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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Work (07/27/06)

TITLE: The Preacher
By Ann FitzHenry


Wiping the sweat from his stinging eyes, Jack paused and surveyed his surroundings. Today and for the last twenty-five years the view was always the same: blaze orange. Like sprinkles on a chocolate donut, men in orange jumpsuits dotted the landscape. As the heat baked his mind, Jack felt the blunt end of a rifle tear at his flesh. “Get back to work,” the guard commanded. Stumbling forward, Jack slowly raised his ax and continued his assault on the rock face.

Once a handsome young man with a quick smile, Jack’s leathery face hung from decades of hard labor. Sagging with middle age, his hollow cheeks and tiny eyes permanently squinted from the sun. His lips, cracked and bleeding, looked as if they hadn’t smiled in years. Working 10 hours a day moving rocks would do that to a man.

Before joining the chain gang, Jack lived a comfortable life in the suburbs. A member of the young executives club, he spent his days sitting behind a desk in a windowed corner office. Wearing a white shirt and tie, he wasn’t the type of guy that had dirt under his fingernails. Coming home late one night after an office party, he noticed the back door had been kicked open. Alarmed he yelled, “Rachael, Rachael!” Following the trail of blood in the hallway, he found his wife’s body lying under the kitchen table. With his mind numb with alcohol, he made a horrible mistake and ran.

The next morning a paper boy discovered the scene and called the police. Found hiding under an overpass, Jack was arrested the next day. The only suspect, he was convicted to 99 years of hard labor at Madison State Penitentiary. Nicknamed “Hell’s Hand Basket,” Madison State was infamous for its swift executions of the condemned.

For the first few years, Jack fought for his freedom. To anyone who would listen, he proclaimed his innocence. Subjected to scorn and ridicule the other inmates laughed, “Innocent? That’s what they all say.” After a while, even his closest friends stopped coming to visit. Deemed a delusional liar he was forgotten and thrown away.

With anger gnawing at his soul, Jack became a shriveled shell of a man. With nothing to live for, he easily assimilated to the rhythms of prison life. Morning inspection and evening lock down were welcome distractions for his fragmented mind.

One day the routine changed as Jack watched a fellow inmate take his final walk to Gertrude, the prison’s electric chair. As the condemned man passed Jack’s cell, the air around him reeked with fear. Once proud and powerful, the man cried for his mother. Reduced to sobs, Jack heard him beg, “Momma, help me. I can’t see Jesus.”

With silent tears streaming down his face, Jack prayed for the first time in ten years. As he uttered the Lord’s Prayer, he answered God’s call to minister to the damned. In his other life, Jack sat on a cushioned pew every Sunday and listened to sermons about service. This call was much more urgent and meaningful. All the time he had been in prison, God’s work hadn’t stopped. It had just changed locations. Jack didn’t want another person to die without knowing Jesus. When he began witnessing to others, he quickly became known as “the preacher.” Enduring catcalls and beatings, he was the crazy “innocent” man who believed in God. Leading his congregation in five-minute sessions, he could be seen with a tattered Bible on his knees teaching the gospel. Over time a small group of men accepted Christ as their Savior.

Yesterday another one of Jack’s flock took his walk to eternity. As he paused at Jack’s cell the prisoners jeered, “Hey, Preecha, where’s Jesus now? Billy’s goin’ to see Gertie.” Ignoring their calls, Billy and Jack locked hands between the bars and bowed their heads in silent prayer. When Gertrude dimmed the lights a few minutes later, Jack’s worn lips cracked a satisfied smile. Billy was on his way to see Jesus.

Remembering the moment, Jack suddenly felt weak and nauseous. Gasping for breath, he clutched his chest and fell forward with his ax in his hand. As he lost consciousness, Jack saw blaze orange for the last time. When his heart exploded, his lips curled in a peaceful smile. Like the others before him, the prisoner known as “the preacher” took his final walk to eternity.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Lisa Stephens08/03/06
Sad story. It really makes you think. I found the end slightly unsatisfing, but I thought the writing quality was swell.
Edy T Johnson 08/05/06
You have such excellent writing skills, it is a joy to read your story. This could be a synopsis of a longer work. You have certainly made every word count, as you have compressed a lifetime of information, here.

This one pivotal paragraph ("Jack prayed for the first time in ten years....") seems to need more to explain Jack's transition (ie, more of his own spiritual background, perhaps), but with the extent of material you have covered within the word limit, you have done a great job. Write on, friend!
Trina Courtenay08/06/06
I thought this was written well. I did want your story to continue. Maybe you could lengthen it add what Ed suggested before you submit else where.

All in all, keep writing for the glory of HIM!
Rita Garcia08/07/06
You really packed a punch with this story, sure makes one stop and think. Great writing!
Jen Davis08/07/06
Very well written. Great descriptions. A meaningful and believable story. Other than perhaps changing or eliminating the first three words of the last paragraph, I liked the ending very much.
Helen Paynter08/07/06
Very good story and an excellent interpretation of the topic. I think in places you need to show a little more and tell a little less, but that's one of the problems of trying to fit a substantial storyline into a short word limit. Good job.
Joanne Sher 08/07/06
Excellent writing! You paint a very clear picture here!
Allison Egley 08/07/06
What a great piece. I wasn't expecting the ending. I'd like to see this expanded, to tell the stories of some of the other prisoners.
Tracey Jackson08/08/06
Wonderful writing, once again! Beautiful descriptions as well: "Like sprinkles on a chocolate donut.." is lovely.
Jan Ross08/09/06
I agree about the first three words of the last paragraph -- they seemed out of place. But other than that, this was a powerful story. I caught myself gasping, cringing and crying as I read through this. Wonderful story ... the ending being sad in one way and yet I felt joyful that he was finally released from his sentence to live with his beloved Jesus! Great work! :)