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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Volunteer (11/23/06)

TITLE: Mandatory Volunteer
By James Clem


“This place even smells like death.” Jordan was in a bitter frame of mind and was determined to stay that way. Jerking open the door, he muttered, “Might as well get this over with.”

The lobby was brightly lit; the front wall cheerfully displaying the words, “Welcome to The Oasis!” A trickling fountain, clearly designed to create a calming resonance, was off to one side while some kind of island-type music harmonized with the gentle splashing.

“Yeah, whatever,” he thought. His eyes scanned the room until they fell on a vacated information desk. He sullenly sauntered over to wait, his mind ruminating on the dreadful day in court when the judge had handed down a self-righteous sentence.

His morose meditation was interrupted by a crisp, cheery voice behind him. “Oh hello, I’m Melinda. How can I help you?”

Jordan whirled around to see a young woman with a pleasant smile. He mumbled a few words. “My name is Jordan Meyers. I’m supposed to help out here on Saturdays for the next twelve weeks.”

His dour demeanor was completely lost on Melinda. “Oh great--you’re a volunteer; we can really use the help.”

Jordan did a mental flip—“volunteer” wasn’t quite the word that sprung to mind. “I have to do one hundred hours of community service.”

Melinda flashed him a conspiratorial smile “I understand. You don’t have to tell me anything more. You’re what we call a ‘mandatory’ volunteer.”

“I was just about to deliver the mail to our residents,” she continued. “You can follow along and get a tour of the place at the same time.” She grabbed up a stack of letters and briskly took off down the hall leaving Jordan to hurry a bit to catch up.

Melinda pirouetted into the first room, “Good morning Miss Ethel! I have a letter for you.”

The woman she addressed was sitting quietly, gazing out a window. She turned her head at the commotion, smiling when she saw Melinda. “Thank you, dear” she said as Melinda busied herself making the bed.

“Melinda, dear, I don’t seem to have my glasses. I must have left them in the game room last night--Edna and I were playing cards.”

Melinda smiled. “You didn’t take all her money, did you Miss Ethel?” She was teasing because she knew they only played for fun. I’ll go fetch them for you.” She bustled past a bewildered Jordan who abruptly found himself standing awkwardly, totally unsure of what to do.

Momentarily, he noticed Miss Ethel had dropped the letter and was staring at it like a lost treasure. Willing his muscles to move, he deftly rescued it.

“Thank you, young man,” she said. “I don’t know you; you must be new here.”

“Yes ma’am,” he said, surprising himself with the courteous response. “I’m Jordan Meyers. I guess I’ll be here from time to time.”

“That’s nice,” Miss Ethel responded. “Would you be so kind as to open this letter and read it to me?”

Jordan’s mind worked furiously. Was this okay? He looked around for Melinda but she had not yet returned. With a shrug, he tore open the envelope. “Yeah sure, I guess I can do that.”

“The address says it from Sherry Presley,” he began.

“Yes, that’s my granddaughter. She’s just six years old. I don’t see her very much. Actually I don’t see anyone very much,” Miss Ethel mused.

The loneliness in her voice bit through Jordan’s shell of self-pity. For the first time, he saw her as a person. She was someone’s mother and someone’s grandmother, but mostly, she was just a lonely old woman. Jordan leaned against the bed and began to read the letter.

Dear Grandma,

I miss you. I wish I could stay with you. I don’t know anybody here.
I miss Mommy and Daddy. I know they’re with Jesus, and I will see them again someday, but I miss them so much.

They told me the other driver had been drinking and couldn’t control his car. Why do people do that?
I hate drinking, and I’m never going to do it.

Please write back to me.

I love you Grandma.

Sherry Ann Presley

The little hand-written words squeezed Jordan’s heart. He blinked back a tear as realization opened his mind. He had been lucky--no one had been hurt by his own stupid actions. In the quiet room, his lips silently formed unfamiliar words, “Thank you, God. Thank you for not letting me hurt anyone.”

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This article has been read 925 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Jan Ackerson 12/01/06
What a great for for Jordan to learn his lesson! Quite heart-tugging.

Two minor nit-picks: The letter didn't quite feel like what a 6-year-old could write, and it seems more likely that the old woman would be her great-grandmother--a 6-year old's grandmother could well be only in her 50s.

Love the irony in your title, and the gradual growth of your main character.
Joanne Sher 12/02/06
I also loved the gradual growth of your main character - very effective. The letter did seem a bit "old" for a six-year-old, but it definitely hit the mark. Nice job.
Bella Louise12/04/06
Hey, I really enjoyed this :D This was a fantastic way for Jordan to learn his lesson... I love the creative device of the letter. Also, I have to respond to another reviewer... My grandmother is eighty now, so when I was six she was seventy. So I guess the grandmother didn't seem to old to me.
Phyllis Inniss12/04/06
I don't agree that the letter is above a 6-year old. In some countries, schooling begins at 5 and some children have a very high reading score. I like the article and how Jordan was transformed by his new experience. Some people have children late in life so the grandmother could really fit the bill in the story.
Cheri Hardaway 12/04/06
Left me with goosebumps! Good work! This is my favorite line: The loneliness in her voice bit through Jordan’s shell of self-pity. Great description. And a lesson well-learned. Blessings, Cheri
Venice Kichura12/04/06
I liked this, too, & agreed with Cheri that my favorite line was..."The loneliness in her voice bit through Jordan’s shell of self-pity."
Donna Powers 12/04/06
A very heartwarming story. I would love to hear more about Jordan's future adventures. Thanks for sharing this