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Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Wow! (03/11/10)

TITLE: The Wonder of Whoa
By Ann Grover
~10th Place


Long before the war ended, things taken for granted, like socks and tea, onions and soap, disappeared. Without paper or pencils, or even whole textbooks, the fraulein attempted to teach each day. Gaunt-faced, the children huddled at their desks like a listless, colourless sea without a ripple of ambition.

Fair-haired Henning looked angelic, but his blue eyes could not hide a shadow of anguish. The SS had taken his father, and his mother had been killed in a midnight bombing.

The fraulein yearned to give the children, not just Henning, a brief respite from the chaos beyond the dust-streaked windows. For inspiration, she scavenged through her memory and the few books she still owned, the rest having been relinquished to cleansing fires.

“Children, there is a country far away where the sun shines all night long during the summertime. You can swim at midnight, or walk by the river, or have a picnic.”

It had been thoughtless to mention picnics. Picnics would remind them of lemonade, streusel, and sliced ham.

“Ferocious, snow-white eis baer live in this far place. They swim in the ocean, hunting seals.”

A few eyes showed a flicker of interest, and encouraged, Fraulein continued.

“The snow is deep in the wintertime and many people go skiing.”

“Fraulein, how long until summer?” Henning asked.

“When the grass is green. Maybe soon.” But, gardens were buried under rubble, and trees had been shattered by bombs.

The class quieted into disinterest again.

Fraulein leaned forward and whispered, “Do you know about cowboys? Men who ride horses? In America?” It was a risk, speaking of the Allies; even the walls were listening.

There were nods and grins. “All day, cowboys ride, caring for cattle with long horns. They wear wide-brimmed hats, tall boots, and bandanas.”

“I saw a picture of a cowboy on a wild horse,” offered Annelise shyly.

“That’s how they... teach... the horse. The horse tries to get the cowboy off.”

“Do they get hurt?” Henning asked.

“I think, yes. But, cowboys are very brave. They sleep outside and cook over a fire.”

“What kind of food?” Henning swallowed.

Fraulein was careful this time. “Oh, just turnips. And beans.”

The children looked disdainful. Maybe cowboys weren’t so wonderful after all.

“A cowboy says, ‘giddy-up’ when he wants his horse to go, and ‘whoa’ to stop. Can you say, ‘whoa?’”

The children shouted “giddy-up” and “whoa” and spun imaginary lassos over their heads. They practiced saying “howdy” and aiming make-believe six-shooters.

While artillery fire drummed across the sky that night, Henning dreamed. He rode a horse with smoldering red eyes and a smoking mane and tail. It carried him above the turmoil and destruction to a place with green grass and grazing cattle and hot cocoa in a tin can.

“Henning,” his grandmother whispered hoarsely, shaking him. “We must go to the cellar.”

The cellar, where one waited for death.

“Bang, bang, bang,” Henning murmured in the dark, breathing in dust and the sharp smell of fear. His grandmother rocked and prayed, her kerchief pulled over her face.

In the morning, acrid smoke twisted around broken stones and charred timbers, and missing houses looked like gaps in a toothless smile. Henning released his grandmother’s hand and, avoiding the shattered glass, sat down on the step. He heard a deep rumbling and watched a tank maneuver around the corner, pulverizing debris beneath its tracks.

“Whoa,” whispered Henning.

A military truck followed behind, and Henning saw men with bandanas over their faces.

“Whoa,” he repeated, louder. Miraculously, the truck stopped, and a soldier swung down. Henning stared at the man’s American insignia and his dust-crusted bandana.


“You bet, pardner,” chuckled the soldier. The man’s eyes were kind as he examined Henning’s frail body. “Are you okay?”


“Are you hungry?”

Though he understood nothing, Henning nodded enthusiastically, because the words were gentle and caring. The soldier pulled a candy bar from his pocket. Henning’s eyes opened wide in surprise as he turned it over and over. Not turnips? Beans?

“Eat that while I check things out.” The soldier shook his head as he reached for Henning’s grandmother’s hand. “It’s a miracle that anyone’s alive here. Wrecks on wrecks. Amazing. Pretty dang amazing.”

Henning squatted in the glass shards and peeled foil from the candy bar.

“Bang, bang, bang. Whoa!”

“You said it, kid, you said it. It’s over. You’re safe now, pardner.”

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Member Comments
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Laury Hubrich 03/21/10
Oh, I love this story but what happened to the rest of the kids? ergh. Must know more!
Catrina Bradley 03/21/10
I was carried away into Henning's humble, war-torn world. Every detail carries meaning - masterful writing, and a subtle but strong "wow".
Allison Egley 03/21/10
Oh, I like this. Very out of the box. :) Great job with characterization.
Beth LaBuff 03/21/10
You always have the ability to transport me to another land, in another time. This is a beautiful story and your MC, Henning, touched my heart. Love this!
Lori Othouse 03/21/10
Very touching story and I was also carried away into this world. Nice!!
Nicole Campbell03/22/10
This was a very touching story. Interesting characters and descriptions. Wonderful!
AnneRene' Capp03/22/10
I would definitely like to see this continue. This story made me feel so appreciative for my childhood through the entire read. Loved your following description:
Gaunt-faced, the children huddled at their desks like a listless, colourless sea without a ripple of ambition.
william price03/22/10
How can I say this teared me up without sounding like I need to go fishing or something? Anyway, great emotion and discriptions. I was riveted to the page. I like the reference to Canada, but wondered at first why you had to go south for cowboys, but you got me with the Allied armies entrance at the end. Most excellent! God bless.
Marita Vandertogt03/22/10
This story pulls at the emotions, and reads like a scene in a movie. Well done.
Loren T. Lowery03/22/10
Somethings simply transcend language. You've told so sell how one word is able to do that.
In my riding history I've often been taught that a horse's favorite word is whoa. After reading your article, I get an even better understanding of just why that might be.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 03/22/10
This captivated me from the beginning to the very last word.
Sarah Elisabeth 03/22/10
What a tender story, so touching. Well done!
Carol Slider 03/22/10
What a wonderfully original take on the topic! The details really made me feel for this child caught in the devastation of World War II... and gave me hope that he would have a better future. Very well done!
Amanda Brogan03/23/10
This story is very descriptive and well-told. It reminds me of reading books like "The Hiding Place." The devestation and fear that those people lived in, yet the hope that some of them (especially the Christians) still possessed.

This is a wonder to read. Whoa! :)
Rachel Phelps03/23/10
Amazing! Loved everything about this piece - you captured everything beautifully.
Noel Mitaxa 03/23/10
I love the depth you have touched with such an economy of verbage. The word picture of the houses - "gaps in a toothless smile" conveys such irony to me, and I loved the gentleness of your wrap-up.
Eliza Evans 03/24/10
Fabulous writing. I was drawn right in.
The MC was wonderfully portrayed...being careful about food talk and also teaching the kids about cowboys. So heartbreaking and realistic.

You raise the bar, Ann.
Verna Cole Mitchell 03/24/10
As always, your writing is huge master strokes. This is a wonderful story.
Sara Harricharan 03/24/10
Nice! I liked this kid, he's got pluck and the repeated line of the "bang, bang" added some suspense to it. I loved the ending--a favorite of mine this week! ^_^
Patricia Turner03/24/10
You did a wonderful job of showing the effects of wounded innocence, and the magic of a little hope here and kindness there.
Mona Purvis03/25/10
Things taken for granted like tea, soap and onions...
The story is indeed interesting and shows hope in a hopeless time.

Donna Wolther03/25/10
Just like a scene right out of a great movie. Great job.
Beth LaBuff 03/25/10
Ann, I was happy to see this on the EC list! Congrats!
Connie Dixon04/04/10
Great writing, loved the story, the descriptions, the subtleties...awesome. Congrats on your EC.