Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Urchin's Chance: Contest Entry
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Every year for the past three years, My Faith Radio has held a writing contest, open to anyone. This year, writers were asked to write a story either non-fiction or fiction, exploring the concept of Grace. The story was to be at least 700 words, but no more than 1000.
This is the first year I entered the contest, with a short fictional story called Urchin's Chance. Unfortunately, though I submitted it on time and according to the rules, it somehow did not make it to the voting page. I'm really not sure what happened, but whatever the case, my story is not up for readers to vote on.
Oh well! I thought since it didn't make the contest, I might as well post it here. And, since this is no longer bound by the contest rules, I'm giving you the long version- just over 1000 words. Tell me what you think- did it have a chance at winning? Let me know in the comments below. Enjoy!
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A bitter wind bites my cheeks and sends a shudder through my chest. I feel the cold deep within my bones. My nose starts to run, but my skin is so chapped that the rough wool of my gloves will only hurt more.
Jerome stares out at the people passing by, snowflakes landing lightly on his black hair. He doesn't seem cold. But he's a year or two older than me, and he's been on the streets since he was ten, so he's used to it by now.
Without glancing my way, he nods slightly. “Do you see that, Tim?”
I look, trying to quell my shivers. Across the street, I can see a street vendor setting up his stand. Even from here I can smell the scent of roasted corn. My mouth waters.
“We'll have to be careful- I can see Bruiser on the corner.”
I see him too. Bruiser is a bobby- but he's got a savage streak. I've seen him beat a boy almost a year younger than me for pick-pocketing. He's less interested in upholding the law than he is in showing off his power.
“Let's go,” says Jerome. Without a word, I follow.
We weave through the crowds. People aren't paying much attention to us. We keep our heads up, but our eyes down. If you don't make eye contact, people don't remember you.
I'm nearing the vendor now. The smell lights me up, makes me warm inside. I'm so close- in just a few minutes, my stomach won't be growling any more.
I meet Jerome's eyes, and he nods. I move toward the stand, bumping into a man in front of me. He stumbles forward, upsetting the stacks of corn and knocking several cobs onto the cobblestones. In the blink of an eye, I gather them up and shove them down my coat. I toss two more to Jerome before propelling myself to a run.
It's a moment or two before anybody realizes we've stolen food. I hear someone yell, but it's too late- we're well on our way. No one will pursue us for something as little as corn cobs.
Breathlessly, I lean up against a wall and share a smile with Jerome. He chuckles.
“Can we eat now?” I ask.
“Go ahead, enjoy your spoils,” he says with a smile. “It won't be your last- that's not the only gold we've nicked today.”
I look at him quizzically. From his pocket, Jerome pulls a shining chain. It's a watch, glistening in the white winter glow. My eyes widen.
“I got it off a gentleman back there, in the confusion.”
“Wow, Jer'...” I gape at it. He smiles proudly.
“I think it's safe to say we won't be hungry for a long time.”
I open my mouth to congratulate him, but at that moment, a shout makes me start. I turn, scrambling to my feet. Men are running towards us, and Bruiser is a the front.
I hardly have time to think. I try to follow Jerome as he runs, but he's going too fast. I trip over an empty crate and crash to the ground. Corn cobs roll around me, soiled in the filthy snow. The watch is lying in front of me.
“Oi, stop, you nasty little thief!” a rough hand seizes of my shoulder and I cry out. A moment later, I feel Bruiser's bobby stick come crashing down on my skull, making me dizzy with pain. I am thrown to the ground. My breath leaves me, and I throw my arms up to cover my face from his next blow.
It never comes. I gasp for breath, trying to fill my lungs with much needed air. My head spins, and my vision is blurry. I dimly see the shape of a man struggling with Bruiser. I don't care... my eyelids droop, and my head falls back on the pavement. I know no more.
I sit in a cold cell. My head pounds, and my hands feel shaky. The rough wooden cot puts slivers through my breeches, but I'm not thinking about it. I'm thinking about what's going to happen to me, now that I'm behind bars.
I don't know what they do to thieves when they're caught. Maybe they'll beat me and put me back on the streets. Maybe I'll be sent to a workhouse, or to an orphanage. Whatever it is, I dread it.
Hearing footsteps as they approach, I look up. I gulp as I see the warden with his keys jangling. A gentleman stands behind him. There is blood running down the gentleman's forehead from a fresh gash, but he pays it no mind.
The warden unlocks the door and scowls at me. He jerks his head, motioning me to come forward.
“Come here, boy,” he growls.
Trembling, I stand and approach. At a sign from the warden, I walk through the cell door. I look up at him, confused.
“Excuse me....” I say, my voice quavering, “but, aren't I-”
“Shut your trap, young 'un. This gentleman here's just paid a pretty sum to get you out. You're his concern now.”
The warden gives me a withering look and turns his shoulder. Snorting, he trudges down the dark hallway, leaving me with the gentleman.
Swallowing, I turn to look up at him. He sees the question in my eyes and gives me a kind smile.
“Yes, it's true,” he says. “I've paid your fine.”
I stare at him, my mouth open. I try to think of something to say, and my eyes focus on the gash on his forehead.
“You're bleeding,” I say dumbly.
“Yes. It was a blow meant for you, in fact.”
My eyes widen as I realize who he is. He was the man who was struggling between Bruiser and I. He stopped the blow before it came.
The gentleman puts a hand on my shoulder. “Listen, son- you're free to go now, but if you keep stealing, it's going to catch up with you. You won't evade the law forever. So you have two choices: you can either go back to your life and continue as you have been, or you can follow me and never have to fear again.”
I balk, not sure if I understand.
“So which is it?” the gentleman asks.
“I- I just- I don't know,” I fumble.
“Will you come with me, or won't you?”
The gentleman holds out his hand and gives me an encouraging smile.
I consider my life on the streets. He's right- I won't evade the law forever. Eventually, my wrongs will catch up with me. “I- I'll come with you,” I manage to say.
The gentleman smiles. “Good.” He beckons as he turns to leave.
“Pardon me for asking sir, but why are you doing this?” I ask, hurrying after him.
He turns and looks at me, right in the eyes. “Grace.”
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