At eighty-two, I’ve lived a long life. A long-time Mississippian, I loved keeping a cigar dangling from my mouth, and it didn’t have to be lit. I just kept it comfortably on my tongue to taste the raw cedar. In Tulla Springs, a small town toward the west of Mississippi, I was known for having the best lawn. I would be outdoors making sure my yard was the finest among all of my neighbors. My perfect white, two-story house, with a white picket fence, was one hundred percent pure American. Best of all was my favorite sitting place under the oak tree that stood in my beautiful yard. Feeling the breeze tap against my wrinkly, old skin was almost as good as Heaven.
So far, I was living the perfect life, and it felt so good and peaceful to live in a remote area on the outskirts of town. Suddenly, in 2006, Tulla Springs drastically changed its color landscape. Once it was primarily a white area where we ran all the city offices, school boards, and businesses, but now the town is full of Coloreds. There’s a colored sheriff, deputy mayor, school superintendent. There are even a few so-called black-owned businesses. I mean, the whole thing made me sick! Why I remembered years ago before that Civil Rights Movement, Coloreds knew how to stay in their place. It was simple. They kept to themselves and we whites kept to ours.
From generation to generation of my family, we firmly believed whites were the superior race. We were put here by God to take care of this world, and the Coloreds and everyone else were meant to work in it. My daddy told me this was a fact because according to him, it was written in black and white in the Bible.
Inside my house were pictures and plaques during my days of rallying with the Ku Klux Klan. In fact, I still have my white garb and the hat hanging freely upstairs in my bedroom next to a few of my late wife’s things. Abigail and I were together for fifty-five years, although she passed on five years ago. I hoped I would someday pass it to my children, but unfortunately, she couldn’t bear any.
On a warm fall afternoon, I was sitting at my favorite spot under the oak tree with my brother’s oldest son, Billy. The wind was just right while the sun was peeking softly from behind the clouds.
“Yep, I did live a good life,” I said, slowly lighting my cigar. “You know every liberal folk out there, whose sayin’ segregation or Jim Crow laws was wrong, is a damn fool! It happened ‘cause it was good for this country. And if it wasn’t for that Martin Luther King, and all of those other Coloreds in this country, we would still be number one!”
Even though my nephew gave me one of his sorry stares, I was still proud of him. He served his country well by fighting those Iraqis and taking care of those enemies before they tried to come in our backyard and kill us. Remember 9/11? That tragedy summed it up. Get them before they get us!
As I rocked in my mahogany chair that was handed down by my daddy, I glanced at my nephew wearing a gray Army t-shirt and jean shorts. With a receding hairline and brunette hair like my momma’s, Billy continued to shake his head.
“Hey, Unc?” he said, in his Mississippian accent; a southern drawl heavy like molasses. “What about that black soldier when you were in World War II? Was he bad for the country, too?”
I rolled my eyes and sucked my teeth at his foolish question. The solider he was referring to was this massively tall Colored man named Jeremiah Johnson. With perfect teeth that were whiter than snow and a big baldhead, he was known as Preacher Man because he gave sermons and prayed for fallen soldiers. Actually, I don’t know too much about his personal life. I just remembered Jeremiah telling the other Coloreds that he had a wife and two children back in Tennessee. He still should’ve stayed in his place. If he were in my shoes, I doubt I’d take a grenade for him.
After Billy shook his head in disgust at my rants, he went to work at the local post office, leaving me alone under the oak tree.
“That damn liberal,” I said about him as he drove away in his late model truck.
I closed my eyes to enjoy the rest of that beautiful day. The only thing I heard was the soft whistling of the wind and an occasional car driving past my yard. Other than that, I was living in my own world.
As I reclined in the chair to catch a quick nap, I suddenly developed the worst headache I’d ever had in my life. It throbbed from the top of my head to the back of my neck. I tried to get up to go get some pain medicine out of the house, but I fell to the ground with paralyzing numbness on one side of my body. Even though I felt I had the strength within my other limbs, I couldn’t scoot or scream. It was as if I became camouflaged in the grass because no neighbor or passerby could see me. It seemed my suffering was meant to be.
As I tried to cry for help once more, the pain in my head worsened. Then strangely, I felt a weird sensation as though my body wanted to drift away. Darkness slowly covered the sky like a window shade, fading everything black.
“Mista,” said a child’s voice, as I returned to consciousness. “Mista? You’re okay now!”
When my eyes focused, I was stunned to see this light-skinned Colored boy with sandy brown hair standing on my property. The boy appeared to be about six or seven, wearing clothes my nephew’s son would normally wear. Yes, the same colorful t-shirt with blue jeans. In his eyes, I noticed a familiarity as if I’d seen him somewhere before.
Amazingly, I was able to get up off the grass, but still wondered whom this child was. “Boy, where you come from?” I firmly asked.
The boy laughed, ignoring my seething intimidation. So I tried again, but this time I stepped closer to him. Looking down onto his tiny body and squinting, I approached him with a firmer tone. “Boy, you got five seconds to get off from my land,” I snapped.
Where did he come from? I wondered, as he, again, ignored my daunting words by laughing them off. Then that kid did something weird. He extended his hand, asking me to come with him. I was stunned and didn’t know what to make of him. Is this boy connected to some of my enemies in town? Is he lost? Or is he just mental?
Once more, I tried to scare him. “Look, boy, didn’t I say get off my land?” I yelled.
The boy didn’t move. He only chuckled.
“That does it,” I huffed, stomping off to my house to get my shotgun to scare him for good, but when I tried to open the screen door, the strangest thing happened. The front door disappeared, and the screen door was nailed shut. I pulled and shook the screen until I thought of running to the backdoor. As I continued my mission to get inside, I noticed from the reflection in the window that something was different. My whitish gray hair had reverted to its original brunette color, and my wrinkly face was ironed out with a youthful glow. Even my limbs were limber as it felt like I was in my twenties.
“What the hell?” I gasped, feeling my face. “What’s going on here?”
Out of confusion, I looked at the little boy. Is this some sort of dream?
I looked beyond the white picket fence to discover the neighborhood I’d known for over fifty years was gone. There were no cars driving down the street, no houses, or paved roads. There was only a dirt road framed with an abundance of trees lining the pathway. Being puzzled was an understatement. I was petrified.
“Where am I? And who are you, boy?”
Again, the boy extended his hand and answered in his tiny voice. “You’re earthly life is over. It’s time for you to begin your journey.”
Out of shock, I fell limp against a porch chair, placing my hand on my head and trembling in fear. If my earthly life is over, what is this place? Heaven, hell, or the in-between?
Panicking, I yelled to the boy. “No! It can’t be. You don’t mean I’m dead, do you?”
The boy didn’t say a word. His hand remained extended as if I was supposed to abide to him, so I ignored his request.
“I’m not going with you! Ain’t it when you die you go through some tunnel to meet your loved ones?” I angrily questioned. “You ain’t no kin to me, so why don’t you go with your own people!”
“If you don’t go with me, then you’ll have to stay in this house with them,” the boy finally replied.
The boy pointed inside my house to a frightful sight. There were several black, shadowy creatures standing in my living room along with disfigured, skinless monstrous beings with sharp demonic teeth. As soon as they saw me through the window, staring in awe, they rushed toward me with an ear-piercing growl. I screamed as I leaped backward, falling into the porch furniture, but the boy didn’t give up. He extended his hand down to me.
“If you come with me, they won’t get you.”
This time I didn’t want to be a fool, so I took his hand. “Where are you taking me?”
The boy smiled and guided me to the cleanest dirt road I’d ever seen. The dirt was brighter than the red Mississippi dirt. It was softer than sand, but very light as though I was walking on air.
“Harold, don’t be afraid. It’s a journey that’s necessary for what’s left of your soul,” the boy said. I didn’t reply. I was just curious as to what was to come.
“Since I’m going with you, boy, what’s your name?”
The boy looked at me with his big, brown eyes. “Thomas.”