David L. Dudley Cy in Chains

ISBN 13: 9780547910680

Cy in Chains

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9780547910680: Cy in Chains
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Cy Williams, thirteen, has always known that he and the other black folks on Strong's plantation have to obey white men, no question. Sure, he's free, as black people have been since his grandfather's day, but in rural Georgia, that means they're free to be whipped, abused, even killed. Almost four years later, Cy yearns for that freedom, such as it was. Now he's a chain gang laborer, forced to do backbreaking work, penned in and shackled like an animal, brutalized, beaten, and humiliated by the boss of the camp and his hired overseers. For Cy and the boys he's chained to, there's no way out, no way back.
   And then hope begins to grow in him, along with strength and courage he didn't know he had. Cy is sure that a chance at freedom is worth any risk, any sacrifice. This powerful, moving story opens a window on a painful chapter in the history of race relations.

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About the Author:

David L. Dudley spent ten years as a parish pastor in the Lutheran Church before turning to university teaching. He is the Chair of the Department of Literature and Philosophy at Georgia Southern University, where he teaches African American literature. He has also taught prison extension courses. His published work includes numerous articles and essays as well as fiction for young readers. Dr. Dudley lives in Twin City, Georgia, with his wife.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

One
There was no way to escape the shouting and the noises of animal terror bursting from Teufel’s stall. The crack of the whip against the stallion’s side, the horse’s maddened whinnying of rage and fear, the curses from John Strong’s mouth.
   Cy put an arm around Travis, who pushed closer to him. Travis had his hands over his ears, like that would do any good. I tried to tell you we shouldn’t of sneaked down here, Cy thought, feeling the younger boy trembling. But you had to have your way, and see the mess we in?
   Cy was afraid too—his pounding heart told him so—but his fear was mixed with hatred for John Strong and pity for the man’s son. As much as he wished to, Cy couldn’t stop Strong from tormenting the horse. Trying to leave the barn was too risky now, so he and Travis would have to stay and listen until Strong’s craziness had eased or his arm was too tired to strike another blow.
   Both boys were huddled in the corner of the stall that had been Rex’s before the roan had been sold to help pay John Strong’s bills. The familiar barn smells—dung, urine, and hay—came up faintly from the red clay floor. Dust particles hung in the yellow shaft of warm April light filtering through an open window.
   “Why won’t Daddy stop?” Travis asked. “Teufel didn’t mean to lose the race.”
   “Keep yo’ voice down,” Cy warned. “If Mist’ John find us here, we be in big trouble.”
   “He’d whip us too.”
   “I hope not, but they’s no tellin’ what yo’ daddy do when he been drinkin’ so hard. Don’t worry. I ain’t gon’ let nothin’ bad happen to you.”
   “I’m scared, Cy. Ain’t you?”
   He couldn’t let on that he was. Travis counted on him to be the brave one, and most of the time, that was fine.
   “He ain’t gon’ do nothin’ to you, Travis. I promise.”
   From the far end of the barn, the shouts of the man and shrieks of his horse continued.
   “I’m gonna run away from here,” Travis whispered fiercely. “Tonight! You come with me.”
   “Ain’t no way you can do that. You only eleven.”
 nbsp; “Twelve, next month! And you’re thirteen. We can do it! Wait until late tonight, and take Teufel with us.”
   “That’s crazy talk, and you knows it. Yo’ daddy come after us, and then we both get it.” ’Specially me, Cy thought. “We’ll get across the river! Daddy couldn’t follow us then.”
   “Shhh!” Cy put his hand over Travis’s mouth. “Sound like he done.”
   The door to Teufel’s stall creaked on its hinges, then slammed shut. John Strong’s curses had turned to the broken ramblings of a drunken man. The sounds grew fainter as he left the barn.
   “You all right?” Cy asked.
   Travis didn’t move, didn’t answer, but sat with his knees drawn up to his chest. He wiped his runny nose on his shirtsleeve.
   “It over now,” Cy assured him. “Until next time Daddy gets drunk.”
   Cy listened. The barn was quiet. When he was sure Strong had gone, he led Travis to Teufel’s stall. Cy lifted the latch and eased the door open. Right away, the stallion kicked at the wooden walls and snorted a warning.
   “There now, boy,” Cy told the horse. “You know me. I ain’t gon’ hurt you. Quiet, now.”
   Teufel lowered his head and stood, quivering.
   “Come on in,” Cy told Travis. “He calm down.”
   Travis entered the stall, but pressed close to the door.
   “Sweet Jesus,” Cy said. “Look at the way Mist’ John done cut you up.” What he saw made him want to cry. The horse’s right flank and quarters were crisscrossed with bleeding wounds.
   He had to take charge. “Travis, get the salve from the tack room. We got to tend to these cuts.” Cy dug into the pocket of his overalls and brought out two shriveled apples. He offered one to the injured animal, who took it and began chewing it slowly. Even now, his side torn up by John Strong’s cat-o’-nine-tails, Teufel was the handsomest horse Cy had ever seen. And when he ran, it seemed like his hooves never touched the red clay under him. Mist’ John ain’t got no right to hurt you so bad, Cy thought. I sho’ would like to steal that damn cat and—
   Use it on that son of a bitch, he wanted to say, but even thinking such thoughts was dangerous. Steal that damn whip and bury it somewhere, Cy corrected himself. Before Strong ever got another chance with it.
   Travis came back with the jar of salve. He held Teufel’s head while Cy applied the medicine to the cuts. Every time he touched a hurt place, the horse flinched, but he let Cy go on. The whole time, Cy whispered gentle words, and slowly the trembling stopped. Helping Teufel made him feel better. Uncle Daniel said he had a real knack with horses and that was something you couldn’t buy or learn. Either it was yours, or it wasn’t.
   Cy handed Travis the second apple. “You give him this one. Let him know you his friend too.” Travis held the apple on the flat of his palm, fingers pointing downward, out of the way of Teufel’s enormous ivory teeth.
   “You think we should put him in the pasture?” Travis asked. “Let him get some grass?”
   “Better not. Yo’ daddy probably be mad enough when he find out we played horse doctor. We could get him some water, though, and maybe a few oats, if they is any.”
   They filled Teufel’s water bucket, but the feed bin was empty.
   “I best get home,” Cy told Travis when they were done.
   “I’ll come with you. We could get the poles and go fishing.”
   “Too late for that. I got to think about gettin’ supper goin’. Daddy been plowin’ all day and sure to be starvin’.”
   “I could help you,” Travis offered. He had the pitiful look in his eyes that Cy knew well.
   Cy was ready not to have Travis hanging around, but he wouldn’t hurt the boy’s feelings. “They ain’t anything much to do,” he replied. “Besides, soon as I get a couple yams in to bake, I’s gonna try and rest some. You go on home. Ain’t nothin’ gon’ happen. Your daddy for sure gone up to bed. You ain’t gon’ see him till tomorrow.”
   “Please come to the house, Cy.”
   “Oh, all right. But you wait and see. Things gonna look better in the mornin’.”
   “No, they won’t,” Travis mumbled.
   “You ain’t still thinkin’ ’bout runnin’ away, is you?”
   Travis fixed his eyes on the hard-packed earth of the barn floor. “Naw. It was just talk. I reckon I’ll see if Aunt Dorcas has somethin’ cooked.”
   As they left the barn, Travis took Cy’s hand, something he hadn’t done in a long time.
   For a second, Cy wanted to pull away. Mist’ John sho’ wouldn’t like to see us like this, he thought. He glanced at their clasped hands, his a deep brown, so different from Travis’s, which was pale, almost pink, and he knew it was all right. They were unlikely friends, for sure: Travis, son of a plantation master, and himself, poor and black, the son of a man who farmed a few acres of that plantation just to put food on the table. But they had grown up with no friends except each other, and that was more important than the different colors of their skin.
   Cy knew that most folks didn’t agree with him about that, especially John Strong, but at the moment, he didn’t care. Travis’s hand felt good in his. He remembered once overhearing Strong warn Travis that it wasn’t fitting for him to be so friendly with a nigger, that niggers needed to remember their place, that they got wrong ideas in their kinky-haired heads if white folks were too familiar with them. That gave Cy yet another reason to despise the man.
   Cy waited by the back door of the house. Travis went in, then came back after a minute and said everything was all right, his daddy must be asleep like Cy had predicted.
   “Thanks,” Travis said. “See you tomorrow.” He went inside and pushed the door shut. In all the years they’d been friends, Cy had never been invited farther inside Travis’s place than the kitchen.
   Cy started down the hill toward what everyone still called “the quarter,” where the slaves used to live, back in the day when John Strong’s granddaddy was owner of the biggest plantation in those parts. He walked through the grove of oak trees, kicking a sweet-gum ball as he went. He wished he could take that cat-o’-nine-tails to John Strong, let him know what it felt like to have your skin torn to pieces by its twisted cords. He came into the clearing where the colored folks’ cabins circled an open space around the old well. The red clay ground was packed iron hard by the feet of the black people who had lived there since slavery times. Slavery was gone now, and so were most of the people. Some were dead and buried in the weed-choked graveyard nearby. Others had headed off long ago for better chances in Savannah or Augusta, or had been forced to seek land to sharecrop for a landlord better off than Mr. John Strong, master of what little was left of Warren Hall Plantation.
   Most of the cabins were empty and sagging; others nothing more than collapsed piles of rotting boards brooded over by crumbling chimneys. Aunt Dorcas and Uncle Daniel’s was one of the few that looked neat and tidy. They both worked up at the big house, as the old colored folks still called the shabby white-columned mansion where the Strongs, father and son, lived. Mrs. Strong had been dead two years—summer fever and too little love, Aunt Dorcas declared.
   A few other families lived in the quarter, but Cy didn’t know them well, and he didn’t much want to. They were strangers, empty-eyed black folks who showed up in early spring looking for a few acres to sharecrop, tried their best to raise some cotton or tobacco, and left after harvest, when it was clear they couldn’t get through a winter on what little they made working for a man as mean as John Strong.
   Cy stepped into the empty one-room cabin. He didn’t look for his father to be home, not with so much plowing to be done. A rainy spring had made it too muddy earlier to get into the bottom land, the only acres on Strong’s place where a man had a chance to raise a crop and come out at least even. Strong let Cy’s father, Pete Williams, farm that land even though it was prime. There was no one else to do it, not anymore. Strong could have, but he’d lost interest in growing things since his wife died. That was when he discovered his love of betting on the races and had the bad luck to get his hands on the horse of his dreams, the stallion he’d named Teufel. Travis said it meant “devil” in some foreign language.
   Cy sat down on the crude bench by the table where he and his father ate. His eyes landed where they always did sooner or later: on the pink calico sunbonnet that had belonged to his mama, hanging there by the door. A familiar ache settled over his heart, then a surge of anger, the anger that had made him take his mama’s glass bead necklace, the only other thing she’d left behind, and hurl it down the hole in the outhouse. Many a time he’d wished he hadn’t done that, but nothing was going to make him try and get it back. Gone was gone.
   He wondered, as he always did, why his mama left her bonnet the morning she walked out of the cabin and out of his life. Where had she gone, and why? His father said she was homesick for her people downstate near Valdosta, where she was from, yet he never bothered to go down there and see. At first, Cy thought he himself must have done something to make her unhappy enough to leave, something real bad. But no matter how many nights he lay awake searching for a reason, he couldn’t think of anything. He loved his mama—she had to know that. So why would she abandon him? He didn’t understand, and he was afraid to ask his father.
   Cy did know that after his mother left, something changed in Pete Williams. He used to work on the land all day and in the evenings still have energy to play checkers and then sit on the front stoop and entertain folks by playing his mouth organ and singing. Now he was silent most evenings, sitting by the fireplace repairing tack or carving spoons out of the dry, hard oak he stored in the corner. Days, he was always on the move, mending fences, chopping weeds, hauling firewood—staying busy.
   A change in the light meant evening was coming on, and it was past time to start supper. Preparing their meals was one thing Cy had been forced to learn in the last two years. The day after his wife left, Pete Williams informed his son he wasn’t no cook, and if Cy wanted to eat decent from then on, he’d have to learn to do for himself.

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