“Alayna, what happened to mommy?”
“Well… after she had you, she got a little sick and had to go away,” replied Jeremy’s older sister, “Right now she’s in a beautiful place known as heaven.”
“Alayna, did I make her sick? Did I hurt her?”
“No Jeremy, of course not. She got sick by herself, and it was no one’s fault. You didn’t do anything to hurt her. Don’t worry, get back to work,” Kanderfeld chimes in.
A cool, fresh breeze is all the kids need on the cotton farm. The summer days grow humid, and the 84 degrees isn’t in their favor. Alayna can feel her skin burning and crumbling as she drags her hand down her arm. Kander’s tomato colored face is giving him the same stinging, peeling sensation as the previous days, but twice as painful. Jeremy is spending his time trying to shade his innocent skin from the treacherous sun blazing down on him. Hiding between plants and putting his oversized, yellow shirt over his head aren’t working out. Thankfully, as the evening draws near, the sun begins to set, and breezes begin whirling.
Alayna, at the age of 13, is the oldest of the three. She has long, curly, brown hair, hazel eyes, and silky, dark skin. One of her greatest perks is the talent of reading people’s emotions. Her main goal is keeping herself and brothers hopeful, that someday, somehow, they just might have the chance to reach a normal life. She knows that she’s been through far too much, and witnessed too much pain, to lose hope. The only thing keeping her going is her little siblings. Kander is the middle child, sitting at 9 years old. Reading is the only hobby he has, and he always seems to be down in the dumps. The thoughts that go through his mind are never positive, and he thinks that there’s no way he’ll ever get a normal life. Jeremy, on the other hand, is the four year old with no clue what’s going on. He thinks that his mom got sick so he and his siblings had to go live with family friends for awhile, working on their cotton farm in Blue Ridge, GA, until she gets better. The thing is, she won’t be coming back.
The boy’s mother became ill after having Jeremy. While in the hospital, she grew weak. Visitors were rarely on the schedule for her, due to the highly contagious disease she carried. The stench on her body was horrific and her black hair was knotted up like a ball of yarn. Far too weak to take a shower, she died after a few days.
Kander and Alayna had a different mom who was also sick and died. The kids were told to make Jeremy believe they were siblings to eliminate further questioning from the boy. Afterall, they’ve spent the majority of their lives together, so it seems to them that they actually are related.
The family housing the slaves is cruel. Mr. and Mrs. Boyle don’t have any children and torment the kids they own. They love the thought of owning people and having complete control over them. Mr. B chose to take his mother’s slaves. She offered them to him after deciding she didn’t like the whole idea anymore. No payments had to be made for schooling, and the children only got three outfits; a work outfit for the fields, pajamas, and a church outfit. Mrs. Chesterman, Mrs. B’s mother, is living with her daughter and son in law. She’s been living with them since her husband died, and before they had slaves. She completely disagrees with the concept of having slaves, and she hates how Alayna, Kander, and Jeremy are being treated. Mrs. Chesterman hasn’t spoken out about her thoughts to her daughter, because she’s afraid they might kick her out.
“How much longer? I’m thirsty,” asked Jeremy.
“Just a little while, okay? Hang in there buddy,” encouraged Alayna.
The Boyles have a rule for their slaves. At the end of the day, once the sun has set, if they think that they’ve picked enough cotton, the kids can come to the house. They must knock on the door in the pattern of three quick, two long, three quick, two long. Mr. or Mrs. Boyle will come to the door and then go with the children to where they picked that day. If the adult is pleased with their work, he/she will let them sleep inside. If not, they’ll have to finish the amount asked of them, and they’ll be forced to sleep outside.
Exhausted and dehydrated, Alayna decides they’re finished for the day, so they head to the house and knock using the pattern. Three quick, two long, three quick, two long. The dark, wooden double doors creak open, and standing there is Mrs. Boyle, tall, thin, and hideous. Her grey eyes threaten the children with a single glance. Her hair is the matching shade of grey and is all out of whack, looking like it was burned to the tips of every strand.
“Well, what are you doing? Don’t just stand there!”
“Right, sorry. We’ll lead you to our spot for today,” Alayna gestured, frightened that she’d get slapped.
When they reached the place picked from, Mrs. Boyle seemed unpleased. She slowly walked around, examining the area, her face gaining anger by the second.
“Is this it? You have got to be kidding! You fools spend the entire day out here and this is all you’ve done? And you had the nerve to waste my time and say you were finished?” Mrs. Boyle screamed in bitter rage.
All three slaves were trembling at this point, with little Jeremy hiding behind his sister’s leg.
“I-I-I’m so sorry Mrs. Boyle. We’ll picked some more right away and then come get you when we know we’re done” exclaimed Kander in pure desperation.
“SOME more?! You best be doing the whole field after making me deal with this! You’ll be spending the night outside so it’ll give you plenty of time!” Yelled the woman, starting to march away.
“Alayna, is she serious? Do we have to pick the whole field?” worried Jeremy.
“No sweetie, of course not. She’s just a little mad with us right now. Let’s start picking so we can eat some dinner, okay?” reassured big sis.
“No need to worry about that, you won’t be getting any dinner tonight! Don’t bother coming back to the house until morning,” shouted Mrs. B with a small amount of enjoyment in her voice.
Mrs. Chesterman was taking a walk and overheard the whole situation. Her walks always occur when the children's spot gets checked. She knows that her daughter can be harsh, so, when the kids have to sleep outside, she sneaks them blankets and a snack.
The elderly woman was appalled to hear that Alayna, Kander, and Jeremy wouldn’t be getting dinner. Tonight, she won’t only be sneaking blankets, but also an entire meal for each of them.
She headed for the house to get the items needed for the children. First, Mrs. Chesterman chose three blankets. She grabbed a large purple blanket with black embroidery for Alayna. Next, she picks out a beautiful red and orange overlay with a vibrant, yellow sun glowing in the middle. Lastly, for Jeremy, she takes a small, extra fuzzy blanket. It has a royal blue background with a deep red border and a green spiral at the center. Mrs. C knows that Alayna and Kander don’t care much about what blanket they get, but she selects the perfect blankie for Jeremy, that she knows he’ll enjoy.
Though they didn’t want to sleep outside in the cold, the youngsters were happy to find out that they’d still get their dinner. While eating, Alayna kept and eye and ear on guard for the Boyles and for wild animals. Either one could cause a disaster. Luckily, they finished the orange chicken leftovers given to them from Mrs. C’s birthday dinner with her friends, with no trouble.
When all the food was in their stomachs, Alayna told her brothers to get to sleep. She continued to pick cotton for about ten minutes before joining them. She laid down on the cold, rocky soil. The blankets only helped give her warmth on her top side, and her underside was completely exposed to the ground. This night’s rest wasn’t going to be comfortable with the unlevel surface below them. Jeremy didn’t seem to mind, though. He was out like a light.
“This is so stupid. I hate our life,” Kander told Alayna.
“Me too, but we have to stay strong. When we get older, we can run away and get jobs and at least come close to normal. If we can make it through to then, we’ll be set for life,” replied the girl.
“No, I’m sorry. I just can’t do this anymore, Alayna,” Kander sat up and quickly rose to his feet, “I’m getting out of here. Don’t know where I’m going, but anywhere will be better than here.”
“Kanderfeld, you can’t! You won’t make it out in the world alone, and if you get caught, the punishment will be tremendous!”
“We won’t get caught. They won’t find out we’re gone until morning, and at that point we’ll be long gone.”
“I can’t stop you, but I can’t go with you. Jeremy needs to stay here so he can get fed and have shelter. I’ll make sure we’re never in this situation again,” Alayna told her brother, “I don’t want you to go, but if you do I can tell Mr. and Mrs. Boyle that you must’ve left in the middle of the night. I’ll tell her I don’t know anything,” Alayna told her brother. She knew by the look on his face. That look said he wasn’t backing down, no matter what she said.
“Okay, good. I’m sorry, I just can’t live like this. In a few years, when Jeremy’s old enough, you can run away too. Then we can live together until we get our lives figured out.”
“Bye Kanderfeld. I’m going to miss you. Please stay as safe as possible,” Kander’s sister starts tearing up.
“Goodbye, Layna. I’ll miss you too,” he says, putting his blanket over the youngest of the three, to give him extra warmth.
There’s only one way off the Boyle’s property. The driveway. Kander sprints toward the house, alongside the rows and rows of fresh, white cotton, ready to be picked in the morning. The gusts of wind as he races by causes the plants to rustle in the moonlight. He tries to keep from making sound, but he desperately wants to escape.
Finally, the boy reaches the stone pathway connecting the Boyle home to the rest of the world. He stops for a moment to evaluate the situation, then proceeds to jog along the treeline parallel to the driveway. This time, being as careful as possible not to conduct noise, Kander feels the sharp pines stab his burnt neck.
Feeling as if he’s getting poked a million times by a bunch of tiny knives, the boy reaches the edge of the yard and steps onto public land for the first time since before he can remember. Puzzled at which way to go, he settles his mind and goes to the left. Eventually, he reaches town. Wow, he thought, I’ve done it. I’ve escaped without getting caught...yet.
Soon enough, the bright sun shows up, creating beautiful blue and pink, cotton candy-looking effect on the sky. Alayna and Jeremy wake up and immediately hide their blankets in the woods for Mrs. C to take, then start picking cotton again. Of course, Mrs. Boyle comes to check what the three slaves managed to do overnight, but instead finds only two of them.
“WHERE’S THE OTHER KID?!”
“I don’t know, Mrs. Boyle. I went to sleep and he was here, but when I woke up, he’d vanished,” declared Alayna, once again having Jeremy hidden behind her legs.
Amazingly, the old, cranky woman stomped off without any interrogation, whatsoever. For some odd reason, she seemed to genuinely believe that Alayna knew nothing about Kander’s disappearance. But really, there was something else going on.
An hour later, Mrs. Boyle came out and got the kids. Walking back to the house, Alayna noticed the perplexed face that the woman couldn’t help making.The expression thrown across her face caused fear to the eldest child.
Back at the house, Jeremy and his sister are told to sit down on the couch, something they’ve never been allowed to do. Mrs. Chesterman, Mr. and Mrs. Boyle, and another woman around the age of Mrs. C gather around the two of them. The unknown woman speaks first.
“Hello, Alayna and Jeremy. My name is Margaret Boyle. I’m Calvin’s mother,” she says, gesturing toward Mr. Boyle. The kids never knew his first name because Mrs. B said it was an ‘invasion of privacy’.
“Yes. Not only is she my mother, but she is also the woman that originally purchased you.”
“Purchased?” asked Jeremy, puzzled.
Mrs. Chesterman chimed in at this point and explained to the boy that his mom died and that he’s a slave. Though it didn’t help much, Jeremy had a miniscule understanding of it now.
“So you bought us to work for you?”
“Yes, but after a few months, I came to my senses. I didn’t know what to do, so I just sent you to my son here,” explained Mr. Boyle’s mother, though it didn’t make her seem like any better of a person.
Knock knock knock.
Mrs. Boyle went to the door, not knowing who it’d be. Afoot from the frame, the 9 year old boy who had run away the night before stood in the doorway.
“Kander!” Jeremy yelled, “You came back!”
“Yes sir, I did! As soon as I reached town, I knew I’d never survive on my own.. So here I am.”
The news Kander was informed with brought confusement until the adults continued the story to all three of them.
“Last week, I contacted Margaret and told her how these people have been treating you. After last night, I’d had enough. I called Margaret, yet again, and summarized what happened,” Mrs. Chesterman told the children.
“Hearing the news of what you had to go through, I made the decision to drive all the way here to get you back. You see, you’re still technically mine, so my son and his wife have agreed, without having much choice, to hand you back over to me. We can go back to my house and live together like a normal family.”
“Really? Yay!” exclaimed the four year old.
“So, when do we leave?”