land to do it. According to him, life never came out the way he wanted.

After he had lost his slave he had lost his family. His wife left under the cover of nightfall with their three children.

“My dearest Henry,” she said in her farewell note, “I can smell it on your breath that although you say you can be a changed man for the good of our family, you have a problem that you cannot control.”

Henry was heartbroken, but he managed a chuckle that crescendoed into a maniacal laugh as he pondered the word problem. It’s not a problem if you can control it, he thought to himself. And then he went to pour himself some more fine wine from his liquor cabinet. It was two o’clock in the afternoon, but his heart and his spirit and his gut didn’t have a caring clock.

Harry had come up with the idea in the middle of the night, brooding on how he had had his slave stolen from him by those Yankees yokels with their fancy uniforms and proclamations. For years, for years, and for even more years this had haunted him like a ghost, having lost his property eventually from the lack of funds to keep it standing tall, of course with the lack of slave labor.

He was an angry, not so young man who lived in a town closely knit together by one thing and one thing only: black hatred. A Klan, a very literal clan with guns and a ghostly approach to their terror and anonymity. He had heard of what they did and went along for the ride, gaining vengeance and pointing an unforgiving finger in the direction of any of the black sinners who had done their masters harm. He laughed as he did it, feeling young and rich and empowered again.

It was gambling with his buddies one night that the memory of his former slave, Jim, hit him right between the eyes.

“Say…” he said, “You fellas ever hear of a man named Jim Wilson?”

The two friends of his flinched, cringed in retreat at the mention of a Negro in a white man’s court, the undeclared safe zone that was nonetheless a well-known fact.

“Friend of yours?” one of them chuckled.

“Not at all,” Henry replied curtly. “Was a slave of mine.”

The two men he was with, neither of them drunk because both of them were devout Baptists, nodded their heads.

“What about him?” said the second one.

“I was wondering if we could get him.”

“What’d he do to you, chief?”

Henry didn’t have anything that he could say that had been done to him that wasn’t an act of the Union. In reality Jim hadn’t done anything himself – not to Henry, at least. Henry justified his hatred toward the man as symbolism, in a way. And then he remembered a piece of gossip he had heard in the town market.

“His son’s the one who’s marrying Reverend Carver’s daughter.”

The first friend muttered a dirty word under his breath, one Henry’s mother had told him never to repeat.

“That ain’t natural,” said the second friend. “How’s that bird gonna fly?”

“It shouldn’t, if that’s what you’re asking. We have to do something about it.”

“Are you thinking of throwing a little hootenanny?” This was the first friend’s method of bringing about a cross burning.

Henry tried to look innocent. Apparently he pulled it off very well.

“If that’s what you think must be done, I mean.”

The three men looked at each other.

“It’s settled then,” said the first one. “You hatch the plan.”

Henry’s two friends never drank alcohol, but Henry himself always carried a flash of whiskey with him. By now he was heavily intoxicated, as drunk as a skunk and as delusional as an old man in heat. There was only one time Henry could call to mind of not being drunk, only because he had it all together and absorbed every last detail – and that time was when he was under the cover of white robes. By that time he always meant business. God’s business, at that.

But now that he was under the influence, Henry thought on his feet. That was the only thing his wife ever said he was good for. He could tell a tall tale in two seconds if the need be, and now all he had to do was concoct a plan. He could never remember the ones he had made prior, because he was drunk then, too. The words sprang forth from his mouth like one diving into an ocean.

“Anyone know where the minister’s daughter lives?”

The minister’s daughter lived in a small town house about two miles away from Molcomb, where her father held his ministry and the Ku Klux Klan ran as rapid as poison in the bloodstream. Call her Tabitha.

Tabitha lived in a small cabin in the middle of a field that wasn’t too small and wasn’t too large, but Goldilocks-sized-perfect. She lie in bed with a strong colored man by the name of Lucas Wilson, the son of two former slaves. They had run away to live together, alone and not to be bothered by anybody.

It was in the dead of night, pitch black outside and everything was silent, save for the sound of the grass rustling as it always did. Tonight it was louder than normal, so there must have been an ominous wind rustling, so thought Tabitha.

She couldn’t get to sleep. She had a premonition that she should stay awake and think over her life. Her father had spoken of his vocation in that way, how it came to him in the middle of the night when he couldn’t sleep. And he suggested an examination of conscience whenever sleep could not be found and thoughts were loud. Her fiancé, on the other hand, was sleeping like a lamb and was warm beneath the covers.

Tabitha did not know why, but for some reason or other she felt… uneasy. She felt uneasy and… afraid. She was wondering if it had been the right choice to have gone off with Lucas.

No… she thought distantly. No, that can’t be it. It has to be something else.

She thought, so she tried to lull herself back to sleep. She tried to fall asleep to the odd rhythms of the grass, and she felt herself drifting into sleep. She started to hear thin voices, voices of people she knew – so thin were the voices that she thought it was a dream.

But she still couldn’t shake the feeling that she had made some mistake, overlooked it. She drifted to sleep anyway, for maybe two or three seconds tops.

She opened her eyes slowly, wearily, coming face-to-face with the angry scarlet of flames raising from the ground outside.

She awoke with a start, screaming frantically:

“OH LORD! WHY DID I TELL MY DADDY?”

That had been the night that Henry and his buddies decided to gather and threaten the cowardly minister into leading them to his daughter.

Reverend Carver wasn’t one for the idea of interracial marriage, but he had never gone so far as to hate the idea. So when Henry Hare held a gun to his heart in the center of the small chapel, he decided to go along with it.

Henry threatened to kill him if he refused to lead him and his friends to his daughter and her Negro fiancé. If he did, however, enact the instructed task, his daughter would be spared and so would he. The fiancé’s life would be spared as well, if he followed instructions, too – to leave his daughter alone.

It couldn’t have been any more of a lie.

The first thing Henry did – as he led the crusade -- as soon as he saw the young woman come running, screaming bloody murder out of the house was shoot her father in the back of the head, execution style. What he did next was point the gun at her and pull the trigger. The bullet landed right in the middle of her stomach, so it wasn’t immediate death. She was thought to be dead only because she didn’t possess the strength to scream.

Lucas had come running out of the house as well, chasing his lover, but then tried to run back in and get his gun to at least stand a chance. He was pulverized with a charge of bleached white, a violent and passionate charge. He was easily tackled to the ground by countless Klansmen. His bones were broken. His blood was spilled. The man was held to a wall by his arms as he was whipped on his bare back again, and again, and again. He screamed until he was dead, and that ceased his agony all at once but he was still punished. Even when Henry was satisfied he wasn’t. He refused to let the dead man’s body be left alone. He whipped again and again with his belt – mercilessly.

He stopped when, and only when, he decided that it was time to drop the son to the father. He did so with a jack-o-lantern grin spread on his face to the point of pain – sweet, kind pain. It was with his soldiers he came, he carried Lucas’ dead body on his back and soaked his pristine whites in crimson. In this true hour of insanity, what Henry did was laugh.

As his mates set up the cross he especially wanted to save for his former slave, he brought the body up to the porch steps and threw it down without care. The corpse landed with a mechanical THUD and wood snapped audibly.

“Wilson!” shouted Henry, as loud as he could. “Jim Wilson, get out here!”

Indeed he did come out, but he came out unarmed and totally ambushed by what he was greeted with. The shock on his face as he gazed down at his son with glazing eyes and a growing sense of unreality was beatific pornography in Henry’s eyes.

This has to be a dream, Henry thought. If it is, don’t wake me!

Henry couldn’t say anything coherent, all he could do was laugh. He cackled maniacally, as his former slave was far too stunned to say anything. He turned and walked away, fading into the night with his laughter, but not his actions.

The silent man watched from a distance again, but only stood there passive. He knew that his time had not yet come to intervene. He was there on a mission, a mission from his master and he was still to wait for his time to come.

A few days after Jim had witnessed the mortification of his son’s lifeless body was the night that he waited on his porch, shotgun in hand and watching the dead horizon. That was when the silent man had put him to sleep, knowing that his time had come.

The Klan was bloodthirsty and they were hungry for the fear that they had implanted as a seed into the heart of the former slave. The seed was now a sapling, they thought, and they wanted to watch it as it bore its fruits. They had found their target, and they had Henry Hare to thank for that. The returned to the humbled house for a second time a few nights after, knowing he would probably expect it but knowing still that there was nothing he could do about it.

There was a slight spring in their steps as they approached the house, dressed in their dignity and ready for their duty. They came out of the valley slowly, savoring every step on their trail. And it was a wandering, almost possessed form of walking that they personified. That is until Henry stopped.

Henry held the pistol that had been his elder brother’s in the days of the Civil War. He was dead now. All of them were armed now, but not many with such sentiment. When he stopped it was a palpable ceasing, because he was leading the charge. It made sense, since this was his slave.

When Henry stopped, the whole crowd behind him stopped too.

“You all right, Henry?” asked one of his friends.

“Yeah, I’m fine. Just a little… winded…” his voice faded in and out.

What he didn’t see and what the others didn’t see was the silent man coming up behind him. Now was his time to act, the silent man thought. He raised his right hand, almost as a Catholic priest would raise his hand to give a blessing, and uttered under his breath.

“Just a little…winded…” said the silent man under his breath, and then Henry repeated it.

“You sure you’re alright?” asked one of his other friends.

The silent man now saw his blue energy at full capacity overtaking Henry’s body. It was now that the silent man and Henry Hare became one being, the silent man was controlling him. As the silent man shut his eyes, he saw everything through the eyes of Henry Hare, the Klansman.

Interesting, thought the silent man, he’s colorblind.

The hues of the environment were drastically different now through Henry’s eyes. Whites were whites and blacks were blacks, but other than that everything was a different shade of grey.

“Your time has come,” Henry bellowed, still controlled by the silent man.

Everyone was confused, bewildered by Henry’s sudden outburst.

“Your time… has come.”

Henry, without batting an eye, raised his pistol and shot into the crowd. What ensued next was a massive massacre. Pristine whites, maybe some of them were delicately coated with dust, became stained with the owner’s own angry red. There was screaming and there was shouting, as none of those who had come to wreak havoc were able to escape.

Now others were armed as well as Henry, as they always were. They loved their guns, and they used them on Henry. One shot went through his shoulder – I mean, through it. Another one hit him in the chest but stopped when it hit bone. Bullets were flying toward Henry, many of them hitting him but he refused to fall. He kept fighting, but Henry’s soul was basically gone. Either that or asleep. No one could escape. Anyone who tried to run somehow had their feet trapped in the mud and they started sinking, but only enough to make them stay.

The silent man smiled.

There were pleas to God to please, please let them live. There were pleas to Henry to please, please stop what he was doing. There was blubbering from the majority and there was mindless laughing coming out of Henry’s mouth.

As Henry approached the last man alive, who had his foot stuck and twisted in a muddy sinkhole scrambling to get away, the man plead almost as loud as the gunshot. As he screamed he tore his vocal cords and started to expel blood. Nevertheless, he still died. He was shot through the neck, his Adam’s apple visible.

Nothing different about him from the others, right?

Henry, still out of his mind, stood there silently, as if waiting for instruction. The silent man gratefully obliged.

“Put the gun inside your mouth,” he whispered.

Henry followed the direction. Had he been in his own head, he would have analyzed the taste of oil and metal. It was a taunting taste.

“Pull the trigger.”

He did. It was the last sound he ever heard, and he wasn’t even around to hear it. It was only for dramatic effect.

The silent man looked at the fruits of his labor, and he was pleased. The silent man was an angel gone rogue, one who had a constant hunger for good but methods that were a lot different from other guardian angels. What was his mission was to give the former slave what he had coming to him. He had raped his sister back in the days of the Civil War, when they both were slaves, and distracted his father on purpose so that he sawed his own hand off. He never repented, even now. The guardian angel decided to dish punishment his own way.

The former slave didn’t deserve death, he thought. He deserved to be destroyed but not killed. Killing his son was the only way to do it, and then protecting him to live a long, long life was the other way about it. The guardian angel liked to think of this plan as his own sort of manifesto, his own lifeblood to prove how much he loved his God and his duty. And in a single stroke he had taken out Molcomb’s Ku Klux Klan, forever as far as he was concerned.

But what of the son? he thought originally with only a pang of guilt. What of the son, what of the minister, and what of his daughter?

He finally decided that some would have to be sacrificed for the greater good. He had no problem justifying it; he would have to live with it, because angels couldn’t die.

“Have you been out here all night?” Lula, Jim’s wife, asked, flabbergasted. She was sure she would have come in when he had finished his business.

The landscape was a peaceful one, a beautiful one as the pink clouds and the tangerine sun kissed the waking earth. Night had passed; this was day. But Jim Wilson didn’t understand how on earth he had fallen asleep.

“There’s no way…” Jim mumbled. “There’s no way…”

Less than one mile away, however, were the scattered scathed corpses of Molcomb’s Klan, in the large mass grave of the valley. Jim didn’t know this, however. The guardian angel didn’t let him.

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