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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Exam (09/12/13)

TITLE: The Answer
By Steven Dexheimer


The metallic door clanged shut behind Robert. Nervously, he turned back to look at where he had entered. There was no door handle on this side; no way to turn back now. Letting out a sigh, Robert faced around and took note of the room before him. It was a long and narrow place. The walls were unornamented, windowless, and painted a drab gray. Numerous rows of black plastic chairs were lined up with an aisle running down the middle. Every chair was facing a second metal door, also without a handle. Slowly, he moved down the aisle, his footsteps echoing in the near-oppressive silence.
From the front row, an elderly man turned and looked back. He gave the new-comer a warm smile and beckoned him over. Robert slid into the seat next to him and the man stuck out his hand.
“Henry Robbins,” he said in a voice deep and strong.
“Robert Chambers,” Robert took the offered hand. His gaze slid anxiously to the door.
“Nervous?” Robert nodded.
“Yeah…and you?”
“A little,” Henry said calmly. Robert took in the man’s placid demeanor and felt somewhat reassured. He ventured another question.
“How long have you been here?” Henry merely shrugged.
“I really couldn’t say for sure. Without a clock or a window in here, it’s hard to tell.” The two sat in silence for a while before Robert spoke up again.
“I’m not ready for this.” At this, Henry chuckled.
“I don’t think anyone is ever really ready.”
“It’s just that…” Robert hesitated and looked at his hands. “Well, I’ve only had a few years to prepare. There was so much more I could have done and learned if I just had…” He trailed off. Henry put a hand on the younger man’s shoulder.
“Look son, I don’t profess to know everything. This is my first time here too. But I don’t think the number of years matter. It’s what you do with the years you are given.”
“How…how long have you been preparing? I mean,” Robert gestured vaguely at the room, “for this.” Henry sat back and scrunched his face in concentration.
“Oooh, I’d say a good fifty-plus years, give or take a day.”
“Then,” Robert replied earnestly, pointing to the door, “do you know what’s out there? What should I expect? What are the answers?” The old man shook his head.
“I wish I could tell you what’s behind the door, but it’s a mystery to me. As for the answers…” Henry paused in thought. “I think there is only one answer needed.”
“And you know the answer?”
“I believe I do.”
“Well, what is it?” Robert said excitedly, gripping Henry’s arm. “Please tell me what it is!” Just then, the handle-less door opened letting in a fierce rectangle of light. A figure stood in the doorway, his appearance silhouetted by the brightness.
“Henry Robbins,” spoke the figure with a ring of authority. Henry slowly rose to his feet.
“That’s me.”
“Are you ready for your Final Exam?” Henry let out a nervous breath.
“About as ready as I’ll ever be, I suppose.” He began to move toward the door.
“Henry, wait!” Robert jumped up. The old man turned and looked expectantly at him. “What…what is the answer?” Henry smiled.
“I think you already know.”
“What?” This was not the response that Robert was anticipating. Henry stepped toward the anxious younger man and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Think about the day you started this journey. From the first step, you had the answer inside of you. And when you cross over that threshold, you’ll know what to say. Well,” Henry said, giving Robert a final pat on the shoulder. “I guess I shouldn’t keep the Examiner waiting.” He turned and followed the mysterious figure through the doorway. The door closed and Robert was alone.
He sat and thought about what Henry had said. He remembered that first day so well; the slightly musty smell of the old church, the music that seemed to lift him up, and the irresistible pull that led him down the center aisle. At the foot of the pulpit, he made his prayer and felt the shackles that weighed his soul down drop off.
For the first time since arriving, Robert smiled. He knew the answer. He waited patiently for his Final Exam.

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This article has been read 296 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Karen Milkiewicz  09/21/13
I enjoyed your creative take on life's final exam. Your writing is very descriptive, and I could imagine being in the scene. Thanks for sharing this.
Yvonne Blake 09/24/13
Great job! I think no one really feels ready to meet God.
If you leave an extra space between paragraphs, it helps the reader. (I did the same thing in the beginning.) Good writing.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 10/02/13
I enjoyed this piece. You did a nice job of creating the conflict and building the suspense.

The one thing I would suggest is to be careful with your paragraphs. You often have Robert speaking, but Henry doing an action. When a new person speaks or does an action, then you should start a new paragraph, even if it's just one word or too.
For example: Robert licked his lips. "How long have you been here?"

Henry shrugged his shoulders.

In my example I show the reader who is speaking by having Robert lick his lips. It also shows the reader Robert is nervous. Then I start a new paragraph. Even though Henry is shrugging in response to Robert's question, you're focusing on a new person, so you start a new paragraph. You also may want to use double spaces between pars to give the reader that all important white space.

Overall, you did a great job. I was a bit worried that the MC may not know the answer, but your flashback was the perfect answer and ending. You did a great job of covering the topic while still delivering a great message. This was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Congratulations for placing 6th in your level! (The highest rankings can be found on the message boards.)