Shawn Frazier "Plantation Meadows"
Congratulations: your application for ancestral compensation has been approved! The Reparation Restitution Act has granted you a home. In the coming weeks, we will schedule an appointment for you to sign the deed. We welcome you to Plantation Meadows. On behalf of our firm, we will make the necessary arrangements for you to transition smoothly. Unfortunately, you will not be able to exchange homes—the Restitution Act allows you to reside only where your ancestors once lived.
We must caution homeowners of the Reparation Act that your home may be unkind to you at first. Regardless, we will abide by laws and regulations mandated by our government and make your entrance as welcoming as we can. We will attempt to alleviate any issues you face. While workers are on stand-by to assist you with anything within the realm of reality, we can also provide help by outside sources to remedy problems that might arise. Please contact us for the list of paranormal specialists we have at our disposal. We can assure you, however, that in time your home will embrace you in every corner.
This home will be glad to have you as its new owners. Just make sure you keep it clean, walk lightly, and avoid going to the third floor.
A statue of Stevens, the plantation owner, stood before the front entrance of our new home. We wondered why this damn bust was even here. We ordered its immediate removal from off our new property. My wife and I tried to go through the front door, but Stevens’ broad shoulders and weight would not budge.
We entered through the back door.
“Who would put a statue there?” I remembered seeing pictures showing the figure beside the worn oak door. From what I saw in the archives, it was smiling, standing at a salute, welcoming whoever came. Now, the arms were folded, the statute’s lip pulled down in a scowl.
“It belongs to the house,” my voice sounded like nails scraping on a blackboard. “Spiteful, that’s what it is.”
In the sitting room, we were surprised to see the original furniture had been left behind, too. But we did not complain about that. We were impressed with the velvet sofa—a chandelier with crystals hanging like frozen raindrops, reflecting a flurry of tiny sparkling lights—scented silk pillows. We sat down on them, and the cushions released a smell like cotton candy. We ran and opened the doors, fantasizing about what we would make the empty places in the house look like in the future. We ran up and down the halls like children. We played hide and seek and found its hiding spots limitless.
One afternoon, we heard this movement inside the broom closet. Various broomsticks and dustpans rattled, and we thought there was a mouse loose inside. My wife opened the door; I held on to a hammer. We found a sleeping woman, wearing a white apron, a red and white checkered bandana tied around her head, with soot and dust on her plump face. I lowered the hammer and placed it on a shelf. I nudged her shoulder. She stirred and jostled brooms, mops, and cleaning solutions spilling onto the linoleum floor. Before we knew what to say, she started talking.
“I dozed off after cleaning,” she said. “Please don’t tell anyone.” She took us in: “Hmmm…you the new people taking care of this here house?”
“There are a lot of rooms to clean. Be sure to scrub the floors twice, once in the morning and again at night.” We did not bother to ask why she thought we were the help.
“I think you are mistaken,” I said. Why explain? I just wanted her to leave. I took my cell phone out, fumbling for a cab ride to take her away. “I’ll get you an Uber so you can go home.”
“Free at Last,” the maid said as she practically jumped up and got out of the broom closet.
“No need for a cab. I’ll just walk. I have not been out of this house for some years. I want to see what it is like walking outside.”
We followed as she left through the back door. At the backdoor, we stared at her and noticed her passage through the wooden oasis shook the ferns at its edge. The air stilled around us, and we turned away from the woods. Looking up, I wondered if the curtains of our white painted castle had always been open.
Sometime before we came back into the house, our grim estate had changed. When the clouds were drawn, the sun’s rays allowed us to see the three-level estate clearly, including the full wrap-around porch running along the back exterior of the house. Most of this part of the home was covered by an overhang and framed by a fence or low wall. The Greek column entrance needed to be painted. The brick exterior was begging to be repaired, but it was still beautiful.
After unpacking a few things, we explored more of the woods that stretched behind our property. We were met by a young woman wearing a hooded red cloak, with a straw basket hanging over her thin pale wrist.
The young lady was pacing back and forth, making small footprints, and causing dirt to rise in the air. She was whispering to herself, reciting words as though she were rehearsing for someone later. We approached her, but only after quietly observing her for ten minutes, hidden behind an oak tree laden with thick leathery leaves.
Once she spotted us coming, she jolted.
We asked her if she was lost, and she explained she was on her way to see her Grandmother. When the wind blew, it made her pointed cape stick up. If it were white, one would think the Klan was lurking in the forest. I stayed cautious but helped her pick the herbs she needed so she could leave. The girl told us her name was Blanchette. She shared with us the longevity of the majestic oaks surrounding us: “In fact, this plantation was built 600 years after the oak forest claimed the area. Every bit of wood in that house was taken from these trees.” She paused, moved closer, and stared up to me. Above us, the tree branches twisted, like mating serpents.
My wife pressed her lips flat, rolling her eyes at me.
“Why, you look so much like Uhuru Wa Dhamiri. It meant ‘Freedom of Thinking’ from where he once lived somewhere in Africa. On the day he was first bought and sold here, that same evening, he took a machete to Stevens in his bedchambers while he lay sleeping.” She demonstrated what happened by pretending to slice her own throat with her dainty index finger.
“Stevens dreams he is still alive up in his bedroom. His spirit is said to sleep in the house, and when the wind blows cold outside, you may hear him snoring.”
As she prepared to leave, she thanked us for allowing her to walk on our property. She asked if she could walk through our land again later, for it was the only way she could get home. Far away, I heard something in the woods. It sounded like the growling howl of a wolf.
As she turned her head toward the sound, I said, “It will be dark soon.”
She looked at us briefly before turning to walk away. “Think of what may lurk here at night.”
When we returned home, we explored the upstairs floor, curious to know if what she said was possible. We sweated through blistering heat walking up the staircase, but as we approached the bedroom, we could feel that our breath was the only warmth up here. We heard snoring, but when we flung the door open, the room was empty.
The next morning, I went outside to pick up a package from off the lawn and found a lasso tied in a thick knot around the neck of Steven’s statue. The delivery man refused to come near our doorstep. I unraveled the rope and hid it in the backyard, digging and burying it in three feet of soil. The night before, my wife kept waking up, making sure the doors were locked, and windows were sealed tight. Then after I went to the bathroom, I couldn’t get back inside the bedroom. She blocked the door by placing a bureau against it. Irritated, I knocked on the door, trying to understand.
“Go away,” she screamed.
“Open the door. What has gotten into you? It’s me,” I yelled while pushing the door open. In the dark, I found her huddled in the bedroom closet, trembling. “What the hell?” I asked, putting my arms around her to comfort her.
“I was trying to stop Stevens from coming into the bedroom. He marched in here wearing pajamas. He had shining yellow teeth. I tried to find you, but you were gone.”
I stayed awake, so my wife could sleep peacefully. In the morning, she didn’t say anything about Stevens. I knew it was just a nightmare. But then the next morning, I found the rope tied around the neck of the statue. When we made inquiries, the Homeowners of Restitution list of a paranormal specialist we hired to rid the house of Stevens; “Forge a statue of bronze of Uhuru Wa Dhamiri. You must take part in its construction. It will be the only thing to protect you.”
That very day, we commissioned a bronze statue based on historical records of Uhuru Wa Dhamiri paid for by the Restitution Reparation Act. We ask he be adorned with a beaded necklace, holding the machete he’d used to get rid of Stevens.
Over the next few days, we spent much of our time out of the house. We worked with welders to make sure the design and shape of the statue was accurate.
We came back the day the statue was to be delivered, I saw a man’s shadow dressed in what looked like pajamas. Blood soaked the white flowing linen. I called my wife, jumping up as the shadowy apparition passed. My voice echoed in the hallways for some time afterward. I tried to drink water and hydrate myself after the shock, but water would not pour out of the faucet. We could not find our cellphones. My business suits were replaced with a black butler’s tuxedo. An apron and checkered handkerchief hung in place of my wife’s designer blouses. Her shoes that had been carefully arranged in shoe boxes or hung on a rack were replaced with worn hand-me-down slippers, with holes in the soles.
To leave would mean abandoning a legacy earned from the work of our ancestors on this plantation. We’d disrespect the pain and suffering of our kin. We were entitled to this home only. They had warned us of the house and how it might react. Could we leave? Could we sell the house? No. Reading the fine print made it clear that selling wasn’t an option. Just make sure to avoid the third floor. We’d forgotten that part. We’d adapted to our previous matchbox apartment, where police, fire truck, and ambulance sirens cried day and night. Still, years of bumping elbows had drawn us to the Restitution Act. Just make sure you keep it clean and avoid going to the third floor. How had we forgotten that part?
The bust would come soon and if things did not change, we would return to the city.
I mowed the lawn since gardeners were not interested in working for us. After I was finished, I slammed the front door a bit too hard. As if triggered by my commotion, our home shook like it was on a train track. The furniture, chandelier, and our newly hung art all came loose.
“Did we just have an earthquake?” my wife yelled, gripping the downstairs banister. The shaking abruptly ceased. Outside, we saw the scenery change through the blue-curtained windowpane, which was now cracked. Black men, women, and children stood on a line, held together by chains around their thin, starved wrists. The merchant shouted to a crowd of craving buyers, who rushed, with ivory faces, to gather by the tree stump where the seller stood making offers. A man was yanked up to the podium after his wrist was unshackled.
“Today, my dear friends, I have a man who is of royalty. He was called Uhuru Wa Dhamiri or something.
“Why you act shy and dumb, boy? Show them what you can do.”
We hid upstairs inside the bedroom closet, his bedroom’s bureau, a table, and the bedframe shoved against the door. Later, downstairs, we heard things move, someone calling for us to come out of hiding. “Get out here. We know you here. Someone just made an offer for both of you.” Inside the closet, we shook quietly and made our bodies silent, waiting for things to return to normal.
In the morning, our home was a mess. The parlor was turned upside down, doors flung off the hinges; pictures of my wife and I were shattered, leaving scratches in the polished wood floor. The bedroom door was slightly breached, too. If they had come any further inside and done a more thorough search, they would have found the two of us, holding on to life, wishing that we had never moved to Plantation Meadows.
“Why didn’t Stevens show them where we were?”
“How is that different when he is awake? What could happen then?”
The outdoor landscape had returned to the scenery of oak trees, peaceful blue sky, and the whistling wind. For the rest of the day, we packed up what we could salvage and prepared to leave Plantation Meadows. Then, we noticed that the icon we’d ordered arrived. How handsome the solid bronze figure looked out on the lawn. We thought it may have been delivered before we woke—as everything returned to normal.
Upstairs, no sudden chill greeted us, and we saw that the Do Not Enter sign I had nailed on the door earlier had fallen. We paused and then silently approached. We burst open the forbidden door, and, finally, we could no longer hear the moans, cries, and breaths of the dead man sleeping. It was as though our presence brought light to the narrow passage. After we cleaned the house, we walked outside to enjoy our home and the surrounding woods; we spotted little Blanchette in the distance with a Tamskan dog trotting beside her.
When we believe we are entitled, it is hard to let go of what you once owned—even in death.
Bio: Shawn is an African American writer who has honed his craft at numerous writing workshops and seeks to widen the Wester Cannon with Afro-surrealism. He resides in NYC.