Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Winter (11/14/05)
TITLE: On Railroad Street
By Sandra Petersen
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I dared not park closer. Kids in this section of Masonville could remove parts from a vehicle faster than I could change a pair of socks, and knew the best places to dispose of them for some change, their next high, or both.
Railroad Street at night was a foreboding place, hub of much of Masonville’s crime. A good pair of legs and my car had gotten me out of some dangerous encounters the first few times I had ventured here.
I hunched deeper into my jacket, jamming my hands in my jeans pockets. The temperature was sure to drop below freezing before morning.
No one who could help it should be outside on a winter night like this. But I knew there were those who could not change their situation without a lot of help. They were huddled around the bonfire.
This was the flock to which the Holy Spirit had called me. I was on sabbatical from my associate pastorate while I ministered to these forgotten souls.
From the deep shadows to my right, the figure of a huge black man loomed toward me.
I acknowledged him with a nod, saying, “Hey, Peevis. How’re you?”
“Hey, Rev,” he said, rubbing and blowing into his hands as he walked beside me. “Nights like this, I wish I was back in Arkansas.”
“How many made it to the shelter?” I asked.
My companion grunted. “Most of them. Some turned away. Usual reasons. You know.”
I shook my head wearily. “So how many are here?”
“Well,” Peevis wrinkled his forehead in thought. “Hank is here, but he’s just plain stubborn...or stupid.”
I well knew Hank’s stubbornness, and his intense fury if pushed too hard.
“Okay. Who else?” I asked.
Peevis hesitated. His silence set off warnings through my head.
“Who else, Peevis?” I pressed.
“Donna and Katie,” he admitted after a pause.
Alarm must have registered on my face. Peevis understood and placed a beefy hand on my shoulder.
“Why?” I managed.
“Donna’s all strung out again. I thought if I could get them to the shelter, they would accept them just because of the kid, but, man, Donna can’t even stand up. Katie’s scared.” He sighed. “Brother, you came at just the right time.”
Even if Peevis got them to the shelter, the powers-that-be would have taken Katie away from Donna. Donna knew this even in her most confused hours and would not allow that to happen. I knew that without Katie, Donna would lose all hope and die.
We arrived at the bonfire. Hank was hunched into his sleeping bag, a morose scowl on his face. Donna lay on her side close to the fire, a ragged coat over her, the bare ground her mattress. I knelt beside her and touched her emaciated shoulder. A convulsive shiver passed through her body.
Looking up at Peevis I demanded, “How long has she been here like this? And where’s Katie?”
The expression on Peevis’ face was as if I had just backhanded him.
“She was still awake when I went to wait for you,” he mumbled. “And Katie was beside her, trying to keep her warm.”
I stood, scrutinizing the darkness around the fire for signs of the seven-year-old.
“Hank, did you see the little girl that was with Donna?”
He frowned and jerked his head in the direction he had seen her take.
“Where was she going, Hank?” Peevis commanded, towering over him.
“I don’t know, man ” Hank pleaded, his hand automatically stroking a place where Peevis had struck him months earlier. “She said something about her mom being really sick.”
I didn’t wait for more instruction. Peevis followed as I moved off in the direction she had taken.
“Katie ” we yelled through cupped hands. Silence. We continued to call, stopping to listen after each shout. Peevis was the first to hear the sound. He put a finger to his lips and pointed.
The little girl knelt on a grassy knoll, gazing up at the stars, her hands folded in prayer.
I was stunned. I had been ministering to these people for months. This child showed the first signs that I had reached a small part of someone’s heart.
“Katie child,” Peevis said softly. “Rev Mike is here.”
With a muffled sob, Katie ran to me and buried her face in my jacket.
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