During the American Civil War Era, a young, runaway slave named Nat Clayhorne suddenly finds himself endowed with miraculous abilities.
The only question is: Now that he has them, how will he choose to use them?
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The following is a sample from the upcoming novella:
“Nearly a century ago, in the heart of the African wilderness, a myth was born of a unique plant called the “badra”. This plant thrives- not with the aid of sunlight, but in the cover of darkness. Over the years, many stories have been told about the wondrous badra plant- whose roots, when consumed, are said to contain tremendous healing properties. Many men from the outside world have died trying to acquire its rare gifts. But, so far, none of them have been successful in proving that the badra plant is anything more than a legend…”
– Dr. David Livingstone, Dr. Livingstone’s Cambridge Lectures, 1858
Clayhorne Plantation, June 1863
Nat could still remember the sound of Mae’s screams; the terrified look in her eyes as the ax came down; how red her blood had been oozing down her face. Nat wished like hell that he would’ve gotten free; gotten her out of there. But, at the time, his arms and legs were strapped down to a wooden operating table.
“Dammit, Cage!” a man by the name of Doc Shepard proclaimed. “Why‘d ya go an’ do that for?! I need’er alive. She ain’t worth nothin’ to me dead!”
“Calm down, Doc…” another man answering to the name William Cage argued. “It ain’t but one girl. We still got us a whole mess of nigras to choose from.”
With that, he had pointed to the group of slaves who were huddled nearby. All of them had been tied together using heavy, wrought iron chains that made it difficult for them to move more than a few inches at a time. Some of the slaves had sobbed at the sight of such a young girl being murdered in front of them. While, others wondered what the men in charge would do next.
“Looks like we got us a fighter, Doc!” Cage announced as he watched Nat twisting and squirming on the rigid table.
“Turn me loose, sir, please!” Nat begged with tears in his eyes. “I only aim to check on her; make sure she’s alright.”
Using his neck, Nat gestured towards the operating table next to him. On it, there laid Mae’s bloody and motionless body. Nat didn’t know why, but for some reason, William Cage just stood there grinning from ear to ear. Then, he started laughing. It was a deep, full-bellied laugh. In that moment, Nat felt so angry and helpless that, if he had been able to, he would have struck the awful man down with one mighty blow.
“What, you wanna save her, boy?” the man chuckled. “She’s dead. Can’t you see that? Can’t nobody help her now. Never you mind her no how. You oughta be worried ‘bout what’s gonna happen to you if you don’t keep still and do what I tell ya.”
“Oh, enough of this horse shit!” Doc Shepard exclaimed. “Get his dang mouth open! An’, make sure it stays open this time. He needs to drink the whole bottle for the medicine to work.”
“Sure thing, Doc,” William Cage replied. “Now listen…you open your mouth, boy, an’ you keep it open ‘til I say diff’rent. Ya hear?”
Nat hadn’t known why this had happened to him…or his sweet Mae. But, for some sure-fire reason, the white men had aimed to see the two of them drink some strange yellow concoction they kept calling “medicine”. It looked like piss and smelled a heap like it, too. The trouble was, neither she nor he had felt a lick of sickness since the end of winter. And poor Mae, she had known it. That was probably why she had the good sense, or stubbornness, to tell the men “No!”. It was the last thing she would ever say though. ‘Cause after she did, the one called William Cage had raised his ax and cut her down.
“You answer me when I’m talkin’ to ya!” Cage demanded as he grabbed the back of Nat’s neck and flung his head backward. “Now, open your damn mouth!”
Defiantly, Nat bared down and gritted his teeth. But, his efforts were futile. ‘Cause as soon as he did, Doc Shepard came running over to pry his jaws open with the lip of a whiskey bottle.
“Just let me die, sir!” Nat had pleaded with the bottle wedged in his mouth. “Please, please, just let me die!”
“Oh, you gonna wish you was dead, boy,” Cage informed him with an evil chuckle. “But, you ain’t goin’ nowhere ‘til we say so. Now, drink up.”
Suddenly, Nat had himself a mouth full of the nastiest liquid he’d ever tasted. Out of pure reflex, his body tried to cough it up. But, the more he heaved- the more Cage forced the medicine back down his throat.
“Make sure all of it goes down this time,” Doc Shepard had instructed. “We ain’t takin’ no more chances.”
“Oh, never you mind that, Doc,” Cage had assured him. “I’ll make sure this boy drinks every drop if it’s the last thing I do. Then, I reckon, me and him are gonna have us a little fun.”
Nat hadn’t liked the sound of Cage’s words one bit, but there wasn’t a whole lot he could do about it with his body strapped to the table. Besides, now that his Mae was gone, Nat had felt that it didn’t much matter what happened to him no how- especially seeing as he planned to be reunited with her soon.
‘Oh, precious Lord…’ his mind prayed. ‘I know it’s askin’ a lot, but please take me away from here an’ let me see my sweet Mae again!’
Right then, Cage had gripped the end of the long, glass cylinder in Nat’s mouth and commenced to shaking and pounding it like it was a ketchup bottle. Nat had tried to turn his face away, but Cage had grabbed his head and held it still.
“That’s right, boy!” he had told him. “You’re gonna drink every bit of this. Ya hear?”
Nat couldn’t breathe. It felt like he was drowning. Lying there, he started to wonder if he would ever get away from the two men or if that damn medicine bottle would ever be empty. And then, just like that, it was.
“How long do we have to wait to see if it worked?!” Cage had asked while sounding like a school boy at recess. “Can I take’um out back yet?”
“Hell if I know, Cage!?” Doc Shepard had answered. “The dang stuff didn’t come with instructions. All I know is…we barely got enough of it left. So, we can’t afford to make no mistakes here. ‘Cause if we do, then I reckon our boys’ll be the ones payin’ for it.”
“So, what’da sayin’ here, Doc?” Cage had argued in disgust. “Y’all want me to stand ‘round here all day waitin’ on this boy?”
“Hell no!” Doc Shepard had assured him. “Besides, if the medicine works, I’m gonna need help gettin’ the rest of’um ready. But…I figure we got us at least a couple more hours of sunlight left. I say, we give it a half-hour or so. Then, we’ll see if the medicine had time to set in.”
“And, if it ain’t?” Cage had probed curiously.
“Well…then I suppose, y’all’ll be free to do whatev’r y’all think is best,” Doc Shepard had concluded.
“That’s all I needed to hear, Doc,” Cage had replied with an alligator-like smile. “Ya got yourself a deal.”
From what Nat could remember, a half an hour had seemed to pass mighty quick. ‘Cause before he knew it, old William Cage had come to collect him from the operating table. At first, Nat had been glad to have the painful straps removed from his body. But, unfortunately, the gratitude he felt hadn’t lasted long. ‘Cause no sooner had he been freed from the table that he then found himself strung up outside with the sting of Cage’s whip across his naked back.
“Whhhhhyyy???!!!” Nat cried out. “Why are y’all doin’ this to us?! We ain’t wronged you in no way. We done ev’rything you asked of us. What give ya the right to treat us this way?”
“‘Cause boy, we own ya,” Cage had replied. “Y’all are the legal property of Colonel Buster T. Clayhorne. And, as his property, we ‘do’ have the right…to do whatev’r the hell we want with’cha.”
With that, Cage had cracked his whip over the young man’s back again and again. When he was finally done, Nat had known better than to say another word in protest. Still, even though Nat didn’t speak, it hadn’t stopped his mouth from howling something terrible. Nat didn’t know why, but Cage had seemed to enjoy himself. ‘Cause after the beating, the burly man cut him loose and then dragged his bloody body into a woodshed.
“I’s just gettin’ started with ya, boy,” Cage chided. “When I’m done with’cha, even your own momma won’t recognize ya.”
Inside the shed, there had been tools of all sizes and purpose. There had been equipment for tilling the soil; instruments for cutting and carving wood. But, for all their many uses, none of them had a lick to do with what Cage had in mind.
One by one, Cage used each tool to carve out tiny chunks of Nat’s skin. Then, just for fun, he heated up a long, metal rod and placed the shaft across the right side of Nat’s cheek. Again, Nat found himself hollering in immense pain. Even with the stench of burning flesh permeating the air and Nat’s agonizing wails shuddering throughout the shed, Cage just stood there snickering.
“We’s havin’ fun now, ain’t we, boy?!” Cage declared as he grabbed a large hammer and went to work on Nat’s chest.
WHAAAAAP! The sound of the hammer crashing against Nat’s rib cage was deafening. Not only did it sound like his bones were being crushed, Nat also felt his poor bones shattering from within.
Nat didn’t know how much time had passed. But, little by little, the sun continued to set and it became darker outside. After a while, Doc Shepard arrived at the woodshed to check on Nat and to have a word with William Cage. Suffice to say, Nat had been grateful for Doc’s visit as it momentarily ceased the torment and abuse. Nat wasn’t sure if either of them had known, but during their conversation outside of the shed, they had been speaking so loudly that Nat had heard every single word that was spoken. Nat hadn’t known why, but for one reason or another, Doc had seemed mighty fired up about something called a “badru root”. He kept saying it was “almost gone” and how “the medicine” didn’t seem to be working since Nat’s wounds hadn’t healed.
“Dammit!” Doc Shepard shouted. “We’ve wasted enough time on this already! Everyday more an’ more of our men are dyin’ at the hands of those Yankee swine. We needed something…something that would tip the odds in our favor; something that even ol’ Lincoln himself couldn’t rally against.”
“What we needed…” Cage had argued. “…was for this to work, Doc.”
“Yes, you’re right,” Doc Shepard had agreed. “But…more an’ more, it has become clear to me that the stories we heard about the healin’ power of the badru root are nuthin’ more than a handful of tall tales told by small-minded men. An’, I, for one, have had my fill of their childish stories.”
“So, what’ cha think we should do then?” Cage asked.
“Damned if I know?!” Doc Shepard exclaimed. “But, whatever we decide to do, it needs to happen soon! Or else, I fear the Confederacy will be gravely outnumbered by Union forces.”
“I meant about the boy we got over yonder,” Cage corrected, pointing at the shed.
“Well…” Doc Shepard paused and thought for a moment. “I suppose we won’t be needin’ him anymore, now will we? An’…seein’ as he’s hurt an’ all, I don’t reckon Colonel Clayhorne will have much use for him here neither.”
“He could sell ‘em?” Cage offered. “The boy’s still a young buck. I imagine there’s somebody, somewheres who might be able to get a good day’s work out of him.”
“You got straw in your head, Cage?” Doc Shepard had disputed. “Who in their right mind is gonna pay good money for damaged goods?”
“Ah, hell…” Cage begun. “I was just thinkin’ that-”
“You ain’t paid to think,” Doc Shepard interrupted. “You’re paid to keep him and those other nigras in their place.”
“Alright…” Cage conceded. “What’cha want me to do with him then?”
“Finish up in there,” Doc Shepard instructed. “Then, take the boy down to the creek and string’em up. Don’t dally none. You can collect his body first thing in the mornin’. Besides, he ain’t goin’ nowhere and I need ya back yonder.”
This had been the last thing Nat remembered Doc saying before he headed off. But, it had been enough to send shivers down Nat’s spine. After all, he knew, clear as day, the two men had been talking about him. Hours earlier, Nat had thought about dying- even had looked forward to it. Yet, there had been something about hearing how he would meet his untimely end that set his mind in a panic.
Nat desperately yearned of fleeing the woodshed before Cage returned. But, unfortunately, both of his legs had been mangled and broken due to Cage’s handy work. Not only were his legs inoperable, but before his overseer had left to speak with Doc, he also chained Nat to the wall by his neck to be certain that his prisoner would be there upon his return.
Cage’s ax was less than a few feet away. Nat craved that ax. He ached to hold it in his hands. He longed to use that ax the same way Cage had used it on his beloved Mae. But, it sat there. Taunting him. The ax might as well have been a mile away. Nat was overcome with despair.
While his mind was on the verge of abandoning hope, his body refused. He feverishly continued to look around his surroundings for something he could use to defend himself. As luck would have it, he eyed a rake in the shaded area to his left. He could reach it if he torqued his body perfectly. So, using the remaining strength he had in his arm and shoulder, he scooted his body towards it.
“WHAT’CHA THINK YOU’RE DOIN’ THERE, BOY?!!!”
Those had been the last words Nat remembered hearing as he turned his head to see Cage’s ax coming towards his face. Then, everything went dark.
If you enjoyed this sample chapter, be sure to pick up a copy of Night Sheen in 2021!
Copyright © 2020 J.T. Grainger. All rights reserved.