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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Hard and Soft (04/23/09)

TITLE: A Prayer With Every Breath
By Shelley Ledfors


Oh, God, please...make it stop!

It does. After an eternity in moments, it does.

My desktop slants sharply across my throbbing right shoulder; my left side is wedged against the drawer panel. My head, too...tilted at an awkward angle under the slope of the wood above. Something sharp assaults my back. I struggle against the debris, but find I can move almost no part of my body, let alone the materials of my refuge-turned-prison.

“Help! Help me!”

Silence. No, not silence. Car alarms. Tumbling bricks. Ominous creaks. The groans of a broken building. All these and more reach my ears. But no voices. No answers.

My thoughts turn to my business partner.

“Bre...” I try to call to her, but am overcome by a fit of coughing.


I pause to listen but there's no reply. Again I struggle; again I call. Over and over...to no avail.

Panic rises like magma. It fills my being. With no means of release, it threatens to explode.

Help me, Jesus, help me!

Fear pauses. It crouches—still there, but no longer on the advance.

I repeat the words. It becomes my prayer without ceasing...a prayer with every breath.

Inhale... Help me, Jesus. Exhale... Help me.

My heartbeat slows from its boxer's speed bag rhythm. My breathing, though dust-choked and peppered with coughs, returns to a more normal rate.

Other thoughts surface...moths flitting around the central flame of my prayer.

Help me, Jesus, help me.

I reviewed the scene from moments before. I had just returned to my desk when the shaking started, so I'd dived under the desktop for protection. But where had I been just before that? The front door! Brenda had just driven off to meet a client. Maybe she's okay. My prayer includes her.

Help me, Jesus, help me.

A jagged slit in what used to be the ceiling offers a glimpse of the sky. It seems oddly out of place that the sliver is bright blue, yet, somehow, it inspires hope.

Seconds later, the first aftershock hits. My body's fight-or-flight reaction returns with a vengeance. This is normal, I know. But it seems pointless since I'm unable to choose either.

Inhale... Help me, Jesus. Exhale... Help me.

Hope remains. Fear submits, once again, but skulks just under the surface, ready to rise at the first opportunity.

I sleep—or lose consciousness—because the next time I'm aware, it's noticeably quieter. The alarms have stilled. I wonder...how long does it take a car battery to run down? An hour? A day?

My body screams. Every surface it touches, everything that confines me is hard or sharp or rough. Another sensation is also undeniable. ...I need to relieve myself. I delay it as long as I can, but finally the intensity of discomfort overcomes the foolishness of pride.

The next time I wake, it's dark. It takes me longer this time to realize where I am...what has happened; why I hurt and can't move. Reality mixes with dreams—or hallucinations. I'm confined to a wheelchair. I'm made to sleep in a rock quarry. I've been in a train derailment. Oh. That's right...an earthquake.

Inhale... Help me, Jesus. Exhale... Help me.

It's light again. I drift. Aware...not aware. I reach for hope. This time the sky's gray.

Pain. Discomfort. They're living companions. Thirst, a monster.

I listen, strain to hear the sounds of rescue. Sirens, voices, anything. There are none.

Panic looks up in glee, eager to claim her power.

Help me, Jesus, help me.

She returns to her skulk; I, to my fog.

A repetitive sound penetrates. It's sharp, insistent, annoying.

Again, the ground shakes. Dust falls. Fills my nose...throat...eyes.

It hides hope.

Inhale... Help me, Jesus. Exhale... Help me.

My mind strays. What's real? This world? The next?

My prayer's real. The One I pray to is real.

Help me, Jesus, help me.

Light surrounds me. A being I can't quite see, lifts me. Out of discomfort, confinement, pain. He swaddles me in softness. Carries me away.


Calm pervades. I'm aware, once again, of a repeating sound. But it's different this time.

Insistent barking has been replaced by rhythmic beeps. Debris by pillow and bed. I'm clean and dry. I thirst no more.

Inhale... Thank you, Jesus. Exhale... Thank you.

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This article has been read 774 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Sonya Leigh05/02/09
Your story is evocative and describes well the inner turmoil of a person in extreme physical pain. I loved the inhale/exhale of Jesus on her lips and the blue sky through the cracked roof. All thoughts big and small going on simultaneously came across as very real at a time like this. Well done.
Catrina Bradley 05/03/09
I was on the edge of my seat! Great personification - you made the scene jump off the page. The comfort of heard and answered prayer blankets the terror of your MC. I keep hearing Paul say "Pray without ceasing." Wonderful writing.
Emily Gibson05/04/09
Brilliant and painful. The constant theme of prayer is the salvage of this body and soul.
Myrna Noyes05/04/09
Very intense, well-written piece showing the struggle between hope and fear in a devastating, destructive crisis. I like how the MC wondered if her rescuer was Jesus--which on a deeper level, He truly was!! :)
Myrna Noyes05/04/09
I forgot to mention that I really like these lines:

"Panic rises like magma. It fills my being. With no means of release, it threatens to explode.

Help me, Jesus, help me!

Fear pauses. It crouches—still there, but no longer on the advance."
Eliza Evans 05/06/09
Whew! That was intense! ;) Very well written. I certainly felt it. Really great choice of words and images.
Mona Purvis05/06/09
Couldn't read this without feeling the intensity/fear/faith/pain/wonder, reality.
Very good indeed.
Chely Roach05/06/09
Oh, this was perfectly intense...I hung on every word. Superb.
Kristen Hester05/06/09
Great writing. I felt like I was there, trapped under the desk. Excellent!!!
Joshua Janoski05/06/09
I love that she called on Jesus the entire time.

This piece had me feeling uncomfortable as I read it, which I think means you succeeded in what you set out to accomplish. You drew the reader in and made them feel what your character was feeling. Excellent work!
Beckie Stewart05/06/09
This was well written and kept me reading from beginning to end. I can sense the emotions well.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 10/03/10
This is done so well. I've never been in an earthquake,but you've made me feel like I have. The way you described the MCs pain rinsed me of how I suffer with my chronic pain.
Amy Michelle Wiley 10/03/10
Wow, powerful story. You had me there, and I loved how you personified the panic...crouching and waiting, but not there as strongly after the prayers.