Excerpt from The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr., plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Prophets

by Robert Jones Jr.

The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr. X
The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr.
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    Jan 2021, 400 pages

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Maggie

She woke.

She yawned.

A burial place. This house is a fucking burial place, Maggie whispered, before it was time to go to the other room, the kitchen that she was chained to even though not a single link could be seen. But yes, there it was, snapped around her ankle, clinking nevertheless.

She mumbled the curse to herself, but it was meant for other people. She learned to do that, whisper low enough in her throat that an insult could be thrown and the target would be none the wiser. It became her secret language, living just below the audible one, deeper behind her tongue.

The sky was still dark, but she laid in her hay pallet an extra moment, knowing it could cost her. The Halifaxes each had their own way of communicating their displeasure, some less cruel than others. She could tell you stories.

She climbed out of the pallet and rolled her eyes at the hounds that lay on the floor by her feet. Oh, she slept on the back porch with the animals. Not her choice. Though it was enclosed and provided views out onto Ruth Halifax's garden. Beyond it, a field of wildflowers bursting with every color, but the blues were the ones that were perfect enough to hurt feelings. Several rows of trees marked the end of the field and gave way to sandy ground that opened onto the bank of the Yazoo River. There, the people, when permitted, would scrub themselves down in the sometimes muddy water under the watchful gaze of the man whose name Maggie stopped saying for a reason. On the other side of the river, which seemed farther away than it was, a mess of trees stood so close together that no matter how hard she squinted, she couldn't see past the first row of them.

She wanted to hate the fact that she was made to sleep there on the porch, low to the ground on some makeshift bed she piled together herself from the hay she got from Samuel and Isaiah, whom she referred to as The Two of Them. But so often the smell of the field calmed her and if she had to be in the damn Big House with Paul and his family, then it was best she was in the space farthest from them.

The hounds were Paul's choice. Six of them that got to know every living soul on the plantation in case any of those souls tried to drift. She had seen it before: The beasts chased people into the sky and managed to snatch them down no matter how high they thought they could float. Them dogs: Ears just a flopping, woofing in that gloomy way that they do, sad eyes and everything. You almost feel sorry for them until they got a hold of your ass and bit it all the way back to the cotton field—or the chopping block, one.

They whined the minute she sat up and she detested the sound. Why they kept the animals enclosed was beyond her reasoning. Animals belonged outdoors. But then again, the Halifaxes were indoors so that meant all of creation had some right to be inside as well.

Maggie got up.

"Go on," she said to the hounds, unlatching the door that led out to the garden. "Go find a hare or something and leave me be."

All six of them ran out. She inhaled deeply, hoping she took in enough of the field to last her through the day. She kept her hand on the door so that it would close quietly. She limped over to another door on the opposite side of the porch and went into the kitchen. It could have been its own cabin given that it was twice the size of even the largest of the shacks people lived in at Empty. Still, she felt cramped in it, like something unseen was pushing her down from every direction.

"Breathe, child," she said aloud and dragged her hurt leg over to the counter that ran underneath a row of windows that faced east and looked out onto the barn.

She grabbed two bowls and the sack of flour stored in the cupboards beneath the counter. She removed a jug of water and a sifter from the cabinet left of the counter. Once combined, she began kneading the ingredients into dough for biscuits: a heavy thing that, with heat, time, and her bruised knuckles, became yet another meal that failed to satisfy Halifax appetites.

Excerpted from The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.. Copyright © 2021 by Robert Jones, Jr.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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