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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Escape (01/02/06)

TITLE: The Prince
By Jan Ackerson


Pastor Steve Dwyer spends an hour each morning on his knees in his tiny church office. Today, he is keenly aware of his Father’s voice: Feed My Sheep. He rises from prayer and looks out at his mission field: a neighborhood that has given up its fight with poverty.

Tommy awakens with cigarette smoke in his nostrils. He groans and rolls over, then sits up with a start at the tinkle of breaking glass.

Pulling on too-small jeans and an old, sleeveless Motley Crue tee-shirt, Tommy listens for further noises from downstairs. He hears only the television; his mother’s favorite show is blaring.

He walks carefully downstairs and into the kitchen, dirty ankles flashing above worn sneakers. A glimpse into the living room reveals his mother, sprawled on the tattered couch, a cigarette in one hand and a glass of whiskey in the other. Tommy takes a deep breath. “Do you want something to eat, Ma?”

His mother doesn’t even look away from the screen, where a tattooed woman is screaming at a toothless man. “Shut up,” she says. “And clean up that mess in the kitchen.”

The kitchen floor is covered with spilled whiskey and slivers of broken glass. Tommy mops up the mess, then pours a bowl of cereal. The gallon jug in the refrigerator contains only half an inch of milk, and is stamped with last week’s date. Tommy pours the milk into the sink and eats his cereal dry.

“Tommy! Bring me my bottle!” He looks around and spots the whiskey near a pile of dirty dishes. He hesitates. His mother swears at him, her voice beginning to slur. Tommy snatches the bottle and runs to his mother, knocking several magazines off an end table. “Get outta here, you little…” She reaches out to slap Tommy, and catches his skinny arm with a long fingernail. There is a slight trickle of blood. His mother looks back at the television.

He tears out the door and runs three blocks to the library. Panting, he writes his name on the computer sign-in sheet. A pretty blonde librarian glances at the bank of computers, then smiles at Tommy. “You can log in on number three. Half an hour, remember?”

He rests his head in his hands as the computer hums to life. Several seconds pass, then Tommy looks up at the screen. His eyes are bright. His heartbeat quickens. A few keystrokes later, and his escape is complete.

He is Errad, warrior-prince and dragon lord. With his trusty sword, Umit, he conquers the foulest monsters and defends the land of Engardim. Prince Errad has amassed a fortune in gold, and at one time he held in his hand the living Jewel of Iseril. Today, he battles the dragon Danus, which has been savaging the land for a fortnight. Errad has acquired an extra measure of strength, and he swings Umit bravely at the head of the sulfurous, smoke-breathing creature. Danus falls to earth, but manages to swipe Errad’s bicep with one poisonous talon before soaking the ground with greenish blood…

“Time’s up, Tommy. And from the looks of that game you’re playing, I rescued you just in time. Sorry, but there are other people waiting for that computer. You’re going to have to escape from…wherever you are.” The librarian pats Tommy on the shoulder. “Come back tomorrow, okay? Have a nice day!”

The sounds of dragon-battle fade to silence. Tommy logs off, then starts slowly toward home.

Pastor Dwyer is researching Sunday’s sermon when his computer freezes. He tries every trick he knows, but finally, with a sigh, he hits “ESC” and turns off the machine. He’ll have to use the library computer again. As he walks the few blocks to the library, he passes a young boy, barely a teenager, skinny and dressed in ill-fitting clothing. He turns and watches the boy approach a door, his shoulders stooped.

Tommy’s mother is asleep on the couch, a cigarette in her fingers dropping ashes on the floor. Tommy takes the cigarette and rubs it out, then turns down the volume on the television. He begins to imagine his next escape, when he hears a knock at the door.

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This article has been read 1445 times
Member Comments
Member Date
terri tiffany01/09/06
Wow..I really liked this! Great style of writing with their moments meshing like that. I felt sadness wrapped up with hope. Good job!
Linda Watson Owen01/09/06
Straight to the heart, this one!
janet rubin01/10/06
Good job. Left me wanting to know what comes next. A very real senario for so many young people.
Marilyn Schnepp 01/11/06
Very good! Nicely written and needs to be read by every Mother that this scene might remind them of....oh how I wish! Good job!
Shannon Redmon01/11/06
Really liked this...The ending was great!
Robin McGowan01/12/06
Your article was wonderful and powerful. I felt Tommy's pain.
Pat Guy 01/12/06
What a great story of God's perfect timing! Perfectly believable! I'm thinking maybe you could have quotation marks for 'Feed my sheep.' to distinguish the short sentence as God speaking to the pastor. But it hardly effects the story! I could feel the boy's hopelessness and desperate need to escape - all too familiar for so many children. You captured this well - well done and well written!
Cassie Memmer01/12/06
Contemporary and well written. May God bring hope to each one such as this. Good job!
Debbie Sickler01/13/06
You did a great job describing the boy's home and then switching to describe the video game world. Very different styles. At the end, I was worried for a second that the pastor was going to keep walking and actually felt relief with the knock at the door.
Lynda Lee Schab 01/13/06
I absolutely loved this. Such a heart-wrenching piece, yet it left me with a glimmer of hope. I stumbled for a second on the paragraph where Mom tells Tommy to bring her the bottle and tells him to get out. But other than that, the piece was woven together nicely and kept me captivated.
Wonderful writing!
Blessings, Lynda
Sandra Petersen 01/13/06
This was very powerful! You painted the picture of hopeless desparate poverty well!
One thought chilled me, though. Tommy escapes in a video game where he does battle with Danus, a "sulfurous, smoke-breathing creature" which dies but not before scraping Errad's arm with a talon. Sounds very much like Tommy is doing battle with his mother and the game reflects his last battle with her. We hear of a link between murders committed by kids not yet 18, violent video games, and sometimes poverty, but more often lately middle and upper class kids. Were you thinking along those lines?
Good that the pastor followed Tommy. Who knows what Tommy might have done next?
Suzanne R01/13/06
What a complex piece - so many levels of meaning.

I thought the mother's request for her bottle was a good instance of role reversal, and the swipe of the talon in the game also tying in with the scene at home. The contrast between the way both households began their day was clever too.

I'm sure there is lots more I've missed in just one reading, but I'll conclude by joining my fellow readers in saying how relieved I was in the way the two stories intertwined at the end.

Alexandra Wilkin01/13/06
This is elegantly constructed, the writing creating both vivid sceanes and aromas that give this window on the lives of the pastor, young boy and mother depth and realism. The fantasy game is described so well that the reader can see the 'enchantment' of the escape it provides from the emotional and physical poverty of the boys real life. Excellent. God bless.
Sally Hanan01/13/06
You did a wonderful job with this. It is sad to see so many kids (and adults) escaping into their heads or their games just to feel okay.
Anita Neuman01/14/06
This one just leapt to the top of my favourites list this week. GREAT JOB! You did a brilliant job of intertwining the stories together - the pastor, the boy, the mother, and the parallel video game - so many layers, so much pain, and then so much hope. Wonderful, masterful writing!
Beth Muehlhausen01/14/06
Great job weaving this involved story. The layers just kept peeling back...to reveal more and more and more. You managed to cram a volume into a short essay...really good job!