Empathy

William Cosby worked in an advertising firm. There was nothing special or of great importance about him; he was just an ageing, racist man. So when he is thrust unexpectedly into the past and finds himself living through the experiences of those whom he hates, he must learn some empathy...or die.

[Warning: contains some racism: the comments within do not represent the author's own views]

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3. The Burning Cross.

“Well, lookee here!” said a voice, thick with a down-south accent. “This nigger’s got some fighting spirit!”

   Confused, Bill raised his head wearily and found himself, not in the middle of a circle of Nazis, but in the middle of a gathering. With a bewildered shock, he saw that many were wearing the robes of the Ku Klux Klan, complete with hoods.

   It was night; silent save for the lsow crackling of flames which, Bill soon saw, came from a large, burning cross. This was also the only source of illumination in the middle of the dark field.

   “What’s goin’ on?” asked Bill blearily, holding his bloody arm as he stood.

   “Boy, you should know better than to ask,” came the same voice. Said voice, Bill saw, came from a heavy man in a lumberjack’s jacket and shirt, who now wandered out from the crowd of silent robed watchers. He looked Bill up ad down for a moment and snorted. “Well-dressed for a coon, ain’t you?” He seemed not to notice the blood-stained sleeve or otherwise generally dirty clothes.

   Then the man’s eyes came to rest on Bill’s left wrist. “And a gold watch! My, my, you’ve been busy. Who’d you steal all this from?”

   What the hell are you talking about, goddamnit! I’m no nigger; are you blind? I’m as white as they come, you numbskull!” Bill was grabbed roughly from behind by two robed figures and the large man lunged forward with a meaty fist, doubling Bill over with a solid punch to the mid-section.

   “You’d better watch you’re mouth ‘fore it gets you in trouble, boy,” said the man, punching Bill again; though he tried to dodge, the ones who were holding him kept him steady and the punch landed as planned.

   “We’re gonna show you what happens to sheenies who stay out after bedtime, now boy,” said the man with a cruel laugh. The rest of them, the robed figures, remained completely silent. “But ‘fore we get round to that, let me relieve you of that watch; must be awful heavy.”

   Bill was too stunned to speak and therefore could said nothing, only staring around in horror at the scene before him. The utter silence of the robed figures only exacerbated his terror: it seemed to make the idea of them killing him-actually killing him!-more real and infinitely more terrifying.

   The man nodded to the two men holding him, faces hidden by looming face coverings, and they started to slowly march him over to the burning cross that had been planted roughly in the centre of the group and had charred much of the ground about it, blackening the earth as if even the dirt recognised the evil of the upcoming act.

   Seeing no other hope and without time to think, Bill launched a kick at the heavyset man and got him squarely in the face, shoe heel breaking his nose.

   In surprise, the two men momentarily loosened their grip and Bill took the most of the situation: he ran.

   The Klan were so taken aback at this sudden assault that they did not heed him as he pushed through their ranks, running as though chased by a the hounds of hell.

   Even as he was coming out of the circle, he heard a muffled voice: “Idiots! Get after that nigger! Don’t let him get away!”

   All of a sudden the men turned and were just in time to see Bill, still running, enter a small pond, ringed by many tall reeds. The chase was on.

   And yet, even as Bill crouched down in the reeds, the sky above him seemed to...fluctuate... and twist, changing to a lighter dark, a light that said early evening.

   But the pond, the reeds, Bill’s very surroundings also seemed to have changed; but subtly, so that it was barely noticeable until you looked.

  Indeed, it took Bill a moment to realise something had happened, that he was no longer in a small pond in the middle of a field. Also, Bill now grasped the fact that he could no longer hear the voices of the searching Klan members.

   Bill carefully eased forward, desperate to see what new horror awaited him, yet almost fearful of the answer.

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