Fall, 2006
24-Hour Short Story Contest
1st Place Winner!

She turned away from the crisp fall wind, shivering as her long skirt billowed wide and her hair slapped her face. She'd lost her prayer kapp again. Mamm would be real mad. Dry leaves were racing past, heading in the same direction. She'd always wondered where all those leaves ended up, year after year. Some were already brown. That made her sad. The dark orange ones reminded her of Mamm's pumpkin cookies and she turned toward home. She walked slowly, fingering the package hidden in her apron and thinking about the Bishop's visit yesterday, when he'd said she was too simple-minded to care for a baby...

The Promise
by Laura Edwards, Kettering, OH

Sarah screamed again.

Annie clasped her hand as she writhed on the bed in pain. The screams were unnatural, upsetting coming from Sarah, a girl who rarely spoke even when directly addressed. The community had labeled her slow, dimwitted - and perhaps she was; but Annie had always detected something in her eyes, an awareness that belied simplicity. Besides, she was the last to believe hearsay, considering Annie herself had been the subject of much of the town's discourse over the years.

Being a childless midwife brought pity and gossip by the pound. The irony wasn't lost on the town anymore than it was on Annie. The loneliness worsened when her husband passed, he being 19 years older than she. But she was good at her job, and the acute pain of handing over each new baby had turned to more of a dull ache over time.

Now her experience was telling her that something about this birth, aside from its troubling origin, was wrong. The girl was fevered. In between contractions, she was quiet, her breathing short and fast. She was so young. Sixteen and unwed, a scandal not unheard of in their community. It was her response to her burgeoning belly that had caused the uproar and made the situation more tantalizing for the older ladies. Sarah wouldn't speak about the father; she wouldn't reveal a name, and no one had come forward to claim her child. Her mother had disowned her when she started to show and still refused to produce a name. She was now staying in a room at the church.


The sound of her name, her first name no less, from this child, startled her. Annie had cleared the room of all but herself and the girl, and aside from her own voice and an occasional scream from Sarah, the room had remained stubbornly silent.

"Yes, child?" She wrung out a rag in the basin next to the bed and applied it once again to Sarah's forehead.

"I'm going to die."

"Don't be ridiculous. Childbirth is the most natural thing in the world." She dabbed at Sarah's face and neck as she spoke.

"Anne," she said again, arresting Annie's hand midair, "I apologize for calling you by your given name, but I need to speak to you."

She freed her hand from the girl's grasp and said, "Call me Annie." This girl wasn't a child anymore, no matter how her small frame argued against it.

Sarah took a deep breath and spoke, determination creasing her forehead, "The last few months haven't been well with me, though my child has grown unabated. What I mean to say is... I'm sick, Annie. If the birth doesn't finish me, I'll die soon after."

"Sarah, you've just never been pregnant, such changes to your body - of course you're confused."

"Annie, this is different. I'm not going to be alive next year," she spoke with such finality that Annie didn't argue further. When the girl saw she could go on, she said, "Now. We both know I can keep a secret. I must ask you if you can do the same."

Annie considered her words before answering, "I believe so."

"Yes," Sarah smiled, "I believe so, too. I've watched you since I was a girl. And I think," she was beginning to struggle, a contraction surfacing, "I think you're different from the rest. I think you can help me," she sat up, a short scream escaping her mouth as she struggled against the inevitable, forcing it back momentarily.

The contraction having finished, she fell into a rumpled heap, dark curls sticking to her face. She was obviously exhausted, but she brushed the curls aside and pushed up onto her elbows. "I need your help."

"Well you've got it. I've done this more times than I care to count, hon, and this one is no different than the others," Annie lied.

"No. I need you to help my baby. I've seen you, and I think maybe..." desperation lingered beneath her voice.

"Yes, child?"

The girl was fearful but she plunged forward, "You don't approve of the old ways. I think that maybe you're the one that can help my child, can take her from this place, see that she's raised...outside."

The word hung between them, Annie looking down at her lap, unwilling to meet Sarah's eyes.

"You dropped a paper one Sunday," Sarah continued, "I saw it float from your Bible, and I picked it up, fully intending to return it, but when I read it, when I saw that someone was thinking the things I thought, wondering the things I wonderedñ your words made me free."

She gave Annie a few seconds to feel the weight of her confession before continuing, "The father of my child isn't anyone in the community. He was a farmhand, a beggar who had stopped at the Fischers looking for work," she laughed, relishing the word beggar, accenting it hatefully. "I was delivering pies for my mother, and I saw him in the barn, tossing hay; his shirt was off, and his back - the muscles moving there, as he bent and threw, bent and threw," she was lost in the memory, her eyes bright. "I don't even know his name," she finished. "I know it was wrong. But I won't have my daughter growing up here, condemned before she breathes. Please, save my child."

Annie started to protest, holding her hands in front of her as if to ward off the words, the baby, the accusations. She sighed and let them fall into her lap. Though she had lied all of her life, she would speak the truth now. "Yes." And in that one word she made a promise to a dying girl, a promise to herself - to leave, to be a mother, to be free.

Sarah began to cry, her relief evident in quiet sobs.

The baby came soon after, a breech birth, the turning awkward and difficult.

The girl's prediction had been true on two accounts; the baby was a girl and its mother was dead.

Annie lay the baby in a bassinet and pulled the sheet up over Sarah's peaceful face.

She went into her bedroom and pulled out her mother's carpetbag, kept these many years in the back of the closet, a relic from the life her mother had left.

She methodically began to pack for herself and her daughter. Her daughter.

She had promises to keep.

What Laura 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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