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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Rattled (05/09/13)

TITLE: Mr. Unknown
By Carla Rogers


The wooden cargo ship heaved heavily in the foaming sea, listing wildly from side to side. From the slippery bow, the sea hardened captain surveyed the horizon, the salt spray dripping from his grizzled chin. Now on the open sea for a month, he was looking forward to being home but John knew from the look of the sky that they were in for one dreadful night. As he strolled back to the wheel house, he hummed a tune that he had heard coming from the cargo hold on every voyage. He thought it was odd that the rhythm was timed with the rattling of the chains securing the valued cargo.

As the storm of storms came closer with every blast of wind, with every giant swell, the ship creaked and rocked enough to give even an experienced seaman like John seasickness. The deck appeared to be nothing but sea as the ship went down into the depths of the waves. Concerned about the cargo, John stumbled down the stairs to the hold. In the guts of the ship, the air was overpowering with foul, putrid pockets that were even worse than suffocating.

The melody that he had been humming could be heard even above the roar of the storm and the crash of the waves, still in time with the rattling chains.

A giant wave crashed into the side of the groaning ship, splintering the hold beyond what he could repair at sea. Being more petrified than he had ever been in his life, John feared that the ship would go down, with him, his crew and the precious cargo with it. He quickly considered all the possible solutions and came up very lacking in ideas. His mess of a life flowed through his mind: memories of his loving mother, who had taught him about Jesus; his father who had taught him all about the sea; his murderous thoughts and arrogant life; his life as a servant to the lowest of the servants.

John again heard the tune louder than ever, along with the rattling chains securing the cargo and the sounds of the furious storm breaking the ship apart. Being so close to death, the tune now reminded John of a funeral dirge.

He cried out to God, first time in countless lost, desperate years. Just then a crushing wave smacked into the side of the battered wooden ship sending a cargo chain stretched beyond capacity flying up causing a box of beeswax to slam into the gaping hole. The force of the impact caused the beeswax to seal the hole completely. John immediately knew that God had miraculously saved him.

The slaves chained to the wall and the beams in the cargo hold were singing the song and rattling their chains in rhythm to calm their flaying nerves. It was haunting. He didn't understand the words, but the tune that night was in his soul.

That dreadful night became John’s salvation. From the depths of despair came the greatest hymn ever written, “Amazing Grace”. The hymn books state the lyrics were written by John Newton, but the melody is by an unknown person. The melody has the same characteristics as other Negro Spirituals, which John would have heard on the slave ships. Next time you hear “Amazing Grace”, listen for the seas waves crashing and the slave chains rattling, the way it was first heard and remember Mr. Unknown.

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This article has been read 257 times
Member Comments
Member Date
lynn gipson 05/19/13
Haunting, thought provoking and informative piece. I personally never knew the origins of "Amazing Grace" until I read this just now. Excellent job!
Sunny Loomis 05/22/13
Good job on this. I like stories of how hymns came about. Thank you.
Judith Gayle Smith05/22/13
A definite winner!
C D Swanson 05/22/13
Excellent job...this should do well with the judges.

God bless~
Virgil Youngblood 05/22/13
I have long been familiar with the story of Amazing Grace, but you gave new life to it. Well done.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 05/22/13
Wow what a powerful story. It felt so real, I literally could feel my stomach churning. Your descriptions are stunning and I'll always think of this story when I hear that song. Outstanding writing!
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 05/23/13
Congratulations on placing 3rd in your level and 11 overall!! (So close to an EC!) Happy Dance!! You keep writing and you will be in that top 10 overall in no time!
Judith Gayle Smith05/23/13
Terrific! Praise YHWH! Congratulations!