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Submission #1 – Two Sparrows by Mary Kate
“Hi, Mom.” Jonathon Stone closed the creaky door behind him as he returned home after a long, hard day of searching for work. “Hello, Mom,” he called again.
Jonathon walked down the front hallway and into the kitchen, where he found his mother sitting at the table, her back to him. “Mother?”
The continued silence led Jonathon to believe she was either ignoring him or deep in thought. Knowing his sweet, caring mother as well as he did, he could only assume it was the latter. He took a few steps further into the room, looked over his mother’s shoulder, and found the object of her downturned eyes. It was a picture. Just a simple headshot of a smiling man in a red shirt. But that smile spoke volumes. It was a pleasant smile, a playful smile, a loving smile; one Jonathon hadn’t seen since he was four years old.
Just then his mom looked up and turned to face him, and he knew by the calm, smoothness of the action that she had known he was there the whole time, yet had only just now gathered up the resolution to speak. “Ten years,” she began in a broken voice that hinted recent tears. “Ten years I’ve been without him.”
May 29th, 2005. The date leapt immediately into Jonathon’s head, and the painful memories came right along with it – so confused, yet so vivid: his father’s forced breathing, his mother’s weak sobs; that sick feeling of being too afraid to ask questions about this changing world that made no sense.
With an effort he pushed the bitterness away and went to sit beside his mother. She looked up at him and smiled through moist eyes. “Do you remember the funeral? You asked me if Daddy would be coming back to us.”
Jonathon nodded. “And you said, ‘No, Jonny. We’re going to him’.”
She sighed. “That’s right.” She closed her eyes and swallowed to hold back the tears. “That’s what he told me just before he died – ‘I’m going home, Kathryn. And I’ll be waiting for you’. And that’s true, I know.” She opened her eyes and looked at her son with the expression of a bewildered child. “But then, why . . .?” Her voice trailed off. She bit her lip.
“It’s okay, Mom,” Jonathon said softly. “Let it out.”
That was all Kathryn needed. Her head fell forward onto Jonathon’s shoulder, and then came forth a torrent of sobs.
Only a minute passed before she lifted her head. “I need to pull myself together,” she said hoarsely. “I can’t let Gillian see me like this.” Kathryn squeezed Jonathon’s hand and stood up. “I’d better get started on dinner.”
Jonathon sat at the table and watched his mom move softly about the kitchen. If only he could think of something comforting to say. He wished he could recall his dad better, though he did remember him a little: his face, his voice – the day he’d said, “Jonathon, how would you like to have a little sister?”
After that Dad had gotten sick.
Once again Jonathon pushed the memories from his mind. How awful that was, and how much more awful it would have been if he had fully understood what was going on!
Mom had understood fully what was going on. Mom, who had loved Dad more than anyone else in the whole world. That was why Jonathon felt sorry for his mom. And that was why he respected her so much. She was amazing. Perhaps she did break down and cry every once in a while, but not often. Nearly every moment she was cheerful, selfless; always hard working, never despairing. Her heaviness of heart was something she only ever shared with Jonathon. No one else could ever have guessed the pain that lay beneath that tender smile – not even Gillian. Jonathon was glad to be there for her, to let her lean on him for support. But he wished there was something more that he could do.
“Speaking of Gillian,” his mother’s voice broke through his thoughts. “Jonathon. . .I don’t know how we can keep sending her to school next year.”
Jonathon sighed. This didn’t come as a surprise to him. “I’m sorry, Mom.”
“Oh, honey, it’s not your fault.”
“I thought when I left school to get work I’d be able to bring in enough to keep this from happening. But I’ve done hardly anything to help.”
“Now, Jonathon, that’s nonsense. You’ve been working very hard and have been a tremendous help to me. I’m proud of you. Don’t be ashamed of your best. No one can ask you to do more than that.”
“But I can do better, Mom. I’ll look harder. I’ll get up earlier and stay out later. I’ll sell my stuff, and we’ll find a way to send Gi to school – and maybe even me one day.”
“Listen, Jonathon, I don’t want you making any more sacrifices than you already are. As it is, it’s not healthy for you. You don’t eat, you don’t sleep, you don’t dress warmly. You’re too hard on yourself.” She stopped and put her hand on Jonathon’s shoulder. “There comes a point, son, when we simply can’t afford it anymore.”
“But we’re not there yet.”
“Yes we are. Not only can we not afford to pay for Gi’s education, but we can’t afford not to have her making money herself. She can get a job – she can clean or babysit or something. And I’ll keep working hard, and you’ll keep working hard – and maybe one day we will put her back in school. In the meantime we can save up to fix things like the roof, the furnace, the window. As long as we can’t afford necessities, we certainly can’t afford the luxury of an education. Do you understand?”
Jonathon paused, then said quietly, “You’d have to admit to Gi how poor we really are.”
“She’ll know soon enough,” Kathryn sighed.
“I guess you’re right. I’m really sorry, Mom.”
Kathryn leaned forward and kissed Jonathon’s cheek. “Don’t be,” she said. “I really am very, very proud of my hardworking boy.”
Jonathon smiled. “More hard-searching than hardworking, honestly.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the earnings of the day. “Thirteen dollars and fifty cents,” he said, placing it on the table. “For you.”
Submission #2 – They’re After Me by Katie
I sat huddled between two oak trees. My legs were drawn up to my chest and I could feel my heart pounding against them. It took all my effort not to pant heavily and give myself away.
They were after me. They were always after me.
“You two go check the perimeter, we’ll stay here and look. It’s still in here. I can smell it.”
It. That was me. Always an it. My back stiffened against the tree trunk and I tried to gather myself into an even tighter ball. I needed a plan and I needed one now, otherwise I was as good as dead.
I calculated quickly in my mind. There were two checking the perimeter of the forest – if it could even be called that, it was so small – so that left five on the inside, if my calculations were correct. I could risk being seen and crawl to the next tree only fifteen feet away, making my way towards the outside, but that was such a huge risk. They would see me before I was even halfway there. There of course was the option of attacking them, but that was even stupider than my first plan. I only had five bullets left in my gun and who knows when I’ll be able to get more, maybe never.
That left my last plan. I stood up slowly, uncurling myself.
“Check that way! Check every tree, it could be hiding behind one.” The leader called. I needed to move and I needed to move now. I moved quicker than I thought possible with my heart beating that fast. My feet shuffled in the dirt and I was so thankful that it was summer so there were no dead leaves to crackle and give me away.
Pulling my gloves out from my pants pockets, the mark on my left wrist caught my attention. It had been there ever since I can remember, but sometimes it still startled me.It looked as it always had; a light blue S with two dots, one on the top and one on the bottom. Shaking my head, I slipped the gloves onto my hands in a haste. Good thing I made sure I brought these with me instead of dumping them with a lot of the other things back there. That was the only way I could slow my pursuers down for a little while but I already missed my multiply tool. I didn’t have any time to think about that.
My gloves instantly suctioned to the tree. Thank you Granddad! I walked up the tree slowly, being held up only by my hands. If the gloves slipped off… I slapped myself mentally. No need to think about that. It wasn’t likely to happen anyways, Granddad had made the elastic band around the wrist pretty tight.
“See it yet?” One of them called.
“No,” Another one yelled back.
I could hear them below me as I got higher and higher in the tree. I stopped for a moment to watch.
They shuffled around, guns drawn, sitting loosely in their hands. I could only see two of them from my vantage point.
Where are the others? I needed to locate them. My hands started to burn and I felt myself growing weaker. Beads of sweat dripped down my forehead onto my bare arms.
I moved over to the closest branch and let my feet rest there, hands still lightly holding onto the tree. My heart beat now from both panic and from using muscles I didn’t normally use. The sweat kept dripping down my face. I wiped my face on my shirt but not before one single bead of sweat fell off my face down to the ground. “No,” I whispered, horrified.
All five of them were at the base of my tree within seconds. I could see their black and white tuxes through the branches. They looked awkward in this dark forest with their suits.
Go boy, go! I could hear Grand Dad shouting within my head. My feet felt heavy under me but I knew I needed to start moving, this was life or death. I felt like a deer in headlights, every inch of my body frozen. I would have thought that time would have ticked slowly, feeling frozen and all, but it didn’t. It just kept moving at regular speed.
Move, Kiran, move! I shouted at myself. That seemed to work because my feet came unglued and my hands worked quickly as I climbed up the tree. Faster, faster. My hands were moving so fast that my feet had a hard time keeping up. They scrambled against the tree’s rough bark.
I could hear the men below me. They were fast, but somehow I was faster. I couldn’t let them catch me, I just couldn’t. No doubt they’d kill me the same way they killed Grand Dad and Father, burning them alive at the stake. Or maybe they’d do it like they did with Mother and Sister, starving to death in prison. Either way would be just as cruel and inhumane.
The leafy treetop greeted me as I made it to the finally branch. Where do I go now? The nearest tree was roughly nine feet away but that would be a good distance to try and jump. And if I didn’t make it? Broken limbs at the least and then death by the men.
I let go with one hand on the tree and shoved it into my pants pockets, searching for anything to help me. I had a pocket knife, my gun, the last of my bullets, some rope, key chain flashlight and matches along with a few other things. Could any of these help me? My brain swirled in effort to think of something. One of my pursuers was advancing on me, I had to do something.
I hated to use my gun, I hated killing people, but I had to. I clutched the gun tightly and loaded a bullet into the shoot.
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