Bound and gagged, Jasper cursed as best he could as the two slaves carried him out into the field, another carrying a torch to light their way. Albert walked with them, his bushy mustache twitching irritably in the warm summer breeze. The tobacco plantation was one that often came with heavy allergens during the summer, which Jasper knew tortured Albert to no end, as they had all their life.
Nobody knew his brother and he did, at least, he had thought. But being woken in the wee hours of the morning with a sap to the head, breaking his nose, he was strong-armed by two stout slaves that took great pleasure in binding the young taskmaster at his wrists and ankles, gagging him with an oil-soaked rag. Every breath Jasper took was full of the heady scent of lantern oil, making him dizzy as they frog-marched him out past the fields and into the forest.
Grunting in agony, Jasper looked up at his older brother with pleading eyes, wanting to know what he’d done wrong, what he’d done to deserve this. His brother, however, was quiet on the matter and marched stoically with the slaves as they carried him deeper into the forest. Past the old fence post marking the end of their land, they marched through thick underbrush and over creek beds, splashing through ankle-deep water loudly as they silently pressed onward towards the unknown location.
After staring at the same treetops for well over a half hour, his brother finally made a statement.
“You know, I never thought it would come to this,” Albert said, looking up at the moon shining down on them.
Jasper grunted in response, the oil-soaked rag clogging his nostrils with the toxic smell of kerosene.
“I never thought I’d have to have you killed Jasper, but you’ve taken too long to die on your own. I thought with all of your hunting and cavorting about that you would end yourself.” Albert continued, looking down at his gloved hands as if he were inspecting them for dirt. “I know of the child Jasper. You’ve been cavorting in all the wrong ways, captivating the hearts of our slaves for your own sick pleasures. Sadly, you’ve created a mulatto child that could lay claim to some of our lands should he ever draw breath.”
Jasper thrashed against his bonds, forcing the men to stop and club him a few times to calm him down. Marina was a confidant, a friend that Jasper had made when he had fallen ill last summer. Not long after they became lovers… Jasper didn’t even know she was pregnant. How his brother had found out before even he did, he couldn’t say.
The man resumed carrying him along an isolated path, leading them into the old growth forest of the mountainous terrain. Another ten minutes came by before Albert continued on with his previous line of thinking.
“Had you just done as I’d hoped and kept yourself from spreading your seed, this wouldn’t be necessary. You could live on enjoying your games and parties while I could sit back and enjoy the revenue our plantations brought in. I even turned a blind eye when you gave up your taskmaster duties, assigning them to a more… loyal slave, who has whipped some sense into the slaves you’ve allowed to become so slothful.”
Jasper thrashed about as they ascended the rocky outcroppings, leading higher and higher into the old growth forest. They finally came to a stop at a large black tree, gnarled and twisted with branches and roots spiraling about in maddening patterns. A large section of raised roots encircled a patch of dirt, where a deep grave had been dug.
Standing with two slaves holding her back, Marina called out to Jasper, called out to Albert, pleading to let the two of them go.
“Please!” She cried, fighting against the men holding her back. “We’ll just disappear. We’ll head west, away from the colonies!”
Albert gave a dry chuckle. “I believe you, truly I do. But the child growing in your womb may one day return, looking for his share of land and monies. And that is something I cannot stand by and allow to happen.”
“We wouldn’t tell them,” she cried, clutching her stomach protectively. “We would tell them only of the glory of God and how to farm, I swear!”
“And yet again, I believe you. But I just cannot take the chance. I apologize Marina, but I am the brother who isn’t a gambler. You bedded the gambler and lost.”
She didn’t get any other chance to say anything as they pulled a gag into place, her hands pulled behind her back and bound with rope. Screaming into the gag, she struggled against the larger men as best she could, which proved to be ultimately futile. After they bound her, one man kicked out the back of her knees, dropping her to the earthen ground with a painful thud. The large black man, shirtless and covered in long scars, pulled a knife and rested it beneath her chin, snarling as she continued to struggle.
“Quit moving wench or I’ll just spill your blood here and be done with it,” the slave threatened, pressing the blade hard enough against her skin to draw a thin line of blood.
“Now Jeremiah, do nothing rash.” Albert’s voice was as hard as the steel in the blade, his gaze pinning the slave in place. “I appreciate your exuberance, but don’t really need it seeing as this will all be solved within the next five minutes.”
“Yes sir,” the mountain of a man grumbled, flipping the knife back into its bone sheath. He didn’t look pleased, but then again, neither did Albert.
Albert nodded towards Jasper. “Remove his gag, let him have his say.”
One man holding Jasper pulled the gag down until it was like some macabre necktie. “Blech… Albert, you heartless bastard, why are you doing this? We’ve always loved each other as good brothers should!”
Albert chuckled. “Whelp. I’ve never cared for you or your kindness towards those… less fortunate than us. The way you slum the slave quarters brings a shame to this family that I see fit to burn away this evening, like cauterizing a bleeding wound.”
“This is because I don’t see these slaves as animals like you? That I see them as people?” Jasper sputtered, looking between the gathered slaves, all five of them. “Men, have I not treated you kindly? I’ve never taken the whip to any of you, despite being your taskmaster!”
The knife-wielding slave snorted, nodding his head toward Albert. “He may look at us as less-than-human as you’d put it, but he respects us for our strength. The other taskmasters whip us to get us in line, and Albert has promised us positions replacing those men should we help him deal with the trash, so to speak.”
The slave carrying the torch, a slimmer man, shook his head sadly. “I told Marina that cavorting with you would lead to something like this. I warned her. But did she listen?”
Another one of Marina’s captors laughed, grabbing her arm and twisting until it popped, her pained shriek dulled by the gag in her mouth. “Yes, our little Marina is quite the minx isn’t she? Tempting the young master as she did, spurning our advances while enticing the good Master… this seems a due reward, doesn’t it?”
The slaves all grumbled in agreement, listening to her sob over her ruined arm. One man placed a boot on her side and shoved her into the grave with a brutal kick. She wrestled within to get into a decent position where her arm wasn’t hurting, or where she wasn’t on her head. “Girl will learn, that’s for certain,” Jeremiah said as he watched her right herself within the six-foot deep earthen crevice.
“No!” Jasper shouted out, only to get kicked harshly in the stomach by one of his carriers. Albert reached into his jacket, fishing out a cigar before lighting it with the torch. After puffing a few rounds of smoke from the rich tobacco, he looked at the gathered slaves, breathing heavily with bloodlust. He waved over at his brother.
“You all have three minutes. Just make certain he lives and is awake.” He said, taking hold of the torch and clapping the former torchbearer on the back. “Enjoy this time taking a harsh hand against a white man gentleman, for it will be the last time you’re allowed to do so.”
What followed was a beating so severe Jasper passed out twice, only to be awoken by having his fingers broken. The men avoided striking his head, instead focusing on his legs, arms, and torso. Ribs were broken and bruised and great welts formed on his back from the strikes from the Jeremiah’s belt. Another slave, the slender torchbearer, had taken to breaking the individual bones within his fingers then moving them back and forth, keeping him awake in agony as boots tenderized his bloodied flesh.
After a brutal few minutes, Albert called them off, waving the musclebound men away from Jasper’s bleeding and bruised form. Walking up, cigar hanging from his teeth, he stood over Jasper as the man coughed, spitting up blood and bile onto a nearby twisted root of the great gnarled tree.
“The way I look at it, Jasper, is this: I have to cut away the sickened part of this family the way father would of. And father, well, you know how he was. Old Testament. So what I will do is simple.”
He nodded to two of the slaves, who lifted Jasper up bodily despite his broken bones and bleeding cuts, stuffing the gag back in his throat. Another slave walked up, holding a canister of what looked to be lantern oil. The man, a scarred slave with a missing eye, sneered as he began pouring the oil into the grave, over Marina’s bound form and the gnarled roots that stuck out of the sides of the trench. She moaned out plaintively as the thick substance splashed over her, soaking into her clothing and into the surrounding earth.
“When we have a bad crop or an infestation of something God-awful, how do we take care of it?” Albert asked, pulling the cigar from his mouth and blowing smoke into his brother’s face.
“W-we burn it…” Jasper gritted out through bloody teeth, eyes watering from the smoke.
“We burn it,” Albert nodded, walking over towards the pit. “Now the way I look at it, you planted some seed in bad ground. I figure, ashes to ashes.”
“No!” Jasper growled, being held down by one of the burlier slaves. Albert paid him no mind and took a puff off his cigar one last time before carelessly flicking it into the grave. The oil lit up, and for the briefest of moments, the flames spread fast and erupted up from the fissure like an active volcano. Then the screaming began.
Marina screamed as her clothes seared into her skin, her gag burning through to her teeth. She stood up and, with one good arm and clawed at the walls of the grave, trying to climb up and out of the blazing inferno they captured her in. The smoke, roiling off of the scorching earth, choked her quickly, causing her to descend into the flames, coughing as her skin blackened and cracked, her fat dribbling out of her burnt flesh.
Slowly, her clawing grew less and less fervent, her body wracked by the flames and seared into a meatless husk, the charring of the blackened bone apparent over the remaining flesh that was slowly being cooked to ashes.
Marina was no more, Jasper realized as he gazed through his one non-swollen eye at the rising plumes of smoke billowing out of the grave, the flames licking the lips of the earthen lip around it. She screamed until she could scream no more, her cries drowned out by the loud crackles of the flames, laughter that could not be understood save by those who are damned.
Albert held onto the lapels of his jacket, jerking his head toward the pit. “Time for a dip into Hell, don’t you think?”
“Why? How?” Jasper asked as they dragged him forward, close enough to where he could smell the burning stench of his lover’s remains being seared into the unrelenting earth.
“I don’t think matters anymore, do you? Whether you like it, you’re going into that hole with your dark-skinned lover, and then we will bury you in your smoldering grave like the remains of a bad crop. Because that’s just what you are: a bad crop.”
“Go to Hell Albert! I swear to all that is good and holy that I will see the end of your line brother! I will haunt you to the end of your days!”
“That’s all fine and dandy, but what I will tell the sheriff, after writing up a nice note, is that you ran off with your lover to the northern colonies, to be with her. Forever.” Albert said with a wry smile. Looking to the muscled slave holding Jasper up, he nodded.
“Dump him in.”
Jasper didn’t scream as they threw him into the smoke cloud, down into the flames. He didn’t even let out a cry of pain when he landed on his lovers ashen bones. All he did was laugh, cackling like a madman as the flames licked at his flesh, lapping at his skin like a dog would its owner. The charring of his bruised skin was set back as his chest burst open from the heat, silencing him forever as his insides spilled out, sizzling in the summer night air.
“Now, my friends, let’s bury the two lovers, shall we-rk!” Albert said before being struck in the back of the head with a shovel, Jeremiah having struck the slave owner extra hard while he was enjoying his brother’s demise. Albert crumpled to the ground, blood leaking out his ear as his eyes rolled back up into his head.
The slaves, their breathing labored as they looked at each other, nodded one by one, each moving to take a shovel that had been tucked beneath the underbrush of the giant tree. Standing around with the shovels, they listened for a while as the man and woman burned within the grave, the black acrid smoke rising high into the air in a bilious column.
“So we toss him in too?” The slender slave asked, nodding towards the twitching form of Albert, blood pooling from his mouth.
Jeremiah nodded. “You heard him. Old Testament, all the way.”
The whip-scarred slave grabbed Albert by the lapels, dragging him until he hung him over the smoldering pit, the smoke causing him to come to consciousness enough to realize the position he was in.
“What in the hell do you think you’re doing?” Albert snarled, boxing one ear of the whip-scarred slave, who didn’t even budge from the blow. “Put me down this instant! You do this and you’ll all be dead within a week! No plantation owner within a hundred miles will let you all live after pulling a revolt like this!”
The knife-wielding slave walked forward, drawing his knife and flipping it open. “Who said anything about a revolt? We know our place in this society, however, despicable it is. We just want a change of… ownership is all.”
Albert gasped at the man’s feral smile and the dark chuckles that rang out from the surrounding men. “Y-you’ll never get away with this!”
“Yes, we will. We’re deep in the forest, so deep that nobody will find a grave out here. Just think about it: just you, your brother and sweet Marina for all eternity.”
“You filthy traitors! You monsters! This is murder, this is rebellion!” Albert shouted before they rammed a knife into his chest.
“Just shut up and die, Master!” Jeremiah sneered with glee, shoving him into the fiery grave, the knife having just pierced his sternum, nicking his heart.
As the slaves all stood around, listening to their dying master screams of agony, they all smiled. True, it was horrible that Marina had to die… but she was holding the spawn of the horrible family that had enslaved them all for so long. And true, it was horrible that Jasper had to die, as he was an honest and good man… but still, he was their Master.
But was not it a bad thing that Albert had to die. All the slaves present had suffered under his hand often enough, from whippings to half-rations, to time in solitary confinement. Tonight, they would bury the dead and head back to their tenements to sleep, just waiting for the taskmasters to realize that the Masters of the plantation were gone. The note Jasper supposedly penned that was already written, and Albert, well Albert would just remain a mystery of the South, now wouldn’t he?