Harvey Morse sat in my kitchen, a pan in each hand, smacking them together as hard as his small body could. It produced a dreadful noise, but, for a five-year-old such as myself, the sound was intriguing. I remember crawling over to the ebony-skinned boy, whose mop of curls and wide eyes gave him an innocent look. He looked at least two years younger than I, but age doesn’t really matter when you’re five.
We played simple games and had simple conversations, and I soon came to enjoy his presence more than that of others. We became virtually inseparable, despite differences in age, gender, and race. His mother was our maid, and would remain our maid for the next twelve years. Which meant that Harvey would be by my side for the next twelve years, since he was our houseboy.
My stomach was relentless when it came to food. If I was slightly hungry, it would rumble and roar like a beast until it got its way. I got up and went downstairs to the kitchen where Iva had prepared a feast of her delicious grits, eggs, and bacon.
After gobbling down the food, Iva asked me if I would pick up some extra flour and sugar which she had forgotten she needed for my mother’s luncheon.
“Take Harvey with you to carry the bags,” instructed Iva.
“Of course,” I said. “Let me get changed, and I’ll be down in a moment.”
I slipped into one of my nicer dresses, the blue one with the floppy bow. I grabbed a purse, and walked downstairs.
Harvey and I left, and quickly made our way to the center of the town. We stopped by the Piggly Wiggly and picked up Iva’s groceries. We made small talk and Harvey cracked a few good jokes. He could always make me laugh.
“Anna,” Harvey said, “Have you seen ‘em?”
“Seen what?” I responded
“The alley to your right,” he said nervously, fidgeting with the bags he was carrying.
A few boys stood in the entrance to the alleyway, the dirt on their pale skin serving as camouflage. One had a grey stone in his hand, which he tossed up and caught every so often. They stared at Harvey and I with repulsed looks on their faces.
“Anna-,” Harvey started, but I cut him off.
“It’s fine. Let them be disgusted. They aren’t bothering us, right?”
“I guess, but if one of ‘em makes a move, we run, ok?” said Harvey.
“’Course,” I grinned.
The filthy children remained where they were, and once we were safely out of town, we began laughing and running, grateful to be alone once more.
“Anna,” Harvey said once we had dropped off the groceries at my house, “Oak?”
I nodded slightly and pursed my lips in an effort to conceal my grin. Harvey and I had spent our youth sneaking away to the large oak tree nestled in the woods behind my house, where we would converse for hours on end.
“I’ll be waiting.” he mouthed, a smile playing on his lips.
We both went about our daily duties. I sewed and performed other such chores, while Harvey and his mother cleaned and cooked. Finally the time came for him to go home, and he left my house with his mother, saying not a word to me.
I set out once the sun had almost sunken beneath the horizon. The destination wasn’t far, and I made it there in good time.
What stood before me was a massive oak, dead since last winter, towering well over my head. The branches twisted out like deformed limbs, stripped of leaves and color. On one of the lower branches sat Harvey, his head resting against the trunk, his eyes closed. His chest rose and fell with each breath, and his eyelids fluttered open every so often. The sun’s fading light made his dark skin glow, and I wanted nothing more than to join him in the massive oak.
I reached out and grasped one of the mangled branches, then pulled myself up into the tree, careful to avoid tearing my skirt. Sitting up in the dead oak, I felt at ease. I could watch over the entire forest without being noticed. The fading sunlight made everything glow with a crimson hue, as if on fire. I rested my head against a branch, and sat there for some time, admiring the fiery forest. Behind me, Harvey let out a sigh.
“Anna,” he breathed, “How long’ve you been here?”
“No more than a minute,” I lied.
“Hey, what--” I began, but Harvey quickly shushed me.
“Hush,” he whispered. “There’s someone behind that tree.”
I turned around to see a boy, covered in filth, standing partially hidden behind the trunk of a skimpy-looking tree. He held a grey stone in his hand, which he tossed up every now and then.
“It’s fine, Harvey. I’m sure it’s just some nosy kid.” The boy’s face looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t remember where I’d seen him from.
As soon as the grime-covered boy noticed us looking at him, he scampered away and out of the forest.
Harvey’s brows were furrowed and his lips pursed, but eventually his expression lightened and he agreed. “Right,” he said, “I’m sure it’s fine. Anyways, we might as well get down from here, since it’s gettin’ so late.”
I nodded, and we both climbed out of the tree.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” said Harvey.
“Yeah,” I responded, and left without looking back.
They arrived just past midnight. They stood outside our home, in their billowing white robes, like ghosts haunting a graveyard.
I awoke to the wails of my Mother, whose shrieks tore through the night like bullets through flesh. I threw off my blankets and rushed down the stairs, only to be stopped dead by the sight of my Mother.
“Mama!” I yelled. “Mama, what’s wrong?”
She had been crying, hard. Her face was completely stripped of makeup, and her body shook with each breath. “N-nothing, love.” she responded shakily. “J-just go back to bed.”
I gave Mama a concerned look, then turned towards the stairs. I glanced at Mama one last time, and that was when I noticed it. The room was bathed in a scarlet light that shone in through the window. Curiously, I peered through the glass, and was taken aback by the sight.
Crimson flames danced across the grass, and climbed up what appeared to be a large, half-burnt cross. They stretched high into the night sky, gasping for oxygen.
“Oh God,” I muttered. I sat down where I was, and let it sink in. The Klan was burning a cross. On my lawn.
The fear hit me, hard. I couldn’t gather my thoughts, and I began to panic. I tugged on my nightgown, and started breathing quickly. Large, fat tears well up in my eyes and spilled over, plopping rhythmically onto my gown.
Suddenly, my Father’s hand was on my shoulder. He pulled me up with tremendous strength, and set me on my feet.
“Papa, I, oh God, what-“ I began, but he quickly hushed me.
“It’s alright, Anna. It’s going to be fine,” he sighed. “Now go to bed, and it will be all over by morning.”
Mama came up from behind me and wrapped her arms around my chest, squeezing me tight. “It’s going to be just fine, love. You’ll be ok, and we’ll pull through this.”
I sniffled in agreement, then brushed the tears out of my eyes with the back of my hand.
Sleep didn’t come easily that night. I laid in my bed, attempting to stifle my muffled sobs with a blanket. By the time I drifted to sleep, the sun had already risen to begin the next day.
My parents never bothered to wake me, so I slept till late in the afternoon. When I woke up, I could tell something wasn’t right.
I got out of bed and entered the kitchen without changing from my nightgown. Harvey’s Mother was standing in the kitchen, meticulously scrubbing a grimy pot.
“Harvey didn’t come home last night,” she said. “I’m sure he’s fine, but it’s not like him to miss supper or work. Anna, have you seen him today?”
“No…” I responded, pausing to think about all the places he could be. “Are you sure he didn’t just come home late and left early to run errands?”
“I’ll be right back,” I said abruptly. I turned around and sprinted, hard. I ran, my small arms pumping as fast as they could, my short legs working to the best of their ability. I arrived at the dead oak in record time.
My eyes grew, rapidly widening in response to the horror that played out before me. My jaw did not drop, I did not tear up, but I stood there, in utter shock and disbelief. My chest tightened and air would not enter my lungs. Gasping for breath, I squeezed my eyes shut as hard as I could, hoping that when I opened them he would be gone.
But he was still there.
He hung from the lowest branch of the tree, his face as contorted and twisted and horrible as the branches of the tree itself. His limp body swung in the wind like a pendulum, mesmerizing and terrible. His glowing ebony skin had turned dull and bluish, his eyes bulged inhumanely, and I understood.