The beginning of a new novel. Feedback is welcome:
She walked the dirt road toward the cemetery, carrying a shovel and a machete. Although the sun was near to setting, the earth still contained enough of its heat to burn the bottoms of her bare feet. Sweat stained the simple white working shirt she wore, sleaked the ebon skin that was made even darker by years of labor in the hot Southern sun. But the steadiness of her step betrayed no weariness or hesitation.
It was a long walk to the cemetery, but it no longer felt enough of a distance to those who lived in the workers’ houses on the plantation. There was a new fear now, even greater than the fear their master provoked. The master’s cruelty had stretched beyond what they were forced to endure in the fields. His reach had gone beyond punishment, beyond even the taking of his workers’ lives. There was hope once that whatever laws governed this country might come down upon Mr. Delavois, that such cruelty would be noticed even when so much cruelty was permitted or ignored. But Mr. Delavois could not be tried for murder: they had tried him once and he walked away a free man. They found him innocent even when seven people had testified to the beating he had given Old Man Jackson. They found him innocent even though the jurors could sense the evil he radiated.
It is difficult but not impossible to convict a man of murder when the body is never found. But a jury simply cannot convict a man of murder when the body still walks the earth. When old man Jackson shambled through the courtroom doors, they had to let Delavois go, even though Jackson’s whole family had seen him buried in the ground. Delavois could murder with impunity because he had the ability to bring his victims back to life.
She continued on, her feet kicking up the dust of an unusually dry and hot summer. The tears in her eyes did not disguise the determination in her stare.
The master had killed her husband, it had been no accident. Nor was he murdered for some misdeed or crime. He was murdered because the master needed fresh servant to do the deeds that the living could not be persuaded to do. The dead did not last forever. They decayed as the dead do. And the stench they emitted after a while was worse than that of a normal corpse.
Delavois had killed her husband, but she would make sure the crime ended there. She would strike out against his unnatural power with all that was human in her and it would be enough. She would climb the summit of what a human was able of in order to do what must be done.
Simple white crosses marked the graves of her husband and everyone in that area with a similar skin color. When she reached her husband’s plot—the ground still mounded on the fresh grave—she through the machete to the ground, took the shovel from off her shoulder. She was no less weary than usual. True, she had been given the day off to attend Jobah’s funeral, but her emotional state lefter her worse off than a full day’s work would have. But she would do what must be done, would dig up her husband before her master got him, made him one of his unholy servants.
The first thrust of the shovel into the dry earth told her how difficult a task it would be. Although it was freshly laid earth that distanced her husband from her, it was rocky and dry. She would spend the better part of the night at her task of freeing her husband from the fate worse than death, ridding her fellow man of an abomination of Delavois’ creation.
She would have to mutilate the corpse. She never allowed the thought to fully enter her thoughts but it was there, it was the driving force of her actions. She would have to so badly butcher the flesh of her husband that he would be of no use to her master. Only in this way could she insure that her husband might achieve some rest in death as recompense for his life of unceasing toil.
And when she was done with the digging and the butchering, shoe would have to return to the plantation and give a full day’s toil so that her master would not know what she had been up to. But she would not be beaten, would not give in to this monster that thought himself above the rules of both and God. Nature itself would soon have to rise up against this affront to its laws, and she would be an agent of that uprising. She was of the earth, never felt so much so before now. She was but a small aspect of it, like a blade of grass in the wind. But she would make things right.
Somebody had to make things right. Someone had to bring the natural world back into balance.
Her body was used to work, but the motions of digging were new to her, worked different part of her body than the ones she had built up. Physical pain began to make itself known amidst the emotional anguish that blanketed her being. It all built up into one big wall of agony that sealed her off from any chance of really living again. Her whole body felt like one big cauterized wound.
She achieved a rhythm that set itself above any physical desire to stop. It was only when she needed to halt to wipe the sweat from her brow or change her grip that the desire to cease overwhelmed her. At such moments she rested shortly, wiped the horror from her mind, and set herself back to work. Work was something dug deeply into her spirit. There was a certain freedom to be found in slavery, a certain amount of dignity to be found amongst oppression. It was something deep inside a person that no outside force could entirely destroy. It was perhaps the last bit of her soul that was left.
She was lucky they didn’t dig him deep. If it was colored folk they would have been certain to dig him as deep as they could, knowing he might come back. But colored people didn’t come here any more, not unless they had to. Delavois knew that, that’s why he had white people digging graves nowadays. Whites didn’t know anything about voodoo. Whites didn’t have to be afraid.
She hit the wood of the coffin with the shovel. There was no relief in the reaching it, she knew the hardest work was yet to come. It still took a good deal of work to clear the lid of all the dirt on top of it. When that was done, she rested a moment, braced herself for the hardest thing she’d ever have to do.
She dug the shovel into the slim gap between the lid and the casket, increased the gap to nearly an inch. Then she dug her fingers into the gap, pulled away the lid as gently as she could.
Darkness saved her from seeing her husband’s face with any degree of clarity. But she’d have to do her work soon before the sunrise. Nevertheless, she gave herself a moment to rest, a moment to gather what strength she had left. She stood outside the grave and contemplated a hatred that she had no time for, the grabbed the machete and jumped inside. She stood inside the coffin, the only place she could stand and deliver the necessary blows with sufficient force. She swung a blow at her husband’s neck. Crrrtch. Then another. With a fury that was misdirected hatred, she swung with all the force within her. The space was cramped and the work was long. Before long her mind detached from her actions until she scarcely noticed what she was doing.
When she severed the head, she lifted it and sat it on the pile of dirt to give her more room to work. Next she went for the left arm, which was easier for her to reach. The pain in her arm and back pleaded with her to stop, but she knew that any respite would give her time to reflect on what she was doing. She switched the machete to her other hand and continued.
Her first attempt to hack into the leg went askew, digging into his abdomen. The machete had hit the same spot as the wound that had taken his life. His insides burst open, and with it came a stench like the blossoming of a rotten flower.