The sanctuary of the barn seemed like a safe place to hide from Uncle Mack. He’d been drinking again, and was meaner than Grandma’s red rooster.
“Where are you girl? I know you’re here somewhere. I caught sight of you as you were running through those fields! You were with HER again, weren’t you? ”
The girl with the raven hair hid, silently praying that the madman below wouldn’t find her hiding spot. Barely breathing she peered through the hole in the floorboards. His bloodshot eyes were looking right at her!
“Comedown out of that loft! You don’t want me to climb up there and git ya! The straps’ a waitin’.”
“Please don’t beat me Uncle Mack. I promise to make your supper and do the washing, if you just hang up the strap. I won’t be running out on you again. I promise!” Clara gnawed at the inside of her cheek. Her stomach churned while climbing down.
Clara trembled, instinct screaming for her to sprint to Grandma’s house. Lifting her soft brown eyes to the eyes of her uncle, she froze from his fury. Too late for escape, he grabbed her by the arm and yanked her to him.
“I caught ya now! No more running away to Ma’s place for you girl!” The smell of moonshine on his breath threatened to make her wretch.
“Please! I promised not to run …ah!” The lash stung her legs like hundreds fire ants. The familiar pain burning more with each stripe.
She knew that if she hollered too much, he would keep on beating her until she bled. “Please stop, I’ll behave, I promise Uncle Mack!”
Abruptly he released her arm, taking a swig from the jug at his feet. Clara froze. She sent a silent prayer to heaven to stop the hurt.
Mack gave Clara a shake, “Well git, you have chores to do! Don’t think I’ve forgotten what you promised.” Spitting on the ground, he propelled her through the doors.
Clara glanced at Grandma’s house through the fields as she ran across the barnyard. Grandma’s house was a sweet bit of Heaven. Good smells and happy times were there. Here, the house that loomed ahead was just a clapboard shack. No hugs just empty rooms, and dirt floors.
Walking in she remembered her promise. The wash was to be scrubbed, the dinner to be prepared for Uncle Mack. The water had to be drawn from the well. Clara remembered days past when Ma and Pa were alive. Oklahoma was a good place then. Being poor was nothing to be sad about with Ma’s love and homemade preserves slathered on warm bread. Mack was a good man back then before the dust had come and the crops had failed taking Ma and Pa with the storms. Clara often prayed for his lost soul.
“Oh Ma, are you watching over me today?” Her weary child’s voice pleaded as tears melted down a thin, hot cheek. Finding little comfort, she wiped them away with the hem of her tattered dress to start working.
She was finished with the washboard placing it where Uncle Mack liked it. The smells of her meager home cooking made her mouth water. Clara was startled out of her hungry reverie as a commotion broke out in the barnyard.
Men on horses galloped towards the barn. Clara ran to the window, where she could see their angry faces.
“Mack La Bass! Come out, we know you’re in there!” The leader shouted, “You’re under arrest you dirty horse thief!”
A gun went off, and Clara dropped her precious bread on the floor falling to her knees. Gaining fresh courage she crawled to peek over the edge of the window. The men had Uncle Mack held kicking and cursing. They were taking him away!
A stranger walked towards the house. He paused at the open door, hat in his hands. “Are you Clara?”
Clara looked up from where she was hiding, the thick braids hanging down his shoulders lending her comfort. Clara began trembling, “My name is Clara La Bass.” She said, lifting her chin.
"Your Grandma sent me to fetch you home. You’ll be living with her now. Your Uncle is going to meet his maker today, and by the looks of it, (glancing at her welted legs) we were just in time little one."
“Sir,” Clara whispered, “I felt Jesus watching over me today. I’ve been praying that I could live with Grandma.”