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The Cotton Field

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I came up in the capital of Virginia. However, my family is from rural North Carolina. During the late summers and early autumns, often I would spend time at my grandparent's house. My grandparents were farmers and lived between huge fields of crops. The late fall was always cotton harvesting season and my grandparent's neighbors planted at least two acres of the stuff each year. Often, I would go out and walk the field, admiring the beauty of the cotton and surrounding trees.

My grandmother did not like this and would tell me not to linger in the cotton field. In fact, she all but forbade me to walk in it. I thought it was because the owner didn't want people walking in her fields, but the owner had seen me walking the fields picking souvenir pieces of cotton plants. Most times, he waved and, if he was close enough, told me to tell my grandparents hello. My grandmother never told me why I shouldn't go into the fields, other than to say some land is bloodied by anger.

I recall once, when I was around 12 years old, I was in the woods near my grandparent's home. The hour was late and the cool air of twilight was approaching. Even though I had been throughout these woods many times in the past, I suddenly felt lost and befuddled. I heard the unmistakable caw of what had to be dozens of crows. At first, they were distant, but they were getting closer and closer with every passing moment. Looking up into the trees, it seemed I was surrounded by them, their black eyes all staring down at me. I walked briskly through the woods, hoping to find my way. I kept looking into the trees and the crows were still there, never moving but constantly cawing when, suddenly, all went quiet. I started to hear a creaking sound, not unlike the sound a very old rocking chair would make. As I walked, it got louder and louder. I yelled out to ask if anyone was there, but my voice seemed muffled.

I stopped in what appeared to be a small clearing, the creaking sound getting louder and louder, and suddenly the air became very cold and bitter. The creaking was loud and coming from above me. Looking up, I could see what seemed to be dark shapes in the trees. I walked to try and get home, but the trees seemed to have closed in on me. In the trees were the same, odd shapes, but they were much closer, as though the trees wanted me to see. The figures were people, with hands and feet bound, hanging from the neck as though they had been lynched. The creaking was the sound of the swinging bodies, hanging from ropes. Their clothes were old...very old. Their skin looked deathly pale, rotten and infested with insects, but their eyes...their horrible eyes were open and all fixed on me! Faces fixed, in contortions of anger and hatred unlike anything I've ever seen.

I ran and ran as far and fast as I could, when I came to the cotton field. Thinking I was near my grandparent's house, I felt relieved, but the field was huge, much larger than it should have been. Acres and acres of cotton laid before me. I walked through the field, again looking to find my way home when the cawing started again. Louder this time, more angry. Again, I ran, hoping to find a safe place and the field of cotton started to become withered. The plants looked more like withered, twisted hands, reaching out of the ground, than plants. I ran and I am certain I could feel the plants grabbing at my legs and feet. A wailing started and I could hear the word shetani whispered in the voices. It sounded like hundreds of voices wailing in pain and anger, saying this unfamiliar word--"shetani"--over and over. I tripped and fell, only to find my legs held by the stems of these withered cotton plants. The grip was so tight it felt as if they were going to tear my ankles off.

At this point I gave up. The cawing and wailing got louder and all I could do was yell and cry for help. I heard footsteps getting closer to me and I closed my eyes, not wanting to see what horrible thing was approaching. A tap on my shoulder and I yelled and tried to fight whatever it was that had touched me. Suddenly, all the noise stopped. The tapping on my shoulder was my uncle, who had heard me yelling and came to find out what was going on. Gone was the wailing, the shapes in trees and the crows. Everything was normal--the cotton field was normal, grandmother's house was a few yards away. Except, I had sprain my ankle. The same ankle that the cotton plants had grabbed.

They laughed at my story and asked if I had found old man Cuffy's hidden moonshine stash. They all laughed, except my grandmother. All she said was that some land ain't seen the light of a God.

Later, I researched the area and found out that the land where the cotton field was was once owned by a callous plantation owner. He was a cotton grower and had a foreman who punished the slaves harshly. This foreman was a vicious and superstitious man, and punished them for minor offenses. He once hung over sixty slaves, after mutilating them for some offense. He had the bodies buried where the cotton field is today. His name was a Tully, but the slaves called him Shetani, which is Swahili for 'devil', due to his habit of keeping the corpses of slaves in a pile until they rotted. While the slaves slept, he would stuff some of their mouths with cotton. These slaves always became his next victims, including his children, as he believed if any of his children became adults, they would trap his soul in an Eraminhô. However, he failed to kill them all, some survived.

The plantation owner finally took notice of all the killings and organized a search for Tully. He was never found.

Oh, and the morning after my experience in the cotton field, I awoke with a small piece of cotton in my mouth.

My grandmother says I am Tully's great-great-great-great-grandson...

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