To put it succinctly, the people of Deer Creek rued the day they crossed Eriabas Jennison. For had they known on that hot, dusty August day in 1868 what lay in wait for them, they might never have wronged a man like him.

     Eriabas Jennison had shown up in Deer Creek with many other young, exuberant settlers in the wild, lush Dakota territories. No stranger to prejudice, Eriabas Jennison walked to the bank, his black skin drawing the eyes of the curious residents, his smile easy and loose, his stride sure and savvy. Having purchased a sizable property outside of the city, Eriabas Jennison took his lease, left the bank, headed out of town, ignoring the whispers and looks, and began his dream of farming land and raising turkeys. 

     Not one day later, the sheriff of Deer Creek, a fair and even-tempered man christened Arne Kirk, came to pay a friendly visit to the newest resident of the community. No doubt prodded and poked to do so by some of the concerned residents of Deer Creek, concerned over a new stranger living so close, concerned over how he had obtained the money to purchase his turkey farm, concerned over whether or not Eriabias Jennison might not be one of them, meaning a Lutheran.

     The sheriff’s visit lasted only an hour; Eriabas Jennison welcomed him with that easy, loose smile, toured him around the farm, showing him where the turkeys would stay, the foundations of the barn where they would rest and winter, the vegetable and fruit gardens, and the future patch of soil for wheat. While others had tried to make a go of this unarable land, no one had been able to produce anything green from it until Eriabas Jennison showed up. The sheriff smiled, agreed, and let his host do most of the talking over a cold beer. Eventually, Sheriff Kirk felt the warm comfort of alcohol and found the right moment to ask some questions. Turns out, Eriabas Jennison, born free in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, raised in the north, a recent widower, and dreaming of going west, had finally fulfilled his promise to himself and his beloved late wife, right there in Deer Creek. The sheriff invited him to join them that Sunday for church, to which Eriabas Jennison readily agreed, shaking the sheriff’s hand, thanking him for the neighborly invitation, and asking what he could bring to eat for after the sermon. Scratching his head, Sheriff Kirk suggested some sweet confectionery, perhaps a fruit pie or two, if that wouldn’t be too much trouble. Shaking his head with that irrepressible grin, Eriabas Jennison agreed, shook his hand, and walked him back to his horse.

     As it turns out, it was Prudence Kirk, the sheriff’s wife, who had made the biggest fuss over Deer Creek’s newest denizen. Having grown up in the Deep South, she retained a certain disposition towards people like Eriabas Jennison, a disposition that grew sour with age like wine turning to vinegar, a disposition polluted by tainted thoughts that had propelled her husband to action.

     Unbeknownst to men like the sheriff and Eriabas Jennison, that Sunday was also the annual pie bake off, and Prudence Kirk had again entered her grandmother’s blackberry cobbler, having brought home the blue ribbon four years running, during which time she never let anyone forget it. So losing the annual church pie bake off contest that July to Eriabas Jennison’s prize-winning and mouth-watering Cherries Jubilee, with its light, flaky crust that begged to be cut into, with its sweet softened cherries cooked to perfection, with its tangy aftertaste lingering before vanishing like the last snatches of a vivid dream upon waking, well, lit a fire under her.

     Angrier than a wet hen, Prudence clucked and chatted and questioned her knitting circle and church group and neighbors and frankly anyone unlucky enough to be within hearing range of her. How could we trust him, she demanded to know of everyone, how do we know he’s telling us the truth? What if he’s some runaway or a murderer? Shouldn’t we run him out of town first? How could someone acquire fresh cherries here in the middle of nowhere unless he was hiding something? Was he in league with the Devil Himself?

     While at first the residents of Deer Creek grumbled or smiled politely back at Prudence’s badgering, her words had hidden a pernicious idea that wound its way into the winding consciousness of the town like a snake curling up around an unsuspecting mouse; it coiled its scales of hatred and suspicion, smothering common sense, strangling the air of truth out of its prey, until at last the dam broke one dusty August day.

     After hardly a month, the town of Deer Creek had, bit by bit, turned its back on its neighbor, envying his success, coveting his wealth, hating him for his endless good luck, cursing him for his Cherries Jubilee; this progressed to cheating him at the general store, reducing the water flow to his farm by rigging irrigation systems, and whispering to one another behind cupped hands whenever Eriabas Jennison was in town. They were telling him to leave in every way they could imagine without coming out and saying it to his face. Not even Prudence Kirk would take on such brazen effrontery. Not that they had to. Not a fool in town could see the way the wind was blowing in Deer Creek.

No fool himself, Eriabas Jennison rode into town, his dappled mare kicking up fine dust, his hat lowered to cover his expression, his demeanor of someone defeated. People mostly agreed later that Prudence Kirk had exclaimed that she had never felt so close to God in that moment, crying with joy that she had expelled the mote from her eye. The mare came to a halt midway in the street. The town residents crept out of their houses, clung to their porches like timid shadows, eager to see but reluctant to approach.

     After most of the town had slunk outdoors, all eyes were resting on Eriabas Jennison on his dappled mare. The wind whistled through the now still town, stirring up dust, and wafting an acrid odor that made the Sheriff’s arms turn all goosepimply in fearful anticipation. Then Eriabas Jennison lifted his head, and spoke to the town in a clear, loud voice that rang through the still streets and burrowed into the hearts of the residents of Deer Creek.

     ”You all,” he began, “are my neighbors. I thought that we could be, at least. I came here, I spent my money at your stores, I lived here, and I farmed land. I sold you my crops. I even went to your church and brought you my late wife’s favorite dessert. You all have treated me with suspicion and hatred for who I am, claiming to be good Christians. You all are cowards hiding behind Jesus. Not a lick of it wouldn’t’ve happened, I reckon, had Prudence Kirk not started it all.”

     It was at this moment, everyone agreed later, that Prudence Kirk strode out into the dusty street, her dark blue chenille dress rustling like a preening peacock shaking its feathers, and shouted at Eriabas Jennison, who had done her no wrong.

     ”Get thee behind me, Satan!” yelled Prudence Kirk, crossing herself, spitting at the man on the horse, glaring with equal parts of hatred and triumph.

     ”Ma’am”, he retorted, dipping his head and lifting his eyes to look at her, “if anyone here is Satan, it’s you. Here’s my proof.”

     He held aloft a book, tattered and worn, covered in a faded red, with one word printed on the cover in what appeared to be 24 carat gold: Prudence. 

     “You turned the town against me, Prudence Kirk. So, Deer Creek, allow me to read to you what Prudence Kirk honestly thinks about you.” Over her screams and jumping up to snatch the book from his hands, he continued. “In church today, we had to listen to a sermon so boring it would make Jesus himself weep, and weep he would have, having smelled cheap wine on Minister Johnson’s breath. Far worse though, was Mabel Littleton’s breath, which resembles the back end of a goat, which would be an improvement over her face.” This went on and on as he read through pages, and with each page neighbors, one by one, turned their backs to Prudence Kirk, who was wailing like an angry, wet cat. He turned the page, paused, and glanced up at her face, rife with fury, and read calmly. “And, once again, I had to poke my elbow into my husband’s side to keep him from drifting into slumber and snoring during the sermon. Lord, what I would not give…” he looked back down at Prudence Kirk, who stared back into his eyes with a rage that purpled her face, and he read the last part out slowly, deliberately, damningly, “…for a husband who didn’t have the ambition, backbone, and manhood of a seven year old boy.”

     With that, he closed the book, handed it to her, and rode out of Deer Creek for good. The sheriff left his wife, preferring to sleep in a jail cell than in a bed with her. Each resident later found at home a freshly slaughtered turkey, a farewell gift from their former neighbor. Each resident later found ways to avoid speaking to Prudence Kirk. Each resident later held her responsible.

     Much to Prudence Kirk’s shock and eventual dismay, and in no small part owing to his intelligence, charisma, and drive, Eriabas Jennison worked his way into one of the railroad companies now stretching metal tentacles across the country like enormous octopuses; he became instrumental working behind the scenes to guide the decisions as to which towns in the Dakota territories should make it on the railways and which should not. The residents of Deer Creek took the rejection well enough, but it was clear to everyone there that this was the beginning of the end.

     In a few short years, the town was abandoned, left to the packs of wild animals, the clusters of rustling tumbleweeds, and the choking dust; abandoned, forgotten, destroyed.

     To put it succinctly, the people of Deer Creek rued the day they crossed Eriabas Jennison.