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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Black (10/15/09)

TITLE: Natalie Tiptoes
By Jan Ackerson


Natalie slumps on the pull-out sofa in the dim and musty basement and wishes that Grandma Phyllis wasn’t coming to visit. When no one comes down to see her misery and say oh poor you, she pulls her sleeping bag from its drawstring pouch and makes the bed in a lumpy way, then slouches upstairs to wait for Grandma.

Grandma Phyllis is older than Nana Dot, and she has a small brown mole near her lip that disturbs Natalie. She can’t find a way to talk to her grandma without seeing that mole, which looks like a cookie crumb that should be brushed away. And Grandma Phyllis’s perfume smells too strong, and she talks funny, with vowels drawn out like they’re melting. She’s from far away, says Natalie’s mother, from Louisiana, and even her mother’s voice takes on a hint of that slow and liquid speech when she speaks of her old home.

Also, Grandma Phyllis gives bad presents. When she came last winter, near Natalie’s birthday, she brought a baby doll with a frilly pink dress. Natalie stared at the doll and choked out a thank you, Grandma; but she was eight, far too old for a baby doll.

Now it is Easter, and Nana Dot has already brought a basket filled with chocolate bunnies and pretty pastel eggs with sugary shells. The basket sits enticingly on the coffee table; Natalie knows she mustn’t look inside until after church on Easter morning. She’s sure that Nana Dot has hidden something wonderful in the green plastic grass; last year there was a five dollar bill.

When Daddy opens the front door, holding Grandma Phyllis’s suitcase, Natalie remembers to be polite. She waits while her grandma slowly climbs the porch steps and drops her big purse just inside the door, then she lifts her cheek for Grandma’s kiss and hopes the mole doesn’t touch her.

Grandma Phyllis gives her coat to Daddy and sits on the sofa with an oof. Natalie’s mother settles in close and they talk and talk and talk. Natalie scratches her nose and wishes she could go get her potholder loom, but Daddy has already taken Grandma’s suitcase to her room, and it is off-limits for two long weeks. She sighs.

Grandma Phyllis stops talking and beckons to Natalie. “I just remembered I’ve got something for your Easter basket, sweetie,” she says. “Can you fetch my pocketbook? That’s a good girl.”

With a sliver of hope, Natalie lugs the heavy purse to her grandma and plops it in her lap. Grandma Phyllis rummages around, and finally produces a baggie of jelly beans—of icky, black jelly beans. Black ones are the worst, everyone knows that, and Natalie understands now that Grandma Phyllis is being mean. But her mother’s eyes are warning her of dire consequences, so Natalie mumbles thank you before dropping the bag of horrible candy beside her Easter basket.

Her mother nods. “Why, mama, that reminds me! I bought some Easter candy to put in that pretty cut glass candy dish. Just sit tight, and I’ll go get it.”

Natalie hears her mother opening kitchen cupboards and the sound of candy tumbling into the dish, and her mouth starts to water. She longs for a yellow jelly bean—her favorite—or a rare purple one, but when her mother sets the dish next to Grandma Phyllis, she waits politely for her grandma to take one first. To her astonishment, her grandma takes a whole handful, then picks out the black ones and drops them back into the dish. Grandma Phyllis hates the black ones, too. She gave me a bunch of picked out black jelly beans. She’s really mean. When Grandma Phyllis starts to talk again, Natalie digs around for three yellow jelly beans, ignoring her mother’s sideways glances.

Later that night, Natalie creeps upstairs from the basement to use the bathroom. She is very, very quiet; her mother has told her not to disturb Grandma Phyllis. At the entryway to the living room, she stops—a light is on, and her grandma is reading. She does not want to talk to mean Grandma Phyllis so she tiptoes toward the bathroom, when she sees Grandma’s hand move and she freezes in place. From that frozen position, Natalie is able to watch as Grandma Phyllis deliberately searches out a single black jelly bean in the candy dish. Grandma’s eyes close, and she pops the jelly bean into her mouth with a soft, contented mmmmm.

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This article has been read 978 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Charla Diehl 10/22/09
This was fun to read due to all the picture words and phrases which made up a great story. Natalie hopefully changes her opinion after she realizes Grandma Phyllis likes the black jelly beans best. Things aren't always as they seem.
Loren T. Lowery10/23/09
This story points out how too often we assume too much the wrong thing and miss entirely the sacrifice of others. Well done in showing this through the eyes of a child.
Betty Castleberry10/23/09
I'm with Natalie. I don't like the black jelly beans, but my daughter and her grandmother used to fight over them, in a nice way.

I liked seeing the grandmother through your MC's eyes. Good message, too. This was a fun read.
Genia Gilbert10/26/09
I love this sentence: "....she talks funny, with vowels drawn out like they were melting."
I am from the south, and took much teasing in another state because "I put a lot of extra syllables in my words." lol Your characters are so real, and it's a great story.
Beth LaBuff 10/26/09
the black ones are my favorite. :) .. love this, especially all things concerning the mole. :)
Deborah Engle 10/26/09
Black jelly beans-you either love 'em or you hate 'em. This was well written, and did a good job expressing the thoughts of a little girl. Funny how we can be so sure of some things, only to find out we didn't understand at all. Funny, also, how we never really grow aout of that. Good story.
Myrna Noyes10/26/09
What a delightful story with a surprise at the end! I love the descriptions of Grandma Phyllis! I could just see her myself! :) Great writing!
Kate Oliver Webb 10/27/09
This was a delight to read! You saw through Natalie's eyes perfectly, and judged just as a child that age would. And how often are we back in that childhood frame of mind when we misjudge the deeds and thoughts of others. Fun story--but quite thought-provoking. Excellent writing.
larry troxell 10/27/09
i can see my grandchildren noticing the smallest things, like the mole, about another person's features. a fun story allowing the reader to be involved.
Joy Faire Stewart10/27/09
Oh, I loved that grandma saved "her" favorite jellybeans for Natalie. What a grandma!
Benjamin Graber10/27/09
This is a cute, heart-warming story. I also appreciate the way it shows without preaching that prejudice can taint a person's judgment of someone. We as humans are too quick to make critical judgments of people based on our own emotions!
Mona Purvis10/27/09
As grandparents we want to be able to connect with grandchildren in a positive way, but the generation gap does affect it. Jan, I always know when reading your work that the elements of writing will be excellent. Sentence structure, punctuation, etc.
This entry stands out in that it is not sweet, sad, or any familiar emotion, but an underlying one we all share from time to time. You did a lot with exposing it.
Patricia Turner10/27/09
Told so well from a child's viewpoint. I love the tiny little twist at the end that tosses the reader a great message.
Verna Cole Mitchell 10/27/09
I'm a black jelly bean, licorice, and rootbeer girl, as well as a grandma, and I know how, as grandmas who love our grandchildren, we want to give them what we like the most. You showed this so beautifully. I just had a happy feeling at the end of the story. The little girl finally "got it."
Bryan Ridenour10/27/09
Superbly written with a wonderful twist and message at the end. Well done!
Carol Slider 10/27/09
I like black jelly beans!

This is one of those subtle stories that creeps up on you. Beautifully written (naturally!), and so very true--one small revelation can make a world of difference in how we view someone. Loved it!
Ruth Brown10/27/09
I like the POV. Really a cute story. Blessings
Linda Watson Owen10/27/09
I was a Natalie! I can identify completely with this little character. :-) Every word brought back so many emotional memories and drew so many familiar pictures. Your masterful word weaving is wonderful. As one who struggles somewhat in prose writing, I was expecially intrigued by your use of the present tense in this one. I love this piece!
Diana Dart 10/28/09
Very cute and creative with endearing characters. Love me some black jelly beans! Yum.
Laury Hubrich 10/28/09
I love your descriptions from the little girl's POV. Very cute.
Kimberly Russell10/28/09
Gret story- well written, as always but I gotta tell ya: I HATE black jelly beans...blech!
Jennifer Galey10/29/09
I love the descriptive characters! I see this as a chapter in a children's book!