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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Calm (emotionally) (09/13/07)

TITLE: Soft Like Stone
By Ann Grover


Captivated by the brilliant colours of the butterfly, Benemin pursued the fluttering scrap through the waving grass into the forest shadows. If only he could hold it, see the bright hues up close.

The butterfly eluded him, though, and Benemin emerged dejected from the woods. He picked up a stone, spit on it, polished it on his trousers, then pocketed it. He squinted as he looked at the descending sun, and his mouth watered as he thought of the bread Mama baked for supper.

Benemin ran, then stopped when he came to the edge of the village. He could hear a drumming, a cantata of hoofbeats, then saw a cloud of dust materialize into a group of riders coming from the west. Benemin watched as some of the men dismounted and began battering down doors, while the rest cantered through the community from one end to the other.

Lev, Avrom, Raisa, Iosef, Sarra and Baby Riva. Benemin’s friend, Mikhail. Dragged from their homes and forced into the street.

The men on horseback rode around the villagers, shouting and shoving. Benemin was close enough to see that the horsemen carried guns and occasionally struck at someone with a rifle butt. Benemin’s heart hammered in his chest, and he choked on his own breath. He broke into a run. Where was Papa? Mama? His sister Anna?

Sweat bloomed on Benemin’s brow, and he could feel its acrid sting on his back, in his armpits.

The crowd in the street grew. Benemin recognized Leonid, Aron, Maria. He heard shattering glass and smelled a whisper of smoke on the faint breeze. A woman screamed. Laughing derisively, the riders began to move the group down the narrow street toward the synagogue. Those who moved too slowly were struck with rifles or clubs.

The men brought a few more. Benemin jerked. Mama! And Papa carrying Anna! A rivulet of blood trickled into Papa’s sidelock. Benemin vaulted forward.

“Papa!” A horseman turned and looked right at Benemin.

Suddenly, Benemin was grabbed from behind, a hand clamped over his mouth.

“Hush, Benemin.”

Benemin watched as the people were led into the little wooden synagogue, the door nailed shut, and the synagogue set ablaze. He struggled in the arms of his captor as he was carried away from the obscene sight, the sound of crackling flames and high pitched screams in his ears, the smell of greasy smoke in his nostrils. Benemin’s pain erupted in deep-throated cries of grief.

“Stop.” A man barred their way. “What’s wrong with the boy?”

“He’s overcome. Sensitive.”

“He’ll get used to it. Czar’s orders. Go on home.”

Benemin felt the arms around him tighten and relax again as the czar’s man moved away.

Benemin swiped at his sodden face with his dirty sleeve. Looking into the face of the man who carried him, he recognized Yuri, a gentle farmer. Sometimes, Papa bought grain from him. Papa! Benemin began to struggle and wail again.

“Benemin, you must be quiet.”

They reached Yuri’s cottage, and Yuri’s wife greeted him with wide eyes, shocked by the tragedy that had shaken their tiny village.

“A terrible day, Sofia.”

Benemin was immediately wrapped in Sofia’s embrace, tears cascading down her cheeks for him.

“He is not safe yet. Someone might remember him.” Yuri said. “We must hide him until they leave.”

Sofia cleared out the back of a deep linen cupboard, arranging a soft place for Benemin to rest. She wiped his dusty, tear-stained face with a flannel, gave him a bottle of water, and helped him into the hiding spot.

“God is with your Mama and Papa, Benemin. And with you. You know the Psalms?”

Benemin nodded.

“Then, you know the Lord is your Shepherd. You know He walks with you through the valley of the shadow of death. I must close the door now, Benemin, but I will not be far away.”

Benemin’s luminous eyes gazed at her as she shut the cupboard door.

In the dark, he found the stone in his pocket. He thought of David and his stones. Maybe he should have hurled the stone at someone, as David did at Goliath, but then Benemin would have been thrown in the synagogue, too. Maybe better to die. Benemin stifled a sob.

He felt the smoothness of the stone and let the polished surface calm him. The Lord is my Shepherd. Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I...

Benemin slept.

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This article has been read 1304 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Jan Ackerson 09/20/07
I love that the tactile sensation of the stone--along with the Psalm--was able to calm Benemin. Perfect, along with the title. cantata of hoofbeats is a great description, as is whisper of smoke.
Lynda Schultz 09/20/07
Wonderful story.
Sheri Gordon09/20/07
This is really good. Beautiful, descriptive phrases. Your writing put me in the middle of the story. Excellent.
Sharlyn Guthrie09/20/07
Excellent descriptions of a horrifying scene. Well done.
Dee Yoder 09/21/07
Terrible time in Jewish history as so many of these awful pogroms were repeated through-out Imperialist Russia. Your story makes the faded scenes of history leap to life again. I could hear the screams and imagine the sorrow of that lone little boy, hidden away for the future. Well written and descriptive.
Joanne Sher 09/22/07
Extremely evocative writing -your descriptions are vivid and stunning. You put me in the middle of it all. Excellent.
Loren T. Lowery09/26/07
I really liked the way you brought the emotions of your characters alive. I could feel their despair and fear. I liked your descriptive phrasing as well to set the scene and give the reader a sense of the time, place and political/religious situation.
Joy Faire Stewart09/26/07
Excellent, vivid descriptions of the horrific scene. The beginning is so peaceful that I wasn't expecting the violence to following. You take your reader on a wild ride of emotions. Exceptional writing skill.
Sheri Gordon09/27/07
Congratulations on your EC. This is one of my favorites. Excellent writing.
Debbie Roome 09/27/07
Skilfully written. Captured my attention from the start. Well done.
Carol Shaffron09/28/07
Ironically this piece makes me even more aware how awesomely blessed I am to live in America where we are relatively free from this sort of violence. I say relatively because of 9/11 and the Oklahoma bombings. How truly, truly blessed is America!
Verna Cole Mitchell 09/28/07
This was just beautifully done. Congratulations.
Loren T. Lowery03/25/08
Ann, I remember reading this the first time, and still enjoy re-visiting it. Your writing is simply great! Loren