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The Hand That Shaped the Stone: Flash Fiction by cam

Updated on December 17, 2017
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Chris has written more than 300 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.


The Writers' Challenge as Issued by Bill Holland

Credit Where Credit Is Due

My good buddy Mike (Mr. Archer from HubPages) wrote to me the other day. He had an idea for a writing challenge and he passed it along to me. Here it is:

“Bill, hope this finds you well this morning. I had a thought this weekend (strange as that may be). We were traveling the interstate between Joplin and Springfield and I spied a fireplace not far from the road. It is a sight I look for every trip and have seen it many times over the years. But his time I wondered: what is its story? Then I thought of you and your challenges and wondered if you could inspire others to create such a story. It is a lonely fireplace, standing aloof and solitary beside a fence separating the highway from an empty field. In past years there has been a wreath hung on one side of it during the holiday season, but not this past one. Makes me wonder if the person who was placing it there has passed and no one remembers the reason for it anymore. Anyway, there you go. What do you think? A good challenge for others to spin a yarn about?”

So there you have it.

Mike didn’t have a picture of this fireplace, so I found one online that is basically the image we need for this challenge. Use it for your challenge, write your response to the challenge and send me a link so I can link it to this one. And that’s all you have to do! Let’s see if your creative juices are flowing today, shall we?

Missouri Homestead

An elderly woman and a male college student stood side by side in a Missouri soybean field where the dark stubble of the previous year’s crop poked through a dusting of powdery snow.

“Mrs. Brennan, when Pastor David told me you needed a ride out into the country to visit your childhood home, I had a vague mental image of an old farmhouse and a barn or two. I certainly didn’t expect this.” Before them stood the yawning mouth of a stone fireplace, black against the surrounding, wintery scene, its mantel trimmed with a thin layer of snow. Towering over them, the stone chimney stood as a lone sentinel against the blue, December sky.

“This is all that’s left, Will. After the fire, we moved into town, and my father took a job at the granary. I come out here a couple of weeks before Christmas every year to hang a wreath above the mantel, just like we did when I was a child.”

“Did your father build the house?” Will asked.

“Yes, he built it after he came home from the war. At first it was a simple, one story log cabin. When my half brothers and sisters and I started coming along, he added on a little at a time. I remember it as a two story farmhouse with a covered, front porch.”

“World War Two ended in ’45, but the timing doesn’t seem quite right.”

“No, not World War Two, Will.”

“World War One, then. That fits better. Where did your father go during the war?”

“Not World War One either, young man.”

“You’re testing my knowledge of American history now, Mrs. Brennan, but I do recall studying the Spanish-American War just before the turn of the century. That was more than a hundred and fifteen years ago. That can’t be right.”

“It’s been a long time since I told this story, Will. There’s no one to talk to these days since I’ve outlived all my family and friends. Before I begin, let me have a little fun with you. I want you to guess my age.”

“I thought men weren’t supposed to fall for that one, Mrs. Brennan.”

“That may be true for women in their forties and fifties, but after that, age becomes more irrelevant with each passing year.”

“Okay, then I guess your age to be sixty-seven.”

“Are you trying to flatter me, Will? Because it’s working.”

“Alright, but you can’t be a day over seventy-five.”

“Like hell I can’t be.”


The old woman chuckled.


“You’re getting warmer.”

“But Mrs. Brennan, you can’t be.”

“Next month I will join that exclusive club made up of centenarians. But let’s get back to my father. When the President of the United States visited my father’s unit after the war ended, the two of them actually shook hands.”

“That would have been Grover Cleveland or William Mckinley, I think.”

“Think again, son.”

Will took out his cell phone and pulled up his web browser. “Mckinley was president during the Spanish-American War,” he said. Mrs. Brennan chuckled again.

“My father left the military two years after the war ended. He returned home to his first wife, and they moved here and built the little log cabin. They started a family and farmed this land until his wife passed away in 1910. My father was seventy years old at the time. In 1913, he married a local woman who was many years younger than he was. She got pregnant soon after the wedding, and I was born on January 12, 1914.”

“Mrs. Brennan, I’m sorry, but the math doesn’t add up. If your father was seventy in 1910, he would have been in his late fifties during the Spanish-American War. I don’t think they would have let him into the military at that age.”

“Wrong war, my friend.” Mrs. Brennan walked to the fireplace and touched one of the stones. “Come here, Will.” He stepped forward and stood next to the old woman. “Touch the stone.” Will followed her example and ran his fingers across the rough surface.

“Tell me what it is that I’m missing, Mrs. Brennan.”

Fredrick Upham, 93 Years Old, Son of a Civil War Soldier


“The hand that shaped that stone and put it into place and sometimes tenderly touched my face, was the very one that shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln.”

“Your father fought in the American Civil War?”

“He did, indeed. Missouri State Militia, Infantry Division, 1861 to 1867.” Mrs. Brennan took the large, pine wreath out of a plastic garbage bag and handed it to the youth. “Would you like to do the honors?” she asked. Will took the wreath and hung it on a hook protruding from the stone chimney.

“I have a feeling this is the last time I’ll see the old homestead. I’m glad I was able to tell my story again, Will.”

“So am I, Mrs. Brennan, so am I.”

Author's Note

As of February 13, 2015, there were thirty-five men and women alive in the United States whose fathers fought in the American Civil War. For more information, read my hub on the topic.


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