About the Book
Traumatized as a child after witnessing a hanging, the first black reporter at a southern newspaper, attempts to solve the mysterious abandonment of a small town and the disappearance of fourteen townspeople.
In the summer of 1962, I was sitting in Riley’s Poolroom on East 105th Street, in Cleveland, Ohio, listening to the elders talk about their lives growing up in the south. They discussed how black men and women were brutalized during their time and how each one of them knew at least one person—usually a family member—who had to leave the south under the cover of night to escape the wrath of someone they might have offended.
One elder, though, a Mr. Johnson, told a different story. After everyone had finished, he said softly, “We didn’t all lose, and they didn’t all win.” Everyone nodded, but no one said anything further. Mr. Johnson, a quiet and dignified man, was probably in his sixties at the time. For some reason, what he said that day stuck with me over the years and occasionally I would hear similarly veiled references to “they didn’t all win,” from my elders, including my parents.
Snake Walkers is based on those four words.
Snake Walkers Excerpt
The next day, Anthony arrived outside the town limits of Evesville about midafternoon. It was sweltering hot. Even the trees looked beaten down by the unrelenting rays. The battered sign—EVESVILLE, POP 291—should have been evidence enough. The crumbling barn he passed, the unattended fields, a rusted tractor—half on the road—that looked as though it had been there for years told him all he needed to know before he even reached the town.
It was abandoned.
Something bad had happened. He sensed it. A rush of anxiety careened through him like a flash flood, before finally slowing to a trickle and then dissipating somewhere in the recesses of his stomach.
The blue 1954 Chrysler Imperial turned slowly onto what used to be the main street. The pock-marked road was full of weeds and plants growing from the cracks of the crumbling red bricks that someone had laid long ago, no doubt trying to elevate the town’s image and at the same time make the street more negotiable.
Anthony’s shoes kicked up small clouds of powdery dust as he stepped from the parked car and walked carefully along the street, hoping for some sign of life, but knowing there would be none. Except for the drone of what sounded like a million crickets and the occasional bleating of the only remaining inhabitants that he could see—two goats—there was no other noise but his footsteps.
The air was still. The town was still, as if waiting, like a child would wait, looking at a stranger who first entered her house to see what the visitor would do next. Anthony walked tentatively, looking at the small cluster of buildings on either side of the street, some with doors or windows open. Where they once may have beckoned strangers to enter, they now just stood there, abandoned and forlorn. There would be no answers in Evesville.
The sheriff’s office was easy enough to find among the worn and weathered buildings. An old, faded wood shingle with the letters ‘SHE IF’ still hung from the roof. Not wanting any surprises, Anthony slowly eased the door open. It whined in protest as the rusted hinges grated against one another. He stopped to look before entering. The wood floor creaked as he hesitantly walked to the nearest desk. Even now, in this empty office that previously serviced those who enforced the law, he felt as if he were trespassing.
Papers were strewn everywhere, as if the place had been ransacked. There were only two cell doors in the place, and they both stood wide open. Chairs were knocked over, and one desk had a crack down the middle. What looked like dried blood was splattered on the wall near the desk.
Anthony backed out and walked quickly to his car. He looked around once more before turning the car and driving to the town limit. According to records and newspaper accounts, this was a thriving town in years past. What made everyone leave so quickly? Was there an epidemic? What happened there?
Only when he drove for a few miles did he feel comfortable stopping and pulling out a map. The next town was eighteen miles away. First he would call Whiting, but he knew what his response would be even before he made the call. There was another story there. He felt it.
Something bad had happened in this town, and whatever it was could be an entirely different story from the one he was assigned to write.