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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: In-Law(s) (05/08/08)

TITLE: Prisoners
By Shirley McClay


Elizabeth was ushered into a flowery pink and blue room. The fire was blazing and she inhaled the perfume of the roses arranged in a decorative vase. A slave girl filled a wash basin with fresh water and Elizabeth was discreetly left to herself.

She stroked her belly to calm the babe in her womb as she gazed around at the beauty and opulence. Elizabeth carefully lay down on the luxurious four poster bed and sobbed as her dreams spilled out of her broken heart and soaked the ornate bedspread.

Hours later Elizabeth sat at the massive dining table and faced them. Mother’s emerald gown shone and glistened like the gemstone it resembled. Father seemed distracted, pushing his steak and potatoes around his plate.

The slaves serving them were silent shadows in the background.

Elizabeth’s fork clattered on the herringbone china plate and she rose, trembling. “Your son was captured by the enemy…the very people that you have chosen to befriend.”

She knew hate glowed in her eyes, but Elizabeth no longer cared. “You sit here in comfort and wealth while your son sits in a prison, put there by these…. people.” She spat the word as if it tasted of bile.”You are waited on hand and foot by slaves who you view as stock animals. These slaves are the people that your son is willing to die for. How could you?”

Elizabeth reeled from lightheadedness and her voice cracked as her heart shattered. “How could you?”

She choked on sobs of bitterness and fled past the stunned slaves to the seclusion of her sitting room.

Elizabeth pushed back the curtains of her window and peered through the shadows. A wagon rumbled away after unloading its produce at the kitchen. If only she could leave so easily… but how? Eight months pregnant, her husband captured by the rebels, their home and lands seized… what other choice did she have? Her own family was so far to the North, there was no way she could travel safely with a war going on and a baby soon to arrive.

Elizabeth stared out at the darkness that seeped deeper into her soul. What hope was left for her? Had God deserted her? She was just as imprisoned as her husband.

In desperation Elizabeth finally turned to the One who could help. “Oh please… do not abandon me, Father. Give me a ray of hope. Help me to forgive and love even when my heart screams against it.”

At a knock, she opened the door to her mother and father-in-law. Tears streaked their faces as well… but instead of the hopelessness that emptied Elizabeth’s eyes of life, theirs’ sparked with determination, excitement and... perhaps fear?

“Come to the library, my dear. Please… just give us a few minutes.” Thad’s sincere gray eyes were set deep under bushy black eyebrows that matched the thatch on his head.

Her shoulders slumped, hair askew, red and blotchy from sobbing, Elizabeth studied them. What choice did she have? “Give me a moment please.” She took a few minutes to refresh herself and met them in the library.

They rose from their chairs at her entrance. Ruth smiled hesitantly while nervously patting the intricately braided gray-blond hair that framed her delicate features. Without a word they walked over to one of the stately bookcases. Thad gripped a vase attached to the side of the shelf and pulled. The whole shelf slid outward and a hole gaped behind.

Without pausing to take in her reaction, they stepped through the opening and disappeared. Elizabeth‘s heart raced and her hands shook. What strange capers were they up to?

She tentatively slipped through and found herself in a huge room. Bunks stood along the walls and clothes hung neatly on hooks. Several people were in the room reading books, knitting or sewing, eating from trays of food, or simply resting on a bunk. Children played quietly with handmade toys. Everyone in the room, except for the three who had just entered, was dark-skinned.

Elizabeth gasped for air and groped for something to support her as she realized the truth. She was witnessing a very dangerous secret. This home was a vital part of the infamous Underground Railroad.

The room started to fade and Elizabeth felt herself falling. But her father-in-law’s strong arms caught her and he whispered into her hair. “My heart is one with my son and my daughter. Let us care for you and our grandchild. Be at peace.”

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Member Comments
Member Date
LauraLee Shaw05/15/08
Wow, very powerful, and I didn't see the ending coming. Great job!
Joshua Janoski05/15/08
I find historical pieces to be tough for me to write, but you pulled this one off masterfully. This would be a great introduction to students in school learning about slavery and the Underground Railroad.

Your descriptions and word choices are top notch. Thank you for sharing! :)
Laury Hubrich 05/16/08
This is an awesome piece. Great writing!
Holly Westefeld05/16/08
I love this creative take on the topic, and the excellent sense of atmosphere.
Joanne Sher 05/17/08
Excellent job with atmosphere and the historical setting. A wonderfully compelling read.
Lyn Churchyard05/18/08
Beautifully written. A glimpse into the home of some courageous people. The feel and atmosphere so well done.
Joy Faire Stewart05/18/08

This is so well written and the story is very intriguing. Excellent job on subject.
Jan Ackerson 05/18/08
The emotional content of this is very rich and well-written.

I had a few questions about the historical accuracy, though. It's my understanding that the "stations" of the Underground Railroad were in Northern states, and I have a hard time reconciling an abolitionist family owning slaves, even as a "cover." And apparently it surprised Elizabeth as well, so these people even lived their private lives as committed slave owners. Just a few inconsistencies that you might want to resolve.

You did a beautiful job with the setting, with establishing a sense of time and place. Nice!
LaNaye Perkins05/18/08
I enjoyed reading this story. There was a lot of information and emotion packed into it. Keep up the great writing.
Mariane Holbrook 05/18/08
There is so much information here that you must have spent a great deal of time on it. Congratulations on a piece well done indeed!
Beckie Stewart05/18/08
Wow, this was awesome. I loved this. It kept me interested the entire read from beginning to end.
Carol Pierce05/18/08
You have quiet the skill of making the words come alive in pictures in my mind. Thanks. Keep it up.
Marita Thelander 05/19/08
I enjoyed your discriptions of every detail. I am amazed you could pack all of that in 750 words.
Debbie Wistrom05/19/08
The assortment of "prisoners" you included is subtle and well done.
I especially liker her plea to God.
Pamela Kliewer05/19/08
I didn't see that ending coming! Brilliant! I was drawn in from the first word to the last.
Chely Roach05/20/08
Fabulous! Loved it Shirley...
Sara Harricharan 05/21/08
Nice job! I felt for Elizabeth who was trying to come to terms with having a child, missing/losing her husband then her In-laws seeming so cruel! glad it turned out all right though. ^_^
Joy Faire Stewart05/22/08
Congratulation on your win. Great writing!
LauraLee Shaw05/22/08
Congratulations on your highly commended!!!! Soooooo happy for you!
Joanne Sher 05/23/08
Awesome, Shirley - highly commended AND 18th overall. Kewl!
Sheri Gordon05/23/08
Congratulations on your Highly Commended. This was very interesting to read. Nice job with the topic.