Run. The sole movement was consuming his thoughts, his mind, his entire body. Alfred’s gritty feet pounded against the raw farmland, and the blazing sun blinded his vision. Sweat trickled down his crooked back, seeping into his jagged scars. He daringly took a quick glance back at the hunters and caught a glimpse of those large, white hands clenching onto a rope, coming for him.
“Hey, Larson! I got one of ‘em over here!” yelled one of the hunters. His gruff voice, devoid of any sympathy and pity, echoed throughout the dense forest.
Hastily turning forwards, Alfred deepened his speed, causing his body to drown into a state of exhaustion. The intake of air struggled to infiltrate his constricted throat and feed his heaving lungs and palpitating heart. Thick branches grazed against his body as his dark, bony legs darted further into the unfamiliar woods. Suddenly, he clumsily tripped and found himself face to face with the rigid surface and musty soil. His feet were entangled within the tree roots, incapable of being removed without immense strength. He frantically attempted to rip the sturdy stems apart, despite the thick thorns clawing against his hands. Dark red gashes pierced deeply into his leg, paralyzing him in place. But with the hunters fast approaching, he only had seconds to spare. Then out of the blue, the hunter’s footsteps abruptly stopped. The forest was eerily quiet, as if it had emerged into a state of pure silence. The only sound that Alfred could hear was his ragged breath, thirsty for more and more air. After several minutes of dead silence, Alfred’s throbbing heart rate slowly descended into a relaxed state, and he heavily sighed in relief. He uncomfortably rolled onto his back and reached for his leg. But before he knew it, a pair of callous hands gripped onto his wrists. Alfred found himself face to face with the hunter. And with that notion, his heart exploded into a state of instability.
“Look what we have here. A runway, aren’t ya? You foolish boy,” he spat out. His breath reeked of liquor, causing Alfred’s face to crinkle in disgust.
“Lemme go”, screamed Alfred. He kicked his capturer, attacking him with his nails, but the hunter remained still, jeering at Alfred’s efforts.
“Hmm, looks like we got a little fighter here. Don’t you go pullin’ anything, boy.” He tightened his grip of Alfred’s wrists as Alfred struggled to escape. Alfred felt the grip loosen once the second hunter appeared from the forest. Alfred noticed that he looked quite young, maybe fifteen or sixteen years of age.
“Well it’s about time Larson! What took you so long?” said the first hunter.
“I got lost Papa,” Larson muttered. He avoided eye contact with Alfred, and stared straight at the ground.
“No need to worry Larson, you didn’t miss the fun part,” he sneered.
Alfred’s shuddered at the thought of the “fun part”. He desperately tried to break free of the hunter’s hands, fearing the upcoming father-son torture.
“There isn’t anything fun about this,” Larson quietly muttered.
“Larson, I am not havin’ this discussion with you again! You gotta learn son, this is how we live. This is how we have to live. This is how we earn our money.”
“I didn’t know that spending all our dirty money on drinking was the way to live!”
The father angrily glared at his son, as if he wanted to beat him up instead of Alfred. Dead silence swept through the forest, for what felt like an eternity. Then all of sudden, the hunter quickly turned around. Before Alfred could react, an agonizing blow punctured into his head. He felt his body lunge into the ground, thudding against the concrete surface. He tried to remain awake, but the forest was becoming blurrier and blurrier. A world of black began to seep into his vision, clouding everything, until there was nothing left to cloud.
A yellow glow emerged from the ceiling, like a halo illuminating his vision. Alfred’s droopy eyelids slowly steadied onto the yellowish glow, until his vision perfectly focused onto the dim lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. Suddenly aware of his surroundings, Alfred jerked wide awake, only to find his arms chained against a sturdy table in a dusty cabin. He heavily grunted as he tried to slip his arm out through the chains, using all the energy his body had left, until he couldn’t push anymore. He let out a frustrated sigh, and then tried again.
“It won’t work. They’re steel-enforced. Papa bought ‘em out. Mph, who am I kiddin’, he probably stole ‘em,” a young voice called out.
Larson. Alfred stopped resisting and stared at the floor. He was well aware that Larson was sitting in a chair across from him, watching his every move. He remained silent and avoided eye contact with Larson. He didn’t want anything to do with the cold-hearted people that took away his chance of freedom.
“Here, I bought some clippers to get those thorns outta ya leg and some cream for the pain,” Larson said. He walked over and set it by Alfred.
“I don’t need it,” Alfred growled.
“But they gonna help stop the pain.”
“I don’t need ya help,” growled Alfred.
A dense silence filled the room. It was as if the cabin was cocooned by a thick protective buffer of absolute quiet. Alfred was waiting for Larson to leave him alone, and breathed a sigh of relief when he heard those heavy buckled shoes start to move. But he was wrong. Larson wasn’t coming towards the door, he was coming towards Alfred. Alfred felt Larson’s hot breath hit his neck as Larson kneeled to the floor. Confused, Alfred finally faced Larson and watched him wipe away the filth from the clippers and carefully steadying Alfred’s leg. Alfred immediately shook Larson’s hand off of him.
“Why you patchin’ me up huh? Tryna make me look good for ‘em buyers? Get on outta here,” snapped Alfred, as his head still remained on the opposite side of Larson.
“Look man, I’m just tryna help you. You can either believe me or not, but at least you won’t be in pain,” Larson voiced.
Alfred finally turned around and made eye contact with Larson. After a couple of seconds, Alfred nodded, signaling that Larson could help. He winced in pain as the sharp pieces of bark slowly left his leg, reopening the dried up gashes on his leg. Alfred quietly observed Larson as he tied a fresh new piece of cloth around his wounds. Then, Larson opened the bottle of cream but suddenly stopped. He looked over at Alfred, with his eyebrows raised, as if he were asking Alfred for confirmation. But this time, Alfred did not resist.
“Thank you,” Alfred quietly said as Larson applied cream onto his blistered hands.
Larson smiled and continued to patch up Alfred.
“Your English isn’t so bad. Where did you learn from?” asked Larson as he tried to steer the conversation so that Alfred wouldn’t feel the aching burn from the cream.
“My sis Jasmine ta-AH,” Alfred loudly groaned as he felt an intense piercing pain shooting up his hands.
“Oh, where’s your sister?”
“Some of ‘em white folks bought her and took her away. I went runnin’ away to find her and help her escape so we coulda both been free.”
Larson suddenly became oddly silent, and solely focused his attention onto Alfred’s injuries.
“You know, you ain’t like your papa at all,” Alfred said, breaking the glooming silence.
Larson slightly acknowledged Alfred and half-smiled, but didn’t speak. He began to grab the fragments of bark that he collected and walked over to the window to throw them out. It was then when Alfred noticed dark blue and purple marks on the side of Larson’s neck.
“Did he do that to you?” Alfred abruptly asked, without even thinking about how intrusive he was being.
“Do what?” Larson responded, as he turned to walk back towards Alfred.
“Those bruises,” Alfred hesitantly said.
Upon hearing those words, Larson immediately froze. He stopped walking and stared straight at Alfred. His face turned faceless. His bleak eyes looked like the life inside of him was draining away. At this point, Larson didn’t have to respond, Alfred already knew the answer.
Distraught that a father could do that to his own son, Alfred hastily said “Look man. You gotta leave this guy, he ain’t right. He an evil soul. You ain’t saf-”
“This isn’t any of your business you fool! You Negros always tryna get up in our lives, tryna be our friends. Well you ain’t our friends and you’ll never be so shut your mouth!” Larson abruptly snapped back.
Those harsh words quickly slipped into his ears, echoing in his head, over and over. Alfred gave a slight nod, showing that he got the message, and stared intently into his shirt.
“I-I didn’t mean that,” Larson stuttered.
Alfred ignored him.
“Look man, I’m sorry, okay? My father and I are complicated. We always were. But despite all the bad things he do, he still my papa. I love him. And he loves me. Haven’t you ever loved someone so much that you can’t imagine life without them? Wasn’t that why you were runnin’ after Jasmine?” Larson asked.
Alfred did not respond. Larson waited for a couple moments until he finally gave up and walked over to the door.
“Yes,” Alfred said, as Larson’s hand touched the doorknob. “But you thinks he loves you? He beats you like he beats us. He treat you like you one of us. And you can leave. You can leave this wretched place by just walkin’ out the front door. No one gonna ask you any questions, no one gonna take you back to your hellhole, no one gonna do nothin’. Cuz you ain’t black and you ain’t gotta fear anythin’. If you think that man is love, you ain’t ever feel love.”
Larson removed his hand from the knob. He suddenly felt very desolated, and empty, as if he had been alone his whole life.
“What is love?” Larson softly asked.
“A feeling, that I ain’t gonna be able to describe. Is warmth. Happiness. Is who you find strength in, who you find ease in. Is who helps you at ya worst. It ain’t always family, or a nice little girl. Sometimes, its friendship,” Alfred said as he looked over at Larson, who cracked a small smile. Suddenly, the distant sound of nearby horses yapping along the roadside rung through the cabin.
“What’s that?” asked Alfred.
“The buyers. They here. You gotta go,” Larson hastily said. He rummaged through the keys in his pocket, trying to find the right one.
“What are ya doin’? You could get in serious trouble. Stop it,” cried Alfred. But it was too late. The chains were off.
“Jump out the window in the back and head north ‘til you hit the locksmith. Ask for Smith. He’ll help you out.” Larson said as he raced over to the back window and quickly pushed open the frame.
Alfred stared at Larson in disbelief.
“What are you doing? RUN!” Larson cried.
Run. The sole movement was already consuming his thoughts, his mind, his entire body. Alfred pushed himself off the floor and was getting ready to leave when he suddenly stopped.
“Wait. Come with me. We’ll be on the run. Together. You can build a new life away from here. You can find love. Actual love,” Alfred said as he offered his hand. Larson glanced at Alfred’s hand, the hand that could change his life.
The loud voices outside were getting closer and closer. Keys were jingling outside, and the door finally opened after a hard nudge. Larson’s father walked inside, leading the pack of hungry buyers into the cabin. But there was no one there.