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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Fearful (08/23/07)

TITLE: Fear and Fancy
By Ann Grover


A cloud of dust blew in Susannah’s face, and she choked, squinting her eyes against the stinging grit and the glaring sun. Lifting her apron against her face, she wiped away the grime of tears mixed with trail dirt, then hid her eyes in the endless prairie again.

The wagon rolled on, lurching over hummocks of buffalo grass, then settling back into the worn ruts grooved by countless other wagons that had already passed. The bucket hanging on the side of the wagon banged hollowly, echoing the empty feeling in her heart.

Why had she agreed to this fanciful whim? Isn’t that all it was?

She looked quickly at Will. As usual, he was scanning the horizon and occasionally glancing at the broad backsides of the oxen, no doubt building their house in his mind, dreaming of his homestead. His homestead. Susannah had left her family and her treasured belongings behind, her piano, china, and books. All because Will wanted to chase his fancy, and it was Susannah’s duty to follow.

“Look at that.” Will indicated a makeshift cross, lopsided and forlorn, planted by the track. The name had been bleached away, forgotten already.

“That’s the third I’ve seen today.” Will went on.

Susannah didn’t answer. She closed her eyes against the glare of the late afternoon sun, shivering even though her dress clung to her with sweat.

Suddenly, the wagon slowed. The call to “whoa” and “catch up” travelled down the wagon train.

“What’s happening?”

“I don’t know.” Will said, seeing the same bewilderment as he felt marking the faces of the other settlers.

The trail master’s deputy rode down the line. “Accident up ahead. We’re down for the night. Fatality, if you want to come up after you’re settled. Tom Harrison’s kid fell off their wagon.”

Will paled and put his arm around Susannah. Susannah felt the tears well up. She knew little blond Sammy, just two years old. How terrible. What an awful place this was!

Will was pale and grim faced as he swung their wagon into formation behind the other wagons. Jerking the reins, he forced the oxen to join the circle, his knuckles white and tight on the leather. Finally, he got down, then turned to help Susannah. He lifted her to the ground, then with a gentle hand which belied his previous sternness, he touched the bulging swell of her belly.

“What have I done, bringing you both here?”

Susannah turned away, taking in the eternal sweep of the plains, then looked back at Will. “I am afraid, Will.”

There was nothing more to say.

“I’ll make supper. Then, we’ll see the Harrisons.”

Susannah fixed a meal of dried meat and bannock over a fire using a few buffalo chips. They still didn’t speak, their grief for the Harrisons consuming, their own doubt suspended between them.

There was no water for clean up, setting up early as they did without finding a creek, so Susannah tucked away the dirty dishes, and they began their silent journey to the Harrison wagon. Will watched for holes in the grass, letting Susannah lean on him, especially as they drew nearer the mourning family.

The quilt-wrapped bundle was so tiny, so pathetic, it took Susannah’s breath away. There was a smear of blood across one of the patchwork pieces. Several women stood around Mrs Harrison; one held a mug of tea for her.

“I’m so sorry,” offered Susannah tentatively.

“Thank you.” Mrs. Harrison, a lone tear trickling down her cheek. “Now, go back to your wagon with your man. I’ll be fine. God gives and He takes away.”

The wagon ride resumed. There were more crosses by the trail, along with trunks, bureaus, castoffs of lives that were to be lived. Susannah shuddered every time she saw another teapot, another headboard.

Her fear grew along with her belly, expanding until her mind was absorbed with her anxiety about the baby, the homestead, Will.

Finally, came the day two things happened. They arrived at the land that was theirs, and as if in knowing they were home, their baby decided to be born.

Will’s fanciful vision wasn’t achieved at once or even in a few years. But neither did all Susannah’s fears come to fruition. Both were fulfilled in various ways, at various times... There were disasters and delights, upheavals and heavenly pleasures. They learned to balance each other, give each other love and laughter, in spite of loss.

Such is life...

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Member Comments
Member Date
Sherry Wendling08/31/07
I love stories set on the plains--you really brought to life the desolation and fascination of that terrain, and of that chapter in our history--especially highlighted by the callousness of the wagonmaster toward death.

With a little polishing, I think your ending could preserve the sense of immediacy and take it straight to the heart. (That word limit can yank us all up short sometimes...!)

Even so, you effectively captured the struggle of the early pioneers--and of the 'weaker sex' in particular. Could it be your last 2 paragraphs are a synopsis of the rest of the novel that you oughtta write? I'd love to read it!
Lynda Schultz 08/31/07
I agree — more please!
Verna Cole Mitchell 08/31/07
Your descriptions put me right on the trail with your mc. My favorite line was "cast-off of lives that were to be lived." This is wonderful writing. I, too, was sorry it had to end so abruptly.
Sharlyn Guthrie09/01/07
I love stories from this time period. Excellent writing.
Rhonda Clark09/01/07
This is a wonderful story. It would make a great series. We all need more. Good work.
Dee Yoder 09/03/07
I love it! But then again, I write about this topic often because it seems that something unusually strong and courageous was demonstrated by the people who were trying to make a life for themselves in such am unforgiving place. I'd really enjoy reading more about these characters and how they fared in their new life!
Joanne Sher 09/03/07
Excellent sense of place especially, and amazing job at capturing the emotions throughout. I also want more.
Jan Ackerson 09/03/07
This is great--it doesn't romanticize the hardships of that time and place, and your always flawless word choices help us to feel as if we really know these characters. Just the right tone...
Jacquelyn Horne09/03/07
Wonderful, heartfelt story. You pictured it well.
Lynda Lee Schab 09/04/07
Confession: I'm not a fan of historical (gasp!) but I found myself really into this. Wonderful writing and even with a word limit of 750, I got a real feel for your characters and the setting. Nicely done!
Sherrie Jackson09/05/07
Your piece moves with such a sense of calm. I, too, felt the burden of the word limit and would love to be able to read more. Such a beautiful story; excellent job.