Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Calm (emotionally) (09/13/07)
TITLE: Soft Like Stone
By Ann Grover
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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.
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?”
“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...
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