Sadie took a branch from the fire and held it over her head. The words she spoke were loud, echoing, and harsh. The sisters flinched at the noise, but Paula noticed that Sadie was not done. The witch thrust the stick into the river and steam rose from it, as if the water was boiling. Sadie withdrew the stick and fog issued from the river like blood from a wound. The fog boiled out, thicker, heavier, and Paula saw there were many places in the river now, all of them getting more and more dense.
“I have asked for help,” Sadie whispered, “there are answers to my call.”
The fog totally enveloped the river, and the land surrounding the bank. Neither the sisters nor Paula could see anything.
“Come, it is safe to travel in this now,” Sadie said, and from the stick a low light appeared, glowing red like a coal. The cat lead the way, and the dog followed.
“We’re walking on the river?” Paula asked, and immediately wished she had not spoken.
“The river is carrying us,” Sadie replied. “Do not speak to anyone you see! Do not answer any voice! Do not cringe from any act that is shown!”
They heard screams, of men and of women, and they heard children crying. A man splashed through the water, his eyes wide, his face contorted, but something dragged him back to the bank. There were the sounds of people singing, Gospel music, and they saw the glow of a fire, and a body hanging from a tree near it, they saw a bridge, and watched as a body fell from the bridge but there was no sound of it hitting the water.
“Look!” whispered Bella, “under the water! I see people down there!”
And indeed, when they looked down under their feet they saw a crowd of people, unrecognizable, faceless, blurry, yet still human, as if the people were just a few feet underneath where they stood.
“Those are the lost ones. The souls who refuse to rest. Murdered, abandoned, wronged in their own lives, they seek not revenge, no, why would they do that? They seek to ease your passage, and prevent more wrong. They seek to thwart evil. Will our quest be enough? Will your lives, if saved, offer them solace? Do not ask! Speak no more!”
The fog roiled and swirled in front of them but total blackness followed. Sadie cried aloud, strong and powerful words, and there were many answers from either side of the river, now totally hidden from view. The sisters clasped hands and closed their eyes, and when they opened them again, the fog was totally gone.
There were lights, city lights, and there was the smell of salt air. Sadie was gone, as was the river, and the sounds, and the fog. Instead, a young man stood in front of them.
“Welcome to Africatown,” the man said.
“We’re in Africa?” Paula asked.
“No, Mobile Alabama,” the man replied, “you were brought here by many who deemed your lives worthy of saving, for those who oppose you are very evil. It is here that the last slaves to be brought to America settled, and have lived for many generations. But you cannot stay. There is a truck waiting. From here you will be taken to New Orleans. Those who have pursued you now realize they have underestimated, uh, the situation. That mistake will not be granted to you again. You must hurry. At this point, you are far ahead, but there is no guarantee that you will gain the shores of the Mississippi before you are caught.”
The man led them to a truck, old and dilapidated, and helped them get into the back. He pulled a tarp over the back of the truck and tied it down. “There is food and water aplenty,” he told them, “your next stop will be in one hour, after you are safely on the road. After that, there will be little time for rest. Bella pulled the tarp back in time to see the first ray of sunlight come through the clouds, and the man disappeared with the light.
“Mary Turner was black, the man who helped up onto the truck was black, do all black people become ghosts or something?” Bella asked.
“No, Bella,” Paula replied, “those who have died in the cause of injustice may or may not linger. Mostly, those who are treated harshly by those around them are the young, the old, and the poor. The poor are mistreated for most of their lives, and many suffer in silence, and most of those leave this realm as soon as they can. But the voices from the shores of the river, those under the water who carried us, mostly they are the very poor who have lived in this land, and who were abused by those with more power. The last slaves of Mobile clearly heard of us, and reached out to bring us here. Mary might have spoken for us, or they might have had reasons we cannot know yet. But the forces that follow us are powerful, and it is usually the very poor, and the very weakest, who will give the most of what they have to save strangers, while those with power, and those with much, horde their wealth, and will punish any who stray near it. It has always been so, as long as there is money, there will be greed. There will always be someone with the power to hurt others, and they will.”
They rode in silence until the truck stopped and they were allowed to walk around a bit, and stretch their legs. Their driver did not speak to them but as they stood watching, he disappeared as if he were made of smoke. Paula got into the cab of the truck then called out.
“Can either of you drive a stick shift?” Paula asked.
“No,” replied Bella.
“A what?” Ana asked.