On slaves’ bones and turkey buzzards

By Angela Perez

Me and my dog Tater are in the back woods of Tyrrell County near historic Somerset Plantation, slicing through that ancient silence along the Scuppernong River, the morning sunlight glinting like diamonds on the black velvet waters. I slam on brakes and the car jerks to a stop, flinging Tater into the dashboard. There in front of the car is a mangy brown dog staring down a giant turkey buzzard, both angling to devour the carcass of a squashed snapping turtle there in the middle of the road.

I roll down my windows and listen to the starving dog growl and edge closer to the dead body. The buzzard stands his ground, flexing the broad expanse of his wings ever so often. I hear a voice to the left of me.

“Now that’s a fight right there,” said a withered old black man sidling up to my window. I looked around me trying to see from what nearby house he must have emerged from. I saw nothing around me but miles of plowed fields dissected by black water canals. “You know slaves dug those canals to connect that river to that plantation down the road,” he said. “They worked them men ’til they wore clean out and if they died while they was diggin’ they got left right where they died. Ain’t even bury ’em.” He whistled at the stray dog. “You better come away from that buzzard Mr. Dog,” he said, “he’s gonna tear your ass up when he finally gets mad.” He looked at me. “You know there’s slave bones in them ditches. They come up some nights and talk to me. Tell me things.”

He patted the side of my Jeep, “Watch out for that ole’ buzzard.” He turned around and walked back down the road behind us. I looked ahead and the dog was chewing on the turtle’s head and the bird had flown away. I looked in the rear view mirror. The old man was nowhere to be seen.

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