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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Hot and Cold (04/09/09)

TITLE: Illusion
By Carol Slider


The flickering torchlight illuminates Tom’s face, and I wonder how I can know it so well after only two months. The warm brown eyes, the small straight nose, the dimple that creases his cheek when he smiles—these features are as familiar to me as my own face in the mirror.

A cheerful, efficient waiter clears the entree plates. Tom asks about desserts, and orders something that sounds cool and fruity.

I’m grateful to Tom for this taste of Caribbean luxury, this exotic escape from my frugal reality. I can’t afford roasted brie, fried calamari and West Indian game hen on my lowly instructor’s salary. The restaurant decor matches the cuisine: sleek and sophisticated, accented with bold geometric artwork. Torches burn in bronze sconces around the walls, providing a dim, warm light. Above the tables, a deep blue ceiling dotted with starlight emulates the night sky.

I take a sip of water and watch Tom’s face. He looks away, and I know he wants to tell me something. After a moment, he does.

“Dorie’s coming back next week,” he says casually, as if it doesn’t matter.

I swallow, and wait for Tom to speak again. I wish that he hadn’t mentioned her. Now that he has, it’s as if she’s sitting at the table with us.

Dorie is Tom’s wife.

It isn’t as if they’re in love with each other. They were never in love, even when they were first married. They were young then, still undergraduates... well, Tom’s explained it all to me.

Tom is an assistant professor in the School of Engineering. He doesn’t have tenure yet, though he’s a lot closer to it than I am. But meeting Tom has changed my life. I may not be certain about my career goals, but I’m certain about him. He’s more real to me than anyone or anything I’ve ever known.

I know he wants to say something else, so I smile encouragement. I don’t want him to think I’m afraid to talk about Dorie.

“Leanne,” he says, his voice as warm and caressing as an August night, “I’ve enjoyed this summer.”

“I have, too.”

But this is a bland understatement, and I rush ahead, before he can speak again:

“I know it’ll make a difference, having Dorie home. I know we... won’t be able to see each other as much. At least until...”

I let the sentence trail off so that he can finish it, can repeat the promises he’s already made.

Tom looks down at his glass.

“I’m sure it won’t be long,” he says. “But Dorie’s teaching a full load for the fall semester. She’s got some prep work to do. I don’t want to... you know...”

“Make things too difficult for her?”

“That’s right.”

Dorie’s spent the summer administering a marine biology camp in Aruba. I wonder idly if Tom chose this restaurant because he was thinking about her, but I push the thought away.

“It’s okay,” I say. “I understand.”

Our dessert arrives. I’m looking at Tom so intently, I don’t notice until the plate is in front of me. The ice-cold concoction looks frothy, creamy and fruity. I try a spoonful, and taste lime and pineapple, with a touch of mint.

I want to ask, How long? How long until you can leave her, like you've promised me? But I know I can’t ask. It would sound whiny and needy, as if I don’t trust him. And I do.

“Listen,” says Tom, putting down his dessert spoon, “you don’t have to worry. You know how I feel.”

“And Dorie’ll be okay with it?” We’ve said all this before, but somehow it’s harder to say it here, and now.

“Sure she will,” Tom says. He sounds sincere, and I know he is. Because I know him.

We eat our dessert in silence, until my attention focuses upon one of the torches in its bronze sconce. The flame fascinates me.

“It’s not real, is it?” I ask, and Tom follows my gaze.

“No,” he says, in his pleasant teacher’s voice. “It’s a piece of silk, with red and blue lights beneath it, and a fan motor. Amazing effect, though... easy to mistake it for the real thing...”

I stare at the flame as it flickers and undulates—so mesmerizing, so real. And I wonder how often people are deceived by this simple magician’s trick: an illusion of fire, a flame without warmth.

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This article has been read 984 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Lynda Schultz 04/16/09
Leanne's reality check. Nicely done.
Charla Diehl 04/16/09
Perfect title for this piece as Leanne realizes what illusions she has allowed herself to believe. Good job.
Verna Cole Mitchell 04/18/09
Your mc's conversational tone is just right to tell this sad story with her illusions.
Chely Roach04/19/09
Ooo, I wanted to smack her and hug her at the same time! Great characterizations...well done!
Jan Ackerson 04/19/09
This is AWESOME--that next-to-last paragraph about the torch is so perfect, and thank you for trusting your readers to "get it." Excellent application of the topic words.
Catrina Bradley 04/19/09
You can stop being unsure - this definitely works! I wanted to shake your poor, clueless MC. I was sure she had seen the "light" when she said, "It's not real, is it?". But alas, she was just talking about the torch. Love that the ending wasn't what I expected.

One bit of critique - up until "I wonder idly if Tom chose this restaurant because he was thinking about her," I was picturing Tom & Leanne in the Caribbean, because of the restaurant. Then I clued in that they were home, where ever that is. But that could just be me. :)

Supergreat entry!
Kristen Hester04/19/09
This is superbly written and so engaging. Wow! I, too, am so glad you didn't spell it all out for us at the end. Perfect title, too.
Kimberly Russell04/19/09
I felt like I was right there, witnessing this scene as it unfolded. Very nice build-up. Great ending.
Sonya Leigh04/19/09
Oh I just LOVE this dialogue and the one sided strain of the conversation. Makes me mad at him for his "cool" manner, while she stews over whether or not they have a future.

Unsteady and mysterious relationships can hold someone captive until just the right revelation removes the veil. The ending is just fabulous.
Betty Castleberry04/19/09
Others have said what I want to say, so I'll just add that I really, really like this. Very well done.
Dena Wilson04/20/09
What a great title for this story, and a great way to show that Leanne’s life with Tom is nothing but an illusion.
Sharon Kane04/20/09
I agree it works. It leaves me hating both Tom and Leanne and feeling very sad on behalf of the deceived wife. You have done an excellent job of portraying the subtle attraction of sexual affairs and the excuses people make for them, and then at the end you turn it all around and hint at the truth which is emptiness and bitter diappointment. Lord, keep our eyes open!
Shelley Ledfors 04/20/09
Wow. VERY well done. The part about the torch and its illusion (great title, too, btw) is perfect!
Pamela Kliewer04/20/09
Excellent. I was cringing while reading, but your ending is perfect. You leave the reader wondering if she 'got it' or was just referring to the torch. Either way, you do show the reader that it IS an illusion... as are all affairs. This really does work.
Sharlyn Guthrie04/20/09
I love the delivery of your message...subtle, but impossible to miss. Brilliant!
Sheri Gordon04/21/09
The last two paragraphs are very convicting--for so much more than just the alluring sin of an affair. It speaks to so many pleasures in life. Excellent writing.
Carole Robishaw 04/21/09
I've already read about several Hot & cold marriages, but this one was different. I wanted it to be a little longer so I could be sure she got it, and would walk away instead of trying to cling. But it was actually better this way, makes us each think about it more.
Eliza Evans 04/22/09
Gorgeous writing. (natch) Creative delivery and natural flow. Excellent 'pow' realization at the end.

I'll be re-reading.

Love it. Great job! (natch) :)
Sheri Gordon04/23/09
Congratulations on your EC. So glad to see this one placed.
Loren T. Lowery04/23/09
Wonderful all the way through, from the title to the end. You have a great command of words and the reader benefits from it. Truly a deserved placement in this weed's EC. Congratulations - Loren
Myrna Noyes04/23/09
CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR WELL-DESERVED EC!! :D It was excellent all the way through, and the ending was icing on the cake!
Sonya Leigh04/23/09
Carol, this was a tremendous piece, packed with a powerful reminder of the consequence of sin. Great job!
Connie Dixon04/24/09
Great story and title. Congreatulations and good job!
Judy Meyers04/25/09
Wow! The heart can be so deceptive with hot passion and cold convictions.
Holly Westefeld05/08/09
This is an awesome slice of life story, with fabulous symbolism. The atmosphere was perfect, and your descriptions vivid.