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

TITLE: Days of No Recourse
By Leigh MacKelvey


Two hours of deliberation was all they gave it. A boy’s life determined over Styrofoam cups of cold coffee and stale cigar smoke. They passed the note to the white headed bailiff who shuffled to the judge’s chamber, knocked lightly and slipped it under the door.


“All rise.”

Honorable Henry C. Jacobs comes in through the door behind his bench and motions his court back into their seats.

“Mr. Bailiff, call in the jury.”

I watch twelve white men file in somberly, as if they had just spent two months instead of two hours sweating out their decision. But I seen ‘em look up at me and curl their lips into sneers. They stare straight through Benny’s face, though, like he ain’t even here.

Standing in the upper balcony with all the other Negroes pressed side by side just like Pappy’s brown sausages sizzling in a frying pan, I feel the sweat dripping and my thin cotton dress stick to my back. Once Benny glances up at me from the defense table. His nervous tic is twitching away and I can see he’s biting his lip so’s he won’t let loose the sobs that come so easily to him ever since he seen his parents get strung up in the woods by them Ackerage boys. His face looks right green and he mumbles something to his lawyer who stills him with a hand on his arm.

Jeb Wade and I got married when my parents passed and left me to tend fer myself. I was fifteen and Jeb was thirty-five and a good man. His Pappy and his ma, Mis’Maybelle, was fond of me. I become the daughter they’d always longed fer. Jeb’s brother, Benny, was just a kid back then and he had the kindness of heart I ain’t never seen in nobody. He’d walk miles into Dennisville so’s he could take that little boy who had his skin burnt off his body to the store. But then when Pappy and Mis’Maybelle got killed, Benny was too skeered to walk anywhere much anymore.

It happened on the outskirts of Dennisville here in Mississippi. The Ackerage boys had a habit of drinking all day and making mischief with colored folk at night. The moon swung low through the pine trees, just low enough to light a path for Pappy, Mis’Maybelle and Benny to lead the new mule through the woods. They stumbled onto the Ackerage boys who was finishing up a case of beer under a tall pine. Them boys decided Pappy had stolen the mule from a white man. Benny went running for help, but there was none. We found Pappy and Mis’Maybelle hangin’ from the branches of a pine tree, the crows already swooping down to pluck at their flesh. Everyone knowed about the Ackerage boys, but they ain’t never laid no charge on ‘em. Not a one. After the funeral, Jeb and I figured we had no recourse, so we went home, changed into our overalls and slopped the pigs.

Jeb died that winter and then it was just me and Benny. I kept him close by me ‘cause he was nervous, and rightly so. He’d seen what went on in them woods and them boys wanted him gone in case someday someone brought up the hangin’ again. So when Sheriff Dawson showed up at my cabin and said he was taking Benny in for the murder of Joe Polsen during the robbery of his dry goods store, I weren’t surprised. Sheriff said there was witnesses who seen Benny running out the back door after shots were heard. I reckon I knowed just who those witnesses were.

I took the stand and sweared on the Bible that Benny had been with me all day working the mule and at the time of the murder, he’d been curled up on the rug next to my cot. Nothing swayed me from the truth, not even the cross from that sly-lipped prosecutor.

But now, as that jury files in, I watch, and I see the winks directed at the prosecutor. I ‘speck I already knows what the verdict's gonna be and I knows Benny won’t spend a day in jail. Whispers are floating about a “lynching tonight”. So because I cain’t bear to say good-bye to Benny and because I knows there’s no other recourse, I’m gonna walk out of this court, go home, peel off my sweaty cotton dress, change into overalls and slop the pigs.

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This article has been read 933 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Verna Cole Mitchell 05/15/08
This powerful story is masterfully told. This presents a terrible chapter in America's history.
Sheri Gordon05/15/08
Wow. The voice of this is really, really good. I want to know the rest of the story...except I suppose I already do. You captured so much story in this one quick snapshot. And I like the subtleness of the topic.
Joanne Sher 05/17/08
Oh, wow. Excellent job with dialect, setting, characterization. I was completely engaged all the way through this. Absolutely masterfully done.
Emily Gibson05/17/08
This has a "To Kill A Mockingbird" feel to it and that means it is very special. Well done!
Jan Ackerson 05/18/08
I loved every word of this! Absolutely authentic in dialect and atmosphere, and a heart-wrenching look at a terrible time in our history. Oh, and also...I really want to know the other story, about the poor little burned boy. Promise me that you'll tell that one sometime.

This is just excellent!
LaNaye Perkins05/18/08
You kept my interest all the way through. Your dialect was excellent and I love the voice you gave your MC. Great writing my friend.
Laury Hubrich 05/18/08
What great writing! So sad, though. I just can't imagine living through those times. Wonderful job!
Joy Faire Stewart05/18/08
Excellent storytelling and very well written. The details and mood of this sad story are prefect.
Sharlyn Guthrie05/18/08
Excellent story! I did get a little confused, because it seemed the voice of the narrator changed after the first line of the fifth paragraph. After that, it gelled, and I was hooked.
Debbie Wistrom05/19/08
Your clues were sooooo good.
While so sad and the ending inevitable this is one of my favorite entries this week, if not all quarter.
My heart breaks over stories such as these.
Betty Castleberry05/19/08
Great voice. Others have mentioned works your piece reminds them of. It reminds me a bit of the song "The Night That the Lights Went out in Georgia".
I hope that's ok. This was an excellently written great read.
Peter Stone05/19/08
Great atmosphere and authentic feel for the period, and a great examination of injustice running rampant. The fear of the innocent is tangible.
Joshua Janoski05/20/08
This reminded me a lot of the John Grisham novel/movie "A Time To Kill." Wonderful writing about a really sad period of time. Prejudice like this still goes on in some parts of the country, but thank God that it is a lot better than it used to be.

You are blessed with a wonderful writing ability. I appreciate you sharing it with all of us.
Mariane Holbrook 05/21/08
What a great period piece. Your writing is so authentic. Dialog is perfect, too. A heap of kudos on this one!!!
Lyn Churchyard05/21/08
This was so moving. You have the dialect and attitudes down exactly right. So very sad that this really used to happen and even sadder that the victims accepted it because they really did have no recourse. So very, very well written.
Carole Robishaw 05/21/08
The song "Strange Fruit" comes to mind.

Very well done, excellent! So sad that these things really did happen.
Sara Harricharan 05/21/08
Well, done. The realistic feel and everything. It's so sad too, makes me wish there were some way to see it all 'set right'. Good job with atmosphere and everything. ^_^
Cheri Hardaway 05/21/08
Wow! The dialect is perfect. You've captured the mood and the hayhem. I'm impressed! Excellent writing.
Blessings, Cheri
Aaron Morrow05/21/08
Extraordinarily well crafted story. Consistently tense and at the risk of sounding cliche you "stuck that landing" perfectly. I loved the MCs voice throughout.
Sheri Gordon05/22/08
Congratulations on your EC, Leigh. I really liked this piece and am so glad to see it place. The voice was excellent.
Joshua Janoski05/22/08
I'm very happy to see this place high. Excellent writing. :)
Betsy Markman05/22/08
Wow...very difficult to read, which is a tribute to how well you wrote it. You did a fantastic job with this.
Debbie Wistrom05/22/08
Catrina Bradley 05/22/08
Great job, Leigh - congratulations! It's good to see your name again. :)
Janice Cartwright05/22/08
Congratulations on your placing and for writing with great creativity - masterful and authentic.
Lollie Hofer05/26/08
You did an excellent job capturing the horrors and injustices of white bigotry. The charaterization and voice were incredible. Congratulations on an extremely well-written piece. This tops my list of favorites! You have set the standard high for those of us who are still trying to hone our skills.