Congratulations to Abby Bales for winning the summer short story contest. There were a ton of great submissions, but Abby’s story rose to the top.

Find the runner-up and honorable mention here. And don’t forget to enter our fall flash fiction contest. We’re looking for pieces along the theme “Unexpected Beginnings.” This month all stories must be under 1,000 words. There is no cost to enter, and writers retain all rights to their work. Learn more about the fall flash fiction contest here.

Abby’s story, “Sonia,” is a moving piece about the power of breaking bread with those that are different from us.

Abby is a homeschooled teenager living in Indiana who loves using her words for Jesus, to reflect and point out beauty in the everyday. When she isn’t writing, you can find her sitting on porches, reading novels, or playing guitar. To read more of her work, visit www.ladybluebird.me

Author Abby Bales, www.ladybluebird.me

Presented unedited and unabridged, please enjoy the winning short story:

Sonia

“For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
John 6.33-34


Sonia. Sonia. My beautiful Sonia.

How I loved Sonia.

How I miss her.

Will you let me tell you about Sonia?

Close your eyes and breathe, listener. Open your heart. Let me teach you about the quiet hope that
can light the world on fire.

The dancing candle that will never die.

Though I knew her for only a few short days, I will never forget her.

Hers was a quiet beauty. She called no attention to herself. Her dark eyes seemed to take in
everything, everything at once. Her hair, dark and mousy. Her hands, thin and worn from years of hard
work.

Even in death she was beautiful.

And I? Son of a baker, well-to-do and well-fed. Rare those days—since the famine. The famine,
that horrific beast that swallowed people whole. My family was one of the few who’d had enough. More
than enough. Did we share our wealth? Yes. But only with those who could pay.

The days I knew Sonia were both the best and worst days of my life. She made me a better
person.

Her memory lives on.


~ ~ ~


I finished packaging the rest of today’s bread and set the loaves on the pantry shelves. Perfect rows.
White bread, brown bread, rolls and buns of all kinds. A few cakes. Baking, that’s what I was good at. Me
and my father before me. It paid well.

I left the kitchen area, closing doors and blowing out candles. Closing shop. I was tired, ready for
a nice night of sitting by the fire with a book. Home wasn’t far, only a few minutes’ walk.
In the dining room, I set the chairs on the tables and blew out the candles. Sure, we were wealthy
by this city’s standards, but even we couldn’t afford electric lights.

I slipped through the door, the bell letting loose its usual ting! The street outside was dark and
gloomy, lit only by flickering lanterns high on pedestals. A matchgirl walked slowly through the streets,
lighting them one by one. The streets were dark cobblestone. This was the nice part of town. Walking east
was dangerous—the east district was what we called the beggar’s slum. Thieves, poor people, and
homeless families lived in the beggar’s slum. I’d never been there.

The walk home was uneventful until I reached the crossing between 34th and 15th street. I stopped
to look at the advertising wall as I often did, not expecting to see anything out of the ordinary. Lost pet
posters, graffiti, people trying to find work and failing desperately. Work was hard to find these days.
No, this time something different was there. The entire wall was plastered over with copies of a
new ad. Yet another edition of Survival Tips.

Oh yeah, it was the first of the month.

Survival tips
from
the UNIVERSITY of HIGHER UNDERSTANDING
& THE MAYOR
Don’t worry about people around you, only worry about yourself!
You can give your life meaning!!
Forget poverty! Forget everyone else!
Here, we forget the past,
and
~MOVE ON TO THE BRIGHT AND GLORIOUS FUTURE~
We are the future.
Embrace it.


Wordlessly, I took a copy of the paper and shoved it deep into my pocket. Just as I was supposed to,
along with everyone else who saw it. Survival Tips. We are the future. I sighed.

My sigh was interrupted by the sound of light footsteps approaching me. I spun on my heel to find a small
boy standing a yard or so away.

“S-s-sir?” the boy stuttered.

Pity?

Should I have felt pity in that moment? Thinking back on it now, I wonder. Maybe some people
would have pitied the boy. He was so thin you could see his ribs through his shirt. His bony knees looked
too big for his twiglike legs. His eyes were wide and frightened. He was sooty—probably a
chimneysweep or something. I didn’t care.

Pity? No. I felt anger. Why would this kid dare to approach me? He was obviously from the
beggar’s slum. He had no reason to come this way.

Pity? No.

“Go home!” I said.

The boy visibly shrank under the words. His lips trembled and he took a step back, his bare feet
fumbling on the cool cobblestone.

“Sir—my sister needs help—”

I pulled myself up to my full, towering height. I was intimidating. I could see it in the boy’s eyes
as I shouted at him.

“Your sister doesn’t deserve to be helped, street rat. Leave before I make you!”

“But—sir—”

“LEAVE!”

My voice was swallowed by the silence of the night. The boy’s eyes met mine and I could see the
tears.

“She’s been stabbed! She’s dying!” he roared, desperation thick on his voice. “AND NOBODY
CARES!”

My mouth fell shut.

What to say to that? It was true. I didn’t care. Why should I? Why would anyone?

Survival Tips was evidence enough. The mindset of our society was this: Don’t worry about
people around you, only worry about yourself. You can give your life meaning. You decide what that
meaning is. Money is everything. Poverty is nothing.


So yeah, I didn’t care. I had no reason to.

“Go home,” I said.

The boy turned and ran.

I thought I was rid of him. But no, the next day he was back. Desperation multiplied. This time, though,
he walked right into the bakery. The nerve! I swear he left sooty prints on the polished floors. I don’t
know how he knew to find me there—unless he’d followed me.

Angry. I was angry.

Before I could shove him out the doorway, the boy began to yell. Fast.

“I’ve been everywhere! Nobody’s even looked at me! Not even the poorhouses will take us—
please— she’s gonna die! I swear I’ll pay back everything, I’ll go into debt, but please, sir, help us!”
I saw the tears that streamed down the boy’s face. He had no shame, I thought. So innocent.

I blinked.

She’s dying. And nobody cares.

Nobody cares.

Nobody cares.

I clenched my teeth, swallowed. Hesitated. Why did I hesitate? I should get this beggar out of
here before a whole crowd appeared.

So why did I hesitate?

Pity? Was that it?

I was feeling something, anyways. Maybe it was pity, I didn’t know.

I eyed the boy, waiting for him to go on.

The boy froze, as if both terrified and ecstatic that I was listening. He stood a bit taller, pulling the
scruffy cap off his head and wrenching it between his hands.

“I’m Jimmy Huddle,” he said, his voice low. Desperate. “And my sister is dying. She’s been
stabbed and she’s bleeding to death. And I ain’t got no food, or meds, or water or anything. She’s dying,
and nobody cares. I saw you in here—and I just—”

He bowed his head. “I thought maybe you would.”

I looked over my shoulder, my head thick with conflicting thoughts. Where was my humanity?
This was a boy. Hardly ten years old, it appeared. I should help him. I should help his sister.

I needed to help.

Needed to.

But what would my family say?

Did it matter?

What if they were angry?

What if they weren’t?

What if they laughed at me?

I could save a girl’s life today. Does it matter?

What matters?

A beat of silence.

If I were the girl, I thought. If I were her, it would be all that mattered.

That was all it took to convince me.

I swallowed, and then acted before I let my brain realize what my body was doing. I ran into the
kitchen and snatched up a basket, flinging honeyrolls and white rolls alike into it. I was gripped by a
startling, terrible, irresistible desire to save a life. I had never felt anything like it. It was exciting. It was
intoxicating.

It was terrifying.

Don’t worry about people around you, only worry about yourself!
You can give your life meaning!!
Forget poverty! Forget everyone else!
~MOVE ON TO THE BRIGHT AND GLORIOUS FUTURE~

These words made their way into my mind during this insane episode of food-sneakery.
But as soon as those appeared, new ones replaced them. Better words. Words that appeared and
held tight and wouldn’t let go. All in an instant. All in a moment. All in a bright, glorious, blazing
second—I was gripped with conviction.

I can be better than this.
All it takes is a spark to light the world on fire.

I can be better than this. We are the future. Embrace it. Embrace it.

I shoved the rest of a loaf of bread into the basket and slung it over my elbow. On a whim I
snatched a white apron from a hook and threw it over my shoulder. Speed-walked through the door and
towards Jimmy, whose face lit up at the sight of my approach.

“Thank you,” he breathed, reaching out for the basket, but I held on.

“I’m coming with you,” I said. “I want to meet your sister. Maybe I can help with her wound.”
I locked the door behind me and flipped the sign to closed. I didn’t think about my family or the
rest of the staff. I’d deal with them later.

Jimmy’s mouth fell open for a second, before he snapped it shut and dashed out the door. I
struggled to keep up with his pace as I followed, past building after stone building. It took about five
minutes to enter the beggar’s slum. The difference was huge.

Black smoke was thick in the air, being constantly pumped into the sky by the huge billows from
the factories. The streets were probably red brick at some point, but any hint of color had been dulled by
dirt and ash. Same went for the people. Dirt and ash. Dirt and ash. Everywhere you looked. The only hint
of life in the people on the streets were the eyes. Bright. Glowing white beacons on their faces. They all
looked at me. Me? A rich boy. Well-to-do and well-fed. Comfortable. Out of place.

I didn’t meet their eyes. I stared at the ground and Jimmy’s back as I followed.

“She’s close now,” Jimmy said.

“Where?” I asked, looking around. This wasn’t a poorhouse, like I’d expected. This was nowhere.

An alley of sorts, between two towering factories. Yeah, nowhere.

Jimmy looked up at me, then down at the bread. “Follow me.”

I looked at the ground and saw that it was littered with trash. Stinking, rancid trash. I clenched my
teeth and forced my feet to walk through it after Jimmy. She was here? Who would put a dying girl in a
garbage pile? I’d never heard of such a thing.

I could hear the girl before I could see her.

I’d expected to hear crying, maybe. Or sobbing or whimpering at the very least. Perhaps pained
groans.

No. I didn’t hear any of that.

I heard singing.

It’s nearly impossible to describe a person’s voice using only pen and page, but I’ll do my best. It
was low, forced. Pained, yes. Sweet and melodic and perfect. Perfect.

Nestle in the softness of my arm,
Child,
Lay down and rest with me.


The darkness is deep and the night, smothering,
But child, together we will be
Safe.


Safe in my arms, child,
Safe.
Lay down and rest with me.


Together we will be happy.
Let us be happy together one last time
Before I must go.


Go to the land as clear as day,
Where the air is clean and pure
The land of plenty
The land of love,
I must go.


At this point her song was interrupted by a fit of coughs, and the sadness seeped into my hard
heart.

Oh, my hard heart. How I hated it.

Jimmy and I rounded a particularly large pile of discarded wood, and there she was. Jimmy knelt
by her side, put a small hand on her cheek and looked deep into her eyes. “This boy has come to help,” he
said, gesturing to me.

I looked at the girl, the small, dirty girl curled in on herself as she lay on the ashen ground.

Hers was a quiet beauty. She called no attention to herself. Her dark eyes seemed to take in
everything at once. Everything from the trash on the corners of the streets down to the bright spots on a
firebug’s wing as it lazily drifted by on the ashy breeze. She saw everything. Everything. She saw me.
Me.

I swallowed hard. So hard it hurt. My chest hurt. The internal aching of my hard heart took on a
physical manifestation and made my chest hurt. It ached. It was tight. It wanted to burst. I wanted it to
burst.

All of this I saw in a second. The next second I saw the blood, and I felt sick. Her stomach was
bright red. She clutched it with both bloody hands. So much blood. Her chest convulsed. She’d been
stabbed and left to die in the trash. She was dying. It was horrific.

I felt sick.

She couldn’t be older than sixteen, I thought. Not much younger than myself. Who would stab
her? Who would wish death on this girl?

Pity? Was that the feeling that swelled in my heaving chest at that moment? I didn’t know. I’d never felt
anything like it before. Why would I?

I knelt beside her and held out the basket of bread, pulling a white roll from its depths. I tore off a
piece and held it to her pale, trembling lips.

“Eat,” I whispered, struggling to speak past the lump in my throat.

Her dark eyes widened, and she opened her mouth and struggled to make a noise.

“I am Sonia,” she managed. “What is your name… sir?”

Sir. How I hated it. “Call me Michael,” I said. “Eat this bread, Sonia. I’ll work on your wound.”

Her eyes darted to her stomach then back to me. Time seemed to still. She was looking at me. Not
with hatred, not with indignance, not with shame. Thankfulness. She was thankful. Sonia was thankful.
“Bread is life,” she mumbled, shoving small bits of the roll into her mouth and eating ravenously.
Jimmy did the same.

I blinked, unsure what to make of that. I brushed aside the comment, my hands gently pulling
away the bloodied cloth on her stomach. I nearly vomited.

I took a canteen of water and did my best to clean the wound. But deep in the pit of my stomach, I
knew the truth. There was nothing I could do. I didn’t like the feeling.

I leaned back on my heels and could sense Jimmy’s anxious presence to my left.

“Can you save her?” he asked quietly.

I’m just a baker, I thought.

I felt the tears rising in my throat. The sobs. The weeping that begged to be freed of the cage that
was my mouth. I bit my tongue and tried to restrain myself. “I don’t know, Jimmy.”

I looked at him then and saw the resignation. Jimmy had known all along that she was past
saving. He’d known. He’d just wanted somebody to care.

She’s dying. And nobody cares.

I blinked back the tears as I watched Sonia wolf down another roll with startling ferocity.

I quietly reached into my pocket and crumpled the paper that hid there. Smashed it to bits. It was
worthless to me now. I should write my own ad, I thought grimly.

I care, I thought. I care. I care.

Pity? Was that what I was feeling?

No. This was beyond pity. This was deeper than pity. I felt her pain. I felt it! I felt every gasping
breath, every pained swallow. The deep sadness that engulfed the trash-strewn alley in that moment.

Compassion.

Compassion, that’s what I felt. Love for a stranger.

And I would never be the same.

I took the apron from my shoulder and ripped a strip from the bottom, then another and another.

“Help me sit her up,” I said to Jimmy. He came around behind her and propped her up so I could
wrap the strips around her stomach. It didn’t do much to help. But it was something.

Once finished, I leaned against the wood pile with Jimmy. “Who did this to her?”
Jimmy shrugged. “A thief. Tried to steal the last of our coins. Sonia got in the way.”

“Oh,” I said.

There was nothing left to say.

Eventually I had to leave. Jimmy showed me where they were living—under the pile of wood, in a small,
sheltered area. It was full of old blankets. Their beds. I set Sonia up best as I could and left with promises
of my return.

The next day I rose early, gathered food, water, and medicine. Sonia was worse. Her wound was
infected. She was burning up with fever. I gave her medicine for the pain, changed her bandages, and
gave her food and drink.

This time, Sonia wanted to talk. She asked questions. Where was I from? How did I make my
living? Did I enjoy baking?

I answered her questions honestly. We talked a long time. I grew to enjoy her company. I learned
about her. She and Jimmy had been the children of a factory worker, until their father had died in an
accident a few years before. Since then, they’d been on their own. Sonia had found work as a maid in a
rich woman’s house, but when she’d been caught stealing food for her brother, she’d been fired. Now
nobody would hire her. Who would hire a thief?

“It was for Jimmy,” Sonia said softly, her dull eyes looking into mine. “He was starving.”
I tried to imagine life like that and found that I couldn’t.

“Now we eat at the food kitchens. But they don’t give out much, and it’s never enough.”
Jimmy scooted over to his sister and took her hand. “It’s okay, Sonia. We’ll be okay.”

I handed Sonia another roll. Ideas swarmed my brain—ideas that I never thought I’d have.

I could change things. I could do it. All it takes is a spark to light the world on fire.

I was silent for a long time. Not speaking the thoughts.

“You are a good man, Michael,” Sonia whispered as she drifted off to sleep.

Jimmy lay down beside her and rested his head on her arm. They lay like that for hours. Brother
and sister.

Again, I left that night.

The next day I came even earlier, wanting to be with them as much as I could.

I’d never thought I’d consider two poor beggar children my friends. But I did. They were my
friends.

This time, I’d brought something new. Clothes. I’d stopped by the seamstress’ shop on the way
there. Two outfits, tailored to perfection. Brightly colored. Beautiful.

Jimmy looked like a prince in his clothes. You should have seen Sonia’s eyes light up when she
saw him.

“This is for you, Sonia,” I said quietly, holding up the dress I’d bought for her. It was a pale, sky
blue. I knew it would be too big for her, but it was the best I could do. Seeing her in it was like seeing a
new person. She was majestic. She was perfect. She was beautiful.

I think that was the moment I fell in love with Sonia.

I held her hands in my own and willed my strength to flow into her, though I knew it was past
hope. Her eyes were dull, her body, blazing with fever. It would not be long now.

Sonia took a piece of hard, flat bread from the basket and broke it. Handed a piece to her brother
and me.

In Sonia’s simple act of snapping a piece of bread in half, something in my thoughts clicked into
place. Understanding glimmered on the edges of my mind. Here we were, people who were not supposed
to meet, sharing a meal. Together.

“Bread is life,” Sonia said again, and this time I thought I understood. Just a little.

She sang for me that day. I sang too.

Together we will be happy.
Let us be happy together one last time
Before I must go.


Go to the land as clear as day,
Where the air is clean and pure
The land of plenty
The land of love,
I must go.


Don’t be afraid,
Child,
Don’t be afraid.
Death is only a doorway into eternal life.


She died in her brother’s arms, leaving an aching silence behind.

Sonia. Sonia. My beautiful Sonia.

How I loved Sonia, if only briefly.

How I miss her.

The dancing candle that will never die.


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