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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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    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Audrey, I'm glad you enjoyed this story, and thank you for sharing it.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Don, History is created with each passing second. Those are our experiences which we recall and recount to those around us. Each generation that passes leaves those experiences in books and oral memories for those who remain. I am gripped with these accounts that put us in touch with life one hundred fifty years ago. WWI and WWII are now beginning to be wars that we read about, not events that are recalled by the spoken words of those who lived it. It is a sobering thought, a lonely thought. What is the lesson? Live life, fully experience it, remember it and pass the stories on. In the end, only the stories survive.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      6 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      I love hearing stories like this. Your writing brings me to the very heart of this Missouri Homestead. The civil war is a favorite historical time of mine. Votes up and sharing.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Chris, it seems that when I was a bit younger I read news items about people who had been in that war. Now it has reached the point where WWII vets are getting somewhat rare.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Deb, nice to see you here. Thanks for reading. It was fun to write, and I'm glad it was enjoyable to read as well.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Venkat, sorry I missed this 8 days ago, so thank you so much for your encouragement and kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed this story.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      A truly excellent story. I felt like I was with the two of them.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 

      6 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      It's so great to read. You have done full justice to the Lone Sentinel with this wonderful story combined with history.

      Voted up and awesome.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Sally, Thanks for reading and for your comments. I am so glad I learned the value of not using a first draft for anything but discovering what I really meant to write about. I routinely miss the mark on the first try. But I pull the real story out and start over. My first draft of this story would have been a monumental failure. Have a good rest of your Sunday.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      John, thanks for reading. Have you gotten your's published yet. I just went and looked and couldn't find it. It is odd that you had trouble because of duplicate content. I copied and pasted his whole intro to the challenge and didn't have a problem. I'll keep checking until I see what you submitted.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Sara, thanks for reading my story and for the kind comments. History is abundant with prompts for the writer of fiction. I've written several historical flash fiction stories with varying degrees of success. It is a satisfying way to write.

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 

      6 years ago from Norfolk

      This is a great response to the Sentinel Challenge. I particularly enjoyed the conversations which you had. You sure have the gift of the gab, especially when it comes to elderly women:)

      On a more serious note, you really put some serious effort into creating an authentic story. I am impressed. There really is something special about this tale.

      Thank for sharing. Voted up.


    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      6 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Hi Chris, I actually read this yesterday but got disturbed before I left a comment...anyway I enjoyed this. Great writing as usual and you wove some interesting historical aspects into the story. Well done. I actually only found out about the challenge by reading this hub. Done mine...but waiting for it to be republished due to duplication with Bill's opening.

    • Sara Sarwar Riaz profile image

      Sara Sarwar Riaz 

      6 years ago from Michigan, USA

      I loved reading your response to the challenge. A great mix of fiction with depiction of a historical background. I find it most engaging when both elements are incorporated in a way that bears an interlink till the conclusion of the piece, and you certainly struck that balance here.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Marie, thanks for reading. and for the kind comments. I'm amazed every time I consider that through these few, living people, we are still in touch with that history that seems so long ago.

    • Marie Flint profile image

      Marie Flint 

      6 years ago from Jacksonville, FL USA

      Very well written. You held my attention. I would enjoy standing next to that lady and talking to her about the history of her homestead.

      Voted up, Awesome and Beautiful!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      6 years ago from California

      I don't know your work Chris--but this is so well done--I so enjoyed it

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      6 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Chris, this is a beautiful story, plus educational. I loved it! Thank you..

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Chris, you did a great job of developing the characters in such a short story. I loved this, but then I love all history. A job well done, my friend. Thank you.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      6 years ago from SW England

      Great, Chris! I loved this. The characters are so clear. So far, yours is the only one I've read that's included the wreath - brilliant!

      I've yet to do mine and I have to follow a challenge to the letter so the wreath will be there too.

      I love the history, the flow, the characters, everything about this and it explains why the wreath didn't appear the following year. Well done!


    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      6 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Just a beautiful piece. What a wonderful part of history. You did a great job of telling a very touching story.

    • Mr Archer profile image

      Mr Archer 

      6 years ago from Missouri

      I LOVED IT!!! I was completely unaware there were people whose fathers were soldiers during the Civil War, and I have studied that portion of history due to my interest in it. I am ashamed I never picked up on that nugget of information. Very, very interesting angle on the premise, and I thoroughly enjoyed every word.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      William, It is good to meet you. Thanks for taking time to read my story. I'll be heading over your way soon. Your hubs look very interesting and I look forward to checking some of them out.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Audrey, I'm so glad you found your way to this story. I will head over your way and see what you have been up to here on HP.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Ruby, It's good to see you and I'm glad you enjoyed the story. A little educational value can't hurt, can it?

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Bill, I find it adds so much to a story if a bit of history can be thrown in. Thanks for reading and I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Hi Ann, Thanks for reading and for commenting. The little details included with the prompt were very helpful in adding character and depth to the story.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Eric, my friend, thank you for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Mike, Thank you for suggesting this challenge and for the very thought provoking prompt. The little details that were added really helped as well. I am very pleased that you found the story entertaining and informative.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      sujaya venkatesh , Thank you for visiting my hub and for commenting. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Mary, and I'm tickled pink that you liked the story. Thanks for reading and for the comment.

    • Homeplace Series profile image

      William Leverne Smith 

      6 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Excellent story. Thank you, so much, from sharing your response to Bill's Challenge!! ;-)

    • cam8510 profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Mills 

      6 years ago from Traverse City, MI

      Frank, Glad you enjoyed it. That bridge between the generations amazes me. We are not so far along in time from that point in history.

    • sujaya venkatesh profile image

      sujaya venkatesh 

      6 years ago

      a worthy read

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      6 years ago from New York

      You surely tickled our fancy with this bit of history. It was fun to read and interesting to follow back to Abe Lincoln.

      Great answer to Bill's challenge.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      6 years ago from Shelton

      what a fascinating historical piece of fiction.. I love how you did it bridgeing generations that in reality would never meet.. Love it my friend bravo...:)


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