To Live Or To Die

This is a one shot for the historical fiction competition. The story is based off of three true news articles from the Richmond Times Dispatch back in the 1860s and is a compilation of different subjects from three similar events.
WARNING: This piece is about the KKK and features very strong violence. There is also much racism. Read it at your own risk.


1. To Live or To Die


Crash! I kicked the door down with one mighty blow. It laid a splintering mess on the floor. The snores vibrating from the ceiling above were suddenly cut off. She knew we had come for her. My five KKK men and I proceed to a flight of rickety stairs. We tromped up them quickly, for they were groaning under our intense weight. When we reached the top, scuffling came from the room to our right. We entered it slowly and saw a woman, Charlotte Topham, trying to pry open a sealed window.

    She hadn't seen us yet and tried again and again to open the window. I took a step forward and the floor creaked loudly under my feet. Charlotte whipped around, a long, rusted piece of metal gripped tightly in her hand. The attack began. She was a small woman and didn't put up much of fight. But her screams, they rang through the night and shattered the world with their high pitch frequency. We grabbed at her and tore our hands on the coarse, itchy nightgown she was wearing. She had obviously bathed recently, for she smelled of homemade lilac soap. Charlotte continued screaming until we tore off part of her nightgown and stuffed it into her mouth. I imagined she could taste dirt and metallic blood.

    Church bells rang, signaling the early hours of the morning. It was still too early for Richmond to rise. We dragged her from her room and threw her down the stairs. She hit the floor with an earsplitting thump. Blood leaked onto the floor, staining it forever. I clunked down the stairs like a peg leg pirate. Charlotte was strong willed and began to struggle to rise off the floor. My counterparts and I jerked her off of the ground and paraded her out onto the streets of Richmond.

    She kicked us and tried to hit us, so we snapped her wrists. She went limp, but was still breathing hard. As we got closer to the James, the smell of rotting fish filled the air. Charlotte spit the piece of her nightgown out of mouth, but did not scream. The roughness of her nightgown's fabric had done a beautiful job of shredding her mouth. Scarlet drops of blood dripped from her face. When we reached the James, we dumped her into the river and pulled her out again after one minute.

    She was thrown onto the shore to cough up poison river water. Her body shook with silent sobs. I ran a knife straight down her back, my hand shaking as I did. Her nightgown fell away from her body and she lay there naked. I drew a barbed whip from a barrel by the shore of the river. Looking at Charlotte, I knew that only more pain would come.

    My eyes dampened. I could not and would not hurt this woman more. But then there was the Klan to think about. What would they do to me if I could not uphold this wretched task? Abduct me and beat me bloody like they want me to do to her? What would my father say? I couldn’t risk it. If I didn’t do this, I was as good as dead. Oh why did this woman have to harbor a runaway slave? She had left me with no choice. Life or death. The Klan was life. I would do what they wanted.

Raising the whip above my head, I brought it down hard onto her back. She was too weak to scream, so she whimpered. I raised the whip again and brought it down again. Over and over until her back was covered in the deep, criss-crossing gashes. The blood ran hot and thick. I turned away, suddenly feeling sick. Fifty lashes. That’s what the Klan had ordered. And I had done it without even thinking about it. I looked back at Charlotte. She lay on the ground, unmoving, with the blood still streaming in crimson and scarlet and black. The bruises and swelling and the white pus that dribbled out.

    I did this. I did this to her. Not the Klan or my father or any of the five other men. It was all me. God gave us free will didn’t he? And now I had sinned so greatly against him.

I let the whip that was slick with her blood fall out of my hand. This woman would most likely die and it was all my fault. A wave of horror washed over me. Constance. What would she think of me now? Would she ever be able to forgive me?

Would she ever be able to love me?

To live or to die. That was my choice. The Klan meant life. It meant purity; purging the Negroes and other people of color from society because they were animals. But what if we were the animals? What if I had let my father and the Klan pressure me into doing something so wretched, so clearly wrong, that I had darkened my soul for all eternity? I wanted to live and since the Klan was all I had ever known, I went with it. They said, “the Negroes would only bring cultural decay and death. We have to put them in their place.”

Now I wasn’t so sure that was right. Maybe I didn’t know the difference between right and wrong anymore. Maybe I never knew it to begin with.

Either way, I had to fix this, whether it was too late or not. I had to turn my back on the Klan. They led me astray, I was sure of it. Or maybe not. The Klan was as much a part of me as I was a part of it. Could I really just walk away? No. The Klan was with me for life now whether I wanted to be a part of it or not. I would never truly be free.

There is no escape from the Ku Klux Klan.

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