First Chapter First Place for Nonfiction: It Rises from the Pee Dee by Sara Marie Hogg
August 7, 2016
It Rises from the Pee Dee by Sara Marie Hogg is the First Place winner in the Nonfiction/Memoir category of Works in Progress for the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards.
Award-Winning First Chapter
–Fields have eyes and woods have ears.
–from John Haywood’s Collection of English Colloquial sayings, 1546
In the late 1700s, North Carolina was achingly, hauntingly, beautiful. In the west, ancient mountainous ridges sloped gently down to the coastal plain in the east. It would seem to be plumped-up with coniferous and broadleaf forests. If one gazed all about in a panoramic motion of the head from what native peoples called Tanawha, its highest peak, one would see what would seem to be a bumpy emerald green chenille blanket, with darker green puffy protuberances. Pointillism dots of many other colors of green: verdigris, jade, olive, teal, cyan, and amber would subtly ask for attention. It was pristine and unspoiled. When night was full-blown upon the land it was overseen by a crisp sapphire and diamond sky. Fragrant and feathery zephyrs seemed to ride moonbeams down from the ridges and back up again.
The population of the colony at the time was 197,000, but tiny settlements along its edges grew more and more sparse the farther west one ventured. This accounting by a census was of the more recent residents—not the residents that had always been there. Those already-been-there residents were angry at the intrusion, and rightfully so. They may have been a gentler people at one time, but they were so angry that they felt the trespassers must be run off, and each such elimination of one of these intruders was done with overzealous rage. Messages must be sent. No one was spared, from the just born to those creaky hobblers with one foot in the grave. Those who had left countries far across the ocean to avoid punishment, persecution, and outrageous taxes, now found themselves in a strange land where they must live in constant fear of horrific death. They tried valiantly to protect their offspring. They had survived the lengthy and often terrorizing and physically sickening ocean journey and now faced a worse and hellish nightmare. Their trials seemed to have no end. They were intruders in a harsh environment and if accidents or strange animals did not pick you off, other human beings would. They did what they had to do and tried to make the best of a bad situation.
The original inhabitants of this land had come to be known as the Cherokee, Iroquois, and Shawnee peoples. The others such as the Catawba, maybe, pretended to go along with the trespassers. They offered assistance and goods that prolonged the life of many a settler. There were different types of skirmishes going on in the region: Indian tribe against Indian tribe, Indian against settler, colonists against representatives of the crown, and things were made more complicated when some of the native peoples decided to align themselves with the crown, some colonists remained loyal to the crown, natives and settlers combined forces against other Indian tribes. This is the reason for our account of stealth and desperation. There are many such untold, forgotten, but important stories.
It was dusk and the waters of the river were smooth and glossy. It was the time of day when an ashy lilac mist hung low and you could see tiny pale pink fluff drifting toward the winding liquid expanse. Once, then twice, creatures broke the eerie, still silence,
broke the surface with vigorous splashes, to capture some of the drifting fluff in their jaws—fluff that had caught the light rays of the setting sun. The creatures had been fooled. It was not a juicy insect after all. They would try again. They always did.
Naya-Lanoree, a young Indian, glanced all around. He was certain he had not been seen or followed. He was known by his people for his ability to move with the stealth of a puma. His long dark hair was drawn away from his face with a leather thong. For his long journey he had worn not solely the loincloth, but deerskin leggings to protect his legs. He examined the riverbank for evidence of previous visitors. There had been some, but not within several hours. The clues were old. It would be safe to kneel and get a drink. He would not drink much, just enough to moisten his mouth, enough to spur him onward toward his horse, Meallan, which he had secreted away, faraway in the distance. As he bent, he caught his own reflection in the silvery water and did not recognize himself. He had grown too dark, his features grim and serious.
He rose up some, with a start. The waves of pain in his side from miles of foot-travel were giving him double vision—he was sure of it. His own reflection seemed to split and divide into two images. He closed his eyes tightly and opened them again. He was relieved to see only one reflection, but he was not satisfied. He checked the landscape all around, and when he felt secure, he eased himself out further over the water, bracing himself silently, and looked straight down. There was another face besides his own, staring up at him from the depth of a hand’s-breadth. The face was pearly-white, seen as though infused through light green bottle glass, perhaps like a specimen in a laboratory
jar of William Harvey. It was the face of a young man about his own age, creeping toward the third decade of life. There was a large rock placed in the middle of the young man’s bare chest, holding him beneath the water. As Naya-Lanoree drew himself closer he could see faint dark red fingers of another liquid, expanding, billowing out from beneath the rock. He man had not drowned, by accident. He had been killed and weighted down just hours before.
Naya-Lanoree felt safe now. No one would be in the area. They would be long gone and running fast. Do not become careless… It was evident that the young man had not been killed by the Indian methods of tribes nearby. No, he had been killed by his fellow white man. He rolled the rock off the man and pulled him to the surface by the waistband of his trousers. The wound was a musket shot, it appeared. Naya-Lanoree cringed as he gazed at what was definitely an exit wound. He had been shot in the back, the projectile exiting at mid chest. His trousers were not military. They were breeches of a type that any area farmer may wear. I must collect what I can. He pulled the now surface-floating body closer and turned the pockets inside out to make sure he had it all. He removed some coinage and paper notes. As he returned the pockets to their original state, a thought came to him. He floated the body until he could reach the boots. As he eased his hand into the top of the man’s right boot he felt the haft of a dagger. He eased the knife out. The man’s left boot was empty.
Naya-Lanoree did not relish the chilling that would come from getting wet but he had to complete his task. He floated the body into its original position and forced himself to get into the water a ways to replace the stone weight. The body went down again.
He gathered the objects he had retrieved and tied them into a piece of cloth he carried with him. He removed all traces of his presence with an accommodating tree branch and traveled on into the descending drape of nightfall.
He was shivering as he reached the edge of a familiar farm. Moonlight reflected off of his gooseflesh giving the appearance of a miniscule Appalachia—the region he constantly wandered. He crossed a field to an oak and shimmied up to the first crotch. He stood in the fork in moccasined feet and felt in the darkness for the horseshoe nail that was a knob to the door of a hollowed-out hiding place. He opened it and withdrew a piece of paper. He bounded down from his perch and stepped off rough paces to the north. He buried his cloth bundle of discoveries in the soft earth and made a mental reminder that he would need a new piece of cotton fabric for carrying with him on future journeys. He walked another half-mile to a small building and went inside. He took great pains to clean the days of travel off of himself before climbing onto his recently saddled horse. .
“Meallan, my good boy, I am ready.” The horse responded to the clicking noises coming from his master’s mouth and the flip of the rein. They rode on into the night-
The river tells its secrets
The river tells no lies
It sighs and sings
And the tale it brings
Is too loud and long to die,
It sings its song of men done wrong
And finally claims its prize…