The last thing I remember is lying under his naked body as he does what he’s done every night for the last six months since he groped me that day on the auction block until he goes limp. When I’m sure he’s asleep, I slice his throat with a bowie knife and run for the woods, chased by screaming men and the booming echo of shotguns firing.
Tree bark splinters off and sprays out as the bullets whizz by. I keep running. Ducking and dodging. My feet sliding across the hard dirt, catching in vines, scraping against thorns hidden in shrubs and fallen branches. I bear the pain and keep running toward the clearing ahead—death or escape my only option. When I finally break, I’m met with two glaring oval lights and a blaring sound that knocks me off my feet.
Her eyes flutter open, then quickly she closes them again. “Please, the light.” She shields her face with her forearms, which are covered in cuts and bruises. “Where am I?” She attempts to sit up, but Dr. Johnson lightly nudges her shoulder to lay her back down on the hospital bed.
“Easy, easy,” he says softly. “You were hit by a rather large SUV.”
He takes his penlight out of his lab coat pocket and lifts her eyelids, examining each eye. Then he holds his finger in front of her. “Can you follow my finger for me?”
Her eyes comply, shifting from left to right along with his finger. “Good,” he says, and writes a note in her chart. “I’m Dr. Johnson. I’ll be taking care of you.”
“A negro doctor?”
He chuckles. “Negro? I haven’t heard that word in a while.”
“How you a doctor?”
Dr. Johnson does a double take at the girl. Despite the rugged skin and the heavy bags under her eyes, she can’t be older than eighteen, and yet she calls him negro and questions whether he’s a doctor?
“Years of medical training,” he finally answers.
“Your people let you?”
He looks at her pensively, then steps closer to the bed and touches her hand. “Can you tell me the last thing you remember?”
Her eyes well with tears, but he squeezes her hand to assure her she’s in a safe space. When she finishes speaking, unsure how to respond, Dr. Johnson says, “You rest,” and leaves the room, closing the door behind him.
Outside in the hall the driver of the SUV and the responding officer are discussing the accident. “She just ran out into the road!” the driver says. “I thought she was a ghost or something.”
“From what she was wearing, I’m guessing she’s part of some Civil War reenactment.”
“If that’s the case,” Dr. Johnson chimes in, “I question that reenactment club’s ethics. She has these deep lashes all over her back, as if…as if she’s been whipped. Almost like—”
“Like, like she’s a…a…s-s-slave?” the driver stutters. It’s as he can’t even say the word for fear that it will offend Dr. Johnson, the only African American of the trio.
Accustomed to these kinds of awkward exchanges, Dr. Johnson ignores it and continues. “Yes, like a slave. The whip marks aren’t the only thing. She has bruises all over her body that aren’t consistent with getting hit by a car. She shows a history of abuse. And—”
“And what?” the officer asks.
Dr. Johnson swallows hard, his throat suddenly dry. He recalls all that she said. The man she killed. The hunting party after her. It sounded unfathomable, like something straight out of the movies. Oddly enough, he felt strongly protective of her. His eyes lowered to the gun on the officer’s hip. On the off chance that what she said is true, anyone white, especially a white man, especially a white man with a gun, would terrify her.
“Well, with all the scars, and then getting hit by a car. She’s suffered a great deal. And it appears to have led to a mental break. She’s not saying things that make sense. I’d like for our hospital psychiatrist to see her before you talk to her, officer. If that’s alright.”
“There’s one other thing that puzzles me.”
“What is that?”
“The pellet we dug out of her calf. Quite frankly, I’m surprised we didn’t have to amputate her leg for infection. In all my years of working in the trauma ER, I’ve never seen a bullet that old.”
“You’re right about that.” A second officer returns from a phone call at the nurses station. “That was ballistics. They said the bullet is at least 165 years old.”
In unison, all heads turn slowly toward the hospital room where the girl sleeps.
Who is this girl? Where is she from?
And most importantly, when?
© 2021 Nortina Simmons
This hour’s Twilight Zone story was inspired by the episode “A Hundred Yards Over the Rim,” another time traveling tale that brings the past in confrontation with the present.
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