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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: The Game of Life (09/11/08)

TITLE: Hit or Miss
By Ann Grover


“Mother, please,” Helen begged.

“I survived one war, and I’ll live through another without any foolish running to and fro.” The old woman pushed Helen’s hand away.

It was the same argument every night. Her mother refused to take refuge in a shelter during the bombings.

Reluctantly, Helen left with the children, dragging them through the thickening darkness, a woolen blanket of descending gloominess. The frantic pounding of their feet was obliterated by the shriek of the air raid siren.

“Hurry, children,” Helen urged, but her words were devoured by the pervading grayness. Charlotte stumbled and Helen scooped her up, letting Jack follow behind without his mother’s hand to pull him through the dusk.

Nausea rose in Helen’s throat as she heard the drone of enemy aircraft rising over the sirens, and she passed Charlotte into reaching arms at the shelter. She screamed for Jack even while turning and instinctively grabbing for him. She pushed him ahead down the stairs, avoiding the panicked eyes of the others already entombed in the crowded space. She found their spot, the place where they’d spend the night, and gathered the children against her, like a hen nestling between wingless chicks.

Never would she be accustomed to this, the relentless screaming of the siren, beckoning them to the cramped, airless shelter, being squeezed together, fear mounting like a fever, till all were infected, morose, brows glistening. And the torturous blackness.

Overhead, the bombers dropped their screaming lethal cargo. Helen closed her eyes and waited for the earth to thunder. Fine silt sifted onto her forehead.

“Oh, God,” someone whispered nearby.

Charlotte whimpered, and Helen wrapped her arm more snugly around her, willing the little girl to sleep.

“When I grow up, I’ll be an Air Force pilot, just like Father,” exclaimed Jack. “I’ll shoot the enemy right out of the sky.”

“Sleep, Jack.” One pilot was enough.

Another bomb shuddered the shelter. Gasps and cries echoed through the stuffy, damp chamber.

“Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee,” a plaintive voice sang feebly in the ebony void.

“‘Ave a mercy and quit yer bawlin’,” came a gravelly response. The song ended abruptly.

Silence reigned, interspersed by the bombings and the ensuing trembling of the shelter. The air became thick with dust and the nearness of sweaty bodies. Helen tucked her face into Charlotte’s neck... and slept.

She awoke, stiff and cold, to the sound of the door being shoved open. Several men shovelled rubble away from the steps.

“What’s the state of affairs, Warden?” People crowded around the entrance anxiously, wanting to know how their homes had fared.

“Bradley Avenue took some hits. Up to Taylor. Church tower is gone. Can’t see more.” There were a few sobs at the announcement.

Helen pushed with everyone else, Charlotte’s arms nearly strangling her as she held on, Jack trailing behind. The morning air was thick with the smell of brickdust and burning. Craters gouged the street, houses swiped clean away, nothing left but a jumble of bricks and smoldering timbers. Whole trees lay in the streets, scorched, like giant hearth logs yanked from enormous fireplace grates.

Panic-stricken, Helen ran, her breath ripped from her lungs in wrenching gasps. Glass crunched beneath their feet, and scattered about were bits of humanity, a tea-towel, a man’s tie, a broken teacup. And worse things. Children, don’t look!

They turned onto their street. What about their house?

It was untouched. Geraniums sat on the stoop, gaily unaware of the tragedy hovering in the smoky, dust-laden air.

But, the front half of the house next door was sheared away. Helen was mesmerized by the sight of the upstairs lavatory, a towel hanging neatly on the tub’s edge, bottles of scent lined up over the sink, everything exposed to the street like a stage set for a performance.

Men were digging in the rubble. “Whole family perished. Fools. Shelter just down the street, didn’t they know?”

Helen ran to her own door. Her mother was sitting in her chair, calmly drinking tea.

“Helen, love, please fetch my lap-rug. I’ve had a rather uncomfortable night, and I’d like to rest.”

While tears streamed down her dirty cheeks, Helen thought, One lives, another dies. There’s no knowing, no seeing.

She tucked the blanket around her mother’s shoulders and watched the old woman sleep.

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This article has been read 1393 times
Member Comments
Member Date
RuthAnn Cornelson09/18/08
Very descriptive. My heart pounded with those hiding. I felt so thankful that I, and my family, have no real concept of what such terrible times are like - the noise, the destruction, the death. Glad I wasn't there. Great writing!
mick dawson09/18/08
We've all heard of the Battle of Britain and the many bomb shelters but few of us can appreciate the times. I must say you really took me there; good writing.
I take it this is writing from experience.
Dee Yoder 09/19/08
Wonderful, just wonderful writing! I knew a lady on the other side of the war who feared for HER mother...the Allies bombed the Moselle River valley relentlessly (lots of ammunition factories there), but still her mother would not go to the shelter. In her case, she and her siblings were young and would run--after the all-clear--with panicked hearts to their home, hoping their mother was still alive. She told me she could see her mother standing at the window, just looking at the planes as the children ran for safety. War. It is such a terrible, but sometimes necessary, evil for everyone. You had me right in the midst of it all with this excellent story.
Marijo Phelps09/20/08
You took us there and I hope we never have to go BUT JESUS! Very good writing and descriptions!
Laury Hubrich 09/21/08
I felt like I was right there. Great writing. Now if I could get my heart to settle down...
Shelley Ledfors 09/21/08
Excellent! Your descriptions put me right there. My mother-in-law was a war bride from Liverpool and had many stories about the bombings there...including one that landed--unexploded--right outside their door. Thanks for sharing this powerful piece.
Chely Roach09/21/08
Absolutely superb imagery...this was intense and breathtaking. I am in awe of this piece.
Jan Ackerson 09/21/08
Love the understated irony of the ending--masterful as always. Welcome back from your Challenge break!
Kristen Hester09/21/08
Oh, man, I felt like I was right there. Awesome writing!
Verna Cole Mitchell 09/22/08
Your writing skill took me right into the midst of the bombing...excellently done.
Kristi Peifer09/24/08
Excellent piece! I don't know what to say--still taking it all in!
Deborah Engle 09/24/08
An effective portrayal of a grim side of life. Good job.
LauraLee Shaw09/24/08
"dragging them through the thickening darkness, a woolen blanket of descending gloominess..."

"her words were devoured by the pervading grayness..."

"Nausea rose in Helen’s throat..."

"fear mounting like a fever, till all were infected, morose, brows glistening. And the torturous blackness..."

I could go on and on...wow, you certainly know how to put the reader right there. YOur descriptions and characterizations are masterful. Wowzer.
Karlene Jacobsen09/24/08
You held my attention the entire way through. I can imagine by your writing what it must have been like.
Karen Wilber09/24/08
Wow. This really made me feel claustrophobic. Excellent descriptions.
LauraLee Shaw09/25/08
Congratulations on 1st place!!!!
Jimmy Thiel09/25/08
This writing is novel worthy! What else can I say, I am somewhat speechless with awe.
Joshua Janoski09/25/08
Only a handful of writers evoke deep emotions within me with EVERY single piece they write, and you are one of those writers, Ann.

I must say that it is your humility that really makes you the great person that you are. Despite winning so many ECs and obviously possessing so much talent, you always are encouraging to others and take your awards humbly and with a Christ-like attitude.

It doesn't feel right me being right underneath you on the rankings list. How can my writing even come close to this? It's a great honor though. :)
Patricia Turner09/25/08
I just lived through that night with your writing an characters, wondering how in the world Helen could sleep. Masterful and very deserving of its 1st place win! Wow!
Yvonne Blake 09/25/08
How thought-provoking... a picture of inner peace!
Celeste Ammirata09/25/08
Wow. Excellent writing with vivid imagery. You sure know how to bring out powerful emotions. Congralutaions! God Bless.
Pamela Kliewer09/25/08
Oh. Wow. This is simply brilliant - your descriptions are so vivid - I was right there. Congratulations on your 1st place EC. Well done.
Beth LaBuff 09/25/08
Vonnie -- This is amazing… It rivals your "Dressed in White." Your "sanctified" imagination was really tuned in with this. I love everything about this. Congrats on your level placing and EC!!
Beth LaBuff 09/25/08
This is wonderfully written and rich with detail. Congrats on your EC!
Charla Diehl 10/02/08
WOW--a well deserved win!! I always enjoy reading your work, and hopefully learning from it too. Thanks so much.
terri tiffany10/08/08
Awesome detail! Riveting! You deserved to win:)) This was some great writing!
Tammy Bovee11/14/08
Good grasp of setting, great dialogue; you introduced the actors, put them on stage and let the action begin. Good work!