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September 2018 Writing Challenge

  • 06 Sep 2018 9:23 PM
    Message # 6657699
    Jim Keen (Administrator)

    You wander upon this old barn. Have you broken down on the road or are you off exploring? Could this be a sinister place of horror or a shelter from the coming storm, or nightfall. Perhaps it is a place where you meet your lover? Or discover another, meeting theirs? What do you imagine when you see this old barn? 

    In 1000 words or less, tell us your story. 


  • 08 Sep 2018 7:17 AM
    Reply # 6659923 on 6657699

    BARN VISIT

    Aunt Jane thought a visit to a horse barn would cheer me up, but I thought it took a lot of nerve for her to suggest a barn visit after they had sold all of my family’s horses. But I jumped at the chance because it was my first time out of the house since rehab.

    Logically I understood they had to sell the horses because there was nobody to care for them, but emotionally it still hurt. The horses weren’t just livestock; they were pets. If we had owned dogs or cats, would they have sold them too? And the horses were just one more link to my parents that was gone forever.

    At the barn, Mrs. Little followed us as her daughter Linda, my best friend, showed me around. Linda had just turned fifteen, so she was just a few months older than me. Aunt Jane lagged behind because she didn’t really like animals.

    I enjoyed petting their horses because I knew many of them, and had ridden more than a few. It reminded me of happier times, before that day. Then I noticed a new horse in a round pen by himself.

    “When did you get him?” I asked.

    “Well, Judy, it's like this,” Linda replied. “His previous owner had been afraid of him. She had almost decided to send him to a slaughterhouse, but she gave him to Mom instead.”

    I had never seen a horse quite like him. Most local riders owned chunky Quarter Horses with powerful hindquarters or Thoroughbreds with tall and elegant bodies, but this horse had a wide chest, heavy shoulders, and a barrel-shaped body. He really stood out because of his shiny black coat with just a few white spots on his hindquarters.

    I wanted a closer look, so I unfastened the gate to the round pen and stepped inside. It was what I would have done at home.

    “Judy! Don’t go in there!” Mrs. Little yelled. “He’s dangerous!”

    I ignored her because I was sick and tired of people telling me what to do: the doctors and nurses, the minister and the mortician, my aunt and uncle. There had been times when I had just wanted to scream ‘NO’ but had swallowed my anger instead.

    The black horse swung his big butt around and backed up towards me. I stood my ground as he bounced up and down on his hind legs as if he was going to kick me. He didn’t scare me a bit because I had nothing left to lose. When a girl has lost nearly everything that matters to her; when she has lain in a hospital bed for weeks on end, unable to even attend her parents’ funerals; there is little emotion left except anger.

    When we had left Aunt Jane’s house, I had pulled a baseball cap over my short red hair to protect my freckled face from the sun. Now I snatched it off and used it to beat his butt while screaming as loudly as I could. The metal clasp at the back of the hatband struck him at the base of his tail, so he squealed in pain and trotted off a few steps. Daddy had always said horses couldn’t walk forward and kick backwards at the same time, so I had made him move.

    He swung around to face me as I walked towards him. Mrs. Little yelled at me again, but I was totally focused on the horse.

    He flattened his ears against his neck, lowered his head, and snaked his muzzle towards me with his mouth open to bite. I slapped the end of his nose as hard as I could with the palm of my hand. Mom had often said a horse’s nose was their most sensitive spot, and that open-handed slaps stung worse than closed-fisted blows. She had explained that their noses and lips are nearly as sensitive as human fingertips, because horses use their sense of touch to help find food.

    The horse whinnied loudly and threw his nose up in the air. Then he started to back up while I marched towards him, until his backend bumped the fence. Then I grabbed the strap at the bottom of his halter and jerked it down.

    Daddy had once explained that thousands of years of experience had gone into the design of horse halters. The headband goes just behind their ears because predators, like lions, grab their prey by the back of their necks, so pressure behind a horse’s head triggers an instinctive fear. I yanked on his halter until he lowered his head to relieve the pressure.

    The huge horse rolled his eyes so that the whites showed as I screamed at him in anger. He had made me ‘lose my religion’ as I used words that weren’t written in the Bible. His ears pricked towards me and he stood stock still as I cussed him up one side and down the other for trying to frighten me.

    It was a good thing he had never seen himself in a mirror so he didn’t know how much bigger his twelve-hundred-pound body was than my little ninety-pound figure. I had weighed nearly a hundred and ten before the car collision—the other driver was drunk so it was NOT an accident—but I had lost a lot of weight during the weeks in the hospital.

    Mom had explained that horses are sensitive to emotions because they live in herds. When one member of the herd gets upset, they all get frightened because they assume the first horse had sensed some danger. On the other hand, if the senior mare is calm, the rest of the herd will stay calm because they trust her.

    Horses key off the emotions of humans in the same way, so this huge horse cringed in the face of my fury, like a little kid who knows that he had done something wrong and dreads the punishment. He just stood there as I jerked on his halter and screeched foul language. He didn’t understand my four-letter words, but he understood my tone.

    I finally ran out of things to yell, and I had gotten most of the anger out of my system. I slid my hand along the halter strap towards the nose band, turned and walked towards the gate. He walked along beside me, as docile as could be.

    Daddy had always said if you controlled their nose, you controlled the horse. Mom would have been proud that I hadn’t let this big beast intimidate me. After the physical effort, my chest hurt a little because I hadn’t completely recovered from the operations, but the black horse walked quietly beside me.

    As I unlatched the gate, I finally noticed the faces of the others. Aunt Jane appeared horrified, with both hands over her mouth. The blood had drained out of her face, which left her skin as white as paper. Mrs. Little’s mouth hung open in a circle of astonishment, and Linda’s eyes were wide as saucers.

    Nobody said anything as I stepped through the gate pulling the big gelding behind me. They tagged along as I led him into the barn and head-tied him in the barn’s aisleway.

    “What breed is he?” I asked in a level tone, as if nothing unusual had happened.

    “He’s Friesian,” Mrs. Little answered. “But he’s not official because only purebreds with completely black coats can be registered. The breed came from Holland, where they had been bred as fighting mounts for armored knights. By the way, his name is 'Smokey' because of his coat color.”

    Now that Smokey was calm, I felt a sense of calm come over me. In the same way that horses key off the emotions of people, humans react to the moods of horses. Equine therapy often helps people find peace and tranquility around horses. Besides, I had gotten a lot of anger out of my system when I had yelled at him, and the familiar tasks helped me calm down too.

    The surroundings made me feel closer to my parents. It was as if they stood just outside the barn, about to stroll inside, hand-in-hand as they often walked together. I knew this was just a fantasy, but the horse barn so strongly reminded me of them that I could almost sense their presence. And I knew they would have been proud of the way I had handled Smokey.

    “You can see why he had frightened his previous owner,” Mrs. Little explained. “She said he had been gentle as a two-year old, but he became aggressive after she had sent him to a trainer who had tried to physically break him. His owner had gotten so afraid of him that she would break out in hives if she even had to go in the pasture with him, so she just gave him away to me. But now I think I should give him to you, because you seem to have made a connection with him.”

    Last modified: 08 Sep 2018 3:41 PM | Michael Worthington
  • 09 Sep 2018 11:02 AM
    Reply # 6660969 on 6657699
    Sherri Hollister (Administrator)

    What a wonderful story Michael! Is this from one of your books or something new? You brought so much emotion in just a few words. Bravo. I can't wait until September 29th, I hope you'll stay for the open mic.

    Sherri

  • 09 Sep 2018 2:36 PM
    Reply # 6661121 on 6657699

    Sherri,

    The story was inspired by personal experience, which memory was triggered by the barn prompt. And I’ve known kids who have lost one or both parents.

    We once owned a tall (16 hand) Arab who kept going lame and her muscles would tie-up. My wife’s friends convinced her that it was because my wife weighted too much (Arabs are generally small horses).

    We heard about a woman who had a large Tobiano Paint gelding that she wanted to give away because he was dangerous. She had even hired a trainer, but the Paint had laid down and rolled while she was riding – she jumped to safety but he destroyed the saddle.

    I stepped into the pasture to check him out, and he backed up like he was going to kick me. I beat his butt with my hat and he trotted off a little way. When I approached him, he tried to bite me so I slapped his nose. Then I borrowed a lunge line and whip, and worked him hard for about thirty minutes. He never gave us any trouble after that. And as it eventually turned out, the Arab had a treatable thyroid condition so we eventually gave the Paint away to a woman who wanted a trail horse.

    Should I read this story during open mike?


    Last modified: 10 Sep 2018 8:55 AM | Michael Worthington
  • 09 Sep 2018 8:33 PM
    Reply # 6661373 on 6657699
    Janine Sellers

    Snippy

    “Did you see it?”

    “See what?”

    “The message on the side of the old barn.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Granddad’s barn on Route 749. I saw it yesterday on my way home from making a delivery,” Rex said.

    “What’s it say?” asks Susan.

    “John, it’s over. – Abby”

     “Oh, no.”

    “I’m going there tomorrow to haul away the debris from what’s left of the old shed. Come with me,” Rex says.

    When Rex and Susan arrive with Zipper the next morning they see tire tracks and find an old paint can and a brush inside the barn door. Zipper sniffs at a Snickers candy wrapper in the dirt nearby. The label reads, REBELLIOUS.

    “Yup. Abby,” says Susan.

    “See if you can find her. I have to go to work,” Rex replies.

    That afternoon Susan walks Zipper in the park. She spots her daughter on a bench eating a Snickers bar. The label reads, DONE IN.

    Susan approaches slowly and says, “Oh, Abby.”

    Zipper runs to Abby and licks the chocolate off her fingers. Zipper barks. Abby laughs. Zipper barks all the time, even when there’s nothing to bark at.

    “Abby, come home! Why did you write on the barn? You told us you and John broke up in June.”  

    “I know, Mom, I’m sorry. I did break up with him. But I talked to him a few days ago at the gym and he keeps texting me.”

    Susan takes her daughter’s cell phone from her and says, “I’m keeping this until further notice.”

    Abby and John graduated high school in May. They dated during their junior and senior years. John gave Abby drugs. She never told her mother but Susan knew. Last spring Abby nearly died of an overdose.

    Abby smooths the candy wrapper and sticks it in her pocket. She is done and she knows it. She has no money, no job, and no boyfriend. She cries. Susan holds her head steady and stares straight ahead at the car in front of her, concentrating on maintaining a uniform distance.

    Each of them thinks, Hold on.

    The screaming and yelling is over yet the emotions are raw.

    Abby completed rehab. She finished her community service hours at the animal shelter. She knows that if her mother and dad hadn’t intervened she wouldn’t be here. She is one of the lucky ones. After rehab, on a referral from a friend’s father, a local businessman, she lands a job at Chick-fil-A. She starts next week.

    She gets a haircut and then drives to Ross’s in her dad’s old station wagon for some new clothes with money she made delivering plants to his job sites. Rex owns a landscaping business. This year they are twice as busy as last year. He needed the extra help.

    On her way to Ross, she thinks to herself, it’s been four months. Her therapist saved her butt. She held onto her last appointment card (was it just last week?). It was sad when they said their goodbyes. At Ross’s she buys two pair of pants and two tops. When she returns to the parking lot John is standing beside the car. She feels the familiar tug inside her chest. Abby knows she has to get away.

    “Wait, Ab, I’m clean. I just want to talk. C’mon, Snippy.”

    He had given her a candy bar on their first date. They met after a home football game where he handed her a Snickers with the label, SNIPPY. She had acted bitchy, hard to get, though she liked him a lot and he knew it.  

    Abby’s palms begin to sweat. She grabs the card out of her bag and places it in his hand.

    “I’ve got to go,” she sputters.

    She gets in her car and drives off.  Ten minutes later she parks at Chick-fil-A. She wants to pick up the key to her locker. As she smooths her blond hair into a ponytail she spies something on the seat beside her – a Snickers bar. BADASS.

    “I forgot to lock the car! He’s following me! John, leave me alone!” she howls to nobody.

    On Saturday Rex and Susan return to the barn to haul away more trash. When it comes into view they notice the message is gone. It has been painted over. Nobody knows it but Susan and Rex: the barn was their place to go as kids. They did things kids do, things their parents would not have approved of. Abby is no different than they were at her age. She is riding the waves of adolescence. She will emerge victorious, Susan’s sure of it. Rex inherited the landscaping business from his father and went to work straight out of high school. Susan went to early college. That’s what kept her out of trouble, she always says. She was taking college courses as a senior.  

    Abby and her mother sometimes talk about social media, how to decide what is truth, what are lies. They talk about the throng of distinctions thrown out by podcasts, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Abby starts college in January. She tells her mother she wants to go to L.A., wants to surf at Zuma Beach, go to graduate school, get a job. Rex disapproves. He thinks it is ludicrous. She can’t afford to live there. Susan tells Rex she’s worried, too, but wait and see. Susan loves her daughter. She knows nothing can separate them in their love.

    Susan gave Abby her 1971 Malibu Barbie when Abby was seven. Ever since, Abby has been enthralled with all things Malibu. They joke about poor Barbie. All Barbie ever got was a good tan and a bunch of fans.

    Girls just wanna have fun, Abby hums to herself, as she toys with the candy wrappers in her room. FEROCIOUS. POUTY. SARCASTIC. DRAMA MAMA. SLEEPY. CONFUSED. NUMPTY. EDGY. HOT MESS. Among her latest, CARING, STRONG, BOSSY, and BOLD.  She picks up CONFUSED and turns it over.

    Tomorrow she is going to work. She feels strong.

     

  • 10 Sep 2018 8:52 AM
    Reply # 6662186 on 6657699

    Janine,

    Great story with timely topic. I was puzzled at first because you didn't attribute the dialogue at the beginning (which is okay if the characters are introduced first). And the use of present tense confused the timeline.

    I really liked the way that you used the messages on the Snickers bars (I only knew about the Coke campaign of putting names on containers). This device neatly tied together the elements of the story. Fantastic job!


  • 11 Sep 2018 7:49 AM
    Reply # 6664055 on 6657699
    Sherri Hollister (Administrator)

    Janine, what a sad and beautiful story. I agree with Michael, it is timely. The use of the Snickers wrappers is a cool twist. I love that each of us see the barn in a different way. Awesome! 


    Michael, I think the barn story would be great for open mic. 

  • 04 Nov 2018 2:37 PM
    Reply # 6888139 on 6657699
    Gloria A. Gould-Loftin

    The Barn

                Have you ever driven down a road and seen a broken-down barn?  I see them all the time where I live in upstate New York.

                What kind of lives did the people who built the barn so carefully with loving hands, for it to be still standing over a 100 years later?  Would they be sad, what they had so carefully built was now a broken-down relic from a time long gone?

    Siobhan was tired of living like this. She longed to go to the city where she had heard that girls were allowed to go to school and walk freely. Life on the farm was hard with work from before dawn and past nightfall. She was destined for better things!

                Her parents had come from Ireland in the late 1800’s to make a better life for themselves and their children. They were greeted with hate for being Catholic and peasants even though it was a new country and most were immigrants.  It just depended on when you arrived and who you knew.

                Most boys were taken by the Irish mobs that ran New York.  They lived short and violent lives.  The girls became prostitutes or plaything for the mob or were sold to the rich.

                Siobhan’s parents wanted neither of these scenarios for their children. They kept them in the tenement house and away from temptation.  Siobhan’s mother had been gentry and taught her children to read and write so they could have a better life.

                Her father worked on the docks for the mob and was allowed to keep most of his money since his wife was a cousin of one of the bosses.  This was their ticket to a better life.

    After many hard years, Siobhan’s parents moved to a farm away from the city.  Life was very hard, but they owned the land and were accepted by those who lived there no matter what their ethnicity.

    Siobhan’s fathers greatest joy was giving his wife a home and was finally able to provide for his family from the land, his land.

    As Siobhan’s father and mother became complacent with their small farm and growing family, the children grew more resentful of the hard life they led.  In Ireland, they had rich grandparents that had given them almost everything they could want.

    One by one they drifted off to New York City. They thought they could live the high life.  Once again, the mob had won.  Siobhan’s brothers were killed off one-by-one.

    Siobhan ran away from home when she was only fifteen and was snatched up by an Irish pimp who wooed her and told her she would be wearing gold and lace in no time.  After years of being abused by the pimp’s clients, she tried to run away from him and was beaten almost to death. 

    Her parents had heard from a friend that she was in the hospital and went to see her. They begged her to come back to them, but she said she could not. She had been come indentured and her pimp said he would kill her parents and the other children if she tried to run away again.

    Years went by and one day her parents saw a person stumbling up the road to their home.  Siobhan’s mother suddenly ran down the road when she recognized her child. Her father ran down the road and picked her up in his arms and carried her up to the house.  She was consumed by consumption and at death's door.

    “We need to keep her from the other children.” Her father said.  “I will take her to the room we made in the barn.”

    Siobhan’s father carried her to the barn and carefully laid her down on the bed, in the room they had made for their growing family.

    Siobhan looked at her parents and told them, “I never thought I would see you or this old barn again. I am so happy to be home.”

    That evening Siobhan died with a smile on her face.

    If you ever drive by one of these old barns.  Think of the people who lived on this land and how we own each and every one of them a debt of gratitude from being brave enough to come to this new land to give us hope for a better life


  • 05 Nov 2018 7:41 AM
    Reply # 6889339 on 6657699

    Gloria,

    A very poignant, moving story that is historically accurate. Enjoyed reading the story. 

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