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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Canada (01/29/09)

TITLE: Gone Underground
By Karlene Jacobsen


Toby had almost fallen asleep when the ferry bumped the dock. The hay wagon shimmied and whined in its joints. He knew he dare not move, not yet. His ebony form was securely hidden within the bales of hay to be delivered at the next farm. His discovery would certainly cost the captain and all aboard much, maybe their lives. This was his life for now.

Months ago, his wife, daughter and two sons vanished into the darkness. No one knew what happened to them, or if they were alive. The foreman had taken a liking to Toby’s family. Most folks thought he was sweet on Bea, Toby’s little girl. She was the first to disappear. Rumors ran about that the foreman bought her for his own play thing; after all, she was gettin’ a mighty fine shape to her budding body. Toby was told to be a good slave and accept it. He would be powerless to stop it anyway, lest he get himself killed.

Then his sons were gone. The older one, maybe seventeen was said to have been sold, but the younger one Sam… no one knew. “Mebbe the bears got ‘em.” Someone said. Truthfully, that would have been easier to take than to think Toby’s sons were slavin’ over at some other plantation. He figured his wife was so heartbroken over her babies that her heart done gave out and was taken away. It was no surprise he was not allowed a proper good-bye.

Toby lamented one day, “It don’t matter how long I's a slave, them’s my kids. It ain’t right somebody up and take ‘em from me.” That was the day Foreman said to meet him behind the barn after dark. Behind the barn meant trouble for Toby, for sure. That’s where wuppins were done. After dark meant this was the end of his life.

The end it was. That night Foreman was letting Toby escape. He was given strict instructions to follow. “Don’t talk to anyone. They have a signal so you know they are with us. Travel only under cover of night; with your dark skin, no one will see you. Make sure you walk in the riverbed upstream, that’ll keep you on course for the North…” He was talkin’ about Canada.

Toby listened wary of what was happening. Why would a white man help me get away, lestin’ he was fixin’ to kill me? He had heard rumors of an underground railroad, but slaves are not permitted on trains, and he never heard of anything being under the ground; not all the way from South Carolina to Canada. “Don’t tell nobody your name…” Foreman paused, “Toby, are you hearing me?” His voice was just above a whisper as he rattled off the instructions.

“Yes su, Mistu Fo'eman. I hears yu.” With that, Foreman patted Toby on the back and shoved him off toward the woods.

Someone grabbed him by the arm causing him to jump like a frightened rabbit. He cowered in the corner of the hay wagon. Had he fallen asleep again? Where was he? Where was his bale of hay that hid him? Toby crouched deeper into the corner, no matter that hay poked him from all sides now.

“Yer safe now.” An older gentleman with a scruffy white beard, mustache, and bushy eyebrows that looked like cotton covered his face. His voice was gentle and crackly.

“Grandpa look, he’s bleedin’.” A young boy poked his head up over the side of the wagon, reached his bony arm over and pointed at Toby’s feet.

“Yep, we’d better get grandma and the kit, eh?” With that, the boy ran after Grandma.

Grandma followed the boy from the house carrying blankets, while the boy carried the kit and a tin cup with hot coffee. She set to treating Toby’s feet as he savored the steaming coffee and Grandpa got to business. “The name’s Maleer, Jack Maleer.” He held out his hand to Toby who hesitantly took it. “You are now in my barn, smack in the middle of a place called Sarnia, Canada. Have you got a name?”

Toby reached deep into the sack Foreman sent with him carrying food and a piece of paper, which he handed to Jack. It read, “TOBY.”

“Well, well, I have a group here with notes that said, “Waitin’ for Toby. Don’t suppose you’re him?” Toby, still unsure, cast his eyes to the ground and did not answer.

Authors note: Port Huron, MI to Sarnia, Canada was one of several passageways from slavery to freedom for many slaves. The “Underground Railroad” was so secretive, that there are few records of any people who were actively involved.

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This article has been read 916 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Seema Bagai 02/06/09
Great story. I enjoyed this piece.
Lynda Schultz 02/06/09
Thank you for writing about this bright light in our history. Good story well done.
c clemons02/08/09
Good piece about a time in history, only not enough explantation about how the underground worked. Very unclear about how Toby arrived at the farmer's house. A few dialect issues also with Toby. A little to open-ended at the end. I know with word limit constraints very hard to do justice with such an important subject.
Diana Dart 02/09/09
Oh, I was sooooo hoping somebody would do something about the Underground Railroad! You did a fantastic job (this is your FIRST historical fiction - wow). I loved the language of Toby and the ending was perfect, hopeful yet not too sticky sweet. Great, just great.
Sharlyn Guthrie02/09/09
You kept my attention from beginning to end. Great job on this piece of historical fiction.
Catrina Bradley 02/09/09
What a wonderful story! I love promise of a family reunion at the end. Well told.
Jan Ackerson 02/10/09
I love the way you ended this, with that little note of uneasiness.

Some of Toby's dialect bothered me a bit--since slaves were often taught English by their masters, wouldn't their English be more proper? It seemed a bit stereotypical...but that could just be me.

Stories of the underground railroad are always inspirational!
Connie Dixon02/10/09
Thanks for your lesson on this much unknown subject. I had no idea. Your story took on a great realism. Good job!
Tallylah Monroe02/10/09
If you read the slave narratives the dialect is perfect.

Very good job.
Mona Purvis02/11/09
Interesting piece. You were able to hold my interest. Yes, the dialect is right on. I'm a South Carolinian and there is alot of truth in the piece. Very good.
Glynis Becker02/11/09
So inspirational and very beautifully done.
Leah Nichols 02/12/09
Well done, Karlene! You did this very well - I'm glad you took the time to enter. A lot to cover in a short piece!
Verna Cole Mitchell 02/12/09
Karlene, your writing just keeps getting better. This is suberb.
Eliza Evans 02/13/09
Karlene! You did an EXCELLENT job! True and honest writing. I like it very much.