About the Book:
A clash between Cherokee Indians and their former African slaves comes to a head in the tribal town of Feather Falls.
On the same day, Sput Louie McClendon is evicted by reviled town tycoon Goliah Lynch, her husband mysteriously vanishes. Has he fallen prey to bushwhackers or timber thieves? Or is Lynch behind his disappearance?
Alone and desperate, Sput Louie turns to town elder Two Bird for help, but with racial tension between the two factions, are his intentions pure?
As Sput Louie’s frantic search for her husband intensifies, she stumbles onto a dark twisted family secret – one that could not only have devastating implications for her but the entire town of Feather Falls.
About the Author:
Arlene L. Walker is a graduate of UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and is a winner of the PEN USA CASP award as well as a finalist in the 2011 PEN Emerging Voices Fellowship. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in A Letter for My Mother, WOW-Women On Writing. Ms. Walker resides in Southern California where she is currently at work on her second novel.
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Facebook: Arlene Walker Author OR https://www.facebook.com/arlene.walker.31
If poverty was slavery, then wisdom was wealth. That was the revelation that came to Sput Louie McClendon as she glared at her husband across their paltry potato field. Benjamin tended the vines carefree and untroubled, like the two of them weren’t in the middle of a spat.
No matter. Sput had waited long enough. She was tired of living life just a notch above slavery. That morning, she would have her druthers. Damn her husband. Damn the Cherokee Indians. Damn the white man’s treaty.
She just had to be wise about it this time, and make her wishes seem less like a demand, and more like a request.
But maybe Benjamin didn’t know they were in a spat. He should. All three of their sons sure knew it. They knew it when she’d slammed down a tin plate of wild onions and cornbread on the breakfast table. They’d looked at her wide-eyed, then wordlessly scarfed down their meager portion, and skedaddled out of the house. Skedaddling was something they never did. When it came to chore time, they moved slower than honey-laden bees.
Benjamin jerked his hand back and forth, motioning for Sput to bring more water from the well. With skin the color of corn silk, he looked more Cherokee than Negro. The only visible trace of his mother’s Negro blood was the waves and curls in his hair that, without that blood, would have been straight and stringy. Sput mindlessly fiddled with the head rag that covered her wiry hair, then hauled her bucket towards him.
It was Benjamin’s covetable Indian blood that would put them in line for an allotment of land, and all that land possession promised with its open arms and toothy grin. They would no longer be squatters. They would no longer have to wait for the Cherokees to come through on their treaty promise of land to their former slaves. They would be full-fledged members of the tribe. Leastwise, Benjamin would. Sput Louie would have a death grip on his coattails.
Of course, she would first have to get him to beseech his blood father to claim him. That was her goal for the day. No small feat, that. Just like cattle wouldn’t graze where sheep had been, Benjamin wouldn’t go anywhere near the man who had fathered him.
“Like trying to thread a needle in the wind,” she mumbled as she plopped her wooden water bucket down in the dirt next to him, then gasped in surprise at herself for allowing her thoughts to bubble up into words.
Benjamin twisted around and squinted up at her. “You say somethin’?”
She rocked from one moccasin-clad foot to the other and shook her head no. Not yet.
He looked up and down her small five-foot frame, then reached up and took the dipper tied to her bucket. He ladled water onto vines nearly barren of spuds. “That’s all the water you brung?” he asked and blew out a flustered sigh.
“Ya-huh.” She snatched up her bucket.
Benjamin rose, and trudged over to the second of their three small fields, while she returned to the well to pulley up more water and shore up more nerve for their imminent showdown. Meanwhile, it was time for him to resume teaching their son L.B. how to mound farm the Cherokee way so he wouldn’t starve once they were both bone dead.
L.B., the youngest of their three surviving children, was crouched over one such mound in a field full of five-foot-wide mounds. Laughing Boy — so named because as a baby he seldom smiled and constantly cried — had Sput’s skin coloring, a rich butternut brown. Unlike his mother, though, he had more forehead than face. His lower lip pushed out further than his upper, and his eyes held constant the innocent expression of a four-year-old child, even though he was fifteen.
Hoisting her newly refilled bucket on her shoulder along with a stronger resolve for what she had to say and do, she marched straight towards them.
“Ben,” she yelled louder than she’d intended. “I need a word with you.”
Each foot stomped with determination until the unexpected happened. The earth pushed back.
It stopped her stride.
She shot a quick glance towards her earthly protector, and mumbled a quick “Lawd,” to her heavenly one.
Benjamin rose to his feet, turning this way and that until he’d looked in all four directions. When he turned back to her, she saw the look of alarm on his face. He had felt it, too.
A feeling of asgina passed between them, what the Cherokees called bad spirit.
She let down her bucket and sunk to her knees.
Out in the sticks, you felt visitors before you saw them, so she pressed her palms firmly to the ground. A man-made rhythm vibrated her hands and knees. It rose through her squirrel-skin moccasins, rode under her skirt and up her stockingless legs. It shook her bones like a rattlesnake’s warning.
Listening as hard as she could, she heard a crackle-clank sound along with steady hoof pounds.
“Rider in a wagon,” she yelled in warning. “Reckon one, maybe two horses.”
L.B. seemed oblivious to the rumble in the ground and the asgina in the air. He was too busy pushing pole beans into the outer rim of his foot-high mound so that they formed a perfect circle around the corn stalks sprouting in the middle. Just like his Pa had taught him. He didn’t look up until Benjamin placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Run get my gun, Son.”
L.B. stood. “But, Pa,” he pleaded through his thick tongue, bean seeds still in hand. “I never get to do nothin’ everybody elth be doin’. Alwayth got to do different.”
Benjamin was firm but gentle. “Do as I say now, Son,” he said, without an ounce of chastisement in his tone.
L.B. hung his head but obeyed his father. He ambled towards their one-room abode, the toes of his time-worn Brogans flapping like loose clapboards in an angry storm.
Gazing towards the horizon with unflappable focus, Sput used the flat of her hand to shield her eyes for a better look.
There were no roads this far out in Feather Falls. The only official road in the history of the town was Rabbit Run, so-called because, at one time, rabbits overran the thoroughfare. It was barren now, the hares having been killed for food long ago. Rabbit Run Road was like the spine of a leaf, with veins of footpaths or wagon trails veering in and out in various directions to and from the forty or so households that made up the tribal township. One such wagon trail, carved through the woods over time, passed right by the McClendon home.
That was where Sput spotted the lone man in a four-wheeled buggy pulled by a stout Appaloosa.
“Maybe somebody needs my healin’ graces.” She tried to sound more hopeful than fearful. Indians rarely sought her medicine anymore, though. Thank God her black brethren still did.
Benjamin took the gun from a still sulking L.B. “More likely another land grabber.” He headed towards the front of their lopsided shanty to the sentry position. Sput and L.B. fell in line behind him.
There were three kinds of people who might come calling in Indian Territory in 1886: The land-rich, the land-poor, or the land-greedy.
The land-rich would be the Indians, either Creek, Seminole, Chickasaw, Choctaw, or Cherokee. Each tribe had their own separate territorial land, unlike smaller bands like the Delaware, or the Caddo, who had to share a slice of a bigger tribe’s pie. It was said that the Cherokees had the largest wedge of that pie, rumored to come in at ten million acres. That they wouldn’t honor their treaty promise to share just a tiny chunk of that with the people they had once held in captivity stuck in Sput’s craw. Not holding land in a territory where land was abundant was like being thirsty in the midst of water.
The land-poor would be, for the most part, those former slaves — now called Freedmen — who had chosen to stay and fight for their fair share after the War Between the North and the South had freed them. The Cherokees had consistently denied them not only allotments of land, but also the things associated with the land: bread money, grass money, whatever they were calling the monies earned from the lease of grazing land to Texas Cattlemen. That treaty promise was the main reason Freedmen still stayed. Any Freedmen coming to call, though, would more than likely be on foot.
The land-greedy could include the likes of whiskey peddlers working outside the law, train robbers hiding from the law, or land grabbers looking to skirt the law. Most would be white. All would be considered “intruders.” All would, sooner or later, come to the same side notion of coveting Indian land.
As the wagon gained ground through a copse of cedars, Sput was able to distinguish the buttoned-down suit the driver wore. There was only one man who had such a grand opinion of himself that he would dress so highfalutin in such backwoods country.
For most of her life, Sput had pictured this man meeting his maker in one fashion or another. Sometimes she was the instrument of death. Other times, she imagined it being at the hands of another.
She reached for the ever-present amulet hanging from her neck, her fingers feeling for the smoothness of the bird bone baubles that decorated it, while her gut twisted trying to puzzle out the reason for the visit.
Sput shot a look of dread to Benjamin, who passed one right back to her.
“Old Crow,” he said, through tightened teeth.
Goliah T. Lynch, known as Old Crow behind his back, was a man of considerable coin. He was arguably the most powerful mixed-blood in Feather Falls, being half-white and half-Cherokee. He was also the man who had owned both Sput’s and Benjamin’s families during slavery. A constant reminder of that was the “L” branded onto their upper right arm.
The couple hadn’t known each other back then. They were children growing up on separate farms run by the Lynch family, and the Lynches forbade the different slave families who worked the various farms from consorting and, thereby, conspiring.
Sput wanted to spit bile. She knew Benjamin did as well. She’d seen the havoc Old Crow could wreak. When the battles of the Freedom War encroached on Indian Territory, Old Crow leased land in Texas and sent a gaggle of slaves to plant his crops there for the duration of the war. He didn’t dare send his money-making medicine woman with them, but he had no qualms about snatching that medicine woman’s ten-year-old daughter and sending her to tend to any sick slave in her stead. Sput never saw her Ma and Pa again.
She shivered as she shook off the memory.
That her two older sons were not around gave Sput some small solace.
“Here come the boys.” Benjamin jutted his chin towards the prairie to the left of Goliah Lynch.
Damn it, Sput thought.
She followed his nod. Sure enough, there was Hunter Big, her oldest, trailed by Archie, her middle son. They both knew of her and Benjamin’s loathing for Goliah. They’d cut their teeth on it. Hunter, in particular, had an unsafe lack of fear in regards to him. Both boys would be able to sense the cloud of dread hanging in the air, ready to burst and make good its threat of rain.
Hunter Big was a bison of a man. He swung a rope-tied red fox from his left hand and carried a bow in his right, while his ever-present pet ferret circled his neck like a moving collar. He wore woolen pants topped by a cow-skin vest that barely contained his robust chest. Sput could see the feathered flights of the arrows he carried in his quiver peek out just above his wooly head. The slingshot he’d carved from a piece of white oak hung from his belt and had most likely been used to fell the fox.
Just like Benjamin, Hunter Big knew by heart the rise and fall of the land. He strode wide and shrewd towards them now, his moccasin-clad feet deftly maneuvering across the tallgrass prairie, while never taking his eyes off of their impending visitor.
Trying to keep up with him was Archie, Hunter’s twin brother. They neither looked alike nor were alike. Archie had inherited Sput’s physique and was as small and slim as a dried herring. He was the only member of the family who had managed to amass any schooling — three scattered years in his stretch of two decades on earth — supplemented by reading the Bible, the newspaper, and anything else he could get his hands on that contained the printed word. Hunter, on the other hand, saw no need for the alphabet if it couldn’t back him up in a bear fight.
The twins reached them in tandem with Goliah. The three boys flanked their parents like a protective covering as they watched Goliah’s wagon roll to a stop at the rock-lined edge of the dirt yard.
“Osiyo.” Benjamin greeted first, holding his shotgun in the crook of his arm. He pressed the barrel downward with his other hand, as though it might rise and shoot Goliah of its own accord.
At the Cherokee greeting, Goliah flinched like he had been pinched. His complacent expression quickly hardened into a searing scowl. It was no secret that Goliah blotted out his Cherokee side as much as he trotted out his white side. One way he did that was to keep his once-black, heavy hair cropped short and hidden under his Boler. Another was to shun his native tongue in favor of the Queen’s English.
“I have a hundred head of new cattle coming in,” he said, skipping any semblance of social pleasantries.
No surprise to Sput there.
The barrel of the shotgun flipped up as Benjamin slid the butt to the ground.
“Well, suh,” Benjamin began.
What was a surprise to Sput was hearing her husband refer to this particular man as “sir.” She whipped her head around to give Benjamin a questioning stare. Was that a smile she saw stretching at his lips? A nasty shiver went down her spine, as her ire heated up. She took a deep breath and curtailed her displeasure into a stifled grunt that, hopefully, only she heard. She needed to calm herself because she understood all too well the dire straits in which they found themselves. It was her whole reason for being that day. She also understood how desperation could make a man like Benjamin sacrifice his skin in order to save his bones.
“I — I don’t have a mule no more —” Benjamin continued.
“‘Cauth we ate him.” L.B. hooked his thumbs around the shoulder straps of overalls that didn’t quite reach his ankles.
Sput reached around Hunter, who stood between her and L.B, and swatted him on the arm. “Hush now, L.B. Let your Pa talk.”
“But we ate him lath Chrithmath.” L.B. was never one to leave a story unfinished. “He died firth. Then we ate him.”
Benjamin was not sidetracked. “But if you supply a horse,” he went on as if L.B. hadn’t said a word, “I can rope a steer, brand it, and castrate it with the best of ‘em. Never lost a steer to a snippin’ yet.”
Archie jumped right on board with the idea of any one of the McClendons being hired out — even to this man — though Goliah had yet to declare such an intention. “They don’t call Pa Snippin’ Ben for nothing — um, I mean, anything.” He hesitated as if standing at a schoolroom chalkboard ciphering arithmetic. “I mean nothing.” His eyes rolled upwards like the answer was in the clouds. He quickly settled on what must have been his idea of the correct word. “Um, I mean nothing. Yes, that’s what I mean.” He began making circles in the dirt with the toe of his shoe.
“And Hunter here,” Benjamin pointed with a proud nod of his head, “he can break a bronco into a cow pony in no time, if you need that done, too. I reckon you might?”
Benjamin seemed not to notice or care that Hunter appeared unmoved, and Goliah unimpressed.
“And Archie can rope and ride a salty one all day long,” he said, rounding out the recitation of McClendon family skills. “What you got comin’,” Sput’s husband rambled on, “lanky longhorns? Shorthorns?”
Although Archie had a job at the Sentinel Newspaper one day a week, neither Benjamin nor Hunter had been hired out for some months now. Sput knew desperation reeked through everyone’s clothes. Even with Archie’s thirty-cent-a-week salary, they had been hard-pressed for means far too long. Filthy water could not be washed, and Old Crow was as dirty a drink as ever there was. If you were parched enough to drink such dirty water, you had to deal with the muck that came with it. She blinked back her reservations about it, while Benjamin rambled on as peppy as a kid about to get a peppermint.
“You got Durhams? Or Berkshires?”
Sput scoured Goliah’s face because she didn’t know what to make of his prolonged muteness. His skin was as white as parchment paper, and the lines that creased it were like narrow gorges in a dried up field. His eyes were a mix of copper and gray. Silver lashes framed one of them, topped by a silver brow. That oddity was like a beacon from a benevolent God to be wary of this man.
Goliah began a slow, guttural laugh. “I’m not looking to hire you.” His laugh grew. “I’m looking to evict you.” He was in full guffaws by the time he doubled over on the bench seat of his wagon and slapped the reins against the buckboard with glee.
Sput’s mouth went so dry it couldn’t even court a swallow.
“You runnin’ us off this here land?” Benjamin’s eyes narrowed.
Hunter nudged the ferret now sitting at attention on his shoulder. It obediently followed orders and scampered to the ground.
One quick side-glance and Sput was alerted to Hunter’s body going rigid as he dropped the dead fox to the ground, too, then shoved it to one side with his foot. Her hand instinctively struck a position of command across his abdomen as if to say, don’t make a move or say a word. Your Pa will handle this.
Finally emerging from his fit of laughter, Goliah straightened up. “Yes. You’re going to have to move.”
“Again?” Benjamin barked. “It’s been only three plantin’ seasons since Deer Jim threw us off our last place. Sayin’ he needed that land.”
“Ya-huh,” Sput grumbled.
“We done made improvements on this here land.” Benjamin stood as straight and firm as a stake in the ground.
Goliah chuffed, as his eyes swept across not only their slapdash shack of a home that leaned to one side but all of their various sheds and shanties surrounding it that had been built with every throwaway piece of mismatched, misshapen lumber and boards they could gather. It screamed of hard times. He cleared his throat. “Now, you know a freedman can’t plant residential seeds within a quarter mile of an Indian. That’s a fact per the treaty.”
That damn treaty, Sput thought. It gave former slaves the right to the use of a particular plot of land from which they could not be moved, as well as the right to vote, but no one was enforcing those parts. They never brought up the treaty unless they were using it against the freedman instead of for him. Besides, she thought the quarter-mile rule applied to everyone, not just coloreds.
Benjamin twisted his mouth to one side. “Cain’t tell what a quarter mile is if folks keep movin’ their fence line.”
“Well, now.” Goliah’s thin lips gave way to a lopsided grin that seemed to mock their very existence. “I don’t have to proffer an explanation. You know I have land all over Cherokee country. Always have. Always will.” He cleared his throat again. “As a courtesy, though, I’ll tell you my new herd is arriving on the Katy any day now.”
Though none of the McClendons had ever ridden a train, Sput was familiar enough to know that “Katy” was the nickname for the MK&T railroad that ran through Indian Territory connecting Missouri, Kansas, and Texas. Texas was where most cattle hailed.
“And this land you’re on,” Goliah continued, “is smack in the midst of some fine grazing land. Cattle like nothing better than bluestem, and your grass here is as high as a newborn calf.” He looked admiringly towards the low prairie sprouted with tall grass.
Hunter turned his back on everyone, while Archie remained slack-jawed.
“You have a day to vacate the premises.”
Hunter swung back around as if yanked by a rope.
“A day?” Benjamin asked, in unison with the twins.
Sput looked around for L.B. It was about that time that she would expect him to toss out one of his Bible verses just to be included in the conversation. But he was no longer beside them. No sooner had she wondered where he was than a cane chair came flying out of their front door solving the mystery of his whereabouts. It rolled bottom over top, past the brush arbor that served as their porch, and onto the dirt yard. L.B. didn’t even wait for it to roll to a stop before he rushed back inside, shoes flopping hard and loud.
The ragged chair with the broken-cane bottom landed right at the hooves of Goliah’s horse. The spotted Appaloosa gave a short squeal as Goliah slowly turned it and his wagon, and coolly trotted away. Just in time to avoid a flying kerosene lamp long ago dry of oil.
Benjamin’s whole body seemed to drain of life in the matter of a minute. His head drooped so low it looked like his chin was piercing his chest. His arms hung by his side loose and lifeless. The only thing that kept his shotgun from falling to the ground was the natural curve of his now limp fingers.
Sput averted her eyes, unable to watch the anguished face of the man who had been her salvation after slavery when she had nowhere for her and her newborn twins to go, the man who had protected her from the treachery of frontier life, the man who treated her like his galvquodi — his precious — the man who had guided her for more than half her life, the man who had just been evicted by his own father.
1. Do you have a writing quirk? If so, what is it?
My writing quirk is I have to find the right word for a sentence or a scene right then and there, or I won’t be able to move on. I’m not the type of writer who just gets the story down on paper and then goes back to revise. It’s a quirk I wish I didn’t have because of course that prolongs the writing process. I have to stop and go to my Thesaurus.
2. As a writer, what is your spirit animal?
My writing spirit animal is a black panther, of course! Nothing will grab your attention faster than a swipe from the paw of a panther.
3. Why did you write Seeds of Deception? What is the genesis of your story?
The genesis of Seeds of Deception came about while researching my family tree. There, I discovered a great-great-grandmother who was a slave, but the man who enslaved her was not white, but a Cherokee Indian. That boggled my mind. I’d never heard of such. It was untold history. Why would one oppressed group oppress another oppressed group? I felt like someone should write a story about that! No one had. So I took Toni Morrison’s advice to “write the story you want to read.”
4. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
As it turns out, I realized very late in life that I’d always wanted to be a writer. When I was forced into early retirement because of a work injury, the first thing I did was clean out my bookcases. What did I find? I found that throughout my life, I’d written snippets here and there, bought tons of writing books, but never did anything with them. That’s when I decided to take that part of myself seriously and give writing a real chance. I wish I’d d
one it sooner.
5. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
If I could tell my younger writing self anything, it would be, “Go write right now.”
6. How did you select the names of your characters?
The names of many of my characters in Seeds of Deception are ancestral names. I paid homage to those who came before me by using their names in my novel. Sput Louie was my paternal grandmother’s nickname. Goliah was my maternal great-great-grandfather’s name. He was a member of the Muskogee Creek Nation, and as such, is the reason I was able to enroll in the tribe. This is not their story, though, but mine, and it’s completely made up.
7. Does one of your main characters hold a special place in your heart?
If so, why? One of my characters holds a special place in my heart because he came to me fully formed. When Two Bird appeared to me in a dream, he was fully clothed in a dress and looked so strikingly regal, I knew I was to put him in my novel. He was the easiest character to write.