January 31st 2012: On the run
, by Sasha Janel McBrayer

“And so we celebrate the Christ our Lord’s birthday ev’ry December and exchange among ourselves gifts because of the presents what those wise men gave…Yes, what is it now Mr. Howard??”

“Don’t mean’t interrupt, Sir, but I don’t think our Lord n’ Savior was born in December…”

The sunshine cascaded in through the school-house windows. The old, wooden edifice had first been the church house, until a newer, larger one had been built, and with more modern pews. The way the desks were lined up that summer, light hit the face of this student, but skipped the next, obscuring him or her in shadow, and so on and so on. William Patrick Howard’s face, full of the innocence of not but seventeen spring-times, was one that held the light.

“It is more likely we celebrate that bless-ed event in winter because of the pagan holiday called the winter’s solstice. I think it just must have been easier that way, you know, t’git people to celebrate with the Christians…” the young man said weakly.

“Mr. W.P. Howard, what in THE wide world are you on about this time, son? Haven’t I told you lecture time is not the time for your crazy theories, made-up fantasies, and conjecture?? I’m tryin’ to teach a class here, a class full o’ fact, n’ truth, n’ wisdom,” the older man responded.

“But it ain’t made up, Sir,” W.P. explained.

“And just how did you come by this juicy morsel of knowledge, boy– of pagan rites and religions and such horse– nonsense?”

“I…I…” W.P. could not answer.

His bristly-bearded school teacher narrowed his eyes with judgment.

“Yes, go on. We’re waiting.”

“I must have read it somewhere…” the teenager lied.

“Mr. Howard, you shut your mouth this instant and thank your lucky stars I ain’t about to bend you over my knee and woop you good for lyin’. This entire town knows the only books in your father’s house are the Good Book n’ anything I might have given you for school. Now, not another word out of you, Mr. Inventor.”




W.P. pressed his body against the exterior of the mill, listening to the wheel work itself through the river and around and into the water again. His face was somewhat grim.

A girl from his class stepped out of the tall grass the way she had done many a time before.

William’s eyes softened when they beheld her.

“Catalina, you came,” he said.

“A’ course I come, W.P. You know how fond I am of our walks together.” Catalina had soft, waving brown hair and eyes the color of amber.

The pair joined hands tightly.

“I’m afraid, Catalina.”

“I know,” the girl responded in a whisper. “I c’n feel it.”

The pair stared into each other’s eyes and suddenly both understood something. ‘Lina saw eyes the color of the sky on a cloudless day. She loved those eyes. She knew she’d follow them anywhere and that the heart beating in her chest had always been intended for W.P.

William felt how much he cherished the girl beside him. He knew that fleeing together now was their only choice.

“We’ve got to go. Far from here,” the young man said.

“I’m ready,” Catalina said with uncommon finality and even cheer.

There were no questions from the girl. She never knew exactly what love was before, but now she was certain that this is as what it meant.

They walked away from the town of their births together for about an hour before ‘Lina did begin to wonder who it was they might be escaping. At just that time the sound of the dogs erupted behind them. They were baying like they were after a fox. W.P. grabbed tightly to ‘Lina’s hand and drove them both down to the river.

“We have to hope the water will wash our scents away down river and fool the dogs,” W.P. persuaded.

They were sloshing around, Catalina doing her best not to be sad about her new petticoat getting soggy.

“W.P., how do you know everything?” she asked sweetly. “How do you know the pagan’s celebrated days in December and rivers can confound hound dogs? How’d you know they’d be after us?”

“Partly because of what happened after school, ‘Lina. But partly, too, it is for me just the same way it is for you. You always know just what I’m feelin’ when I’m feelin’ it.”

“I knew it,” she replied with confidence. “I knew we was the same somehow… Tell me,” Catalina pursued, as the pair stepped over some long flat rocks, “What happened after school?”

“When it let out and you all went home, Teacher took me to see Reverend Lund. The mayor’s no-good son was there and Mr. Reed, too, who owns the town bank. I knew then they was conspirators. They must have been the ones lynched that white man that married his slave last month.” William paused and a look of certainty found his face. “In fact, I know they was.”

He continued, “They took turns asking me questions about the things I know and when I asked for my father, they ignored me. I knew then I was on trial, ‘Lina. Like a witch’s trial. I thought maybe I just kiss you once and for all, like I always been meanin’ to, and then say my goodbyes to you, but when I seen you come I suddenly knew something else…they suspect you, too.”

“But we ain’t witches, W.P. We love the Lord and each other and our families, too. We’s just special, that’s all.”

“I know ‘Lina, I know,” W.P. replied, “but they don’t understand it. Come. We’re far enough up river, now. Let’s get onto dry land.”

They hiked the ridge and found their feet on grass. Catalina nearly tripped, but William held to her and his strong arm did not falter.

“W.P. you…” ‘Lina said in a new tone, “You can still kiss me now. I know we’ve always been proper, but I’ve wondered what it might be like in your arms for some time now…”

W.P. stopped pulling Catalina along. He stopped in his tracks and turned to see her. She was everything he had ever wanted from life. After a moment he pulled her young face to his and they were lost in the bliss of their first kiss. It was intentional and searching and celebratory.

When William pulled away he told the girl he loved her.

“I love you, W.P.” she replied.

William pulled her into himself tightly and kissed her forehead.  “Come, we’ve got to keep movin’,” he said after a time.

The night was coming on as they walked at a rapid pace into the countryside. Usually Catalina would be frightened to be out in the dark and in such unfamiliar territory, but right now she wasn’t.

“W.P.”, she ventured after a long time, her mind finally done swooning over heaven’s kiss, “We’s both special…but, in diff’rnt ways.” It was meant as a question.

“I’ve  done a lot of thinking on that, Catalina,” William replied. “Just like always the more I thought about it, it eventually came to me. I have…perfect memory. That’s what they’ll call it someday f’r sure. I think maybe there was a man or two had it before me, but never as complete as mine. People called ’em prophets or oracles or what have you, but they had no proper religion. God wasn’t telling them things… Well, not plain, y’see, not like with Noah n’ Abraham.”

“They was just born with it”, Catalina said, “Like how Marshal Trafford can run so fast. There’s God in that, I s’pose, but it’s his legs and his lungs that do it.”

“Exactly, ‘Lina, Exactly,” W.P. replied. “My gift also seems to grow at what they call an exponential rate.” It wasn’t a phrase William was familiar with, but he plucked it from his strange understanding of everything that came before and everything that would eventually be.

“Way I figure it,” he continued, “By nightfall I’ll remember everything. The whole story of this world. From begin to end. From start to finish. As if I lived every second myself.”

“William…” Catalina cooed, frightened for her best friend. “It won’t hurt you, will it? To know so much at one time?”

“I don’t think so… It’s the same with the way you feel and understand what others are feelin,” W.P. continued. “You can sense it. And I can somehow remember all of man’s history. But even when your Aunt Josephine was scared of dyin’, it was a lot for you, but you didn’t actually faint or nothin’. You’re made to be able to withstand your gift. I think I am, too.” William smiled reassuringly.

Catalina nodded and brushed her free hand against William’s cheek. They never really let go of the other one as they walked, even for hours and hours.

“I do remember frightening things, Catalina,” W.P. added conversationally. “Savage things. Things I don’t rightly understand. But most important…”

The pair was coming to a town and tracing along its periphery when ‘Lina completed W.P.’s sentence.

“We’re gonna die tonight,” she said, half stunned.

He turned and looked her in the eye then, not as astonished as he thought he’d be that no sooner has he seen their future, she caught hold of the emotion it inspired in him and felt it as if where her own sentiment. It wasn’t just her gift that was remarkable. It was unreal, too, how she accepted their fate because she loved him.

“Yes,” he returned. He caught her little face between his hands then.”I’d do anything to keep you from feeling pain, Catalina. I…I just know it has to happen. There’s no way around it. The world’s just not ready for us yet. You and me, we’re the first to be this special. But I tell you what I know. Your sister…it’s in her blood, too, dormant yet. Her children’s children’s children. That’ll be the time. People like us will protect humanity. Your bloodline, Catalina. It’s a thing to be proud of.”

“It’s too bad it couldn’t have been our children, William; yours and mine. But I understand,” she said. “I’m proud of you, W.P. and I’m not afraid t’die. I got your bravery in me now. I feel it pouring right off of you and right into me. I don’t wanna live without my man anyhow.”

They smiled at each other and kissed again, this time more gently.

It was quiet now and the night was growing darker around them. William Patrick guided Catalina forward and then stopped beside some tall bushes.

“Are you hungry, Catalina?” he asked.

‘Lina smiled. “How’d you know? I thought I was the only one could feel what everyone else is feeling.”

W.P. chuckled. “We can eat these. The Indians used to do it.” He started plucking handfuls of the berries hanging on the bushes.

“Indians lived here, W?”

“They sure did,” the young man answered.

The pair started chewing, making different faces as they did. Some of the berries were sweet, but occasionally a sour one got mixed in, striking their tongues like a sharp note of music.

William started to let his eyes wander around the thicket. He was frowning.

“What’s wrong?” Catalina asked after swallowing some fruit.

“War is coming. It’ll be soon.” W.P. narrowed his eyes like he could see something in the darkness, behind the bushes. “The South don’t win.”

“The South,” ‘Lina asked. “What do you mean? Who wants t’fight the South?”

“The North,” William Patrick replied. “Slaves is gonna be freed, Catalina.”

“Oh,” the girl responded thoughtfully. “I s’pose that’ll be nice for them.”

“Very nice indeed, Catalina.” W. couldn’t tell the sweet young lady that terrible atrocities would occur in the meantime. Suddenly the South didn’t seem like a safe place to live, but their escape was a more pressing matter.

He changed the subject simply to distract ‘Lina from asking more about the war. “One day an African American will be President.”

‘Lina’s face wrinkled with confusion. She’d never heard the phrase ‘African American’ before. “Will everybody be happy ‘bout that W.P?”

William’s blue eyes got large as he searched the timeline in his head to look up her answer. “No,” he said simply. “But everybody’s never happy at the same time. Never ever.”

W.P. gasped then.

“What is is, W?” ‘Lina inquired.

He swallowed his last bite. “I was planning to go along further south. That was the plan. But I just seen us veer east. I don’t rightly know why.”

The sound of men in a gathering down the dirt road startled them both.

“W, is that them??” ‘Lina begged.

“It isn’t,” William answered. “I don’t understand it. Them’s different people altogether.” W.P.’s brow rumpled as he traced the history of mankind in his young mind, trying to get to the right spot that could explain why new folks, a couple of towns away would give chase.

‘Lina tightened her grip on her man’s hand, causing him to look at her. Her eyes were blinking rapidly.

“Catalina? Catalina, you alright?” he asked.

‘Lina opened her eyes and took a deep breath. “It’s greed, W.P. I can feel it from here. They want money. Someone is paying them to chase us.”

W. frowned. “We’re running outta time then. They must have put some kind of bounty out on us. I missed it somewhere.”

“That’s ok, W.P.” ‘Lina said. “We ain’t perfect. It’s a lot for you to see.”

Wiliam offered a sideways smile and nodded. He was feeling confident again and Catalina could feel it, too. “Hurry, there’s a way to end this on our own.”

The teenagers broke into a run. “I’ve seen it happen, ‘Lina. There’s a cliff. We can jump together. If we don’t, those men will drown us and then burn us. I’m not gonna let you go that way. We can do this together, you hear?”

“I hear you William Howard. I hear you, love.”

They ran and ran until their feet found the cliff. They stopped abruptly and gazed down at the darkness. Their hands were clenched tightly.

“W.P.” Catalina began, “Tell me about my sister’s ancestor.”

William smiled. “She has your smile. Her hair is just a mite browner than yours. She’s a bit awkward around people, but she has your gift and more. They’ll call her a psychic. There’s people who’ll refine her gifts. She’ll be a real hero.” W.P. laughed softly.

Their last kiss was sloppy like the spatter of paint against a canvas. Then they looked forward, not down, still holding hands.

“Empath-ie,” William said abruptly.


“That’s your gift’s name, sweetheart,” he offered.

‘Lina smiled.

“What’s the end of the world like, W.P?” she asked curiously.

“It’s beautiful, Catalina. But we’ll both see it yet… We’ll participate with all God’s saints. In fact, I know just when it happens. That African American fella’s gonna be President. Air planes’ll start crashin’ all over the place and for no real good reason. All the banks’ll go bad. There’ll be some more wars. Then…boom.”

“Air planes?” Catalina asked.

“Never mind,” W. replied.

‘Lina smiled. She was content.

William Howard counted to two.

A pair of Southern teens leapt off a cliff, killing themselves, the newspapers would say, for no discernible reason.


Sasha Janel McBrayer is a civilian contractor for the Army and writer of speculative fiction. She is a big fan of Marvel Comics, science fiction movies, and bright nail polish. Her work can be found with Silverthought, The wily Writer’s Blog, and Title Goes Here. Please visit her website, nikanors-inn.livejournal.com, or watch her movie review vblog, Showtime with Sasha. McBrayer lives in Georgia and she doesn’t own any cats.

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