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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Embarrassed (07/19/07)

TITLE: Permanent Marker
By Jan Ackerson


Billy Jordan was the first to be infected. He woke up one morning, scratching an itch on his arm. When he turned on the light he was surprised to see, in green letters on his left forearm, the words stole bubblegum.

Immediately, Billy ran to the bathroom and started to scrub.

The letters looked as though they had been inked with a marker—but no amount of soap would remove them. Desperate to remove the embarrassing (and true) words, he tried everything, even nail polish remover. The words remained etched on his arm.

Fifteen minutes later, Billy sat down for cereal, wearing a long-sleeved sweatshirt. His mother raised an eyebrow. “Why are you wearing that? It’s going to be hot today.”

“It’s my lucky sweatshirt,” said Billy. “There’s a math test today.”

His mother narrowed her eyes at him. Billy studied his bowl of cereal.

Later, at school, Mrs. Perkins called him to her desk. “We have some clean tee-shirts in the lost-and-found,” she whispered.

“I’m fine, Mrs. Perkins. I’m just—feeling cold today.” Billy returned to his desk. Outside, the thermometer registered eighty-five degrees.

On Wednesday, Billy wore his lucky sweatshirt again. He was not the only unusually dressed student—Kristy was wearing a turtleneck sweater, and Morgan kept his jacket on all day. Each student resisted attempts to persuade them to remove the stifling clothing, protesting with reddened cheeks that they preferred to stay bundled up.

Mrs. Perkins threw up her hands, defeated.

On Thursday, however, those same hands were pushed into gloves. Despite the spring heat, Mrs. Perkins and half her students looked as if they were preparing for a blizzard—covered in hats pulled over foreheads and ears, and collars turned up at the neck.

By the time the weekend rolled around, everyone in town was looking through closets and drawers for clothing that would cover their secret shame. In the weeks that followed, the unseasonable demand for gloves and hats sent stockboys to the storage rooms of department stores. Sales of concealing makeup soared. Local businesses faltered, as few people ventured out of their homes.

Betty Livesay stared into her mirror and read with difficulty the purple letters marching across her forehead: lied to husband.

George Greene rubbed with his thumb at the orange words on his palm: cheated employer.

Tina MacGyver thought everyone else in town had gone mad, until she went out in a tank top and heard the gasp of the woman behind her in the grocery store. At home, she discovered on her right shoulder the mortifying word unfaithful in brilliant red.

So the town bundled up and hid its humiliation until one day when flyers were slipped into every mailbox.

FRIDAY, 3:00 P.M.

As the appointed hour neared, the town’s park filled with people, finding spots under trees, avoiding eye contact.

At 3:00, a man strode among them and climbed onto the boulder that commemorated the town’s founders. He was dressed in white shorts and a sleeveless tank; his feet were bare. He addressed the crowd in a loud voice. “I hear you’ve got a problem, folks, and I’m here to help you out, if you’ll let me. You’ll need to uncover your mark, but if you’ll let me touch it, I guarantee you won’t be sorry. How about it?”

Glances were exchanged, and then Billy Jordan approached the man, pulling his sweatshirt off as he walked. The man hopped off the boulder, winked at Billy, and touched his arm. Stole bubblegum vanished—and appeared on the man’s forearm, in exactly the same place. Billy’s eyes widened. “Thanks, mister!” he said.

One by one the townspeople came to the man, shedding clothing and exposing their humiliations to him. All the marks vanished, and the man was soon covered with colorful handwriting: slapped mother…bullied classmate…had lustful thoughts…gossiped…harbored bitterness…

When the last townsperson had lost his shame, the man stood before them, covered with the marks from each one. “Watch this,” he said, “it’s really cool. You tried to wash them off, right?”

They nodded at him.

“Betcha didn’t try this!” And he took up a bucket of water that no one had noticed before and blew into it. Then, with a dramatic flourish, he poured the water over his own head. Laughing and sputtering, he flung the bucket aside. “I never get tired of that part.” The marks had disappeared.

With a lilt to his step, he walked out of town.

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This article has been read 1411 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Verna Cole Mitchell 07/26/07
What a creative idea. A great analog! This story really carried me along to its satisfying conclusion.
Marilee Alvey07/26/07
What a creative way to show our sins disappearing, covered with the blood of Christ. It would be embarrassing to have our sins written for all to see. Very thought provoking!
Dee Yoder 07/26/07
Blown away by this creative and SPIRITUAL article! Wow. This is a tremendous story and one of the best I've ever read. Every Christian would have a beautiful, clear mind picture of Christ's saving grace if they could read this story. I'll never forget this!
Seema Bagai 07/26/07
This is a wonderful story. Great job.
Mo 07/26/07
Very creative!
Dixie Phillips07/26/07
Call me a prophetess if you like .... A CONTENDER INDEED! Such creativity. I'd love to spend a day inside your head... just to see the thought patterns as they emerge. Permanent Winner!!!
Joanne Sher 07/27/07
Amazing. The idea is amazing, the writing is amazing, the characterization is amazing. Wow.
Melanie Kerr 07/27/07
That was excellent! A creative way of getting an important message across. It made me wonder what tattoo might appear on my arm!
Delores Baber07/27/07
What an incredible approach. I love allegories and this is a great one. I agree with the remarks before me.
Benjamin Graber07/27/07
This one is really great! Extremely creative AND inspiring!
Myrna Noyes07/27/07
Wow! This is truly a Masterful piece of writing! I love allegories, and this one is so perfectly told and shares such an important truth! Wow, again! Thank you for this thought-provoking story! :)
Helen Paynter07/29/07
Ouch - made me feel quite uncomfortable as I wondered what would my marks would be. And what a great analogy. This deserves to do really well.
Sharlyn Guthrie07/29/07
I enjoyed this very much. I only wish the final dousing that did away with all the marks was as painless as portrayed in the story. This is thought-provoking and well-written!
william price07/29/07
I would personally like to know how you would have improved this. I've just stared at my curser for minutes trying to come up with words to describe. As a reader it was beyond...
As a writer I'm beyond...
You're still my hero, Jan. God bless.
Betty Castleberry07/29/07
I'm speechless, in a good way. This is remarkable. What a novel idea.
Kristen Hester07/29/07
I don't know how you could improve either. As a writer, you are top notch. There are so many levels and lessons to this. Bravo. It's great! For embarrassing it's so much deeper than a slipping on a banana peel story (No offense if anyone had one of those...I'm sure it's great!)
TJ Nickel07/30/07
Having read your articles weekly, I can see how you'd want to change about 25% of the sentences (structure, flow). The writing is still very, very good. The allegory is powerful. Finding out what you were doing midway through just made me pause and marvel at the terrific concept.
Loren T. Lowery07/30/07
Very profound, good thing we have a loving Creator with a very big eraser.
Sheri Gordon07/30/07
Very creative. I never pictured my sins visibly written on my body. (I don't think I have enough body to handle all of them.)

I loved the image of our stains being written all over Christ. The knowledge that Jesus took all of my sins upon Himself became so much clearer with the visual this story supplies.

Wonderful job.
Patty Wysong07/30/07
Wow! I loved the personalities you gave the people, especially the last One. Creative and carried a lesson/reminder too!
Dianne Janak07/31/07
I loved this story. I think I will put this one into my favorites. Great idea for even sharing it for a Sunday school idea ...I just had a horrid thought... someone playing a trick on their sibling and writing what they had lied about while they were sleeping.. maybe not for kids but GREAT story! I loved it...
Pam Carlson-Hetland08/01/07
Ditto all of the compliments above. I'm still marveling at the creativity of this piece. The Lord certainly is using your gifts.
Sara Harricharan 08/01/07
Oh wow. This takes 'creative' to a new level for me! What a neat idea, I loved this! The title fits nicely too. My favorite was the end with the bucket of water-too funny. ^_^
Catrina Bradley 08/01/07
Love this! The idea is so creative, the writing spirit-filled. Great job!!!
Pamela Kliewer08/01/07
I absolutely love this. Your story has made me grateful all over again for my Savior. Thank you.
Dara Sorensen08/01/07
Very creative and enjoyable read! ^_^ I don't think I've ever read a piece that you've written that I haven't liked. ^_^
Lynda Lee Schab 08/01/07
What can I say that hasn't been said? Expertly crafted, wonderfully creative (as ALWAYS) and a message to boot. Who can ask for more?
George Parler 08/01/07
Very creative spin on a timeless truth. Great job!
Cheri Hardaway 08/01/07
Incredibly creative! The title is awesome! I would have liked a bit more at the finish, explaining the man with the lilt in his step, for though we as Christians know what is represented by your story, a non-believer may miss the best part (And that may be just my thinking). But still a superb job. I enjoyed it. Blessings, Cheri
Janice Fitzpatrick08/02/07
Wowza! I simply loved it! With humor and originallty you bring it all to the table hon! I know for a fact that all of us can learn from this piece! Write on! I'm just sitting here in amazement how the Spirit of God is greatly poured out in various ways through His people. You are definately one of them. Thank you. This was a refreshing read. Janice
Mariane Holbrook 08/14/07
Well written piece. I, too, would have liked to see the ending fleshed out a little more and the spiritual application made a little clearer. Otherwise, a good job!
Rita Garcia06/08/12
This absolutely needs to be expanded into a novel!