Evangeline felt as if she was struggling to swim to the top of a cold, murky swamp. From what seemed like far, far away, she could hear someone yelling but she couldn’t make out the words. She felt a stick poking her in the chest. Her hands fluttered as she tried to fight through her stupor and push the stick away.
The poking got harder. It didn’t really hurt – she was too groggy to feel much of anything. But she couldn’t ignore it and the high harsh voice screeching words she couldn’t quite understand. She was shivering cold. The stick came down hard on her shoulders. Once, twice, three times. A dull pain started to creep through the sludge and she curled tightly in on herself.
“Wake up! I said wake up you damn black bitch!” The man bashed a mop handle at Evangeline’s body, a fetal petal of raspberry silk gown and brown satin skin on the cold packed earth floor. He whacked the side of her face with the stick. She moaned and struggled to sit up.
Evangeline grabbed the side of her head. Her ear and cheekbone smarted. She sat up and opened her eyes. Her vision was good but her mind refused to process what she was seeing: a cold, damp, dark room, scuffed, bump-toed black boots and a tall, wiry white man swinging a mop handle at her. He was raging, one word in his tirade rising up like flotsam: nigger.
As she came to, Evangeline started to feel all the blows he’d landed. Her side, arms, legs and face all throbbed with pain. She clutched at her abdomen, fearful for the new life inside. But that was one part of her body that didn’t hurt. She started to sense the signs of terror – the buzzing in her ears and the smell of dirty pennies had come with pregnancy, her body’s new early warning system. But why hadn’t her alarm gone off in time to stop her from landing in this…where was she anyway?
“Get up you black slut!” Evangeline flinched to avoid the end of the mop handle. The screeching man reached in the pocket of his dark windbreaker and pulled out a gun. “You wanna die now or you wanna die later? Cause you are going to die.”
His words sliced through the murk in her head like Drano through a clog. Her brain went into overdrive. How was she going to survive? Was this the Killing Club Killer? How did he bring her here? Where was she?
Clambering upright, she caught her foot in the hem of her gown and stumbled. She pushed her hair out of her face and reached for her neck. Her heart sank when she realized the pearls were gone. The man with the gun was yelling something new.
“I said strip you nigger bitch. Take off that whore’s rag.”
Evangeline wrapped her arms around her abdomen and backed away, shaking her head no. She jumped as a bullet sailed past her left ear and pinged off the stone wall behind her.
“Take off the damn dress. It’s not like it’s the first time you’ve stripped for a white man, you black whore.”
If it had been just her, Evangeline would have told him to go fuck himself. But she had two lives to save. She knew she would have to watch for an opening.
“Look, I don’t know why you brought me here, but if there’s something you want – money, help – please tell me. I can be more useful to you if you let me go.”
He sneered and spat in her general direction. “There’s not a damn thing you can do for me. I don’t want the money you took from some white man. I don’t want the connections you got by taking a white man’s rightful place. I don’t want anything but to see you and your kind dead.”
You and your kind. Evangeline’s heart skipped a beat. She knew this depth of racist hatred existed, but this was the first time she’d seen its face.
“But why do you want my dress? What are you going to do to me?”
“Bitch, I don’t answer to you. Now do what I say before I blow out your kneecap.”
Hands shaking, she reached for the tiny hooks that held the vintage Adrian couture gown in place. She could hear his breath coming hard as if his lungs were straining to work. She turned away from him as the dress slid to the floor. She felt the mop handle nudge her in the kidney and she stepped away from the pool of silk. She kept walking towards a corner of the dank basement, arms clasped tightly against her chest, eyes darting to take in as much of the room as she could.
She noted the stone walls and packed earth floor, a lone light bulb hanging from an extension cord thrown over a rafter. There was a slat-backed wooden chair in the corner, empty root vegetable bins and several old paint cans. In a corner she saw a pile of blankets and rags. Suddenly she felt the mop handle whack the back of her legs and she fell forward onto her knees. She cried out in pain and surprise.
“Don’t bother screaming. You’re ten feet underground in the middle of nowhere.”
She turned to see the man climbing a flight of wooden stairs, her dress clutched in his gloved hand. When he got to the top, he turned out the light and left her in the windowless darkness.
Before she became disoriented, Evangeline crawled to the corner where she’d seen the blankets and wrapped herself in a rough, mildewed piece of wool. Overhead she could hear the man’s heavy tread, doors slamming shut, then silence.
She held herself tightly to still the tremors of terror and cold and willed herself not to cry. If she was going to survive, she had to keep her mind clear. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she could see a sliver of light at the base of the door at the top of the stairs. She watched the thread of light for what seemed like hours, her heart sinking when it went out. Too freaked to sleep, she prayed. And when praying started to make her teary, she began running show tunes through her head. “Tomorrow, tomorrow,….”
There is no music in hell. As long as I have music, I can’t be in hell.