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Heaven is not really that far away / A writing challenge

Updated on May 17, 2015

The Lone Sentinel

The lone Sentinel
The lone Sentinel

A Writers Challenge

This writers challenge was suggested by (Mr. Archer from HubPages) and was set by Author Bill Holland (billybuc from HubPages)

The tall fireplace shown here is the inspiration for this story. It can be found in a location somewhere alongside the interstate between Joplin and Springfield which is well known for its paranormal activity,

Along the Highway

Source

A Ford F-100

The 1953 Ford F-100 ground to a halt in front of the rusty gates.

I slowly tried to extricate my tall frame from the front seat of the truck.

Anyone looking even from a distance could not help notice the old thin transparent skin, lined face and blue eyes which were framed against the shock of white hair.

My body once so tall, slim and handsome was now gaunt and stooped with age.

Classic Ford

Classic Ford
Classic Ford | Source

Wrought Iron Gates

The wrought iron gates so hauntingly familiar yet so completely different now, broken and bent, hung carelessly from rusty old hinges.

Lovers in the night

The green foliage in the high trees lets through the dappled light.

Fallen trees and leaves are blanketed by the dark undergrowth.

I shade my eyes from the light filtering through the trees. I stand and listen to the familiar sound of birds as they chatter to one another. I hear the incessant tap of a single woodpecker. I strain my eyes to see him, but I cannot.

Bark rubs against Bark and is occasionally interrupted by the sound snap of a twig or a branch falling to the ground.

Two trees branches intertwined, rub against one another, so intimate that they appear to caress one another, like two lovers in the night.

Drinking in the sounds

I drink in all the sounds; shift my body a little, in an attempt to ease the stiffness and pain which exudes from my bones.

I lean heavily against my stick and take comfort from the bone handle. I feel the warmth of it through my skin, a familiar friend, this small remnant taken from another life, flesh long gone, eaten with nothing gone to waste.

Patience, my friend, now is not the time. It won’t be long before our remains will together lie in some far off sacred place.

A wry smile passes my lips for these old bones will never grace a walking stick but there is a pretty good chance that we will together lay in a wooden casket, me and you, my walking friend.

Only the remains

With faltering steps, I walk unsteadily towards the broken down gates.

A slight breeze parts the shrubs growing there.

For a fraction in time, I see beyond the rusty gates. Through the rungs, there is no sign of the house which once stood there but. then I see the remains of the old fireplace, incongruously stood there, all alone, in the clearing beyond, its long chimney extending high up into the trees.

Once I was strong but now I am weak

My body, once strong but now weak, somehow finds the strength to beat a path so that my dear old friend and I can cross into the uneven terrain together where exposed roots abound.

With weak and trembling knees, I find myself standing before the old fireplace. I caress her. My hand slides across the uneven bricks, half expecting to feel warmth there but they return cold from once where there was only warmth.

I ease my tired old bones down onto the ledge which runs around the fireplace and let out a sigh of relief. My back and head lay against the thick walls where moss grows from every crevice.

A small tree has seeded itself between the thick bricks; its young roots can be seen coming through the bricks.

Little ferns adorn the well-worn bricks and I watch as an occasional small mauve flower accepts a bee into its depths.

A smile lights up her eyes

In my mind’s eye, I am back in the old kitchen now, putting out my hand to accept the warmth given so freely by the flames.

I smell my daughter’s fine cooking, dumplings and rabbit stew.

An involuntary twitch appears at my nostrils, a little dribble falls down my mouth.

I see Mary now. She smiles to herself when she hears the child scolding one of her dolls!

A smile lights up her eyes and as she looks across the room at me where I see in her eyes, the eyes of my late departed wife.

Too little too late!

The tornado struck Joplin, that day, taking with her, the house, my only daughter and her beautiful child.

We spent that fateful day hunkering down; tying down everything in anticipation of its arrival.

Dear God, forgive me, I did everything I could that day. I tried so hard to ensure the safety of my family. but it was all to no avail. The wind, she tore the roof from the walls of our house taking with her Ruby and Mary but what she did next was quite unforgivable.

She spat them out much later but by then, it was too late, for they had already met their maker.

Forgive me dear Lord

I shut my eyes trying hard trying to forget. Dear God how does one forget this nightmare, the memory of those two broken bodies lying face down in the dirt and rain!

The light is fading fast now and I know the time has come for me to find my way back home to my lonely life but instead, I drift off to sleep and in a while I am woken to the sound of a child giggling.

I open my eyes and see in the fading light, a porch swing which I once made for the child and sitting there it is a little girl dressed in white, Ruby!

I rub my hand across my eyes in disbelief but when I take my hand away the child is still there, watching me, swinging her little legs backwards and forwards, trying to fly higher.

Granddad she calls, can you see me now, and can you see me? Can you come push me, make me go higher, please granddad, please can you make me fly higher?

I struggle to my feet, Granddad is coming child but by then, it is too late, I catch my boot on an exposed root and outstretched hands cannot save me from crashing to the ground.

No more pain left now, just the soft tender touch of a young child gently touching my face.

No need to worry anymore Granddad, you are home now, safe in the arms of Jesus..

Grandma, Mummy and me; we have all been waiting for far too long.

© 2015 Sally Gulbrandsen

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    • sallybea profile image
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      Sally Gulbrandsen 7 months ago from Norfolk

      Margie Lynn

      I am so glad you enjoyed reading this hub, perhaps as much as I enjoyed this writing challenge:)

      I am glad you family were kept safe during this tornado.

    • Margie Lynn profile image

      Margie Lynn 7 months ago from Beautiful Texas Hill Country

      Excellent hub! My sister and her husband lived in Joplin during that horrible tornado, thank God it was not were they live.

    • sallybea profile image
      Author

      Sally Gulbrandsen 22 months ago from Norfolk

      brake12

      Glad you enjoyed my take on this writing challenge. I very much enjoyed writing it.

      Thank you for the share.

      Blessings

      Sally.

    • brakel2 profile image

      Audrey Selig 22 months ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

      I enjoyed your selection, Sallybea, and loved the referral to the Joplin tornado. Folks from Joplin have come to our city to help us with our tornadoes. You tied everything together so well, and thank you so much for sharing your words with us. Sharing, Blessings, Audrey

    • sallybea profile image
      Author

      Sally Gulbrandsen 22 months ago from Norfolk

      Akriti Mattu

      This was a great challenge which I very much enjoying writing. Your kind comment is appreciated, thank you.

      Thanks for the vote up.

      Sally

    • Akriti Mattu profile image

      Akriti Mattu 22 months ago from Shimla, India

      Loved this post.

      Voted up

    • sallybea profile image
      Author

      Sally Gulbrandsen 23 months ago from Norfolk

      sgbrown

      I am so glad you enjoyed my take on this challenge. It was one of the most enjoyable and gut wrenching things I have written in a longtime. I can't imagine living in 'tornado alley' but I bet you and yours have plenty of your own stories to tell.

      I very much appreciate the visit and your comment, thank you.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 23 months ago from Southern Oklahoma

      So sad, yet beautiful and so well written! We live in "tornado alley" and I am terrified of tornadoes. This was really heart wrenching for me to read, but I couldn't stop!

    • sallybea profile image
      Author

      Sally Gulbrandsen 2 years ago from Norfolk

      Mr Archer

      I am so glad that you enjoyed my take on your challenge. I appreciate the opportunity now to say thank you myself for helping to put this challenge together. This really afforded me a rare opportunity to express myself in a way which I have not done for a longtime.

      I am sorry for your loss and can imagine what a difficult time this was for you. I can only hope that this event will never be repeated again.

      Your very kind comment is much appreciated.

      Best wishes,

      Sally.

    • Mr Archer profile image

      Mr Archer 2 years ago from Missouri

      Sally, this was heartrending and so moving. You captured the moment perfectly and I congratulate you. Great job!

      I live just outside of Joplin and remember this storm well. When the baseball sized hail hit I knew, I KNEW it was going to be a bad one. Our power was off for several days and sitting beside that little crank radio, listening to the reports that first evening left all of us in tears. I had three friends die in it and the son of a woman I graduated with died as well. I very much enjoyed reading your vision of what came out of it. I like how you summed it up and brought peace to one who needed it.

    • sallybea profile image
      Author

      Sally Gulbrandsen 2 years ago from Norfolk

      tillsontitan

      I am so glad you felt I gave some reality to this story. I love that I have had this opportunity to show a different side to my writing,

      Thank you so much for the vote everything but funny:) Your comment means a lot to me.

      Sally

    • sallybea profile image
      Author

      Sally Gulbrandsen 2 years ago from Norfolk

      Faith Reaper

      You summed it up, out life is temporary here and I firmly believe that the best is yet to come:)

      It means a lot to me to receive such generous praise from you for my attempt to do justice to this challenge, It pleases me to know that you enjoyed this little piece of writing. I loved writing it.

      Thanks for the vote up++++tweet, pin G+ and the share.

      Peace and blessing to you

      Sally.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 2 years ago from New York

      Heartbreakingly beautiful. How cruel life can be especially to the aged as all slips away from them and their loved ones are gone. Worse yet was the hurricane that took the lives of his daughter and granddaughter.

      This story was so real it gave me chills and brought tears to my eyes.

      Voted all but funny.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

      Wow, Sally, this is writing at its best! You lived up to the challenge and then some. I loved this story, although sad yet hopeful as to reminding us that this is not our true home, and our eternal home has been prepared and waiting for us with all of our loved ones.

      Heartwarming and poignant.

      Up ++++ tweeting, pinning, G+ and sharing

      Peace and blessings always

      Pinterest is not working for me at the moment. I shall return.

    • sallybea profile image
      Author

      Sally Gulbrandsen 2 years ago from Norfolk

      MsDora

      Lovely to find you gracing yet another of my pages. Your appreciation for this little tale is valued, thank you.

      Sally

    • sallybea profile image
      Author

      Sally Gulbrandsen 2 years ago from Norfolk

      Peggy W

      Guess there is a time to live and a time to die and even often death can be a welcome release from the trials of life:) Your very kind comment, vote up, beautiful and share are much appreciated.

      Sally

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 years ago from The Caribbean

      My goodness, Sally. Your creative writing is excellent. What a comforting tale!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

      What a beautiful ending to your story. Very touching! Up and beautiful votes and happy to share.

    • sallybea profile image
      Author

      Sally Gulbrandsen 2 years ago from Norfolk

      Nell Rose

      Glad you enjoyed my take on the challenge and that I was able to keep you guessing until the end. I appreciate your visit and comment as always,

      Thank you

      Sally

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

      Amazing and poignant story, your descriptions were so real I could see everything so clearly, and what a great story, didn't see the end coming, wonderful!

    • sallybea profile image
      Author

      Sally Gulbrandsen 2 years ago from Norfolk

      Hello Devika

      You are very kind and your comment is valued and appreciated, thank you.

      I hope you have a wonderful day

      Sally

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Hi Sally you have approached the challenge greatly and with such talent.

    • sallybea profile image
      Author

      Sally Gulbrandsen 2 years ago from Norfolk

      Lady Guinevere

      I appreciate the visit and your very generous comment, thank you so much.

      Sally.

    • sallybea profile image
      Author

      Sally Gulbrandsen 2 years ago from Norfolk

      ocfireflies

      Hi Kim

      You definitely have a way with words:)

      I loved writing this challenge, actually both of Billy's two recent challenges.

      I loved writing both of Billy's recent challenges.

      I did wonder about breaking up the text as I did.

      It is good to know that you saw some merit in my doing so, I did not do this in the previous challenge and even considered going back to edit out the breaks. Having said that, I do feel that small small chunks read on a computer can sometimes be easier to deal with than large pieces of text.

      Your comment is valued as always Kim.

      Blessings,

      Sally

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 2 years ago from West By God

      How riveting and moving your story is.

    • ocfireflies profile image

      ocfireflies 2 years ago from North Carolina

      Sally,

      Not everyone can make the switch between fiction and non-fiction seamlessly. Your ability to produce HOTD tutorials and succeed as a creative storyteller is amazing.

      I especially appreciated the way in which you structured the piece visually. Providing the breaks gives me, ADHD reader the opportunity to really take in the beauty of your work.

      In pedagogical terms, you chunked your story in a reader-friendly way. Smiles...

      Blessings,

      Kim

    • sallybea profile image
      Author

      Sally Gulbrandsen 2 years ago from Norfolk

      Sara Sarwar Riaz

      I am glad you enjoyed reading my take on this writing challenge. It is was fun to write. Your comment is valued and appreciated.

      Thank you so much.

      Sally

    • Sara Sarwar Riaz profile image

      Sara Sarwar Riaz 2 years ago from Michigan, USA

      I loved reading your fine description of the calamity and simultaneously the plight of the subject who endured the loss at its ruthless hands, at so many levels.

    • sallybea profile image
      Author

      Sally Gulbrandsen 2 years ago from Norfolk

      chateaudumer

      Perhaps not quite the reminder one wants:) I bet the awesome power of nature must be quite something to see.

      I am so glad you enjoyed my take on this challenge, thank you for commenting.

      Sally

    • chateaudumer profile image

      David B Katague 2 years ago from Northern California and the Philippines

      Hi Sally I really enjoy this hub. It reminded me of our 5 years sojourn in Kansas Ciy, Missouri ( 1964-1969) during the Tornado Sason.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I will try to comment once more. There is some kind of glitch going on. I told you that I loved your story from start to the happy ending. Wonderful!

    • sallybea profile image
      Author

      Sally Gulbrandsen 2 years ago from Norfolk

      always exploring

      Thank you so much, I am delighted to hear that you enjoyed reading my take on the Sentinel challenge. I very much enjoyed writing it.

      Sally

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

      This story grabbed me from the start and didn't let go! Beautiful writing. Home at last, what a wonderful thought. Thank you...

    • sallybea profile image
      Author

      Sally Gulbrandsen 2 years ago from Norfolk

      WillStarr

      Thank Will, really nice of you to stop by to comment.

      Sally

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 2 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Excellent work, Sally! A good read!

    • sallybea profile image
      Author

      Sally Gulbrandsen 2 years ago from Norfolk

      D.A.L

      I am so glad that you enjoyed my take on the Sentinel challenge. I really enjoyed writing it. I very much appreciate your very kind comment, the vote up interesting and beautiful. You made my day, thank you.

      Sally

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 2 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Sally what a marvelous piece of work, you met the challenge with flying colours. Your story was fantastic to read and you created an atmosphere which was so real and a sign of your talent. Voted up,interesting and beautiful.

    • sallybea profile image
      Author

      Sally Gulbrandsen 2 years ago from Norfolk

      cam8510

      High praise indeed from a writer of your ilk. I can only imagine the horror of living through a tornado. The force of nature is indeed all powerful. It pleases me very much to know that you enjoyed my story, thank you very much.

      Sally

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 2 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Sally, This is a beautiful story. Living on after losing loved ones in such a random violent storm would be tough. The reunion was sweet. I've been through a number of tornadoes myself and know the death and destruction they can leave behind. Thanks for sharing your response to this challenge. Well done.

    • sallybea profile image
      Author

      Sally Gulbrandsen 2 years ago from Norfolk

      annart

      Thank you very much Ann, your comment is valued and appreciated. I enjoyed your take on the challenge too.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      Beautiful, touching story, Sally. I love the transition from reality to heaven. You brought tears to my eyes!

      Ann

    • sallybea profile image
      Author

      Sally Gulbrandsen 2 years ago from Norfolk

      I did Jodah thank you, I have just replied to yours, have a wonderful day.

    • sallybea profile image
      Author

      Sally Gulbrandsen 2 years ago from Norfolk

      Homeplace Series

      You are very welcome, you visit is valued and appreciated

      Sally

    • sallybea profile image
      Author

      Sally Gulbrandsen 2 years ago from Norfolk

      Jodah

      High praise indeed from my poet friend. My difficulty is always trying to decide whether or not to write in the first person. My love of descriptive pose is what writing is all about for me but first I have to top and tale the story and then fit into reality. This can be my greatest challenge but without any story I have nothing. I have to picture the scenario in my mind, be there, feel it, touch it, smell it and then and more importantly listen hear every sound played out around me. The rest is history. Challenges like these are made for me and are pure joy to write.

      Thanks for the vote up, your visit and comment is valued.

      Sally

    • sallybea profile image
      Author

      Sally Gulbrandsen 2 years ago from Norfolk

      MDavisatTIERS

      Hello ~Marilyn

      I enjoyed this writing challenge very much even though it was sometimes difficult to place myself into such a different setting. This is a place I have never visited but with a little research I somehow made my way there. I very much appreciate your comment.

      Thank you,

      Sally

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      I know I commented on this Sally. Maybe you have comments set to needing approval. Just confirming you received it. If so, delete this.

    • sallybea profile image
      Author

      Sally Gulbrandsen 2 years ago from Norfolk

      DJ Anderson

      Aah. DJ, my explanation is this one, a walking stick made with a bone handle, usually carved from ivory or bone, picture a crooked crutch in the hands off a feeble old man :)

      As always I so enjoy receiving a comment from you DJ, somehow you always manage to make me smile.

      Thank you,

      Sally

    • Homeplace Series profile image

      William Leverne Smith 2 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Thanks for sharing your vision of the Lone Sentinel! ;-)

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Wow! What an amazing write Sally. I love too how you tied the story to the real life tornado that hit the area. The story was sad but satisfying with a perfect ending. Your descriptive prose however was a sheer pleasure to read. I learnt a lot in writing technique from this. I love your fiction writing. Voted up.

    • MDavisatTIERS profile image

      Marilyn L Davis 2 years ago from Georgia

      Good evening, Sallybea; as Bill said, wonderful job with scene setting. I enjoyed this challenge, also. Nicely done and photos add so much. ~Marilyn

    • profile image

      DJ Anderson 2 years ago

      Sally you are proving yourself as a multitalented woman.

      Not only can you make something out of nothing at all, you

      can tell a chilling story about the horrors of that day in Joplin, MO.

      Please explain to me the bone handle of the old man's walking stick.

      Really good job, here, Sally!

      DJ.

    • sallybea profile image
      Author

      Sally Gulbrandsen 2 years ago from Norfolk

      Billy that really means a lot to me, thank you so much for helping another writer to spread her wings so that she too can fly.

      Sally.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sally, you did such a wonderful job of setting the scene. Tying your story into the actual history of that deadly tornado was a nice touch. This seemed more real than fiction, and that is the mark of an excellent writer. Very good job, my friend. Thank you for taking part in the challenge. You are officially a member of the Bill Holland Fiction Writer's Club. :)

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