His door swings open quietly to. He writes something on the wall in the blood of the dead. 13 Short, Creepy Stories That Will Scare The Crap Out Of. Writer's Spot (Serial Stories) Writers.! Here is the right place to show case your talents.! Blossom your. Lady's Wings posted Aug 2, 2018 at 3:30 PM.
The elderly black woman sits on her couch and rummages through a cardboard box until she finds the newspaper article—raggedy and faded like the town of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, where her daughter Melody spent her final years. The headline reads, police seek more clues in murder.
'That's what Melody's son used to ask me all the time,' says the woman. Her weary voice assumes the pitch of a little boy: ' 'Grandma, have they found out who did it to my mama?'
And then she mimics a grandmother's loving cadence: 'I'd say, 'Not yet. But the Lord knows who did it.'
She falls silent. Then the woman points to a large photograph propped against the wall of her modest home. Below her grandson's name and grinning face are the dates 'October 15, 1997-November 15, 2008.' A tornado had engulfed their house that November night while she and her husband and her murdered daughter Melody's son were all asleep. She remembers how the astonishing white light made her gasp, 'Jesus…' Then she remembers her grandson flying away from her, as her daughter had three years earlier.
'Now he's up there with her,' the grandmother murmurs as she looks down at the newspaper clipping on her lap. 'Now he knows, too.'
The farmer who discovered the second body found off Seven Bridges Road, a few miles north of Rocky Mount, had been taking down his electric fence, and what drew him to the tree stump was a foreign odor. He initially mistook the carcass in the woods for that of a rotting deer. But then he saw the hands raised above the small round skull, as if waving for help. The skeletonized woman lay facedown, naked. Maggots and beetles dug into what was left of her leathery flesh.
When Corneta Battle saw the news that day in March 2008, she knew that her prayers—Lord, you've got to show me where my sister is. Let me dream it. Let me see it—had finally been answered. Corneta called the authorities. They asked her to swab her mother's mouth for DNA. After the tests came back indicating a 99.9 percent probability of kinship, the police showed Corneta the photographs taken out at Seven Bridges Road. Corneta Battle looked at them and nodded silently. Though there was almost nothing left of her sister, she still recognized Ernestine.
For almost six weeks, Ernestine Battle had been missing. It was well known that she walked the streets of Rocky Mount all night, selling her body to support her crack habit, that she had stopped taking care of her two young children, that she had been in and out of jail for the past nine years on drug- and prostitution-related charges, that when her family gave her food, she would trade it on the streets for a rock of cocaine. Her disappearance was nonetheless alarming for two reasons. The first was that Ernestine, no matter how strung out, always managed to stay in touch with her family. The second was that in the past five years, several other African-American women who wandered the streets of Rocky Mount at night had never been seen alive again.
Among the disappeared, Ernestine had known Nikki Thorpe best. Nikki lived down the street from her. And on her way to the park to score some drugs, Ernestine would wave to Nikki's mother sitting on the porch drinking a Pepsi and call out, 'Hey, Miss Jackie! Nikki there?' Or 'C'mon, Miss Jackie, I know you've got another cold Pepsi.' As with Ernestine—who once had a respectable job with the cable company and took pains to do herself up, almost like a fashion model—there had been something to Nikki before all this. Nikki grew up playing football with the boys in the projects on Stokes Street. She'd been a cheerleader in high school. She wrote poetry and spent entire evenings at the O 64 Bingo Parlor. Nikki's talent for braiding hair was highly regarded by the crack dealers, who sometimes gave her a rock in exchange for a hair job instead of a blow job.
Then, in the summer of 2007, Nikki's became the first body left to rot away alongside Seven Bridges Road. So little remained of her, or of Ernestine the following year, that the pathologists who examined the corpses could not determine a cause of death. Rebuildbcd windows 10. All that could be said with certainty was that the Rocky Mount women had died far from home—like Denise Williams, whose bloated body was discovered floating in a swamp southeast of town in 2003; like Melody Wiggins, found in the woods in May 2005; and perhaps like Christine Boone and Joyce Renee Durham, who in 2006 and 2007, respectively, simply vanished from the streets.
Someone was apparently taking drug-addicted black women from the drab streets of Rocky Mount—women who were not well connected or captivating to the media—and ending their sad lives and gambling that it would not matter.
Six years running, someone's bet was paying off.
The cabbie believed that the someone was like him. Someone who knew the girls. Someone they would feel comfortable with. Let their guard down with. Jump in a car with, no problem.
He'd been driving these girls—Nikki, Ernestine, Denise, pretty much all of them—for years. Sometimes the cabbie (who asked not to be named) would drop them off at one of the grubby motels on Highway 301, where a john had bought them a room and where they'd turn tricks and smoke crack till checkout time. Then the cabbie would get a call on his cell and pick them up. In their state of dubious afterglow, he would see them strung out beyond comprehension, bruised and cut up, their clothes reeking from having been worn days in a row. Oftentimes they had no money despite their long evening of work, and the cabbie would give them a few bucks or drop them off at a church where they could get a hot meal.
The cabbie had been raised in Rocky Mount (population 57,010). He left for Los Angeles in the mid-'60s, came back in the mid-'90s, and was at pains to recognize his birthplace. The Rocky Mount he had remembered—lustrous with cotton fields and tobacco warehouses—had evaporated. Integration had chased the white folks out of the public schools, consolidation shrank the tobacco industry, and the textile mills moved overseas. In 1999, Hurricane Floyd would roar in to finish the job. A decade later, Forbes would rank Rocky Mount one of the ten most impoverished cities in America. Even so, the white side of the railroad tracks that ran through the city—the Nash County side—remained pleasant enough. But things were different on the black side, the Edgecombe County side. When the cabbie was growing up, the residents in Edgecombe had been proud, hardworking people: doctors, schoolteachers, railroad employees. But then they died off, as did the jobs, as did something else in the community's soul that economists are at a loss to quantify.
By the '80s, crack dealers began to operate in once respectable, now abandoned houses in the Edgecombe sector known as the Neighborhood. To the cabbie, the Neighborhood was as bad nowadays as what he'd seen in L.A. He drove these streets—East Grand, Myrtle, Highland, Carolina, Park—watching the same girls jump in and out of strangers' cars, day after day, year after year. Helplessly the cabbie saw the girls deteriorate as Rocky Mount itself had. At times he would lecture them: 'You remember when you was young and the guys would pass up the older ones to get to you? They gonna pass you up, too!' But he could see they weren't listening. Didn't care about themselves or their children. They lived only to chase the ghost that was crack's finger-snap of a buzz.
Still, the cabbie, an aging retiree, nurtured a soft spot for these girls he had known back when they were once pretty young things. Glance into the cab's rearview often enough, he'd figure, and you might be rewarded with a flash of promise. Like Nikki, with her no-good boyfriend freshly dropped off at federal prison, vowing to take a stab at community college. Like the girl who always carried a book with her to and from the crack house. And like Yolanda 'Snap' Lancaster, a broad-faced short girl who radiated intelligence and who talked to the cabbie of her days playing clarinet in the high school band. Right after graduating from Rocky Mount Senior High, Snap had sought to enlist in the armed services. The recruiters told her to lose some weight. She'd gone to the Neighborhood instead.
After a few years of jumping in and out of cars, Snap had accumulated enough of an arrest record to foreclose any future in the military. With her boyfriend, she moved into a house with no electricity or water that the city had been slow to condemn. One day in February 2009, Snap turned up with a full set of her boyfriend's teeth marks on her arm—sobbing, nonetheless, that she couldn't leave him: 'Ain't nowhere else I can go!'
But that wasn't true—because a few days later, 37-year-old Snap Lancaster was gone. Someone wasn't saying where.
Once upon a time, Rocky Mount commanded a certain attention.
Jim Thorpe had played minor league baseball here in 1909. Eight years later, a local couple gave birth to the great jazz pianist Thelonious Monk. During the bleak era of segregation, the city was a reliable Chitlin' Circuit stopover for performers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Cab Calloway (who would have to be hustled out of town after stirring up the white ladies in the audience). In 1962, Martin Luther King Jr. stood before 1,800 rapt Negroes at Booker T. Washington High School and said, 'And so, my friends of Rocky Mount, I have a dream tonight'—road testing the refrain he would immortalize in Washington a year later. And in May 1964, President Lyndon Johnson heralded his War on Poverty with a speech in front of the city hall—though by mistake, as LBJ's advance team had believed Rocky Mount to be somewhere in the Appalachians.
By the 2008 election season, amid all the glowing promise of Obama's America, Rocky Mount seemed to belong to another country altogether—with its shuttered downtown and its crack-cocaine epidemic and its railroad track demarcating a boundary between black and white. The town's lingering racial inequality was an inconvenient truth that neither political party had the stomach to discuss. And yet viewed through the perverse lens of electoral politics, Rocky Mount had something that the Obama campaign very much wanted: an abundance of black citizens who were eligible to vote but seldom if ever did. So in the spring of 2008, Obama's fabled grassroots operation dropped by the Neighborhood. The residents did not quiz the Obama volunteers much on green jobs or high-tech classrooms. Instead, their questions were more basic. How could one black man make any difference, even as president? Wasn't he likely to get shot? And would registering to vote cause one's food stamps to get cut off?
Still, register they did, by the thousands. And six days before the election, Rocky Mount got its reward: Michelle Obama came to deliver a get-out-the-vote speech. The Rocky Mount Senior High School auditorium was packed that late October afternoon, and so was the overflow room. The only crowd comparable would gather when the new Lowe's opened its doors and a thousand local applicants lined up to compete for the hundred available jobs. The candidate's wife, tall and glamorous, stood behind a lectern and without any notes spoke forcefully of the change that was coming. She and her staff knew nothing of the killings that had been haunting the Neighborhood. Her speech made no mention of poverty or injustice or of once proud cities gone utterly to seed. Rather, Michelle Obama's message that afternoon was, as an Obama staffer would fondly recall, 'full of hope.'
Out in the audience, a young African-American woman named Nekita Coleman reacted to America's future first lady with ecstatic delight like everyone else around her. It felt good to celebrate. St dupont lighter serial number 4fk12j8. For too long now, Nekita had been burdened by a darker strain of hope. She hoped that God would visit the someone who had left her best friend Nikki Thorpe dead on Seven Bridges Road. She hoped God would make the killer see in his sleep the faces of Nikki and all his other victims.
She hoped like hell that it would drive him crazy.
Three months after Rocky Mount doubled its voter turnout and helped Obama take North Carolina by 14,000 votes, Snap Lancaster went missing. That same month, a body was found by a prison cleanup crew out in the woods beside a soccer field. The skeleton was unclothed; the mummified skin that had not been scavenged by animals was that of a black female. Her lone tuft of hair was toxicologically tested and revealed the presence of cocaine. Her teeth did not match the dental records of the three Rocky Mount women known to be missing. The authorities slid the woman into a morgue refrigerator—where she remained for eight months, until she was at last identified as Elizabeth Jane Smallwood, a 33-year-old habitué of the Neighborhood with a lengthy record of drug and prostitution charges.
In March 2009 yet another body turned up—the third to be found near Seven Bridges Road—and this one was in good condition. She wore a black bra, white socks, and nothing else. Her neck was fractured. Abrasions covered her body. The toxicology test registered positive for cocaine. Likely she had been given some crack, then strangled, then dragged some distance to her final resting spot in the woods.
Clearly visible on her upper left arm was a tattoo: Tara.
Just two weeks prior to the body's discovery, Taraha Shenice Nicholson had been telling her boyfriend that her feet were tired from walking the streets of the Neighborhood. The previous evening, she had gone to her mother's to see her little boy Jamarius, who squealed when she threw him into the air and cried when she left for what would turn out to be forever. Taraha had tried to clean herself up for Jamarius's sake. She'd gone into treatment, but it didn't take. She emerged from a forty-five-day jail sentence with some extra weight on her, vowing that she was going to change. But her boyfriend wouldn't let her. He'd waggle a vial of crack in front of her face so that she could hear the rock rattle. Taraha's father had grown sick of their freeloading and tossed them out of his house. Taraha and her boyfriend relocated to one of the Neighborhood's many abandoned houses, where they used a generator for electricity.
Her mother, Diana, would warn her, 'There's someone out there killing these girls.' Taraha had been especially close to Nikki. But for a stupid argument, the two girls would've been together the night Nikki disappeared.
Taraha would tell her mother, 'I don't jump in cars with people I don't know.'
Which would suggest that she knew her killer.
And poring over her remains, the authorities discovered a foreign DNA sample that made them realize they knew the killer, too. 'From that day on,' one of them would later tell Taraha's mother, 'we knew it was him.'
And yet the authorities did not arrest the him. Instead, the him stayed free for another five months, by which time another body would materialize near Seven Bridges Road.
The mayor of Rocky Mount is a very pleasant and conscientious man by the name of David Combs, who runs a successful real estate business and lives on the Nash County, or white, side of the tracks. Running against a veteran black city councilman in 2007, in a town where 56 percent of the residents are black, Combs received a mere 12 percent of the vote on the Edgecombe (black) side of the tracks but still won 54 percent overall, due to his dominant performance on the Nash side. Being a registered Republican, Mayor Combs did not attend Michelle Obama's speech, which was the first-ever presidential-campaign event in Rocky Mount's history.
In June 2009, a Raleigh news reporter telephoned the mayor's office to ask for a comment about the nine black Rocky Mount women who had been killed or were missing. 'I didn't respond,' Combs now says, because 'it was July or August before I really knew the extent of what we were talking about.' The mayor did not know any of the women or their families. And because he is not plugged into the black community, Combs says that he did not know about the candlelight vigil that had drawn hundreds of people to Martin Luther King Jr. Park in the summer of 2009 to bring attention to the murders until 'I read about it in the newspaper.'
Combs had campaigned with the belief that, as he put it, 'I think you vote on somebody who would do the best job. Whether they're white or black, I don't think that makes a difference.' It happens that the city's police chief is African-American, as is the sheriff of Edgecombe County. It also happens that cases such as these are fraught with law-enforcement challenges, and not only because the area lacks cutting-edge resources. People who spend their lives on the street may drift away without notice. Prostitutes may encounter unsavory, often violent strangers. Their families may withhold embarrassing details about their daughters' lives. Low-income African-Americans may view cops with distrust. Crackheads may make unreliable eyewitnesses.
Still, among all these variables, there looms a truth that burns in the minds of black Rocky Mount residents, a truth all too consistent with their life experience in the Deep South: By the early summer of 2009, three poor black women of the Rocky Mount streets were missing and another six were dead—with three of the bodies found along or near Seven Bridges Road—and the authorities had not deemed it important to notify the community that a serial killer was likely in their midst.
As black women went missing, a prominent civic leader, Debbie Kornegay, was stabbed to death by a homeless man in 2007. Rocky Mount police chief John Manley recalled for me the 'massive manhunt search' that ensued, complete with roadblocks, aerial surveillance, and the wholesale participation of state and local law enforcement—'a lot of folk working round the clock, not letting up,' he said of the search for the white woman's killer, who was apprehended the next day. But when the subject turned to missing and murdered poor black women, Manley—a Democrat who proudly attended both Michelle Obama's speech and Obama's inauguration—acknowledged that their loved ones shouldered a heavier burden.
'They need to stay on law enforcement,' he said. 'You have to stay on us. Let us know that you're not going away until you know we've done everything we possibly could do.
'Because if you don't care,' said the chief, 'I don't know why we should.'
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The fourth body to be found in the vicinity of Seven Bridges Road was discovered on June 29, 2009, by a Mexican tobacco laborer who had ventured behind a bush to relieve himself. The corpse had been there for perhaps two months; the grass beneath it had darkened. When the authorities took the remains away for examination, they mistakenly left behind a half-dozen teeth that had apparently been beaten out of the woman's skull. The day after she had been identified, her sister went out to the crime scene and gathered up the teeth, along with a toenail painted chocolate brown, the preferred hue of 31-year-old Jarniece 'Sunshine' Hargrove.
She called herself Sunshine because of her preference for bright colors, which on one occasion she demonstrated by dyeing her hair blue and yellow. The boys in the Neighborhood loved Sunshine. The girls hated her and sometimes jumped her six or seven at a time. It took that many to bring her down, despite her small frame. Remembers her cousin Nicki Hargrove, 'Police would come put handcuffs on her and they'd have to call for backup.' Adds her mother, Patsy Hargrove, 'She'd say, 'You and what army gonna take me?'
Sunshine had gotten no further in school than eighth grade. She was bipolar. At times she carried on conversations with people who weren't there; at others, she failed to recognize people who were there. But until her final year or two on earth—when the combination of crack and meds reduced her to a stiff-jointed shell of what she'd once been—Sunshine remained a figure of considerable self-possession. For hours she would sit in her mother and sister's trailer northeast of Rocky Mount, less than a mile from Seven Bridges Road, and fill notebooks with rap rhymes, which later she performed at the Diamond Club out on Route 301.
On April 25, 2009, she visited her family, wanting money, most likely for crack—and limping badly on a foot that appeared to be broken. A month later, a friend called the trailer to wish Sunshine a happy birthday.
We ain't seen her, Sunshine's mother told the friend. Both women knew, deep down, what that meant.
On July 6, 2009, the authorities publicly added Sunshine Hargrove to the sad litany that included Denise Williams, Melody Wiggins, Nikki Thorpe, Ernestine Battle, Taraha Nicholson, and Liz Smallwood. Apparently it took the discovery of a seventh body dumped in an obscure location for the sheriff to conclude that perhaps all of these cases were connected and that state and federal investigators might be of some use. By now the Rocky Mount Telegram had unleashed an aggressive young reporter, Mike Hinbaugh, on the story of the missing women. City councilman and local NAACP chapter director Andre Knight began agitating for answers, while a local organization calling itself Missing or Murdered Sisters (M.O.M.S.) erected billboards and alerted the national media. On August 14, Nancy Grace's producers at CNN contacted Sunshine's mother, Patsy Hargrove, and told her that a sedan would be transporting her to a Raleigh studio to discuss her daughter.
Alas, the car never arrived. Instead, Grace's guest host, Jean Casarez, told viewers that evening, 'We begin tonight with breaking news out of north Georgia, where the desperate search is on for a young mother in extreme danger.' The missing woman, Kristi Cornwell, was white, as was the subject of the lead story, a 'beautiful Florida newlywed' accused of hiring a hit man to kill her husband.
On September 1, 2009, the authorities announced that they had made an arrest. They didn't have to look far. The suspect, Antwan Maurice Pittman—the him believed for months to have been Taraha Nicholson's killer—had been languishing in Nash County jail since August 12, busted for driving with a revoked license and failing to register his latest address as a sex offender.
Pittman was, if nothing else, an apt poster child for Rocky Mount. He was 31, black, male, with an absent father and a mother in trouble with the law, minimally educated and underemployed. Pittman's list of accomplishments consisted mainly of criminal convictions. His numerous mug shots featured the same hollowed-out expression. Summing him up, one of Pittman's court-appointed attorneys, Tommy Moore, would say, 'Nothing good was ever going to come of his life.'
Pittman grew up just north of Rocky Mount, in the sad-sack town of Battleboro, abutting the peanut and cotton fields sprawling alongside Seven Bridges Road. He was learning-disabled, had been prescribed Ritalin, was at one point taken from his mother by social services, and later dropped out of ninth grade. For years Pittman worked dull but honest jobs—as a magazine salesman, in a tobacco warehouse, and at a chicken-processing plant. Hip-hop animated him. Women seemed to enjoy his company. Neighbors found nothing about him worthy of comment, beyond the fact that his comings and goings usually took place late at night.
They certainly did not know that in 1994, not long after Pittman dropped out of high school, the teenager was arrested and charged with attempting to rape a 2-year-old child. He pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties, got a three-year sentence, and thereby became one of the first twenty or so names to appear on Edgecombe County's sex-offender list. His profile 'would have come up,' according to one law-enforcement official, had the authorities thought to review the database during the six-year timespan of the Rocky Mount murders. But Pittman was never flagged as a suspect.
Pittman was arrested in 2007 for soliciting a prostitute in Rocky Mount. (The charge was later dropped because the arresting officer was serving in Iraq and couldn't testify.) The first woman to be murdered, Denise Williams, had known him, according to her sister. Ernestine Battle's family also knew the Pittmans, says Corneta Battle, who remembers Antwan as a 'quiet, nice-acting boy.' Taraha Nicholson and Pittman had connections as well. Shortly after Taraha's body was found, in March 2009, her sister's boyfriend was hanging out with a good friend. Pittman was there, too.
The boyfriend muttered to no one in particular, 'My girlfriend's sister got killed.'
Antwan Pittman suddenly spoke up. 'Yeah, man, that was fucked-up,' he said.
But here was something really fucked-up: A few weeks later, on April 25, 2009, Sunshine Hargrove disappeared. And on that very night, a state trooper found Pittman asleep in his 1996 Pontiac Bonneville alongside Seven Bridges Road, approximately 200 yards from where Sunshine's body would eventually be discovered. The trooper observed that Pittman's boots were caked with dirt and that his fly was unzipped. Pittman was booked for DUI, and his license was revoked. Then they let him go.
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Six months after Taraha Nicholson's body was found, Pittman was indicted for her murder and held without bail. The suspect maintained his innocence even as police investigated him in connection with four other murders. Seven months passed without additional charges being filed. During that time, I dropped by Mayor David Combs's real estate office on the Nash County side of the tracks. The mayor expressed his hope that the story would soon disappear. 'I don't want everybody in town just to focus on the murders,' he said. 'Because life has to go on, and the town has to go on, and we've got a lot of great things here. And I don't want everyone that thinks about Rocky Mount to think that, well, that's where those murders occurred.'
The mayor's sentiment came as absolutely no surprise to the folks on the other side of the tracks. Well, of course he'd say that! It only figured that the cops would collar some random luckless black man and proclaim, 'Mission accomplished.' Soon it would be just like that rich white mayor wanted: business as usual in Rocky Mount, and to hell with the Neighborhood. The cabbie was among the many vocal skeptics. 'You know, you can just put this on him,' he said of Antwan Pittman. 'He's a nobody, and the girls are nobody. So they've got somebody, and it's over with.' The cabbie added that he had never met this poor fool Pittman. Didn't know anyone who had.
On the other hand, the cabbie had never met Christine Boone, either. Christine had been from a hardworking, deeply religious family. It often fell to one of her ten siblings, Minnie Jones, to fetch her crack-ravaged younger sister from the streets of the Neighborhood—until one day in the summer of 2006, when Minnie went looking and Christine was not to be found.
The older sister reported Christine missing to the authorities. Their disinterest was astounding. 'People walk away from their lives all the time,' a man with a badge told her.
And Minnie never heard from the police after that—not until nearly four years later, on March 12, 2010, when a call came to inform her that, as it turned out, Christine Boone had not walked away from her life. Instead, her life had been taken from her. And what was left of Christine had been discovered one week earlier in an advanced state of decomposition out in the woods, thirty-seven miles northeast of Rocky Mount, near a trailer that had once been occupied by Antwan Pittman.
That left Snap Lancaster and Joyce Durham as the only other women from the Neighborhood still missing. Or did it? On March 27, six days after Christine was laid to rest, a man riding his four-wheeler through a wooded area abutting Seven Bridges Road happened upon a skeleton that had apparently gone unnoticed in previous searches of the area. The body was that of Roberta Williams, a 40-year-old black woman convicted of prostitution in 2006. Roberta used to do cleaning work at the taxi station. The cabbie had watched her go quietly to pieces. The last time he saw her, she was walking the streets of the Neighborhood. She told him she was HIV-positive. That had been over a year ago. Friends and family members had reported Roberta's disappearance. The authorities claimed to have no record of it.
On April 6, 2010, North Carolina governor Bev Perdue dispatched a hundred National Guard troops to scour Seven Bridges Road and elsewhere around Rocky Mount for more bodies. They found nothing. For now, the numbers hold at nine dead, two missing.
Are there others? Will there be others, even with Pittman locked up? Over and over, I heard horror stories from daily life in the Neighborhood: a knife to the throat, a blow to the head, flung from a car at high speed, death threats, rape. The assailants went by names other than Antwan. They drove vehicles other than Pittman's Pontiac Bonneville.
No one, in any event, has been charged for these crimes. Almost certainly no one will be. Destitute black women in a hopeless pocket of America meeting violence and rape and murder with no one to stop it—it is an infuriating constant. It is, to paraphrase our president, a part of who we are.
One day this past winter, I took a last swing through the Neighborhood. I had checked in beforehand with the cabbie. He told me that he hadn't bothered to make his rounds for some time. 'Ain't nobody gonna be out on the streets,' he advised me, 'till the weather gets better.'
Today, following an evening of hard rain, it was a sunny afternoon in the Neighborhood. A few elderly folks sat on their porches or raked the leaves in their yards. For the most part, however, the streets felt expunged and forgotten. That evening, 250 miles up Interstate 95, President Obama would announce his commitment of an additional 30,000 troops and $30 billion to Afghanistan—reminding his listeners, near the end of his speech, that 'the nation that I'm most interested in building is our own.'
Someone was standing in the middle of Highland Avenue, waving her arms for me to stop. She was a thin young African-American woman wearing jeans, a blue down jacket, and large sunglasses that almost made her appear glamorous. Leaning into my open window, she grinned. Most of her front teeth were missing. We stared at each other for a moment, perhaps a half-dozen blocks from where Martin Luther King Jr. promised the Negroes of Rocky Mount forty-seven years ago in his trumpetlike tenor: 'How long? Not long!'
'Can you give me a ride home?' the young woman asked, still grinning.
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Then, in a smaller voice: 'I can't make no quick money?'
And finally, as the car with the Washington, D.C., plates turned northward toward home: 'You mean you're just drivin' around here for nothing?'
She stood in the streets, bony arms up in the air—a skeleton's cry for help. Then invisible again.
Robert Draper is a GQ correspondent. He is writing a book about race relations in America during the period between King's assassination and Obama's election.