THE UNMASKING OF AUNT TAMMY: A Spyfunk Story

THE UNMASKING OF AUNT TAMMY

tammy 1Amy closed her eyes and whispered a prayer as the great, stone mansion drew closer.

The ivory Rolls Royce Phantom crept along the winding road towards the immense structure, which loomed on the horizon.

“Fifteen years.” Amy said.  Her perfect, white teeth reflected the shine from her gloss-moistened lips as she smiled.

“What?”  The chauffeur peered at Amy through the rearview mirror.

tammy 2“Fifteen years, Tosu,” Amy answered.  “Fifteen years of my fellow Senior Executives’ racist, sexist, bullshit.  Fifteen years of the black employees calling me ‘Aunt Tammy’ behind my back.  It all ends tonight.”

Tosu’s broad shoulders danced back and forth as he chuckled. “Aunt Tammy?”

“Yes, Aunt Tammy, Amy replied.  “A female ‘Uncle Tom’ – and that’s not funny, Tosu!”

“Of course, you are not an ‘Aunt Tammy’, little sister,” Tosu said.  “Just because you prefer Frank Sinatra to Fifty-Cent…or because you prefer quinoa to cornbread…or because you prefer Steampunk to Street Lit does not mean you are an Uncle Tom or an Aunt Tammy…It does mean, however, that you have poor taste!”

tammy 3Tosu and Amy laughed.

The driver looked over his shoulder at his little sister.  “Today, all that you have endured pays off.”

Amy took a deep breath.  “Yes, today it does…for us…”

“And for Malomo,” Tosu whispered, as he fought back the tears that threatened to pour from under his eyelids.

The Rolls Royce Phantom crept into the circular carport on the side of the mansion.

tammy 6A short, lean, Asian woman – dressed in a blue, silk kimono  – opened the door of the Rolls Royce for Amy.  “Good afternoon, Ms. Cross,” The Asian woman said, smiling warmly.  “My name is Yuriko Sakuraba.  Mr. Emilianenko is eager to see you.  Follow me please.”

Amy shuffled behind Yuriko, who escorted her to a pair of double doors within the mansion.  The doors were carved from heavy African ironwood and inlaid with gold.  “This is the dining room,” Yuriko began. “There are a few rules I must go over with you before you enter, but first, a quick search.”

Yuriko perused Amy’s face.  Her expression told Amy that the security expert could see the fearlessness in her eyes.  Fearlessness…and ferocity.  Amy searched Yuriko’s eyes and saw the same.

Yuriko glided her lithe fingers across Amy’s athletic frame.  Her skilled hands did not leave even the slightest wrinkle on Amy’s black shark-skin business suit. The search confirmed that Amy was unarmed.

“Now, the rules,” Yuriko began.  “First, once you are seated, please remain so, unless you need to go to the restroom.  If that is the case, please inform Mr. Emilianenko.  He will call me on the radio and I will escort you.”

Amy nodded and Yuriko continued.

“Second, please refrain from any sudden gestures, or talking excessively with your hands.”

Amy smiled and nodded again.  Yuriko nodded back at Amy and went on.

“Finally, just remember, I will be right outside this door if any assistance is needed.”

Amy nodded and held her smile.  She knew that the final rule was actually a warning that if she tried to harm Mr. Emilianenko, she would have to deal with Yuriko.  “I understand.”

tammy 10Yuriko smiled and then pushed the double doors open.  Amy stepped into the huge dining room behind Yuriko.  The room was illuminated by a crystal chandelier, which hovered above a ten-foot long, mahogany table, which Amy figured to be over a hundred years old, judging by the hand-carved craftsmanship.  Aside from the dining table and chairs, which sat in the middle of the room, the dining room was pretty bare, except for tropical plants, which sat in each corner and gave the room a fresh, pleasant smell that reminded Amy of cantaloupe, sprinkled with black pepper.

At the far end of the table sat Vasiliev Emilianenko, Amy’s boss.  CEO of Biochem, Incorporated.

“Please, be seated.” Yuriko whispered.

Amy sat at the end of the table opposite Vasiliev.

Vasiliev waved a well-manicured hand as if swatting flies with the back of it.  “You are dismissed, Ms. Sakuraba.”

Yuriko bowed and exited the dining room.  Vasiliev turned his gaze toward Amy and grinned.  “Good evening, Ms. Cross.”

“Good evening, Mr. Emilianenko.”

Vasiliev shook his head.  His curly, black hair bounced slightly as his head moved from side to side.  “Please, call me Vasiliev.  May I call you Amy?”

Amy nodded.  “Of course.”

Vasiliev smiled even wider.  “So, Amy, let’s chat while we wait for our meal, yes?”

“Yes, Vasiliev.”

tammy 11Vasiliev leaned forward in his chair and placed his arms upon the table.  His massive arms strained against the sleeves of his soft, burgundy, silk smoking jacket.  “So, you are my Vice President of International Affairs, yes?”

Amy nodded.  “Yes.”

“And now, you are here to put in your bid for President, now that Radcliff Delmont has retired, yes?”

Amy swallowed and then nodded.  “Yes, sir.”

“Well, Amy, I do not dine with V-Ps…only Presidents.”  Vasiliev grinned and the light from the chandelier danced across his perfectly veneered teeth.

Amy patted her chest.  “What?!  You mean the position is mine?”

“Yes,” Vasiliev said.  “You’ve earned it.  I would be a fool not to promote the person responsible for a two-hundred and twelve percent increase in our international profits.  If I do not promote you, my rivals will steal you away from me.”

tammy 12Vasiliev laughed and then reached under the table and brought up a long white box.  “Amy, I understand that you are quite the collector of masks.”

“Yes, Vasiliev,” Amy replied.  “I’ve been collecting masks from all over Africa for the past two decades.”

“And I hear there has been one mask, in particular, that you desire, but it has eluded you, yes?”

“Yes, it is called ‘Oya’s Beard’.  It is a rare Yoruba mask that depicts the Goddess Oya with a conical beard.  “It represents women who possess the power of man, as well as woman.”

Vasiliev shoved the box down the table towards Amy.  “I see…open the box, please.”

Amy caught the box as it slid over the edge of the table.  She opened the box and peeked inside.  “Oh, my God!  Vasiliev…I don’t know how to thank you!”

tammy 4She picked up the mask, sighing as she caressed its long, spike-like beard and dark, mahogany face.

Vasiliev pounded his fists on his broad chest.  “That is my thanks to you!  You have done so much for Biochem.  This is just a small token of my appreciation…but, please, tell me…why such a fascination with masks, Amy?”

Amy stared into Vasiliev’s grey eyes.  The time had finally come.  “Paul Lawrence Dunbar said: ‘We wear the mask that grins and lies.’  I collect masks to remind me that there are many masks that we wear and I must never allow one of them to become my face.”

Vasiliev leaned forward again.  “Explain, please.”

“We all wear masks and, many times, we wear them so long and so often that the mask becomes indistinguishable from the person.  The mask has become the face.  Thankfully, mine has not.”

Vasiliev smiled.  “So, what mask do you wear, Amy?”

Amy patted her chest and then ran her hands across her face.  “This is my mask.  Amy Cross.  Conservative…capitalist…loyal to the establishment…an Aunt Tammy.”

Vasiliev’s right hand crept closer to the two-way radio that sat at the corner of the table.  “Continue, please.”

“But my face, Vasiliev, is Esusanya Ogunlana.  Former operative of the OPC – Ododuwa People’s Congress…aunt of Malomo Ogunlana, who was a victim of the Atlanta Child Murders…remember those!?”

Vasiliev grabbed the two-way radio.  Amy hurled the Oya’s Beard mask towards him.  The spiked chin of the mask tore through his esophagus, piercing his spine.

tammy 7The tip of the mask’s chin protruded from the back of Vasiliev’s neck.  His shoulders bounced up and down involuntarily and his legs jerked back and forth in a sardonic tap-dance.  The two-way radio was frozen in Vasiliev’s right hand.  His eyes stared, unblinking, at Amy’s – or Esusanya’s – chest.

Esusanya was a blur as she sprung from her chair and darted across the room until she was directly behind Vasiliev.  She placed her full lips to Vasiliev’s ear and whispered:  “Within the next ninety seconds, you will be dead, so let’s make this brief.  I know you were responsible for the death of my nephew and all those other boys.  I know that you had those boys kidnapped and murdered in order to harvest their melanin and sell it to the highest bidder to use in their tanning lotions, sunblockers and contact lenses.  I know you, Vasiliev Emilianenko…your mask has been removed!”

tammy 9Vasiliev’s eyes rolled back in his head, his body spasmed once…twice…and then slumped forward until his head rested on the dining table.

Esusanya sauntered to the double doors and placed her hands upon the handles.  “I’ll have to soak in Epsom salts after this.”

She then opened the doors to face Yuriko Sakuraba…and a life with no masks.

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WRATH OF THE SIAFU IS HERE! 2 Reasons Why We Love A Great Origin Story

Superhero Origin StoryWhy is every superhero movie an origin story?

Because we love them. Hollywood makes billions of dollars off us because we flock to go see them. But why?

Is it because they show the exact moment when a normal guy goes from being ‘just like us’ to being somehow ‘better, faster, stronger’?

Is it because they show us not how to become super but how to be heroes; to choose altruism over the pursuit of wealth and power?

Superhero Origin StoryIn one form or another, the superhero origin story has been around forever – a hero battles supernatural forces and returns home more prestigious – or comes of age – from this perilous adventure, gaining more power in the process.

Superheroes typically experience two types of life-altering events that transform them; that drive them to become greater than they were when we first meet them:

The first event is trauma.

A SIngle LinkIn A Single Link, Remi is sexually assaulted by Mixed Martial Arts professional fighter Chris Cunningham. This drives Remi to train to become the first woman to fight professionally in co-ed MMA matches and to eventually become a champion. Others who have become superheroes through some traumatic event are Batman (the murder of his parents) and Mister Terrific (the accidental deaths of his wife and unborn child).

The second life-altering event is destiny.

Wrath of the SiafuIn Wrath of the Siafu, Remi is endowed with enhanced physical abilities that she ultimately uses to combat a corrupt and oppressive system. While her choosing to fight the system is due to her and others suffering at the hands of an oppressive and tyrannical state, she comes to realize that she was destined to become a superhero. Others who were destined to fulfill their destiny as superheroes are Static and Black Lightning.

Superhero origin stories inspire us and help us to find meaning in loss and trauma. In fact, A Single Link, which first came to life as a short film, was adapted into a novella after I suffered the loss of my father on October 16, 2013.

Superhero Origin StoryBefore it even premiered, the wildly popular television series Gotham made history when Netflix bought the exclusive subscription video rights to the series, shelling out $1.75 million per episode, in a an effort to expand its international audience.

That Netflix is using Gotham, a prequel to the Batman stories, as part of its international growth strategy speaks to the power of the allure of origin stories. And their decision, it appears, was sound. Gotham is a hit.

Another reason we are interested in origin stories is that we like people to be predictable. We have a need to understand others – where they are coming from, and why they do what they do. Origin stories help us make sense of other people.

So those are some reasons we enjoy a great origin story. What are some other reasons? Your feedback is welcome and encouraged.

Oh, and if you are hankering for a great origin story now, check out A Single Link and Wrath of the Siafu, which just released today.

Here’s a description:

The near future…

A young genius is gunned down brutally by the police.

Remi Swan – our hero from the hard-hitting Action-Adventure novella, A SINGLE LINK – fights to defend the little boy and herself.

She is arrested, imprisoned, forced to fight and infected with an experimental virus that turns women into raging monsters…or worse.

Possessed with incredible – and scary – new abilities, Remi sets off a war against a system that has long brutalized Black people. A war that, alone, she might not be able to fight, but now she is backed by an army…a powerful and deadly force of her own making.

Now, that brutal system will suffer the…

WRATH OF THE SIAFU!

Part Action Adventure; part Thriller; part Superhero origin story, Wrath of the Siafu – sequel to the hard-hitting Action Adventure / Martial Arts hit, A Single Link – exploded onto the scene today and is sure to leave in its wake many satisfied readers.

Wrath of the Siafu is now available in e-book and in paperback!

 

And here’s the hard-hitting song that inspired the title of the hard-hitting book, Wrath of the Siafu:

 

 

AUTHOR vs. WRITER: Which Side Will You Choose?

Often, we use the words author and writer interchangeably. But both these words are quite different.

Simply put, an author must have readers. A writer may or may not have readers.

Using words to craft a story or poem or essay or book which has the potential to take on a life of its own are at the heart of what it means to be both a writer and an author.

In the act of literary creation, we all start out as writers. We write for ourselves. We write to create. We write to explore and play and experience and for a thousand other reasons. And, finally, for many (if not most) of us, we look around to see who wants to share in our creation.

Why do we seek out readers?

The reasons are many – validation of what we’re doing; the ego-driven need to show others what we’ve created; the belief that what we’ve created deserves to be shared; the urge to make money through publishing your writings; and an understanding that literary creations can be improved by being shared with others – that readers, by the very act of reading your work, show you what works and what does not.

It is this process of sharing your creations with the world that transforms you from writer into author.

Anyone can be a writer. Simply write and create something new. And many people can develop into good writers, at that. But to become an author – you must be a writer who pushes your creations out into the world.

Becoming an author is not every writer’s goal. Nor is it some evolutionary advance, as if, in becoming an author, you have somehow “outgrown” being a writer.

Being a writer is an identity; being an author is a career.

I have identified myself as a writer since I was a small child and realized I enjoyed writing and was pretty good at it.

I have been an author since I sold my first book.

If I never sold another book, I would not stop writing. Writing is a cornerstone of my sense of self. Not being published would not stop that.

Are you an “Aspiring” Writer?

If you are an “aspiring” anything, you are not the thing at all.

“Aspiring” is for the weak; for the lazy; for the afraid.

An aspiring writer is a person who plans, desires, or hopes to write, but doesn’t actually write.

Aspiring writers say they want to write, but they never actually do.  They never carve time into their life to sit down and write.  

They are the ones who say “Aw snap! You’re a writer, son? I wanna be a writer someday. Let’s get together and build on that! (meaning: “let’s discuss it”)” And I always respectfully say “We build with our hands, not with our mouths.”

Writers – real writers, not “aspiring” ones – are the ones who sit their butts down and write.

The same applies to “aspiring author”; especially nowadays, with the iron-fist of major publishing crumbling into a pile of rust and giving way to small presses and self-publishing, which nearly anyone can do with enough education and hard work.

Excuses, Excuses…

The excuses we make are lies we create so that we don’t feel guilty about doing nothing.

Right now, some of you are reading this and saying, “Yeah, but…” You are coming up with excuses for not writing…for not becoming the writer or author you “aspire” to be. Let’s examine common excuses “aspiring” writers and authors give for doing absolutely nothing:

I suck. If you feel uncomfortable with your level of talent, take a writing class. Every writer starts by simply putting the first word down on paper. Take a chance and write something. Learn as you go. You never know if you’ll be good at something until you give it a try. 

I have writers’ block. Having writers’ block doesn’t stop you from writing. Refusing to overcome writers’ block does. Try making an outline, even a small one; also, writing exercises will spark your creativity and get you writing. Come up with character names and engage them in imaginary conversations in your head. Keep a small notebook at hand at all times to take notes when ideas strike you.

I can’t convey my ideas on paper well. That’s what editing is all about. A perfect first draft is extremely rare. Just write; then have other writers read your work and critique it. Rewrite the work and ask them to read it again and make more needed changes; repeat the process until you feel you have a good piece of work and then send it to a professional editor.

I can’t handle the stress. Oh, please. Grow a pair, will you? Life is filled with stress…some good (called eustress); some bad (called distress). Deal with it and get to work!

I am too damned old. There is no minimum or maximum age requirement to write. As long as you are of a sound mind, you can write.

I would have too much competition. Audre Lorde said that “there are no new ideas, only new ways of making them felt”. Even with hundreds of thousands of new books published each year, you are a unique person with a unique take on life. Work hard on developing your own style and your own voice. Obis’ Law states that “Somebody else probably has the same idea, so, a) get started; and b) plan to do it better”.

I am broke. All you need to start writing is a pen or pencil, notebook and public library access. If you have your own computer, even better. And if you are truly broke, you probably aren’t working, or are working part-time, so you have even more time to write.

I don’t have the hook-up. Very few fledgling authors do, at first. Join social media sites and seek out other writers and publishers; join a writers’ workshop; go to conferences, and search other resources.  After all, you probably didn’t know a spouse or plumber before you needed one. It takes research and getting to know people.

I am afraid of wasting my time on a book that doesn’t sell. The author J.A. Konrath didn’t sell his novel until he’d amassed more than 500 rejections in his search for agents and publishers. Perseverance is the key. If that first book doesn’t sell, consider it an exercise in learning to be a better writer. Write because you love it; because you’re compelled – and maybe even obsessed – to write. Write without worrying about making a dime at first, or I guarantee you, your writing will be a trite piece of crap that will not sell.

I don’t have enough time to write a book. Most likely you’re making time for non-productive things, like watching TV or having e-fights on Facebook. That means you actually do have time to write, you’re just not making it a priority to write. Everyone has responsibilities and demands on their time. Set a goal of simply writing 500 words a day or one or two pages a day. Sit down with a calendar at the beginning of the week and schedule your writing time. If you truly want this, you’ll find the time and make it a priority.

I am a writer. I am an author. I am pretty good at both, but have a lot more growing to do. More than anything else, I am a student of the art and craft of writing. I love being a student; but I hate being in class alone. Join me and let’s learn – and grow – together.

URBAN FICTION FANATICS: 7 Reasons Why We Love Crime Dramas

Crime DramaI am a huge fan of Urban Fiction, particularly the subgenre of Urban Fiction called the Crime Drama. I’d wager most of you, dear readers, are too. I’ve seen every epidode of Breaking Bad, The Wire, LutherSons of Anarchy, Oz, Wentworth, Deadwood (yes, many Westerns are crime dramas), Boardwalk Empire, Power and the Sopranos. I have watched every crime, con, heist and gangster movie ever made in the U.S. and many foreign films, too. Hell, I even created a test to help determine which type of Urban Fiction character you’d be if you existed in a fictional world.

I really like crime dramas.

Why?  

Why are we so fascinated with crime and the crime story? Well, I have researched this fascination – and, for some, it is an obsession – for a while and I have discovered seven reasons why we love the Crime Drama: 

Fascination with the Unknown

The first crime fiction – a story entitled Three Apples, from the classic anthology, One Thousand and One Nights – came out at about the same time Giovanni Faber coined the term “compound microscope” in 1625 for Galileo Galilei’s invention, the occhiolino, or “little eye.”  

Both of the underworlds – the natural, microscopic one and the grimy, unlawful one – are of similar fascination to people who live a relatively clean surface existence.  Most of us hear about crime but rarely see it.  We know about germs but rarely see them. We are fascinated by the unknown; by what lurks beneath the surface.

Desire for Relief from Our Fears

Have you ever walked down the street and kept looking over your shoulder due to fear and / or anxiety? Have you ever clutched your purse at the approach of a stranger or locked your car door at a stop light? Crimes happen every day. We hear about them, constantly, through the print, web and televised news. We watch crime dramas because we desire the comfort in knowing that the bad guy will get caught in the end – and the bad guy isn’t always the “criminal” either. In crime dramas – and in real life – often the real bad guy is law-enforcement. Whether the bad guy is a cop or a crook, however, crime shows play on our fears of being victims of a crime fear and strive to relieve that fear by giving the bad guy his comeuppance.

Thrill of the Emotional Rollercoaster

Crime Dramas seriously play on our emotions. In just one episode love, anger, suspense, empathy, and sympathy may all be expressed. Many crime dramas are also love stories – nothing intensifies emotions more than interacting and involving the people closest to you. A killer can be someone very close to the victim or a total stranger. We would do anything to protect the ones we love, so knowing that sometimes our protection is ineffective because the threat is someone we know intimately is frightening – and fear is a powerful emotion.

We Seek Hope

Usually, during the last couple of minutes of The Following, we see some type of closure and justice, which is not always seen in the real world. There is some offense committed and in the end, there is punishment for that offense. A crime show dives in and explores the human response to evil. This provides a sense that there are good people in this cruel world of ours; people who will do the right thing. This gives the fan of crime dramas a sense of hope in the human condition.

We Seek to Understand Our Environment

Yes, bad people do walk upon the earth and bad things do happen. Crime dramas help us in our attempts to understand the horrific crimes and cruelties committed in this world through the lens of fiction. Throughout an episode of a show such as Oz, we see the bad guy’s twisted motivations and actions. Since these offenses are fictional, the acts are seen as bearable. Murder series provide a peek into the realm of human evil without the horror that goes along with the real thing.

We Seek Thrills and Chills

Picture this, you’re watching Power with your bowl of popcorn and you notice that there are two minutes left in the episode. Our hero, Ghost, sits in a restaurant having lunch. A team of federal law enforcement agents, including his girlfriend, Angela, are closing in to catch him.  The closer the team gets to catching Ghost, the faster you eat that popcorn. This is just example of how crime dramas keep you on the edge of your seat. We love the apprehension and tension as the bad guys are closing in; as our hero is close to being caught. Crime dramas allow us to live and overcome life-altering events without actually experiencing the negative life-altering experience.

We Are Law Breakers

We identify with law breakers because we are law breakers too.  We watch our favorite good guy, not-so-good guy or bad guy get away with breaking the law for a while, sometimes long enough to build a huge and successful empire.  We hope we can get away with defying the law for a long time too, but we live under its shadow and worry that it will take us down. We cheer watching the gangsters get away with it.  We’re appalled by their duplicity. We cheer when they get caught. We’re sobered to see that crime doesn’t pay.

Jung said we identify with everyone in our dreams and our fiction. We don’t just identify with the good guys against the bad guys.  We are the good and the bad guys. We are the cops and the robbers; the cons and the conned.

Crime DramaSo, what does it mean if your idea of heaven is to snuggle down in front of the TV and soak in an episode of The Wire or to sit at the computer enjoying another thrilling episode of Street Stories: Diesel?

It means that you are a person who craves adventure; a person who desires to see justice done; a person who seeks light in the darkness in which they dwell.

This dialogue from The Wire says it best:

Man On Stoop: I’m sayin’, every Friday night in an alley behind the Cut Rate, we rollin’ bones, you know? I mean all them boys, we roll til late.

McNulty: Alley crap game, right?

Man On Stoop: Like every time, Snot, he’d fade a few shooters, play it out til the pot’s deep. Snatch and run.

McNulty: What, every time?

Man On Stoop: Couldn’t help hisself.

McNulty: Let me understand. Every Friday night, you and your boys are shooting craps, right? And every Friday night, your pal Snot Boogie… he’d wait til there’s cash on the ground and he’d grab it and run away? You let him do that?

Man On Stoop: We’d catch him and beat his ass but ain’t nobody ever go past that.

McNulty: I gotta ask ya: If every time Snotboogie would grab the money and run away, why’d you even let him in the game?

Man On Stoop: What?

McNulty: If Snotboogie always stole the money, why’d you let him play?

Man On Stoop: Got to. This America, man.

 

AIN’T NO SUCH THING AS SUPERMAN! Do Black People Need Black Superheroes…or Just Black Heroes?

AIN’T NO SUCH THING AS SUPERMAN!

Do Black People Need Black Superheroes…or Just Black Heroes?

Black SuperheroStories about the heroes and superheroes in speculative fiction, film and comic books capture essential truths about human nature. We relate to – and identify with – the characters and themes in these stories; we empathize with the dilemmas and problems that superheroes face, and we admire – and often mimic – their heroic acts.

What, exactly, is a superhero, you ask?

What is the difference between a superhero and a hero?

I would say that every hero in a work of Black speculative fiction – and least the works I have read, which is pretty vast – is a superhero.

The definition of a hero is someone who rises above his or her fears and limitations to achieve something extraordinary. A hero embodies what we believe is best in ourselves. By definition, a hero would include entirely fictional characters, such as Batman, Brotherman, or Storm; characters who are real, but surrounded by legend, such as John Henry, Bass Reeves, or ‘Black’ Mary Fields; and “real world” firefighters, teachers and parents.

The clearest difference between a hero and what we tend to consider a superhero is that superheroes possess fantastic powers, fight their battles with advanced technology, or possess uncanny beauty, bravery, skill, or luck. Superheroes are heroes who cannot possibly exist in our own world today.

Unlike ordinary heroes, superheroes must have abilities that normal people do not and cannot have.   A superhero like Brotherman – a great comic book hero and protagonist of a comic book series of the same name, brilliantly realized by writer, Guy Sims and his brother, artist Dawud Anyabwile – has no super powers. He belongs to the uncanny beauty, bravery, skill, or luck camp.

Brotherman is also larger-than-life and his stories are timeless; eternal.

Steamfunk Harriet TubmanWould this make Harriet Tubman a superhero? The great freedom fighter, spy and warrior of history is certainly a hero, however, while she possessed a supreme amount of bravery, endurance, skill, luck and the gift of accurate visions, her abilities were attainable by anyone – except, maybe those accurate visions. They were not uncanny, or otherworldly.

However, Harriet Tubman – protagonist of the Steamfunk novel Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman and one of the protagonists of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passageis a superhero. She possesses the ability to heal from massive damage to her body at ten times the rate of a normal person; she has the strength of several men; and she can cast illusions.

Milton Davis’ Changa, of the Sword and Soul series, Changa’s Safari, fights monsters, sorceresses and men and has the ability to see malevolent spirits.

A SIngle LinkRemi ‘The Single Link’ Swan, hero of the fight fiction novel, A Single Link, is the first woman in history to fight men in professional co-ed mixed martial arts.

These are all superheroes – larger than life; powerful beyond the normal realm of human ability; fearless, lucky, or talented beyond measure.

And, like Brotherman, all their stories are timeless; eternal.

No costume is necessary; but it is cool.

But, how do we relate to and identify with characters with such amazing attributes?

Is the reason why the most popular stories in comic books are origin stories because they show us the exact moment when a normal man or woman goes from being just an average Joe or Josephine to being somehow better, faster, smarter, or stronger?

I believe it is not the attributes, but the altruism, we identify with – or at least we aspire to.

It is also the trauma superheroes suffer at their becoming. Many have told me that they love the origin story of The Scythe. What they have said they love is how Dr. A.C. Jackson makes a bargain with the sentient scythe of death to return to earth and exact revenge on his murderers. Dr. Jackson is, literally, a tortured soul; the victim of racism and brutality during the Tulsa, Oklahoma Race Riots of 1921.

Readers also identify with the life-altering force of destiny found in origin stories. In the film Rite of Passage, Harriet Tubman gathers several Guardians – those endowed with supernatural powers to fight men, machines, monsters, demons and the undead. One such Guardian, Harriet Tubman’s young pupil, Dorothy Wright, is reluctant to accept her destiny, yet she rises to the occasion and becomes one of the protectors of the Black-owned town of Nicodemus, Kansas. Many of us identify with Dorothy’s challenge of assuming a great responsibility that forces her to grow up sooner than she wants to.

BrothermanFinally, there’s sheer chance; or the illusion that it was chance – I am not inclined to believe in coincidence – that readers love about origin stories. In the Rite of Passage tie-in, the short film The Dentist of Westminster, the protagonist, Osho Adewale, travels to Nicodemus, Kansas to put his deceased grandmother to rest, but is introduced to a world of darkness in which he gains the power to bring the light. His heroism is an example of how seemingly random, adverse events cause many of us to take stock of our lives and choose a different path.

Good writers of speculative fiction are keen observers of nature, in general and specifically, human nature. They are able to express those observations as captivating stories; they are able to tell the stories of self through the stories of their superheroes.

So, pick up a great comic book, like Dusu (issue #1 is free), Watson and Holmes (also free), the Chronicles of Piye, or Sword and Soul Adventures; or great books, such as Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, Changa’s Safari, Damballa, or A Single Link. Soar with the superheroes within.

Capes aren’t necessary.

But, they are cool.

Join us Wednesday, February 18, 2015, from 8:00pm-10:00pm EST, for a roundtable discussion on the Black contribution to comic books, the evolution of Black protagonists and Black / Afrikan cultural references in contemporary comic books and graphic novels and the emergence of Black consciousness in the comic book industry.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/sisters-in-harmony
Call-In Number: 917-889-7765

The State of Black Science Fiction Celebrates Black History Month: Three Finger’d Jack

We continue our celebration of Black History Month with more great Historical Fiction from Balogun Ojetade and Maniga M. Otep! This story is a Rococoa tale about the Jamaican hero, Jack Mansong. Enjoy!

Three Finger’d Jack

By Balogun Ojetade and Maniga M. Otep  © 2014

Black HistoryThe oak wheels of the wagon sounded like distant rolling thunder. The driver of the wagon put a bottle of whiskey to his lips and then turned the bottom of the bottle skyward. The driver wiped his paper-thin lips with the back of his hand and then handed the bottle to the man sitting beside him. His partner laid his blunderbuss on his lap and then took the bottle in his plump, ruddy fist.

“Whoa!” The driver shouted.

The wagon came to an abrupt halt. Whiskey splashed in the face of the man riding shotgun.

“What the hell?” The man shouted. “Why’d ya stop the carriage, Fred?”

“Look,” Fred whispered, pointing toward something before him.

Standing in the middle of the road was a giant who towered nearly seven feet. The giant was massively muscled; his barrel-like chest strained against the red, cotton material of his sleeveless waistcoat. His chestnut-hued forearms were as girthy as a man’s thigh; his neck, like the trunk of a mahogany sapling.

The ebon colossus’ face was hidden beneath the shadow cast by the brim of his black, beaver skin capotain hat. The tall hat tilted over the brow of the giant gave him the appearance of a fearsome, black pilgrim, come to wreak bloody vengeance upon his racist white counterparts.

“Show ya’self and state ya’ business,” Fred commanded. “Or Riley here is gonna put iron in ya’ chest!”

Riley dropped the bottle of whiskey onto the dirt road and raised his blunderbuss.

The giant smiled; his perfect alabaster teeth in stark contrast to his dark skin. “Dweet, bwai,” he said in a heavy Jamaican patois – “Do it, boy.” – “You’ll be dead t’ree seconds aftah.”

“Ya’ black bastard!” Riley spat. “Yer’ dead!”

Riley squeezed the trigger of the blunderbuss. A din like thunder rent the crisp evening air. A cloud of marble sized iron pellets and rusty nails sped toward the giant.

The giant lunged to his left with blinding speed.

The shrapnel from the blunderbuss flew past him.

“Impossible!” Riley gasped.

Fred leapt down from his seat. “Hurry up and reload!”

Fred drew his slender, sharply pointed smallsword from its sheath. He thrust the point toward the giant…but the black stranger had seemingly vanished from the road.

“Where is he?” Fred inquired. “Do you see him Riley?”

Fred was met with silence.

“Riley?” Fred repeated.

Still, silence.

“Riley, I said…”

Fred looked up at the wagon. Riley’s body was slumped over in the seat. His head, cleanly severed from his body sat in his lap.

“No!” Fred screamed.

“Yah, mon.” A voice replied from behind him.

Fred whirled on his heels, slashing with his sword.

The giant blocked the blade with a backhanded swipe of his own sword – a broad, slightly curved cutlass four feet in length. The weapon’s grip and guard were carved from ivory. Its keen blade, forged from cold steel.

Fred’s sword was rent in two, leaving only the grip in Fred’s trembling hand.

“Mi name is Jack Mansong,” the giant bellowed. “Time for you to join Riley in hell.”

Jack raised his cutlass above his head.

Tears streamed down Fred’s cheeks. “No…please, don’t kill me,” he sobbed.

“Everybody die dem, mi bredren,” – “Everyone dies, my friend,” – Jack replied. “Ah fi yuh tun today.” – “It’s your turn today.”

Jack slashed downward with his cutlass with tremendous force. The sharp blade struck Fred’s skull, cleaving it in two.

Fred’s lifeless body collapsed, landing with a dull thud at Jack’s feet. Blood splashed onto Jack’s black leather shoes and black stockings, but Jack didn’t seem to notice. He peered over his shoulder and whistled loudly.

Two scores of Black men and women, all dressed in dark green waistcoats, similar to Jack’s red one, slipped from behind the Blue Mahoe trees that lined the road and sprinted toward Jack, their muskets and flintlock pistols at the ready.

“Nesta,” Jack said.

“Yah, mon,” a tall, beautiful woman with toffee-colored skin answered.

“Check di wagon,” Jack ordered.

Nesta trotted to the back of the wagon. Four men and two women formed a rank behind her. She pointed her flintlock pistol at the wagon and then snatched back its cover.

Huddled together at the front of the wagon, cowering in the shadows, were five young Black women in their late teens and a boy no older than twelve or thirteen.

“Come on out,” Nesta said. “You’re free now.”

The women crawled in a single file to the back of the wagon and then hopped down onto the road. The boy followed suit.

“How many we got?” Jack asked.

“Five gyals dem,” Nesta answered. “One bwai.”

Jack sauntered toward the young ladies and the boy. “Where were dey take yuh?”

“Mi heard di one called Fred say him was take we to Governor Dalling,” one of the girls said, taking a step toward Jack. “Him said we were gwine be his belly warmer dem.”

“Di bwai, too?” Nesta asked shaking her head.

“Yah, mon, ma’am,” the girl answered.

“Well, you’re free now,” Jack said. “So, you’re free to choose. Go fi yuh own way an’ fend fah yourselve dem, or jine me an’ we work to make all o’ we free.”

“Mi reckon join ya’ is better dan’ slave fi dem’,” the girl replied.

The other women and the little boy nodded in agreement.

“Den, welcome to di army of Jack Mansong,” Jack said with a bow and a wave of his capotain hat. “Hop back in di wagon an’ Nesta, here, will drive yuh home.”

With that, Jack turned away from his army and sprinted toward the tree line. The shadows of the Blue Mahoes seemed to embrace him and a moment later, the giant was gone.

****

The shadows opened and Jack stepped out onto a narrow path that led to the gaping maw of a cave. Twenty of his soldiers greeted him, kneeling on their right knee and raising their machetes to their foreheads in their traditional salute. Jack knelt, returning the salute and then hopped to his feet. The soldiers followed suit. Jack then embraced each of them, asking each man and woman about their day before marching up the path to the cave.

Jack stepped inside the cave. Torches lined the walls, bathing the illustrations of Jack’s exploits – drawn by Nesta, who was a masterful artist – and the hieroglyphs – drawn by his master to ward off their white oppressors – in firelight.

Jack strode past several torch lit rooms and passages on either side of him, journeying deeper down the main passageway until he came to a capacious room lit, not by torches, but by hundreds of white candles. In the center of this room was a small pool of clear water. Beside the pool, sitting upon his haunches on a straw mat, was a middle-aged man dressed in a white tunic and white breeches.

Jack lowered himself into a prone position and then pressed his forehead to the stone floor. “Wah gwan, Tata Boukman.” – “Hello, Father Boukman.”

“Wah gwan, Jack,” Tata Boukman replied. “Come si’ down wid mi, mon.”

Jack leapt to his feet and walked toward the mat. He knelt before his teacher and embraced him. He then sat on the mat opposite Boukman.

Between the two men sat a tray, which was carved from a red wood. The tray was the size of a dinner plate, with a smiling Afrikan man’s face carved into the edge of the tray closest to Jack. Jack knew well who this sculpted visage belonged to – it was the face of Tata Legba, the Divine Trickster and intermediary between the forces of nature and humanity. Upon the tray was what Tata Boukman called his “soodsaya chain” – a thin, brass chain about the size of a necklace, to which eight halves of palm seeds are connected.

Boukman held the soodsaya chain between his fingers and thumb, letting the ends of it hang just above the tray. With a gentle back and forth movement of his fingers, the divining chain swung back and forth. After the third forward swing, Boukman opened his fingers, allowing the chain to fall upon the tray.

Boukman examined the pattern formed by the palm seeds. He picked up the chain and repeated the process twice more.

“Fi yuh read come dem wid blessins’,” – “Your divination comes with blessings,” Boukman said. “Yuh are blessed wid victory ovah enemy dem.”

Boukman pressed the tips of his crooked, ebony fingers to the brown leather pouch that hung from Jack’s chest. “Nuh white mon cyan harm yuh as long as yuh wear fi yuh Obi’Yah bag upon fi yuh chest. Howevah, yuh need protection from fi yuh own Black bredren.”

Boukman slid his right hand into his left sleeve. A moment later he withdrew what looked like a large goat’s horn wrapped in tan leather. “Dis ram a hawn make dem any attack wid di white man a weapons witless, even if di wielda is blacker dan a dousand midnights.” – “This ram’s horn renders any attack with the white man’s weaponry worthless, even if the attacker is blacker than a thousand midnights.”

Boukman placed the horn in Jack’s open palms. Jack clutched it, feeling it pulse in his fist. He slipped the leather cord attached to the horn over his head and let the horn hang at his right side.

“‘Ow did today a mission guh?” – “How did today’s mission go?” Boukman asked.

“Nuh silva or food dis time,” Jack replied. “Dis time we got five sistas and one bredda.”

“Are dey wid wi?” Boukman inquired.

“Yeh mon.”

“Good! Obi is swell our ranks!”

“T’ank Obi,” Jack said, nodding in agreement. “Soon, we will take Jamdung from the white man and finally live free!”

“We done here,” Boukman said. “Mi will see yuh at dinna.”

“Alright,” Jack said, rising to his feet. “Rest up, Tata Boukman.”

“Oh, an’ Jack…”

“Yeh mon, Tata?”

“Don’t send Nesta outa pon anymo’ missions.”

“But shim ah mi bes’ soldia’.” – “But she is my best soldier.”

“Shim ah also breed.” – “She is also with child.”

Jack’s eyes grew as wide as saucers and his chin fell to his chest. “Yuh mean we…?”

“You’ll be a fam’ly soon,” Boukman said. “Suh, nuh mo’ missions fah Nesta.”

“Yeh mon, Tata!” Jack said, beaming.

Boukman Dutty laced his fingers behind his head, lay on his back and closed his eyes.

Jack backed out of the room, stepping into the cool, welcoming shadows and once again, disappeared.

****

Governor John Dalling’s plump, ivory fist slammed into the top of his mahogany desk. Earl Gray tea spilled from his porcelain cup and splashed into the saucer upon which it sat. “I want that Black bastard’s head! For overlong, Jack Mansong has wrought a reign of terror upon the good, white citizens of Jamaica.”

The governor leered at the lean, russet-colored man standing before him. “Your people – those…Maroons – swore, according to our agreement, to keep order amongst the free savage and the slave. Why are they not bringing an end to this Jack mess?”

“First of all, di Maroons are nah mi people,” the lean man replied. “Nanny ‘av grown weak, but refuse dem to tun ova powa to di strong.”

“Strong, like you?” Governor Dalling said with a smirk.

“Nah like mi,” the man said. “Ha’ Obi’Yah is nuh match fi di powa of di grave. Di powa mi mama passed dung to me – the power my mother passed down to me. Di Maroons were ‘fraid of dat powa, but used it – and we – to help winna deir freedom – to help win their freedom. But when it came time to divide di powa an’ di land, Nanny kept it to herself!”

“Well, Quashie, your powers have been quite effective in dealing with my opponents and detractors, I must admit.” Governor Dalling said.

“Of course, yuh mus’,” Quashie said. “Look, mi will deal wid dis Jack Mansong for dat t’ree hundred pound bounty yuh put pon his head, but yuh will also haf’fi  gimmi command of a hundred of fi yuh men.”

Governor Dalling’s fat face twisted into a scowl. “What! A Black leading white men? That’s preposterous!”

“As preposterous as that wig yuh wear pon fi yuh bald head,” Quashie said. “Jack Mansong ‘av big wa’ Obi an’ an army of highly trained warriors. Mi cannot wage wa’ wid him widout men.”

“Alright,” the governor sighed. “I’ll pay you nine hundred pounds sterling for Jack’s head, plus an additional fifty pounds for every member of Jack’s army you return to the plantations, but I can only spare fifty men.”

“Yuh ‘av a deal,” Quashie said. “Now, let we seal our agreement ovah hot tea. ‘Av fi yuh bwai bring me a cup!”

****

Jack and Nesta sauntered around the circle of sweating men and women who rolled, leapt and somersaulted backward, forward and sideways while holding their machetes toward the red sun of dawn.

“Kipura ah de war dance of fi wi ancestors from de Kongo,” he bellowed. “It will make yuh strong; it will make yuh agile; it will teach yuh to endure an’ prepare yuh fah fi yuh deepa combat trainin’. Suh, wi train inna Kipura every day. Wi train until fightin’ ah as easy as sleepin’!”

“Aye!” The men and women in the circle shouted in unison.

Juda, the boy who – along with the five young women – was rescued from enslavement under Governor Dalling, sprinted into camp. Only two weeks had passed and Juda had already earned a place among Jack’s scouts, who explored beyond the area occupied by Jack’s forces to gain vital information about the enemy’s movements and features of the environment for later analysis by their leader.

“Field Marshal Jack!” Juda shouted as he ran toward Jack. “A caravan!”

“Slow dung, bwai,” Jack replied. “A caravan dis early? Weh ah it?”

“Pon Windward Road,” Juda said. “‘Bout five wagons…all covered.”

“Could be a trap,” Nesta said.

“Could be,” Jack replied. “Suh, I’ll just tek t’ree warriors wid mi. Nesta, put everyone pon alert. Juda, tell de scouts to return to camp an’ help load de weapons.”

“Aye!” Juda shouted before whirling on his heels and sprinting off.

“Aye!” Nesta said, but she did not move.

“A wah?” – “What is it?” Jack inquired.

“Be careful,” Nesta whispered, caressing his fingers with her own.

“Mi always am,” Jack replied, flashing Nesta a broad smile.

Nesta released Jack’s hand. Jack whirled on his heels and bolted off.

****

Jack lay prone on a hill that watched over Windward Road, his massive body concealed behind a fallen tree. Three of his most skilled warriors – Boogs, Moby and Vera – lay beside him, their muskets trained on the caravan below them. The caravan had stopped to tighten a wheel on one of the wagons. Each wagon’s blunderbuss-wielding guard stood beside their wagon, perusing the road and the hillside. The drivers of all but one wagon – the one with the loose wheel- sat in their seats with their hands upon the reins of their horses.

Moby snapped his head toward Jack. “Wah yuh tink?” He whispered.

“It does nah look like a trap,” Jack replied. “But looks can deceive. Howeva, wi need to strike before dat wheel ah tightened an’ dey can move. Wi don’t want any of dem gettin’ ‘way.”

“Aye,” Moby replied with a nod.

“Mi ago guh dung an’ seh wah gwan,” – “I’ll go down and say hello,” Jack said. “Cova mi.” – “Cover me.”

“What if ah a trap?” Vera inquired. “What if it is a trap?”

“Good,” Jack replied. “As long as we know we a inna a trap, wi still ‘av a bly to escape it.” – “As long as we know we are in a trap, we still have a chance to escape it.”

Jack hopped to his feet and drew his cutlass from its sheath. He then drew one of the flintlock pistols in his waistband. The giant nodded at the trio of warriors and then wrapped his arms around his chest.

Shadows swooped down upon him, blanketing Jack in their coolness. Jack felt a slight tug at his innards and then, a moment later, he was standing on Windward Road behind the caravan.

Good mawnin’, bakra,” – “Good morning, white slave masters,” Jack said with a smile.

The guards, turned toward Jack, pointing their blunderbusses at him.

Jack bowed slightly. “Fi mi name ah Jack Mansong, fi yuh friendly bandulu, wo’ has come to liberate yuh of de burden of fi yuh cargo. Mi know ah heavy an’ mi seek only to lighten fi yuh load. Suh leave de wagons…an’ live!”

“Mi tink nah,” – “I think not,” a voice called from inside the rearmost wagon.

Jack raised an eyebrow. The voice was not that of a white man, but of one of his kinsmen. “Show yourself.”

Quashie climbed out of the wagon. He was dressed in a sky blue-colored, velvet great coat with cream embroidery and brown suede cuffs and collar. His waistcoat underneath matched the colors of the great coat and his breeches and shoes were brown suede. His stockings, gloves and shirt were cream-colored, as were the twin machetes he held in each hand.

Jack studied the weapons. They were constructed of bone. Human thigh bones from the look of them. Dis mon ah ah necromancaThis man is a necromancer, he thought. Boukman Dutty had told him of them; how dangerous they were, but that few existed outside of the motherland.

“Wi knew yuh would come,” Quashie said, smiling.

“Wi?” Jack replied.

“Ah, where ah mi manners?” Quashie said. “Fi mi name ah Quashie.”

“An Accompong?” – “A Maroon Warrior?” Jack asked, recognizing the name as one given to Maroon warriors born on a Sunday.

“Once upon a time,” Quashie answered. “I’m a free mon, now.”

“A bag-o-wire ah mo’ like it,” – “A traitor is more like it,” Jack replied.

Quashie’s face twisted into a scowl. “Enough laba-laba!” – “Enough chit-chat!” He shouted. “Company…!”

Scores of soldiers scurried out of the wagons, like a swarm of crimson ants. These soldiers, unlike their typical brethren, wore all red, from their coats, to their breeches and leggings, to the tricorn hat upon their heads. They wore no blue breeches or white shirts like regular British infantry and only their black boots, leather and knee high, were of a different color. Each man was armed with a musket, which they all aimed at Jack’s chest.

Meet fi mi Crimson Guard,” – “Meet my Crimson Guard,” Quashie boasted. “Dey ‘av but one mission…to kill yuh!”

“A whole regiment for likkle ol’ mi,” Jack snickered. “Mi am flattered! But fi mi mudda always said ‘neva tek a gift from anyone widout givin’ a gift inna return’, suh…” – “But my mother always said ‘never take a gift from anyone without giving a gift in return’, so…”

Jack whistled. A cracking din raced across the hilltops. A blink of an eye later, the head of one of the Crimson Guards burst like a ripe pumpkin dropped from a rooftop. The soldier collapsed in a pool of his own blood, brain and skull fragments with a wet thump.

“Dat shot came from dem de hills,” Quashie shouted, pointing in the direction of Jack’s warriors with the tips of his machetes. “First Unit, find Jack smadi! Bring dem back alive ef yuh can. Ef nah, mek dem suffa!” – “First Unit, find Jack’s people! Bring them back alive if you can. If not, make them suffer!”

The guards of each wagon and ten Crimson Guards raced toward the hill.

Boogs, Moby and Vera took quick aim and fired in unison.

Two wagon guards and one Crimson Guard fell.

Jack’s warriors reloaded.

Quashie’s soldiers increased their pace, rushing, like a red wave, towards the log behind which their targets took cover.

****

The Crimson Guard formed a semicircle before Jack.

“Mi hear yuh cyan be harmed by de Babylon’s weapons,” Quashie said. “Let wi put dat legend to de test, yeh?”

“Yeh, mon. Do fi yuh wussa,” Jack answered. “Wi will sekkle up afta.” – “Yes. Do your worst…we’ll settle up after.”

“Fiyah!” Quashie commanded.

A tempest of bullets roared toward Jack.

The giant vanished, appearing a moment later behind Quashie and his Crimson Guard.

With a blistering figure-eight slash of his cutlass, the arm of two Crimson Guards were severed. They dropped their weapons, screaming in agony as they writhed on the ground.

Before the Crimson Guard could reload, five more pairs of arms, two heads and a foot – and the Crimson Guards to whom the body parts belonged – had joined them. The surviving Guards dropped their weapons and barreled up the road, babbling about the “duppy” – ghost – Jack Mansong.

Cheers atop the hill told Jack that his warriors had not fared as well as he had.

“Fi yuh bredren a dead, Jack Mansong,” Quashie said. “As yuh will be soon.”

“Mi come yah fi drink milk; mi nah come yah fi count cow,” – “I came here to drink milk; I didn’t come here to count cows,” Jack said, rolling his eyes.

“I won’t hold you any longer, then,” Quashie said. He then twirled both machetes in his hands, flipping their points toward the ground. Quashie leapt between a pair of his fallen soldiers. He dropped to one knee, thrusting downward with his machetes. The weapons sank into the belly of each corpse with a sickening squishing din.

Quashie murmured words in a tongue Jack had never heard before, neither in the Kongo, his homeland, or in Jamaica, the land where he now fought for the liberation of his people. He had never heard such words, but he could tell they were ancient and dark.

Quashie stood, sliding the bone blades out of the guts of his fallen soldiers. The weapons were now covered in an intricate network of veins that pulsed like the beating of a heart at rest. A syrupy, greenish-yellow ichor dripped from the tips of each weapon.

Two wagon guards charged down the hill with bayonets extended from the barrel of their muskets. One wagon guard circled behind Jack to his right and then exploded forward in unison with the guard on Jack’s left.

Jack tossed his cutlass into the air, sending it flipping high above him. Then, with blinding speed, he snatched both pistols from his belt, fired and then returned the pistols to his waist before an eye could blink.

Jack extended his right hand outward at the height of his shoulder. He opened his palm and the grip of the cutlass fell into it. Jack pointed the tip of the cutlass at Quashie.

Both wagon guards collapsed. Smoke billowed from the holes in their foreheads.

Quashie exploded forward, slashing and thrusting furiously with his twin machetes, the sickness dripping from them fouling the air.

Jack somersaulted sideways to his left as he swiped to his left with his cutlass.

Quashie grunted as Jack’s razor-sharp weapon carved a crooked smile into his biceps.

Jack dashed forward and then struck with a downward, diagonal forehand slash, followed by a downward, diagonal backhand slash – both aimed at Quashie’s shoulders – and then finished the vicious combination with a powerful thrust toward the rogue Maroon’s sternum.

Quashie lurched to his right and then to his left, evading the slashes. He crossed his blades and raised them, pushing Jack’s cutlass above his head.

Quashie countered, whipping his left machete around in a circular slashing motion toward Jack’s right hand.

Jack withdrew his hand, avoiding most of the force of Quashie’s strike. The blade grazed the flesh of his little and ring fingers, however, opening a small cut.

Jack hammered his left heel into Quashie’s abdomen.

Quashie staggered backward, clutching his belly. He dropped to his knees as agonizing pain coursed through his liver.

Jack peered at his hand. For such a superficial wound, his fingers hurt more than any pain he had ever felt in his life. They hurt even more than the lashes from the whip he had suffered at the hands of his former enslaver when he was a boy. His little and ring fingers had turned a grayish-pink and the nails had turned black.

Quashie struggled to his feet.

The pain in Jack’s right hand increased, feeling like jagged nails under his skin. It became difficult for him to focus.

Quashie leapt forward, raising his machetes above his head.

Jack leapt backward. He thrust forward with his cutlass. The tip of the weapon bit into Quashie’s clavicle, just missing his jugular vein.

Quashie craned his head backward, avoiding an even deeper cut. He landed where Jack had stood.

Shadows seemed to hold Jack aloft as they pulled him toward the hilltop.

“Wi will meet again, soon,” Jack said.

Yah, mon, wi will…T’ree Fingered Jack,” Quashie replied.

Jack faded into the shadows and was gone.

****

Jack lay upon a bed of leaves and flowers in a chamber in his cave. The sweet and minty smell of the flowers barely masked the fetid flesh of his withered, greenish-yellow fingers. Cold clawed its way up his spine. He shivered.

Tata Boukman squeezed a soaked rag over Jack’s lips. A light brown liquid dripped from it into Jack’s waiting mouth.

Juda ran into the room. He dropped to his knees before the Obi’Yah master.

“Stand up, boy,” Boukman Dutty commanded. “No time for formalities. This bitter cerace tea and this bed of herbs will fight off the fever, but those fingers are dead. I need to cut them off so the death in them doesn’t creep any further, but I need to make a poultice to put on it to kill the sickness in his blood and for it to close up.”

“Yes, Tata!” Juda replied, leaping to his feet.

“I hear you have learned to ride a horse better than some of our veterans.”

“That’s what they say, Tata.”

“I need you to ride to Spanish Town,” Boukman said. “There’s a saloon there. Go around back. A bottle of whiskey will be there, sitting on the left of the door. That’s what I need. Bring it back within two hours or we will lose our Field Marshal. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Tata,” Juda answered. “I won’t fail you or our Field Marshal.”

“I know you won’t, boy,” Boukman replied. “To do so would be to fail us all. Now go!”

Juda skittered backward out of the room, spun on his heels and sprinted away.

“Hang on, son,” Boukman said, squeezing more tea into Jack’s mouth. “Obi says it’s not your time to die.”

Darkness joined the cold in Jack’s spine. The light of the torches blurred, faded and then all was quiet.

****

Light crept between Jack’s eyelids. He opened his eyes. Boukman stared down at him, smiling. His head rested on something soft, warm and familiar. He tilted his head backward and looked up into Nesta’s beautiful face. She bent forward and kissed him.

“Welcome back, fi mi love,” Nesta said.

“How long was mi out?” Jack asked.

“Four days,” Nesta answered.

Jack brought his right hand before his face. His little finger and ring finger were gone. The area where they once were was now smooth and a shade lighter than the rest of his hand.

“Fi mi fingas…” he sighed.

“We could nah save dem,” Boukman said. “Dat bwai, Quashie, has some powerful death magic.”

“Mi am guh fi guh introduce him to death de next time wi meet,” – “I’m going to introduce him to death the next time we meet,” Jack said, sitting up. “Any sign of him?”

“None,” Nesta replied. “Him ah probably healin’, too. Or gloatin’; wi lost Moby, Vera an’ Boogs.”

“Mi know,” Jack said. “Dey took all but two of Babylon wid dem an’ mi sent dem two pon fi dem way, suh fi wi bruddas and sista died good deads.”

Jack stood up. “Nesta, mi am goin’ adoor to train. Bring mi fi mi cutlass, please.” – “Nesta, I am going outside to train. Bring me my cutlass, please.”

“Yuh just regained consciousness,” Nesta said. “Perhaps yuh should cease and sekkle.” – “Perhaps you should stop what you’re doing and relax.”

“Mi ‘av rested fah four days aredi,” – “I’ve rested for four days already,” Jack replied. “De bess preparation fah tomorrow ah doin’ fi yuh bess today.”

Jack sauntered out of the chamber and then out of the cave. The warriors on watch saluted him. It was quiet in the camp. Jack looked up at the sky. The moon was clothed in pink clouds, which told him dawn was near. He’d train until noon, take a short rest and then train until nightfall. His missing fingers would not be a hindrance. Obi’Yah blessed mi wid ten, he thought. Suh losin’ two ain’t nuh big deal.

Nesta ran outside. She outstretched her hands, presenting Jack with his cutlass.

“Here,” she said. “Do nah wuk too hawd; an’ drink plenty wata.”

“Yes, mudda,” Jack snickered, wrapping his fist around the cutlass’ grip. “T’ank yuh.”

Nesta smiled, turned back toward the cave and strode back inside.

Jack rotated his wrist, feeling the weight of the cutlass; familiarizing himself with how he now had to hold it to keep it steady in his hand. He slashed with it; thrust with it; twirled the weapon in front of his chest and above his head.

He jogged along the trail toward the forest just beyond the camp, where he would practice his strikes against the trees as he gathered wood for the torches and the bonfires.

Upon reaching the forest, Jack found Juda there, hunting ‘ball pates’ – the white crowned pigeons that had become a staple in the delicious stew eaten daily by the warriors – with his goat-hide sling.

“Field Marshal!” Jordan shouted upon seeing Jack. He ran to Jack and wrapped his arms around the giant’s waist. “Mi knew you would be a’right!”

“Yah, mon,” Jack replied. “Mi rememba yuh inna fi mi chamba an’ yuh acceptin’ de mission to get de whiskey fah fi mi poultice. Dat was brave of yuh an’, obviously, yuh accomplished fi yuh mission. Mi would ‘av died widout fi yuh help. T’ank yuh!”

Juda released his embrace and loaded another smooth stone into the sling. “Mi am guh fi guh kill twenty ball pates inna fi yuh honor.”

“’av at it den,” Jack said. “Mi am guh fi guh gatha some wood.”

Juda pointed skyward. A flock of pigeons soared high above them.

The boy whipped the sling above his head and then moved his arm in a circle, spinning the sling in a wide arc over him. He held his breath and then released one strap of the sling, sending the stone rocketing skyward, toward the pigeons. The stone struck one of the birds in the chest. The bird plummeted toward the earth.

Juda peered over his shoulder at Jack, beaming with pride.

“Good wuk, bwai,” Jack said. “Mi can taste dat twenty-pigeon-stew now!”

Juda dashed off into the dense forest to retrieve the ball pate.

A few seconds later, a boy’s scream came from deep within the forest.

“Juda!” Jack shouted as he stepped into the shadows, vanishing.

A moment later, he appeared at a clearing within the forest where the scouts would hide their supplies when off on missions.

Standing before him was Quashie, rubbing Juda’s shoulders from behind the boy.

“Let de bwai go!” Jack shouted, pointing his cutlass at the necromancer.

“Mi do nah follow fi yuh commands, T’ree Fingered Jack,” Quashie replied. “Juda nuh longa does eeda. Him works fi mi, now.”

Juda stared down at the ground.

Jack’s voice trembled as he called out to his protégé. “Juda?”

Juda looked up, staring at Jack through the tears which had began to stream down his doleful face. “Mi am suh sorry. When mi went to Spanish Town fah fi yuh whiskey, Quashie…um, Masta Quashie discovered mi. Him guaranteed fi mi freedom an’ two-hundred pounds sterlin’ if mi helped him bring fi yuh head to Governa Dallin’.”

“Suh, Juda has become Judas,” Jack hissed. “Afta I kill dis bag-o-wire, yuh had bess run, beanie bobo, ca’ if mi eva see yuh again, yuh a dead!” – “After I kill this traitor, you had best run, little fool, because if I ever see you again, you’re dead!”

“Step aside, Juda,” Quashie said, drawing his oozing machetes. “An’ watch fi yuh criss – new – masta wuk.”

Juda shuffled to the side.

Quashie leapt forward, slashing high and low with his cutlasses.

Jack evaded the deadly strikes with leaps, aerial twists and somersaults, slashing with his cutlass as he moved through the air like a synchronized swimmer in deep water.

The cutlass opened several deep wounds in Quashie’s arms.  His hands shook violently as he struggled to hold on to his weapons.

Jack dropped into a low stance, stabbing downward with his blade. The point, and a few inches beyond it, sank into Quashie’s shoe.

Quashie howled as steel tore through his foot.

Jack slammed his knuckles into the small bones on the back of Quashie’s right hand like a man knocking on a door. A sickening crunch accompanied the back of Quashie’s hand collapsing inward.

The machete fell from Quashie’s fingers and landed between his feet.

Quashie swung the machete in his left hand at Jack’s neck. Jack chopped into Quashie’s forearm with the dense bones of both of his wrists, blocking the blow as he attacked the nerves in Quashie’s arm.

Quashie dropped his remaining weapon. His arm fell lifeless at his side.

Jack yanked his cutlass out of Quashie’s foot. He raised the weapon above his head. “I’ll deliver your corpse to Nanny for burning and I’ll bury those foul swords of yours. Any last…”

Something hard crashed into Jack’s left temple. He staggered sideways. His vision blurred. He snapped his head toward the left. Juda stood in the distance, loading another stone into his sling. Jack beat back the encroaching darkness and lunged forward, driving his cutlass deep into Quashie’s belly.

Sputum and blood sprayed from Quashie’s mouth. He fell to his knees.

Another stone struck Jack just below his left ear. The world tilted and then began to spin. Jack collapsed onto his back. He stared up at the sky. It was now a beautiful light blue, but it was rapidly turning darker, becoming dark blue, then cobalt gray, then black.

Jack shuddered once, and then lay still.

Juda ran to Jack and knelt beside him, sobbing.

“Nuh!” Quashie commanded. “Leave him! Hand mi fi mi weapons!”

Juda jumped to his feet. He grabbed Quashie’s machetes, careful not to touch the putrid blood seeping from them. He squeezed the grips. He wanted badly to end Quashie’s life, but decided he would wait until he had gained Quashie’s trust. It would be easier then. He handed the weapons to his master.

Quashie crawled to jack, leaving a trail of his blood and the bile-filled blood form his weapons, behind him. He held one of the machetes above Jack’s neck.

“Oh, great muddas and fahdas of de grave,” he began. “Mi gi’ fi mi eternal gratitude fuh dis victory. Receive fi yuh son, Jack Mansong, well. An’ when him returns, mek sure him comes back fightin’ pon fi wi side!” – “I give my eternal gratitude for this victory. Receive your son, Jack Mansong, well. And when he returns, make sure he comes back fighting on our side!”

Quashie brought down the machete upon Jack’s neck and the life of one of the greatest heroes the world has ever known came to an end.

But, at the same time, one of our greatest legends was born.

The Legend of Three-Finger’d Jack.

The End

RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH! Avoiding Cultural Appropriation in Steampunk

RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH! Avoiding Cultural Appropriation in Steampunk

appro 8

In 2013, at Dragon*Con, I had the pleasure of being a panelist on the Around the World in 80 Minutes: Steampunk Multiculturalism panel, moderated brilliantly by Diana Pho, founding editor of Beyond Victoriana. My esteemed (eSTEAMed?) co-panelists were Cherie Priest, bestselling author of the Clockwork Century Series, which includes the wildly popular Steampunk novel, Boneshaker; Marina Gurland, Kimono historian and collector and Steampunk afficianado; and Kathryn Hinds, Steampunk, Fantasy and YA novelist, poet, editor, author of over fifty nonfiction books for adults and children and teacher of Middle Eastern Dance.

The conversation was powerful, engaging and interactive and had the feel of a bunch of highly intelligent, well-informed, but really cool and down-to-earth- people getting together to discuss – and find solutions to – some serious issues.

The theme of the day? Research!

From the infamous "African Queen photoshoot. The model is 16 year old, blond-haired, blue-eyed North Carolinian, Ondria Hardin.

From the infamous “African Queen photoshoot. The model is 16 year old, blond-haired, blue-eyed North Carolinian, Ondria Hardin.

Eventually, the conversation got around to cultural appropriation – a topic discussed often amongst Steampunks, as it happens often.

This is a deep issue and had to be addressed. I won’t tell you what the other panelists said, as Diana Pho has sworn us to secrecy in that regard – there will be a video of it released soon, as Alan Braden, known amongst Steampunks as Professor Upsidasium, recorded it and awaits the green light from Ms. Pho – however, I will share my take on the matter.

A working definition of “cultural appropriation” for me is the taking of some aspect, artifact or stereotype of a particular culture – usually something we consider cool – and using it as you please without an understanding and / or respect for what you have taken.

If you wear a Yoruba crown because you think it fits your Steampunk persona of Sir Richard Asshat, the Great White Leopard Hunter, but you know nothing of Yoruba culture (in fact, you probably pronounce it yoh-ROO-bah, when it is YOH-roo-BAH) or the fact that wearing a crown when you are not a chief or oba (“king”) is a capital offense in Yorubaland (even wearing a crown above or below your station is an offense), then you have committed cultural appropriation.

Someone said "He really looks British!" I replied "That's because he really IS British." Akin Danny Donaldson, Producer / Actor / Steamfunkateer.

Someone said “He really looks British!” I replied “That’s because he really IS British.” Akin Danny Donaldson, Producer / Actor / Steamfunkateer.

I am a master instructor of Yoruba, Mandinka and Wolof martial arts, an awo – or, initiate (“priest”) – of Ifa, Egbe and Obatala  and War Chief (“Balogun”) in the Yoruba traditional culture. I live as a Yoruba, am well-versed in Yoruba history, sociology, psychology and cosmology and have respect and reverence for the traditional culture and for my teachers. I am also highly knowledgeable of Akan and Fon culture and sociology, thus I would cosplay an Akan, a Yoruba or a Fon.

I would not, however, cosplay as a Zulu. Though I am a man of African descent, Africa is not a country and African people are not homogenous. I know a bit about the Zulu and respect their culture, but I do not have a deep enough understanding of the culture to cosplay as Shaka Zulu’s right hand man, ‘Bandelezi, the Steam-Bearer,’ without committing cultural appropriation.

Am I being overly sensitive? Nope. Turning someone’s cultural identity into a caricature should be avoided, so the issue of cultural appropriation warrants caution and examination and deserves, well, sensitivity.

Everyday experiences of identity reflect people’s creativity in the way they express themselves as individuals. Stereotypes erase (“white-out?”) the personal experiences of identity and replace them with generalizations.

Django...chained?

Django…chained?

And cultural appropriation is not simply a “little mistake” or a “victimless crime”. The visceral reaction to having an identity that one associates with as an experience, yet disassociates with as a stereotype, is felt in the body and in the mind as an ache; a sickness. As Kristina Bui, a columnist for the Arizona Daily Wildcat says, “It’s a feeling I’ve always struggled to articulate –a discomfort that sort of just sits in the place between your heart and your stomach, quietly nagging.”

Cultural appropriation, at its root, is about power – power to name; power to define; power to appropriate someone’s cultural identity; and power to dictate how painful the resulting stereotype perpetuated by that appropriation should be.

Cosplaying a character from another culture without understanding of that culture and without experiencing any of the daily discriminations faced by that culture is ignorant, at best;  racist, at worst; and an act of privilege.

appro 7However, Steampunk is about changing, or, at least, twisting history right? It is about “how the Age of Steam should have been”, correct? Then it is necessary that we know history; that we understand how the Age of Steam was, so that we can determine how it should have been. If we cosplay a “Steampunk Squaw”, we should research how First Nation women lived during the Age of Steam; we should study First Nation cultures and choose in which we are going to gain historical and sociological expertise; we should research the word “squaw”, understand it is an offensive term to First Nation women and change the name…if you give a damn. If you don’t, you are a racist. Just own up to it and move on.

Am I ruining your plans for the Mahogany Masquerade, Halloween, or AnachroCon?  Well, cultural appropriation and the resultant stereotyping ruins whole groups of people’s fun every day of their lives,

Steampunk Cultural Appropriation“Well, I cosplay as an Egyptian Princess of Icelandic descent because I want to show the absurdities of a blond-haired, blue-eyed Egyptian,” you say. Well, unless your costume includes a billboard that reads “I am cosplaying as an Egyptian Princess of Icelandic descent because I want to show the absurdities of a blond-haired, blue-eyed Egyptian,” strangers will have no clue of your intentions and your costume will be just as hurtful.

The “punk” in Steampunk enjoins us to challenge the status quo. Please, let’s do so and be more thoughtful, knowledgeable and sensitive in our cosplay.

And remember…

Research equals giving a shit; so, do it.

A lot.

The State of Black Science Fiction Celebrates Black History Month: Nat Turner: Necrosis of the Serpent

We continue the State of Black Science Fiction‘s celebration of Black History Month with:

Nat Turner: Necrosis of the Serpent
Written by Guy A. Sims

“Git’im in heah! Quick now!”

The barn side door was opened just enough for the two dark men to carry the third in. The barn was quiet except for the sounds of a few animals and low voices near the hay station.

“Him hurt bad?”

The taller of the two shook his head. “Uh-huh! Bloodied bad but need to tell what he know.” The man who opened the door motioned for the two to lay the wounded man on a pile of old cloths. He left them there, disappearing into the collection of gathered bodies at the hay station. Briefly, heads turned to the direction of the man on the floor but returned just as fast to a figure who slowly began to rise. The group parted as the silhouette illuminated by the small fire moved toward the three men. The two standing men could see the man was holding a machete but they did not move. The figure kneeled next to the man on the ground.

“Tell me what happened.”

He placed his hand on the forehead of the man. The man shivered but managed a smile when the face became recognized.

“My body is broken,” The man coughed, trickling blood from the corner of his mouth. “But my spirit is with you.”

The man tried to sit up but he collapsed under his own pain.

“Stay still brother. Our day of resurrection and jubilee is near. I have seen it in the sky. The sign…the signal from the trumpet of Gabriel…ordered by Gawd A’mighty. Tomorrow we move like shadows.”

He was now talking to the group who had encircled the man on the ground.

“Tomorrow we seize what Gawd done destined for us.”

The figure pointed to the men around him.

“Gather your tools and sharpen your blades…” The weakened man groaned as he struggled to grasp the leader’s shirt.

“No…listen…listen to me Nat Turner.”

An hour passed before the beaten man was able to sit up. Nat Turner’s men applied poultice and wrapped his wounds. The gash on the side of his face was bandaged but still continued to bleed. Although advised to drink slowly, the man gulped down the ladle of water before speaking.
“I know’d I was joinin’ up with you so I make’d like nothin’ was goin’ on but Massa Miller was all drunktified and spittin’ fire. He come ruunnin’ down to the fields wit his rifle in one hand and whip in the other. Him yellin’ about folk not workin’ hard. I reckon he was gonna make a example of me.”

One of the men who brought him in interrupted. “Jes tell’im what you tole us and stop extra storyin’.”

The wounded man glared.

“I’m the one wit the buss head so I tell the story my way. Anyway Mr. Turner, Massa Miller know he wasn’t shootin’ one o’ his slaves cause his money ain’t as much as before…but he’ll whip you up good for true. Anyways, he knocks me good on my face and I falls to the ground. He starts to lash me up but he can’t get no good swing holdin’ the gun. So here’s what he do. He jams it into a bushel o’ ‘taters so it stay up. From there he whips me and cuss me.”

“Now tell ‘im.” The other man stamped his feet.

“Here it is!” The wounded man adjusted in his seat.

“Lissen good Nat Turner. When Massa Miller finished wit’ me he go to get his gun and there be a ‘tater stuck on the end. Massa Miller start belly laughin’ like someone jes tell a funny.”

Nat Turner turned away from the man, thinking him delirious but the man’s hand clutched his trousers. “But then sompthin’ happen. Sompthin’ that might bring you the victory.”

Nat Turner stopped. The other men drew their attention to the man on the floor.

“Go on!” Nat Turner ordered.

“Massa Miller takes the gun, points it in the air, and then shoots.

I thought he musta knocked my senses out cause’n I ain’t hardly hear the shot. Like it was shushed. Here what I’m sayin’ Mr. Turner? The ‘tater made the gun hush.”

Nat Turner took a couple of steps as he looked to the top of the barn. He then looked at the machete in his hand. He pointed to one of the men by the door.

“Get me some bags of ‘taters!”

Slaves toiled under the sweltering sun on Robert Miller’s plantation. Most days were filled with pain, anguish, and internalized grief but not this day. Careful not to raise attention of overseers and others not to be trusted, hands slipped potatoes into pockets, pants, and shirts upon the instruction of their beloved prophet Nat Turner. Songs of rivers and places beyond the Jordan were sung in cryptic harmony. Melodies calling for the great getting’ up morning were merely the countdown to the setting sun. For once, in a long time, there was hope for tomorrow, a longing for Gawd’s mighty hand to sweep time and bring forth dawn. With each stooping, each picking, toting, washing, chopping, lashing, pulling, carrying, struggling, weeping, and wailing, the seeds of hope and desire took root in spirits and began to grow.

A group of twenty to twenty-five were gathered at the predetermined meeting place when the next group arrived, led by Nat Turner. Even in the cover of darkness, his eyes, wide and intense, shined like beacons, blazed like fire. His face was strong, forged from years of whippings, hunger, abuse, degradation, and loss. On this night it was communicated that a new tomorrow was coming, carried on the wings of Heaven and fired on the winds of Hell. Nat Turner stepped up onto a fallen tree trunk and surveyed the crowd. His piercing eyes touched the faces of the sixty or more anxious hopeful ex-slaves. The silence was accented by the rhythmic chirping of crickets. Nat Turner raised his hand and the crowd dropped to one knee. His voice was low and strong, laced with anger and retribution, charged with passion and spitfire, and seething with the breath of God and man and pain and hope.

“My brothers and sisters. Let not your hearts be troubled. Let not fear hold you in place. The glory of the Lawd strengthens us in the same way Joshua was strengthened at Jericho.”

Nat Turner’s hand pointed sharp and quickly toward the Miller home.

“There stands the wall of our Jericho. Listen! Listen! Do you hear the trumpets of the angels? The trumpets that puts power in your hands and feet. They blow with the hot winds of retribution and justice.”

The continually swelling crowd quietly moaned in agreement. They shifted, anxious to stand, anxious to run, anxious to be free. Nat Turner raised both hands above his head.

“Rise up soldiers of Gawd! Rise up because you’s already free! Let tonight be the last time you are ever on your knees ‘cept to pray to the Lawd. You no longer bend as those shackled in the fields. You stand as children in the bosom of the A’mighty! You stand as men! Now, gather your instruments of Jubilee and let us move as heaven prepares a new day for us!”

One of the men signaled to his group and they took off toward the Miller home. Other men doing the same with their groups began their quickened pace down the road. In the warm summer night, the muffled cries of rebellion began to rise, filling the skies and stoking fury. One group remained behind with Nat Turner.

“Tonight you are my archangels who carry the swords of the Divine. We stay behind because we know Satan’s army will come but we will face them when they manifest themselves.”

Nat Turner reached down behind the tree trunk and lifted a rifle.

“I have one for each of you. I also have this.”

He bent down again, this time lifting a small satchel.

“Inside are ‘taters. After you prime your gun, place a ‘tater on the end before you shoot. God will make your guns whisper. So stay low and in the bush. After you shoot, move so you confuse. The A’mighty has foretold our victory so be not afraid.”

Each man secured his rifle and satchel and then said a prayer before heading out to the brush adjacent to the road.

“Them niggas done gone plumb crazy! Done lost their natural minds.”

The captain of the militia signaled halt and turned to address the talkative teen.

“Let me tell you! Let me tell alla you! We got serious business. The word is slaves from the Miller place and the Thomas place are staging a revolt.”

The three rows of halted men stood silently, listening intently to the words of their superior officer. “Our job is to track them down and suppress them…and for those who don’t know that ten-dollar word…it mean put’em in the ground without question!” The teen raised his hand and offered a Sir? The captain nodded.

“Sir? Do you think we’ll get a skirmish…”

The teen’s words were cut short as he dropped to the ground. By the time the militia men next to the teen could react, a second man clutched his throat and stumbled before falling.

“We’s under attack!” Cried one man.

“Where’s it coming from?” Another screamed.

“Take cover!”

“Return fire!” The captain ordered. The men leveled their guns in multiple directions, eyes pierced for movement.

“You see anything?”

“It’s too dark to see nothin’.”

The captain pointed toward a clump of bushes and the men trained their sights. He raised his hand but never finished the count. A hail of bullets picked the militia men off, causing them to fall, to panic, to run. Those who hightailed into the darkness were soon heard screaming as sounds of bludgeoning echoes rose then subsided. In moments, a group of thirty slaves stepped from out of the darkness with bloodied sticks, rocks, candlesticks and other blunt household items.

“Damn you.” The captain, his hands pressed against the increasingly wet circle on his chest, attempted to stand.

“Damn you niggas to hell!” From within the crowd, Nat Turner moved to the now fallen militia leader.

“The Lawd told me to cut the snake or else it will strike with poison. Well, the serpent may have gotten the best of Adam and Eve but tonight we cut off its head.”

Nat Turner positioned himself so he could see eye to eye with the slowly fading captain.

“The hell you speak of is not prepared for me or mine. We are promised to paradise.”

Nat Turner stood and signaled for all survivors to be killed. “Gather their weapons for our journey has just begun. The Lawd commands us to keep on.”

The courier ran feverishly down the corridor of the Governor’s mansion. He stopped when he reached the main chamber. He caught his breath as he tried to compose himself.

“Go right in sir.” The colored attendant opened a large ornate door. “The governor is awaiting with great interest.” The courier stepped with a quickened pace and entered the room. In seconds he was standing in front of the governor’s desk.

“What’s the word from Southampton?”

“It’s bad Governor Floyd. What started as a brazen mob of some crazed slaves has turned into what can only be described as an insurrection.”

“An insurrection?” The last word I received was that a militia of about thirty were dispatched to quell the problem.” The courier handed Governor Floyd a letter which was read immediately.

The courier remained at attention. Moments later, the governor exploded.

“Dead? Two militias dead? One hundred and ten civilians murdered? All those people killed and that group is still on the loose?”

“And gathering strength by overpowering plantation owners. Those people are gentle farmers, not fighters.” The governor screamed for his secretary who bolted into the room.

“Get me the Adjutant General right away!”

The governor patted his now perspiring forehead with a handkerchief. “How? Who?” The courier pointed to a portion of the letter.

“While many of the slaves were killed their numbers continued to grow as they overtook plantations. They must have a group of about two to three hundred now. Maybe more.”

The governor felt sick. He had often bragged how Virginia had the most slaves, almost five hundred thousand. He felt dizzy imagining what could happen if they were all suddenly free. What would happen if it spread to other states? America would cease to be. As he pondered the demise of the nation the Adjutant General arrived and was immediately updated. The governor grabbed his quill and wrote furiously.

“I’m putting an executive order for the use of troops to suppress and eliminate all threats to the life and liberty of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia.” As he handed the document to the Adjutant General he sneered. “Kill all those animal bastards!” The courier stepped in between the governor and the general.

“Sir, if I may. It’s been said that two of the rampaging slaves had been captured. The first refused to talk so he was killed right away. The second was a little more fearful and mentioned the name Nat Turner. He might be their leader. Might I suggest that if he is found to be alive it would make for a great example to capture him and put on display as a way to regain faith in our people and fear in theirs? Just a suggestion.” Governor Floyd pressed the order into the Adjutant General’s hand.

“I want that agitator caught, disemboweled, and disassembled before us all. Call up any Virginia Militia you need. Use whatever arms at your disposal. In the meantime I will dispatch a call for arms from President Jackson, asking him to mobilize the army for support.” The governor paused, looking out of the window. “Understand this! While I’ll implore for his position to be on the ready,” The governor now looked the Adjutant General directly in his eyes. “I want us to satisfy our own dilemmas.” The Adjutant General saluted and exited with all promptness, taking the courier with him. The governor continued to speak out loud. “Whatever leanings I may have had regarding slaves is now no longer a conflict of conscious and consequence.”

For seven days, Nat Turner’s raid evolved into an uprising then wholly into a revolution. At first, plantation owners aware of what was going on awaited for the mythical band of raging Negroes only to be met with a growing hoard of freedom desiring humans.

Others, fearing for their lives, set their slaves free with the hopes they would induce mercy–only to be slain by even their most trusted and good darkies. The swell of ex-slaves with the taste of freedom and vengeance began their march toward Petersburg, Virginia.

It was there they confronted the forces of the Adjutant General and his one-thousand troop army. The Adjutant General released his cannons, raining spheres of fire and steel on the charging men and women hungry for liberty long denied. In the end, three hundred-fifty black men, women, and children were killed.

Another one-hundred eighty were captured and dispersed to plantations in Mississippi and Louisiana. Fifty-three escaped the carnage of Petersburg, disappearing into the dense woods, never to be seen again. The end had arrived but the citizens of the United States didn’t sense comfort until two weeks later when on a hog farm in Chesterfield, Virginia a farmer discovered discarded food remains and eventually a Negro, Nat Turner, hidden in his well. Captured, the leader, the prophet, and now a malcontent, stood shackled in a courtroom in Richmond, Virginia.

The courtroom was filled to capacity; from the floor to the gallery to the front steps and out into the street. The angry. The curious. The mournful. The vengeful. All awaiting the outcome of the trial of Nat Turner. During the course of the day, Nat Turner, tired, beaten, and weary, stood stoic, straight, and strong in the presence of the many white faces cursing and jeering him, wishing for a slow and painful death for his atrocious acts against civilized men, women, and children. His eyes, though swollen from the pummeling, were clear, fixed on the judge’s face. His hands, lacerated and aching from their brine bath, were shackled behind him yet they remained clenched rocks of defiance. A descending hush overcame the room as the judge raised his hand.

“As we prepare to pass judgment on the one called Nat Turner, the court shall continue its practice to afford the accused an opportunity to say words on his behalf.” A rise of hisses and boos were met by the banging of the gavel. When peace was restored, the judge looked to Nat Turner. “Go ahead boy!”

Nat Turner closed his eyes before slowly shuffling his shackle-clad ankles, turning away from the judge to face the courtroom audience. When he opened his mouth the voice was shrill and clear, resonating independence. Nat Turner looked past the faces reddened by hate and anger. He looked beyond the man-made system of power which continued to press the vice of oppression on his people. He gazed past the country which continually fabricated lies woven within the fabric of its creed that all men were created equal. He looked past of all that and into the visage of the god who defined his every word, step, and deed. Nat Turner opened his mouth and spoke.

“I stand before you, not in fear of your judgment but in anticipation of the standing in judgment of Gawd A’mighty. His divine finger ordered my steps and those of my people. The sparrow singing his song and has no regrets for the sound it makes. The river that swells and floods the countryside has no regrets. I have no regrets for the liberation of my brothers and sisters. We have tasted the bitter sweetness of freedom and know we can never be satisfied with the false servings of enslavement. Every man deserves to be free. No! Every man must be free! And I too am a man because you proved it today. For you could have killed me in the street like an animal in a slaughterhouse but today, I stand on trial to hear my fate. For only a man can be tried by another man. You today acknowledge my manhood. So I say again, every man must be free! I am free! My people are free!”

Days later, a White House aide entered the office of Andrew Jackson. His face, sweaty and lacking in color caught the president’s attention.

“What is it?”

“Mr. President. A most disturbing message sir.” The aide collapsed to one knee, catching himself on the edge of the president’s desk. “Massive uprisings of slaves in Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi…all over. They’ve raided armories and have gained the advantage.” The president dropped his glasses as he stood. “It’s spreading Mr. President,” gasped the aide. “It’s spreading.”

The Beginning

Guy A. Sims is the author of the romantically romance novel, Living Just A Little, and the crime novellas, The Cold Hard Cases of Duke Denim. He is also the head writer of the Brotherman: Dictator of Discipline comic book series and the forthcoming Brotherman graphic novel, Revelation. BCEPressworks.com

 

The State of Black Science Fiction Celebrates Black History Month: Paradigm

This month, the State of Black Science Fiction collective of authors, artists, filmmakers and animators who create works of Speculative Fiction for and about people of Afrikan descent, are celebrating Black History Month with Blacktastic short works of Historical Fiction!

First up is Paradigm, by Nila N. Brown:

Canal Street * New York City, 1898

Ten-year old Leona Edwards took in as much of the busy street as she could, mindful of the non-stop pedestrians going in every direction. She had never been out of Alabama before, and New York City was fussier than any street in Tuskegee. The horseless carriages making their way up Canal Street were certainly a sight to see with their loud, mechanized sputtering.
“Leona!” a voice called out from the other side of the street. She turned around and smiled as her cousin, Harriett, ran over carrying violets.

“Where did you get those?” Leona asked.

“From that man,” Harriet replied, pointing to a white man in a dark suit and a bowler now making his way toward them. “The one with the scrunchy beard.”

Leona shifted uneasily. “Why did he give you those?”

“He said they were for you,” Harriett said as she turned around to face him. “Hey, Mister! This is my cousin, Leona.”

“Hello, pretty little gal!” the man said with a wide smile, but Leona recoiled. She could hear his clumsy attempt at an accent that didn’t sound natural. He was definitely southern, and they needed to get away.

“We have to go, sir,” she said, grabbing Harriett by the hand and pulling her past him. “Good day!”

“Don’t you like flowers?” he asked. “A pretty little gal should have flowers to match her pretty little pinafore.”

Leona looked over her shoulder to see him watching them. Scared, she pulled Harriett across the street.

The man waved, and then grimaced before disappearing into the crowd.

“Leona!” Harriett huffed, trying to catch her breath. “Slow down!”

“He’s bad news!” Leona said, glancing around. She snatched the violets from Harriett and threw them down. “Stay away from that man!”

Harriett adjusted her large pink hair bow. “Oh, Leona, this isn’t the south! People in New York are very nice!”

Leona ignored her. Harriett might not have understood, but she knew all too well the potential danger. “Let’s go back to your house.”

The girls continued up the street until they were at the corner. “Oh look!” Harriett exclaimed, pointing to a five-and-dime. “Let’s look through the stereoscope!”

“What’s that?” Leona asked.

“You can look at pictures in it,” Harriett replied, taking Leona by the arm and crossing the busy street. “It’s fun!”

Relaxing somewhat, Leona took a deep breath and nodded, going into the store and spending the next half hour looking at funny pictures through the strange contraption. After having malted milks, the girls headed back to Harriett’s house.

A whistle blew very loudly in the distance, signaling the start of the lunch shift at the nearby shirtwaist factory. The streets soon filled with women workers making their way to some of the food carts lining the street.

But Leona was staring up at the large, white clouds as they slowly floated across the blue sky. She smiled; remembering the last time she and her sister, Hattie Mae, watched them take funny shapes under the huge magnolia tree in her mother’s yard.

As she watched, a shape began to form. At first it appeared round like a giant ball, but as she continued watching, two eyes formed, and then turned downward in what looked like an evil glare. Suddenly, a mouth formed and to her horror, it opened wider, showing huge, jagged teeth.
She took a step back, and as she did, a horse and buggy turned the corner and was racing in her direction, but she continued staring at the sky, her heart beating with a foreboding that she hadn’t felt before.

Suddenly, she was pushed down hard onto the cobblestone street. She sprang to her feet just as the horse, its eyes seemingly glowing red, closed in on her.

“Leona!” Harriett cried as she pushed Leona down again. Frightened, she rolled over, looking down the street just in time to see the horse and buggy turn the corner and disappear from sight. She tried to stand up as a tall man ran over to her, gently picking her up.

“Are you alright?” he asked, as he stood her up and held her shoulders.

“I’m fine, sir,” she replied, dusting her dress off and looking up at the sky. The angry cloud was gone. How strange.

“What happened?” he asked.

“Someone pushed me down, and then my cousin pushed me.” She tried to pull herself free, but the man wouldn’t let go. “Let me go!”

“No,” he said gently, “don’t look.”

She angrily pulled away, dusting off her dress as she turned around. “Harriett Sue Edwards! Why did you push me?”

A crowd had formed on the sidewalk. Confused, Leona stared at them, wondering what they were looking at. Some had handkerchiefs over their mouths, some were pointing, and some were crying. Then she looked down. All she could make out was a pink bow on top of a mass of dark hair now drenched in blood.

“Harriett?”

Two weeks later * Grand Central Terminal * Manhattan

As the train neared its stop at the huge station, Ida B. Wells looked out of the window at the patrons standing on the platform. She was glad to see so many Negroes moving about freely, but she knew that this was deceptive. It only took one accusation; just one bumped shoulder; just one foot stepped on. She shook the thought from her mind. There was work to be done, and she had to be in Washington, DC in three days to speak to President McKinley about the lynching problem in America.

She disembarked as the train stopped and the steps were lowered. As she made her way down the platform, she was stopped by a young man quite familiar to her. It had been a long time since she had seen him.

“Ms. Wells?” he said, inclining his hat.

“Hello, Matthew,” she replied, smiling. “What brings you here?”

“Dr. Du Bois asked me to come and fetch you,” he replied.

Ida’s brow arched. Dr. Du Bois was brilliant, but arrogant, stuffy, and distant. She didn’t like him, and the feeling was mutual. However, the fact that he was sending for her meant something, and she would see what it was before refusing. It was the least she could do.

“What’s this all about?” she asked. “I thought he took a teaching job in Atlanta.”

Matthew took her bag from her. “You’ll have to ask Dr. Du Bois, Ms. Wells.”

She nodded and the two of them made it out to 42nd Street and got into a waiting buggy. The pace of the carriage picking up, they soon made their way to Upper Manhattan, where Dr. Du Bois owned a large brownstone on 143rd Street. Matthew helped her down and then up the stairs to a row house with flower boxes in the window. Before they could knock, a maid opened the door.

“Ms. Ida B. Wells to see Dr. Du Bois,” Matthew announced.

Before the maid could speak, Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois was standing at the top of the stairs.

“Ms. Wells,” Dr. Du Bois said. “It’s lovely to see you again.”

“Likewise,” she replied. “How have you been? I thought you were in Atlanta.”

“That will be all, Matthew,” he said to the young man, who handed lady Ida’s bag to the maid and nodded before heading down the hallway. “I was on my way back, but Jedidiah Adams of the Philadelphia Freemasons contacted me and requested a meeting. I’ve been here for about three weeks now.”

“It must be something urgent to take you off of your routine,” she said.

“Indeed,” he replied gruffly. “I must say that I’m in need of your assistance on a matter of the utmost importance.”

Ida resisted the urge to roll her eyes. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t get used to how longwinded he was, but was nonetheless intrigued. For him to want her help meant that he was desperate, or everyone else had said ‘no.’ They made their way down the hallway and knocked on the door. A young girl opened it, smiling softly at Dr. Du Bois.

“Hello, Leona,” he said. “This is Ms. Ida B. Wells. Ms. Wells, Leona Edwards.”

Leona curtsied politely. “How do you do, Ma’am?”

“I’m very well, Leona,” Ida replied. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Run along and join your parents, my dear,” he said. Leona nodded and went into a back room as he ushered Ida to the parlor. She sat down while he poured tea for them.

“What can I do for you, Dr. Du Bois?” Ida asked. “I have to be in Washington, and I like my routine just as you like yours.”

“This is an unusual situation,” he said, “but I know that you love a good mystery and this is right up your alley.”

“What do you mean?”

He briefly described the events leading up to and after Harriett’s death, but Ida wasn’t fooled; there was something he was leaving out. He would probably get to it, but he seemed too busy hearing himself talk.

“This is all very interesting,” she said as he finished. “But deaths like this happen all the time, especially in New York. Why am I here?”

He took a deep breath. “We’re here because that little girl’s life is in danger. I know this will sound strange, but Jedidiah brought an old Creole woman from New Orleans calling herself ‘PreMarie’ to see me. She told me that she had a vision, and that Leona was going to be killed. She said that I had to prevent it.”

“Did she tell you why?” she asked.

“She refused to divulge any pertinent details,” he replied. “Some white man from the south whom Leona called ‘Scrunchy Beard’ tried to give her violets, but she refused. His false accent bothered her, so they ran off, stopped at a store, and were on their way home when someone pushed Leona into the street in front of a runaway horse and buggy. Harriett then pushed her out of the way before being run over and killed.”

Ida sat back, sipping her tea. “How unfortunate, but what’s the significance of this?”

Dr. Du Bois crossed his arms, a serious look on his face. “PreMarie revealed this two days before it happened. She also said that Leona would see an evil image in the sky that would distract her from the traffic. I’m a man of faith and don’t believe in such things, but this cannot be ignored.”

Ida sat the cup down. “If Leona was the one who was supposed to die, why didn’t she?”

“In the vision, Leona was alone,” he replied. “Harriett followed along at the last minute and it apparently changed the outcome. After the funeral, someone tried to break into Harriett Edwards’ home, but the intruder was discovered and escaped before he could harm her. Under the cloak of darkness, Jedidiah brought them here.”

He took a deep breath before continuing. “PreMarie also said that this strange character came from the future.”

This time Ida laughed. “That’s not possible, William! Someone is playing games with you!” She stood up. “I must be in Washington so I’ll bid you good day!”

“Ida,” he said, standing up. “You and I don’t get along; we never have, but if I didn’t believe this, I wouldn’t have brought you here.”

Ida stopped and took in his stance. There was something in the depths of his eyes that gave her pause. He was serious – and afraid. President McKinley could wait. This needed tending to.

“What’s so important about this girl?” she asked.

“PreMarie would only say that through Leona, a catastrophic event will occur, and the face of the Negro race in America will change and have an impact on the world. She said that this Scrunchy Beard person has to die. The lives of our people may very well depend on this moment in time.”

Ida took a deep breath. “Alright, I’ll help you. What must we do?”

“I thought to have the Freemasons search for him, but it occurred to me that this won’t be necessary. This ‘Scrunchy Beard’ has shown that he will come for Leona. We will move them and then set a trap and dispatch this foul person post haste.”

“Where will they be taken?” she asked.

“They’ll be moved to the uncle’s home in broad daylight,” he replied. “Once this character is dispatched, Jedidiah will escort the girl and her family back to Tuskegee and remain there until further notice.”

“And then what?” she asked. “How are we supposed to keep this girl alive?”

He took her by the arm. “We’ll find a way. Perhaps we could form a committee that would serve as both a way to champion the advancement of the Negro race, and serve as a secret society to protect the girl now, as she matures into an adult, and to her next generation until this event takes place.”

Ida smiled brightly. If Leona was this important, then she would see to her survival. Whatever happened, she would help see her live.

Two days later

The buggy carrying Sylvester, Rose, and Leona Edwards arrived at Samuel Edwards’ home in the early evening hour just before dinner. The family got out of the carriage and was greeted by Sam and his wife, Sarah Mae.

In the shadows down the street, Scrunchy Beard, juggling a silver and gold mechanized ball, quietly observed them entering the house, and then disappeared into the dusky twilight.
After midnight, a window on the far back wall in the kitchen slowly opened; a tall, thin man sliding through quickly and quietly. Pausing to make sure he wasn’t heard, he took off his shoes, and slowly made his way from the kitchen to the hallway, and then quietly up the stairs. He had seen Leona in the back window watering flowers earlier, so he knew where to go.

Onward he crept, pulling a thin silver rope from his pocket. He paused, listening intensely, and then crept on until he was at the door where Leona was sleeping. Ever so slowly, he turned the knob and peered in, seeing a small figure in bed. He crouched down, closing the door and crept closer until he was at her bedside.

He smirked; his hands tightening around the rope. “Hello, pretty little gal,” he whispered.

Suddenly, the figure in the bed sat up. “Well, hello to you too!” Ida yelled.

Stunned, Scrunchy Beard stood up and stumbled backwards as Jedidiah leaped from the closet and grabbed from behind, holding him in a vice-like grip around the neck while Ida turned on the gaslight. Dr. Du Bois, Sam, and Matthew quickly entered the room, helping to subdue him.

“Who are you and who sent you?” Dr. Du Bois yelled.

Scrunchy Beard, gasping for breath, snarled, “More will come from my time! She will die!”

“Search him!” Ida commanded, and Sam went through his pockets, pulling out the ball, and handing it to Dr. Du Bois.

“That’s mine!” he yelled.

“What is this for?” Dr. Du Bois asked.

Scrunchy Beard sneered. “Go to hell!”

“You first!” Dr. Du Bois said, nodding as Jedidiah pulled the assassin down to the floor, snapping his neck.

Ida quickly got out of the bed. “That was close!”

“You did just fine, my dear,” Dr. Du Bois replied as Jedidiah stood up. “Do you know where to hide him?”

“Yes, sir,” Jedidiah replied. “He’ll never be found.”

Dr. Du Bois gazed at the ball. “This is a strange object.”

“You should destroy it,” Matthew said. “He said more of them will come.”

“Or we could hold onto it and see what it can do,” Dr. Du Bois replied. “Who knows? It might be useful.”

“What will we do when they come?” Sam asked.

“We’ll be ready for them,” Ida replied. “We’ll get this organization off the ground and protect Leona and her family for however long it takes until this event happens.”

Dr. Du Bois nodded, while Jedidiah and Matthew wrapped Scrunchy Beard’s body in a tarp and carried it out to a waiting buggy, riding off into the New York night.

December 1, 1955 * Dexter Ave. and Montgomery St. * Montgomery, Alabama

A young seamstress boarded the #2857 bus after a long day’s work. There was a chill in the air, and she was glad the bus was on time. She looked out of the window, smiling at two little girls walking hand-in-hand down the street. It made her remember the stories that her mother, Leona, had told her about the summer she spent in New York with her cousin, Harriett. Growing up, her parents were always so protective of her and her brother, Sylvester, and keep a close eye on them. At first she thought it was because of the Klan, but over the years, she and Sylvester figured there was more to the story; mainly because of the many Freemason “step uncles” visiting over the years, but no one would discuss it.

Mother always had a look of profound sadness in her eyes whenever she talked about Harriett, but always stopped whenever she got to the part about the pretty violets. She could never finish the story.

After awhile, the bus became crowded, and the driver began to notice that there were several white people standing. He stopped the bus and went to the back, demanding that she and three other riders got up. Not today, she thought. Not today.

“Are you going to stand up?” he asked angrily.

“No, I’m not,” she replied.

“Well, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested.”

“You may do that,” she replied.

Within a few minutes, the police arrived and escorted her off the bus.

“What’s your name, gal?” the officer gruffly asked.

Head held high, she looked him in the eye as she replied, “Mrs. Rosa Parks.”

 

PASSING THE TORCH: 4 Pioneers Of Urban Fiction and a New Era in Street Stories!

Urban Fiction – the most popular genre of fiction among Black people, particularly Black youth – like all great genres of fiction, has old, deep roots. They are roots that have borne fruit the likes of  Sister Souljah, K’wan, Teri Woods, Vickie Stringer, Treasure Blue and Wahida Clark, just to name a few.

The roots of the Urban Fiction tree – the Founding Fathers, if you will are:

Chester Himes

Urban FictionChester Bomar Himes was born July 29, 1909 in Jefferson City, Missouri, but his parents –Joseph Sandy Himes, a peripatetic professor of industrial trades at Black colleges and universities and Estelle Bomar Himes, a teacher at Scotia Seminary – eventually settled in Cleveland, Ohio.

Urban FictionIn Cleveland, Himes attended East High School in Cleveland, Ohio and went on to attend Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Early in his Freshman year, he was expelled for playing a prank.

In late 1928, Himes was arrested, chained upside down, beaten by police until he confessed to an armed robbery and then sentenced to 20 to 25 years of hard labor in Ohio Penitentiary. In prison, he wrote short stories that were published in national magazines. Himes stated that writing in prison and being published was a way to earn respect from guards and fellow inmates, as well as to avoid violence.

His first stories appeared in 1931 in The Bronzeman and, beginning in 1934, in the prestigious men’s magazine, Esquire. His story, To What Red Hell, published in Esquire in 1934, as well as his novel Cast the First Stone – only much later republished, unabridged, as Yesterday Will Make You Cry (1998) – dealt with the catastrophic 1930 prison fire Himes witnessed at Ohio Penitentiary in 1930.

In 1934 Himes was transferred to London Prison Farm and in April, 1936, he was released on parole into his mother’s custody. Following his release, he worked part-time jobs and at the same time continued to write. During this period, he came in touch with Langston Hughes, who facilitated Himes’ contacts with the world of literature and publishing.

Later, in 1936 Himes married Jean Johnson.

Lit 3In the 1940s, Himes spent time in Los Angeles working as a screenwriter and authoring two novels, If He Hollers Let Him Go and The Lonely Crusade. He also provided an analysis of the Zoot Suit Riots for The Crisis, the magazine of the NAACP.

Himes’ brief career as a screenwriter was for Warner Brothers. He was terminated, however, when CEO Jack Warner heard about him and screamed “I don’t want no niggers on this lot!”

By the 1950s Himes had decided to settle in France permanently, a country he liked, in part due to his popularity in literary circles. In Paris, Himes was the contemporary of the political cartoonist Oliver Harrington and fellow expatriate writers Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and William Gardner Smith.

Famed author, Ishmael Reed said of Himes: “He taught me the difference between a black detective and Sherlock Holmes” and it would be more than 30 years until another Black mystery writer, Walter Mosley and his Easy Rawlins and Mouse series, had even a similar effect.”

Himes wrote a series of Harlem Detective novels featuring Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones, New York City police detectives in Harlem. While most Urban Fiction features law enforcement officers as the antagonists, Himes, considered the father of Urban Fiction, chose detectives as the protagonists, but they are as victimized by racism as any other Black man and thus become defenders of their community and opponents of the unjust and racist system.

The titles of the series include A Rage in HarlemThe Real Cool KillersThe Crazy KillAll Shot UpThe Big Gold DreamThe Heat’s OnCotton Comes to Harlem, and Blind Man with a Pistol – all written in the years 1957–1969.

Cotton Comes to Harlem was made into a movie in 1970, which was set in that time period, rather than the earlier period of the original book. A sequel, Come Back, Charleston Blue was released in 1972, and For Love of Imabelle was made into a film under the title A Rage in Harlem in 1991.

In 1969 Himes moved to Moraira, Spain, where he died in 1984 from Parkinson’s Disease. He is buried at Benissa cemetery.

Robert Beck

Urban FictionRobert Beck – better known as Iceberg Slim – was born Robert Lee Maupin on August 4, 1918 in Chicago, Illinois. He spent his childhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Rockford, Illinois until he later returned to Chicago.

Lit 6Slim attended Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama, but soon began bootlegging and was expelled as a result. After his expulsion, his mother encouraged him to become a criminal lawyer so that he could make a legal living while continuing to work with the street people he was so fond of, but Maupin, seeing the pimps bringing women into his mother’s beauty salon, was far more attracted to the model of money and control over women that the pimps provided.

Slim started pimping at 18, and continued to pimp until age 42, after a final 10-month prison stretch in solitary confinement in 1960. At that point, he decided he could continue making money off pimping by writing about it instead. Slim moved to California  to pursue writing under the Iceberg Slim pen-name. In normal life, he changed his name to Robert Beck, taking the last name of the man his mother was married to at the time.

His first novel, an autobiographical classic, was Pimp: The Story of My Life, published by Holloway House.

Reviews of Pimp were mixed; it was quickly categorized as being typical of the Black “revolutionary” literature being created at the time. However, Beck’s vision was considerably bleaker than most other black writers of his era. His work tended to be based on his personal experiences in the criminal Urban Fictionunderworld, and revealed a world of seemingly bottomless brutality and viciousness. His was a peek into the world of Black pimps, hustlers and crooked cops. Pimp sold very well. By 1973, it had been reprinted 19 times and had sold nearly 2 million copies.

Following Pimp, Beck wrote several more novels: Trick Baby (1967), Mama Black Widow (1969), Naked Soul of Iceberg Slim (1971), Long White Con (1977), Death Wish: A Story of the Mafia (1977), and Airtight Willie & Me (1985). He sold over six million books prior to his death in 1992, making him one of the best-selling African-American writers (after Alex Haley).

Slim died of complications from diabetes on April 28, 1992. He was 73 years old.

Donald Goines

Urban FictionDonald Goines was born December 15, 1936 in Detroit, Michigan. His parents were a middle-class black couple that ran a laundry business.

At the age of 15, Goines lied about his age to join the Air Force, where he fought in the Korean War. During his stint in the armed forces, Goines developed an addiction to heroin that continued after his honorable discharge from the military in the mid-1950s. In order to support his addiction, Goines committed multiple crimes, including pimping and theft, and was sent to prison several times. He began writing while serving a sentence in Michigan’s Jackson Penitentiary. Goines initially attempted to write westerns, but decided to write Urban Fiction after reading Iceberg Slim’s  Pimp.

Lit 10Goines wrote novels at an accelerated pace in order to support his drug addictions, with some books taking only a month to complete. His sister Joan Goines Coney later said that Goines wrote at such an accelerated pace in order to avoid committing more crimes and based many of the characters in his books on people he knew in real life.

In 1974, Goines published Crime Partners, the first book in the Kenyatta Series under the name ‘Al C. Clark’. Holloway House’s chief executive Bentley Morriss requested that Goines publish the book under a pseudonym in order to avoid having the sales of Goines’s work suffer due to too many books releasing at once. The book dealt with an anti-hero character named after Jomo Kenyatta that ran a Black Panther-esque organization to clear the ‘hood of crime.

Urban FictionInner City Hoodlum, which Goines finished before his death, was published posthumously in 1975. The story, set in Los Angeles, was about “smack” (heroin), money and murder.

On October 21, 1974 Goines and his common-law wife were discovered dead in their Detroit apartment. The police had received an anonymous phone call earlier that evening and responded, discovering Goines in the living room of the apartment and his common-law wife, Shirley Sailor, in the kitchen. Both Goines and Sailor had sustained multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and head. The identity of the killer or killers is unknown and no motive for the murders has been found.

Thanks to one of my favorite authors, Lynn Emery, I have learned there was also a Founding Mother of Urban Fiction:

Ann Petry

Urban FictionAnn Petry was born Anna Lane on October 12, 1908 in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, the youngest of three daughters to Peter Clark Lane, a pharmacist and Bertha James Lane, a chiropodist and hairdresser.

The Lane girls were raised sheltered from most of the disadvantages other black people in the United States had to experience due to the color of their skin; however there were a number of incidents of racial discrimination.

Urban FictionAfter an English teacher read one of Ann’s essays, she told Ann that she should, one day, become an author. She decided to write professionally. Her parents, however, had different plans for Ann. They decided she would be a pharmacist and, in 1931, Ann graduated with a Ph.G. (Graduate of Pharmacy) degree from Connecticut College of Pharmacy in New Haven. After graduation, she worked in the family business for several years. She also began to write short stories while working at the pharmacy.

On February 22, 1938, she married George D. Petry of New Iberia, Louisiana, which brought her to New York. She wrote articles for newspapers such as The Amsterdam News and The People’s Voice and published short stories in The Crisis. She also worked in an after-school program at P.S. 10 in Harlem. It was during this period of her life that she realized and experienced the racial inequality and injustice suffered by the majority of Black people in the United States.

Harriet TubmanImpacted by her Harlem experiences, Ann Petry used her creative writing skills to bring these injustices to print in the form of the novel, The Street.

Published in 1946, The Street became wildly popular and won the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship with book sales exceeding one and a half million copies.

The impact of Petry’s writing continues to be appreciated: literary critics praise her as the most successful author of urban protest writing; and black feminists cite The Street as the first African-American novel in which motherhood is a major theme.

In an article in the February 1946 issue of The Crisis, Petry said of The Street:

“My aim is to show how simply and easily the environment can change the course of a person’s life … I try to show why the Negro has a high crime rate, a high death rate, and little or no chance of keeping his family unit intact in large northern cities.”

Ann Petry died April 28, 1997, near her home in Old Saybrook, after a brief illness.

Recently, I interviewed Fagbuyi, Urban Fiction historian and co-writer of the soon-to-be-released Urban Fiction audio drama series, STREET STORIES: Diesel:

Lit 12

What was your introduction to Urban Fiction? How did you start reading it?

My introduction to Urban Fiction was in 2000, during my senior year of high school. One of my classmates was reading The Coldest Winter Ever, by author Sister Souljah. She let me borrow it. I read the book in one day. I’ve been hooked on Urban Fiction ever since.

What do you like about Urban Fiction?

I love the complex plots; the twist and turns. I love how the story pulls you in.

How many Urban Fiction books have you read?

I’ve read at least 200 Urban Fiction novels.

What is Street Stories: Diesel? And how are you involved?

Street Stories: Diesel is a gritty street story full of love, treachery and revenge. With every corner you turn in the world of Diesel, you have to watch your back because everybody wants to wear the crown and rule the streets. Some will even die trying to get that crown. Diesel was thought of by Balogun. I was given the opportunity to co-write. I am excited to be a part of this awesome project!

An audio series is a unique and new approach to Urban Fiction. Why did you and your co-creators choose to create an audio series? Are there any Street Stories: Diesel novels in the works? A television series? A movie?

An audio podcast is an awesome idea! There aren’t any Urban Fiction audio drama series out there and we wanted to do something unheard of; to start a trend.

Yes, there is a Diesel novel in the works. There will be a novel for every Street Story that we record. The books will give a more juicy, behind the scenes detail of what’s going on in the Street Story world. We will give our listeners a deeper look into the characters in the novel and trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

A television series? We would love to give you that answer right now, but you will just have to stay tuned for that one. No contracts have been signed as of yet.

A movie? When presented with the opportunity to bring Diesel to the big screen, yes.

 

The torch lit and carried by the three great Founding Fathers of Urban Fiction has been passed into capable hands and it appears the fire of Urban Fiction will forever burn brightly.

Soon, that flame will grow into a conflagration and set the streets on fire when a little Diesel is poured on it!