Campaign Challenge: Absence

For those of you looking for my post on National Buy A Book Day, scroll down below this post (after you read it).

In this post, I'm responding to the first challenge in the Platform Building Campaign.  Here are the guidelines followed by my story:

Write a short story/flash fiction story in 200 words or less, excluding the title. It can be in any format, including a poem. Begin the story with the words, “The door swung open” These four words will be included in the word count.

If you want to give yourself an added challenge (optional), use the same beginning words and end with the words: "the door swung shut." (also included in the word count)

The door swung open, creaking on unused hinges.  Rachel leaned forward and studied the man slumped in the chair across the room.
“Sam?” Her voice croaked.  She swallowed and tried again, a little louder.  “Sam?”
The balding, elderly man jerked awake, snorting.
She giggled at the memory of the sound.
His red-rimmed eyes focused on her.  “Rachel?”  He rushed to her side.  “You’re here.”
Those words used to pain her, but now, she felt thanks for the few times she heard them.  “Yes, dear Sam, I’m here.”
Sam knelt beside her and ran a tender, gnarled hand down her cheek.
“How long?” Rachel asked.  He looked older than she remembered.  She didn’t dare check her own reflection in the mirror hanging on the wall beside her.
“It doesn’t matter.” Sam’s eyes spilled gentle tears, and he swiped at them. “You’re here now.”
Irritation spiked in Rachel’s heart.  “No, Sam.  How long?”
The haunted look that washed into his gaze gave her a moment’s regret.
“Four months. You missed Christmas.”
“And our anniversary.” Rachel sagged in the chair.
“Fifty-two years.”  He leaned in to kiss her.
Rachel shrank back from the old geezer leaning over her, and the door swung shut.


David P. King said…
This makes me rather curious. She seemed glad at first, then suddenly cold. Makes me wonder what's going on behind the scenes, here.

Good post, Barbara! :)
Patricia T. said…
Wonderful story -- lots of tension. You said enough, but not too much to leave people wonderig what had happened. There are several scenarios that played out in my mind - first was alzheimers unit, then prison, or he just walked out one on their marriage. Wow! This is really written tightly.

Patricia T. #85
Li said…
Wow! You managed quite a lot in 200 words. Makes me wonder what she would have seen in the mirror, though...

And welcome to the blogfest! Glad to see you've taken the challenge as well as the writer's campaign, kudos! RuleOfThreeBlogfest
Crystal Collier said…
Well that was not the ending I expected. =)
Funny how we write something and think the interpretation is obvious. Then someone reads it, and they go in very different directions. Pretty incredible. For that reason, all I say is Patricia has the correct interpretation in her comment. Now which one is it?
Stuart, my first blog award! Thanks! Will definitely pass that kind of joy along.
WB Terrien said…
Wow - lots to think about there. Really got me wondering about things! Thanks for sharing!
Shaylen Maxwell said…
Lovely piece, even lovelier blog. : )
I agree with David, she seemed desperate for him & then receded in the end. Makes me curious?
Ann said…
This made me sad. The first thing I thought of when I got to the end was Alzheimer’s or dementia. Very well done!

Oh and nice to meet you fellow campaigner.
Unknown said…
There's a lot more to this story. I'm intrigued.
Cheryl said…
I'm thinking Alzheimers...the recognition and the wondering how long, and then he became a 'geezer', someone she didn't know. At least that's my interpretation. Lovely story and quite sad.
I'm glad to see that some of you got the Alzheimer's reference that I intended. The doors for Rachel are metaphorical.

I wrote this in a hurry and can see why there are other interpretations. I like the suggestion that he's in prison. That could become an interesting exploration for later.
Anonymous said…
Very interesting. Nice job. Mine is #72
Marcy said…
Alzheimer's . . . I missed that one. I was thinking more along the lines of time traveling. I enjoyed your story!
Stobby said…
Reminds me of The Time Traveler's Wife. Nice job!

Sangu Mandanna said…
Aww this was so sad.

Just stopping by to let you know your entry has been shortlisted to move on to the next stage of the challenge! Congratulations on such a great piece!
Anonymous said…
Oh, that was nice and creepy at the same time! I really like it.
Brianna said…
Alzheimer's immediately came to mind. My grandmother suffers from the horrible illness. I often write about it to cope.

Lovely and emotional story.
Golden Eagle said…
Intriguing, though sad. And an interesting little twist at the end.

My entry.
Thanks for all the great comments everyone. I'm excited to make the shortlist. Thanks for letting me know Sangu.
Unknown said…
I have to admit I didn't get it until I read the comments. It's not the story's fault, I guess my mind automatically goes to paranormal/fantasy for an explanation as soon as there's something strange going on. Now that I've re-read it, I have to say it's brilliant.

BTW, you've been tagged!
No problem Daina. I tend to do the same thing when I read other posts by people in our fantasy campaign group. The fun thing about this is that I can take this same scene and play with it in so many different ways. It may become a same scene, different meaning short story in the near future. Thanks for the tag...I think.
jasonbeineke said…
Ah, Alzheimer's. I had thought time travel or astral traveling at first. I wonder if she was thinking she was younger than she was and that was why Sam's age seemed to creep you out?
Christa Desir said…
Nicely done. And congrats, you've been short-listed as one of the top 38 entries of 384 for the semi-finals!
Christa Desir said…
Okay, having a hard time commenting and want to tell you that you've been chosen for the semi-finals (top 10% of all entries)
Christa, That's great news. Thank you!
Jason, if you've ever dealt with anyone with Alzheimer's, they have momentary periods where they are in the present and fully aware of what's going on. Outside of those times, they often don't know their loved ones. Rachel experiences a moment of awareness here, and she didn't want to look in the mirror because she knew if he was that old, she must be, too. The period of being aware ("You're here.") lasted a few short minutes, so she wasn't aware by the time he bent to kiss her.
There's so much in 200 words. Really nice job.
Amanda Milner said…
This is great and sad. I read it twice and thought Alzheimer's the second read. Her poor, dear husband! :'(
TirzahLaughs said…
So she was gone 52 years or was she gone 4 months and missed their 52nd anniversary?

One way, it seems like she was gone 52 years but why is she bothered he's a geezer when you say he's gnarled earlier?

Or is it that she disappears again?

The writing is good but I think I must be dense because I can't decide which way you meant it.

Tirzah, Many people read one thing and several interpretations surface. That's the beauty of literature. I had a specific idea in mind when I wrote this, but I can't know your background and mindset when you come to it. I kept it right at the 200 word limit, so there's only so much you can convey in such a short time. Where you are and what you are doing when you read this affects your interpretation, too. Some who read this got my intended meaning. Others came away with something very different, maybe because they are in the fantasy campaign group or because of other challenge entries they read before mine. It doesn't matter. All interpretations are correct for the reader.
Liz A. said…
Congratulations. You've made the top 12! Of 384 entries, this puts you in the top 3%. You've won a prize (to be announced on Monday, I think).
Woohoo! I made the top 12. Thanks!
Rachael Harrie said…
Hi Barbara, congratulations on being a Finalist in my First Campaigner Challenge! I was given a list of the top 12 entries, as judged by the truly awesome judges, and I've since decided your place (and thus your prize).

You've come in Third Place out of 384 entries - what an awesome result!!! I felt your story deep inside, and connected it with Alzheimers straight away. It really moved me (and I'm pretty chuffed I got your metaphorical usage of doorways through my reading) :) From reading, it makes me wonder if you've had personal experience with Alzheimers, a relative perhaps?

Well done again - make sure you pop by my blog to see what you've won ;)


This is heartbreaking. I'm not sure what else I can say except that and that it was incredibly moving.
Unknown said…
Yay for you!!! Congrats! Lovely, touching story, Barbara.
Sher A. Hart said…
Reading late from the campaign and you earned your place. Great Job. I didn't think Alzheimer's for a second until I saw the other comments. I'm always tuned to some SF or fantasy explanation.
Laura Barnes said…
I loved this. Alzheimer's. Sad. Congrats on your win!!
Woo! I made 3rd place out of 384 entries. That's pretty exciting. Thanks everyone for stopping by and supporting my writing. Thanks Rachael and team for seeing something worthwhile in my entry.

Rachael, I haven't experienced Alzheimer's through a close relative, but I know many who have cared for loved ones with the disease. Thanks, again, for your kind comments.
Woo is right! Congrats Barbara :) Great story!
Unknown said…
I knew when I read it that it was going to be a winner :) Congrats!
Kate Swenson said…
Congrats - very cool how emotional the reactions are no matter how differently everyone sees the story!
Rebecca said…
Congrats Barbara! Alot written very neatly in a few words. Sad though . . . :( well done!

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