While Madge nodded over her cup of cold tea, Stephanie thrashed restlessly in bed. Sweat beaded on her brow, her stomach churned, her lips were cracked and dry. Unexpectedly, Stephanie felt as if her entire body was slowly spinning. She opened her eyes and stared blankly at the ceiling. Glimpsing a framed photograph of her parents and Madge, she noticed that Madge seemed younger. Her hair was black instead of silver. As if someone had stepped on an accelerator, the queer feeling grew more intense.
Suddenly, she noticed the photograph was actually changing before her very eyes. Not only was Madge getting younger, so were her parents! Unable to withstand the spinning sensation, Stephanie closed her eyes tightly, giving in to the feeling that overcame her body. Like an unwilling guest on a treacherous carnival ride, Stephanie felt herself being hurled out of control. Tightly clenching her blanket, she slipped into a mass of distorted voices, smeared colors and vivid smells.
The lapsing of unmeasured time left Stephanie unusually tranquil so she blissfully stirred in her comfortable bed. Without warning, she felt someone shaking her, rudely breaking the peacefulness of her rest. “Wake up, Steffy!” called a small voice. The voice called once more. “Gul, you betta wake up! We gots work to do.”
Stephanie, with eyes closed, muttered. “Stop shaking me. My head still hurts. Now, go away and let me rest.”
The little girl continued to shake Stephanie. “You betta stop talkin’ outta yore haid. Ifn you don’t git up now, you gonna git it.”
Stephanie frowned, her eyelids flinching. “You don’t sound like yourself. You must be getting a cold.” She sighed, “Go away, I tell you.”
The little girl snatched the covers from Stephanie’s grasp. “You asked fer it!” She giggled with covers in hand.
A very startled Stephanie sat up in bed immediately. No one had ever dared to be that cruel. Stephanie’s bleary eyes beheld the gaunt form of a little Black girl. Rubbing her eyes, she attempted to bring the girl into focus. When her vision cleared, she could see that the little girl’s frame was horribly frail and bony legs supported her entire structure. Her black hair was a kinky disarray of knots and tangles.
“Just lovely, we have visitors,” she complained. “Give my blanket back,” she ordered, jerking the covers from the little girl. She blinked her eyes to erase her image. Stephanie stretched and yawned loudly. “Guest aren’t allowed upstairs. You need to explain why you’re in my bedroom,” she demanded.
“Gul, you must be crazy wit da heat. Dis here ain’t no upstairs and it shore ain’t no bedroom.”
“It isn’t?” Stephanie looked upward. She was alarmed to see that someone had replaced her lovely textured ceiling with unfinished boards that showed signs of decay. Further investigation of the ceiling revealed a few dried onions hanging from the rafters. Nailed haphazardly to the walls were various grains of worn jagged planks. Stephanie frowned. “What tha!” Her nose inhaled the pungent odor of burning wood. Quickly, she turned on her side and saw an old stone fireplace positioned in the rear of the room. Beside the fireplace there was a square window, having neither glass nor screen.
Turning toward the door, Stephanie noticed that a skinny, reddish-brown chicken had strolled into the dwelling. Even though, it appeared diseased, it stretched its scrawny neck, spread its wing and fluffed its sparse feathers. Stephanie gasped. “Is that a chicken?”
Realizing that something was horribly wrong Stephanie gawked at the little girl. Her eyes were as round as nickels and as dark as midnight. Suddenly, she fearfully scooted herself down in bed. Pulling the covers securely around her neck, she noted that they were rough and itchy. Looking down, Stephanie discovered that an old burlap quilt had replaced her soft comforter. She let out a hideous screech. “Oh, my-god! I’ve been kidnapped!” She pulled the burlap quilt close to her body then gathered the courage to look beneath it.
Another ear piercing squeal tore from her lips when she discovered she was dressed just like the little Black girl. Her comfortable pajamas had been replaced by a tattered cotton shift. “Eeewww! Where are my clothes? What did you do with them?” she accused. Stephanie got to her knees. “Look. Whatever the amount of money, my father will pay it. Just don’t hurt me.”
The little girl stared curiously at Stephanie. “Ah tol’ you dat eatin’ dem green plums wuz gonna give you da fever. You been talkin’ outta yore haid fer hours.”
Stephanie gazed around the room once more; fear leaped inside her. “Oh, please—please don’t hurt me! I’ll give you anything you ask for.”
The little girl shook her head. “You sickern’ ah thought. Umma git M’dere.”
Stephanie agreed. “Yes, little girl. You do just that,” she urged hurriedly, “Go—go get your mother and we’ll solve this little disagreement right away.”
The little girl walked to the front porch and called to her mother who was working outside in the field, “M’dere! Come here rat now! Steffy done woked up. She done lost her mind wit da feverrrrr!”
Stephanie’s eyes widened with horror as she watched a shadowy figure coming through the door. The woman wore a long gathered skirt that touched the floor. Her print blouse was made of light-blue cotton and on her head she wore a dark blue kerchief.
Stephanie’s lips started trembling. “I should have known—Madge! So, you’re behind this elaborate set-up. Just wait until I tell my father. He will be so angry with you. I demand you take me back home this instant.” Folding her arms, she turned her face angrily from the woman.
The woman knelt beside the straw-filled bed tic. She placed her plump, dark brown face right in front of Stephanie’s. With an impatient scowl, she suppressed her intolerance. “First of all, yungn’, don’t call me by my first name, it ain’t respectful. And second, I ain’t gonna tolerate this kinda sass from you, sick or not. I got a notion to blaze you one.”
Stephanie seemed confused. “Blaze?” she discharged. “As in strike? Oh, no. That’s NOT going to happen. Not in your lifetime, sweetie. I’m not your daughter and you will NOT hit me!”
The woman was puzzled but decided to humor Stephanie. “Well then, whose daughter be you?”
Becoming furious with the silly game, Stephanie blasted. “You know darn well that my mother’s name is Arlene, and my father’s name is Stephen!”
Aggravated, the woman exploded. “You hush-up that kinda talk! We done been in enough trouble round here wit’dout you makin’ up tales. Now, ifn you feel betta, you git on out there and help Unka June Bug finish pickin’ them plums.”
Stephanie pulled the burlap quilt around her neck, “I’m not going anyplace.”
The little girl and the woman looked at each other in amazement. The woman reached for the quilt. “You looka here. Ifn you continue to sass me, I’m gonna hafta learn you some manners.”
Stephanie was terrified. “Don’t, Madge! What’s wrong with you? And why are you guys dressed like that?”
Frustrated, the woman sneered. “Now, see here! I ain’t got time for no foolishness. Umma go out here and finish hoein’ these rows, and when I gits back, you and Sam betta have this here house clean.”
“What?” cried Stephanie. “Is everyone around here crazy? Where is my cell phone? I’m calling my dad and getting out of here.” Stephanie leaped from the bed tic. Sam looked toward the open doorway. She watched her barefoot mother as she angrily shooed the chicken out of the house and stepped gruffly off the low porch. Gathering her long skirt into her hands, she mumbled to herself. From across the yard Sam heard, “. . .act like you fulla mo dan them green plums.”
Stephanie ran to the back window and looked out. The scent of upturned soil assailed her nose. She saw dozens of Black people working in a field, plowing miles of land for planting. A soft melody embraced her as it floated on the spring breeze.
Two White men sat on horses watching the workers. With rifles across their laps, they had to be guards of sorts. Stephanie ran to the door. She saw more houses like the one in which she awoke. They were ALL simple, run-down shacks.
Out on the yard, her bewildered eyes saw small Black children who were also working. Attentively, they walked the yard, picked up small sticks then placed them into a large basket. Feathers of various breeds littered the yard as several scrawny chickens scratched the dirt in search of food.
Hearing a flapping sound Stephanie turned to see a clothes line with damp clothes waving gently in the soft breeze. Nearby, a mangy old hound dog lay sleeping under a blossoming peach tree. Startled, she wiped her eyes and turned toward Sam. “Are those, like, rabbit skins hanging across that fence?” Stephanie could hardly believe her eyes.
“Oh my, God! I’ve got to get out of here! Where is the car?” she asked hurriedly, “I know how to drive well enough to get out of here.” With hands extended Stephanie ran blindly through the door. She stumbled off the unsteady porch, “I’ve got to get out of here!”
Stephanie's Emerald Fever by L.J. Maxie $4.95
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