Not Without Spirit
Sample Text From Chapter 3
Tricia flopped and slopped, and finally pulled herself free from the mud. Heart pounding, she made it over the fence, and hurried, the slop dropping from her body, the mud clods clinging to her shoes. Hand over hand, grabbing onto stalks and weeds, she climbed the back hill again.
“Bad, bad girlie!” Mr. Farnsworth yelled, “no use runnin’!”
The stalks and prickly burrs stabbed her ankles; she didn’t dare slow down.
“I know!” He slapped his knee. “It’s a game! Y’all are playin’ the ‘come an’ git me’ game. I can play that game, too, little sister!”
She thought her heart would burst as it thumped inside her dry throat. Reaching the plateau, she looked down. Mr. Farnsworth is halfway up the hill; he means to follow me all the way!
Tricia stabbed her way through the young pines, passed behind the thicket, rushed to the ravine, dropped to her backside, and slid to the gully bottom. Mud swamped her shoes and legs to the ankles. She struggled to free her feet, but having no leverage, plunged to both knees.
Excruciating pain shot through one leg; she cried out. Jagged copper sheeting, left from making the still’s thump barrel and submerged in the mud, had sliced through her pants and gashed deep into her knee. Tricia bent to pull the fragment out and swayed, sick to her stomach. Grasping the metal so as not to shred her hands, she screamed as it tore from her flesh; blood gushed and ran down her leg.
“It’s hide ’n seek!” yelled Mr. Farnsworth, now on the plateau. “Girlie hides, me seeks!”
Time to move! Her shoes were sunk deep in the mud! I must leave them behind.
Bare feet bogged in mud, Tricia pulled on the long, slippery weeds to get her to, and up, the far side of the ditch. The thump barrel was half-filled with thick cobwebs and rubble; so no room was left for her body. Frantic, using both hands, she clawed out the debris.
“Quit runnin’!” he yelled. “Leave me some gumption-to-go, dagnabbit!”
Mr. Farnsworth was almost there!
Her heart thudding chaotically in her chest, Tricia grabbed a handful of weeds; then face up, feet first, one muddied leg at a time, she wriggled backward into the barrel and covered her face with the itchy, stickery weeds. She listened as Mr. Farnsworth stomped and cursed, yelled, laughed, hollered, and swore. He’d come so close!
“Now a hard chase gets a man all hepped up!” He clapped his hands. “But y’all are hidin’ too damned hard, dearie!”
Weed pollen had come into her nose; she was going to sneeze!
As Tricia squashed the weeds to her nose to stifle the urge to sneeze, the slimy mud at her feet squished up between her toes. Something buggy or spidery crawled up her leg under the overalls. Terrified, she mashed her leg against the side, hopefully to kill the thing—or things.
Mr. Farnsworth singsonged, “Come out, come out, wherever ye are!”
Tricia didn’t dare breathe.
“Now say, Missy,”—she could tell he was furious, by now—“this is far enough! Ain’t no fun when it takes so long. Hurry! My ol’ woman is comin’ back soon.” He thrashed the weeds around the barrel, then suddenly exclaimed, “Lookit there, in the gully bottom!”
Tricia’s heart pounded in her throat. He’s guessed where I’m hiding! She listened as his boots sucked the mud. Lord Jesus, she prayed, please don’t let him find me.
“I declare! Girlie’s shoes, left in the mud. I’m onto y’all now!” he shouted in glee. “Why there’s one footprint; another—and another! Aha!”
Tricia shrank, making her body as small as she could.
Mr. Farnsworth flung out the weeds, his ugly face grinning into hers. “Soooo, girlie-girl, thought you’d tease me some! Well, game’s over, Sweet Lips! Slide out quick like a good girl, so we can git started. I got plenty good room hid in that laurel thicket up there, with a bed kept clean jest for playtime.”
“No!” she screamed. “I won’t come out!”
He squashed his head in further. “Why the hell not?”
“Great-Granny Winthrop told me not to!”
“Dumb thang, y’all’s Great-Granny Winthrop is long dead. Watched her turn cold-blood myself. Good riddance, I say! Now, git out!”
Tricia gasped, “You saw my great-grandmother die?”
“Never you mind. Git out ’fore I drag y’all out!” His spit sprayed her face, as his own mean, ugly face almost touched hers. “That does it!” he exploded. “No more nicey-nicey! Git y’all’s tail out this minute or I’ll cause plenty to scream about!”
His plaid-shirted arms thrust in. His jagged fingernails scratched her forehead and cheek. Striving to get a grip on her chin, his filthy hands grabbed and clawed at her. The fingers of one of his hands pressed across her teeth.
Oh, yes! I’ve longed for this! Tricia opened her mouth wide. The man’s fingers slid in and she chomped down hard. She scrunched his fingers with every last tooth she had. She chomped full-crush, till she tasted blood and heard his bones crack. Then she let go, stuck out her tongue, and hopefully, spit out all his blood.
“AGGGHHH!!!” Mr. Farnsworth shrieked at the top of his lungs. Cradling his bleeding fingers, his body jerked up and down, working his boots ever deeper into the muck and mud. His shrill squawks and vile curses must have startled the dog, for Ol’ Shep was now woofing his head off, charging across the plateau and racing down the hill.
“Shut up, damned dog!” Mr. Farnsworth screamed.
Nobody could stop Ol’ Shep now; he was onto something good!
Tricia peeked out to see the dog break the rim of the ditch, charge down the slope, slip, slide, scoot, nose over tail—and head for her. She shriveled back into the barrel, as again and again, Ol’ Shep jumped up and thrust in his furry head. His sharp, yellowed teeth snipped and snapped at her; his foamy saliva flicked her face.
Then, above the dog’s frenzy and Mr. Farnsworth’s screams and curses, a familiar screech rang out, “What’s the ruckus up there? What in hell’s goin’ on?”
Mr. Farnsworth screeched back, “Ain’t nothin’ I cain’t handle, woman! Jest you stay the hell out! It don’t concern you!”
The dog managed to squeeze his thick body into the barrel, right up to his belly. His teeth snagged and pulled Tricia’s hair; each breath he panted, huffed the stink of his decayed teeth in her face.
“That dog got somethin’ holed up?” Mrs. Farnsworth sounded closer.
Frantic, the man hurled a warning, “Stay back! Stay back, I say!”
“Why?” she screamed, “I ain’t scairt of nothin’!”
“Shut up, danged dog!” Mr. Farnsworth yanked the dog out by the tail, worked a leg loose and kicked the animal with such a wallop, Ol’ Shep yapped and sprawled in the mud.
“Y’all kicked my dog!” Mrs. Farnsworth screamed now from the rim of the ditch.
“Stay away!” he hollered at her. “A wild skunk’s foamin’ at the mouth, shootin’ his juice out the barrel.” He held up his torn hand. “See! It done dagger-toothed me!”
“I’ll git my shotgun and blast her dead!”
“Ain’t no time! We gotta git these fingers sewed up!”
“There’s time to smush it with a rock—exceptin’,”—
Mrs. Farnsworth slid down the slope—“I don’t smell no skunk juice! Soooo, must be something else in that barrel y’all don’t want me to see!”
The man cried, “Consarn it, woman, lookit! The lockjaw’s already on me!”
The tromp of Mrs. Farnsworth’s boots shook the ground. “Obadiah! What you got hidin’ in this…here…barrel?” Her broad face filled the opening. “So! Cornered a skunk, did we?” She didn’t look surprised. “She pheu-ees like skunks, all right; I just caught me two big, fatones.”
In one, long, strong pull, the woman yanked Tricia out by her overall straps and swung her up to the bank. “Set there,” she ordered, “and tell the truth!”
“That brat spied on our still!” Mr. Farnsworth danced around her. “She said she’d git away to squeal on us, but I caught her first.”
“Don’t butt in, Obadiah. I’m talkin’ to Miss Priss here.” Her fingers forced Tricia’s head back. “Tell me straight, girlie, what’s gone on here?” Her eyes, like steel marbles set in ice, burrowed into Tricia’s, trying to see what she’d seen, know what she knew. “Look at me!” She yanked Tricia's hair. “I’ll wring y’all’s neck like a chicken’s!” Her eyes pierced like a focused beam into Tricia’s mind to force out what was hidden there. “Tell ever’ bit. Don’t leave nothin’ out!”
Tears burned in Tricia’s eyes. Fear closed her throat, choked off any words.
“Stop it!” Mrs. Farnsworth shouted. “That misty-eyed hogwash don’t work on me.”
“Wait!” Mr. Farnsworth burst out, “I’ll tell it! That ugly, lyin’ brat ain’t no damned good. She’d lie through her bloody teeth to save her life!”
With one thick finger, Mrs. Farnsworth lifted Tricia’s lip. “My, my! Her teeth are bloody, ain’t they?” She stood up tall, straight as a canon. “All right, Obadiah,” she fired, “make the story good.”
He pulled himself to his full height, straightened his bent shoulders, and stuck out his chest—as one might expect of a Night Hawk when accepting accolades at a Klan meeting. Now ankle-deep in mud, dirty overalls clumped around his bony frame, hair and beard limp with sweat, he looked darned woeful. Tricia almost felt sorry for him.
The words, “I’m waitin’, so talk!” shot from his wife’s mouth.
He reeled back, lost his balance and, boots sinking, plunged forward, yowling in pain.
“Obadiah Farnsworth!” His wife moved in rigid jerks; muscles twitched in her face and neck.
Tricia drew up her knees, covered her ears, and clamped her teeth shut to keep from crying out.
“Listen, woman!” he yelled. “Just ’cause y’all are bigger an’ meaner than me, don’t mean I’m nothin’! I earned the right to be Head Night Hawk ’round here. I got ways a’ fixin’ dead those folks what crosses my way, and don’t you forget it!” He pointed a bloody finger at Tricia. “That there girlie refused to do chores. She ran up here, snoopin’ on our still, sayin’ she’d call the Revenuers; an’ I damned well stopped her!”
“Well, Mr. Almighty Grand Night Hawk!” Mrs. Farnsworth bent forward in a mock bow. “Worthy alien to the sacred altar of the empire of chivalry! Staunch defender of the chastity of womanhood! Y’all’s words are pig piss!”
Mr. Farnsworth shook his fist. “Woman! I can have you flogged to the bone in Whuppin’ Woods, so best you watch y’all’s great, big behind!”
The hair on Mrs. Farnsworth’s arms rose; her lips curled at the corner; her face glinted with sweat. “Are y’all threatenin’ me?”
“It’s the fault of that white trash!” Mr. Farnsworth glared at Tricia. The promise of retribution gleamed in his eyes.
Mrs. Farnsworth turned to Tricia; her eyes glittered like a snake’s. “Now! Tell me why you chomped his fingers.”
The girl whispered, “I can’t. I’m…afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
“Ain’t gonna stand for no more!” Mr. Farnsworth shouted. “I’m gittin’ my Klan whip!”
“Obadiah, don’t move till told to move!” She turned back to Tricia. “So answer me now, an’ quick.”
Tricia laid her forehead on a knee and sobbed out, “I’m afraid of Mr. Farnsworth.”
“My husband been foolin’ with you?”
Mr. Farnsworth erupted, “I’ll send you straight to Hell!”
“Poor, poor Klan Baby there,” Mrs. Farnsworth sneered, “likes lovin’ up the young and untried. He try somethin’ on you?” She kicked Tricia’s leg, making the blood spurt from the wound. “Answer me!”
She could hardly breathe. They’re only words, Tricia told herself, they can’t hurt you. She cleared her throat. “He said he’d be back…to finish what he started.”
The lines of her face as rigid as poured concrete, Mrs. Farnsworth turned and said, “Hear that? Obadiah was gonna finish off what he started. Y’all started what? Whendid you plan on finishin’?” She unbuckled her wide leather belt with the hundreds of little pointed nubs and whipped it off.
Mr. Farnsworth bawled and cursed. Frantic, he clutched at weeds, roots, anything to pull himself up and get away from the belt with the little pointed nubs.
Tricia recognized the familiar cries for mercy. Many nights, she and Bobby had huddled together while Mama cried for mercy and Daddy had his way. Now, she covered her ears as Mr. Farnsworth begged for mercy.
“Now I’m gonna whup that Night Hawk ass, but good, Obadiah!” Mrs. Farnsworth cracked her belt in the air.
The dog leapt, circled, and snapped at Mr. Farnsworth
who tried to run, but big clumps of mud caked his shoes, holding him fast.
Mrs. Farnsworth turned back to Tricia. “I’m not done with you, girlie. Y’all ain’t got off easy! An’ forgit runnin’ away!” She whistled for the dog. “Shep, bring Girlie in!”
The dog snipped and snapped and bit at Tricia’s legs, herding her past the thicket, across the plateau, to the edge of the hill. There, he bounded downhill while Tricia, weeping in pain, watched the scene play out before her.
Stripped to his waist, arms gripping his sides as the dog bit at his bare feet, Mr. Farnsworth plodded before his wife, as might a bleeding beast of burden.
Over and over, in vicious cadence, Mrs. Farnsworth swung the belt high and slashed it forward. The leather whistled through the air in a low, moaning sound and slapped against her husband’s torso. He cried out, “Aaaggghhh!” every time.
Whistle! Thwack! “Aaaggghhh!” Whistle! Thwack! “Aaaggghhh!” Whistle! Thwack! “Aaaggghhh!” Whistle! Thwack! “Aaaggghhh!” On and on…
Tricia’s stomach turned…Another crack… Yet another…
The screams now became screeching pleas for mercy. From her earliest days, she'd listened to such cries coming from Whuppin’ Woods. Those cries of pain and human suffering had etched deep, deep wounds upon her soul.
Human beings deemed as nothing. Nothing! Helpless. Alone. Bent and beaten by blows of hate; by blows of rope and leather. Worse, beaten by blows of malicious thought and savage words that scored deep. Bloodless stripes meant to wound, even kill, the human spirit.
Tricia hugged herself. Will the wounds, so deep in me, heal—especially now, with Mama gone? She watched the blood run down her leg, trickle over her foot, puddle into a glistening pool of red, and seep into the thirsty ground where, Great-Granny had said, Blood cries out from earth to God! Can we hear it, if we, too, listen for it?
What sound does blood make? Does it whisper? Does it speak? Does it scream aloud? Consider the blood spilled—from Cain’s murder of his brother, to the mass murder of whole races of human beings. Think of the butchery and bloodbaths, the slaughter and murder, the executions down through time. And, all the wars! All that blood poured out, soakin’ in, cryin’ out! Every moment… even the blood of God’s Own Son.
Imagine! Because He loves, the Son of God becomes flesh and comes to earth; and those He loves, open Him up and spill His blood. The Son’s blood, in turn, cries out to Heaven for mercy and justice. What sounds the Son’s blood-cries must make in the ear of God!
Tricia picked up a clump of dirt and rubbed it between her fingers, saying, “Earth, do you know when it’s water, and when it’s blood? What did you experience when you realized the liquid soakin’ into you was the blood of The Very God Who created you? Did you hurt when the blood of God soaked into you? Do you cringe each time His blood, or any blood, cries out?”
She lifted her eyes to the breathtaking vista of forest, caves, and coves across the way. Her great-grandmother’s blood had spilled in those hills. Was her blood yet crying out to God?
Looking up to Heaven, Tricia whispered, “God, were you listenin’ that night? Did You recognize Great-Granny’s voice when she cried out to You? Did the cry of her spilled blood reach Your ears?”
God, please tell me true…where are You, when hell is winning?
Tricia’s heart cried out in sorrow; her tears fell. Heaven, I will die unless You give me hope. She bent to the earth and soaked it with her copious tears….
Soft…soft…softer than a wisp and a whiff, the tiniest seed of courage fell upon the barren soil of her heart. An infinitely small sense of strength, hope, and resolution moved in her spirit.
Not what she should do; but what she could. She knew what must be done, did she not?
And yes, she had some small bit of courage left. Yes, she had some small resolve.
So—if she lived through the night, and the boy remained alive, she’d rescue him. Uncertain of the terrain, not knowing the direction they need run, she would, nevertheless, cut down and carry the boy far from there. She would invite the two other girls to run with them.
Whatever tomorrow dares bring, together, we will run. We will run away…to freedom.