"Savages and Traitors" by Dan Price

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Here is the first submission into the 2010 Short Story Contest! This short story is called “Savages and Traitors” and was submitted by Dan Price from Redondo Beach, CA.

Savages and Traitors Dan Price

When Avery had to kill someone in the past it was always justified in his mind. War with other tribes was a fact of life in his time and every able bodied male older than 14 was expected to do their part. Now as he tried to wash the blood off his hands he felt the beginning of remorse over the loss of life that he wasn’t used to. He watched the red stained water drain into the wash bowl and then looked to the strange clothes sitting on the chair next to him. He was thankful for the Underground Railroad even though getting their help required horrible things that happened earlier that night.

It was a biting cold that made Avery’s nose run onto the wrists that were stained with rust from his cuffs. In the last 3 weeks those cuffs became the only thing of interest to him. Avery was considered to be a problem slave. Taking a proud warrior of the African plain and putting him into servitude in a strange land does come with its complications and Avery’s masters solved this by keeping his constantly shackled and putting him into work where decreased mobility wasn’t such a problem. These shackles, and escape from them dominated his thoughts. They were not particularly strong and Avery had an evening ritual.

Each night, only when he was sure he was alone and his captors asleep did he try to cut them with a sickle blade he had stolen from a shed. For the 20th night Avery cut away at them. Cutting directly at the cuffs resulted too often in him accidentally cutting his wrist so he worked on the chain. It was raining that night and Avery could hold his hands out a window to cool the chain when it became too hot. When lightning flashed he would stop so that the illumination might not make visible his work to anyone who might pass by.

When Avery had heard about the Underground Railroad he had also heard that they could not keep their rendezvous point in the same place for too long. Avery was taking an awful risk. It had been twenty two days since he heard of them and their current checkpoint. If he escaped these chains, made it off the plantation into the wild there was certainly the chance that they may have moved on or been caught. This time pressure forced Avery to take chances, but he never regretted them. He told himself that he would not regret those risks even if he was caught or killed trying to escape.

On the 24th day of his work he past the first hurdle. When his shackles fell to the floor they made a sound that easily could have brought unwanted attention to himself, but after all the work that sound was the sweetest he had ever heard. His heart leaped, but he managed to keep his enthusiasm in check. This was only one of the many bridges he had to cross and he was far from being free. He now turned to the order of breaking from the crude cell that was meant for him. Most of Avery’s fellow slaves were not locked up as such, but Avery was considered a “problem slave”. Despite his reputation though, his captors didn’t place much stock in the construction of his “room”. There were his shackles after all, and if they couldn’t keep him put there were the dogs also.

Avery made quick work of the door. The hinges were less solid than the lock, so he simply removed them. Avery had not been exposed to such simple technologies as a hinge and he had only been to the New World for a few months, but escape was escape and he knew all about this. At 18 years of age, he was a very intelligent, intuitive young man.

Now Avery had not felt proud for some time, but he was still brave and cunning. He even discovered that if he howled madly at the moon the white men would put him in a shed as far from the mansion as possible. This also put him very close to the edge of the plantation and near the woods in which he hoped to disappear. Only his next move would stir up any pride in him. Dogs were relied on as a convenient tool of terror. They were allowed to roam freely throughout the entire plantation. It was fenced so they couldn’t escape. The fence wasn’t tall enough to restrict a human, that is what the dogs were for. By the time Avery had removed the door to his shed the dogs were already upon him.

Silence filled the night air as the dogs stood patiently at the entrance to the shed. Not one of them even growled. Avery’s only proud moment during his flight centered around these vicious creatures. While the slave masters beat the dogs badly to give them the desired disposition Avery was busy becoming their best friend. He had to take a bite a couple of times before they learned that he was no threat. In reward Avery fed them whenever he could sneak some food away from his table. The dogs were fed little so they appreciated Avery. In fact tonight they were rewarded for their meekness with some scraps Avery stole a few days prior. They enjoyed it very much and Avery decided it was okay to feel proud now. After all he was making somebody else happy. He never thought he would be sad leaving here either. It was slavery, but he felt he would miss these poor creatures. He was their only friend, and they were his only friend also. He wished he could take them with them, but he knew that the Underground Railroad would not be able to care for or transport them. It was difficult for Avery to turn his back and make his way for the woods. When he did he told himself that if it was ever in his power to rescue these creatures he would. A part of him knew that it was impossible, but the idea helped him when it was time to turn and run away.

Nothing can fully describe the way Avery felt as he ran through the field. Excitement, joy , and fear were filling him up inside. He was so overcame that he stumbled from time to time and fell. Throughout his days Avery would recall this moment and despite all his pondering he never understood why his face was covered with tears as he sped across the countryside.

Avery judged that it was sometime between midnight and one-thirty. He had actually guessed very wrong (it hadn’t reached midnight yet). This was good for him as he would need the extra time although he didn’t know that at the moment. Avery could now see the fence ahead silhouetted by the moonlight. The moon wasn’t full, but it was close. He didn’t time his escape for this, but it would help. As you can imagine they didn’t let Avery have much in the way of personal belongings, especially anything that might prove useful in an escape. Therefore the extra light was a very good thing.

When Avery was within 100 yards of the fence he thought he heard movement other than his own. If he wasn’t alone then stopping would be of no use so he sped on. Seconds later he heard the bark of the dogs far off behind him. Had his escape been discovered ? Had the dogs turned on their friend, leading their cruel masters in his direction? No ! He couldn’t think like that. He kept telling himself he would make it because the thought of being caught and punished (considering the disposition of his employers) would be paralyzing.

Avery reached the fence and began climbing. When he reached the top he began to climb down to the other side. Suddenly the fence snapped where he had placed his foot and he fell to the ground. It wasn’t a long fall and the shock was the worst result at first. His heart began to beat faster because of the surprise. That was probably why he didn’t notice what had happened to his ankle until he got up. When he recovered and stood he immediately fell to the ground again clutching his right ankle. It throbbed with pain. Something had happened when he landed and he was afraid to get back up again because of the pain , so he sat on the ground clutching tight with both hands like a cat licking its wounds. For several minutes he rubbed it and the pain seemed to go away. He gathered the courage to stand again and he immediately fell again onto his knees and then collapsed onto side clutching his ankle. Doom flooded his mind and he panicked. His breathing became rapid and he had to use all his strength just to calm himself to avoid passing out.

Now came the solemn arbitrator into his mind that would weigh his options and decide what was possible for him to do now. The excitement of escape had left him and he began to think methodically. He surveyed the situation and all its bleak details. He had no food. He wasn’t very far from the plantation and would soon be discovered it he remained. If he missed the rendezvous point with the railroad he would be just as well off walking back to the plantation and giving himself back to them. And what challenge walking was now scared him the most. He was supposed to find a stream that emptied into a lake and wait on its far shore. That was all the direction he had, but he was told it was an hours walk. How long would it take for him to crawl there he wondered. Avery would think back to this evening and remember this as the time he felt the most alone and afraid. He didn’t realize it at first but he spent a good deal of time on the ground rubbing his ankle and trying to find courage to go on.

When he began to hear birds in the distance chirping he realized had wasted too much time. He must have been there at least an hour. The early risers would be waking up in a couple of hours and his escape would be discovered. Avery was disgusted with himself suddenly for his weakness and with some anger, he stood up and tried to walk. To his surprise it wasn’t as painful as he feared it would be, although he was severely limping. He managed to gain some speed. He was now moving only slightly slower than he would be if he had not injured himself. He thought he could keep this up for the whole way. The sounds of birds whistling became louder. And then suddenly they stopped. Their noise was too soft for them to be close enough to see or hear Avery coming. Some animal must have scared them away Avery thought.

Fatigue set into Avery’s other leg. It was doing most of the work to keep him moving. This stole some of Avery’s hope, but he fought against despair still. His recovery from the fall had boosted his confidence. Then suddenly, all the confidence he ever had left him as someone stepped out suddenly from behind a tree and barred his way.

Avery recognized him at once to be Andy Wallings, a slave just like himself. He belonged to the same tribe as Avery and they had fought together before and were good friends. Andy wasn’t like other slaves though. He wore clothes like the masters did and he spoke their language too. Andy was a traitor and Avery knew exactly what he intended to do. Andy didn’t hesitate and with a flash he was upon Avery pinning him to the ground. Avery struggled, but he wasn’t strong and well fed like the traitor. Andy easily overpowered him. They rolled around several times on the ground while Avery fought a loosing battle to keep Andy’s hands away from his neck. Andy was choking him. He meant to kill Avery. That is what escapees got. When Andy had a firm grip on Avery’s neck he began to shake him also and hit Avery’s head on the rocky ground. Avery began to bleed in the back of his head. His muscles became incredibly weak. Avery was dying.

Now there were certain ways that men fought in Avery’s country. If you were beaten, you did not employ desperate tactics to save your life. To do so was to become the lowest form of warrior, a savage. A savage was typically disowned by his loved ones and forced to spend the rest of his life alone. Avery chose to become a savage. As his last conscious moments passed, Avery reached up a thrust his thumbs into Andy’s eyes. Andy closed them hard to prevent them from being penetrated. He loosened his grip on Avery and released him for a moment. Avery did not flee though. He thrust his arms forward and forced his thumbs into Andy’s eyes. Andy screamed in pain. He fell back and Avery was on top of him now and he forced his index fingers into Andy’s eyes until Andy was only able to clutch his face trying save himself. Andy began to beg for mercy in their native tongue. Avery pressed still and Andy began to kick and squirm trying to get up. Avery put a stop to this by placing a hand firmly around the traitor’s throat until he resisted no more. Avery had killed Andy and was from that moment on, a savage.

Avery had wasted more time and his ankle was no better off from the fight. He cleared the ground around him of rocks and leaves and began to dig a hole. Andy was a traitor and by tradition did not deserve a proper burial. Avery had forgiven him for the moment though and dug into the ground with as much speed as he could manage. It was a good time later when he had made a hole large enough for his enemy. He dragged the body in with considerable effort and covered him completely. Then he was satisfied and got up and fled.

Hours seemed to pass as Avery limped in the first direction that occurred to him. He knew only to look for a stream and he found it after some time. He picked up a leaf and dropped into the water. It landed softly in the water and moved to his left. Avery followed. When he found the lake he didn’t know what to expect or who to look for. It wasn’t very large and getting to the other end would not be a problem. At last the end was in sight and it seemed as though he would make it. He would not pause though now, not even for all the emotion that was swelling up inside of him. Each step towards the end seemed easier and the burden of his ankle seemed to fade as he made for the far shore. He couldn’t see anyone, but he felt that this was the right place.

When he halted on the far side there was no one there to greet him. There was no horse, no other slaves. He looked for signs that somebody had been there before, but found nothing. He looked back to the opposite end of the lake now to make sure he was exactly opposite the inlet from the stream. He was. It wasn’t realistic to try to find another lake and he wouldn’t risk calling out so he sat down by a tree and waited. Avery would think back to that moment later on and wish that he knew he was being watched. The Underground Railroad took no risks and they had been following him since he found the stream. If he was a decoy they wanted to know. Avery was able to stop for the first time. There was nothing else he could do so the passage of time didn’t bother him too much anymore. The events of the night began to surface in his mind. It was too overwhelming and Avery put his face in his hands. The savage wept softly.

Those watching him felt at that moment he wasn’t a decoy. His emotion was pure, but they didn’t interrupt his sobbing to rescue him, not yet. They waited out of respect. With the company was another slave who had escaped a different plantation 2 days prior and he watched Avery and knew exactly where the tears came from. When Avery was exhausted from the release the company waited a respectable time and then approached him. Avery was given a blanket to wrap himself in and the company left together without speaking.

Once again, thank you Dan for submitting this short story. If you like this story, don’t forget to come back through the whole month of November to vote for Dan’s story. Whoever gets the most votes by Dec 1, 2010 will be the lucky winner of a Kindle Wifi.

Best of Luck to all!

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