Burning Crosses

I don’t want any trouble,” I hear Daddy say. “But I’ll be damned before I let y’all hurt my family!” 

My father is the bravest soul I know and I’m the biggest coward. He’s 55 years old and not even a lynch mob can deter him from protecting his wife and three children. I’m 18 years old and shaking in my boots. Around midnight, a crowd of white folk came to the house carrying rifles and torches. Momma woke me and my twin sisters and told us to get down on the floor. Daddy was already dressed in his overalls and loading a couple of rifles of his own. He hands me one gun and keeps the other for himself. 

“You’re the man of the house now,” Daddy said. “Defend it!” He clutches his rifle, dons his father’s old fedora and bolts out the front door. He is greeted with a chorus of racial slurs and blasphemous insults. Momma starts crying, hugs my two younger sisters and moves away from the window. I assume her position.

“Hurt your family?” someone in the mob yells back at my father. “Mud people can’t have families. It’s a sin. It’s against God’s law! You bear the mark of Cain. You have no souls. You’re the offspring of Satan. You sodomized Noah! As a white man, it’s my Christian duty to destroy any abomination you call a family!”

Dad shoots the heckler and in turn, is shot himself; tackled to the ground and separated from his rifle. I charge out of the door to protect my father. But I find myself staring down the barrel of a gun instead. It’s Reverend Haney. Haney is the pastor of the Southern Baptist church and pillar of the community. He is widely regarded as the voice of reason by black and white folks alike. But I know the truth.

This man of God only has a smile for my momma and two sisters and a frown for my Daddy and me. He has been waiting patiently on our porch for practically my entire lifetime and I just walked right into his trap. He knew I was coming. The others in the mob knew it too. This is all routine for them but a fork in the road for me. 

“Now you just mosey on back in the house,” Haney cocks the trigger while the crowd drags my beloved father away into the night. “This will all be over soon. Pay no mind to all that mud people talk. God loves Negroes too. The locals here just needed a narrative to quiet their guilty conscience. I know y’all are flesh and blood just like everybody else. But your daddy is too big – too strong -- too black! He’s intimidating to the white folk around here. So I have to eliminate him. After he’s gone, I’ll make it up to your mammy and them pretty gals. And I’ll make it up to you too. All you need to do is repent your sins and turn your life over to Jesus” 

His metaphor sends a chill up my spine. Those sins that Haney is talking about are my pride, dignity and self respect. Haney is asking me to sacrifice my soul. And not just my soul, but Haney wants the collective souls of the entire black community. My daddy is just as respected by the black people in this town as Haney is by the whites. He’s our representative. Bondage for this household, then, means bondage for all of us. Abraham Lincoln may have freed our bodies. But Reverend Haney is trying to shackle our souls. Daddy declared me a man. Haney is trying to emasculate me.

Reluctantly, I shuffle back inside, shut the door and fall to my knees. I pray for a divine intervention that I know is never coming. I pray for a mortal intervention that isn’t coming either. Finally, I just pray for me. Haney is offering us protection from lynchings. But that is all. White folk would still spit, kick and assault us whenever they felt like it and we would be contractually bound to endure it. Meanwhile, the greatest father in the world is making the greatest sacrifice and all I can do is cower behind this door. Trembling, I somehow manage to rise to my feet. My knees buckle as I take a stand. Images of my father steady my posture. Beads of perspiration baptize me into a man. It won’t be easy. I will almost certainly die. But my answer is no. My father is mine and you can’t kill him. My soul is mine and you can’t kill that either.

BOOM! The front door comes crashing down off the hinges. A bruised and bloodied Reverend Haney passed out on top. Then I see him in the doorway. His arm is still bleeding from the bullet wound and a noose dangles haphazardly around his neck. His face is full of soot and grandpa’s old fedora is still on his head. But somehow miraculously, the old man is still alive. 

“Daddy!” Me and my twin sisters shout in unison. Momma swoons like a school girl.

“Good job stalling, son.” 

“Stalling?” My voice is still cracking from fear. “But Dad, the lynch mob…” 

“See for yourself,” Daddy gestures for me to go outside. I’m nervous but stepping out on faith. My two sisters are holding my left hand and my mother is on my right. The fresh air we normally breathe now reeks of fire and brimstone. The four of us stand there marveling at the sight. Decapitated heads and severed limbs litter the terrain while a fiery pentagram forms a hedge around the house. A battle has been waged outside and the lynch mob totally lost. “I had a little contract negotiation of my own.”

“Reverend Haney is still alive,” Momma screams. The lanky old pervert finally manages to stand up. He doesn’t look so tall anymore. But he’s just as venomous as before. 

“I had a mob of over a hundred people. How did you defeat them? Haney searches for an answer. 

“I’m an abomination, remember? I bear the mark of Cain. I don’t have a soul. I’m the spawn of Satan. So I definitely found a way,” Daddy says. “He’s in here, boys!” 

The clip-clop of hooves crescendo until two demons appear in the house. They seize Haney kicking and screaming and drag his body out. Daddy kisses Momma and the girls and then he turns to me. He sets his old fedora on my head and then he leaves. My Daddy is the bravest soul I know and I am no longer a coward. I am forever inspired by that old man who damned his own soul just to save ours…

The End

This story was submitted by J. Kelley, a ten year resident of Houston, Texas. He can be found on Twitter @Doctor_Hue

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