Author Topic: Finding Sara (complete short-story 2050 words)  (Read 4276 times)

Offline Mark T

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Finding Sara (complete short-story 2050 words)
« on: January 02, 2014, 02:06:07 PM »

Hi, I wrote this as an entry for a writing compo and went for the standard boy-meets-girl type plot.
Because there was a word count restriction I had to really trim the fat to fit in all the story parts but without losing descriptive detail. There are a number of flashback/return transitions, always tricky, along with applying an active tense in the flashbacks, and I'd appreciate any comments as to how this was handled in general. Thanks, Mark.

Finding Sara

The desert’s silence terrified him. The subtle comfort that the horse’s steady plod and creaking leather had been was missing. Adam looked back and saw the first vulture spiralling downward. He turned and resumed trudging onward, shirt patched with sweat.
He had shot the doomed animal after a puff-adder struck its right foreleg. His own fate was uncertain. On horseback, the journey was dangerous. On foot… walking into the radiant intensity of the Karoo’s solitude, Adam remembered his father’s words…

‘Adam,’ his father had said, ‘this girl, she’s a Boer girl?’
‘Yes Pa, you know that. Sara Retief.’
The South African summer, 1903, baked the Oudtshoorn streets as they sat on a shaded verandah with cool steins of beer.
‘She was your prisoner?’
Adam stirred. ‘Not a prisoner. An internee. I was in the troop that burned their farm on the Captain’s orders.’
‘And then?’
‘Roberts and I were detached to take them to the concentration camp. Sara, her grandmother and younger sister.’
Pa drank and wiped his moustache. ‘Go on.’
‘On the way, we… fell in love.’
‘A Boer girl fell in love with a colonial trooper that burned down her family’s farmhouse? Rubbish! She was buttering you up to escape.’
Adam shook his head. ‘It wasn’t like that. It was the war, Pa. She understood I was under orders; her father and uncles were on commando, so… ’
Pa shook his head. ‘And now the war’s ended ― you want to cross the Great Karoo to find her?’
‘Yes Pa.’
‘Why, for Heaven’s sake? Come back to Grahamstown, where you belong. Resume your apprenticeship.’
‘I wish to marry Sara when I find her.’
‘Marry her?’ Pa glared at him. ‘How old is she?’
‘She was born in 1885. Eighteen.’ Adam dropped his eyes. ‘The thing is, Pa… she’s going to have a baby.’

The Karoo was too fierce a furnace to continue walking; the very air a pulsing shimmer of layered heat waves. A distant hillock crowned with a clump of acacia trees offered shade. On the slopes, some unfamiliar trees; short and round with fat green leaves. God willing, there would be water nearby…

Pa looked down at him from the seat of his trade-goods wagon.
‘We part now, Adam. Be careful or I may not see you again. Here is enough money for supplies and a spare pack-horse.’
‘Thank you, Pa. And for meeting me here upon my telegram.’
Pa pointed at the distant Swartberg mountains. ‘There are wild beasts beyond there, snakes, scorpions and poisonous plants. Water is scarce and there are savage tribesmen, criminal fugitives and renegade Boers.’
‘The land is vast, and the people are few.’
‘No matter, humans have a habit of finding another.’
‘As I hope to find Sara.’
‘Grant that God be with you, Adam.’
Adam purchased only a rifle and supplies for the journey, spending the remaining money on a modest ring.   

Under the thorn-trees’ shade, Adam glumly observed the terrain that did not appear to be a desert. There were many plants, succulent or spiky in appearance; animal tracks, bones and droppings. How did they survive without rain? The water he carried would not last.
Adam remained in the shade; deciding to walk in the cool of night and rest by day. He would find water. He would find Sara. Closing his eyes, he recalled the cool, shady riverbank…

‘What is this?’ the girl asked, touching the shoulder emblem on his uniform.
‘My regiment, the Kaffrarian Rifles,’ he replied in his halting Taal.
The noises of the overnight camp’s preparation drifted down from the glade above.
Adam mustered his courage. ‘You are most pretty, Sara. Beautiful,’ he said.
Sara lowered her eyes. ‘Tomorrow we arrive at the camp,’ she said. ‘I have heard these are bad places where my folk die. Now that the big battles are over, our men are too quick and clever for the English to trap them with their blockhouses and fences. Perhaps I will die there too, as this awful war goes on forever.’
Adam suddenly felt protective. ’If you ran away,’ he said carefully, ‘I would not try to catch you.’
‘Where would I go? My home has been destroyed. Bad men or wild natives would find me. Besides, I could not leave Ouma and Joanna.’
Adam struggled with his guilt over Sara’s fate. Abruptly, the big exciting game of the war turned to dust. The war was ugly ― ugly and destructive.
Reaching for his hand, Sara rested her head on his shoulder. Adam’s heart thudded wildly at the sensation. The twilight deepened as they sat in solitude, slowly embracing.

At midnight, Adam, drawn by an irresistible force, knelt quietly at Sara’s bedroll. She was awake. Their eyes melded together. Silently, they took a blanket and returned to the riverbank.

Adam awoke transformed. Sara had left but her scent remained upon him. All about, he saw a Creator’s hand, touching the world with ineffable beauty. The shape of a leaf, the dart of an insect, the warbling of birdsong and the liquid resonance of the pebbled stream were a revelation of an unsuspected harmony and wonder. Everything in life made sense now ― a man and woman united in love ― it explained it all.
But where was Sara? Sara!

Adam ran to the campsite. Roberts was moodily drinking tea alongside a smouldering of ash. ‘Fleetwood, where the hell have you been?’ he demanded.
Adam was intent. ‘Where are the Boer women?’
‘Gone? What do you mean, gone?’
‘I mean they’ve gone to the bleeding camp, don’t I? A patrol came by and took them off our hands, didn’t they?’
‘What? How could they do that?’
‘There was a nasty sergeant in charge. No arguments there. Don’t worry; he gave us a receipt.’
Adam, the man, now also understood the fragility of beauty.

The Karoo stars hung in a studded prickle of immensity, gilded with cold luminescence.  Adam weaved between dark clumps of vegetation spread endlessly across the silvery sand, the spiky thorns ripping his trousers and tearing his skin, the pain spurring him towards Sara…

The war ended seven months after Adam Fleetwood lost Sara Retief to the British concentration camp.
A month of demobbing later, he rode up to the Retief farmhouse. Two large Boers with heavy beards ceased their wood-chopping. The roofless building bore the black scars of destruction. Ouma rose from a cooking fire between a tent and ox-wagon, speaking rapidly to the men. One raised his axe while the other ran towards the wagon.
Adam galloped away, a rifle shot punctuating his flight. After a mile, he swivelled to look; a horseman was in pursuit. He reined in to await the rider, loosening his revolver in its holster. His spirits soared; the bareback figure on the pony was slight and feminine ― but no, it was Joanna.
‘Englishman!’ she cried. ‘Do not return here again!’
‘Where is Sara? I will return for her.’
‘My father has sworn to kill you.’
‘What have I done? The burning of the house?’
‘That is as nothing to the desecration of Sara.’
‘What … what do you mean?’
‘Sara carries your child in her belly, Englishman!’
Adam was stunned. ‘Sara is pregnant?’ Excitement coursed through him. ‘But I must go to her… where is she?’ He looked towards the farmstead.
Joanna was impatient. ‘Sara has been banished and is dead to our father. She has been sent away forever. I was to tell you this if you came.’
Adam edged the horse nearer. ‘Where is she? Tell me, Joanna!’
‘Where is that?’
I do not know. Only that it is far.’ Joanna pointed at an approaching dust cloud. ‘If you want to live ― ride fast and do not stop.’

The Karoo, merciless in its silence, had defeated him. Adam slumped, feeling he would be dead within a day. His mouth was leathery, lips cracked and swollen, sunburned skin shrivelled and flaking, his throat ravaged by thirst. Fine whorls of lost body salts formed old tidemarks on his clothing. The chafing between his thighs was a fiery torment at every step; his lacerated legs throbbed with infection.
Adam suddenly saw an animal trotting in the wilderness. No ― it was two Bushmen! He struggled to his feet and croaked weakly but the figures abruptly disappeared.
He stumbled towards the unseen Bushmen but finding nothing, eventually returned to his camp in despair. A large calabash stood there. It contained a milky liquid, bitter on his tongue as he carefully sipped the drink, thanking God.   
Waking at sunset, he set out with a vestige of returned strength that soon dissipated. Adam began crawling, until exhaustion sent him toppling forward into sandy unconsciousness.

A harsh boot tapping his ribs returned him to daylight. Adam opened his crusted eyes with difficulty. A sinister group of armed riders, resembling rough, dark Boers, surrounded him. One laughed and raised Adam’s revolver.
Wanting to die on his feet, Adam struggled upright, a grey cloud enveloping him. Before collapsing, he uttered a final, terrible word.

Adam woke in a cool room, lying on a soft pallet. By God, he was alive!
A tall man in dark clothing appeared. ‘Drink this slowly,’ he said in Taal.   
Adam drank, feeling life trickle into his body. ‘Where am I?’
‘Vanderville. I am the pastor.’
‘I thought I was dead… how…?’
‘A Griqua band found you, thanks to Bushmen.’
‘I saw them, they… how far did I get… to here?’
‘The Griquas rode for a day with you in a dog-cart.’
Adam straightened weakly. ‘I was lost and dying. Where are the men who saved me?’
‘Departed. You have slept for two days. I have fed you water and treated your leg wounds in that time.’
‘Thank you, Pastor.’ Adam breathed deeply of life.
‘What brings you to Vanderville at such peril?’
‘I am looking for Sara Retief.’
The pastor regarded him. ‘Sara lives nearby. What is your business with her?’
‘We are to be married.’
Silence. Then, ‘You are the father of her child?’

Beaten, bound and gagged upon a horse beneath a tree, a hangman’s noose around his neck, Adam fearfully sought understanding.
The pastor stepped forward. ‘We all know the story of pregnant Sara ― Pieter Cronje’s new wife. How she was raped by an English sergeant before being thrown into the prison camp.’
The assembly growled in agreement.
‘God has delivered the criminal to us.’ The pastor glanced heavenward. ‘Sentence has been passed.’
A man shouted, ‘But this is rough justice. Where is the witness?’
‘Suffering birth-pains as we speak.’
‘Can we not wait?’
As Adam twitched with hope, a gunshot exploded, bolting the horse and he felt the noose’s suffocation as his frantic legs searched the empty air.
Strong arms hoisted him, relieving the pressure. A knife sawed at the hempen rope. Adam thudded onto the sweet hardness of the ground.

Escorted by the pastor, Adam finally found Sara, waiting for him that evening.   

Sara sat by candlelight, cradling her baby, a portrait of glowing motherhood. A bullish man resting his hand possessively upon her stared hatefully at Adam.
The pastor cleared his throat. ‘Sara, who is this stranger?’
Sara gazed into Adam’s eyes. ‘He is Adam Fleetwood, the father of my son.’
‘The English sergeant who forced himself on you?’
‘No. I went to Adam as a willing maiden and have been with no other, not even Pieter.’
The pastor frowned. ‘Why did you lie to us?’
‘The same reason that I accepted Pieter’s marriage proposal. The sake of the child.’
The pastor looked at Pieter. ‘The marriage has not been consummated?’
Pieter hesitated. ‘No… not yet, her time was too near.’
‘Then it may be annulled,’ said Adam softly.
‘Sara,’ said the pastor, ‘what say you?’
‘I wish to be with Adam, whom I love.’
‘You are my wife!’ shouted Pieter. ’My wife before God!’
‘No, she is not,’ said Adam, kneeling and taking Sara’s hand. ‘I have crossed the Great Karoo to find you and my son. Sara, will you marry me?’
‘I swear you will all die tonight!’ snarled Pieter.     

The old man placed the Sunday flowers on his mother’s grave in the Grahamstown cemetery. He carefully wiped dust from the chiselled inscription:

Sara Fleetwood
1885 – 1968

Offline bri h

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Re: Finding Sara (complete short-story 2050 words)
« Reply #1 on: January 02, 2014, 02:14:38 PM »
Has this been up for crit before Mark? I'm sure I've already read this fine story. B
Fare thee well Skip. We're all 'Keening' now. xbx

Offline Mark T

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Re: Finding Sara (complete short-story 2050 words)
« Reply #2 on: January 02, 2014, 02:23:35 PM »

I don't think so. See my reply to you in Cut and Paste - you and Sio did me the favour of previewing the first draft offline.

Offline bri h

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Re: Finding Sara (complete short-story 2050 words)
« Reply #3 on: January 02, 2014, 02:37:29 PM »
That's prolly it. Cheers. B
Fare thee well Skip. We're all 'Keening' now. xbx


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Re: Finding Sara (complete short-story 2050 words)
« Reply #4 on: January 03, 2014, 03:59:22 AM »
Admittedly it did take a bit of concentration to switch into what were flashbacks, but I think it did work okay.

You made me feel for both Adam and Sara, but in the penultimate scene I lost it a bit with regard to Sara. I thought the dismissal of Pieter was a bit harsh and abrupt. He was presumably caring enough to marry a woman who was carrying another man’s child but, out of deference to the late stage of pregnancy, he didn’t exercise his marital rights. It just seemed that Sara, having tricked Pieter with lies (however understandable) appeared to show no remorse or feeling for him. Otherwise, I really liked the story and thought it well written.

Juat a few minor nit-picks:
“The South African summer, 1903, baked the Oudtshoorn streets as they sat on a shaded verandah with cool steins of beer.” – this reads as if the streets sat on a shaded veranda. Sure, we know what you mean, but may be better expressed with something on the lines: As they sat on a shaded veranda with cool steins of beer, the South African summer, 1903, baked the Oudtshoorn streets.

Similarly, “Pa drank and wiped his moustache.” With a comma after drank, it wouldn’t read as if he drank his moustache.

“A month of demobbing later” – I didn’t quite understand this. Did the demobbing process take a month, or was it a month after he was demobbed?

Thanks for the read.

Offline Mark T

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Re: Finding Sara (complete short-story 2050 words)
« Reply #5 on: January 03, 2014, 07:21:59 AM »

Hi lucylastic

Thanks for reading and commenting. I remember struggling with the ending. One version had him dying, one her dying in childbirth and one where she wasn't interested in Adam or decided to stick with the marriage. Also had minimal space left and a deadline. Excuses.
Good eye for the niggles there - pesky slips, damn author blindness. Thanks again and welcome to MWC.


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Re: Finding Sara (complete short-story 2050 words)
« Reply #6 on: January 03, 2014, 07:45:13 AM »
You're welcome, Mark, and thanks for your welcome to MWC. I really enjoyed your story, and got carried away with it, which is why I felt a bit let down by the conclusion.

I know what it's like trying to fit a story into a set word count, never mind a deadline. But you're free of those restrictions now, and the only part I feel needs to be embellished is the bit about the marriage annulment and how Sara deals with it. It seemed a bit sparse and hurried. But, please, I don't want her or Adam to end up dead. Hey, they've been through so much, they are due a happy ending. :)

Offline 2par

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Re: Finding Sara (complete short-story 2050 words)
« Reply #7 on: January 04, 2014, 02:42:34 AM »
I love the story, and agree that the ending needs to be worked on.
Lovely job.

Offline Mark T

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Re: Finding Sara (complete short-story 2050 words)
« Reply #8 on: January 05, 2014, 01:04:52 PM »

Thanks for reading and kind comments 2par. As lucylastic pointed out there's no word count limit anymore so no excuses not to rework the ending.


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Re: Finding Sara (complete short-story 2050 words)
« Reply #9 on: January 16, 2014, 08:43:19 AM »
Lovely story, Mark, and just a little SA nitpick:

An English soldier would not call his father Pa - that confused me till almost halfway through where you do expressly mention Adam as an English soldier, with the surname Fleetwood, to boot  :D

Being a soldier he would most likely have used the formal Father rather than the familiar Dad?

I coped with the back flashes and the forward swoops, no problem.

Offline Mark T

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Re: Finding Sara (complete short-story 2050 words)
« Reply #10 on: January 16, 2014, 10:24:09 AM »

Hi Jewel, thanks for reading and kind comment. Re nitpick, he is referred to as a colonial trooper near the beginning - meaning that he is a trooper from an English colony and not a trooper despatched to a colony.
There was a large colony of Britishers in the Eastern Cape area known in local history books as the 1820 settlers and my MC is drawn from that group as an English speaking South African in 1903. The unit mentioned, the Kaffrarian Rifles, was a South African unit, and was around at least up until the 1980s.
The Boers (later the Afrikaners) who considered themselves the early and true pioneers did not really distinguish between English speaking settlers and the British Army itself - all just the damned English (like the Amish, a bit). Even today, a derogatory term by Afrikaners for English speaking South Africans is "soutpiel" meaning salt-prick, derived from the notion that English Saffas have one foot in England and one in Africa, straddling the ocean and, well, you get the picture. As to whether Pa would indeed have been a typical nomenclature used by a typical settler family such as the Fleetwoods at the time, I must admit to not really researching this but it seems plausible enough and the quaintness helped with setting the period. Sorry, but this is the short explication, ha ha. Again, thanks for reading.