The Little Lambs of Moundsville, West Virginia


John and Pearl—
a disciple,
a gem of the ocean.

The sins of their father fall to them
like the filthy lucre he stole,
his body swaying in the still air.
The little doll of Pearl
carries his costly secret
like an illegitimate child.

The blood smell from the money
brought Preacher Harry Powell—
the devil in the flesh—
to their Moundsville farmhouse.
A death tax collector,
a fallen Angel of Death,
a Grim Reaper that sows deceit.

The smells of fried chicken,
sweet potatoes,
and apple cobbler
fortifies the children on their journey
to the Wherever.

The children tire,
the nocturnal melodies like a lullaby,
but they must keep running,
keep rowing,
until they cannot.

From the loft of a barn,
John watches this black sheep
ride his horse in search of
the lost lambs with the loot.
He never sleeps.

The day dawn breaks,
and it is time to run again.
Floating adrift in a boat,
a savior in a dress,
greedy for love,
takes the children,
for they are like treasures
from a sunken ship.
Only she can see their worth.
Her name is Rachel,
but John will come to think of her as Bithiah,
for Bithiah drew Moses out of the water.

John and Pearl,
children of thieves,
of murderers,
of Willa the Weak,
are brought to live with three girls:
Ruby, Mary, and Clary.
It is the home of the Lost and Found.

Then, like a crow,
scouting out a cornfield,
it returns with the scrawl on its talons,
but Rachel’s bullet pierces the creature,
and the demon is exorcised from his body.
All of the children are safe.

This simple Rachel speaks of God and His Son,
the candlelight bathing the faces of the little lambs,
waxing innocent as the moon;
the lost lamb named John
turns away and into the night,
the screen from the door like a veil,
a wall separating him from the words of the black book.

He has heard this story before,
but it is different,
and he hears it told with love—
the way it was meant to be told.

Bless all the little children,
for it was a little child who led them,
they who believed,
to the truth of the wolf that had pulled the wool over their eyes—
blinded by plain words done up fancy.

Night of the Hunter - birdcage 01

What Editors Want…

Christian films (and movies with Christian themes) are rising in popularity.  A revival is going on.  How much that influences what magazine publishers/editors are looking for, I have no idea, though I wish I did.

For instance, “The Saturday Evening Post” is sponsoring a Great American Fiction Contest, and one of the guidelines is this:  Think local. The Post has historically played a role in defining what it means to be an American. Your story should in some way touch upon the publication’s mission: Celebrating America, past, present, and future.

Now I can do that.  However, being a Christian (especially growing up in the Buckle of the Bible Belt), it is very hard for me not to include any mention of religion (good or bad) in my writings.  It is not only what I know, but it is part of what makes me, me.  I always think, before I send a piece that has even a passing mention of Christianity, that it will be rejected for that reason.  What I write tends to be too liberal to qualify as Christian fiction, and too conservative for mainstream fiction.

Hence my dilemma in crafting a story for this contest.  If I was submitting a piece for this magazine seventy years ago, this wouldn’t even be an issue.  My thought is that I’m writing to impress the editors, not the subscribers, because I have to get past the editors first.

When I think of what constitutes Americana, I think of “Huckleberry Finn”, “Leave it to Beaver”, baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, Stephen Foster and Norman Rockwell.  I think rural.  The story I originally wrote for this contest is about a group of young Mormons living in Montana (as I was once a young Mormon living in Montana).  I fear even the mention of the word Mormon, much less most of my main characters being members of such a controversial religion, might scare off the editors, who fear offending anyone.  That’s the kind of country we live in now.  We (or some of us) live in fear offending anyone, and if we do happen to offend, we must apologize immediately.  It doesn’t pay to be honest anymore, but rather, it costs us.  I can write what I want, all I want, but if I want to win a contest, I’ll probably have to censor myself a bit, thus making my piece less authentic.

So, I am at a crossroads.  Because of the ten dollar entry fee, I don’t want to send something I’m pretty sure won’t be chosen, but I am grappling with a story that will appeal to the masses (though I do believe Christianity, portrayed in a positive light, would be appealing to most people, but again, I have to get past the editors).

A few nights ago, my husband and I watched “I’d Climb the Highest Mountain”, a fifties movie starring William Lundigan, as a Protestant minister, and Susan Hayward, as his wife.  I’d read on an message board that it was serialized in “The Saturday Evening Post” and it (the movie) was a perfect example of what qualifies as Americana.  The movie is a good watch, but milk without the meat.  Things happened, but it didn’t have a plot (which is fine; “Our Town” didn’t either, and I loved it).

I am thinking of abandoning my original story (or perhaps omitting the Mormon angle altogether, even though that’s what my characters are; I borrowed them from a book I will publish someday in which the Mormon theme is integral to the story), and writing something brand new.  No borrowing.  I am thinking of penning an homage to my hometown of Pensacola, Florida–a small city that is steeped in Christianity.  If I write as an observer, I might just get away with mentioning the existence of churches, maybe even God!