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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Cooking or Baking (01/04/07)

TITLE: Sacrament
By Jan Ackerson


The window near Billy’s mattress is cracked, and the breeze that whistles through the glass raises goose bumps on his thin arms. He sits up, awake and listening. Next to him, Sam is still asleep, making sucking noises as if he has not yet completely thrown off babyhood. Little Nicky snuffles from his spot on their shared bed. Billy wrinkles his nose; Sam has soiled the mattress again and Nicky is wearing yesterday’s diaper.

Billy glances toward his mother’s bed, unsure if the silence from her corner is because she is unconscious or simply gone. Her grayish sheet is crumpled, her bed empty. Billy lets out his breath and walks barefooted to the window.

A car cruises by, speakers booming. In the distance, a siren screams. The sky is pale, the sun invisible behind the city’s haze. Two big boys walk past Billy’s building wearing identical orange sneakers. One of them tosses a basketball from hand to hand. Billy watches as the boys turn the corner.

A gnawing emptiness draws Billy to the kitchen. Sam and Nicky are both awake now, whimpering and rubbing their eyes. Pulling a chair over to the counter, Billy stretches toward the cupboard and peers inside.

An opened bag of flour. A bottle of vegetable oil. Canned beets. One waxy square juice box. Spaghetti noodles. Green Jell-o in an envelope. A nearly empty jar of peanut butter.

Billy’s mouth floods at the thought of spaghetti, but he is afraid to boil a pot of water. It will take hours to make Jell-o, he knows, and his brothers have begun to cry, their stomachs as empty as his. He fumbles in the drawer for a can opener, but he only finds a wooden spoon and a little knife. He pokes timidly at the can of beets.

When the crying from the mattress increases, Billy knows that he must feed his brothers soon. If he cannot quiet them, the neighbors will be angry, may even call the police. And if the police come, they might take him away from Sam and Nicky.

So it comes down to flour and oil. Billy takes a cereal bowl and sets it on the counter, then picks a few bugs out of the flour. He spoons flour into the bowl, stopping occasionally to pinch out another mealy intruder. Uncapping the oil, he cautiously pours a thin drizzle which forms a golden pool in the mound of white. He stirs and stirs with the wooden spoon until he has a pasty dough.

Sam wanders into the kitchen, sucking his thumb and clutching a plastic car—a treasure from a Happy Meal eaten weeks ago. He tugs on Billy’s shirt with a wet and grimy hand, whining for food. To quiet his brother, Billy hands him the peanut butter jar and sends him back to Nicky. Soon both little boys are still, and Billy can see that Sam has offered the baby one chubby finger.

With his brothers silent, Billy returns to his task. He finds the skillet and places it on a burner, the blue flame low. The flame worries him a little—his mother would be angry if she caught him using the stove. But his brothers will not be satisfied with peanut butter for long, and they could be alone for hours. He adds a bit of water to the flour and oil and pours the batter into the skillet, where it pops and sizzles. A hot, wheaty odor fills the apartment.

When the smell begins to tickle Billy’s nostrils, he cuts his flatbread into smaller pieces, turning them over in the skillet. A few burnt sections stick to the pan, but he ends up with six oddly-shaped chunks, golden brown and specked with black. He upends the skillet onto the table and blows on the bread with quick puffs. After a few seconds, he takes one of the chunks over to his brothers, who are following his movements with wide eyes.

Billy breaks off a bit of bread and hands some to Sam. It seems to have cooled enough, so he kneels next to Nicky and pushes a few crumbs between his baby brother’s lips.

Twice he returns to the kitchen—once to collect the remaining chunks of flatbread and once for the juice box. The little boys sit side by side on the mattress, and Billy silently holds the purple box as Nicky and Sam drink grape juice from their brother’s hands.

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This article has been read 1743 times
Member Comments
Member Date
janet rubin01/11/07
So sad, because it's an all-too-real situation. Makes me want to pray for all the poor little ones no one cares for. Well-written by a good story-teller.
Helen Paynter01/11/07
I had the title in my mind all the way through, wondering how it would tie up. And how it did! - here, if anywhere, Christ will be present at the eating of bread and wine. Very gripping, moving, poignant, and compelling.
Kevin Kindrick01/11/07
Your story brought tears to my eyes - and hope to my heart, to see the holy sacrament celebrated in such a simple way.
It reminds me of a quote by Reveren William Van Orsdel - "Before God bretheren, we cannot continue to allow teh suffering of children to go unchallenged."

Thanks for sharing, and God bless,

Ann Grover01/12/07
Ooh... I love the title, the heart of servanthood, the symbolism. All the senses were involved in this tender and sensitive scene... and Jesus was very much present in the boys' innocent Communion. Beautiful.
Joanne Sher 01/15/07
So VERY powerful - and what a perfect title. Your details were so vivid and stark. I cannot praise this enough.
Pat Guy 01/15/07
This is precious in His sight. I'm sure this truely does happen every morning for so many around our world.

This grips the heart and makes the reader want to reach in to feed and hold these chidren. The mark of a master. Great work.
Crista Darr01/15/07
This powerful piece of writing makes my heart ache. I cannot find the words to give this the praise it deserves. I hope to see you in the top slot.
Rae Marie Bujan-D'Andrade01/15/07
For a writer, amazing is the only word I can muster.
Betty Castleberry01/15/07
I don't even know what to say. It made me sad, then even angry at the mother. The title is so fitting, too. Excellent.
Linda Watson Owen01/15/07
Wow! What an exceptional example of the power of the perfectly chosen title, and the power of words in the hands of a true master of wordsmithing! Beautifully written!
T. F. Chezum01/15/07
Excellent. It's unfortunate that some children actually live in these circumstances. Great job.
Sharlyn Guthrie01/15/07
What a heart-wrenching account. And yet the body and blood of Christ offer hope where there was none. Your writing is inspiring!
Chuck Livermore01/15/07
Very well written, full of subtle meaning.
Catrina Bradley 01/16/07
Beautiful and heart breaking. Such wonderful writing.
william price01/16/07
Jan, you are a unique gift to the body of Christ. I loved this story. I even think the name you gave the oldest child is right on. If I'm not mistaken, Billy, means guardian, or something similar.
At first I thought your opening paragraph was too busy, but on second read I found a reason for each word. You are a true master and I enjoy reading your entries each week. God bless.
And I too loved the title and how you worked it so subtley into your story.
Shari Armstrong 01/16/07
Heartbreaking! Well done.
Trina Courtenay01/16/07
My top pick of the week and as per usual I've added yet another one of your gripping stories to my favorites list!
Trina Courtenay01/16/07
My top pick of the week and as per usual I've added yet another one of your gripping stories to my favorites list!
Trina Courtenay01/16/07
My top pick of the week and as per usual I've added yet another one of your gripping stories to my favorites list!
Jen Davis01/16/07
So many wonderful and vivid details—the sound of speakers booming and sirens screaming. The smell of “a hot wheaty odor.” The image and meaning in the final two paragraphs concludes this piece beautifully. Exceptional writing as usual, Jan.
Leigh MacKelvey01/16/07
What an inspiration to writers, this moving and layered story so well written from title to each carefully chosen word. God surely moves in writing such as this.
Caitlynn Lowe01/16/07
A very sad story, but wonderfully written and really meaningful.
Lesley-Anne Evans01/16/07
Thank you for writing 'real' stuff for us to think about. This piece touched me deeply, and made me angry and sad. You have a gift to share.

Teri Wilson01/16/07
Jan, This is absolutely amazing. Your talent and vision never fails to astound me. Very moving, thoughtful writing!
Sally Hanan01/17/07
I liked the style you used with this one - the movement, the tense - as if we were reading it in real time. I do feel a bit icky thinking about those "black specks" mind you!!
Bonnie Derksen01/17/07
Is there still room for me to add my two-cents worth??
Very well-written, obviously your story has spoken to your readers in powerful ways.
How the Father must ache when His children are neglected and yet, even in these seemingly dismal circumstances our God can pierce through and rescue.
Thanks for sharing your gift, Jan.
Sandra Petersen 01/17/07
What a sad, sad picture you have painted, Jan, and masterfully, too. I could 'see' and 'hear' it all.

Your title knits that last paragraph and what has gone before into a tight package. I have an idea of how old the two younger boys are but couldn't gauge Billy's age. Maybe nine or ten?

What a haunting story, one that I won't forget easily.
Jan Ross01/18/07
What an incredibly powerful story written by an incredibly anointed writer! Jan, you never cease to amaze me. I would love to dig down inside your heart and learn were your passion comes from--it sure comes through your writing, one word at a time. You are TRULY gifted!
Edy T Johnson 01/20/07
This story is such a winner. It is profoundly touching and exquisitely beautiful at the same time. Another one for my "favorites" section.

My thanks to you, also, for your generosity in adding your comments to my stories. I do appreciate you.
Amy Michelle Wiley 01/20/07
Wow, this is powerful and well written. I can't believe it didn't place!
Carolyn Baney01/23/07
Exquisite, thought- provoking...the last images are haunting! The title is also perfect. I'm new to this site, a novice. I'll be reading more of your work, learning from a master. Thanks!
Rick Humphreys01/23/07
Gripping,spell-binding. This story takes one on a ride through all the emotions: sadness, horror, disgust, disappointment; all except happiness. And that is where the ending leaves you wanting.

Laurie Glass 03/25/07
What a powerful piece. You had me hanging on every word.
Chely Roach08/13/08
I have to agree with you, Jan...this is as good as it gets. I don't choke up easily, but this did it. So poignant and tender. Beyond excellent; perfect.
Dianne Janak01/01/09
This says it all.. the lack, the hunger, the love, the nurturing, the pain, the lonliness, the responsibiity, the sin, the life of Christ, the hope, and the sacrifice. A writer knows when the piece was never his to begin with ... this to me was an example of God's annointed gift and we are just holding the pen to express it! Bravo and YES!
Verna Cole Mitchell 01/03/09
The description of the sad situation is so vivid here that it makes my heart ache. That's powerful writing.
Betty Castleberry08/04/10
I loved this the first time I read it, and I still love it. I would like to read a sequel to see what happens to the boys.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 08/04/10
This brought tears to my eyes. No wonder it is your favorite. With the theme and the description of the apartment, my thought went to a twist on the topic and I thought she would be cooking her drugs in a meth lab. But you did such a great job of making little Billy seem so real and lovable I was glad every word was written the way you wrote it.
Seema Bagai 08/04/10
Wow. This is an amazing piece, Jan. You evoke many emotions in this story and the tie-in of the title is perfect.
Benjamin Graber08/05/10
Wow, Jan, this is amazing! Your descriptions are so vivid they make me feel like I'm there, experiencing life with the boys.
harvestgal Ndaguba08/05/10
I totally loved it, even though it made me cry.
Shirley McClay 08/05/10
I read this without noticing the title. It was amazingly written and heartrending. I wanted to go out and buy enough to fill their cupboards. Or better yet, bring them home with me!

Then I scrolled to the top to see what the topic was because, well, it did seem a little without hope as another comment pointed out. When I saw the title it was like a blow. I teared up and had to read it again. Wow. Powerful. Literally stunning.
william price08/08/10
I love it!
Sarah Elisabeth 08/12/10
I can see why this is your favorite, Jan. So wrenchingly beautiful.
Rachel Phelps08/17/10
Jan, this story has everything I love about your writing. I'm sad it didn't place, but so thankful you shared it now. Beautiful.