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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Reading (01/25/07)

TITLE: Line Upon Line
By Ann Grover


“Thirty-seven... thirty-eight... thirty-nine.”

As Big Monty was released from the manacles, an unearthly moan seeped from his bloodied lips. He sprawled face-down, dust whirling around his oozing limbs and torso.

“Take him away.”

Carefully, Bert and Dovie lifted Big Monty into the back of the wagon, mindful of the gaping slashes on his ebony back.

“You’ll be fine, love,” Dovie whispered in his ear.

Bert snapped the reins, and Monty groaned again as the wagon moved forward. Mercifully, the sounds ceased.

“He’s out.”

“Sula will mend him up.”

Dovie stroked Monty’s matted, damp hair, then her tears flowed, glistening droplets mingling with crimson-tinged sweat.

“It’s not fair, Bert. He were only learnin’ us to read.”

“I know, Dovie.”

“Master’ll be mad. Monty’s his best man.”

“I know.”

It was a known fact that secret schools were operating in Savannah, Georgia, whites teaching slaves, slaves teaching slaves, all illegal, all punishable by law.

John Paul Winston had taught Big Monty to cipher and read, as it was beneficial to his job, but it was illegal, too. Winston had no idea Monty was sharing his gift with his enslaved brethren at a secret school in his off hours. Now, Monty’d been discovered and immediately punished.

The wagon rolled to a stop.

“You get the master, Dovie. I’ll go find Old Sula. She’ll make a poultice.”

Dovie ran to the big house. Within minutes, John Paul Winston was at the slave’s shack, leaning over Big Monty, a scarlet flush creeping up his neck as he surveyed the damage done to his slave’s back. Sula was already applying a soothing poultice while Dovie stroked Monty’s cheek. Monty stared at the wall, his eyes glazed.

“How long have you been going to the secret school?”

“Some months, sir,” Dovie answered.

“Did you know it was forbidden?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Why was Monty helping?”

“Everyone was wantin’ to read. Books. The Bible, sir.”

Sula straightened. “I’ll change the poultice in a bit. Stops bleedin’ and kills pain.”

Winston lightly touched Monty’s shoulder.

“This won’t go unnoticed, Monty. Unlawful or not.”

A growl came from Monty’s throat.

“I didn’t hear, Monty. Say it again.”

“You, too, sir.”

Under Sula’s care, Big Monty healed, and he resumed his chores with his former vigour. But the ridges on his back remained raised and angry, a legacy of his desire to pass on the blessing of reading. Before long, the three were gone during off hours again. Their absence was noticed by their owner, who correctly surmised that they were attending the slave school, so great was their desire to read.

Winston became obsessed with a desire to find the school. And what did he propose to do if he did? Deny his chattel the same privilege he had already illegally granted to Monty? Bring his property safely home?

Finally, unable to resist the compulsion to look but one more time, Winston trailed Dovie and Bert into Savannah. Bert took the wagon to a stable, then he and Dovie set out on foot. Winston followed at a distance, watching as they ducked into a door in an alley.

Winston followed and knocked. The door opened a mere sliver.

“May I help you?”

“May I come in?”

Monty appeared, pulled Winston in, and shut the door.

“Why are you here?”

“I came to see.” Ten pairs of eyes peered at Winston.

“You must leave, sir. You’ll get us whipped.”

“Please. Let me see the fruit of your labour. Of my labour.”

A Bible was produced.

“In the beginning was the Word...” *

The door burst open. Two soldiers and a man in a black robe entered.

Everyone stared in frightened silence.

The black-frocked man addressed Winston. “Are you aware, good sir, that this is an unlawful assembly, and furthermore, it’s illegal to teach blacks to read.”

“He’s here for a recital, as it were,” said Monty.

“Are you the teacher?”

“Yes, sir.”

The soldiers seized Monty, dragging him into the alley.

“Unpleasant bit of business. I’m sorry, sir. On your way, the rest of you.”

“No! Stop,” commanded Winston. “Let him go. I’ll take it.”


“I said I’ll take the whipping. Leave him be.”

A chorus arose from the slaves, soldiers, and the robed man, but Winston was adamant. He removed his overcoat and pulled his shirt from his trousers.

The tears rolled down Monty’s cheek as Winston took each stripe.

...and dwelt among us... *


*John 1: 1, 14b KJV

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This article has been read 1297 times
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Jan Ackerson 02/01/07
Outstanding ending! Loved the title, too. I did wonder if a piece set in Georgia should have had the American spellings: vigor, labor. A very slight matter--you've created wonderful, memorable characters through rich dialog and vivid description. And the "gulp" factor was definitely present in the last few paragraphs. Loved this!
Karen Deikun02/01/07
I agree with Jan. The heroism of the master was both unexpected and touching. Great history lesson too.
Sally Hanan02/04/07
This was a fabulous story. I think, that to make it grip the mind and not let go, you need more of a balance of description, narration and dialogue. There was so much dialogue that the weight of description couldn't shine though and enable us to really be there beside them. Your ending was good - I'd like to see this one expanded to around 2,000 words to give it justice.
Marilyn Schnepp 02/05/07
A really great story that kept me interested from beginning to end. Super job of suspense, of passion, of courage, and of love for fellow man. Thoroughly enjoyed the read - and written by a Master Wordsmith!
Jacquelyn Horne02/05/07
A wonderful job of showing, not only the hate, but also the love of mankind. We've come a long way, but we have'nt yet arrived.
Sandra Petersen 02/05/07
This sent shivers through me. Wonderful job of portraying each character in such few words. You did an excellent job of using dialogue to set up the scenes and show the conflict. Great job!
william price02/05/07
A beautiful story. I figured the ending, but I could never have expressed it as masterfully as you did. Excellence. God bless.
Suzanne R02/05/07
You're a master at 'show and don't tell' ... the red flush creeping up the boss' back rather than just saying he was angry etc.

I love these historical pieces - this didn't disappoint either. Well done.
Allison Egley 02/05/07
Oh, wow. This was wonderful. I've always enjoyed historical fiction about slavery. It always makes me cry inside, but I still love it. This story was no different.
Venice Kichura02/06/07
I agree you truly are a master at "show and tell".
Masterfully crafted as always, Ann!
Shari Armstrong 02/07/07
Powerful. Good double meaning to the title -line upon line of written word, and line upon line of the lashes.
Dennis Fletcher02/07/07
Well written, I could visualize the entire scenario. I even felt the desire Monty felt, and then the love the slaves felt for Winston at the end. Well Done!!!!!
Joanne Sher 02/07/07
Just amazing, amazing description AND action. So wonderfully told. You had me right there.
Myrna Noyes02/07/07
This is one of my favorite pieces so far! It had such a richness of dialogue, description, emotion, and message! Thank you for this wonderfully written story!
Donna Powers 02/07/07
This is absolutely awesome. I had this same idea but you did it such justice. I really loved this. Thanks for sharing it.
Jan Ross02/08/07
An excellent piece that moved me to tears! As a judge this week, I commend you for a job well done. Congratulations on your well-deserved win!

Birdie Courtright02/08/07
Wonderful Ann! Very touching, I'm blinking back the tears even now.