Their snaring mouths drooled and slobbered as they chased the scent of fear.
Howling and barking they led the way through the thick kudzu-layered wooded hills of northern Tennessee.
Running behind the pack of hound dogs were five white males armed with rifles and knives. One skinny young lad wearing a faded rebel hat had a rope tied around his waist.
“Them boys can run, Paw.” Billy Joe, Jr. spoke between heavy breaths.
The teen’s father jogged at a decent pace behind his son. Junior knew this wasn’t his dad’s first adventure, as he liked to call it. The 17 year-old remembered being told many tales that ended in a lynching.
“Save your breath, Boy. They ain’t runnin’ from us.”
“Who they runnin’ from?”
“It’s what they runnin’ to, Boy. Now shud-up, yer slowin’ us down.”
The hounds broke free into a clearing. Two teenage black boys in torn cut off dungarees stood drenched in sweat on the top of a rocky bluff. The dogs yelped between pants a few yards away. The two former slaves bent over, breathing hard with hands on their knees.
Junior, his dad and three uncles stood catching their breaths behind the dogs. Billy Joe, Jr. gazed into the wide eyes of the boys he had been chasing. He watched as the two slaves eyeballed the hounds and then looked down from the bluff to the river a hundred feet below. One shook his head yes, the other nodded.
“You can’t make that jump, boys. Don’t even think it. It’d kill ya,” Billy Joe, Sr. bellowed as he spat a gob of chewing tobacco out of his mouth.
As soon as the wet wad splat on the ground, one of the black boys turned and jumped off the bluff, flaying his arms as he yelled, “Freeeeeedom”.
Seconds passed before there was a splash. The one remaining fell to his knees in prayer.
“Go put your rope around that neck, Boy. Ya got to get a taste for this before you grow soft like yer momma and the rest of them.”
Billy Joe, Jr. walked slowly toward the former slave. He peered over the bluff and saw the other black boy swimming down the river.
“Why you prayin’, boy?” Billy Joe, Jr. asked as he loosely placed the noose around the teen’s neck.
“Prayin’ my brother made it.”
“Why didn’t you jump?”
“So he could git away.”
Billy Joe, Jr. tightened the noose.
“Now pull’em over here, boy. There be a good tree behind us.”
Billy Joe, Jr. started walking toward his father. He could smell the stench of the dogs, his uncles’ breaths, and his dad’s hate. He heard the voice of his momma.
“We all one in God’s eyes, Son.”
Billy Joe, Jr. turned around. His eyes met with the teen’s at the end of his rope. There was a connection, a communication, a bonding. He heard his momma’s voice again.
“God loves us all, Son. All of this killin’ and hatred has to stop someday. I’m prayin’ you can break free.”
Billy Joe, Sr.’s booming voice broke the momentary quiet.
“Hurry now, boy. This adventure has to end soon. We got to git back.”
There was another space of silence as a smile grew on Billy Joe, Jr.’s face.
“Paw, I think my adventure is jist beginning.”
Billy Joe, Jr. turned and gave the black boy a wink and started running for the edge of the bluff still holding the rope. The former slave quickly stood in amazement and grabbed a hold of the crazy white boy’s hand as they both leaped from the bluff.
The last word Billy Joe, Sr. ever heard his son speak was, “Freeeeeedom”, before he heard the splashes from the river below.
The pack of dogs wandered one by one up to the bluff’s edge, sniffing the fresh breeze blowing up from the river. In unison they turned around and pointed their snouts toward their masters. Drool started to form in their mouths as the familiar scent of fear re-entered their flaring nostrils. The chase was on again.
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