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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Gossip Mill (05/08/14)

TITLE: The Mill
By Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom


Abbey trounced down the steps while flipping her hair into a neat ponytail. Her stomach bubbled a bit–a combination between excitement and nerves. She pecked Grandma on the cheek. "Today's the big day."

As Grandma placed a plate of food in front of her granddaughter, she snorted lightly. "Eat up, you're gonna need your strength. I wish you'd reconsider. That mill isn't known for the best working conditions." She waggled her finger in the air. "I know that place killed your mother and grandfather.”

"Grandma, it isn't like it used to be in the old days."

"Not much is, Abbey, not much is." Sighing, Grandma collapsed into the chair.

Abbey noticed Grandma's eyes. I wonder when she lost her sparkle and turned so old. Patting Grandma's hand, she reassured her. "This won't be so bad, Grandma. I’m in the office nowhere near where they worked. I won't come home exhausted and covered with dust. The mill has been totally renovated and will help the town."

Wiping a stray tear away, Grandma kissed Abbey. "I have a bad feeling."

Abbey's heart pounded as she entered the mill. A hush fell over the crowd as a big man lumbered in, clapping his hands. “File in and take your place at your cubicle."

Abbey' mouth fell open as she looked at the tiny slots. There was a straight-back chair, a two-foot-squared counter, a set of headphones, and a tablet. Cupping her hand around her mouth, she whispered to the woman next to her. "Cubicles? They look like the stalls we keep our goats in."

The woman shot her a dirty look. "Hush! Are you crazy?"

Taking her spot, Abbey adjusted her headset. An electronic voice screeched in her ear. "Welcome to The Mill. It's your job to monitor all phone calls from your sector. You are to record everything. If you hear anyone complaining, you are to press the red button on the side to alert the guards. It's not your job to determine the person’s intentions, only to alert us. Questions?”

Suddenly, her throat felt dry. She wasn't expecting this. Her eyes followed the others who all seemed to be staring at a small kid who was raising her hand.

The booming voice echoed in Abbey's ears. “Number 555166623, you have a question?"

Coloring drained from her face. "What happens to the people?"

The boss sneered. “They’ll be relocated until we can evaluate the risk. If any of you neglect to report anyone, you too will be removed from society while we investigate."

Tears welled up in Abbey's eyes. Oh God, please let my calls be innocent.

Soon she settled into the job. She felt her heart rate slow as she listened to the first few calls. One was about a baby making boom-boom; the next talked about her bird feeder, and it went on that way-just minor gossip-nothing bad. Abbey felt a sense of peace wash over her. This is a piece of cake; plus I’m paid to hear the neighborhood scuttlebutt.

As she clicked the next call, she almost toppled out of her chair when she heard Grandma's voice. Squeezing her eyes shut, she prayed. Please God, don’t let her say anything stupid. Grandma always said that Abbey wore her emotions on her sleeve. It must be true because suddenly the pit boss zeroed in on her. Abbey could feel his eyes boring into her brain.

Her heart started pounding so hard it hurt her chest. She blinked back tears and swallowed hard. She started to tremble as Grandma spoke with her best friend. "Oh Gracie, I almost ran after her when she left to go to that despicable place–The Mill–tah! What a joke; it's just another way to police the people."

Abbey didn't know what to do. She couldn't report her grandmother, but the thought of being led out in cuffs terrified her. Oh, Jesus, please help me. I don't know what to do.

Her prayer was interrupted by the screams of the young girl. Abbey looked up to see the foreman yanking her down the hall by her hair. A purple bruise was already forming on the girl's face.

When the boss stopped in front of her, Abbey gripped her stomach, afraid she’d hurl chunks of her breakfast. "This is what happens to traitors. She'll never see her family or friends again."

Abbey buried her face in her hands and sobbed. However was she going to decide what to do?

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This article has been read 303 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Joe Moreland05/18/14
Wow! What a concept you have put together here. This begs to be fleshed out into a longer story or novel. I want to know what happens to Abbey and her grandmother. You did an excellent job of getting me to invest in your characters very deeply and very quickly - sign of excellent writing.

More of this story, please? Great job!
lynn gipson 05/18/14
Wow. This has me breathless. What will she do? A clifhanger for sure, and spot on topic. Thanks for the super read. This is excellent!
Judith Gayle Smith05/18/14
Fascinating. Having spent seventeen years working in a similar cubicle, this story became a bit unnerving. In an eerie way, I had to do an "approving" as a senior health claims analyst for a major insurance company. You never fail to thrill ...
Ellen Carr 05/19/14
Great writing! You have created a dramatic and rather scary scenario and you've left the readers hanging, wondering what will happen next. This needs a sequel. Well done.
Graham Insley05/19/14
Outstanding concept and I agree with others, this needs to go further. Of course, with a cliffhanger like that, you made that a certainty.

In the second paragraph you wrote: 'As Grandma placed a plate of food in front of her granddaughter, she snorted lightly.'

I felt the 'snorted' was misplaced because the granddaughter was mentioned last. I felt it would read better as: "Grandma snorted lightly as she placed..." Reads smother and easier for me.

You introduced everything in perfect timing and flow and the story just dragged me along for a lovely ride.

Graham Insley05/19/14
P.S. Stop being selfish and enter more often. lol

You really shouldn't deprive us of stories like this. It shows another side of you that many of us haven't or don't see very often. We know the editor, the critique giver and the encourager -- but now we see the writer -- and she is brilliant.

C D Swanson 05/19/14
Intensely smooth writing, like silk blowing in a breeze. Excellent work!

God bless~
Allison Egley 05/19/14
Wow! Great job and so creative. I only wish you hadn't left us hanging. I want to read more... Well, I mean, kind of. I don't really like either ending, so I'm not sure if I really want more or not. ;)
Amy Michelle Wiley 05/23/14
What a clever and creative concept! Good job.
Joyce Krznaric07/19/14
What more can I say that hasn't already been said? Captivating1 :)