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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Red (10/01/09)

TITLE: The Mysterious Keeper
By Marlene Bonney


The soldier had been a prisoner-of-war for six months, two weeks and four days. His primitive cell, mostly underground, consisted of a dirt-packed floor, a filthy bucket toilet and bars over a tiny opening at the top of the west cinderblock wall, ground level outside. He had tried to reach it at first, as much to feel the blazing afternoon sun at closer range as to relieve the boredom. Failing, he saved his strength for exercising survival skills.

“You eat now!” the guard’s raspy voice accompanied by the scraping of the metal against metal as the tin plate was passed through the door’s bottom trap opening.

“Thank you for serving me such a delicious four-course meal, my friend,” the soldier mocked silently, glaring at the slop at his feet.

An empty stomach was more painful than this alternative, even when it was sometimes laced with a crunchy undefined drowned insect. He thanked God for the meal because he knew it could be worse. Fellow comrades who had refused to eat tortured out in back, screams ripping from their skin and bones bodies that sent shudders up the other prisoners’ spines—a constant reminder of their captors’ merciless brutality . . .

Eight months, one week and three days. By the prisoner’s calculations, it was December 24th. The cell had now become his friend, his cocoon, a world measuring ten by six steps.

“You eat now! Happy Christmas!”

The prisoner was excited to see a biscuit on the tin, something usually given only when an official inspector visited. He picked it up, sniffing in the stale aroma, when he caught sight of something red where the biscuit had been. A flash of lightning lit up his cell momentarily, making the red object almost translucent, even magical! He gingerly picked up this new treasure.

“Why, it’s a marble!”

Back in his past life’s remembrance box came, unbidden, a childhood scene. He was playing a game of marbles with his best buddy, had won the game and his friend’s cherished solid red marble. In the days following that incident his joy over the victory palled whenever he recalled Petey’s loss. So, he had given it back to his friend that Christmas, elaborately wrapped in gay paper and ribbons and an intricate bow his mother crafted for the occasion. His friend’s delight had made the sacrifice worthwhile.

“I haven’t thought of that in years,” the soldier murmured, caressing the marble with his fingertip.

From that day on, this captive, half-dead from deprivation and malnutrition, clung to the red marble like a talisman. He rolled it across the floor, held it up to any light filtering through the bars, polished it with his tattered clothing. He buried it, retrieved it and raced it through his fingers. But mostly, he set it on the floor before him and wove stories around it.

One day, it was the marble of his childhood and he and Petey played for it over and over. The next day, it became a miniature bowling ball. Another time, he wondered if it had somehow rolled into his food from a little boy’s play—before he was taught to hate and shoot and maim and kill. Or, maybe his jailor, on a whim, put the ruby marble on his tray, leading to another scenario. His mother’s scarlet roses flanking the backyard arbor . . . his wife’s precious ruby ring . . . his grandparents’ fire-engine red barn and his adventures in the hayloft . . . rosy sunsets in exotic lands of the East where he had been stationed . . . strawberry picking and homemade cherry pie and cardinals with their particular chirping. Tomatoes, fresh from the garden . . . the russet shades of fall leaves. He conjured up tales of scarlet oriental robes . . . grapes trampled into wine . . . sunburned children playing at the beach . . . a little girl from second grade nicknamed “carrot-top”. And, finally, at each day’s close, he thought of Christ’s crimson blood, shed for each of us on the rough-hewn cross.

Twelve months, three weeks and two days after the red marble came to him, soldier John Doe was released from captivity. His body and mind slowly healed as he shared his imprisonment experience to audiences throughout the United States, red marble stowed in his pocket. His messages eventually led to a required military class called, “Mind Games For the P.O.W.: Focusing on an Object For Mental Sanity.”

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Member Comments
Member Date
Mary Alice Bowles10/09/09
Great story and a very good job in the way you tell it..

But this is the keeper of every day:

"And, finally, at each day’s close, he thought of Christ’s crimson blood, shed for each of us on the rough-hewn cross."

I thank you so very much Jesus!

Jan Ackerson 10/09/09
Fascinating! The paragraph where the prisoner imagines different things for the marble is masterful.

I was curious about who left the marble there, and also why you named him John Doe...was there a reason for him to be anonymous?

Very good writing, and quite creative.
Allen Stark10/09/09
First of all the story is a hard memory for an old Vietnam combat Army medic that helped release some prisoners who had been kept in underground "monkey cages."

Having said that, one could only write such a strong mental word picture if they had in some way experienced it or knew someone who had. What I see as author authenticity helped me to immediately suspend disbelief.
Amy Michelle Wiley 10/09/09
Facinating story, and what an interesting idea to have a marble show up on his plate. I did stumble over some missing verbs and other grammar problems, but enjoyed reading.
Catrina Bradley 10/09/09
Great piece of writing. Clever plot - or is it a true story? It sounds very real.
Shilo Goodson10/13/09
I enjoyed your story. I think, though, that the paragraph where you listed all the things he imagined about the marble was a little long. After a while, I felt like it was just a long list that never ended. If you were to reduce the list, I think that paragraph would have read better.