Black Beetles in the Salvador by Michael ‘Caiman’ McLeod (A SOBSF Black History Story)

“A necessidade faz o sapo pular,” Manoel thought as he heard the shipping captain call the work day to an end. He huffed a bit to himself, momentarily amused at the thought of a frog moving a huge bushel of sugarcane on its small green back. Few things were truer than that. The only difference was where frogs hopped, men worked. He stood up from the shaded cove of crates he had hauled off the ship by hand. Arranging them on the back of a wagon and had decided to take the last part of the day to take it easy. He popped his back and stretched his sore muscles walking to the edge of the wagon and jumping off the end effortlessly as a panther leaping from a tree branch, making but a whisper of a sound as his feet contacted with the ground.

A week ago Manoel had scored a job on a boat loading and unloading various materials and crates at different ports along the coast of Bahia, reaching the port in Salvador just that morning. Unloading the cargo for this final trip had taken the majority of the day and though he was as large and strong as they come, working 14 hours took its toll on the man. He wasn’t afraid of hard work though and he didn’t mind the aches one bit. He had resolved to sleep-in the next day. He had family here in Salvador he intended to find quickly, having no intention of sleeping one more day in that damned cramped cabin with the other workers like himself. Sure the other sailors were great company and he shared quite a few laughs and stories with them along the route, but he much preferred the company of a woman over another sweaty marinheiro. This was his stop and after he collected his pay, he was hitting the road with a pocket full of dinhiero and a destination.

Manoel climbed up the ramp to the boat deck where a short line was formed near the captain’s quarters where the other workers waited for their weekly payout. He knew some of the men who worked this job regularly and would head back when the ship was stocked and ready to set sail back south along the coast. He spotted one of these men, the friend who had gotten him this job and means of quick passage. He was a short and Barrel chested man, with large arms and a bald head. His nickname was Balde, both for his features and his ability to shamelessly put away copious amounts of food at any party or celebration where there was food available. “Only a bucket could hold that much food at once”, they would laugh.

Manoel approached and clapped his hand on the Balde’s shoulder. “Ready to turn in for the night already?” he joked as the shorter man gazed at the head of the line before turning to see his friend.

“Ha. Damn right” he said. “While you were napping, I was still moving cargo around.”

“Hey, I finished my work. Long legs, shorter trips, comrade” Balde elbowed him sharply for the short joke and they both laughed.

“What’s the hold up? Line moving a bit slow ain’t it?”

“Looks like captains pulling pay for rations, again.” Balde replied sounding disappointed yet reserved.

“Rations? No, we worked all that out before we set off. Rations were already taken out of the wages. I don’t know what y’all were eating, but I didn’t get any churrasco with my meals.”

“Look, don’t make a big deal about it. Sometimes Captain Toni will…short the checks a bit. “Balde’s face was grim. “We still get paid and we get a job on the next go around. It’s best leave it alone for now.”

Manoel decided to drop the topic and they chatted about the day and plans for the night. Balde knew Salvador and had some ideas where to get a few cervejas and a good dinner. Something about the night life in a new city like Salvador seemed to make his tiredness from the full day of physical labor slide off his shoulders like a heavy coat on a summer day.

It wasn’t long before Manoel approached Captain Toni for his pay for the week of work. And as Balde predicted he saw he was shorted about a quarter of what he had agreed to work for. He glared at the captain, a shaggy-haired pale man, as he took his money. Then he smiled and much to the captain’s surprise said. “Obirgado for the job, my captain. A good job is hard to find, and debt is ever the trap of a man.” With that Manoel went below deck to fetch the few items he had all packed in a small duffle bag. Leaving the ship he was soon walking with Balde up the cobblestone street away from the dock and into the bustling living night of Salvador Bahia.

It wasn’t long before Manoel and Balde had found a lively little cafe Balde had apparently frequented on his previous stay in the city. They were both drinking beer and were eating a meal of Vatapa, Acarajé and sweet cocadas. They laughed as they ate, talking about incidents that had happened on the ship. Balde cursed as he laughed so hard beer came out of his nose when Manoel told him of a shipmate named Isaac and his painful run in with a crab on the beach while hiding in the sand to take a nap by the docks in Sao Paulo.

“You tell great stories!” Balde said between ruckus snorts, of laughter. He pulled out a handkerchief and blew his nose.

“A good story tells itself.”

“Yeah, so says any good story teller. But why don’t you tell me the story of how people got to calling you by that nickname of yours. You’re a popular guy at home, but most people don’t know your real name. Hell, I wonder if I’d ever have found out if we didn’t work together.”

“Ha ha, well you have been a great help to me Balde. Come to think of it, I only recently came to know your real name. The story of why they call me after the Beetle is probably not much more interesting than anyone else’s nickname.”

“I somehow doubt that’s true. I guess that’s up to the person hearing the story. The difference is you’re talked about all over the town in Santo Amaro. The word is you’re fast. Very fast… They also say that you can fly.” Balde added hesitantly. Balde looked at the man known in Santa Amaro as Besouro over the rim of his beer mug, gauging the man’s reaction to his implication of flight. Noticing his friend’s sudden seriousness, Manoel burst out laughing so hard that he knocked his knife and fork to the floor in the sudden uproar. Balde frowned and looked away, pretending to be distracted by something outside the cafe until Manoel calmed down a bit.

“Don’t believe everything you hear, comrade,” he choked out trying to contain another outburst. “No man can fly. People will say anything, to make an exciting story. But hey if they want Besouro to fly, let them believe what they want. There could always be worse things said about a man behind his back.”

At that Balde laughed and then they both laughed together at the hilarity of the idea of a black man flying in Brazil.

After another round of cervejas, the two men parted ways in good spirits, with both good alcohol and good company to blame. Balde made his way to an inn he knew of and Manoel, looking at the moon high overhead, headed his way to the place he would meet his cousins just after midnight.  Not really knowing the city he asked a few local inebriated vagabundos wandering the streets like him, where he could find a place called the Casa Branca de Deus. One old man knew the place he was speaking of as the others shrugged of the question and asked him for money. Following the directions he received as best as he could for about an hour he found himself at an intersection in an unusually quiet part of the city. Uncertain of what to do and nobody to ask he decided to take a short rest and sat down with his back against a brick building. He pulled out his patua amulet, which he always wore around his neck. The amulet was given to him by his teacher back home, Tio Alipio. It was a shiny Piece of carved Ivory said to have come from his teacher’s home in Africa he had kept hidden. The precious piece was inscribed with very old symbols even his teacher couldn’t read. Manoel had always believed it smelled of a different world. His teacher had told him it had special powers and would guide him wherever he needed to go. He smiled at the thought of his old teacher, a tall stout dark African man, with tight curly white hair and an undeniable presence. Tio Alipio was different from many other ex-slave men. He was known as a trickster, a story teller, a spiritual guide and a finder of lost items. Tio Alipio was a teacher of life and to his precious student he was always kind, even when he was being punished. He made a quick prayer to Yemaya that his old teacher was doing well and safe while he was gone.

It was in the middle of this calming reflection that Manoel felt eyes watching him and looked up to see a white bird with what seemed like an orange crown atop its head. At that same moment of seeing this bird,( he believed was called a cockatoo) he heard the deep thumping rhythm of drums in the distance. He stood up, placing the patua back inside his shirt.

He momentarily looked in the direction he heard the sound of the drums, and back to the bird. He was not at all surprised to see it had gone. It had delivered the message and likely had other things to attend to. Lifting his small duffle he stretched momentarily and started his decent down the dark street. Not long after he heard the Dum Dat Dum- Dum Dat Dum of a distant drum and it caused his steps and shoulders to sway in time. But hearing wasn’t the full truth of it. He felt the ritmo of the drums. The rhythm got louder with each step and before long, he had found his destination. From the outside it looked like a small white plaster coated brick house, situated at the end of the long shaded street, but the house itself seemed to glow in the moon light. He smiled and sauntered up to the door and knocked in time to the drum beat he heard. The door opened and he was immediately pulled into the room by faceless brown hands.

He saw no faces only hearing call and response singing of many voices and felt many hands push and pull him though the room. At one moment he thought saw the Cockatoo fly overhead. The next moment he was kneeling before a large brown man holding a long heavy berimbau and singing a beautifully ballad of the sea. Manoel looked to his left and saw a woman kneeling in the same position he was before the …singing man. Besouro felt his body and arms swaying to the rhythm of the drum and berimbau playing together. Just then the man changed the song.

“Ê me leva na Bahia
Ê leva na Bahia”

The other people standing in the surrounding circle sang back

“Ê me leva na Bahia
Ê leva na Bahia”

An almost imperceptible gesture from the man singing is what initiated the following exchange. In a second Besouro and the woman were in flight. This is the place where his wings grew from his body and he was truly himself. He was Besouro above all other things when in the game.  He kicked and fought then he danced and dodged. The two of them flowed around each other with kicks and broke through each other with expert movements. He had matched against very few women in his life when in these circles of violent dance known as capoeira. He found this woman particularly adept in her style and Besouro made no hesitation in sweeping her to the ground as soon as the opportunity presented itself. The sweep was clean she was down for but a split second and quickly had re-initiated their exchange, and in his surprise he nearly found himself swept to the floor if not for his agility. The beautiful exchange of kicks and doges went on for a few more moments and soon another had broken between them for his turns, buying out the other player and focusing on Besuoro.  This man was slightly slower in his movements around the roda. His extremely fast kicks blazed about the circle as he played a much more direct angle of attack against Besouro.

He was tall with long arm and legs and moved around surprisingly easy in the confined circular area for someone of his size. When he kicked they were extremely fast and seemed to cover the entire ring making closing space between them difficult for Besouro at first. In short time he had a strategy to get in close and the next time the long man kicked Besouro feinted an incorrect dodge and baited the long man, at the last moment rotating under the kick and flowing into another step where he was in proper range to break Long man’s balance with a hip throw, sending the man but first to the floor. Like the woman he quickly recovered and again they were engaged in flashing combat, but only momentarily.

The man singing had stopped and summoned the two to the front and called another set of players two young men to the front to replace them. Exiting the circle he spotted, among the many brown faces in the crowd watching the exchange of the next two, an old tan skinned woman with curly grey hair and wearing an all-white and gold gown that looked considerably out of place in this place of brown loose clothing and loud sweating bodies. She waved him over with a smile and he saw she was holding his duffle that he had completely forgotten about in the rush. She handed it to him….

"Bem-vindo a Salvador, Besouro! Welcome my son!" Her smile was bright and true. It made her almost look young again.

“Obrigado Mae. You are the Mae de Santo of this house. Did you send the cockatoo bird to guide me?”

“Exu governs the crossroads, Besouro. I know you from your Teacher Tio Alipio. We spoke recently. You move with no less malandragem than that old man says. I would’ve thought he was exaggerating.”

“You know Tio Alipio? How? ”

“This world is much older than you’d ever imagine boy.” The old woman patted his cheek. “I’ve met Tio more times and place than i can count. And I believe I’ve met you before as well at one point in time or another.”

Before Besouro could ask what she meant she interrupted him. “A story for another time, Besouro. It’s apparent you are itching to re-enter the roda. When you quiche your flaming axe and are looking to retire you may accompany Gafanhoto and Perigosa to their home. They will provide you good shelter for your stay.”

She indicated the man and woman whom he had contested against just moments before in the circle. They were standing in the crowd of people singing and clapping with the energetic bataeria. Seemingly sensing her name being spoken the woman looked up and nodded at him with a smile before she returned her attention to the game at hand.

“Tomorrow we will talk about why your teacher felt you should come visit me in Salvador.” with that she clapped him on the shoulder and walked out of a side door to another room he had not seen there previously.

Besouro placed his duffle bag in a place he could easily find and re-joined the roda. He played and fought all night. Game after game, he entered with burning axe. Sweeping and tossing other players and getting swept and tossed also. He could not remember the last time he had contested such a variety of capoeira fighters in Santa Amaro. The event went on all night and ended just before day break.

After the festivities had ended and acquaintances had been made Besouro joined Gafanhoto and Perigosa on the walk to their home. They chatted heartily about the roda and life in Salvador. He learned they were newly married and their names were Joao and Liza De Carvalho and both learned capoeira from the man playing the berimbau and singing. His name is Macaco, an ex-slave of a plantation in the south, they told him. By the time they had reached the small apartment shared with other members of their family, it had been nearly an hour and the sun was beginning to gain some height in the cool morning sky. They ate a light breakfast of some eggs and biscuits and Perigosa gave him a mat and a spot in the corner to lay and rest before they left saying they had errands to run in the market.

As he lay, he thought about what the old Mae De Santo wanted to speak to him about. The fact that she knew he would be there when he had spoken to no one of his intention of attending the underground capoeira event since his teacher told him where and when it would be was proof that she was the “family” he was to meet up with. He decided that as soon as he awoke he would head directly there. With that thought he slipped into exhausted sleep.


During the day, the streets he had wandered the night before in the dark looked and completely different. The places before where before he saw boding darkness and deep alleys now he saw homes and children playing in the streets. The after-midnight silence he had experienced was now replaced with laughing and bargaining. Maybe this surprised him because Santo Amaro rarely experienced such extremes in the same small local areal. The difference of night and day here was large enough he had nearly gotten himself lost on the way. Guiding himself by memory in such a variant environment was a challenge, but ultimately he enjoyed the experience and he had purchased a cold drink as he walked and spend a lot of his trip people-watching.

After about an hour and a half he spotted Casa Branca de Deus and saw the Mae-de-santo sitting outside under a large lovely jacaranda tree. He was again shocked that he had not noticed something as huge and lovely as a Jacaranda tree with its lavender flower petals scattered upon the ground in front of the bright white house. As he approached he noticed that the Mae was looking at him from afar, and assumed she probably spotted him before he spotted her, and not necessarily by sight.

When he got closer he took one hand out of his pocket and waved nonchalantly, as he often did. His face wore a welcoming grin.

“Ola’, Mae.” Besouro said grinning. “I was overcome with love when is saw you from the street corner. You look quite lovely sitting under this Jacaranda”

“Oh hush boy.” The Mae de Santo said swatting him with the thin fan she held. “I’m old but not that old I need to have my pride stroked with silly complements.”

They both laughed and he offered his hand to help her up. She took it rising slowly form the makeshift wooden bench she sat upon.

Venha, lingua de prata. Let’s go inside. We have some things to discuss.” She said, leading the way towards the white house.

Upon his second entry he noticed the atmosphere was almost completely the same as it was the night before. Somehow the building seemed to hold all of Axe energy from the roda the night before and keep it fresh. The only time he had noticed that before was many years old Tio Alipio’s house when local the Capoeistas would come and have a roda in his home once a month. No other locations, neither outside on the beach or grass nor inside a building or home retained the same energy after a roda. Besouro never thought much about it but once his teacher asked him if he could feel a difference of atmosphere in a room after a roda. Besouro told him that he could tell Tio Alipio’s house kept the same atmosphere after a roda as if an event was happening in that moment. Old Tio clapped him on the shoulder and told him to remember that feeling. He remembered all of that an instant and it occurred to him that this was perhaps what he was here about. The room was rearranged and situated with chairs, shrines, drums and cowrie beads and many decorations along the walls. It was very beautiful, and the energy from the previous roda made him feel a little buzzed.

The Mae de Santo guided him to a seat at a table with a round straw beautifully endowed mat covered with African decorations. Next she pulled out a small Knit bag of cowries she had in her sleeve. Saying a prayer she began the process of casting the cowries onto the straw knit mat and reading them.

Besouro watched her work silently, wondering but not really daring to interrupt her. Finally she looked up at him with an amused look in her time withered eyes.

“You are a favorite of the Orisha. I can determine nothing definite about your path though these 16 cowrie shells.” she said bemused. “The Orisha …dispute over your…path…”

Besouro sat silently in response. Better to be assumed dumb than open your mouth and remove prove it he had been told.

“Fair enough. I suppose now is a good time to tell you why your teacher requested you come see me all the way across Bahia.” Again, Besouro sat silently yet attentive.

“Alipio is my brother and we were born free in a quilombo in Tocantins. It was destroyed and many of our family killed. We were spared along with others who surrendered to the Os homens brancos. We were slaves again and it was tough but that is a story for another time. My brother Alipio was told in a dream by Exu himself, that a child would come to learn to be a hero from him. Many years later Tio Alipio believes that student is you. “She looked at him trying to gauge his reaction to this news. There was little.


“Ah so that’s why Tio Alipio always tells me stories of the Orixa. He told me once he was the Pai-de-Santo of a house at one point. I’ll be honest; this is not too surprising to me. I often feel as if Exu has guided me to and through many…experiences in my life. This patua, was given to me by Tio Alipio.” He took the pendant out of his shirt to show the priestess. “Whenever I touch it I’m never lost or confused.”

The Mae de Santo burst into laughter. “Very well then Besouro. You seem to have more sense than you’re old teacher. He sent you here because he wanted me to confirm what it seems you already knew.”

“Well, that the thing. I don’t know about being a hero. My father said, heroes are mostly dead men people talk well about after the funeral. Not a bad thing, but I’m not planning on dying. I’ve got too much capoeira to play.” He replied, smiling but stern.

“Between the beginning and the end there is always the middle, eh? You have a bit of wisdom for a youngster. I believe you will do quite well. The best heroes are the ones that live by their instincts and without thoughts of heroism. ”

The two of them rose and she embraced him tightly, as a mother would embrace her son after a long distance had been closed between them. He hugged her back and only then realized how frail and fragile the old woman really was.

“Go back home and tell your old funky teacher i said everything will be well. And then tell him to come visit his old funky sister.”

Besouro laughed then with a pause he asked. “Mae de Santo. I never asked you’re name. You knew me from the beginning but I don’t know what to call you other than by your title of Mae.

“Mae De Santo is good enough. But for you my nephew in spirit, I’ll tell you name is Maria. But my nickname is only for the smallest of capoeira rodas though. The police may still want payback from so long ago, should they catch wind of it so near.


Manoel walked the streets of Salvador, lost in thought. Questions whirled in his head. The Mae De Santo Senhora Maria had just told him he was destined to be a hero. A hero of what? A hero to who? What was use was a hero to a negro man in Brazil in 1919?  The word hero meant nothing to him or anyone he knew. Being a hero for a negro in this time meant to have a death wish. He was going to have to talk to Tio Alipio about this whole thing. He had never heard his teacher speak of such absurd ideas of heroism.

Manoel found himself in a familiar area, near the docks. Looking at the darkening sky saw that the sun has descended low to the skyline in distance and saw clouds painted fiery yellow and red just over the horizon. He walked to the cafe where Balde and he had feasted the other day. He hoped to see him there again and was half-surprised to see Balde most-way though his second beer when he arrived.

“Hey there Old Sailor.” he said as he approached. He sat across and signaled the garconete to bring him a beer.

“Ah I was wondering what happened to you. Looks like you know your way around Salvador already” Balde quibbled jokingly.

“Not the whole city, but I’ve found a few interesting places here and there.”

He began to tell the story of his previous day’s adventure with tenacity yet vague in certain particular details leaving out locations meant to be secret and a certain prophecy. He told him of the orange crowned bird, and of the capoeira event and the friends he is staying with and the friendly Mae De Santo who is antiquated with Tio Alipio. When they exited the cafe the moon was high overhead peaking though a partially cloudy sky. They both had a few beers between the two but Balde was considerably more since his Inn was closer than the home Manoel was staying. They parted ways, agreeing to meet again before the shit departed on its shipments towards Santo Amaro. He watched Balde stumble a bit as he walked away before heading off in his own direction again. The laughs and conversation with his friend had lightened his mood. It was usually at times like this he felt antsy. As luck would have it, he found some entertainment

The laughs and conversation with his friend had lightened his mood a bit. The night air was cool and he was feeling a buzzed from the beers he had drunk. Had Manoel been in Santo Amaro with his friends, Paulo or Canario on a night like this they would’ve been playing music, singing and dancing with the locals and flirting with the pretty girls. Salvador was far from dead at night, but the atmosphere was different and he didn’t seem to find much activity outside of the taverns. He figured the heavier presence of the white Brazilian police may something to do that that, though he didn’t see much of them in the more negro areas he had frequented in the last day.

In this moot speculative daydreaming as he walked he reached up to scratch his chest absentmindedly. It was then he felt the patua he wore slip from his neck, the rope somehow broken and fall towards the ground. Reflexively he took a couple of swipes at it trying to catch it in its decent only to end up batting it down a shaded alley between two buildings that had closed for the night. Immediately he dived after it into the darkness again his just missing catching it yet closes enough that his fingertips launched it again deeper into the alley. Besouro, used to moving quickly low to the ground caught himself easily on his hands never taking his eye of his patua’s unique glint, and saw it land softly on a oddly discarded blue and yellow scarf on the ground. He walked over and knelt beside it. It didn’t look like it had been there long he noted before picking is patua off it and looking at where the string had come apart. It look like it had been cleanly cut right off of his neck. He retired the two ends and looped the magic piece back around his neck.

He picked up the scarf and smelled a flowery scent of a woman’s perfume. This had not been here long at all. Besouro leapt to his feet as he heard a brief shriek of a woman further in the dark. The sound was immediately followed by meaty thud that is the sound of a fist hitting flesh. He then heard muffled stiffing of sobbing and cursing whispering of men. He quietly crept to the end of the alley and peered around a corner where he saw three men and a woman nearly fifty feet away down the cobblestoned dead end. Two of the men had the woman pinned on the ground trying to strip her and one was standing looking out into the alley. They all wore black handkerchiefs hiding most of their face yet Besouro could tell they were all homens de pele branca and their clothing gave them away as sailors.

Besouro could hear the two men hitting and holding the woman down. Their intention was clear and Besouro felt intense rage climb up his throat from deep within him, and seemed to set his entire head on fire from the inside. He tied the blue and yellow scarf over his face and stepped into the alley.

He began chanting over and over again under his breath as he approached. “Ochosi Ode mata obá akofá ayé o unsó iré o wa mi Ochosi omode aché”

With every step he grew angrier. With every vocalization of the chant he felt less like himself and more like a deity. The sailor on lookout had not seen Besouro approach although he walked directly up to him through the dark chanting aloud. Not until Besouro was within an arm’s length before him that the lookout sailor seemed to register his presence. Lookout sailor gasped and raised a machete he carried in reflex to strike the ghostly negro apparition. The strike was far too late as Besouro closed the slight gap between them. With one low powerful kick he swept both the sailors legs out from under his body, hearing a loud pop as the sailors popped out of the socket and he slammed head first to the street with a loud thwack, like the low end of a seesaw.

The other two sailors looked up and saw the lookout flat and still on the ground. They did not see Besouro who had moved into another part of the shadows closer yet more concealed than the lookout had been standing.

“The hell’s is wrong with you Batista?” One sailor said pulling out a large knife and pointing it at the woman implying she stop struggling, before he stops her once and for all. Besouro’s rage flared and in a flash he was beside the knifed sailor his foot crashing into the man’s chest before the sailor was entirely certain he was there. Knife sailor’s blade clacked to the stoned street just as his back found the wall stopping the momentum of the forceful body kick with unforgiving bricks.

The woman shrieked at the suddenness of the attack and in another flash Besouro laying into the man with kick knees and punches until the sailor was clearly unconscious. He slumped to the ground on jellied legs and fell over, blood dripping from his broken nose and teeth. Besouro looked to the woman with sad eyes she could see clearly though his face was masked with her own blue and yellow scarf.

Besouro cut his eyes back to the third masked sailor. He was old and short with white shaggy hair that covered most of his face. Again, Besouro’s rage was powerfully re-ignited and approached the old sailor. Seeing what the blue and white scarfed negro demon did to his partners, the old man turned on his heels and ran bow-legged down the alley and out into the street from which Besouro had been walking just moments before the encounter. He looked to the woman and in a word told her to go home. After a momentary lingering gaze, she obliged an ran out of the alley in another direction, the impact of what had happened all at once breaking her spell of shock allowing her cries of pain and fear to come unhindered.

As the bowlegged old sailor ran away he pulled off his mask hollering that he was being chased by a demon. Besouro followed at a distance, still not done with this man, still not released from his contract of retribution. Also he realized that he recognized the old bowlegged curly haired sailor. When the old sailor encountered three policiais patrolling the area, he ran right at them panicked and sweating, screaming about some strange violent ghost. As they tried to calm the bowlegged sailor down, Besouro watched and then walked out in plain sight of the four of them. The man squealed in terror pointing as Besouro stood at a corner just in the shadow of a passing cloud. Startled by the scream and ready to shoot the police turned to see what the man was pointing and screaming about. But the sailor was the only one who could see Besouro, a silhouette standing just outside of the moonlight.

The sailor took off running again leaving to police even more confused. Besouro pursued and soon he had him cornered at the pier as the bowlegged man tried to run to his ship, but Besouro cut him off before he could get close. The two stood facing each other on the pier in the intermittent moonlight, Besouro still masked in the Yellow and blue scarf, standing between the sailor and his ship. The sailor was exhausted, scared and desperate and finally pulled out a large fishing knife from his boot. He attached with large slashing movements, which were easily enough evaded. Before the man could attack anymore Besouro kicked and put heel squarely in the man’s stubbly chin, knocking him backwards off of his feet. The man wailed in pain and spit out a bloody broken tooth onto the wooden planks.

“Puh-Please leave me alone!” the man sobbed. “I won’t do nothin’ like that ever again! It was a big mistake.”

Besoruo said nothing, his eyes seeming to glow dully above the bright colored mask. He struck the sailor with another hard kick to the gut this time doubling him over retching alcohol and bile onto the dock.

“H-here! Take this” The man pulled a money clip of bills and threw it at Besouro, who caught it unexpectedly. Besouro smiled under the scarf satisfied. He pocketed the money clip and walked past the doubled over sailor. Of course, just as he anticipated the sailor noisily rushed him from behind just as soon as Besouro has turned his back. With a pivot Besouro sidestepped the tackle and began beating the man all over again.

“Thanks for the wages my Captain. I knew you wouldn’t let me down.” Besouro said before spinning a hard kick into the cheating captain’s side shooting him off the edge of the pier into the water below. He walked away from the docks leaving the cursing beaten man to make his way back to land.


The rest of the night was wholly uneventful and Besouro made his way back to the home of the De Carvalho’s stopping only to replace the Blue and yellow scarf where he had found it. He placed it neatly wrapping a portion of the money with in it. He split the “donation” in half and kept one part for himself. He felt if the woman somehow found this scarf then she could at least get some compensation for what he had gone though. But ultimately the he would let the Orisha decide. When he got back the house, he greeted the family and lay atop his mat. Just as he was falling asleep, he decided that his reason for coming to Salvador was more than a fortune reading by the Mae de Santo for his teacher. He was here to experience life. Knowing he would spend a few more days there in this city, he found himself anxious for what other towns, cities and experiências were awaiting him once he left.

O Acabamento

Sally Mary Henry (A SOBSF Black History Speculative Fiction Story)

Mama and Daddy told me never run as fast as I can, and I abided. I worked the battlefields of Virginia a while. Nobody knew how I was able to get help to so many wounded. Nobody paid attention to a black girl, particularly one that knew to be smart. A bunch of shot up and dying white men, some of them flinching away from me, some of them surely dying from the sudden sight of me, and I am powerfully sorry for that. I worked only during the worst of battle; I settled down when the things that cloud men’s sight settled down: smoke, fear, death running surely beside them. White men were fighting white men, and I surely knew it was not for me. Union, Confederate—I wouldn’t be blessed meeting either one of them alone at night, but I couldn’t let a man die. Not human to do so.

Fast as I was I couldn’t not be smart. Folks didn’t want me to learn how to read? I stole their books and had them back before they knew they were missing. Anybody looked like they were willing to tell me a word that caught my eyes, I asked.

When they stopped trying to kill each other in big places and focused on killing each other in small, I left. I hadn’t seen my brother in a long, long while. He’d been wandering same as me. Mama and Daddy told us: “Don’t stay in one place. You got to move. You can never put down roots.” So me and my brother separated. I was the elder. I left first. Made it all the way to Canada, then came back. But they never told us where we were from. Just “Not here” was all we got.

Virginia. Hot. Dirty. The air made more out of tobacco than breeze. The biggest plantations stretched as far as my arms were wide when I looked at the land from a ways off. No wonder these folks were crazy. Land poisoning. Profit poisoning. Even the railroads coming through,–and they were laying a ton of track–were for transporting money when it came right down to it. These fools were drilling holes through mountains so that profit had the right of way. The first big death fight I saw was a bunch of Union men blowing up a new line. Rebs turned out from nowhere like hornets from a cloud. I dropped the two heavy water buckets I’d been carrying and did what I do. Saved people.

I do get sick and tired of saving people. Especially folks who got nothing better to do than kill each other. From here to Canada and from Canada to here I’d saved so many folks who looked like me, saved them from being beaten or killed by white folks for no other reason than having my skin. I only had to kill once, but I will not tell Mama and Daddy about that. That will go to my grave. Three Rebs had fixed to try to cut off a boy’s foot for stepping on a white man’s feet. They were powerfully sick. I could smell it off them in waves. Spirit sickness. I screamed then was everywhere around them, a dark storm. Except I had their knife, a long, mean blade. When it was done I dropped to my knees, the layers of my clothing tangled around me, red all over me. I dropped the knife into the groove of a deep wagon rut. The little black boy was looking at me with his teary eyes wide and breathing that hard breath that made people fall out. I got up, knelt to him, and put my hand on his bare chest, pressure against his breathing till it calmed down. My skin was darker than his but I tried to merge us.  When he calmed down I removed my hand. Left a red handprint. I went to wipe it but he pushed my hand away. Not mean. Not frightened. He wanted it. I held his eyes, then I held my finger to my lips, then I was gone. I didn’t carry him off. I didn’t make sure he was safe. I had seen too many of my folks killed to think I could save them all. That was the poison that had gotten into me. I had saved hundreds of folks who looked like me. Hundreds.  This one time, though, dear Lord, this one time I just wanted to be gone from this poison space and find a river, hit it full speed to cleave the blood and skin from me.

I would never tell Mama and Daddy about that.

Instead I kept searched for my brother. The last image I’d picked up from him he’d gotten caught stealing food. Before they knocked him out I saw that it wasn’t even for him. My brother was a big man and he had stolen a small block of fruit. Had meant to give it to the Iroquois child the pressmen had running water all day to the grimy steam engines working the rail lines with the tired, sweaty men. It wasn’t easy knocking my brother out. I knew he wouldn’t be in prison long because I knew what they did with black men in prison: leased them out for work. They couldn’t call us slaves anymore but that didn’t mean they couldn’t use us as such. Twenty-five cents a day straight to the prison. More poison. And him able to do the work of ten men without breaking a sweat meant they wouldn’t waste time making money off him. I needed to find him before that happened. I knew my brother, his sense of duty, sense of pride. He would hammer a mountain all by himself if asked to.

My sweet, gentle brother.

I fear this world is going to use us up.

Three Finger’d Jack by Balogun Ojetade and Maniga M. Otep (SOBSF Black History Selection)

The oak wheels of the wagon sounded like distant rolling thunder. The driver of the wagon put a bottle of whiskey to his lips and then turned the bottom of the bottle skyward. The driver wiped his paper-thin lips with the back of his hand and then handed the bottle to the man sitting beside him. His partner laid his blunderbuss on his lap and then took the bottle in his plump, ruddy fist.

“Whoa!” The driver shouted.

The wagon came to an abrupt halt. Whiskey splashed in the face of the man riding shotgun.

“What the hell?” The man shouted. “Why’d ya stop the carriage, Fred?”

“Look,” Fred whispered, pointing toward something before him.

Standing in the middle of the road was a giant who towered nearly seven feet. The giant was massively muscled; his barrel-like chest strained against the red, cotton material of his sleeveless waistcoat. His chestnut-hued forearms were as girthy as a man’s thigh; his neck, like the trunk of a mahogany sapling.

The ebon colossus’ face was hidden beneath the shadow cast by the brim of his black, beaver skin capotain hat. The tall hat tilted over the brow of the giant gave him the appearance of a fearsome, black pilgrim, come to wreak bloody vengeance upon his racist white counterparts.

“Show ya’self and state ya’ business,” Fred commanded. “Or Riley here is gonna put iron in ya’ chest!”

Riley dropped the bottle of whiskey onto the dirt road and raised his blunderbuss.

The giant smiled; his perfect alabaster teeth in stark contrast to his dark skin. “Dweet, bwai,” he said in a heavy Jamaican patois – “Do it, boy.” – “You’ll be dead t’ree seconds aftah.”

“Ya’ black bastard!” Riley spat. “Yer’ dead!”

Riley squeezed the trigger of the blunderbuss. A din like thunder rent the crisp evening air. A cloud of marble sized iron pellets and rusty nails sped toward the giant.

The giant lunged to his left with blinding speed.

The shrapnel from the blunderbuss flew past him.

“Impossible!” Riley gasped.

Fred leapt down from his seat. “Hurry up and reload!”

Fred drew his slender, sharply pointed smallsword from its sheath. He thrust the point toward the giant…but the black stranger had seemingly vanished from the road.

“Where is he?” Fred inquired. “Do you see him Riley?”

Fred was met with silence.

“Riley?” Fred repeated.

Still, silence.

“Riley, I said…”

Fred looked up at the wagon. Riley’s body was slumped over in the seat. His head, cleanly severed from his body sat in his lap.

“No!” Fred screamed.

“Yah, mon.” A voice replied from behind him.

Fred whirled on his heels, slashing with his sword.

The giant blocked the blade with a backhanded swipe of his own sword – a broad, slightly curved cutlass four feet in length. The weapon’s grip and guard were carved from ivory. Its keen blade, forged from cold steel.

Fred’s sword was rent in two, leaving only the grip in Fred’s trembling hand.

“Mi name is Jack Mansong,” the giant bellowed. “Time for you to join Riley in hell.”

Jack raised his cutlass above his head.

Tears streamed down Fred’s cheeks. “No…please, don’t kill me,” he sobbed.

“Everybody die dem, mi bredren,” – “Everyone dies, my friend,” – Jack replied. “Ah fi yuh tun today.” – “It’s your turn today.”

Jack slashed downward with his cutlass with tremendous force. The sharp blade struck Fred’s skull, cleaving it in two.

Fred’s lifeless body collapsed, landing with a dull thud at Jack’s feet. Blood splashed onto Jack’s black leather shoes and black stockings, but Jack didn’t seem to notice. He peered over his shoulder and whistled loudly.

Two scores of Black men and women, all dressed in dark green waistcoats, similar to Jack’s red one, slipped from behind the Blue Mahoe trees that lined the road and sprinted toward Jack, their muskets and flintlock pistols at the ready.

“Nesta,” Jack said.

“Yah, mon,” a tall, beautiful woman with toffee-colored skin answered.

“Check di wagon,” Jack ordered.

Nesta trotted to the back of the wagon. Four men and two women formed a rank behind her. She pointed her flintlock pistol at the wagon and then snatched back its cover.

Huddled together at the front of the wagon, cowering in the shadows, were five young Black women in their late teens and a boy no older than twelve or thirteen.

“Come on out,” Nesta said. “You’re free now.”

The women crawled in a single file to the back of the wagon and then hopped down onto the road. The boy followed suit.

“How many we got?” Jack asked.

“Five gyals dem,” Nesta answered. “One bwai.”

Jack sauntered toward the young ladies and the boy. “Where were dey take yuh?”

“Mi heard di one called Fred say him was take we to Governor Dalling,” one of the girls said, taking a step toward Jack. “Him said we were gwine be his belly warmer dem.”

“Di bwai, too?” Nesta asked shaking her head.

“Yah, mon, ma’am,” the girl answered.

“Well, you’re free now,” Jack said. “So, you’re free to choose. Go fi yuh own way an’ fend fah yourselve dem, or jine me an’ we work to make all o’ we free.”

“Mi reckon join ya’ is better dan’ slave fi dem’,” the girl replied.

The other women and the little boy nodded in agreement.

“Den, welcome to di army of Jack Mansong,” Jack said with a bow and a wave of his capotain hat. “Hop back in di wagon an’ Nesta, here, will drive yuh home.”

With that, Jack turned away from his army and sprinted toward the tree line. The shadows of the Blue Mahoes seemed to embrace him and a moment later, the giant was gone.


The shadows opened and Jack stepped out onto a narrow path that led to the gaping maw of a cave. Twenty of his soldiers greeted him, kneeling on their right knee and raising their machetes to their foreheads in their traditional salute. Jack knelt, returning the salute and then hopped to his feet. The soldiers followed suit. Jack then embraced each of them, asking each man and woman about their day before marching up the path to the cave.

Jack stepped inside the cave. Torches lined the walls, bathing the illustrations of Jack’s exploits – drawn by Nesta, who was a masterful artist – and the hieroglyphs – drawn by his master to ward off their white oppressors – in firelight.

Jack strode past several torch lit rooms and passages on either side of him, journeying deeper down the main passageway until he came to a capacious room lit, not by torches, but by hundreds of white candles. In the center of this room was a small pool of clear water. Beside the pool, sitting upon his haunches on a straw mat, was a middle-aged man dressed in a white tunic and white breeches.

Jack lowered himself into a prone position and then pressed his forehead to the stone floor. “Wah gwan, Tata Boukman.” – “Hello, Father Boukman.”

“Wah gwan, Jack,” Tata Boukman replied. “Come si’ down wid mi, mon.”

Jack leapt to his feet and walked toward the mat. He knelt before his teacher and embraced him. He then sat on the mat opposite Boukman.

Between the two men sat a tray, which was carved from a red wood. The tray was the size of a dinner plate, with a smiling Afrikan man’s face carved into the edge of the tray closest to Jack. Jack knew well who this sculpted visage belonged to – it was the face of Tata Legba, the Divine Trickster and intermediary between the forces of nature and humanity. Upon the tray was what Tata Boukman called his “soodsaya chain” – a thin, brass chain about the size of a necklace, to which eight halves of palm seeds are connected.

Boukman held the soodsaya chain between his fingers and thumb, letting the ends of it hang just above the tray. With a gentle back and forth movement of his fingers, the divining chain swung back and forth. After the third forward swing, Boukman opened his fingers, allowing the chain to fall upon the tray.

Boukman examined the pattern formed by the palm seeds. He picked up the chain and repeated the process twice more.

“Fi yuh read come dem wid blessins’,” – “Your divination comes with blessings,” Boukman said. “Yuh are blessed wid victory ovah enemy dem.”

Boukman pressed the tips of his crooked, ebony fingers to the brown leather pouch that hung from Jack’s chest. “Nuh white mon cyan harm yuh as long as yuh wear fi yuh Obi’Yah bag upon fi yuh chest. Howevah, yuh need protection from fi yuh own Black bredren.”

Boukman slid his right hand into his left sleeve. A moment later he withdrew what looked like a large goat’s horn wrapped in tan leather. “Dis ram a hawn make dem any attack wid di white man a weapons witless, even if di wielda is blacker dan a dousand midnights.” – “This ram’s horn renders any attack with the white man’s weaponry worthless, even if the attacker is blacker than a thousand midnights.”

Boukman placed the horn in Jack’s open palms. Jack clutched it, feeling it pulse in his fist. He slipped the leather cord attached to the horn over his head and let the horn hang at his right side.

“‘Ow did today a mission guh?” – “How did today’s mission go?” Boukman asked.

“Nuh silva or food dis time,” Jack replied. “Dis time we got five sistas and one bredda.”

“Are dey wid wi?” Boukman inquired.

“Yeh mon.”

“Good! Obi is swell our ranks!”

“T’ank Obi,” Jack said, nodding in agreement. “Soon, we will take Jamdung from the white man and finally live free!”

“We done here,” Boukman said. “Mi will see yuh at dinna.”

“Alright,” Jack said, rising to his feet. “Rest up, Tata Boukman.”

“Oh, an’ Jack…”

“Yeh mon, Tata?”

“Don’t send Nesta outa pon anymo’ missions.”

“But shim ah mi bes’ soldia’.” – “But she is my best soldier.”

“Shim ah also breed.” – “She is also with child.”

Jack’s eyes grew as wide as saucers and his chin fell to his chest. “Yuh mean we…?”

“You’ll be a fam’ly soon,” Boukman said. “Suh, nuh mo’ missions fah Nesta.”

“Yeh mon, Tata!” Jack said, beaming.

Boukman Dutty laced his fingers behind his head, lay on his back and closed his eyes.

Jack backed out of the room, stepping into the cool, welcoming shadows and once again, disappeared.


Governor John Dalling’s plump, ivory fist slammed into the top of his mahogany desk. Earl Gray tea spilled from his porcelain cup and splashed into the saucer upon which it sat. “I want that Black bastard’s head! For overlong, Jack Mansong has wrought a reign of terror upon the good, white citizens of Jamaica.”

The governor leered at the lean, russet-colored man standing before him. “Your people – those…Maroons – swore, according to our agreement, to keep order amongst the free savage and the slave. Why are they not bringing an end to this Jack mess?”

“First of all, di Maroons are nah mi people,” the lean man replied. “Nanny ‘av grown weak, but refuse dem to tun ova powa to di strong.”

“Strong, like you?” Governor Dalling said with a smirk.

“Nah like mi,” the man said. “Ha’ Obi’Yah is nuh match fi di powa of di grave. Di powa mi mama passed dung to me – the power my mother passed down to me. Di Maroons were ‘fraid of dat powa, but used it – and we – to help winna deir freedom – to help win their freedom. But when it came time to divide di powa an’ di land, Nanny kept it to herself!”

“Well, Quashie, your powers have been quite effective in dealing with my opponents and detractors, I must admit.” Governor Dalling said.

“Of course, yuh mus’,” Quashie said. “Look, mi will deal wid dis Jack Mansong for dat t’ree hundred pound bounty yuh put pon his head, but yuh will also haf’fi  gimmi command of a hundred of fi yuh men.”

Governor Dalling’s fat face twisted into a scowl. “What! A Black leading white men? That’s preposterous!”

“As preposterous as that wig yuh wear pon fi yuh bald head,” Quashie said. “Jack Mansong ‘av big wa’ Obi an’ an army of highly trained warriors. Mi cannot wage wa’ wid him widout men.”

“Alright,” the governor sighed. “I’ll pay you nine hundred pounds sterling for Jack’s head, plus an additional fifty pounds for every member of Jack’s army you return to the plantations, but I can only spare fifty men.”

“Yuh ‘av a deal,” Quashie said. “Now, let we seal our agreement ovah hot tea. ‘Av fi yuh bwai bring me a cup!”


Jack and Nesta sauntered around the circle of sweating men and women who rolled, leapt and somersaulted backward, forward and sideways while holding their machetes toward the red sun of dawn.

“Kipura ah de war dance of fi wi ancestors from de Kongo,” he bellowed. “It will make yuh strong; it will make yuh agile; it will teach yuh to endure an’ prepare yuh fah fi yuh deepa combat trainin’. Suh, wi train inna Kipura every day. Wi train until fightin’ ah as easy as sleepin’!”

“Aye!” The men and women in the circle shouted in unison.

Juda, the boy who – along with the five young women – was rescued from enslavement under Governor Dalling, sprinted into camp. Only two weeks had passed and Juda had already earned a place among Jack’s scouts, who explored beyond the area occupied by Jack’s forces to gain vital information about the enemy’s movements and features of the environment for later analysis by their leader.

“Field Marshal Jack!” Juda shouted as he ran toward Jack. “A caravan!”

“Slow dung, bwai,” Jack replied. “A caravan dis early? Weh ah it?”

“Pon Windward Road,” Juda said. “‘Bout five wagons…all covered.”

“Could be a trap,” Nesta said.

“Could be,” Jack replied. “Suh, I’ll just tek t’ree warriors wid mi. Nesta, put everyone pon alert. Juda, tell de scouts to return to camp an’ help load de weapons.”

“Aye!” Juda shouted before whirling on his heels and sprinting off.

“Aye!” Nesta said, but she did not move.

“A wah?” – “What is it?” Jack inquired.

“Be careful,” Nesta whispered, caressing his fingers with her own.

“Mi always am,” Jack replied, flashing Nesta a broad smile.

Nesta released Jack’s hand. Jack whirled on his heels and bolted off.


Jack lay prone on a hill that watched over Windward Road, his massive body concealed behind a fallen tree. Three of his most skilled warriors – Boogs, Moby and Vera – lay beside him, their muskets trained on the caravan below them. The caravan had stopped to tighten a wheel on one of the wagons. Each wagon’s blunderbuss-wielding guard stood beside their wagon, perusing the road and the hillside. The drivers of all but one wagon – the one with the loose wheel- sat in their seats with their hands upon the reins of their horses.

Moby snapped his head toward Jack. “Wah yuh tink?” He whispered.

“It does nah look like a trap,” Jack replied. “But looks can deceive. Howeva, wi need to strike before dat wheel ah tightened an’ dey can move. Wi don’t want any of dem gettin’ ‘way.”

“Aye,” Moby replied with a nod.

“Mi ago guh dung an’ seh wah gwan,” – “I’ll go down and say hello,” Jack said. “Cova mi.” – “Cover me.”

“What if ah a trap?” Vera inquired. “What if it is a trap?”

“Good,” Jack replied. “As long as we know we a inna a trap, wi still ‘av a bly to escape it.” – “As long as we know we are in a trap, we still have a chance to escape it.”

Jack hopped to his feet and drew his cutlass from its sheath. He then drew one of the flintlock pistols in his waistband. The giant nodded at the trio of warriors and then wrapped his arms around his chest.

Shadows swooped down upon him, blanketing Jack in their coolness. Jack felt a slight tug at his innards and then, a moment later, he was standing on Windward Road behind the caravan.

Good mawnin’, bakra,” – “Good morning, white slave masters,” Jack said with a smile.

The guards, turned toward Jack, pointing their blunderbusses at him.

Jack bowed slightly. “Fi mi name ah Jack Mansong, fi yuh friendly bandulu, wo’ has come to liberate yuh of de burden of fi yuh cargo. Mi know ah heavy an’ mi seek only to lighten fi yuh load. Suh leave de wagons…an’ live!”

“Mi tink nah,” – “I think not,” a voice called from inside the rearmost wagon.

Jack raised an eyebrow. The voice was not that of a white man, but of one of his kinsmen. “Show yourself.”

Quashie climbed out of the wagon. He was dressed in a sky blue-colored, velvet great coat with cream embroidery and brown suede cuffs and collar. His waistcoat underneath matched the colors of the great coat and his breeches and shoes were brown suede. His stockings, gloves and shirt were cream-colored, as were the twin machetes he held in each hand.

Jack studied the weapons. They were constructed of bone. Human thigh bones from the look of them. Dis mon ah ah necromancaThis man is a necromancer, he thought. Boukman Dutty had told him of them; how dangerous they were, but that few existed outside of the motherland.

“Wi knew yuh would come,” Quashie said, smiling.

“Wi?” Jack replied.

“Ah, where ah mi manners?” Quashie said. “Fi mi name ah Quashie.”

“An Accompong?” – “A Maroon Warrior?” Jack asked, recognizing the name as one given to Maroon warriors born on a Sunday.

“Once upon a time,” Quashie answered. “I’m a free mon, now.”

“A bag-o-wire ah mo’ like it,” – “A traitor is more like it,” Jack replied.

Quashie’s face twisted into a scowl. “Enough laba-laba!” – “Enough chit-chat!” He shouted. “Company…!”

Scores of soldiers scurried out of the wagons, like a swarm of crimson ants. These soldiers, unlike their typical brethren, wore all red, from their coats, to their breeches and leggings, to the tricorn hat upon their heads. They wore no blue breeches or white shirts like regular British infantry and only their black boots, leather and knee high, were of a different color. Each man was armed with a musket, which they all aimed at Jack’s chest.

Meet fi mi Crimson Guard,” – “Meet my Crimson Guard,” Quashie boasted. “Dey ‘av but one mission…to kill yuh!”

“A whole regiment for likkle ol’ mi,” Jack snickered. “Mi am flattered! But fi mi mudda always said ‘neva tek a gift from anyone widout givin’ a gift inna return’, suh…” – “But my mother always said ‘never take a gift from anyone without giving a gift in return’, so…”

Jack whistled. A cracking din raced across the hilltops. A blink of an eye later, the head of one of the Crimson Guards burst like a ripe pumpkin dropped from a rooftop. The soldier collapsed in a pool of his own blood, brain and skull fragments with a wet thump.

“Dat shot came from dem de hills,” Quashie shouted, pointing in the direction of Jack’s warriors with the tips of his machetes. “First Unit, find Jack smadi! Bring dem back alive ef yuh can. Ef nah, mek dem suffa!” – “First Unit, find Jack’s people! Bring them back alive if you can. If not, make them suffer!”

The guards of each wagon and ten Crimson Guards raced toward the hill.

Boogs, Moby and Vera took quick aim and fired in unison.

Two wagon guards and one Crimson Guard fell.

Jack’s warriors reloaded.

Quashie’s soldiers increased their pace, rushing, like a red wave, towards the log behind which their targets took cover.


The Crimson Guard formed a semicircle before Jack.

“Mi hear yuh cyan be harmed by de Babylon’s weapons,” Quashie said. “Let wi put dat legend to de test, yeh?”

“Yeh, mon. Do fi yuh wussa,” Jack answered. “Wi will sekkle up afta.” – “Yes. Do your worst…we’ll settle up after.”

“Fiyah!” Quashie commanded.

A tempest of bullets roared toward Jack.

The giant vanished, appearing a moment later behind Quashie and his Crimson Guard.

With a blistering figure-eight slash of his cutlass, the arm of two Crimson Guards were severed. They dropped their weapons, screaming in agony as they writhed on the ground.

Before the Crimson Guard could reload, five more pairs of arms, two heads and a foot – and the Crimson Guards to whom the body parts belonged – had joined them. The surviving Guards dropped their weapons and barreled up the road, babbling about the “duppy” – ghost – Jack Mansong.

Cheers atop the hill told Jack that his warriors had not fared as well as he had.

“Fi yuh bredren a dead, Jack Mansong,” Quashie said. “As yuh will be soon.”

“Mi come yah fi drink milk; mi nah come yah fi count cow,” – “I came here to drink milk; I didn’t come here to count cows,” Jack said, rolling his eyes.

“I won’t hold you any longer, then,” Quashie said. He then twirled both machetes in his hands, flipping their points toward the ground. Quashie leapt between a pair of his fallen soldiers. He dropped to one knee, thrusting downward with his machetes. The weapons sank into the belly of each corpse with a sickening squishing din.

Quashie murmured words in a tongue Jack had never heard before, neither in the Kongo, his homeland, or in Jamaica, the land where he now fought for the liberation of his people. He had never heard such words, but he could tell they were ancient and dark.

Quashie stood, sliding the bone blades out of the guts of his fallen soldiers. The weapons were now covered in an intricate network of veins that pulsed like the beating of a heart at rest. A syrupy, greenish-yellow ichor dripped from the tips of each weapon.

Two wagon guards charged down the hill with bayonets extended from the barrel of their muskets. One wagon guard circled behind Jack to his right and then exploded forward in unison with the guard on Jack’s left.

Jack tossed his cutlass into the air, sending it flipping high above him. Then, with blinding speed, he snatched both pistols from his belt, fired and then returned the pistols to his waist before an eye could blink.

Jack extended his right hand outward at the height of his shoulder. He opened his palm and the grip of the cutlass fell into it. Jack pointed the tip of the cutlass at Quashie.

Both wagon guards collapsed. Smoke billowed from the holes in their foreheads.

Quashie exploded forward, slashing and thrusting furiously with his twin machetes, the sickness dripping from them fouling the air.

Jack somersaulted sideways to his left as he swiped to his left with his cutlass.

Quashie grunted as Jack’s razor-sharp weapon carved a crooked smile into his biceps.

Jack dashed forward and then struck with a downward, diagonal forehand slash, followed by a downward, diagonal backhand slash – both aimed at Quashie’s shoulders – and then finished the vicious combination with a powerful thrust toward the rogue Maroon’s sternum.

Quashie lurched to his right and then to his left, evading the slashes. He crossed his blades and raised them, pushing Jack’s cutlass above his head.

Quashie countered, whipping his left machete around in a circular slashing motion toward Jack’s right hand.

Jack withdrew his hand, avoiding most of the force of Quashie’s strike. The blade grazed the flesh of his little and ring fingers, however, opening a small cut.

Jack hammered his left heel into Quashie’s abdomen.

Quashie staggered backward, clutching his belly. He dropped to his knees as agonizing pain coursed through his liver.

Jack peered at his hand. For such a superficial wound, his fingers hurt more than any pain he had ever felt in his life. They hurt even more than the lashes from the whip he had suffered at the hands of his former enslaver when he was a boy. His little and ring fingers had turned a grayish-pink and the nails had turned black.

Quashie struggled to his feet.

The pain in Jack’s right hand increased, feeling like jagged nails under his skin. It became difficult for him to focus.

Quashie leapt forward, raising his machetes above his head.

Jack leapt backward. He thrust forward with his cutlass. The tip of the weapon bit into Quashie’s clavicle, just missing his jugular vein.

Quashie craned his head backward, avoiding an even deeper cut. He landed where Jack had stood.

Shadows seemed to hold Jack aloft as they pulled him toward the hilltop.

“Wi will meet again, soon,” Jack said.

Yah, mon, wi will…T’ree Fingered Jack,” Quashie replied.

Jack faded into the shadows and was gone.


Jack lay upon a bed of leaves and flowers in a chamber in his cave. The sweet and minty smell of the flowers barely masked the fetid flesh of his withered, greenish-yellow fingers. Cold clawed its way up his spine. He shivered.

Tata Boukman squeezed a soaked rag over Jack’s lips. A light brown liquid dripped from it into Jack’s waiting mouth.

Juda ran into the room. He dropped to his knees before the Obi’Yah master.

“Stand up, boy,” Boukman Dutty commanded. “No time for formalities. This bitter cerace tea and this bed of herbs will fight off the fever, but those fingers are dead. I need to cut them off so the death in them doesn’t creep any further, but I need to make a poultice to put on it to kill the sickness in his blood and for it to close up.”

“Yes, Tata!” Juda replied, leaping to his feet.

“I hear you have learned to ride a horse better than some of our veterans.”

“That’s what they say, Tata.”

“I need you to ride to Spanish Town,” Boukman said. “There’s a saloon there. Go around back. A bottle of whiskey will be there, sitting on the left of the door. That’s what I need. Bring it back within two hours or we will lose our Field Marshal. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Tata,” Juda answered. “I won’t fail you or our Field Marshal.”

“I know you won’t, boy,” Boukman replied. “To do so would be to fail us all. Now go!”

Juda skittered backward out of the room, spun on his heels and sprinted away.

“Hang on, son,” Boukman said, squeezing more tea into Jack’s mouth. “Obi says it’s not your time to die.”

Darkness joined the cold in Jack’s spine. The light of the torches blurred, faded and then all was quiet.


Light crept between Jack’s eyelids. He opened his eyes. Boukman stared down at him, smiling. His head rested on something soft, warm and familiar. He tilted his head backward and looked up into Nesta’s beautiful face. She bent forward and kissed him.

“Welcome back, fi mi love,” Nesta said.

“How long was mi out?” Jack asked.

“Four days,” Nesta answered.

Jack brought his right hand before his face. His little finger and ring finger were gone. The area where they once were was now smooth and a shade lighter than the rest of his hand.

“Fi mi fingas…” he sighed.

“We could nah save dem,” Boukman said. “Dat bwai, Quashie, has some powerful death magic.”

“Mi am guh fi guh introduce him to death de next time wi meet,” – “I’m going to introduce him to death the next time we meet,” Jack said, sitting up. “Any sign of him?”

“None,” Nesta replied. “Him ah probably healin’, too. Or gloatin’; wi lost Moby, Vera an’ Boogs.”

“Mi know,” Jack said. “Dey took all but two of Babylon wid dem an’ mi sent dem two pon fi dem way, suh fi wi bruddas and sista died good deads.”

Jack stood up. “Nesta, mi am goin’ adoor to train. Bring mi fi mi cutlass, please.” – “Nesta, I am going outside to train. Bring me my cutlass, please.”

“Yuh just regained consciousness,” Nesta said. “Perhaps yuh should cease and sekkle.” – “Perhaps you should stop what you’re doing and relax.”

“Mi ‘av rested fah four days aredi,” – “I’ve rested for four days already,” Jack replied. “De bess preparation fah tomorrow ah doin’ fi yuh bess today.”

Jack sauntered out of the chamber and then out of the cave. The warriors on watch saluted him. It was quiet in the camp. Jack looked up at the sky. The moon was clothed in pink clouds, which told him dawn was near. He’d train until noon, take a short rest and then train until nightfall. His missing fingers would not be a hindrance. Obi’Yah blessed mi wid ten, he thought. Suh losin’ two ain’t nuh big deal.

Nesta ran outside. She outstretched her hands, presenting Jack with his cutlass.

“Here,” she said. “Do nah wuk too hawd; an’ drink plenty wata.”

“Yes, mudda,” Jack snickered, wrapping his fist around the cutlass’ grip. “T’ank yuh.”

Nesta smiled, turned back toward the cave and strode back inside.

Jack rotated his wrist, feeling the weight of the cutlass; familiarizing himself with how he now had to hold it to keep it steady in his hand. He slashed with it; thrust with it; twirled the weapon in front of his chest and above his head.

He jogged along the trail toward the forest just beyond the camp, where he would practice his strikes against the trees as he gathered wood for the torches and the bonfires.

Upon reaching the forest, Jack found Juda there, hunting ‘ball pates’ – the white crowned pigeons that had become a staple in the delicious stew eaten daily by the warriors – with his goat-hide sling.

“Field Marshal!” Jordan shouted upon seeing Jack. He ran to Jack and wrapped his arms around the giant’s waist. “Mi knew you would be a’right!”

“Yah, mon,” Jack replied. “Mi rememba yuh inna fi mi chamba an’ yuh acceptin’ de mission to get de whiskey fah fi mi poultice. Dat was brave of yuh an’, obviously, yuh accomplished fi yuh mission. Mi would ‘av died widout fi yuh help. T’ank yuh!”

Juda released his embrace and loaded another smooth stone into the sling. “Mi am guh fi guh kill twenty ball pates inna fi yuh honor.”

“’av at it den,” Jack said. “Mi am guh fi guh gatha some wood.”

Juda pointed skyward. A flock of pigeons soared high above them.

The boy whipped the sling above his head and then moved his arm in a circle, spinning the sling in a wide arc over him. He held his breath and then released one strap of the sling, sending the stone rocketing skyward, toward the pigeons. The stone struck one of the birds in the chest. The bird plummeted toward the earth.

Juda peered over his shoulder at Jack, beaming with pride.

“Good wuk, bwai,” Jack said. “Mi can taste dat twenty-pigeon-stew now!”

Juda dashed off into the dense forest to retrieve the ball pate.

A few seconds later, a boy’s scream came from deep within the forest.

“Juda!” Jack shouted as he stepped into the shadows, vanishing.

A moment later, he appeared at a clearing within the forest where the scouts would hide their supplies when off on missions.

Standing before him was Quashie, rubbing Juda’s shoulders from behind the boy.

“Let de bwai go!” Jack shouted, pointing his cutlass at the necromancer.

“Mi do nah follow fi yuh commands, T’ree Fingered Jack,” Quashie replied. “Juda nuh longa does eeda. Him works fi mi, now.”

Juda stared down at the ground.

Jack’s voice trembled as he called out to his protégé. “Juda?”

Juda looked up, staring at Jack through the tears which had began to stream down his doleful face. “Mi am suh sorry. When mi went to Spanish Town fah fi yuh whiskey, Quashie…um, Masta Quashie discovered mi. Him guaranteed fi mi freedom an’ two-hundred pounds sterlin’ if mi helped him bring fi yuh head to Governa Dallin’.”

“Suh, Juda has become Judas,” Jack hissed. “Afta I kill dis bag-o-wire, yuh had bess run, beanie bobo, ca’ if mi eva see yuh again, yuh a dead!” – “After I kill this traitor, you had best run, little fool, because if I ever see you again, you’re dead!”

“Step aside, Juda,” Quashie said, drawing his oozing machetes. “An’ watch fi yuh criss – new – masta wuk.”

Juda shuffled to the side.

Quashie leapt forward, slashing high and low with his cutlasses.

Jack evaded the deadly strikes with leaps, aerial twists and somersaults, slashing with his cutlass as he moved through the air like a synchronized swimmer in deep water.

The cutlass opened several deep wounds in Quashie’s arms.  His hands shook violently as he struggled to hold on to his weapons.

Jack dropped into a low stance, stabbing downward with his blade. The point, and a few inches beyond it, sank into Quashie’s shoe.

Quashie howled as steel tore through his foot.

Jack slammed his knuckles into the small bones on the back of Quashie’s right hand like a man knocking on a door. A sickening crunch accompanied the back of Quashie’s hand collapsing inward.

The machete fell from Quashie’s fingers and landed between his feet.

Quashie swung the machete in his left hand at Jack’s neck. Jack chopped into Quashie’s forearm with the dense bones of both of his wrists, blocking the blow as he attacked the nerves in Quashie’s arm.

Quashie dropped his remaining weapon. His arm fell lifeless at his side.

Jack yanked his cutlass out of Quashie’s foot. He raised the weapon above his head. “I’ll deliver your corpse to Nanny for burning and I’ll bury those foul swords of yours. Any last…”

Something hard crashed into Jack’s left temple. He staggered sideways. His vision blurred. He snapped his head toward the left. Juda stood in the distance, loading another stone into his sling. Jack beat back the encroaching darkness and lunged forward, driving his cutlass deep into Quashie’s belly.

Sputum and blood sprayed from Quashie’s mouth. He fell to his knees.

Another stone struck Jack just below his left ear. The world tilted and then began to spin. Jack collapsed onto his back. He stared up at the sky. It was now a beautiful light blue, but it was rapidly turning darker, becoming dark blue, then cobalt gray, then black.

Jack shuddered once, and then lay still.

Juda ran to Jack and knelt beside him, sobbing.

“Nuh!” Quashie commanded. “Leave him! Hand mi fi mi weapons!”

Juda jumped to his feet. He grabbed Quashie’s machetes, careful not to touch the putrid blood seeping from them. He squeezed the grips. He wanted badly to end Quashie’s life, but decided he would wait until he had gained Quashie’s trust. It would be easier then. He handed the weapons to his master.

Quashie crawled to jack, leaving a trail of his blood and the bile-filled blood form his weapons, behind him. He held one of the machetes above Jack’s neck.

“Oh, great muddas and fahdas of de grave,” he began. “Mi gi’ fi mi eternal gratitude fuh dis victory. Receive fi yuh son, Jack Mansong, well. An’ when him returns, mek sure him comes back fightin’ pon fi wi side!” – “I give my eternal gratitude for this victory. Receive your son, Jack Mansong, well. And when he returns, make sure he comes back fighting on our side!”

Quashie brought down the machete upon Jack’s neck and the life of one of the greatest heroes the world has ever known came to an end.

But, at the same time, one of our greatest legends was born.

The Legend of Three-Finger’d Jack.

The End

Nat Turner: Necrosis of the Serpent by Guy A. Sims (SOBSF Black History Story)

“Git’im in heah!  Quick now!”

The barn side door was opened just enough for the two dark men to carry the third in.  The barn was quiet except for the sounds of a few animals and low voices near the hay station.  “Him hurt bad?”

The taller of the two shook his head.  “Uh-huh!  Bloodied bad but need to tell what he know.”  The man who opened the door motioned for the two to lay the wounded man on a pile of old cloths.  He left them there, disappearing into the collection of gathered bodies at the hay station.  Briefly, heads turned to the direction of the man on the floor but returned just as fast to a figure who slowly began to rise.  The group parted as the silhouette illuminated by the small fire moved toward the three men. The two standing men could see the man was holding a machete but they did not move.  The figure kneeled next to the man on the ground.

“Tell me what happened.”  He placed his hand on the forehead of the man.  The man shivered but managed a smile when the face became recognized.

“My body is broken,” The man coughed, trickling blood from the corner of his mouth.  “But my spirit is with you.”  The man tried to sit up but he collapsed under his own pain.

“Stay still brother.  Our day of resurrection and jubilee is near.  I have seen it in the sky.  The sign…the signal from the trumpet of Gabriel…ordered by Gawd A’mighty.  Tomorrow we move like shadows.”  He was now talking to the group who had encircled the man on the ground.  “Tomorrow we seize what Gawd done destined for us.”  The figure pointed to the men around him.  “Gather your tools and sharpen your blades…”  The weakened man groaned as he struggled to grasp the leader’s shirt.

“No…listen…listen to me Nat Turner.”

An hour passed before the beaten man was able to sit up.  Nat Turner’s men applied poultice and wrapped his wounds.  The gash on the side of his face was bandaged but still continued to bleed.  Although advised to drink slowly, the man gulped down the ladle of water before speaking.

“I know’d I was joinin’ up with you so I make’d like nothin’ was goin’ on but Massa Miller was all drunktified and spittin’ fire.  He come ruunnin’ down to the fields wit his rifle in one hand and whip in the other.  Him yellin’ about folk not workin’ hard.  I reckon he was gonna make a example of me.”  One of the men who brought him in interrupted.

“Jes tell’im what you tole us and stop extra storyin’.”

The wounded man glared.

“I’m the one wit the buss head so I tell the story my way.  Anyway Mr. Turner, Massa Miller know he wasn’t shootin’ one o’ his slaves cause his money ain’t as much as before…but he’ll whip you up good for true.  Anyways, he knocks me good on my face and I falls to the ground.  He starts to lash me up but he can’t get no good swing holdin’ the gun.  So here’s what he do.  He jams it into a bushel o’ ‘taters so it stay up.  From there he whips me and cuss me.
“Now tell ‘im.”  The other man stamped his feet.

“Here it is!”  The wounded man adjusted in his seat.  “Lissen good Nat Turner.  When Massa Miller finished wit me he go to get his gun and there be a ‘tater stuck on the end.  Massa Miller start belly laughin’ like someone jes tell a funny.”  Nat Turner turned away from the man, thinking him delirious but the man’s hand clutched his trousers. “But then sompthin’ happen.  Sompthin’ that might bring you the victory.”  Nat Turner stopped. The other men drew their attention to the man on the floor.

“Go on!” Nat Turner ordered.

“Massa Miller takes the gun, points it in the air, and then shoots.  I thought he musta knocked my senses out cause’n I ain’t hardly hear the shot.  Like it was shushed.  Here what I’m sayin’ Mr. Turner?  The ‘tater made the gun hush.”  Nat Turner took a couple of steps as he looked to the top of the barn.  He then looked at the machete in his hand.  He pointed to one of the men by the door.

“Get me some bags of ‘taters!”

Slaves toiled under the sweltering sun on Robert Miller’s plantation.  Most days were filled with pain, anguish, and internalized grief but not this day.  Careful not to raise attention of overseers and others not to be trusted, hands slipped potatoes into pockets, pants, and shirts upon the instruction of their beloved prophet Nat Turner.  Songs of rivers and places beyond the Jordan were sung in cryptic harmony.  Melodies calling for the great getting’ up morning were merely the countdown to the setting sun.  For once, in a long time, there was hope for tomorrow, a longing for Gawd’s mighty hand to sweep time and bring forth dawn.  With each stooping, each picking, toting, washing, chopping, lashing, pulling, carrying, struggling, weeping, and wailing, the seeds of hope and desire took root in spirits and began to grow.

A group of twenty to twenty-five were gathered at the predetermined meeting place when the next group arrived, led by Nat Turner.  Even in the cover of darkness, his eyes, wide and intense, shined like beacons, blazed like fire.  His face was strong, forged from years of whippings, hunger, abuse, degradation, and loss.  On this night it was communicated that a new tomorrow was coming, carried on the wings of Heaven and fired on the winds of Hell.  Nat Turner stepped up onto a fallen tree trunk and surveyed the crowd.  His piercing eyes touched the faces of the sixty or more anxious hopeful ex-slaves.  The silence was accented by the rhythmic chirping of crickets.  Nat Turner raised his hand and the crowd dropped to one knee.  His voice was low and strong, laced with anger and retribution, charged with passion and spitfire, and seething with the breath of God and man and pain and hope.

“My brothers and sisters.  Let not your hearts be troubled.  Let not fear hold you in place.  The glory of the Lawd strengthens us in the same way Joshua was strengthened at Jericho.”  Nat Turner’s hand pointed sharp and quickly toward the Miller home.  “There stands the wall of our Jericho.  Listen! Listen!  Do you hear the trumpets of the angels? The trumpets that puts power in your hands and feet.  They blow with the hot winds of retribution and justice.”  The continually swelling crowd quietly moaned in agreement.  They shifted, anxious to stand, anxious to run, anxious to be free.  Nat Turner raised both hands above his head.

“Rise up soldiers of Gawd!  Rise up because you’s already free!   Let tonight be the last time you are ever on your knees ‘cept to pray to the Lawd.  You no longer bend as those shackled in the fields. You stand as children in the bosom of the A’mighty!  You stand as men!  Now, gather your instruments of Jubilee and let us move as heaven prepares a new day for us!”

One of the men signaled to his group and they took off toward the Miller home.  Other men doing the same with their groups began their quickened pace down the road.  In the warm summer night, the muffled cries of rebellion began to rise, filling the skies and stoking fury.  One group remained behind with Nat Turner.

“Tonight you are my archangels who carry the swords of the Divine.  We stay behind because we know Satan’s army will come but we will face them when they manifest themselves.”  Nat Turner reached down behind the tree trunk and lifted a rifle.  “I have one for each of you.  I also have this.”  He bent down again, this time lifting a small satchel.  “Inside are ‘taters.  After you prime your gun, place a ‘tater on the end before you shoot.  God will make your guns whisper.  So stay low and in the bush.  After you shoot, move so you confuse.  The A’mighty has foretold our victory so be not afraid.”  Each man secured his rifle and satchel and then said a prayer before heading out to the brush adjacent to the road.

“Them niggas done gone plumb crazy! Done lost their natural minds.”

The captain of the militia signaled halt and turned to address the talkative teen.

“Let me tell you!  Let me tell alla you!  We got serious business.  The word is slaves from the Miller place and the Thomas place are staging a revolt.”  The three rows of halted men stood silently, listening intently to the words of their superior officer.  “Our job is to track them down and suppress them…and for those who don’t know that ten-dollar word…it mean put’em in the ground without question!”  The teen raised his hand and offered a Sir? The captain nodded.

“Sir?  Do you think we’ll get a skirmish…”  The teen’s words were cut short as he dropped to the ground.  By the time the militia men next to the teen could react, a second man clutched his throat and stumbled before falling.

“We’s under attack!”  Cried one man.

“Where’s it coming from?”  Another screamed.

“Take cover!”

“Return fire!”  The captain ordered.  The men leveled their guns in multiple directions, eyes pierced for movement.

“You see anything?”

“It’s too dark to see nothin’.”

The captain pointed toward a clump of bushes and the men trained their sights.  He raised his hand but never finished the count.  A hail of bullets picked the militia men off, causing them to fall, to panic, to run.  Those who hightailed into the darkness were soon heard screaming as sounds of bludgeoning echoes rose then subsided.  In moments, a group of thirty slaves stepped from out of the darkness with bloodied sticks, rocks, candlesticks and other blunt household items.

“Damn you.”  The captain, his hands pressed against the increasingly wet circle on his chest, attempted to stand.  “Damn you niggas to hell!”  From within the crowd, Nat Turner moved to the now fallen militia leader.

“The Lawd told me to cut the snake or else it will strike with poison.  Well, the serpent may have gotten the best of Adam and Eve but tonight we cut off its head.”  Nat Turner positioned himself so he could see eye to eye with the slowly fading captain.  “The hell you speak of is not prepared for me or mine.  We are promised to paradise.”  Nat Turner stood and signaled for all survivors to be killed.  “Gather their weapons for our journey has just begun.  The Lawd commands us to keep on.”

The courier ran feverishly down the corridor of the Governor’s mansion.  He stopped when he reached the main chamber.  He caught his breath as he tried to compose himself.

“Go right in sir.”  The colored attendant opened a large ornate door.  “The governor is awaiting with great interest.”  The courier stepped with a quickened pace and entered the room.  In seconds he was standing in front of the governor’s desk.

“What’s the word from Southampton?”

“It’s bad Governor Floyd.  What started as a brazen mob of some crazed slaves has turned into what can only be described as an insurrection.”

“An insurrection?”  The last word I received was that a militia of about thirty were dispatched to quell the problem.”  The courier handed Governor Floyd a letter which was read immediately.  The courier remained at attention.  Moments later, the governor exploded.

“Dead?  Two militias dead?  One hundred and ten civilians murdered?  All those people killed and that group is still on the loose?”

“And gathering strength by overpowering plantation owners.  Those people are gentle farmers, not fighters.”  The governor screamed for his secretary who bolted into the room.

“Get me the Adjutant General right away!”  The governor patted his now perspiring forehead with a handkerchief.  “How? Who?”  The courier pointed to a portion of the letter.

“While many of the slaves were killed their numbers continued to grow as they overtook plantations.  They must have a group of about two to three hundred now.  Maybe more.”

The governor felt sick.  He had often bragged how Virginia had the most slaves, almost five hundred thousand.  He felt dizzy imagining what could happen if they were all suddenly free.  What would happen if it spread to other states?  America would cease to be. As he pondered the demise of the nation the Adjutant General arrived and was immediately updated.  The governor grabbed his quill and wrote furiously.

“I’m putting an executive order for the use of troops to suppress and eliminate all threats to the life and liberty of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”  As he handed the document to the Adjutant General he sneered.  “Kill all those animal bastards!”  The courier stepped in between the governor and the general.

“Sir, if I may.  It’s been said that two of the rampaging slaves had been captured.  The first refused to talk so he was killed right away.  The second was a little more fearful and mentioned the name Nat Turner.  He might be their leader.  Might I suggest that if he is found to be alive it would make for a great example to capture him and put on display as a way to regain faith in our people and fear in theirs?  Just a suggestion.”  Governor Floyd pressed the order into the Adjutant General’s hand.

“I want that agitator caught, disemboweled, and disassembled before us all.  Call up any Virginia Militia you need.  Use whatever arms at your disposal.  In the meantime I will dispatch a call for arms from President Jackson, asking him to mobilize the army for support.”  The governor paused, looking out of the window.  “Understand this!  While I’ll implore for his position to be on the ready,” The governor now looked the Adjutant General directly in his eyes. “I want us to satisfy our own dilemmas.”  The Adjutant General saluted and exited with all promptness, taking the courier with him.  The governor continued to speak out loud.  “Whatever leanings I may have had regarding slaves is now no longer a conflict of conscious and consequence.”

For seven days, Nat Turner’s raid evolved into an uprising then wholly into a revolution.  At first, plantation owners aware of what was going on awaited for the mythical band of raging Negroes only to be met with a growing hoard of freedom desiring humans.  Others, fearing for their lives, set their slaves free with the hopes they would induce mercy–only to be slain by even their most trusted and good darkies.  The swell of ex-slaves with the taste of freedom and vengeance began their march toward Petersburg, Virginia.  It was there they confronted the forces of the Adjutant General and his one-thousand troop army.  The Adjutant General released his cannons, raining spheres of fire and steel on the charging men and women hungry for liberty long denied.  In the end, three hundred-fifty black men, women, and children were killed. Another one-hundred eighty were captured and dispersed to plantations in Mississippi and Louisiana.  Fifty-three escaped the carnage of Petersburg, disappearing into the dense woods, never to be seen again.  The end had arrived but the citizens of the United States didn’t sense comfort until two weeks later when on a hog farm in Chesterfield, Virginia a farmer discovered discarded food remains and eventually a Negro, Nat Turner, hidden in his well.  Captured, the leader, the prophet, and now a malcontent, stood shackled in a courtroom in Richmond, Virginia.

The courtroom was filled to capacity; from the floor to the gallery to the front steps and out into the street.  The angry. The curious.  The mournful.  The vengeful.  All awaiting the outcome of the trial of Nat Turner.  During the course of the day, Nat Turner, tired, beaten, and weary, stood stoic, straight, and strong in the presence of the many white faces cursing and jeering him, wishing for a slow and painful death for his atrocious acts against civilized men, women, and children. His eyes, though swollen from the pummeling, were clear, fixed on the judge’s face.  His hands, lacerated and aching from their brine bath, were shackled behind him yet they remained clenched rocks of defiance.  A descending hush overcame the room as the judge raised his hand.

“As we prepare to pass judgment on the one called Nat Turner, the court shall continue its practice to afford the accused an opportunity to say words on his behalf.”  A rise of hisses and boos were met by the banging of the gavel.  When peace was restored, the judge looked to Nat Turner.  “Go ahead boy!”

Nat Turner closed his eyes before slowly shuffling his shackle-clad ankles, turning away from the judge to face the courtroom audience.  When he opened his mouth the voice was shrill and clear, resonating independence.  Nat Turner looked past the faces reddened by hate and anger.  He looked beyond the man-made system of power which continued to press the vice of oppression on his people.  He gazed past the country which continually fabricated lies woven within the fabric of its creed that all men were created equal. He looked past of all that and into the visage of the god who defined his every word, step, and deed. Nat Turner opened his mouth and spoke.

“I stand before you, not in fear of your judgment but in anticipation of the standing in judgment of Gawd A’mighty.  His divine finger ordered my steps and those of my people.  The sparrow singing his song and has no regrets for the sound it makes.  The river that swells and floods the countryside has no regrets.  I have no regrets for the liberation of my brothers and sisters.  We have tasted the bitter sweetness of freedom and know we can never be satisfied with the false servings of enslavement.  Every man deserves to be free.  No!  Every man must be free!  And I too am a man because you proved it today.  For you could have killed me in the street like an animal in a slaughterhouse but today, I stand on trial to hear my fate.  For only a man can be tried by another man.  You today acknowledge my manhood.  So I say again, every man must be free!  I am free!  My people are free!”

Days later, a White House aide entered the office of Andrew Jackson.  His face, sweaty and lacking in color caught the president’s attention.

“What is it?”

“Mr. President.  A most disturbing message sir.”  The aide collapsed to one knee, catching himself on the edge of the president’s desk.  “Massive uprisings of slaves in Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi…all over.  They’ve raided armories and have gained the advantage.” The president dropped his glasses as he stood.  “It’s spreading Mr. President,” gasped the aide.  “It’s spreading.”

The Beginning

Guy A. Sims is the author of the romantically romance novel, Living Just A Little, and the crime novellas, The Cold Hard Cases of Duke Denim.  He is also the head writer of the Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline comic book series and the forthcoming Brotherman graphic novel, Revelation.

Paradigm by Nila N. Brown/SOBSF celebrates Black History Month


By Nila N. Brown

Canal Street

New York City, 1898

Ten-year old Leona Edwards took in as much of the busy street as she could, mindful of the non-stop pedestrians going in every direction.  She had never been out of Alabama before, and New York City was fussier than any street in Tuskegee. The horseless carriages making their way up Canal Street were certainly a sight to see with their loud, mechanized sputtering.

“Leona!” a voice called out from the other side of the street. She turned around and smiled as her cousin, Harriett, ran over carrying violets.

“Where did you get those?” Leona asked.

“From that man,” Harriet replied, pointing to a white man in a dark suit and a bowler now making his way toward them. “The one with the scrunchy beard.”

Leona shifted uneasily. “Why did he give you those?”

“He said they were for you,” Harriett said as she turned around to face him. “Hey, Mister! This is my cousin, Leona.”

“Hello, pretty little gal!” the man said with a wide smile, but Leona recoiled. She could hear his clumsy attempt at an accent that didn’t sound natural. He was definitely southern, and they needed to get away.

“We have to go, sir,” she said, grabbing Harriett by the hand and pulling her past him. “Good day!”

“Don’t you like flowers?” he asked. “A pretty little gal should have flowers to match her pretty little pinafore.”

Leona looked over her shoulder to see him watching them. Scared, she pulled Harriett across the street.

The man waved, and then grimaced before disappearing into the crowd.

“Leona!” Harriett huffed, trying to catch her breath. “Slow down!”

“He’s bad news!” Leona said, glancing around. She snatched the violets from Harriett and threw them down. “Stay away from that man!”

Harriett adjusted her large pink hair bow. “Oh, Leona, this isn’t the south! People in New York are very nice!”

Leona ignored her. Harriett might not have understood, but she knew all too well the potential danger. “Let’s go back to your house.”

The girls continued up the street until they were at the corner. “Oh look!” Harriett exclaimed, pointing to a five-and-dime. “Let’s look through the stereoscope!”

“What’s that?” Leona asked.

“You can look at pictures in it,” Harriett replied, taking Leona by the arm and crossing the busy street. “It’s fun!”

Relaxing somewhat, Leona took a deep breath and nodded, going into the store and spending the next half hour looking at funny pictures through the strange contraption.  After having malted milks, the girls headed back to Harriett’s house.

A whistle blew very loudly in the distance, signaling the start of the lunch shift at the nearby shirtwaist factory. The streets soon filled with women workers making their way to some of the food carts lining the street.

But Leona was staring up at the large, white clouds as they slowly floated across the blue sky. She smiled; remembering the last time she and her sister, Hattie Mae, watched them take funny shapes under the huge magnolia tree in her mother’s yard.

As she watched, a shape began to form. At first it appeared round like a giant ball, but as she continued watching, two eyes formed, and then turned downward in what looked like an evil glare. Suddenly, a mouth formed and to her horror, it opened wider, showing huge, jagged teeth.

She took a step back, and as she did, a horse and buggy turned the corner and was racing in her direction, but she continued staring at the sky, her heart beating with a foreboding that she hadn’t felt before.

Suddenly, she was pushed down hard onto the cobblestone street. She sprang to her feet just as the horse, its eyes seemingly glowing red, closed in on her.

“Leona!” Harriett cried as she pushed Leona down again. Frightened, she rolled over, looking down the street just in time to see the horse and buggy turn the corner and disappear from sight. She tried to stand up as a tall man ran over to her, gently picking her up.

“Are you alright?” he asked, as he stood her up and held her shoulders.

“I’m fine, sir,” she replied, dusting her dress off and looking up at the sky. The angry cloud was gone. How strange.

“What happened?” he asked.

“Someone pushed me down, and then my cousin pushed me.” She tried to pull herself free, but the man wouldn’t let go. “Let me go!”

“No,” he said gently, “don’t look.”

She angrily pulled away, dusting off her dress as she turned around. “Harriett Sue Edwards! Why did you push me?”

A crowd had formed on the sidewalk. Confused, Leona stared at them, wondering what they were looking at. Some had handkerchiefs over their mouths, some were pointing, and some were crying. Then she looked down. All she could make out was a pink bow on top of a mass of dark hair now drenched in blood.



Two weeks later

Grand Central Terminal


As the train neared its stop at the huge station, Ida B. Wells looked out of the window at the patrons standing on the platform. She was glad to see so many Negroes moving about freely, but she knew that this was deceptive. It only took one accusation; just one bumped shoulder; just one foot stepped on. She shook the thought from her mind. There was work to be done, and she had to be in Washington, DC in three days to speak to President McKinley about the lynching problem in America.

She disembarked as the train stopped and the steps were lowered. As she made her way down the platform, she was stopped by a young man quite familiar to her. It had been a long time since she had seen him.

“Ms. Wells?” he said, inclining his hat.

“Hello, Matthew,” she replied, smiling. “What brings you here?”

“Dr. Du Bois asked me to come and fetch you,” he replied.

Ida’s brow arched. Dr. Du Bois was brilliant, but arrogant, stuffy, and distant. She didn’t like him, and the feeling was mutual. However, the fact that he was sending for her meant something, and she would see what it was before refusing. It was the least she could do.

“What’s this all about?” she asked. “I thought he took a teaching job in Atlanta.”

Matthew took her bag from her. “You’ll have to ask Dr. Du Bois, Ms. Wells.”

She nodded and the two of them made it out to 42nd Street and got into a waiting buggy. The pace of the carriage picking up, they soon made their way to Upper Manhattan, where Dr. Du Bois owned a large brownstone on 143rd Street. Matthew helped her down and then up the stairs to a row house with flower boxes in the window. Before they could knock, a maid opened the door.

“Ms. Ida B. Wells to see Dr. Du Bois,” Matthew announced.

Before the maid could speak, Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois was standing at the top of the stairs.

“Ms. Wells,” Dr. Du Bois said. “It’s lovely to see you again.”

“Likewise,” she replied. “How have you been? I thought you were in Atlanta.”

“That will be all, Matthew,” he said to the young man, who handed lady Ida’s bag to the maid and nodded before heading down the hallway. “I was on my way back, but Jedidiah Adams of the Philadelphia Freemasons contacted me and requested a meeting. I’ve been here for about three weeks now.”

“It must be something urgent to take you off of your routine,” she said.

“Indeed,” he replied gruffly. “I must say that I’m in need of your assistance on a matter of the utmost importance.”

Ida resisted the urge to roll her eyes. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t get used to how longwinded he was, but was nonetheless intrigued. For him to want her help meant that he was desperate, or everyone else had said ‘no.’ They made their way down the hallway and knocked on the door. A young girl opened it, smiling softly at Dr. Du Bois.

“Hello, Leona,” he said. “This is Ms. Ida B. Wells. Ms. Wells, Leona Edwards.”

Leona curtsied politely. “How do you do, Ma’am?”

“I’m very well, Leona,” Ida replied. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Run along and join your parents, my dear,” he said. Leona nodded and went into a back room as he ushered Ida to the parlor. She sat down while he poured tea for them.

“What can I do for you, Dr. Du Bois?” Ida asked. “I have to be in Washington, and I like my routine just as you like yours.”

“This is an unusual situation,” he said, “but I know that you love a good mystery and this is right up your alley.”

“What do you mean?”

He briefly described the events leading up to and after Harriett’s death, but Ida wasn’t fooled; there was something he was leaving out. He would probably get to it, but he seemed too busy hearing himself talk.

“This is all very interesting,” she said as he finished. “But deaths like this happen all the time, especially in New York. Why am I here?”

He took a deep breath. “We’re here because that little girl’s life is in danger. I know this will sound strange, but Jedidiah brought an old Creole woman from New Orleans calling herself ‘PreMarie’ to see me. She told me that she had a vision, and that Leona was going to be killed. She said that I had to prevent it.”

“Did she tell you why?” she asked.

“She refused to divulge any pertinent details,” he replied. “Some white man from the south whom Leona called ‘Scrunchy Beard’ tried to give her violets, but she refused. His false accent bothered her, so they ran off, stopped at a store, and were on their way home when someone pushed Leona into the street in front of a runaway horse and buggy. Harriett then pushed her out of the way before being run over and killed.”

Ida sat back, sipping her tea. “How unfortunate, but what’s the significance of this?”

Dr. Du Bois crossed his arms, a serious look on his face. “PreMarie revealed this two days before it happened. She also said that Leona would see an evil image in the sky that would distract her from the traffic. I’m a man of faith and don’t believe in such things, but this cannot be ignored.”

Ida sat the cup down. “If Leona was the one who was supposed to die, why didn’t she?”

“In the vision, Leona was alone,” he replied. “Harriett followed along at the last minute and it apparently changed the outcome. After the funeral, someone tried to break into Harriett Edwards’ home, but the intruder was discovered and escaped before he could harm her. Under the cloak of darkness, Jedidiah brought them here.”

He took a deep breath before continuing. “PreMarie also said that this strange character came from the future.”

This time Ida laughed. “That’s not possible, William! Someone is playing games with you!” She stood up. “I must be in Washington so I’ll bid you good day!”

“Ida,” he said, standing up. “You and I don’t get along; we never have, but if I didn’t believe this, I wouldn’t have brought you here.”

Ida stopped and took in his stance. There was something in the depths of his eyes that gave her pause. He was serious – and afraid. President McKinley could wait. This needed tending to.

“What’s so important about this girl?” she asked.

“PreMarie would only say that through Leona, a catastrophic event will occur, and the face of the Negro race in America will change and have an impact on the world.  She said that this Scrunchy Beard person has to die.  The lives of our people may very well depend on this moment in time.”

Ida took a deep breath. “Alright, I’ll help you. What must we do?”

“I thought to have the Freemasons search for him, but it occurred to me that this won’t be necessary. This ‘Scrunchy Beard’ has shown that he will come for Leona. We will move them and then set a trap and dispatch this foul person post haste.”

“Where will they be taken?” she asked.

“They’ll be moved to the uncle’s home in broad daylight,” he replied. “Once this character is dispatched, Jedidiah will escort the girl and her family back to Tuskegee and remain there until further notice.”

“And then what?” she asked. “How are we supposed to keep this girl alive?”

He took her by the arm. “We’ll find a way. Perhaps we could form a committee that would serve as both a way to champion the advancement of the Negro race, and serve as a secret society to protect the girl now, as she matures into an adult, and to her next generation until this event takes place.”

Ida smiled brightly. If Leona was this important, then she would see to her survival. Whatever happened, she would help see her live.


Two days later

The buggy carrying Sylvester, Rose, and Leona Edwards arrived at Samuel Edwards’ home in the early evening hour just before dinner. The family got out of the carriage and was greeted by Sam and his wife, Sarah Mae.

In the shadows down the street, Scrunchy Beard, juggling a silver and gold mechanized ball, quietly observed them entering the house, and then disappeared into the dusky twilight.

After midnight, a window on the far back wall in the kitchen slowly opened; a tall, thin man sliding through quickly and quietly. Pausing to make sure he wasn’t heard, he took off his shoes, and slowly made his way from the kitchen to the hallway, and then quietly up the stairs. He had seen Leona in the back window watering flowers earlier, so he knew where to go.

Onward he crept, pulling a thin silver rope from his pocket. He paused, listening intensely, and then crept on until he was at the door where Leona was sleeping. Ever so slowly, he turned the knob and peered in, seeing a small figure in bed. He crouched down, closing the door and crept closer until he was at her bedside.

He smirked; his hands tightening around the rope. “Hello, pretty little gal,” he whispered.

Suddenly, the figure in the bed sat up. “Well, hello to you too!” Ida yelled.

Stunned, Scrunchy Beard stood up and stumbled backwards as Jedidiah leaped from the closet and grabbed from behind, holding him in a vice-like grip around the neck while Ida turned on the gaslight. Dr. Du Bois, Sam, and Matthew quickly entered the room, helping to subdue him.

“Who are you and who sent you?” Dr. Du Bois yelled.

Scrunchy Beard, gasping for breath, snarled, “More will come from my time! She will die!”

“Search him!” Ida commanded, and Sam went through his pockets, pulling out the ball, and handing it to Dr. Du Bois.

“That’s mine!” he yelled.

“What is this for?” Dr. Du Bois asked.

Scrunchy Beard sneered. “Go to hell!”

“You first!” Dr. Du Bois said, nodding as Jedidiah pulled the assassin down to the floor, snapping his neck.

Ida quickly got out of the bed. “That was close!”

“You did just fine, my dear,” Dr. Du Bois replied as Jedidiah stood up. “Do you know where to hide him?”

“Yes, sir,” Jedidiah replied. “He’ll never be found.”

Dr. Du Bois gazed at the ball. “This is a strange object.”

“You should destroy it,” Matthew said. “He said more of them will come.”

“Or we could hold onto it and see what it can do,” Dr. Du Bois replied. “Who knows? It might be useful.”

“What will we do when they come?” Sam asked.

“We’ll be ready for them,” Ida replied. “We’ll get this organization off the ground and protect Leona and her family for however long it takes until this event happens.”

Dr. Du Bois nodded, while Jedidiah and Matthew wrapped Scrunchy Beard’s body in a tarp and carried it out to a waiting buggy, riding off into the New York night.


December 1, 1955

Dexter Ave. and Montgomery St.

Montgomery, Alabama

A young seamstress boarded the #2857 bus after a long day’s work. There was a chill in the air, and she was glad the bus was on time. She looked out of the window, smiling at two little girls walking hand-in-hand down the street. It made her remember the stories that her mother, Leona, had told her about the summer she spent in New York with her cousin, Harriett. Growing up, her parents were always so protective of her and her brother, Sylvester, and keep a close eye on them. At first she thought it was because of the Klan, but over the years, she and Sylvester figured there was more to the story; mainly because of the many Freemason “step uncles” visiting over the years, but no one would discuss it.

Mother always had a look of profound sadness in her eyes whenever she talked about Harriett, but always stopped whenever she got to the part about the pretty violets. She could never finish the story.

After awhile, the bus became crowded, and the driver began to notice that there were several white people standing. He stopped the bus and went to the back, demanding that she and three other riders got up. Not today, she thought. Not today.

“Are you going to stand up?” he asked angrily.

“No, I’m not,” she replied.

“Well, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested.”

“You may do that,” she replied.

Within a few minutes, the police arrived and escorted her off the bus.

“What’s your name, gal?” the officer gruffly asked.

Head held high, she looked him in the eye as she replied, “Mrs. Rosa Parks.”