Tag Archives: short story

Crown of Righteousness: A Short Story

images (1)Josiah’s chair clattered to the floor, and he shot from the kitchen like a stone from a sling. He reached the far side of the yard before the screen door popped against its frame. Too upset to heed his dad’s calls, Josiah raced down the path through the woods. Shadows deepened with dusk, but he didn’t slow. He knew this path so well he could find his way in pitch darkness, but how many more times would he follow it? A writhing, churning ache began in the pit of his stomach.

Minutes later, his chest rising and falling in violent heaves, Josiah tore into Uncle Peter’s yard. He raced down the path lined with Aunt Mary’s tulips, thriving despite her death the previous spring. Soft mooing came from the barn behind the house. His feet pounded up the blue-painted wooden steps illumined by the circle of light pouring from the kitchen window. Without knocking, Josiah burst through and halted beside the small table where Uncle Peter and Baby Sarah sat eating supper.

“Well, hello, Josiah.” If Uncle Peter was surprised he’d crashed in on them, his face didn’t show it. Instead he smiled, stood, and pulled out the third chair—Aunt Mary’s seat. “Join us.”

Sarah banged her spoon on the high chair tray and grinned, her small teeth gleaming. “’Siah!”

Josiah couldn’t help but smile at his motherless little cousin. “Hi, Sarah.” He patted her blonde curls, still damp from a bath.

“Hungry?” Uncle Peter crossed to the stove and lifted the lid of a pot filled with macaroni and wieners.

“No, sir. Thank you.” With what felt like rattlers coiled in his gut, there was no way he could eat. Besides, he wouldn’t take their little bit of food, especially not now. Josiah sank into the seat beside his cousin, who’d just turned one a few weeks before. He sighed as his dad’s announcement at their own supper table replayed in his mind. “Peter’s losing his place.”

He caught his uncle’s eye. “What are you going to do?”

Uncle Peter put the lid back on the pot and moved to the table. His broad shoulders drooped as he sank into the chair, but he smiled at Sarah, who rounded her blue eyes at him and squealed “’Siah!” again, as though to inform her daddy of Josiah’s visit.

“Yes, Sarah. Your big cousin came to see us.” He kissed her forehead then scooped some macaroni onto her spoon before answering Josiah’s question. “We’ll be fine. We’re moving in with Grandpa, aren’t we, sweet girl?” He looked at Sarah again.

The baby jabbered something about “Papa” and let out a giggle.

Josiah felt a hot stinging behind his eyelids. It wasn’t right. First Aunt Mary and now this. “They can’t do it.” He gestured toward the spotless kitchen and the happy baby. He couldn’t keep the anger from his voice. “You work hard. It’s not fair.”

“Josiah.” The single word was a warning: it wasn’t the proper time to discuss the situation, not in front of little Sarah.

Josiah released a long breath and mumbled, “Sorry.”

Uncle Peter’s smile softened the rebuke. “Why don’t you come and help me with the cows in the morning? Grandpa’s driving over to play with Sarah.”

The little girl gurgled something at his words, and Josiah nodded. The writhing snakes in his stomach would just have to stay there awhile longer. But he was going to figure out a way for Uncle Peter and Sarah to keep their home.

imagesJosiah straggled from bed as the sun peeked over the horizon. He scrubbed at his gritty eyes. Had he slept even an hour? Before bed, he’d talked with his dad about Uncle Peter’s dilemma, but that hadn’t helped. Josiah still burned to make the bank see things his way.

He threw on some clothes and snagged a piece of bread on his way out. His parents had agreed he could help Uncle Peter this morning instead of caring for his usual chores. Josiah emerged from the path into his uncle’s yard just as he walked from the barn with the Widow Thomas. Josiah moved behind a tree and peeped out at the pair.

“Here you go. I hope this helps.” Uncle Peter handed the woman a good-sized pitcher.

Her grin revealed gaps in her teeth, and she reached up a gnarled hand to pat his cheek. “Thank you. You’re a good man.”

Uncle Peter smiled and dipped his head. “You’re welcome, ma’am. Glad to do what I can.”

She hobbled away cradling the pitcher to her chest.

Josiah shook his head. How many times had he witnessed such a scene? Maybe if Uncle Peter didn’t give away milk to anybody who needed it, he wouldn’t be losing his dairy farm.

The rattlers in Josiah’s stomach began to bite as he watched his uncle go back into the barn. Josiah stalked after him. He passed through the cool, bright milk house to the milking parlor and peered around for his uncle. There he was, hooking up his favorite Jersey cow to the milking machine.

Josiah waited in silence until he finished then said, “Why’d you give her free milk?” He heard the accusation in his voice and added, “Sir.”

Uncle Peter’s sigh joined the gentle wheezing pulse of the milking machine. “Because she needed it. God’s Word says to help the widows and orphans.”

“But what about Sarah? She’s an orphan.”

Uncle Peter’s look speared him. “She has plenty of milk. I see to that.”

Josiah grunted then whirled to snatch up a shovel. “How can you keep a home for her if you give away your profits?”

“I won’t turn away someone in need, Josiah.” Uncle Peter’s voice was firm. He turned to check the Jersey.

Josiah crossed through to the nearest stall and began scooping manure. The acrid, earthy scent reminded him this place wouldn’t be his uncle’s much longer. “What if you ask the bank for more time?”

“I’ve already had a couple of extensions.” Uncle Peter spoke softly to the cow and patted her brown flank. “There’s nothing more they can do for me.”

Another snake bit Josiah’s stomach, and the poison spread through his veins. “Nothing more they will do, you mean.” He tossed the shovel into the corner with a clank that made the cows kick and low.

Uncle Peter shot him a reproving look. “Anger does nothing but produce bitterness, Josiah.”

“Maybe my anger will make the bank see sense.” Josiah stomped toward the barn door.

Uncle Peter crossed to him in three long strides and took hold of his arm. “It’s not worth fighting for, son.” He pulled Josiah closer and bent to meet his gaze. “God didn’t promise me ease on this earth. He didn’t promise I’d be rich or that I’d always have this place, much as I love it.” He gestured around the barn. “He didn’t promise I’d never have sorrow.” Tears filled his eyes.

“That’s what I mean.” More bitter poison coursed through Josiah. Aunt Mary never should have died so young, and with a baby, too. “How could God let all this happen to you? You’ve always served Him and helped people and done your work.” His throat clogged. “It’s not fair!”

Uncle Peter hugged him close, and Josiah cried until he’d soaked the front of his uncle’s work shirt. Some of the poison in his heart seeped out with the tears. Finally, sniffling and hiccupping, Josiah pushed back to search his face. “How can you just stand there and take it? One blow after another, without getting mad?”

His uncle’s sad eyes met his. “It hurts, Josiah, I won’t tell you it doesn’t. But I can’t forget what the Word of God says in 2 Timothy 4:8: ‘Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.’”

Josiah thought about the verse a moment. “So because you get a crown of righteousness in Heaven one day, you shouldn’t be upset when God lets you lose everything?” He shook his head, lips pursed. “I just don’t see how you can do that.”

Uncle Peter stood to his full height and rested a hand on Josiah’s shoulder. “It’s not easy, but it’s a lesson we have to learn. To fight God for what we think is best, to struggle for what’s passing away, that’s pure foolishness. Wisdom says to let God be God and simply obey His Word. Trust Him to know what’s best to fit us for Heaven.”

“But what about here on earth?”

Uncle Peter’s smile barely lifted his lips. “Life isn’t about getting the most stuff and having fun all the time. It’s not about being comfortable either. It’s about being made holy.” He gave Josiah’s shoulder a squeeze. “Remember God’s plan for a person is that they’ll be like Him.”

“Without anything to show for it?”

“Oh, there’ll be plenty to show for it. We’ll get to spend eternity in His presence. That’s a pretty good reward, don’t you think?” Uncle Peter raised both eyebrows at him.

Josiah blew out a breath. “But what about you and Sarah?”

A peaceful look settled on his uncle’s face. “Don’t worry about us. God’s taking care of us, even when it doesn’t look like we think it ought to.”

Josiah felt the snakes in his belly shrink a little, and the poison eased its grip on his blood.  “I guess so.”

Uncle Peter gave him a full smile. “Well, I know so.”

Josiah saw the sincerity in his uncle’s eyes and nodded. “If you can trust God in all this, then I’ll try to trust Him, too.”

Uncle Peter gave him one last hug and headed for the milking parlor. Josiah followed.

Gram’s Treasure: A Short Story for Children

images (4)Hannah scurried into her older brother’s room and plopped onto his bed, heedless of the text books and papers sprawled across the quilt.

“Guess what I have,” she said, breathless.

“Hannah! Look what you made me do!” Jake scowled at her and started erasing the pencil line that marred his math homework.

“Sorry, but listen to this,” she said, bouncing a couple of times.

“Quit shaking the bed!”

Hannah huffed but sat still while Jake finished his erasing.

“What?” he finally said, snapping shut his math book.

Hannah leaned forward. “I overheard Mama and Daddy talking—”

“You shouldn’t be listening to other people’s conversations,” Jake said, crossing his arms over his chest.

Hannah pursed her lips. “I wasn’t trying to listen. I was just washing dishes and they were talking in the living room. I couldn’t help overhearing.”

Jake lifted one eyebrow.

“Do you want to hear or not?”

“You’re the one who came busting in my room wanting to tell me something.”

“Oh, all right, I’ll tell you.” She blew out a breath. “Remember that load of boxes Uncle Benjamin brought Mama last week? You know, of Gram’s things?” Mama and Uncle Benjamin’s grandmother had died a few months earlier.

“Yeah, so?”

“There’s a treasure hidden in it!”

“Hannah, you’ve been reading too many stories.” Jake rolled his eyes.

“I’m not making this up,” she said, glaring at him. “Mama told Daddy she was sorting Gram’s cedar chest today and found the key to her greatest treasure.”

“What key?”

“This one.” She held out her hand, and a small brass key gleamed dully in the lamplight.

“Where’d you get that?” Jake’s eyes widened. “Did you steal it?”

“No! Mama left it on the end table.” Hannah’s neck heated as she looked down at the key in her sweaty palm. “I just picked it up.”

Jake shook his head.

“I’ll put it back after I find the treasure.”

“Gram didn’t have any treasure,” he said. “She was as poor as we are.”

“That’s what we thought,” Hannah said, “but maybe she just didn’t live like she was rich.”

“Yeah, well, I just don’t think she’d hide her money in some box without telling somebody.”

“Maybe she wanted us to find it after she died.”

“You’d think she’d have just given it to us if she wanted us to have it,” Jake said.

“But that’s boring,” Hannah said. “She probably wanted someone to find the key and then go treasure hunting.”

“I don’t know.” Jake leaned back against the headboard. “Where exactly do you think this stash is?”

She shrugged. “Don’t know, but I’ll figure it out. Want to help?’

“Can’t,” Jake said. “Have to help Dad tomorrow and then I’ve got all this homework to do.” He tapped the cover of his book. “Besides, you really shouldn’t have taken that key without asking Mama’s permission.”

Hannah bit her lip. “I’ll tell after I find the treasure. She’ll be so happy about the extra money she won’t mind about the key then.”

downloadHannah woke at dawn on Saturday, even though she’d stayed up half the night imagining the treasure. Would she find jewels or gold or a big pile of money?

And where should she begin her search? Maybe she’d start by asking a few questions.

Hannah dressed quickly and slipped down to the kitchen where Mama was preparing breakfast.

“Mama,” Hannah said, trying not to finger the key in her pocket, “where’s all that stuff Uncle Benjamin brought you last week?”

“Gram’s cedar chest is in my room, but we stored everything else in the cellar until I can get time to look through it.” Mama flipped a pancake then set aside the spatula and turned to look at Hannah. “Why do you ask?”

The cellar! Hannah shrugged, holding in a grin. “Just wondered.”

Mama opened her mouth like she was about to say more, but the bacon started smoking so she turned back to the stove instead.

Hannah was too excited to eat much. Mama and the little ones were headed to Aunt Rebecca’s for the morning, and Dad and Jake had to patch the barn roof. That meant Hannah could search for the treasure as soon as everyone left.

An hour later, Hannah hesitated at the top of the cellar stairs, flashlight in hand. Mama usually sent Jake down there because Hannah hated the cellar. But you have to go, she thought, for the treasure. Straightening her spine, she started down. Her footfalls rasped on the bare wood steps, echoing through the dank darkness below. Hannah shivered and clicked on her flashlight then shone the light around, hoping the skittering sound she heard was just her thumping heart.

“You have to be brave,” she told herself then flinched at the sound of her own voice.

When Hannah reached the concrete floor, she peered around the room and wished her flashlight’s beam was stronger. What if the batteries died and she got stuck down there forever? Hannah shook her head and took a deep breath. The stale, cold air coated her nose and throat. She moved toward a stack of boxes, hoping they were labeled.

Baby clothes was scrawled across one box top. Probably not Gram’s. Hannah moved around the stack, farther from the stairs. Just before she reached another pile of cartons, something soft and sticky coated her face. She screamed and danced around, swiping at her head. Hannah’s flashlight dropped to the floor, and she stomped down on it. It rolled and she flailed wildly, grabbing at the cartons to steady herself. Hannah managed to stay on her feet, but just as she stooped to pick up the flickering flashlight, the pile began to totter.

“Oh, no,” Hannah said then covered her head with her arms as the boxes tumbled down around her.

Sudden silence made her peek from her sheltering arms. The flashlight spun in dizzying circles at her feet, highlighting the mess she’d made. Clothes and quilts and keepsakes lay scattered around the floor. Hannah sighed and squatted to start picking up, but the flashlight stopped spinning and the beam shone on a cardboard box. Gram’s Things.

Mouth hanging open, Hannah reached into the carton. “Ouch!” She jerked her hand back and sucked on her pricked finger. More careful this time, she picked up the light and searched the interior. Hannah moved aside a wool blanket and some fragments of a shattered vase then spied a wooden box. The wood looked old and was carved with flowers and letters. She moved the beam closer. “My Treasure,” it read. And below that was Gram’s name.

The treasure box!

Hannah bounced in excitement then calmed enough to lift the box for a better look. Beneath Gram’s name were some words: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” On the front was a brass lock with a tiny keyhole. She fumbled for the key in her pocket and stuck it into the lock. It fit. Pulse racing, Hannah turned the key and opened the lid. What would she find?

Just an old book. Tears filled her eyes. What kind of treasure was that?

“Hannah?”

Whirling around, Hannah saw Mama standing at the foot of the steps. Hannah’s eyes darted from her mother’s face to the jumble on the floor. Uh, oh. Why was Mama home so early? Now she was in for it.

“What happened?” Mama gestured toward the chaos.

“Um.” Hannah cast around in her mind for a good excuse. Nothing. She didn’t even have a treasure to offer.

“Did you get hurt?” Mama asked, and the gentle words made Hannah gulp back sudden tears.

She dropped the book on the floor then ran to her mama. “I’m sorry,” Hannah said, throwing her arms around Mama’s neck. “I didn’t mean to make such a mess.”

“What are you doing down here?” Mama’s hand made soothing circles on Hannah’s back.

“Treasure hunting.”

“Treasure hunting? In the cellar?” Mama pulled back and studied her face. “Why?”

“I heard you telling Daddy you’d found the key to Gram’s treasure.” Hannah turned to pull the key from the lock and held it out. “I took it so I could find the money.”

“Hannah,” Mama said, her eyes sad, “do you love money so much you would take what doesn’t belong to you?”

Sniffling, Hannah shook her head. “It wasn’t just for me. I was going to share with you and Daddy, so our family could get the stuff we need.”

“I see.” Mama gave her a small smile.

“But Gram lied, Mama.” Hannah released a sob. “She didn’t leave a treasure at all. Just a worthless old book.”

“Show me,” Mama said.

Hannah picked up the book and handed it to Mama, who studied the cover, then smiled.

“Hannah,” she said gently, “you did find Gram’s greatest treasure, and it’s far from worthless.”

Hannah blinked. “What do you mean?”

“It’s her Bible, and the wealth of wisdom Gram gained from it far exceeds anything money can buy.” Mama’s eyes filled with tears, but her smile remained. “I appreciate that you wanted to help your family, though you know taking the key was wrong, but Hannah, this Book holds more value than the most precious gold or jewels in the world.”

“How?” Hannah sniffled.

“Gram believed like the Psalmist, “The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver.”

Hannah’s forehead wrinkled. “I don’t understand.”

Mama smiled. “Here.” She placed the book in Hannah’s hands. “Gram’s Bible is yours now. Read and find out why it was her treasure.” Britancy_vse_huzhe_znayut_bibliyu

Driving Practice: A Short Story

Treatment_and_Control_clip_image004Nauseated by the stench of Mississippi tar, I focused on the yellow lines and tried not to let the heat shimmers blind me. Cars whizzed past, and a long line of vehicles trailed mine. I gripped the steering wheel in sweaty palms, refusing to speed up.

“Look, Julie!” my older brother John hollered from the passenger seat.

Startled, I whipped my head his direction, expecting to see a log truck coming at me from a side road. All I saw was a stand of pine trees. Perfectly normal-looking pine trees.

I frowned. “What?”

“The kudzu.”

I glanced at him. He had a dumb smirk on his face. “What about it?”

“The kudzu’s growing faster than you’re going.” He cackled.

I rolled my eyes. “Shut up.”

“Julie, I know you’re new at this and all, but, going 40 in a 55’s about dumber than dirt.”

A car packed with high school kids flew by, gunning the engine and yelling rude comments about my driving abilities. I put my hand up to hide my face and came away with a glob of melting makeup. So much for my perfect look. I’d give about anything to have air-conditioning in our beat-up Chevy. “I can’t help going slow. It’s not like driving out by the house.”

“Well, you’re gonna have to go faster. You’re fixing to get us run over.”

In the rearview mirror, I saw a convertible full of bikini-clad girls about to pass us. John shrank low in the seat.

I scowled at him. “Mama shouldn’t have sent you with me to the store.”

“Hey, y’all,” he called out to the girls, obviously deciding he couldn’t ride low enough to hide. He smiled big at them while hissing at me, “Mama doesn’t really need milk. She wanted you out of the house. You’re too big a baby to hear her and Daddy arguing over the bills.”

“Liar. Mama’s watching her stories.”

“Not lying.” John looked so sanctimonious I wanted to smack him upside the head. “Bet they can’t afford for you to get your license. Insurance is too high for little girls like you.”

My eyes widened. Stinging sweat trickled into the left one. A word I shouldn’t even know rose to the tip of my tongue. “It’s your fault if they can’t. You keep wrecking our cars!”

“Probably won’t have money for church camp neither.”

Church camp. I’d been planning for months to go to church camp.

Of course, I’d been planning for weeks to get along with my brother this summer. So far it didn’t look like either one was happening.

Mama had talked to me about this summer. Said she hoped John and I could get along better now that he was at Delta State most of the time. Said it was time to stop fighting like two crawdads over a scrap of baloney. Said to give a soft answer instead of a harsh word, quoting the Proverb she’d used on us since we were little. Daddy never bothered much with Scripture, just threatened to whip our tails if we didn’t quit bickering.

I rounded a curve and spotted the run-down convenience store where Mama said to buy milk. I clenched my teeth, watching car after car come at me. How was I supposed to make a left turn in this traffic? My heart pounded. “There’s no room to turn!”

“Calm down, stupid. Wait for a break in traffic then turn.” John snorted. “Didn’t you learn anything in drivers’ ed?”

I gulped air, slowed, saw an opening, and started my turn.

A horn blasted.

I jerked the wheel left and jammed down my foot. I shut my eyes. “Oh, God, please let me make this turn, amen.”

The car slammed into the ditch. I opened my eyes. Strands of brown hair dangled from a crack in the windshield. My forehead stung. “John? You okay?”

He lit into me good. “You’re not supposed to turn into the ditch! What’d you do, hit the gas instead of the brake?”

Tears blurred my vision. “I didn’t mean to! Some idiot was laying on the horn.”

John got out, stomped around to my side, and hauled me out.

I stared at the smashed car.

images (5)“Stupid girl driver, you totaled it!”

“Pig!” I stomped my foot and instantly regretted it when my head throbbed. “You’ve totaled three cars in three years.”

John’s eyes blazed blacker than the tar on the highway, but he shut up.

A man in a Mississippi State T-shirt ambled over from the store. He stared at the car and shook his head. “It’s hotter than heckfire out here, folks. Come on in and call your daddy to carry y’all home.” He returned to the store.

John tugged my arm. Heartsick, I followed him through the dingy store to a back room.

“You can sit here, girl.” The man pointed at a filthy chair beside a littered desk. “Y’all can use that phone.” He indicated a telephone in desperate need of Lysol spray. “Ain’t long-distance?”

John shook his head.

The man left, muttering, “Girl plowed straight into the ditch. Don’t make no sense.”

Mortified, I plopped down and wept, not even worried about my mascara. God, how’d I get myself into this mess?

Pride goeth before a fall, Mama’d tell me. Daddy’d just say, that’s what you get for making fun of your brother’s wrecks, thinking it ain’t gonna happen to you.

I knew it was true.

But why didn’t you stop me from wrecking, God? I asked for help.

A rough hand patted my arm. I looked up.

“You alright?” The almost-gentle expression in John’s eyes shocked me speechless.

“You broke the windshield with your head. Might have a concussion.” He sounded like he actually cared. Was this my brother?

I sniffled. “Why are you being nice now? You were hollering something awful before.”

His ears pink, John turned away and picked up the telephone.

“What’re you doing?”

“Calling Daddy.”

“So you can tell him what a stupid girl driver I am?”

He sighed. “Look, I’m sorry I said that.”

“Yeah, right.” I hiccupped.

“I know how you feel, okay?”

“Uh-huh.”

He grunted. “You said it yourself. I wrecked three cars in three years. It’s humiliating.”

Thinking of all the times I’d been mean to him about those wrecks, I cringed. “I’m sorry, John.”

He shrugged. “It’s okay.”

He dialed our number and spoke into the receiver, “Daddy, don’t worry now. We had a little accident, but we’re okay.” He offered me a reassuring half-smile.

I smiled back at him. We really were okay. Thanks, God.