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Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Rest (01/17/13)

TITLE: Hope Abandoned - The Ultimate Surrender
By Loren T. Lowery
~7th Place


Awakened by the nauseas smell of a damp, sweat-stained mattress, its bare-ticked covering seemingly alive with vermin that squirmed against his fully-clothed body, John jumped from his bed. Heart pounding, he crouched in the corner of a room he’d never seen before.

He heard laughter, hollow, distant, provoking, and he uncovered his ears and looked around. He was in a cell, black iron bars on one wall the other three of gray cinder block towering some 40 feet above him. In the ceiling, a roof hatch. It was opened, framing a tease of blue sky and yellow hinted sunlight.

The laughter abated and John got up. Wobbly and disoriented, he made his way to the iron bars and source of the laughter. Beyond the bars was a dark hallway, lit by a singular naked bulb from a low-hung ceiling. His cell seemed to be at the end of the corridor as it dead-ended to his left. Directly across from him another blank wall.

He moved to his right and clutched the iron bars. “Hello, anybody there?” His voice came out parched and strained. He tried to control the panic he felt behind it.

There was movement in the cell next to his. An arm, skinny and dark with bruises appeared with an unsteady arthritic hand holding a small shaving mirror. A near toothless man, haggard in face and bald but for a few wisps of gray hair reflected out from the glass.

The man in the mirror laughed, the sound familiar to the one heard earlier. “Kind of scary lookin’, huh? But livin’ in this place will do it to you.” He grinned. “Once was good-lookin’ like you. But can’t never seem to sleep ‘round here - accommodations bein’ what they are.”

“What is this place…where am I…what am I doing here!” John’s words came out staccato like, tripping over one another in unmasked terror.

The face squished up, almost translucent with pain. “Been askin’ the same question since I got here.” He squinted an eye. “Can’t recollect how long that’s been. Don’t know what I ever done neither. Ain’t guilty of nothin’ - I swear. And even if I was, ain’t no rest for the wicked. Least ways that’s what the jailor says when he comes ‘round with the mash he feeds us.” He broke out in a phlegmy laugh.

“Are you telling me were in Hell?” John looked around in confused disbelief.

“Nah, ain’t hot enough. You’ll see later when you try sleepin’.” A strange look flashed across his face. “Need to ‘scuse myself. Nature’s callin’. Don’t know what they put in that mash, but it’s a constant torment - ‘bout like ever-thing else ‘round here.”

“Wait!” John cried. But the man in the mirror was gone.

But his voice sounded out moments later. “That jailor, he’ll come to ‘splain things, ‘specially ‘bout some rumor -‘bout guilt and somethin’ called condemnation. Gossip is its key to getting’ outta here. Don’t pay it much bother myself - bein’ guiltless and all. Jailor says it’s a lie anyways. Likes to be upfront so as not to get your hopes up. Somethin’ to chaw over while eatin’ the mash he dishes out.”

John moved to the center of his cell and looked up. Sunlight streamed down from the roof hatch, warming his face. A lone sparrow had found its way inside and flew down, circling the cell.

The quiet air became filled with its fluttering wings. The dark, piercing eyes of the bird seemed to awaken a reminiscent memory in John’s soul. It flew within inches of his face, its grace and freedom of movement captured in John’s imprisoned eyes.

The bird carried a simple crust of bread in its beak, John reached out, and the bird placed it in his palm. A soliloquizing confession of his heart began – Eucharistic, instant and complete.

To his left, John heard the sound of hollow footsteps followed by the banter of the mirrored man next door.

“Got some mash for the newbie.” A new voice hissed.

“He’s ‘spectin’ you. No problem him believin’ ‘bout that rumor – you know ‘bout getting outta here.”

The voice laughed. “No one hardly ever does. Confessin’ you’re wrong too hard for most; ‘sides no rest for the wicked anyway. No difference in bein’ guilty and admitin’ it – both the same. Doomed either way, I say.”

Contrite, John took the bread and ate. The bird flew away, back into the open sky.

The jailor came to John’s cell. It was empty.

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Member Comments
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Beth LaBuff 01/24/13
I was "captivated" from the start (pardon the pun). :) What an amazing story that parallels the prison that confine us because of our sin. Your descriptions of the prison were chilling (vermin, smelly, gray). But then there is that glimmer with the "tease of blue sky" (love that phrase by the way). In the midst of all the horror of the condition John finds himself and the denial of guilt by "the man in the mirror" then comes the "grace and freedom" from above, the bread offered by the sparrow. And John took it! Wow! What depth! You've packed this with symbolism.
Judith Gayle Smith01/24/13
Rivetting. I was yours at the first line. My desire is to write like you do!
Noel Mitaxa 01/25/13
The further I readthrough this brilliantly descriptive piece, the less rested I felt, until that last line. It's only in honest confession and in forgiving others that we can find true inner rest. Great work, which should rate well.
lynn gipson 01/25/13
Oh my goodness, I just loved this! Held my rapt attention all the way to the most wonderful, happy ending. Thank you so much for sharing this story Excellent writing and God Bless.
C D Swanson 01/25/13
Excellent writing...such a fabulous and outstanding piece.

God bless~
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 01/25/13
Wow! This is a powerful piece. Your descriptions had me scratching and sniffing. Your dialog was divine--well that might not be the right word but it helped build a picture of your characters--you managed to give them such amazing depth. The only thing I noted was once you had were instead of we're though I suspect, right after you hit submit you noticed it. The ending was incredible. It wasn't at all what I expected. Great bit of writing.
Allison Egley 01/25/13
Oh, wow. This is great. I got the feeling the "jail" might be "sin" and I loved the ending.
Danielle King 01/26/13
I am in awe of your talent. This is a truly outstanding piece. Wonderfully descriptive and totally captivating from beginning to end. And a timely message too. If this doesn't place 1st I'll eat my hat!
Alicia Renkema01/26/13
I don't hardly know what to write about this piece, it cuts to the very core of me! I tried to comment on it yesterday and I could not find the words (which I am almost never at a loss for) so I just decided to wait. I hope if you haven't already written a book, you will do so. I also think this should be part of a novella. This is extraordinary... I winced in pain throughout almost for the terror that this person was feeling; the complete isolation and the redemption needed. I can see where the jail was his own sin or I can also see where it was hell because in the Psalms God says through David that He resides even there... There are people reportedly who have "died;"the Lord would give them visions of what it would be to live in that kind of pit and then brought them back as a witness. The "communion" scene with the bird was priceless. Either way God knows the heart and will save the seeker -- the one who is repentant in the end. Your descriptions; running monologue in your own mind with your MC and that ever illusive "man in the mirror." were all placed and intoned perfectly. This piece is truly stunning and chilling in its effects. This will be one I will come back to read and reread. I just had a thought, I wonder about this or a slightly revised version with some scripture for some witnessing tracts at a Christian book store. You have a rare gift -- thanks for the blessing even though it was a bitter pill to swallow at first. Sometimes we all need that. Blessings of His joy to you...
Dannie Hawley 01/26/13
Superb writing! I had only one place that caused me to stop. It was this place, "never seem to sleep ‘round here - accommodations bein’ what they are." I wondered if you might want to consider saying "what they is" instead of "are," because of the flow of the rest of this characters speech patterns? Might just be me. In any case, it is a masterpiece.
Christina Banks 01/26/13
Wow! This was wonderful. I love the imagery that you use in this piece.
Ellen Carr 01/26/13
You've done a great job with this story which takes the MC from despair to salvation. I could not predict the ending. This is a deep and symbolic piece of writing.
Virgil Youngblood 01/27/13
Superb crafting; thoughtful and provocative.
Myrna Noyes01/28/13
Oooooooooooo!! That last line gave me chills! What an awesome allegory this story is, Loren! Once again your incredibly descriptive writing put me right in the scene! Wonderful message in this inspired piece!
Linda Goergen01/30/13
I can only echo the praise the others have given, for this was truly an absolutely awesome read! This grabs the reader from the first line and imprisons them right there with John until the last line—where you then feel too, you are finally able to take a deep breath of freedom! Masterfully written symbolism and a story that needs to be shared beyond Faith Writers for sure!
Beth LaBuff 01/31/13
Loren, I think we all knew this amazing story was a winner. I'm so pleased. Super congrats on your Editor's Choice award!
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 01/31/13
Congratulations on your EC! I'm with Danielle, I knew it would do quite well, but if you decide to make Danielle really eat her hat, can I come watch? :-) Again congratulations on the stunning job you did. You have amazing talent.
Myrna Noyes01/31/13
Woooooooooo-HOOOOOOOOOOOOOO,Loren! I KNEW this amazing allegory would be in the winners' circle!! :D Both Robert and I loved it! Hearty congratulations!!!!!!!!!
Bea Edwards 01/31/13
From the title right through the picture perfect dialogue you held me spellbound. Superb storytelling! Congratulations on your win.
Danielle King 01/31/13
Congratulations on your EC Loren, and thank you for releasing me from hat eating duties; they take some chewing these days. Your story was superb.
Verna Cole Mitchell 01/31/13
Congratulations on EC for this powerful story, Loren. As always, your descriptions are awesome. Your message is wonderful here!