African American fiction

The Fury of Angels

By

This book will launch on Feb 22, 2021. Currently, only those with the link can see it. 🔒
Synopsis

It’s the late 1800s, and Sara’s mother is a witch. It’s the 21st century, and Sammy is trapped in prep school hell. The identical besties are doomed to immortality. It’s their lethal rage that makes them efficient killers.

PROLOGUE ILLINOIS TERRITORY – 1854 RUTHIE

Thin slivers of sunlight pierced the stark gray clouds blanketing the horizon. A cold wind whistled through the crack of the poorly constructed sash of the bedroom window. Ruthie didn’t hear the howling sound or feel the frigid temperature.

Familiar wretchedness lapped over her heart as she knelt by the makeshift crib, a thing of rough timber tied together with scraps of rope.

She wanted to disbelieve the truth. But her eyes, leaking perpetual tears, saw how the woolen blankets no longer held her curly-haired toddler. He was gone.

No! She had tucked him into bed the previous night with a heartfelt kiss on his cheek.

Her soul ached as she absorbed the painful truth. Massa had taken her son as he had stolen the others. This time she hadn’t been allowed to see him grow much older than his need for a wet-nurse. She had always known Massa would sell him. The urgency this time was the family’s desperate need for money.

Ruthie held her breast as her heart pounded against her ribcage. A low, persistent moan snared in her throat failed to swell into a soul-searing scream.

“Ruthie, you is disturbing me with all that sniveling. Git your ass in the kitchen and start making breakfast. I know you ain’t expecting me to fix it!” The annoyed, nasal tone emitted from the Missus’ sunny private reading room.

The rebuke forced Ruthie’s silence, but the pain gnawed her heart. She rose to her feet on legs barely able to support her statuesque frame. And as hard as she tried, she couldn’t stop looking at the empty crib, the rumpled blankets, and a discarded toy, a pitiful thing she’d made out of rags…which he had adored.

“Ruthie! Come here, girl!” The irritation in Missus’ tone meant further sufferings. This time, the infuriating voice streamed from the kitchen.

Ruthie straightened her back, stiffened her shoulders, and lifted her head. Today is going to be different, she promised herself.

Then she chastised herself. After all, she was to blame for wanting to keep him. For falling in love with his liquid brown eyes and curly black hair. For allowing the maternal stirrings to manifest each time she had nursed him.

“Ruthie! I ain’t going to call you again! We’re hungry. Git your ass out here! Or do you want me to come in there and beat you?”

“Comin’ Missus!” she tried to wrench the emotion out of her voice. By the time she emerged from her tiny room near the food cellar, she had pasted on a smile.

Missus, a plain, broad woman in a gingham dress, wore her dark hair in a bun. She sat alone at the kitchen table, sipping from a cup. Her small blue eyes gleamed as she lowered her drink and twisted her lips into a selfsatisfied sneer.

Missus relished her pain. Now there wouldn’t be a brown baby to remind her of Massa’s peculiar and nonChristian tastes for his slave.

“Good mornin’, Missus,” Ruthie chimed in false cheerfulness.

Although she could silence her whimpers, she couldn’t stop the tears from spilling down her cheeks. She escaped the hostile scrutiny by wrapping herself in a shawl, grabbing the basket, and departing for the chicken coop. The hired hands, ne’er-do-well white men more likely to drink hooch than put in a day’s work, were repairing the fence. The sinister way they eyed her comings and goings made her nervous.

In the distance, she heard the girls, nine-year-old Glorie and her younger sister, Mabel, laughing, although she didn’t see them. She guessed they were somewhere close, playing a game like, Hide and Seek, as usual. As she filled her basket with fresh eggs, the ever-present agony bored a wider hole in the remnants of her heart.

It wasn’t right. Massa and Missus kept both their children when she couldn’t keep even one of hers.

Alone in the chicken coop, she sank to her knees and wept. With no one nearby to hear, she loudly cried as the pain ripped apart her soul.

“Ruthie!”

She coughed out the wad of emotion lodged in her throat. “Coming, Missus!”

She rose from her knees. A part of her hoped for the familiar numbness to take hold, but this time there wasn’t a blanketing detachment to coat over the debilitating injury. The loss continued to grate her heart into shreds.

She assumed her tasks as if watching herself perform them from a distance. She fried eggs, salt ham and biscuits, and later she watched as Missus and her golden-haired girls gobbled their meal. They chatted, laughed and ate as their lives continued. Slyly, she watched them as a nugget of pure hatred welled in the empty pit of her heart.

Next, she took out a tray to the field hands. The riffraff didn’t bother washing up. Instead, they dived into the food with the ferocious gluttony of wild pigs.

As she cleared and cleaned the morning dishes, she heard Massa’s lazy steed clip-clop to the stables. Ruthie caught her breath. She held onto a minuscule iota of optimism he hadn’t sold their son. Massa’s lone entrance into the house dashed all hope. Her missing son was not in the company of his father.

The gangly man with pocked skin unloaded sacks of flour, seeds and tobacco. Under his arm, he carried a bolt of cloth and two new dolls. He placed the items on the table, and then he looked around before swatting Ruthie on her derriere.

Tears formed, but she refused to cry.

She hated him. She always had. Briefly, she remembered how he’d made her a woman before she’d had her first bleeding. She’d been a child, wrenched from her mother’s care, sold and bedded in less than one day.

Massa wasn’t indeed a prosperous businessman. He’d sold his home and failing business in Philadelphia and all his slaves except Ruthie, to stake his claim in Illinois. His skill with farming and raising sheep was as dubious as his haberdashery talents had been.

“Henry!” Missus squealed at the store-bought items. She unrolled the cloth. “A new Sunday dress for church!” she gushed. “It’s lovely!”

He planted a tepid kiss on Missus’ faintly mustachioed lips. “Nothing but the best for my angels.”

The girls each took a doll and began squabbling over which one was prettier. “What gossip have you heard?” Missus asked. “Ruthie, Henry will have a cup of coffee.” The girls danced with their dolls while she served Massa a cup of coffee. Then she blended into a corner. She observed them dispassionately. After a time, Massa strutted out of the house to check on his field hands.

No one mentioned her missing son. He had a name: Toby. She squeezed her hands into tight fists. Her fingernails dug blood onto her palms.

How many of Massa’s children had she carried to term? Ten? Twelve? She hadn’t been allowed to keep any of them. Soon she would be too old to have children; then what? T

he thought returned with the fleeting ferocity of a lightning flash; the idea of killing them all was her singular fixation.

But how?

The pain lessened a bit as she gazed out the window. The pale blue sky extended into eternity above the flat yet fertile expanse of the prairie. In the distance, Massa yelled at his field hands who boldly hee-hawed at him.

Ruthie, wrapped in her shawl, stood on the porch and drank his vexation like syrup. Finally, she went about her chores. She tended the garden, cleaned the house, and canned the vegetables for winter storage in the root cellar.

Later, she made a trip to the well. She toted the bucket into the house and poured the contents into a large basin. She wiped her hands on her apron and drew the large knife from the cupboard.

She lifted the blade, tilted it so that she could see her reflection, and saw dried tearstains on her dark skin. She didn’t wipe her face. Instead, she scraped her thumb against the sharp edge and drew blood.

“Stop that! You’re bleeding on my clean table!” Missus snapped and snatched the knife from her hand.

“Was going to cut up some vegetables for the stew, Missus.” Ruthie cowered, hoping her words didn’t sound like backtalk.

Missus eyed her suspiciously as she gave her a smaller and duller paring knife from the drawer.

“Thank you, Ma’am.” She struggled with the smaller knife as she diced and tossed carrots, onions, and tough meat into the iron pot.

“I said, shut up with all that crying!” Missus yelled.

Ruthie jumped, unaware she’d made any sound until that moment. Then she quieted the barely audible warbling in her throat.

Missus hovered over the steaming pot, picked up a wooden spoon, dipped it in the concoction, and sipped. “Need more salt.”

Ruthie wiped her eyes on the hem of her apron. Next, she swiped the container of salt and liberally added spoonfuls into the stew.

All at once, Missus’ meaty fist pounded the side of her Ruthie’s head. She hadn’t expected the blow. White lights exploded behind her eyes. Somehow, she had been able to lock her knees which kept her from collapsing onto the floor.

“That’s too much! What do you think? We can’t keep buying salt!”

“No, ma’am.” Ruthie returned the salt container to the table. The pain ricocheting in her head momentarily muted the ache tearing through her heart.

The girls ran inside the house and chased one another around the kitchen table. Glorie dangled both new dolls just out of her sister’s reach.

“Girls! Take that outside,” Missus said, smiling.

Ruthie seized the distraction to slip her fingers into her apron pocket, palm a fistful of rat poison and sprinkle the granules liberally into the stew. As she did so, a smile curved her lips. She looked over her shoulder only once as she stirred her unique addition into the tomato base.

In her heart, she suspected Missus couldn’t tell the difference between seasonings and cyanide. For the first time in a very long time, Ruthie experienced the buoyancy of true happiness.

Dinnertime was at sunset. Ruthie almost hummed as she ladled the soup into the bowls. She also served up freshly baked bread coated with newly churned butter. Piping hot pies cooled on the windowsill.

As Missus thanked God for their bounty in prayer, Ruthie disappeared to her room. She was overwrought with doubt. Did she add enough poison? If they survived, Massa would certainly torture her before he killed her. She had seen him whip others within inches of their lives for less severe things. Some died from their beatings.

She sat on her cot, rigid as stone. What did she care about dying now? He had stolen all her reasons to live. But before her life ended, she wanted to make sure Massa, Missus, and their bratty girls didn’t draw in one more chest full of air.

But what if they died? She couldn’t go to town and ask about her son. She’d gone to market with Missus, and some knew her face. Runaway slaves suffered, but she would be treated worse for killing the Smiths. Her only hope was to escape, to run in the opposite direction.

Late at night, and while the girls slept, Ruthie listened to Massa and Missus talk. And not just the Indian raids, but the white hooligans and Mexican Bandidos who were notorious for robbing, raping, and killing before disappearing into the lawless badlands.

She had to disappear into the badlands. The thought was frightening. Then she heard distressing sounds of choking. As the night wore on, the pain-filled serenades descended into grunts.

“Ruthie! Git in here and help me! The children! Oh, God no!” Missus’ pleas ended with retching.

Ruthie stood, smoothed her simple dress and left her dark lair. In the candlelit room, Gracie and Mabel had taken to their beds. Their tiny bodies jerked as foamy saliva dripped from their mouths. Then Mabel first, followed by Glorie, grew still, their unblinking eyes staring at their mother.

Missus, on her knees between the beds, wailed as she concentrated her hatred at Ruthie. She tried to rise but didn’t seem able as she gripped her stomach and vomited.

Ruthie sneered, “How do it feel to have your kids snatched from you?”

Missus grunted as she tried to stand.

“Henry…” It was a wailing whisper.

She doubled over in convulsions and then fell back onto the floor. All at once, like her daughters, she became still.

Ruthie crept over to her body and looked down at the sightless eyes. She had wished more suffering on the evil woman.

She saw movement from the corner of her eye and spun around. Massa pointed the butcher’s knife at her chest. His narrow face contorted with pain as his other hand gripped his abdomen. Puke dampened his nightshirt. Besides the vomit, the odors of sweat and feces clung to him.

He stumbled toward her, but she easily wrestled the knife from him. Then she spitefully kicked his groin. He collapsed onto his knees, with foam dribbling his chin.

She raised the knife, briefly witnessed her reflection in the gleaming blade, and then plunged it into his chest. With a flick of her wrist, she deliberately twisted it before the bloody extraction. He slumped onto the floor next to his wife.

Ruthie couldn’t help herself. She squatted over his body and stabbed him in a blind frenzy. Again and again, she plunged the blade into his torso. His blood coated her hand, and the knife slipped and slit her palm. It didn’t matter. She savored seeing his blood splash onto her dress. She stopped when she was too weary to lift her arm.

It was over. She backhanded her forehead and smeared blood over sweat. Fear rooted her soul. Living was testimony to her guilt. She didn’t dare linger.

It was late night when she slipped out of the house toting the knife, somehow unable to release the damnable thing. She didn’t worry about the lazy field hands discovering her deeds and hampering her escape. She’d added a liberal amount of valerian root to their evening meal. They would sleep past dawn. She ran, fleeing her troubled existence, with the bittersweet taste of freedom on her tongue.

By morning, the dawn presented her with more expansive but less fertile ground. She continued even as the crumbling, parched earth turned into the desert. Only then did her liberty taste as arid as the territory she crossed.

Since her impromptu flight didn’t include absconding with any provisions, she soon felt an overwhelming hunger. The hunger was terrible. The thirst was far worse.

She found game. First, a rabbit and then a wounded fowl, both of which she ate raw. The coppery taste of blood repulsed her, yet the liquid failed to satisfy her need for water.

Time passed. The days were hot, searing her skin to her bones, but the nights were harder to endure. The sudden plummeting temperatures nudged her to the cusp of freezing to death. Her threadbare dress offered no protection.

When her shoes' soles began to separate, she tore off a section of hemline and tied her shoes together. Despite her efforts, her shoes were little more than scraps of worn leather. Rocks pierced her feet through the openings and dug into her skin, causing them to bleed.

She struggled to continue. Gritty dirt filled the creases of her skin, somehow got inside her eyelids, and clogged her throat with an itchy lump that defied swallowing.

She prayed for rain. She wanted the sky to open up and drench her with a sweet downpour.

She was confident each night would be her last. The terrain became more desolate. The game dwindled. She found some nourishment in roots until few that weren’t withered. In desperation, she drank her urine until she stopped urinating and sweating altogether.

The sun was relentless, and the endless heat pushed her to delirium. She knew this because she had the same waking dream. The man was handsome, an Indian with piercing black eyes and long black hair.

In her delusions, he called out to her and begged for help. His people were dying from smallpox, and he knew she could save them. He knew her heritage that she was a descendant of an African priestess. He knew of her power.

She laughed. Power? She would drink more of her piss if she could. She liked the dreams but better still was the knowledge of her eternal sleep. It wouldn’t be long now.

A late-night howl awakened her. Wolves? If she heard one, she knew there were others in the vicinity. She didn’t mind dying. She just didn’t want to be a meal while there was still living in her body. She walked, then ran, stumbled, and trekked to a low sloping hill.

Then she had a bit of luck. She found a cave.

Inside, it was dark yet cool. She stumbled around and found a pool of freshwater. She dropped her knees, cupped her hands, and slurped until her stomach extended.

Her happiness was short-lived.

She heard the wolf’s howl again. It was closer. Next, she heard clopping hooves and neighing of horses. She dug out the knife from the bit of cloth she’d used as a belt and noticed how it was dull and nicked from overuse. Still, it was was her only weapon.

With her back pressed against the damp wall, she peered outside and saw three native men atop their horses, regarding her with alarm. Her cracked lips broadened into a semblance of a smile. One of them reached inside a pouch and dangled a bit of meat.

She approached hesitantly, still clutching the knife, and snatched the food. She gnawed without tasting. Her stomach roiled, but she managed not to vomit.

Ruthie imagined she looked a sight, little more than animal herself, slobbering, holding her hand out for more. Then her eyes fell on him. Her heart raced. He’d stepped from her dreams. His eyes were as black as coal. He climbed down from his horse and cautiously approached her, glancing at her knife.

“Do you speak the white man’s language?” he asked.

She nodded.

He looked back at his companions and then took another step. His eyes falling on the dried blood splattered on her dress and the broken toes peeking from shoe scraps. His demeanor fell as he took it all in and offered her another bit of meat.

This time, Ruthie didn’t wrest it from his grasp.

“Thank you. Do you still need my help with the smallpox?”

His eyes widened. “The Great Spirit sent us to find you.”

“You talkin’ ‘bout God?” Ruthie asked. She wasn’t a believer in the Massa’s God. But she did believe in Jesus. After all, he had been whipped like a slave before his tortured to death.

“What’s your name?” she asked. She tried to stop staring into his eyes. They were soulful and appeared too wise for his age.

His copper skin was unblemished, his white teeth were perfect, and he observed her – even in her decrepit appearance with open admiration and – was it lust? “My name in the white man’s tongue is Black-eyed Wolf.

About the author

Julian M. Coleman is a wife, mother and grandmother who enjoys reading, writing and running, but not necessarily in that order. A sufferer of night terrors, she uses the nightmares to fuel her literary monsters. view profile

Published on January 25, 2021

40000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Genre: African American fiction