67. Silent Appraisals

90 21 15

Henry stood at the edge of the woods, waiting for Dale to return. He had been standing at the end of the road, but the tenants of the white houses kept peeking through their windows at him. He moved around a tall pine tree and leaned against it, facing the woods. He wasn't hiding, exactly. Or at least that was what he told himself. He just didn't want to stir up any more ill will.

Yet Henry felt a tingling in his head like he was still being watched. Only not from the white houses. He scanned the camouflage of greens and browns in the woods ahead. He flexed his ears and listened. Then he heard it.

The unmistakable snap of a branch under the weight of a footfall.

Henry narrowed his eyes and spotted two slim figures, faltering in the distance about a hundred and fifty feet away. They were young colored men, maybe eighteen or nineteen. Henry stepped away from the tree and called out. "Hey there!"

The two men looked at Henry for a moment and then returned to their conversation. They seemed to be arguing over something. Voices lowered. Expressions filled with fervor. Arms and hands making wide, sweeping gestures. From time to time, they pointed at Henry as they talked. As if they were talking about him. Then they turned their gazes on him.

Henry could see their mouths moving. He forced a smile onto his face and gave a wave of his hand. The men didn't return the gesture. They just stood there staring at him, not uttering a word, as if they were sizing him up. But for what? After a long moment, Henry found himself feeling unnerved by their silent appraisals. They were trying to intimidate him.

"It's cool!" Henry said. "I'm just waiting for someone, so I can deliver this mail to the black bunkhouses." He nodded at the satchel that hung from his shoulder.

The two men mumbled something to one another, and then started to walk away.

"Hey!" Henry shouted. "What's the idea?! You guys too good to even talk to me?"

This was just too much! Henry was used to being disrespected by white men, but these were colored boys. Why were they acting like that? Henry had heard murmurings that many of the town's black residents didn't approve of how he was contributing his talents to help a white team win. Then again, maybe these men had seen him with Dale in the woods, and they didn't like seeing a black man and a white man getting along. Whatever problem these men had with him, Henry was going to find out. He wasn't about to be treated like the dirt he walked on by his own people.

As the men retreated into the woods, Henry realized he was going to lose sight of them. He rushed after them. "Hey, hold on! I want to talk to you!"

The men glanced back with wide eyes and picked up their pace.

Henry could tell they appeared nervous. Maybe they realized they had picked the wrong person to try to intimidate. He wanted them to explain themselves. But he didn't need them to be running away scared.

"Wait up!" Henry called through the trees. "I'm not trying to pick a fight. I just want to ask you a couple questions."

But the men continued to scramble away.

Henry forged on, charging between the pine trees and through the underbrush. He'd made up some ground. Only a dozen feet separated them.

But it was nothing short of a miracle that Henry didn't trip and injure himself on the uneven terrain. The ground rose and fell. Gnarled tree roots jutted up out of the ground as if they had been placed there for the sole purpose of keeping Henry from catching up to those two men.

The men broke out of the brush onto a dirt trail, and they kicked into a full sprint.

Moments later, Henry slipped on a rock and stumbled onto the path. Henry stood there, looking ahead. The silhouettes of those men disappearing into the light beyond the woods.

With a sigh, Henry continued on the trail. The trees began to clear and rays of late evening sunlight filtered through the leaves and branches.

Finally, Henry broke through the tree line and found himself in a large rectangular clearing filled with shoddy, run-down shacks.

The black bunkhouses!


Author's Note

Yep, I'm pushing, pushing, pushing on. Eight more chapters to 75!

That puts us at the weekend of Sunday, September 16th. It will be an emotional chapter, for sure.

Take care for now!

Best Regards,

Tom

P.S. The Chapter Image - Those are real mill bunkhouses. But they're also from a small movie called "Hunger Games." They were a part of District 12 where Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark grew up.

Color (Completed)Read this story for FREE!