Some writer friends and I are doing a Spooktacular Blog Hop with scary scenes from our books or works-in-progress. I’ve decided to post a scene that I cut from UNDER A PAINTED SKY, which involved a hanging. It didn’t work with the ultimate version of the story, but I still have an odd soft spot for it. Share this contest on Facebook, tumblr or twitter, and leave a comment telling me how you did it, and I’ll choose a random winner on Saturday (Nov. 1) to win an ARC of UNDER A PAINTED SKY, debuting next March.
“I’m gonna’ scout for fresh grub before my stomach dies of boredom,” Andy declares. The rest of us are more than happy with her cuisine. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if her cobblers could single-handedly persuade the boys to keep us around longer.
I take a sack and follow her. We pick our way down the banks of a winding stream, which takes us to a wooded area full of elm trees, many of them rotting. Lilacs and violets are starting to push their heads through the piles of decaying leaves.
Andy draws in her breath.
“What?” I ask.
“I bets we can find some good ‘shrooms here.”
“Okay, but I’m not as good at picking out the poisonous one as I am with snakes,” I warn her.
“I knows a good mushroom when I sees it.” She flips over a fallen log. Underneath, a crop of thimble-shaped mushrooms poke out of the ground like miniature people who just lost the roof over their heads.
“Baby peckers!” Andy cries, fingering a fungus I will no longer be calling a morel. “These are like gold. Bet we can dry the ones we don’t use to trade at the fort, tho’ I’ll probably eat them in my sleep, I love them so.”
“Good thinking. I should have brought two sacks.”
We take out our knives and start slicing, gingerly so we don’t destroy the honeycomb like skin. After we fill our sack, I unkink myself and heave the sack across my back, earthy sweet smell sticking to my fingers.
I spot them first: three men in hunting jackets, one with auburn hair and a brown mole by his nostril. They already tied their horses to the elms some fifty feet back. All the blood drains out of me.
“Hold on, I’ma fill my shirt,” says Andy, still squatting.
“Andy.” I drop the sack and baby peckers spill all over the ground.
She looks at the fallen mushrooms, then up at me, then at the men. I mouth to her, “run.”
I begin to dash away then Andy grunts. I glance back to see her sprawled over the sack. The men race to her and grab her by the arms and legs. I scream as loud as I can, realizing with a sinking heart that we must have traveled at least a mile and the boys won’t be able to hear us. I sprint towards the men’s horses.
One of the men, the one with the dirty blond hair and pointy sideburns, charges after me. Fast as a striking adder, he snatches me up, twisting my arms in back of me so I cannot move.
“Drop it,” he snarls, yanking my arm back hard enough to show me he can break it. I drop my paltry pocketknife, but I do not let up on the screaming.
The fat man with the double chin sits on Andy’s middle, watching his mole-faced friend tie a loop with his rope. Andy struggles to push him off her, but he must weigh as much as an ox. He laughs, baring small yellow teeth. “Hey Dicky, we haven’t strung up a nigger since the daffodils bloomed.”
Dicky tries the noose on his own neck, rolling out his long purplish tongue and mock-panting.
Andy labors to breathe, her face sweating as she sucks in air. The fat man is crushing her lungs! I strain against the arms holding me from behind, kicking like a mule and not letting up on my screaming.
“Shut him up, for God’s sake!” says the fat man. Dicky tilts his head as he approaches me, screwing up his face at my shrieking. He pulls a bandana from his pocket and shoves the filthy thing into my mouth. The cloth forces me to choose between screaming and breathing.
“You know,” he says, his voice almost friendly, “we never seen a nigger traveling with a pet dog.”
He removes his hemp necktie and returns to Andy, still underneath the fat man. Her eyes are closed. Dear God, no. Has she stopped breathing? Get off her, you whale!
Now both the fat man and Dicky pull her to her knees and put the rope over her head, casting the other end over a branch. I beg you, God, strike them down with lightning! Hurry! I sag, making myself as heavy as possible to my captor. He squeezes his arms even tighter behind me, forcing me back up on my legs.
“Andy,” I moan through my gag.
My horrified eyes watch as Dicky pulls the rope tighter. The fat man hauls Andy’s drooping form to her feet then holds her out at arm’s length, appraising her like a butcher choosing a side of beef.
“Alrighty then, you have any last words? Didn’t think so,” says the fat man, his face shiny with effort.
Dicky, holding the rope, grins at my comatose friend. Pointy teeth cage in his slug of a tongue. “Too easy.” He begins to haul her up.
Tears cloud my vision. She is going to die and all I can do is watch. I cannot do a thing! My heart beats so violently in my chest I think it might break a rib. Come on body, do something!
I bend my knees. My shoulders grind painfully as my dead weight pulls the man holding me over my head. Then I plant my feet firmly on the ground and spring up, like a kangaroo, smashing right through the roof of his chin.
“Owwhh!” he screeches then gurgles in a way that tells me he bit through his tongue. I waste no time shaking him off and unstuffing my mouth. His screams startle Andy out of her stupor.
Then I charge Dicky, slamming my body into his and knocking him to the floor. I reach for his gun, but he grabs my arm and now we struggle for it. My fingers grip the iron handle. He pries them back like they are chicken wire, pushes me off then springs upon me, barring his pointy teeth like a rotweiller. The gun clicks into its deadliest mode. I shut my eyes as two shots rent the air.
But they did not come from Dicky’s gun.
A black hand plucks the gun from his hand as easily as twisting off a corncob. Two pairs of strong arms lift him to his feet, holding him up like a kicking scarecrow.
A third pair pulls me to my feet, but my legs are not yet steady and I collapse. I look up into my deliverer’s blue-black face.
“Steady, boy,” he says. My shocked eyes take in several more black men moving around us. Both the fat man and the blond-sideburned one lie on the ground, red stains spreading out over their clothes.
Another man kneels beside Andy who is lying on the ground. I scramble over to her.
“Andy!” I pant, cradling her head.
Her lids open halfway.
“I sees the pearly gates,” she whispers. “I’s almost there.”
“Seems God changed his mind,” rumbles the man beside us. He rubs at his salt and pepper beard.
“Who’s you?” she asks, her voice rising as she tries to push herself up.
Dicky starts screaming as his two captors bring him closer to us. Above our heads, Dicky’s rope hangs from the tree like a dead snake.
Elijah picks Andy up and carries her to the shade of another elm, me trotting to keep up.
He sets her down.
“We gots business to take care or.” He leaves us to rejoin his brothers.
A lean man with piercing eyes and flared nostrils drops the noose over Dicky’s head. Dicky struggles to free himself from the two men holding him, his teeth clenched and his face ashen. The other men stand around him in a rough horseshoe, black chessmen ready to checkmate the king.
“Oh my Lord,” gasps Andy. She slaps her hands over her eyes. My own hands wring the hem of my shirt but I can’t look away.
“Git off, I didn’t do nothin’!” Dicky yells. Then he starts to cry.
It’s too horrible. I put my hands over my ears and bury my face into Andy’s middle. She’s trembling as much as me.
Dicky stops yelling and all I hear now is the sound of my own whimpering.
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