Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: The Pen is Mightier than the Sword (04/08/10)
TITLE: The Headline
By Daniel Kane
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The morning paper slammed against the front door. Jacques Zora opened it and retrieved the newspaper from the January chill. Settling down in his comfy chair before the fire, he glanced at the front headline. He looked again. There, in big bold letters, was written:
Mitchell Mander was the second wealthiest man in the nation of Mandika, and already owned more coal mines than any one man deserves. Jacques flipped through the paper with trembling fingers in spite of the cheery glow of the fire. What he found on the eighth page set his blood boiling.
He was the health inspector. One good man trying to make a difference. Just like in the movies. But unlike the movies, Jacques was getting nowhere. Without bothering to check out the cartoons, he crumpled up the paper and tossed it into the awaiting flames. Again? I've been snubbed again? Why? Why is it not working?
He had seen first-hand what went on in the mines. He had seen the relentless cruelty of the task-masters; slave drivers would be a better term. He had seen how boys no older than seven were forced into the depths. He had seen how grown men had shrivelled and wasted away because they were squeezed into spaces only two feet wide, forced to acquire a minimum of 200 kilos of coal daily, with the heat sapping their strength. He had seen how hundreds had died of lung diseases such as black lung from inhaling the omnipresent coal dust. He had seen them freeze to death in the winter, and felt the bile rise up in his throat as their work-mates simply push their bodies onto the ever-growing pile of stiff corpses. He had experienced the utter blackness they worked in, darkened even more by the black powder floating around. He had seen men crushed by cave-ins, and boys killed by coal carts. He had seen them suffocate in the underground gases.
And he had told people. He had told them that these things were still happening in the twenty-first century. While men collapsed in fatigue only to be kicked by an unmerciful task-master, like crushing a cockroach beneath his heel, Mitchell Mander, the infamous boss, feasted on caviar and champagne. Jacques refused to keep such things secret. So why, WHY, was nothing changing?
With a weary sigh, he sat down at his desk again. Again. How many times must I do this? How many methods must I use? How long will it take for justice to prevail? He picked up his pen. He arranged his papers. He started to write. For the next hour the only sounds were the scratching of his pen and the crackle of the flames. Outside snow battered against his window, but it went unheeded by the man who was desperate to fulfil his task. He had been fighting this battle for two long, weary years, and he was not about to give up. His reports had been scrapped, his complaints ignored, his arguments rubbished. He had gone through more pens than anybody else in the history of mankind. The very government bosses he worked for ignored him. Doubtless they were in the pay of Mitchell This time, though, there would be a result. Surely Mander could not be bribing the president.
A week later, having fine-tuned his complaint, he strode out into the biting cold and posted it. Hurrying home, he slipped on some ice and smashed his head against a post. His neighbour found him lying there, in the filthy snow, and carried him inside. Rodrigo tended his wounds and looked after him, but Jacques was not conscious until much later.
The morning paper slammed against his front door. Rodrigo rescued it from the spring thaw. He carried it inside and, settling down beside his friend, opened it and glanced at the headline. He looked again. Then he jumped up and shoved the paper in his friend's face, yelling, “Look! Jacques, look! Look at what it says!” Bewildered, Jacques started to read. There, in big bold letters, was written:
Zora puts Mander in the Clink
With tears streaming down his face, Jacques set down the paper. At last. I've done it. And I didn't even know it was happening. While I was sleeping, my faithful pen was working wonders. At long last.
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