I’m delighted and grateful Fresh Fiction is offering me this opportunity to share a part of my historical fiction. Thank you.
Dorothea Hubble Bonneau
Excerpt from Once in a Blood Moon:
The house has settled for night. Alexandra stuffs her pillows under her blankets to make it look like she’s sleeping in her bed and steps out onto her balcony, determined sneak down to the village and beg Papa to help save her violin teacher, the man she loves. When she dangles her feet over the edge of her bed, an Ahoelra, one of those discontented African ghosts with mischief on its mind, slips into her head.
You don’t have the courage to do this thing, the Ahoelra whispers.
“I do have the courage.”
Taking a deep breath, she touches her toes to the floor, warm and damp under her bare feet, like a living thing that has caught a fever.
Pulling her black cloak over her dress, more for camouflage than warmth, she slips into her riding boots and steps out onto the balcony. Taking hold of the dew-slick railing, she feels her way to the back landing, grateful when she sees the porch lantern is still lit.
She hesitates. Do evil spirits really prowl through Mother’s statue garden at night like some of the house-help claim? Fear ripples through her. She doesn’t have time to go the long way. She pulls the lantern off the stand and follows its orb of light. Alabaster saints watch her with their marble eyes. A shadow glides in front of the Virgin and slips behind St. Joseph.
“Go back,” warns the Ahoelra.
“It was a trick of the light,” Alexandra says so loud that her own voice startles her.
Gathering her cloak, she races up the hill toward the man-made ridge that separates Mother’s bastion of “refined” Carolina society from Papa’s African world.
By the time Papa’s stables come into view, feathery clouds drift across the moon like ghosts. Good. The wind must have changed direction and sent the storm racing off in another direction. Alexandra hears the horses snort and paw the ground. Why are they so agitated?
She stands still and listens. Shivers spread down her shoulders when she hears laughing and sees men coming down the wagon trail carrying torches.
Monsieur Martin could die, she tells herself. Don’t run back home.
She turns the wick in her lantern all the way down and lowers herself into the damp, knee-high grass. An army of chiggers feasts on her ankles. The men are coming closer. They’re talking loud and fast, covering their fear with idle chatter. If only they were close enough for her to hear what they’re saying.
Cabai’s high-pitched whinny pierces her. Alexandra hunches down and creeps toward the corral fence.
The men stop talking. She can hear their booted feet slogging through the mud toward the corral. She sets her lantern on the ground. Fear turns her legs to water as she struggles to climb up on the railing to get a better view. She can see four people carrying pine torches. They’re headed straight toward the corral.
Patrollers? She trembles. They didn’t see her lantern light from so far away. Did they?
As the men edge around to the back of the corral, she eases herself to the ground. They’ve come close enough for her to make out their words.
“Ain’t right for a darkie to own all this land,” says a boy-man whose voice is just turning.
“Or for that white music teacher to make eyes at the African girl, no matter how rich her father is.”
She recognizes that man’s voice. It’s Mr. Ball’s overseer.
“You see, Steven, that’s why we come to teach them a lesson. Mixing white blood with black is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord.”
That must be the boy’s father.
She peers through the slats in the corral fence; torchlight frames four pairs of boots.
“Seems a shame to burn up all these fine horses,” the boy-man says.
Set fire to the corral?
“We talked on this, Son. Everyone for a hundred miles around knows who these horses belong to. So, we can’t steal ’em. Throw your torch in that trough of dry hay, over there under the overhang, and prove you’re a man.”
That trough, attached to the corral fence, is saturated with pine sap. Even if the hay’s damp, it’ll go up in flames.
Alexandra needs to unlatch the gate. She wedges her foot between the bottom boards of the fence and hoists herself up high enough to lift the bar off the outside hook.
She climbs up and is about to reach over to release the inside bar when the boy-man asks, “Y’all hear that?”
Quiet as a cat, she lowers herself back to the ground and crouches.
One of the men asks, “You still believe those baby stories about African ghosts, Steven?”
The men giggle. But she can hear doubt in their high-pitched voices.
Alexandra sends up a prayer: Help me save the horses.
A cloud slips over the moon and throws a net of darkness over the land. Did her prayer work that fast? Is Oeyi working his magic?
The men’s nervous laughter provides enough cover for Alexandra to slide under the bottom board of the fence without being heard, but the angle of the wood rails makes it impossible for her to climb up and get to the lock from the inside. She closes her eyes and calls out with her mind, the way Aunt Mamou taught her: “Cabai!” The stallion trots over to her. She grabs his mane, swings herself onto his back, leans down over his neck and urges him toward the inner latch on the gate.
“Heave your torch, Son.”
The boy hesitates, then he says, “Cain’t do it, Pa.”
“Cain’t, or won’t?”
“These horses don’t deserve to die.”
“Give me that, you yellow-belly!”
A strong arm heaves the torch. The hay smolders; the wood flames up.
Alexandra tries to lift the lock-bar, but it doesn’t give.
A barn owl screeches as it passes overhead. Its white wings beat the air. A drum sounds in the distance.
“Let’s go before we have a bunch of crazy heathens chasing us!”
As the men start back up the path. Alexandra hears the snap of the trap Papa set to catch that panther that had carried off a colt last spring. A scream shatters the silence.
“Help me, Pa,” pleads the boy-man, but the men must be too far down the road to hear him, or maybe they thought the boy had tripped and they wanted to teach him a lesson.
Sparks fly up in the trough. Alexandra slides off of Cabai’s back and whips off her cloak. Smoke threatens her as she beats out the fire and stomps out the last of the burning embers. The horses swish their tails and paw the ground.
Alexandra hears the boy whisper, “Lord, I don’t want to die.”
Part of her believes that he deserves to bleed-out. But he’s so young. And he did want to save the horses. Besides, if his father comes back to help him, he won’t be able to open the trap and the boy will lose his foot—if he doesn’t lose his life first.
(C) Dorothea Hubble Bonneau, 2020
Author’s Note: D.T. Dugan’s, The Story of a White Slave was the inspiration for my historical adventure, Once in a Blood Moon. According to Dugan’s account of this true story:
“Placed side by side with his dark-skinned human brother chattel, John must toil from morn to night, even as they did, a slave without joy in the past, peace in the present, or hope for the future. He made friends and confidants of his fellow laborers. Plans were laid, schemes thought up and many whispered conferences in the darkness of the night were held that he might rejoin his mother.”
That white slave was my ancestor. It is my hope that Once in a Blood Moon will bring honor to selfless, courageous slaves who risked their lives to help my ancestor escape.
Heaven Hill Plantation, upriver from Georgetown, South Carolina, 1807: Sixteen-year-old Alexandra Degambia walks a tightrope stretched between her parents’ ambitions. Her father, a prosperous planter, wants to preserve the heritage of his African ancestors. But her mother, who can pass for white, seeks to distance herself from her African roots and position herself in the elite society of wealthy free-women-of-color.
Alexandra dreams of establishing her own place in the world as an accomplished violinist. She assumes her talent and her family’s wealth will pave her way to success.
When her life spirals into a life-or-death struggle, she learns that the future is uncertain. Sometimes destiny has its own plans.
About Dorothea Hubble Bonneau
Dorothea (Dottie) Hubble Bonneau is an award-winning novelist, produced playwright and optioned screenwriter. Inspired by a quest for justice, her work is informed by her love of family, nature, and the literary arts.
Dorothea is a member of Author’s Guild, Women in Film, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Aspen Summer Words Alumni, and Historical Writers of America.
Recent award: 2020 American Fiction Award Winner in the African American historical category.