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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Conversation (face to face) (10/07/10)

TITLE: By the Stream No More
By Mona Purvis


The bell ringing signaled an end to third period and propelled thirty-two noisy, rowdy teens out of Mrs. Evelyn Hill's tenth-grade English class into the crowded halls of Jefferson High.

“Petal, I'd like to see you for a moment, please.” Most days, Mrs. Hill retained a problem student or two, but not today. Petal was any teacher's model student.

“Yes, ma'am?” The girl with long dark hair smoothed wrinkles from her clean, well-worn white blouse and faded jeans as she approached the desk.

“Your composition this week is outstanding. It brought tears to my eyes. You have a gift for writing, Petal; I hope you continue working on perfecting it. What made you choose abortion?”

Leah James stood at the door straining to hear as she texted Brooke and Celia. Petal had an abortion. Hill's in her face about it.

Brooke texted back, OMG , grabbing Bobby at his locker and showing him the text.

“So, Miss Goody-Two-Shoes is knocked up! Wait 'til Richard hears about his 'go-to-church with me' girlfriend! Richard will be back with Leah before school's out.”

Bobby was tired of being left out of Richard's group of friends. Things had changed when Petal and Richard started hanging out together, going to youth group at Petal's church.

Fourth period study hall was used to great advantage as Leah's peers jumped on the scandal bandwagon spreading dirt through cyber-space on every electronic device available. Bobby had taken a picture of Petal sitting at her desk and posted it on Facebook and MySpace with a caption, Guess who had an abortion?

Hostile texts, some from students who never met Petal, continued to flame the attack. Others joined in to 'gang-up' on the new target, relieved it was someone else and not them.

Petal heard the snickers and felt a chill in the air as she finished her school day. She didn't give it much thought as she rushed to her babysitting job. Petal earned a few dollars each week watching seven-year old Tom and nine-year old Grace until their parents were home from work.

Petal was sitting at the dining table with Tom and Grace working with them on their homework when Sam Gosnell came in. He came up behind Petal and put his hands on her shoulders, something he had never done. Tom and Grace jumped down and ran to him, breaking his contact with Petal.

Just as Sam was directing the children back to their homework, Marge came into the kitchen putting groceries onto the counter. “Petal, I know this is short notice, but we won't be needing your services any longer. We'll pay you for this week, of course. It's only fair.”

Walking home, Petal made mental notes about other families she could babysit for since the Gosnell's no longer needed her. She was almost relieved to not go back there. Mr. Gosnell made her feel uneasy touching her like he did today.

Petal's father was sitting on the front porch stoop, his bleary eyes and slurred speech telling of his drunkenness. “You're no count, jest like your ma. Spouting from the Bible and lettin' men have their way with you!”

Tears clouded Petal's eyes as she stepped past him. He lived to call her names and compare her to her mother who left when she was two.

After making a sandwich, Petal went to her room to study. She picked up the telephone to call Richard. “Mrs. Grant, this is Petal. Is Richard home?”

“Uh...Petal, he's busy right now. I'm sorry.”

Mrs. Grant had never turned Petal's calls away so abruptly before, so Petal began to wonder what was going on.

She found out the next day in a big way. Taped to her locker was a note calling her a baby-killer. Students laughed at her, whispered to each other about her. Labels, like slut came from the lips of students she hardly knew.

By the end of the day, Richard had told her he never wanted to see her again. She left school in tears when a group led by Leah pushed her into the boys' restroom.

Three days later, Mrs. Hill received a letter in the mail. She recognized it right away as Petal's penmanship. It was an elaborate goodbye-letter, extremely well-written as only someone who held great promise could write.

Petal was found hanged in her closet.

The south wind searches for the flowers whose fragrance late he bore,
And sighs to find them in the wood and by the stream no more.

William C. Bryant, The Death of the Flowers

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This article has been read 750 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Charla Diehl 10/21/10
Cyberspace has become the new generation's form of attack on innocent kids. And suicide is on the rise because of it. Satan's army is busy.
Sarah Heywood10/22/10
I like your term, "scandal bandwagon." What a sad story, but told very well! Good writing!
Colin Swann10/24/10
Oh, goodness me and this does happen in real life - I'm sure.
I'm so glad I'm not into facebook what have you, and just know basic texing.

Very scary but well written and essential to be said.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 10/24/10
You did an outstanding job with this so sad but so real topic. Cyber bullying is so real and more and more kids are killing themselves because of it. I did a similar story a while back. Maybe if we keep calling attention to it and keep telling our kids about it we can get it to stop. Outstanding job!!
Laury Hubrich 10/24/10
Teens are ruthless and ready for a good gossip. So sad. I work in a high school and can totally see this happening.
Joan Campbell10/24/10
This is really chilling and effective in its almost documentary-type style. You gave a real sense of how fast and far-reaching cyber bullying is. I feel that a little more "connection" with Petal (maybe built in dialogue with the teacher?) would have strengthened her character.
AnneRene' Capp10/24/10
WOW, unbelievably spectacular writing in every single facet. This needs to travel the internet, so hope you make it happen. This is a story I will never forget and will stay at the top of my favorites! With humbleness and deep gratefulness, I thank you for writing this.
Dee Yoder 10/24/10
Heart breaking. This story illustrates that conversation, even through cyberspace, can wreak havoc on a life in less than a day. Very powerful.
Cheryl Harrison10/25/10
Your descriptions kept me focused. I think you could take this and build a book around it. Good job.
Gregory Kane10/25/10
First off, I thought this was an excellent story. Great characterisation, amusing developments and a deliciously clueless MC. But I didn't like the way you killed her off at the end. Had we been privy to her own emotions during the day, suicide might have seemed a little more understandable. But the sudden finale left me as a reader feeling somewhat cheated. That said, it does bring home very powerfully the stresses that many young people face today.
Connie Dixon10/26/10
What a sad documentary of the way things are going these days. How did we get here? Nice writing.
Verna Cole Mitchell 10/26/10
What a tragic story. You presented it believably. Excellent writing.
Carol Penhorwood 10/26/10
I agree with a previous comment that this needs to be made available to a wide audience. This is a "hot topic" in today's world and you have handled it well.

And what ever happened to "whatsoever things are lovely..." and "do unto others"?
Loren T. Lowery10/27/10
This is all too real and you've been able to tell it so well. The dialogue/clues were there, somehow we just didn't listen.