6: Hiding Behind Helaman

It was very bright for being so early, Aaron thought while rubbing his eyes. He paused and watched as a fly buzzed between the cornstalks beside him. It had been a good year for the crops and tomorrow they would take the first of the harvest to market. They would also give part of it to the Nephite troops that protected them from the land of Jershon. It had been over thirteen years since he and his people, the Ammonites, had left their homes and come to live with the Nephites, long before he could remember.

His mother often told Aaron and his older brother, Samuel, stories of how the Nephite missionaries had come to the land of Nephi and taught them the Gospel, how they had to flee from their homes after being attacked by their brethren, and how their faith in Christ had led them to make an oath to never take up weapons again. Now they relied on the Nephites to protect them, and that need was growing every day.

The attacks by the Lamanites were increasing and war, it seemed, had spread throughout all the lands of the Nephites. Lamanite armies, along with Nephites dissenters, had taken many cities along the west sea. But the Nephites were finally starting to gain ground. Aaron loved to hear stories of great warriors, like Moroni, Lehi, and Teancum and their great victories in battle.

Father called and awoke him out of his thoughts.

“Keep up, Aaron! We have to get this field done this morning so we have the afternoon to get ready for market.”

“Sorry, Dad,” Aaron replied as he continued working his way down the row.

“Follow behind me, little brother,” Samuel joked as he threw a large basket on his shoulder. “I’ll take care of the heavy lifting.”

“Leave your brother alone and pay attention to your own work, Samuel,” Dad scolded.

Aaron watched his father lift several large baskets of corn on to their wagon. Father was a strong man, but peaceful and soft-spoken by nature. Recently, though, he and many of the other men from the village had started to talk about joining the Nephites in defending their country. They feared to break their oath that they would never shed blood again, but their hearts ached at the tribulations that the Nephites bore for their people.

Aaron also feared what his father’s breaking the oath might mean, not just here, but in Heaven too. At least Helaman and his brothers had arrived and were speaking to the people later that evening. If anyone could tell them the right thing to do, it would be Helaman. Much like the war hero stories of Moroni, Lehi, and Teancum, tales were told of the great and powerful missionary work Helaman and his brothers had done among the Zoramites and Nephites.

Aaron wasn’t sure which he’d rather be, a great warrior or a great missionary. Perhaps hearing Helaman later would help him decide.

“Aaron,” his father’s voice snapped him out of his thoughts of warriors and missionaries and back to being a farmer again.

“Sorry, Dad.”


Aaron anxiously sat on the ground between his father and brother. Earlier, while they were preparing the wagon for market, father had finally opened up about his feelings on the night’s meeting. “Good men are dying out there to protect us,” and “If they had the extra manpower this war could be over by now,” were just a few of his reasons for wanting to fight. There were also tear filled moments as recalled the old, Lamanite ways and the joy of forgiveness that came as the gospel changed his life. The only comfort Aaron and Samuel could give their father was to wait and see what Helaman had to say.

Now, all went silent as Helaman stood before them and spoke. “My beloved brethren, I feel your pain. I know that in your hearts you feel you must fight. Many of you have already begun preparations to go to war, but I must beg you not to break your oath for fear that you may lose your souls. Trust in the Lord, he will provide a way for victory without you putting yourselves in eternal danger.”

Aaron watched for a long time as Helaman spoke of the people’s past and how, through the love of God and his earthly servants, they came to live among the Nephites in the land of Melek. As the speech went on, the people’s hearts softened and they laid down their swords. When Helaman finished, Anti-Nephi-Lehi, the leader of the people of Ammon, stood and spoke.

“It is a hard thing to keep the oath, my people, but Helaman is right. Only through the Son of God have the stains of our past been washed away. If we break our oath now, I fear our souls will be unforgivably stained, as the swords we would carry.”

As Aaron listened to all the talk about breaking the oath, he filled with sadness as he thought that more Nephites would die in his defense and he couldn’t help. He hated feeling like he was hiding on the farm while others fought for him. He was young, but strong from growing up, working the land. His heart was full of desire to do something.

His eyes fell as the sadness grew. As he looked at the ground he sat on, his eyes moved to his father’s sword, now lying between them. It looked heavy, he assumed so anyway. He’d never actually held a sword. He was far too young to remember the wars and bloodshed before the oath. Come to think of it he couldn’t remember taking the oath itself.

Suddenly a realization struck him. He couldn’t remember taking the oath because he was just a baby. Even his older brother would have been too young to speak back then. And if he hadn’t taken the oath, then he couldn’t be bound by it. Aaron reached down and lifted the shining weapon. It was heavy, but no more so than any of the tools he used daily on the farm. “I could do this,” he thought

Without a second thought, Aaron stood and above the solemn crowd shouted, “I have not taken the oath and I will go and fight.” All eyes turned in his direction. “I was too young to make the promise, so I will go and stand with the Nephite soldiers to defend our country.”

Samuel rose to his brother’s side. “I, too, have not taken the oath and I, too, will go.”

A rapid wave swept through the crowd as other young men got to their feet and shouted out their desire to help in the defense of their people.


The early morning sun shot streaks of light, like arrows over the valley as Aaron and his father rode their wagon full of produce to market. They would travel several hours to trade for goods with the Nephites. Samuel had joined a second group that would take food and supplies to the Nephite troops in Jershon.

They rode in silence; there wasn’t much left to be said after mother and father’s talk with them once they got home from the meeting with Helaman. His father was far more silent than he expected, mainly expressing pride for his sons’ courage. Mother, on the other hand, was not. But to Aaron’s surprise, his mother was not scolding or mournful, nor did she try to talk them out of their decision. Instead she spoke to them of being obedient and having faith in God, and as they followed their faith, God would deliver them.

Aaron reflected on the meeting. After the young men expressed their desire to defend their country, they assembled before Helaman and Anti-Nephi-Lehi. Helaman blessed them for their bravery and asked who would lead them, since there were no older men that hadn’t taken the oath. Voices came unanimously from the group that they wished Helaman to be their leader.

Aaron would never forget the surprised look on Helaman’s face. At first he was reluctant saying that he was a spiritual leader, not a military one. But his mind was changed, as the group pleaded, replying that a leader, guided by the Spirit, would make the best military leader.

By the end of the meeting, they numbered two thousand young men who had joined their ranks and pledged to defend their country.


Leaning back against the wagon, Aaron could see his father negotiating with different merchants. Looking around the crowded market, he could see venders of all sorts and trades. There were farmers with different types of fruits and vegetables, herders with various animals, and others dealing in clothes and jewelry. Father always looked around for something nice for mom. He would be awhile, so Aaron stayed by the cart and took in the sites and sounds.

He wondered if he would be back in time for market next year. He knew joining the Nephite army was the right thing to do, but still, he would miss his home and family terribly. But if the Lamanites won the war, they would destroy all of his people because of their deep hatred for them. Worst of all, they would destroy all those who belonged to the church and that was something that he would not allow.

Aaron felt his spirit swell within him as he thought of God’s great plan of redemption. Mom had taught he and Samuel many times of how Christ would come and take upon himself the sins of the world. She told them of when, by Faith in Christ, their people had been cleansed of their sins and the joy they had received was what led them to make the oath to never take up the sword again.

As he sat and thought, two voices passed by on the other side of the wagon. He could not see them, but he couldn’t help hear them talking about the Ammonite boys that were joining the war. He bent a little lower, hiding behind the wagon, and listened.

“Of course I don’t think they shouldn’t help. I mean, I wish none of us had to go to war, but it’s just they’re so young and really they’re just farmers, not soldiers,” came a voice. “They’ll probably just be in the way.”

“True,” the second voice replied, “but at least they’ll have Helaman to watch out for them. Not having any combat training, perhaps Helaman will be able to keep them away from any major trouble.”

Aaron turned slightly to look around the wagon. The two voices were now disappearing into the crowded market. “Just farmers,” he thought, “Keep us out of trouble! They make it sound like we’re going to spend all our time hiding behind Helaman.”

He certainly didn’t want to go to war. Nor did he have any desire to kill anyone else, or be killed for that matter. His people did not start the war, but if war was the only way to protect his family, country, and religion, then he would fight. “Don’t doubt,” his mother said, “and God will deliver you.”

An approaching shadow caught Aaron off guard. Startled, he turned around to see his father returning from the market.

“All set, son. Give me a hand unloading the cart and we’ll be on our way,” Father said, carrying something long and thin, wrapped in a coarse brown cloth.

“Is that for mom,” Aaron asked. “What’d you get her?”

“Actually, its not for your mother. She and I talked it over this morning. Your brother, being older and taller, will carry the long sword I was going to take into battle. So, we agreed that, with the extra money we would make today, I would buy you this.” Father held out the package, his face serene and steady.

Aaron reached out and took it. It was lighter than he expected. Gently folding back the cloth revealed the tanned animal skin covered hilt of a sword.


It had been months since their group arrived in the city of Judea. Aaron stood guard on the wall that faced the city of Manti and thought of the time that had passed since leaving Melek. They had been hard months, but passed quickly. Not knowing anything about war, he had figured that they would march straight into great battles. Fortunately, that had not been the case.

When they had first arrived, Judea was on the verge of collapse. Antipus, the leader of the troops for this part of the land, was so glad to see them that Aaron thought he might collapse, too. The Lamanites had reduced the troops in the area to the point where it was all they could do to maintain the city, fighting all day and fortifying at night.

Seeing the arrival of fresh troops, the Lamanites backed off and hadn’t attacked since. That had given them time to build up Judea’s defenses and precious time to do some combat training, which they desperately needed. Aaron looked down at the hilt of his sword. It no longer had the light tan color from when it was new, but was now dark and stained with sweat.

At least, all the work kept his mind off home. It seemed like forever since he’d seen the farm. It would be time to start the harvest soon. He closed his eyes and remembered his father teaching he and Samuel about reading the seasons for the best times to plant and to gather. He definitely wouldn’t be going to market this year.

Now he mostly guarded the city and patrolled for Lamanite troops. For the first few months, they stayed within the city walls while they were trained by the experienced Nephites soldiers. After several weeks of training, Helaman started letting the oldest among them go out with the Nephites. Aaron couldn’t wait for Samuel to come back and tell him all about it. The more he listened the more he wanted to go outside the city too. He tired of drills and felt more and more like he was just hiding inside the city walls.

As time passed, he was finally allowed to patrol. They were always teamed up with a group of the older men. He learned a great deal from the battle hardened Nephite warriors as they taught him how to scout an area without being seen, to tell how fresh a set of tracks were, and, most importantly, what techniques worked best in actual combat.

Techniques he would most likely need very soon. Fresh supplies had been coming in, along with more men from Zarahemla. Seeing Judea’s strength grow made the Lamanites antsy and they were on the move. They had been spotted along the supply routes and had brutally attacked several patrols.

Helaman told them that Antipus had come up with a plan. In two days time, he would take his two thousand sons, as he now referred to Aaron and his fellow Ammonites, and march pass the Lamanite held city of Antiparah, as if they were taking provisions to another Nephite city. Once the Lamanite armies left Antiparah and gave chase, Antipus would attack from behind, surrounding them.

Now the time had come. The thought of killing someone gave him a sick feeling deep in the pit of his stomach, but if they didn’t stop the Lamanites here, the enemy would march right through the Nephite lands, killing everyone in their path. Surely, God would not allow his people to be destroyed.

Mother’s words came to him again. “Don’t doubt the Lord and He will deliver you,” was the last thing she said to them. He rolled the words over and over in his mind. He did believe, even more now than he did then. But was his faith strong enough? Would it give him the courage he needed? Aaron looked up into the deep blue sky, reached out with his heart, and prayed for more faith.


Tomorrow would be the big offensive. Aaron stood guard again; perched high on the wall facing the city of Manti. The sun was setting and cast long shadows across the land. He watched as the first bats flittered around trees. His replacement would be coming soon and he would try to get some sleep before the big day. He doubted that he, or anyone else, would get much sleep tonight.

The wooden ladder that led up to the wall creaked as someone started to ascend it. To Aaron’s surprise, it was not his replacement, but Antipus, the commander of the forces at Judea. Aaron quickly stood at attention and gave a formal greeting.

“No need to be formal this evening,” Antipus said as he looked out over the land. “I was passing by and saw you up here. Thought I would climb up and have a look around. I often go for a walk before a battle, let’s me clear my head and remember what all the fighting is for.”

Unsure what to say, Aaron stood quiet for a moment. He’d seen Antipus many times as he monitored training exercises and inspected the troops, but he’d never been close enough to speak. He couldn’t think of anything to say, so they both stood in silence.

“It’s a beautiful night, tranquil; the proverbial calm before the storm,” Antipus said.

“Do you think they’ll follow us tomorrow?” Aaron asked.

“Well, they certainly have been more aggressive lately,” Antipus replied. Again, for a moment, there was silence until Antipus broke it, his voice more sorrowful. “I want to apologize to you. Tomorrow I will be putting you and your brothers in great danger. It hurts me to use you as decoys, but right now it’s our best chance.”

“What’s it like to be in battle, sir?” Aaron questioned, thinking of the stories he’d heard from the Nephite soldiers.

The dimming sunlight illuminated the wear of many long, hard-fought battles across Antipus’ face. “It’s hard to describe, perhaps because once you’ve seen one, all you want to do is forget. I won’t lie to you, son, you will see horrific sights. Sights no man should have to see, especially ones so young.”

“You are young. You don’t look much older than my own son,” Antipus continued. “That’s why we fight, of course, for our families and friends. We give our lives to protect the future for them. Well, hopefully no one will give theirs tomorrow, as vain a hope as that may be.”

Antipus reached out and put his hand on Aaron’s shoulder. “I need to leave men behind to guard the city. If you don’t feel ready, I could talk to Helaman and make sure you are one of them.”

Aaron felt himself stiffen. He knew the offer was sincere, but the thought of staying behind was unimaginable. “Thank you, Sir, but I made an oath to God that I would fight to protect my people and I intend to keep it.”

Antipus smiled and squeezed his shoulder tightly, “Courage! I wish all my men were like you and your brothers, young man.” Antipus turned and started back down the ladder. “May God bless you for your oath.”


It had been less than three days since they had left the city of Judea, but they had covered more territory than a week’s worth of travel. Everyone was sore and tired, but no one complained, whether from exhaustion or faith Aaron couldn’t tell. They had been successful in getting the Lamanite soldiers at Antiparah to chase them, too successful. Now they marched all day to try to stay ahead of them. The only rest they got was at night and before they awoke in the morning, the Lamanites would already be closing in.

The sun was now completely up and Aaron could tell that something wasn’t right. One of the rear guards had run up through the ranks and was now reporting to Helaman. Everyone came to a halt. Aaron gave a confused look to his brother, who had stayed beside him the entire march. Samuel shrugged his shoulders in response.

Soon Helaman called for all the troops to gather around him. He had found a large rock and stood on it as a make shift platform. He looked out over the small army he had led from Melek.

“My sons, I have disturbing news. The Lamanites no longer pursue us. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps Antipus has finally overtaken them. Behold, we know not but they have halted for the purpose that we should come against them, that they might catch us in their snare. Therefore what say ye, my sons, will ye go to battle against them?a”

A loud cheer rose up from the crowd, as swords were raise overhead. The guard, who had given Helaman the report, was still standing beside him. He jumped up on the rock beside their leader and shouted for all to hear.

“Father, behold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall; then let us go forth; we would not slay our brethren if they would let us alone; therefore let us go, least they should overpower the army of Antipus.b”

And with that the whole army shouted out the saying that they carried in their hearts. The saying that their mothers had taught them, “We do not doubt that God will deliver us!”


It was not long before Helaman and his warriors found the reason why the Lamanites had stopped following them. Antipus and his men had indeed caught the Lamanites and a great battle had taken place. Many dead bodies lay around the field before them and it appeared as though the Lamanites had won.

Several of the Ammonites vomited at the sight. Antipus was right, it was horrific.

Helaman called out, “Take heart, my sons! The battle still goes on ahead, the Lamanites pursue Antipus’ men and they need our help. To battle!”

The young warriors charged forward at the command. Aaron began marching forward through the tall grass before them. He kept his eyes forward in hopes he would not have to see the carnage around him. In doing so, he tripped over an unseen object in the grass. As he rolled to a stop, he opened his eyes and found himself face to face with Antipus, whose face now looked calm and serene.

As quickly as he fell, a hand took him by the arm and raised him to his feet. Samuel held his brother steady for a moment and spoke. “Listen little brother, I want you to stay back behind Helaman. You’ll be safer there, more protected.”

Aaron started to speak, but Samuel cut him off. “Aaron, I don’t doubt that the Lord will deliver us the victory. But, like the Nephite soldiers told us, the Lamanites don’t show mercy and they don’t take prisoners. When the battle is won, I just want to be sure that one of us is there to see it.”

Aaron stood speechless. He knew that Samuel loved him and was just trying to protect him. His eyes fell, not knowing how to answer. They fell upon the lifeless face of Antipus and in his mind he saw a boy now without a father. He thought of his family and home back in the land of Melek.

“This is why we fight,” he whispered.

“What did you say?” Samuel asked, looking confused.

“I will not hide behind Helaman, Samuel. We took the oath together and the Lord will protect us as we fight together.”


The battle had been fierce. Helaman’s men overtook the Lamanites and began the work of destruction. So great was their attack that the Lamanites stop pursuing the remnant of Antipus’ army and turned with full force to fight the stripling warriors. This gave Antipus’ troops a chance to regroup and they surrounded the Lamanites. And it is said that the Ammonites fought as if with the strength of God. They fought with such power, that the Lamanite soldiers surrendered their weapons and prayed for mercy.

As soon as the battle ended, Helaman sent a call for all of his sons to be counted, fearing many had been slain. To everyone’s amazement, not one of them had fallen.

Aaron and Samuel returned to the city of Judea with Helaman and the two thousand Ammonites. Each one was changed by the conflict, mentally, physically, but most of all spiritually. There would be many other battles, but they kept their oath and never doubted. And the Lord protected them and never did any of them fall by the sword.

a. Alma 56: 43-44

b. Alma 56:46

5: Covenant of the Scalp

by David J. West

“And now I return to an account of the wars between the Nephites and Lamanites,”
—Alma, 43:3

The dense forest brooded, full of unclean spirits, dark magics and broken covenants. That’s what Joshua’s mother said to keep him away from the woods. She still called him a boy but Joshua thought himself a man now, especially since father was gone, never to return.

Alone now in the wilder lands, he paused to watch ants roiling over the corpse of a dead bird, an eagle by the look of it. Joshua had to get moving, but the scene reminded him too much of his own nation.

There is a price good men must pay to take care of their families, his father had always said, and he paid it down to the last senine and drop of blood. Despite his mother’s protests, Joshua would now do as his father had before him and take up the fight against the invaders. If he did not help take the fight to them, then someday it would come to his mother’s farm and the Lamanite aggressors would swarm over and engulf it, just like the eagle.

Using his spear as a walking stick, Joshua pried his way through the stinging brambles and brush. Despite the shade of the trees, sweat drenched his woolen tunic while biting flies bickered with him for purchase. After a few miles the noisome darkness in the forest got to him and he sloped down to the River Sidon’s banks to travel down a game trail in the waning sunlight.

It was beautiful here as the Sidon meandered, its murky green-brown waters swirling in odd patterns like serpent scales. He whistled while making relatively good time beside the wide river. Joshua thought if he had a canoe he could travel even faster but dismissed this; he didn’t have one and Captain Moroni wouldn’t be beside the river. To find the Captain of all the Nephite armies would take venturing much farther toward Jershon. At least mother would be safe, the war was far from the land of Manti. Among all of father’s shattered promises the move had been the best, the safest for the family.

Ahead on the game trail, a flock of birds scattered and the usual sounds of the wilderness ceased. Looking over his shoulder Joshua had the eerie feeling of being watched. This gap between the hills felt unsavory and the still small voice inside warned him of going on, yet his mind panicked at standing immobile. He crept forward, ever alert to any disturbance in the primeval wood. Did a branch on the trail ahead just move, he wondered?

A bowstring twanged and the shining black arrowhead flashed past him, missing by mere inches. He went low expecting another arrow to pierce him. He thought of his father, buried deep in a mound somewhere on the borders of Jershon. Buried so deep the lies couldn’t find him.

A hacking sound fell between the leaves, along with a gurgle and a second arrow loosed wildly into the air, coming down in the river.

Grunts and cries of pain erupted from the thick bushes just ahead. A fearsome Lamanite burst out, clutching a murderous notched scimitar. The ghastly look upon the Lamanite’s painted face startled Joshua who backed away and stumbled.

Thinking he was doomed, Joshua held his spear up. But the Lamanite pitched forward, collapsing a few yards from him. A buried hatchet in the Lamanite’s back revealed his ruinous end.

Another sound of savage struggle followed, a chopping thud, then ominous silence. Ducking into the grass, Joshua waited a tense few seconds.

Out of the bush glided a broad-shouldered Nephite warrior, graceful as a panther. Dressed in buck-skin breeches with a tarnished breastplate upon his chest, he had a smeared broad-sword in his muscular left hand. He wore an iron helm with no plume but short curling ram-horns on the sides, his long dark hair spilled out the sides. Kneeling, he yanked the hatchet from the Lamanite’s back and tucked it into his wide leather belt.

The warrior’s ice-blue eyes pierced Joshua, even in his hiding spot. The sword in his hand dripped crimson and he took care to clean it as he spoke. “You can get up, I have finished them off.” His voice was harsh and firm.

“Them?” asked Joshua, as he came forward.

“Yea, four scouts. I have been tracking them since noon. They meant to murder you,” said the warrior as he sheathed his fine steel sword. “We could hear your whistling a long ways off.”

“Then I am in your debt. I don’t know where I’d be without you.”

“You’d be dead.”

Joshua’s face reddened.

“Who are you?” asked the warrior.

“I am Joshua, son of Gazelem. I’m hoping to join Captain Moroni’s army.”

Grunting at that, the warrior went over the Lamanite’s belongings then dragged the bodies to the Sidon and threw them in one by one. “Let this carry them to the sea,” he said with grim satisfaction.

“Do you serve Captain Moroni?” asked Joshua.

“You could say that,” answered the warrior, sheathing a knife he had taken from the last Lamanite. “You can never have too many,” he smirked.

“Why are you out here by yourself then? Why aren’t you with the army in Jershon?”

“Because, boy, the wilderness is my specialty and I have been gathering intelligence for several weeks now. Why are you here?”

“I told you, I want to join Captain Moroni’s army,” said Joshua a little heated. “Like my father did.”

“You’re a little young for that. If I hadn’t seen those Lamanites planning on slaying you, I would have thought you a spy,” said the warrior without guile.

“I’m twelve years old and I’m no spy, my people covenanted with Ammon.”

The warrior peered at him with hard eyes. “That covenant said they wouldn’t raise arms ever again, you lying to me about your father?”

“No, he broke the covenant, I never made it.”

The warrior nodded. “Fair enough. Tell me, how do you think Moroni can use a twelve year old boy in the army?”

Joshua pondered a moment. “I can read and write, I can wash dishes, I can help carry the wounded.”

“I get it,” the warrior cut him off. “You’re willing, that’s good.”

“Why were those four Lamanite scouts here? It’s a long way to Jershon.”

“The fight won’t be in Jershon. It will be here,” said the warrior, gesturing between the sloping verdant hills. “Those four won’t be missed until it’s too late. They were supposed to advance and scout on Manti defenses. With the latest movements I’ve seen, Zerahemnah and the Lamanites will cut through this gap and go past the hill of Riplah by late tomorrow. They will march on Manti, then Zarahemla. They outnumber us more than two to one and if we don’t defeat them here, they’ll kill and enslave the Promised Land like a snow-white sorrow.”

Joshua’s eye widened. “Mother,” he murmured.

“You better believe it,” said the warrior, nodding. “This gap is our best chance of defeating them. Now, I need to tell the troops what I just told you.”

Joshua asked, “How close is Captain Moroni?”

“His camp is in the valley yonder, we should get there by midnight…if you can keep up,” laughed the warrior. He carried nothing but his weapons and a water-skin.

“I can keep up, just show me the way,” said Joshua, hefting his pack and spear.


Toward the center of Moroni’s war camp, a fire crackled, flickering its tongue of flame as it slowly coiled and died. A command tent was set up nearby with lanterns hanging from its rigged canopy; each of them casting a weak light upon a table surrounded by four men. Joshua guessed that the taller, commanding looking man was Captain Moroni, but he did not have any idea who the others were.

The men discussed the map laid our before them, one in particular argued about the need to attack first. That was when they noticed Joshua and the warrior.

“Captain Moroni, we were worried. You’ve been gone all day,” said the tall man.

“I had to scout things out for myself one last time,” said the warrior. “Your spies were correct Teancum,” Moroni said to the aggressive captain.

Joshua was dumbfounded. He had never thought to ask the warrior’s name when they first met, thinking him just a spy, on the journey to the camp they kept silent to sneak past any more possible Lamanite scouts.

“Who is the Lamanite boy?” asked Teancum.

“His name is Joshua, he is of the people of Ammon and he wants to serve,” said Moroni. “He can read and write, so for the time being I will have him as my personal scribe. Teancum you’re promoted back to command of the left flank.”

“Thanks,” snarled Teancum.

Moroni then explained his orders to the officers and how they might defeat Zerahemnah and the Lamanites. They discussed the battle plan formations long into the night and Joshua almost fell asleep attempting to record on parchment anything Moroni said that seemed important.

Out here under the wheeling stars, Joshua felt almost as peaceful as he had right before his father left for war. The peace was because of his mother more than anything; she taught him faith and prayer. Through these gifts he found peace enough to sleep while others could not slumber for the beating of war drums and sharpening of swords on stone.


Dawn was swiftly approaching when Moroni shook Joshua awake from his spot against a monstrous oak. The banner of the Nephite army flapped and fluttered in the early morning wind. “Come, assist me with my armor and tent, we move out in less than an hour.”

They blessed and then ate a quick meal of dried buffalo meat, corn cakes and amaranth mixed with honey. Energy food, Moroni told Joshua. A squad of soldiers, not servants, Joshua noted, helped take down Moroni’s command tent. Each man in turn carried the burdensome equipment, including the disassembled table.

Joshua then aided Moroni with his armor, buckling the wide leather straps of his exalted-copper greaves over his Curelom boots and then the same for the bracers on each arm. Over his buckskin shirt, Moroni put a thick cotton tunic that was woven in many alternating patterns, checker-boarded this way and that.

Noticing Joshua puzzling over it, Moroni asked, “You’re wondering why I am wearing this?”

“Yes, I have never seen its like.”

“This thick clothing is hot and we’ll feel fatigued at the end of the day from wearing and fighting in them; but it can stop most arrows and light sword-strokes. It’s light enough that it won’t slow a warrior much. I’ve an extra one you can wear, just in case an arrow should fly far to the rear of the camp,” said Moroni.

Joshua looked at him. “Rear of the camp?”

“Don’t be offended. You wanted an honorable duty and I have given you one. You will carry our banner when we meet Zerahemnah on the field. Does that please you?”

Joshua nodded, smiling at the honor given him.

“You can’t let it fall.”

“I won’t.”

Moroni then put on his tarnished breastplate and wide leather belt with the sword of Laban in its long leather scabbard. He had several more knives and a tomahawk. Joshua buckled the final straps and then handed Moroni his helm.

From a small chest Moroni pulled a wide crest made of horsehair dyed a brilliant red. He affixed this to his helm. There would be no doubt from afar who the commander was. “We go to the head of the column now. I lead from the front,” said Moroni. “And you with the banner are beside me.”

Nodding, Joshua ran and took the army’s banner from its spot beside the oak and the two of them marched toward the rising sun.

“We don’t have nearly so many men as I thought we did last night,” said Joshua.

“Lehi and Teancum took half our forces across the Sidon earlier. They’ll be concealed behind the hills until the Lamanite army passes and attempts to cross the Sidon. We will be on the other side catching them mid-cross and have them at our mercy while they are waist deep in a mile-wide river,” said Moroni.

“Nowhere to run,” said Joshua.

“Nowhere to hide,” affirmed Moroni.

They only marched for a few hours before Moroni declared the next valley was the place. He openly blessed that valley to conceal them until the time was right and he dedicated it at as well, proclaiming it the valley of Joshua. “May we all be as steadfast and true this day. Thank you Lord for delivering our enemies into our hands,” he said before ending the prayer, “in the name of thy son, Jesus Christ-amen.”

Joshua approached Moroni and said, “You thanked the Lord for delivering them into our hands. That hasn’t happened yet.”

“It hasn’t? It’s why we are here. They will be given to us, you’ll see.”

After a few minutes Joshua asked, “Now what?”

“We wait. This is the hard part for many, waiting for battle. The tension and anticipation. Look before us,” Moroni said gesturing out over the valley, “these men have all chosen to assist in defending their homes and families. This isn’t about conquest or glory like it is with Zerahemnah and his dogs. My men are here to do their duty owed to God. Before many of these good men looms the terror, I’ve seen it many times. The only way to get through the fear is to remember your place with the Lord.”

“What if someone forgets their place? Forgets their oath and honor?”

Moroni smiled. “Then they had better hit their knees and remember.”

Joshua looked away. This time Moroni’s answer wasn’t so easy for him.

“I didn’t lose very many men in Jershon,” said Moroni. “And I had even fewer Lamanites with me, and only one from the people of Ammon.”

The boy’s bright eyes looked sharply at his captain.

“I knew your father. I buried him myself.”

Joshua’s eyes watered but he retained an ever stronger grip on the banners stand.

“Your father broke his covenant with Ammon to come and help me. He lost his life in the process. What you don’t know is he died defending other fallen men. Perhaps some would say your father was an oath-breaker and got what was coming to him…but not me. Your father was a hero and had no greater love than that for his fellow man and his family,” said Moroni.

With hands tight around the banner stand, Joshua wept.

“He came to me wishing to break his oath and help defend this land from its enemies. I reminded him of his oath and he told me he had prayed long and hard about it. He said the Lord would understand him breaking one oath to live a higher one and I couldn’t argue. I let him fight. If you’re going to be angry…be angry with me.”

Joshua clasped Moroni hugging him as tight as the armor would allow. “How do you know the pain of my heart?”

“I prayed and asked the Lord about you. I realized last night that you look just like your father and are just as brave. That’s why you must stay with the banner on the hill. I don’t want to have to explain you to your mother, but I’ll not begrudge you doing your part here either,” said Moroni looking to the east and across the river.

“Thank you. I will make you and my father proud,” said Joshua.

“I know.”


By late afternoon the sun blazed overhead like a fiery chariot. Joshua wondered if Moroni was wrong about the time and place of the Lamanites crossing the wide Sidon. Then sudden cries came resounding from far across the river. Men were dying and battle raged.

It was hard to distinguish individuals at that distance but the shifting colors and glints of light on steel showed the movement of men and war. Darting black clouds would rise up low from each side only to fall like rain and dim figures would drop to the ground. The dusky figures moved into the Sidon and lumbered toward the west bank of the river.

Moroni kept his men low and silent, waiting for more of the Lamanites forces to get wet.

Joshua had been ordered to keep the banner hidden behind a tree. From his lofty vantage the river was teeming with men forging across toward him. These Lamanite warriors were naked to the waist, only war-paint covered their upper torsos. Some had rucksacks and quivers with bows they held high above the water to keep their bowstrings dry. Most carried the favored scimitar. None but the Zoramite captains wore helms or armor. There were so many, Joshua worried at Moroni’s ability to defeat them.

Joshua remembered to pray as Moroni had. He asked for strength and courage, for protection for him and his new friends. He thanked the Lord for the opportunity to be here beside Moroni and participate in what was right. As Moroni had said, their enemy’s were delivered into his hands and here they came in droves.

The first few Lamanite warriors came trudging out of the river, many tired from their wet trek, breathing heavily. Some sat down on the banks watching the distant fighting across the Sidon.

Joshua knew Moroni had to let the Lamanites keep crossing before they realized how heavily they outnumbered Lehi’s forces across the river and overwhelmed him. The balance had to be found to allow the Nephite’s lesser numbers to seize the battlefield advantage. He watched Moroni hold the army at bay a little longer until the banks were crawling with dripping warriors.

When the Lamanite army was nearly in thirds–those on the east shore, west shore and the last third still struggling through the River Sidon–Moroni sprung the trap. Horns blew and Moroni’s men fell upon the naked-breasted Lamanites and slew them as they lay weary upon the river banks.

Carrying the banner to an overlooking hill, Joshua waved it proudly. The message of courage, freedom, truth and family meant more to him than any conquest ever could. He stared wide-eyed at the carnage unleashed below on the riverbanks.


A pair of strong Lamanite warriors attacked Moroni with scimitars and axes, whirling death rung his ears inside the helm. With his small buckler shield he warded off the blows of one while slicing the earlobe off the other. Parrying against the one on the right he pushed him away before slashing at the one on the left. He sorely missed the attempted cut and the Lamanite easily moved to the side.

The big Lamanite chuckled at his dodge. He realized too late that Moroni had missed on purpose to counter the blow of the other chop home on a friend rather than a foe.

With the Lamanite on the right aghast at his deadly miss, Moroni swung back sending him to his comrade’s side beyond the veil. Sounding the war-cry, “Watch and Pray!” Moroni led his men against the foe with the echoing rally.

The brutal shock forced many in the river to try and evade the destruction. Moroni’s warriors poured out of the valley to the south of wooded hillock. Thinking the Nephites had approached from downriver, many Lamanites wearied themselves, struggling against the river current, trying to move upstream and away toward the land of Manti. Moroni had planned such a possibility knowing the current would weaken the foe here. He pressed the attack all the stronger, laying waste to the invaders.

The armored Nephites were careful to stay on the banks and away from the river, though one or two were pulled in to their doom. The Lamanite captains, who were largely spiteful Zoramites recognized the one weakness of the Nephite armor and called for their men to hold back. Once concentrated, they charged in mass against the shore, fighting with all the fury of their master, the original dragon.

Even Moroni was taken aback at their savage and twisted rage; never before had the Lamanites been so filled with the spirit of hate and malice. The river ran red from this clash of brothers. Lamanite deathblows cleaved through Nephite armor with stunning power. Here and there a Nephite helm was cloven in half and others even had breastplates pierced and limbs sundered. Enterprising Lamanites with hooked spears snagged armored Nephites and pulled them into the river to drown.

Zerahemnah himself began a bloody murderous chant and soon the entire Lamanite army had joined in the awful dirge. The fierce wicked bass of their voices rose off the river like an evil fog and sapped the courage from many of the Nephites. Some few of the Zoramites even had skin or kettle drums that throbbed a terrifying beat. And still they slew their enemies while singing melodious darkness. They encroached upon the valley’s edge cutting down men as they came on.

It took Moroni and the spirit of the Lord to break that demonic spell.

“Hear me, sons of Nephi. Hearken not to this symphony of destruction, but remember our banner and for what it stands!” He pointed back at Joshua, who stood tall waving the banner back and forth. “We fight for our homes! Our families! Our lands! Our rights and our faith! The Lord God will stand by us if we shall stand by him! He has delivered the Lamanites into our hands. They stand in the river, let us fight on and wash them away!”

The Nephites cried aloud and following Moroni’s lead fought all the harder turning the tide of fear back upon the Lamanites. It didn’t matter that the Lamanites outnumbered the Nephites by two to one still, their spirit was crushed as the mantle of the Lord’s power was lain upon Moroni’s shoulders and he struck down Lamanites before him as a lion among jackals.

Even Joshua heard Moroni’s thunderous voice and he too came charging down carrying the banner with the surge of Nephite warriors.

They could not help but follow the roaring courage of their commander and so the Nephites slammed the invaders with a wall of steel. Trampling his foes underfoot, Moroni an unstoppable juggernaut of iron, took the fight all the way to Zerahemnah before ceasing the devastation of his blade.

Trapped between the fiery Moroni on one side of the river and Lehi with another army of Nephites behind their back, the Lamanites were struck with such dread, as they had never known. With the Sidon flowing red at their ankles, Moroni called for an end of the bloodshed. With a wave of his mighty arm, the fighting died away.

Moroni stood upon the wet riverbank and pointed an accusing finger at Zerahemnah. “We don’t desire to be men of blood. The Lord has put you into our hands and still your death is not our wish.”

Zerahemnah snorted at that, “Your ambush says otherwise,” he said pointing at Lehi’s army across the river and Moroni’s own army hedged in around them, shields overlapping.

Raising his voice even more Moroni said for all to hear, “We didn’t come to battle with you for power or glory, nor to throw you into bondage but to defend ourselves from your attempt to do this to us. I know your heart Zerahemnah, you hate us because we abide by the Lord’s precepts and he loves us for it…you in turn can only hate. What a sad excuse for life.”

The Lamanite king grimaced but did not deny Moroni’s words.

“Zerahemnah I command you now in the name of the all powerful God, who has strengthened us to defeat you through our obedience to his law, that you will throw down your weapons of war. I swear we shall not seek after your lives in revenge, but you must leave our lands and never come against us in war again. If you won’t do this…I will kill you and my men will fall upon you reaping a full harvest of your blood.”

Joshua now stood beside Moroni with the banner firmly planted in the ground.

Zerahemnah conceded he was beaten. He came forward hanging his head, eyes glaring the malice of ages. “Here are our weapons,” he said handing Moroni his kingly sword, “but don’t think I’ll swear to you. I would rather die than give you control of my people’s souls.” The two men stared hard at each other as Zerahemnah finished. “I deny your Great Spirit winning you this battle. It was your cowardly armor and dishonorable cunning that won you this day,” spat the Lamanite king.

Dropping the king’s sword at his feet, Moroni said to Zerahemnah, “Pick it up.”

The Lamanite king’s dark eyes flared at the stern order of Moroni.

“We will end this here and now. I will not take back the promise to slay you if you won’t have the peace I offer you,” said Moroni, his mighty arms folded as he thundered the rest of his speech. “As the Lords lives, you can take peace or death.”

Zerahemnah picked his gold-hilted sword up and wiped the clinging mud and gore from its grip. He hung his head low and submissive as if he would accept Moroni’s order. Stepping closer he leapt like a serpent striking, his blade arcing for Moroni’s exposed throat.

With the speed of angels assisting, Joshua swept the banner pole between the hungry blade and Moroni. The stout pole batted the sword away and took Zerahemnah in the face, dazing him. The sword fell between the earth and a river stone. Joshua smote it with his foot and the blade snapped at the hilt. Taking up the broken blade Joshua took the vanity from Zerahemnah’s crown and struck off his scalp. Stabbing the scalp with the sword point, Joshua held it up for all to see.

“Even as this scalp of your king fell to the earth, so shall all of you, unless you throw down your weapons and depart with a covenant of peace!” shouted the boy.

The once mighty warlord of the Lamanites, Zerahemnah, crawled away clutching his bleeding head.

The strength of the boy impressed the Lamanites, they lined up to swear to Captain Moroni and the boy beside him. Telling their names and families, multitudes of Lamanite warriors delivered their weapons into a great pile of steel and obsidian, while swearing peace. These oath men were permitted to depart and they disappeared into the wilderness.

Again in his blood-fueled hate Zerahemnah defied the words of Captain Moroni. “They will slay us when we are weaponless and our backs are turned we know the trickery of these dogs! We fight or we perish! A man cannot live with this dishonor,” he screamed, leading a new assault on the Nephites as they were taking the weapons of the covenant keepers.

“Unleash the furies upon them,” shouted Moroni. “We’ll have no more of this wickedness.” Then he too jumped into the fray, slaying the enemies of freedom. He battled through the bodyguard of Zerahemnah bashing their bare heads and naked skins with his sword and shield.

With even less men than before, and the Nephites moral at a high, the last of the Lamanites were gradually pressed in and cut down. As Joshua had prophesied the Nephites took their Lamanite foes down to the ground with a pounding of steel.

Zerahemnah faltered seeing Moroni’s scowl growing ever closer and his sword-blade ever more scarlet. “Wait, wait…I swear to you, spare me and my people and we shall never come against you in war again, I Zerahemnah swear it.” He bowed his head to Moroni and held up his war-club in submission.

Moroni took the club and cast it into the river. “Peace be still,” he shouted, and the slaying ended.

Zerahemnah and the remaining Lamanites swore the oath of peace and departed into the wilderness. The multitudes of the dead were cast into the River Sidon to be carried far away to the sea. Moroni built an altar and sacrificed to the Lord in honor of their victory.

“Your father would be proud of you Joshua. I know I am,” said Moroni. “If more youth were shining examples like you, I’d march the armies of the Lord to the gates of hell and batter them down. I’d call out that old serpent and break him.”

Joshua grinned sheepishly at the bravado and said, “No, I’m nothing special. My mother taught me what was right all of my life, there are thousands of boys like me back in Jershon.”

“I’ll have to remember that,” said Moroni clasping the boy’s hand. “Now let’s go home.”

4: Out Of The East

When the angel departed, Nephi collapsed onto the woolen rug that he used for a bed, exhausted, but filled with joy. He lay there in the darkness for quite some time and reviewed the instructions he had been given: Go down to the land of first inheritance. Seek out Samuel. And then travel with the Lamanite prophet to the sea.

Hallelujah! He whispered to himself, imagining the scene which he had beheld in vision. Just as Samuel had promised—a night without darkness. He had always believed Samuel, but now he had foreseen the wondrous celestial event for himself. The thought of it made him tremble with an involuntary shiver. He wondered where he would be on the night when the sign would be given.

But am I really able to go? Leaving a comfortable, yet modest home, especially at Nephi’s age, seemed at first to be a completely ludicrous call to adventure. The long journey would take months, perhaps even years. And the privations he might have to endure could make the recent famine look tame in comparison. But the more he thought about it, the easier the decision became. Yes! I will go. And blessed be the name of God for allowing me to!

Chuckling to himself, Nephi rose from his bed, lit an oil lamp, and began to stuff belongings into two packs, balancing the weight between them. While he worked, he again mused over the details of the vision which had been presented to him by the heavenly messenger. Although he had not been shown the entire expedition, remembering the brief glimpses of a journey across the sea, and forests, and deserts, now brought to mind other things which he might need. He retrieved a knife, cords for snares, a bundle of healing herbs wrapped in a cloth, and few items for cooking.

After tightly rolling his bedding and tying it with leather thongs, he looked about the hut and saw nothing else of worth. The items on his sturdy table were the only exceptions. He stepped over to his chair and sat, then sorted through the items there, placing them into two piles.

The first pile was very large. It contained both the Plates of Brass for which his forefather—who had also been called by the name of Nephi—had returned to Jerusalem to obtain, and also several sets of plates of gold, each set bound with metal rings in the same fashion as the famous record. These, with another family heirloom—a well worn but recently sharpened copper stylus—would all be given to his eldest son, the one who carried his own name.

The second, much smaller pile consisted of a penknife for sharpening quills, three stoppered bottles of colored ink, and a stiff roll of bark paper. These he would take on his journey. Not forgetting Timothy, his other son, Nephi decided that Timothy would inherit the rest of his personal effects. The two brothers could then sell his estate and split the proceeds.

Satisfied that he had made his preparations—hasty as they were—he went last of all to the stone hearth at the end of his oblong shaped residence. Taking up the hand shovel from his tinder bucket, he carefully pried up a massive flagstone and slid it sideways to reveal a cemented granite box beneath. Using the shovel again, he cleared the dust which had fallen, then proceeded to move all of the precious records from the table, back to their normal storage location.

The previous evening he had been reading the prophecies of Samuel, which he had meticulously recorded five years earlier. I am sure that is why the angel came, Nephi mused as he laid the stylus with the records at the bottom of the stone box. It always seemed to work that way. Nephi’s greatest insights or revelations typically came after a period of study and meditation. Out of habit, he closed his eyes and offered up a prayer of thanks. A calm feeling, full of purpose, enveloped him. He smiled.

Nephi retrieved one of two coin purses from the stone repository, leaving the other for his sons. He then replaced the flagstone and used the shovel to move and pack the dirt floor of his hut back into the cracks like mortar. Skilled at making the floor look like normal foot traffic around the hearth, when he was done the seam had totally disappeared, the flat rock appearing to have been there for decades. After brushing the dirt from the shovel, he worked the blade into the ashes of the fire-pit to blacken it once again, then dropped it into the tinder bucket.

He grunted with effort as he stood, his knees stiff and his back aching. He rubbed out the sore spots, looking towards his door where he could now see the dim light of early dawn peeking underneath. Eager to go visit his sons, both of whom had their own families, he left the hut in search of his horse. Finding the animal in the usual corner of the property, he brought it back to the hut, strapped his packs and bedroll onto its back, and then temporarily tied the horse to a post.

One more thing before I go, he thought. Nephi walked towards the shoulder-high, stone wall which marked the limit of his property. His small farm, right on the edge of Zarahemla, bordered the highway which went into the market. As he approached the wall, he listened for sounds coming from the road. He could only discern the creaking of a single cart in the distance. Too early for most travelers, he guessed. Following the wall toward the edge of the property, he breathed deeply, enjoying the air scented with dew and waking flowers. When he arrived at the garden, he ascended the ladder which led up to his watchtower.

Many years ago, he had built it for his dear wife so that she might be able to better enjoy the sunset after spending time in the garden. And ever since her passing, it had become Nephi’s favorite place to meditate and pray. Bracing himself on the railing, he gazed over the city and saw the plumes of smoke from morning meals rise from brightly colored rooftops, every tiled surface now starting to brighten in the first rays of the new day.

So many memories here. A lump rose in his throat.

Nephi thought back to the day in which a crowd had gathered, all of them wondering why he was pleading to God for the people and their welfare. He shook his head. How many times had he preached to them? And yet, they would not hear him. Even after prophetic declarations concerning their chief judge, and the judge’s brother, and the destructions which awaited them should the people not repent, very few listened.

He shook his head again, saddened. A tear rolled down his cheek. Thousands suffered and many of them died in the famine which had followed his experience upon the tower on that difficult day. What good did their gold do them in the days of their hunger?

But God had been merciful. When Nephi prayed, the famine abated. And then God sent another messenger so that there might be a second witness. Samuel came. But the people chased him away. When Samuel got upon the wall, they tried to kill him. The Lamanite prophet delivered his message and fled.

Nephi had written Samuel’s words, then had preached to the believers once again. Some repented. Many did not. He did not have to wonder why the Nephites were so hard-hearted. They had allowed secret societies to infiltrate the government to its highest levels. They had come to love property more than anything else. They had forgotten God.

He sighed. Knowing that it would be a very long time until he returned—perhaps he would never return—Nephi prayed. After giving thanks for the lot he had drawn, he stood and looked upon the city which he had anguished over for so many years. Other prophets will come, he thought. My son Nephi will preach to them. So will Timothy. I pray my sons will be preserved.

With that, he left the tower and returned to his hut. Leading his horse out of the gate in the direction of Timothy’s residence, Nephi never looked back.


“It is good to see you my brother!” Nephi said as he took Samuel into a firm embrace then released him.

“And you! How are your sons?”

“They are well. Their families are growing. The Lord has blessed them. And yourself?”

“My wife and daughter are well, and so am I.” Samuel paused. A serene look crossed his face. “I know why you have come.”

Nephi nodded, his own expression now serious. “Gabriel said he would prepare you for my arrival. Have you decided?”

Samuel’s eyes misted. “Yes. We will come. My wife and daughter have already packed our things. I was commanded to bring them with me.” His gaze fell, but after a moment he looked straight into Nephi’s eyes, his lips pursed. “It pains me to leave my people. I love them, Nephi. And I fear there are dark days ahead for them. With the Gadiantons becoming ever stronger, it will take the efforts of both of our peoples to defeat them.”

Nephi let out his breath slowly, staring off into the distance. “Yes. I have seen it too. But for me it is time to leave the preaching to others . . . others who are younger, even if it means I may not be able to walk back home when I am done. I am old, Samuel.”

The much younger Lamanite patted his arm. “The God of Israel will go before us. You will be made strong.”

Nephi smiled, grateful for his friend’s confidence. But then he frowned. “I have nothing to bring.”

“Do not worry. We are to go as witnesses. God will provide an offering.”

Reminded of father Abraham, Nephi nodded, smiling once again. “Yes, Samuel. You are right. God will provide.”


It was unbearably hot when the foursome left the thick jungle and stepped onto a steep and rocky beach, their horses towing behind. Their journey to the western sea had been fraught with difficulty, but Samuel’s wife and daughter—a youth of fifteen years—had never complained. And now as they stood there together, their goal in sight, Nephi marveled at their cheerfulness. Never once had he regretted having them come along. In fact, their daily meals had been far better prepared than they might have been without the two women.

Samuel pointed to a rise up ahead and with eager haste, they all pressed on. It did not take them long to climb the hill and look down into the beautiful cove below. Winded from the ascent, Nephi’s aches and pains fled from him as he gazed upon the grand vessel moored in the deep lagoon.

Double-hulled with a huge central platform supporting a modest living space, and a triangular sail lashed to a single mast, the boat was the largest sea-worthy vessel Nephi had ever set his eyes on. Standing upon the platform was a giant of a man, dark from many days at sea, and girded about the waist in a finely woven, colorful wrap which reached past his knees. The man caught sight of them and called them down with a wave, his speech heavy with accent but still understandable. The man untied a small canoe from the back of the ship and deftly paddled it to meet them at the shore. He sloshed through the water and onto the sandbar, grinning from ear to ear.

“I am Kahoku, son of the great ship builder!” The large man then stepped forward, leaned into Nephi’s face, and breathed deeply. “Welcome, my brother!”

Unsure at first, Nephi returned the greeting. Kahoku smiled wide, and then greeted Samuel, his wife, and his daughter in the same manner.

“I have been expecting you. This is my home. My home is now your home. Please, come!”

One by one, Kahoku ferried them and their belongings to the ship. At first, Nephi was reluctant to bid his pack animal goodbye. The horse had served him well for several years. But with no room on the ship, he released the animal, setting it free. Someone would find it, he was certain. Nephi was the last to leave the beach.

Once aboard, they did not speak of how Kahoku had known to meet them there, but spent the remainder of the afternoon eating a meal and arranging their belongings in the small cabin in preparation for departure. Kahoku had amply stocked their sea-worthy home, and so Nephi felt immensely more comfortable with the idea of a long ocean voyage. As evening approached, the weather was perfect, with enough of a breeze to get them started on their way, so Kahoku pulled up his anchor, and they were off.

Crossing the gap in the reefs was quite rough, and Nephi thought he would be sick, but they quickly settled into a steady run upon the gentle sea, and the ill feelings left him. They traveled for a couple of hours, and then once darkening skies caused the stars above to glitter brightly, their captain lowered the sheet for the night so that they might drift as they slept. Exhausted, Nephi slept well upon his swaying hammock within the cabin, not stirring until the pink traces of an approaching dawn caressed the horizon.

When he awoke, he found everyone still asleep except for Kahoku who was on the deck studying the stars while making adjustments to the boom and sail.

“You slept well?”

“Yes,” Nephi replied.

Kahoku went to the tiller and began to direct the ship in a more southerly direction. “The seas will be kind today, and the breath of the wind, light.” The large man studied Nephi for a moment. “Samuel told me of your concerns before he retired last evening.”

“Concerns?” Nephi wondered what Kahoku knew.

“You have wondered how we will get to where we are going. You may trust me, my friend. I have traveled these seas for many years. I have traded with the peoples of two great lands, and all of the isles between. We will be safe. I know the way, and the God of the heavens will guide us by his lights.”

Nephi remembered the light that Gabriel had unfolded to his view—it would be new, and brighter than the Morning Star. He nodded and looked skyward. “Yes, I know we will be guided. But I have not yet seen it.”

“Samuel told me of his visitation. He said that Gabriel visited you too. Did he tell you why you were to go?”

Nephi looked back at him, surprised at the question. Kahoku’s expression was kind and patient. “To be a witness,” Nephi said.

Kahoku smiled. “Samuel said the same thing. Although I desire to look upon the King with mine own eyes, also as a witness, I was told to bring you something, and then take you to the land of our forefathers.”

Curious, Nephi prodded him. “What do you mean, ‘bring something’?”

Kahoku grinned like a young boy, his teeth showing in an almost mischievous manner. But then his expression changed, becoming much more serious. “You have given your whole life to God. Although I have not offended Him, my days have been filled with material pursuits. My family has become rich in our trading, and I have spent most of my life upon the waters. Under the stars, I have become restless. Not for the want of more travel, but for the desire of meaning to my life. I have wondered, ‘What will Kahoku do? What will they say about Kahoku when they gather at his passing?’ I have sought answers to these questions.”

Nephi understood. He too had felt like his life needed to count for something.

Kahoku continued. “As I said before, the angel came to me too—on this ship as I navigated the seas in search for my purpose. Much like you, I was shown the way to go. But I also asked another blessing of the messenger. I desired that I might give an offering of what I have. You have given your very life in constant service. I will give what I can—of those things which I have gained by my trade.”

With that, Kahoku left the tiller and entered the cabin. He soon returned bearing a medium sized chest, apparently very heavy. He also had a small bag in his hand.

Kahoku cleared his throat, obviously excited about what he was going to show. “Nephi, this will be my contribution. I would like you and Samuel to share it with me so that we might all bring an offering to the new King.” With that, he threw the lid open, exposing the glimmer of gold within. Most pieces were in the form of medallions or ingots, but a few were coins, some of them Senines from the lands of the Nephites. The treasure was enough to make a man very rich.

His eyes wide, Nephi realized that the wealth before him was an answer to his prayer. They would not arrive without something to give. The King would have gifts!

“Are you pleased?” Kahoku asked.

“Yes! You have made an old man very happy. I have anguished over my dilemma: How does one approach a great king, and do so without bearing gifts?”

“I am glad.” Kahoku paused. “I have one more chest like this, but smaller. With it, I think we should buy other gifts fit for a king.”

Nephi could not think of anything else which would be appropriate. What does a king need? Jewels, perhaps? Rare cloth? A fine sword?

Kahoku closed the lid on the chest, then stood. He untied the leather bag in his hand, reached in and brought his hand forward, clasping something within. “Perhaps one of these would be considered a valuable gift? I was recently among the people of the Han empire. Some of them had traded with merchants from the land of our forefathers. I was told they were very costly.”

Nephi edged closer, and caught a faint, yet pungent scent. Familiar with the scriptural accounts which described incense, his heart raced. Kahoku opened his hand. There in his palm were two nuggets of resin, one a cloudy yellow, and the other, brown and pitted like weathered sandstone.

Nephi tentatively reached, and Kahoku obliged. He took them and sniffed each in turn. Their distinctly sweet and powerful scents were wonderful. He smiled. “Kahoku, these are perfect! I think we should buy as much as we can afford once we arrive.” Nephi gave them back to the man.

Confused, Kahoku returned the two pieces to the bag and pulled the strings tight. “You know what these are? How do you know? Have you been to Jerusalem?”

Nephi shook his head. “No, but they are both mentioned in the records of our fathers. I am certain that the yellow one is the same incense which they burn in the Temple. The other, used for balms and ointments.”

Kahoku scratched his head. “When I purchased them, the people of Han said they did not remember their names. What are they?”

Nephi smiled. “One is frankincense. And I believe the other is called myrrh.”

3: Like Rachel

by Susan Auten

Jerusalem-600 B.C.

My sister, Miriam, linked her arm in the crook of mine and sighed. Nephi was running through the market, headed in our direction.

“Speak of the devil and he shall appear,” I giggled. She elbowed me in the ribs and whispered, “Do not embarrass me, Abigail.”

Nephi halted in front of us, his face red and his breath shallow.

“Your father said you must come quickly! The baby is almost here.”

“Oh, thank you, Nephi,” I said.

“Yes, thank you,” Miri replied, her voice shaky.

“You are most welcome,” he grinned at her. As we stepped past him to start home, he reached out and gave both our braids a nice tug.

“Ouch!” Miri and I yelped.

Nephi chuckled as he ran the other direction.

“See, I told you he liked you,” I said to my sister as we hurried through the crowded street.

“Why? Because he pulled my braid?” She scowled.

I nodded, smirking.

“How does that mean that he likes me?” she asked. Her eyes had turned hopeful.

“Thirteen year old boys are thick.” I tapped my forehead. “Believe me, in a few years he’ll be dropping flowers at your feet. He doesn’t know how to handle those feelings yet and he’s probably as mortified of you knowing how he feels as you are. So he pulls your braid.” I shrugged.

Her forehead furrowed. “But he pulled your braid, too.” Her eyes darted to my face. “Maybe he likes you!”

I laughed and shook my head. “No, he pulls my braid because he does not want to single you out. If he only pulled your braid when I was standing next to you that would be almost like admitting his feelings for you.”

“Oh,” she sighed again and lost herself in thought for a moment.

“Which boy do you wish would pull your braid?” she asked, studying my face.

“No one,” I said a little too fast. “I’m too old for that.”

“You’re only thirteen, like Nephi. Only a year older than me,” she pointed out.

My face turned red, but I said nothing.

“I see you looking at Sam. I know how you feel,” she said.

“Sam who?” I laughed, my voice shaking.

She threw a hand to her forehead and swooned. “Oh, Sam, will you please tug my braid,” she mocked.

Now I elbowed her in the ribs. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

We were finally to the house and not a moment too soon. A baby’s cry rang through the air. Miri and I ran through the door to see Father pacing, with our little sister, Isabel, urging him to sit down. Two of our older sisters, Leah and Rachel—named after Jacob’s wives—were helping mother in the birthing room. Hannah was working on the evening meal.

“The baby is here, Father. Everything is fine. Sit down,” I coaxed. He looked into my eyes, his face softening and nodded. He sat down on the chair. He leaned his head into his hands and began muttering words I could not understand.

The bedroom door burst open and Leah rushed out.

“It’s a girl!” she exclaimed.

I glanced at Father, waiting. He threw his head back, thrust his arms toward the ceiling and cried, “Why do you keep sending me daughters! No more daughters!” He leapt to his feet and ran to the bedchamber.

Miri looked dejected. I giggled. Her eyes shot to mine.

“What are you laughing about?” she hissed. “He doesn’t want us.”

I laughed harder.

“Of course he wants us. He does not love us more or less than our brothers. Didn’t you see? He ran in there to meet his new daughter. It only took him a moment to gather his wits.”

“Why does God keep sending girls to this family?” Miri asked.

“Yes, why? Girls are not important,” Isabel, my seven year old sister asked.

I sat down beside her and put my arm around her. “Why ever would you think such a thing?”

“Because the scriptures only talk of men!” she said.

I threw my head back and laughed. “That’s because men wrote the scriptures. If females had written them, they would have been so much more interesting.”

Miri’s face turned ashen. “You blaspheme, Abigail!”

I laughed again.

“Have a little fun with me. How would the scriptures be different if women had the choice of what to include?”

Isa bounced, “Less war and more romance.”

I clapped and said, “Yes, it would be every girl’s favorite book. Instead, the only romance we get is poor Jacob who had to work seven years and then is tricked into marrying Leah. Then he has to work seven more years for Rachel’s hand.”

“Don’t forget Queen Esther,” Isa pointed out.

“True, Isa. And you see, those are our favorite stories,” I said smugly.

“But God told the prophets to include what He thought was important,” Miri added, probably trying to protect our house from being struck by lightning.

“I agree, Miriam,” I smiled. “But I think we girls sometimes feel like God doesn’t love us as much and I can’t believe that’s true.”

Isabel looked at me with her trusting eyes, waiting for more.

I crouched down in front of her and said, as if I was telling a great secret, “I think girls have miracles every day, they just aren’t written in the scriptures.”

“Really?” Isa replied.

I nodded.

“Have you had any miracles?” she asked.

“No, but I will.”

I had to. I just had to.

* * * * *

“What are we naming her?” I asked, as I stared into my new sister’s sleeping face. I nudged her soft cheek with my nose and inhaled.

“Sarah,” Mother replied from the bed.

“We are running out of girl names,” Father said.

“No, we’re not, Ishmael. It is fine,” Mother reproved with a smile.

Sarah stretched in my arms and let out an ear-piercing cry.

“Bring her to me,” Father urged. I placed the baby in his arms. He leaned down and pressed his lips to her cheek. I could imagine how it must feel—his beard brushing up against her skin. She calmed instantly.

“Abigail, I want you to walk out to Lehi’s house and let Sariah know that the baby is
here,” Mother instructed.

“Can’t Miriam do it?” I asked. She would enjoy the task so much more than I would.

“No, Miri is helping Hannah prepare the evening meal. I want you to go now, please.”

“Yes, Mother,” I said. I leaned down and kissed her forehead, sending a silent prayer
to God for preserving her through one more childbirth.

As I walked toward Lehi’s house, my stomach tensed and my heart thudded against my ribs. It was this way every time I knew I was going to see Sam. I always wondered—Will today be the day? Has my time come? Will he finally notice me?

By the time I reached their vineyard my hands had turned clammy. My calves burned as I climbed the hill toward their house.

I was at the last row of trees, almost to their yard when I heard a snarly voice.

“Well, if it isn’t Gabby, Abby!” Shana ben Levi said. I groaned inside.

Everyone knew Shana had a thing for Sam, and any girl who threatened that was promptly put in her place.

I glanced over to see her and Sam standing next to a tree. I must have interrupted their time together. I felt the dread rise in my throat.

Sam leaned away from her, embarrassed at her words.

“Shalom, Abigail.” I hated the way he was always so formal with me. I glanced into his dark brown eyes, looking for something. But there was nothing.

“Shalom, Sam,” I said.

“What brings you all the way out here?” Shana asked, eyeing me up and down like she wanted to devour me for dinner.

“I…I’m…” I couldn’t remember why I’d come. I could feel my face flushing.

“Did your mother have the baby?” Sam prodded.

“Yes, could you please tell your parents?” I asked.

“Of course,” he said with a smile. A tiny dimple appeared beside his mouth and my heart jumped. I felt my face turning even redder. Shana was smirking now, a knowing look in her eyes. I needed to get out of there before the dog attacked.

“I have to go,” I said to them. I turned and started down the road, trying to escape Shana’s steely glare.

“Isn’t that cute? She’s got a thing for you, Sam!” she said when I was still well within hearing range.

“No, she doesn’t. She’s just a little girl. Leave her alone!” he hissed. I sped up, the tears burning at the back of my eyelids. A little girl? I was only two years younger than him.

“She could hardly look at you. Did you see the color of her face?” I could barely hear her now. “It was the color of a beet!” she laughed. I broke into a

I flew down the road, lifting my robe so I wouldn’t trip over the hem. Mother would be horrified if she saw how much leg I was showing, but I didn’t care. I ran harder than I ever had in my life. When I got to the road that would take me back home I didn’t turn. Instead, I kept running straight, out of town.

Once I reached old Aharona’s olive grove on the fringes of the countryside, I turned, losing myself between the branches of the trees. My legs flew, brushing over and over against the cloth I was wearing. I was almost there. Finally, I found the tree I was looking for. It had a twist in it, made perfectly for me to sit and get lost from the view of any passersby. I crawled up the trunk until I was tucked into the crook of the branch.

I tucked my knees up against my chest and began to cry as the breeze swirled my dark hair around my face. I sat that way until long after the dinner hour. Then I began to talk to myself.

“Why do I feel this way inside?” I whispered. “I hate that I’ve always cared for Sam. He only hurts me.” I sobbed. Sam ben Lehi was not the type of boy who would hurt any one knowingly, yet my heart broke every time I saw him because he did not see me the way I saw him. I’d tried everything to get rid of these feelings, feelings I’d had for as long as I could remember, but they seemed to be stuck.

“Dear Heavenly Father, the God of all Miracles, please help me! Please free me from these feelings,” I cried, tears now dripping off my chin. “I want it to stop!”

The breeze died suddenly.

“Be still,” I heard a voice whisper. My head jerked up and I looked around to see who’d said it. But there was no one in the grove. I leaned my head back against the rough bark and closed my eyes. It came again.

“Be still, Abigail. These feelings are for a wise purpose.” I squeezed my eyes tighter, disbelieving this was happening to me. “One day Sam will love you and you will be his wife.” My eyes flew open; searching one more time to be sure this voice wasn’t being spoken by someone playing a cruel trick on me. But I already knew from where the voice had come, because no mere human could place in my chest the peace that was now burning inside of me.

I sat in the tree for a while longer, my tears now drying up; my sorrow turned to happiness, waiting to be sure the miracle was over. When I was sure, I jumped down out of the tree and took off running for home.

God spoke to me!

* * * * *

When I neared my home, I heard my mother’s voice break out into a wail through the open window. My stomach tensed. Something was wrong!

I rounded the corner of the house and almost ran into Sam, sitting on the doorstep, blocking my path. He jumped up.

“Oh, sorry! Abigail, I…” he started. When he looked into my face—I’m sure still red from my crying—his expression turned ashamed.

“Not now, Sam.” I had to get to my mother. I brushed past him.

He followed me through the door, my heart racing from the fact that he was actually trying to talk me and from the fact that something inside wasn’t right.

“Abby! Where have you been?” Miri cried. Her face was so panicked.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. She grabbed my hand and led me to the room where we greeted guests. Sam was right on my heels.

“This is foolishness!” my father bellowed to Lehi.

“No, it is not,” Lehi replied. “For many years I have felt that Jerusalem will be destroyed. The Lord has told me that my family must leave or we will be killed.”

“They are leaving?” I whispered to Miri. She nodded as she wiped her cheeks with her sleeve.

“For good. They are never to return,” she whispered.

“Where are they going?” I asked.

She shrugged. “To some promised land that God has saved for them. It means that we will never see them again!”

I slid my arm around her waist. She leaned her head on my shoulder. I glanced over at Nephi, who was watching her. He glanced away. He did not look happy, but he did look resolved.

What did this mean? How could I marry Sam when he was leaving, never to return? Had the feeling I just had really been from God?

For over an hour, Lehi tried to persuade my Father to go with them. But Father would not agree. “My wife just had a baby,” he defended. ”We have no provisions! We can’t leave all of our possessions!” On and on it went.

“Then it is time for goodbyes,” Lehi said, defeated.

Mother stood first, pulling Sariah against her. They began to sob. I felt a tear slide out of the corner of my lid. I brushed it away.

Nephi stepped in front of Miri and I. “Goodbye,” was all he said. His forehead was creased, and I could tell he was holding back the tears.

Miri grabbed him and pulled him into a fierce hug. His eyes flew open but his arms slid around her. He hugged her tightly for just a second. Then he stepped back.

I hugged him, too. Nephi had always been one of my favorite people, and I would never see him again! Another tear trickled down my cheek.

We hugged them all, one by one.

Finally, Sam stood in front of me. He grabbed me by the elbow and led me to a corner of the room.

“Abigail, I wanted to apologize for earlier, for what Shana said,” he whispered.

I held my hand up to stop him. “It’s fine. Really, I’m alright. You shouldn’t waste your time worrying about me,” I nodded.

He gazed into my eyes for a second, and I knew what he was doing. He was trying to figure out if Shana knew what she was talking about, to find out if I did have ‘a thing’ for him. I kept my expression as neutral as possible. Finally, he nodded too.

I held out my hand. He grabbed it tightly and we shook.

“Good luck…with everything,” I said, fighting the tears that were determined to fall.

“You too,” he said. Then he turned and walked out the door.

So much for miracles.

* * * * *

One Year, One Month and 6 days later

“Hey, can you girls hear me?” I heard someone say at the edges of my dreams.

I sat up in my bed with a jolt and leaned my head toward the window.

“Girls, are you up there?” he called again.

It sounded oddly familiar, but I couldn’t place the voice.

I heard the person mutter to someone else. “I’ll try one more time.” It sounded too normal to belong to someone menacing.

“Miriam! Abigail!”

My curiosity got the best of me. I ran to the window and stuck my head out. My hair cascaded down to my waist. I looked down, thankful that it was a full moon, so I could see.

Two figures stood below me. My eyes narrowed, trying to focus.

“Nephi? Is that you?’ I whispered.

He nodded, craning his neck to look at me. He was grinning wide. My eyes darted to his left.


I cried too loud. They chuckled.

“Hello,” he said. He was staring at me with this odd look on his face, like I was someone he’d never met.

“Are you back for good?” I asked them.

Nephi shook his head. “No, we came to obtain the plates of brass from Laban. Father wants to have those records before we go any further in our journey. Sam and I only have a few moments before we have to go.” He smiled.

“Let me wake, Miriam. She will be so happy to see you,” I said.

A few moments later, I returned with a groggy Miri.

“Nephi?” she laughed softly.

“Hello,” his voice floated up.

“I can’t believe you’re here,” she laughed again.

“They’re not staying,” I whispered.

“Oh.” Her voice was disappointed and I knew that for one second, she had hoped.

“I brought you something, from the sea,” Nephi said. He reached out, showing us an object in his hand. He lobbed it toward us. Miri missed it, but I caught it.

I held out my hand and gave it to Miri. It was a starfish.

“Oh, it’s beautiful!” she said.

“You’re by the ocean?” I asked, looking at Sam. I figured I might as well take this opportunity lest I never get the chance again.

He nodded, still staring at me with that strange look on his face.

“Do you see many people there?” I asked, wondering if he was betrothed.

“Sometimes, but usually it’s just us,” he replied. I nodded.

“You look different,” Miri said to Nephi. “Hairier,” she laughed. They needed a haircut.

“So do you. You look…really good,” Nephi said, and even in the muted light I could see Miri’s cheeks flush.

“We better go,” Nephi said.

“Will you be back again?” Miri asked.

Nephi shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. Don’t forget me.”

“I could never forget you, Nephi,” Miri’s voice shook.

I glanced at Sam once more. “Go with God.”

“We will. Shalom, Abigail.”

Then they darted into the night. I could feel Miri sobbing silently next to me. I guided her back to her bed.

“He must think of you, often,” I tried to comfort her. “He brought you a starfish.”

“It was for both of us,” she sniffled.

“No, it was for you,” I insisted.

“Did you see the way Sam was looking at you?” she asked. “I think he fell in love on the spot,” she laughed through her tears.

But I didn’t laugh. “He’s delirious from the journey.”

She reached out for me. I gripped her hand as she cried herself back to sleep.

Miri had only hoped for a short moment, but it took her months to shake the despair she felt from losing Nephi after she thought he might have returned. As for me, I was more confused than ever.

The next year was full of the same old things; baking, cleaning, prayers. Nothing was happening, and I was beginning to believe it had all been in my mind. I prayed everyday to understand God’s will, wishing to feel that same peace I’d felt so long ago. Then, when I’d almost given up hope, I came home from the market one day to find Sam standing in my house, along with Nephi, Laman, Lemuel and Zoram.

“What can I say to convince you?” Lemuel pled with my father, eyeing Leah.

“Nothing! We are not coming!” my father bellowed.

“We must have wives!” Laman inserted. “And your family is full of daughters!”

“Then you will have to find some where you are going,” Father retorted.

“There are no women where we are going,” Zoram reasoned.

“Why would God tell you to go somewhere where there are no people?” Father asked.

Lemuel’s face turned rigid, angry. Nephi held up a hand to stop him.

Nephi spoke calmly and looked my father right in the eye.

“This is what God wants you to do, Ishmael. Can’t you feel that? He wants your family to come with us. To be a part of this new, promised land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey, saved for this purpose and you are supposed to be a part of it. Will you deny that peace that you are feeling right now?”

Father opened his mouth to respond but Mother cut him off.

“I feel it, Ishmael. Nephi is right. We are supposed to do this,” she said.

“But you love Jerusalem!”

“And what good will that do me when it is destroyed? My family and my God are the most important things to me. Listen to your heart.”

Father stared at her for a moment before he stormed out of the room, muttering the whole way about how we had all lost our minds.

Miri looked exuberant, her eyes sparkling like all her dreams had come true. Nephi walked right to her and grabbed her by the hands, pulling her to the corner so they could talk.

Lemuel followed suit and began talking to Leah. They began breaking off in pairs, couples. The men had already worked this out in their minds—who they would end up with. Sam glanced at me nervously and took one step toward me, but I turned away. I ran to my room and shut the door. I lay back on my bed and stared at the ceiling.

I didn’t like this. Not one bit! Was this the only way God could assure me as Sam’s wife? It was like I was Sam’s…Leah. I wasn’t what he wanted, I was just what he was going to get because he had no other choice. Well, I wouldn’t do it! I would rather never marry at all.

A few minutes later Miri came and told me that Father had ‘come to his senses’ and we were leaving as soon as we gathered provisions. Zoram and the sons of Lehi stayed with us all day, helping us prepare. Every time Sam approached me, I turned away from him. That night we stood in the courtyard securing our pack animals.

“What will we do with Sarah?” Mother asked Father. Sarah was still too little to walk very fast, and Mother was again with child. Father was getting old, and I worried for his health.

“I will carry her,” I said.

“Are you sure? I can do it,” Sam offered, watching me carefully.

“No, she’s my sister. I’ll do it,” I said.

Father hefted Sarah on my back. I turned to look at my home for the last time. I wiped my tears quickly and fell in step behind Miri.

Sam stayed by my side, glancing at me every few moments. A few times, he tried to talk to me, but I was short with him. I did not want his hand because he lacked someone better to marry.

“Why don’t you let me take Sarah for a while?” he asked at least four times the first night.

“No, I’m fine!” I insisted even though I was exhausted. By mid-day most of the other couples were holding hands. I’d even seen Nephi give Miri a kiss on the cheek. Of course she was beaming. I felt the jealousy rise up.

Each day it went this way; everyone getting closer as Sam and I stayed an arms length apart. Everyday Sarah rode on my back while I refused any help. And then there was the matter of an uprising against Nephi, where certain people who will remain nameless, decided to bind him only to be humbled when he broke the bands. But that’s a story some man will include in the record.

After weeks of walking, we reached their camp.

* * * * *

“I won’t do it and you can’t make me!” I said to my Father.

Sam looked like I’d slapped him.

“Why not?” my father raged.

“Think of what this means for you, Abby,” Mother tried. “You will remain single your whole life. You will never have children. You don’t want that!”

“I have thought of that!” I replied. “I will be a wonderful Aunt!”

“What is wrong that you will not take Sam as your husband?” Lehi pled. “He is the logical choice for you. He is a good man! Everyone else has already chosen. You are the only two left. He’s two years older than you. It’s perfect!” That was exactly my problem. None of those reasons were good enough.

“He can wait for Isabel to grow up,” I said. Sam’s faced turned white at this.

I turned back to my own parents. “I have made my choice, and I know the consequences.” Then I turned on my heel and walked out of the tent.

I dashed past Miriam and Nephi who had been standing outside, listening to the conversation.

“Abby! What is going on? I don’t understand!” Miri called after me. But I did not stop. I ran down to the shore and took a long walk, talking to God the whole way. I don’t want Sam unless he loves me, I told Him.

I knew my parents were embarrassed by my behavior. They found me foolish; wanting love when I’d been born into a society of arranged marriages. But I couldn’t bear the thought of a lifetime with Sam if he didn’t love me. To love him so dearly while he felt nothing in return…it was too much.

When the sun started to set, I turned back for camp.

I came up over a hill to see Sam standing there skipping stones into the water. I spun around to leave.

“Abigail! I’ve been looking for you! I want to talk to you!” He grabbed me by the hand. I yanked it away and turned back to glare at him.

“Please?” he urged. “We’re old enough to talk this out. We don’t need our parents to figure it out for us.” His eyes were soft.

I walked to a rock only big enough for myself and sat.

He knelt down next to me, his eyes tortured and confused. “Am I so awful that you can not marry me?”

I looked away. “Sam, it’s not like that.”

He grabbed my chin and pulled it back so I had to look him in the eye. “Then tell me what it’s like, because I don’t want to marry Isabel. She’s cute, but she’s nine!” he said. It softened my heart and I laughed. His eyes lit up and he smiled.

But it didn’t change things.

“I just…I don’t….I don’t want to be Leah,” I stuttered.

His forehead furrowed. “What’s wrong with your sister?”

I shook my head. “No, Leah from the Bible.”

He stared at me for a minute. Suddenly, his face flashed with understanding. “Ah, you want to be Rachel.”

My face flushed, and I nodded. I jerked my chin away and laid my forehead into the palm of my hand.

“You want a love story,” he whispered. I nodded again.

“You’re expecting a lot from a wilderness expedition where you’ve only got one man to choose from,” he laughed.

I shot my eyes back to him. “I don’t care if I’m expecting a lot, Sam! That’s what I want and if I don’t get that, then I don’t want anything!”

I looked away again, my arms folded across my chest as I stared into the distance.

“What if I told you that I’ve thought about you every day since Nephi and I came to see you last year?” he said. My heart thudded crazily.

I looked back at him.

“It’s probably just because you haven’t been around a girl in so long,” I reasoned.

He laughed for a second before he exhaled. “That might be true, I don’t know. But I don’t think so.” He reached out and ran his thumb across my cheek. “I think it’s because you’re so beautiful, in every way. I just never noticed it before that night.”

Now I could feel my blood pounding in the back of my neck.

He continued, “And when we found out that we were coming back for your family, I chose you first before any of my brothers had a chance to. Laman was talking about you, and I put a stop to that,” he said, gazing into my eyes.

“You did?” I asked. He nodded.

I stared at him for a long moment.

He cleared his throat and chuckled, “Aren’t you going to say something back? Like how you’re madly in love with me?” His eyes were hopeful.

“I’m madly in love with you,” I whispered staring right into his eyes.

“I know, Miriam already told me,” he said. I smacked him in the arm, and he laughed, his eyes twinkling.

Then his face turned serious. “I’ve been watching you these weeks, and I’m certain of one thing. I like you more than I’ve ever liked any other girl. A lot more. I don’t know exactly how Jacob felt about Rachel, but I’m sure it must have started something like this.”

I nodded. It was good enough for me.

He stood and offered me his hand. “Should we find out together?”

I took his hand in mine. And squeezed.

2: The Bright Sword Covenant

by Krista Lynne Jensen

Men stepped back as Nadab grabbed father’s arm, his eyes wild.

“Our brothers…” he breathed heavily, swallowing hard, “they come.” He motioned southward and all heads turned.

I hid my alarm and the sudden drop of my heart. My mouth became dry as chaff as murmurs rose and I watched my father. The set of his jaw quickly overpowered the fear in his eyes. He flicked a glance in my direction, but addressed the men.

“Go, to your families. Keep them close. There will be no one left alone.” He put his hands on Nadab’s shoulders. “Tell Aaron and the king.”

I saw the shudder beneath the sweat on Nadab’s brow. His run was not over.

“Go with God.” The depth of my father’s voice hit its mark. Nadab blinked, nodded, and was gone. My father turned to the other men, the murmurs beginning again. “Do not waste a moment. We will keep our covenant,” his hand reached for my arm and his eyes met mine, steadying there, though his voice cracked when he added, “in faith.”

Every color, every sound seemed sharp, almost painful, and I could not tune it out, did not try. I watched every movement as we crossed the village. The word had spread quickly. Shouts bringing embraces, frantic searching for someone small I could picture in my mind, quiet mouths moving next to ears and tear-lined cheeks, wrinkled hands reaching. I was nearly eighteen years of age and my stride matched my father’s. It was a recent thing; a target I had been aiming for since I could walk, I am told. I wondered in disbelief how many more steps I would take with his. We passed the grain piled newly harvested in baskets next to fruit and cheese. Who would eat it? I thought of Gib.

I looked around. “Father, my friends.”

“There is no time.”

Still, I searched among the faces, achingly familiar, as much a part of me as the sun rising each morning.

“Niram!” My mother ran to us and embraced my father, fighting tears, I knew. She breathed them away as her hands came to my face. “Mathoni, my son.” She pressed a smile and I let her hold me instead of pulling away. I wanted to rest into her shoulder, cling to her garment and hear the song she still sang to Shanai. Her braid was soft under my hand. I furrowed my brow, fighting the tightening of my chest.

“Mother, can you not run?” I blew out a breath, shaking my head. “Can you not take Shanai and run?” I turned toward my father. “Would that be so wrong?”

Pain surfaced in my father’s face, and he shook his head. “No. It would not be wrong. The others know this.” He lifted my mother’s face. “Dahra, if you wish to go, to take Shanai—“

“We have discussed this.” A tear ran down her face. My mother’s whisper was fierce. “I will not leave you.” She drew in a painful breath. “And the Lord will not leave us.” She turned back to me, pulling my face to meet her golden eyes. “He will not leave us.”

I could only nod.

“Your sister is in the house.”

I swept the linen aside, struck by the scent of drying herbs and crushed grain. A plucked bird hung upside-down and I looked away. “Shanai, come.”

Two little feet stuck out from under the low table, the cushions pushed aside. “I had to find Sebel.” She pushed herself out from underneath and I took her by the waist, hoisting her up over my shoulder. She squealed. There were eleven years between my sister and I, and though she was often underfoot, following my friends and I around during our free time, asking endless questions and sharing endless observations, often pulling at my patience, I would lay the world flat for her. I was her protector. I felt it even now. As I lowered her to the ground, allowing a smile, my heart was torn by another sound, another squeal.

A scream.

“Mathoni.” Shanai scrambled into my legs, clinging to her doll.

“Shh.” My heart pounded at the unwanted reality invading the borders of our lives here. “We must go.” The words hurt. “Mother and father are waiting.”

“But I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go, please, Mati.”

Another distant scream ripped me and I picked up this little girl I had taught to walk. “I will be with you.” Her hand gripped my neck and I rushed outside to the noise and motion. My father’s face was a smooth stone in a tumult of crashing waves. He ran his hand over Shanai’s hair and she let go of me, clinging to him instead.

The action made a wrench of my heart, but my mother’s hand wrapped around mine.

“Let us meet them.”

We walked southward. I blinked, unable to swallow the blade in my throat. Ironic, that I should feel a weapon on the inside. The noise, the heat in my ears, the wetness in my eyes burning, it was disorienting and I blinked again.

But, as my sight cleared, it was not chaos I saw. The cries I heard were not frantic. Those were only inside me with the blade caught in my throat. As I pressed the heat away from my eyelids, as I matched my father’s footsteps, felt my mother’s hand, we joined a procession, and I heard the sound of prayer.

My father spoke. “They will come to our border soon.”

I knew. I knew they would already have come through Shimnalom, making their way to Middoni and the new king. Making their way through their brothers. Families split and made enemies. My father’s family. I looked at my father’s arms. When I was a child I was fearful of their strength as he readied for battle, his axe a thing of terror and awe. Now, he cradled Shanai, and pulled my mother closer. I knew a man from Shimnalom. Would I see him trading spices again?

I blinked and breathed.


All was suspended at the soft sound behind me. I turned, feeling my mother’s grip tighten. Not far off, my friend Rel and her family walked. Her sad, dark eyes bore into mine. I could not speak. Slowly, a smile touched her mouth, then left too soon. I should have given her a kiss when Gib left us alone by the river. I wished I had been brave enough.

I swallowed the sharp edge in my throat and lifted my chin. Rel lifted hers in answer, but her eyes betrayed her. She turned away before her tears fell. I would keep a sense of her whereabouts.

The fields in this portion of our boundaries were not yet harvested, the stalks tall and full, heavy with grain. We had been blessed with an abundant harvest, not only of the grain, but in the hunt, and our trade as well. As we gave thanks to God, I remembered my father’s cautious words.

This will not sit well with our brothers.

What was a peaceful place to toil and reflect on the changes that had taken place in our lives, was now an ominous, golden swath of waiting. Several older couples made their way to the front edge of the field. People reached out to pull them to a stop, but they would not, only shake their heads, tighten their links on one another’s arms, and continue. An elderly widower pulled away from his family through their quiet protests, nodding reassurance, joining the others of his generation.

They would put themselves first.

I spied Gib farther up, more than halfway, his hulking figure easy to spot. Three years my senior, and my best friend. I took another step, but was pulled to a stop.

“Here, son.” I turned to my father. Shanai clung tightly to him, her face buried in his neck, crying silently. “We need go no further.”

My mother pulled in a quick breath and covered her mouth, her eyes glued south. I looked where she did as I heard them. The faint pounding of feet, the brush of legs past fern and rush, the crazed call of certain attack, shaking any steadiness from under me, piercing my soul.

And then they fell. Like a breeze through the stalks rippling outward, my people bowed. Gib looked back, found me, gave a nod, and was lost just below the heads of grain. I searched for Rel, her tears streaming now, her chin up, her shoulders strong as she held her hand out to me. My fingers opened across distance and people between us.

“Mati.” I blinked and Rel disappeared. “Mati I want to hold you.”

My father passed Shanai to me and she brushed her finger tips down my face. “Don’t cry, Mati. It will be all right.” She hiccupped and waited for me to tell her she was right. I nodded as my father pressed my shoulder and I knelt to the ground, sucking in my breath as my knee hit a rock on edge. Distracted from our waking dream, I remembered clearing this field, removing rocks such as this, angry at missing one. My hand dug the earth around it and I pulled to toss it aside—

I paused at the hush. The whispered prayers stilled. No one was left standing. Someone behind us broke the silence.

“They are here.”

Shanai whimpered and I bowed myself over her, still watching the front, peering through the grain…

A lone scream of rage and fury cut us through, then the line of trees erupted in a mass of arms and blades and more cries of hatred. I must have moved because my father’s hand pressed heavy on my shoulder again.

I looked back to shake him off, I would not run, but different sounds brought me around again, soft cries amid the harsh, gasps all around us, and voices rising. Rising to God.

“Our Father, remember us.”

“Oh God, have mercy on our souls.”

“Protect us, oh Lord.”

“We thank thee, for sending thy servants to teach us. Protect them.”

“Please… please…”

The swish of blade sang through air, the moan of death. Gib’s cry. My legs pushed and I stood, my hand gripping the rock so it hurt.“Gib!”

Shanai clung to my hip. “Mati!”

I looked down at the terror on Shanai’s face. When I looked back up, it was to meet the hard stare of the one who had just cut Gib, even across this field. I heard Shanai draw in her whimpered breath as his stare moved to her.

“No.” Regret rushed through me. “NO!” In a movement, Shanai was behind me and I heard my mother’s sounds, but my feet were already shoving me forward. “NO!” I could not bear this. I could not be still and watch my people slaughtered like lambs, like fish in a net. I would fight. I would do something. Hands grabbed for me as my fingers turned the rock in my hand, finding the jagged edge. Across the closing distance, I saw the smile of my friend’s attacker as he lifted his sword to another, as Gib groaned.

“Mmmph.” I came down hard, my shoulder hitting the ground.

“Son, if you would run… then run. Take Shanai and Rel and run… but do not do this. Do not break your covenant with God.”

I lay still, breathing the soil, feeling the earth and stalk, my father stronger than I. Stronger than I. Emotions whirled and I wanted to yell, to scream, Why? Why are we nothing? To them? To God? A sob clawed its way out. “Why do they win?”

More cries sounded and our heads came up. I shook off my father’s grip and he let me go. And I remembered. I remembered our swords, our axes and cimeters thrown into the hole dug deep, a promise to never again take up weapons against our brethren. The peace, the heft of the cool dirt in our spades and picks as the ground covered the bright war blades in that secret place, never to be dulled with blood again. The earth swallowed them up as an offering to the God who created all things above and below, now and hereafter. A God who kept His promises. I remembered Gib’s smile, his relief, his firm pat on my back as the last mound of dirt was smoothed over. My breathing deepened. Slowly, I stood.

“God, our Father,” a voice carried across the field above the killing sounds, clear. I swallowed and faced my enemies, then raised my eyes. My voice. “Thou dost know us. Thou dost know our flesh and blood, these brothers. We will not shed their blood. Our blood. Let them see.” I sucked in air as I stood tall, “Let them remember.” My throat closed.

I lowered my eyes to one who stared, and met others. The rock slipped from my fingers and I dropped to my knees, shaking now. I choked. “Let them know Thee, also.” I bowed my head to the earth, succumbing to my sorrow.

The sounds of slaughter slowly continued. Exclamations were followed by curses. Arguing ensued, and then the sound of blade… against blade.

“Fall back.”


“We will not do this.”

“We have our orders!”

“I’m the captain. Look around you!”

“This is our enemy!”

“This is our family!”


I raised my head, as others were doing. Already, a number of our attackers stood, their weapons dropped, their heads bowed in shame, our people gripping their legs, calling them by name. Cries of confusion came from behind them as the attack slowed… like sun resting on the horizon. Dazed, I got to my feet.

“Fall back. We are done.” The captain turned his eyes to me.

I took in my breath, staggering. “Barak.” I thought I would never see him again. Years had separated us, as well as choice. But there was no mistaking it.

He gave me a somber nod. “Cousin.” He lowered his eyes, then fell to his knees. “Please—“

The other soldier made a quick movement, a flash of metal as Gib shoved me aside with a grunt. The blade was ice and fire to my flesh. A scream sounded from my mother somewhere, and Barak’s weapon sliced cleanly through the soldier who had bested me and my dropped rock. The ground moved, and I steadied myself as the soldier fell in a heap. Gib was falling, too.


He clung to my waist, sliding down. I knelt with his weight, biting my teeth at the sting so near my chest. His arms released me, and my own blood met the stain he left on my tunic. He was still. Edges blurred around me, darkness taking over my sight. What was sharp before softened.

Hands held me, and murmurs hushed, hair brushed across my arm, with the scent of tea leaves… Rel.

“Oh, Lord, remember us.” My father’s voice ached. “Please, in this dark hour, remember our son and brother.”

My mother’s song, gentle, halting, faded.

“Mati…” a bit of weight in the crook of my good arm, “Mati, it will be all right.” Tiny fingers along my cheek.

“Shh, Shanai.” A smile touched my mouth. “I know.” All became whiter than sun on the sand.

And I saw them. A thousand souls, holding hands, arms linked, children on shoulders raising their hands high, bright faces in the light. One, strong, who turned to me, gave me a nod.

I nodded in return. Gib. Thank you.

He waved me away and continued into the light, embraced by his family. But I stayed.

Mathoni. I raised my eyes to the whiteness, to the voice reverberating through my sinews. Go, Mathoni, and raise up a valiant nation unto me. They will remember. All is well.

My heart beat strong in my chest and my ears filled with cries of sorrow mixed with wonder. The white faded and I blinked. Like a man coming up out of the water, I breathed, savoring the golden air, scanning the blue sky. “I will.”

Alma 24:15 “…if our brethren seek to destroy us, behold, we will hide away our swords, yea, even we will bury them deep in the earth, that they may be kept bright, as a testimony that we have never used them, at the last day; and if our brethren destroy us, behold, we shall go to our God and shall be saved.”

1: The Lost Barge

by Michael Young

And it came to pass that they did travel in the wilderness, and did build barges, in which they did cross many waters, being directed continually by the hand of the Lord. —Ether 2:6

“Unstop the hole!”

A red-faced man dashed toward the center of the barge, his hands groping the ceiling for the stopper’s handle.

The barge bucked sideways and he crashed to the floor. Passengers screamed in terror as they lost their footing. The glowing stones which hung from a tether swung about recklessly, casting ever-changing shadows around the barge.

The barge leveled out, and the muscular man renewed his attempt for the plug. His fingers closed around the handle, and his muscles tensed.

“Kish, stop!”

Kish turned, but did not remove his hand from the handle. “Oh, why is that? Do you wish to suffocate everyone inside? What inspired leadership, Omer.”

Omer tensed, “Do you not feel the storm? If we unstop it, we will surely drown!”

Kish shook his head, “I’ll just open it a bit. I don’t mind getting a little wet.”

“Kish! Jared put me in charge, or has this storm rattled your brain?”

Kish lowered his hand. “This mess is your brother’s fault. How many days have we been aimlessly flopping around? 200? 300? We could use some actual leadership.”

Omer stepped towards Kish. “Listen to what you are saying, Kish! My brothers are men of God! You know what Mahonri saw…why those stones glow so brightly!”

Kish wrinkled his face and steadied himself as the barge rocked precariously to his right. “Maybe they will start saying such nice things about me once I save their lives.” He reached up again to pull out the stopper, when suddenly the barge pitched violently upwards. It climbed at an alarming rate, sending everything sliding backwards. The movement slowed and then stopped, and the barge hung for an eternal second.

The barge flew forward, gaining speed until it seemed it could not possibly go any faster. Omer fell forward and grasped blindly for anything to break his fall. His hands found the tether that held the glowing stones in place. It snapped and Omer and a stone went spiraling out of control. He fell on top of the stone and the entire barge went black.

A tremendous cracking filled the air as an unseen barrier finally halted the barge’s progress. Timbers splintered and water poured into the barge through every crack. The stopper broke off with Kish still gripping the handle. Omer rose and found himself battling the rising water. He raised the stone out from underneath him and immediately wished that he hadn’t.

The barge lay in ruins, and the waves whisked off people, animals and provisions in all directions. His faithful words, just moments before seemed at once shallow and naïve. He could feel his faith evaporating before the enormity of the disaster.

“It can’t end like this!” he cried above the churning waves. “Why would we be led so far just to die?” Only the stinging rain and wind answered and he wondered if the Promised Land they were seeking was in fact the one on the other side of death.

Faith and fear struggled within him, wrestling for what might be his finally moments. He found himself wondering whether his older brother was the only one entitled to miracles. It up vivid memories of another day and another disaster.

This is how if felt when the tower fell.

He tied the precious stone around his waist and plunged himself into the water in a desperate attempt to help the others. His wife had been at the back of the barge, feeding their young son, not yet even two years old. He caught a glimpse of bright yellow amidst the turmoil.

Her dress, she was wearing that yellow dress!

Without a second thought, he flung himself towards the color, his arms beating back the water in a fierce staccato rhythm. The color drifted farther and farther away, teasing him as if the waves had developed a personal vendetta. He doubled his pace, his muscles screaming in protest and the color drew tantalizingly closer. Furiously, he beat back the water drawing closer and closer until he seized hold of the plank to which the color was attached. He reached out with burning muscles, screaming his wife’s name to the wind.

And found only a torn scrap of cloth.

It was the same bright yellow that had made his wife’s dress. Deseret cloth they had called it, because of its resemblance to honey. The cloth still showed the seam from when it had been a part of a larger garment.

Utterly spent, Omer collapsed onto the plank and grasped it as hard as he could. In the great storm, the water that dripped from his eyes scarcely counted.

He thought he might drown in grief before he had the chance to drown in the waves. However, in a moment, quite a different feeling washed over him. His entire body flooded with a profound sense of peace, unlike any he had ever experienced before, and a phrase, barely the suggestion of words entered his mind.

Peace, be still.

The voice resonated throughout his body and filled him with light.

It is just how my brother described it, after returning with the stones.

Omer closed his eyes and surrendered to the peace that enveloped him, knowing that despite the chaos around him, he was being steered in the right direction.

“Omer, arise!”

Omer opened his eyes slowly, and even when fully open, he could not make out what he was seeing. All around him stretched damp sand, and above him stood a brilliant white figure in a flowing robe. At once, he thought that he had drowned and was being welcomed into the next life.

He looked down at his hands and noticed that he was still clutching the scrap of yellow cloth. The pain bubbled up in him anew.

The bright figure beckoned to Omer. “Do not fear. The Lord has heard thy prayers and the prayers of thy brethren.”

Omer attempted to rise, and it came easily. His toes sunk into wet sand and he stood gazing up at the figure in reverence and fascination. “We have prayed to be led to the Promised Land. Do I stand there now?”

The angel nodded, his countenance beaming. “Yea, thought the Lord hath led thy branch here for a special purpose.”

Omer felt his heart seize within him. “A branch? What has happened to Jared and the others?”

The angel smiled, and at once Omer felt his fears dissolve like sand before the waves. “They have been led to another part of His Vineyard, and they shall be protected and prospered as they keep His commandments. You must now take on a great responsibility.”

The angel gestured to a hill which rose starkly behind him from the beach. “Get thee unto the top of this hill. There you will find a cave in which sacred writings are held. It is your task to protect these writings and record the doings of your people until you will be taken home. Be faithful and diligent in these things, and this shall verily be a land of promise unto you and unto those who shall hereafter possess this land.”

The air around the angel glowed intensely and it in an instant, the messenger was gone, replaced with a pillar of light. The light moved slowly up the beach towards the wooded hillside. Omer stepped forward, compelled to follow. It snaked up the beach, and wound its way around the trees. Though Omer’s muscles burned in protest, he maintained the steady pace.

He twisted through the woods, until he could hardly tell which way the beach lay or how far he had come. At last, the light rested on a triangular rock formation with rivulets of water trickling down its sides.

The light subsided and Omer stepped up onto the spot where it had last rested. His gaze fell and he peered down into a dark tube leading into the earth. He could not make out its depth, nor if it even had a bottom at all.

Descend into the earth.

The thought entered his mind, and he immediately dismissed it as foolishness. He had not just escaped a shipwreck just to leap his own doom. He turned away to examine the rest of formation. A strange feeling tugged at his insides.

You must descend into the earth.

Omer gazed back into the hole and hesitated. Was he making this up? What could possibly be down this dank hole that could be so important?

He turned again, but when the compulsion came again, Omer turned and lowered himself slowly into the hole. His legs dangled in mid-air, even when he had lowered himself down with his arms as far as he could go. He steeled himself, and clenched his eyes tight. With an outrush of air, he released his hands and fell blindly into the earth.

He fell several feet and landed on a soft patch of earth and piled weeds. He stood slowly, overjoyed that he had not been injured. Suddenly, he realized that though the cave was dark, he could see quite clearly. He glanced down and found that the light was coming from the pocket of his robe. He reached down and extracted the glowing stone that had provided light for their barge for the entire voyage.

Holding the stone aloft, he made his way down a narrow tunnel, lined with wet moss and into a round chamber no larger the small tents they used for shelter. The chamber consisted of only a low stone bench set against an unnaturally smooth wall. Omer squinted as the light from the stone reflected unexpectedly off the surface of the wall. He lowered the stone and examined the wall. He felt the smooth surface just to make sure.

The entire face of the wall was covered with a thick sheet of silvery metal. He passed the light back and forth and found that the sheet was divided into three distinct sections with a deep groove between each one. Strange markings, unlike any writing he had ever seen filled the entire first section while the other two remained blank. He leaned in for a closer look and hit his head against something hanging from the ceiling.

He drew back quickly and nearly laughed in astonishment. Two clear stones, very much like the one he held in his hand hung suspended from the ceiling, connected with a thin wire so that they hung about eye width apart.

Omer reached up with trembling fingers and brought the strange stones in front of his face so that he could examine them. He gasped as he saw the metal sheet through the stones. The markings on the first section, which had seemed so strange before, now glowed brightly, and appeared to be in Omer’s own language.

He started at the top of the sheet and traced the words down to the bottom corner. His lips unconsciously mouthed the words, and one by the one, the words filled him up with intense delight. He found that he could not speak them aloud, but after only a single reading they were burned completely into his memory so that he could recall them at any time.

Reverently, he lowered the makeshift pair of spectacles and stared silently at the empty sections. Suddenly, he fell to his knees upon the bench and lifted his hands heavenward. “Oh, Lord, I thank thee that thou hast led me here to this sacred place. I know that thou hast led me here for a wise purpose, and oh, Lord, I am thy humble servant and desire only that thou would make thy purpose known unto me.”

The words of his prayer died off, and he stopped to listen, with only the sound of dripping water to break the silence.


Confused, Omer glanced around for something with which he could write, and settled on an ancient hammer and chisel, which he had not noticed before placed next to him on the bench. He placed the glowing stone on the bench, picked up the tools and held them in front of the untouched second section. He shook his head.

“What shall I write?” he called aloud. “I have no skill in writing. I know of nothing that deserves to be on this wall with such great words.”

Do not doubt. Only begin. Write the words that shall come into your heart.

He placed the chisel on the sheet of metal. He almost took his first swing when he stopped again.

“I cannot. I am not mighty in words as are my brothers. Why were they not sent to do this thing?”

He lowered the tools and the voice came again.

You may begin with the words of Jared and Mahonri, but then they will become your own words.

He raised the tools to the metal and carved in the first two words that came to his mind, “I, Omer…” His chest constricted within him, like a knot pulled too tight. He let the tools fall. “I can’t…this is too great a task for me.”

He laid his tools back on the bench and turned from the shiny plate. He could not bear to look on it.

He turned and stumbled back to the entrance, looking about for a means of escape. He had not seen the remains of the last writer, so it stood to reason that he had somehow escaped. He shined his light about the floor and then paused as it caught another glint of metal. He stooped and found it be a long chord with a thick metal hook on the end. He tossed it towards the mouth of the hole and heard it sink into the earth above. He pulled on it several times to make sure it was stable and then hefted himself out.

“Tight like unto a dish,” Kish scoffed, sliding over in his makeshift shelter to avoid the new leak that his roof had developed. The shelter had once been part of the barge and was the most intact piece they had been able to salvage.

If only the Tower had stayed up, he mused to himself. He had known it was a foolish endeavor, but it certainly had been good for business.

Another man, bedraggled and sopping stumbled up to Kish’s shelter and dropped to one knee. “My Lord Kish, I have interesting news.”

Kish straightened himself and wiped the moisture from his own face with a cloth. “What? Did you scrounge up more driftwood, Korianton? Or have you found the other stone at last?”

“Neither, sir. They found Omer, wandering in the woods. “

Kish shot to his feet, smacking his head in his process. Regaining his composure, he glared at Korianton. “Bring him here, immediately. Don’t let anyone else see him.” Korianton bowed and stumbled away.

He returned a few minutes later with Omer and another man in tow. Though Omer’s hands were bound, he did not struggle. The two men forced Omer to his knees.

“Look what washed in with the driftwood. We supposed you drowned.”

Omer smiled and met Kish’s gaze. “I am glad to see you alive, Kish. Were there many survivors?”

Kish rose and lifted the barge’s former stopper above his head to keep off the rain, and struck a blow hard against Omer’s face. “It is ‘Lord Kish’ now. It is clear to the others where your leadership has gotten them.” He reached into his robe and withdrew a transparent stone. “Behold Mahonri’s stone!”

Though it was clearly Mahonri’s stone, its inner radiance had fled.

“And I have the other,” said Omer. “Though mine still shines.” Korianton stuffed his hand roughly into Omer’s robes and yanked out the glowing stone. He held it aloft like a trophy, then yelped and dropped it. He clutched his hand in agony and fell to his knees. At the same time, the bands fell from Omer’s wrists and he stooped over and picked up the stone.

“You are not worthy to have them,” said Omer. “Nor are you worthy to lead.”

Kish shot forward, brandishing the stopper as a weapon, “No! I won’t let you rule! Just because your brother can spin wild stories and make stones glow! Either swear allegiance to me, or I will smite you and let the sea have another try with you!”

The other guard had now recovered and now held a short blade. Omer tensed, praying silently for deliverance.


He balked immediately at the prompted suggestion.

No, I can fight them, with Thy help!

Flee Omer, and return to the cave.

He thought of the terror of falling through darkness and then the immense relief of landing safely. He knew that there was only one course of action. He returned the stone to his pocket and fled.

The larger guard lashed out with a club and struck Omer hard on his left shoulder. Omer stumbled, but did not fall, wincing, but continuing forward. He ran without pause and heard the calls of his pursuers fade. Unconsciously, he retraced his steps through the trees to the entrance of the cave. Reaching the familiar shelter, he collapsed in the protective shadows. His cheeks bellowed and he clenched his eyes in frustration. “What am I supposed to do? If I can’t go back, how will I survive?”

He heard a fluttering to his left, and he shot upright. A small bird with bright blue and green plumage fluttered down in front of him, released a cluster of dark grapes, and fluttered off again. Omer considered the fruit, the streams of water trickling down the rocks and the cave that would provide ample shelter.

Omer nodded and picked up the cluster of grapes. He lowered a few into his mouth and savored the sweet juices as they quenched both his hunger and thirst. He lowered the grapes and stepped to the entrance of the cave.

“He will always provide.”

He closed his eyes, crossed his hands across his chest and then leapt into the dark hole.

And it came to pass that Hagoth, he being an exceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship, on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward. —Alma 63:5

Hagoth surveyed the wreckage with his curious eye. The lines on his face deepened once and then again. Even in the fading light, he could see that the damage was extensive. He shook his head and then motioned to Zelehi, his fellow shipbuilder. Zelehi, a tall, solid man with short-cropped hair joined Hagoth at the damage site. His expression turned only slightly less pessimistic than Hagoth’s.

“Our men have scoured the island for suitable timbers,” said Hagoth. “But the quality of the wood is so different than in Zarahemla. I doubt we will be able to fashion a suitable patch.”

Zelehi cocked his head to the side, “So you are ready to commit to being an island dweller? I did not think that any land could contain your wanderlust.”

Hagoth sighed. “Believe me; I am not any fonder of this island than you. But I am even less fond of the idea of sailing out on a leaky ship with hundreds of lives resting on her. We must do this right, or not at all.”

Distant thunder growled once and then again more closely. The two men raised their eyes, and found something new to worry about.

“We had better make sure the wreck is secure before that storm hits,” called Zelehi, “Or she’ll be going back out to sea with or without us.”

The two men set frantically to work securing the wreck with stones and chords. The storm blew in fast and hard—the drops went from a light trickle to a torrent in a matter of seconds. A gale rocked both ship and its former captains, who labored despite the storm to secure the ship.

Hagoth turned to Zelehi and called and motioned to retreat. The call was swallowed up in the chaos, and in the next moment, a great wave leapt onto the beach and swept the two men off to sea. Hagoth floundered in the waves and the sea snatched him first back and then flung him forward towards the trees lining the top of beach. His feet met ground for an instant and he stumbled forward, off the beach and into the shelter of the trees.

He turned and searched the beach for Zelehi, but could not see anything through the stinging curtain of water. The sea reared up again the then pounced. Hagoth dashed into the forest as fast as he could in an effort to put as much distance between him and the beach as possible.

The rain intensified and he sloshed about in the mud, his feet vanishing completely into the earth with each step. Up ahead, he glimpsed a peculiar rock formation, jutting out of the forest floor in the middle of a clearing. He made for it, desperate for any relief from the relentless storm. He reached the rocks and found a narrow sloping passageway that lead into the earth. The arrangement of the rocks deflected the rain so that the cave appeared his best of chance of keeping dry.

He rushed into the cave and continued until he found himself in complete darkness. It was only then he realized that he might have stumbled into the den of some animal, which might not be eager to share its shelter. He was about to turn and take his chances with the rain, when he noticed a faint glow, originating nearby.

He swiveled about and crept towards the light, his senses on guard for the sound of irritated growling or the rustling of feet. He drew nearer to the light and found that it originated from a glowing stone suspended from the ceiling from a tether. In fascination, he reached up and brushed his fingers on the surface of the stone. When it did not burn his hand, he grasped more boldly and felt his whole body tingle with delight.

It was then he noticed the rest of incredible chamber—the shining wall more than half filled with writing and the odd makeshift spectacles suspended in front.

He reached for the suspended spectacles and then pulled them close to his face. Startled, he stepped back. Looking through the lens, vivid writing leapt out from the wall, where only scribbles had existed before. He steadied his shaking hands and swept his eyes over the gleaming wall, until they focused on a particular spot in the center section.

“This is a choice land in which the Lord shall raise up a righteous nation and prosper them as they keep His commandments.”

Hagoth lowered the spectacles. An idea occurred to him that he had never before considered: perhaps they were not meant to leave. Perhaps they were not shipwrecked here by mistake.

Hagoth glanced down and glimpsed a bundle of what once been yellow cloth. Reverently, he unwrapped the bundle to reveal a pair of ancient carving tools. He reached down for them, but stopped halfway. A dark stupor came over his mind.

Not yet.

He rewrapped the bundle and sat on the bench. There he sat, studying the words long after the rains subsided.

The forest had fallen dark and still as it stumbled back into camp. His clothes were stained and tattered but his heart held a new lightness. He found a ring of people around a fervent bonfire. Several men instinctively raised their bows on him, but quickly lowered them when they saw who it was.

Zelehi stepped forward. “Hagoth!” he cried. “Praise the Lord you’re alive!” He beckoned for him to take a place. “We were just discussing the discovery of a new kind of hardwood trees. It is my opinion that it will be strong enough to make the ship repairs.”

Another man stepped forward and offered a rusted sword and a circular piece of rotting wood. “And we stumbled on these today. A whole settlement full of things like this and rotting bones. It seems like we are not the first to live…and die here.”

A nervous murmur rippled through the crowd. Zelehi raised his hands for silence. “All the more the reason that we should leave this cursed place immediately. We should start the repairs at first light!”

A cheer rose from the crowd, and Hagoth stepped forward and raised his arms to be heard. “This is promising news. But please listen first to what I have to say. Just this morning, we were caught in a violent storm. I sought shelter, and found much more than I had been seeking.”

He told them of the cave with its strange glowing stone, the spectacles and the messages on the wall. No one interrupted. When he was finished, he took a step backwards and ran his gaze over the entire assembly.

“I know this must sound strange to you, but because of what I have seen, I believe that we are meant to stay here. The Lord steers the waves and the seas, and I trust that He knew what He was doing when he steered us here.”

Zelehi and several others could hold their silence no longer. “And did the Lord lead those other people here too? Then why have they all perished? What purpose did they serve?”

Hagoth shook his head. “I don’t know. All I know is what is whispered to my heart. If we listen to that voice, we will prosper. Even on this lonely island.”

Strife broke out on all sides, some contending for Zelehi and others for Hagoth, raising their voices louder and louder to be heard over each other. At last, Zelehi leapt into the center of the circle and bellowed for silence. The intense fury on his glistening face told everyone that it would be unwise to argue.

“Enough! I am joint captain of our vessel and I say that tomorrow, I will take all those who will follow me and begin the repairs. The rest of you are free to remain and perish with Hagoth and his glowing stones and his strange scribblings. If you are with me, bring your provisions and your families to the beach at first light. We will leave when the repairs are finished.” His eyes bored into each member of the group and they held their silence. “I will save us all,” he whispered.

He turned and strode away, drawing away a great portion of the group after him. The rest huddled around Hagoth, speaking frantically and asking him questions. Hagoth’s wife approached him, and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Look at us, Hagoth. Do you really think the Lord could make a prosperous nation out of us?”

Hagoth sighed and then smiled. “He brought up the entire nation of Israel from one family didn’t he? It’s not the most fertile spot of ground, but I think we’ll make good seeds.”

Hagoth embraced his wife and together they returned to their meager tent just outside the fire’s glow.

The next day dawned clear with the sun shyly peeking through the clouds after a long absence. When Hagoth awoke, fully a third of the camp was missing, presumably on the beach with Zelehi. The remainder went about the day as usual, though they tried to avoid mentioning the departed. In the evening they sent a party to the beach and found the ship gone.

When Hagoth settled into his tent that night, it took him much longer to fall asleep. When he did, the dreams that visited him were the most vivid he had ever encountered.

He saw their ship, a discolored patch filling the hole in its side tossed about in a violent storm. The waves spilled over it, eager to drag it down and swallow it. The ship struggled against the waves’ grasp, taking more water with each passing minute. Finally, a great wave capsized the ship and it vanished into the churning depths.

The nightmare, however, gave way to a strangely peaceful setting.

The helicopter circled the island and then turned inland. The pilot turned to his copilot. “Look for a spot where we can put ourselves down, as close to the quake site as possible.”


Moments later, the copilot nodded. “There’s a clearing at two o’clock. It’s practically on top of the site—close enough for the scientists to take their readings.”

The pilot took them down, and released the helicopter’s team of scientists.

As they approached the site, the earth rumbled, and a geyser shot from the ground, coating the vivid leaves with a fine mist. Once it subsided, the scientists moved cautiously forward again. One called out and gestured wildly, and he was soon joined by the rest. They rushed forward and clustered around the strangest sight that any of them have ever seen.

Near the earthquake’s epicenter stood an imposing stone monolith. The front surface was covered with a metal plate divided into three sections teaming with ancient looking characters.

The scientists took dozens of pictures and notes, all the while talking animatedly to each other, caught up in the excitement of the moment and the thrill of discovery.

The dream faded and Hagoth awoke. He starred into the darkness, trying to comprehend what he had just been shown. Finally, he decided that it would probably be some time before the meaning became clear. One thing, however, was certain. First thing tomorrow, he would return to the cave. He had a part in a great work to do, and whatever it was, he wanted to be ready.

Time for the Stories!

LDSP’s 2010 Book of Mormon YA Story Contest

Prizes: Publication in a YA Book of Mormon anthology that will be published and ready for sale in June (ish).*

The stories will start posting in just a few minutes—posting them several per day, a few hours apart. If we get more submissions in, I may need to post a bunch on Friday and Saturday.

Just a quick review of some very important points:

  • Story Submission Deadline: Friday, February 19, 2010. Details HERE.
  • If you submit more than one story, I’ll split them up to post on separate days, if possible.
  • Stories are posted ANONYMOUSLY. Please tell your friends that you’ve submitted a story and to come read and vote, but DO NOT tell them which story is yours. We want the stories to win on merit, not personal popularity.
  • We will have Reader Voting for the best stories, as we have done in previous contests. The winners are guaranteed a spot in the book.*
  • Voting will take place February 22–27. I will post voting rules on the 22nd. You may comment any time your like, but actual voting will be through the VIZU polls.

*I haven’t received enough stories yet to make for a good contest, so get them in. If I don’t receive enough stories, we will not publish the anthology.

Writing Prompt Friday: Short Stories

WHY are you wasting your time looking here for a writing prompt when you should be finishing up your Book of Mormon short story???

One week left to submit your Book of Mormon short story!

Deadline is next Friday, February 19, 2010.


I will start posting stories on Monday.

Voting will start on Monday, February 22nd.

Book of Mormon Short Story Contest

The 2009 Christmas story contest and resulting book, Stolen Christmas and Other Stories of the Season, was a big success. We’ll definitely be going for a volume 2, with a call for stories in July.

But in the meantime, we’re doing a contest for a non-Christmas book. Remember how I’ve mentioned that I don’t think there are enough books aimed at teens, especially teen boys, in the LDS market? Well, I’m putting my money where my mouth is, so to speak.

LDSP’s 2010 YA Book of Mormon
Short Story Contest

Prize: Publication in an anthology that will be published and ready for sale in June-ish,2010.

Submission Rules:

  • FOLLOW rules carefully! In the past, I’ve let some of you slide a little. But since this is for a publication, I’m going to be as sticky-picky as I am when receiving real submissions. Why? Because this is a REAL submission!
  • Write a short story targeted to the young adult reader (male or female). Any genre is acceptable but the setting must be somewhere in the Book of Mormon time period. You may use characters from the Book of Mormon or make up fictional characters.
  • Stories should reinforce LDS values without being preachy or didactic. Avoid clichéd plot lines and predictable outcomes. I want something with an original and unique story line or twist to it.
  • Stories should be positive and family friendly. I reserve the right to refuse any story I deem inappropriate for this blog/book.
  • Word count: 2,000 to 5,000.
  • Story must be previously unpublished. Stories published anywhere other than your personal website or blog are ineligible. (That includes books, magazines, e-zines or other contests.)
  • Stories submitted for previous years’ contests are also ineligible for this contest.
  • Paste entire story into an e-mail. NO ATTACHMENTS, please.

    —Put “Contest: Title of Your Story” in the subject line of your e-mail.
    (Example: Contest: The Broken Bow)

    —At the top of the body of your e-mail, type your name, mailing address, phone number, e-mail address, word count and whether you are a published or unpublished author (defined below). (Example:

    LDS Publisher
    123 My Street
    My Town, ST 00000

    word count: 1990
    published author

    —Skip a line, then put the title of your story

    —Skip a line, then paste in your story.

  • “Published”—as in published author—is defined as someone paid you money or comp copies (in the case of magazines) for any story or book written by you. (So either a publisher paid you, or you self-published and people bought your book.)
  • If you are a published and/or agented author, check with your publisher and/or agent before submitting. They will want to know the information listed under “Book Details.”
  • You may submit more than one story. Send each submission in a separate e-mail. Include all your info, as outlined above, with each e-mail/story.
  • SUBMIT your story any time between NOW and Friday, February 19, 2010.
  • I will post the stories beginning on February 17th, in the order that they arrive.
  • We will have Reader Voting for the best stories, as we have done in previous contests. The winners are guaranteed a spot in the book. Voting will take place February 22 – 27. I will post voting rules and polls on the 22nd. (We’ll be using a VIZU poll.)
  • You may tell your friends that you’ve submitted a story and to please go vote, but DO NOT TELL THEM WHICH STORY IS YOURS. We want the stories to win on merit, not personal popularity.

PRIZE: Publication in the as yet untitled Book of Mormon anthology

  • There will be four winners:
    Readers’ Choice/Published Author
    Readers’ Choice/Unpublished Author
    Publisher’s Choice/Published Author
    Publisher’s Choice/Unpublished Author

    These four winners are guaranteed a spot in the book.

  • As usual, I reserve the right to withhold Publisher’s Choice awards if I feel none of the stories deserve it.
  • I, and a small anonymous committee, will determine the other stories to be included in the book.
  • All authors to be included in the book will be notified via e-mail by the end of March, 2010.

Book Details (Read Carefully):

  • By submitting a story to this contest, you are agreeing to all the conditions below.
  • Authors shall give LDS Publisher One-Time Publishing Rights for inclusion of story in the as yet untitled Book of Mormon story compilation. This is the non-exclusive right to publish your story in this compilation, in various formats, and to retain your story in the compilation until LDS Publisher takes the compilation out of print.
  • Authors shall retain all other rights and copyrights to their stories and may sell this story to any other party with a publication date after September 30, 2010.
  • Compensation for use of story in this compilation shall be: one free e-book copy of the published book sent to author upon publication; author’s name listed in the Table of Contents and on the first page of the story; and rights to use this compilation as a publishing credit. No royalties, advances or other monetary compensation will be given to any author. Author may not print or sell the e-book files.
  • Compensation exception: If sales of the book exceed costs to produce it, LDS Publisher shall notify authors and arrange an equal royalty split between all contributors. Conditions and terms of royalty and payment shall be determined at that time.
  • LDS Publisher shall assume no rights to any future works by author.
  • LDS Publisher shall have full editorial rights to the stories included in the compilation, including, but not limited to, title changes, editing for space and content, design and layout of book, title of book, and book cover.
  • The compilation will be available for purchase online in both print and e-book formats in summer of 2010 (most likely, June).
  • The compilation may or may not be made available to bookstores at discounted pricing, but in any case, no marketing will be done by LDS Publisher to guarantee placement in any bookstore.
  • Authors agree to help spread the word about the contest and the book by any or all of the following methods:

    —Word of mouth to friends and family

    —Website/blog buttons, links, posts, etc

    —Facebook, My Space, Twitter, or other networking sites or forums

Help spread the word! Post about the contest on your blog, in your forums, and e-mail all your friends.

Buttons for your blogs:

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Image of Teancum used with permission of Kris A. Cooper

2008 Celebrating Summer Short Story Contest

Before I announce the winners of this contest, I need to make a statement about potential conflict of interest that can occur in a contest of this type. Although most of you do not know who I am, I know who many of you are. When I open a contest of this type, I have no idea who will enter it. I cannot run a disclaimer saying that my friends and family are not eligible because most of them do not know who I am and would not know they should exclude themselves. Also because if I excluded everyone I was friendly with, we’d end up with very few submissions.

In the past, I have had close friends submit their stories to my contests but things have always worked out in a way where I did not feel conflicted about judging their stories. This time, however, a conflict presented itself due to the very few number of submissions in the Published Author category. I did not feel I could be unbiased in this area. Therefore, I had an editor friend of mine select the Publisher’s Choice winner in the Published Author category. She did not know the identity of any of the authors.

That said, it’s time to announce the winners!

Readers Choice Published Author Category: Gracie’s Blueberries by Trisa Martin

Publisher’s Choice Published Author Category: Snakes and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails by Karlene Browning

Readers Choice Unpublished Author Category: A Fine Night for a Swim by Weston Elliot

Publisher’s Choice Unpublished Author Category: When Life Hands Out Lemons by Melanie Jacobson

Winners: Please send me your mailing address within the next thirty days to claim your prize.

A very BIG thank you to the authors who provided prizes for this contest. I hope everyone who submitted a story took the time to read the sponsor bio page and to visit the websites of these very generous authors. If you haven’t, please do so today. It would also be nice if you sent them a message letting them know you appreciate their generosity.

For those of you who did not win, if you want to take credit for your work, please identify yourself in the comments section of your post.

Summer Story Contest Voting Rules

Voting Rules:

VOTE between May 12th and May 16th.

There will be four winners: Readers Choice (Published authors), Readers Choice (Unpublished authors), Publisher’s Choice (Published authors), and Publisher’s Choice (Unpublished authors).

Publisher’s Choice winners will be chosen based on quality of writing and uniqueness of story. You can vote by whatever criteria you want, just don’t make it a popularity contest.

You MAY vote for yourself.

You may vote twice in each category: Published and Unpublished.

Click HERE to read all stories by Published Authors. Vote for two.

Click HERE to read all stories by Unpublished Authors. Vote for two.

You may only vote a particular story once. We’re on the honor system here.

You may make all the comments you like, but VOTING COMMENTS must clearly indicate that it is a vote. (Ex: I’m voting for this one…)

I’ll announce the winners on Monday, May 19th.

[P.S. Voting and other comments on the stories will also enter you in the Monthly Comment Contest.]

Summer Story: An Unexpected Summer Gift

“So you think this will really work?” Marie asked fancifully. She flopped her blond, lemon-pulp filled hair over to look at me, a sticky frosted donut in her hand.

“The Internet article said it should” I replied confidently.

Marie and I were lounged out in my backyard on two rickety beach chairs, the kind that recline all the way back to laying down. My backyard was the ideal location, not because of the random rooster casually strutting by, but because of the privacy from many curious and or judgmental eyes. My six younger siblings didn’t care what strange girlie rituals Marie and I were up to. They were most likely too busy disputing who was supposed to do dishes that night, if dad would come home angry, or other monotonous struggles in our family dynamics. Even my mom was sure not to even take a glance out at us. Finishing off my donut, I shrugged, grinning.

“Your hair sure looks nasty.”

“Thanks, you don’t look so hot yourself.” She replied sarcastically, a wry grin on her face.

“Nasty hair or not, that was good!” Marie exclaimed, licking the last bits of frosting from her fingers, “I haven’t had one of those in like a year.”

“That’s why you should come to my house more often.” I said back, checking my watch.

“Dang, its only been ten minutes. The sun is supposed to react with the acid or something, it takes like half an hour I think.”

“Do you really want to stay out here that long?” She asked.

“No, not really.” I said, uncomfortably adjusting the shoulder of my Speedo.

“Me either.” She admitted. She brushed little pulp pieces off her own suit.

Raking my fingers through my hair, humid from the sticky juice, I imagined what it would look like to be blond. It wouldn’t get that light, right? I glanced at a strand to check. I frowned. Nope, still brown.

“Well, what else should we do then?

“Hmm…” She pondered. “OH! Lets go to my place, Matt just got a new hockey set we could play with!?”

I thought a moment. The humidity caused my face to sweat, which was even more bothersome after the long hot bike ride to the grocery store this morning that had led to an embarrassing incident counting out my money in change. I pondered if playing hockey was a more comfortable option than laying out here sweating, when a low quacking noise alerted me that we were not alone. A stray duck had come to taste my hair. I giggled as he tugged pieces of lemon pulp off my hair.

“Yeah lets go, I’m being eaten alive!” I exclaimed laughing.

I scrambled awkwardly across Marie’s driveway to stop the black plastic puck hurdling toward me and wondered if hockey had been a good idea after all. Luckily, I caught the puck just in time.

“Marie what did you think of me when we first met?” I said leaning on the hockey stick. “After all, we only met eight months ago.” I didn’t wait for her to answer though, realizing that this question was a great ruse. I ran the puck back, looking for an opening in her defense.

“I thought you were weird.” She said in amused honestly, jumping side to side, anticipating my poorly concocted attempts to score.

I stopped a second then gave the puck a furious swat that glanced sidelong off her stick and into the gravel. Marie laughed loudly and ran to grab it.

“Oooh! Dang it, I thought that was in for sure!”

“Right Andrea, for sure.” She said sarcastically.

“So what did you think of me when we first met?”

“I thought you didn’t like me, and that you were stuck up and…of course you were weird too.” I thought back to the day an unfamiliar blond girl walked onto the neighborhood playground who by rare chance seemed my own age, and later found out that our birthdays were about 2 weeks apart.

The sound of Marie striking the puck startled me from my reverie. I frantically swung my hockey stick in an effort to intercept the now flying puck, unintentionally exposing my fingers. The puck met the last two fingers of my right hand with a hard thwack.

Pain exploded in my fingers, and for some reason not consciously recognizable to me, I burst into tears. I knew it wasn’t the pain, though. When you are twelve you don’t cry about things like that. In fact, for a second, I wasn’t even aware of where I was or what was going on. This injury was not the reason I was crying. The reason came from a deep sense of sadness that had suddenly welled up and burst to the surface. This sadness was so apparently harsh that I hadn’t realized Marie standing next to me studying my swelling fingers.

“Oh Andrea, I’m sorry. I should have warned you. Really, I’m sorry…”

But I just stood there shaking with wrenching sobs. My new friend, whom I had spent many days similar to today, excluding this incident, came over and put her arms around me. I peered up through tear flooded eyes. When someone hugs you, it’s typical to hug them back, everyone knows this. I knew this…but what I didn’t know was what that really felt like…to be hugged as a true expression of emotion. I cried even harder. Knowing the type of cavalier friend I thought she was I hadn’t expected this gesture from her, especially when I didn’t recognize when the real emotional need for a hug actually was. Then she did something even more unthinkable. Gently she put her arm around me, taking my injured hand in the other and led me into her house. She called out for her mom, even though there was no obvious need for serious medical attention.

Even though I stood there bewildered in the middle of the house filled with little kids who’d all been running around but now stared at the strange bawling girl, I felt alone. Alone. Standing, sobbing, feeling no one was there for me, Alone. I don’t know how Marie’s mom knew this, but she did. She was with me in what seemed like an instant– the woman that we had clearly avoided eating our donuts in front of, or laying out half naked in our swimsuits, while the sun bleached our hair. My shoulders shook continuously and uncontrollably still . My heart wrenched and heaved with the sadness. The situation before me held a strange disconnect. The day had started out so normal and all of the sudden–never ending sorrow. What was going on? But I couldn’t really consciously ponder this, I was too entrenched in the mysterious inner pain I was feeling. As quickly as the situation had begun, my emotions subsided in several chest compressing sobs and the tears stopped running. My mature twelve year old self opened my eyes in disbelief as I realized the tender embrace of Marie’s mother’s arms around me. She gently smoothed my hair as I rested softly on her tear soaked shoulder. Marie stood watching sympathetically. I had never experienced that kind of pathos in my entire life. It made me wonder why I had never experienced this before. I hesitantly withdrew from her embrace, unsure of the affection being shown me. Composing myself I whispered, “Thank you sister Neil.” and quietly walked out of the house with Marie. After closing the door behind us, I sniffled and took a deep breath, wiping my eyes. Marie gave me another hug and said, “Its okay Andy.” I meekly said thank you, and I meant it.

Eleven years later, now my 23 year old self, I realized something from that day. Her mother may not have wanted Marie to sit around eating junk, or waste the day bleaching her hair with lemons. This woman may have a peculiar way that she’d wanted her family to live but I knew one thing. She’d taught her daughter to share something that I hadn’t known I’d never felt before, nor did I even recognize. Our friendship dwindled away over time, as many childhood friendships do. But one thing that will never leave, is what she shared that hot Arizona summer of 1996, she shared love.

Watch out for grammar, punctuation, sentence structure.

This begins as a fun summer story about two friends and ends as a difficult to follow, life-changing experience. You need to blend the two together so the reader is not thrown off. You need to tie the blond hair experience in to the cathartic experience somehow. It’s a little hard to follow at the end. We need to know why she’s crying and there needs to be a more immediate resolution or recognition—not one years later.

What I liked best: I liked the beginning of the story. I think if you divided this story in half and created two—one about the innocence of summer friendship and one about learning about love—you’d be much better off.

Magazine ready? No. It needs work.

Summer Story: Hand of Sorrow

The summer night gripped him and he trusted it to conceal him. Anger it was that drove him on, fueling him to ignore the sweat that burned his eyes and the myriad cuts across his naked calves. Armor would not do on this night of stealth. Sometimes you need to sacrifice what you hold dear for the greater good.

Have faith. Faith moves all things, doubt moves nothing.

His clothing hung upon him like leeches drawing out sustenance. Feet were raw, blistered from marching all day with the army and now alone on into the deep night. Traveling light, he carried only a twenty foot cord knotted every two feet in his left hand and a four foot javelin in the right. Moving with the grace of a stalking cat he slipped between thick trees and sparse underbrush. There were guards in the woods tonight. Many men desperate and vicious as himself, but he was not afraid.

I have done this before, I can do it again.

He kept his breathing under control and never once looked at the moon nor the torches of guards round about the city. He would not compromise his night vision. Fighting the invaders for so long, you learn all the tricks of the deadly trade. Stepping heel to toe, he could test the ground before putting his weight down. The deer stalker step had been learned the hard way. Too many times as a boy, the family had gone hungry when he had not brought home a four legged friend. Now instead of his mother and siblings going hungry it was his own wife and children.

The invaders, it is all their fault. They are responsible for the famine in the land. They steal everything, not just our food but our lives and liberties if they can. They have stolen our peace for more than ten years. How I hate them. It ends tonight. The general says to be a forgiving man and love our enemies in spite of what they do.

I can’t. The world has need of willing men to do what I can do. I have done this before, I can do it again.

He averts his eyes as a trio of copper skinned warriors pass by, their torches futilely fighting the gloom. Waiting another few minutes until they are beyond the edge of the wall he races out, casting the cord over the top. The walls here are old and made of upright palisades logs. The outside is covered with a stucco of lime, sand and crushed seashells but the tops are exposed irregular logs with pointed ends. They pierce the night skyline like the under bite of that old dragon, the devil.

The heavy knot in the cord easily catches between the teeth. Tugging thrice, he then climbs up to the narrow parapet that runs inside the wall. The invaders bodies are strewn about the inner city as if the battle avoided today were already done and lost. The heat of the day’s march having affected them just as deeply as anyone else. He dropped down the parapet swinging his knotted cord back the other way. No time to find the ladders or steps.

If I do my job this will be done. Better for one man to perish than for the many to continue slaughtering each other. I am a gardener. I am pruning the evil tree at its very root, from whence all the bitter fruits have poured forth. I can end this.

The summer night burned but he moved silent as new fallen snow. Invaders snored and even those on guard duty dozed leaning upon their brazen spears. Moving from place to place he searched for where he thought the king might be found. Some grand homes atop earthen mounds, temples to dark gods, but he was not there. Only dog soldiers slept here, content to dream of the conquest that would be denied them with one well aimed spear.

Racing against the approaching dawn, he found a great tent in the cities courtyard. Guardsmen were arrayed about it in a zodiac of pagan superstition. Still they slept like dominos. Each man within a few paces of the next. Dead to the world, alive to the dreamtime.

How can I not be blessed, the way is open.

He stuck the javelin in the hardpacked earth and wiped the sweat from his brow and hands. Whispering a silent prayer of thanks, he crept toward the tent. Somewhere someone strummed a lyre and the haunting melody made him pause. Swallowing hard he came on, right between the sleeping guardsmen. None stirred.

He used the tip of the javelin to pry back the tent flap. A man lay sprawled out asleep amidst incredible finery. Silken pillows and ornate rugs littered the ground about him as did wine bottles upright like trophies. Incense from distant lands burned a putrid reek filling the tent with its foul odor like a demons breath.

The king lay with his exposed chest moving rythmically up and down. A golden chain around his neck slid to the side as he twitched. A whimper came and I hesitated. Was he having a bad dream? Ours will end with him if I do this. Anger turns to sorrow, but I must do this. He brought this war here and I will end it. I have done it before, I will do it again.

I took aim and let fly.

The kings eyes flew open in disbelief. He cried out once as a black wind came and carried his life breath far away.

I run, the servants and guardsmen shout and scramble. One casts a well aimed spear. I feel the heat but no fear.

This story, while containing some good sensory imagery, has some problems. Watch for spelling, punctuation, grammar, sentence structure.

Switching POV doesn’t work here. Pick one and stay with it. Same with the “voice”—you use scriptural cadence in places and more modern phrases in other places. Example: dog soldier is a relatively recent term and would not be used by Teancum.

I think the story would be better served to know the identity of the character. There’s no reason to keep it a secret. In fact, knowing that up front would make the story richer for most readers.

What I liked best: In the Book of Mormon, we have no insight into Teancum’s thoughts and feelings as he does this. I like that the author has provided some, turning one of our heroes into flesh and blood, making him real.

Magazine ready? No. It needs quite a bit of work—but I’d like to see a more polished, finished version of this story.

Summer Story: A Fine Night for a Swim

Hot summer rain came down like the sky was sweating. I swear there hadn’t been a breeze for days.

“I don’t think I can stand another minute,” I groaned. “I’m going to melt into a puddle of goo.”

“Aw, Maddy,” said my best friend, Ardith, “you won’t be the only one.”

“They’ll have to mop us up tomorrow,” Georgina chuckled. “Just imagine the police report. Elderly ladies disappear, house flooded.”

It was, quite literally, too hot to laugh.

It was hotter that year than ever before. Although, I do believe we said that every year. The three of us, each with a fan in hand, had given up sleeping and gathered on the wide porch, hoping for a breath of wind. Everything you could see was indigo in the moonlight. I couldn’t even remember how many nights I’d looked out over that same blue scene. The three of us had all grown up, countless years ago, on this estate—two tenant farm girls, and the estate owner’s daughter—best friends practically from birth. We’d raised our families, sent our children on their ways, and each bid our husbands farewell from this life. Somehow, through all that, we’d stayed the same friends we’d always been. Some way, we’d all come back to the estate no matter where else life took us.

“How did we ever manage this when we were young?” Ardie shook her head. “Why didn’t we ever move up north, where it’s cool?”

“And do what?” I asked, a bit more snappishly than I meant to. “All we ever been is southern women. What would any of us do in the big city?”

“Get an air conditioner,” Georgina answered. I smacked her with my fan.

“Hey,” Ardie said, but then didn’t say anything else.

“What?” Georgina asked.

“Ya’ll remember that old swimmin’ hole,” Ardie asked, “Down behind the old mill-house?”

“Oh, sure.” My mind wandered a bit as I answered. “I haven’t been down there since the rooster knows when.”

“We never needed an air conditioner,” Ardie went on, grinning like a Cheshire cat, “when we used to run down there on a hot night.”

“Ardith!” Georgina suddenly, remembered exactly what her sister meant. So did I, and I couldn’t help laughing.

“I’d almost be willing to head down there right this minute,” I admitted. “I wonder if it’s still down there.”

“Of course it is,” Ardie said, getting out of her chair, slowly and painfully. I remembered watching her as a young woman get up from sitting cross-legged on the floor just as quick and easy as anything; seeing her have to work so hard to get out of the porch swing hurt my soul. Where had that youth gone? “And I am going to head down there, right this minute.”

I groaned my way out of my rocking chair. I sure wasn’t going let her go alone. Or so I would say, so I could blame her later for the whole thing being her idea.

“We used to be so scared we’d get caught doing this,” Ardie said with a giggle as we put our nightclothes back on after our swim. “Now, I’m sure we’d scare anyone who caught us!”

On the way back up the trail, we stumbled across a young, newly married,couple sneaking down to the river.

“Fine night for a swim!” Georgina called out loudly, startling them both. I could tell they thought they were the only ones in the world who knew about that old swimming hole. They let us pass on the narrow path, then watched after us in amazement—three nutty old ladies in sopping wet nightgowns and soggy slippers, who’d obviously been for a midnight dip.

Somehow it had been more than that. For a moment, we’d had our youthful joy again. The river was cool, reviving. In the dark, you couldn’t see the wrinkles, the liver spots, or the limps. Bare skin shone bright blue against the black water as we swam, and laughed, and forgot how ancient we were, if only for a moment.

“Fine night, indeed,” I agreed.

I loved this! I can just picture these three old ladies sneaking out for a swim.

What I liked best: Your dialogue. You get the southern accent without it being obnoxious. That’s hard to do, and you did it well.

Magazine ready? Yes. Had the readers not chosen this as their winner, it would have received the Publisher’s Choice award.

Summer Story Deadline Extension

We’ve got a few short story entries, but not quite enough for a full-blown contest.

I’m extending the contest submission deadline through the weekend.

You have until midnight, Sunday, May 11th, to e-mail your story to me.

I’ll post all submissions on Monday, along with instructions on how to vote.

Submission Guidelines/Contest Rules

Contest Sponsors/Prizes

Summer Story: The Butterfly

I was lying in bed this morning pondering the vagaries of memory. Most things that happened to me in the first ten years of my life are very hazy, yet certain things I remember, a Christmas present; a fight with my brother; a crash on my bicycle. These incidents take place in a disconnected way, surrounded by periods of fog.

As I lay their pondering my mind alighted on a long forgotten incident something that must have happened when I was about eight years old.

It was one of those beautiful summer days that only exist in childhood. I was playing on the field opposite my house; well we children called it ‘the field’. I used to wonder why the adults called it ‘the tip’. Looking back I can now see it was because of the old washing machines, prams and other rubbish that was dumped there. To us children it just added to the excitement of the place. In the morning when we went out, to play, we wondered what treasures had been dumped there overnight. The only reason why the ‘field’ was there at all was because the land was too boggy to build on.

We children thought it was great though and would give exotic names to all the landmarks in our communal garden. The Sand Hills, a place where the soil was so poor even the weeds refused to grow. The Rolls Canardly, which was a car that had been dumped there so long ago that it had decomposed and become part of the landscape. Then there was the Silver Stream, which sprang up so mysteriously from the ground, it had to be magical. We would drink from it, reverently, as if it was some wonderful potion or elixir. When I think about it now, it’s a wonder we weren’t poisoned!

On this particular day I was wandering ‘the field’ lost in a reverie when I saw a piece of paper blowing about in the wind. From time to time I would forget about it but my eyes kept on being drawn back to the paper as it danced in the breeze. It was certainly an odd-looking piece of paper, very colourful, was it a toffee wrapper? The more I looked, the more puzzled I became. It appeared to have a life of its own, then I realised that it did have a life of its own it was a butterfly. As I looked I sometimes thought I must be mistaken, but yes, it was a butterfly, and what a beautiful butterfly. I’d never seen one like it before, and I’ve never seen a one like it since.

For a while I watched as it played happily in the sun, then I got to thinking. I was on my own, how could I ever describe to my friends how beautiful it was? How would they ever believe that I had seen such a wondrous thing? I couldn’t ask the butterfly to remain still while I found a few mates. I had a problem what should I do?

Suddenly all became clear there was only one thing for it I would catch it and show it to them. I took off my shirt and pursued it with all my energy. The butterfly proved to be very illusive and it soon became obvious that it would be no easy task catching it, but I was determined that it wouldn’t get away. Sometimes I’d lose sight of it altogether, but it was so distinctive I would always find it again. After much trying I at last managed to throw my shirt over it. I remember the feeling of triumph when this happened, I’d got it, I’d finally got it. Then ever so carefully so as not to let it escape, I moved the shirt so I could gaze upon the beautiful butterfly that had been the object of my attention for so long. It didn’t escape, it couldn’t. It was dead. In my stupid attempt to possess this magical creature I had killed it.

I’ve been trying hard to think of some positive moral to this story. It hasn’t been easy but now I think I’ve found one. Don’t lie in bed dwelling on past events what has happened has happened. You should get up and create some new experiences in your life and make sure they’re good ones.

Anyway everybody shouldn’t feel so upset it was fifty years ago so I think it would have probably died by now anyway!

Watch your sentence and story structure, grammar, punctuation.

You’ve told us a story, like something you might relate to a friend or a family member. Rather than have the narrator remember back to this story, have the narrator be that child—show us the story in real time, as it’s happening. Involve all our senses.

The moral of the story should be obvious in the telling of it. You don’t need to tell us the moral after the story is finished.

What I liked best: You have a wonderful setting in this field that can provide a very rich backdrop to your story.

Magazine ready: No. Needs more work.

Summer Story: The Summer Afternoon

“Can I go, Mom? Please?” I danced from foot to foot in excited anticipation. “Please?” I said again, thinking being extra polite wouldn’t hurt any.

My mother glanced up at me from the pile of mail she was going through, then looked over at Niki, already in her swimsuit with her face pressed up against the screen door. Mom closed her eyes for a moment, then sighed. “All right.”

I whooped and had already started for my room to change when she said, “But don’t track water into the house. Make sure you’re completely dry.”

“Okay!” I called through the mess of clothes going over my head.

“And put your things in the hamper!”

I quickly scooped my discarded shirt and shorts off the floor and slammed them into the laundry basket with one hand while I slid the strap of my suit over my shoulder with the other. I grabbed the first towel I could find and was headed out the door when my mother’s voice stopped me. “Anna.”

My back tensed. Was she going to change her mind? “What, Mom?”

She gave me a sort of pained smile. “Have fun.”

I grinned. “Thanks.”

“And be careful–”

The screen door banged, cutting off her words as I launched myself off the front porch. Niki and I wahooed with glee as we cut through the hedge to her house.

After spreading our towels on the driveway, we thumped the oscillating sprinkler down right in the middle of the yard.

Niki grunted as she wrenched the spigot. With a squeak and a high-pitched scree! the water raced to the end of the hose. We watched, excitedly dancing on the grass in our bathing suits, as the slow trickle strengthened into a rainbow of spray.

The sprinkler slowly moved back and forth, zinging against the fence post on one side.

“Ready?” Niki said.

I nodded. “Let’s go together!”

We grabbed hands. “One. Two. Three!” in unison, squealing as the water sliced through our bodies and shocked us breathless.

“Watch this!” Niki ran back in, standing directly over the spray as it moved.

I laughed and stood next to her, the water sluicing the remaining dust off my legs.

We ran back again and again, hurdling over the spray when it was low and breaking through like Olympic runners when it was upright.

Teeth chattering, we pattered over to the driveway (the warmest spot available), our footprints following us on the walkway then fading to nothing.

Niki watched the footprints for a couple of seconds, then smiled hugely. She sat on the driveway in her wet swimsuit, the hot, dusty smell of wet concrete filling the air. “Look!” she said. “Bum prints!”

We made bum tracks all the way down the driveway, watching to see which lasted the longest. Then we lay face down on our towels, the hard cement offering little cushion to our cheeks. We closed our eyes, shivering slightly in the cold as the gentle breeze licked off the last of the moisture, leaving our limbs goose-pimpled until the sun baked them smooth again.

A minute passed, or maybe two. I was completely dry now, except for my hair.

I opened one eye. “Nik?”

“Yeah?” she said.

“Let’s do it again.”

We ran back, squealing and giggling as the water soaked us once more.

I saw my mom standing by the mailbox, watching us. I waved, hoping it wasn’t time to go in yet.

She waved back and smiled. Phew.

Niki and I continued bursting through the spray and shivering off to the side while we waited for our next turn. Niki noticed my mom, too. “Hey, Miz Green!” Mom smiled and slowly walked down the sidewalk until she was standing just outside the yard. “This sure is fun,” Niki said. “You should try it.”

I looked at Niki in disbelief. Was she kidding? I couldn’t imagine my mother running through the sprinkler. Not in a million years.

My mom didn’t say anything, just studied the water for a moment. Then she looked over at us, dripping on the grass with giant grins and chattering teeth. A half smile appeared, and she took off her shoes and watch, setting them neatly on the edge of the sidewalk.

I still wasn’t quite sure what was going on. Was my mom going to run through the sprinkler? My mom? In her clothes?

She stepped between Niki and me, picking up a hand from each of us and holding them firmly. “You’ll have to show me how,” she said.

Niki grinned up at her. “On the count of three, run!”

And we did.

Five times we ran through the sprinkler together, laughing–at first in shock, and then in joy. My mom hugged me tightly before leaving and I could smell her hair spray, released into the air when the water hit it. “Thanks, girls,” she said. “That was fun.”

“It sure was, Miz Green.”

As she picked up her things and headed back toward our house, I called out to her, “Don’t track the water inside!”

She laughed and waved, then Niki and I turned to make more bum prints on the drive.

In the beginning, Mom is looking through the mail. Then later she’s at the mailbox. A little confusing. Otherwise, I liked the fun and enthusiasm of this story. I could picture it perfectly, since my own children have done that exact same thing, complete with bum prints.

What I liked best: The thrill of that first summer run through the sprinklers is captured well.

Magazine ready? Yes.

Summer Story: Snakes and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

On the last day of school, I watch him jump from the top step of the canary yellow bus and land, both feet flat and dust flying, in the gravel road in front of our house. He stays with his knees bent for a moment, concentrating hard on something in the rocks beside his feet. No doubt a dead bug or snake or something equally unappealing. He picks it up, whatever it is, and still stooping slightly, he examines it, one hand cradling his treasure in his palm, the index finger of the other hand poking and prodding.

He slowly straightens, his head tilting back to peruse the summer sky, then nodding forward again to the thing in his hand. While he stands there bobbing between earth and sky, I ponder this boy of mine.

Royal blue baseball cap pushed back on caramel brown hair so short you can see bits of pinky white scalp peeking through. He can’t stand the feel of hair on his neck, especially in warm weather. Although I can’t see them, I know his eyes are warm and chocolate-brown. The olive skin on his round face provides more safety from the sun than the cap on his head.

The bottom hem of the ocean blue and emerald green striped polo shirt that had been neatly tucked when he left this morning, now hangs over the waist of his pants—the right side fully escaped, the left side still trapped but sagging. It looks like the right side has been pulled and twisted. I wonder, did someone grab his shirt while they were playing tag? Or did he do it himself, forgetting that shirttails were not designed to be hand towels?

His jeans hang loose and baggy. Worse than hair on his neck, he can’t abide the rubbing of fabric against his legs. It’s only in the last year that he’s been willing to wear jeans at all. Before then, it was shorts or sweats. Nothing else.

His sneakers are untied. Of course they are. Why would I have imagined they might not be? I can’t see it from here, but I know that there are holes in the heels and the toes flap open. It’s not that we can’t afford new shoes. These are only a month old. There isn’t a shoe on earth that can stand up for long when used as a brake for a skateboard.

He hadn’t seen me standing there in the doorway watching him as he watched his treasure. But he looks up now and his cheeks bunch up in a smile. He shoves the whatever-it-was into the front pocket of his jeans, and runs, full speed, across the lawn toward me, backpack bumping and jumping against his shoulders. I brace myself for impact.

He throws his arms around my waist and buries his head in my tummy. I can smell the wet puppy dog sweat of little boys, feel his arms embrace me tighter than you would imagine possible by looking at him. He pulls his face away and smiles up at me—there are smudges of dirt and mud around the edges, but a clean spot right in the middle. I know there will be a corresponding not-so-clean spot on my shirt, just his height. It will match the not-so-clean smudges just his height on my walls and light switches and countertops.

I put my hand on his shoulder and we walk to the kitchen as he babbles on about the events of his day. It turns out it was a dead snail, after all. He pulls it out of his pocket and shows it to me. He offers to polish it up and give it to me as a gift. I accept that offer.

Later, after he’s tucked away in dreams of snakes and snails and puppy dog tails, I tuck my polished snail shell into a box on my dresser. Little boy treasures, like memories, are precious. I hold onto them as long as I can.

What I liked best: It evokes a perfect picture of a little boy, complete with smells and textures. I like the way the author incorporated her feelings about the boy in with her visual senses. I also liked the literary tone. I came away from it feeling a little sniffy about my own boys.

Magazine ready: Yes. I think it would be better in a Mother’s Day issue, rather than a summer issue, but it works.

Summer Story: Bus Tickets and Blood Tests

June 1984—Truth can be stranger than fiction. [What does this have to do with the story? A lead-in like this builds an expectation of huge coincidence or something really eerie. There’s nothing really strange about this story.]

“Excuse me, Sir. Where can we get a marriage license in Salt Lake?” Tom Springer asked, hesitantly.

The Greyhound ticket agent snapped the cash drawer shut and glanced up to see a teenage couple, dressed in jeans and casual shirts.

“Marriage license?” he asked, surprised, looking at the gangly dark-haired boy with legs like telephone poles.

“Yes, Sir. Becky and I just came on the bus from Minnesota, and we want to get married. So where do we go?”

The agent paused, scratching his balding head. “I think it’s still in the county clerk’s office. Hold on and I’ll look it up.”

Squinting behind his bifocals, he scanned the telephone book. “Yes, here it is, in the Hall of Justice.”

“Is that very far from here?”

“Yes. About eight blocks. Why don’t you take a taxi?”

“We don’t have much money,” Tom replied. “But we can walk, if you’ll tell us how to get there.”

Tom listened carefully to the agent’s directions. Then grabbing his duffel bag, he turned and smiled at the slight girl beside him, with hair the color of Minnesota wheat and eyes as blue as a robin’s egg. “Come on, Becky. Let’s go.”

He grasped her hand, and they walked outside. The warm dry air wrapped around him like a blanket. Feels like home, he thought, only lots warmer for June.

“Are you doing okay, Becky?” he asked, squeezing her hand three times. That was their secret signal for “I love you.”

“I’m fine,” Becky smiled. “Just a little tired. Hey, Tom. What’s that across the street with all the glass windows?”

“The agent said it’s Symphony Hall and up ahead is Temple Square. Temple Square is supposed to be pretty now with lots of flowers.”

“You know I love flowers. That’s the best part of summer. Maybe we could walk around Temple Square before we catch the bus this afternoon,” Becky suggested. “We should do something special on our wedding day.”

“Are you sorry, Becky?”


“About getting married when you’re seventeen?”

“Oh, no, Tom. I love you and my folks are happy for us. Dad even offered to help build our house. It’s just too bad Minnesota has such dumb marriage laws so we have to come to Utah.”

“Yea, but at least we’ll get to see something bigger than Pine City,” Tom said, laughing. “It’s warmer too. Wonder how people celebrate summer. They seem to be friendly here.”

They walked briskly, stopping occasionally to window shop. But at a jewelry store, Becky lingered, her blue eyes gazing at the sparkling diamonds.

“Wish I could afford a diamond for you, Becky,” Tom said, softly.

“It’s okay, Tom. Just being with you makes me happy.”

“Thanks, Becky,” Tom hugged her. “Maybe you can get a ring for Christmas. My boss promised me a raise, now that I’ve graduated from high school.”

A short time later they paused before a concrete sign embossed with bold black words: Metropolitan Hall of Justice.

“We’re here, Becky!” Tom cheered, squeezing her hand three times. “Let’s go find the marriage office.”

They wandered inside, searching until they discovered the right room. Tom picked up the license forms and scrawled in the necessary information. Finished, he walked to the counter and handed them to a smiling, gray-haired woman.

“So you’re from Minnesota,” she said, glancing at the forms. “Since your bride’s seventeen, do you have notarized parental consent?”

“Yes, Ma’m. Right here,” Tom answered proudly, pulling out a carefully folded paper.

“What about your blood tests?”

“Blood tests?” Tom gasped. “I forgot about those.”

“Don’t worry. There’s a clinic nearby.”

Tom gulped. Blood tests cost money, he thought. And we only have return bus tickets and money for hamburgers. Swallowing his pride he explained their situation to the marriage clerk.

“Maybe I can help,” she offered. “Wait here while I make some phone calls.”

Tom grabbed Becky’s hand and they settled down near an elderly couple and a pile of magazines. After what seemed like hours the marriage clerk returned. “I’ve got good news,” she said, smiling. “The clinic can do your tests, if you go right now.”

Just then the elderly man sitting nearby spoke up. “Excuse me, but I couldn’t help overhearing. Rachel and I can take you to the clinic. And we’ll even pay for your blood tests as a wedding present.”

“You will!” Tom exclaimed. “Gosh, thanks.”

“No problem. We just came from there. This is our wedding day too.”

Quickly they drove to the clinic where a nurse tested their blood. “You’re finished,” she said, sticking on a bandaid. “Good luck.”

“Are you nervous, Becky?” Tom asked as they walked back into the marriage office.

“A little.”

Clasping hands they followed the clerk to the marriage room. Inside, Becky stood calm and radiant, but Tom’s head whirled and his heart thundered. He barely heard the clerk say, “You may now kiss the bride.”

Tenderly he kissed Becky, suspended in ecstasy until the marriage clerk’s voice jolted him back to reality. “Congratulations. Can I treat you to lunch?”

“Lunch,” Tom gasped. “What time is it?”


“Oh, no. Our bus leaves at 1:00.”

“Wait, I’ve got a surprise for you. While you were gone we took up a collection from people working in our office and couples waiting for marriage licenses. How would you like to spend you wedding day in Salt Lake instead of on the bus?”

“Oh, Tom, could we?” Becky pleaded. “It’d be fun. We could call our folks collect.”

“Okay, Becky. You convinced me.”

“Great!” said the clerk, handing Tom an envelope. “Here’s your second wedding present—a nice room at Howard Johnson’s and dinner for two. Come on. I’ll give you a ride.”

Tom and Becky snuggled together in the back seat, watching downtown Salt Lake speed by until suddenly Tom recognized a familiar landmark.

“Could you stop for a minute?” he asked.

“Of course.”

“I’ll be right back, Becky,” he called, jumping out of the car.

He rushed into the gray building directly to the ticket window. “Excuse me, Sir,” he said boldly. “I need to exchange some bus tickets.”

Watch your punctuation—especially the commas. Also some structural problems.

There’s not enough tension in the story to make it captivating. We don’t really know the characters on a deep level; we don’t get much of a peek into their personalities. Why are they getting married so young? Why are they so poor?

I can’t quite believe this is 1984. It doesn’t feel right. Feels more like something from the 40s or 50s.

Why come to Salt Lake? Minnesota is three states away. Surely there is some state closer than UT that allows underage marriages. Also, why mention the temple if it’s not going to be part of the story?

What I liked best: I liked the idea of the story, that here’s this couple in need and strangers come to their rescue.

Magazine ready: No. It needs more umph.

Summer Story: Gracie’s Blueberries

Gracie plopped down in a lawn chair in the backyard. She felt a little tired after her flight, but too excited to rest. Her teenage grandson Josh sat nearby.

“Have a good trip, Gram?”

“Yes, but when do we start picking? If I knew where the patch was, I’d skedaddle down there right now.”

“It’s too late.” Josh yawned. “We’ll go first thing in the morning.”

“Good. I came to pick, not to sleep.”

Josh grinned. “I know, Gram. You’re amazing. You’re like the energizer bunny [capitalize proper nouns] and you’re eighty-two. What’s your secret?”

“Keeping busy. You’re only as old as you feel.” Gracie didn’t feel eighty-two. She still felt like a girl was hiding inside until she looked at a picture of herself. Then she knew the years had passed. Yet when she was picking berries the memories flooded back. Maybe that’s why she loved doing it.

The morning dawned perfect for picking blueberries. Gracie dressed in a long sleeve striped shirt, baggy jeans, and wide brimmed hat. Josh put on his old soccer jersey, shorts, and sandals. They bounced along the gravel road in his red pickup toward the farm. A rustic sign announced the patch didn’t open until nine.

“Why isn’t that farmer up yet?” Gracie sounded amazed. “We’ve got work to do!”

“It’s only a half hour,” [grammar] Josh said. He stretched his legs, clasped his hands behind his head, and leaned back. “Let’s listen to the radio.”

“I’ve got a better idea.” Gracie opened the door and climbed out. “I haven’t done my four miles yet. Let’s find that farmer and wake him up.”

“All right, Gram,” Josh groaned. “I’m coming. I don’t want you to get lost.”

They returned [from where? Did they get the farmer?] exactly at nine, but the patch was terrible. They found only a few bushes with small berries. It took a long time to fill their shiny pails.

“I’m done,” Josh announced. “This is boring. Wish I’d brought my IPod.“ [When you use brand names, make sure you get them right — iPod.]

“Keep picking,” Gracie prodded him. “Still berries on those bushes over there. We don’t want them to go to waste.”

Don’t waste, Gracie heard her mother’s voice from somewhere long ago. Gracie’s fingers were still picking berries, but they were short and stubby. Her auburn hair was pulled back in two tight braids. The berries weren’t blue anymore, but dark purple, and she was picking huckleberries in the hills near her home with her mother. Gracie was trying to pick fast, but in her haste she bumped her pail and the berries scattered on the ground. She knelt down and tried to find them. Food was precious and those berries would taste wonderful next winter when fruit was scarce.

“Don’t you have enough?” Josh’s voice broke into her thoughts. “No more berries here. Let’s find a better patch.”

“You’re not looking hard enough.” Gracie pulled branches up to reveal hidden berries. “Search for the treasure.”

An hour later Gracie felt satisfied she had gleaned every precious berry from the patch. She laughed with delight when the farmer weighed the berries and announced they had picked fourteen pounds from bushes Josh thought were empty.

The next day she bribed Josh with a promise of a Big Mac so he drove her to another patch. Here they found a blueberry boulevard, with tons of empty bushes with sparse clusters of berries hidden on low branches. Bending down they filled their pails faster this time, but Josh hated kneeling in the dirt.

“This is hard,” he complained. “I liked the first patch better.”

“You’re doing great, “Gracie urged.

“What are you going to do with all these berries?” Josh asked, annoyed.

“Keep picking. I’ll use them all. I’ll make some pies. . .”

She leaned down to grab another bunch of berries. Her hair tumbled over her face. She noticed it wasn’t short and gray, but rather in long curls like when she was thirteen. Good job, Gracie girl, she heard her mother’s voice again. Your first blueberry pie. We’ll have some for supper. Gracie felt proud. Then a knock sounded on the door. A hobo stood outside, his hat in his hands. She wished her mother would send him away. They had a big family and didn’t have food to spare. Instead her mother invited him in, fed him some soup and a big piece of her pie. That night there was only a tiny piece left for her.

After a full day of picking they drove home. Gracie felt tired, but happy. Her body ached in a few new places, but she didn’t let that stop her. She immediately started sorting and washing berries. Her daughter urged her to relax after dinner, but she had a pie to make. She imagined how excited the family would be to taste one made from fresh picked blueberries, but they scattered in a thousand directions. By the time she finished, she ate her big piece alone.

“Wake up, Josh,” Gracie knocked on his bedroom door. “Time to go berrying. This is my last day. I’m flying back tomorrow.”

She heard some moans from behind the door, but within an hour Josh and Gracie were driving up a bumpy road toward another farm. Gracie became excited. “Oh, look!” She exclaimed and clapped her hands like a child. “Those bushes are loaded. We’ve found blueberry heaven.”

Moments after Josh stopped, Gracie jumped out and headed for the patch, her eyes shining. “Look at those big berries.” Her hands worked like a machine: picking furiously, filling the pail, dumping it in the bucket. She paused only a few seconds now and then to sample a fresh berry. She shut her eyes and chewed slowly, savoring the sweetness. It tasted so good she wanted another, but reminded herself to keep picking. No time to fritter, she thought. There’s work to be done.

She slipped into overdrive. Her hands grabbed bunches of berries and the pail filled rapidly. The sun blazed on her back, but she kept working. Suddenly she noticed a glittering on her ring finger . Sparkles like a diamond, she thought. But I don’t wear my ring anymore. She blinked and looked down at her finger. A diamond sparkled in the sun. She touched her face, her neck. They felt smooth and tight. She saw her husband Peter who had been gone for thirty years. He was working beside her as he had always done: weeding the garden, harvesting the potatoes, hauling the hay. Together again.

A gnat buzzed by her eyes. She stopped picking and swooshed it away. Now her ring finger looked bare. She glanced over her shoulder. Peter was gone. Instead she saw Josh. Funny, but she’d never noticed how much he looked like Peter with his curly black hair and legs like telephone poles.

“Are you okay, Gram?” He looked at her with a puzzled expression. “Do you think we have enough? We’ve filled six big buckets and it’s almost noon.”

“It is?” Gracie felt surprised. Where had the hours flown? Where had her life gone?

“Let me finish filling this pail and then I’ll be done,” she promised.

The young farmer scratched his head in amazement as he weighed the buckets. “You’ve got seventy pounds and you haven’t been here that long. You folks must pick fast.”

Josh shook his head. “Not me. My gram. She’s a machine.”

The farmer chuckled. “She’s one of those. . . I think they called them the greatest generation. Those folks who lived through the Depression and World War II.”

“Thanks.” Gracie smiled. “We just did what we had to do.” Then she patted Josh on the back. “Josh is from a great generation too. He’s picked berries with me for three days.”

Gracie sorted, cleaned, and packed her blueberries into cartons. She filled two suitcases and her carry-on and left a big container for Josh. [She flew in just to pick berries and then took them home in her suitcases?! Is this even allowed? I don’t buy it. Have her drive in from out of town—maybe she lives a few hours away. Or have an aunt or grandchild drive her in. That’s more believable.] “I’m going to miss you, Gram,” he said as he hugged her at the airport.

“Me too.” She squeezed him tight. “Don’t forget your promise.”

“I won’t. Mom’s going to help me make a pie tonight.

“That’s why I love the young people today. The boys make pies; the girls drive trucks.”

She watched him drive away and then walked into the airport, pulling her carry-on full of berries. She hoped they all arrived back home safely. Next winter when the winds howled and the snow drifted, she would eat blueberry pancake, muffins, and pies. In a burst of blue sweetness, the summer would come again.

Got a few grammar/structure issues, but not bad. When using brand names you need to include the ™ or the ® symbols. Some authors don’t and their publishers let them get away with it, but it’s the law.

Would have liked to see more interaction between her and the grandson, more comparison and contrast between them. I would also like to see him change something about himself due to her example.

What I liked best: I liked her remembering the past as she picked. Would have liked to see that in more detail.

Magazine ready? Almost. Needs just a bit more development and clean up.

Summer Story: Lock, Stock and Arrow

“Sherwood Forest,” Edward said, looking out of the window of the coach. “We’re almost at Nottingham, Marian.”

Marian sighed with boredom. She was fourteen and used to being active all day, not shut up in a carriage that lumbered so slowly along the path that she could easily overtake it just by walking. At least it was cooler in the forest. It was a warm summer’s day and the carriage had become quite heated while they were out in the open.

Seeing movement among the trees, Marian leaned out for a closer look, only to see someone flying towards her. She screamed and pulled back, but the young man’s feet shot through the window, slamming into her shoulder and sending her crashing into her father. A moment later, the feet disappeared, and there was a solid thump from the road outside. The horses whinnied, and the driver brought them to such a abrupt stop that Marian and her father were flung forwards.

“What happened?” Edward gasped, regaining his seat. “Marian, are you all right?”

“Just startled, I think,” she said. “And you, father?”

“Startled would be an understatement.”

The carriage rocked as the driver jumped down, and Marian heard him shouting, “What on earth d’ya think yer doin’, tryin’ ta kill us all?”

“I do beg your pardon,” came a young man’s voice. Intrigued, Marian opened the door and got out. Standing a little farther down the road was the young man who had nearly flown directly through their carriage, holding a heavy rope attached to a tree branch high above the path. “I was … playing … and I didn’t see that you were coming until it was too late.”

“Playing?” Sir Edward demanded, exiting the carriage as well. “Have you no duties, no work to do, that you have time to swing through the forest on a rope?”

“I think you’ll find –” the young man started to say, but Marian’s father cut him off. ” I think you will find that I am the new Sheriff of Nottingham, and you could have seriously injured my daughter with your playing! You will come to Nottingham with us and spend the night in the stocks!”

“My lord!” the young man cried as realization dawned in his face. “Yes, my lord, the stocks … I do beg your pardon, my lord. My lady!”

“My servant was only playing because I told him to,” said a voice from behind them, and Marian spun around to see another young man coming out of the forest. He wore a bow and a quiver of arrows on his back. “If you have to punish someone, my lord, you should punish me, as he is my responsibility.”

“And who are you?” Edward demanded.

“My lord, I am Robin of Locksley, the son of Robert, Earl of Huntingdon,” he said, bowing. “And this is my servant Much. I apologize for our actions. I hope your daughter is all right?”

He smiled at her then, and Marian smiled back. “I am not hurt, my lord.”

“Nonetheless, I will spend the night in the stocks in the place of my servant,” Robin finished.

“Master, no!” Much protested, but Robin waved him to silence.

Edward glanced from Robin to Much and back again, frowning. “And what games were you playing in the forest, Robin of Locksley?”

“I was practicing my archery, my lord, and I bet Much a hot bath that I could shoot through a rope. We hung one up, and I told Much to swing on it, to make it more difficult.” Robin smiled without embarrassment.

“I see you missed,” Edward said.

“Yes, my lord.” Robin’s smile faded.

“Your servant must have a very high opinion of your ability with a bow, if he allows you to shoot in his direction,” Edward commented.

Much straightened up. “My master is the best shot in Nottingham. He’s never hit anybody he didn’t mean to hit!”

Robin grinned. “Either that, or he has a very high opinion of hot baths.”

“Well, yes, that, too,” Much added.

Robin tilted his head. “Much, fetch the horses.”

“Master, no!” Much cried again. “Let them put me in the stocks! I should’ve let go of the rope the moment I saw the carriage, instead of trying to bounce off it! It’s my fault!”

“Much,” Robin warned, and Much nodded. “Yes, master.”

He walked into the forest, and Robin turned back to Edward. “May I ride on my own, my lord, or would you rather tie my hands and lead my horse behind your carriage?”

“You may ride on your own,” Edward said. When Much returned with the horses, Edward put a hand on his daughter’s shoulder. “Come, Marian.”

Getting into the carriage, Marian cast a searching look back at Robin and wished she could ride alongside him. She wanted to talk to this handsome and strangely chivalrous young man who was so certain of his archery skills that he thought he could shoot an arrow through a swinging rope. But ever since her mother had died, Marian knew her place was at her father’s side, and so she sank down onto the bench with only a wistful sigh.

They rode into Nottingham. Marian had expected Robin to keep his horse behind their carriage, but every so often he drew up alongside it and grinned down at her before falling back again. She smiled at him each time.

Sir Edward had already sent his servants ahead to prepare for their arrival, but they were not the only ones waiting on the steps of the castle when the carriage pulled into the couryard. A tall man with the dress and bearing of a noble stood there, too, watching patiently as the steward came forward to greet them.

“Welcome to Nottingham, my lord Sheriff,” the steward said. “This is the Earl of Huntingdon, who has been administering the shire since Sheriff Thomas’ untimely death.”

“Huntingdon,” Edward said, reaching out his hand. “I’ve heard that name already to-day.”

Huntingdon took the hand and glanced sideways at Robin. “Sir Edward. No doubt you have been introduced to my son.”

“He introduced himself to us,” Edward said. “I’m afraid my first duty as Sheriff will not be to your liking, as I will have to put him in the stocks for the night.”

Marian expected Huntingdon to be angry, but his eyes twinkled as he said, “Really?”

“He apparently wanted to fire his bow at a moving rope, and told his servant to swing on it, but instead of the arrow hitting the rope, the servant hit our carriage. Fortunately, my daughter and I escaped seriously injury.”

Huntingdon stepped towards Marian and took her hands in his, bowing over them. “My lady. I am sorry that you were accosted by my son in such a manner. May I offer you the privilege of turning the key to lock him in the stocks?”

Marian gaped at him in surprise. “My lord? Oh, no, that won’t be necessary.”

“As you are the injured party, I insist,” Huntingdon said. “Let us do this odious duty, my lady, and then we can return to pleasanter things. The servants have prepared a chamber for you, and the welcome feast will be ready soon.”

Marian glanced to her father, who frowned, but nodded, and they all walked from the castle to the marketplace where the stocks were. Once there, Robin removed his bow and quiver and handed them to Much, then turned to Marian with a quick smile. Then he stooped over and placed his head and hands in the stocks. Huntingdon brought the top piece down, then took the ring of keys from his belt, found the right one, and handed it to Marian. Feeling awkward and conspicuous, she stepped forward and turned the key in the lock.

Huntingdon rattled the top piece to test it, then addressed Robin’s servant. “Much, you will attend me at the castle.”

“Yes, my lord,” Much said, glancing from him to Robin and back again.

“You will not sneak out at any time between now and to-morrow morning. You will not bring Robin any food or water, or protect him from any rotten fruit that the villagers might throw at him.”

From the guilty look on Much’s face, Marian realized he’d been planning to do exactly that. Glancing apologetically at Robin, Much murmured, “Yes, my lord.”

“Right, then,” Huntingdon announced, reaching out for the keys again.. “Let’s get back to welcoming our new Sheriff.”

“My lord,” Marian said, not handing them over. “Because it was my responsibility to lock him in, I assume it’s also my responsibility to unlock him to-morrow?”

“Marian!” her father hissed, scandalized at her boldness. Huntingdon considered this for a moment, then said, “You are absolutely right, my lady. It is your responsibility, and I will accompany you here in the morning.”

Relieved, Marian handed over the keys, then gave Robin one last look. He winked at her, and she smiled, then turned away.

I’m not that familiar with the Robin Hood story, so I’m assuming that every thing here is correct, or within the accepted scope of that story. It is a good beginning—but only a beginning to a longer story.

What I liked best: The characterization. We get a nice glimpse into the various personalities.

Magazine ready? Not for the purposes of this contest. There is no conclusion to the story arc, but a rather abrupt end. I would like to read the rest of this story.

Summer Story: When Life Hands Out Lemons….

The July sun was just reaching its zenith when Mrs. Langley appeared on the sidewalk and stared down at the top of Mark’s head. “What are you doing?” she asked politely.

Mark met her gaze square in the eye, his chin lifted proudly. “Sean and I are opening a lemonade stand.”

“I see that. Can I ask why?”

“I just want my own money besides my allowance,” he answered.

She bit back a smile and studied their carefully stenciled poster board announcing, “The Best Lemonade in Hawthorne Hights: $1.50.” After a moment, she said only, “You did a nice job with the sign.” She didn’t mention the smudges outside the lines or the slight misspelling of the neighborhood’s name. Or the fact that they had obviously borrowed the crayons for their project from Dylan, the littlest Langley, without asking. He protected his Crayolas [use generic name] fiercely from careless use and broken tips.

“You want to be our taste tester?” Mark offered. “You can have the first glass.” He felt pretty generous.

“Wow, you must really love me,” Mrs. Langley said. Sean poked his friend and made kissy lips in the air. Mark, embarrassed, just shrugged and held out a glass.

She took the plastic cup from his hand with great ceremony, waved it under her nose and inhaled the scent, then finally took a sip and thoughtfully swirled it around her mouth. The boys [see note] watched her, trying not to appear too anxious. Finally, she swallowed and smiled.

“Not bad.” She pronounced. When Mark’s face fell almost imperceptibly, she added, “Really, it’s pretty good. Maybe even pretty great. There’s something in there besides lemons and sugar, isn’t there?”

He nodded, happy. “Yeah, it’s from Sean’s Grandma Pearl’s recipe. We messed with it until it tasted perfect. It’s vanilla,” he said triumphantly.

“Well, I’m impressed,” Mrs. Langley told them. “Good luck this afternoon. Don’t stay out too late,” and with another kind smile, she headed back to the house.

The afternoon passed quickly. Business was brisk, with neighbors stopping to chat and ask about the littler Langleys at home. Mark suspected many of their customers were humoring them and thought he even caught a quickly smothered smile or two, but he just ignored that. As long as the neighbors kept up their steady stream, he would have enough money to buy a new game for his Wii by dinner. Old Mr. Stinson from three doors down even bought four glasses from them, one after the other, and drank them right there on the sidewalk. He’s probably just curious about our stand, thought Mark. But it didn’t matter. It got them six dollars closer to the goal.

Finally as dusk was settling in, he turned to find Dylan at his elbow.

“Dad! Mom says you have to come home for dinner,” the little boy announced solemnly through an overgrown fringe of bangs.

“Tell her I’ll be there in a little while. We only need to sell a few more lemonades,” Mark told him.

Dylan rolled his eyes. “She said enough is enough, you made your point, you can have your game, but you have to come home for dinner!”

Mark turned to his partner. “Well, I guess that’s it for me. The boss is calling.”

“Oh, yeah, Mr. Balling. Mrs. B said you have to go home, too,” Dylan informed Sean.

The two men smiled at each other and began gathering up their business, placing unused Dixie cups and sticky measuring spoons in a large red wagon. Finally, Mark counted out half of the bills to his neighbor. “Pleasure doing business with you, Sean. What are you going to do with your share?”

Sean thumbed it thoughtfully. “I don’t know. Maybe take Cheryl out for dinner and a movie so she doesn’t kill me for doing this. I figure my take ought to cover a babysitter.”

Dylan tugged on Mark’s shirt, trying to get his attention. “Dad, I don’t think Mom was kidding around. You better come on,’ he said. He scooped up their sign and was about to toss it in the wagon when he suddenly stopped and stared at it suspiciously. “Hey! Did you use my crayons without asking?” he demanded.

Mark grinned and waved a fistful of dollars. “Don’t worry, kid. You just got an upgrade to the deluxe box of 64.”

“With the built-in sharpener?”

“You drive a hard bargain, Dylan. Maybe you should have been out here with us today. We could have made even more money.”

“I’m pretty cute,” the little boy said solemnly.

His dad gave a shout of laughter and threw his arm around his shoulders. “You’ve got a future, son,” he said, and swung him up on his shoulders for a ride toward home and dinner.

Note: I didn’t want to put this up in the story, in case someone was reading this for the first time. It would be fine to have Mrs. Langley call them “boys” but the narrator should avoid this. Too misleading.

What I liked best: I really liked the twist on this story. I thought it was clever.

Magazine ready? Yes. Good job.

Summer Story Contest Reminder!

Don’t forget the Celebrating Summer Story Contest going on NOW!

I’ve got rules!

I’ve got sponsors and prizes!

What I don’t have is entries!

I’ve made this contest as easy as possible. The genre and context are wide open. All you have to do is place your story in the summer—or in the winter, wishing it was summer.

Got a horror story collecting dust in your files? Set it during the Dog Days of Summer and send it in.

Got a short romance almost ready to go? Make it a June wedding and send it in!

Anything goes, just get cracking because the submission deadline is THIS FRIDAY, May 9th Midnight, on SUNDAY, May 11th.

Celebrating Summer Short Story Contest Sponsors

A huge thank you to the following authors whose books are sponsoring the Celebrating Summer Short Story Contest.

Publisher’s Choice, Published Author Category Prize: Freefall by Traci Hunter Abramson

Lieutenant Brent Miller arrived in the Middle East with one objective — get seven hostages out of a hostile country. The plan almost worked. But now he has been left behind — with one of the hostages. It’s up to Brent to get Amy Whitmore, an LDS Senator’s daughter, across miles of desert to safety. What he doesn’t know is that to survive, he needs her as much as she needs him.

Originally from Arizona, Traci Hunter Abramson graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in business. She moved to northern Virginia where she worked for the Central Intelligence Agency for six years. Traci started writing over ten years ago after resigning from the CIA. Freefall is her fifth published book.

Reader’s Choice, Published Author Category Prize: The Final Farewell by Patricia Wiles

Growing up can be hard. Especially if you live in a funeral home and your friends have either moved away, turned away—or been turned under. Now that Kevin is getting close to graduation, the decisions he always thought would be simple are becoming increasingly difficult. Everyone seems to be changing, including him. He wonders if he really should serve a two-year Church mission—or if he should accept the scholarship he’s been offered in the field he loves. After all, the scholarship is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and he feels like he has nothing to say when he goes out with the local missionaries. Kevin needs help to find an answer. However, just when he thinks he has made up his mind, a disaster strikes that could change everything.

Patricia Wiles began her writing career as a public radio commentator and newspaper columnist. Her essays and commentary have appeared in Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and the 2001 Writer’s Handbook. She is the assistant regional advisor of the Midsouth chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and works as a staff writer for a daily newspaper.

Patricia’s first and second novels in the Kevin Kirk Chronicles series, My Mom’s a Mortician and Funeral Home Evenings, received awards for middle grade and Young Adult fiction from the Association for Mormon Letters. The other two books in the series are Early Morning Cemetery and The Final Farewell.

Patricia and her husband have two daughters and a son—all of whom have left the nest. Their cat, however, is a moocher who refuses to move out and get his own place.

Publisher’s Choice, Unpublished Author Category Prize: Spires of Stone by Annette Lyon

Bethany Hansen wasn’t sure when or if she would ever see Benjamin Adams again. She also told herself that it didn’t matter. But when Ben and his two brothers come home after more than two years of serving a mission to the Eastern states, her feelings of heartache and anger also return—fiercer than ever. And so do Ben’s feelings for her.

Good-naturedly, Ben’s brothers attempt to reunite the two, even as they separately vie for Bethany’s younger sister, Hannah. What follows is a charming historical romance based on a Shakespeare classic, complete with wonderful characters and witty dialogue that explores the redemption and power of finding–and rediscovering–true love.

Annette Lyon was given the 2007 Best of State medal for fiction in Utah and was a 2007 Whitney Award finalist for her fifth book, Spires of Stone. She’s been writing for most of her life, beginning with stories about mice in second grade. While she’s found success in magazine and business writing, her true passion is fiction. In 1995, she graduated cum laude from BYU with a BA in English. Annette enjoys reading, knitting, and chocolate—not necessarily in that order.

Reader’s Choice, Unpublished Author Category Prize: Season of Sacrifice by Tristi Pinkston

Sarah Williams is a young Welsh immigrant, coming to Utah to join her sister Mary Ann Perkins. When the Perkins are asked to join the San Juan mission to pioneer a trail through Southern Utah, they take Sarah along to help care for the children. But a six-week journey turns into six agonizing months of hard work and toil as the Saints blast their way through a cliff to bring their wagons through what would become the famous Utah landmark “Hole in the Rock.”

Finally settled in the San Juan, Sarah’s true hardship begins when Ben Perkins asks her to be his second wife. With their faith and testimonies challenged to the core, both Sarah and Mary Ann struggle to find the true meaning of Christ-like love and obedience. Will they make it through?

Tristi Pinkston has been writing since the age of five, when she wrote and illustrated her first literary masterpiece, Sue the Dog. Her first published novel, Nothing to Regret, was sparked by a strange dream which piqued her interest in World War II. Her second book, Strength to Endure, is also about World War II but from the perspective of a German family. Tristi’s third book, Season of Sacrifice, was inspired by the true story of her great-grandparents.