I got no parents in the ordinary way of things. I envy some that do. I was here before the root doctors come on the earth, shadowing the waters in the marshes, bayous. My parents the swamps, rice marsh, verdant mossy places breathing sure as I do with my own lungs when I squat on my appointed rounds. I come from the breath and curse of root doctors before they had New World names to call the curse. Root doctors think they come first but I was here, waiting on them to feed me air.
Root doctors think they appoint my rounds. Sure, I serve when the root doctor calls—why not if his purpose and mine alike be vengeance—why then should he not breathe me and I come? Sometime I get loose from a root doctor, run my own way for sheer mischief.
When I do get aloose, my fate is this wandering way I got used to. Made of the peat bogs, waters of the dark emptying to sea, still cursed at birth that I may not cross the blue water. Because Gullah know, all bad things come when you cross big blue water. The slavers come with their collars by blue water. The ocean itself so blue and free, but not the Africans brought over it to Carolina, to Daufuskie. The Plat-eye cannot be free either.
Heed the Gullah-Geechee, for if not, the Plat-eye—that is me—may come for you. Heed the root man, too, or he send the Boohag to ride you nights so you get no rest and have nightmares til dawn.
Not having the life of a man, the Plat-eye can never die. So I know many memories from many men’s full lifetimes. Sometimes I assume the likeness of a creature—fox, night hound, poison toad, and yes, a man. But any shape I take, I get one eye only. You might could find me as a man walking with a bloody socket, a eyepatch, a glass eye like a marble in my head. But with my one eye I see all I need to, over many a man’s life. Root doctor dies, but not the Plat-eye. I keep seeing.
I will tell you what I know of William Yeldell Cosper and how he come to his uneasy grave. His fate was sealed long before the year Bill was born, 1800 and 44. Curse begun way back with his daddy’s daddy, ‘most a hundred years before. I saw it all with my one eye and tell you the truth.
Old Bill granddaddy come by way of Charleston to be a Low Country preacherman. Bill grandmama from the same county over near Sea Island, where the indigo grows, where the Gullah land leach its sorrows to the blue ocean. She a Carolina Yeldell that give Bill his middle name, but Bill’s own mama a old Creole name. A Creole woman ought honor the ways of the Gullah if any white woman could, but she married the grandaddy preacherman’s son— he a preacherman, too—and take on all his pure white ways.
Bill one of 13 children born to the Creole woman and preacherman James Berry Cosper. This I have told you is the line of Cosper genrations. Now I will tell you how the curse was laid and played down till it settle on Bill.
The first preacherman, granddaddy to Bill, come from over Charleston way to scoff at the Gullah-Geechee, and that how Boohag and I come to know finally William Yeldell Cosper, called out like it was by name down the genrations by the root doctor. This root doctor the seventh son, born with the caul. Everybody know when a root doctor born the seventh son, with a caul wrapped round his neck, his curse nearly unbreakable down the genrations.
When the first preacherman come, name of Jacob Cosper, it was with a swagger and the voice of thunder in the marshes. Preacherman Jacob Cosper tell everbody he bring Christ the light of the world to Daufuskie. He say he the son of a preacherman from across the water and ordained by the Bishop Francis Asbury over there—he and his brother George Henry Cosper both. He awful puffed up bout a Bishop there singlin them out and placin his seal on the Cosper brothers. The slaves was given to know that “Revrun Cosper” was powerful important. He said so hisself and all the masters did too. He and his brother planters theyselfs.
Revrun Cosper was brought by masters at the big houses who wanted the Gullah to pray like the white people do. He in their pay to throw over the African ways. “Savages,” he holler. “Necromance,” he shout. He thunder all about judges and a book called Samuel and rail on and on gainst the ways.
It chance one night the Revrun Cosper come up on the ring shout. In the ring shout the Africans dance to a fever when the spirit come and set them all trembling before they fall to the ground and writhe, sometime in a heap if that how they fall. The ring shout forbid by the masters, but the slaves guess it’s safe when no masters round. Revrun Cosper come up in the slave camp one night. Nobody know what business he on. After, everbody say a spy sold them out to the Revrun and master for a month of biscuits.
He got to thunderin about fornication and wickednest and savage brutes, the devil and hell and whatall until it look like the veins in his head and neck might pop out his head. He hollerin and preachin and prayin somethin fierce up on his fine silver horse.
“You, boy! You go tell your master the Reverend Cosper requires him ungently!”
The poor man froze, then bolt when Revrun Cosper flick his whip. The master and his overseer, a foul man called Sykes from over Abbeville way, rode down to the camp double-quick.
Revrun Cosper demand to know who call the ring shout. Nobody said nothin, cause everybody know the root doctor there. When nobody ever said somethin, Revrun Cosper single out the one he send to fetch the master. “That one! He defied me when I sent him to the house to stop this—this ungodly–orgy!”
And overseer Sykes whip him must of been 20 licks, til he cannot stand and Sykes’ sweat flyin with the blood. Then they start in on some others, random lashes, even on childrens. They look like they in their own ring shout frenzy, whips and foamin mouths, all eye and teeth like a wolf. The root doctor give Sykes the stinkeye when he raise the whip on him, and Sykes just drop from that horse like he been knock off. Broke his whippin wrist, too.
When there blood and terror enough that Revrun and master and overseer all satisfied, the root doctor step up to Revrun Cosper. He fix him right in the eye and tell him to leave his Bible open to Psalm 37 for three days, facing east.
“Sorcerer!” Revrun yelled. “Heretic! You do the devil’s work!”
“Unless you heed, your land will run hard. The son of your first-born son will have no rest even in his grave. You will not rest and your line will not prosper unless you do this. A wise man will paper his walls and paint his house against the spirits I commit on you. Do this, or weapons raised against your line will prosper.”
All the Africans know to paint your porch and windows blue because no haint can cross the blue. The root doctor told Revrun Cosper how to protect gainst the very curse he just laid on him. This make Revrun Cosper even madder—a Black man preachin at him, takin on such airs.
“Blasphemer! Sorcerer!” Revrun Cosper raise his whip, but his big silver horse throw him, and he break his whippin hand when he hit the ground, just like old Sykes. Hard to say whether there more fear or anger in his eye when he stand up.
You know well as I do Revrun Cosper had no thought in the world of listenin to a word the root doctor say. So the Boohag come and rode him nights, and I come as a one-eyed fox to run his cows and tear up his chickens. When Revrun was watchin, I come with a hollow eye and stand in his fields and scare him half to death with the looks of me. When he call out to me, I just vanish and come out the fields as a one-eye fox with a bloody socket and a bloody chicken foot in my mouth. Then he shoot at me and I turn into a cicada eatin at his rice crop. He got to where he didn’t care no more about the land grant his daddy got to come over the water and he could not make his crops with me standin over them, just starin with my one eye.
Revrun Cosper and his childrens all lived, but each season that come, he borrow and borrow gainst crops that don’t grow. He sell off the farm, bit by bit, till nothin left but where he sat, and the bank come for that to seize for crop debt. He saw it go on the auction block to one of the masters who slaves he suppose to bring to Jesus, on that same auction block where he bought some slave. Revrun Cosper parish fall apart, too. So they all went to Alabama after the govment clear out the Creek and Cherokee land for the whites. The whole clan—brother’s wife and childrens, too. Moved to the place in Alabama seem to me like it eat up with mystic history, Talladega County.
But you can’t be too clever with your business. You can’t outrun a curse. And if you think you can, Talladega County not the place to go.
Boohag and me lay low a long time cause Revrun Cosper and the brother built theyselves houses that a couple local slaves hired out for the build painted. Being sold from Carolina and knowing the old ways, they painted them porches and window sills the old haint blue, just nough indigo tinted with lye—keep off the skeeters and dragonfly but also the Boohag and Plat-eye. Both Revrun Cospers never even realize they have haint porches keeping Boohag and Plat-eye away! And if them slaves know the evil of that family and the curse laid on by the root man, a haint blue porch the last thing they do for the Revruns.
Years and years, we can’t get in the house, and blue bottle trees all at the four corners of the propety, set there in secret by the Gullah sold out from the Carolinas. And that farm so small the bottle trees meant to protect the slave houses keep us off the Revrun house. Even when they take out for church, a slave with the earth pouch in his coat keep me away. Boohag and me reduced to runnin the woods and scarin rabbits, maybe somebody chasin a runaway slave wandering Talladega and Randolph County woods. Lean times when you ain’t got nothin better to do than devil the bloodhound.
But I squat and watch. I go back and forth tween them two Revrun houses. I see a few Africans on hire come and go back to they own camps when they work done at both the Revruns’ farms. I just watch and wait. Soon enough the childrens grown and married, but not alls.
One of them walk through the Trembly Pines and set up a home in McFall/Eastaboga, a place for spirits in the woods if ever they was one. I terrored him to a run, but he shed his coat when he run and dang if he not wearin a blue shirt. By the time I recover myself from confusion, he long gone.
I not too broke up about it cause I figure living over Eastaboga way its own punishmet, it so chock-full of haints. I tell you how much the spirits runs that place—right bout a hundred years after I devil that particlar Cosper boy, ole Box Car Joe come up to the finest house of the richest man in town and took a axe to ever one of that family. Then when that house let out for rent years after, he come back and done the same thing to the folks livin there. I can’t take no credit for anything go on in McFall/Eastaboga. Evil spirits runs from the Trembly Pines all the way to the grandest house in Eastaboga. I don’t think it a root curse, though. Just spiritland that flesh should leave be. Anyhows, that one got away from me. I get angry and twitchy when one get away but it wasn’t too bad considerin.
It happen that in the year 1859, a cyclone come and took the roof off Revrun Jacob Cosper house and blow off all the bottle trees sealin his land. His barn left standin, and he and the missus in there with cows and horses waitin out the rain. That when I saw my chance with the Revrun Jacob Cosper. I come as a one-eye man drenched from the storm, brim of my hat tippin rain like a waterfall. They puzzle at first but don’t bar the door. When I take off my hat, the Revrun see my bloody socket. His eyes big Os, his mouth a bigger one.
He shrink up, try to slither up against a wall behind a horse, mumblin and ahollerin. The panic in his two eyes like nectar to the Plat-eye, his babblin like music. They both in terror at my bloody eye and my grin. I do grin when I happy, and my true work make me happy, not like just triflin mischief all over the woods scarin folks. I corner him and his wife just screamin and hollerin. I get right up in his ear and ask him how faithful was he to Psalm 37 and did he remember the days in Carolina, the ring shout, did he remember me? I see from the scare in his eyes he knows me complete.
Then I change to a bloody-eye fox and nip at his belly and butt while he all tucked up and blubberin in the corner. The lady shoot at me, but I cannot die so I just laugh and keep on and truth told, she could not hit a man at five paces with that shaky grip. I give her a grin and fix my fox eye on Jacob Cosper. He try to rise and that horse just kick out from behind and knock him straight in his head. Then I vanish and leave her crazy with fear and wonderment. And I think that the end of Revrun Jacob Cosper and maybe the Missus’ mind, too. I leave her for the Boohag. Boohag deserve a little fun too.
But I still got another genration to go, and it got two revruns in it, too. Revrun Jacob Cosper’s sons name James Berry and George Henry set up they own churches closer in to the villages springin up from all the settlers moving west. Folks call these revruns J.B. and Henry.
They preach them some hellfire, J.B. a Methodisk like he daddy but Henry split off and had a Babdisk church bout 10 mile up the road from J.B. church. You might say they hold the market on the white religion and was just offerin some variety to keep folks intrested. They houses set up by the slaves, and they got porches and sills haint blue, and bottles strung way in the trees where the Revruns never see them.
Alabama be good to Revruns J.B. and Henry with cotton, especially Revrun Henry, who also got him a plantation over in Georgia and had somebody run it for him half a year, and a whole nother church over in Walker County there. Revrun Henry better at runnin things, so when he riding circuit preachin over to Georgia, he build a house there and keep it one year. After one year he qualify to buy 400 acres over there. He smarter and greedier than brother J.B. although J.B. a rich enough man in Alabama.
Oh they preach and preach about the devil and sin but mainly how greedy Yankees destroy the people way of life and tear up the states—all the thing rich white people care about and use to rile the little white farmer up on too. They rile the little farmer that want to grow his farm big enough to have his own slaves like they do, that want to be the planters like the Revruns is. They pray in they churches for war with the north.
They prayers answered, and straight from Carolina where they come from. The Africans, some of them just scared bout starving to death if the Yankee burn out all the South crops or the Confedruts take all the land have to give to feed they army. Most of them sensing jubilation day with no more lash and they own land to farm. Freedom. They sang freedom.
For the Plat-eye, war the perfect chance to part the Revruns sons from the charm bags they slaves carry when they ride them to town or they churches, take away the haint blue and bottle trees. My chance come first early in the war. Selma had one the iron depots in the whole Rebel land and they keep soldier there guardin it. They drill the Confedruts there before they go up Virginia way to fight and then they bring in whole new Confedruts to guard it.
Perren Cosper one of Revrun Henry Cosper grown sons. He pushin 40 years of age by time the war come out of Carolina. Perren still in the first muster camp for the 44th Alabama and got him the distentary, not even a full year into the war. They put him in that big building the Confedruts took from the freemasons for a hospital. Perren Cosper never see a battlefield at all, just the camp by the Alabama River and the four walls of that freemason hospital.
I just happen to be a Confedrut soldier, too, with one eye blowed out by grapeshot back outside Manassas, from the Fighting Alabama 15th,, sent back home cause a one-eye man can’t shoot straight no more. They put us right there longside each other on the floor there. I look at Perren Cosper and lay my hand on his leg. He howlin but no one hear him any more than any the other wounded and moanin Confedruts who was laying there havin arms sawed off.
Private George Robert Perren Cosper leg got horrible rotten and smell something foul, just oozing pus and purple blood. They finally drag him to a table where they go to cut off that whole leg where I touch it, when that man come in with watery bowels. They cut the whole leg off, but the rot in his whole blood.
I know he dyin. He know it too. I ask if he have word for any kin. He say his brother William Marion Cosper also a private in the 44th Alabama Infamtry and he over on the other side the Alabama River. I tell him I find him and go to him and tell him Perren gone. Then I show him my full bloody socket and stick a finger in it, grinning him to death. He did not die easy when he see the Plat-eye for real. That was June of 1800 and 62.
I went lookin for CSA Private William Marian Cosper. He not on the other side the Alabama River, but already marching north. It took me bout a year to hunt him down, but I found the 44th Alabama all the way up in Pennsylvania in the sweat of early July. He at a place call Gettyburg. I come up to that place with my eyepatch and my 15th Alabama gray homespun. I find Marian Cosper at the place they call Little Round Top, tell him Perren send me with a message. He fall to the ground like he prayin and plead with me for the message.
I pull off my patch and grin at him. “He say he miss you,” I say. Then I watch him twitch at my ugly socket but try to smile at news from Selma.
“Perren all right then!”
“Naw.” I say. “He dead.” I watch him crumple.
“But you say he miss me,” Marian Cosper say, in a confuse way.
“He don’t have to,” I say.
“What?” he say, confuse.
“He dead.” I fix my bayonet into his eye till he fall back. “Now you dead too.”
I figure I done enough to the Revrun George Henry Cosper and his line, but I ain’t touched Revrun J.B. Cosper yet. I know I ain’t finish.
It quicker in wartime to roam as a fox. I come back down through Sharpburg, Manassas, down through the mountains and hollers. Such a long way, but I must make my appointed rounds. When finally my feet touch down on Alabama dirt, nothing as it was when I took out for Selma. It winter, and a harsh wind blowin through the Trembly Pines. All the rail torn up where fences was, and the earth just bare even for wintertime. I anxious to see the Boohag and tell her all I done.
Some slave walkin the road, scarecrow-skinny, some slave settin on porches, and not a master or overseer to be found. Talladega County just a field of crunchy frost even my fox-feet bruise. And no sign of Revrun J.B. Cosper.
I hear some slave from the old place wandering the road talk bout what happen to that family. They say they hear all kind a things—they over in Randolph County, they somewhere else in Talladega County, they in Coosa, they in St. Clair, they at Easonville, they all soldiers dead or in Yankee prisons. Lot of them married off and gone to Georgia, some in Russell County, some half dead, Missus dead at Easonville for sure earlier this year, some livin over with that Cosper son got away from me in the Trembly Pines. I hear it all bout where they might could of went, but everbody agree Missus J.B. Cosper dead of nervy exhaustion and dropsy. They say 50 Confedrut Cospers scatter in armies tween Alabama and Texas in 1800 and 63.
The slave all freed that year,I hear, so master have no one to work the land. Left the slave to starve and wish them luck. You free now like you wanted, good luck, y’all goan miss Revrun Cosper when he gone and you fendin for your own self without my hogs and chickens and cows, he say. The genruls took half everthing I had anyways, so good luck, he say when he leave the slaves free, high and dry.
I find the Boohag that night in the Trembly Pines after I hear this all. She bragging how she drive Jacob widow out her mind and she die in the summer. I brag I kill one Cosper preacher and two Confedrut privates was his sons.
The Boohag laugh and laugh. “You fool,” she say. “Revrun Henry Cosper outlive that horse kick. He die in his bed last year with me ridin him.”
I say she a liar. But the Boohag walk me to the grave in the Methodisk cemtery. There it was set in stone, 1862.
“Well,” I say to Boohag, “I still got two to your one.”
“No. I got two. I take Revrun Henry and the wife.”
“No,” I say. “I soften Henry for you and leave you Missus as a present. So you ain’t really got nothin.”
We argue this the whole night. Once the Boohag get sumpin in her head, it stay there until morning come when she got to fly or til she get distracted.
“Oh the hell with you,” I finally say.
“The hell with you,” she say back.
Well, I was bout as discouraged as could be. I already tell you how I get mad and twitchy when one get away. And here the whole damn bunch done got away. But I have time. Time one thing the Plat-eye have plenty of. I amuse myself with some hobo camps and some Confedrut deserters in the woods, then with Confedrut deserters turn night-riders, but it just not satisfying. I taunt and make mischief, taunt and make mischief, so ho-hum same. Like a cat that get weary of worryin the mouse after the mouse all wore out too. I went back to squattin with my eye on that cemtery by Revrun J.B. Cosper church.
All that squattin and watchin pay off when I see the somber sight. Here come the Revrun J.B. Cosper in a pine box drug by some mules, and must of been a hundred Cospers or churchfolk all drape in black, followin that dray. They put him in that cemtery and I watch with my own eye. The year 1800 and 79. Boohag got him like she say she would.
I look and I look at that family and finally I see one stare back at me while I lean on a big pin oak tree cleanin my fingernails with my pocket knife in tween cuttin off chunks of apple and chewin them slow and hard. He look to be bout 35, real slight and wiry, not a trace of Revrun J.B. Cosper jaw, flat and shape like a flat shovel. He got two gray eye and a hard stare, a thin, flat mouth. He stare at my eye patch.
“Show some respect, one-eye!” he yell, and chuck a rock at me.
Well, he done it now! Nobody chuck a rock at the Plat-eye and live to tell. Just as I ready to let all hell loose on him, one them Cospers pull out a blue hankerchief and start sobbin into it, and soon all the ladies cryin and moanin into blue hankerchiefs. Humankind so pathetic in they griefs, it make me a little twitchy. I could hear the Scripturin start as I took my fox form and run back all the way to the Trembly Pines. I still confused and a little wore out when I got there, so I just squat awhile.
That night I try to figure with Boohag which one it might be that chuck that rock. We went Cosper by Cosper, rulin out them I already kilt to see what boys be left. It come down to the youngest of J.B. son, George Washington Cosper, and William Yeldell Cosper, the 12th child. Boohag figure since he unlucky enough to chuck a rock at the Plat-eye, it must be the 13th child we lookin for. I say whichever have two gray eyes and a way of starin is how you know he the one.
We make our plan. First we have to find him. Boohag go to braggin how she better at trackin anything cause she got two eye and she gloat bout how long it take me to get from Gettyburg back to Talladega County. She make me so mad I say just fine then, you in charge of findin him so go on and find him and you tell me when you done with him, just so long’s you leave the last for me, like I left ol’ Missus George Henry for you. Did not, she say. Did too, I say. We argue bout that till dawn but agree Boohag can go out after him.
A long while pass in the Trembly Pines, and no word from the Boohag. I squat, scare some rabbits and deer to death. Drive some night-riders out the woods and half out they minds so they can’t think of nothing but the Plat-eye, fit for nothin but layin up in they houses all day if I let them live.
Finally one night the Boohag come back and say she ride George Washington Cosper to death. She say she mean to leave some for me but George heart just not strong enough. I mad, I real mad, but the Boohag say, well, you can get one to make up for it, and you need to even up with two J.B. sons like you done Henry, so– . They bringin him over to Childerburg to be buried in the Methodisk Cemtery where his daddy laid, and they all be there, she say.
So I went down the funerl. I look at the box and know the 13th son in there, dyin unlucky as he lived. Then I look out to the people dressed in black. I leanin on that same tree while they start singin bout leanin’ on the everlastin’ arm, cleanin my nails with my pocket knife.
Then I see him. He pull open his coat to show it lined in blue cloth. He the same man I see back in 1879 when he dady laid out, just older. Both eye gray as ever was. Now it the year 1915.
I see the blue and take out from there.
In the Trembly Pines that night, I tell the Boohag she too stupid to breathe the air she take from they lungs when she rides them, she low as a jug of spit. She tell me I should of done it myself, how she to know what man chuck a rock when it was me that saw him? I say I told her to look for two gray eyes and she say George had two gray eyes and they was brothers number 12 and 13 so why shouldn’t they eye both be gray? I got that twitchy, bothersome feelin again.
I make the Boohag take me to George house, figurin some family still be there. I dress in a black suit and wear my eyepatch, waitin in the yard til somebody come out the house. It not long before a woman come out. I present myself as a friend of old cousins Robert Perren and William Marion from the 44th Alabama. Said I was right there with William when he fall at Gettyburg, which is true. Said I just come to pay respeck on the family name after I hear George pass on. Then I ask if William and Perrin cousin William Yeldell Cosper still about.
He not there no more, but that how I learn Bill Cosper with the two gray eye now over in Ouachita Parish, Louisiana. Now that name scare me a little, because it mean “silver water.” But Boohag and I set out for Ouachita Parish all the same.
It take the longest time to find him, but when we do, he settin on a porch painted green as ivy, and the sills too, just smokin on a pipe. I chuck a rock at him, but he can’t see where it come from in the dark. I chuck another. He throw my rock back and I send it back in the blink of a eye. Then he run and get a shotgun and start shootin in the dark while the Boohag just ahowlin and cacklin like to scare you out your pants. We start callin him by name.
I come so far, and now all that twitchiness been pent up so long it bust out with a fury of it own. I think of the root doctor curse and how long I been trackin. I thought how this man chuck rocks at me. And I conjure a lightning strike to William Yeldell Cosper right there on his porch. When he fall, a woman come tearin out the house with a newspaper in her hand that went flyin all over the yard. Boohag and me both distracted with trying to read it as it fly all over the yard. Meantime the woman drug him inside. I pretty sure I kill him with that lightnin strike.
Boohag and me go down the swamp to celebrate how we fill the curse at last. We get all the creature in the swamp riled and laugh how we get the hoodoo finish there in Louisiana. But Boohag not so sure. She start to taunt me how I thought old Revrun George Henry Cosper dead from that horse kick, too.
Well, sure nough she right, cause William Yeldell Cosper there in his bedroom, with blue curtains at the windows. He stay that way five, six month. Then one day he up, walkin around his bedroom. 75 year old and live through the Plat-eye lightnin strike. It just make me madder and madder, squattin out there in the yard.
Then one day when I good and mad in the summertime, I see the woman had took the curtains up. So I take my chance and send him more lightnin right through his bedroom window. I know I got him for real this time when I see two men carry him out the front door a little blackish-purple and limp and I see the tongue lollin. He dead awright.
They take him back to the Methodisk Cemtery at Childerburg where his daddy buried. I see all what left of the Alabama Revruns Cosper in the year 19 hundred and 19, and here another revrun named Cosper from Texas layin Bill down. I wonder how they keep makin all these revruns in this family. When this revrun start sayin the words over Bill, I chuck a rock at him and then run on fox feet, laughing all the way.
I let Bill grave settle awhile down in the Talladega County dirt. Five year to the day I first strike him with the lightnin, I come back and strike his marker so can’t no man read his name ever again. What left of the Talladega and Randolph Coster kin set nother stone in it place. I strike it again, till it in a dozen pieces, all blue with the heat of the lightnin till I can’t come by no more. But the kinfolk did not come by that headstone no more either, so the Plat-eye strike the name of William Yeldell Cosper for good. No man speak the name but as a oddity. Excep in the swamps and in the Trembly Pines and out where the indigo cry to the ocean, from Carolina to Alabama to Louisiana, where we speak the name for a warnin and a curse.