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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: The Manuscript (04/29/10)

TITLE: The Mistress
By Ann Grover


Katherine crept into the tiny alcove William called his “study.” Books staggered in untidy piles, leaning drunkenly on the desk and shelves and against the walls. Katherine traced the embossed inscription on the cover of a heavy volume. An embittered grimace distorted her face.

“Ah, Katherine, there you are.” William placed his hands on Katherine’s shoulders, guiding her, no, shoving her away from the desk. “A cup of tea would be fitting, wife.” He settled himself in his chair, dismissing Katherine, and tenderly caressed a clear sheet of vellum.

Katherine retreated, and as she measured tea into the pot, ungentle thoughts whirled in her mind, exasperated and enraged. She roughly lifted the simmering kettle from the stove, splashing scalding water on her hand.

What magic had bewitched William?

Katherine returned to the alcove, steaming cup in hand, and she observed William, watching his quill moving across the page. Already, his hair stood up in a frazzled tuft, making him look like a beleaguered bird as he quivered, then cocked his head in concentration and frantically scribbled. Ink spattered in his eagerness and he muttered, displeased.

“Tea, William.”

“Hmm,” he replied, not looking up.

At suppertime, Katherine noticed rough stubble on his chin and a dribble of gravy on his waistcoat. He murmured as he ate his beef stew and drank his tea, and occasionally he gazed out the window, where he seemed to not see the honeysuckle twining around the window, but instead, a distant vista, and his eyes would suddenly brighten, as if alighting on a faraway vision of wonderment.

In his expression of elation, she glimpsed the irresistible charm that had so besotted her in their youth. She had been impressed by his scholarly ways, his craving for knowledge, and his aspiration to relate his thoughts and theories to others. She would have him, she told her father adamantly, though such forwardness in a girl was unseemly and immodest.

“Mary Holloway was delivered of her baby today,” Katherine said and paused. “Nay, she had triplets.”


“I bought a bonnet, adorned with peacock feathers and tassels of bear fur. It cost fifty pounds.”

“Lovely, Katherine.”

“I’m going to China. On a slow boat.”

“As you wish, Katherine. I’ll take my tea in my study.”

Katherine gave him a black look as he left the table, but he was oblivious to her pique; peevishness vibrated in her chest and she stifled a growl of vexation. Shrewishly, she longed to remind him of the loose roof slates, the weeds overtaking the garden, and her own untended heart.

Later, in the darkness, Katherine lay rigid beneath the counterpane and let her breathing slow to a steady rhythm. William slid from the bed and tiptoed downstairs. It was as if...

...as if he’d taken a lover, the way he skulked around, brooding and self-absorbed, hiding in the alcove amidst the stacked books, his mind and spirit elsewhere, anywhere, except with Katherine.

Yet, was not his enterprise like an insistent, demanding lover? A beguiling seductress who had wooed him, and after drinking from her chalice, he had succumbed to the enchantment, enamored and enraptured by the intoxicating promise of gratification and pleasure. But, his desire could never be quenched by mere measured and composed portions; he must surrender to the passion, recklessly and impetuously, again and again until he’d reached the finale, a consummation.

Katherine followed him in the shadows; like a moth, she was drawn to the flickering candlelight in the alcove. As usual, William was hunched over his desk, graying hair in disarray, his nightshirt barely hiding his bony ankles. The quill paused in its relentless cadence as William touched a finger to his brow, the furrow deepened by fatigue and the candle’s gleam.

Katherine’s heart softened, but she still felt an annoying arrow of irritation, the sting of neglect, the anguish of abandonment. He thinks of nothing but his cherished, beloved manuscript.

As if William had heard her thoughts, he set down the quill and turned around.

“My dear Katherine.”

He was limp, spent, hollow looking, as if his essence had been drained away. A sheen of perspiration glistened on his brow, and, and she watched the fevered light in his eyes dull and extinguish.

“It is finished,” he whispered, echoing another great statement of sacrifice and fulfillment.

He arose, and reaching for her fingers, raised them to his lips.


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This article has been read 970 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Charla Diehl 05/06/10
I think all writers can identify with William, while others will sympathize with Katherine. Your story drew me in and I felt like I was in the house with these two people. The title is perfect for this piece.
angelos2 wark05/07/10
I dare say, william stands guily of Katherines resentment. Well written and intriguing.
angelos2 wark05/07/10
oops! I meant guilty.
Kate Oliver Webb 05/10/10
I was absolutely drawn into this home and scene as the emotions wafted there like visible mists. An incredibly descriptive piece of writing; I was almost breathless until I reached the end, which was perfectly unfinished.
Joan Campbell05/10/10
Very well written - her resentment comes across strongly to the reader. I felt her relief when he was finished.
Beth LaBuff 05/10/10
There is so much texture here, from the "Books staggered in untidy piles, leaning drunkenly on the desk…" to "A beguiling seductress who had wooed him, and after drinking from her chalice, he had succumbed…" Your story is wonderfully creative for the topic. I'm always amazed at your exquisite writing.
Joanne Sher 05/11/10
I wondered if this was meant to be Shakespeare (couldn't remember his wife's name - though I was pretty sure it wasn't Katherine).

Your descriptions are incredibly vivid and I was totally engaged. I'm so glad i had time to come read this. I have so missed reading your entries.
Benjamin Graber05/11/10
Wow, the descriptions are so rich! Great story!
Verna Cole Mitchell 05/11/10
wow! This is a winner for me--excellently written. Hmmm wonder if I ever look like a "beleaguered bird" when I'm writing...
Sarah Elisabeth 05/11/10
Really enjoyed this entry, I love such a "musty" setting! I, too, thought of Shakespeare
Connie Dixon05/11/10
I enjoyed this well-written piece. Such great descriptions and interesting word choices. Great job!
Loren T. Lowery05/12/10
So rich with all the ingredients that make a good read and story - what with character, setting, dialogue. I can't help but wonder if Katherine was somehow more inspirational to Williams' works than she might have otherwise thought. I think she was, however, it might be she'd need wait to read the final manuscript to see for herself.
Carol Penhorwood 05/12/10
Another winner in my book! Doesn't this truly describe in exquisite detail how intense writers become? I absolutely was enthralled with this piece. So well done!
Author Unknown05/12/10
this was a beautiful piece. as others have said- engaging & vivid. a very solid piece of writing. I did sort of expect to learn who William was but the story holds its own even if William is just a William. And as for the mistress-- captured so well- it's often how I feel when my husband is enamoured with a new project (like re-building a cottage).

I have no red ink, sorry, my pen is either dry or you've just done extraordinarily well. methinks it the latter.
Carole Robishaw 05/12/10
This is very well written, you have totally earned your masters.

I couldn't find anything to mark in red, I enjoyed it thoroughly.
T. F. Chezum05/12/10
Very descriptive and well written. I really enjoyed the read.
Noel Mitaxa 05/13/10
Very evocative setting with very well-drawn characters and realistic emotions and dialogue (I loved how Katherine tested his concentration by so casually mentioning a trip to China!)
Brilliant work.
Jackie Wilson05/13/10
Congrats on your EC placing. Well-deserved for this lovely piece.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 06/22/10
Wow this was a delightful trip into another time. It was an enjoyable read from beginning to end.