Fall, 2004
24-Hour Short Story Contest

1st Place Winner!


The red, orange and yellow leaves traveling the river contrasted sharply against the black water. Distant thunder and a bitter wind promised an early winter storm. She shivered and walked faster, ignoring the muffled diatribe coming from the burlap sack in her arms.

Blood From a Turnip
by Deanna Plummer Wood, Brownsboro, AL

The red, orange and yellow leaves traveling the river contrasted sharply against the black water. Distant thunder and a bitter wind promised an early winter storm. Gretchen shivered and walked faster, ignoring the muffled diatribe coming from the burlap sack. Or at least she tried to. But although the tape over his mouth kept his words indistinct, it did nothing to prevent the angry grunting that had been growing steadily louder over the last few minutes.

Cradling the awkward load, she trudged ahead, her breathing growing as heavy as her steps. She hated that he was waking up. The unconscious ones were just easier. Less risky, too. But this one started stirring twenty minutes into the trek from the woodshed, and now seemed almost fully alert. If he didn't quiet down, she'd have to do something.

Her next step was into a muddy hole that threw her off balance, causing the bag to shift precariously. When she jerked hard to catch it, the grunting became frantic.

"Hush,"Gretchen hissed. Instead of complying, he emitted a high pitched squeal and struggled violently against the bag, legs and arms jabbing at her body. Clutching the bag closer, she hurried clumsily behind a pair of thick, prickly bushes and hunkered down.

This wasn't supposed to happen. Benny had hoped the same dosage would work despite this one's extra weight. "Shhh," she urged as she put the bag down and fumbled with the double knot tied in the twine. "Shhhh." Finally, it loosened and she un-puckered the top just enough to pull out a chubby forearm. Holding the wriggling limb with one hand, she extracted Benny's emergency syringe from the pocket of her wool coat and plunged it into the fair skin. Within seconds, he had stopped moving.

Hoisting the bag onto her shoulder, Gretchen started walking again. The woods were quiet now, the rustling of her footsteps the only sound against the constant rushing of the frigid river. Her nerves clawed at her stomach as she calculated that she had, at most, thirty minutes before the effects of the sedative wore off. If he woke up before the delivery was made...

And then she saw it, the familiar crescent-shaped boulder that marked the rock outcropping. Still holding the sack, she staggered up the incline, and circled to the opposite side, where, as expected, she found the second sack, propped against the stone. In less than a minute she had transferred everything to her bag and was moving again.

She was close now. Gretchen shivered again, but not because of the chilly air. She reminded herself she'd done this a dozen times in the last three months, and it had gotten easier every time. And better. When she first started, it was for the money. She was poor, it was a job. Simple as that. But before long, something changed. She actually grew to enjoy it. Need it even. It satisfied her in a way nothing ever had before.

The scant dirt path widened as it approached the main road through the forest. When she stepped out into the open, the first thing she saw was the police checkpoint. Fighting panic as she walked towards the nearest officer, she mentally repeated Benny's instructions. Be timid but confident. Pleasant, but not gregarious. Let them see what they want to see.

"Identification, please," he asked.

Setting down the bag, she pulled out her ID and handed it to him. "They aren't working you too hard out here, are they?" she said with a smile, taking in his dark uniform appraisingly.

His eyes flicked up from her identification to her twenty-three year old form, her blonde hair, then her ice blue eyes. He returned her smile with a subtle one of his own. "Good to see you again, Gretchen."

"You too, Henry."

He tapped the bag with his foot. "What're you carrying today?"

She nodded and leaned over the sack. A few twists and the top was undone. Spreading it open, she revealed a sackful of turnips. "Turnips, again?" He ran a gloved finger along the lace collar peeking out from under her coat. "Sure you're not selling something else?" Still buying the prostitute routine. Let them see what they want to.

Gretchen shrugged coyly. "Can't get blood from a turnip. Or much money, either. We sell what we've got. Here," she said, snatching up one of the bulbous purplish roots and tossing it to him. "I know how much you like them." Or at least the bills that particular turnip's stuffed with.

Henry grinned. "Good luck at market."

Gretchen waved one last time as she walked down the pitted road leading away from the checkpoint. When it disappeared around a bend, she exhaled deeply. She had done it again.

A sharp whistle sounded from the trees to her right. She charged into the underbrush, heading straight for it as quickly as the sack would allow. In moments, she was face to face with him, his features bursting with excitement.

"Well done, Gretchen, well done," he whispered as she set the sack on the soggy ground in front of him. They reached inside together, frantically scooping handfuls of turnips onto the ground, until reaching the second burlap sack that had been under the vegetables. Gretchen slipped it out, revealing the sleeping toddler beneath.

"We had a little trouble on the way, Hans. I had to give him a second dose." He nodded.

"Eighteen kilos is heavy for a two-year old boy. And for you to carry," he added.

Gretchen glowed. "Doesn't matter. He's safe now."

"Thanks to you." He handed her a small roll of bills. "Now go take care of your family. Tell the Schwartzes, Eli is safe and will be waiting for them in Switzerland when its over."

She left them in the woods, and carried the now considerably lighter load of turnips to the market five miles inside the Swiss border. It was nightfall before she returned to the German border checkpoint where her stomach churned as she approached the gatehouse beneath the blood red flag with the ugly black swastika. It was a perversion of the Germany she loved. But, as she waved to Henry, who was clad in the telltale black of a junior SS officer, she thought of Eli and was able to force a smile. After today, one less Jewish boy would have to learn what it meant to live in Hitler's Germany.

What Deanna won:

$300 Cash Prize
Publication of winning story on the WritersWeekly.com website
1 - Freelance Income Kit Includes:
-- 1-year subscription to the Write Markets Report
-- How to Write, Publish and $ell Ebooks
-- How to Publish a Profitable Emag
-- How to Be a Syndicated Newspaper Columnist Special (includes the book; database of 6000+ newspapers; and database of 100+ syndicates)

Contest guidelines are HERE.

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