Book One: Fear
An alarm clock clanged in the dark and silent room. A bed spring creaked. A woman's voice sang out impatiently:
"Bigger, shut that thing off!"
A surly grunt sounded above the tinny ring of metal. Naked feet swished dryly across the planks in the wooden floor and the clang ceased abruptly.
"Turn on the light, Bigger."
"Awright," came a sleepy mumble.
Light flooded the room and revealed a black boy standing in a narrow space between two iron beds, rubbing his eyes with the backs of his hands. From a bed to his right the woman spoke again:
"Buddy, get up from there! I got a big washing on my hands today and I want you-all out of here."
Another black boy rolled from bed and stood up. The woman also rose and stood in her nightgown.
"Turn your heads so I can dress," she said.
The two boys averted their eyes and gazed into a far comer of the room. The woman rushed out, of her nightgown and put on a pair of step-ins. She turned to the bed from which she had risen and called:
"Vera! Get up from there!"
"What time is it, Ma?" asked a muffled, adolescent voice from beneath a quilt.
"Get up from there, I say!"
A brown-skinned girl in a cotton gown got up and stretched her arms above her head and yawned. Sleepily, she sat on a chair and fumbled with her stockings. The two boys kept their faces averted while their mother and sister put on enough clothes to keep them from feeling ashamed; and the mother and sister did the same while the boys dressed. Abruptly, they all paused, holding their clothes in their hands, their attention caught by a light tapping in the thinly plastered walls of the room. They forgot their conspiracy against shame and their eyes strayed apprehensively over the floor.
"There he is again, Bigger!" the woman screamed, and the tiny, one-room apartment galvanized into violent action. A chair toppled as the woman, half-dressed and in her stocking feet, scrambled breathlessly upon the bed. Her two sons, barefoot, stood tense and motionless, their eyes searching anxiously under the bed and chairs. The girl ran into a corner, half-stooped and gathered the hem of her slip into both of her hands and held it tightly over her knees.
"Oh! Oh! " she waited.
"There he goes!"
The woman pointed a shaking finger. Her eyes were round with fascinated horror.
"I don't see 'im!"
"Bigger, he's behind the trunk!" the girl whimpered.
"Vera!" the woman screamed. "Get up here on the bed! Don't let that thing bite you!"
Frantically, Vera climbed upon the bed and the woman caught hold of her. With their arms entwined about each other, the black mother and the brown daughter gazed open-mouthed at the trunk in the corner.
Bigger looked round the room wildly, then darted to a curtain and swept it aside and grabbed two heavy iron skillets from a wall above a gas stove. He whirled and called softly to his brother, his eyes glued to the trunk.
"Here; take this skillet."
"Now, get over by the door!"
Buddy crouched by the door and held the iron skillet by its handle, his arm flexed and poised. Save for the quick, deep breathing of the four people, the room was quiet. Bigger crept on tiptoe toward the trunk with the skillet clutched stiffly in his hand, his eyes dancing and watching every inch of the wooden floor in front of him. He paused and, without moving an eye or muscle, called:
"Put that box in front of the hole so he can't get out!"
Buddy ran to a wooden box and shoved it quickly in front of a gaping hole in the molding and then backed again to the door, holding the skillet ready....