from Jacob's Holler

by Carrie Darden

Editor’s note: this student submission comes from Vicki Lane’s "Practical Guide to Writing Popular Fiction" class.

Sunny ran between Scarlett and Juliet, chasing the ball and growling as she attempted to corral it. Her mouth couldn’t grip the neon pink plastic no matter how hard she tried and the ball led her around and around in circles. Ben and I laughed at her antics and the girls continued to step forward and kick it back and forth, squealing and shouting.

“All right, kiddos. Let’s make our picnic lunches and head out.”

The kids followed me inside, where we made peanut butter sandwiches and filled our water bottles. I moved through the kitchen behind them, putting away the bread and wiping crumbs from the counter. Scarlett searched the pantry for her lunch bag and Ben asked me how far away the park was.

“I think it’s about—”

The sound of a gunshot rattled the windows. We froze. I held the peanut-butter-smeared knife in one hand and the kitchen rag in another. Water from the rag trickled down my bare arm and dripped from my elbow. The kids looked at me with wide eyes and my heart stopped at the thought of Sunny still outside. At that moment her yelps pierced the air.

“Sunny!” Juliet screamed and ran from the kitchen, knocking over a chair. Ben looked at me, mouth open, and I saw my own terror reflected in his eyes.

“Juliet!” I ran and caught her arm as she stepped off the porch.

She screamed Sunny’s name again as we watched the mass of yellow fur run from Doug’s field toward our backyard. Doug stood fifty yards away in the high grass, a rifle butted against his shoulder, aiming at Sunny’s back. The sunlight glinted off the metal plating and I had the irrational hope that it wasn’t a real gun. It looked like a toy from the cops-and-robbers set we had bought Ben last Christmas. But when Sunny fell and turned to lick her back leg, I knew Doug had hit her with a real bullet. Blood covered her nose when she stood and began running again.

Time slowed and the natural world around me held its breath as I watched Sunny. She was the only thing that moved. The birds swallowed their songs, the wind fell in on itself, and the children stiffened in one collective stance. I no longer had the need to breathe because my body had turned to stone. The blood froze in my veins and my heart fluttered. A low roar, like an approaching train, filled my ears, and my vision grayed along the edges. My limbs filled with sand, weighing me down to the ground that seemed to vibrate with each step Doug took. One thought moved in languid, drunk circles in my dazed mind—this isn’t happening.

The kids pressed behind me, watching Sunny’s desperate escape. She limped and whimpered her way toward us, and the kids and I rushed forward to meet her. But we jumped, halting, as the next gunshot blasted and echoed against the house and the hills. Sunny stopped moving and fell, drowning in the weeds. The kids pushed as one force against me and I held them back, arms outstretched, not looking at them but instead focused on the man with the smoking gun.

Silence hung thick and Doug stood, rifle in hand, glaring at me and the kids. I stared down a tunnel—all I could see was the break in the grass where the dog lay, with the man standing behind her and the gun glinting in the sun. I didn’t breathe. I didn’t think. I didn’t move. The tunnel narrowed and the rest of the world disappeared. The weeds moved in front of Doug and he walked forward and kicked. Sunny’s whimpers rose from the grass and the kids crashed against me again.

“I warned you about stirrin’ up trouble,” he said before turning and striding back to his house, gun resting on his shoulder.

“Ben, go and call Dad and tell him what happened. Tell him to meet us at the vet’s in Burnsville.”

Ben ran up the porch steps. The girls held each other, crying.

“Girls, go inside and find an old blanket that I can wrap Sunny in. We need to get her to the vet.”

“Will she be okay, mommy?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. As they sobbed their way through the front door, I had to wonder, would anything ever be okay again?

Note: this is an excerpt of this submission…story continues

Carrie Darden lives with her husband and five children in Yancey County. In addition to homeschooling, she enjoys reading, gardening, and running. She recently achieved her dream of writing a novel.

About Jacob’s Holler—This is a story about a young couple who leaves the city to raise their small children in the mountains of North Carolina, only to discover that the quiet rural community they join is home to rampant drug addiction, crime, and a corrupt local government that turns a blind eye to the terror inflicted on them by their new neighbors.