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

TITLE: Three Inches Closer
By Chely Roach


Micah awoke in the dining room. The house hummed loudly of a hundred murmured conversations all bleeding together. It made her ears buzz and her head feel cloudy.

She found herself standing in front of the serving buffet—where she had been in the moments before she didn’t know—staring at the deep pink freckles on a Stargazer lily. The obnoxious, cloying fragrance exploded in Micah’s face, clinging to her like a plastic bag held over her head. Her heart quickened, and she became fearful of the blooms; their orange pistils seemed to reach out to strike her. They wanted to steal her breath; punish her for something. She imagined smashing the vase to the floor, and crushing the lilies under her feet.

Instead, Micah opened the top drawer that held Mama’s antique silver set. Her knuckles brushed against the velvet, burgundy lining as she removed the largest serving spoon. She stood captivated by her inverted reflection in its shiny bowl…stretching her face like a melting monster. Finally, she slid the spoon into her pocket and disappeared out the back door.

The steady rain pelted her back as she pried up the corner of lattice board on the wraparound porch; her secret entrance to her private fortress. As Micah squeezed through the opening, the black tulle that lined her dress tore; its scrappy ribbon dragging behind her in the dirt. She didn’t notice.

Ironically, in the dim and dusty crawlspace, Micah was finally able to breathe. On sunny days, the light would cast dozens of diamond shaped motes into her oasis. She loved that. She sat cross-legged next to her box of prized possessions; a parrot feather, a robin’s vacated egg shell, a fossil she found in the creek bed with her older brother, Gabe. Inconsequential things to anyone else, but the familiarity of them in her hands calmed her…she felt safe.

She flinched as the screen door above her screeched open, and its weathered spring drew it back into its frame violently. And then again. The creaking footfalls above her caused small puffs of dust to rain down on Micah. She heard them settle into the porch swing where Mama always sat, followed by the sound of a match being struck.

“Thanks for the light,” a woman said.

“No problem,” an equally unfamiliar man replied.

Disappointed, Micah returned to inventorying her memory box.

“Did you know her well?” he asked.

“Vaguely. I’ve worked with her husband, Jack, for a few years now. She tried this last fall, too.”

Absently, Micah crushed the delicate, speckled shell in her hand…


“Mmm,” she blew out her smoke, “and a couple years before that. It was really just a matter of time.”

Micah drew the spoon from her pocket and began to scoop the dirt floor…

“Jeez, poor guy.”

“Yeah, but I think my heart breaks most for their kids,” drawing from her cigarette, “especially the girl. Ya know…she found her.” Exhale.

The spoon started to tremble, but Micah dug more furiously…

“For the love of…”

“Oh, yeah. Came home from school, and found her in bed. Poor kid lost her mind and climbed under the covers next to her mom…Jack came home and found em’ both covered in blood.”

Micah thought she could smell the lilies again, suffocating her…

“I heard the blood soaked all the way through the mattress. At first he thought they were both dead, but the little girl was just catatonic from the shock.”

She began to rock and hum on her knees; Micah stabbed the spoon as deep as she could with her left hand, and paddled the dirt away with her right…

“Well, that’s why they’re just now having the funeral ten days later—Jack had to have her hospitalized and medicated. She’s still not really talkin’.”

A sheen of sweat covered Micah’s face; her heart pounding in her eardrums…

“Gosh, I can’t even imagine the shrink bills for this family.”

“Amen to that.” The woman flicked her cigarette butt over the rail, and it smoldered in the wet mulch next to the hydrangeas. The swing groaned in relief as they stood, “Worse yet, someday that kid's gonna realize that her Mama’s burning in hell for killin’ herself…”

Micah fell to her side, squirming to fit in the excavated hole that was not much bigger than her memory box. It was too shallow to swallow her up, but she was three inches closer to Mama.

Which is where she desperately needed to be…

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This article has been read 1365 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Marita Thelander 09/10/09
A heart wrenching read. I liked how you unfolded the story and let the reader process the details along the way.
Laury Hubrich 09/10/09
Oh my goodness. Very powerful writing. Wow. The title is perfect, too. Love this. Wow. Don't know what else to say.
Catrina Bradley 09/10/09
You've created a deep MC intricately woven into a few moments of time that you've draw out into a suspenseful masterpiece. Love how the title comes full circle with the wonderful ending line without giving anything away.
Loren T. Lowery09/11/09
This is masterfully crafted and lays fertile ground for a more expansive story as the reader early on is emotionally tied to Micah. For what it's worth and it could be just me, but I did stumble over one line: "“Mmm,” she blew out her smoke, “and a couple years before that. It was really just a matter of time.” Up to this point, I was totally in the mind of Micah, hearing, feeling, etc., what she did. But this sentence took me into the person blowing out the smoke. Not sure if that makes sense, and possibly it's just me. That aside, what can I say, but an expanded work on this theme is something I'd definitely pick up and read with anticipation
Sheri Gordon09/11/09
Wow. Masterfully written. My heart aches for this child. And the way you chose to tell the story is amazing...very creative.
Joni Andrews 09/13/09
I am speechless. I have not read an entry that has riveted me as thoroughly as this one. I held my breath. The child's own struggle is masterfully portrayed.
Joy Faire Stewart09/13/09
This is of the most riveting enters I have read on FW's. The MC's emotions are so raw, I was holding my breath. Amazing writing!
Jan Ackerson 09/13/09
Devastating...heart-breaking...literary perfection.
Kimberly Russell09/13/09
Just like everyone else: I'm a bit speechless. This is drama at the highest level. I especially loved the way you let us in on Micah's thought process...all I can say is WOW!
Betty Castleberry09/13/09
The thing that stands out most for me is the title. It is a very important element to the story that didn't make sense until I read to the end. This is expertly written. Two thumbs up.
Bryan Ridenour09/14/09
Incredible writing and the title is perfect. WOW.
Janice Fitzpatrick09/15/09
Holy Cow! Wow! What a riveting heartrending piece written so well! I liked the dialogue that told us of the poor little one's incident and the description of how the little girl felt. Unfortunately this happens all too often in our world and the children and other loved ones are left to try to cope with their lives. Great masterful writing hon. God bless-Keep it up.
Charla Diehl 09/15/09
You perfectly portrayed the torments of your MC in this masterfully written piece. This one is gut wrenching and pulls on my heartstrings. I expect to see this in the winning ratings.
Mariane Holbrook 09/16/09
I'm almost too stunned to type! Color me stupid but I didn't see this coming which made it almost unbearable to absorb. Wow! Talk about a winning entry! This beats anything I've read in three years! Kudos!
Joy Faire Stewart09/17/09
Congratulations on your EC. I was so happy to see this entry place so high. Excellent!
larry troxell 09/17/09
michelle, i long for the day when i can effectively communicate a story like this. absolutely awesome.
Lisa Johnson09/17/09
As I sit here and read this story, I am completely blown away by its intensity... literally. Your second place on your level and in the EC is definitely well deserved.
Patricia Turner09/17/09
Wow Chely...wow...heart-wrenching...powerfully written...you knocked the ball right over the wall and out of the park on this one! A huge, huge CONGRATULATIONS on your so well desevered EC win!
Beth LaBuff 09/17/09
Wow... just incredible writing, Chely! ...so gripping and heart-breaking.. Congrats on your well-deserved EC!
Sharlyn Guthrie09/17/09
What a heart-wrenching story! Great job! Congratulations on your EC!