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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Illustrate the meaning of “All that Glitters is Not Gold” (without using the actual phrase or literal example). (01/24/08)

TITLE: Two Red Pills
By Johnna Stein


Sleep evaded her once again. Their scheduled arrival time was noon. It was three in the morning as she pulled back the curtain and gazed longingly at the moonlit sky. A night owl by nature, her level of productivity usually increased with the hour, peaking around midnight. Six hours of shut-eye was her norm. After weeks of insomnia, tonight she might just sell her soul for one hour of sleep.

She carefully unfurled her fist and two red sleeping pills stared up at her, beady-eyed. Just this once if she swallowed them, sleep would again be her friend. Her blood-shot eyes burned and her joints ached and cried out for relief. Headaches came and went regularly like the tides of the ocean. Without proper rest how could she possibly complete the last month of this grueling tour?

If touring could only be simple like it was in the beginning. That first concert her sweaty hands strangled the microphone and her mouth was as dry as cotton while she waited backstage. As she tentatively walked on stage, a throng of screaming teenagers waved their arms and chanted her name. The bright lights shone down and she felt like a deer frozen in the headlights of a car.

She closed her eyes, drew a deep breath and waited for the band to lead the way. She surrendered her anxiety, focused on the lyrics and heard His voice. The words rolled naturally from her tongue, her grip on the microphone relaxed and she sang uninhibited to the crowd. Her favorite moment was the inspiring devotional talk she had inserted after the intermission. The crowd had settled and their hearts were soft and ripe for the message.

Yes, that was the dream she had envisioned since she’d first led worship at her hometown church. Years of discipline and sacrifice were finally coming to fruition. Her second album had garnered her two Dove Awards and just this week a Grammy nomination. These crowning achievements in her young career inspired critics to praise her stellar beginning and predict a promising future as a “crossover” artist.

Yet, her enthusiasm waned and she felt an emptiness in her soul. Her manager continued to pressure her into conforming to the public’s image. It seemed he’d been gifted with a sixth sense; whatever changes he recommended resulted in higher ticket sales and more number one hits.

The first year of touring was liberating; she shared the gospel and felt a connection with her relatively small audiences. She donned her favorite jeans and tennis shoes, wore her hair drawn in a loose ponytail and read from her dog-eared Bible. She was living the dream.

Somehow she found herself just two years later sporting a high fashion hairdo and skintight designer jeans, playing to mega audiences in sold-out stadiums. The sophisticated look enhanced her popular image and increased sales, but felt fake and contrived.

She contested the first subtle changes her manager introduced, but grew less confident with every confrontation. Her manager argued that devotional talks were better suited for intimate settings like church. He convinced her she could never maintain enough control over the crowd to spend time chatting and praying with them. The transformation from anointed worship leader into superstar performer had surreptitiously begun.

He convinced her each time, “Just try it this once and see what happens.”. Every idea he suggested turned to gold; he truly possessed the magic formula for becoming famous. She wondered about his magic formula for sleep? The red pills glared back at her like two demon eyes.

Her manager’s cunning strategy had catapulted her into stardom. But, at what cost? How could she feel depressed and lonely when millions of people listened to her inspiring music? Where was this amazing Savoir she described in her songs? He seemed like a long lost friend who was as far out of reach as the sleep she so desperately needed. Why hadn’t she cried out to Him? Why could she no longer hear His voice? Jesus?

'Jesus, I’m scared. You feel
so far away. I know it’s all my
fault, but please help me.
Jesus, I’m so tired… I don’t
know what to do. Show me what
to do….'

Suddenly the bus screeched to halt swerving to miss an oncoming car. In slow motion, she watched the red pills in her palm arc into the air, sail out the small crack of the window and bounce off the pavement like Mexican jumping beans.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Trish Green01/31/08
Oh, my heart ached for that girl! Wonderful descriptions, wonderful emotions. Great writing!
Joanne Sher 02/02/08
Love the ending especially - and how you tied the pills in and wove them throughout the story. Very well done.
Rita Garcia02/04/08
I felt her pain! Masterful writing!
Debbie Wistrom02/04/08
Good for her! Loved how she tried to hang onto what she had started with. Hope it works.