By Bethany Janes (Sun Valley High School)
December 21, 1864
I kept my pace and my focus. My eyes burned a hole in the door’s wood. With everything else around me gone blurry, I could see the spotlight on it. In the background, I could hear my friend, Candace, calling my name, but my attention was elsewhere. My eyes were set like statues. I tripped over several branches and rocks, but it was the breeze of Candace’s breath that shot down my neck that brought me back to reality. Every few minutes I’d nod to whatever she was saying, but I was caught up in my thoughts the rest of the way home. What it was about the door, I didn’t know, but I longed to investigate what lies beneath.
I lay awake hours into the night staring at the ceiling. I pulled the quilt over me and caressed it, feeling its softness. A mental picture of that door projected above when I closed my eyes. I tried to picture what was behind it, but the door wouldn’t move. I opened my eyes when frustration hit me. My curiosity overrode my fear and I forced myself out of bed. Wrapping myself in the quilt, I made my way into the woods.
As my eyes adjusted, I scanned the houses on the perimeter of the woods. I could faintly see a small chimney on top of a house and watched a puff of its smoke join the sky. In the distance, I could see the door waiting for me. I tightened my grip on the quilt and embraced its warmth for a moment before approaching the door. The suspense followed me to it. I put my hand on the door, and pulled just hard enough to make the hinges creak and the door open a crack. It was just enough to poke my head inside.
It was pitch black.
Knowing that I was a moment away from discovering what lies beneath sent a chill down my back. I stepped inside.
I looked around but couldn’t see anything. My slippers were planted in the ground. I stood in silence wishing I had a lantern. The silence scared me, until the sudden sound of footsteps hit my ears. The realization that I wasn’t alone scared me more. The sounds were getting closer and closer. The footsteps got louder as I ran toward the door tripping over everything in my path, losing a slipper and dropping my quilt in the rush. I wasn’t worried about my things, I was more worried about getting out of the woods. I made it home before my mom noticed I was missing. I kicked off my slipper and put myself to bed.
December 22, 1864
This morning, Candace knocked up for me to come outside. Although the cuts and bruises on my legs disagreed, I wanted to go back to the woods for my things. Weaving through trees, I walked past her in silence, right to the door. I stood before the wooden door once again, running my eyes along its hinges and trying not to let its size overwhelm me. I studied it until I spotted my quilt. It was hung up like a flag on one of the trees next to the door.
“Kyra? What are you doing?” I stood silently and stared up at my quilt’s patches. Candace saw what I was looking at, climbed onto a tree stump, stood on her toes, and took the quilt down.
“Look, now we have matching blankets.” She held it out then smiled. Without warning, the door swung open in the blink of an eye. Candace went in first, then I followed. It was dim, but we could clearly see several Negro families gathered around the dirt floor. They were as startled as Candace and me. The only thing I could think to say was “hi …”
“Where did you get that quilt?”
“Who are you?”
“Who are you?”
A small boy stepped closer to me. I looked over at Candace who was now biting her nails. I could tell she had given up on trying to figure out what was going on.
“Why have you come?”
“I-I don’t know. What is this place?”
Some of the mothers looked relieved that I didn’t know. The boy’s mother yanked him back by his frail arm.
“Are we safe at last? Has Abraham taken care of our owners’?”
“Mr. Lincoln? Has he announced anything of our situations?”
I looked at Candace, she shrugged and scrunched her eyebrows.
The child gave his father a look. It was as if we were speaking different languages. I watched a man spark a fire behind the boy questioning me.
“Can I have my quilt?”
“your quilt?!” yelled a woman sitting by the fire as the light brightened the underside of her chin. “I sewed that with my two hands.” Part of me wanted to take my quilt and leave, but the other part wanted to stay and make sense of what these people were saying. The man looked up from the fire and begged me not to tell ‘my people’ what I’ve seen.