Soul Mountain

“Give Him the Gospel”

Deep in the Appalachian Mountains, Jacob Ottie’s ravenous thirst for moonshine will drive him to deal with the last and most unlikely distiller imaginable. 

Part I: Thirst

Part II: Debt

Part III: Anger

Part IV: Elders

Part V: Payment

 

Thirst

The thirst took him during the cicada hellsong, their rusted bows dragging on violins of stone. His eyes searched the black of night for an answer from God. He rose to don overalls and jam his arms through the sleeves of a shirt that smelled of sweet horse manure. His toes slipped into boots that he tied with frantic hands, losing laces and swearing in a hush. In the bed Annie stirred, likely awake, but no words were said as he slung his rifle and pushed through the cabin door.

He chased the thirst up the slope past scores of bladed rocks that poked from beneath the warm clay. His feet stumbled around the barn. The beasts watched with glowing eyes through the gapped planks. Despite the cloak of night, his steps found the way around reaching thorns and lunging boulders and the numerous sudden drops along the path that skirted a hissing creek fifty feet below. He slowed his pace, coming abreast of a long, low hut, the barracks for his slaves. He held his breath, and hoped to disappear like a sneak in the shadows.

The gun at his hip, he stalked the thirst through the haunt of twilight. The trail thinned to a hair that shimmied along the creek, criss-crossing where the settlers had toppled trees for dry passage. He swung the weapon back and forth and listened. His heels snapped branches and pushed stones over each other with a crack, the sounds loud for an instant, then swallowed by the frogs and cicadas. At times he lost the path and groped the poplars and maples that dirtied his fingers with wet moss. He crouched low to the ground and caught his breath, gazing up at the pale wedge of moon, its beams hidden by the hardwood canopy. In this moment, he thought to stop this foolish crusade, to turn back and put up his gun and lay beside Annie once more, for surely she was awake and waiting for him. But the thirst stoked the fire within, touching that spot in every man’s throat bound to the stomach and the soul, and he stood tall and dared the forest with further invasion.

He came to a shaven patch of the mountain where the trees had never grown, nor had many crops, and settlers had not desired. It yielded instead a modest church with a long, sloping roof to match the fall of the hillside. He crept up the church, around it, and several dozen yards past into the trees where the rock receded beneath the soil and the forest once again dwarfed all. There, tucked into a crop of boulders that shone like mirrors in the moonlight, was a dank shack. The sour scent of water and mash warmed his blood. He picked his way down among the rocks and slung the rifle and knocked on the thick wooden door with red knuckles split wide by labor and sun.

He waited. A ringing whine pierced his ears, a muddle of tree life and his own breathing – and the relentless, pounding thirst. He knocked again, throwing his fist upon the door as if to break it.

“Open up!” he bellowed.

The door came loose with a whine. A colored girl stood before him. Her eyes met his for a flash, then fell to the dirt where they both knew her eyes belonged. He stepped past her, into the black interior.

“Is Ezekiel here?” he huffed.

“Yes,” said a voice from the candlelit quiet.

He swayed farther into the shack and planted his boots.

“I need the Gospel, y’hear?”

The dark replied, “After our conversations, I would say you do.”

“You know what I mean,” he spat. “Give me the Gospel.”

The darkness spoke again, calm, unmolested. “Very well, my friend. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

“Enough!” the man cried, spittle flying from his lips. He swung the rifle to his hip again.

“Give it to me. Right now.”

The dark took its time.

“You didn’t come here to shoot me, Mr. Ottie,” it replied. “For the last time, my answer is No.”

The beat of the man’s breathing filled the shack, like wet clothes on a washboard. He took a long draw through his wide nostrils and released it slowly, the hiss swirling in the small, damp space. Then, with a waver, he stumbled forward and jammed the cold barrel of the rifle into the darkness and whatever flesh was hiding there.

“Give it to me. Now.

He hoped for a cry of fear with some proud lust, aching for a show of weakness and timidity. He leaned against the butt of the rifle and felt the gun pressing into his prey.

“Celestine,” said the voice in the dark, “give Mr. Ottie a taste of the Gospel.”

He licked his lips. The thirst flicked its tongue in his ear.

“That’s more like it,” he rasped.

He pushed back and lowered the rifle and turned to accept whatever the colored girl was offering. The orange flicker of the candles threw dancing shadows around him, and his eyes struggled to focus. She was spinning to meet him, to hand him a jar, a jug, a vessel containing the medicine that would help him sleep through the night again.

He saw a flash as his forehead exploded in hot light, the bottom of a crucible, and he crumbled to the ground.

She had hit him!

His anger bubbled anew, the volcanic thirst inflamed by the spark of this new indignity, this violation of law and balance and justice. He sprung up and groped for the trigger but a new sensation, a rigid, metallic finger, burned against his cheekbone and he froze.

“Don’t you come and see us ever again now, Mr. Ottie,” said the voice in the darkness, “unless you’re lookin’ for the true Gospel.”

“Go to hell, nigger,” the man hissed.

The spear of metal drove him backward toward the door. His eyes fluttered and saw that the colored girl holding the pistol, her finger curled around the trigger, ready to fire. He looked to the ground in hot fury and shame.

“Goodnight, Mr. Ottie,” the man said. “Get home to your wife, now.”

The finger propelled him until the girl opened the door with a free hand and jabbed the pistol deeper into his cheek and shoved him outside onto his rear. As he landed and crawled to his knees, the door slammed and latched.

“You think you’re smart, nigger!” he bellowed. “But I’m comin’ back for ya! Ya hear? I know what’s goin’ on in there and you’re gonna pay!”

The man pushed himself to his feet and found to his surprise that they were trembling beneath him. Shame crawled over his flesh like grease and he felt filthy and sullied, and immediately began to hatch a scheme to transfer that filth back to his tormentors. Anything to feel clean and white again.

He kicked his way past the church to the narrow path that would lead him down through the darkness. With every step, the thirst dried his throat to sand and filled him with a fuller, cleverer hate.

 

Debt

Celestine watched Mr. Ottie disappear into the night, his hollering fading into the din of insect symphonies. She stepped away from the peephole as Ezekiel emerged from the darkness and rubbed his graying chin.

“Is he gone?”

She nodded and wiped her eyes. The black interior of the shack masked several deep lines bisecting her forehead and cheeks. A cobweb of scars hung about the base of her neck and descended unseen down her spine. She exhaled slowly and gazed up at Ezekiel and whispered, “Can I check on my girl, sir?”

He nodded.

“Take the pistol. Keep watch for me.”

She opened the door and slipped into the night and clambered up into the church. Inside, her daughter Winnie slept peacefully on a narrow bench, ignorant of the white man’s visit. Ezekiel watched Celestin cross the clearing.

This was not Jacob Ottie’s first visit to Ezekiel Jirah and his Mountain Baptist Colored Church. His reputation had arrived long before on the lips of Aaron Jefferson Jones, a member of the faith and one of Mr. Ottie’s own slaves.

“The boss ain’t got no money,” the Aaron had been whispering. “The res’ of the white folks is foul mad at ‘im, too. This one fella come down from ‘round Knoxville yellin’ about cattle. Nex’ day half th’ beeves is gone. So he beat us real good to show fer it.”

Ezekiel prayed over the fresh wounds as Celestin wash them and apply ointment with her bare fingers.

“Mr. Ottie’s credit all dried up,” Aaron had continued. “Ain’t no way a’knowin’ what he’ll do anymo’.”

When Mr. Ottie finally did appear, it was early in the morning when the sun paints the trees orange and pink.

“I come,” Ottie stammered, “to ask you about the Gospel.”

“I see,” Ezekiel replied with a smile.

Ezekiel was teaching songs to the children that came for schooling during the day while their parents share-cropped or worked for men like Mr. Ottie. He was singing a verse about Moses crossing the Red Sea, but paused, eyed the newcomer up and down, and stepped away and left the rest for Celestine to finish.

“So how do I get it?” Ottie pressed.

“The Gospel begins in one’s heart, Mr. Ottie,” Ezekiel replied.

The encoded talk with a Negro was irking Jacob Ottie and he shifted his weight from leg to leg to stay poised. Ezekiel watched patiently as the man frowned and spat, a likely affirmation of manhood.

“You know,” Ottie said, his eyes narrowing. “The Gospel. Give it to me.”

“Mr. Ottie, this probably isn’t the best church for you to be attending,” Ezekiel answered. “There are plenty of fine white churches in the valley.”

“No, I don’t mean that,” Ottie growled. “I need to get something from you. What they’re callin’ the Gospel,” he said, as if explaining matters to a child.

“Like I told you, a white church can fix you up fine,” Ezekiel remarked. His eyes caught the rising sun and twinkled in the shine. “Now, if you’ll forgive me, I must see to the children.”

And he turned his back. Ezekiel knew it would infuriate the man something awful. Nonetheless, he tugged gently at his beard and set himself on the steps of the church and picked up the verse as the Israelites watched the waters consume the Egyptians.

“Oh, th’ boss’s mad somethin’ fierce, Rev’rin,” Aaron had whispered the next day, and told them how he and the others down at the farm heard cussing coming from Ottie’s shack for hours and they couldn’t sleep on account of a palpable fear that Ottie would storm in and slash them for being of the same race as that accursed mountain preacher.

“Don’t worry, brother,” Ezekiel comforted his parishioner. “That man won’t cause no trouble.”

And yet Ottie stumbled into the clearing, at sunset this time, the place deserted and children all sent home. Ezekiel was sweeping the aisles between the squat benches. Behind him, beside the plain pulpit, Celestine sung to little Winnie. She  stopped mid-song as Ottie stomped up the porch stairs.

“Now you listen, and listen good,” Ottie spat, his hands trembling. “You give me the Gospel and give it to me now.”

“I think you know it by now,” Ezekiel said.

Ottie kicked a bench to the floor with a bang.

“I do, and it’s yer ‘shine!” Ottie scowled at the preacher, whose eyes were waiting to meet him in the equal air. “I want what you’re makin’ back here. I want that moonshine.”

Ezekiel smiled, an old man’s smile, and shook his head. “I don’t do such things.”

“Don’t lie to me, boy,” Ottie shot back. “Er’body knows you’re runnin’ a still out back in them trees. So no more code. No more fancy ‘Gospel’ talk. Just give it to me.”

Ezekiel took a breath and held the broomstick to his chest. “Since we’re speaking plainly, then, I’ll be frank with you. I don’t deal in credit, Mr. Ottie.”

“Those niggers never shut up. All they do is lie,” Ottie grunted, flickering anger catching in his throat. “They don’t know nothin’.

“Then I assume you brought payment?”

Ottie glared across the open sanctuary, his gaze dark in the gray room. Celestine watched him, her eyes wide with fear. Her fingers closed around Winnie’s arm.

“I can pay you next week.”

“I don’t deal in credit, Mr. Ottie.”

“I can make a down payment.”

“That won’t be necessary.”

“God damn it!” he cried. “Just give it to me!”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Ottie.”

The would-be buyer’s breath whistled through his nostrils. He clenched his fists like and stood tall, like a gorilla, and grunted softly.

“Fine, then,” he hissed.

And Jacob Ottie departed amid a hailstorm of threats to return and curses aimed at preachers and women and descendants of the Nigerian delta.

He had made good on that threat. But they had been ready. How talented young Celestin seemed to be with that pistol, he thought!

But that thought came with a heavy frown. Matters had changed. A colored girl had threatened a white man and pushed him to the ground. There was no telling what someone like Jacob Ottie would do after such an indignity.

Ezekiel Jireh waited until Celestine was safely inside the church before he stepped outside himself and slipped through the trees, traversing a winding footpath into the murk. He moved quietly through the thickets, his feet plodding a memorized track that safely negotiated the way between his distillery and a small shack tucked against the mountainside along the muddy drop-offs moistened by the constant trickle of rainwater down the black rocks of Mother Appalachia. There was no door. A mere black portal, half the height of a man, allowed entry into the assemblage of planks and beams piled over a smooth, dirt floor. No fire lit the space, but he sensed the presence of numerous bodies that churned upon his arrival.

“Rise up, everyone,” Ezekiel whispered. “Time to put wings on those feet.”

 

Anger

When Ottie burst breathless onto the overlook of his farm, the thirst compelled him to punish. He thought of fire, the whip, shackles. But the electrical blasts of his mind leapt from thought to thought, and his anger at the Negro people hardened into a single furious point at his newest enemy, and he passed over the barracks of his human possessions.

The boots trumpeted his arrival and Annie stood beside the bed now, watching her madman husband bustle about in the dark.

“Where’ve you been?”

“Go to sleep, Annie.”

“I asked, Where you been?”

“I been out!” he snapped.

He needed to find them, the instruments of his plot. He pried at the floorboards of the cabin and pulled a loose one to his shoulder and tossed it aside and it landed with a raucous clatter.

“Jacob, stop this.”

He ignored her and plumbed the cool dirt beneath the building. He had balked at hiding them in the barn, knowing the slaves would probably find them and put their devilish minds to some ill use. He’d tied them with cord and wrapped them in a wool blanket. He unwrapped the coating and felt them with his fingers. He rose and kicked the plank back in place and retrieved his flint from the hearth and dropped it in the pocket of his shirt.

“Jacob, where’re you goin’?”

“Go back to bed.”

“Jacob, don’t go out there again.”

Ottie stepped out into the roaring night with her words burning in his ears. “I’ll be right back,” he shouted and began climbing up his farm, past the slave quarters and into the moonlit bush, his intentions playing about in his mind one hateful step at a time.

 

Elders

The long, thick night began to breathe a fine mist along the leaves of the trees. Its pale belly slunk along the ground over the rocks and around the church. Inside, Celestine and Winnie watched at the windows. Celestine held the pistol. Ezekiel had been gone longer than she could figure.

Three white men had come and knocked on the shack door in search of the Gospel. Celestine called to them from the window, handed the pistol to Winnie who had known how to shoot all her life, and then ran through the shadows to the shack. To each white man she sold a jug of clear liquid smelling of lantern oil with a touch of buttered corn. Each asked about her strange secrecy. Well learnt not to meddle in the affairs of their caste, even with life and death at hand, she mumbled in turn, “A ghos’ is about tonight, sir.”

The fog bloated and festered. It sweat itself out and soaked Celestine’s dress through and masked the approach by which Mr. Ottie would certainly come, if he came. She squinted into the haze but resigned to lean against the wall, close her eyes, and listen. Winnie sat on the opposite side of the church and watched and copied her mother’s determined expression. For an hour, the wilderness choir sang with tireless lungs while the trees patiently listened.

When they came, the footsteps landed with a drunkard’s precision. The bearer was not drunk with liquor, but anger, and Celestine knew Mr. Ottie wouldn’t commit the mistakes of an inebriate. The boots moved briskly, hitting heavy against the dirt and kicking loose stones that would click along until they rolled to a standstill. The boots came to the side of the church beneath Celestine’s window and paused. She lifted her head, bringing her ear as close as she dare to the sill. The sounds were indistinct, the muddled brushing of clothing and pockets and God-knows-what. She turned to Winnie and brought a finger to her lips. Winnie nodded.

Mr. Ottie grunted and carried his heavy boots around the building to the other side, seeming to shuffle as they went, crackling all the way, then halting altogether beneath Winnie’s window. Celestine held the pistol with both hands and let it rest against her knee. If that man dared to show his face in that window, or in the front door –  she told herself that she could, she should, she had to – but would she?

The rocks rattled again as Ottie stood to full. She heard a faint chipping sound, like an axe on stone. Then, above Winnie’s head, the window began to glow the color of peaches.

His voice came like the sudden cries of a dying animal.

“Ezekiel!”

Ottie’s call hit Celestine with a start and adrenaline throbbed in her mouth. It echoed in the small clearing, splitting between the trees like a hundred shouting demons.

“Show yourself, Preacher!”

Celestine wiped her palms on her dress with little relief. A sweaty bead dribbled into her eye and it spiked with pain.

“Come out, Nigger, or I’ll blow your church to Hell!”

Her eyes flew wide.

Ottie’s words took a moment to settle in her mind. Their meaning came slowly with icy horror. She retraced Ottie’s steps, matching sounds to likely action. Her hand flew to her mouth to stifle a scream. She had heard the thunder of men blasting the mountain open. She had seen boulders thrown into the air, some the size of trees and full-grown men, soaring past the clouds lighter than a bird.

“I’m here, Mr. Ottie. What can I do for you?”

The power of Ezekiel’s baritone pressed against her skittering nerves, calming her in spite of such righteous terror. She pushed herself to her knees and reached forward, beginning to crawl toward Winnie.

“You know what you can do for me, boy,” Ottie said. “I want all of it. Every single jug or jar or piss pot you got, filled up with that white lightning. Or your church burns.”

She brought her knee forward, sliding it along the stiff floorboard, praying it wouldn’t groan or squeal with her weight.

“As you say, Mr. Ottie,” Ezekiel said, calm as ever. “I’ll have my people bring you everything I have.”

“Damn right. Bring it quick. In satchels, too.”

Celestine heard him spit to emphasize his victory.

“As you say, Mr. Ottie,” Ezekiel repeated.

She slid along the floor, her lips pressed together, determined not to make a sound. Her fingers ached from holding the massive pistol and she paused to transfer it to her other hand. Outside, Ottie swung the torch back and forth, the flames chanting and huffing in a heathen tongue.

Ezekiel’s voice faded up the hill, toward the shack. “Right this way. Mr. Ottie is waiting.”

Celestine heard the distant patter of footsteps. She snuck each knee forward. Outside, the clinking of glass cut through the night as a half dozen or so men and women, Ezekiel’s so-called elders of the church, brought jars of liquid down the hill from the shack and placed them at Mr. Ottie’s feet. As each container arrived, Ottie muttered to the load-bearers, “That’s right, boy, that’s good….”

Celestine looked up at the window. She could almost reach it. Winnie was staring, eyes still flung open, her mouth agape in a tiny black ‘O’. Her eyes dipped to the pistol for a moment, then found her mother in the infernal glow.

“I’ve been thinkin’ about this operation you got here,” Ottie crowed. “How come you ain’t in a chain gang, boy? Why the Sheriff allowin’ for a colored moonshiner, I wonder?”

“If you are concerned about the shade of my shine, I will gladly keep it,” Ezekiel said.

Ottie laughed. “You’re a smart nigger, aren’t you?”

“You’re not here to compliment me, Mr. Ottie, so please don’t.”

With her free hand, Celestine pulled herself up and slowly lifted her eyes above the window sill. Ottie was almost within the reach of her arm, a billowing torch in his hand. He reeked of human sweat and beastly waste, the burden of a farm. Up the hill, Ezekiel stood with his arms crossed over his chest. Behind him the elders cowered like wretches, their black bodies melting into the pale night.

“Is that all, Preacher?”

“Yes, it is. All you can carry, at least,” Ezekiel said.

“Why don’t your helpers give me a hand back there, huh?” Ottie called.

“They’re elders of the church,” Ezekiel said. “They stay with me.”

Ottie swung the torch so its purple lips dangled over the ground. Ezekiel flinched and the cowering ones behind him shrieked in horror.

“I’m not askin’, Preacher,” Ottie insisted. “Send your boys and girls with me, or I light your church.”

Ezekiel unfolded his arms. “Since they stay with me, I must come with you.”

“Why?”

“They are my elders. I take responsibility for them.”

“What you need elders for, anyway?”

“A church is a complicated body to manage, Mr. Ottie. Much like a farm.”

“Yeah, they’re both fulla animals.”

Ezekiel held his breath. “Shall we, Mr. Ottie, as civilized men?”

Leading the way, Ezekiel beckoned to the ragged ones to follow. They crept forward, keeping close to their shepherd, and took up the satchels and wooden crates holding gallons of pure moonshine. In a semi-circle they stood, holding Jacob Ottie’s liquor, waiting for him to turn and lead them into the forest to his farm. But instead, Ottie towered over them, proud, half his face glowing in the fire of his torch. A wry smile drew across his lips like the pronged wire of a rabbit trap. He pointed the torch at Ezekiel.

“They’re fugitives,” he growled. “Aren’t they.”

Ezekiel’s chin lifted at this accusation. “They are my elders.”

“They ain’t no elders! These are runaways! Fugitives!” He grinned, exposing wet white teeth. “That’s omeone’s property.”

Ezekiel stepped forward, his nose inches from Ottie’s. “They are free men and women. The only One they belong to is the Lord.”

“Who do you think you are, Nigger?” Ottie crooned, turning his head. “Do you know who you’re talking to?”

“You came to me asking for the Gospel, Mr. Ottie,” Ezekiel said. “Now I’m giving it to you.”

“Shut up!” he shouted. “We’re going to sort out who’s free and who’s not, right now.” He lifted the torch in the air. “If you’re a runaway nigger, step forward or I blaze the church!”

“Calm down, Mr. Ottie, and let us help you with your purchases.”

“Step forward, fugitives!”

“Don’t move, Elders.”

“I’m not gonna ask again! Which of you is a runaway?”

“Enough, Mr. Ottie!” Ezekiel bellowed. “Lead us on!”

The torch fell.

“That’s it! She burns!” Ottie howled.

He stepped toward the church and stabbed the flaming sword toward the rabbit’s tail of gunpowder that wound its way to a clutch of explosives. But his arm hesitated for a moment, hovering just above the white dust, as his eyes drifted up to the church window because he sensed a presence he hadn’t yet accounted for. There he found Celestine’s eyes, two glistening brown pearls straddling the single barrel of a pistol.

The gunshot shattered the night and galloped up and down the mountain with terrible singularity. Jacob Ottie stumbled backward, hung like a tree before it topples, then flopped onto his back and rolled once, twice, and a third time, finally sliding to a stop against a rock at the base of the clearing. His torch lay beside the church, its flames charring the face of a barren rock, inches from the fragile white powder.

The elders watched her, their faces slack with unfathomable disbelief. Ezekiel gazed down the hill into the shadows where the dead thing now lay, closed his eyes, sighed, and turned to face the women in the window.

“Celestine,” he whispered, the echoes still fading in their ears. “What have you done?”

“Look under the church,” she gasped.

He didn’t move. “What have you done?” he repeated.

An elder crawled under the building, wriggling between the stone stacks that propped the structure off the hill. He pushed himself out and held high two brown fingers of dynamite.

“There’s more on the other side,” Celestine cried.

Ezekiel’s face hung low, hovering over the gray face of the land. “Everyone must go,” he said quietly. “I will take full responsibility for this man’s death. You cannot. So please take what you have, including your wages, and go. May God protect you on your journey.”

And without any argument, for they lived lives that knew no arguing but only servitude, the elders wrapped their arms around Ezekiel and inundated him with kisses before slinking into the woods, never to be seen in South Appalachia again.

Ezekiel stood over the arrangement of moonshine and Celestine thought she heard him weeping softly. He seated himself on the rocks and folded his hands in silent prayer.

“Do we need to go too, sir?” Celestine called from the window.

He kept to himself at first, and Celestine’s heart pounded in fear at leaving, running again, covering so much hostile territory on their own. She drew Winnie into her arms and let the smoking pistol lie on the floor.

Ezekiel hummed a hymn to himself. Celestine sung along above him, and Winnie joined in for the final verse. They resolved into a chord, the women harmonizing, and then there was silence again.

“No,” he said at last.

 

Payment

When the Cocke County Sheriff arrived on the back of his prized white horse the next morning, it appeared he had prepared for his visit to Ezekiel’s church by emptying the saddlebags.

“It’s a damned shame what happened to Jacob,” he figured. “D’ya know who shot him?”

Ezekiel nodded. “Yes. I shot him.”

The Sheriff worked a wad of snuff with his gums. His gaze drifted from the preacher down to the motionless, bloating body that was gathering a thick plume of flies. Then he lifted a roll of brown sticks wrapped in black wire in his hands.

“He was plannin’ on usin’ these?”

Ezekiel nodded again. “Yes, sir.”

“The dumb cuss needed a drink that bad, huh?”

Ezekiel nodded, but said nothing.

The Sheriff sighed. “Well, Jacob had himself a pile of notes that were due, and folks will be hoppin’ mad if they don’t collect all because that colored preacher put a bullet in ‘im. You can see that, can’t you?”

“I can,” Ezekiel stated. “I’d be happy to settle his accounts with product, sir.”

The Sheriff spat and smiled, bits of snuff hanging in his mustache. “I’m full glad to hear that, Preacher.”

They settled on a price of five-gallon per note, a hefty sum that the Sheriff promised to send deputies to gather over the next several days. He offered Ezekiel his hand, they shook, and he once again laid his pitiful stare on the swelling mass of pale flesh below.

“I trust you gave him his chances,” the Sheriff said.

“I did all I could to give him the Gospel before the end.”

“I reckon so,” the Sheriff mused absent-mindedly. “Jacob’s wife probably won’t be runnin’ no farm on her own after this. Those niggers of his may go to auction, or she might agree on a fair price if I speak with her directly. I ‘spect a fair exchange would be around three-gallon per nigger. You say?”

Ezekiel watched the women load the Sheriff’s horse with new burdens, the first installment on Jacob Ottie’s debts. Cobwebs of crimson scars peeked at him from the frontier of Celestine’s dress. They glowed in the sunrise as she bent to take a jug from the tiny hands of her daughter. Ezekiel swallowed and closed his eyes.

“Yes, sir,” he said. “Three-gallon sounds fair.”

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SM 3D Image“Give Him the Gospel” © 2015, David H. Safford

“Give Him the Gospel” is a part of Soul Mountain, a collection of short fiction.

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