The soft, dry dirt sinks between Jean Lafontaine’s toes as he walks through the thick woods. His cotton pajama pants are soiled at the cuffs as he tries to keep pace with Lilly. He stumbles over a branch as she pulls him towards her destination. He throws out his free hand, grabbing a tree to steady himself.
“Lilly, wait,” he pants. “Where are you taking me?”
Lilly looks back over her shoulder revealing her plump lips which have formed a smile. Her golden brown skin shimmers in the slivers of moonlight that have found their way through the dark forest. Jean catches a glimpse of her face and feels a carnal impulse to be with her. His eyes scan the silhouette of her hips and thighs causing a surge of excitement throughout his body. He desires to feel her skin pressed against his. He wants to take her here on the bed of leaves and branches.
Suddenly he is stricken with intense guilt. This is the same feeling that many other men have had for Lilly. He releases her hand and stands in shame, watching her as she skips off into the darkness.
“C’mon Missta Jean. This’ a way. We gotta hurry ‘fore it’s too late,” she shouts from the darkness.
Jean loses sight of Lilly, but he can sense her presence as he makes his way out of the woods and onto the road. He is immediately taken aback by the beauty of the moon. He stares at it, not looking up as one would normally do, but straight ahead as though it is on the earth and he can reach it if he just traveled up the road.
“Hurry Missta Jean, What’ya doin’ ova’ dere?”
Jean begins running fast in the direction of her voice. He sees a house in the near distance, pitch black from within. As he passes the house, he sees Lilly standing beside a leafless tree. He slows his pace as he notices something hanging from the thickest branch.
Jean watches the faceless man gag as the noose tightens around his neck. The victim struggles, kicking his feet fervently, while clawing at the rope around his neck. With an abrupt jerk, his body tenses then immediately relaxes, the fight is over. Jean approaches, trying to identify the lifeless body swinging from the withered tree.
“Lilly, who is that,” he asks from behind her.
“Can’t ya see Missta Jean,” she asks, turning to face him.
He shouts in fear as he sees the rotted face of the once beautiful Lilly. Her plump lips have long since decomposed, exposing her broken teeth. The leathery, decayed flesh hangs loosely from her skull and only one of her eyes remain.
Gunshots abruptly interrupt his dream merging this world with reality.
His barking hounds and an auburn glow illuminating the bedroom walls send Jean rushing to the window. He sees his plantation engulfed in flames.
“Stay here”, he shouts to Antoinette, his wife, who has jumped out of bed and crossed to the window.
Jean rushes from the room, running down the hall to the main stairway.
He passes his house slave, Charles, who looks puzzled.
“Missta Jean, wha’s happened?”
Jean responds with a confused look as he descends the stairs.
Reaching the back porch Jean sees his sugar mill as well as the slave quarters on fire. He stumbles down the steps in disbelief at seeing hooded figures igniting the sugar fields as others fire shots at the buildings of the slave quarters. He realizes that the men are shooting his slaves as they try to escape their burning homes. This revelation sends Jean running toward the violent scene. The screams from within the buildings force Jean to run faster, his long strides covering the sizable distance in seconds. As he nears, he runs past the corpses of his faithful dogs, shot down by the marauders.
“Stop,” shouts Jean, as the men target one slave in particular. He recognizes William Henry, rushing from the flames toward the perpetrators. There is rage in his eyes and he seems determined to reach the armed men. He is shot several times before his dark, massive frame falls to the ground.
Jean pleads with the men to stop their raid, but he is ignored. He approaches one of the men who seem to be observing the scene as it unfolds.
“Why are you doing this? Please… make them stop,” pleads Jean.
The hooded man tries to walk away from Jean, but the landowner is persistent in his supplication.
The men who just shot William Henry are standing over his body cheering. This sends Jean into a rage. He runs over to where they are and tackles one of them. He collides with the man with such force that he becomes dizzy as he tries to roll over and stand up. The anonymous man gets to his feet and turns on Jean, landing a stiff fist to his stomach. One of the other bandits rushes over and delivers a blow that sends Jean’s world swirling upside down, leaving him unconscious.
Undeterred by Jean's attempt to rescue his workers, the hooded men continue their assault on the slave quarters. They keep guard while the fires burn wildly, making sure no more slaves escape.
The men stand in shock as the screams cease and the slaves begin singing a spiritual hymn, which can be heard rising from the flames. Slowly, the hooded men begin to leave, content, yet baffled by the slave’s reaction. Antoinette bolts across the field to where her husband lies motionless.
Moments later Pierre, Jean’s oldest son arrives home to find his mother bent over his father, weeping uncontrollably. Antoinette looks up to see her son standing in shock.
“Pierre,” she shouts over the crackling of the flames, “Go and get help!”
Jean wakes up the next day to the sight of his friend, Dr. Lucas Delacrois, a well respected doctor from France, sitting at his bedside. Jean Lafontaine is a dark haired, thin, and wealthy sugar cane plantation owner. A doctor himself, Jean has won over the hearts of many of the citizens in this part of Louisiana. He is in pain and realizes that his head has been wrapped. He struggles to sit up and the Doctor rises as well, and with a thick French accent he says,
“You should take it easy Jean, you had a rough night.”
Jean gives him a curious look and the Doctor realizes that he doesn’t understand what he is talking about. Delacrois sits back down and says to Jean,
“Last night your plantation was destroyed.”
At hearing this Jean climbs out of bed, ignoring the Doctor’s pleas for him to stay put. He heads out of the bedroom and down the hall to the stairway. The older man hurries to help his friend down the steps. On the first floor Jean sees his family gathered around the dining room table. Pierre is sitting next to Antoinette with his hands clasped around hers. Lucas Delacrois’ only son, Gabriel sits on the other side of Pierre. He sits staring at his lap, his glasses sitting halfway down the bridge of his nose. There is a general air of sorrow in the room. René rises and moves toward him, but Jean motions his taller, distinguished looking brother, away with his hand. Antoinette stands and walks over to console her husband.
Walking towards the back window, Jean sees the devastation of the night’s events. His plantation is in ruin. The sugar refinery is now a heap of charred wood. The smoke still lingers in the air and the ash smolders on the ground. The barn remains intact, but Jean realizes that something is missing. He peers further into the distance and sees the scorched remains of the slave quarters. Not even the skeletons of the structures remain. He turns and asks,
“Where are the slaves?”
“They are dead Jean,” Antoinette says softly, rubbing his back, “They are all dead.”
She joins him on the porch, wrapping her arms around him, calming the storm that is brewing inside of him. Everything is gone. So many lives lost, and the entire plantation ruined. These thoughts run through Jean’s head while standing on the back porch. Breathing in the cool morning air that is a mixture of burnt wood and flesh, tears begin to wet his cheeks.