Dying Embers

May 26, 2011
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Dying Embers

The two children ran across the field of cotton, and I turned, watching the workers on the plantation. The cotton picking season was here and if the slaves didn’t pick enough cotton I was sure the boss would have me whip ‘em. I gazed at the beautiful blooming cotton, the sorta purity that reminded me of newly f
allen snow. A breeze picked up then and I rubbed my arms, despite the sun that beat down upon the field.
“ You there, Ember, you’d better be a watchin’ those children. Don’t want em’ breakin’ no branches,” I called to her, the forewoman, as she ran to them. I glanced down at the whip in my hands. A whip held by white hands, large and calloused. A white man who blended in with the cotton. Pure and white, not like them dirty blacks out there. For no matter how long I worked with them, the dark skinned ones always looked at my light coloured eyes and hair with hidden disgust. I ain’t done nothing to ‘em. Besides, the day had gone on long enough, I wished it over so I could be a headin’ home to my family. I wiped the sweat off from my brow, thoughts running through my head, my achin’ head. I watched as the cotton danced around casually, not a care in the world.
I snapped out of my daze in an instant. Had I heard something? Small gasps echoed throughout the field; no it wasn’t my imagination, but did it have to be my problem? I bargained with myself. To turn or not to turn. Anyways I didn’t want this job, I needed it. Did the slaves’ troubles really matter to me? But it was at this very moment that the cause of all my troubles, the one who provided me with food and shelter and money was coming toward me, walking as if he owned the world. Mr. Anderson.
“ Simon! How’s the fields? Are the slaves harvesting well?” He asked me, eyebrows raised.
“ Yes, the men have been doing well, and the forewomen makes sure the children do their share.” Of course this is the first question he asks. Not how are you or are you tired. No, he cared only for himself and his own profit. Not that I cared.
“ Did you hear that noise?” Mr. Anderson asked and I could do naught’ but shake my head. He gestured his hand inclining for me to lead the way. I did, and as we walked, he asked about the behaviors of the slaves. I gave him a full report conveying no emotion through my voice.
The still orange sun sent a warm glow through the field on the plantation, and soon enough we saw a little crowd of slaves blocking the path, huddled together, whispering. I shoved them aside roughly. A crashed cart had pulled down branches and bolls of cotton. A piece of fabric had torn on the wheel. The mass of cotton was devastating and I snuck a peek at Mr. Anderson’s face.
“ Who did this?!” He roared, face bubbling in purple rage, shaking his fists in the air. Silence. Nobody spoke, nobody moved. Not even a twitch from any of the younger children. My eyes shifted to the two children who I’d seen playin’ in the field rollin’ around that old cart carryin’ the labeled bags of cotton. The cotton that now lay on the ground. I knew it to be true. The two children, Brian and Lily. It be them who broke the branches and caused all this ruin. I didn’t say this out loud, but Mr. Anderson soon put two and two together.
“You two niggers,” he ordered.
When the children didn’t move, he yanked on the girl’s arm. “ We didn’t mean to break no branches. We was just tryin’ to help.” Lily whispered hoarsely.
Mr. Anderson looked back at me coldly. What was he gonna have me do? Must I sell them? Hopefully it wasn’t anything that took too long.
“Find a suitable punishment for them.”
“But sir-” I started.
“No buts, do as you’re told.” He paused, waiting long enough to be sure I was ready, then asked, “have you decided yet?”
His gaze cut through me like a knife and the sweat dribbled down the side of my face. I glanced quickly at the forewoman and an idea popped into my head.
“You,” I called, indicating Ember, “bring those children here in the morning, seventy-five lashes of the whip each.”
Ember’s eyes widened with shock as I said this and she staggered back. Mr. Anderson’s mouth curled up in the corners. This means I have to get up early tomorrow, I sighed inwardly.
“In fact, since I know how busy you are, just have the forewoman do it. After all, she is the most appropriate one for the job,” Mr. Anderson said, and with that, he walked off chuckling to himself.
“Yes sir,” I muttered.
Ember had gone visibly pale and was shaking as she stared at the place where Mr. Anderson had once stood.
“Y-yes sir!” Her voice quivered with uncertainty.
“Make sure the children and yerself aren’t late tomorrow.”
Ember grimaced slightly and she pursed her lips. “I ain’t gonna whip em’ children. They ain’t done no wrong.”
“Your master’s wishes must be obeyed. Do not disobey!” I shot back, too fast to realize I had said the same thing twice.
“I ain’t gonna whip my own,” she crossed her arms firmly against her chest.
“These children are yours?” I asked softly.
“Yes, and you can’t do nothing, I ain’t gonna whip em’. I’ll die if I must.” Those words struck me. Each as hard as if I myself had been whipped. Willing to die to save her children. For a moment, the thought of her whipping her own children held such treachery, it poisoned my mind and made my soul weep. But it was only for a moment.
“Why, they’re just slaves like you.”
She edged back, fists clenching and unclenching.
A stinging pain erupted on my left cheek. I reached up and winced. Rage boiled my blood and I raised the whip. A crack was heard as the weapon struck against her flesh.
“Mama!” Brian and Lily ran to her but she raised an arm and smiled. How could she be so calm? I had just lost my temper and she paid the price for it. I gritted my teeth.
“I can’t do nothing to change your punishment, or theirs,” I said quietly, wishing it were not so.
“Do you have chillun sir?” she asked, her face a mask that portrayed little emotion.
“Yes, why do you ask?”
“What if you be the one to whip your chillun?” I recoiled at these words. As a parent, I could never bring myself to hurt my child. I loved her too much. But was that why she wanted to spare her children? Love?
“ I still can’t do nothin’ bout your situation,” I said, wishing it were not true. Ember looked down at her feet. A sorrowful look on her face.
“ I’ll find a way. My mama would never hurt me, and I cannot bring myself to hurt my own chillun; to do so would be to betray my own heart as a mother.”
“ You’ve got no choice,” I told her these words as I turned and headed home.
“ We’ve always got a choice, though not always easy.” Those were the last words I heard from her and for once my heart sank as I heard them, sad for her children, even sadder for her and her torn heart.
The sleepless night had gone by uneventful; I was standing by the whipping post waiting for Ember and her children. The frigid morning breeze blew through the square with no warmth or feeling. Only cold.
It had been a while, too long; slaves would never take this long to receive the whip. Where were they? Had they run away? Questions whirled through my head. It didn’t make any sense.
That’s it. I’d had enough.
I dashed to the slave quarters quickly. The plantation warning bell rang. An escape? Loud, clear and true, the bell carried throughout the plantation. Stopping in my tracks, a sense of dread seeped into my body.
A crowd had gathered around something, someone.
Pushing through the crowd I hear crying. Two children hovered over a body. Brian and Lily lay weeping beside Ember. Their mother.
I opened my mouth searching for words of comfort, but none came. I wanted to speak to break the deafening silence.
Is this what it meant? You always have a choice, she had said. Had. She could no longer speak; she was lost to this world, and lived only in memory. But was this really what she had meant? To spare her children the whip, she killed herself?
No, this wasn’t to spare her children of the whip. It was to spare them from the betrayal of a family member. I looked into Brian’s swollen, watery eyes, acceptance. He knew what she had done and why.
I looked again at the knife that protruded out from her chest, the blood stained dirt she lay on. The extinguished ember, and the feeling of complete hopelessness converted into hot burning tears that welled up in my eyes.
Not a trace of agony on her face, only peace. Just looking at her face, I saw my own brutality but, somehow, I knew it wouldn’t stay like that much longer.
A strange scent of hope overcame me as I stared at the rising sun climbing up in the sky, and I knew that I, too, had a choice.

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This article has 14 comments. Post your own now!

Delictious said...
Jul. 22, 2011 at 10:57 am
This was a very creative historical fiction, I like how you took a different perspective on the piece. It was great, somethings were a bit odd like in the beginning and the 70 slashes, but other than that it was really great! I enjoyed reading every word(:
DoubleN said...
Jul. 22, 2011 at 10:22 am
this was really powerful! i love it!
rosaposa said...
Jul. 21, 2011 at 1:46 pm
this was so great, you have a real nice writing style!
TheSilverLaurel said...
Jul. 21, 2011 at 1:13 pm
this is great, really gripping and emotional. 5 stars
KenyaLove41 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jul. 21, 2011 at 12:15 pm
i liked the story alot how it was written so beautifully and how easily everything flowed. in the begginning it was a bit confusing but at the end it began clear wat the story was about. very touching:)
leafy This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jul. 21, 2011 at 10:54 am
first, i found some grammar/spelling errors, so another proofread by you would be good (don't worry about that though, everyone makes mistakes). also, (sorry this just really bothers me) but 75 lashes is a bit of an overkill. like, i've been watching episodes of the show "roots" and also done some research, and 20-30 is what they do for adults, and anything too much more than that is practically fatal. and as for her stabbing herself, how did she get the knife? i know it wasn't impossible for sl... (more »)
PaRaNoRmAl627 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jul. 21, 2011 at 10:38 am
i love historical fiction, and i have high expectations for it. this piece was touching, nicely written and original. you created great characters and a beautiful story :)
musicispassion said...
Jul. 20, 2011 at 11:22 pm
good job i liked it :P
paige14 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jul. 20, 2011 at 10:16 pm
Wow...that was really touching. It showed a story that doesn't often get told about slavery: that of the white man running the fields. You hear the stories of slaves and owners. This was a new take that I found really moving, especially that last line.
WritingSpasms said...
Jul. 20, 2011 at 8:38 pm
I liked how everything sort of.. fitted together. I noticed that in some spots there was too much spacing in between words, but other than that I can't point out any noticeable errors. You really did well! Write more, please :)
booklover04 said...
Jul. 20, 2011 at 7:14 pm
the title, picture, the story all fit together like a puzzle. Loved the concept in particular. However, I felt like you used the word "cotton" too much in the first few sentences :)
Garnet77 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jul. 18, 2011 at 7:38 pm
The concept in this story is very deep, and I love how you portrayed it through a historical fiction piece. That last scene was so sad yet beautiful, and my only criticism would be the unnecessary spaces between some of the words. (Maybe that's just because of copying and pasting your article). But other than that, this is an amazing and very literary piece. -T <3
DaylightDarkness replied...
Jul. 20, 2011 at 7:15 pm

this is really good, and incredibly powerful. It's sad, but at the same time... with the last line, not. I can't wait to see more of your stuff.


Kailey4 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jul. 21, 2011 at 10:56 pm
It was beautiful...and it would be 100 times better if the beginning had a hook, yknow, that brings the reader into the story:)
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