Stretched on a mean bed of rope and pinelog frame, padded with autumn leaves stuffed into gunnysacks, the slave called Willis thought hard about the season ahead and what would follow; "When the sun goes back and the first quail calls." Must be late October about now, tha would mean two months to Christmas and three more to March, and that would be near when that sun turned back. Or maybe it was April. So, maybe it was six months to be ready in. What could he do? His thoughts drifted, thinking of ways to gather a small piece of fatback or maybe even a ham he could dry in secret if he figured it right. Could he get a gun anywhere? He'd have to. Hunting by hand meant a squirrel or rabbit on a lucky day, maybe a possum, not enough to keep the group fed...his mind drifted across the ancient timeless divide between waking and something sweeter, where his world was free and subject to his own energy.
He dreamed they had done it, run off in the night, he had gotten the gun and they were making their way up the Tombigbee by night, from rock to rock, slowly and painfully. They were nestled in a crook of the river where the bank was high enough to hide against and the river road -- a dirt horse trail -- ran close by at this stretch. In his dream he heard the horrible sound of galloping horses and creaking leather, and urged the fugitive party to press into the indentation of the embankment, faces pressed against gnarled roots, breathing dead leaves if they dared to brath at all, and at the same time, in the way of dreams, he could see th emen -- the party he had seen from Montgomery's headed by Marse Locke, foaming and redeyed, galloping up the road and somehow he knew they could sense him in the night. In the way of dreams he knew he was not hidden although the men were still approaching, and he suffered a desperate wave of fear and indecision, knowing his group must survive, must go on, that it was his duty to keep them safe.
He felt himself squirming up to a prone position with the squirrel gun in his hands, sighting down the long barrel, and firing dead-on just as Locke and Montgomery's black foaming horses came around the curve; he saw the first horse stall and rear, and Locke falling to the ground and jumping to his feet, while Montgomery reeled in his saddle and turned to face him, a giant hole showing starlight through his evil skull just above his eyes. In his sleep he tossed in terror sweating and flinching as he watched the men draw their sidearms and aim them at him, knowing his place andhis name in the way of dreams with complete accuracy; a cloud of smoke, a huge sound echoing among the trees, and the straight irresistible and ineluctable voyage of a lead ball from a pistol to his head and in some strange time-dream-distortion he watched the ball slowly cross from them to him and come toward his face; then he felt it drilling into his forehead as loud as a jay and tear his head wide open in the back and he screamed and died praying someone would look after the others. Then in the dream, he looked as the riders came toward his useless fallen body and he saw the fugitive party being hustled into invisibility through parting branches and leaves, vanishing under the guarding hand of a tall lanky white man he had never seen before, lean, pale, with a wide black beard and piercing black eyes. The stranger intercessor gave him one last look, a nod of recognition, a token of some kind of brotherhood, before vanishing after his charges, and leaving him dead on the riverbank. The riders were approaching his dead body in the menacing way that forces approach in dreams and were nearly upon it, old Montgomery walking like a natural man with a hole in his skull big enough to whistle through but this was dreaming! -- but they were about to reach his body and were drawing out long knives from their belts and reaching for it, and Willis sat up his eyes rolling in terror and his face wet with night sweat, breathing like a terrified rabbit in his own bed.
He wiped his face off on the tattered horseblanket he used for covers, and stood up, went to the slanted doorway and stepped out in to the black night, breathing deeply to recove rhis sanity as the flashes ofhis dream images receded. He slumped down on the stump outside on the porch, and loked at the sky -- the wheel of stars told him it was about three hours until dawn. He stared up at them, tracing the figures he had been taught -- the Big Dipper and its leg pointing up to the North Star and stared at it for a long time.
Then he shuddered in the night cool, and went back in to sleep a while longer.