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Saga of Nancy J Brayles – Response to Billybuc’s Picture Prompt

Shauna's preferred genre is fiction. She particularly enjoys rising to a challenge posed by fellow artists. Picture prompts spark her muse.

Obscure meadow caresses a lone tombstone

Obscure meadow caresses a lone tombstone

I’ve been through this obscure meadow a thousand times and always feel sadness when I come upon the lone tombstone. Nancy J. Brayles, Born 1820, Died 1910. That’s all it says. Who was she and what is her story? How did she die? Why is she buried here all alone?

As a writer, I often take walks to clear my head and gain inspiration by the sights and smells that Mother Nature provides. Life can be hectic. Life can be cumbersome. But life is beautiful. Sometimes I just need to get out from the confines of the walls of my home and let the freedom of fresh air embrace me. It’s cleansing. And it’s a key component to my process.

For some reason, I’m always drawn to this spot. It sparks emotions and not always uplifting ones. Here I feel sadness, but I also feel the need to tell her story. She reaches out to me but doesn’t quite connect. She was 90 years old when she died. What was her life? Why am I drawn to this spot? I feel she needs to be heard. And I can give her a voice.

Meandering path lends itself to wandering thoughts

Meandering path lends itself to wandering thoughts

After having a one-sided conversation with Nancy (“hello my friend. I’m here and I feel you. I promise to tell your story so you can rest in peace”), I do an about-face and continue on down the tree-lined dirt road. My mind is wandering with the path I mindlessly follow.

Why am I drawn to that lone tombstone? Who am I kidding.? I know why I’m drawn. It’s because Nancy J. Brayles is reaching out to someone – anyone – who can tell her story. No one should die alone with nothing to show for life. Especially someone who walked this earth for ninety years!

There’s a conversation going on in my head. She reaches out and this time she connects.

“Cheyenne, I know you can hear me. I know you can help me. Take a right here, through the brambles. Be careful and watch where you’re going. I’ll guide you”.

I’ll be honest with you: it was a bit disturbing to actually hear her voice. But this is why I’ve been drawn here over and over again, right? I want to connect. I believe in spirits but never actually had one speak to me.

Don’t be afraid, Cheyenne. You’re the soul she trusts. She needs you. And you need her to speak. Be strong. Be open.

Farm buildings devoid of life. Or are they?

Farm buildings devoid of life. Or are they?

I made my way through the brambles and found myself in an open field of overgrown grasses. In the distance was a barn with a rusted building next to it. I presumed the rusted structure housed farm equipment at one time. I made my way to the structures and that’s when I heard the voices. Many voices.

“Get out theah and plow them fields, niggah. You won’t get no eatin’s ‘til you’re done! Mammy, git in thar and make dinnah for m’family. Tend those haus’es and make sho’ they cin plow them fields!”

Oh, my God. Slavery, 1820. My heart bleeds for these people. Yes, they are people! They have families. They have heart. They have soul. They have goals and desires. How could we have treated them as we did?

Suddenly, life in the 1800s comes to life. I don’t just hear. I see. I see the man of the house enter the barn and approach whom I assume is Nancy. He does the unfathomable before whipping her and sending her off to the main house to make dinner for the slave owner and his family.

I weep.

Slave owner's home

Slave owner's home

I follow the spirit of Nancy as she beckons me towards the main house. We enter and she heads for the kitchen to make dinner for the family. She’s ignored as she fries chicken, boils potatoes, and cleans greens. She weeps and my heart breaks for her. I ask if I can help and she refuses. Although the family can’t see me, she’s afraid that if she speaks to anyone or accepts help, she’ll be whipped and raped by “Massa”.

Again, I weep. I feel so helpless. I remind myself that I’m here to tell her story, not change it. This is one of those times that I wish I weren’t gifted with the ability to connect with spirits.

But Nancy needs me.

Nancy serves dinner and the family retires after eating. But, as I watch helplessly, Massa marches Nancy back to the barn where he whips and rapes her because she neglected to make biscuits.

Again, I weep.

Suddenly, I’m thrown into a time much later. Nancy had become pregnant with that rape. The rest of the slaves had either gone underground or been freed, but Nancy and her child were forced to live in the barn and serve the family.

Serene waters mask the violence of years passed

Serene waters mask the violence of years passed

Nancy was prodded by Massa to take her baby to the pond on the property. She had to watch while he walked the child into the water and drowned her. However, he was unaware that his wife had followed them to the pond. When her husband was satisfied that his illegitimate child was gone, she waded into the water, retrieved the baby, breathed life back into her, and handed her to Nancy. “Here, take her to the McClusky’s down the road. They’ll take care of her. Massa can’t know”.

The child, whom Nancy had named Chance, found ways to keep in touch with her mom throughout her life. They’d often meet in the meadow down by the road, out of sight of Massa’s property and his prying eyes.

Chance had a daughter in 1863. Her name was Faith and was born into slavery. However, she was declared free from slavery in 1865 and would later become one of the first women to open her own restaurant.

In 1910, when Nancy died of old age, Chance secretly buried her in the meadow by the road.

Faith is my mother.

Now I know the story of my Great-Grandmother and I share it with you.

May you rest in peace, Nancy.

© 2020 Shauna L Bowling

Comments

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on February 27, 2020:

Wow, MizB, I couldn't ask for a better comment! You've started my day out with a swelled heart and a huge smile on my face.

Thank you so much!

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on February 26, 2020:

Excellent storytelling, Shauna. The involvement of Massa's wife was a surprise twist. You should enter this one in a contest. It's that good.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on February 19, 2020:

Meg, I'm glad you enjoyed my story. Massa's wife is a gem. Without her, Cheyenne may never have been born and the family's story would have forever remained buried.

Thanks for visiting my corner, Meg!

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on February 19, 2020:

What a beautiful story. Poor Nancy, what hard times and how terrible the lives that some lived. Massa's wife also had it hard but she found the courage and humanity to do what she could.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on January 28, 2020:

Genna, thank you for your beautiful comment. Chills and tears? Wow!

I hope you participate in Bill's next photo challenge. You're a very talented writer.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on January 28, 2020:

I didn't participate in Bill's photo challenge, but have enjoyed reading the responses. Your story is just stunning! It gave me chills, and brought tears. Beautiful and poignant, Shauna.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on January 25, 2020:

I can totally relate, Ann. I had to go back to work full time in 2015 because my freelance business wasn't supporting me. I suck at marketing, probably because when I was a copywriter back in the '80s, my job was to write copy. We had a sales department that was responsible for bringing in the work. Anyway, doing the eight-to-five thing, has taken priority and my writing has suffered as a result.

Time to get back in the swing before I get too darned rusty!

Ann Carr from SW England on January 25, 2020:

I agree with your view about picture prompts. I've done similar challenges of my own. I think they are better for getting the imagination going.

I haven't done mine yet but my muse is mulling it over! Writing is taking a back seat at the moment but I'm getting restless!

Ann

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on January 25, 2020:

Thank you, Peggy. My muse has been pretty much dormant for the past few years. I reached out to Bill in hopes he'd give her a push. He's very supportive and a good friend. My muse and I love him!

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on January 25, 2020:

Ann, thank you so much for your positive and encouraging comment. Picture prompts have always been a favorite motivational tool for me, that's why I asked Bill to bring the series back. Sometimes my mind's eye needs something to focus on in order to open the creative floodgates.

Have you posted yours yet?

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 25, 2020:

What a heart-breaking story you created from Bill's photo prompts. This is the second story that I have read spurred on by Bill's photos and both of them were excellent. Your muse was definitely working!

Ann Carr from SW England on January 25, 2020:

Wow! What a great story! I thought it might be a distant relation but you surprised me with the ending and you led up to it so well.

Beautiful, and a great response to the prompt.

Ann

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on January 22, 2020:

Shannon, at first this prompt challenge didn't spark my muse, either. But since Bill brought the picture prompt challenges back based on my request, I was determined. It took a few days, but my muse finally got rolling late last Saturday night. Once she gives me a beginning sentence, she guides my mind and fingers. I never know how my stories are going to end until I get there.

Shannon Henry from Texas on January 22, 2020:

I have joined in on past photo prompt challenges that Bill has issued, but so far, this particular one has not sparked my muse into action. Besides, how could I possibly top this one or even come close to it? I love a good surprise when reading. LOL. We'll see what may come from his future challenges or if something pops in my head for this one when I least expect it. I get my inspiration from weird places sometimes and at the strangest times.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on January 22, 2020:

Shannon, I'm thrilled that my story is the first you've read in Bill's resurrected challenge. I hope you read the others. HP has some pretty talented writers whose imaginations fly once they see photo prompts. I know they work for me. I'm a bit out of practice, but I plan on meeting as many challenges as I can.

Will you be joining in on the fun?

Shannon Henry from Texas on January 22, 2020:

You took up the challenge quite nicely. Love the twist ending! I didn't see that one coming. Glad this was the first challenge acceptance that I've read this far. You set the bar high for me.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on January 22, 2020:

Thanks, Paula!

Yes, the race is on. I need these prompts to kick my muse's butt in gear. I'm thankful Bill honored my request to bring back the picture prompts.They inspire me.

Suzie from Carson City on January 22, 2020:

Sha....Remind me to never challenge you for any reason! (Don't need my butt kicked at my age!)

I'm not surprised to know that within that pretty head of yours, lives an incredibly creative mind. Your tale is amazing....not to mention the shocking conclusion.

Kudos, my friend......The race is on.....GOOD LUCK! Hugs, Paula

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on January 22, 2020:

Thank you for your wonderful comment, Dora. I really didn't know how the story was going to unfold until Cheyenne came upon the old farm structures. Then it wrote itself.

Thank you so much for stopping by!

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on January 22, 2020:

Thank you for your wonderful comment, Dora. I really didn't know how the story was going to unfold until Cheyenne came upon the old farm structures. Then it wrote itself.

Thank you so much for stopping by!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 21, 2020:

Beautiful revelation! First, I felt an emotional connection watching the slave woman. Saddened by what the massa did, but thrilled at the compassion of his wife. Then surprised at the writer's involvement. Excellent!

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on January 20, 2020:

Verlie, I'm glad you enjoyed my story. You can always go back to yours and revise it. I'm headed over there shortly to check it out.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on January 20, 2020:

Mar, thank you for your sweet comment. I love that you caught on to "Cheyenne".

I love you too, Mar!

Verlie Burroughs from Canada on January 20, 2020:

Shauna, this is an amazing response to Bill's challenge. Vivid, excellent storytelling in so few words. I completely bungled it, thinking each picture was a separate installment. I should have read yours first.

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on January 20, 2020:

Oh, Cheyenne,

I love you and your muse, whenever you grace us, truly.

Your style is personal, punching me in the gut in the best of ways.

Love you lots, mar

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on January 19, 2020:

Thank you for your supportive comment, Chris. I seem to sneak the paranormal into many of my fiction pieces. Dean Koontz is my favorite author. That's indicative of what I lean towards when reading fiction.

Once I discovered the name on the tombstone (by using a magnifying glass), I did a Google search to see if she came up. I didn't want to trespass on reality with this fictional piece. However, nothing came up, which gave me even more reason to give her a life to be discovered and remembered.

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on January 19, 2020:

Shauna, You did a fine job mixing dramatic, paranormal, and historical material into one story. I believe Nancy is a representative of many like her who need their story told in a fresh way to each generation so that we never forget. Thank you for responding to Bill's challenge with this memorable story.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on January 19, 2020:

Ruby, your comment has my muse's tool (me) smiling big time! When something I write evokes emotion, I feel I've done what writers dream of doing. Whether readers learn something or feel something as the result of the written word... well, that lets the writer know s/he's on the right path.

Thank you so much for reading and leaving your awesome comment. You made my day!

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on January 19, 2020:

Oh my goodness, I'm in tears. The story was so real and the way you wrote words that were surely used by the slave owners made the story come alive. Shauna you met this challenge head-on. I know your muse is smiling bigtime.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on January 19, 2020:

You know me well, Manatita. It's hard to not have a part of me blend into my characters. That's just the way I roll!

manatita44 from london on January 19, 2020:

Haha.

Why did I know you would ask that? Certain words you used shows your humanity as if I didn't know. They reminded me, that's all.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on January 19, 2020:

Sounds like a deal, Linda. I'll take you up on it! Just be careful of what you serve. Bill's a picky eater. LOL.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on January 19, 2020:

Shauna this was wonderful. You simply must keep writing. Bill gives the prompts, you create the entertainment, and I'll provide the snacks.

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on January 19, 2020:

Bill, I couldn't ask for higher praise. I'll admit, my muse is a little rusty, but with your help via prompts, her cylinders should become well-oiled once again. The fact that this story sparked emotion in you is reason enough to keep on keepin' on. Do you hear that Madam Muse?

Yes, my muse would love to get back in the swing. She just needs a little prompting. (Pun intended!)

Thanks for taking me up on my request to resurrect the photo prompt challenges. You have no idea how much I appreciate you.

Love,

Sha

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on January 19, 2020:

And who would that old friend be, Manatita?

I'm glad you enjoyed the story. I particularly like your comment about my imagination. I think that's a key trait for any writer who dabbles in fiction.

Thanks again, my friend. Will you be responding to Bill's challenge with a story of your own?

Shauna L Bowling (author) from Central Florida on January 19, 2020:

John, it actually took a while for my muse to come up with a story for these prompts. Then, last night, a fire was sparked. It felt good to write again!

I'll definitely be going over to your corner to see what you've come up with. I know it'll be awesome!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 19, 2020:

I admit, I had a tear in my eye at the end....well, okay, several tears if truth be told.

I think your muse has returned.Welcome her and ask her if she has any more pieces she would like you to write. Another prompt will be arriving in a week.

Until then, rest in the knowledge that you've still got it. I loved this!

love,

bill

manatita44 from london on January 19, 2020:

A pretty vivid imagination and told quite well. You remind me of an old friend here on Hub Pages. You took up the challenge well. Have a great Sunday.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on January 19, 2020:

Shauna, what a touching and incredible story you came up with, and fittingly so as you were the one who prompted Bill to resurrect his photo challenges. Great job on this, I loved every word. I just finished and published mine around the same time as you.