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Photo by Gwynith Hayden.

Edited by Katherine Sharafinski on Canva.

Writer’s Quill: Winning Story

Thank you to everyone who submitted a story for the new prompt: It would have been better for her to have left the box unopened. 

Congratulations to Reagan Sullivan, the winner!

I hope you all enjoy her story!

The Crows

By Reagan Sullivan, Grade 11

“One for sorrow,

Two for joy,

Three for a girl,

Four for a boy,

Five for silver,

Six for gold,

Seven for a secret,

Never to be told.”

Martina hummed the familiar old tune to herself. Skirts brushed and rustled as she vigorously scrubbed the floor with a dripping rag. A chill went up her spine and she trembled. Winter was coming. And the vegetables needed to be harvested before the first frost.Her lungs filled, breathing in the cool, clean air. Her eyes closed a little, tearfilled, as if to shut out the horrible day almost a year past.

November 16th, 1730. She was with her mother in the garden. The boys were fighting with sticks, pretending to be brave war heroes. Her father was plowing up the fields so that they would be softer come springtime.

“Look, Mother,” the seventeen year old girl called out cheerily, “A crow on the fence!”

Her mother turned to reply, but stopped, staring off towards the fields. A shout ripped the delicate fabric of the fall day. Something was terribly wrong.

Her father came tearing across the fields, his heavy boots leaving deep marks in the soft, black earth.

“Indians!”

Martina’s heart stopped. Just over the ridge, along the treeline, was a war party of Iroquois. Each brave was painted, fierce, and stonelike. Without a word, she tore inside to the house. Her footsteps echoed loudly on the wood floor. Her heart pounded so loudly. By pure instinct, she fumbled for the large rifle hanging over the stone fire place. With shaking hands, she loaded it, put the bullets in place and prepared to fire.

Piercing shrieks of mortal agony rang out, echoing off the trees.

It was too late.

Hands trembling, the girl crouched down by the hearth, clinging to the gun as it was her last hope now. The movements of people and horses sounded outside, mumbled words exchanged. The girl’s breath came fast, the cold air biting her body. She dared not even shift from her uncomfortable position.

Night came, drawing her black robes, sparkling with stars, and draped it over the little house in Wisconsin. The Indians must have left hours ago, but the girl stayed put. Eventually, tears came to her eyes and she wept gently, clinging to the rifle for dear life. Gentle sobs turned to hysterical weeping over time and she cried with a reckless abandon. At last, the dark night ended and the sun shone upon her.

Slowly, her limbs stiff and aching, Martina emerged from hiding. She could barely move, so stiff and cramped was she. Martina stretched, grimacing, her face tearstained and wet. Each moment was very soft, very slow. She took a step, then stopped, ears alert, her green eyes filled with terror. Horses.

As if rooted to the spot, she stood there, waiting to see what would come of it. Loud voices, shouts, the stamping of impatient horses. English words were spoken, clear perfect English.

“Check the house!” a gruff voice ordered, “And someone bury those bodies. It ain’t decent to leave em in the open like that.”

“I’m here!” Martina shrieked, “I’m in here!”

The sound of running, the jingling of spurs. A man in a blue uniform threw opened the door, his bearded face solid and reassuring. Martina dropped her rifle with a loud crash and almost sprang towards him. He steadied her as she nearly fainted. Martina could scarcely breathe for sobbing.

“My family?” she finally stammered.

“We’re burying them now,” he said gently. “My name is Private Gerard.”

“I-I’m Martina,” the girl sniffled.

“Alright, Martina,” the soldier said gently, “Now, I need you to listen to me. That band of Indians were here for a reason. They were looking for something. Do you know what is was?”

“No,” she said softly, biting her lip to keep back tears.

“Alright, that’s all for now. We’re going to bury your family. Would you like to come?”

Martina nodded and mutely followed the soldier. Her family all were laid out in the grass, wrapped in shrouds made of bedsheets. The graves were dug, crosses made of sticks bound together. Sobs rose up in her throat, choking her. Falling to her knees, she rested there, her entire body a twisted mass of grief. Almost without her consent, words rose to her lips, the words of a song her mother would sing to them at night

“Here is the place we’ve been before,” the girl sang, her voice cracking with sorrow, “Here is the place in meadows of flowers, remember me as long as you draw breath, for it was here that I loved you…” Her voice trailed off and Martina pressed her cheek to the cold earth and wept.

The soldiers buried her family while Martina did not move from the spot, the place beside the graves where she cried, her tears watering the grass. The men did not leave her side as she mourned, nor did they leave for several days after. Martina stayed in the house while they camped outdoors. On the second day, she got up and cooked a giant pot of oatmeal for their breakfast. After that, she cooked every meal for them. It was a distraction from the weight tugging at her heart.

Eventually, Private Gerard approached her one early morning. His hat was crushed in one bear-like fist. Shyly, Martina glanced up at him from under her lashes.

“Yes sir?” she asked.

“It’s about them Indians. Why don’t you set down, miss?” Awkwardly, he pulled out a chair and Martina sat down, looking up at the soldier.

“Yes?” she asked again, expectantly.

“We’re leaving now, ma’am. I wanted to ask you if you’d grant me a small favor.” He shifted about and coughed awkwardly. At last, with a sudden burst of resolve, he plunged forward, “Ma’am, would you consider waiting for me? I retire from the army in just near a year, I reckon. I’ll come back for you miss.”

Martina just stared. Her mouth opened, but no words came out. At last, she managed to say something, but it wasn’t what she’d been planning.

“Um, well, if you’d like,” she ended up stammering.

“Thanks, miss.” Gallantly, he took her hand, pressed his lips to it, bowed, and vanished out the door before she could say anything.

 

Gerard should be there, either that evening or tomorrow morning. She’d just finished hauling in the last of the vegetables and now was turning over the earth, just as her father I had in the fall. He said it helped the earth be much more fertile. The wind blew all about Martina, whisking around her skirts. Martina pulled her cloak closer and shivered. Looking up, she saw Gerard in the distance and hailed him with a wave. He hurried across the frost-covered fields to her. Jumping to her feet, she smiled at him. The ex-soldier embraced her warmly, then knelt where she was working. Taking a trowel of his own, he looked up at her.

“For potatoes?” he asked with a grin.

“Indeed, sir,” she replied, digging deeper. Scrape! A metallic noise sounded as the trowel scraped loudly over something hard.

“What on earth?” Gerard asked, his brown knitted tightly.

“I don’t know,” Martina muttered as she dug up the area, “Probably a rock.”

It was not a rock. Both their eyes widened as she unearthed a box. It was of wood and rusted metal, the damp earth clinging to it. With a grunt, Gerard pulled it out and set it before them. A loud caw noise caused them both to jump in shock. Martina placed a hand to her bosom and caught her breath. Gerard laughed loudly. Six crows had gathered about, eating insects from the freshly turned soil. Martina redirected her attention to the box.

Carved on the top of the ancient lid were Native American symbols. An eagle, a woman, the sun. Rubbing her hand over the top, Martina winced, and pulled back.

“A splinter,” she said, embarrassed.

Gerard was waiting. “Open it,” he said excitedly.

It would have been better for her to have left the box unopened. Martina didn’t even want to see the item that caused her entire family to be massacred. If Gerard had not been there, she’d have tossed it into the fire. Slowly, she opened the box. It creaked angrily, but reluctantly opened.

“Good heavens!” she screamed, nearly throwing it from her. He peeked inside the box. There, in a bag of the softest doeskins, was fine gold dust, open and just waiting to be reclaimed.

Gerard stared. “Gold,” he whispered, “Pounds and pounds of it…”

Swallowing hard, Martina shook her head. There was no decision for her to to make. “I don’t want it,” she whispered, pushing the box away.

The ex-soldier thought for several minutes, his brow wrinkled in thought. Tugging at his beard, he nodded in agreement. “Neither do I,” he muttered, “What do we do with it?”

“Carry it for me,” Martina gently ordered, then got up. As light as a feather, she ran across the grass, green and cold as emeralds to the spot where four little mounds were marked by crosses. Grunting and groaning, Gerard carried the box, then set it down heavily. Martina was humming to herself and began to sing aloud, almost dancing over the graves.

“They say if you dance on a grave, you’ll wake the dead,” warned Gerard.

“What nonsense.” Martina chuckled lightly, then stopped. “I haven’t laughed in over a year,” she slowly admitted. In fact, she couldn’t recall when she’d last laughed. With a contented sigh, she plunged her hands into the bag of gold dust and threw it into the air. It went scattering over the graves. Handful after handful she threw, scattering it over the graves of her family. Her voice rang out loud and clear, singing the song her mother had taught her:

“Sing with me under the skies,

Find me in this lullabye,

And find my soul in this song,

‘Fore we part for so long,

Here is the place we’ve been before,

Here is the place in meadows of flowers,

remember me as long as you draw breath,

For it was here that I loved you…

Look for me at dawn,

When the earth is sleeping and drawn,

Under the oak tree,

Come now and sit beside me,

And find your soul in this song,

‘Fore we part for so long,

Here is the place we’ve been before,

Here is the place in meadows of flowers,

remember me as long as you draw breath,

for it was here that I loved you…”

The gold dust was gone. There it lay, sparkling in the grass. Martina sighed and sat down in the midst of it. Blinking, she looked up at Gerard with new eyes. He was tall and very brave and strong. She no longer wondered why she’d promised that she would wait for him a year prior. For a moment, she thought about standing up, embracing him, and telling him that she cared for him. Instead, Martina stood up.

Gerard gave her a smile and wrapped his arm over her shoulders. Martina let it stay draped there, looking up at the sky.

“Look,” she said, pointing up at the dusky heavens, where the sun was setting in all her ethereal glory, “Seven crows flying overhead.”

The End

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