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

TITLE: Drowning in a Black Blizzard
By Chely Roach


His lungs were on fire. His bare feet were bloodied. Unable to pursue the speeding truck another step as it gained distance, Walter unsteadily lifted the shotgun and fired. The blast echoed for infinity through the dusty cottonwood trees.

He crumpled to the ground in front of the neighbor’s farmhouse. Defeated, his plunged his face into his weary hands—thankful no one but God could see his breakdown.

Walter heard the screen door slam, “Who’s out there?”

“It’s me. Walt.”

“What in tarnation is goin’ on, Son?”

“I’m sorry to wake you, Sir. Someone just made off with our last sow—couple chickens, too, I think.”

John stepped off his porch, and Walter rose to meet him. Without a word, they both sat on the splintered stoop in their dingy bed clothes. Walter sighed. “We needed that sow, John.”

“I reckon someone else needed it more…you have to be pretty darn hungry to risk your life stealing another man’s livestock these days. You’d do it for Elsie and the boys—if you were that desperate.”

“We just got that desperate,” Walter gazed out at the vast acreage of dust, barely lit by the crescent moon. Purgatory is beige…dead dirt beige with endless grit on the tongue. This must be the bottom of purgatory, because we’re much closer to Hell than Heaven.

John placed his hand on Walter’s back, “Son, do you know I almost forbid Elsie from marryin’ you?”

Walter’s neck stiffened, “Are ya tryin’ to make me feel better, Sir?”

The old man stifled a chuckle, “When you came back to town, I knew that you were all twisted up from havin’ to leave the university to help your ma. Not much good havin’ a fancy education when there ain’t any jobs. Anyway...she was so proud of you comin’ home—though I reckon it bothered her even more than you that you had to leave school. But you weren’t a Christian like your mama. I was pleased as peach pie to see you Sunday morning’s on Elsie’s arm, and thanked the Lord when you finally answered that alter call. I was glad that I’d given you Elsie’s hand…she deserves more than just a good man; she needs a good Christian man.

“Now, I know ya don’t ‘member your daddy much—you were just a wee tot when we left for the war—but he was a good Christian man. We grew up together, but we weren’t friends till we were fightin’ with the Allies in France. The day he died was one of the worst days of my life, Son. I wish you could’ve known him like I did…as a man. He’d sure be proud of you.

“I’m tellin’ you this cus’ I don’t think your pa would want you and your family to die here, just because it was his land. That’s what killed your ma—she was too gosh darn stubborn to leave when she got the cough. Our granddads paid for this land with cotton, bloody fingers and elbow grease…it’s ours. Now I’ve prayed for rain every night for three years, and for whatever reason, God ain’t answerin’. If it rained till Christmas, this soil would still be deader than a doornail.”

“What are you saying, John? Do you think I should pack up Elsie and the kids and head west, like everyone else trying to escape this dust bowl? Live in tents and sell apples?”

“Well…Josie and I’ve been talkin’. Her brother lives in Virginia, right outside D.C. They have a big ol’ house and pig farm, but they say there are jobs in the city—‘specially for educated folks like you—thanks to FDR. I tell ya’ Son, if I can get work from his swanky ‘New Deal’, I swear I’ll never call him a Commie again.

“We could be there in a fortnight…but we won’t go without you and Elsie. All we’ve got is each other. I’d rather choke to death in these black blizzards than leave you behind to suffer alone.” John’s gravelly voice faltered those last few syllables.

The heavy emotion clung to the night air; a serenade of hungry cicadas filled the prolonged, mutual hush.

“John, do you remember the vows I took when I wed your daughter? I promised that wherever she goes, I would go. Her people would be my people. Her God, my God. And where she died, I would die and be buried. You remember that, Sir?”

“I reckon I do…”

“I meant every word.”

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This article has been read 885 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Debbie Wistrom05/15/08
The emotion in this entry is well written.

Both characters shine.
Loved this line, "Now I’ve prayed for rain every night for three years, and for whatever reason, God ain’t answerin’. If it rained till Christmas, this soil would still be deader than a doornail.”

LauraLee Shaw05/15/08
What an engaging and incredibly moving story. I felt like I was watching the scene out of a movie and fighting back the lump in my throat through the whole time. You captured this scene and told a huge story with it. Extremely well done!
Holly Westefeld05/16/08
Great job with the period piece and characterization, and a nice tribute to the story of Ruth and Naomi.
Gregory Kane05/17/08
Thoroughly enjoyable. Echoes of Steinbeck?
Your descriptive writing is excellent. I think I would have been tempted to intersperse your dialogue with a little more description – so as to slow the pace down and give the impression that both men are weighing up each other’s words.
Jan Ackerson 05/18/08
Excellent job with both the setting and the dialect. Lots of mood here, from the very excellent title to the last word.
Joanne Sher 05/18/08
Excellent period piece with wonderful descriptions and dialog. I was totally engaged. Wonderfully done!
Laury Hubrich 05/18/08
Excellent writing. Yes, it does remind me of The Grapes of Wrath. I love your ending especially. Great work!
LaNaye Perkins05/18/08
I love everything about this piece. Very well written my friend, bravo.
Joy Faire Stewart05/18/08
Great opening paragraph and the remainder of the story did not disappoint. Your reader can feel the mood. Excellent!
Karen Wilber05/18/08
Good sense of time. I chuckled at the FDR comment (reminded me of someone). The opening, with the visual and auditory details, pulled me right into the story.
Marita Thelander 05/20/08
Well written glance of times past. Always enjoy your work.
Joshua Janoski05/20/08
So much was packed in 750 words. I agree that this has a very cinematic feel to it. I could picture everything as though it was on the big screen right in front of my eyes. The dialogue was superb and you did a great job detailing the characters. I have yet to see you write a "bad" piece. :)
Mariane Holbrook 05/21/08
I loved everything about this!! The title, the mood, the description, the entire package is such a winner! Kudos!!!
Tessy Fuller05/21/08
Another great writing piece. My favorite part of this was the ending. You had a lot going on throughout the piece and I was wondering how you would end it at the word limit. I thought you tied it up with a nice bow - now where is the next chapter? *Smile*
Glynis Becker05/21/08
The descriptions and the dialogue are so perfect! I was completely involved in the story and now I want to know what's going to happen next! Great job!
Verna Cole Mitchell 05/21/08
Masterful writing here!
Sara Harricharan 05/21/08
What great interaction between these two! They were so real and I could literally taste the dust myself. Great job. ^_^
Willena Flewelling 05/21/08
You did a great job! You made me feel as if I were right there, which actually makes me thankful for the heavy rain we are having here. LOL
Another of what I've come to expect, interesting story, well told, and a picture in nearly every sentence. I think that's what I like best in your writing; the vivid word pictures.
Joanne Sher 05/23/08
Congratulations, Chely, on placing 12th in your level and 32nd overall. Great job!
Betsy Markman05/24/08
A very good read. I agree with everyone's comparison to Steinbeck, but I like your ending much better than anything Steinbeck ever ended with! I like your title, too.