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Tarpeian Rock

An Annual Literary Magazine

"Hinc ad Tarpeiam sedem et Capitolia ducit
aurea nunc, olim siluestribus horrida dumis."

                    --Virgil's Aeneid, VIII, l. 347-8
Articles from
the 2017 issue...

Agnella and Her Nurse

Gateway to the Call

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2017 Young Writer's Contest Winner


by Leila Joy Castillo

If a visitor to a certain little town out in a certain little countryside took a little road out of the town and into farmland, he would see several red and white farmhouses, spread out on rolling verdant fields. And if he approached the leftmost one, and the afternoon was sunny, he would notice five little children running about. Upon closer view he would notice that one of these children had darker hair and greener eyes than any of them.
     This one was James.
     James was fourteen years old. He had dark brown hair and green eyes that twinkled whenever there was the smallest thought of fun or mischief in his head. He enjoyed the same things any other boy his age did.
     James liked to think. He liked quiet. He preferred life out in the country to that of the town. Yet he knew he did not want to be a farmer. The life was too hard, the work too tough, and chances of success too slim. Yet he often wondered how he could live in the country and still earn a living without being a farmer. He often prayed silently, asking God to show him how this was possible.
     Before James’ life on the farm he lived happily with his parents and younger sister. But when he was ten, his mother and sister died of severe pneumonia, and his father died a year later in a traffic accident. James was heartbroken. He was an orphan at only eleven years old.
     The family down the street took him in. But they had a large family and a full house, and James didn’t feel loved, wanted, or happy. So one day, he stole away and ran to the next town. He hid there for a night, then ran to the next town, and the next. Six towns away from his home, someone found him and took him to an orphanage.
     Poor James was tired, sad, lonely, and homeless. He was timid and kept silent, and mostly sat in a corner and thought, his big, gloomy, green eyes staring out of his thin, wan face. He preferred not to join in the orphans’ games. No one worried excessively about him; the place was swarming with little orphans.
     But one day Mr. and Mrs. Stubwerth, farmers in another town, happened to be passing by. They saw him sitting on the orphanage steps with a lonely and dreamy look on his face. Their hearts were moved, and they went in and adopted him.
     The Stubwerths took James to their home. He realized he felt secure with them and soon warmed up to the children. Each child was unique. Anna was twelve years old and had lovely blonde hair and a wonderful singing voice. Ten year-old Alex loved to be with James and didn’t mind explaining anything and everything to him. Alice was seven and adored James because he invented such entertaining stories, four year-old Albert kept James laughing with his adorable comments, and baby Agnes was gorgeously chubby.
     James soon settled into the normal routine of life, Stubwerth style. They taught him the Catholic Faith and he was baptized. James eased into farm life and helped Mr. Stubwerth on the farm. Life was happy for him again.
     One spring morning, after the normal routine of prayer and breakfast, James went to the barn for his morning chores. It was near noontime when he finished, and stepping outside the barn, he saw Mrs. Stubwerth waving him over. “James! Could you run an errand for me?”
     “Sure! One moment!” he called back. He washed his hands at the outdoor spigot and went through the back of the house. Taking the stairs two at a time (one of his many talents), he went into his room and peeled off his sweaty shirt, putting on a clean, cotton, striped one.
     “James, here you go.” She handed him a small silver pail filled over halfway and covered with a napkin. “Please run to the general store for me, and give these squash seeds to Mr. Oatman. He will package and sell them for us. And please buy a sack of salt. I’ve written down the kind. Here is the money. Please come back right away. I need the salt for lunch.”
     He grinned. “You can count on me!” She turned back to the kitchen stove. James, glancing around the kitchen and seeing a plate heaped with fresh biscuits cooling on the table, reached for one and popped it into his mouth. She caught him in the act.
     “Hey! Those are for lunch, and if you eat them all before, there’ll be none left. Goodness, such children! They eat and eat at mealtime, but soon ’s you know it, they’re clamoring for more food again.” Mrs. Stubwerth smiled and shook her head playfully, switching out the plate of biscuits with a bowl of fruit as her children entered the house.
     James laughed, and sneaking one last biscuit, ran out the door with the pail. He whistled a lively tune and turned towards the dirt road leading to the village.

TR Contest Winner Illustration
About a half mile from the farm, James paused for a while. In front of him was a wall, painted a soft cream color, through which ran the road to the village. In this wall were carved two arches of equal size. The one leading to the village was door-less and framed in brown decorative stones. Leaves and purple blossoms had pushed through the cracks on one side of the arch. There were two plants, one taller than the other, whose leaves intertwined and swayed in the light breeze on the other side. On some parts of the wall, the paint had chipped off, revealing the reddish-brown bricks underneath.
     The other arch had a door, of dark wood panels, attached to the wall by three-pronged bronze hinges. This door was always closed, and though there was a handle on the side where James stood, he assumed it was always locked. A small cross was carved into the door beneath the handle, and this was what puzzled James. Could the cross be a secret sign? What was behind the door?
     As a matter of course, James took the paved road to the village. On his right ran a wall, which began parallel to the road but then curved away from it. It was a high wall, made of large gray bricks of uneven sizes, prohibitive of being climbed. As he looked at this wall, it dawned on him that whatever was behind this wall could be what was behind the locked door. “I must ask Mr. Stubwerth if he knows what is behind it! I must know!”
     Leaving the store with the salt, James met Luke, the miller’s hired boy. They stood talking for a little while. Then, on an impulse, James asked, “Luke, do you know what is on the other side of the door next to the village gateway?”
     Luke looked thoughtfully at James. “Hmmmm. Honest, I don’t know. But I’ve thought about it often. I’m also curious.”
     “I am planning to ask Mr. Stubwerth.” James kicked two pebbles onto the sidewalk and watched them roll into the bushes.
     “All right. Let me know what he tells you.”
     “Yes, I will. Well, I’d better go.” The boys clapped each other on the shoulder and parted ways.


The Young Catholic's Bookshelf

At dinner the next evening, Mr. Stubwerth announced that the family would have a holiday. “Hooray!” “Where are we going?” all the little Stubwerths clamored to know.
     “We are going to visit Uncle Matthew, Aunt Mary, and Cousins Mark and Miranda this Friday in the country,” Mr. Stubwerth replied.
     There was a general cry of jubilation, but Mrs. Stubwerth interjected, “Who will do the chores? We will be gone the whole day.”
     “Well, I was thinking James could do it. He got to see the family just last month. And besides, he’s become quite a young man, I’ve noticed. He can do the morning chores and then have the afternoon to himself.”
     James blushed, sat straighter in his chair, and mumbled a hasty thanks through his full mouth.
     His chance to ask his question finally arose that afternoon, when he and Mr. Stubwerth rode into town on an errand. Swallowing hard, James asked as they passed the wall, “I’ve always wondered, what is behind that closed door?”
     “I don’t know exactly, James. I’ve never tried it myself, but it seems that it opens to a long path, which then branches off in three directions. Two of the ways lead to different towns, but the third includes a dark subterranean passageway that is heavily obstructed. The man who discovered this had not much time to do so, and no proper investigation has happened since then.” He glanced long and searchingly at James’ face. “I would like to find out some day, but I don’t see how. Does that satisfy you?”
     “Yes. I was only wondering.” James mulled over this new information. He wanted so urgently to know what was behind the door. Before he knew it, they were in town. While Mr. Stubwerth went on his errand, James ran towards the mill, thoughts racing through his head. He found Luke behind the mill, reading.
     “Hi James! What’s going on?”
     “Mr. Stubwerth came for an errand, and I came with him. Luke, I asked him about the mysterious door. Guess what!” James proceeded to tell him all about it. “Furthermore, the Stubwerths are going to visit relatives this Saturday. I have the whole afternoon free. Can we…”
     “Wait!” Luke looked excited. “Me too... The miller and his family are going on a family outing as well. James, why don’t I meet you down at your place at ten in the morning? I’ll bring a couple of other boys. Can we do it?”
     “Sure we can! It’ll be great! I can get food, shovels, and lanterns from our farm. Oh, I hope it works! We can solve the mystery of what is behind the door! I’m so excited!”

Saturday morning dawned sunny and beautiful. The family ate a quick breakfast and hit the road, waving at James until they were out of sight. James ran into the barn. He had to hurry so that he could do the morning and evening chores, in case he wasn’t back in time. Luke would be there in two hours! He couldn’t wait! Nervousness and excitement fluttered in his stomach.
     Finally, he was done with the farm work. He changed his clothes and finished preparing a bundle. The boys were coming! He ran outside to meet them. Luke introduced David and Joel. The boys picked up the shovels and the bundle James had assembled.
     “Have any of you ever tried to open the door?” James asked during the silence after they had begun walking.
     “No, I haven’t.”
     “I never thought of it.”
     “Why didn’t I think of trying that before? I always assumed it was locked.”
     “Well, I think we should first go and try the door. It may sound crazy, but I think it’s worth a try.” The boys all agreed, so they went down to the door. The boys looked down the village path and in all directions and then breathed a sigh of relief. No one was in sight.
     James pulled on the handle. It yielded. It was unlocked! The boys looked at each other and stifled a cry of surprise. They opened it wider. It only opened for about a foot and a half. It was chained to the threshold at the top, preventing it from opening completely. Luke hacked at the spider webs strung between the door and threshold with the shovel.
     The opening was just wide enough for the boys to squeeze through one at a time, which they did. The wall that also ran along the village road concealed this secret area from the town. The long path Mr. Stubwerth had mentioned began a few inches from the door, then continued steadily to the right. It was apparent that this path had not been used for a long time, as it was overgrown with weeds and quite unkempt. The boys made the path as capable of being walked on as possible and cleared it just enough to show that they had taken this route.
     After about twenty minutes they arrived at the fork in the road. There they sat down for a quick lunch and decided which path to take. The third way on the right looked most unused, so they took that one. They walked on for over half an hour, not saying much, simply observing their surroundings.
     The road led through a quiet forest of tall trees. The boys walked through with caution. The treetops served as a canopy, filtering the bright yellow sunlight, and it felt chillier in the forest. The road began to slope down, and they saw a cave ahead. The boys lit the lanterns and went inside. It was dark, and they had to feel their way through.
     Soon they saw that there was a barrier ahead of them. It was layers and layers of mud that had almost solidified. It took a while, but they shoveled it all away, revealing twists and turns in the rocky structure. They followed the cave, sloping upward, then twisting and turning. Finally the cave ended in a solid rock wall, and in it just above the boys’ heads was a small window-like opening.
     The boys piled up stones from the cave to make a wide step they could all stand on. When it was high enough, they looked out.
     They saw some stone benches and statues, and their first thought was that perhaps they had come to a graveyard. But a better look showed them a few men walking slowly about, with small books in their hands, wearing ankle-length brown robes. One of them looked up and saw the boys peering out of the rock opening. He started, dropping his book.
     “Where did you boys come from?” he asked in a quivering voice.
     Luke hurried to respond. “We mean no harm. We were just curious and followed the path from our village all the way here. What is this place?”
     “I will take you to our superior.” Sensing their hesitation, he added, “Don’t worry, everything will be fine. I am Brother Andrew. Welcome to our monastery. What are your names?”
     “I’m Luke. This is James, he is Joel, and there is David.”
     Brother Andrew helped them out of the cave.
     James looked around. He thought the monastery was the most beautiful place he had seen. The chapel stood in the middle, and around it were the living quarters. Gardens of fruit, vegetables, and flowers surrounded the buildings.
     The superior of the order asked the boys a few questions and told them they were welcome to stay there and rest for the night. He sent a messenger to their town to report that the boys were safe there. Then Brother Andrew took the boys into the chapel.
     When he walked in, James felt like he was at home, more so than he felt at the Stubwerths, more so than he had felt in a long time. He walked up to look at the large crucifix on the side wall. Below it on a plaque were the words from Scripture, “Come, follow Me.”
     All of a sudden, the realization flooded over James like a wave of fresh air. This was how he could live in the countryside, serve God, and be happy all at the same time! God was calling him to enter the monastery. And now he knew what the cross on the door meant!
     James left the chapel ready to tell Brother Andrew about his newfound vocation. God was calling him into His service. And yes, he would follow!

Leila Joy Castillo is a fifteen year-old homeschooler who lives in Ave Maria, Florida.

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