Open Pen

Out of Darkness: An Open Pen Critique

This week for Open Pen we have a great short story from Maddie Cait. This piece takes place in Nazi Germany, and while Maddie did not mention this specifically, her story definitely seeks to bring glory to God 🙂

As for critiques, Maddie would love feedback on her title and mentioned that she was also considering “Revealed by Light.” She also would like to hear feedback and get tips about showing and not telling, though I think most critiques would be welcome. As always, even short, simple comments help, and I know that Maddie really appreciates you taking the time to read her story and comment.

God bless,


Open Pen is a critique opportunity  on this blog. It is specifically meant for teenage writers who want feedback from their peers, but anyone is welcome to submit. If you are interested in submitting or learning more about Open Pen, you can on the Open Pen page.


Out of Darkness by Madelyn MacBoyd

Eva leaned her head back trying to ignore the screaming pain of hunger in her stomach. The unseen dust in the secret closet accentuated her thirst. Two days with no room to move, no food, and not knowing if she was safe seemed torturous. The Gestapo had taken Anni, the young woman who had been hiding Eva, when they raided her home. They found the four other Jews she was also hiding. Eva didn’t make it to the attic in time, so Anni had stuffed her into a secret little room in the library wall.

Eva’s eyes scanned the compact hiding place. In some ways, it was like her heart – dark, dirty, lonely. Eva longed for her life to be full of happiness and peace, but it always felt empty. She tried to ignore her feelings by paying attention to sounds outside the hidden door. She heard nothing.

I must get out, Eva thought, I will get some water and be right back.

The door creaked as Eva opened it. Moonlight streamed through the window as Eva snuck down the stairs to the kitchen. After gulping some water, she opened the cabinet and stuffed a piece of bread into her mouth. Swallowing the last mouthful she heard a noise behind her. Eva jumped and spun around. There in front of her stood a tall, bearded man.

“Are you Eva?” the man’s voice was deep and kind.

Eva stood speechless. Her heart pounded and her thoughts raced.

He looks familiar. I’ve seen him before.

“Anni sent me to find you,” he explained.

“Anni? Is she safe?” Eva blurted, forgetting her fear at the mention of her friend.

Nodding his head, he continued, “We must get out of here. The house is being watched.”

“Who are you?”

“There is no to time to expl –“

The rattling of the door knob and creak of hinges interrupted his sentence. Grabbing Eva’s arm, the man headed to the side door as the front door banged open. “Quick! This way!” He hissed, almost dragging her outside.

Eva and the man ran through the dark ally, weaving through streets Eva did not recognize. They heard yelling in the distance as a Nazi solder fired a gun. Turning the corner, Eva’s rescuer threw open what looked like a sewage circle and dived inside. Eva followed without stopping to think. A damp, musty smell flooded their nostrils.  To Eva’s surprise, a hole, dug out in the sewage tunnel, created a small but excellent hiding place.

“We’ll have to sneak out when they’ve lost our trail,” he whispered, crouching in the corner trying to keep his head from bumping the ceiling. Eva sat against the other wall.

“Who – are – you?” she gasped, out of breath.

“Call me Nik. No need to worry about me. My mission is to help get persecuted people to safety. I usually work with groups of Jews, but Anni did not want to leave you behind.”

Suspicious, Eva stared at him. Then, the realization of where she had seen him hit her like a slap on the cheek. The photograph of Anni’s brother in a scrapbook back at the safe house flashed in her memory.  “Are you Anni’s brother?” she asked, more in disbelief than with curiosity.

Nik looked at the ground a minute before he answered with a somber, “That’s me. We’re not supposed to reveal too much about who we are. It creates unneeded danger, but I guess you need to know that much.”

“But, I thought you enlisted in the German Air Force after Hitler came to power?” Eva accused, growing uneasy. “Anni was so upset when she heard.”

Nik sighed, “Yes, I was bomber pilot. A decision I regret. I used to be infatuated with Hitler’s promises to help the German economy and rebuild national pride . . . until I realized his true motives. God shone His light through my darkness and revealed to me the evil I was supporting. I still love my country, and it hurts deeply to see her generate so much evil. When you see the light, it’s a wonderful and terrible thing that happens.”

“How so?”

“Light reveals the evil things that the darkness hid. When you see them, you feel you must do something about them,” Nik stared up at the ceiling.

Eva could relate, but yet she couldn’t. She had a similar pain in her heart because her country, the country that she loved, had betrayed and despised her. But the light Nik was talking about confused her.

Nik looked up at the circle where they had entered.

“We should try to go now,” he whispered.

Nik opened the circle a crack to see if it was all clear. They snuck out and crept along the dark road. Eva followed Nik into the woods.

They ran quietly through the maze of trees. Without warning, Nik slowed to almost a stop.

“What is it?” Eva whispered.

“Sshhhh,” Nik thrust his hand toward Eva, signaling, don’t move.

“I think we are being followed,” he whispered quickly. Nik raised his head high, his ears searching for sounds from their stalker.

Eva’s heart began to race, and she could hear her pulse drumming in her ears. Nik shoved her and himself behind the thickest tree around.

The crunch, crunch of the stalkers boots grew louder. The stalker, a man in the Gestapo, walked past Nik and Eva, without seeing them. Nik drew his pistol noiselessly from his pocket taking aim at the Nazi. BANG! – The Nazi fell dead to the ground.

“We have to make it to the closest farm. I know the man who owns it, his name is Leo, and he will hide you. You will be safe there for now,” Nik whispered.

Nik stepped out from behind the tree before Eva. Eva was about to follow, when she heard BANG! Nik collapsed, groaning and holding his shoulder. Another Nazi soldier had followed them. He took another step closer to Nik, aiming his gun at Nik’s head. Another shot rang out from the opposite direction, and the Nazi fell limp on the ground. Nik and Eva looked.

There stood Leo, gun in hand.

“I heard the first gunshot, and I knew you were in trouble,” Leo exclaimed, rushing over to Nik’s side.

Leo and Eva applied pressure to Nik’s chest wound, trying to stop the bleeding.

“Eva – look,” Nik said, panting from the pain.

The first morning sunbeams streamed through the tree branches, revealing the dust dancing in the air.

“Does that mean we can’t travel because it is day?” she asked disappointed.

“No, look at the sunlight. It’s revealing the dust. That’s just what I was talking about. God’s love shines through showing us the dust – sin. At first, I wanted the light to go away. I didn’t want to see the filth, but it was for my own good. The light showed me the truth, and the truth set my soul free.”

He grew more breathless with each word. Nik winced with pain, as his eyes closed and he breathed for the last time.

Eva’s tears stung her eyes. Dear God, she prayed, shine your light on me. Fill my life with light, even if it hurts. I want to be free.

Open Pen

Myra Jaynes: An Open Pen Critique

I am sorry for the late Open Pen post (I had a research paper due today at noon), but here is an except from Bethia Lark’s novel, Myra Jaynes. The backstory of this excerpt is that the four boys have been guarding a pile of high quality wood outside an old house in the wood. One of the boys, David, and his family have been trying to renovate the old house– the old haunted house– and his three friends have joined him for the night patrol.

Bethia would love to hear critiques on how her dialogue flows and what we think about each of the four boys. If you can take the time out of your busy day to comment on this piece, I know she would appreciate it! Even short, simple comments are very helpful. So please do not feel obliged to address all of her questions.

God bless,


Open Pen is a critique opportunity  on this blog. It is specifically meant for teenage writers who want feedback from their peers, but anyone is welcome to submit. If you are interested in submitting or learning more about Open Pen, you can on the Open Pen page.




Myra Jaynes (Chapter 5) by Bethia Lark

“Hey, David,” Charlie asked as he whittled a stick into a point, “why do you really want this old lumber anyways? I mean, it seems to be giving you a lot of trouble.”
“I just want to keep the history of the place, that’s all.”
“Well, the history here is a scary, haunted history, so I would want to clear out the old place, if you know what I mean.” Said Thomas as he looked back at the old house.
The boys were in the back yard of the house and facing the woods. There was an open clearing right in front of them, with a lone oak tree in the middle of it. An old swing hung from one of the branches and was swaying in the breeze, the ropes creaking, which only added to the boys’ nervous energy. There was no thought of sleeping just then.
“I don’t think the thief wants the lumber exactly,” Gerald said thoughtfully. “I think they would have taken any lumber piled up in front of the place. Nobody here really wants you to renovate the place. They think it is too dangerous. Nobody wants to see you get hurt.”
“I know, Gerald, but we don’t have much choice. These townsfolk don’t understand my dad. McKinleys don’t just give up because of ghost stories.”
“Then your dad is mighty foolish.” Said Thomas.
“That’s only if the ghost stories are true. I mean, whose ghost is supposed to be haunting this place anyways.”
The three boys looked at each other. They had no idea. No one had actually seen the ghost up close; they were too busy running. Charlie shrugged.
David sighed. “Well, until you guys know, then you are not going to even come close to convincing either my dad or me. My dad hasn’t seen any sign of the ghost. If you don’t give him proof, he is not going to listen. Trust me. I know.”
Charlie suddenly piped up and said, “David, do you have any nicknames I can call you? Maybe like Dave?”
“No. I really do not like the name Dave. It brings back too many bad memories.”
“Like what?” asked Thomas.
“Well, on my first day at school, I was attacked by bullies. They were so big and fierce I couldn’t fight back, so I just gave in to them. That’s when they started calling me Dave the Slave. When I grew up, I started to love history and knew almost everything I could learn about it. I corrected some of my fellow history students one day about the use of the word knave in literature, so they started calling me Dave the Knave. I tried several times to shake those names off, but they have stayed with me almost all my life. My family sometimes calls me Giant Killer, but I’d rather that not be used by everybody.”
“Why Giant Killer?” Thomas asked looking quite confused.
Gerald just looked at his brother. “Does David and Goliath ring any bells?”
Thomas looked sheepish. “Oh, yeah. I forgot about that. Sorry, silly question.”
David faced his companions, his face grim and fierce. “If any of you tell another soul about my nicknames, I…” He stopped, confusion sweeping over his face. He didn’t really know what he would do.
Gerald laid a hand on his shoulder and said with an honest face, “We won’t tell anyone. We promise, and we don’t break promises to friends, do we boys?” The others shook their heads.
David smiled. “Thanks, guys. I’ve never had friends like you before.”
“Here, let me introduce you to a handy word called y’all. It means multiple yous. Southern people say it.” Charlie grinned.
David gave a half smile and repeated obediently, “I’ve never had friends like y’all before.” The word felt weird on his tongue, almost like it was wrong.
Charlie clapped him on the back and laughed. “There, you got it.” He stretched out on the wood and gave a contented sigh. “We’ll have to teach you real English. You ain’t been exposed to it before now, I reckon.” His grin stretched from ear-to-ear as David grimaced. Then he let out a huge yawn.
By this time, the night had completely fallen, and the woods were pitch black. The clearing, however, was dappled with moonlight. The boys decided it was probably best if they tried to get some sleep. They then decided they should set a watch. None of the local boys wanted to be watching at midnight, which was a couple hours away, so David took first watch. The boys settled down in their sleeping bags and tried to sleep. About thirty minutes later, David heard three distinct snores.
Charlie snorted, then wheezed as he inhaled. Thomas had an almost constant whine, and would occasionally mumble in his sleep. Gerald’s was the quietest snore, and was more like heavy breathing. David watched as his companions slept, and smiled at each snort. Their snores kind of told about their personalities.
At midnight, David saw a white form coming from the direction of the woods. He shook his companions awake, putting his hands over their mouths so that they would be quiet. Thomas still let out a squeak. David looked quickly at the form, but it had stopped. The boys stared anxiously at the form, but it still did not advance, as though it were listening for something. It had stopped by the swing, which was a good 75 yards away, and seemed to glow in the moonlight. Each stared at each other, waiting for the other to move or act, for several minutes. Finally, the form began to advance, though more slowly than before.
Charlie was the first to speak, but he did so in a very low whisper, his eyes glued to the white form. “Guys, I think we should get out of here.”
“I can’t.” David whispered back. “I promised my dad that I would guard the pile. I have my shot gun.” He said as he slowly lifted the weapon from where it lay.
“Like that will stop a ghost.”
The form stopped again at the sight of the gun, and even seemed to retreat, but then it stopped again and began to advance once more at an agonizingly slow pace when it saw that David was not preparing to fire.
After it had advanced another few yards, Thomas couldn’t take it any longer and leaped off the pile and into the woods, his flashlight jumping wildly as he tore through the trees down the driveway.
Gerald watched him go, but did not follow his brother.
The boys turned their attention back to the ghost, for by now the two local boys were convinced it was the ghost.
Charlie spoke again, this time with a very noticeable tremor in his voice. “I really think we ought to get out of here, guys. I know I am.” And he leaped off the pile and ran after Thomas, yelling and gesticulating at the older boys still on the pile as he did so, “Come on! You have to run!” His voice could be heard fading into the darkness, and then all was silent.
David looked at his remaining companion. Gerald didn’t look too confident either, but he had a resolution in his face that said he was not going to run, at least not right then.
Gerald saw David staring at him and said in a shaky whisper, “I promised I would watch by you here tonight. True friends don’t break their promises, and they definitely don’t leave their friends in a dangerous situation all by themselves.” David smiled and whispered a thank you, but Gerald wasn’t finished. “True friends also don’t do foolish things and expect their friends to follow them into danger either. Come with me.”
Now David understood. Gerald really did not want to stay, but he also wasn’t going to just leave David alone with the ‘ghost’ when he had made a promise to stay with his friend. “You can go Gerald. I understand.”
“No. I am not leaving you.” But his voice showed signs of weakening. He was struggling within himself, his fear trying to get sway over his loyalty and integrity.
“Well, I am not leaving. I promised my dad I would guard the pile, and I will. I’ll admit, I am starting to get really scared, but I am sticking to my post. I am not leaving. You can go if you want to. I really do understand and am very glad you have stuck with me this far, but I cannot go with you. I am staying.”
“David, I can’t just leave you.”
“Go or stay. It’s your choice.”
Gerald’s fear began to take over. David was giving him a way out of his promise. What could Gerald do to help his friend. Nothing. Or was there something he could do? He suddenly leaped up and told his friend hurriedly, “I’ll be back, David. I just got to get reinforcements.” And away he sped down the driveway after the others.
David wasn’t sure if he would come back, but it made him feel better knowing that Gerald was at least trying to think of him. He turned his attention back to the ghost, but it had disappeared. He called out into the darkness, “Who are you? What do you want? Why are you here?” Each question got quieter and quieter, his voice sounding strange and loud in the still night. Not even the crickets chirped.
A couple of hours later, he started awake from his doze to find Gerald calling his name, and his dad flashing a light into his eyes. He blocked the bright light with his arm, trying to remember what had happened as they pelted him with questions. The last thing he recalled was not receiving an answer from the ghost. After a little bit, the normal noises of the night had returned, but he had dared not yell out loud again, and eventually fell into a doze, from which he was awakened by Gerald’s concerned voice asking if he was hurt. He looked down, and on the lumber pile was an old Bible.

Open Pen

Science as Art: An Open Pen Critique

For today’s critique, we actually have a fun non-fiction piece from Kikyo! Kikyo is hoping to get this piece published in a magazine soon, so she would love for us to be picky and look at details. Though she is mostly looking for a stylistic critique, she is willing to hear any feedback you might have.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to comment on this piece! Even short, simple comments can be very helpful. So please do not feel obliged to give a long, comprehensive critique.

God bless,


Open Pen is a critique opportunity  on this blog. It is specifically meant for teenage writers who want feedback from their peers, but anyone is welcome to submit. If you are interested in submitting or learning more about Open Pen, you can on the Open Pen page.




Science as Art by Kikyo

It was the last class before Christmas, and the atmosphere was strangely relaxed: the contrast with last week’s exam frenzy was astounding. We had our results now, and those who had passed were triumphant, while those who had failed were resigned to a resit. The teacher handed round a box of chocolates, and one girl had brought home-made cookies.

This was not what physics class usually looked like.

As he went over the answers to the exam, explaining where we had lost marks, our teacher came to the topic of surface tension. He suddenly paused and then scurried across the room to open a cupboard.

“I’d meant to show you this.”

He took out two test tubes, and at once we sat up and turned to see. People often think science is all about test tubes and chemicals. In fact, it is usually about textbooks and lectures and health and safety forms. When the test tubes come out, something interesting is going to happen.

What he showed us was a tube of water and a tube of mercury. Holding them up, he explained that the meniscus – or curved surface – of the water pointed down, and of the mercury pointed up. He then went along the rows so that everyone could have a look, and I watched the people beside me look intently, give quiet exclamations, and ask questions. It occurred to me then that, a few years ago, I would have thought we were crazy. I would not have understood how examining a tiny glass of water and a tiny thermometer could be exciting, because I did not know why this apparent phenomenon happened or what it meant. It was sitting through lectures and writing notes from textbooks that taught me to find it interesting.

This, I realised, is what the real scientists work for. The life of a science student is not full of these moments. Mostly it is full of getting to lectures on time and typing out lab reports for a deadline and trying to fit a presentation into a specified number of PowerPoint slides. Every so often, though, we get this glimpse of something: we “see” the molecular bonds we have studied, we watch a chemical reaction take place, or hear the waves we drew diagrams of.

Doing this gives us another ability: to look at the world around us and see more. To hear the noise the train is making and hear, not a sound that interrupts our conversation, but a real-life example of wave interference; to look at the night sky and see light travelling towards us at the fastest speed we know of; to see a baby learning to walk and gaining control of motor neurons. This does not replace the normal pleasure of an experience, but adds to it.

I think scientists are often stereotyped and misunderstood. A love of patterns and explanations is seen as an obsession with data. The need to know becomes something to separate us from other people. Delight in logic is depicted as something cold that is incompatible with emotions.

On the other end of the spectrum are artists, who are shown as over-emotional or sentimental, with that “artistic temperament” which makes treating people badly natural.
Maybe, though, scientists and artists are not so different.

I recently read a book by a physicist, and it was the first time I read someone describe science beautifully. Why not, though? Why must we communicate what we find only through bland reports? Is the human mind capable only of analysis or creativity?

Perhaps science can be treated as a form of art. We are on a quest, not to explain everything with an equation, but to understand what surrounds us. Some part of a scientist never grows up, and a child inside continues to ask: “Why?”.

But is there not a child inside the artist as well? The child whose face lights up at seeing colours and patterns and laughs with delight at something beautiful?

The difference I see is that, while the artist creates something beautiful, seeking to bring what is in their mind outside for all to see, the scientist finds something beautiful, and seeks to bring it into their minds to understand it.

Why does that seem strange to those who do not share the passion? Because they do not understand.

I remember a friend telling me: “I never liked classical music until I learned to understand it”. I think this is the key.

I admit that I do not understand art. I have read passionately-written explanations, and it means nothing to me, but an art expert can be carried away by what only they can see.

For scientists, it is the same. We can’t make you feel the wonder of the mini thermometer and tiny glass of water, because you haven’t learned to understand it. Maybe some people can’t learn it, and that is okay.

What would happen if we could understand that we lack understanding? Could the artist see science as the scientist’s art, and the scientist see art as the artist’s science? We could delight in the beauty that we see, and know that others look through different facets of the crystal. After all, we all use human minds, and it is the same world we look at.

It is these moments that we seek, that make the hours of lectures and the ton-weight books worth it. To have them, we must gain the knowledge that past generations worked for, then we can build on their work and discover beauty for ourselves.

So, the image is imprinted on my mind: an old man holding up two test tubes, and a girl with bright eyes leaning forward to see them. They look at each other through the glass as he explains what they are seeing, handing on the information he has so that she can use it to discover more, and the quest for beautiful knowledge continues.