Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Story Dam: Change and Transformation

The Story Dam prompt this week is in honor of the website's new management. 750 words are allotted.

Dam Burst Prompt:
You can write fiction or non-fiction, tell us a story that either you have gone through or your character goes through, of a sudden major transition that forced you or your character to change in an unexpected way.
Wet Feet Prompt:
Describe a time that you moved to a new home or went to a new school and what you did to settle in.  Focus on the feelings that went through you during the change.

Somehow I was drawn to the words "sudden", "major", and "forced". This took me to a different place than I wanted to go, or more specifically, it took my character to a place where she was forced to make a decision. The hardest choice a parent makes is letting go. During WWII, thousands of children were relocated from cities like London to towns and villages less likely to be targets of the German Blitz. Many were orphaned, some had families, and even some were sent across the pond here to the States for safe keeping. Change isn't always good, usually isn't fair, and sometimes the only aftermath we are left with is the survival of hope that things will get better. 

I offer the following in response: Decision 

They huddled together in the cramped space in the London Underground. It was quiet save the haunting wail of air-raid sirens. With fearful arms, Elsa clutched her daughter who, for once, did not squirm to break free. A quiet resolve nestled as a blanket over the crowd, and they waited.

“Mummy, I’m cold,” her little girl whispered.

“I know Poppy,” Elsa murmured softly, willing herself the veneer of calm she didn’t feel. She shifted some to afford space within her coat for her daughter to slip into, feeling her own body heat spike instantly. Soon, the all-too-familiar rumbling of German engineering ricocheted through the tunnels. She closed her eyes and prayed.

It was a risk seeking shelter in the Underground. The direct hit of a station could wipe out a whole community in one sitting. At least the Cabinet finally saw sense and allowed the tunnels to be open for the public during the nightly raids, she thought while she focused on her daughter’s breathing, gauging the stress-level in the rises and falls of her little chest. The first week of bombings had been brutally panic-stricken and confrontations between the officials and the communist party were minor, but frequent.

The grumbling of connecting bombs grew louder then faded back into a dull shadow. “First wave down,” someone said.

“When do yoo think the next oone’ll hit Chaerlie?” his companion asked.

“Canna say. Maybe in ten?”

“Myrtle an’ the kids get oot tae your coosin’s place?”

“Yeah, an’ right glad I am for it too.”

She ignored them then, consumed by her own thoughts. Her in-laws lived on a farmstead near Yelden and although the RAF had a strong presence there, the promise of a quieter, safer existence for her daughter was a boon. Elsa squeezed her daughter involuntarily. Letting her go would be for the best, but she didn’t know if she was strong enough to endure it. Forcing a smile, she pulled her little heater from the cocoon of her arms. “Poppy, how would you like to visit Grandpapa and Grandmama for a few days? You could help them with the chickens. I’m sure they’d love to see you.”

Poppy looked skeptical. “But it’ll be Christmas soon. And Daddy promised he’d come home.”

“Now you know that’s not true,” her voice breaking. Her stomach clinched as she remembered the letter he gave them when he left to fight. The letter was only to be opened if death claimed him. In case, he whispered softly, in case I am unable to write before... I shall not leave you alone in this world without a reassurance of my love. “Daddy only promised he would try to be home.”

There was pure defiance reflecting in those crystalline eyes, as if she had asked Poppy to finish eating her vegetables. “But-“

“It isn't for forever, Poppy,” Elsa said, steering the conversation back to Yelden. “Just until the bombings stop.”

“You’ll come too?”

The lump in her throat was difficult to swallow, but she couldn’t allow herself to cry. She struggled to find words that could inspire instead of frighten and felt she was grasping at smoke. “Oh, I know you’re scared for your father, for me, but Mummy has important work to do here. I need to help make sure everyone has shelter and food, and a way to contact their love ones. You understand that don’t you?”

The responding nod was hesitant and void of conviction. “But…Christmas…”

“Why don’t we think about Christmas when it comes, yes? It’s still a month away. Things may change by then. Besides, it’ll let Grandpapa and Grandmama believe that they're helping the war effort, and helping us too.”

A wistful smile crossed her little girl’s face, “I’ll be helping the war effort? I’ll be helping Daddy?”

Not the point I was trying to make, but I’ll take the victory. “Yes! It’ll help Daddy immensely! He’ll be so proud of both of us!”

“Then I’ll go!” Poppy exclaimed brightly and nestled back in the coat cocoon.

Elsa clutched her little girl tightly and breathed, tears sliding silently across her cheeks. The world around her was chaos, changing beyond her control, but she took solace in the knowledge that she was doing everything in her power to protect her little girl. Voices in the chilly tunnels silenced again while the percussive groaning of the next bombing wave thundered through their chamber. It would be a cold, uncomfortable night, but sleep would come all the same.


  1. What a bittersweet story of strength in the face of fear. I find myself hoping all goes well for Poppy and her parents.

    My only concrit would be dome minor typos.

    1. Thanks for your feedback! Are you looking at grammar or spelling errors?

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

  2. I could feel the mother's pain and sorrow over the state of her country and that she would have to separate from her daughter.

    I believe Renee was speaking of typos in spelling which I would agree with. Sometimes we have to leave a writing alone for 24 hours then come back to it, read through it, and then we see the typos more clearly.

    Great job on writing for this prompt!

    1. Thanks for stopping by!

      I agree with "walking away" from the work before editing. Actually the spelling mistakes inside the quotation marks in this post were intentional. It eludes to the accent of the individual speaking, his pronunciation.

      I've used the technique before successfully, but if it's not working with this story, I'll do a final edit before this is proceeding with publication beyond the site.

      Thanks again for stopping by and sharing your feedback! It's very appreciated!

  3. Thank you, thank you for this piece. Personally, I am always fascinated by the stories of the children being sent away during the war. As I child, when I read stories where this happened I thought it a strange European custom! I don't know when it finally dawned on me that it was done to save lives, but even then I know my own mother would have had a difficult time making this decision. Her motto through it all was that we could handle ANYTHING as long as we STAYED TOGETHER.

    For this reason, I am in love with your story which brings to life the DECISION. The heartbreak, hopelessness and the clinging to life wherever it can be found is alive within your words.

    As I was reading the comments above I kept thinking, "I guess the typos were fixed!" until your comment cleared it all up. And it shines the light on the only critique I was going to make about writing dialects. It's a tricky business, so I try to steer clear when I can. The dropped letters in statements like this one: “Yeah, an’ right glad I am for it too.” work really well, I think, but adding letters, or changing spellings can sometimes distract readers and take them out of the scene. Also, this statement worked well because of the "right glad" phrasing - little things like this do a lot to tell your readers what you want them to know about a character's voice and origin, other stuff might be better off in a dialog tag.

    Finally, because this is such an emotional piece, I feel I should let you know when you brought me to tears, it was here:

    A wistful smile crossed her little girl’s face, “I’ll be helping the war effort? I’ll be helping Daddy?”

    Not the point I was trying to make, but I’ll take the victory. “Yes! It’ll help Daddy immensely! He’ll be so proud of both of us!”

    Oh, how I love how earnest the little ones can be and how it is usually their perception of the world that gives us the fortitude to fight another day!

    Thank you, again, for sharing with StoryDam!

    1. Wow! Thanks for providing such wonderful feedback! I'm working off my phone so I'm limited as to what I can type, please forgive me. I absolutely love knowing what works and what doesn't. Thank you for stopping by!