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A Friend In Need; Contest Winner!

Hello everyone! Happy Friday!


It is my pleasure to announce our 3rd quarter contest winner! Miss Emma Buhr!

Her story is very well done, and matches our theme exceptionally well! I appreciate her style, and her ability to communicate by showing rather than telling, and presenting dynamic character relationships in such a small amount of words!

Please take a moment to enjoy her well-crafted work, titled "A Friend In Need"...



 

September 1874

Central Drakensberg, South Africa

‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’

Something’s wrong. A shiver spiralled down my spine when I heard Ma’s voice echoing down the passage.

“Liandri?” Ma’s voice came again. Why does it sound like she’s going to cry?

“I’m in my room, Ma,” I called, rising from my bed and closing my book.

The second I saw Ma, my legs went weak.

Tears streaked her cheeks. Her hands, never idle, clasped and unclasped and she wiped them on her sea-blue apron.

“Ma?” I reached her and grabbed hold of her arm, “What happened? Is it Pa?” She shook her head, unable to speak. “Mattheus?” My voice became strident as she shook her head again, “Arno?”

“No,” she finally managed, “It’s Annika’s pa. Mr Malan just rode past and told us he,” Ma’s faltered, “he was run over.”

My heart plummeted, and I sagged against the sandstone walls of our farmhouse.“Is he, is he—” My voice trailed off. I couldn’t say it.

Ma nodded, fresh tears forming at the edges of her eyes.

Annika. Oh poor Annika. And Tannie Ana. And Rita. My heart bled for my closest friend and her family. Father, why?

Ma’s broken voice spoke quietly, “I think you need to go to Annika. ”

I nodded and headed for the huge wood door. Sitting with a thump on the bench just on the inside of the door, I kicked off my soft leather shoes and pulled on my boots.

“Take some of that jam I made yesterday!” Ma, ever generous, called from behind me. “I’ll be praying!”

Obligingly, I grabbed two jars of jam and my hat and rushed to the barn.

Purple mountains guarded our valley, watching down over the farmhouse. Rustling through the Yellowwoods in the nearby valley forest, the wind played gently with my beige skirts. The spring sunshine bathed me in a warmth I did not feel. Everything was normal. Except me.

In minutes I had Disa, my mare, saddled and riding down the rust-coloured road towards the Steyn farm. Forty-five minutes later, we crested the last hill and looked down over my friend’s sandstone house.

Below us stretched the Steyn farm. To the right, a large herd of horses grazed peacefully. These were the youngsters, too young for breeding or training. Their current occupation was simply enjoying life. In the left field were the broodmares, a few with frolicking foals. I wonder what will happen with the horses.

Behind the sandstone farmhouse was another field, green with spring, occupied by the two stallions, Romein and Khosana.

Only one team of horses stood tied to the hitching post. When Disa and I reached the yard, I spotted Mrs Feiyt, the pastor’s wife.

Quickly dismounting, I hurried to her. “Mrs Feiyt!” I called, and she turned to me, her blue eyes soft with compassion. “What happened?” I asked breathlessly.

The older woman’s brow creased slightly, “It was a wagon accident. Some wild holigan from Fouriesburg,” she met my eyes, “Annika’s in the barn.”

Nodding my understanding, I led Disa, who was bred on this farm, into the barn. The musky scent of horses and hay filled the air. A beam of sunlight from the doors highlighted the dust in the air.

Disa’s hooves padded against the hard packed dirt floor. As I settled Disa in her stall, I heard sniffling.

Leaving the mare in the stable, I walked from stall to stall, looking for the source of the silent sobbing. Eventually, after finding nobody, I grabbed hold of the loft ladder.

When my head popped up above the boards that held up the hay, the sobbing suddenly stopped.

With hay sticking to her hickory-coloured hair and sage green dress, Annika stared at me.

"Liandri?" She rubbed her puffy red eyes.

I pulled myself onto the boards and settled next to my closest friend.

"Oh Anni," I hugged my arm around her shoulders. "I don't know what to say."

Annika rested her head on my shoulder.

"You don't have to say anything. Just sit with me.”

Hay poked and prodded at me, but I ignored the urge to get comfortable. Screaming silence surrounded us for what seemed like ages.

Wheels scraped on the gravel driveway as friends, churchgoers and townspeople invaded the Steyn farm. Disa munched hay down in her stall, stamping away the odd fly.

Eventually Annika broke the quiet, “Papa left this morning to fetch supplies. Just like every Wednesday. And, and,” a sob erupted, “Mr Malan rode by a few hours ago. He, he wanted to see Mama. After he’d spoken with her, I heard a wail. Like nothing I’ve ever heard. That's when I knew something, something was wrong.” My friend gasped shakily for air as grief crashed over her.

Tears began running in rivulets down my cheeks. Oh Father, help me to help her. Give her strength. Give her hope. Give her peace, my heart cried out.

Footsteps thumped softly on the dirt floor beneath us. The ladder creaked once, twice followed by silence.

I waited for a head to pop above the trapdoor. Can’t we just be alone? I wondered, but nobody came up the ladder.

“I’ll go see who it was down there. Might be Rita,” I whispered.

Annika nodded, and sat up, allowing me to move to the trap door. I surveyed the barn floor. Leaning against the ladder, with his tousled dark hair and blue chequered workshirt was Arno, my brother. Behind him, tied to the hitching post, was Lerato, his bay mare.

“What’re you doing here?” I asked, my forehead creasing.

He pushed himself off the ladder and looked up at me.

“I wanted to check on Annika.”

“That’s my job, not yours.”

He rolled his eyes, “She just lost her pa. I reckon she can use all the comforting she can get.”

Ignoring the last comment, I continued my interrogation, “Why didn’t you just come straight up?”

Arno shoved his hands into his pockets. “I didn’t want to impose.”

I narrowed my eyes but moved away from the top of the ladder.

When my brother lifted himself onto the hay-covered floor, Annika’s head shot up. Confusion then embarrassment flooded her face. Why is she embarrassed? Because she’s been crying? She just lost her pa, of course she can cry!

Suddenly, Arno wasn’t as calm as he’d been in the barn below. He ran furrows through his hair with his fingers.

“I’m really sorry about your pa,” he offered, struggling for the right thing to say.

Ignoring my bumbling brother, I sat next to my best friend again.

“I can’t stay for long, but I thought I’d come anyway,” Arno sat on a pile of hay, scaring a mouse out from its hideyhole. It scurried frantically across the hayloft, tail streaming behind it and eyes wide.

I’d never known Annika to be afraid of rodents. She had been one of those girls who loved all animals, but at that moment, she broke into tears.

“Annika!” Surprise etched my voice as I put my hand on her shoulder, “Are you alright?”

When Annika began crying, Arno’s eyes widened. If it had been a different situation, I might have laughed. He stared at the floor, probably wishing it would eat him.

She lowered her head. “I’m s-s-so sorry,” she managed to eke out between sobs. “I don’t know what got into me.”

“Don’t fret. I understand.” I rubbed her back softly.

After a few deep breaths, she calmed down.

Arno’s voice broke the stillness, “Sorry, Annika. I didn’t know there was a mouse under here.”

Her neck and cheeks flooded with warmth, and she studied the floor, as if the threads of hay held some deep secret.

She stuttered, “It’s alright. I just didn’t expect it. Normally, I’d be fine.”

You can go home now, I shot at my brother with my eyes. Understanding, he rose.

“Well, I’d best be heading home. I left Pa and Mattheus carting rocks for a new wall. They’ll be needing my help.”

Annika nodded, her eyes swirling with relief mixed with disappointment.

What just happened?

‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’

Silvery moonlight touched the mountains surrounding our home and shone through the window, leaving a trail on the wooden floor of my room. Because I always leave my window ever so slightly open, the scent of crisp night air, laced with flowering fynbos, filled my room. A single Nightjar sang its unmistakable chorus in the stillness outside. My nightgown tickled my ankles as I knelt beside my bed.

Father, hold Anni in your hands tonight. Please give her your peace. How should I be there for her? Help me to know the right words to say.

Amen

‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’

Two long months later, Disa picked her way along the narrow mountainous path towards the meeting spot.

The summer sun was collected into thin dapples under a canopy of ancient ouhout trees. At the edge of the stand of trees grazed a bay mare, her coat shining with amber hues. Her tack lay in a pile against a rock. Annika was early. Again.

Leaning against an ouhout tree, Annika called out a greeting and helped me untack Disa.

Delila whickered when her friend joined her on the patch of silvery grass.

“How’s your ma finding her new job?” I referred to the cleaning Tannie Ana had taken up for a few of the bachelor’s in town.

We settled on a log in the shade. The ouhout’s thick, spongy bark served as a comfortable cushion.

“She’s alright, I guess. For a saloon owner, Mr Nel is incredibly precise about how his house is kept,” she giggled outrageously.

This is the Anni I remember. I grinned. My best friend was slowly coming back out of her shell. Thank you, Father!

For over an hour, we chatted, ranging from topic to topic. As best friends often do, we lost track of time. Too soon the sun was preparing to begin its dip below the western mountains.

Annika glanced at the sky. “It must be five o’clock already!”

I winced, “And Ma asked me to help her with supper tonight. I completely forgot!”

She laughed, “That’s not like you, Liandri. That sounds more like me.”

I exaggerated my eye rolling as I stood up.

On the ride home I noticed a grey curl of smoke unfurling near the Steyn farm. Must be a grass fire near the Steyn farm. I thought. Weird time to be burning grass, it’s usually grass-burning season in Autumn. Thinking nothing more of it, I headed home.

Our farmyard was eerily quiet. The calving field was filled as usual with cows with wobbly calves beside them. Most of the herding horses occupied the second field near our house, but two were missing. Jakkals, my oldest brother’s horse, and Lerato weren’t grazing with the rest of the horses. Maybe they’re out late.

Dismounting Disa, I led her into the barn. Our barn was designed with two rows of stalls on each side of a channel running through the middle. Both ends of the channel were open. Through the back opening, I could see the corral where we kept the two driving horses, Klip and Dapper. But they weren’t there. My spine went cold. When I turned Disa into her stall, a flapping white object caught my vision. It was a note.

Fire at Steyn’s. Taken Dapper and Klip with sacks and buckets. Come as quickly as you can.

No. Please no, Father!

Spinning on my heel, I rushed to Disa, who was waiting for me to untack her.

“Sorry girl,” I whispered as I hurried her out the barn, “You don’t get a break yet.”

In seconds, we were flying down the road. The whole way to the Steyn farm, I prayed fervently.

Black smoke enveloped the farm yard. Flames licked the barn and were spreading rapidly towards the house. After a few rainless days, the grass was ready tinder, lighting at the slightest spark. The wind had picked up during the evening, fanning the flames. It seemed like my parents must have left just before I arrived home, because the fire was only just getting started.

From my vantage point on the hillock above the farm, I couldn’t make out who was already there fighting fire. I counted about ten figures darting in and out of the smoke. Somebody had already let the young stock and the broodmares out of their fields. Good. The stallions, who’s field was behind the house, were safe for now because the wind was blowing away from them. Getting whiffs of smoke in her flaring nostrils, Disa snorted and backed up, unwilling to go closer to the fire.

“This is not the time to act up!” I grunted in exasperation, dismounting.

I quickly tied her reins to the pommel of the saddle so that she wouldn’t trip on them and let her go. If the fire continued out of control, she might need to make a run for it. After catching sight of a herd of youngsters, she trotted off toward them.

With my horse out of harm’s way, I walked down the hill. Squinting through the billows of smoke, I could make out our driving team standing behind the house near the stallion fields, their chestnut coats glistening with sweat. They’d been driven hard. Next to them I saw Jakkals and Lerato. Arno and Mattheus must have met with Ma and Pa on their way. Another team of horses stood amongst our horses, Mr Vryman’s team.

Mattheus was the first one to spot me. Soot covered his features.

“You made it,” he came up to me, speaking in rapid fire between pants, “The wind just picked up, so we’re going to burn a fire break. Hopefully the fire won’t spread further. Mr Vryman and Arno are busy slapping the flames with sacks and Pa and I are about to start the fire break. Ma, Rita and Tannie Ana are fetching water. I think Annika went to let the horses out.”

I nodded, “What do you need me to do?”

“Find Annika.”

Mattheus turned back to the angry fire and I spun and ran down the road to where the horse fields were.

“Liandri!” Annika shouted into the wind.

When I reached her, I threw my arms around her. “I’m so sorry, Anni.”

Tears streamed down her face leaving twin trails on her sooty cheeks, “It’s awful!”

My eyes stung from the smoke and threatening tears, but I bit them back. “Come. We need to save your house.”

She nodded numbly and followed me.

‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’

A few hours later, the charred remains of the Steyn farmyard stood silently in the fading light. Tannie Ana sat against a soot-covered tree, head in her hands and shoulders shaking. Ma had one arm over her shoulders and whispered softly. Mr Vryman had gone home after the fire had abated, but my pa and brothers still sifted through the blackened ruins of the house, searching for anything that survived the fire. Rita, Annika and I stared blankly into nothingness.

“What are we going to do now?” Tannie Ana’s broken voice cried.

Ma spoke gently, “For the time being, you and the girls are more than welcome at our home.”

At that, Tannie Ana sobbed even more. “That’s so ki-kind,” she managed through sobs.

Ma smiled, “We were not made to struggle alone. Our Father asks us to support one another.”

All Tannie Ana could do was cry.

Pa came up to us, his shoulders slumped with exhaustion, hair covered in ash and his clothes with singed holes where sparks had landed.

He addressed Tannie Ana primarily, but also spoke to all of us, “It’s too dark to keep looking for any remains. Let’s go to our house and come back in the morning. We all need a hot meal and a wash.” Turning to me, he asked, “Liandri, where’s Disa?”

“I let her roam with the other horses in case the fire went wild. She was too scared to come further down the hill,” I answered, praying I’d done the right thing.

Pa nodded, “Good girl. You’ll come with the rest of us in the wagon. We’ll get Disa in the morning.”

‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’ ‘’

When we got home, Ma fixed a quick meal.

Around the supper table, Pa asked Annika’s Ma what her plans were, ignoring Ma’s indignant glare.

Tannie Ana thought for a minute or two in silence before speaking, “I have family in Ladysmith. Since we don’t have any other options, we’ll sell the horses and move there.”

Annika baulked at this and Rita’s eyes widened. If I hadn’t been sitting next to Arno, I wouldn’t have noticed his shoulders tensing.

“Tannie Ana,” my brother began slowly, “I’m sure we could help you rebuild your house. Then you don’t have to move.”

I have a feeling he’s not just talking about the broad family, but rather somebody specific.

Mattheus obviously realised the same thing, and spoke up, “I’m happy to help.”

Pa nodded, fighting a grin at this new revelation, “I can ask Mr Malan and Mr Vryman if they’ll help too.”

Tannie Ana’s eyes filled with tears, but this time they were of joy.

“I-” she began.

“That would be wonderful! Thank you!” Annika interrupted from my left.

A ripple of soft laughter ran through us. In God’s plan, there’s always hope.



 

Wasn't that just wonderful??? Congratulations once again to Emma!

And just a reminder to all our poets out there, our poetry contest closes this Saturday evening! So you still have a chance to enter and earn one of the winning spots in our five contests this month, but please remember, these are for your enjoyment and encouragement! So have some fun with it! :)


happy friday!

Louise Taylor

Contest Manager



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4 Comments


Corrie.S.P.
Corrie.S.P.
Oct 30, 2023

Great story Emma!!

Are you turning this into a novel? Because I also need more😂

Like

Saraina Whitney
Saraina Whitney
Oct 07, 2023

WOW! This was so good, and I loved the unique setting! Congratulations, Emma!!!

Like

Joelle Stone
Joelle Stone
Oct 06, 2023

OY. THAT WAS SO GOOD!!!! I want more. Scratch that, I need more. XDDD Congrats to Emma!!

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Emma B
Emma B
Oct 07, 2023
Replying to

Thank you so much Joelle! That means a lot! ♥️

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