This story is by Sarah Ivie and won an Honorable Mention in our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Sarah Ivie hails from the great state of Wyoming. She enjoys getting lost in the wonderful world of fiction, brewing up new stories, exploring the mountains with her husband and four children, daisies, sunshine, and exceptional coffee. In addition to writing short stories, Sarah is currently working on her first novel. You can find more of her writing on her website.
My closest friend disappeared in the strange, cold summer of 1818. Anna was as close to me as a sister, born on my family’s tobacco plantation to Mimmy, a woman owned by my father and charged with looking over the children in our household. Anna and I were born two months apart; my secrets were hers and hers were mine. Mother fretted over our close bond, but Daddy always said it was harmless. Daddy was wrong.
1818, the year without a summer is what they called it. Late frosts damaged our crops, and tension ran thick throughout the whole plantation. Mimmy said the weather was something mystical and ungodly. Daddy said it was caused by ash from a volcano half around the world. Both were right, I think.
That was also the year I learned how cruel the world could be — what desperate people will do for money or freedom or salvation — what people born into privilege will do to those who aren’t. It was the first time I questioned the social structure that ruled our lives, the first time I felt a desperation so deep I’d do anything to protect my friend. The summer began so normally, no one would’ve guessed what would transpire by September.
It was July. Anna and I giggled as we ran through the yard. White columns and stark red brick of the house lorded over our land. Fog blanketed the morning, chilled and ominous. We slowed to a halt at the steps. Mimmy waited in the doorway, her brown eyes a fury as they flickered between me and Anna. Tall and slight, Mimmy looked as though the wind could blow her over, but anyone who knew her would have paid a pretty penny to see the wind dare try.
“Where in the Sam Hill have you two been?”
“We went for a walk by the pond an’ lost track of time,” Anna answered in a shaky reply.
I bit my lip. “Sorry, Mimmy.”
“Never mind. Your pa has been lookin’ for you, Miss Abigail.”
Her exasperation melted into something more frightening with those words. Mimmy was worried, and I couldn’t ignore my gnawing unease. I nodded to her, and with a quick glance at Anna, excused myself.
Daddy was in his office waiting with Mother.
“Abby,” Daddy greeted. “Come in and close the door behind you, please.”
I obeyed, taking a seat across the desk from him.
“Is something wrong?”
“As you know,” Daddy began, trying unsuccessfully to mask his tension with a matter-of-fact approach. “We’ve lost several crops over the last few seasons because of this awful weather.”
He paused, and uncertain of whether or not he expected a response from me, I nodded, waiting.
“We have to scale back until we can get a few good crops under our belt.”
Another pause. My heart pounded.
“We have to sell some of the slaves,” Mother cut in abruptly, her tone cold, detached.
“Abby,” Daddy said with a gentleness that frightened me, “John and I will be taking Anna and all of the other young women and children to auction. We’ll be headin’ south to Georgia where we’ll get a better return. I’ve juggled losses for too long now. I’m out of options.”
Blood ran like ice through my veins as terror gripped my heart.
“Daddy, no. Goodness knows what’ll happen to ‘em if they’re sold. You can’t. You just can’t.”
Daddy winced, and Mother sighed with a familiar exasperation.
“Oh, honestly, Abigail. They are property, and when times get hard, you do what you have to do.” She turned her wrath on Daddy then. “I warned you it was a mistake to let her get so close to the slave girl.”
For the first time in my life, I truly understood rage. It blinded me and made me want to scream and cry in the same moment.
“Her name,” I said through clinched teeth, “is Anna. She is not some slave girl. She’s my friend. She’s my sister!”
It was Mother’s turn to wince.
“No. She’s not.”
I ignored her, turning back to Daddy. “You can’t do this. Please, Daddy.”
Daddy looked tired as his gaze fell to his hands. “I’m sorry. It’s done.”
“We’ll leave next Wednesday.”
I left the office without another word, anger and panic bubbling within me in equal doses. Storming toward my room, I shut the door, pacing. Never would I let Anna suffer the fate of abuse or death. My breathing raced as my mind worked in frantic motion. I’d heard stories of those who escaped — those who’d made it safely north.
An idea and hope pushed me out of the house.
Ten minutes later, I knocked on the door of the Reverend and Mrs. Jacobs. Her bright smile beamed as she opened the door.
“Why, Abigail! Won’t you come in?”
I nodded, meeting her sparkling blue eyes. Her expression fell.
“What’s the matter, dear?”
I had no time to waste, and I saw little reason in dancing around my visit. “Mrs. Jacobs . . . I’ve heard rumors that you and Reverend Jacobs help people . . . escape.”
Color drained from her cheeks, and she glanced outside before ushering me in, shutting the door.
“Paul,” she called.
The middle-aged preacher entered the room with a warm smile. “Miss Barnett. To what do we owe the pleasure?”
“I need your help. My friend . . . Anna . . . my father is planning on auctioning her next week. I can’t let that happen. I won’t.”
His face fell, and he glanced at Mrs. Jacobs.
“Why don’t we all go to the drawing room. Mrs. Jacobs just made tea.”
I followed them into the room and waited. Every second felt like a lifetime. If the rumors had been false, they’d likely tell my father, and all hope would be lost.
“Abigail,” he proceeded cautiously, “helping your friend escape is against the law. Do you understand what that would mean for you?”
Hot tears pricked at my eyes. “Yes.”
“We believe that all people are equal, Abigail. Treating people as property is abhorrent.”
I’d never heard it stated so bluntly, and never had a single sentence caused such conviction in my heart. The words rang with a veracity that had always lingered hidden within me.
Mrs. Jacobs scooped my hand into her own. “We’ll help you, but you must be careful — for Anna’s sake, as well as your own.”
Cold blanketed my senses.
We formulated a plan, and I wouldn’t tell Anna until the last minute. No one was to know — not even Mimmy. There was a station fifteen miles away, and the Reverend and Mrs. Jacobs promised they’d get Anna there safely if I could get her to their house.
Tension grew with each day. I had to retreat from everyone. I’d never been good at lying nor pretending — and this mission demanded both. The day before Daddy left for auction, I snuck out to Mimmy’s cabin. She was still at the big house, but Anna sat at the table, looking at a photo. It had been a gift I’d given her — one of us together as little girls.
She turned to me, wet trails cascading silently from ebony cheeks. My heart lurched, but I shoved the emotion away.
“Listen to me, I need you to quickly pack a knapsack with a change of clothes. I brought bread and dried venison.”
She stared for a moment before comprehension flooded her expression.
“Please. It’s the only way. The Jacobs are going to help you get to the first point. It’ll be dangerous, but you have a good chance of making it out safely. Please.”
I sighed, confusion wrestling with urgency. “Anna . . . you have to.”
“If I get caught,” she said, finally bringing her eyes back to mine, “even if I don’t, you’ll get in trouble.”
“I don’t care.”
“You are so foolish, Abby.”
My own tears fell, and I swiped them away. “Maybe I am, but I can’t let you go to Georgia.”
“What about the others?”
I looked down, my stomach churning. “I don’t know. I’m going to try. I will never change my father’s mind, but I can’t live like this anymore. I’ll do what I can to make it right.”
In one fluid movement her arms squeezed around my shoulders. “I love you, Abby.”
A sob escaped from somewhere deep within me, rough and untamed. “I love you, too, Anna. I can’t stand that I will never see you again.”
She pulled back then, her smooth skin glistening with tears. “Never say never.”
I forced a smile I didn’t feel. “Come on. We have to hurry.”
She nodded, and gathered her things with speed. Then we were off in the night. Mimmy would notice my absence, but that was okay. I hadn’t decided until I stepped out the door with Anna, but it became clear once we were on the run. I wouldn’t be returning home. There was so much work to do, and it started tonight.