The whip cracking across Joe’s back might as well have been a knife. It cut just as deep and with as much precision. There wasn’t much he could do about it. His hands were bound tight and tied to a hook above his head. His body had already told him to fall down, but his captors wouldn’t allow it.
The man wielding the whip was Edmund Lorante, Overseer of the Marchand Plantation. That was more or less a fancy title that meant he kept an eye on slaves and made sure they didn’t get out of line. He relished “educational opportunities” and had called in over a hundred of Monsieur Marchand’s pieces of property from the field to watch. A few of his white subordinates stood by, shotguns at the ready.
“What did you do with it, n****r?” Lorante asked. He tossed out the word so nonchalantly, as though using it didn’t phase him in the slightest. It was a word used casually in those days.
Joe was out of strength, but mustered up enough to answer, as he’d already done a dozen times, “I…I didn’t take it.”
“Enough of this foolishness,” Lorante said. “It’s no use to you. You can’t spend it. There is not a single reputable merchant that would see a n****r with money and not conclude it to be stolen. Turn it over and this all ends.”
“I didn’t take it,” Joe repeated.
Blood seeped out of Joe’s wounds, dripping to the ground below. The blaring sun didn’t help, covering him with blisters until he felt like he was inside an oven.
Lorante performed for the crowd, as he enjoyed doing. Joe’s plight was a perfect “this could be you” scare tactic to rattle the other slaves. The overseer took full advantage of it.
“Your Master, Monsieur Marchand, takes care of you doesn’t he?” Lorante asked.
Joe knew the drill on this one and knew there was no answer other than “yes boss” that wouldn’t lead to the whip being cracked again.
Lorante turned to the slaves. “All of you! He provides you with food and water, room and board. All that he asks is that you put in a day’s work to earn your keep and how is he repaid? With thievery.”
He turned his attention back to Joe. “Come on now. Where is it?”
“I swear I don’t know,” Joe said.
Lorante shook his head and made a “tsk tsk” sound. He patted his forehead with a handkerchief, dabbing the sweat away, then continued his lecture.
“You n*****s,” the overseer said. “You all think you’re so smart, don’t you? Most of you behave and do as you’re told but then once in awhile one of you comes along and starts filling your heads with ideas – that you ought to be paid, that you ought to be educated, that you ought to hold office and become businessmen and gentlemen and take on jobs that not a one of you has the brains to handle. I’d no sooner hire a n*****r for a thinking man’s position than I would my dog. Joseph!”
Joe spit out some blood. One of the lashings had made him bite his tongue.
“You were the only n****r allowed in the house when Monsieur Marchand noticed his money was missing. Do you take me for a fool?”
Another one of those “only one answer will do” questions.
“Then tell me where it is!!!”
“I don’t know.”
Lorante coiled up his whip, walked over to the whipping post (because this was a time when such a thing actually existed) and got in Joe’s face.
“If we have to do this all day then so be it but by God…you will learn your place boy.”
The boss motioned to his men. “He wants to do it the hard way. Cut him down. Bring her out.”
A knife chopped through the rope, leaving Joe to crash to the ground. Though exhausted, sick, and in tremendous pain, his blurry eyes watched as the love of his life was walked to the whipping post.
Lydia. So sweet. So beautiful. She didn’t cry or fight it. She’d seen scenarios like this before and knew it was no use to protest. She put her arms up to be tied, aware if she didn’t they’d be held up for her anyway.
“NOOOO!!!” Joe cried. “No boss, please, please…I didn’t do it. I’d tell you if I did…”
“You’re doing this Joseph,” Lorante said. “Not me.”
“I’ll help you look for it,” Joe said. “Please. I’ll look over every inch and turn over every stone until I find it for you.”
As soon as Lydia was hooked, Joe began hyperventilating. He felt like a trout pulled out of the ocean, gasping for air and unable to find any. His stomach felt sick, but far worse than any feeling he’d ever had before.
“Lydia,” Lorante said. “Do YOU know where Monsieur Marchand’s stolen bills are?”
Joe’s eyes turned yellow and his muscles bulged. Sweat didn’t just drip out of his pores. It flooded out.
“Your little boyfriend here never whispered in your ear what he did with it?” Lorante asked.
Lorante uncoiled his whip. “What a pity.”
There’s a little bit of beast dwelling inside everyone, some more than others. Most people go through life without ever letting their inner monster out. Most are just naturally gifted with the ability control it without even knowing its there. Others are just lucky enough to never experience an event awful enough to be overcome.
But when that whip tore across Lydia’s back, Edmund Lorante saw himself staring up at a massive growling, snarling, bloodthirsty werewolf. The last words of the slave master’s life was, “What the?” before he was ripped apart at the torso, each half of his body thrown far away from one another in an explosion of blood.
Lorante’s men were equally astonished and opened fire. The buckshot blows might as well have been kisses as that didn’t stop the beast from slashing the men to ribbons.
Though Joe intended them no harm, the slaves, as you can imagine, ran away as fast as they could. Who wouldn’t upon seeing a werewolf? Many of them were able to run to freedom. Some, sadly, were caught and held accountable by death for something they didn’t do.
Lydia felt the understandable urge to run herself but that went away when the beast cut her down with a single flick of his claw. She put her hand out and Joe met it with his paw. He stood there in disbelief at what he’d just done, his mind one big fog. He passed out, fell down, and moments later was back to his old self.
The event was written up in the papers as “The Great Marchand Plantation Slave Revolt of 1859.” An ill-tempered slave named Joseph conspired with his fellow slaves to murder the kind and noble Mr. Lorante and his dedicated assistants.
That’s the story Madame Marchand told the press anyway. She and the Monsieur had witnessed the whole spectacle from their mansion’s veranda and immediately barricaded themselves in their room afterwards. It wasn’t necessary as Joe just walked away with Lydia. He wasn’t interested in any more bloodshed and at the time, didn’t know he was able to call upon the beast inside him at will.
Astounded by the sight, the Monsieur dropped dead of a heart attack shortly thereafter. And the Madame only went with the revolt story after being laughed off as a crazy slave sympathizer by the local authorities. She never did live down her reputation as a crackpot who made up a ludicrous story about a loathsome wolf man to protect her late husband’s property from being pursued and punished.
As for the missing money, Gerard, the Marchand’s youngest son, would later confide in his mother that he took it to finance a trip to Europe to “sew his oats” as he called it.
Meanwhile, as days on the run turned into weeks, Joe, with Lydia at his side, learned all he could about his new power and sought out those who shared it.