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Previous Challenge Entry
Topic: Water (04/26/04)

TITLE: The Well
By Mary C Legg


Many years ago, a drought struck. It began in winter when there should have been snow, so no snow melted into the rivers, bringing promise of a rich summer's harvest. At first, only the shallow pools shrivelled and evaporated, but as the weeks went on, even the streams disappeared and the rivers slowed to a gurgle. Optimistic seedlings withered beneath the harsh rays of the stark spring sun. Fields sown turned to dust as farmers raised their laments to the heavens.

The budding leaves of fruit trees turned like nuts in the drying oven, breaking apart with flaky shells. Grasses peeked above the earth and solemnly disappeared. The land, rich beneath the surface, remained barren without the hope of water.

A small plot of land is a gift from heaven, well-tended it yields fruit for survival. Jacob looked out across his acreage with the midday heat simmering just above ground. Without water, all the labor of the last year was lost. There was no hope for relief from the sky—not a thundercloud about. He estimated days of rain to drench the soil, only to wash away the precious rows of grain.

He looked far out, along the lines of the canals dug by his father and grandfather before him. How many generations had been on this land? Surely there had been droughts before. How had they survived? Had he become so rich to forget the secrets of the past?

He sat down in the dirt to think aloud. Surely the past held a secret that he didn't know—His hands grumbled, kicking the dust beneath their worn boots. In cold weather they had worked only for this. What a shame they said, shaking their heads, looking at the barren rows stretching out beneath the heavens. What a waste of effort. Jacob glanced at them standing helplessly about. "Any of you know a water wizard?"

The immediate reaction was scorn, what with all the equipment and all, if Mother Nature didn't comply, then what use was old superstitions?

"If we don't have water from the river or the sky, then there's only one other possibility, we dig a well. Without a water wizard, it's a wasted effort. Dig all you want, but if it's not the right place, forget the water."

"Old Jonas, he was known to water-witch," said Tom, "When I was a kid, he did your daddy's place. Surely he'd do it again."

So Old Jonas came with his willow stick to witch the water. Going back over the property in his memory, he retreated to the past familiar places, searching for the hidden springs to bring life back into the parched fields. The stick twitched and pulled him nigh to the ground, "dig here." He went on to mark other places.

At first, it was easy, just going round and round, drilling the long pipe into the ground, but after two days; the work was tedious. The men left, full of scorn, not believing that any water existed. Still Jacob relentlessly persisted. The drought, he knew was not going away. His fields lay beneath an unforgiving sun. Better to save one acre than none. At least he could raise food for his home. He put his body to the handle and kept turning, wishing he had a donkey to help him with his work. He was there in the morning when the phoenix admired her long scarlet plummage, and he was there in the evening when the peacock spread his fan, revealing the starry eyes of night.

Occassionally someone came by to watch or chat, but nobody had much doubt that the land was dry—dry as the dust settling over the furrows. Besides, how much water could there be? They scoffed, walking off, leaving his hands blistered and raw from the wooden handle.

A week went by, Jacob still turned, frustration sweating his brow. Determined, he remembered his father's voice giving him encouragement. "Just keep turning son," his dreams whispered.

The well was deep—too deep to look down. Too deep to hear a coin drop. And yet, now when he struggled to pull the jointed pipe up, there were traces of damp earth clinging to it. There was water, somewhere down there... he just needed to continue his labor. His back ached; his arms suffered bursitis and yet he was relentless. His mouth parched, he understood the dryness of the land, and knew the relief of water in his mouth—how sweet the first fresh sip would be.

Fatigued, he sat on the mound, growing beside him. Tired, worn down from catcalls and jeers, his courage left him. Better to give it up. After all, it was already late in the year—Maybe the men were right.

"Jacob," a voice called over the dusty rows. Jacob turned his head. Old Jonas trudged across the field with a young man. "Your wife told me you were out here, " he wheezed, "meet my nephew, Dan. Let me see now how you are..." Together, they pulled the long pipe out, carefully lifting it section by section. "Dang near there," Jonas commented, examining the different layers of residue clinging to the pipe. "Dan, you help him a bit. You're younger and fresher."

So Dan set to work while Jacob rested and they took turns thereafter: Dan pulling the longest and Jacob the shortest. Excited, Old Jonas worked like a kid. Just before sundown, the water struck, tossing a geyser over their heads, flinging dirt into their faces. Grimy, nothing could be sweeter; gritty, nothing, better than the first gush of water.

Whether the workers came in the morning or noon, the harvest could not be drawn in without assistance.; but with encouragement and support, the well was dug and the water flowed to benefit all.


Member Comments
Member Date
Donna Haug05/03/04
Mary, I really enjoyed your story. Endurance and perseverance in the face of frustration and ridicule is a wonderful lesson. I would suggest introducing your "he" and "they" earlier somehow. When each showed up I was surprised because it sounded like you were just talking from the writer's point of view for the first paragraph.
Phyllis Inniss05/04/04
Very interesting story. There's nothing like faith, patience and endurance, as well as the courage to defy the odds - thejeers of your peers. Well done.
L.M. Lee05/04/04
what a wonderfully told story
Naomi Deutekom05/04/04
Well written. Good discrption.
Mary C Legg05/04/04
see Donna, you have back up-- but personally nt into it. write parables, not stories
Laurie Kiel 05/06/04
Mary, I enjoyed your story. I always admire people who can put such description in their stories, since I have struggles with description. One thing popped out at me when you said "His hands grumbled" it broke my concentration because I thought it was referring to his actual hands (the ones with fingers.) Perhaps changing it to "ranch hands" or "farm hands" could avoid such confusion. But maybe it's just me. Otherwise, I liked it.