Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: EERIE (07/28/16)
TITLE: The Night Song of South Sudan
By Belinda Peoples
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"Why does he not help me?" she thought. "My back is laden and my burden is heavy. I would be faster if he shared the load."
Now he shook her shoulders, repeating her name incessantly. But it wasn’t impatience in his voice, no…desperation. Wait…
Achol’s eyes opened wide, trying to adjust to darkness as black as her smooth, youthful skin. She felt the pressure of strong hands on her shoulders, imploring her into full consciousness.
“Yor, what are…” but her husband’s hand quickly shifted to cover her mouth, stifling her question. She knew she must not move. Something was terribly wrong.
Barely daring to whisper, she felt Yor’s warm breath next to her ear.
“The Rebels are outside. We must run.”
Achol dreaded these words more than any others. Yor found her hand and pulled her quickly to himself. Even as she stood, cocooned in his loving embrace, Achol struggled to hear Yor’s instructions over the rapid thumping of her own frightened heartbeat.
“No matter what happens, keep running until you are far away. Don’t stop until the only thing you hear is silence. I love you. The Lord will save…”
But the newly-weds were stunned into quiet as gunshots pierced the South Sudanese night. Terrified screams and sorrowful cries filled the air as villagers scrambled to save themselves from indiscriminate rifles.
Achol listened intently as she crept, barefoot, to the only door in their one-room hut. The sounds of attack seemed to be moving past their home, but she dared not hope for relief.
Rebel forces had ambushed in the dead of night through many villages. They cruelly surprised sleeping Dinka men, women and children in their beds, where they were most vulnerable. Helpless and disoriented, thousands had succumbed unwillingly to an unjust, premature death.
“Now is our chance,” she heard Yor whisper. “Run past the Chief’s hut and into the trees. I’ll be right behind you.”
He squeezed her hand tight and held it reassuringly in his as he pulled the door gingerly open. Achol held her breath, willing the hinges not to squeal and give their presence away.
Feet filled with lead, Achol’s panicking brain refused to register the tugs of her husband’s hand around hers. He was frantically dragging her stumbling body between the huts, trying not to utter a sound. He pulled her almost as far as the Chief’s hut before instinct finally called her long limbs to flight and she started running.
At speed now, they rounded the Chief’s hut. Only a sliver of moonlight guided their escape. The thick tree line in sight, Achol gained momentum.
Gunfire rang deafeningly from the Chief’s doorway behind them, tearing her hand from Yor’s, almost causing her to fall.
Achol screamed shrilly. Such was the intensity of her fear, she hardly recognised her own voice. Her feet carried her blindly forward. Sharp branches tore through her nightgown, cutting her ebony skin. Jagged rocks bit into the souls of her unprotected feet. But she didn’t feel it. All she knew was the searing pain of her lungs fighting for enough breath to keep going.
On and on she fled, far into the dense growth. She ran until her aching body yielded to exhaustion. Collapsing against a large tree trunk, she sucked in deep breaths as noiselessly as she could. Only the Lord hiding her under the cover of darkness could help now.
Achol strained to hear approaching pursuers. It felt unnaturally quiet, not even a breeze whispered through the uneasy stillness. The realisation Yor was not with her thundered down on her senses. Grief-stricken tears washed over her high cheekbones as she reluctantly imagined what his fate might have been.
There, amongst the strangling vines and arching boughs, Achol closed her eyes and prayed. She placed her hands over the new life inside her, blossoming, in spite of the chaos and evil all around. She prayed a faithful prayer for the Spirit’s protection. She believed in the Lord’s strength to save.
Peace overcame monstrous silence. Hope conquered crippling fear. Love repelled stifling worry. Patiently, Achol waited for morning. At first light she would step forward into the future the Lord had prepared.
Sadly, this story is nonfiction and not uncommon amongst the people of South Sudan, now for more than 20 years. The names have been changed and a couple of minor artistic embellishments have been added, but the core details are true.
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