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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Childhood (09/03/09)

TITLE: Another Fresh Sheet of Paper
By Jan Ackerson


Juliana flipped through her little spiral notebook of ideas. Surely one of the snippets or observations recorded there could jostle her out of her recent lethargic writing; she’d not produced a satisfactory paragraph in weeks.

Overheard fragment of conversation at the mall, teenaged girls talking, one of them says “Amish Barbie…”

Woman in hippie skirt and wood-and-leather jewelry at airport, reading New Age book—why am I not surprised when she stretches, revealing unshaved armpits?

Homeless man in Philadelphia with surprisingly articulate, beautifully lettered sign: Be charitable before wealth makes thee covetous.

Little girl sitting under large maple…she hugs her knees, her head is down…why is she there?

This last one would have to do—Professor Portman’s deadline loomed. Characterization, 350 words. With a sigh, Juliana tapped her pen three times on a legal pad, then began to write.


“…eighty-five, ninety, ninety-five, a hundred!” Scooter lifted her head from her knees and looked around. Everything had changed: an orange sky overhead displayed a few purple clouds, and a few feet away, a long-eared greenish creature was signaling frantically. “Scooter, come quick!”…


With a snort, Juliana tore the top sheet from her legal pad. She’d never be a children’s writer, that was for sure. Find your voice, Professor Portman had said. Well, fine. Perhaps a different direction altogether, then. Why is that little girl there?


Mikayla put her head down and gulped in great breaths. She had been extra careful not to slam the screen door, and she was a fast runner. Probably Daddy wouldn’t even have missed her yet. Besides, he was having lunch with Lisa, and Lisa had a little girl of her own. Didn’t he miss Mommy any more? At the touch of a hand on her shoulder, Mikayla jumped up, ready to punch Daddy’s leg. But it was Lisa standing there…


Juliana’s hand slowed, and she covered the paper with wide, back-and-forth slashes of ink. Think, Juliana. Why is she under that tree? Forget about the professor’s rules, and just write her story. You know her story, don’t you?

Another fresh sheet of paper, and Juliana started one more time.


Annabel sits under her favorite tree, figuring out how to pray. She doesn’t know much about God, but she figures it’s polite to refer to him as Mister. That’s how you address grown-ups, is what her momma always said, and Annabel reckons God’s pretty old. She uses his full name, the name she’s heard Daddy use once or twice.

With her head bowed between her knees, she begins her prayer. “Dear Mister Jesus H. Christ on a Pony…would you please make my momma smile again, and get out of bed? Because I think little Billy needs her. He’s just a baby. And it would be nice to have cookies again. And I don’t think my panties have been washed in a while. Sorry to mention panties, Mister Jesus H. Christ. Amen.”

She hops to her feet, brushing dirt off her overalls, and walks home to see if Jesus was listening. She stops first to get Billy out of his cradle. He’s fussing, and she sticks a finger in his mouth as she walks into Momma’s bedroom.

“I brought Billy, Momma. I was careful of his head, too.” She lays Billy beside Momma. Her back is turned, but Annabel knows she’s awake. “Momma, I wanted to show you something pretty I found outside, okay? Momma?”

Momma shifts a bit. She’s on her back now, propped up by a few pillows. Her eyes are sad and tired. Annabel wonders why Momma’s tired, since she’s been in bed all day.

She starts pulling items out of her pockets: a yellow stone, a rusted bottle cap, a bit of blue robin’s egg. And then she’s startled by an unfamiliar sound—Momma has made a noise. Annabel looks up from her pile of treasures. Momma is smiling a little bit. Annabel follows her gaze, and sees that a little green frog has escaped from her overalls. It’s perched on Billy’s chest, staring at him with round froggy eyes, and Billy’s staring too—with his eyes crossed and looking right down the middle of his nose.

Annabel reaches over Billy and the frog, and touches Momma’s smile.


Whispering something that sounded quite a bit like “…on a pony,” Juliana tucked her legal pad into her backpack and headed for class. On the way, she fingered her favorite necklace—a little frog pendant, a gift from her mother.

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This article has been read 891 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Chely Roach09/10/09
I absolutely love stories that make me laugh one minute, and then manage to make me tear up the next. Sniff. So, so good.
Charla Diehl 09/11/09
Lots of good ideas packed into this entry. Any writer can relate to this one--where to go from that original thought/idea. Well, you tugged at my heart with the completed story within this story--I'm so glad it had a happy ending. Thumbs up to you.
Sheri Gordon09/11/09
This is so creative. So many layers here. I love the way she addresses God...funny, yet sad at the same time. Just that one line tells a whole story. Excellent job.
Carol Slider 09/13/09
This is absolutely wonderful... as usual, Jan! Humorous, yet profoundly moving. It's so easy to relate to the MC trying to find her voice... though an emotional personal experience is (for me, at least) the most difficult story to write. Very well done.
Catrina Bradley 09/13/09
After I recovered from the hysterical laughing fit I suffered in the middle (her daddy talked like mine) I was able to see what a brilliant job young Julie did with her assignment. Superb, creative, original. (And does your little girl under the tree have a story now? ;) )
Joy Faire Stewart09/13/09
Oh,I can relate to noting of snippets, but never thought of it as a story...very creative. Excellent last paragraph, too.
Kimberly Russell09/13/09
Jan: You never disappoint us even when you don't impress yourself. Really terrific.
Sarah Elisabeth 09/13/09
Excellent. Excellent. Excellent. Did I mention I thoroughly enjoyed this? If someday I could write like this....

"Annabel reaches over Billy and the frog, and touches Momma’s smile..."

Beautiful story, wonderfully written. The last paragraph...perfect. Thanks so much for the read!
Leah Nichols 09/14/09
For the life of me I can't figure out the "on a pony" part, but it didn't take away from this lovely piece. Nicely done!
Bryan Ridenour09/14/09
I wish my off entries were written as well as this. Very creative and I really enjoyed it!
Gregory Kane09/14/09
I loved the final story and the observations at the beginning made me smile. But you lost me a bit with the Scooter episode and the first try with Lisa. Certainly a creative approach to the theme.
Betty Castleberry09/14/09
Every word put me right alongside the little girl. Loved the humor, too. Two thumbs up.
Mariane Holbrook 09/14/09
I'm accepting bets about whether you come in first or second in EC with this entry. The day you turn in a less than perfect piece is the day I want to see. **grin** Not gonna happen! This is a refreshing and lovely addition to your already prestigious body of work. Kudos!
Virgil Youngblood 09/14/09
If this is off-day writing, it is off the charts. A great job of story-telling.
Karie McCaffity09/14/09
I would love to have an “off day” if this would be the result. I enjoyed the notebook of ideas, good characters.
Loren T. Lowery09/14/09
Many writers have said they simply see a character and follow him around a bit to see where they might lead- many give up before the story is revealed, but a truly great writer persists and the result is much like what I have read here.
Sherrie Coronas09/14/09
It is amazing to me that you ultimately delivered a fantastic little story in so very few words - much fewer than 750 since the first few paragraphs were spent on the idea generation. You somehow still manage to succesfully engage us with your final charater...not easy to do.
Sharlyn Guthrie09/15/09
Amazing job of writing a story within a story and also making the MC in the final story come alive and touch our hearts.
Laury Hubrich 09/16/09
This is so creative and out-of-the-box. Excellent. There is just something about a fresh sheet of paper that gives me goosebumps.
TJ Nickel09/16/09
Simple, cute, perfect details, and great upbuilding for the reader to attach to the character while providing a writing lesson at the same time. A pure sketch can become so many things.
Dee Yoder 09/16/09
How imaginative! That little story within the story was sooo good, I wish it could have gone on--book length would be nice.
Rachel Phelps09/16/09
Ahh, this one made my heart sigh a little in recognition. Beautifully executed and unique take on the prompt. Perfect!
Beth LaBuff 09/16/09
I love how you do this! Amazing and so creative!