Buried Where We Stand

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic

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When God handed down judgement with a Winchester rifle...
and the historical secret of a community in post Civil War Georgia.
A secret that is still kept today.

Buried Where We Stand

by SannaBlue Baker

 

The Reverend Josiah Tallman stood by the cracked, church window of the historic landmark, and looked outside.  He squinted his eyes to make out where the parishioners were gathering around the tables on the ground. He relished his time in the old church building, because he only came here one day a year now, to meditate and pray. He put his large hand against the window frame and  shifted his weight off his bad, right knee.

 

Outside was a flurry of activity. The ladies on the ‘Tallman Day Celebration’ Committee, were instructing several of the menfolk where they wanted each table placed in an area beneath the huge oak tree. Other ladies, of the church, were taking white tablecloths and covering each table, once it was in the right position.

 

Scores of church members were coming down a path, leading from the entrance of the church property, back to the tables where the dining area was being assembled. Each person, walking, was carrying different sizes of cardboard boxes, packed full, of a different assortment of covered meats, vegetables and desserts. The air was pungent with the kitchen offerings of fried corn, sweet potatoes, and every kind of bean and green, you could imagine. Platters of buttered, mash potatoes lay dormant, waiting to be drowned in layers of brown gravy. This was the biggest dinner on the grounds the church had every year.  The event was  to honor the anniversary of The Reverend Josiah Tallman, arriving at the tiny meeting house many years ago. In later years,  the small congregation would grow and become one of the largest and most active, churches in the county. 

 

Reverend Tallman had arrived at the little Georgia church when he was a young man of thirty years old. The old church was originally started in 1868, in a little remote community  in Georgia. The secluded and somewhat desolate area, where former slaves had settled, was so far from any established town, it wasn’t even on any map of the state.  An enterprising citizen, started a General Store, and eventually, a post office was established at the store… and being how the General Store’s owner’s name was  John Johnson, they named the little city, Johnsonville.

 

For many years, the godly Reverend, had been honored yearly for his service and sacrifice to the  Ebenezer African Methodist Church, with a spectacular day of celebration consisting of the dinner on the ground, and a special evening service with a guest speaker…but most of all, there was the music. The Ebenezer African Methodist Church Choir would go all out in the Sunday morning service, with praise songs that would literally rattle the roof of the new sanctuary. It was a most glorious service every year, and the church was always packed.

 

Reverend Tallman positioned his weight by the window. He slid his hand across the wall, and his fingers stopped  in series of round holes that went all the way through the wall.  He looked higher into the darkness of the upper roof of the historic building.

Streams of light. Up and down. Holes in the wall. A lot of holes.

Bullet holes.

 

The sound of children, playing on a swing set across from the dinner area, drifted through the hewn log planks of the old building. Pastor Tallman, smiled and gave praise to the Lord on how the church had been blessed by an abundance of kids and young people. That’s the only way a church survives, he thought… children. God’s gift. The preacher was alway sadden when he thought of what he had missed out by not marrying, and having children of his own. Just wasn’t in God’s plan, he guessed.

He marveled at the number of white people working out in the yard. They were committed members of the church congregation. I’ve seen a lot of God’s miracles, he thought. Good, hard working people of different colors, working for the betterment of their surroundings and  spreading the word. Praise God, he thought.

 

He took a step closer to the window, and raised his arm higher to a blackened area in the top corner of the window casing.

The burnt wood had weakened with the years.

 

The old preacher debated when he should go out and bless the food. The pastor’s appearance was alway the official green light, to get the feed bag on, find a place in line, and fix yourself a plate. It was a time to enjoy the food, the music, and the companionship of family, good friends and neighbors. Dinner on the grounds! Good God Almighty and Praise the Lord! If you’ve never been to one, you have missed out. They used the dinner as an opportunity to raise funds for various mission charities, the church operated in Haiti and African nations. Churches from different denominations, and business people from all over the county, would bless the church with large contributions. All the money went to fund the missions, in Reverend Tallman’s name.

 

They’re not quite ready, the Reverend thought, as he watched more boxes being brought down the path by another group of people arriving at the event. The preacher had not seen a crowd like this in some time. There were  people from not only across the county , but across the state. He felt humbled and unworthy to be fussed over with such a tremendous affair. To God be the glory, he thought to himself.

 

He moved over another window and to the church pew where he normally stayed, when he was in the old building, and sat down. He could see the current church building and the magnificent steeple, the church members had constructed,. The second building had gotten so small, for the growing congregation, the members constructed a much larger and beautiful sanctuary on a different part of the property. The original building had not been used for a long time. The original church building was built  in the spring of 1868. Due to the historical significance, several church members had petitioned the government for recognition. They were successful and the one room, church was recognized on the National Register of Historic Sites. It was protected. Nobody was ever going to demolish this old building, thought the old pastor.

 

He had knelt in front on that old church pew, in the past,  and prayed for his flock’s salvation on many occasion. In the wobbly pulpit on Sunday mornings, he would left his head to heaven and  pull God down to earth in an elegant and articulate prayer.  The old church members would pass on to heaven through the years, and leave the church and their memory to their children and grandchildren. The grandchildren, maybe even great-grandchildren, the old preacher had baptized as babies in the creek behind the church, were now adults with children of their own. 

 

The preacher felt tired and old as he watched through the window at some little boys, chasing some dogs that had gotten a whiff of the food.

 

He moved his head slightly out of a stream of bright sunlight, coming through the bullet holes in the wall. It was blinding his view of all the movement going on outside.

He vividly remembered those holes. The memory of how they got there was burned into his mind. 

He closed his eyes and thought how had it not been for the grace of God, this old church and the huge sanctuary, with  the newly paved parking lot, would not be here.

He closed his eyes, and in his darkness tried to stop the sounds from that night long ago. 

He pushed on his temple with a large index finger, trying to muffle the sounds in his head. 

The sound of the dogs. 

The hiss of the fire.

And the sounds of prayers to God Almighty.

The large man bowed his head, stirred to tears from the memory.

 

In the midst of his emotion from the memory, the sound of dogs, howling in the distance, filtered through his senses and he was startled into alertness. He opened his eyes to discover the sky had darkened and it was like nighttime .

 

It wasn't the sound of the dogs that startled the old preacher, or the disappearance of the sun.

It was the sound of someone banging on the front door of the church.

 

Someone was screaming to be let in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two - A Preacher Bleeds Like Any Man

 

 

 Von Lucas rounded the corner of the road with his heart singing to the heavens. The moon shadows that followed his path down the dark, dirt road, seem to dance in jubilation with each step he took.

 She had said yes. She had really said yes.

 The girl he had been chasing, for going on three years, had finally agreed to marry him. 

 He started humming and thinking of what all he would do, in welcoming his new bride.

 It was dark, traveling down the narrow road, but the three quarter moon gave off enough light to see where he was going without a lantern or a torch. Besides that, it didn’t matter if he stumbled on a rock or two  in the middle of the road… he felt like he was walking on air.

 

 He was traveling to his home on Nelson’s Ridge. He had left from Mary’s cabin, in Houston’s Hollow, where she lived with her  Papa, Momma and her Grand-momma. Several of the Houston boys, who were notorious bullies and of a violent nature,  had been trying to court Mary Green also, and had threatened Von’s life if they caught him messing around their territory. Mary did not want Von in any kind of fight, so Von had avoided the problem by calling on her late at night, when most people would be in bed. He had snatched the most beautiful girl in the county right from under their noses. 

 His chest was full of happiness and he skipped a few steps to hurry through the darkness.

 

 As he rounded the bend in the road, from behind a large tree, a dark shape suddenly appeared and hurled  through the air directly at Von.

 Aaaaarrrraaa, the creature yelled, jumping, with an upraised arm and one hand in an attack position. 

 Whatever it was, landed right in front of the startled Von.

 

 Von stopped in his tracks. Scared.

 He didn’t move.Too late to run.

 He froze.

 

 A man’s face, with a huge grin, appeared through the dim light, as laughter cut the night’s stillness.

 ‘Got ya," the intruder said. He was standing not more than two feet away from Von.

 

 All thoughts of wedding plans had disappeared from Von’s mind.

 

 Instead a wave of anger flowed through his arm to his hand, causing the hand to become a fist, causing the fist to land on the intruder’s jaw with such an impact, it put the laughing man on his backside in the middle of the dirt road.

 

 “Theo, boy, are you crazy?’ Von whispered loudly to the his fallen, and now quiet, friend, he had just knocked down, “Don’t you be jumping at me in the dark!”

 Theo Cooker picked himself up slowly and rubbed his chin. He was enjoying his prank to much to feel any pain.

 “I was just joking with you, Mr. Von, sir. I heard you coming a half mile down the road. I knew you were calling on Miss Mary Green tonight… and don’t tell me to be quiet. You were humming loud enough somebody with a gun think you be a Midnight Canary. You got to admit though. It was funny…Did you pee yourself?  Tell me, I scared you didn’t I?

 

 Theo started laughing again. He dusted his clothes off and reached over to pick up a large sack he had dropped, when Von hit him.

 “Yea, you scared me,” said Von, turning to continue to walk down the road, “ I was getting ready to put a blade into you. What you got in the bag?”

 Theo hoisted the bag over his shoulder and fell in beside him.

 “Oh just some chickens that ran off. Mama told me not to come home until I found them.”

 Von glanced over at him in the darkness. He didn’t need the light of day to know a lie when he heard one.

 “Those chickens sure must have been unhappy living with you, cause they’ve done ran five miles to find another home,” he said, “how come they ain’t cackling with joy, now that you’ve found them.”

 “Funny thing about that,” Theo said, struggling to keep up with the taller man, “they were so excited to see me, their hearts gave out on them and they fainted right in front of me. I tied up them up with twine to make them feel safe, until I get them back on familiar ground”

 

 “Theo,” Von said, chiding the midnight chicken rustler, “you’re going to be hanging from a tree one day.”

 “Yea, maybe so,” said Theo, unrepentant,” but, my last meal will be fried chicken.”

 

 Chicken and pig stealing were considered a serious offense in Stuart County. It was interesting Von thought, most of the people who thought it was a serious offense, were the people who owned the chickens and pigs. Other folks, less fortunate and with hungry mouths to feed, were more inclined to not pass up a chicken or pig that got loose after someone unlocked the pen. It just seemed like the right thing to do.  

 Recently,  night patrols had been formed by some of the wealthier farmers to try and keep the thefts to a minimum. Anybody caught stealing, by these patrols, were dealt with harshly. Anything from a whipping to a hanging, was considered appropriate punishment. But, there was a lot of country to patrol, and the nightriders couldn’t be everywhere at once.

 

 Von laughed at his friend. He didn’t want too. He couldn’t help himself.

 “Come on, let’s move. I’ve got an early day tomorrow.” He sped up his pace on the moonlit road.

 

 “Slow down there some, high pockets,' Theo said, 'I want to get there the same time as you….Wait what it that?'

 

 The two men suddenly stopped.

 A faint howl had drifted up through the darkness.

 It had an eerie echo that forced a cold chill to run up the back of both men.

 

 Von let a long breath of air out. He knew that sound. It was the sound nobody of color wanted to hear. Especially at night.

 “Dogs. They’ve put the dogs on you!”

 

 Theo started a faster pace of walking.

 “No, couldn’t be. I was careful,” he said, “old man Winston was dead asleep. Nobody was stirring.”

 “Oh no,” Von said, “not old man, Winston. You mean to tell me you stole chickens from the richest white man in these parts. Are you crazy or want to die at an early age?” 

 The sound of the dogs got louder and more distinct in the fact there was a large number of animals in the pack.  Von started a slow run. Four miles. It was four miles home.

 “All right, Theo, we’ve got to get out of here. We can’t get caught out in the dark, Not if you have been thieving chickens.”

 Theo started running with Von. The sack of chickens bounced off his back with each step.

 The dogs sounded closer and were obviously moving at a fast pace. As they ran down the road, Von turned his head toward Theo and motioned toward the sack on his back.

 “Not too sure if we get caught you want them chickens on you,” he said, in between breaths.

 “Yea,” Theo said, “ you be right.”  Reaching back into the sack he pulled out a bird , freed it from the twine, and released it into the trees along the road. After running another twenty yards, he reached in, got another bird and did the same thing. He did this five times. After the last bird, he threw the sack high into the trees. It was too dark to see where it landed.

 “Maybe, it will slow those devil dogs down a bit,” he gasped. He had been having trouble keeping up with Von with the extra weight.

 Von shook his head. “Five chickens? You stole five chickens? Lord help.”

 They broke into a steady run down the road, toward safety and home.

 

 Within ten minutes of running, both of the young men could tell they were not going to out run the dogs.

 The incessant howling had picked up in tempo and loudness as the pack of dogs followed the chosen scent. They were moving fast. Mixed in with  the sound of the dogs was the accompaniment of horse hoofs, adding to the sense of desperation of the running men.

 “We ain’t going to make it,” Theo gasped as they ran, “what we going to do? We can’t out run them.”

 

 The two ran further down the road, the once jubilant moonlight shadows, now had a sinister nature, as they ran through the darkness on the narrow road. They  suddenly came upon a break in the trees and a downward slope in the terrain.

 “Come on, “ Von said, impulsively pulling on Theo’s shirt, the two men ran off the road and down into the break among the trees, “I know what we can do. Preacher will help. We can cut over Black Oak Creek. He’ll hide us, or know what to do. Come on, faster.”

 In the darkness and off the cleared road, they found the path that led down to the creek. Stumbling over rocks and small bushes, they entered the shallow creek and ran upstream until they came to a large pool of water where the church held it’s baptisms. It became too deep to wade. Climbing a ravine that surrounded the pool, they emerged from the woods to a clearing where the church stood. They hesitated, trying to catch their breath.

 The loud howls of the dogs behind them reached a higher pitch. The fastest dogs were already at the creek. The two men could hear the whines as the trackers milled around, searching where the scent had disappeared. It was only a matter of time, and time was running out.

 

 “Come on, let’s go,” Von said, starting to run toward the front door of the church.

 

 The church folks had built a small room, on the back of the building, to serve as a parsonage for their new pastor. Accustom to sleeping out in the elements for three years of the war, the new minister was enjoying the comfort of the small room, with an inside water hand pump, a pot belly stove, a rope bed covered by an old army blanket, and a pillow, made of an old flannel, shirt stuffed with straw.  The extravagance of having four walls, made the him feel guilty sometimes, for living in so much comfort.

 The dirt floor beside the bed, was packed down as hard as a brick. It where Reverend Tallman spent a goodly portion of his time, on his knees. A talk with the Lord, always started and ended his days. There was a rectangular cedar chest, at the foot of the bed, that doubled as a table. The reverend had been tossing and turning on his rope bed ever since he had laid down. The faint sound of hounds in the darkness, kept him from totally relaxing and letting sleep take over. It was now way past midnight, headed toward sunrise.

 

  A sudden and violent knocking on the church’s front door, brought him fully awake. Accustomed to moving quickly at a moment’s notice or to the sound of a bugle, he lurched out of bed and grabbed for his pants and shirt. Dressing hurriedly, he reached over, opened the cedar chest and took out a revolver. Lighting a coal oil lamp, he checked the load of the gun and then ran out the room and into the sanctuary of the church. 

 “All right, All right,” he yelled as he stumbled, carrying the lamp to the front door and flinging it open.

 

 

 Von Lucas stood in light of the coal oil lamp, in front of the door of the church, pleading, “Help us, Preacher,” he said. He was breathing hard, holding on to the door sill for support. “It’s going to be trouble if they catch us, “ he continued, “you got to help us!”  

 Through gasps of breath from the exhausted man, the preacher learned of the chicken theft  and the men’s attempt to get home. Reverend Tallman knew of  the hired night riders, who were searching the roads, for chicken or hog thieves.  Mr. Winston had probably hired them to protect his property.

 Theo stood behind Von, leaning on the church steps. He was bent over, breathing heavily. “It was me, preacher, I was the one who done it, “ he said, “Von didn’t have anything to do with it.” 

 

 

 The sound of the hounds was becoming more excited as the scent they were following became stronger. 

 

 “Come on in, boys, hurry up now” the preacher said, holding the door of the church open for them, “ Come on in God’s house.”

 The two exhausted runners followed the large minister to the back of the church, and through the doorway to his room. He motioned to the pump and a metal cup. The two men eagerly pumped water into the cup, and took turns gulping it down.

 

 Reverend Tallman opened the cedar chest, and took out  a double barrel Remington 10 gauge shotgun and a Winchester lever action rifle. The man of God was no stranger to fighting in his past life. He thought that was all behind him. He wanted only to love his fellow man.  He  kept  weapons after the war…just in case any of his fellow man didn’t want to love him back.

 

 The preacher grabbed his hat and threw the weapons over his shoulder.

 “Quick, now, “ he said hurriedly to the younger men and pointed to the window of the back room, ‘get yourself back through the meadow back of the church, and keep going north of the creek. Head up stream until you get to Samuel Waters, tell him to hide you out. Go on boys, don’t look back. I’ll take care of these fellows.

 

 “What about the dogs?” Theo said, tensed to run.

 “Here, give me your shirt.”

 Theo took off his shirt, flung it toward the preacher. 

 

 Von hesitated. “No, I won’t leave you preacher,” he said,  “I ain’t running no more. I’m staying here. I didn’t do anything wrong. His determined tone dissuaded any argument from the pastor.  “Go ahead,' Von continued, motioning to Theo, “Stay low and off the ridges. You’ll make it.”

 

 Theo  pushed opened the thin paned window. He slung one leg over the sill, stopped and looked back over his shoulder and  said, ’bless you preacher, sorry Von. I’ll make it up to you.”

  He darted out the window, into the darkness of the meadow and  disappeared.

 

 Reverend Tallman hurried to the front of the church and placed his weapons by the door. Running to the wide path, leading to the road, he turned and ran away from the church and toward the forest and in the opposite direction Theo had gone.  He dragged the shirt on the ground until he came to the bend in the creek and flung the shirt into the water. He turned and ran back to the steps of the church. 

 Von was  nervously pacing in front of the church. He watched as Reverend Tallman ran back.

 “What do you want me to do, preacher?” he said, when the minister returned.

 The dogs were 150 yards from the church and coming fast. The men on horses, unable to come up the creek due to the treacherous terrain, had been forced to stay on the narrow road. The lights from their torches danced through the dark around the creek and up the road leading to the church.

 Reverend Tallman stuck a revolver in his trousers and covered it with his shirt. He bent over and put the coal oil lamp he was carrying, on the ground.  “All right boy, you listen close,” he said, “you stand beside that door inside and be ready. If I yell, you  throw this scattergun to me, than you get down on your belly and get behind a bench, you understand me? 

 “Yes, sir, I understand,” Von said. “What about you, preacher, you’re not staying out there, are you?  You know preachers bleed like any other man.” 

 The preacher waved him off, lit another coal oil lamp and placed it on a stump further away from the church. The sweat of the two men glistened in the light.

 Von turned, went into the church and stood be the door. He kept it opened slightly, to see outside.

 Reverend Josiah Tallman, late of the Confederate army, Minister of the Gospel. who only wanted to live his life for the Lord and to do God’s work, repositioned the revolver in his waistband and turned toward the path. He faced the noisy bedlam of the pack of dogs that had quickly appeared out of the dark woods. The bouncing lights of  torches, held by  the men on horseback,  turned the bend of the creek and moved toward the road that went by the church.

 Von stood behind the church door and gripped the 10 gauge, double barrel, shotgun tightly. Although it was hard to breathe, he forced a big gulp of air into his lungs and slowly released it. 

 The howling, snarling, barking pack of large hounds, raised their noses from the ground when they saw  the large man standing still in front of the lights shining in the darkness,  surrounding the church. They ran toward the  man and surrounded him on the flat ground.

  Von Lucas rubbed his eyes to make sure he was not dreaming the scene in the lights of the lamps.

 It was as if Reverend Tallman was totally unaware of the pack of dogs.  His only movement was when he  slowly raised one finger over the milling pack of animals, and held it high over their heads. Suddenly as if one body and one mind, the dozen or so dogs, immediately stopped barking, and sat on their haunches. 

 Panting. Tongues hanging out of their mouths.  Not moving.

 

 Even when Albert Jessel  and a group of heavily armed riders, carrying torches, galloped into the clearing in front of the church, even then…the dogs stayed still … and quiet.

 

 Von shuddered and fought hard not to pee on himself.

 

 

 

Chapter Three-

...He that hath no gun...buy one. Luke 22:36

 

 

 

 

Von Lucas knew, when he recognized most of the men, who rode into the clearing, this was no ordinary, riding in the dark, chasing petty chicken thieves, maybe whip, beat up or scare… kind of gang of men. The men, who rode into that church clearing, had reputations for doing more than patrolling the roads and enforcing Colonel Winston’s law. These men were notorious in their cruelty and crimes against people of color. Drunk and out for fun, they had one united mission, to raise hell and… and to hurt people. Von knew them to be bad men. Very bad men.

 

He wondered why he didn’t leave with Theo Cook, when Reverend Tallman told him to go. He didn’t know that compelled him to stay. It wasn’t courage. Von wasn’t necessarily a brave man. He was like any other man, who just wanted to live and let live. Why? Why, he thought. WHY did he encounter Theo? WHY did he have to take that trail to the church? WHY didn’t  he keep runing, when he had the chance.  Stupid. Stupid. Stupid… he thought.

His heart ached at the thought of Mary and the life they had planned together…

He tried to crouch lower behind the church door.

 

In the annuals of history, there are stories of  battles between good and evil men. Through the centuries, one faction has never been able to eradicate the other. As a child, Von Lucas had learn early to recognize the difference between the cruelty of evil men, and the goodness of decent men… like his father and like Reverend Tallman.

When the light of the torches, they were carrying, revealed the faces of the men, riding into the church clearing, Von knew without a doubt, he was going to die that night. He wondered if it was God’s preplanned destiny, for him to die in a church.  He felt anger, at the  thought of God,  leading him to this place, and causing him to be placed under the protection of Reverend Tallman. What was going to happen to Mary? Why? Why, God… on this night? Why?

When the riders stopped short, where the dogs lay in the dirt, the thought came to Von’s  mind. Evil has found me.

Evil on horseback.

The desperation and fear, rising in his chest, made it difficult for him to breathe… and to pray.

 

 

 

___________________________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Albert Jessel was livid. He had not spent countless hours training his dogs, to suddenly have them lay down when the chase was almost over. Their job was to track and attack, causing their prey to climb a tree. His dogs were the best trained trackers in Georgia. Once they were on your trail, it was over. Just give up and hope for the best.

But now… his highly, prized dogs, were on their bellies, like house pets, waiting to be fed. Instead of attacking and treeing, they were panting and whining.

A tall black man, standing by several coal lamps, on the ground, had his head down, one hand in the air, as if praying. The dogs lay in front of him.

 

The riders thundered into the clearing on their tired mounts, and came to a stop, reining in behind the dogs. Two riders stayed behind, at the edge of the path, to watch the main road.

Reverend Tallman raised his head, and lowered his arm.  Like a trick in a traveling magic show, Von saw one time in Johnsonville, the dogs, immediately got up, and  moved as one group, to the brush at the edge of the forest. Tame. Docile. The dogs, all sat and watched the large man of God, who suddenly had become the leader of the pack. 

Albert Jessel did not want to call too much attention, to the other riders, at how his dogs were failing in their training, so he only swore at them under his breath. The big black man, standing in the light of the coal lamps, would pay for whatever he did to Albert’s dogs. He would see to that.

 

Two of the riders broke ranks, and disappeared behind the church building.

 

With the addition of the torches, held by the riders, Von Lucas could see every feature of every man on horseback.  He recognized two of the men immediately. One of them was Ollie Johnson, from east of Houston’s Hollow. He was a small man, with narrow cheekbones, and slits for eyes. Everyone in the county knew Ollie. He was cruel and vicious and didn’t particularly care how he made… or stoled money. His father had banned him from the family, and his General Store, for stealing.

The other man Von recognized, was Colonel Farrell Winston. 

Colonel Winston was obviously the leader of the group, and out looking for a little fun and sport.  Colonel Winston was bitter about the loss of the war and his generational and influential hold, on certain parts of, what he considered, proper, Southern society. He resented the necessity of former slaves, to work in his fields and the audacity of them to ask for wages to do the work. He made up for that resentment by having a few drinks and taking midnight rides for entertainment.

 

Von noticed how quiet it had become, other than the blowing of  the lathered horses as they came to a stop.It had been a long chase. He recognized other men in the group. Nod Washington, who ran the local cock fights, and was a cousin to Ollie Johnson, sat on a big roan gelding. He was like Ollie, and didn’t care who he hurt, or what he had to do for some extra dollars in his pocket. Another, of the riders, was J.J. Smith, the son-in-law of Colonel Winston. He rode a black filly and had a shotgun strapped to his back. 

Though the crack, Von counted five men in the clearing in front of the church, two men had stayed back at the edge of the path, leading to the road, and two that had disappeared behind the church. That made nine. Nine men. Not very good odds he thought. Please God, help us. He hoped the men outside couldn’t hear his heart pounding in his chest.  

 

Colonel Winston prompted his horse to stop in front of Reverend Tallman. He took a deep breath, looked around the church clearing, then turned his eyes back toward the preacher. This was sport to him. He enjoyed the chase, the barking hounds, and the torches. But, more than anything else, he enjoyed seeing the fear in the eyes of his quarry. Chicken and pig thieves were almost a necessary to the Colonel’s lifestyle, to add some excitement to an otherwise boring life. There was nothing more enjoyable to the Colonel, and his men, then turning up a couple of bottles of whiskey, and chase somebody down… and hurt them. They always found somebody, for the dogs to pursue. But this chase had been longer and more tedious than Colonel Winston had anticipated. He was hot. He was tired 

Colonel Winston chose each word carefully, when he finally spoke. Von could see the Colonel was doing his best to scare and intimidate the Reverend Tallman. Put him in his place, first. That was what was important to Colonel Farrell Winston.

 

He spoke down to Reverend Tallman.

 

“Mister,’ he said, ‘I assume you are responsible for Mr. Jessel’s critters acting like a bunch of lap puppies, and I assume by the way they are acting, you are not the person we seek. We are looking for the son-of-a-bitches who’s been helping themselves to my property. Namely my pigs and my chickens. They’re in the church, right? You might as well tell them to come on out. Who are you, anyway?”

 

Ollie Johnson, looking for favor, kneed his horse forward and stopped beside the Colonel.

“That’s the new preacher, Colonel,' he said,’ He hadn’t been here but a couple months. Tallman? That’s your name, ain’t it preacher, Tallman? You fought at Manassas, didn’t you? Some folks say you wore grey, but fought for the blue. Maybe a spy or something like that.” He turned and faced the Colonel. “Anyway, that’s what some folks say,” he said.  

 

Winston acknowledged Ollie, with a slight nod of his head. He said, “ Thank you, Mister Johnson, for that information.”  He turned and  waited for Reverend Tallman to respond.

 

Inside the darkness of the church, Von marveled at the preacher’s courage, standing in front of the of the five night riders. He felt his knees start to knock together. He could feel the heat from the torches, the riders carried outside the church. Sweat poured off his brow, into his eyes. He thought of Mary, and again for the hundredth time, he felt regret, he didn’t run with Theo. He probably would have been home by now. He prayed for God’s protection, under his breath.

 

The preacher stood erect and was smiling, when he finally broke his silence. Reverend Tallman’s calming, bass, voice, had a welcoming tone.  Each  word, raised and lowered in pitch, each sentence an instrument,  almost like a song… as if he was standing behind the pulpit on Sunday morning. As he spoke, he turned his head both ways and looked directly in the eye of each of the men, surrounding  him. He was unafraid.

 

“Welcome. I am Reverend Josiah Tallman. I am pastor and protector of this church and of my flock.  …  and to answer my brother, (he motioned at Ollie Johnson), as a lowly sinner, I fell at Manassas,” he said,” but, Jesus gave me a new life… Hallelujah, as a servant of the holy word. And in the spirit of my faith, as a sign of friendship and hospitality, and as Jesus commanded … I ask, how may I help you, brethren?  Can I offer you food or drink? 

 

He picked up the coal oil lamps, and motioned the men closer, a welcoming smile on his face. 

 

Von’s heart  sank. He thought, it sounded almost like the preacher was inviting the wolves into the sheep’s pen. Please God. Please God…save us sweet Jesus, he suddenly had another terrifying thought, the preacher was acting like he WANTED the men there.  Why? No, it couldn’t be. But, what if…? Panic. He felt betrayed.  Don’t panic. Breathe. Just Breathe. What was Reverend Tallman thinking? Was he surrendering? Was it a trap? Was this planned somehow?

 

 

The two riders, who had disappeared behind the church building, rode out of the darkness and rejoined the other men.

One of the riders with a large brim hat, rode up to Colonel Winston. “No sign in back I can see, Colonel, there’s a false trail headed to the creek ” he said,” He’s in the church, I’m sure.”

Von’s felt sick when he suddenly recognized the man speaking.

Jackson George. The overseer and personal bulldog of Colonel Farrell Winston, was well known throughout the valleys and ridges of North Georgia. The meanest and most violent man in the county. He had beaten, shot or hung people of  color under the pretense of the law, and orders from Colonel Winston. The local sheriff overlooked George’s actions, due to Winston’s influence. Most people, in Stuart County, used the Devil’s and Jackson George’s name, to scare their children into behaving.

 

Colonel Winston, arrogantly and impatiently, slapped his hand on his side.

“Blue-belly spy, huh?” he said, nodding affirmably to the other men, and turning his head to spit on the ground, “Well, imagine that. We can talk about that later, What I do know is, I know, we didn’t come here for no damn sermon… right now, anybody in that church building better get themselves out here…NOW!” he yelled at the church building, his voice cracking in anger, at being denied his sport. He put his free hand on the flap, covering the pistol in the belt on his side.  

 

Von crouched down by the door. He could see Reverend Tallman, standing with the coal lanterns, outstretched from his body, raise his head upward. His lips were moving. Praying.

Von could not hear him plainly, but it sounded like he was saying the word… Azrael? It was something like that, Von couldn’t tell. The preacher’s voice was low. Pleading.

 

“While he’s talking to God, put some holes in that building, force that bastard out,” Colonel Winston said, pulling the pistol from his flapped, holster on his side. 

Von Lucas saw the men move away from Reverend Tallman, and spread out in the church clearing. He quickly pulled a church bench over and fell down behind it, just as the men began firing rifles and pistols, at the church. Glass from other windows fell under the barrage of bullets. 

After the men emptied their guns, they reloaded and fired again, until empty once more.

 

J.J. Smith, son-in-law of Colonel Winston and largest moonshine provider, to those in the county, who liked a taste, enjoyed these midnight rides immensely. He considered cruelty, as gauge in winning favor in his father’s-in-law eyes. He took a swig, moved his horse to the side of the church and threw his torch onto the roof.  “I’ll help them to see their way out,” he laughed, to the Colonel,” Come on boys, lets light this old building up!” He motioned to Jackson George and to the men beside him. The other two riders who had been watching the road, turned and galloped their horses to the church, to join the fun.

There had been rain the day before, and Von had a hopeful thought that the roof shingles, of the church, would be slow to start burning. 

The thought didn’t last long.

“Let me show you how to build a fire,”  said Nod Washington, riding past J.J., and throwing his torch through a plane glass window of the church. The fire started to spread quickly,  above the window frame, and to the inside rafters.

It quickly became a whirlwind of dust outside, as horses spun around to clear space for other riders to toss torches at the building. The church clearing was lit by coal oil lamps, torches, and the church fire, and  above the treetops an encircling ring of  smoke, from  gunpowder and wet wood, begin to form.

 

These men did not want to talk anymore.

 

Von felt panic at the spreading fire above him. He was going to have to run for it. He marveled at Reverend Tallman. The tall man stood, holding the lanterns out from his side, and watching the riders and horses, moving around in the church clearing. He did not seem concerned about any danger he was in. He did not move.

 

“If that thief is not out in one minute,  shoot this man.” said Colonel Winston, motioning to Reverend Tallman and reloading his revolver, “let’s be done with it.” It angered him that the preacher did not back away or show any fear. The black man calmly stood there,  holding the lanterns up .

 

Von Lucas watched through the cracked church door, and he felt his muscles tightening and starting to cramp. Whatever was going to happen is getting ready to start. He knew he was going to burn alive in the church or be shot if he stepped outside, he was a dead man either way. He thought about Mary and his love for her… oh, God, oh God, he whispered, give me strength and power. Save us, oh sweet Lord.

 

It was the prayer of desperation. A prayer for a miracle.

Von Lucas knew he, and the preacher, were going to die. 

 

Too many men. No escape. He gripped the shotgun tightly …ready to throw it if the preacher yelled. He covered his mouth with the front of his shirt, trying to breathe through the smoke, from the wet wood Oh, God, he thought, what to do…yell. Don’t yell. wait…Yell. No.  Run. Don’t run.

 

Reverend Tallman started to pray in his deep powerful voice, and despite the rampage of the fire above him, Von Lucas started to relax and feel his cramped muscles ease a little. The sound of the preacher had a plea and rhythm that reverberated throughout the clearing, and seemed enhanced by the growing flames in the top of the church. Von started to feel a strange sensation on his skin, like he was actually being caught up in the pull from earth, to heaven, as Reverend Tallman talked to God.He pulled the shirt away from his face. He didn’t need it to breathe anymore, even though the church was filling with smoke.

“My savior,” said Reverend Tallman, prayed as he turned and faced the riders, who had gathered in front of him to see him shot . “Oh, my savior. The God of Azrael, once more…  I ask …for  help. Oh my God, show them the power of Azrael, thy chosen angel.”  

 

His prayer, mingled in with the echoes of his voice in the church clearing, and supported by the fire and smoke from the church building, became a choir of prayers, thrown to the sky… and it seemed to Von Lucas’s frantic mind, with such such intensity in nature, that Reverend Tallman’s prayer had to have landed at the feet of God Almighty, himself.

 

As the fervent prayer was lifted to the heavens, Von started to feel a transformation in his breathing. He started to feel calmer, although his senses seemed heightened. Whatever was going to happen, he knew he would be ready. It was as if his adrenaline had suddenly harnessed four more horses to his plow. He felt an odd sense of power in his legs, as he straightened from his crouch in the dark of the church. Something strange was happening to his body.

 

A crash of thunder exploded in the sky above the clearing. It started to rain. An intricate design of light appeared, as a bolt of lighting streaked across the night sky. A slow drizzle, then harder. A full fledge downpour of large raindrops, in seconds, causing the fire on the roof to smolder, with thick smoke billowing into the air.

 

The large man of God, stood there with the coal lamps held out to his sides and rain pouring off his face. He looked at Colonel Winston with defiance in his eyes, .

 

“Judgement day,” said Reverend Tallman, “it’s your judgement day.”

 

“Shoot this man, shoot him now, and bury him where we stand,” Colonel Winston, said  angrily and abruptly,”Let’s be done with it. I’m through wasting time.” He turned the reins quickly and cut his horse out of the line of fire, and to the rear of the group.

 

Jackson George, grinned, and raised his rifle toward Reverend Tallman.

 

“Come oooonn, Azrael,” Reverend Tallman yelled, and suddenly threw the coal lamps at the feet of the horses, causing them to rear and buck away in terror, making their riders forget their guns, and grab their saddle horns to keep from being thrown. The startled dogs jumped up from where they were laying, and disappeared into the thick bush, underneath the trees around the clearing.

Instintively, as soon as Von Lucas saw the coal lamps leave the preacher’s hands, he swung the church door open, and pitched the shotgun toward the reverend. It flew through the air directly into the preacher’s waiting hands.

 

This is it, Von thought. 

It was strange he thought… he felt no fear.  He reached down and unconsciously, picked up the lever action Winchester, leaning on the wall next to him. 

He felt detached. He felt like he was in a dream, slow moving in a cloud, almost….graceful, out of his control, each movement planned in advance…He felt something moving him. Directing him. it wasn’t his arms, his legs…his hands. It was something else. Something very powerful.

 

 

Jackson’s George’s horse had almost thrown him off initially, but the man held on and brought his rifle back up one handed, and fired at Reverend Tallman, hitting him in the knee and knocking him down.

 

Reverend Josiah Tallman, the man of peace…fell to the ground, wounded, then in one reflexive motion, Reverend Tallman, the former soldier, whirled on his good knee,  and pulled both triggers of the 10 gauge shotgun, pointed at Jackson George.

Jackon George, fell backwards, and disappeared off his horse in a booming cloud of smoke and powder. His horse bolted from the clearing, and ran back to the path toward the road.

 

The other riders, managed to get control of their horses quickly after the shotgun blast, and each turned toward the down minister, bringing their revolvers or rifles to bear. Colonel Winston reined in his horse  and headed back toward the fallen Reverend Tallman, who was lying  in front of the church, his leg bleeding profusely.  Ollie Johnson jerked his horse around violently, his face twisted in a vengeful anger. The other riders kept their fingers on the  trigger of their guns, hate and murder mirrored in their eyes…and moved in toward the downed preacher.

Reverend Tallman was struggling to pull the revolver from the waistband of his pants.

 

Colonel Winston stopped his horse, and looked down at Reverend Tallman.

“You’re a dead man,” he said, pulling his revolver and pointing it at the fallen pastor.

 

Ollie Johnson saw Albert Jessel plummet backwards and disappear off from his horse, and was the first of the group, in the pouring down rain, to distinguish the difference between the bluish light coming from the church door, and the reddish light of the fire inside the church’s rooftop, and the remaining torches held by the riders. He thought it odd, the approaching light was enhanced by smaller extensions of multiple red lights, and then he realized the explosions he was hearing, matched the flames from the end of the rifle barrel, being fired by Von Lucas. 

 

Colonel Winston saw the movement of light next, and  turned and pointed his pistol at Von. Ollie Johnson saw a blur as Von’s hand, levered a shell into the chamber and shot Colonel Winston through the head. Ollie Johnson had never seen anything like it in his life, in or around Stuart County. He knew it was not humanly possible to  shoot a gun like that… and he didn’t know a black man in these parts, even knew HOW to hold a repeating rifle… much less, shoot it.

 

Von walked as if in a trance, his features and body emitting a strange blue light. He was holding the rifle by his side, levering the action quickly, shooting each man off his horse in rapid succession. Nod Washington went to meet his maker as he tried to cock his pistol. J.J. Smith went to hell, with his mouth twisted in surprise. The riders were frozen in motion, because of what they were witnessing. They were not aware, the vengeful figure, bathed in blue light, and shooting a Winchester rifle, would be the last thing they ever saw. 

 

Ollie Johnson turned his horse and kicked him into a dead run toward the road. The terrified horse needed no further encouragement to escape the fire and explosions. Ollie gave the horse his head and galloped through the rain, back onto the road and the safety of darkness.

 

Reverend Tallman looked at Von, approaching him. A bluish halo of light surrounded the young man and glistened in the falling water of the rain, and the glow of the church fire.  The wounded pastor lay back on the ground, holding his bleeding leg.

 

“Azrael,” he said, to nobody particular… since everybody around him, was dead.

 

A powerful blast of wind and rain, blew through the clearing, forcing the rain water to stream through the windows and bullet holes, in the walls of the Ebenezer African Methodist Church, with such force, it extinguished the fire throughout the House of the Lord… another gust of wind blew, whatever remaining smoke from the blaze, out through the broken glass windows and cleared the sanctuary.

 

Azrael… the Angel of God…the Angel of Death, moved and stood protectively over the fallen Reverend Tallman. The Winchester rifle was still smoking.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four

Conclusion

 

‘Covered by the blood of Jesus’

 

 

 

Reverend Josiah Tallman jerked himself back to reality, and from the memory of that night long ago. He wiped the tears from his eyes and stood from the church bench where he had been praying. He watched through the window, and thought of Ollie Johnson.

 

  Ollie had escaped that night and had died an old man in a state institution. He had needed constant care and had not been able to speak because of the horrific trauma, caused by Azrael.  Any form of communication from Ollie, involved grunts and gibberish on his part, since he had never learned to write and his brain capacity seemed to have reverted to that of a small child. Reverend Tallman had prayed for him every day he had been alive. 

 

 Reverend Tallman spent most of his time in prayer and penance, after killing Jackson George that night. God allowed him to visit the old church every year, and pray for atonement for that sin. It was a time for rejoicing at God’s power, but it was also a time of sadness because of the memory.

 

 The old man, started to move toward the door. It was time to go. Through the window, he saw a cute little girl, standing in front of the table where the biscuits and gravy had been placed. She was smiling and waving at him. He waved back, touched with the innocence and beauty of the child.

 

 Outside under the oak tree, Von Lucas had gingerly put Mary, his great-granddaughter, down, when she started showing impatience at being held so long. She was wanting a biscuit, out of a basket on a nearby table, and was determined to get it no matter how hard she had to struggle or loud she had to yell. After he put her down, a few seconds passed before she realized she had her freedom and she suddenly got quiet. Distracted by something out of Von’s vision, she seemed to forget about the biscuit,  and started looking intently past the tables and tree. Von glanced where she was looking, toward the front of the old church at the edge of the property and the large flower garden. 

 

 It had been a rush burial, but Theo Cooker and several of the menfolk, had come to help that night, and dug the necessary graves so deep, no one would want to put in the amount of work, needed to find them.  They never spoke about that night the rest of their lives.

 

No-one ever knew or even suspected, Colonel Winston, and the other missing men, of Stuart County, had ended up underneath the church yard of Ebenezer African Methodist Church. Countless search parties, from the Army and local law, had ridden horses and wagons over the burial site so much, they had erased any detectable sign of the graves. Wicked men had been dealt with by God in Stuart County, Johnsonville, Georgia that night,  and they were buried where they stood. 

 

Only Von, and Reverend Tallman, knew that Azrael  the Angel of Death, had been sent by God to protect them that night. They both felt the assurance of God, they were doing his will, and that their sins were covered by the blood of Jesus, and heaven would be their reward. People, of the community, had heard rumors of Von’s prowess with a rifle, but no one could ever recollect of ever seeing him shoot a gun anyplace, or anytime, for that matter. Everyone knew Von and his wife, Mary, and their family, as stalwart pillars of the community, who always helped others, and were friends and supporters of the church and it’s missions.

 

Von’s thoughts, of Reverend Tallman, always left a warm glow in his chest, when he thought about his mentor and pastor. He enjoyed these ‘Tallman Day’ Celebration’s every year and was often asked to tell of the history of the old church to the younger members. Reverend Tallman had always been a beacon of love, and an example of service to others, and how a man should walk and live in his faith to God Almighty. It was rightfully so, Von thought, the old preacher should be honored this way.

 

Reverend Tallman, standing in the window, made a funny face at the little girl, then smiled, and waved at her with two large hands.

 

Mary, no longer cranky and impatient,  was laughing at the man in the window. She pointed at him, and waved back.

She was happy and content. “Look Papa Von,” she said, pointing at the old church window, “big man, big man,” 

 

Looking up at the empty window, and seeing nothing, Von Lucas, took his great-granddaughter’s hand, and headed her toward the biscuit table. 

 

“Come on, child,” he said, “let’s say the blessing and eat.”

 

 

 

 

 

the end

 

 


Submitted: August 28, 2022

© Copyright 2023 SannaBlue Baker. All rights reserved.

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Comments

zilka.44

The wrath of God. Nice writing, good descriptions, and Flowed very well. Storyline was great.

Sun, September 18th, 2022 7:57pm

Author
Reply

Thank you for your time and comments. I am so glad you liked it. It was fun to write.
‘Fiver Dean’ another of my short stories, has an interesting storyline also… a little more suburban though.
Thanks again for your kind words.
SannaBlue Baker

Sun, September 18th, 2022 1:28pm

HOUDINI

A very good story well told. Good work!

Sat, October 22nd, 2022 10:11pm

Author
Reply

Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it.

Sat, October 22nd, 2022 3:52pm

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