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LJ Idol X – Week [29] - Race

It was very warm that May of Eighteen hundred and sixty-four. Unpleasantly hot, truth be told. But the temperature still was not as hot as the hotheads who made that wager.

You’d think that neighbors would get along well with one another. ’Specially those that have so much in common. Jebediah Jehosaphat and Rory Calhoun. Two gentlemen farmers, they were. Each had a spread, parcels of land, acres and acres next to each other and they’d farm cotton crops, and they each put up soldiers as them troops moved through the area, usually north to the front lines, but sometimes south with their wounded and dead.

Let me tell you, these two? They were the cream of the Confederacy. They might have won the war if they’d’ve teamed up and joined the fray. Too busy fightin’ each other, I s’pose.

Oh! But as I were sayin’, that May of ’64, there came this heatwave like we hadn’t had in a long spell. Crickets were chirping without a stop, bullfrogs were looking for ponds but all they found was mud about a foot deep, where there was mud. It was the blazes, even at night, the air was like a wool blanket in a furnace.

I don’t know what got into those two one evening but they must’ve been drinking some rum and chasing it with corn whisky because they started in with their measuring. This one had the largest cotton field or that one had the biggest kitchen. But you could always tell things were about to get agitated when they started measuring each other. It always started with who had the purdyer wife. But this time it turned to who could satisfy, with her womanly attentions, her man.

Maybe Rory said something first, about how Jeb’s wife couldn’t stand the stench of the stink beneath her husband’s male saddlebag, maybe it was Jeb who said Rory’s wife was losing her eyesight from trying to find her husband’s staff, then one of them said something about how the only thing the other one’s wife pricked her finger with was her stitching needle.

Somebody had had enuf, and a challenges were issued. There were some back and forth about it, how to do it and what be the stakes and whatnot, but Jeb, a lawyer by trade, decided to write it all out, legal-like, and they made it official with witnesses watching ’em sign the document.

They agreed to a race. It was gonna be two laps around both their properties. The winner would receive one Confederate Dollar. And the loser would die.

In the week leading up to the race, you could tell, there was pride on display. Word got around to the nearby counties and people started coming to see this big event. You would’ve thought the Circus come to town the way the people were clamoring. Most anything to take their minds off of the war, which tw’ern’t goin’ so well.

Come the day of the race, and a crowd of people showed up in the heat. A lotta folks wanted to be near the finishing line to see the results first hand. But others preferred to be out of the sun and found some shade along the course with some trees. And that were important because of the rules.

There were parasols for the ladies and a drinking gourd was by the well so that the viewers could wet their whistle. It was time to introduce the competitors.

“Hello, everyone! My name is Rory Calhoun, and I am the proprietor of the Calhoun Plantation!”

The crowd applauded mostly to get the air moving.

“My name is Jebediah Jehosaphat, and I am the owner of the Three Js Plantation.”

More applause.

After the speechifying, there came the moment, the two men who would race each other got to lay eyes on one another.

“Hammer?”

“Jesse?”

“The winner of the race will get a week off from their duties, as a part of the prize!”

“The race is two times around the property and the person crossing the line first is the champion!”

The crowd cheered, hoping to cool the air down in any way, most of ’em. And examining the competitors, there was a question whether some of the ladies in attendance were swooning only from the heat.

The two slaves, Hammer for Calhoun and Jesse for Jehosaphat stood next to each other, each shirtless and already glistening with the dew of their bodies. Anyone could see they were evenly matched in height, weight, and muscle tone, each of them valued members of their masters. But that was the thing. Hammer and Jesse were brothers.

“Are both ready?”

The two brothers looked at each other, then looked back and nodded.

“Go!”

And go they did! It was a speedy start as they both took off, keeping stride for stride as they disappeared around the first turn. And that was about when I got involved.

See, I knew there were a bunch of people watching the northern side of the land to make sure these two weren’t gonna run for freedom, so before they got that far, I ran through the brambles and bushes and met them.

“Stop, stop!” I waved them over to the side of the road and I told them what I knew. That the loser of the race was gonna get kilt.

They didn’t want to believe it, at first. But why would I lie, I told them and I told them about the wager. Then it became what to do. If they tried to escape, they would be recaptured and then they’d prob’ly be tortured before getting kilt. And they both got babies born since the war started.

It was Hammer who said “Let’s finish the race in a tie.”

“What’s that gonna do?” Jesse asked. “Won’t that mean we’ll just have to race again?”

“What else is there?” Hammer asked. “Besides, this is just some contest to see who is best. If we both tie, then maybe they’ll see that don’t make no nevermind.”

“Yeah. I guess you right, brotha.” Jesse answered.

Just then, about a thousand yards away, I could see some movement up ahead. One of them spotters was peepin’ down the road. I dashed back through the brambles and they went on their way.

I got back to the house before they crossed the finishing line the first time. Hammer had a slight lead but Jesse was close enough to touch if he fell down. That’s when Jehosaphat brought out his whip and cracked it on Jesse’s backsides. ‘Jesse moved in front in a matter of steps, while Hammer was moving too fast for Rory to do the same. They dashed off out of sight and again toward the northern part of the course.

I couldn’t help but wonder what they were all about. Did they talk on the way? Did they consider trying to make a break? Did they think maybe their women or their babies would suffer because of it? In a way, I started to hope that they did try to get away, ’cause this would have been their best chance to make it.

At the finishing line, I saw that a man was setting up some large contraption. It looked like some sort of picture frame with one big glass eye in the middle of it. I could overhear the man explaining it was to capture a likeness of the end of the race. It kinda looked like some sort of cannon to me.

We waited for them to come around, and I looked to see if their families were around. I was thankful that they wasn’t cause I didn’t want to see they faces.

I could hear shouting. And here they came, around the bend! Both Calhoun and Jehosaphat ran up and started whipping Hammer and Jesse as they started to come down for the final yards. Calhoun would whip Hammer and he’d inch ahead, then Jehosaphat would whip Jesse and he’d move up.

The four men, all running to the finishing line, the two masters flogging their property until the last minute when the masters moved out of the way of the picture maker. Suddenly a flash of white light and the two racers continued past the line, breathless, battered and bathed in their own sweat and blood from their open wounds.

Who won, everyone wanted to know. Many on the inside of the track saw Hammer cross the line first. But the folks on the far side thought Jesse made it first.

The referee said it looked like it was a tie. He couldn’t tell.

The masters decided to wait to see about the picture, so it took a couple of days more, but even the picture had both Hammer’s and Jesse’s feet crossin’ the finishing line at the same time. They did it! Hammer and Jesse did the tie!

Later that day, both masters brought Hammer and Jesse’s families out to the backyard of the Calhoun estate, took them away from their daily chores and had them sit down on chairs. Then they brought out Hammer and Jesse who were busy at work themselves. Then they brought out all the slaves from both plantations to stand behind and view the presentation.

“We had a wager,” Jehosaphat said, “and there was no resolution.”

“We had hundreds of guests to view this race,” Calhoun said, “And there was no winner.”

“So, for that,” Jehosaphat said.

“We now have this.” Calhoun said.

Both men drew revolvers and fired at each other’s slaves. Both Hammer and Jesse screamed a single time before they fell, both hit the ground at the same time, bleedin’ the same blood.

The two slave owners stood over their bodies as they squirmed and watched the last bit of life oozing out of them, frowned up, then caught a glance of each other, lookin’ at the other. Then, they started to chuckle and laugh, before shaking their heads, then doing some backslaps and hand clasps. They waved the rest of us back to our tasks, the mamas trying to hush up their babies, still crying from the jolt and sound of the pistol fire.

After that, the rivalry between those two never much amounted to nothin’. But then again, neither did the Confederacy.

//

This story was written for LJ Idol using a prompt from Week [17] of this season’s competition: Nevermind.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
bleodswean
Aug. 29th, 2017 03:50 pm (UTC)
Such a sad, dark parable. I liked how "immediate" you made it with voice and tone.
penpusher
Aug. 31st, 2017 05:35 am (UTC)
Thanks very much. It was almost as if the narrator was telling me the story and I was just transcribing it. That's kinda how this went. I appreciate this very humbling comment.
marlawentmad
Aug. 31st, 2017 02:04 am (UTC)

The voice in this one is practically audible. You really did a sinister job with the prompt. This isn't a story soon to be forgot.

penpusher
Aug. 31st, 2017 05:38 am (UTC)
Thank you for a great compliment. It really felt like the story rolled right out - might have been the quickest piece I've written for Idol from initial concept to finished product.
halfshellvenus
Aug. 31st, 2017 09:20 pm (UTC)
Oh, gosh. I had hoped for better, for both brothers, but given the era and the amount of weight put on appearances and looking 'big' in front of society, I can sure believe this as an ending.

The narrative voice here was terrific.
penpusher
Sep. 1st, 2017 10:29 pm (UTC)
Thanks very much. This was the fastest write I think I've ever had for any piece in my two years on Idol. It really came out, almost fully formed.
i_17bingo
Sep. 1st, 2017 03:16 pm (UTC)
This was awful. I don't mean quality. As far as that's concerned it was amazing, with its strong, consistent voice, colorful characters, and folksy plot. What was awful was the treatment of the slaves, even though it was probably accurate (from what I know).

Nice closing line.
penpusher
Sep. 1st, 2017 10:51 pm (UTC)
Thanks very much for such high praise and for taking the time to read.
murielle
Sep. 4th, 2017 09:53 pm (UTC)
Highlights the absolute senselessness of racial hatred.
penpusher
Sep. 4th, 2017 10:22 pm (UTC)
Thanks very much for connecting with the story, and for your comment.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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